27 April 2015

What's in your box? What would you put in mine?

Ilan Ramon was tragically killed in the crash of the space shuttle Columbia on 1/2/03 and the remains of the 7 crew were found in Hemphill, Texas. I visited the NASA museum, which was built and is maintained by locals. One of the seven crew is Ilan Ramon, an Israeli scientist who was among those who died that day.

At the little museum, which is little more than a single lounge room, and looked like a professional science project, I was struck by the locker-sized memorials. set up by relatives of the crew. Here's a photo of Ilan's memorial, with items sent by his wife from Israel, and although she has never made it to Texas to see it, it reflects what she wants to say about his life.

So, as you might imagine, this got me thinking. What would be in my box? What would I want for the summary of my 60/70/80 years of life? Perhaps it's unfair to ask a relative to summarize my life. Perhaps it's unfair for me to depict myself, since we often get our own self-statements so wrong. But either way, at the end of my days, there will be opportunity for some to reflect, and make statements, or consider the one thing they might put in my box.

So today, I'm asking that question publicly. I'm wondering what you would put in my box if you had an opportunity. This is not morbid, but perhaps you think it is. I apologize if you think so.

Future King David said, "to (current King) Saul, “Who am I, and what is my life or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be ..." (Recorded in 1 Kings chapter 18). What is my life? What is your life? Care to share a thought or two? More on monuments and memorials later.

19 April 2015

Everything old is new again: A study in Habakkuk

By Bob Mendelsohn
Jews for Jesus, Sydney
Given at St Johns Anglican Church,
Launceston, Tasmania
19 April 2015


Shalom! Thank you Ross for your welcome to me today. And thank you to each of you here for giving me your ears for a bit of time today.

I didn’t grow up in Australia, so Peter Allen’s music was not as well known to me as to some of you. So his hit Broadway song, which was performed by Hugh Jackman, Everything old is new again, was equally unknown to me. And really as a Jewish man, who grew up in the center of the US, the theme was unknown as well. Old becoming new? When I read the book of Ecclesiastes which we read each year during the feast of Tabernacles, the theme might have been more likely “Everything new is old again…same old, same old.”

So when your rector asked me to give an overview of the book you will next be studying, the book of the prophet Habakkuk, and he gave me a title “Everything old is new again” I was taken aback. It went against my Jewish sensitivities.

But clearly the Bible is filled with such ideas. Isaiah the prophet, whose 48th chapter we read, understood newness. Listen to verse 6:

“You have heard; look at all this.
And you, will you not declare it?
I proclaim to you new things from this time,
Even hidden things which you have not known.”

OK, I like that. And mystery is always captivating to me.

That theme as well as the theme of newness is picked up by John the Revelator in his 21st chapter with:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” (21.2)

So, ok, you say, this sounds like a good New Year’s sermon, or at least the beginning of one. But Bob, didn’t you know, we are already in April, and next week is Anzac Day and we just had Easter and school holidays. What does your message or the reference to Habakkuk have to do with anything?

Ah, thanks for that question.

Let me give you a quick review of Habakkuk, which I’m sure your pastor will delve into more deeply in the weeks to come, and you will see the connections. However if you are only here today and won’t be visiting again in the weeks to come, this sermon is actually modular and stand-alone. You will leave with real hope for things to come. At least that is my prayer.

So let me give you the outline. First we will unpack the things which might be titled ‘everything old’ found in the texts. Then we will ponder if they can ever be transformed into something new. And then we will find real newness and real hope, even in our troubled lives in the 21st century

A. Everything old
The prophet is full of somber tones, morbid reflections and deep questions about God in his oracle. Listen to chapter one, verse two:
“How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear?
I cry out to You, “Violence!” yet You do not save.”

This is the sound of bellyaching and lament. It’s the painful sound of someone annoyed and angry. And he has the person in mind who is responsible. The finger is pointed straight at the Almighty. I wonder if that bothers some of you. Or does it actually reflect others of you. I’ve had plenty of conversations with God which sound like this. “What’s the deal? Why did that person prosper and I didn’t?” On my holiest of days I might not notice such disparity, but I’m not usually in such a state.
The prophet yells, ‘Violence’ which is the Hebrew word, s™DmDj◊ HAMAS. And this word reminds us of the constant barrage of bad news on the ABC and in the newspapers. Each day we read of another beheading or another bombing, the relentless hostility of evil. Yesterday five young men were arrested in Melbourne. They were planning some terrorist activity on Anzac Day next weekend. They said ISIS inspired them. It seems insurmountable. And our prayer might be something similar to Habakkuk. “What’s going on here? Why doesn’t God notice?”

The enemy in the Bible text is Babylon (sometimes titled Chaldeans), which is described by Habakkuk as bitter and rash (v 6), a nation marching through the whole earth following a scorched earth policy. The Chaldean makes up his own laws (v 7). His military force is ominous and ready to strike (vv 8–9).  Doesn’t that sound familiar? He makes fun of kings and laughs at others’ defenses (v 10).  The mockery by Iran and Iraq, by North Korea, ISIS and Boko Haram, or Al Qaeda and other wannabes echoes this sentiment.

So the first in our list of ‘everything old’ is the picture of evil flourishing and God seeming not to notice. It’s titled ‘theodicy’ in the dictionary, the answering of God’s alleged goodness with the problem of visible evil.

The next item in the list of ‘everything old’ is the justice poured out on humanity.

When God sees evil, even though it’s not as quick as a prophet or my mother would have liked, God promises to bring justice to bear. And this is part of ‘everything old’ to be sure. Sin has consequences and when men mock God or each other, the justice due will be recompensed.

Habakkuk answers, “Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay.” So the assurance is that the justice that we seek is really coming. (2.3)

In Habakkuk chapter 1, after Babylon’s dramatic surge goes on, the enemy of the Jewish people is found guilty because he worships his own power and strength (v 11).

But is justice really something we want? Any golfers here this morning? When you hit a great shot off the tee and that one branch reaches out, out of nowhere, and knocks your perfect shot down to the tree line, or worse, into the trees, you cry, “Where is the justice?” Honestly, do you really want justice for yourself? Do you know yourself a bit? Do you really want God to reward you for all the activities of your life? Non-golfers, do you want him to notice all the wrong choices you make and made? Do you want compensation for all you have done? Honestly? I doubt that. IF you know yourself, you know you are a sinner, stuck and mired in sin, and more often than not choose the easy way rather than the loving way. You choose to applaud self rather than deny it. You fail to love your neighbour as yourself. Even the best of us fail in this. Justice applied to the nation of Babylon and to anyone…that’s ‘everything old’ which needs to be replaced in a deep deep way.

OK, so evil is flourishing and justice is coming.

A third ‘something old’ is idolatry. I know that’s not something we often consider, since we are moderns. We don’t build and bow down to things. Or do we? As I travel the world, last year in Dominican Republic, in Russia, in Ireland, in the US, and all over Australia, I keep seeing idolatry as a prime driver in the human condition.

Habakkuk mocks the idolater with
“What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it,
Or an image, a teacher of falsehood?
For its maker trusts in his own handiwork
When he fashions speechless idols.
Woe to him who says to a piece of wood, ‘Awake!’
To a mute stone, ‘Arise!’
And that is your teacher?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
And there is no breath at all inside it.” (2.18-19)
Idolatry is rife in the planet. I saw a statue in Moscow of Yuri Gagarin, the Russian cosmonaut, who was the first man in space, and thought of the billions of dollars two countries spent to win the space war. To win a race that they could have easily won for much less had they simply cooperated instead of competed? Then on a personal level, consider the little idiosyncrasies we perform before rolling dice at the casino or when going through speed and red light cameras. We also grab items to which we attribute great power and status, even though we have built them.  We worship at the altar of materialism, which feeds our need to build our egos through the acquisition of more “stuff.” Our homes are filled with all manner of possessions. We build bigger and bigger houses with more closets, garages, and storage space in order to house all the things we buy, much of which we haven’t even paid for yet.

How about the drive to succeed? We might spend 80 hours a week working. Even on the weekends and during vacations, our laptops are humming and our minds are whirling with thoughts of how to make our businesses more successful, how to get that promotion, how to get the next pay rise, how to close the next deal. In the meantime, our children are starving for attention and love. We fool ourselves into thinking we are doing it for them, to give them a better life. But the truth is we are doing it for ourselves, to increase our self-esteem by appearing more successful in the eyes of the world.

The idolatry, which opposed God, is really the self-congratulatory life we live. We do that also with what I call scientism, or a belief in the exclusive power of science. If we don’t know the answer to something we turn to the scientist, and assume that if they don’t know yet, they will. This gives us the illusion that we are lords of our world and builds our self-esteem to godlike proportions.

Will that idolatry eventually be diminished? Will we ever really love the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength?

B. Can these things ever be transformed into something new?
Can the vision of Habakkuk’s ‘everything old’ ever become new again?

Let’s take them in order.
1)    Theodicy: The evil flourishing and God seems not to notice

Yet the prophet continues his oracle asserting that the foreign tyrant will ultimately be overthrown (2:4, 16–17). Listen, God allows wicked tyrants like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, et.al. To spring up a for a while, but they become guilty by the abuse of their power and, like a plant before it is firmly rooted, God blows on them and they wither. God promises, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21.4)

In fact, the purpose of God withholding justice is actually for his own purposes. In Isaiah 48 we read, “For the sake of My name I delay My wrath” (.9)

2)    Self-awareness: God brings justice to the planet
You think I’ve already looked at that, but I want you to see this more deeply. If God brings justice only, no one could survive. 

 “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130.3)
The Revelation says even the best and most powerful on earth will wince at the idea of personal judgment:

”Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6.15-16)
God’s justice must extend not only to the bad guys, but to us as well, and that’s not very comforting, that is, if you know your own nature and your own choices. Of course, you are not ‘that’ bad, but you only say that when you evaluate yourself, you measure yourself against an ISIS terrorist and not against the measure of the commands of the Lord. Rocks fall on us!
3) Can our own idolatry ever be turned to newness?
The answer to that is no. Only when we turn to God, and really turn, when we stop being Lord of our own lives, and yield control to the real God, will life have meaning and satisfaction.

C. Finding real newness and real hope
Listen, I’ve been hinting all along. The answer to the problem of evil and the problem of injustice and the problem of idolatry are all answered in relation to God. But did Habakkuk say this also?

You may try to simplify the Bible from its size down to bite-sized pieces for your friends, your contacts, or even for yourself. The rabbis have done that, of course, as well, simplifying the 613 commandments down to 10. But that is not enough. They then limited it to 3. Micah chapter 6, verse 8 reads, “He has shown you o man what is good and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” But that’s too many, so Yeshua and others simplified it to 2: Love the Lord your God with all you have and love your neighbour as yourself. Finally the rabbis simplified the entire Older Testament down to one line, and it’s in Habakkuk 2.4 “But the righteous will live by his faith.” And isn’t that one line what captivated Martin Luther in 1517 and got his attention enough to on a wide scale trigger the entire Reformation?

Real hope is not found in religion, or a checklist version of Christianity, but rather in the joy of personal faith in the personal Messiah who gave himself for us as we remembered on Good Friday and who rose from the dead as we recalled a fortnight ago on Easter.

The Almighty through Habakkuk assures real newness of life in his declaration in 2.14 “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.”

We can and should have confidence in the Almighty for all He will do. That’s Habakkuk’s conclusion as well in:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord GOD is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places.  (3.17-19)
Friends, God will win the final victory and we will be part of it. This is the joy of Kingdom Life and the assurance we can have, that all our own sins and all our own failings, all the evil in the world will eventually turn to God’s honor and praise. Hallelujah!

I can’t come and tell you about Habakkuk without telling you about a couple Jewish folks who are now living in this reality, and how God’s patience is regarded as salvation.
Melvin* is a Jewish doctor from the Northeast in the US. His wife and he have been married for over 40 years and they have lived in the Houston area almost that entire time. She was a Christian in her youth, but when they married, she officially converted to Judaism. After a few years of missing so much of what she knew about God, she started attending a Lutheran church. The pastor came by to visit her and to thank her for attending the previous Sunday. That’s when he first met Melvin.  A very personable but hard man, Melvin made it clear that he didn’t want Pastor Ken to visit him or to involve him in the life of the church.

But of late, Melvin has been attending a nearby Baptist church, playing brass in their orchestra, although still a staunch unbeliever. When I spoke at the Lutheran church on my recent two-week speaking tour in Texas, Melvin was invited. He attended, and long story short, he decided to commit his life to Jesus, which he did publicly on the subsequent Sunday, Palm Sunday, walking the aisle with his mother (in her 80s), sister and daughter in attendance at his request. What a way to announce your new faith! How good is God to be patient in waiting for Melvin to be ‘ready.’

Years ago in the Hunter Valley outside Sydney, Nadine* moved nearby the local church and was befriended by the pastor and some of the members of the church. Years went by and the friendship deepened, but Nadine would always knock back the idea of attending church. Finally one of our missionaries was invited to speak at the local church, and the pastor invited Nadine to come along. She did to hear a Jew speak about Messiah. That encounter helped her enough that she has now given her life to Yeshua, has been baptized and is attending the fellowship regularly. God’s patience is her salvation!

I want to tell you more and more stories like Melvin and Nadine.
I hope you will notice the white card you have in hand, and for those online, you can contact us directly at Jewsforjesus.org.au. Here in the church, I invite you to tear the white card on the perforation, and keep the small card as a prayer reminder, then fill out the larger card, especially with your email address, and we will keep you informed about such testimonies and some historical and biblical info that I think will encourage you in your walk with Messiah. Up the back in the hall, you will find our resource table, which has many many products, which will help you in knowing about Jewish people, about Jewish life and how to witness among all people. If you can witness to Jewish people, you can witness to anyone!
Everything old in your life can be new again. If you have heard this message today, really heard it, with the ears of your Spirit, then turn your life to God. Repent. Ask Him to forgive you, right there in your pew, or at your home if you are listening or watching online, and He will forgive you. He wants to love you. He wants to forgive you. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

Thank you Ross, for your love to me over the last 16 years and the warm hospitality you extend to me this weekend. Thanks to Jen and all of you here at St Johns who make this such a light on a hill. May God continue to brighten your vision and your impact on a city, on a state, on a country that so desperately needs the power of forgiveness and the assurance of the Saviour to bring it in our days.

Bible passages:  Isaiah 48:1-6 Revelation 21: 1-5 Matthew 24:13-27

* Not their real names

29 March 2015

Yeshua Cohen (A priest too?)

A priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek

A sermon given at Congregation Beth Messiah
Houston Texas
28 March 2015
By Bob Mendelsohn

Shabbat shalom to each of you here at CBM, and to those reading this online on my blog or on Facebook, also a hearty greeting.
Introduction: Tsav
Today is the Saturday before Passover and it is customary throughout Jewry to honor this day as the Great Sabbath, or Shabbat HaGadol. This commemorates the great miracle that happened in Egypt on this day, heralding the Exodus from Egypt five days later. Shabbat HaGadol customs include reading a portion of the Haggadah, which tells the story of the Exodus; it is also customary that the rabbi of the community teaches on the laws of Passover, in preparation for the festival. A survey was taken in Israel some years ago now, in which they found that less than 50% of the Jews believed in a personal God, but almost 90% observe Passover. That may put this in perspective a little.
Now, our parasha today entitled Tsav, means commandment and inside the 3rd book of Torah, Vayikra, this makes sense. After all the majority of the 613 laws in Torah are found in Leviticus.  And like the book’s title in Latin tells us, Leviticus is the book of the Levites, or the priestly book.
Chapter 8 of Leviticus teaches us of the ordination of the priests and a bit of their duties. It shows Moses killing animals and sprinkling blood in appropriate places, and behaving like a priest, although he wasn’t officially one.
The entire chapter filled with ritual and blood and drama is an ordination ceremony that begins the work of ministry for Aaron and his four sons. Numbers chapter 8 highlights when the priests’ duties are fulfilled and they are told to retire, but that’s for another sermon, although I hear you are experiencing some of that at CBM just now.  May God lead you well in this time of transition.
Our role: The role of the priests
So I’m thinking about priests and about transitions and of course Passover, and I am led to teach you about a couple major things. First is the role of each of you, as a believer, if you are a believer in Yeshua as Messiah. He calls us to be a royal priesthood, according to the shaliach Shimon, Yeshua’s right hand man in the day. (But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2.9). Shimon would certainly have known all about this, as Yeshua actually ordained him to such a status as is recorded in Matthew chapter 16. You can read that later, but the reference will be important for you to write down. (And Yeshua said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My congregation; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16.17-19)
Yeshua ordains Peter to Gospel ministry, and that means one thing to those men that day. Peter is becoming a Cohen, a priest. Wow, who can do that anyway? Who can make someone who is not a Cohen to be a Cohen?
The only one who can really honestly do that is the Almighty himself. And Yeshua is saying of himself, that that is exactly who he is! What a claim!
He who is questionably a priest anyway, isn’t he? Remember a priest had to come from the line of Aaron, who was a Levite, Levi being the 3rd son of Jacob. Yeshua according to the genealogies was a great, great, great…. Grandson of Judah, the 4th son of Jacob. The writer of Hebrews will make a very clear and very important case for the priesthood of Yeshua, and I’ll explain that just now.
Yeshua: The great High Priest of our confession
Melchizedek is a character from the time of Abraham our father. He is also mentioned one time in the Psalms (110.4). And of course, he is mentioned several times in the book of Hebrews in the Newer Testament portion of the Bible. Who is he? And why is he so important?
According to the story (found in Genesis 14), he was a priest of another people, but geographically near Abraham. When Abraham had been successful in battle in retrieving his nephew Lot from his captors, Abraham wanted to demonstrate thankfulness to God right away. He went to Melchizedek, the King of Salem (and by the way his name means “King of Righteousness.”), who promised to stand with Abraham, Melchizedek brought out what we would recognize as Kiddush, that is, bread and wine, and served some of the military leaders in Abraham’s entourage. He also said a blessing over Abraham, which was powerful.
What Abraham did was surprising however. He gave a tithe to Melchizedek and honoured him above himself. In fact, the Bible makes clear that the greater blesses the lesser. So let’s read a bit from Hebrews 7 and unpack it as we go.
“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him,  to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.” (This doesn’t mean Melchizedek was without parentage, but rather that in the record of Scripture, he just pops onto the scene. He did have beginnings and he did die, but the Bible doesn’t make mention of those events)
“Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest’s office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater.” (The key word in the book of Hebrews is ‘better’ and Yeshua is better than angels, better than Moshe, better than… And here we see Melchizedek is better than Abraham because of the tithing)
“In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on.  And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.” (In other words since Levi was in Abraham, and all the current priests were also there, then the priesthood of today (the Aaronides) is less than the priesthood of Yeshua (Melchizedek) because of the tithing!
“Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.  For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life.” (Yeshua came from Judah and was as such disqualified from being our high priest in heaven, but cleverly the writer of Hebrews gets another order of priests to make this work)
 “For it is attested of Him,
                  “YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER
                  ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.” (Psalm 110.4)
“For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness(for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. And inasmuch as it was not without an oath(for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him,” (Levites were such not because they swore to uphold anything, but it was simply biological)
                  “THE LORD HAS SWORN
                  AND WILL NOT CHANGE HIS MIND,
                  ‘YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER’”);
so much the more also Yeshua has become the guarantee of a better covenant.
The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Yeshua, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.” (Hebrews chapter 7)
So what do we learn?
Yeshua is our Great High Priest, not because he came from Judah, but because He came from Melchizedek’s order. He is a forever priest. He is the one who hears us and who cares for us. He lives to make intercession for us. He saves to the uttermost. Glory to His name! Baruch hashem!
And what about you?
The topic in Tsav seems so remote to us as 21st century people, doesn’t it? Priests and tabernacles, oils and ephods, 7-day ordination separation duties, and old old Old Jews. But if you have been listening, you learned like I did that The Almighty who made Yeshua a priest forever according to another order, other than Levi, is also making you into a priest, in a way.
There are a few parallel words in Exodus chapter 28.
“Then bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to minister as priest to Me — Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skilful persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister as priest to Me. These are the garments which they shall make: a breastpiece and an ephod and a robe and a tunic of checkered work, a turban and a sash, and they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister as priest to Me.” (Exodus 28.1-4)
Three times in those four verses you hear that same phrase, “That he may minister as a priest to me.”
So priests have a job, to mediate between the people and God and between God and the people.
That’s why we celebrate that we have Yeshua now who is the only mediator between God and men.  No man needs to do it for us any longer. No man can do this any longer.
But listen to this text from a very obscure text in Rav Shaul’s letter to the Roman believers. After he tells the Romans:
For I say that Messiah has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written,
                  AND I WILL SING TO YOUR NAME.”
Again he says,
                  “REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE.” And again…“ (Romans 15.8-10)   He says this odd phrase, but is an exact parallel to our text in Exodus and Leviticus today:
“I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Messiah Yeshua to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 15.15-16)
I say it’s odd because this is the only time in the Newer Testament that the word priest is used in verb form, just like we see in Torah today. And what we are as the Body of Messiah, here at CBM, and at Faith Lutheran last night in Sugar Land and at Second Baptist and at… you name it, wherever the Gospel of Messiah is proclaimed, we are to function as priests, if you will all of us together, reaching a lost world, bringing them to God and bringing God to them. We together are a witness and a holy one at that, of the Holy God.
We in the messianic community have a responsibility to serve as that royal priesthood, that holy nation, to our own people. And if you are Jewish and here today (or reading or listening online) I urge you to hear these words, to consider Yeshua, our Great High Priest, who alone went into the Heavenly Tabernacle, made without hands, and secured our eternal kipporah, our eternal forgiveness and atonement. Consider and receive Him as Savior and Lord; He is our Messiah and the One who lives to intercede, and to cry out on our behalf. Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Then when you also join Him, and believe Yeshua died for your sins and rose from the dead for us all, then you can join us and make a clear proclamation to the world of God’s eternal message of hope and joy, of forgiveness and salvation.
That’s why I’m here today. To help you all see the priesthood of all believers, that is, that we all together, are a priesthood to the world, and to ask you to continue to pray for our work in Sydney, Australia and around the world. Quick story:  Last week one of our women was sharing at a church in Idaho, like I am out in Texas. Melissa met Ruth, whose Christian neighbour brought to hear another Jew speak about Messiah.  Long story short, Ruth prayed with Melissa that morning to believe and confess Yeshua as Messiah and Lord. Melissa called her dad on the phone, who also is a believer, and said, “I have someone here who wants to tell you something.” That’s in house buzz words for “I just prayed with a person, and they are going to tell you about it.” Sure enough Stewart answered the phone, and heard Ruth tell him that she had just accepted Yeshua as Messiah. How great is that? It’s even better… Stewart is also a Jews for Jesus missionary and was actually on the pulpit at the time of the phone call. And Ruth shared using the speakerphone with the entire congregation that she had just gotten saved. Spontaneous applause broke out as you can imagine. I love that story. I have many others I want to tell you, but I’ll let the newsletter do that. Would you please fill out the white card you received on entry, the one with my picture on it, tear the stub off, and begin to fill out the larger card. I won’t think it rude for you to write while I finish speaking. Please fill out the card completely, especially your email, so we can tell you stories quickly and you can pass them on via forward to many like this one.
If you are giving financially to Jews for Jesus today, please put the amount on the front of the card when you fill it out so we can receipt and thank you. I really appreciate that.
I have a resource table as usual up the back, and really want you to get the book entitled, “What the rabbis know about the Messiah” by Rachmiel Frydland, of blessed memory, The cover is on the screen just now. We ran out of them on this trip, but if you want one, just pay for it up the back, along with any other book, like my testimony, or the calendar, music you want, and without shipping charge, we will get it to you right away. I loved Rachmiel, a holocaust survivor, a Yeshiva bachur, and a holy messianic mensch. He died in 1984 in Ohio. His book is a classic and you have to have it in your library, for sure.
By the way I also have a credit card machine now, so you can use your card, a check, or cash to pay for things.
Rabbi Richard, thank you for your friendship in Messiah for over 30 years. Patsy, keep looking after the man; he turned 69 on Wednesday, which is also my wife’s birthday but she is much younger. He is a golden friend and a holy representative of Messiah’s body in Houston to a world that so desperately needs to see Yeshua.
Rabbi Ron and all the rest of the staff, all the volunteers who make this place such a good place I thank you as well.  To everyone, be His priests to the world that so needs to know Him. Keep doing what makes Yeshua happy; have a blessed Pesach next week, remembering the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and have a Shabbat shalom as well today.

18 March 2015

Final debate... listen to the spin

The Presbyterians in the US, according to the story in the New York Times, gave final approval to the change of the definition of marriage to include same sex (Gay and Lesbian) couples. The language of the first line is telling: "After three decades of debate over its stance on homosexuality, members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted on Tuesday to change" In other words the debate is now officially over. No one can vote again; no one can bring up the subject again; no one can debate again. Isn't that what their language indicates?

If that be so, then the debate was really a 'wear down' by one side over against the other, the more traditional side.

"“Finally, the church in its constitutional documents fully recognizes that the love of gays and lesbian couples is worth celebrating in the faith community,” said the Rev. Brian D. Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, which advocates gay inclusion in the church. “There is still disagreement, and I don’t mean to minimize that, but I think we are learning that we can disagree and still be church together.”

In other words, the debate is over, and although there is still disagreement, the Rev Ellison is declaring the conversation over; the debate is closed. The vote is now final.  The genie is really out of the bottle. And it's not going back inside.

Is that the way debate works? Is that the way denominations face hurdles of discord? I think the Presbyterians and others have much to consider in the decade ahead. But first, they who were the mainline church for many will now become more of a sidelined organization. Although they will officially welcome homosexuals, their numbers will officially plummet and they will become 'just another' formerly glorious place of God's working. Shame.

Spin matters. Final conversation will yet to be had. Watch this space.

 A version of this article appears in print on March 18, 2015, on page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: Largest Presbyterian Denomination Gives Final Approval for Same-Sex Marriage.

The NYTimes article is here

15 March 2015

The Last Days...according to Jesus (Luke 17.20-37)

--> A sermon by Bob Mendelsohn Given at Cronulla (Sydney) Anglican Church
15 March 2015
Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
And He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, ‘Look there! Look here!’ Do not go away, and do not run after them. For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back.
Remember Lot’s wife.
Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.”
And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.” 

Thank you to Pastor Rich, for inviting me today and for assigning me this text from Luke 17. Seems you have been going through this book of the Bible in a series, and I'm glad to fit in today with a message I call "The Last Days according to Jesus." 

Who will win the election Saturday week? Who will win the Cricket World Cup? Will the Sharks have a go at the top of the table in League this year? No matter how many tealeaves you use, no matter how many mediums you consult, the content of today’s lesson and today’s text appears to highlight Jesus’ general antipathy toward attempts to engage in apocalyptic timetabling. Even so, today’s text will also clearly show both drama and destruction at the real apocalypse.
This week into our bookshop in Bondi Junction a man came who is a real believer. But he spent a significant time trying to convince me that since the Third Temple was yet to be rebuilt, that all Jews were not believing in Jesus, that a particular seal in Revelation or a symbolic event in the prophet Daniel had not happened…since all these cataclysmic events were yet future, that obviously Jesus was not set to return today. He had time; others still had time; there was plenty of time to get ready for the return of the Messiah.
It’s exactly that evaluation that prompted Yeshua to speak all these red-letter words in today’s text. No, He alleged, you don’t have time. No, when you think that everything is as it was and is as it will be, that’s when you need to look up. The end is in view. Your end is in view. The Kingdom is coming. The Bible says the end will come suddenly, like lightning, and unmistakably, like lightning.
Then there is another group of people who look at the future. These are they who watch the newspaper in one hand and read the Bible in the other hand and will tell you that ISIS is prophesied in that Bible passage, and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 was predicted in another passage. They aver that the world is ending today or maybe tonight, and they have signs to prove it. Earthquakes and wars and rumors of wars. Tsunamis and volcanic blasts, the cyclone in Port Vila, Vanuatu, even sycamore trees in New York City. Jesus is coming back today at 2:30 pm.  They can prove it. But Jesus also has something to say to those people.
Look at verse 20: The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed.
The words here point to the process of trying to work out, by means of almost scientific observations, what is happening in connection with the coming of the kingdom of God, whether these observations take the form of looking for supernatural signs like blood moons or falling Temples, people who project truths from the present political situation, looking at the entrails of animals, examining the configuration of the stars, or some other form. One cannot discern when the kingdom of God will come by prognostication on the basis of the observation of raw data.
So Jesus negates both groups of sign observers, those who think it’s observable and those who think it will happen but not yet. Both evaluate end-times on the basis of signs. But there are two other groups we should mention. Give me a moment.
I remember the fabled story of the Italian peasant who looked up one day and saw Jesus returning in the clouds. He ran to the neighborhood parish and told the priest, “Look up, Father, Jesus is a-coming.” Sure enough the parish priest looked up and saw what the peasant told him, and they ran to the priest’s car, drove to the big city and told the bishop. “Look up, your excellency; Jesus is a-coming!” The bishop saw what they other saw, and they together went to the bishop’s car and drove straight to Rome. There they bypassed formalities and demanded an audience with the pope. The three men made it into the Vatican and into the pope’s chambers. “Holy Father, look up, Jesus is a-coming!” The men stood still as the pope ran to the window overlooking St Peter’s square, checked overhead and ran back into his office. They watched as he feverishly began writing note after letter after note. Finally, the bishop gathered the courage and said, “Holy Father, excuse me, what are you doing?” The pope looked up hurriedly and said, “Jesus is a-coming, look-a-busy!”
There are two other groups of people, with equally wrong responses to knowing the reality of the return of the Messiah: 1) you either become religious or 2) you dismiss the idea altogether. Those are both in view as well in our passage and in our 21st century world in Cronulla, in the Shire, in Sydney, and beyond. If Jesus is coming back, and you want to ‘be ready’ then religion seems to fill the bill for some, as is evidenced in the pope story of being busy. On the other hand, if Jesus is coming back and you don’t really care about Him, His Kingdom, or all that means, then you will carry on life as you know it, with its commensurate political considerations, footy contests, pub crawling, and work-a-day worldviews. Neither of those are what Jesus recommends.
Whatever your response to the reality of the parousia, the appearing again of the Lord Jesus, several things are clear.
1)            You will not know the day or the time, until it happens.
2)            You will not be able to withstand its consequences.
3)            You cannot affect its timing. It will be sudden.
4)            Your fate is already determined by your professions of faith

Today is the Ides of March, the day when Julius Caesar was killed in Rome around 40 BC. According to Plutarch, a seer had warned Caesar about the day and Julius dismissed the warning. When Caesar saw the seer approaching, Caesar shouted after him, “The Ides of March have come” implying that the seer’s words did not come to pass. The seer replied, “But they are not gone,” implying that the day was not over. Sure enough, moments later Caesar was stabbed to death. Dismissing the reality of warnings is not a good thing to do, whether it’s a red light on your car’s dashboard or a leaky faucet in the basement of the parish hall. The writer of Hebrews said, “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.” (12.25)
Warnings have their place, not for us to be academic about the timing of the warnings, but to listen and learn and change according to the measure of the warning. When a label on a box of cereal indicates that some peanuts are included, an anaphylaxic person, one with a peanut allergy, must take notice. If he doesn’t, it might spell death to him.
So Yeshua tells us in this passage that the end / beginning will be like two other eras in biblical and world history-- the time of Noah and the time of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah. In each narrative, a person warns the planet about impending doom, people dismiss it as nonsense, go about their ordinary life as if nothing will ever change, and God sends judgment to the place, causing havoc, flood, fire, and destruction. Yeshua is teaching that if we also similarly dismiss the warnings He is giving us from heaven, then we have no confidence in being part of the Kingdom or community of God.
And God’s judgment comes with precision, so that one is taken and another left even though they handle similar trades or situations. The judgment of God is not about trades or economics; it’s about our relationship with the Almighty.
One more thing about the Kingdom, Jesus says, “it’s in the midst of you.” (17.21) It’s right there, and some of you will see it, and some will miss it. But whether you think it’s coming in 2018 or when the Sharks win the Premiership or if you think cataclysmic events have to take place, a Temple has to fall and rise, or Rome or ISIS has to be dismantled, the reality is that while we argue about futures, the King of the Kingdom is right there, and if we are in relationship to Him, the Kingdom has come. OF course, there will be a future and comprehensive, instantaneous and cataclysmic new world, but for now, while you wait for it, the King is already here. Submit to Him and be brought near to the Government of God. God’s realm is here. God’s son is here. God is here!
Theologically, we learn the phrase, “Now and not yet.” That means that the Kingdom is now, present in Yeshua, and not yet, but is coming soon, with clarity and precision, with power and drama, and when God fully establishes His authority and rule on the earth, no one will withstand it. That day is certainly coming. This day however, you can join the community of faith. There is a ‘now’ for you who are listening; there will be a ‘then’ as well. Don’t wait until ‘then’ to make the choices you should make ‘now’ in following Messiah.
Don’t look-a-busy.
Don’t dismiss this.
Jesus really is returning, and as dramatic as the flood of Noah and its commensurate destruction, as dramatic as the fire-and-brimstone of Sodom and Gomorrah and its commensurate destruction, even to Lot’s longing-to-return wife, so will the drama and destruction be at the return of Jesus. Be ready, choose well. Religion won’t cut it; dismissal won’t make it go away.
The question to you today is “What will you do with Jesus?”

28 February 2015

Sit here... until...a study in session

Some Bible passages that triggered my contemplating, sitting, and writing today:

1) The Psalmist said, "Sit here at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." (Psalm 110.1)

2) The Talmud (Berachot 32b) cites another famous verse from Bible: Ashrei yoshvei veiteikha od yehalalukha selah Happy are those who sit in Your house; they will always be praising You! (Psalm 84:5) to teach the lesson that a person should (ideally) arrive at shul somewhat before the starting time to meditate a little prior to prayer (“sit in Your house”); only then should they “praise You”. 

3) Yet another verse teaches that lingering a little after the service is over (to schmooze a little with the One Above not the guy alongside!) is also desirable.  “Surely the righteous will give thanks to Your name; the upright will sit in Your presence” (140:14).  Having “given thanks” in the closing prayers of the service, it is good to “sit” a little once again in communion with the Divine.

4) “He does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous; but with kings on the throne; He has seated them forever, and they are exalted. (Job 36.7) 

5) "which God brought about in Messiah, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places."(Ephesians 1.20)

So this idea of sitting made me sit and ponder today what God might be saying to me through all this.  I remember the creeds of the historic church which mention that Yeshua died, rose again, "and is seated at the right hand" of the Eternal One. What's the big deal with sitting anyway?

In fact, Paul wrote the believers in Ephesus that God actually "raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Messiah Jesus" (2.6).  He includes within the letter to the Colossians "if you have been raised up with Messiah, keep seeking the things above, where Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God." (3.1)

But probably the most significant thing about session is the idea in the book of Hebrews, "And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet." (10.11-13) 

I took this photo of Carlos Moya in a match in Sydney against the American James Blake. It was an amazing point, long, rallies, lobs, smashes, returns, with great energy. Moya finished the point, sat down in exhaustion, in the chair at the back of the court and gave his racquet to a ball boy. He was 'done.' Perhaps that carries the meaning most exactly of the Hebrews passage, and session itself.

Now I mean no disrespect to Messiah, but the idea of standing in priestly duty means the duty is still ongoing. The session implies the work is done! No wonder the notion of 'better' is prevalent in Hebrews. What our great high priest Messiah Yeshua has done is better than the priesthood of the Aaronides. They continue (at the time of the writing of the book) to serve and offer sacrifices. He has sat down, because his work is finished. Hallelujah!

Now Yeshua is seated. And waiting. The Father will make all enemies to be a footstool for Messiah. Until that day comes, we work, we serve, we stand in the gap. Then we will sit, too. With him in heavenly places. And when He appears, we will be like Him. What a day of rejoicing that will be.

Enthronement. One website I read said, " his enthronement gives warrant to our faith. He is the One alone who has authority to save." He died, He rose, He ascended and is seated. Thanks be to God for His power to save. Amen?

19 February 2015

Brews for Jesus

We've been waiting for this for months and really for years. And this morning we opened. At this point we are only going to be open during peak hours in the morning 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. The barista is from Ethiopia which is where coffee was first "invented." So it's appropriate. We love her work and you will really enjoy meeting her. Her name is Lydia.

Monday to Friday we open.
And it's located at the Jews for Jesus Books and Gifts shop. Shop 1/ 257 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction.
The shop, of course, is open much longer hours, but the coffee (and tea and hot chocolate) bar is only open short hours.

If you are in the neighbourhood, please pop in. And for $2.50 you can't beat the deal!

Starting tomorrow we will also have little muffins and friands and banana bread. Each only $2.50. So for a breakfast, on the run, pop in.