20181103 Parsha Chayei Sarah – The Life of Sarah

Sermon Title – The Canaanites

The Parsha today announces “The Life of Sarah” but then in the same breath says she died at the ripe old age of 127. The Bible tells us that she died in Kiriath-arba which was another name for Hebron and actually is only one-half mile from the center of Hebron today. What follows is the almost comical exchange between Abraham and the Sons of Heth regarding the purchase of a cave in which to bury Sarah. They went back and forth, I would like to buy some land, no we will give you the land, no I can’t accept a gift, sure you can, you are a prince among us, no I still want to buy the land, oh come on, what is the measly price of 400 shekels among friends, ok here is 400 shekels, thank you, the land is yours.

After the death of Sarah, Abraham called his servant Eliezer and commissioned him to go back to Haran, to Abraham’s kin and find a wife for Isaac.

Abraham warned Eliezer not to seek a bride for Isaac from among the Canaanite women. Abraham knew that the Canaanites were destined to be ejected from the land and erased from history. He did not think it prudent that his seed, to whom God had promised the land, should intermarry with a race from whom the land was to be taken. The midrash imagines Abraham reasoning: “My son is blessed, and the accursed cannot unite with the blessed.”

The distance from Hebron to Haran is almost 600 miles, or about a month of travel. He had ten camels and a lot of gifts for the prospective bride and her family. The trip would have taken around 1 month to complete.

In today’s world, there are no Canaanites. The Canaanites ceased to be an identifiable people group long ago. Nevertheless, the warning still has relevance for our outreach efforts today. The Canaanite religion became a toxic poison for the children of Israel, seducing them into idolatry and syncretism. Likewise, we must not bring the religion of Canaan into the house of Abraham. In our zeal to make converts, we should not allow the idolatrous world to exercise its influence over the Assembly of Messiah:

2 Corinthians 6:14-16 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? (15) What harmony does Messiah have with Belial? Or what part does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (16) What agreement does God’s Temple have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God—

On the other hand, the disciple of Yeshua should have no hesitation about reaching out to the godless, the wicked, the secular, or the idolater. The transforming power of the gospel is not limited by ethnic or sociological boundaries. The good news taught by our Messiah can transform even the most reprehensible idolater into a worthy spiritual bride,
sanctified to make her holy, having cleansed her by immersion in the word. Messiah did this so that He might present to Himself His glorious community—not having stain or wrinkle or any such thing, but in order that she might be holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:26-27)

Yeshua’s disciples needed to learn this lesson before they could be effective apostles. Two incidents from the New Testament illustrate the matter: the story of Yeshua’s encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4) and the story of the Peter’s encounter with Cornelius the centurion (Acts 10).

The story of the Master’s encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4 reminds readers that, in those days, “Jews had no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9). The Jewish people of the day considered Samaritans as the equivalent of Canaanites, but the Master shoved aside the conventional prejudices and engaged the Samaritan woman in conversation. His example opened the way for His disciples to present the gospel to the Samaritan people.

The story of Peter and Cornelius opened the scope of the gospel message even wider. Peter deemed Gentiles as outside the purview of God’s redemption. He regarded them as “Canaanites,” so to speak, in that he had never imagined taking the message of the gospel directly to non-Jews. He misunderstood the commission to go to all nations as a reference to the Jewish people and converts to Judaism scattered among the nations, but the vision of the sheet let down from heaven reoriented Peter’s thinking. The gospel is sufficient to save even the Gentiles.

I find it tragically ironic that today we find ourselves in a situation in which deranged individuals who have been given the greatest gift in the world, the offering of eternal life, are somehow turning that around and pouring hate on to the people who gave us the Messiah. A Jewish Messiah.

My heart aches for those who lost loved ones in Pittsburgh. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror those people felt at the time and the loss they feel now. According to that great teacher Hillel, Torah can be summed up in two commandments. Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Everything else is commentary.

When asked what is the greatest commandment, Yeshua said

Matthew 22:37-40 “‘You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (38) This is the first and greatest commandment. (39) And the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (40) The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Who is your neighbor? In Luke 10:30-37 Yeshua responds to the question of who is your neighbor by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. You all know this story of how a man was attacked by robbers and left for dead. A priest and a Levite passed by him on the road and made excuses for not helping him. But then a Samaritan, that despised race of half-breeds who in the Jewish mind of that day were unclean and on a level of dogs walked by. This man didn’t see a Jew or Egyptian, or Edomite. He saw a human being in need. The Samaritan tended to the man and brought him to safety and paid for his maintenance until he was able to go on his own.

That was a hard lesson for Yeshua’s audience that day. Samaritans were despised as a people group. They were Jews who assimilated with their Assyrian conquerors. They had their own temple and mountain on which to offer sacrifices. In the Jewish mind, these people were the lowest of the low. But this man was merciful. And Yeshua later said that his disciples were to go to Samaria and preach the gospel and make disciples of the Samaritans! What a hard concept for them to grasp. But they eventually did take hold of the idea of God’s love for all mankind. Phillip, one of the first 7 elders spent his life ministering in Samaria.

The lesson for today is that we are all the same in that we are sinners who have fallen short of God’s standard of holiness. We must not look down on any person or people group. God loves all of us the same. He gave his only son to give us right standing before Him. We need to love people into the Kingdom and not condemn them. Certainly, we can’t erase the hatred that some people have for our Jewish brethren, but we can pray for their souls, that they would open their eyes and see the salvation that is before them.

Don’t fall into the trap of hating someone or a group of someones because they are different racially, economically, geographically or even theologically. God loves them all and so should we. Assimilation is not the answer but neither is isolation.

John summed it up fairly well in:

1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (16) For everything in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the boasting of life—is not from the Father but from the world. (17) The world is passing away along with its desire, but the one who does the will of God abides forever.

There is a lot of discussion and electronic ink poured out these days on making the church relevant. Substitute Messianic Congregation for the word “church” and the argument is the same. When the body of Messiah starts diluting God’s standard of Holiness otherwise known as Torah, we start down a dangerous and slippery slope that can only end in eternal disaster. I read the other day where one pastor said that they don’t use the Bible much because it makes people uncomfortable. A caller on a popular radio talk show said she was Jewish but really looking for something else because the last time she attended a Shabbat service, the Rabbi spent his entire time extolling the merits of Al Gore’s book Inconvenient Truth. Assimilation is part of what brought Israel down to exile.

People are searching for answers. I’ve had several phone calls, emails and texts this week from people who are concerned. They tell me that they have never in their lives seen such hate as we are experiencing here in our own country. The good news is, we who have Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah in our hearts have the answer people are searching for. And we are charged with proclaiming the Besorah, the Good News of Yeshua to everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.

Abraham understood it, and so did Yeshua. We don’t have to marry the world in order to win the world. Don’t compromise. Don’t assimilate. But don’t stop loving. God never stops loving, and neither should we.