A Yom Kippur Message:
God gave me opportunity to meet up with people of all kinds in Perth while I was out there the last week. Their responses helped frame what I’m about to tell you. I hope you see what God said in these texts above and what others are saying and note the stark contrast, or the similarities, and that you will appropriate all that the Almighty has for us on this most sacred night.
I will use first names, but not real names. Each person and each conversation however really happened. And if you wonder how I remember the details so clearly and specifically enough to use quotation marks in this letter, then you should know I took massive notes and am quoting from several emails of follow up that ensued.
Brianna is a 40-something Jewish woman who grew up in Mt Lawley, the definitive Jewish area of town, and still lives there with her partner. She is the daughter of Israeli-born parents and does advertising work for radio. We encountered each other within two hours of my arrival in town. She was awaiting her partner outside the ballet, and I was there to take photographs since it was near my hotel. I spoke with her and immediately we got into a deep conversation about God, Rosh Hashanah, and eternity. I was wearing my “Jews for Jesus” badge as I often do. Brianna’s arguments were secular and well conceived. She and I have since emailed each other about 4 times.
Her arguments against what I affirm, that God is in the business of loving humanity and restoring us, were plausible. She based them on her own thinking, to be fair, and not on a book or on a set of other people’s constructs. I appreciated her desire to plod through the information. But she is staunch.
Moses said, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” The purpose of Torah is so clearly laid out here it’s hard for anyone to miss it. But Brianna has missed it. She thinks Judaism is a good and worthy system, but not for her. She thinks God is the invention of some political leaders from long ago who wanted to dominate the masses. Of course, they were men, and powerful men, like Moses, she avers.
That said, the Bible’s avowed purpose is not to dominate and control people, but rather so that we may not sin. It’s so that the people will have self-control, and fear God, rather than fearing people.
Our Sinai verse also says that the purpose of Torah is so that the fear of God may be in us. I would say this is in contrast to the fear of man. Fear of man is a biblical phrase that carries with it the idea of worry about what others think, a desire to be men-pleasers, The very fact that we were (and this is often the case with Jewish believers in Jesus) arguing with mainline Jewish people indicates that our position is not one that leans on the fear or approval of men, but rather on the fear of God.
Shlomo is originally from Sydney and was giving a lecture which I attended during my week there in Perth. He is a respected member of the Jewish community and was speaking about the new year and went off on a tangent during his talk. The tangent related to the mosque in New York City at Ground Zero, which is not a mosque at all, but that nomenclature sells well for the opposition. Especially as Shlomo was doing, he was deriding it. He referenced the former pope, John Paul II, who disallowed the Carmelite nuns from building a prayer chapel at Auschwitz. The Ground Zero mosque, Shlomo insisted would be wrong.
But my sticking point with Shlomo was what he said about Germans in the war. “We know that all Christians were not Nazis [in WWII,] but we know that all Nazis were Christians.” Then he continued with similar, albeit misguided conclusions about Muslims and terrorists.
I approached Shlomo after the meeting and introduced myself. I told him that I appreciated some of his comments, “and you don’t know me from a bar of soap, so you can disregard this if you want, but not all Nazis were Christians.”
His response surprised me. He said that the Anglican Archbishop of York had come to Perth and spoken and Shlomo was in the gathering. He heard the Brit say, “We know that Adolph Hitler was a Christian because he was baptized.” Now this made sense. Peoplehood for Shlomo was defined by what parents did to the German madman; this is traditionally the way of entry for Catholics and Lutherans and Anglicans. People baptized are considered members of the church. They do not need to choose to be members. It’s rather like being Jewish. A little Jewish baby is born, and circumcised and voilá, he is Jewish.
There are, however, millions-- hundreds of millions-- of people in the world who would disagree with the archbishop and Shlomo. Christianity is not what others do to them with baptism or taking one to church. Christianity is a choice by an individual person to follow the Saviour. It is about Y’shua--the Jewish messiah, foretold by Jewish prophets in the Jewish Scriptures. It’s about a Jew. It’s not anti-Semitic; it’s definitively Jewish.
To argue that the Holocaust was a Christian enterprise is to defame Christianity at every level. And it’s also historically inaccurate. The SS were not the friends of the church; in fact into each town they went as front men for the Third Reich, they insisted on ruining the church first. Hitler despised the church. He was no Christian.
After a few back and forth comments, I think Shlomo understood and actually agreed with me. Too good.
Larry lives here in Sydney and we spoke on the phone and have emailed a bit since. He may be here tonight. We have not yet met in person. So Larry, if you are here, Shabbat shalom and shana tovah.
He actually found my mobile number through Telstra and has been doing research about the issue of Jesus and Jewish people for quite a while. I know it’s personal and individual, not from information learned in classes. He’s a good student, though. His major objection to the Gospel of Y’shua is simply the suffering of the Jewish people. Larry has read and sees the rabbinical understanding of the two messiahs. And in so many ways, he is already convinced that Jesus is that promised messiah. Larry actually quoted a Greek Orthodox mystic who said, “the transcendent became imminent.” And that is a dramatic picture, albeit philosophical, about the God of the universe becoming man and dwelling among us. That statement makes clear for many of us in the room tonight, the love of God in Y’shua. God cared enough about us to come and dwell with us.
And yet, for Larry, the question remains, “But why would God be so cruel to punish us? Why would the Almighty allow suffering for his own people?” Then Larry sent me a YouTube of a woman disavowing the idea of hell and Larry told me he mostly agreed with it.
But God sent Torah to us so that the fear of Him would be in us. That means something more than what I’ve told you, dear Bondi saints. It means to worry if you are doing wrong. It means God, the Righteous Judge, wants you to live right and if you don’t, or won’t, then there are consequences. Maybe we should define fear of man as ‘knowing God is with you at all times.’ When you do well, He will be smiling and when you do evil in His sight, there will be punishment.
Imagine heaven having such notables as Adolph Hitler and Torquemada and other perpetrators of evil. I am glad for the justice of God, although usually only for other people. But Larry, suffering is the plight of all people, not only Jewish people. Suffering happens to be our reality from the earliest of our memories. God’s original plan in the Garden of Eden was to keep humanity in His care and love and to keep us there. Many in this gathering tonight will know, it was we who broke that relationship. How we return is the key in this whole conversation tonight.
For some, returning is summed up in doing teshuva, that is, a system of works and charity and devotion and prayers and activities by the which we think we are pleasing God. It may involve serious study or changing out our kitchenware to allow for two sets of dishes. However you define it, it’s often the religious activities of a Jewish person who hopes to gain or curry the favor of God as a result. Of course it will involved fasting on Yom Kippur and beating our breast to demonstrate our sincerity.
In contrast, some like Brianna will insist that the issue is not religious activity at all, but serious philosophical amendment. Since, as she avers, there is no personal God, there is no need to impress Him, but there is a need to rethink who we are, and decide to do better. Here’s what she said, “as previously predicted, i am indeed unenlightened. i think it's to do with the fact that i've never felt a need for a religious system for a deeper understanding of the universe or myself. i've been through many griefs and shames and trials but have been 'delivered' through the agency of my friends and a good hard look at my own self-loathing. as the time has passed and my self knowledge has deepened, i have come to like and admire myself more and more. what comes naturally with this is an increase in tolerance and compassion.”
I agree with Brianna that trying to impress God is laughable, but I disagree with her that it’s reasonable to dismiss Him and His mandates and live in self-improvement. After all, we are the ones who got us into our mess; we need someone from outside to repair us.
Friends, please remember the whole verse in Exodus 20:20. It’s like having 20/20 vision. Without seeing the whole thing we are not seeing what God wants for us this Yom Kippur night or ever.
He says the reasons for Torah are threefold 1) to test us, 2) so that his fear might be in us and 3) so that we don’t sin. We’ve spoken about the fear of man and the inordinate need for man’s approval, especially when it’s in contradistinction with God’s approval. That helps us understand the first part of the verse where we are told, “Do not be afraid.” We who know Y’shua have nothing to fear because we are God’s people! We’ve been approved by God. How? By the blood of Y’shua. By His grace.
We’ve spent a lot of time tonight repenting of our sins, which is ever good; it’s healthy and wholesome. It’s right so to do.
God tells Moses to tell us as a people that the reason for Torah is to test us. Now that could remind you of school or uni and depending on how you scored then, this could be either an embarrassment or an opportunity for boasting. But neither is in view here. Testing, biblically is laboratory based. Let me explain.
When Abraham is tested with the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, it is not for God to see if Abraham will do something. God knows what Abraham will do. It’s for the demonstration of the faith or the activity in public. It’s for public show. It’s to let others know that Abraham was a believer, and that that faith was visible. Another translation of the word “test” is “prove” or “show forth.” We would say ‘demonstrate.’
So Torah is given at Sinai for us to fear God and yet not be afraid, to show what’s really happening inside us, and to prevent our sinning.
And now, dear friends, what do you do, when you discover this about yourself? What do you do when you find yourself sinning or not demonstrating the behaviour of the Lord? What do you do? You repent! And that’s what we have done tonight. And I’m guessing you will remember to do some tomorrow.
And that repentance brings with it God’s kindness, His favor, His love… and an overcoming of sin tomorrow. Listen, only one person ever lived on the planet who never sinned. That was Y’shua. And when he died, the world stopped. When he died the veil in the Temple was torn in half. When he died the forgiveness we had sought as a people was now brought forth. Now we could see clearly. God had opened the flood gates or the welcome gates and we could approach.
There’s nothing quite like being around a group of fellow Jewish people who have come to faith in Y’shua to strengthen each of us. Larry’s comments of rejection were summarized in this, “I feel like I’m betraying my people.” Who of us who are Jewish have never felt that one? Many who wrote our testimonies out in books we sell down the road at the bookshop or in the foyer tonight, many of us have encountered that same guilt-laden emotion of betrayal. But that’s unfair and wrong for anyone to say to you.
Everyone who has passed away is not angry at you for finding Y’shua; in fact, they are cheering for you to do so. They want you to do so, because they know who holds the future. They know who the Creator is, at this point, and they want you to know Him. And to declare him to others. And so we do.
Yom Kippur is a night and day of solemnity with God. It’s designed to help us reflect, to repent and to get right with God.
We get it wrong when we try to reform. Or to be religious. Getting right with God is not a matter of human reformation or of philosophical reconsideration, but of repentance and finding eternal life and health in Y’shua. The gap is simply too far. Only Y’shua…He alone is the One who came from the other side and can give us eternal life.
May you have an easy fast and celebrate the awesome atonement God has given us in the Beloved. On Him and Him only may you lean for forgiveness and for the power to live a godly life in this dark world, as we finish 2010, throughout 5771, and well beyond.