Tag Archives: The Holy Epistle to the Hebrews

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Faith Toward God

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.

Hebrews 6:1-2 (NASB)

The second elementary teaching of the Messiah in Hebrews 6:12 is called “faith toward God,” but how is this distinct from other first-century sects of Judaism? Even the Sadducees believed in God. Find out how Yeshua transformed the faith of his followers, and get a fresh handle on what it means to “believe in Jesus” and to be “born again.”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty: Faith Toward God
Originally presented on June 15, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Apparently I was premature last week in writing No One Comes to the Father Except Through the Son, because Lancaster tells the same parable I referenced in that blog post in today’s sermon. I should have guessed when the chapter of Elementary Principles I quoted from was called “Faith Toward God”.

Fortunately, there are many other details revealed by Lancaster within the context of his “Faith Toward God” lecture. Here’s what I mean.

Remember, we’re studying the elementary principles of the faith, the very first things one must absolutely grasp as disciples of Jesus, the “milk,” the really simple stuff, the basic “food” you must consume and get used to before you’re ready for “meat.”

But doesn’t “faith toward God” seem a little too elemental? I mean saying “have faith in God” is like saying “God made the Earth” or “the Torah was given through Moses.” How did having faith in God distinguish the Jewish religious stream of “the Way” from all the other Judaisms of their day? All of the Judaisms, no matter how they otherwise differed, had faith in the existence of God.

In fact, the Way and the Pharisees had almost identical beliefs. They both believed in the resurrection, they both believed that God rewards good and punishes evil in this life and the life to come, they both believed that you had to repent to be forgiven of sins.

Apparently though, the Greek we translate as “faith in God” or “faith toward God” is better rendered “faith ON God” or “faith UPON God,” implying a sort of reliance.

Later in the epistle, the writer of Hebrews defines faith, which should help us solve our small mystery:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.

Hebrews 11:1-2 (NASB)

faithYou probably have that one memorized. But although I’ve read it many times, the meaning of these two verses seems rather vague, or they did until I heard Lancaster’s explanation.

Here’s the key to understanding how a Messianic faith on God would be different from that of a Pharisaic faith or the faith of any other branch of first century Judaism:

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.

Hebrews 11:6, 39-40 (NASB)

In case you’re still wondering what all that means, here’s Lancaster’s parable, which I referenced last week, to provide clarification:

Once, a man who had two daughters went off to war. Before he left, he promised to return to them, and he also promised them, “When I return, I will bring you each a fine string of pearls and a summer dress.” No one except the two girls knew about the promise. After many years, the man had not returned, and everyone presumed him dead. His daughters, however, continued to hope, believe, and wait. A decade passed, and they grew to become adult women, but neither of them forgot their father or his promises. Deep in their hearts, they continued to hope and to believe. One day a messenger came seeking the girls. Finding only one daughter, he told her, “I have news of your father. He is returning, and he sends you this gift.” The messenger presented her with a fine string of pearls.

Now both girls still believed in the promise of the father, but one had received a token of the promise, and the other had not. One had faith in the father’s promise on the basis of her hope and confidence in the father’s promise, but the other had faith in the father’s promise on the basis of the good news that she had already received and on the basis of the partial fulfillment of her father’s promise. She already had the pearls. She had no question in her mind that she would soon see her father face to face. Think of that girl’s confidence, certainty, and joy. She no longer had any doubt that her father was coming. She knew that he would bring the summer dress because she had already received the pearls.

-Lancaster,
“Chapter 4: Faith Toward God,” pg 56
Elementary Principles

prayingA Messianic faith upon God isn’t just believing in God’s existence and it isn’t just believing that somehow, someday, God will keep all of His promises, the promise to redeem all of Israel, to return all of the exiles to their Land, to elevate the nation of Israel above all the nations, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, that God will punish the evil and reward the righteous. It’s not just believing in all that. It’s knowing that there’s actual proof, evidence witnessed by the apostles that God was beginning to keep His promises starting in their day.

Remember, the writer of Hebrews said that Abraham, the patriarchs, and all of the Jewish people came before Yeshua (Jesus) also had great faith in God but “did not receive what was promised.”
But the apostles saw the resurrected Jesus as proof of the promise of the resurrection because he was the first fruits from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20).

A Messianic faith includes believing not just that God exists but that He is just and that He keeps His promises and that He gave proof of this through the Messiah, through Jesus. The Messianic Jewish disciples did not just believe by faith that there would be a redemption, that the Kingdom of Heaven would come, and that King Messiah would ascend to the throne in Jerusalem, as the Pharisees did. They had direct evidence that the promises were starting to be fulfilled. The apostles were witnesses to this evidence and they passed their testimony to many others, both in the Land of Israel and beyond, both to the Jews but also to the Gentiles.

But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Matthew 13:16-17 (NASB)

That maps right back to Hebrews 11:39-40. Many great men and women of faith in the history of the Bible longed to see the beginning of the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to Israel but they died and did not see. Yet all those who lived in the time of Yeshua did see and not only did they believe, they believed by faith in the evidence and what they saw with their own eyes.

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…

Romans 1:1 (NASB)

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother…

1 Corinthians 1:1 (NASB)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…

Ephesians 1 (NASB)

I said last week that Jesus was the messenger bringing evidence as a gift that God would do all that He said He would do. The importance of this role of Jesus was (and is) incredible, and we see how the apostles, particularly Paul, responded by inexorably linking Jesus and God, for example, in each of the salutations of his letters.

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)

PrayerI’ve wondered what “faith to faith” meant, but in this case, it’s the distinction between one’s faith being through Messiah and any other faith in God, just like the difference between the two sisters in Lancaster’s parable. Faith in God, which is good and which the Jewish people have always had, when viewed and apprehended through the revelation of the Messiah and through his resurrection, becomes more than longing and is transformed into confidence and a lived hope. It’s not just “how long Moshiach, how long,” but “I have faith because I’ve seen.” The one sister in the parable held the pearls in her hands. She could see them, touch them, wear them, and she knew they came from her father and were evidence that he would return bearing his other gift. She knew that not only would he come bringing gifts for her but that he would return to both of his daughters and reward them both with his gifts, just as he promised.

Paul too desired this for both believing and unbelieving Jews.

For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:3-5 (NASB)

Paul would have given up his “gift” to the other “sister” if only she would believe and have the confidence that Paul possessed in God, through Messiah, that all of the New Covenant promises would be fulfilled and were in the beginning process of being fulfilled, having believed from faith to faith.

It was this confidence, through Messiah, that was the only real difference between the Messianic believers and the Pharisees, and it should foreshadow the relationship between observant Messianic Jews and other observant Jews in the modern era. Grasping this Messianic faith and knowing by evidence that it is true is like being born again, like dying and being resurrected, like submerging below the waters of the mikvah and rising again into the air.

Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith…

Romans 16:25-26 (NASB)

“Obedience of faith.” This Messianic faith isn’t just belief, it’s a lifestyle based on the actual knowledge that God keeps His promises, that God is just, that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, that God requires repentance for the forgiveness of sins, that God requires we turn from sin and back to Him, transforming and conforming our lives to the will of God by the power of the Holy Spirit and faith in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, who is the “Gospel messenger” who delivered evidence that the promises are going to happen and are beginning to happen right now.

What Did I Learn?

This pretty much reinforces what I wrote about last week and further confirms why having faith in Yeshua as Messiah was and is the next logical step in the progression of a Jewish person’s (as well as a Gentile’s) devotion to the One God. If you do believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that his message is Good News to Israel and also to the Gentile nations, that he brought evidence as to his identity but more, that he brought evidence of God’s gifts through the revelation of his resurrection, then you have not just hope in the unseen, but a sure confidence in what has happened and in what has not yet happened but what will indeed occur. You have the pearls in your hands and believe, by faith, they came from the Father. You don’t just have to believe they will arrive someday by faith. You know they will because part of the promised gift is already with us.

MessiahIf you don’t accept what the messenger said was true and you do not believe the pearls came from your Father, you still have faith, as did the Pharisees, and as many observant and faithful Jews today have, that God will keep His promises, that a Messiah will ascend the throne, that the Temple will be rebuilt, that Israel will be elevated to the head of the nations, and that the exiles will be returned to their Land, but…

…but you have set aside God’s assurances. Even though you have faith and even though you believe very, very strongly that you are doing the right thing, you still are denying something precious that God gave to you. This is what broke Yeshua’s heart (Matthew 27:37-39) and Paul’s (Romans 9:3-5). This is what makes the difference. Denying Yeshua as the Messiah is denying that God gave evidence of His promises through His revelation.

For nearly two-thousand years, Gentile Christianity has been beating up the Jewish people, calling them vile and horrible names, persecuting them, torturing and maiming them, even killing them in the name of Jesus, all because the Jewish people continually refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah. But the “Messiah” that the Gentile Christians offered the Jews was not the Yeshua that the apostles knew. The Church, in splitting from the Jesus-believing Jewish ekkelsia in the early second century and later, rewrote the Gospels and reinterpreted the entire Bible to the point where Yeshua became “Jesus” and Messiah became “Christ”. All of the “good news” that would have been seen as good for the Jews now seemed like poison.

I mentioned last week that the Church is its own worst enemy, but it also has historically been the enemy of the Jews.

Messianic Judaism has come to take back their history, their Messiah, and their Bible and to say, “this belonged to us first.” Jews in Messiah have come to take back their faith toward God through the revelation of Yeshua and his resurrection. These Jews are not only like their distant ancestors, the readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but they are the first fruits of the Jewish Messianic Kingdom, the citizens of Israel, the subjects of the King. It is only through them that we Gentiles too may be saved, through the same faith they have, the faith toward God, the faith upon God, the faith Abraham had when he was called righteous (Genesis 15:6, Galatians 3:6).

“A brilliant mind without faith is like a beautiful face without eyes.”

-Shalom Cohen

May the hearts of all those who do not know Yeshua turn to God through Messiah’s revelation, first the Jew and also the Gentile, in the name of my Master and my King, I pray.

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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Evangelical Gospel

Introduction to the Six Elementary Teachings of Messiah with a look at Evangelicalism and the Evangelical Gospel, citing Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Seventeen: The Evangelical Gospel
Originally presented on May 25, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3

As Lancaster began talking about Shavuot, about Pentecost, about what the Evangelical Church calls “the birthday of the Church,” I wondered where his lectures on the Book of Hebrews went. I knew that he was going to spend some time on the six basic foundations of the faith, but I didn’t know this would entail exiting the Epistle to the Hebrews altogether.

He did quote the following Psalm, which is a Psalm about Shavuot, however:

The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng…

Psalm 68:11 (NIV)

No, that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Hebrews either, but we’ll get to that.

Lancaster spent a lot of time talking about, really reviewing Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel. This sermon was given right after First Fruits of Zion’s 2013 Shavuot conference (although that link takes you to info about this year’s conference). It’s always held at Lancaster’s home congregation, Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship.

I attended the conference in 2013 and also went the previous year. I didn’t spend a lot of “face time” with Lancaster, usually because he’s pretty busy and in demand, but last year we talked for a bit and he recommended McKnight’s book. I formally reviewed the book as well as mentioned it elsewhere, and found it reassuring if not illuminating.

Like Lancaster, I didn’t agree with everything McKnight said, but it was refreshing to read an Evangelical teacher and author saying that Evangelical Christianity is serving up a hopelessly truncated gospel message.

I’ll skip over Lancaster’s history of the Evangelical Church but I will mention that Lancaster started out his ministry as an Evangelical Pastor and he’s the son of an Evangelical Pastor.

But as a teenager, Lancaster said he got so frustrated with trying to find the Evangelical Gospel message spoken by Jesus in the scriptures, that he threw his Bible across the room.

Here’s a summary of the Gospel message according to, not Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but according to Evangelicalism.

Imagine Jesus saying this:

Believe in me for the forgiveness of your sins so you can go to Heaven when you die.

Jesus never saidThat’s the Evangelical message of the Gospel in a nutshell but Jesus never said it…ever. For that matter, neither did Paul, Peter, James, or any of the other apostles.

In fact, Jesus rarely spoke of personal salvation and when he did, the teenage Lancaster thought it sounded…legalistic:

And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

Matthew 19:16-22 (NASB)

The traditional Evangelical interpretation is that Jesus was playing a little game with this fellow to help him realize that he needed to leave his wealth behind and learn to trust Jesus, but I don’t see how the fellow in question could come to that conclusion when Jesus was speaking of the commandments and merit, a very Jewish message.

But the Evangelical message of the plan of salvation, although it’s some part of the Gospel message, is not only a small part of that overall good news, it’s terrifically misleading. It only teaches that you have to confess Jesus as Savior and believe in him. That’s it. In fact, Lancaster says Evangelicals shouldn’t really be called Evangelicals but rather “Salvationists” because of the narrow focus of their message.

They’re not even replacement theologists but rather displacement theologists, because the plan of personal salvation, as the length, breadth, and depth of their doctrine, displaces all of the Old Testament, the resurrection, a literal Israel, and the establishment of the Kingdom of Messiah on Earth. Why would you need an Earthly Kingdom if you go to Heaven when you die to be with Jesus?

What was the central message of the Messiah?

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17 (NASB)

Gates of HeavenThe NIV and other translations use the word “near” rather than “at hand.” The Kingdom of God is near. How near is it? Lancaster says it’s so near that the Messiah has even been named. He’s Jesus of Nazareth. He’s teaching repent of your sins, return to God, be immersed in the name of Messiah for the forgiveness of sins (after you fully repent), then you will participate in the building of the Kingdom, the restoration of national Israel, the return of the Jewish exiles to their Land, the raising of Israel as the head of all the nations.

Lancaster spoke too quickly for me to capture all of his points, but at the end, he said Peter’s message in Acts 2:37-42 is a much better representation of the actual Biblical Gospel message than what Evangelicals preach.

And at the culmination of the Kingdom, all of humanity, each and every individual, will stand before the throne of judgment. The Evangelical message of salvation is only included in bits and pieces of the total Gospel, and it’s still an anti-Jewish people and anti-Judaism message if only because it wholly denies the centrality of Israel and the Jewish people in its own salvational plan.

It gets worse. Jesus preached:

And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

Luke 13:23-24 (NASB)

This is not what Evangelicals preach about salvation. For example, how can you “strive to enter the narrow door,” when there’s nothing you can do to merit salvation? Evangelicals say to “accept” and “make a decision for Christ” which are quite passive. Striving is active and implies you must do something to enter the narrow gate. Also, how can the gate be so narrow if whole stadiums and auditoriums of people are “getting saved” by some big name evangelist preacher at a huge revival?

milkThat last part is a little tongue-in-cheek, but you get the idea. Jesus didn’t teach that the Gospel message or even the salvational part of it was “believe in me and be saved.” He taught, “repent, have faith, become a disciple, for there will be a resurrection of the dead, and the living and the resurrected will participate in final redemption.” Lancaster says the actual Gospel message isn’t news to Messianic Judaism but it must be quite a shock to most of the world’s 100 million Evangelical believers. Most Evangelicals don’t even know about the “milk” being taught in the Bible, let alone the “meat,” and this is where we re-engage the Book of Hebrews.

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity…

Hebrews 6:1 (NASB)

Lancaster ended here a few weeks ago and this is the place where we have come to again. This is also the heart of Lancaster’s new book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Early Jewish Christianity, which is available as a special promotion (sorry to sound like a commercial, but it’s a pretty good deal) until June 3rd.

Lancaster wound down his sermon with another summary of the six foundations of the faith and said starting next week, he’s going into each of them in detail, with repentance being the very first step.

What Did I Learn?

As I mentioned, I’ve read and reviewed McKnight’s book last year, so this was more like a review than a revelation. I’ve also been going through my own study of repentance or teshuvah, so his comments on repentance operated in parallel to my own thoughts.

I don’t think that all Evangelicals have quite such a narrow view of the message of the Gospel, but I agree that even the most enlightened Evangelical is missing at least part of the picture. I know Evangelical Christians who strongly preach repentance of sins and who even lament there are many people in the pews on Sunday, who in all probability, are not saved because all they know is to passively believe.

I don’t doubt that some and hopefully many Evangelicals are indeed saved and are faithfully serving God, but it’s not my place to say who is and who isn’t. It’s my place first and foremost to care for my own relationship with God, for without love of God how can I love my fellow human being in the manner my Master commands?

Elementary PrinciplesLancaster doesn’t recommend McKnight’s book to his congregation, probably because he believes they are more tuned in to the actual message of the Gospel because of their involvement in Messianic Judaism (and being consumers of Lancaster’s prolific teachings and writings). I do recommend McKnight’s book to Evangelical Christians as a means of understanding that what Lancaster is teaching isn’t “Evangelical bashing,” but rather a startling wake up call.

Do you really want to know what Jesus taught as the good news of Christ? You may not get the full message from your Pastor’s sermons or from popular books by Christian authors. You probably won’t even get it in Sunday school or at a Wednesday night Bible study. If you read McKnight’s book, please open your mind and heart and be prepared for a shock. If you survive the book intact and want to learn more, continue with Lancaster’s book and see where that takes you.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Six Foundations

What are the fundamentals?

Discover the six basic teachings of Messianic faith from Hebrews 5:11-6:3. This sermon presents and introduction and overview of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1-2).

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Fifteen: Six Foundations
Originally presented on April 27, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits.

Hebrews 5:11-6:3 (NASB)

As someone commented recently on another of these reviews, in this sermon, Lancaster takes a break in teaching about Messiah as high priest according to the order of Melchizedek, but frankly, so does the writer of Hebrews. Lancaster says the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews became frustrated with his readers. Why? Because he wanted to get into the deep mysteries of the priesthood of Melchizedek but he felt his audience wasn’t up to the challenge. They were still struggling with the very basics, the fundamentals of faith in Messiah. They were still consuming milk when they should have been dining on t-bone steaks by now.

Lancaster pauses to say something I don’t think many Christians, including Christian teachers and Pastors, are going to like.

If you’ve been reading this review series regularly and (hopefully) been listening to the previous recordings of these lectures, you know that within the first five chapters of Hebrews, we discover a multi-layered storehouse of meaning that is not evident on a surface reading, especially in English. The level of knowledge and education required to get this far exceeds, in Lancaster’s opinion, what is being taught in most (or all) Christian seminaries today.

In my opinion, all the various expressions of the Christian Church are so married to the static doctrine of their faith, that they can’t allow themselves to seriously examine the perspectives necessary to plunge into the hidden depths this Epistle possesses.

milkThe Hebrews writer considered the readers of his letter to be infants needing milk, unable to consume solid food, much as Paul addressed his own readership in 1 Corinthians 3. But if the original readers could follow the first five chapters of Hebrews and understand the deeper meanings are considered babies (since the writer to the Hebrews must have assumed he was being understood by his readers), then what does that make us in the Church today? Less than infants? Tiny, newborns? Undeveloped babies still in the womb? That’s hardly flattering at all. But what if it’s true?

Moving back to the text, Lancaster says this part of Hebrews outlines the basic foundations of Christianity or, in this case, Messianic Judaism as it was understood, taught, and practiced in the first century. He teases out a list of six items:

  1. Repentance from dead works
  2. Faith toward God
  3. Instructions about washings
  4. Laying on of hands
  5. Resurrection of the dead
  6. Eternal judgment

Even the summary Lancaster presents in today’s sermon is dense with information, and yet, these were the very, ground floor, teachings of what we think of as early Christianity among the Jewish believers. However, as you’ll see, every one of these fundamentals of the faith are completely Jewish teachings and were endorsed by the Pharisees.

And Lancaster says that even these fundamentals are almost completely beyond the comprehension of Christians today.

Repentance from Dead Works

When most Christians, including Pastors and teachers, read “repentance from dead works,” they believe, almost by reflex, that this is talking about repenting from works of the Law, that is, repenting from performing the Torah mitzvot.

Lancaster used some pretty strong language here and says the Protestant interpretation of “dead works” is dead wrong and in fact, the exact opposite of what the letter’s writer was trying to say.

For the wages of sin is death…

Romans 6:23 (NASB)

TorahWe covered a lot of this last week. Obedience to God doesn’t bring death. Sin brings death. These were Jews the letter writer was addressing. It would have been insane to tell a bunch of Jews longing to return to bring offerings at the Temple that observing the Torah was “dead works”. Dead works equals sin, according to how Lancaster reads this. He not only called the current Church interpretation of “dead works” wrong, he said the teaching was satanic. This is the first time I’ve ever heard Lancaster go this far in “calling out” a traditional Church teaching.

What was the basic teaching of Jesus? Did he say, “believe in me and you’ll go to Heaven when you die?”

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17 (NASB)

Jesus taught repentance of sins, not repentance of Torah obedience. He taught teshuvah. He taught turning away from sins and turning back to God. In Lancaster’s teaching about the New Covenant, he says over and over that Covenant is all about having a relationship with God by obedience to the mitzvot, which is what the Jewish people, including the believers, were doing. The first mitzvah is repentance, and it’s a mitzvah we must perform daily, lest we slowly, subtly fall away from the teachings of the Master and thus, fall away from God. Remember, Lancaster believes the letter’s readers were in grave danger of losing faith in Messiah and apostatizing.

Faith Toward God

You’d think this was a no brainer for the readers of the letter and for us, but faith is a lot more than just believing God exists. True, we must believe God exists before we can do anything else, but belief isn’t the goal, it’s just the starting line in the race.

In James 2:19 we learn that even the demons believe and they tremble, but we certainly can’t say that their belief somehow equals faith in God. Nearly two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a commentary about the difference between faith and trust based on a rabbinic midrash, and I think it carries Lancaster’s meaning well.

We must trust in God’s sovereignty, that He is in control, and that He rewards obedience and punishes sin, both in this life and in the life to come. That means what we do matters. Our actions aren’t worthless or, as Derek Leman once put it, our deeds are not filthy rags. A transformed life in Messiah reflects that transformation in what we do.

Having faith equals having a relationship with God and, as Lancaster states in the aforementioned “New Covenant” lectures, covenant is all about establishing relationship, in this case, between man and man and between God and man. Lancaster said it’s a false teaching that all we have to do is “believe” intellectually or emotionally and do nothing else and that we are saved. If we don’t lead a life that shows fruit, our belief means nada.

As it turns out, Judaism at its core, is not a “religion of dead works,” but instead, its a covenant of intimate relationship between Israel and God.

Instruction About Washing

Washing? What? Is this about the various ritual washings such as Netilat Yadayim?

Some English translations of the Greek “baptismo” render the word “baptism,” but the problem is the word in Greek is plural. If this is supposed to be about multiple water and spirit baptisms, then it becomes a theological problem, since we are baptized in water and receive the Spirit only once. How can immersion be “immersions?”

Remember, this is a Jewish audience, an audience that would immerse on any number of occasions in the mikvah in order to render themselves ritualistically pure. They’d immerse daily before going up to the Temple. They’d immerse before getting married, women would immerse once a month, and the Torah prescribed many other circumstances that required immersion by Jewish men and women.

So what about the immersion of John the Baptist? Didn’t that replace all of the others? Lancaster calls John’s immersion the “Immersion of Repentance” which is also immersion into the Name of Yeshua. We see the first Gentile immersed in Messiah’s name in Acts 10.

But why would a group of Jewish believers need instruction about the mikvah as a fundamental teaching Messiah? They would have already been well versed in mikvah instructions from Torah. The way that the Greek expresses it, “baptismo didacus,” Lancaster believes that these were the instructions a new disciple would be given about the teachings of Messiah before being admitted into fellowship and immersed. We may even have those instructions preserved for us in the Didache, the set of teachings provided to new Gentile disciples of the Master, probably within or soon after the Apostolic era.

Do we have this today? So many churches, according to Lancaster, are focused on getting as many people saved as possible, but the Bible doesn’t say to make converts, but to make disciples (see this book review, and this short video for more). Is discipleship a lost practice in today’s Church? For many churches, the answer is “yes,” especially when compared to the process of discipleship as it existed in the various first century Judaisms. What we may be creating instead is a body of false converts where only a small minority of people in church pews every Sunday are actual disciples who are leading transformed lives in Messiah. The rest are merely those who said “Christ is Lord” and “believe” but otherwise are unchanged human beings.

The Laying On of Hands

laying on of handsBesides in Pentecostalism, the Church isn’t into laying on of hands anymore. In the Bible, people were cured of illness through laying on of hands, but the practice is much older and in fact, based on the Torah and sacrificial system. The first step in offering a sacrifice at the Temple was for the person making the offering to lay hands upon it, transferring identity, if you will, so that in the case of a sin offering, the sacrifice would be made in place of the person.

Moses laid hands on Joshua to transfer authority over the tribes of Israel to him. Lancaster believes that after the mikvah, the last step in admitting a disciple into the fellowship of faith was to lay hands on the person, even as it was for the conferring of authority to a new elder in the community.

Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.

1 Timothy 4:14 (NASB)

Presbytery is also translated as “board of elders.”

So the basic steps of training and inducting a new disciples would be:

  1. Education in the teachings of Yeshua
  2. Acceptance into the community
  3. Immersion of repentance and into the name of Messiah
  4. Laying on of hands by the board of elders or the head teacher

All basic stuff, according to the Epistle’s writer. Fundamentals of the faith, first century Pharisaic Judaism style.

Resurrection of the Dead

Now this you’d think the Church would have down cold. I’m writing this on Easter Sunday so I’m sure Churches all over the world are preaching about the resurrection today. But according to Lancaster, many churches avoid talking about a literal, physical, bodily resurrection and instead, preach going to Heaven as a bunch of spirits. That’s eternal death (of the body) not eternal life.

The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t Heaven and it isn’t sitting on a cloud, strumming a harp forever and ever. It’s the Kingdom of God established on earth populated by a people who have been raised physically from the dead, which is why we call Yeshua our “first fruits from the dead.” It is his resurrection that is proof that we too will one day be resurrected in the faith through grace. Then we live here under the reign of King Messiah as living, breathing human beings under the New Covenant, with the Torah written on our hearts…and we will know God.

Eternal Judgment

This too should be well understood in the Church, the fact that there will be a final judgment for all humanity, when we will have to give an account for every word and deed we’ve committed in this life. Like the Master said, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It was “at hand” or “imminent” because Messiah had entered the world and his death and resurrection flipped the “on” switch to start up the New Covenant. It’s on the edge of coming and is entering our world even now. And yet it will not have arrived until the Messiah returns.

repentanceWe have time, but who knows how much. Repent now. Don’t wait. Repent and obey. Lead a transformed life. Exert every effort so that when the books are opened, your name will be written in the Book of Life and not in the Book of Death.

Basic teaching. Milk.

And each and every one of these six fundamentals is what the Pharisees taught and these teachings were despised by the Sadducees. But the Sadducees had control of the Temple and the Priesthood and had no reason at all to allow the Jewish Pharisaic believers in Messiah access to the sacrificial system. So who would be their priest?

What Did I Learn?

I’d never separated out six fundamentals of faith in Messiah during the Apostolic period from Hebrews before. But what made the biggest impression was how, if we are to believe Lancaster, the vast, vast majority of the people we call Christians today are misreading not only this Epistle, but misunderstanding the fundamentals of their (our) own faith that is taught by the Bible.

I’ve written about Christian Fundamentalism before, which can trace its origins in Church history back about a century, but it doesn’t look like what Lancaster taught today. In fact, if you click the link I just provided, it too presents six fundamentals of the faith. They are just six points that don’t resemble those points we read in Hebrews 6:1-2

I felt Lancaster was a little hard on the Church, a little too critical of their mistakes and errors. After all, Lancaster was raised in the Church and his father was a Pastor. How long did Lancaster have to study and how many of his previously cherished attitudes and beliefs did he have to painfully surrender before he got to the point where he could teach this interpretation of Hebrews at Beth Immanuel?

This may sound strange, but I have the good fortune of not having spent my entire life in the Church. I had much less to “unlearn” and not too many attitudes and emotional attachments to Church tradition to give up. I have had quite a long and interesting time of putting together the Hebraic viewpoints on the Scriptures in a way that actually makes sense relative to the entire Biblical record, and I freely admit that Lancaster’s teaching, both at Beth Immanuel and through First Fruits of Zion, have been highly instrumental in that unlearning and retraining process.

But successfully transmitting that information to long-term and life-long Gentile believers is the challenge. Even getting a Christian to the point of considering that teachings like this one have value seems all but impossible. Many believers are so cemented into their theology and doctrine, that it would take dynamite to blow them out of their viewpoint and move them to a perspective where the Bible looks like and teaches something that, in my opinion, is much more consistent across the board. Many Christians don’t even believe there is more than one perspective on the Bible, and for those who do, they see those alternate perspectives are representing error, cultish belief, and even heresy.

But the end result is still the same. We enter the fellowship of Messiah through faith by grace and undergo a transformation into a new being who we are now and who we are in the process of becoming, little by little, until Messiah returns and the New Covenant is completely enacted.

followWe just need to be willing to take the risk of listening to teachings like this one critically but with an open mind. Once we learn to accept that what we’ve been taught about the Bible isn’t what the Bible actually says, we are faced with the daunting task of changing the Church from within to be more consistent with what the revealed Word of God turns out to be.

Some will follow. Others will continue to resist, clinging to the doctrines they’ve come to love, regardless of how they misconstrue God’s intent, especially toward Israel.

“Sometimes you have to move on without certain people. If they’re meant to be in your life, they’ll catch up.”

-Mandy Hale

To learn more about the six foundational principles of ancient Jewish Christianity, consider D. Thomas Lancaster’s new book Elementary Principles which is being offered by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) for free between now and June 3rd.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Source of Eternal Salvation

Follow the apostolic logic and discover the relationship between Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 and how the writer of the book of Hebrews derived the priesthood of Messiah. This teaching comes with a stern call to discipleship.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Fourteen: The Source of Eternal Salvation
Originally presented on April 20, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him,

“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You”;
just as He says also in another passage,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 5:5-10 (NASB)

In today’s sermon, Lancaster starts out with a bit of review of earlier in this chapter of Hebrews and ends it by “getting Evangelical.”

We return to the concept of the High Priest, who Lancaster called “the Holiest man in the world.”

Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship, but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance.

Hebrews 9:6-7 (NASB)

The High Priest was the hope of the nation. Only he could enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur and offer atonement for all of Israel. Every Jewish heart turned in repentance toward the Temple, the Most Holy Place, and the High Priest that their sins would be forgiven and atoned for, and they might be justified before God.

But as you might recall from previous reviews in this series, Lancaster believes the readers of the letter to the Hebrews were Hellenistic Messianic Jews who had been denied access to the Temple, the Priesthood, and the sacrifices, by the Sadducees who administered the Temple in those days. How heartbroken and anguished must these Jewish disciples of the Master have been, believing the High Priest on Yom Kippur was not atoning for their sins among the people of Israel.

James the Just and other apostolic figures had been martyred. The Messianic disciples were cut off from the Temple, their faith in the Master was wavering. And this epistle was sent to them as consolation and exhortation, and even as prophesy of a life when the Temple would be no more and all the Jewish people would suffer exile.

They needed a priest. But where did the writer of Hebrews get the idea that Yeshua (Jesus) of the tribe of Judah and the house of David was a High Priest? Wasn’t that only for the sons of Aaron?

And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.

Hebrews 5:4 (NASB)

In Judaism, no one chooses to be High Priest. Not even King David himself could perform the duties of the High Priest. Only the son’s of Aaron.

Hillel and ShammaiLancaster recalled a story from the Talmud, specifically Shabbos 31, about three converts, three pagan Gentiles who wanted to become proselytes, one on the condition that he could become the High Priest. I found a summary at the Saratoga Chabad website if you’d like to review the material.

The point is, no one, not even the anointed one of God, King Messiah, can demand to become High Priest.

However, in another priestly line, we find another High Priest of a different order, Melchizedek, King of Salem, who Abraham encounters in Genesis 14:18-20

But what does he have to do with Jesus?

Lancaster reads Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 and says that they are both Psalms about Messiah, depict God establishing Messiah as ruler in Zion, show God speaking directly to Messiah, declaring Messiah as both Son and Priest:

I will tell of the decree: Hashem said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.

Psalm 2:7

Hashem has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:4

If you go to the web page for this lesson, you’ll find a PDF with the translations Lancaster uses for these two Psalms.

In short, it’s Lancaster’s opinion that the writer of the Book of Hebrews uses Psalm 2 as the foundation for Psalm 110 and that these are his proof texts establishing Yeshua as a High Priest who is able to make atonement for us.

But when did this happen?

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 5:7-10 (NASB)

Messiah”In the days of His flesh.” In other words, in Christ’s earthly ministry he was established as a High Priest. How? Why?

Lancaster cites these verses as a wonderful, apostolic eyewitness about how the Master prayed. He prayed very loudly, with great supplications, with crying and tears, to God, the one able to save from death. Lancaster believes this tells of the night Jesus prayed at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-56, Luke 22:39-46).

And even though Jesus was a Son, he obeyed God, even as Isaac obeyed Abraham at the Akedah by allowing himself to be bound as the sacrifice, but in this case, no angel saved the son of promise from becoming the Lamb of God on the altar.

He suffered and was made perfect. Wasn’t he perfect before? What perfected him? The refiner’s fire? He was perfected as we shall be, by the resurrection. And having been made perfect, Jesus then became the one who is the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

This is the part where Lancaster “gets Evangelical.” This is the part when he reminded me of the Head Pastor at the church I attend.

For the most part, we learn in the church that if we believe in Jesus, we will be saved from our sins, but the writer of Hebrews says Jesus is ”the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

Obey Jesus by doing what?

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17 (NASB)

First Fruits of Zion’s television series A Promise of What is to Come has a number of episodes describing what “the Kingdom of Heaven” or “the Kingdom of God” means and you can take a look at those for the details. But Jesus is calling all who hear him to repentance.

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (emph. mine)

Luke 9:34 (NASB)

Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” (emph. mine)

2 Timothy 2:19 (NASB)

Repentance isn’t a one time event and it’s not mere intellectual or even emotional ascension that “Jesus is Lord”. It’s one thing to call Jesus “Master” and quite another thing entirely for him to be your Master (or my Master) by a conscious act of our (my) will, allowing him to truly rule your (my) life.

Lancaster pleaded with his audience to examine themselves and to determine if they have truly repented, if they repent daily, if they really, continually do subjugate themselves to the Master’s will, if he really is King of their (our) lives. Lancaster isn’t selling cheap grace. Lives hang in the balance. Like the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Lancaster is exhorting his flock to keep to the faith, not unsaved sinners somewhere outside the body, but living human beings and devotees of the Master within the ekklesia, the body of Messiah.

What Did I Learn?

I listened to this sermon the same day I wrote For Redemption is Not Yet Complete, a dedication to repentance, turning away from sin,  and back to God.

According to Aish.com, there are four steps to repentance or teshuvah:

  1. Regret. To regret what we have done wrong.
  2. Leaving the negativity behind. To stop dwelling on the transgression in thought and action.
  3. Verbalization. To verbally state the transgression.
  4. Resolution for the future. To be determined not to let the transgression happen again.

waitRepentance, true repentance must be humanly possible, otherwise, why would God call for repentance so much in the Bible? In my studies of the New Covenant, thanks to Lancaster’s What About the New Covenant lectures, I know that we are currently in the Old Covenant times, which means we don’t yet have the ability to automatically, naturally, easily obey the voice of our Master. And yet, as believers, we are also called to listen to the voice of our shepherd as if we were already in New Covenant times.

The Master gives us all a sober warning (Matthew 25:31-46) that we can be counted as sheep or goats, and many believe they truly have turned to our shepherd but in fact, they never really repented. And in their sins, even while calling Jesus “Master,” they were rejected (or will be rejected) and sent away.

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end…

Hebrews 3:12-14 (NASB)

All shepherds cry out to their sheep, not to wander away, not to be foolish, not to fool ourselves that we are somehow “once saved, always saved,” that our “fire insurance” is all paid up.

The Bible is replete with warnings against human failure and exhortations and encouragement to maintain our faith, even in severe adversity, as did Paul, as did James, even to the death, for the sake of our lives, for the sake of the Master, for the sake of the Kingdom.

If we can do nothing else, cling to him, cleave to the shepherd, grasp the holy garments of the High Priest, repent with tears and anguish, and beg for him to provide your atonement, that you might be reconciled to God and enter His Kingdom.