Yeshua Is Judge, And Savior

Mar 11:11-26  And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the Temple.  So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve. 

(12) And on the next day, they going out of Bethany, He was hungry.  (13)  And seeing a fig-tree with leaves afar off, He went to it, if perhaps He might find anything on it.  And when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season of figs.  (14)  And Jesus answered and said to it, No one shall eat fruit of you forever. And His disciples heard. 

(15)  And they came to Jerusalem. And entering into the temple, Jesus began to cast out those who bought and sold in the Temple.  And He overthrew the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  (16)  And He would not allow any to carry a vessel through the Temple.  (17)  And He taught, saying to them, Is it not written, “My house shall be called the house of prayer for all nations?” But you have made it a den of thieves.  (18)  And the scribes and the chief priests heard. And they sought how they might destroy Him. For they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His doctrine. 

(19)  And when evening came, He went out of the city.  (20)  And passing by that morning, they saw the fig-tree dried up from the roots.  (21)  And Peter, remembering, said to Him, Rabbi, behold, the fig tree which You cursed has withered away. 

(22)  And answering Jesus said to them, Have faith of God.  (23)  For truly I say to you that whoever shall say to this mountain, Be moved and be cast into the sea, and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that what he said shall occur, he shall have whatever he said.  (24)  Therefore I say to you, All things, whatever you ask, praying, believe that you shall receive them, and it will be to you. 

(25)  And when you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive it so that also your Father in Heaven may forgive you your trespasses.  (26)  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses.

Yeshua has just made His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, the common people acknowledging Him as the Son of David who they believed had come to be the King of Israel.  But His time had not yet come for that.  He left the city and the Temple, and went to Bethany, probably to the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.

We come now to the story about the fig tree that Yeshua cursed.  I am sure that all of us have read this and been uncomfortable that He would curse a tree without fruit at a time when it was not the season for fruit.  When we do this, it reveals again how our thoughts and ways are not the same as the Lord’s.  In our discomfort at His act, we are judging Him for doing what we think is wrong or unfair, does not make sense.

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree for not having fruit before its season?  This event occurred probably in April, whereas figs are a summer fruit, the first and best ripening happening around June.  The fig tree is used in the Bible as one of the symbols for Israel, and in it are both good and bad figs. (Jer 24:5-10; Hos 9:10; Mk 13:28-31)  Normally the fig tree begins to blossom before its leaves cover them, or there are hold-overs from the previous season.  So, in the case of this particular fig tree on the road between Bethany and Jerusalem, it had leaves, and therefore it should also have had some blossoms of fruit before their full growth to maturity.  However, Jesus found no fruit on it.  In response, He said (cursed; judged) the tree:  “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.”  And His disciples heard Him.

Mark then goes on in his account to Yeshua and His disciples arriving in Jerusalem.  Yeshua went into the Temple and began to drive out all those who bought and sold in the Temple, and overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  He also would not allow anyone to carry wares through the Temple.  Then He taught, quoting from Isaiah and from Jeremiah the prophets:  “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?  ‘But you have made it a ‘den of thieves’!”

For this “presumption”, the scribes and chief priests, who heard Him, sought how they might destroy Him (get rid of Him/finish Him off, and His doctrines).  They were afraid of Him, because all the people were astonished at Yeshua’s teaching.  At this point, Yeshua’s popularity was a protection, but it was only a matter of time before those in power would act anyway, as envy and hatred took control of their spirits.  Here we see the beginning of Pharisaic/Talmudic/Rabbinic Judaism’s cursing of Yeshua – both His name and memory (Yeshu).

Then Mark goes back to say that that same morning, on the way up from Bethany to Jerusalem, the disciples and Jesus saw the fig tree that the Messiah had cursed dried up from its roots.  This was obviously a result of the Lord’s judgment of the tree, and not a natural drying up of a dying tree, which would have taken much longer.  The roots were still there in the ground.  God has not finished with Israel!  And we are witnesses to that certain hope today, here in Beer Sheva, Israel!  (In ch. 13 of Mark, the Lord uses the same symbol of the fig tree again, this time in reference to Israel’s revival in the last days leading up to His return.  The curse is still there, the fruit is still not satisfying to God, but redemption and the Redeemer is on the way!)

What do we learn from this fig tree and from the incident on the Temple Mount that Mark records?  Yeshua was the central figure in both of them, and His acts greatly disturbed both His disciples in the one, and the religious leaders in the other.

Both acts were judgments from God on the fruitless life and the corrupted religion of His chosen people, whom He had chosen for His glory, and to be His light to the Gentiles, and to be a holy people for His name, and to bear much good fruit from all of His fatherly care for them. (Is 5)  Instead they professed to be outwardly ‘good’, especially in comparison to the ‘Gentiles’ (the goyim), while inwardly and outwardly dishonoring their God and His house.  In this passage of Jesus taking control over the Temple Mount complex, He calls the house, “My house” (Is 56:7; Jer 7:11), whereas in the account in John, He calls the Temple “My Father’s house”. (Jn 2:16-17; Ps 69:9)   He and the Father are one.

The marketplace that the people had set up was on the holy site in the area called the Court of the Gentiles.  The buying and selling desecrated it as a place of prayer for non-Jews, as a house of prayer for all nations.  The public and merchants were using the Temple area as a ‘short-cut’ to carry their wares to the abused area. Doves were the sacrificial animals for the poor, and the greedy merchants were selling them, probably at high prices.  Yeshua had come to preach good news to the poor, who were being oppressed and taken advantage of.

So, too, the fig tree with leaves but without fruit.  The tree looked good on the outside, but there was no fruit on the inside.  The leaves were a covering for their fruitlessness.  Remember when Adam and Eve knew that they had done wrong, and wanted to cover their naked shame, they put fig leaves over their private parts.  So, too, this tree, and Israel and the Jewish people – and by extension, the church and Christians (Rev 3:1-6; 14-22)  – can look good to the eye of man, but cannot satisfy genuine [spiritual] hunger.  Israel is blessing the world in amazing ways today, but good works can be “dead works”, and they do not save unbelievers; or they can be good works of believers, but motivated by wrong motives or done without love. (Heb 6:1; 9:14)  Religious life without love,  or without intention to honor the name of our Lord, is empty.  As a prophetic and priestly nation, the Jewish people are not consciously drawing people to know the one true God.  No one can eat from such a tree and be nourished with the life of God.  The good works are a ‘fig leaf’, a cover-up for the lack of God’s righteousness and fruit.  The God of Israel will not grant His people peace and tranquility as long as they/we continue to seek it, to buy it, apart from Him – apart from Yeshua.

God cannot, and will not, bless fruitlessness in those who are called by His name. (Jn 15:1-12)   We cannot satisfy the need in others – whether believers or unbelievers – when our hearts of flesh become hearts of stone again.  Praise to our God and Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ:  He is not finished yet, neither with Israel and the Jewish people, nor with those who profess to believe in the name of Yeshua/Jesus for salvation!  Yeshua asked the Father  — when He was nailed to the cross – to forgive that very people and nation, for they did not know what they were doing. He still calls His people to repentance, and to bear fruit of that return to HIM.  This is especially regarding the state of our hearts towards God, and towards our fellow man.  Israel, as represented by the fig tree, is also a sign of the last days that the end of the age is near, and that the Lord is coming again “soon”. (Mk 13:28-31; Mt 24:32-35; Lk 21:29-33)  The same cursed fig tree is redemptively revived in the last days!  

Yeshua took the opportunity of His disciples’ reaction to the cursed fig tree to teach them about believing prayer, but even more about the necessity and the power of forgiveness. (Mt 6:9-15)  The Messiah, when He taught His disciples how to pray, told them and us that we must forgive others if we want our Father in Heaven to forgive us.  To the measure that we forgive others, He will forgive us.  Also in this passage from Mark, He says the same thing.  We can pray with all faith to have God do miraculous things in our lives or for others – including the restoration and salvation of Israel –­ but if we are not forgiving someone – not loving Jesus above all, and others as ourselves — for what we think or know that he/she/they have done to me, I will have no peace with God my Father, and He will not be pleased with me, His son through Messiah.  (It is very interesting that in the matter of divorce, which YHVH hates, Yeshua gave one exception for allowing it:  adultery.  But in the matter of forgiveness, there is no exception.  A very challenging commandment and commitment!)

Brokenness – knowing how much we have been forgiven – produces the Holy Spirit fruit of love (God’s measure of love) towards others, especially towards those we think do not deserve it.

What then can we learn from this passage in the plan of God to redeem His people?

–The fruitless fig tree and the corrupted religious worship and ministry are indicative of the spiritual state of the Chosen People:  there would be no more [godly] fruit from that again!  Only when Israel repents and sees Jesus whom they pierced will that finally produce the broken heart and contrite spirit needed to produce fruit for YHVH their God. (Zech 12:10-14; Ps 51) 

–This is also true of believers in Yeshua – of those who say we believe and follow Him.  Some of us have let our own spirits push away the Holy Spirit, and we have let our new heart of flesh become like stone again.  We then become hypocritical like the Pharisees:  demanding of others what we ourselves will not do, nor help them to do.  We separate ourselves in self-righteousness (which is the meaning of Pharisee), and do not love the brothers and sisters, and can oppress the poor.  We look good on the outside – the leaves – but inside we are in rebellion against our holy and gracious Father and Savior.

–The Lord’s acts in this passage should put the fear of God in us, whom He has chosen to be the Lamb’s beloved Bride, obeying His commandments with thanksgiving, and loving one another as He has loved us.

Yeshua is our Judge and our Savior.  Thank -you, God!

Yeshua and Traditions of the Elders/of Men

Mk 7:1-23

As Yeshua continued to prove Himself to be the Messiah and the Son of God, we also see how the opposition to Yeshua strengthened as He became more threatening to the established order.  Despite all of the signs and good works and healings that Jesus did, the flesh and the natural mind were warring against the Spirit and the wisdom of God. The will of men was resisting the will of God:  without repentance from unbelief to faith, the natural mind can not and will not understand the things of God. (1Cor 2:14)   

I saw a blog on the internet by someone who calls himself an atheist and a believer in natural law.  He wrote against the Sermon on the Mount!  Everything that Jesus strengthened concerning the Law of Moses was, to this man, against natural law; e.g., Jesus saying that hating someone is the same as murdering him;, or that a married man lusting after another woman is the same as adultery; we have to love our enemy.  The true God calls His people to holiness – within, and without. 

In the passage we have read in Mark, we see that those who have taken upon themselves to control others by their own interpretations, customs, and traditions – all in the name of keeping the Torah – find themselves fighting against the very One who does in truth keep the Law, and is the very one who came to save those who do not!  This is the essence of what is called “Replacement Theology”:  replacing God’s Word with someone else’s.  Some examples are Adam and Eve believing what the serpent said rather than what God Himself had told them; Judaism placing the “Oral Law” – their own interpretations and judgments, now written in the Talmud – as an equal or higher authority over the written Law and interpretations given through the prophets and even the Messiah Himself; Christianity saying that God has finished with Israel and the Jewish people, and that the Church and Christians have replaced them as God’s people, rather than becoming also God’s people along with the Jews and Israel; Islam claiming that God has finished with both Jews, Israel, and Christians, and that now Muslims are the true believers.  All of this “replacement theology” results from a lack of the fear of God and not believing in what the true God – YHVH – has actually said.  In essence, we place ourselves equal to or above the Father and the Son in determining truth and our choice to obey or not, or to approve or disapprove!

This accusation of Yeshua against His own brothers and people is true not of them only, but of all people.  Remember, Israel is given by God as an example to the church (1Cor 10:11) – made up of men and women from every nation and tribe.  In this “replacement theology”, Jews are not different than Gentiles, and Gentiles are no different than Jewish people.

In this passage, it is the third time that the religious authorities confronted Jesus and His disciples regarding their non-compliance to keep the traditions and regulations of the ‘Oral Law’.  In the first instance (Mk 2:18), they failed to fast as the Pharisees did; in the second (Mk 2:24), they did not keep the Sabbath as the elders taught.  To the religious Jews, the Oral Law was also received by Moses from God at Mt. Sinai, and passed on to Joshua and the elders of Israel.  By this assumption (which was not true), they gave equal – even more – weight to the traditions of the elders – which Jesus calls the traditions of men – than to the Law of Moses itself, claiming that the Oral Law is what helps a Jew keep the written Law.  In other words, the traditions of the elders/of men becomes the halacha, or the way to walk the pious life, and find approval from men.  The Pharisees called themselves disciples of Moses (Jn 9:28), and Jesus told them that Moses would judge them for not believing in Him and what He said. (Jn 5:44-46)

When the Pharisees challenged Yeshua as to why His disciples did not walk according to the traditions of the elders, Yeshua responded with the Word of God as written in the prophet Isaiah, and in Moses.  They were breaking God’s commandments because their hearts were far from the LORD.  Yeshua took the first commandment with a promise – intended for children of all ages, even as adults – that children are to honor their fathers and mothers (Ex 20:12; Dt 5:16) – and told them that they were inventing ways to not honor their parents, and giving it religious authority as if it were from God, and as if they honored and loved God more than anyone else, even their own fathers and mothers. But they were actually guilty of cursing their fathers and mothers. (Ex 21:17; Lev 20:9)  This can sound very pious, and even like what Jesus Himself teaches:  that we must love Him more than all, even more than our own parents. (Mt 10:34-39)  Only by really loving the Lord, and paying attention to all that He says – to listen and understand (v. 14) — can we begin to understand how to obey Him in the right Spirit and without contradiction or hypocrisy.  By our own traditions, we can become worthy of death under God’s law, all the while justifying ourselves as being righteous!  This is a very strong deception!!

With respect to eating food with unwashed hands, the issue that the Pharisees brought up was not really about having clean (i.e., not dirty) hands before eating.  They only did a religious ceremony of pouring water on their hands/fists, having little to do with making sure that their hands were clean before eating, but rather, by their custom, making their hands ritually clean and not defiled.  Jesus did not accept this at all, principally because their inner heart relationship with God, and with their own mothers and fathers (and towards other people), was not pure. 

Jesus said to the multitude of people that were listening that what goes into the mouth does not defile a person, but rather what comes out from the heart.  Even the disciples did not understand. (v 15-18)

Now, Jesus took the opportunity to make a huge change in the Law of Moses, with respect to what is acceptable as food.  Remember, the LORD told Jeremiah the prophet that the new covenant would not be like the former one given at Mt. Sinai.  Being new, there would be some changes and differences.  Remember, too, that God’s eternal plan is that Jew and Gentile would become socially equal before God.  The whole issue of food is huge socially:  ­­­­­can Jews and Gentiles – in particular co-believers in Jesus — eat the same food, and together at the same table?

The Law of Moses says that some animals are unclean to eat, and that it is an abomination for Jews to eat them, and that those who eat them become an abomination. (Lev 11:12, 20, 41, 43)  YHVH gave these laws and regulations so that Israel would learn to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, for He is holy. (Lev 11:45-47)   

But NOW, Yeshua is saying that putting any food in the mouth does not defile a person – does not make him unclean or abominable!  What goes into the mouth goes out of the body after nourishing it.  But what comes out of the heart of a person can defile him or her.  By this word of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah, He has made all foods clean (kosher), at least for the believer in what He said and meant. (v.19)  Clean animals were already clean; He did not need to make them clean.  Therefore it is the unclean foods which He has also declared as clean.  To the Jewish people first of all, to whom the Law was given!  Yeshua is our peace, and the middle wall of partition He has broken down between Jewish believers and Gentiles.  Yeshua is able to send us to serve Him and the gospel among other people groups, and our conscience can be clean regarding the food we may need to eat for the sake of love and of the gospel.

If God can make me clean (and Gentiles, too!), He — the LORD and Messiah — can make unclean food clean that only goes in and out of me, and His word was reinforced by the experience and doctrines of the Apostles. (Mk 7:14-16; Acts 10:9-16; 11:1-10Rom 14:2-3,14,20Gal 2:11-14; 1Tim 4:1-5; Heb 13:9)  What is OUR character?!  Is it like one of the unclean animals and creatures?  So we begin to learn in ourselves the difference between that which is acceptable to God and that which is not, sanctifying ourselves, purifying/cleansing our hearts, for our God and Lord and indwelling Spirit is holy and pure, and by faith we both establish the Law and fulfill its righteousness. (Rom 3:31; 8:4)  When we speak of what is Biblically kosher regarding foods (including, of course, the man-made traditional ban on eating meat and dairy together), we must remember that the New Testament is part of the Bible!  God is getting to the heart of the matter with us as His holy people and temple.

A Messianic Jew is not obligated to eat pork, for example — or, for that matter, a good kosher angus steak — but will he allow others to do so, or will he judge them for not being ‘good Jews’?  Our own cultural and moral biases and sensitivities can keep separate what God has made possible to join together.

So, what do we learn from our passage in Mark:  one lesson concerns external rituals. If people participate in congregational/synagogue/church services and follow all the rituals perfectly, they may have a heart after God’s, but may not. Unbelievers and nominal believers can have the appearance of being devout, but if there is not faith then their ritual will not help in worshiping God in spirit and truth.  It is more important for people to get their hearts right with God than to ‘go through the motions’.

A second lesson is that there is a real danger in replacing the the word of God (the letter and the spirit of it) with our traditions. Traditions can be helpful (like a picture is worth a thousand words), but they have a way of pushing aside or replacing the basic commandments.  We might also carry through what was appropriate for a ‘dispensation’ in life into a more mature stage where it becomes unsuitable for going on unto the fullness which is in the ‘seed’.  The attitude of the “keepers of the law” in the passage also appears in many churches, even in Israel still!  Many traditions have grown up over the centuries in different streams and denominations, and many of them have become “essential”. We can be more concerned that people might violate our man-made rules for leading and serving the congregation/church, the way we do baptism and communion, or the set of rules that our particular group follows in the name of holiness, than we are about mercy and humility. We can be more concerned about which way to take up the offerings than about meeting the needs of people in the community. If we are not careful, these traditions of ours can become ‘law’, and we might even forget what the Word of God actually says about some of those things we do, or do not do.

Then, when someone comes along – like Jesus and His disciples — who discerns the difference, we can become defensive, judging them while justifying ourselves. But then we remember the teaching of Yeshua that God is more concerned with what/who we actually are than what our outward religiosity looks like. There is a place for rituals and traditions, but they must retain their proper place in our faith-life.
https://bible.org/seriespage/22-jesus-and-traditions-elders-matthew-151-20

A third lesson from our reading is that the New Covenant is just that – new.  There are some things that continue from the old, but there also some changes and differences which promote and advance the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and the truth of the one new man in Messiah Yeshua – affecting all believers, allowing for full social fellowship among and with all.  In love, we do not make our liberty a cause of stumbling for another brother or sister. (Rom 14:13-23; 1Cor 8) 

“Yeshua/Jesus Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition/separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity – the law of commandments in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” (Eph 2:14-16)  

To obey the Lord is better than sacrifice.  He wants a heart that is one with His.  This will ensure that we are with Him and not against Him as we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, as the apostle Paul writes. (Phlp 2:12)   We do not want to be judged as hypocrites, but as righteous, in the righteous judgment of God, who sees the heart.

Keeping Faith in Yeshua in a Hostile Environment

(Adapted for AMZI conference and ministry tour in Germany and Switzerland, June 9-14, 2016)

1Co 1:23-25  but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness.  (24)  But to them, the called-out ones, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  (25)  Because the foolish thing of God is wiser than men, and the weak thing of God is stronger than men.

1Jn 2:22-25  Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He who denies the Father and the Son is antichrist.  (23)  Everyone who denies the Son neither has the Father. The one confessing the Son also has the Father.  (24)  Therefore what you heard from the beginning, let it abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, you will abide in both the Son and in the Father.  (25)  And this is the promise that He has promised us: everlasting life.

1Jn 5:19  We know that we are of God, and all the world lies under the sway of the wicked one.

Ps 2:1-3  Why do the nations rage, and the peoples conspire a vain thing?  (2)  The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers plot together, against Jehovah and against His anointed, saying,  (3)  Let us break their bands in two and cast away their cords from us.

Rom 11:28-32  Indeed as regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes. But as regards the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.  (29)  For the free gifts and calling of God are without repentance.  (30)  For as you also then disbelieved God, but now have been shown mercy through their disbelief,  (31)  even so these also have not believed now, so that through your mercy they may also obtain mercy.  (32)  For God has shut up all in unbelief, so that He might show mercy to all.

The subject we have is going to be tested to the limits as the last days of the end-times draw nearer to a close.  The Scriptures are written for us living at the end of the age, and therefore the things written in them are for us living now, as much as, if not more in some things, than for those who lived at the time they were written. (Rom 15:4; 1Cor 10:11)

The name of our congregation, Nachalat Yeshua (Yeshua’s Inheritance) is itself a testimony to our Israeli Jewish society of our faith in Jesus.  We intentionally decided to include Yeshua’s name in our name, rather than use a more general term, such as “The LORD’s Inheritance”.   It better helps define who we are, and to be more open about it in discussions or conversations with unbelievers who inquire.

That we are here today with our friends from Beit Jala is also the fruit of building a relationship with our Arab Palestinian brothers and sisters – again, as a testimony to our peoples that the truth of God, and of His righteousness and peace, is found only through repentance and faith in the gospel.  When we share with Israeli unbelievers – and even with other believers – why we go to Bethlehem every Christmas time, and to a church that does not support the return of the Jewish people back to the land promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and to their descendants – in these last days – it is to testify to the truth of the gospel of Jesus’ sacrificial death for us on the cross, and of His resurrection and ascension, as being greater than the disagreements we have on some important subjects.  Israel is unique in that it is the only Middle Eastern country native to Jews and to Arabs, where believers in Jesus of each people can live and meet together.  This cannot happen in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, or Iraq.

As a congregation, all of our local members send their children to public schools, rather than to Christian schools (which are not in Beer Sheva anyway) or homeschool.  It is certainly a challenge, and a struggle, and a matter of great concern, given the level of education these days.  The primary responsibility for children’s “education” lies with the parents, so we constantly monitored what was being taught to our children in subjects which could be problematic. (Gen 18:17-19; Dt 6:4-9)  We would instruct our children in truths, if the school was instructing them in lies, such as evolution, or that all religions and faiths are equal, and nowadays in matters of “sexual identity”.  We also taught our children not to be afraid or ashamed or embarrassed that our family believes in Jesus, even – and especially – in our Jewish society which rejects and hates Him.  It is like sending out our lambs among wolves, but it helped them all to be able to be open about their faith in their classrooms, with their unbelieving friends, in the army, in college, and in their workplaces.

Evangelistically, we encourage everyone to be willing and ready to share their faith, and the gospel, with others, as the Lord gives opportunity.  We have had some major public evangelism campaigns in Beer Sheva, and they have all generated a strong, negative reaction.  Yet we continue to preach the Word of God, confess the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and baptize new believers, whether Jewish or other.  But as light and salt in the world, each of us must be prepared to tell others the truth about the Son of God the Father, even though most of our people are religiously opposed to the only God and Savior.   And our good works must be towards believers and unbelievers, for our Father is good and merciful to all.  We want them to be saved just as we were:  by the grace of God through repentance and faith in the gospel.

For me, Israel is a great place to follow the Lord.  For one thing, there is nothing better anyway.  And, it is a place where you must learn to trust Him and obey in faith.  There is no Christian culture to support those who are disciples of the Lord Messiah, either culturally or in truth.  There is no softening of the blows; believers themselves must learn to stand against all that attacks the true faith, and the true Jesus – who is neither “Yeshu” nor “Isa”.   We need to help and support other brothers and sisters in this spiritual warzone.  Reading the whole Bible as God’s Word is of great importance to grow in the faith, and in the knowledge and ways of God.  In the Scriptures God has told us His plan, and the reasons for it, just as YHVH told Abraham why He was going to judge and destroy Sodom.   Jesus tells us as His friends what the Father has revealed, and the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth.   

Military service is a necessary part of being an Israeli citizen, especially for the Jewish people.  As believers, this can cause a conflict:  on the one hand, we must obey the civil authorities, and military service is part of the life in Israel; and Israel is surrounded by sworn enemies who seek her destruction.  On the other hand, the Lord tells us that our warfare is not carnal, but spiritual, and that we are to love our enemies.  How, as believers, can we live in this tension, and be overcomers?  Each one has to hear from God, and act in faith with a clear conscience.  In either case, we will be needing to explain ourselves to others, whether to our Arab brothers and sisters, or to our Jewish people among whom we live.  What is important for believers in the military is to demonstrate a different spirit – a different motivation and attitude  —  in them than in those who do not know the Lord Jesus as their own Savior from their own sins, and from the sins of their people.  Soldiers in Messiah will need to show their faith by their works, whether by sacrificially helping others, not complaining about their commanders and officers, not stealing, not falling to the temptations of sex or of other sins, but taking a stand for the righteousness of God.

The Bible makes a difference between killing, as in war or police actions, and in murder.  This is very important to all of us, for conscience sake, and in matters of justice.  As citizens who benefit from the security and well-being of the society, the fact that most of the believers are willing to sacrifice themselves — sometimes with their lives, and in other ways, such as delaying studies and careers – with others who are obligated to serve the country, helps to break down a barrier against Jewish believers in Jesus, which is that we are no longer Jews or have that we have joined the persecutors.  Now, the military echelon has come to respect the believers, and to make them officers and put them in charge of important positions.  This makes the testimony of faith more credible to them, and gives more respect for “Christians”, for those who do believe.

In the society, when we are known and respected, then opportunities are given us:  taking in Christian refugees from Sudan; cooperating with a city soup kitchen; assisting Holocaust survivors; working with the government Tourism ministry; being entrusted with police and court procedures, such as translating for those whose Hebrew is insufficient.

We are in the world, but not of the world.  We are the salt of the Earth.  Let your light so shine, that by your good works they glorify your Father in Heaven. (Jn 17:16-17; Mt 5:11-16)

 

Prayer of God’s Family and Yeshua’s Disciples

Prayer might be the only thing many believers can do; and prayer might be the only thing on which many believers across the denominational streams agree. Therefore, even here, the enemy comes in to bring inaction or disunity!

Let’s pray now together the prayer, commonly known as the “Lord’s Prayer”, but which is better described as the prayer pattern which Jesus taught His disciples and brothers to pray. Yeshua’s prayer in John 17 is definitely the Lord’s prayer!  (Even now He intercedes for us!)

Mt 6:9-13 . . . Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed be Your name, (10) Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. (11) Give us this day our daily bread; (12) and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors. (13) And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Prayer is the life-breath of a believer in the living God. It is natural communication with God, our Father in Heaven. Prayer indicates a close, personal, loving, free relationship and fellowship between Him and the believer in Him through our faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. In the short epistle of Jude, it is written that we should pray in the Holy Spirit (Jude 20). And this is in the context of the end-times. All of the prayers that we have in the Scriptures are prayers in the Holy Spirit: they are according to the mind and heart of YHVH God, according to the circumstances and covenantal responsibilities and expectations. (Heb 12:22-24) So surely the manner of prayer which the Lord Yeshua teaches His disciples is one in the Holy Spirit. Praying in the Holy Spirit does not only mean to pray in tongues, but is for every believer.

Mt 6:5-15 And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, They have their reward. (6) But you, when you pray, enter into your room. And shutting your door, pray to your Father in secret; and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly. (7) But when you pray, do not use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles. For they think that in their many words they shall be heard. (8) Therefore do not be like them, for your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask Him. (9) Therefore pray in this way: Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed be Your name. (10) Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. (11) Give us this day our daily bread; (12) and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors. (13) And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. (14) For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; (15) but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Yeshua begins by telling us how not to pray! First of all, He says not to be like hypocrites who only want to impress others with their public prayers; but their private prayer life may be non-existent; or else, they want to impress people with their religious piety. God is not impressed in any positive way by this! Most of our prayer life will be in secret. After all, the apostle Paul writes that we should pray at all times. There is a place and time for corporate prayer, and we have examples of that, too, in the Bible. Both are appropriate; but mostly we need to develop our communication with God our Father in our private time and place, and this will rightly influence our public prayers, as well.

Yeshua also tells us not to simply repeat the same prayers or words over-and-over again, like some mantra or magic, as if this will cause God to answer us like we want. Every human wants basic necessities, such as food and clothing. Our Father in Heaven knows that also includes us! If we seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, we will not be worrying about our basic needs like unbelievers do; and the Lord tells us that our Father will provide these things to us as we seek first His interests and His ways. (Mt 6:31-34; cp Gen 28:20-21) We are to pray with faith, and with understanding of God’s will.

We are praying to a personal God (Hos 2:16), who is living and hears our prayers, and loves and cares about us as a Father. Through the gospel, God has become our Father in a personal way. In Judaism, they acknowledge God is a Father to Israel, and we see this through the Old Testament (e.g. Ex 4:22; Dt 32:6; Jer 31:9; Jn 8:41-42). Through the gospel and the New Testament, each believer has received the spirit of adoption to call God, “Abba, Father”. (Rom 8:14-17) The veil has been rent through Yeshua’s sacrificial death, and we have direct and open access to the Throne of God, Maker of Heaven and Earth!

In this prayer for disciples and God’s family, the Lord teaches us to focus on our Father and His interests. As children of God, we are to honor Him, and to desire that His will be done, not what seems necessarily right to us. We humble ourselves before Him, being under His authority. It is an occasion of self-judgment, acknowledging our need for forgiveness of our own sins, and our obligation to be merciful and forgive others who have sinned against us.

In other religions, their gods can be anything and anywhere. The God of Israel is in Heaven! In other religions, even those who claim to worship a god in Heaven, they do not relate to Him as to a Father: there is no personal relationship, no knowledge of a Person – whether unto God, or whether Him unto us/me. Jesus teaches us to pray to our Father in Heaven.  Even Messiah prayed to God His Father n Heaven, and not to Himself, although He is God in the flesh, and the fullness of the Godhead was in Him.  Also notice, we come to God our Father as part of a larger family: we pray to our Father, recognizing that we are not alone to know Him as the Father, and we seek His interests and our needs collectively, and not selfishly. Our Father in Heaven loves each and all of us, and we are to love one another with His love.

The very first matter of prayerful priority is that our Father’s name be sanctified. As His children, our lifestyle and choices should demonstrate that it matters to us how we conduct our lives, how we dress and speak and eat, how others would think of our Father’s good name by the way they perceive us. We should take an active interest in His business. (Lk 2:49; Jn 5:16-19; Jn 6:29) This is one way we show that this element of Holy Spirit prayer matters to us as far as I have a part in it. We are not to carry His name in vain.

Another way that our Father’s name is sanctified we learn from the Scriptures by what He Himself has told us:

Eze 36:17-28 Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their own way and by their doings, even as the defilement of woman’s impurity, their way was before Me. (18) So I poured My fury on them, because of the blood that they had shed on the land, and for their idols by which they defiled it. (19) And I scattered them among the nations, and they were scattered through the lands. I judged them according to their way and according to their doings. (20) And when they entered the nations where they went, they even profaned My holy name by saying to them, These are the people of Yehovah, and they are gone out of His land. (21) But I had pity for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. (22) Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord Yehovah: I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. (23) And I will sanctify My great name, which was profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. And the nations shall know that I am Yehovah, says the Lord Yehovah, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. (24) For I will take you from among the nations and gather you out of all lands, and will gather you into your own land. (25) And I will sprinkle clean waters on you, and you shall be clean. I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from your idols. (26) And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. (27) And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments and do them. (28) And you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers. And you shall be My people, and I will be your God.

Eze 38:14-17  So, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog, Thus says the Lord Yehovah: In that day when My people of Israel dwells securely, shall you not know it? (15) And you shall come from your place out of the recesses of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great company and a mighty army. (16) And you shall come up on My people Israel like a cloud, to cover the land. It shall be in the last days, and I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me when I shall be sanctified in you, O Gog, before their eyes. (17) Thus says the Lord Yehovah: Are you he of whom I have spoken in former days, by the hand of My servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied in those days and years that I would bring you against them?

Eze 38:23 So I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself. And I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am Yehovah.

Eze 39:6-8 And I will send a fire on Magog, and on the secure inhabitants of the coasts. And they shall know that I am Yehovah. (7) And I will make My holy name known in the midst of My people Israel. And I will not let them profane My holy name any more. And the nations shall know that I am Yehovah, the Holy One in Israel. (8)  Behold, it is coming, and it will be done, says the Lord Yehovah. This is the day of which I have spoken.

Eze 39:25-29 Therefore thus says the Lord Yehovah: And I will return the captivity of Jacob, and will have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and will be jealous for My holy name; (26) after they have borne their shame and all their sins by which they have sinned against Me, when they dwell securely in their land and no one terrifies; (27) when I have brought them again from the peoples, and gathered them out of their enemies’ lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations; (28)  then they shall know that I am Yehovah their God who exiled them among the nations, but I have gathered them to their own land, and have not left any of them there. (29) Nor will I hide My face from them any more, for I have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel, says the Lord Yehovah.

Yehovah God has told us that His name will be hallowed/sanctified when His people Israel is saved and no longer profaning His Holy name, and they are dwelling safely and permanently in the Land of Israel, which He promised to give them, and when their enemies are defeated who had thought that He is less than the God Most High that He is, and YHVH is still the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob! This is written in the context of the last days. The sanctification of God our Father’s name is of the highest priority with Jesus. Is it with us? Do we know and understand the will and the plan of our God? (I thank Keith Parker for this insight.)

Yeshua goes on to teach us to pray for the Father’s kingdom to come, and for His will to be done on Earth as in Heaven. This is connected with the sanctification of His name, when He finally restores the Kingdom to Israel and over all the nations. The whole creation is waiting for this! (Acts 1:6-8; Rom 8:19-23; Rev 11:15) Although we have tasted of the Kingdom of God when we are born-again and baptized with the Holy Spirit, and we are being sanctified through our faith in Yeshua, the Church is not the Kingdom of God, and we know that God’s will is not being done even within ourselves as it ought, nor is our Father’s and His Son’s name being hallowed as He deserves and requires. The reality of the Kingdom awaits the return of the Lord to establish it — what is called the Millennial Kingdom — and His kingdom will never pass away.

The Lord then, after setting the highest priority, teaches us that we can ask our Father for our daily bread – physical and spiritual. Again, it is a request with the interest of our other brothers and sisters in mind, as well as our own need.   So, too, is the request for forgiveness: most of us need to be forgiven, and we are to care for one another’s peace and blessing from our heavenly Father.

But, now, there is a condition placed on this request for forgiveness: it is dependent on our forgiving others, whether financial debts or any other form of offense. This is the righteousness of God, and a condition for our fellowship with Him to be full. It is also identifying with Jesus in His sufferings for our redemption and salvation, who asked His Father to forgive us for all of our iniquity and transgressions and sin against Him. Although I do not believe this is an issue of salvation for the believer, nonetheless our fellowship with the Father and with the Son, and with one another, will not be healthy, nor will it contribute to the honor and holiness of our Father’s name. This is a great challenge for us, and also a cause of stumbling to others – even for unbelievers — when we do not forgive.  It is a condition on the unconditional grace which we have received for the price paid for our adoption.  It should of great concern to any child of God, and our own spiritual fruitfulness is dependent upon it. (Mt 18:21-35)

Next, Jesus would have us know that there is danger in the world, and that we are able to get into trouble, and to become captive to evil, including to the evil one, the devil and the antichrist. By asking our Father not to lead us into temptation, we acknowledge that there is danger, and we want Him to protect us from deception; yet we bear a personal responsibility, as well, to keep ourselves from evil in the fear of the Lord.

Lastly, the Lord closes with a ‘statement of faith’ for us to proclaim: the kingdom is not the evil one’s, but our Father’s and of His Son! And to Him is the power and the glory forever! While we are praying for His Kingdom to come, we also declare now by faith that it is already in His hands, despite what we see or feel or need now.

Let us pray again this form of prayer which our Lord has taught us, and being more mindful of the content and the intent of what we pray: our focus in the Holy Spirit is God-centered, on our Father’s holy name which is currently being profaned by His own people – both Jews and Christians – and by the Gentiles and His enemies; our vision is to be the coming again of Jesus to establish God’s kingdom back to Israel and over all the Earth; God is our primary Provider, being our Father; the absolute necessity to forgive others; protection from being led astray by deceitful temptations; the proclamation and praise of the truth that our God reigns! HalleluYah!

Sexual Purity

Est 2:1-4,14  After these things, when the wrath of King Ahasuerus had calmed down, he remembered Vashti and what she had done, and what was decreed against her.  (2)  And the king’s young men who served him said, Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king.  (3)  And let the king choose officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, so that they may gather together all the beautiful young virgins to Shushan the palace, to the house of the women, to the hand of Hegai the king’s eunuch, keeper of the women. And let their ointments be given.  (4)  And let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti. And the thing pleased the king, and he did so. . . . She went in the evening, and on the next day she returned to the second house of the women, into the hand of Shaashgaz, the king’s officer who kept the concubines. She did not come in to the king any more, unless the king delighted in her, and she was called by name.

Act 15:28-29  For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these necessary things:  (29)  that you abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which, if you keep yourselves, you shall do well. Be prospered.

I want to look at the manner of seeking a wife in contrast to the way of the Gentile King Ahasuerus.  You will remember that the people of Israel asked for a king like the Gentiles have, rather than have YHVH being their King.  YHVH is holy, and searches the thoughts and intentions of the heart; whereas, Gentile (those not in covenant relationship with YHVH) kings are sinners.  The people became sinners, rather than being a holy and righteous people who kept the Law of Moses with God’s commandments and judgments.  As we read in the New Testament, God has shown that all people are sinful — Jews and Gentiles; those who have the Law and those who do not — and need the blood of the Messiah’s sacrificial death in order to be saved and cleansed from sin.  With Passover coming next Shabbat, it is good to remember that God has chosen us to be His holy people.

King Ahasuerus was looking for another wife, and had all of the pretty virgins from his large kingdom come to him, in the hope of being chosen by him to be his wife.  It did not seem to concern all of his youthful servants or him that he was not leaving many eligible single women for many single men in his kingdom!  All of these pretty women apparently had to sleep with the king as part of his selection process (Est 2:14).   This is the way of kings – especially Gentiles.  When Israeli kings – and other men — acted this way, it was against the Law of Moses, and against the holiness of the God of Israel.  They became like Gentiles, which is what they wanted.  It brought ruin and shame to the king and to the nation, and did not bring honor to the name of the LORD.

In the New Testament, all believers are called to a higher standard of holiness and purity than even the Law of Moses required.  And to emphasize the seriousness and importance of this in God’s eyes, the apostles agreed with the Holy Spirit that Gentile believers needed to stop fornication of whatever kind.  The Jewish believer was supposed to already know that from the Law.  Fornication is a word that includes any illicit sexual activity outside of marriage – whether before marriage or during marriage, and even after one has been married (whether widowed or divorced).  Fornication includes sex for payment, premarital sex, adultery (illicit sex with another while married), homosexuality of men or of women, bestiality, pedophilia, pornography.

The Israeli news is full of political, judicial, military, and religious leaders, and entertainers who are accused, and sometimes convicted, of sexual harassment and of  rape.  Most of these men are married, but no one is talking about adultery.  The men usually do not deny that there was sex with the complainant, only that it was not rape:  that is, it was done not by force but with consent.  But adultery?  Not a word in the public media!  Yet the damage to the marriage and to the family is often irreversible.  There is a breach of trust and security when there is unfaithfulness within the closest relationship that God has made between a man and a woman.  Our security as the Bride of Messiah is His complete faithfulness in our relationship with the Lord Yeshua.

For one who loves God, who cares about him/herself in God’s sight, who respects the other person, in the fear of YHVH, they will be empowered to resist all temptation – and the Holy Spirit will help overcome the urge.

Today there is a BIG problem:  fornication is not taken very seriously, even by many who say that they are believers, and even born-again!  In a poll (conducted by The Nat’l Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy) taken in the U.S. a few years ago, 88% of all unmarried young adults (ages 18-29) are having sex.  Among Christians, who identify as “evangelical”, 80% say they have had sex.  80%. . .even though, according to a Gallup poll, 76% of evangelicals believe that sex outside of marriage is morally wrong.  There is not much distinction between the Body of Messiah and those still “of the world”.  And consider, that if 76% of evangelical believers think that premarital sex is wrong, then 24% think it is okay!  Which means that 56% of these young adult believers are hypocrites:  they believe that premarital sex is wrong, but do it anyway!

In Israel there is a law which recognizes common-law marriage (publicly recognized couples).  These are two persons living together in a manner that is as if they were married, and after only 6 months (!), they can be considered to be in a legal relationship that binds them under the law.  (A true marriage is a covenantal relationship, which carries with it more serious benefits and consequences.)  Some believers approve of such relationships.  But what is the couple doing up until the time that they are publically recognized?!:  they are sinning by having sex outside of marriage, with some even having children.  God’s standard of what is acceptable, and of what is holy, is being lowered even by some believers to fit the low moral level of today’s culture, which does not want the Holy One of Israel to be their God and King, but want to break the bonds of YHVH and of His Messiah from off of them. (Ps 2)  We might lower God’s standard, but He has not!

King Ahasuerus wanted to know what the Persian law allowed him to do about Vashti his wife.  Believers in Yeshua need to know what God’s law says in such matters, and not be hypocrites, but obey with faith what our Lord says.  We live under the laws of our nation, but when there is a contradiction, we must obey God’s higher standard, and not use as an excuse, “it’s legal in our country”; or, “it’s culturally acceptable in our society”; or, “times have changed, and the Bible is not currently relevant”.  All of these excuses say that our fleshly desire has higher priority and authority over God’s sovereign authority!  This is no different than what Israel wanted in asking for a king like the Gentiles have.  What does the Holy Spirit say about this?:

Eph 5:3-7  For let fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness not be once named among you, as becomes saints,  (4)  neither baseness, foolish talking, jesting, which are not becoming, but rather giving of thanks.  (5)  For you know this, that no fornicator, or unclean person, or covetous one (who is an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  (6)  Let no man deceive you with vain words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience.  (7)  Therefore do not be partakers with them.

If anyone should say, I am not really a believer yet, so it is okay.  NO!  Then you put yourself in the category of “children of disobedience” that God’s wrath will come upon!

Do not test God, but in the fear of the Lord sanctify yourself; for without holiness, no one will see the Lord.

If any of you are already approving of sex before, or outside of marriage, please confess this sin to God, and He will forgive you.  Do not justify sin, or return to it.  If any of you are actively engaged in illicit sex, then confess this sin, stop the activity, and you will find favor with God.  Isn’t inheriting the Kingdom of God, and being with Jesus worth it?  Do we love Him more than even ourselves, more than someone who is not really respecting you if he or she is causing me to sin against my God and Savior, and threatening my eternal destiny!?  God knows our deepest needs; He created and made us, and He is the one that gave sex as something good and holy between a man and his lawful wife.  Part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is self-control.  In today’s world, there is a great battle going on for the souls of people, and for the dignity of human beings, whom God created in His image and likeness.  Satan says that we can become like God by disobeying the Word of God and doing what we want.  Satan is a liar and a murderer.  The words of our Father are truth and life to all who trust and obey.

So, brothers and sisters – and especially those who want to find the right man or woman  to marry, and who want to be the right person for someone – keep yourselves holy for that person, and for God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  You will never regret it!

The vision of Yeshua’s Inheritance Congregation is that we will be prepared for the coming again of the Lord, and to have part in the first resurrection.  This matter of sexual purity is extremely important towards that readiness and overcoming the world by our faith, and being light in the increasing darkness.

Unity of the Spirit of the One Body of Messiah

(Modified June 26, 2016)

Eph 4:1-6 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the calling with which you are called, (2) with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, (3) endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (4) There is one body and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling, (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (6) one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all.

I was in Kenya a few weeks ago on a mission to help Christians there understand the importance of Israel to them in God’s plan of redemption. There is a unity of purpose with God through Christ Jesus. Many of the church leaders – pastors and bishops – came up to me to ask of me forgiveness for them thinking and teaching that God had finished with Israel. This week I was at a leadership retreat (SAYF – Sitting At Yeshua’s Feet) with Jewish and Arab believers, and others, as an expression of our unity in the common faith that we have in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. When SAYF first began in 2000, the concern then was to bring together as one the charismatics and the non-charismatics. The group that I was part of in Kenya included Catholics, Anglicans, Pentecostals. I was the only Jewish believer, and I do not belong to any of those particular churches or denominations. But we were all born-again believers, and that is what united us! There is one Body of Messiah; we are many and diverse members across and within the many streams. I thank God that even in our own small congregation of Yeshua’s Inheritance, there is a variety that challenges us, and also that is a witness to us of the truth.

We just finished our study of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation. The Lord was writing to all the churches as being together as one church under His headship and shepherding. The New Testament is written to all believers of all churches, and each of us will have to give an account to the Word of God, even the Lord Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul writes that we are to have fellowship and to bless all those who love the Lord in sincerity, and who call upon YHVH out of a pure heart. (Eph 6:24; 2Tim 2:22)

God has given Israel as an example to the Church – to Christians throughout the generations. Israel is not an example to other nations, but to the Church. Israel and the Church are the ones in covenant with YHVH God, and He deals with us in similar fashion, and the Scriptures are written to us about all things.

You remember that Israel became divided into two kingdoms: Judah in the south; Ephraim, or Israel, in the north. What we read of the northern kingdom is that they did not allow worship of God in the place which He chose – Jerusalem – and they were completely idolatrous. But, there were real believers in Israel, the northern kingdom. In 1Kg 18 we have the account of when the prophet Elijah needed to meet the evil king Ahab. There was a servant in Ahab’s council named Obadiah. He hid 100 true prophets of YHVH from being found and killed by the queen Jezebel. All of these persons were faithful to the true God, even though they lived and even served in Israel. They did not move to Judah, but remained in Israel.

The time came that God’s long-suffering ended towards this part of His people, and He sent them into captivity by the Assyrians. The Jews in Judea and Jerusalem trusted in themselves that they were okay with God. But the time came when He told them through the prophet Ezekiel that their sisters – Sodom and Samaria – were more righteous than they: Judah knew of the sins of Sodom and of the northern Kingdom (represented by the capital, Samaria), and why God had punished them; yet they did the same things and more! (Ezek 16:49-52) There were also real and faithful believers in Judah.

As we study the letters to the seven churches, we also see that within each of the churches there were those who heard and obeyed the word of the Lord, and those who did not. All who did were of one spirit in the faith.

Throughout the history of Israel and of the Church, we see that there were always those who thought that they were the true believers when comparing themselves with others among the people. We just saw how Judah thought towards Israel. The first Jewish believers thought that the Gentile believers needed to become Jewish in order to be saved. The Roman Catholics thought that they had become the New Israel instead of God still keeping covenant with actual Israel. Later Martin Luther thought that the Protestants were the spiritual Israel. The Catholics thought that those not in the Roman Catholic Church were outside of God’s grace, and the Protestants thought that all those inside the Catholic Church were not real believers. The Pentecostals came, and thought that unless you speak in tongues you are not baptized in the Holy Spirit, which would mean that you are not really saved. Others thought that if you speak in tongues you are of the devil. The Church of Christ that my wife grew up in thought that they were the true New Testament church, even while teaching that God was finished with the Jews, and also with musical instruments for now. The Closed Brethren think that they are the only believers faithful to Jesus and the Apostles. Many of these believers in these different denominations and camps will not take the Lord’s Supper together because they do not accept each other as Christ accepts all who put their trust and hope in Him for salvation. But it is the Lord’s Supper, not ours; He has invited all disciples and brothers and sisters.

Again, the apostle Paul writes that let each one examine himself if he is in the faith, and not be judging whether the next person is or not. (2Cor 13:5-6; 1Cor 11:28-29)   Within each of the very many streams of the faith in Jesus – within the Body of Christ – there are those who believe, and those who do not. We cannot trust in our own righteousness by saying that I am okay because I belong to a particular church or denomination; nor because I do not belong to that church or denomination! This is what the southern kingdom of Judah thought towards the northern kingdom of Israel. God is no respecter of persons, and those who think that they see will be judged even more severely than those whom God has already judged.

To be clear here, I am not at all condoning what I believe are Scripturally aberrant institutions and churches, such as the Roman Catholic; but I do believe that there are within it some true believers, just as Obadiah and the prophets were in Israel.  Yet the Protestant churches are not exempt from God’s judgments.  Free evangelicals, Messianic Jewish synagogues — no one can place their hopes on any other foundation than Christ crucified, and Him risen from the dead.  True believers from any of these “camps” should be able to freely fellowship outside the camp in the truth — and bear Messiah’s reproach — take the Lord’s Supper together, and justify God as alone righteous.  Through the centuries the record is full of disciples of Jesus who were members of churches which today we call historic or traditional.  Some were led by God to remain in them, while others left.  Good King Jehoshaphat of Judah wanted to be united with wicked King Ahab of Israel, believing sincerely that all Israel was “family”.  Yet we learn from his efforts and experience that ecumenism and political alliances are not God’s way or thoughts for true unity of His people who are estranged from Him.

Through the blood of the cross, God has reconciled Himself to us, and we are reconciled to Him and to each other who believe – across all the streams that come out from and converge into the one river of life. (Rev 22:1-3; Ezek 47:1-12) Let those who have an ear to hear, hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. It is a sin to judge God, and to make ourselves the judge of the Body of Christ, the Bride of the Lamb. Jesus is the Judge, and He says that His word will judge us. (Jn 12:42-50)   Let us confess and repent of our sins against the Lord and our brethren if we have judged them unrighteously, simply because they belong to a particular church or denomination.  At the same time, we can not reconcile with institutions or systems that remain opposed to revealed truth, in so much as we understand.

Eph 4:1-6 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the calling with which you are called, (2) with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, (3) endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (4) There is one body and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling, (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (6) one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all.

Joh 17:14-24 I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (15) I do not pray for You to take them out of the world, but for You to keep them from the evil. (16) They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (17) Sanctify them through Your truth. Your Word is truth. (18) As You have sent Me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world. (19) And I sanctify Myself for their sakes, so that they also might be sanctified in truth. (20) And I do not pray for these alone, but for those also who shall believe on Me through their word, (21) that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. (22) And I have given them the glory which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one, (23) I in them, and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me. (24) Father, I desire that those whom You have given Me, that they may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me, for You have loved Me before the foundation of the world.

1Co 10:16-17 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (17) For we, the many, are one bread and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread.

Being Light in The Coming Darkness – 16 Jan 2016

(An introduction to a study of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation, with the focus on believers being overcomers and light in the darkening world)

What is important to the Lord Jesus Christ regarding our spiritual condition as His disciples? He has given us the Law of Messiah in His sermon on the mount (Mt 5 – 7); He has given us to understand what the Kingdom of God is like in this world (Mt 13); He has told us what to expect as the time of His coming nears (Mt 24 – 25); He has given the Holy Spirit to teach us through the Apostles’ writings in the New Testament how we are to live as believers in the truth of the gospel of the grace of God. (Jn 17:20)

What is important to Jesus in order for us to be confident of our hope in His salvation for us?: The seven letters to the churches in Asia give us His counsel to equip us and to help us judge ourselves and respond appropriately according to what He praises and approves of, and of what He disapproves and gives correction.  He gave the apostle John to hear and to see and to write these letters, and the whole book of Revelation, about 60 years after the Lord’s death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father.  They are written for all believers as to one new man – where it does not matter if we are Jewish, Gentile, male, female, Turkish, or Ethiopian.  It is written to the churches – where it matters not if one is Orthodox or Roman Catholic, if Protestant, Evangelical, Baptist, or Pentecostal.  The encouragements, chastisements, warnings, promises are to all in the Body of Messiah: let him/her who has an ear to hear, hear what the Spirit says to the churches. There is a call to listen: Even within the church there are different types of soil, of hearts, with respect to how we hear the Word of God and its interpretation.

He tells us not to be afraid. Our Lord and Savior wants each of us to be overcomers, to be victors, to be light in this world in the spiritual battles of life against the darkness of this age – victors over the devil, over this world, over our own selves. (Eph 6:12; 1Jn 2:15-16)  He wants us to be wise virgins, who are prepared and glad when He comes. (Mt 25:1-13)  We overcome by our faith in Jesus, who has won the victory for us on the cross, where He died and shed His blood to atone for our sins!  The Holy Spirit gives us the power by the grace and the love of God to endure to the end in the faith!

All of these seven churches – these lampstands shining for the glory of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ — were located in the region of today’s Turkey on the Asian side. That light now is very dim, but not completely quenched. (Is 42:3; Mt 12:20)  Turkey is now an Islamic country – spiritually very dark — and for 400 years ruled over Palestine/Israel.  These churches were local city-wide congregations, and are also representative of the church-at-large, giving  relevancy to these letters throughout the last 2000 years, and they also bring us right through the last 7 years of this age — Daniel’s 70th week (Dan 9:24-27) — leading up to the Lord’s return.  All Scripture is written for us living at the end of the age; these letters are also prophetic in that they take us to the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of His saints ruling with Him in His kingdom over Israel and the nations. (1Cor 10:11; Rev 2:25-28)

The Book of Revelation is unique in that it is the only one in the Bible which offers a blessing to those who read and hear and keep that which is written therein. (1:3)  It is a book which Yeshua Himself gave to be written, rather than inspired by the Holy Spirit. (1:1)  It also ends with a curse for anyone who would add to or take away from what is written in it. (22:18-19)   If we believe what the Bible says about the beginning of all things in Genesis, we will be more inclined to believe what God says about the end.

The book is the revelation of Jesus Christ: He is now in Heaven hidden from the world, but the plan of God is to send Him back at the appointed time, and every eye will see Him, including His people Israel. (Rev 1:7; Jn 16:10; Zec 12:10-11)  The book opens with this hope of the return of the Everlasting God to take up His throne on the Earth.  He is not only the Head of the Church, but He is ruler over the kings of the Earth. (1:4, 12-20) He has died and risen, and lives forevermore! There was no one before Him; there will be no one after Him:  He is the first and the last.

Jesus is the uncreated Light, who shines like the sun when He is seen in glory, as on the Mount of Tranfiguration, or when appearing to Saul on his way to Damascus. (Gen 1:3-5; Mt 17:2; Acts 22:6-11)  Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it/Him. (Jn 1:5)

Jesus is the Light of the world, and has called both Israel and believers in Him to be the light in the world, that others would see and know who the true God and Savior is. (Is 43:10-12; Mt 5:14-16) Both Israel and Christians have fallen short (Rom 5:21-26), but Jesus is here presented as the faithful and true witness: He is the true Israel and Man of God, the Prophet who perfectly speaks and bears true witness to YHVH God.  The ninth commandment is “Do not bear false witness”, and this we have all been guilty of too often.  Yet Jesus’ witness is true, both of the Father and of Himself. (Jn 8:12-20) He is the Light of the world, and those who follow Him shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.  In Christ, we are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of night or of darkness.  So let us not sleep as others, but watch and be sober. (1Thes 5:5-6)

This is what we want for ourselves, and this is the instruction we want to receive from this study of the Lord’s letters to the churches.  Yeshua is seen by the apostle John as being in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, with seven stars in His right hand.  John, the apostle that knew that Jesus loved him, fell down as dead when he saw the Lord in the light of His glory.  And the Savior told him not be afraid:  our Judge is also our Savior and Bridegroom.  We should honor Him with holy fear, as true witnesses of who He is.

The Menorah was the light within the Holy Place in the Tabernacle and the Temple, both in the desert and also in Jerusalem. Only priests had access to it, and were to keep it lit at all times.  Jesus says that the seven golden menorahs are the seven churches, and the stars (heavenly lights) that He holds in His right hand are the angels/messengers – whether divine or human (Mal 2:7) – of the seven churches. The letters are addressed to the churches through their messengers.

2Pe 1:19-21 We also have a more sure Word of prophecy, to which you do well to take heed, as to a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the Daystar arises in your hearts, (20) knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture came into being of its own private interpretation. (21) For prophecy was not borne at any time by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke being borne along by the Holy Spirit.

What Is The Purpose of The Law (Mt Sinai Torah)?

Gal 3:15-25   Brothers, I speak according to man, a covenant having been ratified, even among mankind, no one sets aside or adds to it. (16)  And to Abraham and to his Seed the promises were spoken. It does not say, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, “And to your Seed,” which is Christ. (17)  And I say this, A covenant having been ratified by God in Christ, the Law (coming into being four hundred and thirty years after) does not annul the promise, so as to abolish it. (18)  For if the inheritance is of Law, it is no more of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by way of promise. (19)  Why then the Law? It was added because of transgressions, until the Seed should come to those to whom it had been promised, being ordained through angels in the Mediator’s hand. (20)  But a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. (21) Is the Law then against the promises of God? Let it not be said! For if a law had been given which could have given life, indeed righteousness would have been by the Law. (22)  But the Scripture shut up all under sin, so that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (23)  But before faith came, we were kept under Law, having been shut up to the faith about to be revealed. (24)  So that the Law has become a tutor of us until Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (25)  But faith coming, we are no longer under a tutor.

The gospel is not of man; it is from God alone. (Gal 1:11-12)  This means that the gospel is neither Jewish nor Greek (Gentile) in its origin nor in its understanding.  The cross of the Lord Jesus Christ is the heart of the gospel; and the Apostle writes in another letter that the cross is a cause of stumbling to the Jews, and is folly to the Greeks.  If the gospel were natural to humans, whether Jewish or Gentile, then resistance to it would not be so strong among the Jewish people, or among nominal Christians who fear God and do righteousness, and think that they are good enough to inherit eternal life.  Born-again believers need to renew their mind by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to know and to live by the will of God in light of the truth of the gospel.

The gospel of Jesus Christ gives salvation to those who believe: it is the gift of God by grace to those who repent and believe the gospel for salvation from sin and its consequences.  No person can earn salvation by good works, or by being a good person, but must be born-again by the Holy Spirit through faith in God’s way of salvation for both Jews and non-Jews.  By such living faith, a person is justified by God and no longer under the condemnation of His Law (Torah).  All have sinned, and need a Savior, and His name is Yeshua/Jesus. There will be no other Savior! (Acts 4:12)

The Law Unable To Annul The Promise v. 15-18

Belief in the gospel changes a person’s life and his world-view, and brings a unity among all who believe, from whatever people or tribe or tongue. The New Covenant brings significant changes from the Law of Moses, and therefore it requires Jewish people first to believe what the God of Israel spoke concerning these things, and also the Gentiles, for whom all of this was new, not having the covenants which God cut with the Jewish people and Israel.  The gospel is God’s way of redeeming back to Himself those from all nations which He scattered after the sin of the Tower of Babel.  This gospel He spoke already to Abraham – the father by supernatural intervention of the Jewish people in the flesh, and of “many nations” through the faith of Abraham –when YHVH said that through Abraham’s seed, all the families of the Earth (all the nations) would be blessed. (Gen 12:3; Gal 3:8)  This seed is not only the Jewish people, but more specifically the Messiah, the Lord Yeshua, who became a man as an Israeli Jew. (Mic 5:2; Mt 2:1-6, 19-21)

What is the promise?  The promise to those who believe as Abraham did – that YHVH God could, and would, raise the dead in order to fulfill His promise – is to be justified to inherit the world with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and to rule with Him over Israel and the nations and God’s creation in the world to come (the Millennial Kingdom), when the knowledge of the glory of YHVH fills the whole Earth . (Gen 1:26-28; Ps 8; Is 11 – 12; Rev 3:21-22; Rev 20:4-6)  For this, we need to be conformed to the image of the Son of God in order to be suited to rule in a godly manner.

The Governmental Objective of the Law  [given to Israel at Mt Sinai]  v. 19-22

“So what purpose did/does the Law serve?” This is Paul’s question in v. 19 to lead into his answer as why the Law had a purpose even though it could not make anyone righteous, nor nullify the promise.  He answers it:  “The Law was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.”  (Dt 33:1-4 esp the Sept; the visible YHVH; M. Heiser, The Unseen Realm, p. 166-169) We have already seen that individual humanity had greatly sinned before the flood (Gen 6:5-8); that the nations had sinned in Babylon with the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9); and the Children of Jacob/Israel were living like the Egyptians before they receive the Law at Mt. Sinai. YHVH God gave His holy, righteous, and good Law with its commandments to teach His people to live in a way which distinguished them from all other nations and people. (Dt 4:5-10)  His people are to be holy, for He is holy, righteous, and good. (Rom 7:12) He is not like the other gods whom the Gentiles serve and worship.

It was added.—It was not a part of the original scheme, but came in as a sort of marginal addition. It was, as it were, a parenthesis in the design of Providence. The direct line of God’s dealings with man ran through the promise and its fulfilment. The Law came in by the way.

Because of transgressions.—It has been usual to give to this one of two opposite interpretations, to make it mean (1) to check or put down transgressions; (2) to multiply and increase transgressions, as in Romans 5:20. The expression seems wide enough to cover both ideas. The Law was given “because of transgressions:” i.e., it had its object in transgressions. Its original purpose was to make them known, and by imposing a penalty to check them; its real effect was to provoke and enhance them. The expression “because of transgressions” leaves it ambiguous which of these points is meant, or rather, it includes them all.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary)

God wants us to know the sinfulness of sin in our very nature that is opposed to His perfectly holy and pure nature. All persons are found to be sinners:  without Law, with Law, even with the Holy Spirit.  We all, without exception, need God to save us from our sins, which He knew before He created the world. (Rev 13:8; Eph 1:4)

YHVH had chosen Israel as His first-born son as the means to draw all nations back to Him. Israel is intended to be a kingdom of priests, and a light to the nations.  All nations are to be blessed through Abraham’s children in covenant with YHVH. Salvation is from the Jews, Jesus tells us. (Jn 4:22)  But this salvation is not by obeying commandments and laws.  Salvation – in both an Old Testament sense, and in the New – comes with loving the one true God and being loyal to Him. (Jer 7:22-23; Lk 10:25-28)  The one true God is revealed to be YHVH God — the Father, His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  The Father and the Spirit are invisible; Jesus came as the visible God.

Faith Having Come Fulfills the Purpose of The Law v. 23-25

One can keep laws and customs, while at the same time having a divided loyalty of heart to the one God. God demands whole-hearted faith and loyalty.  This is demonstrated by loving Him above all, and giving thanks for who He is, and for what He has done for us.  Jesus has fought the battle for us against sin – which the Law only brought out the more! – and YHVH alone has died for us and risen from the dead to defeat the enemy, and to deliver us from the penalty of eternal separation from God.  We are all – those who believe in Him – His children, whether we are Jewish or are not.

People often say that King David sinned much more than King Saul, and don’t understand why God took His Spirit from Saul and cast him away, but not only promised David so much, but also is keeping His covenanted promises to him. The reason is what we have just said:  Saul was not faithful to the Lord, and sought help from other sources, and persecuted the one whom God had chosen, the one whose heart was for the Lord.  David, although he committed adultery and murder, never wavered in his heart commitment to YHVH his God, and he was miserable in his soul until he confessed his sins, and accepted the evil consequences of his sins for the rest of his life, even though God forgave him and reconfirmed His covenant with him.

When we ask why Saul was condemned and David was forgiven, we betray our own misunderstanding of the ways of God, who searches the thoughts and intentions of our hears. We judge [usually] by what a man does; God judges the heart, and for a repentant sinner, He has paid the price required due to our guilt.

So, now for us: we do fail in keeping the commandments of Jesus, but this does not separate us from Him.  Apostasy and idolatry are still the two sins of a divided heart which would prove our disloyalty and unfaithfulness; in other words, our lack of love for Him as the only God and Savior, and for disobedience to His commandments to us who belong to Him.  These two sins of the heart weaken the fear of the LORD in us, which is a key to living for the glory of God alone.

A major factor in why a believer would seek to keep laws and customs of what religion or culture he/she had before would be to find acceptance by those of our family, friends, society who do not want to believe in the one true God and in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We want to avoid the “offense of the cross”, which separates light from darkness, and sin from righteousness, in order to still be accepted as “okay” to the world.  But, beloved brothers and sisters, we are called outside the camp to bear the reproach of Christ with Him, even as we are in the world as His servants and ambassadors to preach the gospel that others may also be saved from their sins and eternal separation from God, who gave His Son a sacrifice that we might be His, to His everlasting glory and joy. (Is 53:10)

The Law is given as a tutor is to children, guarding them for their adulthood. God’s Law through angels to Moses for Israel was given to protect the chosen people from foreign gods, and to learn the holiness and righteousness of YHVH, God of Israel.  Once faith in Messiah has come, we are no longer children under a tutor, but are being ‘graduated’ to adulthood and to sonship, with its privileges and freedoms. Yet this freedom carries with it greater responsibility and accountability than is the case for children, or for slaves.  We grow unto full maturity; we do not return to childish immaturity.  We focus on things of eternal value, not on those things which are already passing away.  With faith in the promised Seed – Yeshua – the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the believer, and enables us to fulfill the righteousness of the Law. (Rom 8:3-4) We may feel, or know that we are inadequate, or that we did not excel at studies, but by faith in the grace of God we move on into the professional world.

Law brings us to know our need for a Savior, so that we can fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law – and of the Law of Christ. Faith does not mean that we no longer have to obey the Lord, or that we do not have a cultural way of life, but it does mean that we are to believe and to live in accord with the New Covenant which the truth of the gospel has revealed.  There are some significant changes, as Jesus our peace has broken down the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles, as well as the standard of perfection which kept all of us from personal relationship and fellowship with God! (Acts 15:10)  God is now bringing into His family born-again believers from out of every nation – fulfilling the promise of God to Abraham — dwelling by His Spirit within each of us, so that we equally call Him Father:  Christ in us, the hope of glory!

Racism Is Sinful, and Is Not New – 9 May 2015

Act 17:24-27   The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of Heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands,  (25)  nor is served with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives life and breath and all things to all.  (26)  And He has made all nations of men of one blood to dwell on all the face of the earth, ordaining fore-appointed seasons and boundaries of their dwelling,  (27)  to seek the Lord, if perhaps they might feel after Him and find Him, though indeed He is not far from each one of us.

This past week in Israel we have witnessed large and very angry, emotional demonstrations – even riots – by the Israeli Ethiopian community.  These were triggered by a senseless attack by a policeman and volunteer upon an Ethiopian Jewish soldier in uniform.  Years of pent-up frustration were vented by the demonstrators, calling upon the government and the people to stop the discrimination and racism against the large community of Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia.

Racism is a sin, is not new, and the Jewish people during the last 2000 years have suffered from it under the term anti-Semitism.  People are people, and the Jewish people are not different in that respect:  we can also be racists in our attitude and acts towards other people groups.  Even within ethnic groups, there is discrimination and racism:  among Jews, it can show up, like now, against Jewish Ethiopians; it can be by Ashkenazi Jews towards Sephardic Jews.  Once, an Ethiopian brother in Messiah told me that even among the Ethiopian people – who are all ‘black’ – there are those who are considered the “whites”, and those who are the “blacks”; and the ‘whites’ discriminate against the ‘blacks’, treating them with less value and dignity.

Sinfulness does not recognize boundaries, and the hearts of all people are wicked and deceitful, as YHVH spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, and as Yeshua also taught.  We need a new heart and a new spirit, both given by YHVH God when someone is born-again by the Holy Spirit from Above, becoming a new creation.  But then we find that the flesh and Spirit war one against the other, and we may still struggle with sin in us, even though God considers us righteous by our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord!  Not all believers are free from the sin of racism in our daily lives, or in our reactions when we hear that a Jew, or an African, or an Arab did some terrible thing.

What does the Bible have to teach us about God’s view of humanity, especially to us who have been saved by grace through placing our faith in the Son of God, who is also the Son of Man?

First of all, what is not racism?  Do you remember the story of the Gibeonites in the book of Joshua? (Josh 9:1-27)  The Children of Israel were conquering the Land of Canaan.   YHVH God had strongly spoken to the Israelis that they were to make no covenant with those who dwelt in the land, because it would weaken their faithfulness and loyalty to Him alone as their God. (Ex 23:32-33; Dt 7:2)  While all the other people groups within Canaan prepared to fight the Israelis, the Gibeonites realized that they could not defeat the chosen people of God.  So what did they do?  They deceived Joshua and the other leaders into thinking that they had come from a far land, and they wanted to make a covenant of peace with Israel.  Joshua and the other leaders agreed, and only afterwards did they realize that the Gibeonites were actually from within the land.  But since the covenant had been made with YHVH as a witness, Joshua had to let the agreement stand, but, the Gibeonites had to agree that they would always be woodcutters and water carriers for the Israelis and for the needs of the sacrifices on the altar to God.  The Gibeonites were glad to live!  They would praise and thank the God of Israel for both mercy and justice!

As an ethnic group, there was no hope or expectation that Gibeonites could ever advance in the society.  There would not be social equality.  There may have been individuals, who by the favor of God, “broke the mold”; but as a group, their price for being allowed to live at all, and live in what had been their own country, but was now to become the Land of Israel, was to be menial laborers for the Israelis and for the service of YHVH.  This is not racism, nor unfair social justice.  However, if either side forgot, or does not know the history regarding the how and why of the relations between the two groups, the enemy of our souls can exploit the situation to turn it into a racist issue.

To say the Jews love money is not necessarily racist or anti-Semitic:  most people love money and what “being rich” means in this world.  The love of money is a sin.  To accuse the Jewish people specifically for their love of money can be understood as racist or anti-Semitic. To be born with “black” skin is not a sin, nor a mark of inferiority.  To think of “black people” as a lower level of being human is racist and sinful.

What is racism?   As we read in the verses from Acts, God has made every nation of men from one blood:  human beings are equal before God in dignity and value, having all been created in His image.  Therefore, racism is prejudice, discrimination, or hostility towards people from another race because of pride in your own race or nation as being superior to theirs. Pride and fear are roots of racism.  Not loving your neighbor as yourself is its fruit.

Since the time of the Tower of Babel and the days of Peleg, God separated the nations in judgment, and brought division, even by establishing boundaries.  Again, as we read in Acts, this is so that people would seek the Lord, in the hope that they might find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.  Different people groups do have a destiny:  God has given purpose in life to all.  No one can change God’s Word which He promised to His people Israel.  No one can change God’s Word that He spoke to Babylon.  No one can change God’s Word that He spoke to Ishmael.  Yet, from among each of these people, God is calling out a people for Himself by saving them out from their own “people and their fathers’ houses”, bringing them into His House, and becoming their Father in Christ.

As believers in Jesus, we are to know no man according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.

(2Co 5:14-21)
“For the love of Christ constrains us, judging this, that if one died for all, then all died;  (15)  and [Jesus] died for all, that those who live may live no more to themselves, but to Him who died for them and rose again.  (16)  So we now know no one according to the flesh; even if we have known Christ according to flesh, yet now we no longer know Him so.  (17)  Therefore, if any one is in Christ, that one is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  (18)  And all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation; (19)  whereas God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and putting the word of reconciliation in us.  (20)  Then we are ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as God exhorting through us, we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  (21)  For He has made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

What does all this say to us in this matter of racism?  The Word of God examines the thoughts and intents of the heart.  We may keep our opinion to ourselves, knowing that it may not be appropriate, or even acceptable, to express them on some issues.  Yet Jesus and the Holy Spirit know us from within and from without.  Racism is a sin against God who has made all human beings in His image; and His judgments as to how He has determined the multitude of ethnic groups and nations are past finding out.

While YHVH God calls for people to love each other, and to treat the stranger with respect, the devil makes our differences as people a basis for sowing division and fear and hatred, even among believers.

Yeshua has said that we will always have the poor with us, and sin will, sadly, also always be with us in this life.  Our congregation here is a little picture of the Kingdom of God, made up of persons from different tribes, tongues, people, and nations – each redeemed to God by the blood of Jesus. The gospel message which we carry gives people true hope for having their ‘heads lifted’ from suffering humiliation and shame and sinful attitudes, or from having been a racist who caused such anguish of soul in others.  The gospel is the same message of salvation for all persons from whatever race of men, because Jesus died for all.  He forgives and heals – giving peace in place of fear and shame and arrogance.  In Christ, we not only know God the Father and the Son because the Holy Spirit lives within us, but God knows us, and fully accepts us, whatever others may think of ‘my people’, or whatever ‘my people’ think of Jesus.  We overcome the world by faith in the Lord, and can relate to all others with humility and love for Yeshua’s sake.  As His disciples, it is sin to humiliate any group or person because we think ourselves superior to them.

We need to each examine and judge our own hearts as to our attitude toward the ‘other’ or the ‘lesser’.  We are ambassadors for Christ to help each other be reconciled to God on this issue of racism, and on any other issue which the Scriptures speak about from the Lord’s perspective.  When we love one another and have respect for people from all races and nations, the truth of Jesus/Yeshua being Messiah will be seen.

Discipleship Includes Submitting to Government – 14 Mar 2015

We again have elections in Israel next week to choose who will be the next PM and lead the country.  As most of us know, politics in Israel are very complicated, and the world we live in here demands a heavy emphasis on defense and security needs, even as there is also the necessity of providing for the welfare of all her citizens and residents with equity.  Israel has yet to find that right balance, but by the grace of the God of Israel, the country has a quality of life that is exceptional for most segments of society.

Being believers in the God of hope, who fills us with hope and peace through our faith in Messiah Yeshua, we are called to become His disciples in all things.  Yeshua is Head over all things to the Church (the Body of Christ).  One of those “things” is submission to the governing authorities.

In every country there are governmental systems, and wherever we live, or even tour, we come under the laws and customs of that country.  Sometimes they may be similar to; other times very different – positively or negatively.  As believers who have received the grace of God, we are called to be a cause for good wherever we are as disciples of the Lord who acknowledges all those in power.

Rom 13:1-14  Let every soul be subject to the higher authorities. For there is no authority but of God; the authorities that exist are ordained by God.  (2)  So that the one resisting the authority resists the ordinance of God; and the ones who resist will receive judgment to themselves.

(3)  For the rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the bad. And do you desire to be not afraid of the authority? Do the good, and you shall have praise from it.  (4)  For it is a servant of God to you for good. For if you practice evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword in vain; for it is a servant of God, a revenger for wrath on him who does evil.

(5)  Therefore you must be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.  (6)  For because of this you also pay taxes. For they are God’s servants, always giving attention to this very thing.  (7)  Therefore give to all their dues; to the one due tax, the tax; tribute to whom tribute is due, fear to whom fear is due, and honor to whom honor is due.

(8)  Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves another has fulfilled the Law.  (9)  For: “Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not lust;” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (10)  Love works no ill to its neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.

(11)  This also, knowing the time, that it is already time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we believed.  (12)  The night is far spent, the day is at hand; therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.  (13)  Let us walk becomingly, as in the day; not in carousings and drinking; not in co-habitation and lustful acts; not in strife and envy.  (14)  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not take thought beforehand for the lusts of the flesh.

We serve another King – Jesus – whose kingdom if not of this world.  The apostle Paul’s admonition to us to submit to the governing authorities even brings in the expectation of the Lord’s return as the hope set before us for God’s kingdom of righteousness to be established.  Remember, when Paul wrote this epistle, the believers in Rome were living under the  rule of Caesar then, and they came under severe persecution for their faith in Jesus as Lord.

Today we live at a time that is increasingly witnessing persecution of both Jews and Christians (both are witnesses of the one true God), yet as disciples of Messiah, we are called to respect those in authority, to keep the laws, to pay our taxes – all because we serve the Sovereign God over all these kings of the Earth.

Paul writes here that if we do good, we do not need to fear the authorities, who are responsible for punishing law-breakers.  This, too, is their God-given duty.

Jesus and the apostle Peter warned us, though, of the real possibility of suffering wrongfully at the hands of our masters and governments, even though we do good. (Mt 5:10-12; 1Pt 2:18-25)  If we suffer for righteousness’ sake, or for the name of Jesus and the gospel, then we are to rejoice, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example. He did not return evil for evil, but desired their repentance and salvation.

We are challenged throughout our lives as believers to apply God’s commandments in every aspect of life.  We are not called to overthrow governments, but to obey the Lord, trusting Him, resting in His sovereign wisdom and grace.  We are called to love one another, fulfilling God’s Law.  We are not allowed to live in a manner that would contradict the presence of the Holy Spirit in our life, but to govern ourselves to live acceptably to God as disciples of our Savior.

God is working to save people, and all things good and evil serve towards this objective before the Lord Yeshua executes His righteous judgments on those who refuse God’s way back to Him, and to submit to Him with thanksgiving.  Our prayer is for the name of God our Father to be sanctified, and for His Kingdom to come at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s close by reciting the prayer which our Lord has taught His disciples.

(Mt 6:9-13)

Our Father, who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your name.  (10)  Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.  (11)  Give us this day our daily bread;  (12)  and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.  For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.  Amen.