20190803 Parsha Mattot-Massei – Can The Apostate Return?
This week’s Parsha is Mattot/Massei. It is a double Parsha. Mattot means Tribes. It speaks of men and women making vows, taking revenge on Midian, and the settling of Reuben and Gad on the east side of the Jordan. Massei means Stages, and it describes the places the Israelites camped in their wilderness journeys, boundaries of the land, a list of the tribal chiefs, cities of refuge, and marriage of female heirs.
There is a wealth of material from which to build a sermon in these seven chapters, however, I will be talking about current events with just a nod to the cities of refuge.
This last week I saw a story pop up on my computer news feed. Joshua Harris, a prominent former Christian pastor and author of several publications, such as “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” had recently divorced and then later renounced his faith.
Harris explained in an Instagram post, “The information that was left out of our [separation] announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.”
In light of this sad announcement, the question arises, has Joshua Harris forfeited his salvation beyond any hope of recovery? It is an understandable question when you consider the following verse in Hebrews.
Hebrews 6:4-6 For it is impossible for those who once were enlightened—having tasted of the heavenly gift and become partakers of the Ruach ha-Kodesh, (5) and having tasted the good word of God and the powers of the olam ha-ba, (6) and then having fallen away—to renew again to repentance, since they are again crucifying Ben-Elohim for themselves and publicly disgracing Him.
This passage has given many backsliders industrial grade heartburn. They ask, “will God take me back? Is God’s mercy big enough to forgive my sins? Am I forever lost?
God Forgives and Restores
Spoiler alert! The answer is all throughout scripture. It should be no mystery. Absolutely yes! God will forgive and restore.
Look at what Hashem said to Israel through his prophet Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 3:22 “Return, backsliding children! I will heal your backsliding.”
This passage is not unique in the Bible. Right now, in the Sunday night Torah Study, we are studying the book of Judges where the people of Israel go through a cycle of sin, repentance and restoration followed by sin, repentance and restoration. It seems there is no limit to God’s mercy.
I am often reminded of Peters words:
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some consider slowness. Rather, He is being patient toward you—not wanting anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance.
Consider for a moment the triad of parables in Luke 15. There’s the parable of the lost sheep where the shepherd leaves the flock in a safe place and goes out to find the one lost one. Why does he do that? He still has 99 sheep. What’s one more? Because as a good shepherd he was not willing for even one to perish.
The second parable is about a woman who loses a coin in her home. She lights a lamp and sweeps the house searching high and low until she finds it. Even though she has 9 other coins, that one was important enough that she called her friends and neighbors together to rejoice with her in finding her lost coin. Why? Because she was not willing to forgo the loss of just one coin. Yeshua said “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
And finally there is the story of the prodigal son. We all know this famous story of the younger son who doesn’t want to wait around for his 1/3 of the estate. (Remember the firstborn gets a double portion). He asked his father for his portion now. The father gave him his portion and the lad went out and spent much of his inheritance on wine, women and song. The rest of it he wasted. At the end of the adventure, broke, tired, and hungry he realized that the servants in his father’s household were better off than he was currently residing in a pig pen.
He determined to go back home and beg forgiveness and resign himself to servanthood. His father never got over losing his son. Each day he scanned the countryside in the hope that his son would someday reappear. That father never gave up on his son. There was always mercy and forgiveness in his heart. When the son showed up, the father was overjoyed and held a celebration. Nothing the son did could drive a wedge between him and his father that was big enough to break the relationship.
These three stories illustrate why we are encouraged to pray for those who have fallen and help them find their way back to Hashem. Yeshua’s brother, Yaacov (James) said it like this.
James 5:19-20 My brothers and sisters, if any among you strays from the truth and someone turns him back, (20) let him know that the one who turns a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
What a great promise that is!
WHAT ABOUT REJECTING GOD
It is true that some people blaspheme the Spirit, a sin for which there is no forgiveness (see Mark 3:22-30). But people who harden their hearts to that degree will have neither the thought nor the desire to repent. They have utterly rejected God.
John also speaks about a sin the leads to death, writing, 1 John 5:16-17
Slide: 1 John 5:16-17
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he should ask, and God will give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death—I am not saying you should ask about that. (17) All unrighteousness is sin, but there is sin not leading to death.
What, exactly, does John have in mind? There is great debate among biblical commentators, since we have no further background information that brings absolute clarity to his words. There is even debate about what kind of death John speaks of, physical or spiritual.
Slide: Apostate Monthly
It might be safest to say that, in the event that we see someone cross the point of no return, their rejection of the Lord will be so final and ultimate that we will sense the futility of praying for them.
But, to repeat, from the beginning to the end of the Bible, there are calls for backsliders to repent, with an offer of mercy for those who return. Jesus died for those sins too.
HEBREWS IN CONTEXT
Then what are we to make of Hebrews 6:4-6? It’s important that we remember that Hebrews was written to Jewish followers of Jesus. For them, apostasy from the faith could mean a return to Jewish faith without Jesus, a return to the Temple-based sacrifice system, a return to repentance without the Messiah’s blood.
The author appears to be telling them that, as long as they remain in that state, there is no repentance for them. As rendered in the ISV,
For it is impossible to keep on restoring to repentance time and again people who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have become partners with the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of God’s word and the powers of the coming age, and who have fallen away, as long as they continue to crucify the Son of God to their own detriment by exposing him to public ridicule” (my emphasis).
By denying Jesus and going back to their traditional Jewish faith, they were crucifying Him all over again. And to the extent that they did this openly, they exposed Him to public ridicule.
Although they thought they could find repentance in their Jewish traditions without the Messiah, they were sadly, fatally wrong.
TRUE REPENTANCE LEADS TO LIFE
So what is the bottom line? Can a person who denies Yeshua return to the Lord? I believe that if a person is truly repentant and turns away from his sin and apostacy, the Father will run towards him and embrace him saying “For this son of mine was dead and has come back to life—he was lost and is found!”
For this reason I want to ask anyone who is in this building this morning that feels like you have slipped away. Satan has told you that you cannot come back to the Lord. He’s a liar. The Father is on the throne of heaven just waiting for you to repent and return to Him.
Also I want to encourage everyone here today who has friends or family that are not living right, don’t give up praying for them. Remember, God is not willing for anyone to perish. He wants everyone to be saved. He sent his son to die for the world, not just a part of the world, but the whole world.