Tree of Life Messianic Congregation

A Fellowship of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in Yeshua

Month: May 2023

Double Standard or Higher Calling?

20230506 Parashat Emor – Double Standard or Higher Calling


Torah Portion Leviticus 21:1-8
Haftarah Ezekiel 44:15-23
Brit Chadashah Matthew 26:59-66

The thirty-first reading from the Torah is called Emor, a title that comes from the first verse of the reading, which says,

Leviticus 21:1 Then Adonai said to Moses, “Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: A kohen is not to allow himself to become unclean for the dead among his people,

Emor begins with special laws of sanctity, propriety and purity for the priesthood. Leviticus 23 provides an overview of the biblical calendar, a listing of the LORD’s appointed times.

My Dad was a WWII Marine who served in the Pacific Theater. He was not highly educated, nor particularly emotional, but he loved his family and had a simple, homespun philosophy of life. I can remember complaining on several occasions how something had happened in my life that didn’t seem fair. He would say “Son, that’s life, and life’s not fair”. His outlook on life was influenced by what he considered an inequitable distribution of the family estate.

This week’s Parsha is about discrimination and unfairness in Torah! I said discrimination and unfairness in God’s instructions to His people. Have I got your attention yet?

Do you realize that there are portions of the Torah that you could never obey? There are parts of the Torah that even Yeshua didn’t follow. Before you start throwing rotten vegetables let me explain. Not all of the Torah applies to all of Bnei Israel. There are sections that apply to women only. Some portions are instructions regarding lepers. Then there are portions that involve only the Levites and even further, the kohanim (priests). Chapter 21 details the requirements for the kohanim in keeping themselves ritually clean.

A priest is not to defile himself by coming near or touching a corpse. The exception is that he may come near a dead body, meaning preparing the body for burial, if the deceased was a close relative. This would include a father, mother, brother, a virgin sister, a son or daughter.
A priest was prohibited from attending a funeral for any family member outside the ones mentioned above. The Kohen Gadol, or High Priest had further restrictions. The High Priest could not come near any corpse, not even his parents.

The priests were restricted to whom they could marry. Ok, so some of the prohibitions made sense. A priest was not to marry a lady of the night or a divorcee.

The High Priest could only marry a virgin. Although, this was probably moot since a High Priest was normally an older priest and would have already been married.

Any descendants of Aaron who were not totally whole could not serve in the priesthood. If they were crippled, blind, deaf, impotent, or disfigured they could not offer sacrifices to God in the office of a priest. They could eat of the sacrifices though.

If you were born into the Levitical tribe and were actually a priest, I think it would be easy for a priest to feel like these restrictions were unfair. The guys in the other tribes can marry anyone they want to, even women from outside Israel if she agreed to abandon idolatry and to worship Adonai. It just wasn’t fair.

And why can’t a priest go to the funeral of his first cousin. After all, they grew up together and had all sorts of adventures together. It’s only right that he should be able to attend the burial of good friend and cousin.

This is an example of what is called distinction theology. A higher standard of holiness and special laws maintained by the priesthood are good examples of distinction theology – the theological perspective that knowledges not all of the Torah’s laws apply to everyone equally.

Why were the priests held to a higher standard of holiness or separation than the other members of Bnei Israel? It was because of their calling. They had a special calling on their lives because they were born into the family of Aaron. These were the men who prepared the sacrifices of the people and brought them to the altar of God. They put the sacrifices into the fire on the altar. The meat and fat was consumed, sending a plume of smoke up to the heavens. God called it a pleasing aroma. That was about as close as one could get to God without being the High Priest and entering the Holy of Holies each year at Yom Kippur. Because of that closeness, God required that the priests live by a much higher level of Holiness than their countrymen. They were to maintain that special separation from the profane or common things of life. The priests were God’s representatives on earth.

This separation and call to holiness is important to us today as Believers. God had called Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Exodus 19:6 So as for you, you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you are to speak to Bnei-Yisrael.”

By extension, any of us here today who are born again Believers in Yeshua HaMashiach, Jesus, the Messiah are to be part of that nation of priests. It doesn’t matter if you are a Messianic Jew or a Gentile grafted into the spiritual family of Abraham. We are all called to a higher purpose.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

There are other scriptures that bring out our calling.

Isaiah 61:6 But you will be called the kohanim of Adonai, They will speak of you as the ministers of our God.

Revelation 1:6 and made us a kingdom, kohanim to His God and Father

Let me ask you. What are the roles, duties, or purposes of a kingdom of priests?

1. Witnesses. Primarily, they were to act as witnesses to the nations of the one, true living God (Isaiah 43:10). It meant that they were given access to God’s presence in the tabernacle. There, they performed the duties of atonement through sacrifice, worship, and prayer.

2. Intercession. God desires order in His house. In Exodus 28 He meticulously begins laying out His instructions concerning the duties and expectations He would require of His priests. How did the job description of a priest begin?

The very first priestly task instituted by God was to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people. The early priests prepared and brought the sacrifices of the people to God to atone for their sins. They were a go-between, connecting the people with a most holy God.

Today we are also called to be witnesses. Yeshua gave his disciples their marching orders just minutes before He ascended.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Ruach ha-Kodesh has come upon you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and through all Judah, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Ten days after His ascension, Yeshua dispatched the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit to fill and equip these 120 faithful followers who had gathered in an upper room to pray. The effect was immediate and evident. Peter, the one who had denied he ever knew the Master was transformed. With the other disciples around him praising God in many of the known languages of the world, Peter delivered a rousing salvation message that was accepted by 3000 men.

Yeshua had met previously with the eleven disciples up north in the Galilee.

Mark 16:15-18 He told them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Good News to every creature.

(16) He who believes and is immersed shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned.

(17) These signs will accompany those who believe: in My name they will drive out demons; they will speak new languages;

(18) they will handle snakes; and if they drink anything deadly, it will not harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well.”

You have heard me quote these verses many times. It doesn’t get any clearer than that. We are to be God’s representatives on earth, just like the early priests.

That is a pretty high calling if you ask me. And because of that high calling, we have what you could call a double standard. Each and every one of us are called by the creator of this universe to uphold a much higher standard of morality and ethics than those in the world.

There can be no lapse in our dedication to purity. The early priests were tasked with another task of teaching the people to discern between what was tahor (clean), tamei (unclean). Tragically, the priesthood failed to teach the people, and as a result, Israel slipped into apostacy. Malachi speaks to this.

Malachi 2:7-8 For a kohen’s lips should guard knowledge, and instruction must be sought from his mouth. For he is a messenger of Adonai-Tzva’ot.

(8) But you have turned from the way. You caused many to stumble in Torah by the instruction, You corrupted the covenant of the Levites,”—says Adonai-Tzva’ot.

Are we diligent in teaching our children and others the requirements of holiness laid out in Torah and in Yeshua’s teaching? Are we diligent in searching the scriptures ourselves in order to actually know what the Bible teaches?

It is not enough to sit here in this building and listen to me deliver a sermon and then teach for an hour and a half in the Torah class. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to get into the scriptures and see for ourselves what the word of the Lord says. Notice, I said in the scriptures. I did not say to consult Rabbi Google. The internet is a minefield of disinformation and outright heresy. Can you find good things online, certainly, but make sure it corresponds to scripture. Read what the Bible says. Meditate on it. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you insight.

In James 1:5 we read these words:

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all without hesitation and without reproach; and it will be given to him.

In today’s world we are constantly bombarded with all manner of lies, half-truths, inuendoes and any other trick of the enemy to get you offtrack. That is why it is incumbent that we stay grounded in the word.

How often do you actually sit down and read your Bible? Do you have a regular study time? For me, it is early morning just when the sun is coming up. My bible in one hand and a hot cup of coffee in the other…It doesn’t get much better than that.

Seriously, we each have to do what works for us individually. I can’t study at night. So I do it in the morning when my mind is fresh. Do what works for you, but do it. God has called you to be his priest, so He also calls you to put in that extra work.

Is that a double standard? It sure is.

Luke 12:48 From everyone given much, much will be required; and from the one for whom more is provided, all the more they will ask of him.

This statement of Yeshua has become somewhat of an idiom in Western culture and is found, paraphrased, in Uncle Ben’s words of wisdom to Peter Parker in Spider-man: “With great power comes great responsibility.” The idea of “to whom much is given, much will be required” is that we are held responsible for what we have. If we are blessed with talents, wealth, knowledge, time, and the like, it is expected that we use these well to glorify God and benefit others.

We have been given so much. We have been given the privilege of being priests and kings in God’s creation. We have been give the gift of eternal life through the sacrifice of Yeshua our Redeemer. And for that we are called to a higher level of holiness. It is a double standard for a higher calling.

Keep On Keeping On

20230429 Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim – Keep on Keeping On


Torah Portion Leviticus 18:1-5, 30
Haftarah Amos 9:9-15
Brit Chadashah John 14:15-21

Acharei Mot
The twenty-ninth reading from the Torah and sixth reading from Leviticus is named Acharei Mot, two words that mean “after the death.” The title comes from the first words of the first verse of the reading, which say, “Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron” (Leviticus 16:1). Leviticus 16 describes the Tabernacle ceremony for the holy festival of the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 17 establishes general rules for sacrifice and sanctuary. Leviticus 18 lays down specific laws about permitted and forbidden sexual relationships.

The thirtieth reading from the Torah and seventh reading from Leviticus is named Kedoshim, which mean “holy.” The title comes from the words in Leviticus 19:2, which says, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” Leviticus 19 describes the holy community through a series of specific commandments. Leviticus 20 warns against the snares of sexual immorality and idolatry, mandating a death penalty for certain sins. Except in biblical leap years, Kedoshim is read on the same Sabbath as the previous reading, Acharei Mot.

This morning I would like to focus on just one word in the five chapters of this Parsha. The word in English is keep. The word is Hebrew is Shamar (שמר). The word shamar is found 468 times in the Bible and is translated variously as keep (283x), observe (46x), heed (35x), keeper (28x), preserve (21x), beware (9x), mark (8x), watchman (8x), wait (7x), watch (7x), regard (5x), save (2x), miscellaneous (9x). The root word for Shamar is found 684 times if you are just reading a Hebrew version.

In the five chapters of our Parasha this week the word “shamar” is recorded 11 times. We read some of them this morning.

Leviticus 18:4-5 You are to obey My ordinances and keep My statutes and walk in them—I am Adonai your God.

(5) So you are to keep My statutes and My ordinances. The one who does them will live by them. I am Adonai.
Leviticus 18:26 You, however, are to keep My statutes and My ordinances, …
Leviticus 18:30 Therefore you are to keep My charge, so that you do not practice any of these detestable customs that were practiced before you, so that you do not defile yourselves by them. I am Adonai your God.”

I think it is safe to say that we should pay some attention to this little four letter word.

To better understand what God meant by keeping His commandments, we need to look at covenants also. The Bible speaks of seven different covenants, four of which (Abrahamic, Land, Mosaic, Davidic) God made with the nation of Israel. Of those four, three are unconditional in nature; that is, regardless of Israel’s obedience or disobedience, God still will fulfill these covenants with Israel.

One of the covenants, the Mosaic Covenant, is conditional in nature. That is, this covenant will bring either blessing or cursing depending on Israel’s obedience or disobedience. Three of the covenants (Adamic, Noahic, New) are made between God and mankind in general, and are not limited to the nation of Israel.

The covenants God made with Abraham, the Land, and David are the unconditional covenants. They were, are and will be carried out in the course of history. The Mosaic covenant, however was conditional.

The Mosaic Law handed down to us at Mount Sinai was written in the form of a suzerain treaty. This was a common document in the ancient Middle East. The treaty typically opened with a short history of the two parties involved. Followed by the identification of who was the suzerain, or greater king and who was the vassal or lesser king. There were stipulations that the suzerain would protect the vassal in return for the vassal state sending tribute or taxes, and obeying the rules laid down by the suzerain. There was a section of blessings and curses. Blessings if the commandments were obeyed and curses if they were not. That is why we say the Mosaic covenant is conditional. We have to keep God’s commandments to receive the blessings.

Six times in Leviticus 18 we are told to keep God’s commandments. Chapter 18 codifies prohibited sexual activities. It is very descriptive and doesn’t leave a great deal to interpretation. Just to be clear, the phrase “uncover the nakedness” means to have sexual relations. So, now that leaves nothing to interpretation.

When I am confronted by the current reincarnation of Sodom and Gomorrah, I really don’t have to personally defend anything. I can boldly point to Chapter 18 and say God Says. It doesn’t matter what I think. God Says. It doesn’t matter what some poor, misdirected soul that doesn’t know what bathroom to use thinks. God Says.

We are told to KEEP His commandments. We are told not to be like those in Egypt and Canaan. What does that mean? It means we are commanded not to follow the practices of this world. In the ancient world, the Canaanites and Egyptians were noted for their promiscuous lifestyles. And now what do we see in this country today? Men pretending to be women, performing lewd dances in elementary schools. Women pretending to be men shooting up schools. School administrations mandating that kindergarten students be taught human sexuality, including acts condemned by God as an abomination.

We need to renew our efforts to keep God’s commandments. Just this past week the Texas Senate passed SB 1515 which requires the Ten Commandments to be displayed in every classroom in Texas. Not one single Democrat voted in favor of posting a copy of the Ten Commandments in schools. Let that sink in the next time you go to the polls.

Don’t let your guard down. Every opportunity we have to press forward the agenda of holiness and purity must be vigorously pursued. Keep His commandments.

There’s another aspect of Keep that needs to be explored. That aspect is the covenants that God made with His people. God made a covenant with Abraham that He would bless Abraham and make him the father of many nations. His descendants would number like the stars in the sky or the sand on the earth. God also made a covenant with Abraham that defined the boundaries of the land of Israel.

The final covenant was with King David that promised a descendant of David would rule eternally. What is the common thread of all those three covenants? They were unilateral. It did not require anything on our part. God made a promise and He kept those promises regardless of what we did.

God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. What He promised to Abraham is still valid today. So the covenants God made to Abraham are just as valid as they were some 2500 years ago. That is foundational.

A third aspect of Keeping is actually an echo of our Parsha but with caveat. Listen to the words of Yeshua.

John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commands;

When we read Leviticus the instructions to keep God’s commandments were couched in terms of the Mosaic/Suzerain treaty language. It was an if/then proposition. If we obey God’s commandments, then He will bless us. Conversely, if we disobey God, then curses will follow. It is what we could call the carrot and stick approach.

However, Yeshua has given the commandment a bit of a twist. It is in the Why do we obey His commandments. Yeshua is not changing the Law. He said that He didn’t come to change the law but to fulfill it. He explained the law in terms of the spirit behind it. In this way we have a greater understanding of the underlying principles of the law.

Leviticus 19 we are told that we are, as a people to be holy because God is holy. That doesn’t mean we are to be sinless. That is impossible. But we are to be set apart from the world. We are not to be like the world. It is counterintuitive to the average person in this world to understand, much less practice the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

Yeshua brought clarity and purpose to Keeping God’s Commandments with some of His examples as recorded in Matthew 5, the sermon on the Mount.

He spoke of controlling our anger.

Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever commits murder shall be subject to judgment.’
(22) But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca’ shall be subject to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be subject to fiery Gehenna.

Yeshua addressed lust.

Matthew 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
(28) But I tell you that everyone who looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Adultery is not only a physical act, but can be an activity of the mind. Whether or not one actually commits adultery physically, Yeshua said that if we think about it, are consumed by the thought of it, then it is if we have actually committed adultery.

What we say is what we should do.

Matthew 5:33-37 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall carry out your oaths to Adonai.’
(34) But I tell you, do not swear at all—not by heaven, for it is the throne of God;
(35) or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.
(36) And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
(37) But let your word ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’—anything more than this is from the evil one.”

Remarkably Yeshua told us to love not only our neighbors, but our enemies.

Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Love your neighbor—and hate your enemy.’

(44) But I tell you, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!

The chapter ends much in the way Leviticus 19 begins.

Matthew 5:48 Therefore, be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Again, it is a call to keep God’s commandments, not only in the letter of the law, but in the spirit of the law also.

In 12th Century Europe, society was of course much different than it is today. Local nobility (another word for a strong man), ruled an area and protected his subjects from bandits and rival lords. This necessitated the construction of fortresses, castles and such that could be defended against waring neighbors. These castles would often include a tower-like structure that was more heavily constructed than the rest of the castle. It was called the Keep and was a refuge of last resort. If all else failed, the defenders could retreat to the keep with the hope of outlasting the invaders. These structures were not that successful and with the advent of gunpowder and artillery, they were useless. But still people would put their trust in brick and mortar.

We are studying the book of Isaiah in our Sunday night online class. One of the main themes of Isaiah is the warning that Israel and Judah should not put their trust in foreign nations, nor should they trust in their own defenses. No, Isaiah repeatedly told them to trust in God to protect them.

Times have changed but God has not. The Psalmist wrote in:

Psalms 46:2 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who promised to protect and defend His people if they would Keep His Commandments is still on the throne today. We all need a refuge today against the onslaught of the enemy. We cannot trust in a political party, or a government to look out for our best interests. But we can rely on God to preserve us and give us the strength and ability to resist all manner of evil. Keep His Commandments. We need to Keep On Keeping On.