LIGHT DISPELS DARKNESS – 21 Dec 2007

This Sunday some of us are going to Bethlehem to worship with Arab brothers and sisters in the joy of our God.  Next weekend our congregation (actually the Lord Yeshua’s congregation) will be host to over 40 teenagers from that same area.  Today happens to be the shortest day of the year, when the light of day in the darkest of seasons is at its briefest in this part of the globe.  A little light can dispel even more darkness; how much more the sun the blackness of night; how much more even does the Light which is the Word of God, and who is Himself the Lord Jesus Christ, dispel the darkness of lies!

Recently, at this very time of year when Jesus Christ is remembered by nearly the entire world, there has been an exposure of some rather remarkable indications of a falling away from the truth which has been entrusted to those who say they know God – or rather that they are known by God:  a book by the well-known preacher and Israel supporter, John Hagee, with the strange view that Yeshua did not come to be Israel’s Messiah and therefore was not rejected as Messiah by them!; we’ve already had those even within the Messianic community deny the deity of Yeshua, or that Jews do not necessarily have to believe in Jesus in order to be saved.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, the supposed spiritual leader of the Anglican Church, went on record just this week on a BBC radio interview that downplayed the importance of believing that Jesus, the Son of God, was born of a virgin.  Besides undermining the veracity of the written word as given us in the Scriptures, it also, of course, raises the question:  who then was the father of Jesus.  If not God, then there is another Jesus the right reverend (or, maybe, wrong reverend, or simply not reverent) archbishop must be referring to!

I don’t know how many of you have seen the recent documents put out by Muslim leaders from around the Islamic world, and the response by Christian leaders.  The Muslim letter is called, “A Common Word Between Us and You” (http://www.acommonword.com ), and the Christian response is titled, “Loving God and Neighbor Together” (http://www.yale.edu/faith/abou-commonword.htm).

The resolution of conflict in areas of mutual social welfare is not and can not be treated as being of the same kind alongside with “theologically based” peace.  Our relationship and fellowship through the blood of Yeshua and our common salvation in Him are essential factors as a basis for other areas of reconciliation amongst believers.   The Holy Spirit is speaking plainly when the Scripture says that  between unbelievers and believers (with respect to the true God)  there can be no genuine reconciliation between nations or peoples!  (2Cor 6:14-18).  

To seek to be at peace, as far as possible, with all persons is one thing, but quite another to do this in such a way which compromises in any way the confession of who the one true God is.   To the Muslims, the name Allah is not the same one God as YHVH God, who has revealed Himself especially to and through the Jews – even if Arab Christians use that term with their own tacit understanding of it.  So those who are blessed as peacemakers or pursuers of peace in being called “sons of God” will be those who pursue and make peace based on YHVH GOD’S covenantal truth regarding peace. As it is written, even the demons know that there is one God . . . and tremble.  When Muslims hear and say “Allah” they are not referring to YHVH God, the Father God who revealed himself through His Son, Yeshua the Messiah, who is one with the Father. (Ps 83:16-18 Eng)  The Jews, Christians, and Muslims do not all share the faith of Abraham, for they do not all believe in the God of Abraham!  (Dec 31:  Check this current extremely relevant story for an Islamic view on the use of the name ‘Allah.  Is Allah a personal name?http://www.christianpost.com/article/20071228/30662_Malaysia_Christians_Challenge_Ban_on_’Allah’.htm )

By the way, YHVH/Yehovah/Yahweh does not mean ‘God’ or ‘LORD’, but is the Name by which He will be known forever, the Everlasting God, the One who was, and is, and is to come – and who came to us in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name alone is given under Heaven for salvation unto eternal life.  YHVH is the Most High God — God of gods, and Lord of lords (Ps 136:1-3) — over the god of the Muslims,  the Hindus, the humanists, even of the atheists!  There is no God like YHVH our God, and no other is to be compared with Him.

The document, “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to ‘A Common Word Between Us and You’ “, which in fact was a Muslim initiative to “define peace and hope in this world only, presents a position, with its language of accommodation, that gives the implicit impression that the God of the Bible is the same as that of the Koran.  Concurrently it then implies that Jesus Christ is no different, higher, or greater than Mohammed, and that reconciliation between the two faith communities is essential for world peace.

The following quote is taken from the “Christian Response”:

“What is common between us lies not in something marginal nor in something merely important to each.  It lies, rather, in something absolutely central to both:  love of God and love of neighbor.  Surprisingly for many Christians, your letter considers the dual command of love to be the foundational principle not just of the Christian faith, but of Islam, as well. That so much common ground exists – common ground in some of the fundamentals of faith – gives hope that undeniable differences and even the very real external pressures that bear down upon us can not overshadow the common ground upon which we stand together.  That this common ground consists in love of God and of neighbor gives hope that deep cooperation between us can be a hallmark of the relations between our two communities.”

Neither Judaism nor Islam accepts that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  Yet it is precisely upon this confession that He builds His church, of which we profess to be.  Islam teaches that their God is not a father, and therefore, he has no need of a son, which expressly refers to Jesus, but also includes Israel as first-born son amongst the nations by YHVH’s own declaration.  The Muslim nations’ hope lies in being reconciled to THIS God and to HIS Word, which is no different than that to Israel and the Jews, or to any other people. Peace in this world is of HIM and not of ourselves, however well-meaning.

In the Christian response to the Muslim leaders , the one true God is blurred and too much is left to each person and side to define for themselves what the different terms refer to.  This, of course, will never succeed to accomplish anything genuine, and is clearly the wiles of the devil who is seeking to deceive even the elect, if he can.

The Lord Jesus says that we are the light of the world, and that our light is to shine so before men that they may see our good works done in His Name and glorify our Father in Heaven.  To the Muslim, this makes no sense, since they do not believe in the same Lord and Savior as we do; nor is our Father in Heaven theirs.  We are called to be stewards of the mysteries of the Kingdomof God and of the uniqueness of our God, of His Son, and of the faith once delivered unto the saints.

Some say that speaking of Yeshua’s life and teaching is understood to include also that He died and rose again.  By whom?  The Muslims do not believe that He died, and therefore He did not rise again.  The Jews believe that He died, and no more than that.  As believers our salt will become more tasteless and less effective if we allow ourselves to be brought down to the lowest common denominator in the pursuit to find ‘common ground’, which will be found to be nothing but sinking sand!

The “Christian Response” to the Muslim appeal promotes neither inner nor political peace, not now nor for eternity.  Yes, we all would like to see even temporary relief from all the suffering and injustices we face in the world, just as from headaches and other illnesses.  But our actual calling is to bring those in darkness into the Light where there is true and lasting hope, not for this age only (which is in any case subjected to futility), but especially for the world to come.

At the very time and season that many believers around the world are celebrating the birth of Him who is the true Light who came into the world, His enemy is at work to bring in confusion, and using those called by the name of the Lord and of His Christ to either show themselves to be hypocrites who don’t really believe what they have written, or else afraid through unbelief in the love of the truth.  “By this we know love, because [Yeshua] laid down His life for us.”

We live in sobering times, and are to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints.  The time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?!  May God our Father have mercy on all His children.

THE RESURRECTION OF THE JUST

1Thes 1:2-10   We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of God our Fatherknowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.  Evidenced by their change of worldview and lifestyle; their endurance through suffering for the sake of faith in Jesus, with joy of the Holy Spirit; and their hopeful expectation of the return of the Lord to deliver them from the wrath of God to come.  

Heb 6:1-2   Therefore leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Messiah, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God; of the doctrine of baptisms; of laying on of hands; of resurrection of the dead; and of eternal judgment.
      –from being mere ‘children’ to becoming ‘sons’
      —Dan 12:2   And many of those who sleep in the dust shall awakesome to everlasting life; some to shame and everlasting contempt
      —1Cor 15:13-19; Jn 11:23-24   without the resurrection, our faith, teaching, and lives are vain, futile  

Acts 24:14-16; 23:6; 26:6-7   But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and the Prophets.  I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust.  This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and man.
   –the hope of the resurrection is the promise of God to His people; at least as far back as Job we have a record of living hope in the resurrection
   –personal responsibility to live as a righteous person, to live in a manner that proves we believe in the resurrection of the just
   –God raised Jesus – not Moses, not Buddha, not Mohammed, not Gandhi – from among the dead (Mk 9:9-10)
      –proof of being the Son of God; of God’s satisfaction with Him; of His being the Just One
      –first-born of many brethren: in Him we, too, will be raised up from among the dead on the last day!
         –Do you believe the love of the truth 

2Tim 4:8   Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that day, and not to me only, but also to all who love His appearing.
   –everlasting crown, not a temporary or fading one (‘icing on the cake’; ‘to top it all off’; ‘the best of it all’)
   –the resurrection of the just (Dan 12:2; Jn 5:26-29;Acts 24:15; Phlp 3:11; Rev 20:6)
   –if our conscience is clear, we are neither afraid or embarrassed to see someone who knows  us
   —1Jn 4:17-19   where there is love, there is no fear of judgment
      –The Holy Spirit works in us to prepare us for the Day of Judgment.  Part of the Lord’s prayer which He teaches us is that we be delivered from the evil (day; one).  

   –all the trials of life are intended to prove, strengthen, perfect our faith in Him who has demonstrated  his everlasting love for us.
   –humility: conformity to the image of the Son of God
      –the tension in life between the sovereignty of God and man’s free will
      –confidence in God; no confidence in the flesh, in me, in my credentials
         –I do not do very well in many things.  My faith, hope, and love are in Jesus, who died for sinners to make us righteous in God’s sight.  

2Tim 1:8-12   Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.  For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless, I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.

GOD’S PURPOSE FOR BELIEVERS IN YESHUA

Rom 8:26-30  The Spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God. . .
                       And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

What is our purpose in life?  For what are we preparing ourselves?  When a university student chooses a major field of study, or when someone chooses a career or profession based on skill, ability, knowledge, what do they do?. . . . . they prepare themselves for the goal of passing the course; of being accepted for the job;  of advancing to receive better conditions, salary, status, authority.  These are all normal pursuits in most of our lives, or as parents how we want to encourage our children.  There is the honorable way of pursuing one’s goals, and there are dishonorable ways to attain our objectives.  All of this is good and acceptable (not the dishonorable ways, of course!), and, in general, applies to all persons everywhere within their own culture. 

But what of those – also living in the same world with everyone else – what of those who have been born again from above by the Holy Spirit through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ?  As we know, this can happen potentially at almost any age and at different stages of people’s lives and for all kinds of people.

As we saw last week, all things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose.  Unless we have a purpose in our lives – and this can change or become more defined as we mature – unless we have a purpose, we can not prepare properly, and we will simply drift through life as circumstances blow.  God, who not only created all things and all humanity, but who Himself has redeemed and saved those who have put their hope and trust in Jesus, has given to each believer a calling and a purpose:  firstly, to be conformed to the image of His Son.  A true son honors his father, and as sons of God, we are to declare the greatness of our Father in Heaven.  Among other relationships we have in Christ, one is that we are brothers and sisters of Jesus:  we have the same Father and the same Spirit.  Jesus is the first-born, signifying that there are [many] others after-born.  We are called by the Father to partake in His business – now of redemption; after, of reigning with Messiah in righteousness and justice over the nations.

Yeshua is called the Holy One of God (Mk 1:24 – by demons; Lk 1:35 – by angel announcing His conception and birth).  We have received the Holy Spirit (Spirit of Holiness; Spirit of the Holy One; Spirit of Messiah) to work with us in our lives to be holy – separated unto God for His praise and glory where He alone is our all-in-all.  Without holiness no one will see the Lord, and he who calls upon the name of Jesus must depart from iniquity.(2Tim 2:19)  “Be holy, for I am holy!”  We are called to dignity, witnesses of YHVH God’s holy name:  of our Father’s holy name, which we profane when we act contrary to His character.

Jesus says of Himself that He is meek and lowly in heart (Mt 11:29).  These are qualities of character which  the Holy Spirit works in us through the trials, circumstances, and experiences of our lives.  It is a character that serves others and does not seek its own recognition and honor.  Jesus emptied Himself of glory, to become poor that we could become ‘rich’; to become human; to become a servant, not of the rich and powerful, but of servants.

Jesus was zealous for His Father’s house, that it is to be a place of honor and glory to the Holy and Righteous God. (Ps 69:9 [10 Heb]; Jn 2:17)It mattered to Jesus what was going on in the House of Prayer; it mattered to Him that the older ones set a good example for the younger ones; it mattered to Him how those in authority exercised their power over people’s lives; it mattered to Yeshua that God’s people worship Him in an acceptable way, without any idolatry, whether external or internal.

Jesus loved His Father in Heaven, and as His Son, as being God’s sent one, Jesus loves all of us.  For God so loved us that He sent Jesus, His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but inherit eternal life.  In this love of the Father, our “Older Brother” commands us to love one another as He has loved us.  It is a love not based on merit, but a love given to others in appreciation for being loved by God.  God has set His love on me because, by His mercy and grace, I love Jesus, the Beloved Son of God, His Father and my Father.  We do not deserve such love; Jesus does.

 God is working all things together for good in our lives towards accomplishing His purposes.  The more we know and commit ourselves to Jesus and His purposes, the greater will be His joy and ours; the more peace; the less fear; the more fruit which will remain proving the Messiah lives in us and is our life.  It is knowing God as our Father and Jesus as our Savior and Lord which gives us hope and the power to let the Holy Spirit sanctify us until the time of glory – sharing in the glory that belongs to the children of the living God!  Praise be to His Name!

OVERCOMING HATRED FOR THE SAKE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD

(Delivered at NEM Conference at the Baptist Village in Israel, April 23, 2006)

Mt 5:9-11   Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.  Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  

I tell people who ask me what it’s like to live as a believer in Israel that Israel is a great place to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, because it’s difficult to be lukewarm about our faith.  We have many first-hand experiences related to the passage we read from Matthew.  The Middle East provides us with many opportunities to be “blessed, happy, satisfied” if we are motivated by the love and purposes of God.  

Rom 12:17-21   There is no guarantee of success in our pursuit of peace or in our peace-making with others, but we are to live in the power of the Holy Spirit in us to demonstrate the truth – the reality – of our faith in Jesus and of His being our Savior and Lord.  

It is the peace of GOD that we have which we are to communicate and strive to obtain with others.  It is a peace which surpasses understanding.  Any other peace will be only temporary at best; only Jesus gives what is true peace:  it is a fruit of God’s righteousness; the price has been paid to secure it; it gives rest to the whole person, and nothing can take it away.  It begins when we return to God through the atonement of Jesus and know that our sins have been forgiven and we have received the Holy Spirit and eternal life.  

In our local congregation, Yeshua’s Inheritance/Nachalat Yeshua, we are each and all there because Jesus has placed us there.  We must learn to accept whom He has accepted, to love one another despite great differences of background and personalities; to forgive each other because we are disciples of Jesus.  In Israeli churches, we have a training ground to overcome natural prejudices towards other nations since so many of us have come from countries that were hostile or jealous of each other!  

The Christians – whether Jewish or gentile – live in not only a non-Christian country, but an anti-Christian country.  Both Judaism and Islam are opposed to the truth of Jesus as Messiah and the Son of God.  Even secularized Jews and Muslims are naturally inclined to resist the gospel.  Our congregation has twice been targets of angry irrational mobs, who were incited by false rumors started and spread by their religious leaders.  This is no different than in the days of Jesus, Stephen, Paul.  Jesus tell His disciples that if hate and persecute us, it is because they first did so to Him.  This is a proof that they do not know God the Father who sent Yeshua His only begotten Son.  To be anti-Semitic and anti-Christian is to be, first of all, anti-YHVH God and His sovereignty.  We are chosen and saved by His grace to glorify Him.  

A simple act of “giving a cup of cold water” to an enemy of the gospel can demonstrate our goodwill and desire to be at peace with him.  After all, Jesus commands us to even love our enemies, which we can only do for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  This is a clear demonstration that we are willing to deny ourselves, pick up our cross daily, and follow the Lamb wherever He goes.  

In Jewish/Arab, Israeli/Palestinian, missionary ministries in the Middle East, which strive to reconcile people to God and to one another, it is the Word of God to which we must all be reconciled and bring forth with humility in our efforts to be right with God and to have His grace working through us.  In such a region of conflict, which is firstly spiritual in nature, we have a moral responsibility to be in agreement with God on any issue, and then humbly seek to persuade others of the righteousness of God.  This way results in joy in the Holy Spirit, when we acknowledge that it is God who has done it!

Questions:   

1.  How does our understanding of what the Bible teaches about the “end-times”, the “last days”, affect our ministry and message of reconciliation, of pursuing peace?  When is “in that day” referring to in Isaiah 19:23-25?  

2.  Does our expectation of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth make a difference in our efforts at peace-making?
   –What if the Master “delays” His coming?
   –What if nothing seems to indicate signs of His coming?
   –Do we believe and know that Jesus will come again?  

3.  If the Lord Jesus is coming to judge the nations, how does this affect our ministry?
   –Calling anyone and everyone to repentance and to believe the good news
   –Being light and salt  

4.  If believers are commanded to love one another as Jesus has loved us, how does this affect our relationships with believers from unfriendly or enemy nations or people groups?  

5.  Would having a personal experience of suffering hatred and persecution for our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ make a difference in our approach to unbelievers who oppose the gospel?  

6.  Jesus said that His peace is not like the peace which the world gives.  What are some of the differences? 

ACCORDING TO THE LAW AND THE TESTIMONY – Isaiah 8:20

(Israel Conference at Langensteinbacherhohe:  “The Redemption of Israel According to Ezekiel and Paul”, Jan 8-11, 2004)

Mt 5:17-19     Jesus came not to cancel or to break the Law and the Prophets, but rather to fulfill every jot and tittle of them
Ex 25:21-22     the Ark of the Testimony was set in the Holy of Holies; the blood of atonement was sprinkled on the Ark as a witness to the hope of redemption from the holy and righteous demands of the Law of Moses
Acts 24:14-15  Paul’s testimony about the hope of the fathers, as written in the Law and the Prophets, for the resurrection
Rom 8:18-25    the redemption of our bodies in the resurrection

The word redemption in English means to buy (purchase) back and restore what is rightfully mine but legally lost through forfeit (loss of privilege or honor through disqualification by breaking the rules or law).  The word ransom means the payment of a price for deliverance from some evil.  It could be a prisoner of war, a hostage, a slave, or one’s own life (Ex 21:29-30).  In the Bible, redemption requires two things:  the legally qualified person, and the willingness and ability of that person to pay the required price to buy back what was given up.  The year of Jubilee is all about redemption and restoration, both of people and of property.  A redeemed person or possession is restored to his or its intended purpose.  His dignity is regained.  And the honor given him is greater than before the loss.

As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, let us be clear from the beginning of these messages that the redemption of Israel is assured by the fact—by the truth—that Jesus Himself is her Redeemer.  Not only does He deliver prisoners, slaves, debtors, but by His very name, Yeshua is the Savior and Redeemer of sinners. If Israel could redeem herself from her bondages, then certainly the Holocaust would seem to be sufficient payment of her own sons and daughters.  But it clearly has not been so.  God wants the loss of intimate relationship with Him restored, so that Israel–and the rest of the world– can have rest and peace and joy.  Messiah Jesus is the uniquely qualified person who willingly paid the necessary price to buy back His own people and kinsmen according to the flesh, and the Land of Canaan, which YHVH, Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, promised with an oath to give to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob and to their descendants forever.

Since Israel asked for a king like the heathen nations have, YHVH has not been Israel’s God in practice from their point of view.  Jesus came—and was also rejected for Caesar!—to restore God the Father’s Kingdom both to Israel and to the whole world, the gentiles already rejecting Him in Noah’s day, both before and after the Flood.   

Adam and Eve, through deceit and disobedience, lost the paradise and the authority that God provided and gave to them.  Both the people of Israel and the Land of Israel were forfeited by Israel through their breaking God’s covenant with them.  But Jesus was sent by God the Father to redeem His people, His land, even the whole of humanity and the whole Earth, even more—the whole universe of this creation, which has all been corrupted through sin and subjected to vanity, futility.  Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and the Savior of all, but especially for those who believe, for by faith we are saved through grace, not by law or through works or without condition.  Abiding in Jesus is the key to our faith and our love.  The Messianic/Christian faith is a relationship with the Father and the Son and with others who are born of God.

Jesus says that the whole of the Book is written about Him, and that He has come to fulfill all that is written in the Law and the Prophets. He says that Heaven and Earth will pass away, but not before God has fulfilled every jot and tittle of the Word of God with respect to this creation, which is set and limited by time and seasons.  So as we look at the subject of Israel’s redemption as presented by the priest/prophet Ezekiel and by the priest/apostle Paul, we do so as recognizing that all Scripture is inspired by the Spirit of God, and is given for our learning to make us wise unto salvation.  By them we can know not only God’s statutes, but also His ways regarding His people and the world at large.  This being so, then there will be essential agreement between Ezekiel and Paul, for the redemption is by YHVH God, who is the God of both Ezekiel and Paul.

Israel’s redemption—both of people and land—gives hope and significance to other nations.  God is interested in nations of people, a corporate collection of individual persons bound together by a language, law, customs, culture, boundaries.  He has given each a destiny, and within each of the families of the Earth, the Father is seeking those who will love Him with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and to worship Him in spirit and truth.

Christians are expected to be stewards of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.  The Church—the Body of Christ—was a mystery which God revealed especially to Paul to explain.  And Paul also says that Israel’s salvation is a mystery, which again the Holy Spirit explains through Paul.  But without knowing the truth of who Jesus really is, we can not understand either the Church–which is a new creation not of this world–or Israel, which is distinguished from the other nations.   

YHVH is a covenant-making and -keeping God.  God is love, and so His covenants are expressions of His love and holiness.  Just as the Lord requires a husband and wife to remain faithful to each other, even more so is He faithful to His people—even His Bride—through the covenant relationship He has with us.  He cannot deny Himself.  Jesus’ death on the cross because of our sin–and His subsequent resurrection to justify Him in man’s sight, and to justify in God’s sight all who believe that God raised Him up from among the dead—is the costly ransom which God paid to redeem us from the “legal” claims of the devil—a price which Satan tried to subvert.  God is debtor to no one, and is not out to appease His enemy.  The New Covenant assures us that God will keep all His previous commitments, and on the basis of that ‘filling full’ of all His purposes regarding the world He made, He will create a new heavens and a new earth, also in accord with what is already written in the Holy Scriptures.

Therefore Israel’s redemption is assured, even though only a remnant from each of the tribes will be saved to constitute “all Israel”—those of Jacob who repent from ungodliness so that they can receive God’s forgiveness of all their sins, transgressions, and iniquity.  No weapon formed against Israel will succeed, just as the gates of Sheol will not prevail against the Church.  It is not by Israel’s or our own righteousness, but by God’s mercy we are saved through faith in Jesus, the beloved Son of God.  The redemption of both Israel and of the Church is connected with preaching the gospel to all nations—to the Jews and to the gentiles.  Israel’s partial blindness to the good news of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God is remaining until the fullness of the gentiles is brought in.  Gentile (i.e., non-Jewish) Christians have a calling and a responsibility to provoke Israel to jealousy over your own personal relationship with Israel’s own God and Father, while at the same time showing mercy to the Jewish people.  (It is evident that classic anti-semitism has no place in the heart and mind of a true Christian).  And just as God saves individuals through the forgiveness of sin by their repentance unto faith, so too with nations.  The same YHVH God, who speaks to Israel through His prophets whom He sent to them, also speaks to nations, not just about them, through these same prophets.

The whole of God’s purpose in creation and redemption is to make known that He alone is YHVH, the only true God, and that Jesus Christ is LORD to the glory of the Father.  God wants us to want Him to honor His holy name in the sight of all—even as Moses did when the Lord suggested wiping out the rebellious people whom He brought out of Egypt.  We, too, must call upon God to save His people Israel, for the sake of His own Name and His Word, and to establish His Kingdom of Righteousness, Peace, and Joy in the Holy Spirit on Earth, as it is in Heaven.  For as Paul says, How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?  ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’ (Rom 10:14-15; Is 52:7; Eph 6:15)

God is working from both sides – Jewish and gentile – to fulfill His redemptive history and purposes.  He has given us an active part in that, once we have been joined to the Lord through new birth, we become co-laborers with one another as we serve Him.  But, thank God, He will do it!  That is our and Israel’s security and hope.  YHVH has done it!  Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead and lives forevermore.  Nothing is too great for Him to do!

THE CROSS

Mt 5:4/Lk 6:21   “Blessed are they who mourn/weep now, for they shall be comforted/laugh.”

Within the past month, members of this congregation have experienced mourning and weeping.  With the death of two family members, loved ones and friends had a personal and family experience of weeping and mourning.  And now this week, we have joined with the nation that weeps for her children, the 73 young men – soldiers – who died without warning or expectation; not at the hand of their enemies, but in a collision of two helicopters of our own.

Who among us did not cry before the Lord when we heard the news?  Who did not feel the pain of the families and close friends?  Who among the children of God the Father in Heaven does not pray from his heart, “Until when LORD?!; Thy Kingdom come!; Blessed is He who comes in the name of YHVH!; Come, Lord Jesus!”?

I heard that among some groups of the religious, there was rejoicing!  These are those who do not even recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel because their Messiah has not yet come.  YHVH’s Anointed One, Yeshua/Jesus, whom we know has come, and will come again, used the example of national tragedies to bring the people to repentance.  He proclaimed that those killed were not worse sinners than others, and that unless they repented, they, too, would likewise perish. (Lk 13:1-5)

Those who were rejoicing in their heart – whether they be Israelis or enemies of Israel – will not know the comfort which the Lord Jesus promises to those who mourn.  Let us look together at another passage from the prophet Ezekiel, and consider the mourning of which Messiah speaks:  Ezek 9:1-11 (esp. v. 4,9)  The city of Jerusalem and the land of Israel (Judah) are filled with blood, violence, iniquity because the people have no personal relationship with, nor faith in YHVH.  There is no genuine fear of God.  Instead, they say that the LORD has forsaken the land, and that He does not see.  Yet there were those within the city who sigh and groan over all the abominations done in Jerusalem, and by the religious priests in the sanctuary of YHVH.  Upon these mourners the Lord ordered His servants to write a  mark on their foreheads.

It is interesting that in ancient Hebrew the letter ת (tav) was written like a ‘t’.  The ‘mark‘ here in v. 4 is called a tav
(תו).  Brothers and Sisters, the mark of God, which He places on those whom He delivers and passes over from His wrath, is the cross!  It is at the cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus/Yeshua that self is slain, and God alone is good and worthy.

The message of the cross is proof that the gospel is neither Jewish nor Greek/Gentile:  The Jews do not accept it, and the Gentiles do not respect it. (1Cor 1:18-23)  Jewish people avoid any use of a cross design or symbol (even in arithmetic and at a cross-road intersection!), and Gentiles who know little or nothing of the true meaning of the cross have used it to terrorize Jews and others, and to blaspheme God and Christ.

The truth is that the cross, and its message of Messiah crucified, is, like the gospel, from God.  It is the New Covenant in Jesus which brings it to light.  Besides the ‘mark’ in Ezekiel, the cross appears in other significant places in Israel’s history by God’s plan and wisdom:
–the sprinkled blood on the door posts at the Passover in Egypt
–the formation of the tribes of Israel as they camped and moved on in the desert, with the Tabernacle in their midst at the center
–in the arrangement of the holy furnishings and vessels of the Tabernacle and the Temple, showing the way into God’s presence and glory

The cross is God’s mark upon His people, which represents the spiritual condition of the inner man.  To the carnal and unbelieving it is a mark of shame and dishonor; to the spiritual person in Christ, it is the mark of God’s glory in the person and character and atoning death of His Son, Yeshua the Messiah, and of God’s redeemed people, whose glory is our Head, even Christ Jesus Himself.  The cross is God’s mark to separate the world from His people, and His people from the world. (Gal 6:14), and it is by the shed blood of Yeshua on the cross, which we, as it were, sprinkle (1Pt 1:2) on our hearts and minds, that God will save us from the day of His judgment, which begins – today as in Ezekiel’s day – in the household of God. (1Pt 4:17)

The other night at the Bible study from the epistle to the Galatians, we discussed the matter of circumcision, which was and still is an issue in some groups, as a sign of keeping God’s covenant with Israel and with belonging to His people – even for Gentiles.  Foods also have an importance in similar arguments.  During the same time as our study, but without our knowledge, the helicopter collision occurred in which the 73 persons with names were killed without warning and, as far as we know, without Christ.  The nation mourns; we share in that grief.  God’s kingdom is not about circumcision and food (Heb 13:9), but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Peace is the fruit of righteousness, and especially that righteousness which comes from God.  Joy in the Kingdom of God is a holy joy, not a devilish delight in other people’s calamities or sin, but rather a joy in truth and righteousness and judgment (justice) and goodness.  Despite their significance, our righteousness before God does not depend upon such matters of circumcision and food, or even head coverings, and the Lord does not want contention (discord) and divisions over them, which can only quench and grieve the Holy Spirit.

A true Jew and a true Christian seeks God’s approval.  God approves of us when we believe in and obey His Son, our Lord Jesus.  Jesus acknowledges us as belonging to Him when we do the will of His Father in Heaven.  God is working both within Israel and within the Church to cleanse and to purify His people.  To be a disciple, Jesus says that we must deny ourselves, pick up our cross daily, and follow Him.  Both baptism in water and the cross speak the same message:  death to the self-life; alive unto God in the Spirit through faith. 

This way which we travel, and which Israel is being required by her God and Savior to travel, is long and hard and narrow.  It is a well-traveled road, and many more will yet know suffering on it.  Yeshua/Jesus, the King whom Jewish people say they do not want to rule over them, but whom YHVH God intends that they will have, has walked this same way – the way of the cross.  He exposed Himself to the condemnation of man, and became a curse for us under God’s own Law, in order that we could receive God’s approval.  If we follow Jesus and His lead on this path, we will arrive safely home – our conscience cleansed, and with love out of a purified heart perfected.  Despite the sentence of death in ourselves, we go on in victory in Christ because God has forgiven us of our sin and our sins.  Praise the LORD!  Yeshua is no longer on the cross!

The Lord is calling us to intercede in mercy  — as His priests — for the Jewish and Arab peoples to repent and to believe the gospel, for the Kingdom of God is near.  Until they do, there will continue to be much sorrow and mourning.  Until we let God’s spiritual mark distinguish us, then we, too, stand in danger of suffering from God’s righteous judgments upon the world. (1Cor 11:31-32)

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”  God intends to answer the prayer which the Lord has taught us to pray and which the Holy Spirit quickens as the birth pains increase.

Let’s be encouraged together, as we conclude from the truth of God’s prophetic word:  Rev 21:1-7; 22:1-9

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.

OUR GUILT OFFERING

Recently I was walking down the street and singing the chorus to the song, “Peace Like A River” – ‘it is well with my soul’ – and the Lord by His Spirit had me rejoicing in my spirit and giving thanks to God that it is true:  it is well with my soul!  And yet, I considered how annoyed and impatient I can be; how I am not considered by others for good works particularly; how I have to fight so many unclean thoughts.  So what is it then that I can be singing in truth that it is well with my soul?!  It is because Jesus is my guilt (trespass) offering, and I have peace and security in my relationship to God as my Father through Messiah.  And if I know that I have acceptance with my Creator and Redeemer, then I can also relate to my brothers and sisters in the Lord, as well as to people still of this world, on the basis of that reality.  When my heart condemns me – which it does at times for those very things mentioned above – God is greater than my heart.

The sin offering is primarily for what I am:  a sinner by nature, and the Lamb of God has come to take away the sin of the world.  The guilt offering is primarily for what I do:  I sin and trespass; and the Son of God’s name is Yeshua, who will save His people from their sins.

The Son of God has set us free:  free to acknowledge our sins and confess them to God, and at times to one another, because He forgives us – and we are to do likewise to others.  There is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1,33)  We are free to love others, to do unto them what we would like them to do unto us, even if they do not demonstrate that they love us!  If I know in my own spirit that I desire to love God and to be faithful to the New Covenant in Jesus, then my conscience is clear before both God and man, even though Satan accuses me, my wife and friends misunderstand me, and I myself wonder at the grace of God to die for someone as useless as me! (1Jn 3:18-24) 

Is there guilt then in the believer’s life?  Of course! – whenever we sin knowingly, or whenever the Holy Spirit shows us or reminds us of something we had done unknowingly or unintentionally which was, in fact, a sin – either against our relationship with the Lord directly, or indirectly through another person.  If we do not address the matter and either ask forgiveness, or perhaps grant forgiveness to another, then we honestly do our part to accept our responsibility as those who would be in Christ and walking by the Spirit, and not in the flesh.

Last week Lisa was baptized, which is the answer of a good conscience towards God (1Pet 3:21), in that it testifies to the personal belief that Jesus Christ died, and rose from the dead, and ascended to Heaven, where He is both Lord over all and makes intercession for us as our great High Priest.  When we truly believe this and walk in this truth, we know that God has justified us through faith and by His Spirit.  Guilt and the bondage to fear of judgment are removed, and instead love is perfected. (1Jn 4:17-19)

At the Lord’s Supper we are each to examine and to judge ourselves.  If our participation depended on satisfying the demands of someone else’s conscience, or of keeping the commandments of Jesus as if we ourselves were Jesus, then no one could eat God’s own covenant meal that He has Himself invited us to!  But when our communion is in the holy and righteous and blessed truth that Jesus is Himself my guilt offering – and when I maintain my relationship with God and my brethren on that basis – then I can rejoice in His joy over someone like me, or like you.  Did you know that bread in Hebrew (lechem) has to do with warfare – a conflict and battle for survival, for justification in the eyes of others, for victory over our enemies – real or imagined?  In Greek the word for bread (artos) contains the thought of expiation — to lift off and to remove.  Is not this the truth of the New Testament fulfilling the hope and promise and struggle of the Old Testament?  Jesus has come to give peace  to all who put their trust in Him as having been sent from God the Father.  He removes the heavy load of our guilt before God and before our fellow man.  The victory is His on the cross; it is ours as we, too, deny ourselves each day, take up our cross which He has given to each of us, and follow Him.  Allow Him to righteously take away your guilt, and believe God when He says He has!

In Jesus we are NOT GUILTY, but FREE to live for Him!

Make Jesus your guilt offering (Is 53:10-12), and rejoice in the goodness of the LORD!  Amen.

REPENTANCE LEADS TO CONVERSION: LIFE-CHANGING/CHARACTER-CHANGING

(Eve of formal appointment as Elder)

Does anyone here tonight want to be changed from what you are and the way you now are – even as a believer – because of hearing the Word of God to you?

Is anyone here tonight a changed/different (hopefully better!) person since believing in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior than what you were before believing the gospel of God?

These two questions – with their positive answers – give a basis for continual hope and growth in the life of any person and Christian – old or young, male or female, wise or simple, Jew or Gentile, . . . .

Ps 19:8 (7 Eng)   The Law of YHVH is perfect, converting/returning/restoring the soul.
Acts 3:19   Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out when the times of 
refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
Rev 3:19-22   Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous, therefore, and repent!

God as Creator, Judge, Lawgiver, Savior:  It is the commandment of YHVH God throughout the whole of the Bible that all persons everywhere should repent (turn back) from evil and to do good, to repent and believe the good news of God that His Son Yeshua the Messiah is the Savior from sin and uncleanness and evil.  It is the promise of God that all who do so will be changed and walk in newness of life by the grace and power of God the Holy Spirit.  In the goodness and longsuffering of God towards us, He brings us to act with our own will to return (turn back; repent) to Him (Hos 12:7 [6 Eng]; Mt 3:2-3), and in continuing to walk in His way, He works with us to sanctify us, changing us into the likeness of His Son, who is the exact image of the invisible God.

In other words, true repentance leads to genuine Godliness.  We are converted!  True repentance is directed unto God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21)  It includes a sorrow and a regret over our own sin first, and, afterwards, over the sins of our family or of our people. (Gen 6:7; 2Cor 7:10)  The Holy Spirit will bring us to see that sin of whatsoever kind is first of all against God Himself (Ps 51:5 [4 Eng]), and that in His love for us He sent Yeshua to die on the cross for our atonement and reconciliation (1Jn 4:9-10)There is brokenness of heart and contrition of spirit; then we are comforted by the Spirit of God. (Zec 12:10)  As we continue in faith that, in Messiah, God completely forgives us and justifies us and accepts into fellowship with Himself, we are free to love Him and to obey Him – even to confess our sins – with all our heart and soul.  We will become different persons(1Sam 10:6)our attitudes towards life and people will change; our motives will switch from self-interest and –honor to God’s interests and honor.

If the heart and the will are sincere, then there will be fruits of repentance (Mt 3:8): –conviction of our own sinfulness, and hence humility before God and man –the fear of YHVH, recognizing that it is God who forgives and who has power and authority to both kill our bodies and to cast our souls into hell (Mt 10:28) –repentance from dead works, i.e., works apart from faith in, and fear of, God (Acts 26:30; Heb 6:1; 1Thes 1:9) –a heart, and passionate love, for Jesus, and for all who do the will of God His Father (SS 1:2-4; Mt 10:37-38; 12:50)

For us living in Israel among Jews and Moslems, it is a reproach to be considered as converting to another religion —  meaning to believe in the Lord Jesus and be baptized in His Name.  They want us to feel guilty or ashamed for changing our faith and religion.  But, brothers and sisters, anyone who has previously not personally believed that Yeshua/Jesus is the Messiah/Christ and the Son of the Living God the Father has changed his faith and, necessarily, his religion, too – that is, his way and conduct of life now based upon his/her personal faith in Jesus and His finished work on the cross for our redemption and salvation!  We have turned back to the one true God in His way, and not to simply another faith or religion of this world.

It is also true that God loves us and accepts us as we are when we come to Him in faith, and trust in His mercy towards us; yet He continually calls us to repentance and to change our ways of thinking and doing, even when we think our intentions have been good. (Rev 2:3; Is 55:7-9; Mt 7:21)  Ought not each husband and wife, father and mother want to let God, by His word and Spirit, work with us through living faith to make us more like His own pattern to us in these tremendous positions of responsibility and privilege? (1Jn 3:2)  Ought not children want to know God the Father in such a way that they would want to truly and righteously honor their fathers and mothers, and all others in authority over them in the Lord?  Ought not every believer want to become worshippers of God in Spirit and truth, freed from all forms of idolatry and offenses?  Ought not our own congregation – which properly belongs to Yeshua – repent in all areas not in accord with the Spirit and the Word and the blood, that together we can indeed both give and leave a testimony of the Presence of God in our midst, and of much good fruit unto Him in His name?

Let’s consider briefly together several changes both required of us and also promised to us by the Lord, and which are impossible for man to do naturally or by his own efforts only, but which, in cooperation with God, are possible and worthy of our attention:
Jn 3:3  We all must be born again by the Holy Spirit form Heaven!

Mt 18:3-4; 11:25-30  We all must humble ourselves and become like a child  – “a lamb of the first year” —  
in order to hear and receive from God, and also to know Him.
Mt 5:3-12; Gal 5:22-23; Rom 8:29; 2Cor 3:18; 1Jn 3:2  the character and the fruit of God formed in us, and being expressed outwardly: 
from glory to glory Ezek 36:26  God gives us a new heart and a new Spirit.
Lev 16:16,30; Is 1:18; Ezek 36:25; Jn 3:11  God makes us clean from all our defilement from sin and sins, and baptizes us in holiness and purifying fire
.
2Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Col 3:9-10  We become a new creation in Messiah, who makes all things new, and must put off the old man and put on the new man created in the image of God
.
Mt 7:17; 12:33  We must become a good tree which will produce good fruit
.
2Cor 11:2; Lev 21:13  We must become a chaste virgin
to marry our great High Priest and King of Glory.
Gal 2:20  Not I, but Christ lives in me
!
Mt 13:11-17; Ps 32:2-6a (Heb)  Jesus will heal
us – physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually.
–He forgives.
–He does not condemn.
–The love of God draws out our loving obedience and trust.

Let each of us individually, and all of us together, allow God to be glorified in Himself through us His people and children.  May the Holy Spirit help us to know that repentance is a good thing – not bitter for long – and that we would learn to rejoice in repentance, for it transforms us and sanctifies us, bringing us closer to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and to one another:  joy is fulfilled!  Amen.