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What I Learned in Church Today: Christians and Deuteronomy 5

When I go to Jerusalem, I still get goosebumps.

-Pastor Randy

That was the good news in church today (as I write this). Pastor was talking about how God put His Name in Jerusalem making it the most unique place on Earth. God never removed His promises from Israel and so He is still with them today.

Last week, Pastor started his sermon on Exodus 19:1-25 but he only got to verse 9 before time ran out. He started at verse 10 today and finished the sermon he meant to finish last week.

But since my Sunday school class teaches on each week’s sermon and since the class did get through that portion of Exodus last week, we moved ahead of Pastor and the teacher gave the lesson for Deuteronomy 5:1-5; 22-33.

It was kind of painful.

What do the following say about a “mediator” of the old (first) and new covenants?

  • Galatians 3:16-19
  • Hebrews 8:6-13
  • Hebrews 12:24 and 1 Timothy 2:5-6

-from the Sunday school class notes for Sept. 7th.

If you’re familiar with those verses, you can guess where teacher was going, which is the traditional teaching that the New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant which was “fulfilled” at the crucifixion of Jesus.

Believe it or not, I didn’t breathe a word in this part of the lesson, mainly because it would have taken too long to explain why I disagreed with the entire line of thought associated with this version of replacement theology (New Covenant replacing the Old in the sense that the Torah is replaced by grace for the Jewish people).

The other part is that even though the New Covenant has only just begun to enter our world, teacher acted like it was a done deal. I was sitting with two or three guys and mentioned to one of them (who is currently listening to Lancaster’s audio CD series What About the New Covenant) that the Word (Torah, actually) has yet to be written on our hearts and we won’t all “know God” until the resurrection (and never mind how the New Covenant was only made with Judah and Israel and the complicated explanation attached to how we Gentiles even fit in).

My young friend who is listening to the aforementioned CDs has heard four out of five lectures so far and says he’d like to listen to them all a second time. I’ve been pursuing this line of reasoning for years now and it’s finally just beginning to gel for me. I can only imagine what it’s like for someone really unfamiliar with this way of understanding covenants to be abruptly thrown into it, kind of like learning to swim by being dropped by helicopter into the middle of the Pacific Ocean without so much as water wings.

Kohen GadolAnother thing in class, and it’s come up before, is how teacher acts like we Gentile Christians were once “under the Law” (meaning Torah). He was talking about that part of Hebrews where we find Jesus entering the Heavenly Holy of Holies once and for all and presenting his own blood as the final atonement for sin. Teacher was saying what a relief that we (Christians) don’t have to go into the Temple once a year and kill an animal.

I did speak up on this one and said that we never had to do that. The Sinai Covenant doesn’t apply to us. We are grafted in under the blessings of the New Covenant which doesn’t require that we offer animal sacrifices for the atonement of our sins (and anyway, only the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, not anyone else, least of all Gentiles).

A couple of times, someone mentioned how when Jesus died and the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was torn top to bottom (Matthew 27:51), that means all Christians can boldly approach the Throne of God without fear.

All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.

Exodus 20:18-21 (NASB)

Apparently the torn veil means we Christians are better or better off than the ancient Israelites because we don’t have to be afraid of God the way they were.

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

Hebrews 12:18-24

At one point, I thought I’d successfully communicated that Christians often treat God too casually, as if He were a big, cosmic teddy bear. Several people seemed to agree but when it came right down to it, the teacher said that we can approach God, go up and touch Him, and crawl into His lap like He was our big, old, friendly grandfather. Oy.

And the whole point of the torn veil, which I’ll explain in more detail in Wednesday’s review of Lancaster’s sermon on The Holy Epistle to the Hebrews, is that it allowed Messiah as our High Priest to enter the Heavenly Holy of Holies with the blood he had just shed, not that it lets just any ol’ Christian into the Divine Presence in the most sacred place in the Heavenly Court.

To be fair, I just figured that out while listening to Lancaster’s recorded sermon last week, but it makes a terrific amount of sense now, especially with the realization that the New Covenant has been inaugurated but is yet to arrive in its fullness until the resurrection and the second coming of Messiah. We’re still living in Old Covenant times and until the resurrection and we are perfected, no, we can’t enter into the place where our High Priest is. Only he can go because only he has been resurrected.

On the other hand…

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

1 Timothy 1:3-7

The Torah at SinaiMaybe I’m pushing too hard and fretting too much over nothing. After all, they’re going to believe what they were taught. It’s a lot to expect that everyone should listen to my interpretation as if I’m always right or something. I’ve learned plenty in church and it’s their church, not mine. All I can and probably should do is put in my two cents worth and let it go at that. Fruitless discussion indeed.

I keep wanting to say that I disagree but I know it would take to long to explain why. And like I said, there really wouldn’t be much point in introducing one controversial interpretation after another.

Next week. Pastor will be going over Deuteronomy 1-5; 22-33 while Sunday school will be one week ahead of Pastor and will teach on Deuteronomy 9. Today, Pastor said that we can’t miss the next two weeks because he has to explain some points he brought up in today’s sermon. One of them was law vs. grace and he said it’s not as simple as there was once law and now there’s grace. I can’t wait to see how he treats this topic.

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What I Learned in Church Today: Christians Approaching Sinai

In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”

Exodus 19:1-6 (NASB)

I probably talked a little too much (or a lot too much) in Sunday school class today. I may have even gotten on a few nerves. It was difficult not to. The sermon was on Exodus 19:1-25 which is Pastor Randy’s introduction to a sermon series on the Ten Commandments and how they apply to the Church today.

Before even getting to the Ten Commandments, he’s going to spend separate sermons on Deuteronomy 5:1-5; 22-23, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, and Galatians 3:1-14. After that, he’ll spend one sermon on each of the Ten Words (Aseret ha-Dibrot).

I had the opportunity to speak with Pastor before service began. He knew I’d be particularly interested in these sermons and also knows the points where I’m likely to disagree. That’s OK since there are other areas where I do agree, one of which is that most Christians really need to hear more about “the Law” and how not only was it valuable in ancient days, but that it is valuable and relevant for not only present day Jews, but all modern believers in Jesus Christ.

I won’t spend a lot of time on his sermon, but he did reference a Christian children’s song that goes Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line. Happily he said that these lyrics are not true and that the Bible must be studied carefully to determine which of the promises can be applied to the Gentile Christian. He also said “we (the Church) are not Israel,” to which I wholeheartedly agree.

I actually ran out of room on the sheet of paper given out before services to take notes on the sermon. What Randy explained was worth a lot of ink to preserve his thoughts. Pastor got into such detail that he ran out of time, only getting to verse nine out of twenty-five, so we’ll pick it up starting with verse ten next Sunday.

I told Randy that I didn’t feel sorry for him (in the sense that we don’t always see eye-to-eye) since he is a careful, honest, and thorough researcher and instructor. My Sunday school teacher on the other hand, I do feel sorry for.

I didn’t get a chance to talk with teacher before class began but given the topic and the fact that he knows my areas of emphasis, he should have expected my “active participation.” It didn’t help that not a lot of other people in class were speaking up much. Again, like last week, we had new people in class, so I also felt a little sorry for them since I’m not a typical Sunday school student.

In his notes, teacher quoted from one of Walt Kaiser’s books:

The “sign” given to Moses in Ex. 3:12 is fulfilled here: he has returned to the “mountain of God.” The presence of the “if” in Ex. 19:5 did not pave the way for Israel’s decline from grace into the law.

“Decline from grace into the law?” Since when did the two become mutually exclusive?

Torah at Sinai

I’m not sure that’s what Kaiser was saying and teacher did try hard to emphasize that the grace shown Abraham (Genesis 15) ran parallel to the giving of the Law at Sinai.

I tried hard to demonstrate the relationship between the Abrahamic, Mosaic (Sinai), and New Covenants bit by bit as I responded to questions in the teacher’s notes, but had to disagree with Pastor and teacher that all of the laws of the Torah constitute the Sinai Covenant. Actually, the Covenant is stated in just two verses:

Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

Exodus 19:5-6 (NASB)

That’s the Covenant. The Torah, all of the commandments, statues, and ordinances, are the conditions of the Covenant, the things the Israelites agreed to obey to uphold their end of the Covenant.

But both Pastor and teacher introduced an interesting parallel:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:9-10 (NASB)

These are just about the same words we see in Exodus 19 where God describes who the Children of Israel are to Him in the Covenant, but Peter is addressing a non-Jewish audience. Pastor said that in the body of Christ, it is not the peoples but the people of God, singular. But since he also said that the Church is not Israel and recognizes Jews in the Church (presumably) as “Israel,” then there are distinctions, though I recognize more distinctiveness between believing Jews and Gentiles than he does.

And yet, it is the ekklesia (assembly) who are “chosen,” “a royal priesthood,” “a holy nation,” a possession” (Am Segulah — a treasured, splendorous people) according to Peter. Israel became a people and a nation before God at Sinai (and according to Jeremiah 31:35-37 they will never stop being a people before God) and when the people of the nations become disciples of the Jewish Messiah through faith, we too become “chosen” and “treasured” as grafted into the root.

Teacher filtered the Exodus 19 experience through Romans 7, 8, and Galatians 3. I used some of the information from my Reflections on Romans series to head off the idea that the Torah in any sense could be “bad” or cause sin. This was surprisingly acceptable to teacher but I have no idea what anyone else was thinking. Pastor Bill was in class, so if I’d said something too far out of line, you’d think he’d have brought it up.

Like I said last week, it’s like they’re shooting all round the target and are just short of a bullseye as far as “getting it” in regards to the continuation of the Torah in Jewish lives.

Teacher even mentioned Psalm 19 which is one of David’s strongest endorsements of the beauty of the Torah. And yet in past classes, teacher has also said how relieved he was that we Christians aren’t under the law, so some dissonance is happening somewhere.

I brought way more notes to class than I needed (or had time for), but one I did bring up, though I didn’t have time to quote it, is this:

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NASB)

Obviously God expected that when Israel said “All that you have said we will do,” they would and actually could do it. The Torah is a delight. It always has been. Only human weakness and frailty make it difficult if not impossible for the Jewish people to be able to fulfill their vow before God. But while perfection in the performance of the mitzvot isn’t something that can reasonably be achieved, God’s plan of redemption through the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36) will make it possible.

Since we people of the nations, through a portion of the Abrahamic Covenant (Abraham 12:1-3, Galatians 3:15-16) solve the mystery of the Gospel (Ephesians 3:1-13) on how Gentiles can receive New Covenant blessings and yet not be of the House of Judah and the House of Israel, we also benefit from that redemptive plan. But if not for Israel and God’s promises to her, there would be no hope for us.

I managed to get all that out in class but I don’t know if it made the impact I wanted it to. I think Pastor’s goal and mine for his sermon series are pretty much alike. I think we both want the people at church to see the Bible as one, big, unified book, and not a document that describes a “before” and “after” picture, or a bunch of different plans God had, trying out one after the other until he found one that would work.

Rolling the Torah ScrollPastor’s going to teach a class this Fall called “God’s Big Picture” where he presents the Bible as the single, overarching Word of God. I’d attend but I’ve spent over a year having almost weekly private conversations with him about these topics, so we both know where the other stands. I’d just serve as a speed bump to the other people who want to listen to Randy, but then again, maybe that’s what I’m doing in Sunday school, too.

I came away from class feeling pretty flat and regretting that I spoke up so much. I was still holding myself back but there was so much I felt needed to be said. I realized that when I was responding to questions, I wasn’t really answering them, but then, I think that was because I didn’t agree with how the teacher organized his entire lesson. His “vision” of how to teach the material and mine are more than a little different.

I guess I’ll have more than one shot at this, so next week when we delve into Deuteronomy, I’ll try again. Hopefully, God will help me become a more effective participant unless He doesn’t want me to speak up at all. But then again, what would be the point of going if I couldn’t participate because, and I’m sorry to put it this way, I believe I have a better handle on topics related to the Torah than my Sunday school teacher.

Yeah, that sounds incredibly arrogant, even to me. So much for the month of Elul.

Addendum: Monday, September 1st: If you read the comments below, you’ll see that several people pointed out my mistake regarding 1 Peter 2. The intended audience of the epistle is not a non-Jewish but rather a Jewish audience, thus we Gentile disciples of the Master cannot consider ourselves “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” In retrospect, this actually strengthens my prior statements that the people of the nations called by our Master’s name cannot be Israel, since only they are referred to by the language from the Sinai Covenant.

What I Learned in Church Today: The “Lost” in the Church

When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.

Acts 28:23-24 (NASB)

Today’s (as I write this) sermon and Sunday school lesson at church was on Acts 28:17-31, the end of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Pastor Randy has spent more than three years and given seventy-two sermons on the Book of Acts and next week, he launches into a sermon series on, no, not Romans, though I was looking forward to it, but on the Ten Commandments starting out in Exodus 19. That promises to be full of interesting information and my Sunday school teacher, who was not exactly thrilled with the idea initially, is going to have his hands full with me.

But I digress.

At one point early in his sermon, Pastor said that God keeps all His promises, including His promise to return the Jewish exiles to the Land of Israel, His promise to raise Israel as the head of the nations, and His promise to rebuild the Temple. Pastor said if we can’t trust God to keep His promises to the Jewish people, we can’t trust that He will keep His promises to us.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Romans 10:1-4 (NASB)

And then he said that the Jewish people chose to follow Rabbinic Judaism rather than the plain meaning of the Biblical text. Pastor had such a great start, too.

It would be difficult to convince most people at church that what we call Rabbinic Judaism (is there any other kind of religious Judaism?) today is an extension of Pharisaism and that the first century Jewish religious stream of “the Way” is simply Pharisaism with a “Messianic twist” and an unusually liberal policy about admitting Gentiles. It would be almost impossible to convince them that God may well have imbued the sages with the authority to make binding halachah for their communities, and thus that God continues to be involved positively with Jews practicing Judaism in the present age. I guess that’s yet to come.

One of the things that was driving me nuts, both in the sermon and in Sunday school, was the constant mention of Christianity. Christianity didn’t exist in Paul’s lifetime. It was a variant religious discipline within larger Judaism, just as was practiced by the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and the Qumran Community. They all shared a common core Judaism but outside of that, had widely differing beliefs and to a degree, practices.

In Pastor Randy’s notes, he had one of the three main themes of the Book of Acts as “the hostility of the world towards Christianity.” I rewrote it in my copy of the notes to say “hostility toward God” since “the world,” and by that I assume Pastor meant the pagan Greek and Roman world, wouldn’t have noticed a difference between “the Way” and any other form of Judaism.

One other good thing Pastor said was regarding the quote from Romans 10:4:

For Christ is the end of the law…

The word translated in English as “end” is the Greek word “telos” which Randy translated as “goal” or “purpose” and which can be expressed as “the reason for,” thus we could say:

“For Messiah is the purpose of the Torah for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

MessiahMessiah is the purpose for, the goal, the reason for the Torah, the target, the focus that gives Jewish observance of the mitzvot its clearest meaning as the conditions of obedience to the Sinai and New Covenant and the lived experience of Jewish devotion to God.

I know how I understand what all that means, but I wonder what Pastor understands since in our previous conversations, he seemed to indicate that the Torah was passing away in this “transitional period” of Jewish and “Christian” history and was soon to be extinguished?

I wonder what the people in the sanctuary were thinking as they listened to him? Nothing radical if Sunday school class, which studies the sermon material, is any indication. I suspect (hope) that Pastor’s sermon series on the Ten Commandments will expand on this topic, but here too, I know Pastor’s perspective. He believes that the Ten Commandments can be generally applied to Christianity but not the entire set of Torah commandments (which are organized into 613 commandments in modern Judaism based on the teachings of 12th century sage Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides or the Rambam). Further, he believes the Torah commandments no longer are an obligation for the Jewish people, particularly Jewish believers in Christ.

However, I agreed with Pastor when in his sermon he said how we Gentiles are grafted into the root through the faith of Abraham, which connects nicely with how I see what bridges the gap between Gentiles and the New Covenant blessings.

And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying,

‘Go to this people and say,
“You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;

For the heart of this people has become dull,
And with their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.”’

Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”

Acts 28:25-28 (NASB)

We find after listening to Paul’s evidence from the Torah and the Prophets establishing Yeshua is Messiah, that some of the Jewish leaders in Rome were convinced and came to faith and others did not. Since they didn’t all agree, Paul quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 which one person in Sunday school class pointed out was the statement God made to Isaiah after commissioning him as a prophet to Israel to bring them to repentance. Isaiah was to speak of repentance but God told him point-blank in advance that no one was going to listen.

So apparently it was the same in Paul’s day as well, except that some did repent. I wonder if some individual Jews repented in the days of Isaiah but that it was not enough to save the nation from God’s wrath?

But what does that say of the Jews in Paul’s day let alone in ours?

What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes to see not and ears to hear not,
Down to this very day.”

And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.

“Let their eyes be darkened to see not,
And bend their backs forever.”

I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they?

Romans 11:7-11 (NASB)

working handsThis seems to say that some Jewish people were chosen to accept Messiah but the rest were hardened against such acceptance quoting Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 29:10, and Psalm 69:22,23

Verse 11 continues:

May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.

I won’t get into the whole “provoking jealousness” or “zealousness” thing right now since I’ve written about it before, but I want to compare two conditions:

Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”

Acts 28:28 (NASB)

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”

“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

Romans 11:25-27 [see Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9 (see Septuagint); Jer. 31:33,34] (NASB)

So on the one hand, the Jewish people, most of them anyway, were temporarily hardened against coming to faith in Messiah, and on the other hand, a time will come when all Israel will be saved.

In Isaiah 6:10, God states that if Israel would turn (make Teshuvah), God would heal them, but I’ve read a paper by Dr. Mark D. Nanos titled ‘Callused,’ Not ‘Hardened’: Paul’s Revelation of Temporary Protection Until All Israel Can Be Healed (PDF) in which he states this “hardening” can be compared to calluses on the hands, which are a temporary protection after injury (I lift free weights regularly at a local gym so I know about calluses on my hands) and which can be softened and eventually healed.

Paul was pulling from Jeremiah 31 which famously contains some of the New Covenant language:

They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34 (NASB)

It all comes back to the New Covenant and how we can understand it applying to Israel and the nations.

And just for emphasis, lest anyone be mistaken:

Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name:

“If this fixed order departs
From before Me,” declares the Lord,
“Then the offspring of Israel also will cease
From being a nation before Me forever.”

Thus says the Lord,

“If the heavens above can be measured
And the foundations of the earth searched out below,
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done,” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 31:35-37 (NASB)

Cutting through the metaphorical language, God is saying that one of the blessings of the New Covenant for Israel,  all the Jewish people, is that they will always be a people and a nation before Him and He will never cast them off or reject them.

It doesn’t get much plainer than that.

MitzvahIn his sermon, Pastor said that Acts 28:17-21 was just the latest in Paul’s declarations of innocence that he had said or done nothing against the Torah of Moses, the Jewish customs, and the Temple (See Acts 13, 22, and 23). In other words, he never, ever taught the Jews in the diaspora not to circumcise their sons and to not observe the mitzvot in the manner of the their fathers. Paul also kept the commandments in obedience to the Covenant Israel made with God, and in spite of what men like John MacArthur have said, there is no concrete evidence that this was some sort of “transitional period” in the Bible between Jewish observance of the Torah commandments and being “Law free”. We have every indication that Paul never saw any sort of change in a Jew’s duty to God based on the New Covenant, and a careful reading of all of the New Covenant language in the Prophets indicates that the conditions of the New Covenant are identical to the conditions of the Sinai Covenant, that is, the mitzvot of Moses.

One of the questions in the Sunday school teacher’s notes is:

How is God bringing His good out of the blindness of the Jewish nation? Has He forsaken them? Have you or I? (Rom. 11:1 & 25-29, Zech. 12:9-31:1)

I asked the teacher if he was talking about the Jews in Paul’s time or in ours and he said “ours”. My response was that I was aware of a number of Jewish people who had come to faith in Messiah within their own context.

I’m sure everyone in class missed the “within their own context” part or at least no one mentioned it or asked what I meant by that. What I meant by that, in case you can’t guess, is that I’m aware of Jews who are disciples of the Master who live fully realized Jewish lives, observant to the mitzvot and the customs of their fathers and zealous for the Torah of Moses, given its full meaning through faith in Moshiach.

“You see, brother, how many (tens of) thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law…”

Acts 21:20 (NASB)

As it was then, may it be so now.

The message is so close and so nearly apparent to the Christians I study with at church that I still can’t believe people aren’t tripping over it, but somehow they still can’t quite see it. They still feel all this means that in the end, the Jewish remnant is going to convert to Christianity and that they will still be a Jewish people and national Israel (as such), but there will be no practice and lived experience of Judaism, the traditions, the mitzvot, the Torah as a continuation of a Jew’s duty and obligation to the God of their fathers and in obedience to the Sinai and New Covenants.

I try to steer the class a little bit closer to the realization of a continuation of lived Jewish experience among Jewish disciples of Messiah each week, but in order to put it right under their noses (so to speak), I’d have to hijack the class, and that’s not going to happen. More realistically, I’d have to teach a class, because the answer to all this can’t be properly expressed in response to the questions asked by another teacher in a lesson that is less than sixty minutes long.

Acts 28:23-25 describes a day-long “sermon” if you will, given by Paul to the leading Jewish people in Rome. He cites both the Torah and the Prophets to prove his case, convincingly enough to bring some to faith. What did he say? I don’t know, but in class, I said I wished Luke had written it all down, just as I wish he had written down all the Master said during that fateful journey on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).

The answers are there if we just knew where to look and especially, if we knew how to interpret from the perspective of the Master, Paul, and their Jewish audiences. I said out loud in class (and there were a couple of guests visiting the church who were passing through from South Carolina on their way to California to see their kids, so it was kind of “cheeky” of me) that I study the Bible and Christianity through a Jewish (I didn’t say Messianic Jewish) lens because it’s impossible to understand Jesus without understanding the Old Testament from a Jewish perspective.

Abraham and the starsOf course, it’s more complicated than that, but basically, I’m trying to tell these folks that they can study the Bible using standard Christian theology and doctrine all day long and still hit a wall in their ability to learn and comprehend based on the limitations contained in Christian tradition.

I don’t know if they’ll ever have an “ah ha” moment when the light bulb goes off over their collective heads and they actually “get” what I’m saying. If they ever do, they’ll either become highly curious and want to know more or (and this is probably more likely), they’ll figure I’m a heretic, an apostate, or a cult member, and boot me out of the church.

Pastor Randy said that the mistake the Jews of Paul’s day made was to pursue Rabbinic Judaism and not the plain meaning of the Biblical text, but in reading Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36 and the other prophets who speak of the New Covenant, this is the plain meaning of the text!

The last question in the Sunday school teacher’s notes is:

Do you and I allow rejection to affect our ministry or love for others?

Pastor asked something similar at the end of his notes about how it is the responsibility of every believer to proclaim the Gospel and what are we actually doing about it?

What am I doing about it? Certainly, I’m blogging incessantly but that’s not enough since by and large, I’m reaching an audience that already has a conceptualization of the Bible similar to my own. One of the responses to his question the Pastor gave was to direct us to ask God to give us a “burden for the lost.”

But what about the “lost” in the Church? What about all those Christians in all those churches who read a truncated Gospel or worse, those who don’t read the Bible at all and just depend on their Pastor or their teachers to tell them what the Bible is saying? Even under the best of circumstances (and at the church I attend, the perspectives on the Bible, Jewish people, and Israel are pretty good), they still will get only part of the story. They’ll never understand why Paul went to the Jew first and only afterward to the Gentile. They’ll never understand that the Good News of Moshiach is even better news for Jewish Israel than it is for the Gentile nations. They’ll never get that the “better promises” (Hebrews 8) are better for Israel and that it is only through God’s redemptive plan for Israel that we people of the nations have any hope at all.

Paul said he was in chains in Rome for the “hope of Israel”. We are here because of that hope, too. But the Church will never know the full extent of what that hope means unless they open their eyes. To that degree, Isaiah 6:10 could have been talking about the “lost of the Church” as well as Israel.

Only by grasping the meaning of the New Covenant blessings for Israel and then what they mean to a grafted in Gentile humanity will our hearts become sensitive, our ears learn to hear, and our eyes begin to see, and when we return to the Jewish King, God will heal us too, after He heals His people Israel.

What I Learned In Church Today: The Devil Made Me Do It

I know the title is pretty inflammatory and I’m deliberately exaggerating this part of what was taught in Sunday school today because it’s one of those things about the Church that really bugs me.

Here’s what started it all off:

Give some ways Satan supplies us with reasons and circumstances to justify ignoring God’s counsel?

-from Sunday School class notes
for August 10th

The context of this teaching is Pastor Randy’s sermon on Acts 27:13-44 and particularly the circumstances leading up to the fateful shipwreck of Paul and his traveling companions on the island of Malta. Dean, the Sunday school teacher, is focusing on Acts 27:13-15 and the moment when everyone on board ship realized that they should have listened to Paul’s advice and not tried to push on from Fair Haven to Phoenix (Crete).

Coincidentally (or not), on Saturday I was reading Ismar Schorsch’s commentary on Torah Portion Vaethanan from his book Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries called “The Locus of Evil in Judaism.”

Schorsch wrote his small article in July 1996 and recorded two tragic events that had recently happened. The first one is:

On the first anniversary of the bomb blast that erased 168 lives in the Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, the New York Times ran a front-page photograph of Jannie Coverdale, who had lost two grandsons. She posed between twin beds, each covered with stuffed animals, holding a portrait picture of each boy toward the camera. Beneath the photograph, the Times quoted her as saying: “A year ago this week, Satan drove up Fifth Street in a Ryder truck. He blew my babies up. He may have looked like a normal man, but he was Satan.”

-Schorsch, pg 592

And the second one is:

When Susan Smith in South Carolina sent her two small boys to their watery death strapped into the child safety seats inside her Mazda, her minister, Reverend Mark Long, speculated that she was witness to two presentations that night: “God made her a presentation and Satan made her a beautiful presentation.” After weighing them in her distraught mind, she opted for Satan’s.

-ibid

I don’t know about you, but when I read this, the “red alert” alarm started going off in the back of my head, but maybe not for the reason you think.

In moments of numbness, I envy the clarity and conviction of these statements. The explicit dualism seems able to account for the ubiquity of evil, that tragic aspect of human experience that defies comprehension — as in the words of the young Augustine before his conversion, “I sought whence evil comes and there was no solution.”

-ibid

I was caught somewhat off guard in Schorsch’s apparent agreement with such Christian sentiments, however understandable they may be, but then he added:

Yet this view is also thoroughly un-Jewish.

Christianity and Judaism have fundamentally different perspectives on the nature of the origin of good and evil, and Judaism does not embrace what Christians call “Original Sin” or “the Fall” in any aspect. I won’t try to present a detailed analysis here, but I do want to offer the part of Schorsch’s commentary I presented in class:

The Torah never speaks of Satan, for that would compromise its austere monotheism as affirmed by the Shema, but only of a heart that is hardened or uncircumcised. The culprit lies within.

-ibid, pg 594

The class became momentarily confused after I stopped talking but quickly reoriented around Dean’s original question and started describing all the bad things Satan has done to them. I even added the following for good measure but it didn’t help:

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

James 1:14-15 (NASB)

Eve and the SerpentWhile other parts of the Apostolic Scriptures refer to the Adversary, here James (Jacob), the brother of the Master says “when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust, not by Satan or some evil external force that enticed him.

This was the only item in the Sunday school notes I intended on addressing and seeing how my point fell flat on its face, I decided to remain silent for the rest of the class time. But when discussing Acts 27:27-32, one of the questions was:

What proper role do our efforts play in God’s will for us?

Fortunately, people were able to articulate that we actually do have a role, we have things to do, we have stuff we must achieve, even though God doesn’t need our help. We are responsible.

That’s what I was trying to say. One of the fellows in class referred back to my comment when discussing “our efforts” and I was grateful. Someone got it.

It’s just that the Adversary gets a lot of credit, too much in my opinion, when things foul up in the life of a Christian.

I know this is a ridiculous example, but it appeared in my local newspaper and I think deserves a mention:

Last December, Alexander Gonzalez Garcia blamed Satan for causing him to molest a 12-year-old girl in a storage room at the Nampa Seventh-Day Adventist Church where he served as a deacon.

from “With church response: Ex-deacon in Nampa sentenced to prison for molesting girl”
The Idaho Statesman

No, I don’t think anyone at the church I attend would fail to hold this person responsible for his acts of sexual abuse and go directly to Satan, but I don’t doubt they’d see Satan as involved.

But whatever happened to personal responsibility? Whatever happened to being accountable for your own sins. Whether you are tempted by an evil supernatural entity or your own human character flaws are getting in the way, the result is the same. You have a choice to make. You either choose God’s will or your will.

Pastor Bill was in Sunday school class and when I mentioned looking at the guy in the mirror rather than pointing the finger at Satan when life turns to doggie doo, he looked momentarily startled and said we had three enemies: Satan, the world, and our sin nature. I popped right back that it was our own nature that’s our first and worst enemy. I think he nodded “yes,” but I’m not sure. Christianity pays a lot of attention to an entity we’re supposed to stay as far away from as possible. Maybe we’re giving him more credit (and along with it, more “glory”) than we ought to.

Instead of focusing on the author of evil in our lives, how about we cleave to the author of all that is good.

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

James 1:12 (NASB)

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day.

Deuteronomy 6:4-6 (JPS Tanakh)

…but also the appearance of the Shema in this week’s parashah. I wish to draw your attention to but a single phrase — al levav’kha, “upon your heart” — at the end of verse 7 in chapter 6.

The function of the verse is to speak of the heart as the locus of our unbounded love for God. More concretely, we are instructed to articulate that love by embracing God’s commandments. Our lifelong challenge is to internalize a set of beliefs, values, and actions that is not self-generated, to take what feels alien and unnatural for us and make it our own. The words “upon your heart” identify the scene of battle. It is within the hidden confines of the human heart that our impulses frustrate our ideals. The blood-stained pages of history are but a mirror of our conflicted hearts. To quote Jeremiah, “Most devious is the heart; it is perverse — who can fathom it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

-Schorsch, pg 593

I regret that it is not appropriate for me to recite the Shema daily or even on Shabbat because Schorch is describing a human battle, not just a Jewish battle. But God has promised the House of Judah and the House of Israel that one day it will be possible for them to win that battle.

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

Jeremiah 31:33 (NASB)

heart in the sandThrough a rather long and not easily understood process, I have learned that the New Covenant God will make with Israel, that is, the Jewish people, will also apply its blessings to the people of the nations who cleave to the God of Israel through faith in the Messiah who Paul called “rich root of the olive tree.” (Romans 11:17)

I look forward to that day when my heart will be circumcised and His Word will be written on it. I grow so very tired of having to deal with myself every day as the person I am. The battle is hard, and it’s been going on far too long, and I only have myself to blame.

Reflections on Romans 1 and 2

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17 (NASB)

When I was preparing for last week’s Sunday school class for the study on Romans 10:1-13, I decided to read the entire Epistle to the Romans. I’ve studied Romans before, principally using the Mark Nanos book The Mystery of Romans, but there’s something to be said for just reading the Bible and letting it speak to you.

I prefer, when I can, to read entire books in the Bible rather than just a few verses at a time. Imagine reading your favorite novel three or four sentences at a time, then putting the book down for four days, picking it up and reading another few sentences.

First of all, it would take you forever to get through the novel and secondly, you probably would have a tough time keeping the book’s overarching narrative in your mind as a complete story.

But we think nothing of treating the Bible or any of the books it contains as if it were a large collection of “sound bytes”.

Paul wrote each of his letters to be read as a whole, including Romans. Why don’t we read them that way? The impression we get of the epistle (or any other single book in the Bible) will probably be different and perhaps yield a more complete impression in the mind of the reader.

Alas, I can’t review the whole epistle to the Romans in a single blog post, so I’ll have to break my own rule. But I can use a series of blog posts to communicate my overall impression of Romans a few chapters at a time? Hopefully, that will be sufficient.

None of this is scientific or scholarly. I don’t read Biblical Greek and I didn’t use any references or other study aids while reading Romans. I just read Romans and took notes on the margins of the pages as I was reading. That’s what I’m going to share with you.

Oh, these are just impressions. Little bits and pieces that I picked up in my overall read of the letter. I’m not going to comment on all the verses in each chapter. Just what prompted me to write a note down.

Take it for what it’s worth.

The first thing I noted in my reading of Romans was the above-quoted verses. Paul was not ashamed of the Good News of Messiah. That good news is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

What is “salvation?” We like to think that it’s as simple as being saved from the consequences of our sins and being reconciled to God, but remember, for Jesus and for Paul, based on the New Covenant promises, having your sins forgiven is only the first step.

The New Covenant promises are aimed solely at the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, and include restoring national Israel to its former glory and elevating her as the head of all the nations of the world. It’s the promise that Israel’s Messiah King will rule with justice and mercy, not over just Israel, but the nations of the Earth. It’s the promise that Messiah will completely end the Jewish exile and return all Jews to their nation. It’s the promise to rebuild the Temple and to restore the sacrificial system in accordance to the commandments. It’s the promise to defeat all of Israel’s enemies and bring them (us) under subjugation. It’s the promise to establish a reign of worldwide peace and tranquility. It’s the promise of the resurrection for the just, that they (hopefully, we) will live in the resurrection under Messiah’s reign, for that is the hope of our faith. It is the promise…

You get the idea.

So when Paul says something as simple as “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” he’s really saying all of the stuff I put into the previous, large paragraph. That’s why it’s first to the Jew. Because promises were made to the Jewish people. Gentiles, by God’s mercy and favor, get to come along for the ride…but I’ll get to that in a subsequent blog post.

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Romans 1:21 (NASB)

balaam_israelI read this the same weekend I read Torah Portion Pinchas and hopefully you’ll see the connection. After Israel was spared being cursed and was in fact blessed by the Gentile prophet Balaam, Balaam had the “brilliant” suggestion to have Moabite and Midianite women seduce the men of Israel sexually to incite them to worship their (foreign) gods.

It worked. If not for the zeal of the Kohen Pinchas (Phinehas), the plague of Hashem might have consumed the whole nation:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Phinehas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Israelite people in My passion. Say, therefore, ‘I grant him My pact of friendship. It shall be for him and his descendants after him a pact of priesthood for all time, because he took impassioned action for his God, thus making expiation for the Israelites.'”

The name of the Israelite who was killed, the one who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri son of Salu, chieftain of a Simeonite ancestral house. The name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi daughter of Zur; he was the tribal head of an ancestral house in Midian.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Assail the Midianites and defeat them—for they assailed you by the trickery they practiced against you—because of the affair of Peor and because of the affair of their kinswoman Cozbi, daughter of the Midianite chieftain, who was killed at the time of the plague on account of Peor.”

When the plague was over…

Numbers 25:10-19 (JPS Tanakh)

The Israelites knew God but they did not honor Him.

There’s also the corresponding Psalm for this Torah Portion:

But to the wicked God says,
“What right have you to tell of My statutes
And to take My covenant in your mouth?
“For you hate discipline,
And you cast My words behind you.
“When you see a thief, you are pleased with him,
And you associate with adulterers.
“You let your mouth loose in evil
And your tongue frames deceit.
“You sit and speak against your brother;
You slander your own mother’s son.
“These things you have done and I kept silence;
You thought that I was just like you;
I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.
“Now consider this, you who forget God,
Or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver.
“He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me;
And to him who orders his way aright
I shall show the salvation of God.”

Psalm 50:16-23 (NASB)

Even in the condemnation of the faithless and the wicked, God still offers a path back to salvation and redemption.

Or not…

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Romans 1:28-32 (NASB)

teshuvahGod always offers a way back, but you have to be willing to take it. You can only access the path of teshuvah and return to God if you repent of your sins. If you don’t, if you are guilty of what the above-quoted verses state, if you fail to acknowledge God, then God, according to how I read Paul, will give you enough rope to hang yourself with.

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

Romans 2:4 (NASB)

God doesn’t always “drop the hammer” the minute we stray from the path of light and into darkness. In fact, often he just lets us do what we want to do, and it’s easy to take that as a sign that God doesn’t seem to mind. No, that’s not it. He’s giving us the rope with which to hang ourselves, but he’s also giving us time to realize how badly we’ve messed up. He’s giving us time to repent. For when our time is up, then and only then will it be too late.

He thereupon says to them, “Permit me to go repent!” And they answer him and say, “You fool! Do you know that this world is like the Sabbath and the world whence you have come is like the eve of the Sabbath? If a man does not prepare his meal on the eve of the Sabbath, what shall he eat on the Sabbath?”

-from Ruth Rabbah 3:3
quoted by Young in
Chapter 15: Death and Eschatology: The Theology of Imminence, pp 281-2
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I quoted this yesterday and for the same reason. To illustrate that we have lots and lots of time, at least as humans measure time (but maybe not as much time as we think), but in the end, God’s justice prevails. Don’t take God’s patience lightly.

There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.

Romans 2:9-11 (NASB)

I found this rather sobering. God puts the Jew first in both good and evil. If the blessings of the New Covenant come to the Jew first, so does tribulation and distress. There’s a definitely negative aspect to being at the center of God’s attention. I read “no partiality” both as God delivering consequences equally upon the Jew and Greek and as God not being partial to Israel giving her only good but not evil.

For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law…

Romans 2:12 (NASB)

under-law-torahIt seems that Jews will be held to a higher standard than Gentiles. But was Paul writing to believing and unbelieving Jews and to pagan Gentiles when he said “under the Law” and “not under the Law”? Paul was writing to the “church” in Rome, which Nanos said was more likely to the believing and non-believing Jews and the believing Gentiles in the synagogue. Paul had no audience with the pagans and his letter wasn’t addressed to them. So who is under the Law and not under the Law? Were the believing Gentiles under the Law?

…for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

Romans 2:13-16 (NASB)

This is getting very close to something like having the law “written on hearts,” for how would Gentiles who were not given the Law at Sinai “instinctively” know to do the things of the Law? And what did they do? Did Gentiles “instinctively” put tzitzit on their garments and lay tefillin? Did they “instinctively” start observing the Shabbat and keeping kosher? Or is being kind, gracious, and compassionate a more “instinctive” response in doing the Law?

If Paul is talking about Gentiles who are already disciples of Jesus, then they would possess the Holy Spirit and the finger of God would be just beginning to write the Law upon their hearts.

But the Jewish believers (and non-believers) already had the Law.

But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?

Romans 2:17-21 (NASB)

Is it possible to take a gift for granted. Were there Jews who relied on outward behavior alone to justify them before God. Yes, it is the “doer” of the Law who is made righteous, but only by faith. Performing the mitzvot without faith is not effective. See Psalm 50 above if you don’t believe me.

Hopefully, a believing Jew would not take the Torah for granted, but if Nanos is right, Paul was also writing to Jews who were not believers in Jesus as the Messiah, and some of them may have strayed from their faith, relying on behavior and ethnic identity alone to justify them before Hashem. This is Paul’s dire warning to his brothers.

…you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written.

Romans 2:21-24 (NASB)

Hypocrisy? Jesus accused his brothers among the Pharisees of hypocrisy more times than I can count.

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.”

Matthew 23:1-3 (NASB)

PhariseesI’ve quoted Noel S. Rabbinowitz’s paper Matthew 23:2-4: Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and Does He Endorse Their Halakhah (PDF) more than once to illustrate while Jesus accused at least some of the Pharisees of not practicing what they taught, he confirmed that what they taught was correct, and that they had the proper authority to be teachers in Israel.

Applying that forward to Paul, he may well have accused some of the Jews in the Roman synagogues of hypocrisy but at the same time acknowledged what they taught was correct and that they had the authority to teach in the synagogues. Thus, Paul was criticizing the hypocritical practices of some of his audience, not their validity as Jews nor the validity of the Torah as a continued covenant obligation for Jews.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.

James 2:18-23 (NASB)

Faith and works are required. They come as a set. You cannot properly separate them. Faith without works is dead but so is works without faith.

Make no mistake though. God fully intended (intends) for Jews to observe the mitzvot.

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NASB)

That completely shoots down any Christian argument that God gave the Jews the Law to prove how impossible it would be to keep, thus showing them that they could only be “saved” by faith and grace alone, apart from the Torah.

For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

Romans 2:25-29 (NASB)

If a Jew fails to perform a mitzvah, does he stop being a Jew? Does he become “uncircumcised?” This used to puzzle me. The whole “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh” thing has been used to justify calling Christians “spiritual Jews” and to support the old, tired theology of supersessionism. But I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying.

Paul is trying to inspire zeal for the Torah and for faith in Messiah in his non-believing Jewish brothers in Rome. How would he do that by insulting them and rejecting them? Worse, how would he do that by denigrating the Torah? He couldn’t.

JewishBut he could be saying that a Jew is justified before God if he is outwardly a Jew, that is, if he is obedient to the commandments, and if he is inwardly a Jew, that is, if he has faith in God and that faith is the motivation for obedience. The two go together…faith and works.

I had intended to cover Chapter 3 as well in this first “reflection” but I can see this “meditation” is long enough as it is.

This is an experiment of sorts, so let me know what you think. Should I continue writing my reflections of Romans for the entire epistle?

Next up: Reflections on Romans 3.

Putting a New Face on Sunday School

In verses 22-23 of Acts 22, Give the details of the “hissy fit” Paul’s Jewish audience threw when he used the “G” word.

Have you or I ever felt or expressed similar emotions when we didn’t get out way in church? (The “no” word) How does submission allow the Lord to bring about spiritual growth in our worthy walk with Him?

-from the Sunday school study notes
on Acts 22:22-29 for June 8th

My Sunday school teacher has a tendency to compare apples with oranges and believe he is actually comparing apples to apples. For instance:

“And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.

Acts 22:21-24 (NASB)

Teacher was comparing a near-riot situation not only to a “hissy fit” (which Urban Dictionary defines as a “sudden outburst of temper, often used to describe female anger at something trivial”) but to any relatively minor situation a person might experience in church that would cause them unhappiness or displeasure.

Either he thinks people’s problems in church border on crowd violence or he grossly minimizes the angst, frustration, fear, pain, and anger of the Jewish people whose land has been occupied by a pagan foreign army and who were highly sensitized to any offense by Gentiles during a moed such as Shavuot.

Since I published my previous blog post which merely anticipated last Sunday’s class, people have been asking me how class actually went. This is the answer.

Apostle Paul preachingI decided I could not remain completely silent and let what I considered to be unfair or inaccurate statements about Paul’s situation in particular or Christianity’s attitude about Judaism and Jewish people in general go unanswered. While I chose to ignore the “hissy fit” comment (though I was surprised at the number of people in class who agreed that the Jews in the above-quoted passage were merely “throwing a childish fit”), I did zero in on the humanity and the group dynamics of the situation.

I pointed out that presumably, some “Jews from Asia” (Acts 21:27) had been spreading rumors in Jerusalem that Paul had been “teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs” (Acts 21:21), and also that he had “even brought Greeks into the temple and [had] defiled [the] holy place.”

It only takes a few agitators to stir up a large crowd and start a riot. Jerusalem’s population had swelled to millions of Jews in preparation of Shavuot, and it was always during the moadim that emotions ran especially high. Any upset or offense at all, particularly the thought that a pagan Gentile would be taken into the Temple by a Jew who was presumed to be sympathetic to pagans if not a Roman collaborator, would be cause enough for disaster.

Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread were two days away; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth and kill Him; for they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise there might be a riot of the people.”

Mark 14:1-2 (NASB)

We see even the Romans (not to mention the chief priests and scribes) could not execute the Master with impunity for fear of the crowds. In fact, in Acts 22, the Roman military authorities are doing all they can to prevent such a mass disturbance.

riotingSince none of that qualifies as a “hissy fit,” I decided to toss my two cents into the hat, so to speak, and explain all of this to the class. My teacher was in totally agreement and no one spoke up to suggest otherwise, though I can’t possibly know what anyone was thinking. My one regret was that the individual who previously made the Anti-Gentilism remark wasn’t present to either respond or not respond. But that was probably for the best since I can be more sure that my motivations were clear of the desire to make my own “response” to this person.

Earlier that morning, Pastor was extremely careful to point out that Paul’s troubles weren’t what we might consider in modern times to be “Jews persecuting a Christian.” At that moment in history, in Jerusalem, all of the people involved, apart from the Romans, are Jesus-believing Jews and Jews from other religious streams. The most accurate picture, in my personal opinion, we can paint, is that differing or opposing Jewish religious sects were engaged in “passionate” disagreement up to and including violent outbursts.

But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.

Acts 23:6-10 (NASB)

Last week in one of my reviews of D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, I wrote that Lancaster taught that the Pharisees and the Messianic Jewish believers all had virtually identical theology and doctrine. They both believed in the world to come, they both believed that God rewarded good and punished evil, both in this world and the world to come, they both believed in the resurrection of the dead, and they both believed in the Holy Spirit and in angelic beings.

But the Sadducees believed in none of that, which is what, according to Lancaster, resulted in the Sadducees barring the Messianic believers from the Temple prompting the Hebrews letter-writer to pen his epistle, and why the Sadducees and Pharisees sitting on the Sanhedrin argued so strenuously, putting Paul’s safety and even his life in danger.

That’s not the same as one religion persecuting another, dissimilar religion.

The Jewish PaulIn fact, in verse 6, Paul said, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees…,” and Pastor pointed this out, not I was a Pharisee. There was nothing inconsistent with being a Pharisee and coming to the realization that Yeshua was the Messiah, Son of God. Yeshua-devotion seems to have been the natural, logical, Biblical extension of Pharisaism in late second-Temple Judaism.

So we might even say (though I could be stepping out on a limb here), that modern Messianic Judaism, in some sense, is the inheritor of first century Pharisaic/Messianic Judaism.

As Sunday school class ended, a gentleman who looked familiar to me, but not in that context, approached me and introduced himself. Actually, he reminded me that he’s the father of my son Michael’s best friend. Apparently, he and his wife had attended this church some years back but left to plant another church in the community. They’ve returned, presumably for some time, so it’s become a more interesting situation.

I recall the few times I’ve spoken with this person before. He’s always been personable and interactive. Very much a “traditional Christian” but willing to listen and discuss my “Jewish” ideas.

No one else in class (or in church) has any connection to my family or my family’s history (my son has known this gentleman and his family for well over a decade, though I’ve only met them just a few times over the years) so I wonder how or if this will affect my future contributions? The situation certainly puts a new face on Sunday school.

One more thing. Pastor did talk about Christians who are being persecuted in the world today, and specifically Pastor Sergey Kosyak of Donetsk in the Ukraine. Please pray for him and for all the Christians who are authentically in danger, being injured, being incarcerated, being murdered for the sake of their faith in Jesus Christ. May God be with them and protect them all.