Tree of Life Messianic Congregation

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Life or Death, the choice is yours

20220108 Parsha Bo – Life or Death The choice is yours

Blessing

Torah Portion                   Exodus 10:1-9

Haftarah                          Jeremiah 46:13-20

Brit Chadashah               John 1:29-34

The fifteenth reading from the Torah is named Bo (בא), which means “Come or in context can mean Go.” The title comes from the first words of the first verse of the reading, which say, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘[Come or Go] to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart” (Exodus 10:1). The portion begins by concluding the narrative of the ten plagues, the tenth of which is the slaying of the firstborn. To avoid the plague, the Israelites are given the instructions for the Passover sacrifice and the laws of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Pharaoh finally consents to let Israel go, and they leave Egypt.

This particular Parsha has several very well known incidents within it that are foundational to our belief system as Jews, Messianic Believers and Christians.  One’s understanding of the events surrounding Passover, or Pesach depends entirely on your perspective regarding the Messiah.

The Jewish person will look at this and see only the idea of Passover in the Passover lamb whereas the Messianic would look at this as being the Passover, of course, and also the Passover Lamb being Yeshua.  Generally, the Christian would look at this and agree that the Passover Lamb is Jesus, but they don’t really internalize the story of Passover as being personal for themselves. To most Christians, it is a Jewish holiday. The Jewish people look at Passover as extremely personal, and we put ourselves in the place of the early Israelites as if we were actually there too.

Today I would like to put these views together into a cohesive story that would include the Jewish view of things, the Messianic view of things, and the Christian view of things.

For the Jew, the story of the Passover is a historical observation that is remembered every year.  It tells the story of Moses being called by God to lead the Israelites to freedom.  A perfect livestock lamb was slain to provide blood that was to be splashed on the door posts and lintel of their dwellings.  If the people did what Hashem commanded, then the angel of death would pass over their homes and no harm would come to their first born.

Most Egyptians chose not to follow God’s commandment.  They suffered the consequences of losing their first born.  The edict was carried out from the lowest hovel to the palace of Pharaoh.

Did the relief from death apply to others outside the Israelites?  We can’t know for sure, but scripture tells us that there was a large amount of people called the “mixed multitude” that were also with the Israelites when they left Egypt the next day. It seems most likely that anyone who went with B’nei Israel would have also had faith enough to cover their doorpost with the markings prescribed by the Israelite God.  So I think it is possible that the population as a whole could have avoided the tenth plague if they put the blood on the door posts.  They had a choice.

The sages tell us that only 20% of the population of Israel chose to leave Egypt.  Why would that be?  Did only 20% of the Israelites follow God’s commandments?  Did the other 80% fail to heed Hashem’s warning and as a result decided not to follow Hashem into the desert because they too had lost their first born?  We don’t know, but it is an interesting question.  The Egyptians, the mixed multitudes and all of Israel had a choice to make.  They could follow God’s commandment and have life or disregard His commandment and suffer the consequences of death.

When the sun rose over Egypt on the 15th of Nisan, there were two emotions present in the land.  In all of Egypt there was wailing and crying over the loss of their first born children.  But in Goshen there was a different sound.  It was the sound of preparation and excitement.  For you see, when the Israelites killed the lambs and splashed blood on their doorposts, they were slaves in a foreign land.  But when light dawned on Goshen, the people of Israel were no longer slaves.  They were a nation of free men and women.  The blood made the difference.  It was their choice.  They chose life.

Today we hear much about choice.  A woman’s right to choose.

In the coming weeks, the US Supreme Court will be looking at some cases involving. abortion. I think it’s incumbent upon each and every one of us who are Believers to be in prayer about this, because this is very, very important to our nation. Since the landmark decision of Roe V. Wade in 1973 over 63 million babies have been killed in the United States in abortion clinics. The most evil organization that I can think of in the United States right now is Planned Parenthood. These guys make the Holocaust, Stalin, Genghis Khan and Molech look like choir boys when compared to how many babies have been murdered in Planned Parenthood clinics.  In Israel, one must get a 3-panel committee’s approval for abortion, but once it is approved, it is covered by government funding until the age of 33.  Out of a population of over 8 million, over 20,000 abortions are performed in Israel annually.  I cannot help but wonder if troubles in the US, as well as Israel, are somehow connected to our utter disregard for the most innocent among us.  Clearly, the abortion industry and their supporters in government chose to put the wrong blood on the door posts.

The drash delivered on Christmas morning, regarding the date of Yeshua’s birth, had over 2600 views on social media.  Some people agreed, some disagreed and some shrugged and said “whatever”.  But that figure of 2600 views was a wakeup for me.  Most of my drashes or sermons have been targeted to those of you who are sitting here in this building.  As a result, they are focused largely on Believers and the lives you lead.  This week, I felt the urging of the Ruach HaKodesh to change the focus and speak to the hundreds that watch this service at home.  Many have not accepted Yeshua as their personal savior.  I am speaking both to Believers and those who are not. Jew and Gentile. Christians and Muslims. To anyone who has ears to hear.

We have often discussed the problems people have as they live their lives.  Many are burdened with addictions, depression, bad habits, destructive relationships, the list goes on.  Somewhere in our lives, each of us is faced with a choice.  A life changing choice.  Maybe you chose to smoke that first cigarette, or pop some kind of pill, or entertain that first kiss that you knew would lead to destruction.  You started hanging with people who support your choices, because it was fun or exciting or to escape the discomfort of your reality.  It doesn’t really matter how, when or where these decisions were made.  Bad choices bring about bad results.  In computer language, garbage in, garbage out.  Eventually, bad choices which result in bad consequences will destroy your life, your job, your family.  Let’s face it.  Our choices can make us just as much a slave to sin as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.  You may have experienced many plagues in your life with no Moses to lead you out.

But there is a way out.  I said I would connect the dots between Judaism, Messianic Judaism and Christianity.  Jews look at the Passover lamb as a historical fact.  The death of the lamb was necessary to provide blood for the door posts.  Jewish tradition does not ascribe any messianic significance to the lamb.

However, for traditional Christians, and for us as Messianic Believers, we look at the lamb differently.  The prophet Isaiah spoke of the Messiah as a lamb.

Isaiah 53:7  He was oppressed and He was afflicted yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, like a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.

While Yochanan the Immerser, (John the Baptist), was preaching and immersing repentant Jews in the Jordan River, he saw Yeshua approaching and declared him as “   the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. John 1:29.

Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul, spoke of Yeshua this way: “ for Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.” 1 Cor 5:7

Peter equated the blood of Messiah to the Passover Lamb.

1 Peter 1:19  but with precious blood like that of a lamb without defect or spot, the blood of Messiah.

For those of us who are Believers in Yeshua HaMashiach, Jesus the Messiah, the Passover lamb takes on a monumental significance.  The Passover Lamb in Egypt was significant because it separated those that believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, from those who did not.  The Passover Lamb in Egypt did not save anyone from their sins.  It was a vehicle to physically save the Israelites from the horrors of losing their first-born children.  But they still were not absolved of their sins. They were then set free from the bondage of Pharaoh.  But they still had their sins.

The difference is that the lamb could not remove their sins.  Only the blood of one born of God who lived a sinless life could be the agent who removed their sins and our sins.

Hebrews 10:4  for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

This passage was speaking of the sacrifices of the temple system.  Those sacrifices were but a covering.  David prophetically spoke of the Messiah and sin.

Psalms 103:12  As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

East to the west.  That means that your sins are gone from one infinity to another.  There is no circling back like the north and south.  There are North and South poles that can be measured geographically.  But there are no east or west poles.  Your sins are gone.

This morning all of us need God’s forgiveness.  If you are a human like me, you have sin in your life. It is easy to become a slave to addictions, bad habits, evil thoughts, …whatever is troubling you.  You don’t have to live a life of slavery.  The Israelites started their Passover meal with the roasted lamb as slaves.  But Baruch Hashem, praise God, when the sun came up the next morning, they were no longer slaves.  They were free.  Just like them, we need to be set free.  Every day, we need to paint the doorposts of our hearts with the blood of Yeshua. Yeshua’s sacrifice only needed to happen once to absolve the world of sin, but we have to choose His sacrifice every day. Apply His blood to your addictions.  Splash His blood on the doorposts of your home and every aspect of your life.  You can wake up to a new day as a free person, free from the sins that weighed you down.

Let us all pray this prayer together right now.

Heavenly Father, forgive me of my sins, my failings, by bad choices.  Cover the entrance to my heart with the blood of Yeshua the Messiah.  I invite Yeshua into my life, into my home, into every part of my being.  I want Him to be my Lord and Savior.

I know, it is just a simple prayer, but I believe that if you sincerely prayed that prayer, or something similar to it, your sins are washed away.  You are no longer a slave.  Make your preparations for the promises of God for your life.

When was Yeshua really Born?

20211225 Parsha Shemot – When was Yeshua (Jesus) born and does it matter.

Blessing

Torah Portion – Ex 2:1-10
Haftarah – Isaiah 27:7-13
Brit Chadashah Matthew 1:18-25

Shemot is both the title for the second book from the scroll of the Torah and the title of the first Torah portion therein. Shemot means “names.” The English-speaking world calls this book Exodus. The Hebrew title for the book comes from the opening phrase of the book: “Now these are the names (shemot) of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob” (Exodus 1:1).

The English name Exodus comes from the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The Greek title for the book is Exodus Aigyptou, which translates as “Departure from Egypt.” The name Exodus is an abbreviated form of that title. Exodus means “departure.” The book of Exodus tells the story of the children of Israel enslaved in Egypt and their miraculous redemption through the hand of Moses, the story of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the construction of the golden calf and the construction of the Tabernacle.

As we read the first week’s reading from the book of Exodus, we find the children of Israel in slavery. It seems at first that the God of their forefathers has forgotten them. But God has not forgotten His promises. He remembers His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and brings a Redeemer to their children’s children, for the sake of His name, with love.

Today is a day celebrated around the world as the birthday of another Redeemer. The Redeemer we call Yeshua. But many if not most educated people today readily admit that Yeshua, Jesus was not born on December 25th. When was he born? Alternate dates include Rosh Hashanah or Sukkot. Sukkot being the most popular among Messianics. Sukkot is popular because it is the Feast of Tabernacles, and it would fit that Yeshua was tabernacling with us. However, this doesn’t work because Sukkot is one of the Regalim, the required feasts where every male was supposed to be in Jerusalem. Joseph would not have broken the law to be in Bethlehem rather than in Jerusalem. As a side note, the Romans would not have ordered a census on one of these holy days because it would have most certainly cause resistance if not outright revolt among the Jewish populace.

I would like to propose another date. This date is based on a careful study of God’s word coupled with contemporary, extrabiblical sources and an interview with Rabbi Jonathan Cahn. Before I begin, I would like to lay out some ground rules.

1. Please hear me out to the end. Don’t get up and walk out because you disagree.
2. Listen with an open mind and heart.
3. Please do not throw rocks or rotten vegetables.

I don’t remember when I came to the realization that Yeshua was not born on December 25. But I do remember many years ago when I first began studying Messianic Judaism under Rabbi Michael Rudolph. He spoke of an alternate date for the birth of the Messiah. We were deep into another subject when he said that he thought Yeshua was born in the springtime when the lambs were being born. Unfortunately, he didn’t elaborate because we had course requirements that precluded further discussion regarding the birth of the Messiah. Over the years I have heard the various hypotheses as to the actual day Yeshua was born.

One thing that hurts my heart as a Messianic leader is the invective spewed by some regarding the celebration of the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter. Has the celebration of Yeshua’s birth been hijacked and cheapened by secular commercialism? It most certainly has. But I think calling it a pagan holiday and denigrating friends and family for wanting to celebrate Christmas must stop. Christmas is no more pagan than you are for being born on a Sunday, named for the worship of the sun, or in January, named after the Roman god Janus, July named Julius Caesar, proclaimed a god. If you are somehow convinced that you should not celebrate the birth of the Messiah on December 25th, then by all means, don’t do it. But in the process, please don’t sever ties and poison relationships with family and friends. Those relationships are God given for your blessing and possibly as your own mission field. You can’t win someone to the Lord by insulting them. Ok, that’s enough of me fussing you out. Let’s get on with the study.

After a lot of study, I’ve settled on a date. Please stay with me and at least have an open mind. Let’s begin. There are several clues to which we can point.

Year – What year was Yeshua born?

We have to go about setting the year based on the death of the king of Israel. His name was Herod the Great. He was a great builder who remodeled the Temple over the course of 46 years. He built up the area known today as the Temple Mount. Herod was a great builder and engineer, but he was also a sociopath. He killed anyone who he considered a threat to his throne. We know with certainty that he died in 4 BCE based on the writings of Josephus as well as other contemporary historians.

Shortly before he died, he issued an order to kill all the male children in Bethlehem aged 2 and under. This was based on the time that the Magi from the east visited him in his winter palace in Jericho and inquired about the one born king of the Jews. Two years had elapsed from the birth of Yeshua until Herod heard about this birth from the wise men. So, to be sure that he did not have a rival to his throne, Herod issued his murderous edict. That would have placed the birth of the Messiah in the year 6 BCE.

Another clue would come from Luke 2:8.

Sheep

Luke 2:8 Now there were shepherds in the same region, living out in the fields and guarding their flock at night.

The Talmud obliquely discusses the care of sheep and when shepherds would be taking care of them. It says that the shepherds would be in the fields with their sheep from some time in the spring until the latter rains began during the fall of the year. Shepherds would not be in the field with their sheep during the winter in Israel because it would be too cold and rainy.

The breed of sheep most likely to have been encountered during this time period was the Awassi. It is a breed especially adapted to the harsh environment of the Middle East. Unlike many other mammals, sheep are seasonal breeders. That means they breed only once a year and the offspring are born in the springtime, mid-March to late April. That is the only time that shepherds would have been out in the fields guarding the sheep is during the lambing period. Springtime.

Another interesting fact is that the area around Bethlehem was well known for providing lambs for Temple sacrifices. The shepherds were well acquainted with the halachic requirements for sacrificial lambs. It was to these sacrificial lamb shepherds that the angel appeared announcing the birth of the Lamb of God.

Moedim

All the major events surrounding the life of Yeshua occurred in conjunction with one of the Appointed Times of the Lord, the Moedim, feasts of Israel.

Yeshua was killed as the sacrificial lamb on Pesach, Passover. He rose from the dead on the First Fruits. The giving of the Holy Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh was on Shavuot, or Pentecost.

There was also another event tied to Yeshua’s life that fell on a specific date. Today we call it Palm Sunday, when Yeshua rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. So how is that a Jewish holiday? It is connected to Passover.

Exodus 12:3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month, each man is to take a lamb for his family one lamb for the household.

The lambs for Passover were to be a year old. They were selected from the flock that had been born the previous year. The month referred to in this passage is Nisan, the 10th day was when the lamb was selected and brought into the home. During this time the lamb would be inspected to ensure that it was without defect. It was on the tenth day of Nisan that Yeshua rode the colt into Jerusalem, the city of God, home of the Temple. He did not leave Jerusalem proper until his arrest by the Temple guards and the eventual crucifixion. The Lamb of God was brought into the Home of God on the day specified in Exodus.

Keep in mind that Yeshua’s first coming was centered around the spring feasts.

So what other springtime date is important? The first of Nisan.

Exodus 12:2 This month will mark the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year for you.

The first of Nisan is the actual God-given Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah came to be known as the Jewish New Year as a result of calendar assimilation during the Babylonian captivity. (Where are all the pagan trash talkers now?) But on God’s calendar, it is the first of Nisan.

• God’s New Year
• Exodus from Egypt
• Passover on the 15th
• “Nes” means “miracle,” so it’s Miracle Month
• Aaronic priesthood initiated
• Temple sacrifices initiated
• First incidence of Fire from Heaven
• First time the Divine Presence rested with B’nei Israel

https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4333602/jewish/12-Facts-About-the-Month-of-Nisan-Every-Jew-Should-Know.htm

It should be no surprise to you by now that I’m proposing the 1st of Nisan as the birth of Yeshua. If I was a better writer, I would have strung this out for a big finale, but I’m not a great writer.
Let’s look at some more clues.

Moon

Yeshua died on Passover which is always a full moon. The full moon was said to be the fullness of that month. Yeshua died on the fullness of Nisan. He fulfilled God’s plan of salvation on that date.

The Magi

The Wise Men or Magi were actually prophesied in Isaiah.

(Isaiah 60:1) Arise, shine, for your light has come! The glory of Adonai has risen on you.
(Isaiah 60:6) A multitude of camels will cover you, young camels of Midian and Ephah, all those from Sheba will come. They will bring gold and frankincense, and proclaim the praises of Adonai.

There’s so much packed into that verse. “Your Light has Come” The star. Multitude of camels bringing gold and frankincense. It is exactly what happened. Now these guys didn’t make it to the birth. They were a couple of years late. So all the nativity scenes…yeah they got it wrong. But they did come. We read in Matthew…

Matthew 2:1-2 Now after Yeshua was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, magi from the east came to Jerusalem, (2) saying, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

The Star

Astronomers tell us that in the spring of 6 BCE there was a great convergence of the planets which to the ancients appeared a stars. This particular astronomical event occurs only once every 6000 years. Jupiter aligned with other planets in the constellation of Aries. Jupiter was known as the King Star. Aries the ram represented the Jewish people. So the Magi deduced that this King Star (Jupiter) being seen in the Aries constellation meant that a king of the Jews was being born.

Zachariah

Luke 1:5 In the days of Herod, King of Judah, there was a kohen named Zechariah from the priestly division of Abijah. Elizabeth, his wife, was from the daughters of Aaron.

There were 24 divisions of priests ordained by King David. Priestly duties were on a rotational basis throughout the year. Abijah was the eighth group and Zechariah was on duty in the temple when an angel appeared to him and announced the conception and eventual birth of a son. This would be Yochanan, better known in English speaking circles as John the Baptist. If we knew when the division known as Abijah was on duty, we could work back to know when Miriam, mother of Yeshua visited Elizabeth and pinpoint the time of Yeshua’s birth. Well as it happened the Dead Sea Scrolls provided the clue. They gave us a time for when the actual rotation began. When the Temple was destroyed, we know what division was on duty, and then by backtracking, we can know with reasonable certainty that Yeshua was born on 1 Nisan.

There are several other clues, but I would like to end with these final indicators.

The Tabernacle

Exodus 40:2 “On the first day of the first month, you will set up the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting.

The first day of the first month could only be the first of Nisan. This was a little less than a year after the Torah was given to the people at Mount Sinai. They had been working on building the Tabernacle from that time. Finally, the tabernacle was complete and ready for dedication on the first of Nisan. That was when God came down and dwelt among His people.

It was about nine months of building and preparation to build the tabernacle. It was about nine months for the building and preparation of a baby named Yeshua. Nisan is the month of new beginnings. The Rosh Chodesh (the new moon) of Nisan is called the head of the months. Yeshua was born at this time of new beginnings.

If the Tabernacle construction started at the time of Shavuot, when ADONAI gave the Torah to B’nei Israel, and the birth of the Tabernacle was just over 9 months later, then likewise, Miriam would have been covered by the Ruach haKodesh (Holy Spirit) around Shavuot, which is the same time that Messianic Believers and Christians alike, celebrate the Pentecost, giving of the Holy Spirit.

Does it matter what day Yeshua was born? I think that in some ways yes and some ways no. The Spring feasts all point to the first coming of the Messiah. The Fall feasts represent His second coming. It just makes so much more sense that the Lamb of God was born when the Passover lambs were being born.

I believe that what is more important than what day we settle on or disagree on for the birth of the Messiah is that there WAS a birth of the Messiah. He was born of a virgin, in Bethlehem. He lived a sinless life so that he could be that sacrifice lamb that whoever believed in Him could be saved from a life of sin.

For a believer, every day is like the birth of the Messiah because we are a new creation, His mercies are renewed every morning. Everyday should be celebrated as the birthday of the Messiah, because He is born anew every day in the lives of those who are His followers.

All for the Good

20211204 Parsha Miketz – All For The Good

Torah Portion   Gen 41:1-7

Haftarah         Zech 4:1-7

Brit Chadashah       1 Thess 5:12-18

The tenth reading from the book of Genesis is named Miketz, which means “the end.” The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, “Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream” (Genesis 41:1). The portion begins with Pharaoh’s portentous dreams, Joseph’s interpretations and his subsequent rise to power over Egypt. When a famine strikes the land of Canaan, his brothers come to Egypt seeking grain, but they do not recognize Joseph, who engineers a means by which he can test their character.

The life of Joseph demonstrates God’s sovereign hand in human lives. Though the world seems to follow a completely random course around us, God is actually working out His purposes in the midst of it. From Joseph’s point of view, there was no reason to suspect that God had his best interests in mind.

Joseph had been kidnapped and betrayed by his own brothers, sold into Egypt as a slave, falsely accused of attempted adultery and imprisoned in a dungeon. His life seemed to be following Murphy’s Law of “if anything can go wrong, it will.” So far, everything had gone wrong.

Joseph stubbornly clung to an unshakable confidence in the God of his fathers. Even though everything had tumbled down around him, He kept looking to God and believing that God was working through the chaos. There are those that say he never fell into depression or despondency because he always believed that he was right where God had placed him.  I would like to think that was true.  The Bible doesn’t comment either way regarding Joseph’s state of mind.  It does say that Joseph asked Pharaoh’s cup bearer to speak kindly to the Pharaoh so that he could get out of prison.

Before the Covid shutdown we were studying from the late first-century compendium of instructions to Gentile believers entitled the Didache.  The Didache says, “Accept the things that happen to you as good, knowing that apart from God nothing comes to pass” (Didache 3:10).

Similarly, Paul says, “Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

This can be compared to the Jewish folk story of a rabbi from the days of the Apostles named Nacham. Everyone called him “Nacham This-Too” because, no matter what happened, he would always say, “This too is for the good.” Amazingly, God honored his faith by continually providing miracles for Nacham.

Once it happened that Nacham This-Too was serving as an ambassador to Rome. He was presenting the Roman Emperor with a gift from the people of Judea in an attempt to bribe him into reversing some anti-Jewish legislation. While en route to Rome he stopped at an inn. While he slept, the inn-keeper stole the precious treasures meant for the emperor from Nacham’s chest and replaced them with sand! Nacham went to Rome, unaware that he was carrying a box of sand. When the emperor opened the chest and saw the sand, he ordered Nacham to be put to death. Nacham simply replied, “This too is for the good.” Just then Elijah the prophet appeared in the guise of a Roman officer and suggested that perhaps the sand was “magic sand.” The emperor agreed to test the theory, and indeed, when his troops hurled the sand at their enemies, they prevailed in battle. The emperor immediately released Nacham, reversed his decree against the Jews and rewarded Nacham with great wealth.

The story of Nacham This-Too is a good illustration of Joseph’s story. Like Nacham This-Too, Joseph refused to be pushed around by life’s circumstances. Instead he looked to God for strength and encouragement, and he kept on believing.

The story of Joseph is well known by Jews and Christians alike.  It would make a great TV series complete with intrigue, betrayal, despair, success, attempted seduction, despair, success, more intrigue, mystery.  This story has it all.  But with all of Joseph’s problems from the time of his enslavement to his ascension to the second highest position in Egypt we must not lose sight of the purpose.  This was all in God’s plan.  He provided a way for His chosen people who at this time consisted of just one extended family to escape a deadly famine in the Negev.  This family was to grow miraculously from 70 souls to a couple million in just over 400 years.  The story of Joseph from prison to power was all to the good.  It mean the salvation of the Jewish people.

Today we are in the midst of the Hanukkah celebration.  Have you ever thought that if there was no Hanukkah, there would be no Christmas to celebrate?  And before you get mad and walk out because I mentioned that dreaded C word, I am talking about the circumstances of the birth of Yeshua, on whatever day you choose to observe it.

The Jewish people were systematically being annihilated by the evil Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes.  What Jewish culture was not being lost through Hellenistic assimilation was violently being destroyed by Antiochus.  Israel was slowly but surely dying out as a nation of people who were following Torah.  The picture was bleak.  Finally, when a few remaining patriots had had enough, they rose up and rebelled against the Greek tyranny.  During several years of guerilla warfare punctuated by hardship and many deaths, the Jewish patriots never lost their faith.  God brought them several miraculous victories against overwhelming odds.  Eventually, their faith was rewarded and the Greeks left Israel.

The celebration of Hanukkah was a reminder of God’s faithfulness and salvation.  What followed in the wake of the tragic Greek tyranny was an invigorated Jewish state.  I wouldn’t exactly call it a revival, but the people restored a measure of Torah observance and slowed the march of worldly assimilation.  The Greek occupation and tyranny was all to the good.  Salvation came to the Jewish people.

Roughly 165 years after the rededication of the Temple there was another revolution born.  The birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem was possible because there remained a Jewish state and a Jewish people.  However, all was not good with Israel.  The Greek hegemony had quickly been replaced by Roman rule.  Israel was still under the boot of a brutal and often unpredictable regime.  Rome allowed the Jews to practice their religion subject to certain restrictions.  Rome exacted outrageous taxes that were collected at the tip of a sword.  Any rebellion was quickly ended in a forest of crucifixes.  Temple worship and administration had devolved into political appointments and corruption.  The sacrificial system was just another way for the religious hierarchy to oppress the people. But even in this environment of suppression there were those faithful few who looked for their long awaited Messiah.

One night in Bethlehem, You pick whatever date makes you happy, the Savior of the world was born to a young teenager who had travelled from Nazareth for several days on a donkey in order to reach Bethlehem as demanded by the Roman authorities.  In any sane world, Miriam would have been in her home in Nazareth until her baby was born, it was not a sane world.

But out of all the shame and whispers that accompanied the timing of her pregnancy, coupled with a very uncomfortable donkey ride which ended with no decent place to stay, it was all for the good.  For Salvation had come not only to Israel but to the entire world.

It is often very difficult, if not impossible to look at bad situations in which we find ourselves see the good in it.  And I wouldn’t dare to presume that I can be the Pollyanna that finds the silver lining in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane.  Sometimes and perhaps most times we will not find out the good that came out of a bad experience until days, months, or even years after.  We may never find out.  That flat tire you had in the driveway or on the way to work could have saved you from a catastrophic accident.  The illness that put you in the hospital could very well be because there was a doctor or nurse that needed you to encourage them or lead them to the Lord.

At a time when I didn’t know if my fingers would ever heal after cutting them off in a table saw it was hard to project a happy ending.  It would be weeks before I found that not only was there was no infection, I could actually bend my fingers.  That was a miracle because the doctor did not reconnect any tendons or ligaments.  What was the good in that accident?  I can’t tell you other than an agnostic doctor got to see firsthand the mighty healing work that God can do.  In the thirty-one years since that accident I have had countless opportunities to testify of God’s healing power.  Would I do it again?  Not on your life.  But I know it was all for the good.

So what do we do when we find ourselves in a prison of despair and defeat?  Do we break out in a rousing chorus of “Tomorrow, tomorrow”?.  Maybe that might help you a bit.  But what does the Bible say?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  Rejoice always,  (17)  pray constantly,  (18)  in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Yeshua.

In the 16th chapter of Acts Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in prison.  Rather than grumbling and complaining, the Bible says that they were praying and singing hymns.  I don’t know what hymns they were singing but I’m fairly certain they were not singing “nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen”.  I think they were singing hymns of faith, songs of victory, melodies of praise.

How about this for a song of praise and victory?

Psalms 108:2-6  My heart is steadfast, O God. I will sing, sing praises with all my soul.  (3)  Awake, harp and lyre—I will awaken the dawn!  (4)  I will give thanks to You, Adonai, among the peoples, I will sing praises to You among the nations. (5)  For Your love is higher than the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.  (6)  Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, let Your glory be above all the earth.

Paul and Silas did not let circumstances defeat them.  They had such a trust in God’s faithfulness that they could sing while shackled in a filthy prison.  I would say those were pretty bad circumstances.  But it was all for the good.  What happened a few verses later?  An earthquake opened the prison doors and loosed all the prisoner’s chains.  Paul could have escaped but he had other things to do. Most importantly, he led the jailer and his entire household to faith in Yeshua.  We don’t know how many prisoners became believers because Paul and Silas were thrown into that dungeon.  It was all for the good, a jailer and his family received salvation.

If you haven’t had a prison experience, either literal or figurative, then hang on.  Because you will someday.  That’s not very encouraging I know, but my job is to be realistic and equip you for the day when you have a Joseph experience.  We all will, if we live long enough to see Yeshua return because that will mean we went through seven years of the tribulation.  Right now, today we need to purpose in our hearts to get into God’s word, trust in God, pray, trust in Him, be thankful for all we have as Believers, did I say put your trust in God?  That’s how we get through the hard times.  And remember, it is all for the good.  Because if we trust in God and do His will, I believe we will come out on the other side victorious and perhaps brought salvation to someone along the way.  Stay strong.  It’s all for the good.

 

 

And It Was Winter

20211127 Parsha Vayeshev – And it was Winter

Torah Portion           Gen 37:1-8

Haftarah                  Amos 3:1-8

Brit Chadashah       John 10:22-30

The ninth reading from the book of Genesis is named Vayeshev, which means “and he dwelt.” The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, “Now Jacob [dwelt] in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 37:1). Despite the portion’s name and first verse, the story is actually about Jacob’s son Joseph and how he was removed from the land of Canaan and dwelt in Egypt. The narrative follows Joseph from Canaan to Egypt to prison. In addition, this week’s reading contains the story of Judah and Tamar.

Generally speaking, I normally begin the weekly teaching with the Torah Portion and work my way to the Brit Chadashah (New Testament).  Today I want to throw a curve ball and begin reading in the book of John.  Tomorrow evening we will begin the eight nights of Hanukkah and end on Monday night with a party here together.

John 10:22  Then came Hanukkah; it was winter in Jerusalem.

I have heard discussions from various factions within Messianic Judaism regarding celebrating events that are not mandated by Torah.  The two main targets of these folk are Hanukkah and Purim.  Purim not so much, but Hanukkah is in their crosshairs because the custom of celebrating it is not in the accepted canon of the bible but in the book of Maccabees.  Purim is a couple of months away and Hanukkah begins tomorrow night so let’s talk about Hanukkah.  Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah.

I’ve heard several people tell me they are excited about Hanukkah because this is the first time they have ever celebrated it.  At the risk of being boring, I’d like to give you the Cliff’s Notes version of Hanukkah for the ones just entering into the wonderful world of Messianic Judaism.

After Alexander the Great died, his empire was divided into four parts.  The part that ruled over Israel was the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes whose throne was in Assyria.  He forbade any expression of the Jewish religion on pain of torture and then death.  He sacrificed a pig on the altar at the Temple and erected a statue of Zeus in the holy place of the Temple.

Torah-faithful Jews rebelled with Pinchas-like zeal against their Greek oppressors, but also waged a civil war against the large population of Hellenistic Jews who embraced Greek debauchery. After several years of guerilla warfare, led by Judah, the Levite they called the Maccabi, the Greeks gave up and left Israel.  The Temple was horrifically defiled, so the survivors set about cleansing it and restoring it.

They were desperately trying to get it ready for the feast of Sukkot but the task was too great.  So they settled on a late Sukkot and an eight day celebration, well after the temperate harvest-time.  The problem arose that there was only enough purified oil for one night.  The priests filled the lamp of the menorah and miraculously the menorah lights burned for the entire eight days and nights until more oil could be processed. That is why Hanukkah is called the festival of lights as well as the feast of dedication.  And Yeshua was in Jerusalem for the festival!

The Bible says it was winter.  I don’t know how you feel about winter, but I am not a fan.  I lived in northern Illinois for about 8-9 years when I was young.  Winter for me means cold, dark, dreary days.  All the vegetation dies back.  There is very little life.  For me, winter feels like death.  Winter meant death to countless soldiers in the armies of Napoleon and Hitler as they tried to invade Russia.  In my mind’s eye the images of snow swept plains in the Doctor Zhivago movie gives me shivers just thinking about it.  Retain that description of winter as we proceed through the Parsha.

Hopefully you won’t get whiplash from this jumping back and forth, but let’s go back to Joseph.  You know the story of the technicolor coat that Jacob had given him, and his dreams portraying his family bowing down to him.  His brothers didn’t relish the idea that their young brother would be over them.  Possibly Joseph was also displaying the arrogance of a cocky teenager.  Anyway, out in the fields far away from home his brothers conspired to kill him.  Judah intervened and instead they just threw him in a pit before selling him to traders heading to Egypt.

Can you imagine what was going through Joseph’s mind when he was thrown in the pit with no way to climb out.  His own brothers were leaving him to die of thirst and exposure in the wilderness.  Regardless of the season, Joseph was experiencing winter.

A day later a rope was tossed down to Joseph and he rejoiced because he as saved.  Or so he thought.  He was not saved but instead sold into a life of slavery.  His fall from being the favored son of a rich and powerful patriarch to a lowly slave bound for Egypt was enough to crush any man.  Joseph was experiencing winter.

God showed Joseph His favor and Joseph became the manager of the household of an influential member of the Egyptian government.  Everything seemed good until Joseph found himself cast out of his position and thrown into prison, due to the treachery of Potiphar’s wife.  Joseph was experiencing winter.

The nation of Israel went through similar trials, being enslaved in Egypt.  Their sons killed so they would not be a threat to Pharaoh, cruelly used by Pharaoh to build the cities of Egypt.  Israel was experiencing winter.

Fast forward a thousand years, Israel had escaped Egypt, experienced trials in the wilderness, conquered Canaan and became an influential nation under David and Solomon.  Then they began their slide into idolatry and disobedience.  The kingdom split into Israel and Judah. Israel was conquered by the Assyrians and 100 years later the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians.  Judah was exiled to Babylon.  The Jews were experiencing winter.

However, God remembered His promises and the nation of Israel was restored, never to the prestigious heights attained under Solomon, but still a nation.  Being small and relatively powerless, Israel was repeatedly overrun and ruled by several nations leading up to the Seleucid period.  The atrocities committed against the Jewish people are too heinous to detail here this morning.  But we can say that Israel was experiencing winter.

The Grecian yoke thrown off by the Maccabees was quickly restored under Roman rule.  The Romans were not as concerned with destroying Jewish religious practices and customs as were the Greeks, but Rome ruled Israel with an iron fist.  Israel was once again experiencing winter.

This was the world that Yeshua grew up in.  There was constant and sometimes deadly bickering between the various religious factions.  In fact, there were some 22 different sects of Judaism active during some part of Yeshua’s Life.  As if Jewish political opponents killing you wasn’t enough, they always had the Romans to contend with. The Roman empire was much more resilient than the Greeks so there was little hope for freedom from Rome.  As the writer of John said.  It was winter in Jerusalem.

I have described several scenes throughout the Bible where individuals and nations were brought low.  They were cold, dark, dreary, teetering on the brink of disaster.  Though they may have thought that eventually, spring will come, would it come soon enough to prevent their demise.  The icy winds of despair still chilled them to the bone with little hope of rescue.

Have you ever felt that way?  I’m sure you have because I know a bit about some of your lives.  Perhaps you or some family member or friend is in a snowbank right now.  There is no light or warmth, no hope.  It may not be you right now that is feeling that way, but we need to be cognizant of those situations that confront others we know and love.  Because they may not always feel like they can reach out to anyone.

Look at these two verses again.

John 10:22-23  Then came Hanukkah; it was winter in Jerusalem. Yeshua was walking in the Temple around Solomon’s Colonnade.

Look at two things.  Hanukkah and Yeshua.  Hanukkah was a celebration of survival of unspeakable horrors.  It was a celebration of the mercy of God in granting Israel salvation from their oppressors.  It was a celebration of rededication of the Worship of the one true God.  It was a cause of hope.

However, Hanukkah was only a celebration that, no matter how well intended, was insufficient in battling the demons of despair and depression.

When Solomon dedicated the first Temple the record shows that the glory of God filled the Temple.

1 Kings 8:10-11  Now when the kohanim came out of the Holy Place, the cloud filled the House of Adonai, so that the kohanim could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of Adonai filled the House of Adonai.

The Hebrew word used here for glory is kavod.  It means weight.  The glory of God was so powerful that the priests could not stand under the load.  That temple housed the Ark of the Covenant where God had said he would dwell with the people.  The people had abused the ark and the glory of God’s presence had lifted.  But at the dedication God had restored his presence.

Five hundred years of failure of the Jewish people to follow God’s Torah resulted in the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE.  Nearly a hundred years passed before the Temple was rebuilt.  But there was a difference.  The Ark had been lost. And God’s presence was not there as it was in Solomon’s day.  They had a Temple, priests rebuilt furnishings, but no presence.

But John tells us that on that cold day in Jerusalem during the festival of Hanukkah God’s presence returned.

Yeshua was walking in the Temple!  Roughly a thousand years after God’s glory settled on the Temple, God’s Son was in the Temple.  There was no weight of God’s glory forcing men to the ground.  But the words Yeshua uttered while surrounded by his critics would start in motion God’s plan for the salvation of man.

John 10:27-30  My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me.   I give them eternal life! They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. And no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

The religious leaders wanted to stone Yeshua because he said I am ben-Elohim, the Son of God.

With that encounter things in Jerusalem or in the entire world for that matter would never be the same.  Yeshua was walking in the Temple.

Is it winter in your life today?  I extend that question to all of you here in this building as well as to any who are watching on social media.  Are you cold and miserable?  The bible says that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Do you feel like your Temple is empty?  Well Yeshua is walking in the Temple.  He is walking in your temple today if you will let him.  Even if you are already a Believer, we go through periods of winter.  There’s no shame in that.  Open up the door of your temple and invite Him in.

20211016 Parsha Lech Lecha – Blessed To Be A Blessing

PORTION SUMMARY

The third reading from the book of Genesis is named Lech Lecha. It means “go forth.” The first verse says, “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth (lech lecha ) from your country.'” Section Lech Lecha introduces Abraham and tells the story of his pilgrimage in pursuit of God.

In verse one we see that God told Abraham to get up and leave his homeland, his family, his friends and go.  He didn’t give Abraham an itinerary.  There was no destination mentioned.  It was simply a command for Abraham to get up and go.  Leave your comfort zone and I’ll let you know later where you are going.

How many of us would have enough faith to follow God?  We have been raised all our lives with the concept of the sovereign God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  But Abraham didn’t have that foundation or background.  He had nothing to go on.  However, something stirred within Abraham that made him obey the voice of this foreign God.  How was he to know is this the real deal or not?  We don’t know how God spoke to Abraham, but it must have been very persuasive for him to leave everything and follow a God that was heretofore unknown to him to an unknown land for an unknown purpose.

This morning I would like to focus on verses 2 and 3.

GEN 12

Genesis 12:2-3  My heart’s desire is to make you into a great nation, to bless you, to make your name great so that you may be a blessing.  (3)  My desire is to bless those who bless you, but whoever curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

All the other translations that I read did not mention anything about my heart’s desire.  The text would just say “I will bless you”.  So I don’t know how the translators came up with that heart’s desire language but I like it.  The key word that we will look at this morning is “bless”.  In Hebrew it is ‘barak’.  ברך .  You are familiar with the root word because we use it every day for various blessings.  Baruch atah Adonai…..

Looking at this verse we can see some important things.

  1. God will bless us!

So how did I get from God saying He will bless Abraham to saying that God will bless us?  Well, it’s because the covenant is for Abraham’s seed too.

Genesis 17:7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

We are the seed of Abraham.  If we are Jewish, then we are physical descendants and if we are Gentiles, then we are spiritual descendants of Abraham.

Galatians 3:29  And if you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham’s seed—heirs according to the promise.

Therefore, we are heirs of the covenant that God made with Abraham.  The promises that God made with Abraham are promises to each and every one of us, if we believe that Yeshua is the Messiah.

Paul spoke of being grafted in in his letter to the kehila at Rome.

Romans 11:17-24  But if some of the branches were broken off and you—being a wild olive—were grafted in among them and became a partaker of the root of the olive tree with its richness,  (18)  do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, it is not you who support the root but the root supports you.

(19)  You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  (20)  True enough. They were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but fear—

(21)  for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you.  (22)  Notice then the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who fell; but God’s kindness toward you, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off!

(23)  And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again.

(24)  For if you were cut out of that which by nature is a wild olive tree, and grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

He is speaking to the Gentiles here not to be arrogant that they were grafted in because the Jews were cut off in unbelief.  Because, he says, the Jews can be grafted back in if they put their faith and trust in Yeshua.  We are all the same in God’s eyes.

Ok, so now what’s the purpose in this blessing?  Surely God didn’t bless Abraham just because He liked him.

  1. The purpose of God’s blessing is to be a blessing to others.

Yeshua told the story of a selfish rich man. God requires much of us as recipients of the promise!

Luke 12:16-21  And Yeshua told them a parable, saying, “The land of a certain rich man produced good crops.  (17)  And he began thinking to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do? I don’t have a place to store my harvest!’

(18)  And he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do! I’ll tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I’ll store all my grain and my goods.

(19)  And I’ll say to myself, ’O my soul, you have plenty of goods saved up for many years! So take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry.”’

(20)  But God said to him, ‘You fool! Tonight your soul is being demanded back from you! And what you have prepared, whose will that be?’  (21)  So it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich in God.”

God has a purpose for each one of us.  I’ve said many times that God expects us to work in His kingdom and not live of spiritual welfare.

Luke 12:48b  … 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.

We have been given the gift of redemption and the privilege of communion with Yeshua for eternity.  So, yes, God expects a lot from us.

And while there is a universality to this principle of blessing, there is a specific application. There was a specific blessing in mind, which was Yeshua HaMashiach.

KNOWING TO SOWING

We cannot say that now that Yeshua has come, the covenant, and its responsibilities are gone. We must continue to bring the good news of Yeshua to others, to bring them under the blessing of the New Covenant. It is not enough to know that Yeshua is the Divine Messiah, for even the demons in hell concede that. We are called to grow within the vine, then serve others, then sow to expand the harvest.

Listen to what Yeshua said.

John 12:32  And as I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to Myself.”

We who have received the blessings of Life in Yeshua, have a responsibility to bring this same Messiah to others.

Acts 3:6  But Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you—in the name of Yeshua ha-Mashiach ha-Natzrati, get up and walk!”

Peter got it.  After all his failures, he finally figured out his purpose in life.  He was to bring the Besorah, the Good News of Yeshua to a world that was lost in sin.  So how do we fulfil our responsibility of our blessing.

  • We are a blessing by giving our time, talent, and treasures.
  1. Prayer

2 Thessalonians 3:1  Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread quickly and be glorified—just as it is with you.

I have often heard people say that they don’t have any talent, or resources, or abilities that would be useful for the Kingdom.  Some have told me that they have physical challenges that prevent them from doing a lot for the Lord.  Let me tell you, just about the most important thing you can do is pray.  Pray for me, pray for Tree of Life, pray for your neighbor.  Just pray.  Prayer important and it is powerful.

FINANCES

The kingdom of God is advanced by the tithes and offerings of the Body of Believers.  It always has been and always will be until the end of time.

2 Corinthians 9:7  Let each one give as he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion—for God loves a cheerful giver.

RESOURCES

Luke 8:3  Joanna, the wife of Kuza, Herod’s finance minister; Susanna; and many others—were supporting them out of their own resources.

During the ministry of Yeshua here on earth there were people who saw that He was sent by God and wanted to be a blessing.  Even people who were in the household of Herod were supporting the ministry and needs of Yeshua and His disciples!

PHYSICAL BODIES

  1. Giving of ourselves.

Many of you know that one of my favorite verses in the Bible is found in Romans 12:1.

Romans 12:1  I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice—holy, acceptable to God—which is your spiritual service.

PHYSICAL LABOR

Your spiritual service, avodah and kavana.  Your purpose in worship and service to the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:58  Therefore, my dearly loved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord—because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Nothing that we do for the Lord is without value.  Remember that even a cup of water given in His name is notable.

DISCIPLESHIP

  1. Through our connection with Yeshua we are to be a blessing to the whole earth.

God gave Abraham this promise for the purpose of bringing blessing to the whole earth.  Of course we see that this blessing for the whole earth is not from us, but through us by the blood of Yeshua the Messiah.  We are His emissaries, His sent out ones.

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Ruach ha-Kodesh,

We often talk about being holy, separated, apart, dedicated.  Use whatever word suites your purpose.  But in God’s overall plan, we have a supporting role.  In fact, since Yeshua has now ascended, we have a leading role in the advancement of the Kingdom, but advancement is not the end of the command. We are to teach and disciple the ones who have found the Messiah.

The world was not an afterthought but was part of the original plan.

Galatians 3:8-9  The Scriptures, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, proclaimed the Good News to Abraham in advance, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed through you.”  (9)  So then, the faithful are blessed along with Abraham, the faithful one.

Yeshua commissioned us to bring this blessing to the whole world.

SLIDE 27: RED HEART VINE

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.”

So, in closing, let’s look back at the title of this lesson.  Blessed to be a blessing.

We have certainly been blessed through our salvation in Yeshua.  What do we do with that blessing?

Simply put, we bring the good news of Yeshua to the world.  How we do it is as varied as how many of us there are in this room.  None of us is identical and our ministry to others will be just as diverse.  How you bring the good news is up to you, just use your blessing to be a blessing.

20211009 Parsha Noach – Walking with God

PORTION SUMMARY

The second reading in the book of Genesis is named after Noah. In Hebrew, the name Noah is spelled Noach. The word Noach is related to the Hebrew word for “rest.” Genesis 5:29 says that his parents named him Noah (Noach, נח) because they hoped their son would give them rest (nacham, נחם) from their toil. The contents of section Noah tell the story of Noah’s flood, the tower of Babel and the beginning of the Abrahamic line.

Let’s look at the first verse in today’s Parsha.

Genesis 6:9  These are the genealogies of Noah. Noah was a righteous man. He was blameless among his generation. Noah continually walked with God.

Look at the last few words.  “Noah continually walked with God”.  How many times do we find similar wording in the Bible?  Before we get to those verses, let’s look at what the word walked means.

HALAKAH

What is the word that is translated as “walk?”  It is the Hebrew word ‘halakh’ or halakha.  The root word means to walk or to go or to travel.  In all the examples cited above the Bible uses one form or another of the word halakh, heh, lamed, kaf.  The word halakha come to mean much more than just a description of motion using our feet.

Over the centuries volumes of commentary on the Torah have been written to explain every aspect of Jewish life, culture, thought and custom based on the Torah itself as oral traditions handed down from generation to generation.  In essence, halakha has come to mean an all encompassing word to describe how to live an authentic Jewish lifestyle.

The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said “The central underlying proposition of the halakhah is that it articulates, within the limits of human understanding, the will of God as set forth in the Torah.”

With that thought in mind, let’s looks at some Bible verses regarding walking with God.

Adam walked with God in the Garden.

Genesis 3:8  They heard the voice of Adonai, God, walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, so the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Adonai, God, among the trees in the garden.

Even though it doesn’t say that Adam walked with God in the garden of Eden, it does say that God walked in the garden in the evening.  So I’m going to make an assumption that Adam tagged along.  What was God’s will for Adam in the garden?  We know he was given work to do.  Adam was not created to sit on the bank of the river in his birthday suit all day long, contemplating his navel.

He was created to praise and worship God.  He was given the task to tend the garden and to name all the animals.  Adam had work to do.  So do we.  God did not create us for a life of leisure and luxury.  He gave us work to do.  Yeshua’s parting words before his ascension was a charge to go into the world and make disciples of all men.  Walking with God does not mean sitting on the couch playing video games or watching soap operas.

In last week’s Parsha we read about Enoch.  Enoch walked continually with God

Genesis 5:22-24  Now Enoch walked with God continually for 300 years after he fathered Methuselah, and he fathered sons and daughters.  (23)  So all of Enoch’s days were 365 years.

(24)  And Enoch continually walked with God—then he was not there, because God took him.

There are literally thousands of sermons based on those three verses regarding Enoch.  For centuries, preachers have been pontificating and inventing character traits for Enoch based solely on 31 Hebrew words in verses 22-24.  Amazing sermon fodder to the inth degree.  But we know that Enoch must have been quite a man for God to take him to eternity without dying

NOACH

Noach walked continually with God

Genesis 6:9  These are the genealogies of Noah. Noah was a righteous man. He was blameless among his generation. Noah continually walked with God.

We have already looked at this verse regarding Noah.  We know from the Parsha that Noah was not idle.  He worked for 120 years building the ark.  But I would like to point out something.  Although Noah walked uprightly before the Lord.  He was a Tzadik, a righteous man, he was not a leader.

Now why do I say that?  In the 120 years that he was building the ark, there is no record of him ever leading anyone to repent of their wicked ways.  He himself was righteous but led no one else to righteousness.  In that regard, Noah failed in his walk with the Lord because certainly it was God’s desire that men would repent and change their ways.

ABRAHAM

Abraham walked before God

Genesis 17:1  When Abram was 99 years old, Adonai appeared to Abram, and He said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Continually walk before Me and you will be blameless.

The language here is a little confusing.  Abram walked before the Lord?  Does this mean that God followed Abram around?  Of course not, but you wouldn’t believe how many commentaries I’ve read making some kind of thing about how if we walk in righteousness, then God will follow us and make us successful and prosperous.  That is total baloney.  All it meant was that Abram walked in the presence of God similar to soldiers on parade who march in front of the generals who sit in a reviewing stand.  They march before the generals.  Abraham lived his life as if he was being viewed and inspected by God.  Did he make mistakes?  Did he get out of step sometimes?  Yes he did, but don’t we all?  How many of you have never missed a step and stumbled?  I know I have.  And yet God was there to pick me up, dust me off and set me back on track to accomplish His mission for me in life.

It may also have meant that Abraham leaned constantly into ADONAI as an infant is continuously supported by his father, as he learns to take baby steps in trust.

ISRAEL

Requirement for Israel

Deuteronomy 10:12  “So now, O Israel, what does Adonai your God require of you, but to fear Adonai your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve Adonai your God with all your heart and with all your soul,

There are many such verses addressed to Israel and Judah regarding walking in His ways, in God’s ways.

The Believer’s walk with Yeshua is a walk of imitation.

It may be the most classic recurrent gag in screen history. One character asks another for directions. The second character helpfully responds, “Walk this way,” and starts leading. The first character obligingly mimics his guide’s weird manner of walking.

Imitation is at the core of discipleship. If we are disciples of Yeshua, then we should copy him.

Our Master himself said,

“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

Paul told the Corinthians,

“Be imitators of me, as I also am of Messiah” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

As everyone ought to know, Yeshua was an observant Jew. Like other observant Jews at the time, he would have followed the Torah’s dietary laws, such as those found in Leviticus 11. He would have refrained from work on the Sabbath. Tzitzit would have adorned his four-cornered cloak, and he certainly would not have worn the combination of wool and linen.

PHARISEES

Yeshua’s original disciples were also Jews. But when Gentile disciples entered the picture, the apostles considered the possibility that they would need to become Torah-observant Jews as well:

Acts 15:5-6  But some belonging to the party of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the Torah of Moses.”  (6)  The emissaries and elders were gathered together to examine this issue.

The apostles would already have understood that some commandments apply to all humanity. For example, God instructed Noah that societies must hold murderers accountable (Genesis 9:6). But should Gentile followers of Yeshua keep special laws given to the Jewish people, such as wearing tzitzit?

The apostles concluded that Gentiles do not need to become like Jews. Rather, when Gentiles turn to God as members of their own nation and tribe, it fulfills messianic prophecy.

ACTS 15

They issued a clear ruling that imposed only a minimal set of additional rules on Gentile disciples:

Acts 15:28-29  It seemed good to the Ruach ha-Kodesh and to us not to place on you any greater burden than these essentials:  (29)  that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. By keeping away from these things, you will do well. Shalom!”

The apostles’ ruling creates a conundrum, however. How can Gentile disciples imitate their Jewish Master without living as a Jew? To answer this, we must realize what it means to walk as he walked.

Paul was already an observant Jew before he was called into discipleship. He kept kosher and observed the Sabbath. His clothes bore tzitzit and were not made of combined wool and linen. If he did these things before knowing Yeshua, in what ways did he imitate his Master? What about his life changed due to his encounter with the risen Messiah?

Acts 5:14 speaks of the many Jewish women who became disciples. Even though Yeshua is male, surely they did not begin to observe the Torah as if they were men like him. How did these women apply their responsibility to imitate their Master?

Acts 6:7 tells us that many priests also became disciples. The Torah lays several obligations on descendants of Aaron that do not apply to others. Surely, they did not begin neglecting their priestly duties in imitation of Yeshua. What then did discipleship add to their lives?

Yeshua’s obligation to the Torah is based on the circumstances of his birth. As an adult male who is Jewish but not a Levite or descendant of Aaron, he shares his set of Torah obligations with everyone else in that demographic. To mechanically adopt those responsibilities as a Jewish male would be missing the point of what it means to imitate him. It would be like limping because someone told you to “walk this way.”

Imitating Yeshua, as a disciple, means evaluating the principles that guided his choices. It means discovering and applying his values, his priorities, his goals, and his purposes. As disciples, we are to focus on the issues he spoke about and the message that impassioned him, rather than the incidental circumstances he was in. Like every person, he was handed a certain set of obligations—but what did he do with those obligations?

For example, we know that he was fully observant of dietary laws in a manner that was normative for observant Jews in his society. On the other hand, we have no evidence that he had strong opinions about the details of dietary law. On topics ancillary to dietary law, such as ritual purity and tithing, he expressed the firm opinion that one must not use those external observances as a pretext for hatred or a diversion from our duty to love. This is a principle for all disciples to apply.

Yeshua observed the commandments in the Torah. He also issued commandments to his disciples; that’s what makes him our Master. He commanded us to give without seeking repayment, pray persistently, and lay down our lives for one another. Yeshua’s “word”—an idiomatic term meaning his message to the world—was that all should repent in anticipation of the coming kingdom.

Commandments such as these are what John meant when he wrote:

1 John 2:4-6  The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  (5)  But whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God is truly made perfect. We know that we are in Him by this—  (6)  whoever claims to abide in Him must walk just as He walked.

GOD EMPOWERS YOU

This morning we have looked at some of the ways in which Biblical characters walked with God.  Some seemed to be very adept and successful in that endeavor.  Others struggled to keep up.  That is one thing that I appreciate about God’s word.  It is not a record of perfect people who never failed but always triumphed.  On the contrary.  The Bible is a real life book about real life people just like you and me.  We try, we fail.  We get up and try again and succeed.  Next time we might win or we might lose.  Regardless, the point is to keep getting up and walking with the Lord.  We might fall, but our Messiah is right there alongside us to pick us up and set us on the right track again.  Don’t give up walking just because you stumble and fall.  Imitate Yeshua as best you can and you will never go wrong.

The Hovering Spirit of God

Here we are at the beginning of a new Torah Reading cycle.  We celebrated Simchat Torah last Tuesday evening, and I hope you all got a new appreciation for the Torah.  The Torah portion for today is B’reisheet, and in Hebrew means “in the beginning”.

The English name Genesis comes from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.  Genesis means “origins”.  Therefore, the Greek name for the first book of the Bible means “The Book of Origins.”

Genesis describes the origins of everything.  It begins with the origins of the universe, focuses on the origins of man, and then explores the origins of the nation of Israel.

As we study the first reading from the book of Genesis, we will learn a great deal about God, but even more about ourselves.  After all, this is the story of our origins.  When properly understood, the story of our origin helps us find our destination.

Genesis 1:1  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

“In the beginning,” is talking about the beginning of what we know as our universe.  God has always existed because He is outside of time and space.  We cannot really even begin to understand all the dimensions of God because He is multidimensional.

Can I give you a simple show and tell object lesson that perhaps will give you a better understanding of what I was describing as the multidimensional aspect of God?  I’m holding in my hand a cube.  You can see it and feel it.  It has substance, and weight.  If I throw it at you and hit you in the head you would definitely know it.  You can see it now in three dimensions.

But if I turn it like this.  You would see only a square.  But the cube is still there, you just can’t see it all.

If I hold it like this, all you see is a line.  But the cube is still there, you just can’t see it all.

If I hold it like this, all you can see is a single point in space.  The cube is still there, you just can’t see all of it.

This, of course, begs the question… If a line is 1D, then what is the point?

(0D, The 4D Cube is called the Tesseract.)

God is all that and more because he exists outside time and space.  He has always existed.  There is a Jewish concept called Tsimtsum, which comes from the fringe study of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism and magic that originated in the Middle Ages,.  It explains proposes that God is so encompassing of everything that He had to voluntarily reduce His existence a tiny bit so that He would have room for the universe that He created. This is an important concept because it raises the question of free will vs. predetermination. In contracting His presence from the cosmos, God leaves room for human beings to express their faith and independence. But His infinitesimal departure also opens the space for human beings to sin and to give in to temptation. This metaphysical contraction of God leaves the world broken, with the responsibility of mankind to repair the broken space. As Messianic Jews, we know that this theory is dismally flawed because we know we need the Messiah, but the idea of ADONAI contracting Himself to make room for humanity is interesting.

NOW, I would really like to delve into the fact that the earth was tohu and bohu.  Without form and void or chaos and waste.

The first phrase of verse two sounds like this.

וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ

Genesis 1:2  Now the earth was chaos and waste, darkness was on the surface of the deep, and the Ruach Elohim was hovering upon the surface of the water.

The word translated “was” is the Hebrew word hayah. It is also translated as “became”, so that we could say the earth became without form and void.  God didn’t create a world of chaos and waste.  He is not the God of chaos.  He doesn’t create junk.  Keep that in mind as we go on.

So what we see here is a world that was a total mess.  Nothing was as it was created.  But I want you to look at the last phrase in the verse.  The Ruach Elohim was hovering upon the surface of the water.  The Spirit of God was looking at the chaos that was the earth and things started to happen.

When the Spirit of God shows up there is no room for chaos or disorder.  From this point on we start to see the creation as we know it today.

The word for hover used in verse two is “rachefet”.  The only other place where this verb is used is in Deuteronomy 32:11, where it describes a mother bird beating her wings over her little ones, encouraging them to fly.

Unlike the Babylonian myth of creation, in which the chaos is an enemy to be conquered, this formless mess is to be loved and fostered into being. One of the earliest Jewish commentaries on this text, dating from New Testament times, interpreted it this way: “A spirit of love before the Lord was blowing (hovering) over the face of the waters.” This holy wind is not a part of the chaos, it is God’s motherly love conveying the promise of life, order, and beauty to what was of itself a mess. Because God’s spirit was hovering over it, chaos became promise.

Yeshua used this same imagery to describe his love for Jerusalem.

Luke 13:34  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

He was lamenting the future of Jerusalem because he knew what the future held and the desolation that was to come.  He longed for them to be saved because we know that God is not willing for anyone to be lost but that all would come to repentance.

While discussing my thoughts on this drash, my daughter, Cynthia, related that when she thinks of the Spirit of God hovering over the earth she sees a new husband hovering over his precious bride.  I think that is a great example of what Yeshua was saying.  A husband should be there to protect his wife, see to her needs and support her in the difficulties that she may face.

Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul charged husbands in his letter to the congregation at Ephesus.

(Ephesians 5:25-33) Husbands, love your wives just as Messiah also loved His community and gave Himself up for her 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. In the same way, husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it—just as Messiah also does His community, because we are members of His body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is great—but I am talking about Messiah and His community. In any case, let each of you love his own wife as himself, and let the wife respect her husband.

What a beautiful picture of the Spirit of God hovering over us.

And so we recognize the relevance of this image for our own lives. At times we feel like our lives are a mess. There is no light, and we are floating about like a cork lost at sea. We try to fight it, to no avail. We try to flee, but there is no exit. What do we do? We lift up our petition to the Lord and ask the Holy Spirit to hover over our mess, to embrace it lovingly and prepare it for the light of God’s word. If any of our chaotic depths surface, we then turn them over to the Lord.

As the powerful but wordless Spirit of God prepared for God’s cosmic word, the Holy Spirit lovingly prepares our chaos for the word that will give shape and meaning to what made no sense before.

Remember that God is not the author of confusion and chaos.  He didn’t create junk when He created you.  Yes our lives oftentimes fall apart.  We get sick.  We fail God, we fail our friends and families.  And we even fail ourselves.  But Spirit of God is hovering over our chaotic lives and is there to bring order and beauty from our messy past.  Bring your problems to the Lord and He will hear you.  And when you bring your problems to Him leave them with Him.  Don’t pack them back up and carry them home with you.

 

 

Dealing With Failure

20210116 Parsha Vaera – Dealing with Failure

Last week we talked about being a leader.  One of the aspects of being a leader is how we react when things don’t go as planned.

At first, Moses’ mission seemed to be successful. He had feared that the people would not believe in him, but God had given him signs to perform, and his brother Aaron to speak on his behalf. Moses “performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.” (Ex. 4:30-31)

But then things start to go wrong, and continue going wrong. Moses’ first appearance before Pharaoh is disastrous. Pharaoh refuses to recognize God. He rejects Moses’ request to let the people travel into the wilderness. He makes life worse for the Israelites. They must still make the same quota of bricks, but now they must also gather their own straw. The people turn against Moses and Aaron: “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Ex. 5:21).

Moses and Aaron return to Pharaoh to renew their request. They perform a sign – they turn a staff into a snake – but Pharaoh is unimpressed. His own magicians can do likewise. Next they bring the first of the plagues, but again Pharaoh is unmoved. He will not let the Israelites go. And so it goes, nine times. Moses does everything in his power and finds that nothing makes a difference. The Israelites are still slaves.

We sense the pressure Moses is under. After his first setback, at the end of last week’s parsha, he turns to God and bitterly complains: “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (Ex. 5:22-23).

In this week’s parsha, even though God has reassured him that he will eventually succeed, he replies, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?” (Ex. 6:12).

There is an enduring message here. Leadership, even of the very highest order, is often marked by failure. The first Impressionists had to arrange their own exhibition because their work was rejected by the Paris salons. The first performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring caused a riot, with the audience booing throughout. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime despite the fact that his brother Theo was an art dealer.

So it is with leaders. Lincoln faced countless setbacks during the civil war. He was a deeply divisive figure, hated by many in his lifetime. Gandhi failed in his dream of uniting Muslims and Hindus together in a single nation. Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison, accused of treason and regarded as a violent agitator. Churchill was regarded as a spent force in politics by the 1930s, and even after his heroic leadership during the Second World War was voted out of office at the first General Election after the war was over. Only in retrospect do heroes seem heroic and the many setbacks they faced reveal themselves as stepping stones on the road to victory.

In every field, high, low, sacred or secular, leaders are tested not by their successes but by their failures. It can sometimes be easy to succeed. The conditions may be favorable. The economic, political or personal climate is good. When there is an economic boom, most businesses flourish. In the first months after a general election, the successful leader carries with him or her the charisma of victory. In the first year, most marriages are happy. It takes no special skill to succeed in good times.

But then the climate changes. Eventually it always does. That is when many businesses, and politicians, and marriages fail. There are times when even the greatest people stumble. At such moments, character is tested. The great human beings are not those who never fail. They are those who survive failure, who keep on going, who refuse to be defeated, who never give up or give in. They keep trying. They learn from every mistake. They treat failure as a learning experience. And from every refusal to be defeated, they become stronger, wiser and more determined. I used to tell junior officers on my ships that it was ok to make mistakes if you learn from them. What was not ok was not doing anything for fear of failure. That is the story of Moses’ life in last week’s parsha and in this.

Jim Collins, one of the great writers on leadership, puts it well:

The signature of the truly great versus the merely successful is not the absence of difficulty, but the ability to come back from setbacks, even cataclysmic catastrophes, stronger than before …The path out of darkness begins with those exasperatingly persistent individuals who are constitutionally incapable of capitulation. It’s one thing to suffer a staggering defeat…and entirely another to give up on the values and aspirations that make the protracted struggle worthwhile. Failure is not so much a physical state as a state of mind; success is falling down, and getting up one more time, without end.

Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner once wrote a powerful letter to a disciple who had become discouraged by his repeated failure to master Talmudic learning:

A failing many of us suffer is that when we focus on the high attainments of great people, we discuss how they are complete in this or that area, while omitting mention of the inner struggles that had previously raged within them. A listener would get the impression that these individuals sprang from the hand of their creator in a state of perfection . . .

The result of this feeling is that when an ambitious young man of spirit and enthusiasm meets obstacles, falls and slumps, he imagines himself as unworthy of being “planted in the house of God” . . .

Know, however, my dear friend, that your soul is rooted not in the tranquility of the good inclination, but in the battle of the good inclination…The English expression, “Lose a battle and win the war,” applies. Certainly, all of you, including myself, have stumbled and we will stumble again, and in many battles, we will fall lame. I promise you, though, that after those losing campaigns you will emerge from the war with laurels of victory on your head…The wisest of men said, “A righteous man falls seven times, but rises again” (Proverbs 24:16). Fools believe the intent of the verse is to teach us that the righteous man falls seven times and, despite this, he rises. But the knowledgeable are aware that the essence of the righteous man’s rising again is because of his seven falls.

Rabbi Hutner’s point is that greatness cannot be achieved without failure. There are heights you cannot climb without first having fallen.

Thomas Edison has a couple of quotes regarding failure. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.” And “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”.

Calvin Coolidge had a good thought about not giving up. “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” I would only add, “And seyata diShmaya, the help of Heaven.” God never loses faith in us even if we sometimes lose faith in ourselves.

The supreme role model is Moses who, despite all the setbacks chronicled in last week’s parsha and this, eventually became the man of whom it was said that he was “a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were undimmed and his energy unabated” (Deut. 34:7).

Defeats, delays and disappointments hurt. They hurt even for Moses. So if there are times when we too feel discouraged and demoralized, it is important to remember that even the greatest people failed. What made them great is that they kept going. The road to success passes through many valleys of failure. There is no other way.

An example of learning from failure that all of us know is the life of Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul.

After Yeshua rose from the grave and was resurrected, his followers were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to share the good news about Yeshua, and many people became believers.

The Jewish leaders were extremely upset about this. They thought they had dealt with Yeshua by having him crucified. A young man named Saul was especially upset.

Rav Shaul was an accomplice to murder.

The first time we read about Rav Shaul, he was an accomplice to murder. He was guarding the clothes of a mob that was stoning Stephen to death. Stephen’s “crime” was preaching about Yeshua.

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, Acts 7 59-60 “Lord Yeshua, receive my spirit!”Then he fell on his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” After he said this, he died.

We read that Rav Shaul was there, giving approval of Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1).

Rav Shaul captured Believers in Jerusalem and put them in jail.

Rav Shaul continued to persecute Yeshua’s followers in Jerusalem, going house to house and dragging people off to prison.

Acts 8:1-4  Now Saul was in agreement with Stephen’s execution. On that day a great persecution arose against Messiah’s community in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the emissaries. (2)  Some devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  (3)  But Saul was destroying Messiah’s community, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he was throwing them into prison.  (4)  Now those who had been scattered went around proclaiming the Word.

Rav Shaul persecuted more Believers and voted for many to be killed.

Not only did Rav Shaul persecute Believers in Jerusalem, he also traveled to foreign cities to persecute them (Acts 26:11). He tried to get them to blaspheme, and he voted for many to be put to death.

Acts 26:9-11“In fact, I myself thought it was necessary to do many things in opposition to the name of Yeshua ha-Natzrati.(10)And that is what I did in Jerusalem. Not only did I lock up many of the kedoshim in prisons by the authority I received from the ruling kohanim, but I cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death.(11)I tried to cause them to blaspheme by punishing them often in the synagogues. In furious rage against them, I persecuted them even in foreign cities.

Rav Shaul planned a trip to look for Believers in Damascus. Before he left, he asked the high priest for letters of introduction to the synagogues in Damascus.

Acts 9:1-2  Now Saul, still breathing out threats and murder against the Lord’s disciples, went to the kohen gadol.  (2)  He requested letters of introduction from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women belonging to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

While Rav Shaul was on the road to Damascus, he had an amazing encounter with Yeshua and became a believer. (Read Acts 9:3-19.)

Rav Shaul learned from his failures.

When Yeshua confronted Rav Shaul on the road to Damascus, Rav Shaul learned that he had failed in his efforts to serve God. He had been persecuting God, not serving him (Acts 9:4-5).

Rav Shaul did much more than learn from his failures. His life turned around completely. Instead of persecuting Believers, he started to tell people about Yeshua.

Acts 9:20  Immediately he began proclaiming Yeshua in the synagogues, saying, “He is Ben-Elohim.”

In the following years, Rav Shaul started congregations over much of the Roman empire. He was often beaten and imprisoned for his faith, yet he wrote:

Philippians 1:21For to me, life is the Messiah, and death is gain.

Rav Shaul became humble.

Rav Shaul was a Jewish leader before his Damascus road experience. However, as a result of that vision, he was changed, he was deeply regretful and humbled by his sins. He learned from his failures.

Rav Shaul referred to himself as the worst of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Also, although he recognized that he was an apostle, he described himself as “the least of the apostles.”

1 Corinthians 15:9-10For I am the least of the emissaries, unworthy to be called a emissary because I persecuted God’s community.(10)But by the grace of God I am what I am. His grace toward me was not in vain. No, I worked harder than them all—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Rav Shaul did not think God saved him because he was a good person. Rav Shaul realized that the opposite was true. God saved him as an example of his unlimited patience for those who believe in the Messiah.

1 Timothy 1:16 But this is precisely why I received mercy—so that in me, as the number one sinner, Yeshua the Messiah might demonstrate how very patient he is, as an example to those who would later come to trust in him and thereby have eternal life.

God brought unexpected (good) consequences.

Although Rav Shaul had been an active enemy of Yeshua and approved of killing Believers , God forgave him and used him to make a tremendous difference for the Kingdom of God.

God used Rav Shaul to bring many people to faith in Yeshua, to establish kehilot (churches), and to strengthen the body of Messiah

.God used Rav Shaul to write many letters that became part of the New Testament.

Lessons we can learn from Rav Shaul

Don’t give up because of your failures.

Learn from your failures, then dedicate your life to serving Yeshua.

Be humbled by your failures. Thank God for his forgiveness. Never consider yourself a “big shot,” regardless of your position.

Never give up on anybody. If Rav Shaul could learn from his failures, anyone can learn from his or her failures. If Rav Shaul could be saved, anyone could be saved.

Between Moses and Rav Shaul, we have some very good examples.

 

Who Am I?

20210109 Parsha Shemot – Who Am I

Exodus 1:1-6:1

Isaiah 27:6-28

Hebrews 11:23-27

Today we find ourselves still in the Land of Egypt but change is in the air.  Today we begin the story of the Exodus.  This Parsha begins with a list of Jacob’s sons who entered into Egypt and died in Egypt.  It continues by setting the stage for why Bnei Israel wants to leave Egypt.  We are introduced to Moses who escaped infanticide and eventually led God’s people to freedom.

Moses led a life of luxury but after identifying with his own people, he killed an Egyptian and had to flee to Midian.  He met and married Zipporah and they lived a decent life in Midian.  One day Moses was herding sheep and encountered the famous burning bush.  God spoke to Moses that day, but Moses also asked a couple of questions.

Moses’ second question to God at the burning bush was, Who are you? “So I will go to the Israelites and say, ‘Your fathers’ God sent me to you.’ They will immediately ask me what His name is. What shall I say to them?” (Ex. 3: 13). God’s reply, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh,” wrongly translated in almost every Christian Bible as something like “I am that I am.”

His first question, though, was, Mi anochi, “Who am I?” (Ex. 3: 11).

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” said Moses to God. “And how can I possibly get the Israelites out of Egypt?” On the surface the meaning is clear. Moses is asking two things. The first: who I am to be worthy of so great a mission? The second: how can I possibly succeed?

God answers the second. “Because I will be with you.” You will succeed because I am not asking you to do it alone. I am not really asking you to do it at all. I will be doing it for you. I want you to be My representative, My mouthpiece, My emissary and My voice.

God never answered the first question. Perhaps in a strange way Moses answered himself. In Tanakh as a whole, the people who turn out to be the most worthy are the ones who deny they are worthy at all.

The prophet Isaiah, when charged with his mission, said, ‘I am a man of unclean lips’ (Is. 6:5). Jeremiah said, ‘I cannot speak, for I am a child’ (Jer. 1: 6). David, Israel’s greatest king, echoed Moses’ words, ‘Who am I?’ (2 Samuel 7: 18). Jonah, sent on a mission by God, tried to run away. According to Rashbam, Jacob was about to run away when he found his way blocked by the man/angel with whom he wrestled at night (Rashbam to Gen. 32: 23).

The heroes of the Bible are not figures from Greek or any other kind of myth. They are not people possessed of a sense of destiny, determined from an early age to achieve fame. They do not have what the Greeks called megalopsychia, a proper sense of their own worth, a gracious and lightly worn superiority. They did not go to Eton or Oxford. They were not born to rule. They were people who doubted their own abilities. There were times when they felt like giving up. Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah and Jonah reached points of such despair that they prayed to die. They became heroes of the moral life against their will. There was work to be done – God told them so – and they did it. It is almost as if a sense of smallness is a sign of greatness. Rav Shaul, (the apostle Paul) spoke of this concept.

2 Corinthians 12:10  For Messiah’s sake, then, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in distresses, in persecutions, in calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So, God never answered Moses’ question, “Why me?”

But there is another question within the question. “Who am I?” can be not just a question about worthiness. It can also be a question about identity. Moses, alone on Mount Horeb/Sinai, summoned by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, is not just speaking to God when he says those words. He is also speaking to himself. “Who am I?”

There are two possible answers. The first: Moses is a prince of Egypt. He had been adopted as a baby by Pharaoh’s daughter. He had grown up in the royal palace. He dressed like an Egyptian, looked and spoke like an Egyptian. When he rescued Jethro’s daughters from some rough shepherds, they go back and tell their father, “An Egyptian saved us” (2: 19). His very name, Moses, was given to him by Pharaoh’s daughter (Ex. 2: 10). It was, presumably, an Egyptian name (in fact, Mses, as in Ramses, is the ancient Egyptian word for “child”. The etymology given in the Torah, that Moses means “I drew him from the water,” tells us what the word suggested to Hebrew speakers). So the first answer is that Moses was an Egyptian prince.

The second Mosaic identity was that he was a Midianite. For, although he was Egyptian by upbringing, he had been forced to leave. He had made his home in Midian, married a Midianite woman Zipporah, daughter of a Midianite priest and was “content to live” there, quietly as a shepherd. We tend to forget that he spent many years there. He left Egypt as a young man and was already eighty years old at the start of his mission when he first stood before Pharaoh (Ex. 7: 7). He must have spent the overwhelming majority of his adult life in Midian, far away from the Israelites on the one hand and the Egyptians on the other. Moses was a Midianite.

So when Moses asks, “Who am I?” it is not just that he feels himself unworthy. He feels himself uninvolved. He may have been one of God’s Chosen People by birth, but he had not suffered the fate of his people. He had not grown up as a Hebrew. He had not lived among Hebrews. He had good reason to doubt that the Israelites would even recognize him as one of them. How, then, could he become their leader? More penetratingly, why should he even think of becoming their leader? Their fate was not his. He was not part of it. He was not responsible for it. He did not suffer from it. He was not implicated in it.

What is more, the one time he had actually tried to intervene in their affairs – he killed an Egyptian taskmaster who had killed an Israelite slave, and the next day tried to stop two Israelites from fighting one another – his intervention was not welcomed. “Who made you ruler and judge over us?” they said to him. These are the first recorded words of an Israelite to Moses. He had not yet dreamed of being a leader and already his leadership was being challenged.

Consider, now, the choices Moses faced in his life. On the one hand he could have lived as a prince of Egypt, in luxury and at ease. That might have been his fate had he not intervened. Even afterward, having been forced to flee, he could have lived out his days quietly as a shepherd, at peace with the Midianite family into which he had married. It is not surprising that when God invited him to lead the Israelites to freedom, he resisted.

Why then did he accept? Why did God know that he was the man for the task? One hint is contained in the name he gave his first son. He called him Gershom because, he said, “I am a stranger in a foreign land” (2: 22). He did not feel at home in Midian. That was where he was but not who he was.

But the real clue is contained in an earlier verse, the prelude to his first intervention. “When Moses was grown, he began to go out to his own people, and he saw their hard labor” (2: 11). These people were his people. He may have looked like an Egyptian but he knew that ultimately he was not. It was a transforming moment, not unlike when the Moabite Ruth said to her Israelite mother in law Naomi, “Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1: 16). Ruth was un-Jewish by birth. Moses was un-Jewish by upbringing. But both knew that they, when they saw suffering and identified with the sufferer, they could not walk away.

Who am I? asked Moses, but in his heart he knew the answer. I am not Moses the Egyptian or Moses the Midianite. When I see my people suffer I am, and cannot be other than, Moses the Jew. And if that imposes responsibilities on me, then I must shoulder them. For I am who I am because my people are who they are.

Who are you today?  I believe that to be an important question that each of us should be prepared to answer.  In the days, weeks, months to come life will become increasingly difficult for those who believe in Yeshua HaMashiach.  We are beginning to see signs of persecution against God’s people.  In other parts of the world, it is much worse.  In France they have recently outlawed the ritual slaughter of animals.  That means no more kosher meat for Jews in France.  China has started identifying Christian churches and destroying their buildings.  Believers in Nigeria are in an existential struggle with the Muslim extremist group Boco Haram.  I could go on with examples from around the globe, but you get the picture.

We need to be prepared to defend our faith with our lives if need be.  I believe it will come to that in this country.  We need to know deep down inside us “Who Am I”?  We need to be prepared to give an account as to Who we serve.

God called Moses to be a leader.  Then in the course of the Exodus he delegated authority and leadership down to leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  The tens being basically a family unit.  We are all called to be leaders.  In whatever capacity we find ourselves we need to be leaders, in our jobs, schools, communities, and families.  It is imperative that we step up and be leaders, not simple-minded followers who blindly follow every foolish whim of government, media, Hollywood, and professional sports.  They are not our leaders. We should be following the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  We should be keeping the commandments of God.

Yeshua said in John 14:15  “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. Yeshua is our leader.  In Him we find our identity.  That’s where we should begin and end in our search for who we are.

I end with returning to the title of this sermon.  Who Am I?  Only you can answer that. We can be more than what we are.  We need to take up the mantle of leadership wherever we are and in whatever capacity we find ourselves.  Leaders lead.

The Word Became Flesh

20201017 Parsha Bereshit – The Word Became Flesh

This morning we begin a new Torah Cycle wherein we start reading in Genesis 1:1 and each week progress through the first five books of the Bible.  In every Jewish Synagogue in the world we are reading from the same Torah Portion each week.  As a Messianic Congregation we also read from the Brit Chadashah, the New Testament.  The reading from the Apostolic writings can vary from congregation to congregation and from all the various organizations that publish a reading plan.

We all know the main theme of Bereshit and that being creation of our world and the worlds that surround us.  The imagery of creation can easily overwhelm even the most imaginative mind.  And yet there is an aspect of creation that we can and should grasp and understand.  Who was the creator?  It was Yeshua and He was deity.  How do we know?

1) Scripture Reveals It…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. We looked upon His glory, the glory of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:1,14

Philippians 2:7-8  But He emptied Himself—taking on the form of a slave, becoming the likeness of men and being found in appearance as a man.  (8)  He humbled Himself—becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Hebrews 2:14, 17  Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared the same humanity— (17)  Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in all things, so He might become a merciful and faithful Kohen Gadol in matters relating to God…

The Word was with God and Word was God.

Scripture reveals that Yeshua was God and also…

Yeshua is deity, and yet He willingly became human, flesh and blood like you and me.

Fully God… and – fully man….

That was a hard concept even in the first century.  John addressed it again in…

1 John 1:1  What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life—

When you look at the life of Yeshua, you see that he lived it as a man.

2) His Life Demonstrates It…

  • Yeshua was conceived in a womb
  • He was born just like you & me
  • And he came out of the womb bloody and slimy just like you and I did
  • Yeshua had to depend on His parents, to fed Him, Bath Him and change His dirty diapers
  • Yeshua had to learn to walk and no doubt took many falls on that journey
  • He had to learn to talk… I wonder what His first word was?
  • Yeshua got tired and he slept
  • He got hungry and he ate
  • He got thirsty and he drank
  • If you hit Him – He bruised
  • If you cut Him he bled
  • If you killed Him – he died.

To think of Yeshua in such a light is uncomfortable to some.  But personally, I like to think of him like that.  It gives me a sense of knowing Him better.

I like the Yeshua who danced at weddings.  Turned water into the finest wine ever made….or the finest Welches grape juice if you are a Baptist or Pentecostal.

I like the Yeshua who played with children, laughed and told them stories.  I can imagine him walking with His disciples and saying “hold up guys, I got a rock in my sandal”.

Yeshua being a man, makes all the difference in the world…

Why? Because:

  1. A) Yeshua The Man, Allows You To See God…

John 1:18  No one has ever seen God; but the one and only God, in the Father’s embrace, has made Him known.

He has shown us what God is like.

Before Yeshua no one had ever seen God.  Even Moses, who spoke with God as a man speaks face to face could not see Him in all his glory.  He would have died.

It is really hard for finite creatures (like us) to wrap our brains around an infinite God.  He is too big, well beyond our comprehension.

But I can relate to Yeshua.  That’s why He became a human being.

Yeshua as a human helps us to know that God cares for us, loves us, is concerned about every aspect of our lives.

  1. B) Yeshua The Man, Allows You To See Yourself

 

QUESTION – how do you see yourself this morning?

My guess is that the way you see yourself today is closely connected to the way that you think the world sees you. So, this morning, do see yourself as;

Important? Valuable? Desirable? Acceptable? Significant?

Do you see yourself as someone who is worth being with? Maybe so. But I suspect that the opposite might be true. You don’t see yourself in a positive light.  You don’t feel important, valuable, or desirable.

Yeshua the man, allows you and me to see ourselves. To see ourselves not as the world sees, not as other people see us and not as we see ourselves (because of past sin and failure)…but as God sees us… awesome, loved by God, precious, valuable and significant to Him.

Look at yourself like Yeshua looks at you, someone worthy to die for.

  1. C) Yeshua The Man, Shows You Who You Can Become

 Tired of that old life? Don’t fret.  Yeshua the man shows you who you can become…

One of the best words in the English language is ”New”.

It’s great to start a new year;

  • get a new car,
  • move into to new house,
  • learn new things
  • read new books
  • hear new songs
  • start a new relationship,
  • get a new beginning

AND – do you know what…? GOD – seems to be pretty fired up about the word new too.

Throughout the bible we see God talking about; New names… New songs… A new covenant, New wine & new wineskins… A new heavens & new earth, Behold I am making all things new

Those who become Believers in Yeshua become new persons.

2 Corinthians 5:17  Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

  1. D) Yeshua The Man, Destroyed Death and the devil…

Hebrews 2:14-17    Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared the same humanity—so that through death He might break the power of the one who had the power of death (that is, the devil)  and free those who by fear of death were in bondage all their lives.  For surely He is not concerned about angels, but about the seed of Abraham.  (17)  Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in all things, so He might become a merciful and faithful Kohen Gadol in matters relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.

 

This is a big deal

  • Because God the Son, became a man
  • Because He was like us in every respect
  • Because He was flesh and blood
  • Because He lived a sinless life
  • Because he offered that life and as payment, as a sacrifice for our sins…

The devil has been defeated

Death has been destroyed!

Mercy has been given

AND – His amazing grace has been unleashed in the world…

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Yeshua.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:55-58

Resisting the pressure of socio-political culture, Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic stood for the national anthem on July 31, the lone player or coach in that game who did not kneel. Isaac stood with his hands behind his back, and it was no surprise to his teammates, who know that he is an ordained minister. According to CNN.com, In a post game interview, he stated…

“…I’m standing and not wearing a (BLM) T-shirt to get something done… to get out of the realm of skin color… to see all the things that we all do each and every day that aren’t right, and come to an understanding that at the end of the day, the answer to it all, to all of our problems, to all of everything that goes on in our world is Jesus.” – Jonathan Isaacs

YES – because of Yeshua the man… WE – are free!

Free from sin

Free from guilt

Free from shame

Free from popular opinion

Free from condemnation

Free from the fear of dying

Free from the fear of living

Free from a life of wishful thinking

Our hope is not wishful thinking, instead it is an confidently expected outcome.

Yeshua the man destroyed death and the devil..

  1. E) Yeshua The Man, Understands Everything That You Will Ever Experience …

QUESTION – have you ever felt like no one really understood what you were going through?

You have a problem, you’re being tempted, you’re in a struggle, you’re facing a crisis…AND – you feel like you’re all alone…

Sure – you try to talk to people, but most of the time all you get back is blank stares. either people don’t get it, don’t WANT to get it, or they can’t do anything about it!  And sometimes you get the “I’ll be praying for you” line that is just a dismissal.

Hebrews 4:14-16

Therefore, since we have a great Kohen Gadol who has passed through the heavens, Yeshua Ben-Elohim, let us hold firmly to our confessed allegiance.

(15)  For we do not have a kohen gadol who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all the same ways—yet without sin.

(16)  Therefore let us draw near to the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help in time of need.

 

ABOUT – sixty years ago C. S. Lewis imagined someone objecting here:

 

“Hey, if Yeshua never sinned, then he doesn’t know what temptation is like. He lived a sheltered life and is out of touch with how strong temptation can be.”

Here is what Lewis wrote in response to that objection:

“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. . . .

A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. . . .

Jesus, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means.”

 

If Yeshua had not become a man, we would not have a God who really, fully and experientially understood us.  Although God, would have knowledge of human life (because he created it), we might still be able to hurl the accusation,

“God you just don’t understand what it’s like to be me. You can’t possibly understand the temptations I struggle with.

AND – besides that I am handicapped by all kinds of weaknesses, problems and pain that you’ve never faced, because you’re all-powerful.

AND GOD – if you can’t understand me you can’t really help me. AND – you certainly have no right to judge me.”

BUT – the fact is that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” AND THEREFORE – no matter what we face, whether it’s temptation, weaknesses, or suffering Yeshua can and does say “Been there… Dealt with that…Wore out the T-shirt…I can help! ”

YES – TO THOSE…

  • Who feel alone
  • Who had a friend betray them
  • Who are tempted by (lust, money, popularity, power)
  • Who are weeping over the death of a loved one
  • Who had best intentions misunderstood and twisted
  • Who are stressed by the demands of life
  • Who experience disappointments and setbacks or had everyone walk away when they needed them the most
  • Who are in physical pain
  • Who have had family members think they are crazy
  • Who have had loved ones who actually WENT crazy.
  • Who have had their name and reputation slandered by other people
  • Whose lives seemed to be filled with sorrow and grief
  • Who don’t have a lot of money or material things
  • Who find it so hard to do the right thing and to follow God’s will

Yeshua the man says; “Been there… Dealt with that…I can help! ”

Let me read Hebrews again.

 

Hebrews 4:14-16

Therefore, since we have a great Kohen Gadol who has passed through the heavens, Yeshua Ben-Elohim, let us hold firmly to our confessed allegiance.

(15)  For we do not have a kohen gadol who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all the same ways—yet without sin.

(16)  Therefore let us draw near to the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help in time of need.

 

Let’s Pray

 

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