Tag Archives: Temple

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Bypass

For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him,

“The Lord has sworn
And will not change His mind,
‘You are a priest forever’”);

so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.

Hebrews 7:18-28 (NASB)

Does the priesthood of Messiah cancel the priesthood of Aaron and the Levitical system? The relationship between the Aaronic priesthood and the Melchizedekian priesthood explored in Hebrews 7:18-28.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-eight: The Bypass
Originally presented on October 26, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This was a particularly interesting (and difficult) part of Hebrews to get through because I had to bypass (no pun intended) the traditional Christian reading (and what seems to be the plain reading) of the text and not believe that the Aaronic priesthood, the Temple, the sacrifices, and the Torah were all weak and useless and that Jesus replaced them as a better hope in bringing us closer to God.

By his own admission, Lancaster’s “bypass” analogy is flawed and by the end of the recording, he was asking his audience to forget he had even used it. But here it is anyway.

bypassI’ll use my own location as an example. Just west of Boise is the community of Eagle, Idaho. When I first moved here nearly twenty years ago, State Street ran west out of Boise and directly through downtown Eagle. Now between Boise and Eagle, you could travel about fifty-five miles an hour but as you approached Eagle, you had to slow down considerably. This could be a pain if you were just passing through and your destination were further west.

Eventually, the highway department built a bypass. Now State Street completely avoids Eagle and folks can go fifty-five (or more), not go through Eagle at all, and get to where ever they’re going faster. Old State Street still goes through Eagle, but you have to specifically take that turnoff to get there.

Lancaster says the Aaronic priesthood is like Eagle, Idaho and that the priesthood of the Melchizedek “bypasses” it to better promises, as opposed to replacing it. Eagle is still there and still a destination. So is the Aaronic priesthood.

Yeah, it’s an imperfect metaphor. Here’s why.

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Hebrews 7:23-25 (NASB)

Why is the Aaronic priesthood considered weak, imperfect, and useless? Was it really so? Was the Torah so weak and were the sacrifices so useless? It depends. It depends on what you are using them for. If you are using the Torah to give you eternal life in the resurrection and to justify you at final, eternal judgment, then yes, they are weak and useless…because they were never designed to be used for those purposes!

To employ another metaphor of Lancaster’s, it would be like using a screwdriver instead of a hammer to pound a nail into a board.

The Aaronic priesthood had a completely different purpose and it wasn’t an eternal purpose, even though the Aaronic priesthood itself is eternal:

Then you shall bring his sons and put coats on them, and you shall gird Aaron and his sons with sashes and bind caps on them. And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.

Exodus 29:8-9 (NASB)

high_priestThe priesthood belongs to the sons of Aaron by statute forever. They still have a job. It will be there waiting for them when Messiah returns and builds the Temple in Jerusalem.

But…

…but, Jesus as our priest in the order of Melchizedek has a different purpose than the Aaronic priesthood and it operates in a completely different venue, in the Heavenly Court or Temple.

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.

Exodus 25:8-9 (NASB)

God instructed Moses to have the Israelites build what could be described as a scale model of the Heavenly Court on Earth, the mishkan or tabernacle. If you look at the specific instructions, all of the objects of the tabernacle, right down to the priestly robes, and the proportions of the tabernacle itself were all carefully modeled on their Heavenly counterparts.

That means for everything in the tabernacle, there was a counterpart in the Heavenly Court where Yeshua (Jesus) functions as the High Priest (and if it took a whole army of Aaronic priests and Levites to serve in the tabernacle, then there must be a host of priestly angels assisting Jesus our High Priest in Heaven).

So what Jesus does in Heaven as Priest, the sons of Aaron do in the earthly tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem. They are not in competition, they’re complementary. The Heavenly Court then is not a “bypass” around the earthly Temple, they exist on two separate parallel roads, and they don’t even go to the same destination. It would be like modeling one interstate freeway system on a different, similar system.

Oh, “former” priests. Verse 23 is misleading in English. The Greek doesn’t say “former”. Lancaster tells us it says something like “those who are many who have become priests.” If you look at the context, you see the major difference between the Aaronic priests and Yeshua is that the sons of Aaron, like all men, die, while Jesus, having died and been resurrected, is immortal. There were no immortal Aaronic priests in the tabernacle or Temple.

Thus, Jesus is able to intercede for us forever, not just in terms of our immortal souls and salvation at the eternal judgment, but right now, today, Jesus is praying to the Father for us.

What about verses 20 and 21 where it mentions an oath? What oath?

The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:4 (NASB)

Oh, that oath.

MessiahGod swore an oath that an immortal Jesus would serve perpetually in the Heavenly Court as the eternal High Priest. No human priest in the Temple in Jerusalem was immortal and God swore no oath regarding them. Their mortality and imperfections, that is, their having sinned, made them “weak” and “flawed” and “useless” for the purposes of providing perpetual forgiveness of sins before the final judgment and eternal life through the resurrection (and remember, that’s not what they were designed to do). Jesus as High Priest is indeed “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens.”

That’s the difference. That’s a much more consistent explanation of the comparisons and contrasts between the Aaronic and Melchizedekian priesthoods. That the latter is better doesn’t mean it replaces the former. It just means they function in different contexts and each one fulfills different job descriptions. Nearly two-thousand years of Christian interpretive tradition makes it seem otherwise.

What Did I Learn?

Just about everything. As I listened to Lancaster’s sermon, it all clicked into place, but trying to read Hebrews 7 without running it through this interpretive matrix made these passages seem terribly depressing when compared to my overall understanding of the New Covenant message.

That’s what this is all about. The “better promise” is what happens as the New Covenant enters our world and what happens when it reaches fruition. We are still in Old Covenant times. People are not perfected. We don’t have the Torah written on our hearts and our hearts have not yet been circumcised. We have received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but not in its fullness so that we “know God” and obey His statues as a natural response.

Lancaster said that “perfection” refers to the resurrection and our perfected physical and spiritual states. Well, we certainly haven’t gotten that far yet.

Lancaster alluded to his What About the New Covenant lecture series which I suspect he incorporates into later sermons in his “Hebrews” series. The only way to understand Hebrews or any other part of the Apostolic Scriptures is to have a firm understanding of the New Covenant and how it works, which Lancaster provides in his New Covenant audio recordings.

Without that perspective, it is almost impossible to see the intent of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews in any accurate manner or in any way that is consistent with God keeping the promises He made to His nation Israel.

Where Do We Encounter God?

They shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell among them.

Exodus 25:8

The Midrash notes that God did not say, “I shall dwell within it” (the Sanctuary), but “I shall dwell among them” (the Israelites), i.e. the Divine Presence will be within each person.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day,” Tammuz 26
Aish.com

That sounds incredibly like this:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)

Well, maybe not exactly. Actually, the “Pentecost event” sounds more like this:

The Lord descended in a cloud and spoke to him, and He increased some of the spirit that was on him and bestowed it on the seventy elders. And when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did not continue.

Numbers 11:25 (Chabad Torah Commentary)

So we have two examples from the Bible, Numbers 11:25 and Acts 2:1-4, where we witness the Holy Spirit of God being imparted to groups of devout Jews and whereupon they prophesy. Then we have a Midrash on a portion of the Torah that says it was God’s intent to dwell among Israel by dwelling within each individual Israelite, rather than in (or in addition to) the Sanctuary itself.

When the Midrash states God did not say, “I shall dwell within it” (the Sanctuary), but “I shall dwell among them”, it seems more like clever word play than an obvious interpretation leading to the aforementioned conclusion.

Still, it’s a compelling thought, since it summons images of God desiring, even as He commands the Mishkan to be built, to dwell within the devout of His people.

But dwelling among His people can also be compared to this:

They heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of day; and the man and his wife hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. The Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:8-9 (JPS Tanakh)

Here too we see God “dwelling” among His people in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) but we don’t see the Divine Presence dwelling within Adam and Havah (Eve). Can we say that the Divine Presence dwelt among Israel with the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) as the focus of His presence in the same manner as He dwelt (or at least visited) the Garden?

After all, the Midrash presented by Rabbi Twerski isn’t the only one referencing Exodus 25:8:

And they shall make Me a sanctuary: And they shall make in My name a house of sanctity.

Rashi’s commentary on Exodus 25:8

Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin
Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin

Rabbi Professor David Golinkin, President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, wrote a commentary on Exodus 25:8 in 2003 called Why Do We Need Synagogues in which he offered numerous Midrashim on this particular verse.

Of all of the Midrashim proffered, he believes this one best defines the reason for the commandment to build the Mishkan:

This whole matter of the Menorah, the Table, the Altar, the boards, the Tent, the curtains, and the utensils – what is it for? Said Israel before the Holy One Blessed be He: Lord of the Universe, the kings of the nations have a tent and a table and a menorah and incense and these are the trappings of kingship, for every king needs this. You are our king, our redeemer, our savior – shouldn’t you have the trappings of kingship until all people know that you are the king? God said to them: My children, flesh and blood need all that, but I do not, because I don’t eat or drink and I don’t need light… [Finally God relented:] If so, do what you want, but do it as I instruct you: As it is written: “And let them make me a sanctuary… make the menorah… make the table… make the altar…” (Midrash Aggadah to Parashat Terumah, p. 170).

The Jewish people built the mishkan and later the mikdash and later the synagogue because they – like all human beings – had a need for a physical place in which to worship God.

We are physical beings designed to live in the material world. God is Spirit and exists outside of Creation and indeed, there is no place where God does not and cannot exist. We are limited and He is limitless. So if He desires to dwell among us, where do we meet? We cannot go to His realm for how does a finite human visit infinity? He must somehow “reduce” Himself and come to us where we live. It was for us that all of Creation was made.

And who knows what aspect of the Almighty was “moving about in the garden” on that breezy day?

But R. Golinkin also quoted his father Rabbi Noah Golinkin from the senior R. Golinkin’s booklet Say Something New Each Day (1973, p. 18):

God, where are You?
Where do I find You?
You do not live here.
You have no address.
The Universe is filled with Your glory.
You live in every mountain
and in every valley
and on the busy turnpike outside.
You live in the beautiful riot of many colors
of the Indian summer;
and You live in my soul.

“You live in my soul.” But there’s more:

And yet
I have built for You a special building,
Beautiful, dignified, majestic,
Intimate, warm and friendly.
For whom did I build it?
For You and me.
For our conversations together.
For Your glory, O God,
And for my humble need.
I should be talking to You –
When I see You in the beautiful sunrise,
When I see You in the innocent smile of a child
When I see You in the kind deed of a man.

Inner lightIt seems there doesn’t have to be an inconsistency between God dwelling among us and God dwelling within our souls. He speaks to us from within ourselves but also meets with us in Holy places of worship.

I should say that, particularly in Judaism, personal worship and study is conducted in the home and the synagogue is reserved for communal worship and study. Jews pray individually but to join a minyan, must go to the synagogue.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…

Genesis 2:18 (NASB)

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity!

Psalm 133:1 (NASB)

In the Garden, in the Mishkan, in the Temple, in the Synagogue, and dare I say it, in the Church, people were not meant to encounter God as individuals, because we can do that anywhere, including within our souls. God commanded the Mishkan to be built so that the community, the nation of Israel could gather and dwell with God.

The indwelling of the Spirit is inexorably coupled with the New Covenant:

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NASB)

“Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel,
And that I am the Lord your God,
And there is no other;
And My people will never be put to shame.
It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

Joel 2:27-29 (NASB)

In Gan Eden, human beings had an unparalleled intimacy with God which they took for granted because they had never known separation from God. It was only after the first act of disobedience that they truly understood was it was to be separated from God, the anguish, and agony of having known God and then becoming alienated from Him. How like our Master when he took upon himself the sins of humanity, thus for the first time also becoming separate from the Father:

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?”

Matthew 27:46 (NASB)

exileHumanity has been separated from God for virtually all of human history. And yet not only has God desired to once again dwell with us, but as the Midrash testifies, we have yearned to dwell with Him. But once broken, shattered, torn asunder, intimacy with God is not so easily recovered. We see a series of steps, from the Mishkan, to the Temple, to the Master (John 1:14) and the Master’s Good News that the New Covenant was (is) near, to the giving of the Spirit to the Jews (Acts 2) and the Gentiles (Acts 10).

But the best is yet to come.

While most Christians don’t give much serious thought to Midrash, it’s a reminder that the desire for intimacy with God is much older than the Church and that the people who authored the Bible also witnessed the Divine Presence descending upon a structure that man built at the command of God.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

Exodus 40:34-38 (NASB)

The Divine Presence of God descended upon the Tabernacle but God also dwelt within the souls of each individual Jew. Messiah will someday come to rebuild the Temple, but Paul also called our bodies Temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We don’t have to conclude that an infinite God can only reside within one domicile within our world, for nothing is impossible with God.

But if not for human frailty and folly, where would God be to be among us?

The purpose of the tabernacle and the subsequent Temples was “they shall make me a sanctuary that I may dwell amongst them” (Exodus 25:8).

The great kabbalist Rabbi Isaiah Halevi Horowitz (1560-1630), author of the monumental work the Sheloh, writes that since the verse employs the plural “them” rather than the singular, the Torah must be referring not to the sanctuary but to the people themselves.

According to this mystical interpretation, God’s commandment was never for a home of gold, silver and marble. Rather, God’s desire is that we create a space in our hearts and souls for him to abide in. Our very beings should function as portable temples that elevate our lives to be sanctified wherever we are.

-Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi
“Torah: Why do we pursue justice? The answer lies inside all of us” – March 7, 2013
JWeekly.com

R. Twersky concludes his commentary on a similar note:

If my relationship to God is limited to going to the Sanctuary and praying for my needs, then I am merely using Him, and God becomes an external object. But when I make His will mine, then His will resides within me and He becomes part of me. This is undoubtedly what the Zohar means by, “Israel, the Torah, and God are one unit,” because the Torah, which is the Divine will, is inseparable from God, and when one incorporates the Torah with one’s own code of conduct and values, one unites with God.

PrayingWe meet God in multiple venues in the present world, within our churches and synagogues, but also within ourselves. But even as God resides within our souls and as His Spirit infuses our flesh, the union is still incomplete. The word is not yet written upon circumcised hearts. The Messiah has not yet brought that to us.

So we yearn. Our souls groan for what they don’t know but have once known in antediluvian ages past. May the Spirit of God quicken within us and may Messiah come soon and in our days.

Amen.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Sundry Times and Divers Manners

Our fourth teaching on the book of Hebrews considers the first two verses of the epistle:

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

How does Yeshua and the message of Messiah stack up against the patriarchs and the prophets?

The thesis statement behind the book of Hebrews with reference to Yalkut Shimoni and Midrash Tanchuma on Isaiah 52:13.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Four: Sundry Times and Divers Manners
Originally presented on January 19, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

After my significant goof up in my review of last week’s session, I’m a little hesitant to write another review, but hopefully, I’ll be more mindful of my notes if not my memory.

Today’s the day. It’s the day Lancaster actually starts delving into the book of Hebrews, well the first couple of verses in the first chapter, anyway. However, there’s a lot to cover in this thirty-five minute sermon. Let’s get going.

The first thing a traditional Christian Bible student should know is that Lancaster thinks the Book of Hebrews reads like Midrash Rabbah, other Talmudic portions, and even the Zohar. That’s because the sermon/letter seems so Jewish. That isn’t going to make a lot of Christians happy because they (we) have been taught some pretty negative things about Talmud and especially about Zohar (most Christians have probably heard of the Talmud but how many teachers and Pastors even breathe the word “Zohar”?).

Lancaster says he feels pretty comfortable with Talmudic literature, at least in English, but he rather feels sorry for the innocent and unsuspecting Christian Bible student who stumbles into Hebrews without that background. The implication is that without familiarity with Rabbinic commentary, most Christians are going to come away from Hebrews with an inaccurate interpretation of what the anonymous author was trying to say.

Lancaster says the experience of an uninitiated Christian facing Talmudic writings encounters the intellectual and perhaps spiritual equivalent of stepping on a rake. I assume he means the “business end” of the rake and not the handle.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

Hebrews 1:1-2 (NASB)

What does this mean?

It’s actually pretty straightforward. In ancient days, God spoke to “the fathers in the prophets”. Who are they? Prophets include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and especially Moses. They also include anyone of the Judges as well as prophets like Samuel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and any of the so-called “minor prophets” who, in Hebrew Bibles, are called the “later prophets.” No prophet of God is “minor.”

We also see prophetic words from God in the writings such as the Psalms and Proverbs, so God spoke to all of the writers of all of the books of what Christians refer to as the “Old Testament” and what Jews call the Tanakh (Torah or Law, Nevu’im or Prophets, and Ketuvim or Writings).

We call all of this put together the “Old Testament,” but for Jews in the Apostolic Era, it was just The Testament or The Scriptures.

Verse one testifies that God inspired all of the writers of all of those writings speaking through them and to them. These were the men of God of the past and God spoke to ALL of them. Thus, what they wrote is ALL the Word of God. God spoke in many diverse ways to the prophets:

He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream.

“Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; With him I speak mouth to mouth…”

Numbers 12:6-8 (NASB)

God spoke through the other prophets in many and different ways but only with Moses did God speak “face-to-face” (lit. mouth-to-mouth). The message of the prophets was to all of Israel and ultimately, to all the world.

However in the last days, God spoke through His Son.

What last days? While the apostles and early disciples may have thought they were living in the last days, they must have been wrong, because almost two-thousand years have passed and the “days” haven’t ended yet.

But were they wrong? They were living in the last days of the Apostolic Era. They were living in the last days of the Holy Temple. They were living in the last days of Jerusalem, the last days before the Jewish people would be exiled from their Land to wander the diaspora for nearly twenty desperate centuries.

Thy Kingdom ComeThe First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television show A Promise of What is to Come produced a number of episodes describing how the coming of the Messianic Kingdom was upon us and that time wasn’t the relevant factor in summoning the Kingdom. Episodes such as Seek First the Kingdom, Thy Kingdom Come, and Keys to the Kingdom all speak of this.

Lancaster characterized the imminent coming of the Kingdom as a clock that is stuck at one minute to midnight, sort of how the Doomsday Clock is used to show the imminence of Nuclear War.

The men and women of the Apostolic Era were living in the “end times” no more or less than we. The stage has been set, the actors have taken their places, now all that is left is for the curtain to go up, the house lights to go down, and for the play to begin. However, the audience and the actors haven’t been told exactly when the curtain will rise and to a large degree it is they who will determine the moment, not the director.

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.

Luke 21:32 (NASB)

But this interpretation makes me consider that “this generation” isn’t meant to be taken literally.

…in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.

Hebrews 1:2 (NASB)

This speaks more than I could have possibly known before hearing this sermon.

Lancaster invoked my English 101 class which I took the first time I attended university. In an English Composition class, you’re taught to begin a paper with a thesis statement, a declaration of the topic and purpose of the paper, then you spend the rest of the time writing documentation supporting your thesis.

That’s how Hebrews begins.

Lancaster took a moment to explain that the New Testament is NOT just commentary on the Torah, which may come as a surprise to some Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots people who have been taught to focus on the Torah and almost nothing else.

The thesis of the writer of Hebrews is that in ancient days, God spoke through and to the Prophets of old and what they spoke and wrote was and is the Word of God. But in the End Times, God spoke through his Son, Moshiach, and what Moshiach spoke is recorded in the Gospels.

We take all this for granted as Christians in the twenty-first century. After all, we have our Bibles, they include the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the New Testament includes the Gospels, so of course what Jesus said was and is the Word of God, but that was a revolutionary concept in the early 60s CE. The Jewish believers as well as all other Jewish people understood that the Hebrew Scriptures were the Word of God, but could Jesus of Nazareth also speak God’s Word (not to mention his apostles, but we won’t address that today)?

Was/is Jesus greater than the Prophets? The answer is of course, “yes,” but what did the original readers of Hebrews believe? Was Jesus greater and better than angels (see Hebrews 1:4)?

The writer of Hebrews had to establish this as his thesis and then spend the rest of the sermon/letter defending and supporting that thesis.

Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.

Isaiah 52:13 (NASB)

Delitzsch BibleThis is the beginning of the Song of the Exalted Servant. Traditional, normative Judaism considers the Exalted or Suffering Servant to be the people and nation of Israel, while Christians believe it is Messiah, it’s Jesus.

Lancaster began to establish that the Servant must be Messiah based on a variety of Jewish sources, such as Targum Jonathan and too many others for me to write down and thus record here. He mentioned again that the Zohar is one of those sources, but it should be noted that most if not all of the supportive Jewish writings were authored well after the Apostolic Era.

Lancaster wants to show his audience that his interpretation is correct but that it must be understood and supported by Jewish sources. The question, and it’s an important one, is if the audience of the sermon/letter to the Hebrews would have understood this document through the Jewish documentation and commentary they had access to in or around the year 62 CE.

The most reliable estimates regarding the Zohar say it was written in about the 12th century and the Talmud wasn’t authored for centuries after the apostles died. We can accept some of Lancaster’s argument if we believe the information later recorded in Rabbinic writings already existed, probably in oral form, during Apostolic days. But for many Christians, that’s quite a leap.

What Lancaster is trying to establish is that the writer of Hebrews was declaring, and again, this would be controversial and even revolutionary in the mid-first century, that Yeshua of Nazareth was not only equal to the Prophets and Judges and even Angels, but that he was superior to them all as Messiah and as the Son of God. The audience of Hebrews was to understand that the words of Jesus were indeed also the Word of God, which Christians accept today without question but the original readers of Hebrews still needed to comprehend.

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…

Hebrews 1:3 (NASB)

For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.

Hebrews 3:3 (NASB)

Jesus is worthy. He sits at the right hand of the Father. He is the radiance of God’s glory, an exact representation of God’s nature. Messiah upholds all things by his word, which is the Word of God because Messiah is greater, more glorious, more worthy than any of the prophets, including Moses and even more so than the Angels.

Now here’s the important part for today.

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.

Hebrews 2:1 (NASB)

Read the entire first chapter of Hebrews and then read the first verse of the second chapter. What were the readers of this sermon/letter (and what are we) supposed to pay much closer attention to?” The Word of God as spoken by Messiah. Why? So they wouldn’t drift away.

life_of_pi_by_megatruh-d5noigdRemember, that according to previous sermons, the writer of the Book of Hebrews was deeply concerned that his audience, because they were denied access to the Temple in Jerusalem, were tempted to “drift away” from their faith in Messiah, all for love of and devotion to Temple worship.

Christians believe that Hebrews was a warning to Jews not to abandon Jesus and “backslide” into Jewish practices including the Temple sacrifices, but according to Lancaster, it was a warning to not forget priorities.

Lancaster used a number of metaphors to get his point across but I’ll choose just one. How many couples do you know have gotten a divorce? Maybe you are divorced. Maybe you have friends who are, or maybe your parents are.

Sometimes, when describing the process that lead up to divorcing, men and women will say that they drifted away from each other over time. This rather contradicts a sudden trauma such as being abruptly denied access to Temple worship and suggests a gradual cooling of faith.

Faith and devotion to the Master are there, but for a variety of reasons, they can begin to become less important over weeks, months, and even years. Christians are taught in Church that only one thing matters: Jesus. It’s pretty easy to lock onto Jesus and not let go because he is all anyone ever talks about.

But the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movement are sometimes so devoted to Torah, to Talmud, to Shabbat, to a thousand other things, that Jesus gets lost in the shuffle. I think that’s why some Gentile Messianic believers convert to normative Judaism, usually Orthodox, because the things of Judaism become more attractive and they slowly drift away from Yeshua.

Hebrew Roots people accuse Messianic Jewish adherents of promoting this kind of apostasy all the time, but here we have D. Thomas Lancaster, no small voice in the realm of Messianic Jewish teachings and writings, offering the same cautionary tale based on the warning of whoever wrote the Book of Hebrews.

What Did I Learn?

I’ve been bending my brain around what Lancaster has been teaching and filtering it through some of the comments of people who have been reading my reviews.

broken-crossCould the Book of Hebrews been written after the Temple’s destruction and the writer was trying to encourage his Jewish readers that the quintessential Temple continued to exist in Heaven with Messiah as its Kohen Gadol?

Regardless of differences in interpretation, the main point of Lancaster’s sermon was what hit home the most, especially in the face of recent failures and my continued struggle with the rigidity of certain Christians and their commentaries.

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

Hebrews 2:1-3 (NASB)

We must…I must pay attention to what I have heard so that I do not drift way from it, for if the Word spoken by angels at Sinai to Moses, the Torah, proved unalterable, how can I escape if I neglect so great a salvation as the Word uttered by the Master?

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Solomon’s Porch

At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.

Acts 5:12 (NASB)

Sermon Three: Solomon’s Porch
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

In this third sermon on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship teacher D. Thomas Lancaster expands on why the writer of the Book of Hebrews constructed this word of exhortation to the letter’s recipients and further identifies them as Jewish disciples of Messiah living in or around Jerusalem sometime in the early 60s CE (common era).

Where did the first Christians go to church?

This is how Lancaster started his sermon. He says the question is nonsensical because the first Christians were actually Jews. They didn’t go to church because the modern concept of “church” didn’t exist. Neither did the modern concept of “Christianity.” The first Christians were Jews and they practiced Judaism. As you saw in the quote at the top of the page, the first Jewish believers commonly met in an area on the east side of the Temple called Solomon’s Colonnade.

Lancaster speculates that, because of the prophesy in Zechariah, saying the Messiah would descend upon the Mount of Olives and enter the Temple through the eastern gate, the disciples met there in anticipation, since the Mount of Olives was plainly visible from Solomon’s Colonnade.

Then Lancaster diverted his sermon, taking the audience back in time twenty years or so, recalling a conversation he had with his Father who had been a Baptist minister. Somehow, they got to talking about the Book of Hebrews and his Father, remember, this was twenty years ago, twenty years before Lancaster thought of producing this sermon series on Hebrews, commented on Hebrews 13:22:

But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.

Thirteen chapters is hardly brief and in fact, Hebrews is one of the longest epistles in the New Testament. Lancaster’s father suggested that Hebrews was originally written in two parts: a longer sermon intended to be delivered to a Jewish audience and a shorter letter accompanying the sermon as an explanation.

That’s pretty much was Lancaster suggested in last week’s sermon.

Lancaster’s father said something else rather interesting. He said he thought that Hebrews was written to a group of believing Jews who had been kicked out of the Temple and who didn’t know what to do next. This was a group of Jews who, if they renounced Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah, would be allowed to return to the Temple. Hebrews then, was a letter and a word of consolation to those Jews to not give up their faith but to hold fast to their devotion to Messiah.

Traditional Christian teaching about the Book of Hebrews states that the epistle was a warning to believing Jews to not “backslide” into Judaism and return to Temple worship, so the senior Lancaster’s suggestion was the exact opposite of how most of the Church understands the meaning of Hebrews.

But Lancaster’s Dad’s interpretation has several advantages, according to the younger Lancaster:

    1. It doesn’t anachronistically require a fully-developed Christian identity that is separated from the normative Judaisms of the mid-first century CE.
    2. It doesn’t require that Jesus abolish the Torah or the Levitical system.
    3. It better explains the arguments within Hebrews (which will be covered in subsequent sermons).
    4. It fits much better with what we know about the early Jewish believers and their relationship with the Temple.

The Early Jewish Believers and the Temple

This part of the sermon fits within the realm of established fact as we see in the scriptures and doesn’t require any speculation. It does require setting aside traditional Christian doctrine about the early “Jewish Christians” and taking the scriptural text, primarily in Acts, at face value.

levites-aaronic-blessingWhat was the relationship of the early believing Jews to the Temple? They revered it, just as their Master Jesus revered the Temple.

Lancaster covered those portions of the Gospels that demonstrated Jesus’ devotion to the Temple, his first recorded appearance there as a boy to debate the scholars, evicting the moneychangers, calling the Temple “my Father’s house,” and so on. You can listen to the recording to get the details, including how Jesus, when he returns, will rebuild the Temple and reinstitute the Temple services.

After the ascension, the disciples returned to the Temple. They may have received the Spirit while praying at the Temple (Acts2). Acts 2:46 mentions their presence at the Temple. Acts 3:1-3 speaks of the disciples participating in prayer services at the Temple. And Acts 5:42 asserts that the disciples were in the Temple daily teaching and preaching of the Messiah.

It is strongly believed in normative Christianity that the disciples must have given up the Temple sacrifices since Jesus fulfilled them all, and yet Acts also speaks of many Priests in the Temple coming to faith in Messiah because of the devotion of the disciples. According to Lancaster, these Priests didn’t give up their jobs and stop administering the sacrifices, but rather, found greater meaning in their Priestly duties, seeing Messiah’s blood in each of their services.

In fact, the only occasions on which the disciples were accused of speaking against the Temple, were when they were accused by false witnesses. The trial of Stephen before the Sanhedrin is an example, and Stephen took a full chapter in Acts to deny and refute the false accusations.

Lancaster also points out that the Bible never, ever says that the disciples stopped offering the sacrifices. This would have been a big deal and if it were so, you’d think Luke would have mentioned it. It’s assumed by most Christians that the Jewish disciples stopped offering Temple sacrifices based on doctrines that were much later established by the Christian church, not because it says so in the Bible.

If we look at Acts 24:17 and the surrounding text, we can see how, thirty years later after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Master, Paul was encouraged to offer sacrifices at the Temple to show many other believing Jews that the accusations stating Paul was teaching against Torah and against the Temple were utterly false.

Maybe you can accuse Paul of vainly clinging to obsolete Jewish customs by offering sacrifices but what about James, brother to Jesus, steward of the Throne of David, head of the apostolic community? If anyone should have known the truth about the teachings of Jesus, it should have been James. If Jesus had taught against the Temple and abolished the sacrifices, James should have known about it and advocated for that position. Obviously, he didn’t.

A plain reading of the relevant passages, without being filtered through Christian anti-Torah, anti-Jewish, anti-Temple bias reveals this. Except as viewed through the heavily-colored filter of Christian tradition, there’s nothing in the Bible that says the Torah, including the Temple sacrifices, were ever to be abolished. If you want more information about this, watch the First Fruits of Zion television episode The Torah is Not Canceled. It’s only thirty minutes long and well worth your time.

History records the death of James the Just, the brother of Messiah, the leader of the Council of Apostles and head of the entire body of believers, as happening in 62 CE. Lancaster dates the Book of Hebrews at just a few years later. According to Lancaster, this was also about the time issues came to a head between the disciples in Jerusalem and their arch foes, the Essenes, the group of corrupt Rome-collaborators who illegally had control of the Temple. The Essenes wanted the disciples out of the Temple and wanted them to renounce their faith in Jesus as Messiah.

Speculation

This next part can’t be firmly established through scripture or historical texts and is extrapolated from Lancaster’s understanding of the content in Hebrews. He believes that after the death of James, the Essenes held their own Sanhedrin, leaving out the Pharisees, and forbade the Jewish believers from Temple participation, cutting them off (“Koret”) until such time as they renounced Yeshua.

The Master even predicted this would happen in John 16:2. And this was the purpose of the sermon and letter of Hebrews: to encourage and support the Jewish believers in Jerusalem who had been removed forcefully from Temple participation to keep the faith, keep faith in Yeshua, and not to break faith, even for the sake of returning to the Temple.

MessiahYes, Temple devotion was appropriate and desired. Every year during the pilgrim festivals thousands upon thousands of Jews from all over ancient Palestine and the diaspora nations would converge on Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple in obedience to the commandments.

But devotion to Moshiach and devotion to the Temple were not to be considered mutually exclusive and the writer of Hebrews was earnestly imploring the Jews in Jerusalem to not forsake Messiah in the face of being removed from the Temple.

For even if removed, and even after the Temple was destroyed, it has been promised in Messianic Days that the Temple will be rebuilt and Jews as well as many, many people from all the nations will go up to the Mountain of the Lord and the House of the God of Jacob and worship Him there in Jerusalem.

What Did I Learn?

Well, again, quite a lot. I was wondering how Lancaster was going to firm up his suppositions from last week and I admit he did a pretty good job of it in this sermon. His point kind of wavers when he suggests last week that the disciples were Greek speaking Jews and this week they seemed more likely to be Jews who were native to the Land, but I suppose it could go either way, or even involve a more general population of Jewish believers.

I’m certainly getting a very different picture of the Book of Hebrews than I imagined, and indeed, one more consistent with my understanding of the over all message of the “good news” to the Jewish people.

At the very end of this sermon, Lancaster said he was finally finished setting up the required background and that in next week’s sermon, we’ll begin to actually study the Epistle to the Hebrews. I know that I’ve been turning some of the more difficult passages of this part of scripture over in my head and wondering how they can be seen as consistent with the overarching message Lancaster is presenting. Can all of the book of Hebrews, even the “pesky” parts, really be interpreted as an encouragement for believing Jews in Jerusalem to keep the faith in Messiah, even though denied access to the Temple, which both they and the Master revered? In my next review, we’ll begin to discover the answer.

Edit: Where it says above that the “Essenes” were involved in the death of James and in opposition to the believing Jews in Jerusalem, it should read “Sadducees”.  I apparently misunderstood what was said on the recording and apologize for the error.

Beyond Tisha B’Av

Tisha b'Av at the Kotel 2007In the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, “Take a scroll and write on it all the words which I have spoken to you concerning Israel and concerning Judah, and concerning all the nations, from the day I first spoke to you, from the days of Josiah, even to this day. Perhaps the house of Judah will hear all the calamity which I plan to bring on them, in order that every man will turn from his evil way; then I will forgive their iniquity and their sin.”

Now in the fifth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, in the ninth month, all the people in Jerusalem and all the people who came from the cities of Judah to Jerusalem proclaimed a fast before the Lord. Then Baruch read from the book the words of Jeremiah in the house of the Lord in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the scribe, in the upper court, at the entry of the New Gate of the Lord’s house, to all the people.

Jeremiah 36:1-3, 9-10 (NASB)

For this our heart has become faint, for these things our eyes have grown dim. For Mount Zion, which has become desolate; foxes prowl over it. But You, O G‑d, remain forever; Your throne endures throughout the generations. Why do You forget us forever, forsake us so long? Restore us to You, O G‑d, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.

Lamentations 5:17-21 (Tanakh)

This year, the 9th of Av or Tisha B’Av begins at sundown on Monday, July 15th and ends on sundown on Tuesday the 16th. There is no more tragic day in the history of the Jewish people than Tisha B’Av. You can click the link I provided above to read the chronicles of this day of mourning for Israel, but I wanted to provide an additional perspective.

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Luke 21:20-24 (NASB)

When the Romans laid siege upon Jerusalem, when they breached her walls, when they utterly destroyed the Holy Temple, how many remembered these words Jesus spoke some forty years before? How many bewailed the tremendous loss, even as Jews all over the world have mourned for their losses since that time? What does the Kotel mean for millions of Jews today? And of the disciples of the Master who lived in the days of destruction, what happened next?

At its height, the Jerusalem community of disciples numbered around ten thousand. Several thousand of these spent the war years in Pella. Their migration back to Jerusalem probably did not happen all at once…

-D. Thomas Lancaster
from Torah Club Volume 6, Chronicles of the Apostles, pg 1135
read with Torah Portion Devarim
published by First Fruits of Zion

There is a three-week period of preparation for commemorating Tisha B’Av but what happens after the fast is over? Go on with regular life? Prepare for the coming week’s Torah reading? Anticipate the Days of Awe and the return of autumn?

After each tragedy, there is a long period of mourning and slow recovery. In the case of the vast majority of Jews after the destruction of Herod’s Temple, they must have struggled to understand how life could go on? How could they make the sacrifices commanded according to Torah? How could they worship God?

As Jewish history continued to unravel forward in time, almost all of the Jewish people were exiled from their land. Holy Jerusalem was renamed by the Romans “Aeilia Capitolina” as yet another insult to the Jews. Only a tiny remnant of Jewish people clung to life within the borders of Israel. According to Lancaster’s commentary, this included Jewish disciples of the Master.

Jewish disciples of our Master continued to live in Pella and the surrounding area at least into the fourth century. In his fourth-century treatise against heresies, Epiphanius complains about the Nazarene “heresy” which he describes as Jewish believers in Yeshua “who remain wholly Jewish and nothing else.”

-ibid

Tisha b'Av at the Kotel 2011Tragedy. Loss. Mourning. Adjustment. Hope.

But much past the fourth century, we must concede that the number of Jewish disciples of Jesus dwindled to few and then none. Like the Temple, Jerusalem, Israel and the Jewish people, Jewish faith in Yeshua of Nazareth as the Messiah went into a long exile and seemed completely lost forever.

But God is gracious. Nearly two years ago, on his blog, Rabbi Joshua Brumbach published a history of Jewish Rabbis who lived during the past several centuries who were also believers, and “who remained wholly Jewish and nothing else.” Both the first and second parts of Rabbis Who Thought For Themselves provide the beginning flickers of illumination after great darkness. Gentile Christianity has flourished in the centuries between the Temple’s destruction and the modern era and Judaism, though suffering greatly, continues to survive and even to thrive in various areas of our world.

But there has always been an enormous disconnect between the two.

That wound is very slowly healing.

In a very real way, Christians and devout Jews are all waiting for the same thing: the coming (or return) of the Jewish Messiah King. Our “visions” of just who is coming (or coming back) and what he will do are quite different, but the Messiah exists as an objective fact, regardless of our beliefs and dreams.

The world herself has been grieving for nearly two-thousand years awaiting the return of the Prince of Peace and the King of Righteousness to stop the bleeding, cease the wars, feed the hungry, and to bring repair and shalom to this broken planet…

…and to her broken people.

Thus said Cyrus king of Persia: Hashem, God of Heaven, has given to me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has commanded me to build Him a Temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of His entire people — may Hashem his God be with him, and let him go up!

2 Chronicles 36:23 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.

Revelation 22:20-21 (NASB)

May Messiah come soon and in our day, and may he heal the broken and the broken-hearted.

Amen.

Healing the Gaps in the Wall

destruction_of_the_templeThe next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.

But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.

Acts 13:44-46, 50-51

Are believers who live under the law generally joyful people?

Instead of God’s truth, with what did Satan fill the hearts of those who believed that justification before God could only come through keeping the law of Moses? Do you think that they were sensing a loss of influence and control?

-Questions in the Bible Study Class notes from last Sunday

Last Sunday at church, Pastor Randy preached from Acts 13:42-52. I was impressed that Pastor was able to give a sermon on such a potentially inflammatory set of verses in a way that expressed great sensitivity for the Jewish people, and correctly identified (in my opinion) the source of the “irritation” expressed by some of the Jewish leadership in the Pisidian Antioch synagogue upon witnessing vast crowds of pagan, idol-worshiping Gentiles flood into shul to hear Paul speak.

My Sunday School class discusses Pastor’s sermon after services (the church offers multiple classes on Sunday on a variety of subjects, but I chose this one since for me, the highlight of going to church is the sermon), and in going over my study notes the day before, I knew there could potentially be some problems. I wasn’t looking forward to class and once it started, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to say.

Fortunately, although the notes could have been worded a bit better, the attitudes expressed didn’t reflect any negative attitudes toward “the Jews” …

… exactly

No, no one spoke against the Jewish people, but the language of Christians talking about “the Jews” has been crafted over many centuries and there seemed to be an echo of that language in my study notes. If I hadn’t known better, I probably would have been concerned a time or two in class.

Actually, I did become concerned, since the teacher inserted the assumption that part of the reason “the Jews” in Antioch became upset, was because Paul was teaching that the grace of Christ replaces a life “under the Law” for Jewish believers.

As the time to go to class approached, I was still uncertain how or if I was going to respond to this assumption, but when the moment arrived and I heard “the Law” being (apparently) dissed, I asked to read from Psalm 19. I had the ESV Bible with me, but below, I’m quoting from the Stone Edition Tanakh (note that the verse numbers are slightly different between the Christian and the Jewish Bible):

The Torah of Hashem is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of Hashem is trustworthy, making the simple one wise, the orders of Hashem are upright, gladdening the heart; the command of Hashem is clear, enlightening the eyes.

Psalm 19:8-9 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Does that sound like the Psalmist thought the Torah was a burden? That’s the question I asked the class. Pastor, in his sermon, bent over backwards to illustrate that saying “the Jews” in this context, would be highly insulting and would not accurately reflect what was happening in the Antioch synagogue. Not literally every Jewish person turned against Paul and Barnabas and no, Paul did not permanently turn away from bringing the good news of Messiah to Jewish people and take it only to the Gentiles from that moment on. And there’s nothing in the text of Acts 13 that tells us Paul spoke against the Torah.

It’s sections of scripture like this one that have been used by the church to berate, denigrate, harass, and persecute the Jewish people for centuries. Although I didn’t get any push back at all in class as I made my points, I had to be sure that the people I’ve been studying with for over half a year weren’t misunderstanding this portion of Acts 13 based on long-standing Christian tradition (yes, Christians can interpret scripture based on tradition, too).

I don’t believe they were, but it was one of those moments in church that helps me realize we have a long way to go in healing the rift between traditional Christianity and the Jewish people.

I probably wouldn’t have written about this at all except when I got home from church, I went online and read the following:

We are now entering the Three Weeks, the time between the 17th of Tamuz (observed Tuesday, June 25th) and the 9th of Av (starting Monday day night, July 15th). This is a period when many tragedies happened to the Jewish people. Why do we mourn the loss of the Temple after so many years? What did and does it mean to us?

The 17th of Tamuz is a fast day. The fast begins approximately an hour before sunrise and continuing until about an hour after sunset. The purpose of the fast is to awaken our hearts to repentance through recalling our forefathers’ misdeeds which led to tragedies and our repetition of those mistakes. The fasting is a preparation for repentance — to break the body’s dominance over a person’s spiritual side. One should engage in self-examination and undertake to correct mistakes in his relationship with God, his fellow man and with himself.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary for Torah Portion Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)
Aish.com

yom-kippur-kotelYou might think I’m being overly sensitive about all this. I suppose some of the people in Sunday School class might think that of me. I couldn’t see all the faces around the room as I was speaking, so I can’t gauge how each person was responding. I can only tell you that no one disagreed with me out loud, and in fact, a few people spoke up in support of my statements.

Rabbi Packouz, while reminding me of the terrible tragedies and losses that have befallen the Jewish people and how Israel is once again entering a time of national mourning, also helped me realize that for every descent, there is an ascent, and every wound offers an opportunity for healing.

The story is told of Napoleon walking through the streets of Paris one Tisha B’av (the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, a day of fasting and mourning for the destruction of the two Temples). As his entourage passed a synagogue he heard wailing and crying coming from within; he sent an aide to inquire as to what had happened. The aide returned and told Napoleon that the Jews were in mourning over the loss of their Temple. Napoleon was indignant! “Why wasn’t I informed? When did this happen? Which Temple?” The aide responded, “They lost their Temple in Jerusalem on this date 1700 years ago.” Napoleon stood in silence and then said, “Certainly a people which has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long will survive to see it rebuilt!”

If we know our history and understand it, then we can put our life in perspective. We can understand ourselves, our people, our goals, our values. We will know the direction of our lives, what we want to accomplish with our lives and what we are willing to bear in order to fulfill our destiny. Friedrich Nietzsche put it well, “If you have a ‘why’ to live for, you can bear with any ‘how’.”

Sara Debbie Gutfreund also wrote about the 17th of Tammuz but from a much more personal perspective.

A few years ago my grandfather passed away right before the 17th of Tammuz. On the fast day I was helping my mother as she sat shiva and an old family friend offered me a drink.

“No thanks, I’m fasting.” I said.

“What are you fasting for?” he asked. So I explained that it was the 17th of Tammuz, and we were mourning the day that the walls of Jerusalem were breached before the Second Temple was destroyed.

“I never heard of this fast day. But you know what’s even sadder? Last year my wife and I visited Israel for the first time. We went on a tour of the Old City and the tour guide points out the Temple Mount. And all we could see was this huge mosque and then the tour guide points out the Western Wall. And I couldn’t believe it. That’s it? That’s all that’s left of the Temple? One wall? So I think I know why there’s a fast. There’s so little we have left.”

-from “Filling the Crevices of the Wall”
Aish.com

So where is the uplifting part of the story. I promise you that there is one.

Last night, my son, who is named after my grandfather, was standing with me on the deck.

“Why is the world so big?” he asked me as we gazed up at the towering trees and the endless stretch of star-studded sky.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Maybe because we need room to grow.”

And as the fireflies began to light up the dark corners of the yard, I thought that it must be true. The darkness is here for us to create light. The brokenness is here for us to learn how to make ourselves whole. And the Western Wall – all that’s left – is so much more than just a remnant of our past. It’s there to remind us to rebuild. It’s there to hold our crumpled notes and dreams. It’s a gift. Like the gap between the waves that pulled me in and brought me back to shore. Like the saltwater that poured down my face and the sand that blurred my eyes. Like the silence that gives us a chance to find our own words. Like the hugeness of the world that makes room for us to grow. Like the man who put down his drink and said. “I think I know why there’s a fast.” There’s a gap. In our hearts. In the crevices of the Wall.

But the gap is the gift. And all that’s left is the extraordinary opportunity to fill it.

I amazes me that a people and a nation who have suffered so much can continue to bounce back and not only to survive, but to live, and grow, and embrace the God of Jacob wholeheartedly. As Napoleon was supposed to have said, “Certainly a people which has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long will survive to see it rebuilt!” Nietzsche’s statement “If you have a ‘why’ to live for, you can bear with any ‘how'” is well and appropriately applied to the history of the Jewish people. The Kotel or what some people refer to as “the Wailing Wall,” is all that there is left of the Temple at present and in the crevices, people insert written prayers to God. The Jewish people fill the gaps in their existence with their faith that one day, God will answer their prayers and send His Messiah to restore them as a people in their Land, to redeem Israel, to raise her up, to give her a King who will bring peace to all the world.

temple-prayersThe gap between Christianity and Judaism gives me the opportunity to help fill it with who I am as a believer and what the Jewish Messiah King means to me. I can fill the gap as a Christian man who has been married to a Jewish wife for over three decades, who has raised three Jewish children, and who is sensitive to what Christians have traditionally said and believed about the Jewish people based on some misunderstood portions of the scriptures.

Not something to dread, but an opportunity to help educate and to introduce a balance (though it probably wasn’t needed much in this case).

But like many Jewish people are doing right now, part of me grieves the losses, even as I know there are gains. It’s going to get worse for our world before it gets better. There will be battles. There will be heartache. There will be a need for courage.

We will need to fill the gaps that God has left us because that is helping to repair the world, tikkun olam. That is part of bringing the return of the Messiah. Part of the gospel message is the promise of personal salvation for anyone who believes. But the especially good news for the Jewish people is that when Messiah returns, he will redeem and restore national Israel, rebuild the walls of David’s fallen sukkah, and bring peace between the Jewish people and the people of the nations who are called by his name.

And beyond what Rabbi Packouz and Ms. Gutfreund reminded me of, I remembered Boaz Michael’s message in his book Tent of David. It is true that, as my friend Tom once said, I’m ultimately seeking not Christianity or Judaism, but an encounter with God by returning to church, but I am also seeking the vision of Boaz Michael in healing the “crevices in the wall” between what Christianity has largely become, and what Messiah truly wants us to be.