31 May 2014

Yeshua and the Sabbath

Jesus and the SABBATH
A sermon delivered at
Beit El Echad Messianic Congregation
Kansas City, Missouri
Friday 9 May 2014
By Bob Mendelsohn

Thank you Gavriel for welcoming me to the pulpit tonight, to share the message from this week’s parasha, about Yeshua and the Sabbath. We read Leviticus 25 tonight, the portion nicknamed Behar, which as happens in so many portions, derives from one of the first words in the text, verse 1, “The LORD then spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai”, or in Hebrew, Behar Sinai, on Mt Sinai.

Now if I were giving this message in a church on a Sunday, which by the way will be happening soon enough, once a Jewish man wearing a kippah is introduced as the preacher, some in the church will get nervous, especially if they hear the phrase ‘Mt Sinai’ in his introductory comments. The immediate suspicion among many would be “Oh no, this guy didn’t read Galatians and wants to get us ‘under the Law.’ Or “Oh no, another sermon trying to get me to live in a rule-book religion.” Let me say, from the outset, the purpose of this talk is to focus us on Yeshua himself, to see what He did with this topic, and to see how often he would use the idea or the rules of the Jewish Sabbath to point people to himself. That, my friends, is tonight’s purpose. Let’s focus on the Yeshua of the Bible and see what we can learn as 21st Century people. Fair enough?

Parshat Behar: Setting
I love rhythm. I enjoy a good beat on a drum set, and the commensurate pace of a song or the pace of a swimmer in the Olympics. Everything in life, including the delivery of this sermon, requires a pace, a rhythm. So when we read in Leviticus 23 that the Jewish people are to meet up with the Almighty on certain days during the year, I see it as his setting us a pace of life. God wanted Israel to have appointments each year AND the first rhythmic beat was the weekly Sabbath.  

You here at the congregation well know the annual celebrations and gatherings of Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) and other ceremonial times. Chapter 23 begins the list of appointments, when God wants to meet with us, however, with the weekly Sabbath. There is never any indication that the weekly Sabbath includes a weekly gathering like those in religion have standardized using worship meetings, with song services, prayers, public preaching and offerings. This would have been unknown to the Jewish hearers and to Moses 3,500 years ago. But that there is a weekly observance of Sabbath is clear from the text.

Chapter 24 includes laws about the Tabernacle worship, the laying out of bread for the weekly Sabbath and the use of oil for the menorah. Also two of the 10 commandments are reiterated: murder and blasphemy.

Sabbath for the community
Then we arrive at our text tonight.  The first command tonight is make sure the land has a Sabbath.  Let it lie fallow and don’t even pick the grapes in the 7th year. No tilling, no harvesting, no working the land. Leave it alone.

Then to amplify the mechanism of rest, God commands a 50th year, the year of Jubilee, to be added to the cycle. Thus not only the 49th year, but also the 50th year will be a time of rest. And not only for the land. During that year, all tribes are reconfigured. People return home to their tribal roots.  And pro rata re-purchasing happens of crops and land. The command is “do not wrong each man his countryman.”  The root word of the verb is yanah meaning oppress or tyrannize as well.
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So Sabbath means that we are somehow corporately responsible to one another, to treat other people well, not to oppress or tyrannize, not to wrong other people, especially our own countrymen. Observing the Sabbath in this text does not mean that I alone am to rest from my work, in an individualized post-Enlightenment state of private religion. It means we are to rest, each week, each 7 years, and each 50 years. Sabbath shouts community.

Not only is it for the people of Israel, it’s also for the male and female servants, for the cattle, for the strangers who reside with us. The place is to be shut for everyone! Have you seen this in operation in Israel? I missed the train, the 2:30 pm train a year ago in Caesarea, on a Friday afternoon, to return to Tel Aviv, because they all-- railroad workers, army soldiers, chefs—everyone took the night off, even the late afternoon to prepare for Shabbat. Cattle wouldn’t have understood the spiritual truths of Sabbath, but their position with Israel required their participation in the weekly event.

Torah usage
But before we carry on with more about our responsibilities or what else we can learn today, let’s back up and see the biblical beginnings of Sabbath and also how Yeshua dealt with this.

The first use of the word is in Exodus, the 2nd book of Moses. I know, you wanted me to say Genesis. In Creation, God blessed the 7th day, but it wasn’t titled ‘Sabbath’ until Exodus 16. There we read that God tells the Jewish people, who had just crossed the Red Sea, to bake and boil enough for a couple days on Friday because the next day would be a Sabbath. Obviously God meant that the kitchen would usually be closed to such work the next day.  And manna was all we had to eat in those days.

Purpose of Sabbath: Trusting God/ Rest
Other instances of Sabbath and manna in Torah are the double supply on Fridays and commensurate penalty for stocking up on other days and for going out to get more on Saturday. In other words, stick to God’s calendar and you will be right. And trust Him in all your days and all your ways.

There are two listings of the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 4) God gives two different reasons for us to observe and remember the Sabbath: creation and the Exodus from Egypt. Each of those two reasons reminds us to trust God, who can create everything from nothing, and who can deliver hopelessly enslaved people after hundreds of years.

Think about trust on another level. Taking a day off each week is not usual worldwide. In China, in Sri Lanka, in so many locations to this day, people go to work all week. No one takes a day off.  We in the US don’t understand this because religionists who included Sabbath in their philosophy shaped our country. Think back to Egypt, where slaves worked every day. So when God told the Jewish people to take a day off each week, he was asking them to make a donation of 14% (1/7th) of their income. In other words, by not working one full day, they were not producing; they were not harvesting; they were not making money. So God was saying that Israel was to live on the 86% as if it were 100%.  That’s not new for those of you who are believers. God asks us to donate a percentage of our income to the poor and to the community of faith, and to live on the leftovers. Sometimes that’s 90% and sometimes much less. No matter how much you donate, the reality is that the amount we are not making requires the same faith from us today.

So if there’s a Torah lesson from the idea of Sabbath it’s that we are designed to trust God in all our lives.

Time to Cease
Before I go on, let me tell you what the word Shabbat literally means. Most of you would say rest and in a way that’s true, but remember that the Bible says God rested on the 7th day. In our modern understanding, rest implies weariness and almost exhaustion. But God is never exhausted or weary. The Scripture says He does not grow weary, doesn’t sleep, and doesn’t slumber. (Psalm 121, Isa. 40). So the better definition would be to cease from something (usually your work).

Thus God ceased from his work, and other times we read of God putting an end to the wicked (Hosea 1.4, Isa. 13.11), or music stopping (Isa. 24.8) or the work of construction stopping in Nehemiah (6.3). But usually Sabbath means the 7th day of the week, what we call Saturday, and is used that way throughout the Bible.

The time to cease was for most all Israel, but the priests and those who served did not have the day off. They had to perform multitudes of sacrifices, which were more abundant on Shabbat than any other day. Also warriors had to continue to serve the military, especially after Israel lost a terrible war when some refused to ‘work’ on the Sabbath.

The rabbis argue (that’s not news) about how long Adam and Eve were in the Garden, but if I read it correctly, the rest that was planned for our First Parents never reached fullness. God kicked us out of the Garden of Eden. “Yet God’s judgment is tempered with mercy. In His grace, He immediately turns His attention to redeeming humanity, a subject that will occupy the rest of the Bible. Despite the absence of an eternal Sabbath, God will institute a weekly Sabbath that reminds His people of Eden and simultaneously shows them the way back to life with God. There is yet hope!” (Rich Robinson, Christ in the Sabbath, p 26)

Another Day awaits us
In fact, in the book of Genesis, we see a different ‘ending’ for the day later called ‘Sabbath.’  Most days end with the biblical phrase ‘ it was evening and morning,’ but not for the 7th day. I believe that in essence, “Sabbath” is the condition characterizing life in Eden.

Had Adam and Eve not sinned, their life and fellowship with God would still be ongoing—if you will, an eternal Sabbath day. That’s important to note, as the writer of Hebrews in the Newer Testament will emphasize that Sabbath which awaits the people of God. (Heb 4.9)

And in fact, that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden (Pleasure), there remains therefore a rest again, somewhere down the proverbial track for us all. Joni Mitchell wrote in her classic poem in 1970 entitled “Woodstock” that we have got to get ourselves ‘back to the Garden.”

Excursus on modern work if you have time:[1]

Then there are those who don’t work at all, retirees, unemployed for various reasons, and the generally lazy people about whom the Proverbs has much to say.

But tonight we are speaking about the ordinary workweek prescribed in the Bible, working 6 days and taking the 7th off.

Modern components
In modern days, to ‘observe’ Sabbath includes the food as on many Jewish holidays. They include the sweet Sabbath bread, Challah that more often than not is braided, as well as a sweet red wine, and the lighting of candles all on Friday evening. Also that night many will gather in synagogue services or simply stay home and sing songs (Z’mirot).

Then on the daytime on Saturday, again synagogue attendance fills many Jewish people’s calendars, not only for one hour, but also for the whole day. Lunch together, study, a bit of rest, a third meal (Shalos s’eudot), and final prayers. People walk to synagogue within the half-mile range allowed since starting a fire, and thus driving a car, is not permitted.

During Sabbath, husbands and wives are encouraged to have marital relations on non-menstrual days. In fact, the Sabbath itself is represented as a queen. Each week when I was practicing Orthodox Judaism, I would attend to the mikveh, the ceremonial cleansing pool, and ready myself to meet Queen Sabbath.

Many families will have gatherings and their own special traditions of course, and many messianic congregations will encourage this as well.

Rabbinic Challenges
Let’s read Matthew chapter 12[2] and notice a fairly substantial conflict between Yeshua and the rabbis in leadership in his day. Back in the days of the creation of the Talmud, that is, first through 5th centuries, we discover some language that might help us in discovering what changes Yeshua would bring to the Jewish people.  Understand this though, that throughout his life Yeshua would have been very comfortable in celebrating, honoring, observing and keeping the Sabbath. He went to synagogue normally, taught at times on Sabbath, and even enjoyed shared meals on the Sabbath.

But problems arose when the rabbis, who wrote the Talmud, from 220 AD onward, kept sealing holes in the story, in the Torah, in the legislation which came from their fathers and legal forbears. Basically they argued that what their leaders concluded had actually been given to Moses back in the evening on Mt Sinai. The written Torah was given by daytime; the Oral Law (Talmud) was given at night.  Thus they argued that all the legislative regulations of the rabbis were divine. That’s where Jesus disagreed with them. And in Matthew 11, he had just concluded this time of teaching with “My yoke is easy; my burden is light.”

It appears that Yeshua broke the rabbinic rules on these occasions but he never broke the Torah’s legislation. He authorized three things in the first story, the one with the grain fields that were listed in the 39 types of forbidden work.[3] Specifically they are 1) reaping, 2) threshing, and 3) winnowing. Yeshua appeals to contrary evidence, specifically from the Older Testament saying that King David did the same thing, without negative consequences. In other words, the true authorized legislation could not be Mosaic since David was guiltless long after Moses. And the bread he took was the bread about which we read earlier in tonight’s reading.

His argument is that if David and his men (1 Samuel 21) were allowed to transgress what looks like the letter of the law, but was not a transgression because they had a need, then they ought to allow such in the case of Jesus, since he and his disciples also had a need. The Pharisees allowed for work to be done on the Sabbath if human life were endangered as must have been in the Davidic episode (thus Zeitlin, cited by Lachs; cf Cohn-Sherbok). Yeshua takes that further to allow for work to be done if someone considered a need, hence the eating of the grain, and he follows this with another argument, and uses a rabbinic method titled kal vachomer. Literally this means "light and weighty.” It’s a principle of biblical interpretation by which a conclusion is drawn from a minor premise to a more major or stricter one. We might use the phrase in English, "all the more so."

He amplifies that beyond the bread story, the priests had to work on the Sabbath, and double duty at times.  [“Temple service takes precedence over the Sabbath” (Sabb. 132b).] Yeshua says kal vachomer, if that light rule is allowed, then the greater rule is to be followed as well.  And since he is the greater Son of David, His appeal is actually an announcement of His own person. He says he is greater than the Temple.  In other words, His real answer: you are not in charge. I am. What an explosive argument!

So as is typical of Yeshua, he gives a haggadic argument (David’s story), a halachic argument (priests working), and draws some conclusions including the famous line: The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.[4] But his conclusions splash us up onto the next story.

After this episode, Matthew tells us a story with the healing of the man with the withered hand. The story begins with a teaching moment, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” And there is not one verse anywhere in the Bible where healing is illegal, but by convention, healing was not permitt4ed unless a person’s life was in imminent danger.

Yeshua answers the questioning ones with another kal vachomer interpretation, saying if you would save an animal that falls into a pit,[5] then surely people are more important than animals, and Yeshua instructs the man with the withered hand to trust Him and stretch out his own hand. The man does and is healed immediately.

Now I think sometimes Yeshua did these things to stir things up a bit. In other words, he could have healed the withered hand on Sunday or Tuesday if he wanted, but so that the people had to deal with his Lordship, he healed on the Sabbath.

He did the same with the man who was by the pool in John chapter 5. He heals the lame man and tells him to “take up your pallet and walk.”[6] He could have healed the man on Tuesday or any other day, but his point was twofold: to heal the man and thus have mercy (Hosea 6.6) and to show the Jewish leadership that He was Lord of all.  The Pharisees confronted the healed lame man about carrying on the Sabbath, one of the 39 types of work forbidden. He basically said, “You guys left me lying there 38 years. This guy healed me in a moment. You keep your religion; I’m going with the healer guy!”

Some of the Pharisees said that man was made for compliance with Torah, that God made Israel for Honoring the Sabbath. Yeshua said, “Nope.” He declared, “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2.27)

Final Remarks
Some final remarks if I might.
1) I’ve never seen a verse in the Bible where worship and public gathering is associated with Sabbath, but that doesn’t mean that I hate gathering with believers or attending synagogue. What this means is that I choose to guard my family shutdown time and also want to leave room for community in my observation of Sabbath.

2) The Bible tells me that some believers will honor and keep Sabbath as a special day and others will not. It also says that we are to let people do as they do as ‘unto the Lord.’ (Romans 14.6) People who observe a special day as well as those who do not have this charge: do what you do unto the Lord. That same idea was in our reading tonight, Leviticus 25.2 “‘When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a Sabbath to the LORD.” h`DwhyAl

Whether we eat or drink, whether we observe a day or consider all days alike, the “unto the Lord” is the operative phrase.  So it’s not a matter of gaining points or earning a higher place in heaven, but a matter of honoring God and being personal with him in this regard.

3) No amount of biblical compliance will earn you greater proximity to the Almighty or cause you to abandon him. Any religion, which turns into a ‘checklist religion’, is a false system, which will eventuate into only one of two results, and neither is good. If you satisfy the requirements, you will be smug and self-considering. Your trust will be in yourself and your accomplishments. You will have earned God’s favor. If you fail in satisfying those demands, you will feel condemned and thus far or at least further from the Almighty.
Neither result—pride or condemnation—accomplishes grace.

4) I appreciate being allowed to weigh in on this subject with you. I hope you will continue to consider taking a rest day once each week, not twice or three times, and that you work the other 6 days. I hope you find deep times with Messiah in those Sabbath days and that your drum beat will keep you with Him in the rhythm of the heavens.  It’s all about trusting God, isn’t it? And honoring the True Lord of the Sabbath.

For a comprehensive biblical read of the subject, please pick up the book Christ in the Sabbath by Rich Robinson, now available on the resource table in the back. or online here

[1] Americans are catching on to the European style of workweek however. I read some website which reported this: Compressed workweeks – the delightful term human resources people use for putting in 40 hours in fewer than five days – are “a great way to provide employees the flexibility to meet the demands of work and life outside of work,” says Lisa Horn, co-leader of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Workplace Flexibility Initiative and partnership with theFamilies and Work Institute.
“A four-day workweek allows you to continue to contribute on the job while gaining the time to pursue a long-neglected avocation, to help care for the grandchildren or to simply enjoy the other parts of life,” says Cali Williams Yost, chief executive and founder of Flex+Strategy Group in Madison, N.J.
Brooke Dixon, co-founder and chief executive of Hourly.com, a site that matches job-seekers with employers, says “well above half our users are looking for something other than a traditional workweek.”

[2] At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.”  But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” — so that they might accuse Him.  And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him. (Matt. 12.1-14)
[3] 1.Flaying 2.Tanning 3.Scraping hide 4.Marking hides 5.Cutting hide to shape 6.Writing two or more letters 7.Erasing two or more letters 8.Building 9.Demolishing 10.Extinguishing a fire 11.Kindling a fire 12.Putting the finishing touch on an object 13.Transporting an object between a private domain and the public domain, or for a distance of 4 cubits within the public domain. 14.Beating wool 15.Dyeing wool 16.Spinning 17.Weaving 18.Making two loops 19.Weaving two threads 20.Separating two threads 21.Tying 22.Untying 23.Sewing stitches 24.Tearing 25.Trapping 26.Slaughtering 27.Sowing 28.Plowing 29.Reaping 30.Binding sheaves 31.Threshing 32.Winnowing 33.Selecting 34.Grinding 35.Sifting 36.Kneading 37.Baking 38.Shearing wool 39.Washing wool
[4] From the Word Biblical Commentary: The Son of Man, ie, Jesus, is said here to be the “Lord of the sabbath” in the sense that he has the sovereign authority to decide what loyalty to the sabbath means (cf the freedom of a prophet concerning the law in Yebam 90b). This is obviously part of the larger fact, to which Matthew has already introduced the reader, that as the promised one, the Messiah, Jesus is the authoritative and definitive interpreter of the Torah.
[5] The Qumran community disallowed even this activity on the Sabbath (CD 11:13–14)
[6] John 5.1 ¶ After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. ¶ Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.] A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He *said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
Jesus *said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day.
So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.”
But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.’

When final means final

Malcolm Glazer died at 85 years old this week and his teams at Tampa Bay and at Manchester will no doubt send their farewells in significant and appropriate means. (Debt aside)

#1 Serena Williams and #2 Li Na are both out of the women's draw at the French Open in the 2nd round and said their farewells quickly and with sadness.

The Australian Defense Force said the drone search for Malaysian air #870 is terminated for at least two months. They are looking for someone else to take up the charge.

American author and poet Maya Angelou, an eloquent commentator on race and gender best known for her groundbreaking autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, died at age 86 in North Carolina.

Things end...and other things begin.

Life includes death and reality is that we need to embrace that, and live with the reality/ consequences of that. Final means final.

Oh, wait, except there really is something beyond the grave. What shall we say of that?

28 May 2014

The problem: Speaking the truth

Sometimes speaking out is costly. It might cost you or those who happen to know something. Do you remember the movie, “Man of the Year” (2006)? Lewis Black’s character is talking to the Robin Williams character who was just elected president of the US (but not really-- it was computer error). They are facing the conundrum of being honest and admitting the election had errors so that Williams’ Tom Dobbs won. If they tell the truth, Dobbs has to decline the apparent victory. If they don’t tell the truth, they have to live through the presidency with the guilt of their non-disclosure. I won't spoil the ending to tell you what William's Dobbs does or doesn't do. (By the way, see the bottom of this blog for a bit on Wikipedia)

Sounds like Victor Hugo in “Les Miserables” when he says through the main character Jean Valjean who is met with a similar conundrum, “If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent, I am damned!” Does he tell the policeman who gives his life to find Valjean that he is the chased-one? Guilt for non-disclosure; condemnation for disclosure. A double damnation. NO way out.

Truth telling is costly to be sure. When your mother asked you if you had been smoking, you might have swallowed the butt and looked a bit shocked like this. I remember my niece back in the early 70s who had a mouth full of bread and I asked her "Have you been into the bread drawer?" and she shook her head denying the accusation. Silly, but a three-year old often accepts that incongruity.

What will it cost you if you admit to things with your boss? Or with your husband? Or to your roommate and neighbor? What about admitting things to yourself? Or to God?

Truth telling is an activity that God started a long time ago. He spoke and the world was created. And every time He speaks, Truth abounds. He tells the truth about himself. He tells the truth about you. He tells us how to get along with each other. Honestly. Yeshua said, "If you continue in my word, you will be my disciples, and you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free." (John 8.31-32)

Won't you have a read of His words today? Check out Bible online for what God might speak to you about today.


Something about informational truth:
A comment about encyclopedias and Wikipedia: In the movie "Man of the Year", Black’s character (Eddie Langston) uses an image of the problem as if it were on television, “Two guys are sitting side by side. On one side is a crazy, lunatic, a Holocaust denier. On the other side sits a noted and honored historian, who knows all about the Holocaust. There they sit, they look like equals. Everything they say seems credible. If everything is credible then nothing is credible. We stop listening.”

Anyone, everyone can edit/ modify a Wiki listing. If everyone has authorship/ authority, then no one does. No wonder we are not learning. No wonder truth has gone out the window. Here's what I mean.

When I was a kid if I wanted to know something, I would look it up in the encyclopedia. Or I would ring the library and speak with an authority. But no one is an authority now, since everyone can be one. We #hashtag and communicate that way. Or we Facebook our ideas. But they are not real knowledge; only narrative. That's where Eddie Langston got it right.

27 May 2014

Life changes and photography

I was tagging some photos from the past on my Flickr page and saw this shot I took of my neighbors as they celebrated their success in the chamber of commerce voting in Bondi Junction. It was only two years ago when the voting took place and they were elected a very successful operation in the area. The ladies gathered in front of the sign, like a red carpet gala, and I shot the picture. All good.

The hair salon continues now in a new location about 100 metres from the old one, and is even bigger and has continual clientele. Only what struck me was the staff is-- with one exception-- completely new. Only the owner/ operator continues (she's in the middle) and the others have moved on. Now I understand that society is more mobile than when I was a child, but 80% turnover in 24 months?  Is that normal and if so, what are the implications?

The Murray (River) Pioneer in March this year published a fairly dull editorial which however included this sentiment, "Take Zombie movies, for example (because we’re going to need all the training we can get when the apocalypse rocks up). They show – the writers’ interpretation of – how people put in such an extreme situation would change. They’d change the way they think, the way they act, the way they react and what they believe in. They’d find a way to carry on.
If we each looked back a year, we could see that there were people in our lives who have since moved away, or become less prominent in our day-to-day activities.
That’s not a reflection on you or them, it’s just life.
In high school there’s a certain stability, an expectation that you will see the same people every day, for years. And when it came to the final few days of school we all made promises that we would always keep in touch – promises we eventually broke, at least with some of our classmates." (Murray Pioneer, "When people move out of our lives", March 26, 2014)

Sorry for the length of that quote; I felt it needed context. The issue of the in/out nature of people and our lives is complexifying, not simplifying life for us all. 

My friend Mark McCrindle lives and works in Sydney. Mark's website . He is the senior researcher and guide on so many trends and perspectives in the social world that he's the go-to guy for most Australian television networks and radio outlets. He is constantly demonstrating statistics of the mobility of society and thus the need for people to adjust from 'we all know this' kind of conversation to a more initiating and welcoming concern. 

I like Mark and appreciate all his hard work and the reality of life changes continues to strike me. People change; situations change; interactions continue to change. Life is only static for a person when he is buried. On the golf course some of the men with whom I play have this saying when asked about their life. "At least I'm walking on top of the ground, and not parked underneath it." Makes sense that if we are on top, that things will ever evolve and amend and grow and change. "That's life!"

That said, why do we hold on so dearly to things as if they do not change or do not have to change? Why are we surprised when people tell us their child is 15 years old now? Our surprise is usually based on our own thinking that we have not aged, why would anything else age? We are surprised when we see a new photo of a former dashing young Hollywood celebrity who hasn't aged very well at all. Because we see the images of that person on film or television when they were 25 and now they are near 45, and the film didn't age, we think the person shouldn't have either. 

When the Amish or ultra-Orthodox Jewish person turns away from a photographer, it's because of a desire to keep (and help you keep) the 3rd commandment (out of 10). That's this one:  "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth." (Exodus 20.4) The locations of the photo shoots are limited to nowhere, neither in heaven above or on earth or under the earth. Fairly comprehensive. Of course, the God who told us that, also told us to "let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you," and included in that building (Mishkan) were angels (Exodus 25), almond blossoms and branches (Ex. 25). Later on in the Temple of Solomon God wanted a building which included images of Cherubim and twelve bulls outwardly displayed(1 Kings 6:24–29; 2 Chronicles 4:15). 

Obviously as Francis Schaeffer rightly commented in "Art and the Bible", the use of images did not necessarily mean the Israelites were worshiping them. Having an image is not idolatry. But bowing and worshiping it; that's idolatry. So I continue to photograph the ladies at Headoffice Hair Salon over the years Hair salon photos and each time I see a new crew I'm reminded...make the most of today. Help people in my life today. They may not be there tomorrow. Or I may not be. Life changes. Make the best of it.

25 May 2014

Who is the messiah? Jesus in the Older Testament

This is usually delivered as a public address

Introduction: Comments from text
May you understand more about our Redeemer and Messiah Yeshua. May you have more confidence in His Holy Word, the Bible. And may you care about witnessing to the Jewish people, my people, even more than you do now. 

"And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Yeshua Himself approached and began traveling with them. (verse 16) But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad.
One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. (verse 21) But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.”  
(verse 25) And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?" Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.  (Luke 24.13-27)

We see from the text a picture of the situation in Jerusalem that first Easter day. There were no lilies or trumpets. There were no Hallelujahs from the people of God. Rather the situation was bleak. Cleopas and his travelling companion (maybe even his wife?) were despondent. They were sad, the Bible says, almost depressed. (In verse 21) They had hoped Jesus would redeem Israel. By redeem, don't think about blood and forgiveness; they meant physical and political redemption. Think Passover and the national deliverance of the Jewish people at once from an oppressor.  They believed that Messiah would remove Rome from the Temple area and allow Jews to worship freely again.  Back in the 1980s the same could have been said about the Russians. Then there were three million Jewish people living in the Former Soviet Union. And when Messiah came, he would help Jewish people be free. Not that we wanted to win a war against Russia or in Bible days to beat up Rome, but that we wanted to be free to live a life without political oppression and with religious freedom. And well, this Jesus, he had not accomplished that political redemption. Hence, their disappointment.

The situation grew worse as it was now (again in verse 21) “the third day.” According to Jewish folklore, when a person dies, his spirit hovers around his corpse for 3 days, then on 4th day his spirit leaves... the person is officially dead. Maybe that helps you understand why Jesus waited two extra days to heal his friend Lazarus. Or the quote from Psalm 16 in Peter’s sermon on Pentecost.

You might know of the ultra Orthodox Jewish men with sidecurls and hats and long coats. Their rabbi/leader died in 1994 in Brooklyn, New York. He was a rabbi of over 90 years of age. His name was Menachem Schneerson. Some of his followers claimed him to be the messiah-- a claim he never denied. So when he died, tens of thousands of his followers-- from Israel, Australia, South America, all over--gathered and waited by his grave, fully expecting him to rise from the dead. That is, they waited until the 4th day. When he stayed dead, the crowds dissipated.

Those Jewish people in 1994 were right. Messiah would die. They were right that Messiah would rise from the dead. They were wrong though; Messiah was not from Brooklyn. We’ll talk about what they should have known in a few moments.

Finally Yeshua can take it no longer. (verse 25) He interrupts them, calls them "fools" (not Raca or empty-head, but rather 'not seeing things from God's point of view), and he conducts a Bible class with them. This would be an amazing sermon I want to see when I get to heaven.  Imagine Jesus gave his great sermon here, to two people. And only two people. I need to always remember that, to teach well, to the many or to the few. And most of my ministry is to the few. I teach Jewish people in Sydney one by one.

The verse tells us “Beginning with Moses” which means “the five books of Moses” or the first five books of the Bible. “And all the prophets” meaning the rest of the Older Testament. “He explained to them the things concerning Himself.” (verse 27) What might have been included in that sermon? The Bible doesn’t tell us directly, but there was a list of messianic prophecies that were known as the testimonia and later found in recent days in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Using the three recognized sections of Jewish Bible: Law, Prophets, and Writings, let's look at three passages today. First please turn to Genesis chapter 3.

Now while you turn, let me ask if you enjoy jigsaw puzzles? If I understand it correctly, the way to do them is to open the box, dump the pieces onto the table, put all the pieces right-side-up, and then put the box top away. You look finally one last time, and put the box top away. The way to do a puzzle is to put the pieces together one-by-one and watch a picture emerge. I'm going to ask you to do what I ask Jewish people I meet with, to do. Put the box top of your own convictions, what you already believe about Messiah, put it away. And let's let the Bible puzzle pieces come together, and let's be honest with what we see. Is that fair enough?

First we look at Genesis 3, in the story the Garden of Eden, we read a curse on the Serpent, whom we later know to be Satan, the enemy of God. That curse on him is actually a blessing to the woman and the people who will come. This is found in verse 15. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”

We see 3 puzzle pieces here.
1) The child who will come is the child of the woman.
No big deal right, everyone who is born is born of a woman, right? Not in Judaism. Abraham begat Isaac, (Where was Sarah?). Isaac begat Jacob (Thank you Rebecca). Men have children in Judaism, obviously not biologically, but genealogically. So the Bible could comment on biology by calling the messiah ‘son of man and woman’ or genealogy (‘son of man’), but it doesn't. It starts with an exception. The text doesn't say "virgin birth," but it anticipates it.

2) “Bruise the head of the serpent.” This is a picture of conquest. This is certainly consistent with what I learned about Messiah, when I was a boy in the US. As an Orthodox Jew I always knew the Messiah would conquer. There were two enemies for us when I was a young man. (Russia and Russia). It was after all, the time of the Cold War and Russia was the enemy for US people, and also there were 3 million Jewish people who were not allowed to practice our religion in the Former Soviet Union. Thus Russia was the enemy twice.

When Messiah comes, we learned, Messiah will conquer. Remember the image of taking land, planting the flag for the conquering King. And in Romans 16.20, God will crush Satan under your feet soon.

3) “Bruised in heel.”  Wait a minute! What kind of messiah gets wounded? I always thought the Messiah would conquer. Now the text says he will be wounded.

No wonder Yeshua in Luke 24 tells Cleopas, “ought not the Messiah to have suffered and then entered into his glory?” (verse 26)

Cleopas, didn’t you ever read that? Bob, didn’t you ever read that? Yes, we Jewish people read this passage every September or so in synagogue. But don’t you ever see things that you just don’t see? We’ll talk more about that later.

I was the third of three children in my father’s house. As a result I rarely received new things, but rather ‘hand me downs’ or used items. So when I asked my father when would I receive a new bicycle, he would say, "Yeah, yeah, when messiah comes". So I really hoped for the coming of Messiah.

If I’d read the sources, like Genesis Rabbah, a Talmudic rabbinical interpretation of this passage, I would have seen them quoting Isaiah 53 and the one who would take our punishment, but I didn’t really learn that particularly.

Needless to say, to read here that Messiah would be wounded, that was a surprise.

Do we have enough to conclude what our photo/puzzle is?
Not yet.

So let’s turn to Micah 5.
Mic. 5.1 “Now muster yourselves in troops, daughter of troops; They have laid siege against us; With a rod they will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek.
Mic. 5.2 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephratah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”

Here we see three more puzzle pieces.
First, a repeat of the last.  The text tells us that the Judge of Israel will be beaten on the face with a rod. Cleopas, didn’t you ever read that before? Bob, didn’t you ever read that one either? Again I say, we often see things, but don’t really see them. So here again, this wounding of the Messiah was a very big surprise to me, but it’s right there in the text. Ought not the Messiah to suffer?

What if I mention to you the “Fed Ex arrow.” Do you know what I am referencing? Some of you will understand but many will look unsure. Let me show you this. 

 You’ve seen this truck hundreds of times, but do you see the arrow? Now do you see it? All over the sanctuary people are pointing this out to each other. Let’s look even closer. 

See the white arrow between the orange E and orange X?

Do you see what I mean? You have seen this over and over again, but you never saw it. How is that? In the same way, Jewish people have read and re-read these passages in the Hebrew Scriptures and still haven’t seen the One about whom they speak. It takes someone like me to point out the arrow on the FedEx logo to you, and it takes someone like you to point out the Messiah to your Jewish friend. Once you see it, you will never not see it again. I can almost guarantee that some of you will become proselytizers about the arrow to all your friends next time and every time you see the truck go by. And that’s the essence of evangelism, but more on that in a few minutes.

2) Birthplace of Messiah. Bethlehem. How strange a place. It’s too little to be among the Where's Where in Israel. Not significant.
We know it from the Christmas carols that this is the birthplace of
Messiah, but the ancients didn’t know that. Remember the wise men from the east (Matthew 2:1) came to find the one born under the star. They followed the star and found the baby. But on their journey they asked for help in finding him. They came to Jerusalem to ask for the king. Of course, kings are born in capital cities, not in the back woods, like Bethlehem, but in proper main cities. That’s why they traveled to Jerusalem.

So what a surprise it must have been to the magi to hear “go to Bethlehem” because that’s what Micah the prophet declared.

The third puzzle piece is even more of a surprise. The text uses the phrase "from long ago" (Mikedem...which could be translated ‘from the East’). This is not so much geographical east as it is chronological east. And what happens in the east? The sun rises. So this phrase has the meaning of ‘before the sun rises’ in the east, or what we commonly would say “Way back when.” Or in theological terms: ‘eternity past’. And so the question has to be asked, “Who is an eternal being?” Only God. So somehow God takes on flesh and is born in Bethlehem. Any candidates?

Do we have enough info to conclude what our puzzle looks like... not yet.

Writings: The Psalms
Turn with me to Daniel chapter 9. 
Dan. 9.24 ¶ “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place.
Dan. 9.25 “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.
Dan. 9.26 “Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.

35 years ago I was a teacher of high school mathematics in Kansas. I tell you that not to seek for tutoring duties, but to tell you that numbers don’t bother me. I understand however, that numbers and math might bother you. But don’t worry, when we discuss the math in this chapter, you will understand very well. Trust me.

Here we see three more puzzle pieces.
First, Messiah will die.  That’s what the expression "Cut off and have nothing" means. Messiah is wounded, then wounded again, now dead. I never learned that as an Orthodox Jew in my youth. If I'd really read the sources, I would have found Maimonides who said, "messiah will die and his son or grandson will take over." No wonder the Lubavitchers were not surprised when their rabbi Menachem Schneerson died back in New York in 1994. Some rabbis don’t let their students read this section until they are 30 years old.

Ought not the Messiah to suffer?

2) Time of the death of Messiah. This is when the numbers might get a bit confusing to some. The Hebrew word for ‘weeks’ is a variant of the usual word and thus some versions of the Bible translate the word as ‘sevens’ or ‘units of 7.” Thus 69 'weeks' is really 69 'units of 7 things'. So just think 70 x 7 or about 500 things. I don’t mean to make light of the precision of the Bible, in fact, it’s very precise. But I’m trying to help you using approximations and without a blackboard.

Then the text tells us what those things are. They are years. Note the beginning date is 'issue of decree to restore Jerusalem" (v. 25) which happened about 450 BC. Then the closing date is when the 'people of the prince who is to come will “destroy the city (Jerusalem) and the sanctuary (v 26) (Temple)” which is 70 AD. So we have about 500 years. And near the end of the period we see the death of Messiah.  

If you want the precision of the dating pick up this book Y’shua by Moishe Rosen, founder of Jews for Jesus. There we see that Messiah died on a Friday in 30 AD using the dates in this section, but if you miss it, note the big picture, as Messiah died in what we call “The First Century.”

3) Finally, the purpose of the death of Messiah. Verse 24. "to bring in everlasting righteousness ...to forgive...to take away iniquity..." The purpose of the death of messiah was not to give me a bicycle; it was to forgive us our sins, and to make us clean before God.

So, let's look at our puzzle pieces.
We have a messiah, son of a woman not of man and woman, born in Bethlehem, wounded and beaten and dead, who died near the end of the 2nd Temple period, actually in 30 AD, who was eternal, and died for our sins and by that conquered the works of Satan.

Any candidates? Honestly, is your box top away? What picture of Messiah do you see in our texts?

I think there is only one answer. His name is Jesus.

Let's return to Luke and share some final thoughts.

You may ask me, why are you here telling the church all this good information? Why aren’t you telling Jewish people all this?

My answer? I do! This is one of the methods we use in sharing the Good News of Messiah with our Jewish people.

I came here to give you this lesson for several reasons.

First, I want you to trust the Bible that much more. We only looked at a few Bible passages and it’s true and clear. The Bible also tells you about you, about how you and God are to get along together and how you and your life should work. You can trust the Book!

2) Jesus was a great teacher, but Cleopas and mate didn't 'get it' not until 'then their eyes were opened' (.16 'eyes were prevented'. .31 'eyes were opened'). And you didn’t see the FedEx arrow until I showed it to you. So I want you to know that you have to pray for Jewish people to ‘get it’, as mere words cannot convince anyone.

I believe that as the community of faith prays for Jewish people that God listens and answers. I hope our partnership in the Gospel includes this important prayer partnership.

Thirdly. In verse 44 Jesus uses all three sections of Tenach to teach them that he was Messiah (just like we did in our lesson tonight)
You might ask me, if God is responsible for opening the eyes of people, then what role do we have in helping people find God?    To that I say that we have to preach the Gospel to people. Look at the biblical injunction from Jesus himself: (verses 46-47) “AND that repentance'... If you believe in the death of Christ (.46) and the resurrection of Christ (.46), then you have to believe in the proclamation of Christ. (.47) And that message has to go to all people, to the Jew first and also to the Gentiles.

This may be the simplest way to explain our role. God wants us to do the mouth thing; he will do the eye thing. He opens eyes and we open our mouth. We preach and God opens the eyes of Jewish people and all people to his message.