25 May 2015


What do you think when you read the acronym in a text message "tbh?" In the world of SMS coverage, "to be honest" seems a simple jargon phrase that says, "I'm telling you the truth." Of course, that kind of phrase makes me wonder about all the other phrases and other statements the person with whom I'm communicating. Were they being honest earlier? Will they continue to be honest?

On TV, the interviewer kept the slogan "Can I be honest with you?" when the Hollywood star is being challenged to tell about the latest movie blockbuster. What is the interviewer to respond? Please, be honest with me. Of course, but were you being honest earlier or will you continue to tell me the truth?

My mother used to inquire into my disclosures, when I was a young man, even a teen. She heard me tell her about my (lack of) homework or about a person with whom I had a disagreement, and she would ask, "Honest engine?" (Of course it might have been more "Honest injun?" but I have to worry about Native American reaction today.) Her inquiry had to do with a 2nd-level verification, almost like a captcha code.

Some today use the phrase, "Are you kidding me?" for such verification in personal conversation. Others would simply take the comment on board with "Wow" or "That's amazing!"

What about you? When you speak, or text, or write... do you need to say "I'm telling you the truth" or "TBH?"

I'm glad when God wanted to speak, long ago, or today to my heart, He simply spoke. He simply speaks. He calls us to know Him. And His Word is true. And truth. And reliable, verifiable, trustworthy. Yeshua said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." He said, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Freedom. Sounds good. Honestly.

11 May 2015

The Spirit and the Word bring life: A Pentecost message

A sermon by Bob Mendelsohn
Given at Servants of Jesus
10 May 2015
To watch the video check Video

            Shalom to all my friends here at Servants of Jesus, to your leadership, to Simon,  to Joseph and Julie especially, both for this kind invitation to return to speak to you here at the community today, and for your love and friendship over the last 16 years or so… my tenure in Australia. I moved here to Sydney in 1998 from New York and may I say, your community has been continually supportive of our work and our life …for that I’m very grateful.

Today I’m going to speak about the Jewish holiday of Pentecost, and we will look at the history of the holiday and its impact in our lives as 21st Century people.
Outside Kathmandu, Nepal was rocked with a 7.9 magnitude earthquake on 24 April, leaving over 6,000 dead and in villages 50 miles from the capital, nothing remains. The global response reminded me of Christchurch in February 2011 and of the deep human commitment, what I call the will to live. Devastation. Earthquake. And tremors that will continue for months. That quake in Christchurch was the most expensive natural disaster, in our sense of history, in New Zealand at 15 billion dollars. In total, 183 people were killed in the earthquake, making the earthquake the second-deadliest natural disaster recorded in New Zealand (after the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake), and fourth-deadliest disaster of any kind recorded in New Zealand.
Do you remember that only weeks later we saw the same thing in Fukishima Japan. Earthquake and tsunami. The nuclear reactor is still in danger some say. The people of Tokyo are only 170 kilometres south and often worried of the situation.
I don’t have to remind us here in Australia of the devastating floods in our state in April, and in Queensland a couple years ago. The floods forced the evacuation of thousands of people from towns and cities. At least seventy towns and over 200,000 people were affected. Damage initially was estimated at around 1billion. The estimated reduction in Australia's GDP is about A$30 billion. Three-quarters of the state of Queensland was declared a disaster zone.
For most of us, the will to live is a driving force, keeping and getting life, almost whatever the cost. That’s a prime driver for humanity and for us as humans, amen?
In a fortnight in Bondi and in Jerusalem and in New York City Jews will celebrate the Jewish holiday of Pentecost and eat blintzes and cottage cheese. They will stay up all night reading and praying and learning Bible, including the Book of Ruth.
What is their motivation and what can we learn from their busy-ness and their thinking? And what does God have to say to us as 21st century people about what gives us life?
Images of Mount Sinai
For that, we have to return 3,500 years to the point in Jewish and really world history, where God gave the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) to mankind, specifically to the Jews, then that the Jews might pass on the information to the rest of humanity. Pentecost is called the ‘Time of the Giving of the Torah.” Why ‘giving’ and not ‘receiving?’ Because every time we listen to the Bible read here at church or in our private devotions, on Christian radio, or wherever, we ‘receive’ the Bible’s truths. One time, God gave it, but each time we can receive it again.
The scene in Sinai was raucous to say the least. The book of Exodus unveils the scene as one of chaos. What’s there? Look, there  is fire and wind and a voice. Ezekiel 1 is read on Shavuot and it’s designed to link with and show us the exaggerated activity of a storm, a wild storm, uncharacteristic storms of high energy and God’s voice coming from within it.
Ezekiel says, “And as I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire.”(Ezek. 1.4)
Later on in the Bible, the writer of Hebrews shows us even more of that scene and contrasts it with our Mt of Revelation. Listen to this quote from Hebrews chapter 12. “For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command,  “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said,  “I am full of fear and trembling.”
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. … For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying,  “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven… Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb 12.18-29)
What a scene of awe and fear. This is stuff Spielberg would love to create. This is massive cyclone like we saw thundering across the plains in the US this year, even in my  “state of origin,” Missouri, where the tornadoes came through and many died.
The scene is described in Exodus chapter 19 as follows: “And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And Mount Sinai was altogether on a Smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in Fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long (Tekiah Gedolah), and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake and God answered him by a voice. And the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.” (Exodus 19)       You get it.
With all of Israel standing, quaking, and basically traumatized after 400 years of slavery, terror at the Red Sea, a narrow escape, and a month and a half of wandering in the wilderness, building the Golden Calf and thinking it’s all lost, then they saw the lightning and thunder and great wind, and wondered if it was all over. I would have been afraid, and I imagine I’m not alone in this auditorium.
Fear was on them. Moses returned and brought 2 tablets of stone. On them were 10 phrases. And God used those 10 commandments to define a constitution for the former slaves.
Listen, fire shakes things up. Earthquakes shake things up.  We all need a good shake up now and then, don’t we? I even heard some news presenter reviewing why the tornadoes happen in the US…he refered to Global Warming.
I believe that Sinai was one of the first places of Global Warming ever recorded. And God was heating things up for Israel and on Israel that we as Jews might take a renewed, invigorated, ‘on fire’ religion and go to the nations.
The Spirit came on the church as a fire; he came onto Jesus as a dove. Jesus needed no cleansing;  we are desperate for it.

Go to the Nations with God’s Tongue
                The story is told about who got offered the Torah. “God offered the Word to 70 nations, but each said no. He came to the Jewish people and offered us the Torah. Moses said, “How much for the 5 commandments?” God said, ‘they are free.” Moses replied, “I’ll take 10.” By the way, I can say that joke; I get worried if a Gentile does.
 Luke tells us at the beginning of Acts 2 that there were people from every nation. This would reflect the 70 nations believed to exist. And sometimes they were called 70 tongues, since a nation usually is defined not by geographic borders, but by its language.

70 nations were offered the Torah; they refused. But as a result of Pentecost, those same 70 nations will hear the Gospel.

It is significant to note that a Jewish commentary on Exodus, recalling chapter 10 of Genesis, which sketches a map of the 70 nations which were then thought to comprise humanity as a whole, leads them back to Sinai to hear the word of God:  "At Sinai the Lord's voice was divided into 70 languages, so that all the nations could understand" (Exodus Rabbah 5, 9). So too in Luke’s description of Pentecost, the Word of God is addressed to humanity through the Apostles, in order to proclaim "the mighty works of God" (Acts 2:11) to all peoples even with their differences. A clear overcoming not only of national differences, but of the Tower of Babel problem resident on humanity, the inability to speak at peace with one another.
You might think I have an acccent, but I’ve lived and worked in Sydney for 17 years having moved from New York City. And four years ago I became an Aussie citizen. So this is now officially an Australian accent.
A few years ago I was in Melbourne, and upon arrival at the airport I rang a Jewish woman I’d met on the phone a year before. She is a Mendelsohn and when our team was cold calling Jewish surnames, I rang her and dozens of others. She seemed interested and I marked her name as such on our computer. So on arrival I wanted to meet up with her. She was open and had a friend, Alice, come by from next door. Alice is a Baptist, and wanted to know how Jews, Jesus and Jews for Jesus went together.
Now my new Jewish contact is originally from Scotland, and although I’ve traveled the world, I had a very difficult time understanding her accent. I was recently in Scotland and this trouble with understanding Scottish people diminished, but I’m talking about a story from a few years back. Sure, her words were English words, but they were foreign sounding to me. It was her dialect (a Greek word meaning ‘tongue’ and used in Acts 2 of what the disciples received that day) that threw me off.
Long story short, Jane prayed with me to accept Jesus that afternoon.  She is reading her Bible now and Alice is helping her. She is being looked after by a church which meets just around the corner from their flats. God is good!
What the Tower of Babel evidences, the inability of people to speak with each other, Pentecost overcomes as people from 70 nations can hear the same words in their own language and respond in faith, amen?
Tongues divided the world in Babel; tongues unite the world in the Holy Spirit’s anointing in Pentecost.
And remember what the 120 did when they received the Holy Spirit that Pentecost day? They went downstairs and outside and preached so that the 3,000 could find eternal life. We hear the Gospel; we respond and believe and then, we go to preach it.
What is in our hearts comes out our mouths. Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.“ (Matthew 12.34) In fact 15 times in the Newer Testament, the phrase is used of people being “filled (or baptized) with the Spirit” and each time what follows is speaking. If you believe in Jesus and have a relationship with him you will speak about him to others. And they will hear and learn and some will come to faith in Jesus.

Conversion and Pentecost

One point to mention about this holiday is its uniqueness in relation to sin. At every Jewish festival the Torah informs us that one has to bring a sin offering. Only on the festival of Shavuot is the word 'sin' not mentioned. Why? “For on the festival of Shavuot, the day of the receiving of the Torah, all Jews are like the convert "newborn", and so free of all sin.” (R Levi Yitschak of Berditchev)
What R Levi Yitschak means and what we mean may be different. Let’s be clear. We all need to be cleansed of sin. We all need shaking up. And in Pentecost we have God calling us to listen, to hear his words in whatever languages, and to be born from above. He wants to fulfill His words of Jeremiah 31. There God predicts through the ancient prophet,
 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD,  “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,  “declares the LORD.  “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD,  “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
 “And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying,  ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD,  “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (31.31-34)
This new covenant is God’s promise. This new covenant was enacted on Passover,  7 weeks before Pentecost when Yeshua took up the 3rrd cup during the seder and initiated it. And in his dying and rising from the dead, we can all be forgiven of our sins, we can all be converted, we can all know God. It’s a new covenant, not like the covenant of Moses (the Old covenant). This is conversion in the best sense of the word.
And why do we read the Book of Ruth? The rabbis say we read Ruth because King David, her descendant, died on Shavuot and because Ruth was a convert and at Sinai we were like converts.  God transformed us from ordinary people to a special nation.
And why do we eat dairy products? In exilic Judaism the word of God is likened to “milk and honey” and we eat to remind ourselves of the sweetness and refreshment found in the Word of God.

Conversion brings life, not death

In Exodus 32 we read of the return of Moses with the Two Tablets of the Law. And the Jewish populace was behaving riotously and the brother of Moses, Aaron, lied about how the Golden Calf incident happened. He said, “I put the gold in and look what came out!” Moses was angry and invited the people to join him in opposition to the rioting. The sons of Levi did (Moses’ tribe too) and that day the text tells us,  “So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day.” (Exodus 32.28)
Now if you know much about Bible, you know the precision of biblical numbers is a worthy study itself. For instance, exactly how many men came out of Egypt from each family and each tribe? No round numbers here; no approximations. Even after the Resurrection, Peter goes fishing and catches 153 fish. (John 21.11)
So it’s very surprising to read the phrase “about 3,000 men” in Exodus. Is it random? Not at all.
Acts chapter two, which I encourage you to read when you get home today, shows us that as a result of the preaching of Peter, Jewish people interrupted his sermon and said, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2.37) and Peter told them to repent and get baptized and get filled with the Holy Spirit, for the ‘promise is for you, and your children, and all who are far off” (This means the Jews, the Jewish families, and Gentiles). And who responded?  “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2.41)
No coincidence here. What brought death in Moses’ day brought life in Peter’s day. And to the exact number of people.
And Paul made a point of this in 2 Corinthians 3.
Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?” (3.5-8)
So the Spirit brings life and the Law brings death. But let’s be too simple here. What we mean by Spirit always contains Scripture. What we mean by Law contains more than Scripture. Here’s what I mean.
Paul’s use of the term, The Law may better for us be described as a checklist system, with requirements, and guilt for failure and pride for satisfaction. It starts in the Scripture, but goes past its intent. The Spirit (as Paul used the term) is God’s word enabled in our lives. It’s the requirements of the Law put into our hearts of flesh. (Jer. 31).
Spirit without the Word is Emotionalism; Word without Spirit is legalism.
But together, they are what Paul calls “Spirit” and we could say “The Spirit and the Word bring Life.” Jesus said “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” (John 6.63)
That’s it…that’s how we win in this transitory life. We trust the Spirit and God’s Words, they bring us life.  Fukishima plant technicians and US tornado survivors, and Nepalese earthquake survivors all share victories of still breathing, but what you and I can count on is that those who trust Jesus and are anointed with his fire and word, enter into life and live it to the fullest.
About 3000 folks can live; 5,000 the next day (Acts 4) and who knows how many in Sydney or Jerusalem or around Australia will hear God’s word and live, even today?
Pentecost is not Passover. On Passover we are forgiven. On Pentecost we are empowered to proclaim the Gospel. Let’s be out sharing this message. Let’s go out and tell.

09 May 2015

Hannah, her sisters, Woody Allen and me

The year was around 1985. The scene was the Upper West Side in New York City. Specifically it was inside Leo's Barbershop on 73rd and Amsterdam. About 11 a.m. on a weekday. I was inside the shop and Leo was making me look decent. His shop was unusually empty. I was the only customer in the shop. It was eerie. Like most in his trade, he depended on a steady flow of customers to pay the bills and get ahead. He had been a barber for decades, in NYC mostly, but was originally from Italy. So that I was the only one inside with him on a normal workday seemed odd. I asked him about the reason for such.

He told me that Mr Woody Allen had hired the shop from midday and that I was the last customer of the day. Seemed that Woody had hired out the shop for a previous movie he made, and that he and Leo had 'a relationship' of sorts. I did note a photo of Woody on the wall behind me. And if Woody were going to take the whole place, I wondered what movie it might be. Leo didn't know.

A few moments later, almost on cue, two men entered dismissing the "Closed" sign on the door. It was Woody and an offsider, no doubt. Wow, here was a movie legend, producer, director, writer, and here I was getting my haircut under the cape, and under the efficient tarsorial wizardry of Leo. I really wanted to speak with him. I was, after all, wearing a "Jews for Jesus" tshirt like this one pictured.  And Woody is a famous Jewish man, and dealt with stories of angst and the search for meaning and such. But he was in a class way above mine...

So I let it go. He was busy anyway, discussing so many things with his offsider. Leo finished my haircut and he took the hair-capturing cape off me. I arose from the barber chair. And Woody looked at me, or rather my shirt. He looked away. Then he did a double-take, looking back at the shirt. And that's when I should have said something. But I didn't. I'm sorry to this day that I didn't. Regrets, I have a few.

I left and didn't think about this episode particularly again for months. Then the next Woody Allen movie came out entitled, "Hannah and her sisters."  (1986) It was a typical Allen film with a great cast (Mia Farrow, Dianne Weist, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Michael Caine, Barbara Hershey, Richard Jenkins, Carrie Fisher...) and the problems of life and the meaning of life. The Allen character in the movie is (mis)diagnosed with a brain tumor and he begins seriously even investigating religion and spirituality. He is, of course, a Jewish man in the role he plays, and his search for meaning actually takes him to the Catholic church and he seeks to convert. The scenes that follow are comic, real, disclosing and helpful for anyone who wants to know what Jewish people are thinking in this consideration of conversion.

After Woody meets with a priest, we see Woody on the Upper West Side. He goes inside a book shop and buys some items. That book shop was actually Leo's barbershop! The production crew changed things around and only used the front of the shop. Perhaps the inside shots were on the cutting room floor. I never knew. So the Woody character named Mickey, returns to his home and unpacks the conversion ware. What is inside the brown paper bag? What did Mickey buy at the Catholic book shop? A Bible, of course. And a crucifix (The Catholic version with Jesus still affixed to the cross). A loaf of white bread. A jar of mayonnaise.

No wonder Woody did a double-take on that barbershop day. His film character Mickey was going to convert to Jesus and here I was inside the shop where it would happen wearing a shirt .... well, you get it.

It's not too late for the real Woody Allen to write me. I promise not to be shy and avoid his email.
I promise to answer his questions, if they persist or linger at all.

And I promise to answer yours as well. Like why the white bread and mayonnaise? Like why search for meaning and give up before you find it? Ask, you just might get an answer that works.

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


(To watch this on video, go to this website: VIMEO of Bob )

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.