Peter begins this chapter by reminding his brothers and sisters in the faith of what both the prophets during the Old Testament and also the Apostles of the Lord and Savior in the New Testament have spoken: “knowing this first”, that scoffers [among even the people of God] will come in the last days, living according to their own lusts, and saying that there are no indications/signs that the Lord is coming; nothing has changed since the creation of the world. If Christians and Jews do not believe in their heart that the Lord and Judge is coming, why should we expect others to take the matter seriously?! If believers are not praying the last prayer of the Bible – “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”! – why should we expect Israel to say “Blessed are you, Lord Jesus/Yeshua, who comes in the name of YHVH!”? Continue reading “2Pt 3: The Day of YHVH Is Coming”
2Pt 1:19-21 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto you do well that you take heed, as unto a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
2Pt 2:1-3 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who secretly shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with deceptive words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingers not, and their damnation slumbers not.
Yeshua says that His disciples are His witnesses in the world, and that as He was in the world, so are we to be. (1Jn 2:6; Phlp 1:27-30) A disciple is not above His teacher. The Father loved His only-begotten Son, and Jesus suffered and died in obedience to His love for and trust in God His Father.
The Apostle Peter did not want to accept that the Messiah would suffer and be rejected to the extent that He was. And Peter did not want to suffer for being a disciple of Yeshua. . . . until he learned that this is the way of YHVH in this world to fulfill all righteousness, in order to save those persons who repent and believe, and to condemn those who will not. Continue reading “1Pt 3:13-22: Witnesses for Yeshua Through Suffering for Righteousness”
The righteousness and justice of God: His ways are not ours; His thoughts not ours. Repentance begins with agreeing with Him and learning from Him. The truth sets us free, and humbles us to first judge ourselves of the log in our own eyes, so that we can better help others with their specks. Glory to our Father in Heaven and the Lord Yeshua the Messiah/Jesus Christ!
Heb 7:8-10 Here men that die receive tithes; but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. And as I may so say, Levi also, who receives tithes, paid tithes in Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. Continue reading “Generational Transference: We and Our Fathers”
Mk 11:11-26 And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the Temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.
(12) And on the next day, they going out of Bethany, He was hungry. (13) And seeing a fig-tree with leaves afar off, He went to it, if perhaps He might find anything on it. And when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season of figs. (14) And Jesus answered and said to it, No one shall eat fruit of you forever. And His disciples heard.
(15) And they came to Jerusalem. And entering into the temple, Jesus began to cast out those who bought and sold in the Temple. And He overthrew the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. (16) And He would not allow any to carry a vessel through the Temple. (17) And He taught, saying to them, Is it not written, “My house shall be called the house of prayer for all nations?” But you have made it a den of thieves. (18) And the scribes and the chief priests heard. And they sought how they might destroy Him. For they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His doctrine.
(19) And when evening came, He went out of the city. (20) And passing by that morning, they saw the fig-tree dried up from the roots. (21) And Peter, remembering, said to Him, Rabbi, behold, the fig tree which You cursed has withered away.
(22) And answering Jesus said to them, Have faith of God. (23) For truly I say to you that whoever shall say to this mountain, Be moved and be cast into the sea, and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that what he said shall occur, he shall have whatever he said. (24) Therefore I say to you, All things, whatever you ask, praying, believe that you shall receive them, and it will be to you.
(25) And when you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive it so that also your Father in Heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (26) But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses.
Yeshua has just made His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, the common people acknowledging Him as the Son of David who they believed had come to be the King of Israel. But His time had not yet come for that. He left the city and the Temple, and went to Bethany, probably to the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.
We come now to the story about the fig tree that Yeshua cursed. I am sure that all of us have read this and been uncomfortable that He would curse a tree without fruit at a time when it was not the season for fruit. When we do this, it reveals again how our thoughts and ways are not the same as the Lord’s. In our discomfort at His act, we are judging Him for doing what we think is wrong or unfair, does not make sense.
Why did Jesus curse the fig tree for not having fruit before its season? This event occurred probably in April, whereas figs are a summer fruit, the first and best ripening happening around June. The fig tree is used in the Bible as one of the symbols for Israel, and in it are both good and bad figs. (Jer 24:5-10; Hos 9:10; Mk 13:28-31; Lk 13:6-9) Normally the fig tree begins to blossom before its leaves cover them, or there are hold-overs from the previous season. So, in the case of this particular fig tree on the road between Bethany and Jerusalem, it had leaves, and therefore it should also have had some blossoms of fruit before their full growth to maturity. However, Jesus found no fruit on it. In response, He said (cursed; judged) the tree: “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” And His disciples heard Him.
Mark then goes on in his account to Yeshua and His disciples arriving in Jerusalem. Yeshua went into the Temple and began to drive out all those who bought and sold in the Temple, and overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He also would not allow anyone to carry wares through the Temple. Then He taught, quoting from Isaiah and from Jeremiah the prophets: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? ‘But you have made it a ‘den of thieves’!”
For this “presumption”, the scribes and chief priests, who heard Him, sought how they might destroy Him (get rid of Him/finish Him off, and His doctrines). They were afraid of Him, because all the people were astonished at Yeshua’s teaching. At this point, Yeshua’s popularity was a protection, but it was only a matter of time before those in power would act anyway, as envy and hatred took control of their spirits. Here we see the beginning of Pharisaic/Talmudic/Rabbinic Judaism’s cursing of Yeshua – both His name and memory (Yeshu).
Then Mark goes back to say that that same morning, on the way up from Bethany to Jerusalem, the disciples and Jesus saw the fig tree that the Messiah had cursed dried up from its roots. This was obviously a result of the Lord’s judgment of the tree, and not a natural drying up of a dying tree, which would have taken much longer. The roots were still there in the ground. God has not finished with Israel! And we are witnesses to that certain hope today, here in Beer Sheva, Israel! (In ch. 13 of Mark, the Lord uses the same symbol of the fig tree again, this time in reference to Israel’s revival in the last days leading up to His return. The curse is still there, the fruit is still not satisfying to God, but redemption and the Redeemer is on the way!)
What do we learn from this fig tree and from the incident on the Temple Mount that Mark records? Yeshua was the central figure in both of them, and His acts greatly disturbed both His disciples in the one, and the religious leaders in the other.
Both acts were judgments from God on the fruitless life and the corrupted religion of His chosen people, whom He had chosen for His glory, and to be His light to the Gentiles, and to be a holy people for His name, and to bear much good fruit from all of His fatherly care for them. (Is 5) Instead they professed to be outwardly ‘good’, especially in comparison to the ‘Gentiles’ (the goyim), while inwardly and outwardly dishonoring their God and His house. In this passage of Jesus taking control over the Temple Mount complex, He calls the house, “My house” (Is 56:7; Jer 7:11), whereas in the account in John, He calls the Temple “My Father’s house”. (Jn 2:16-17; Ps 69:9) He and the Father are one.
The marketplace that the people had set up was on the holy site in the area called the Court of the Gentiles. The buying and selling desecrated it as a place of prayer for non-Jews, as a house of prayer for all nations. The public and merchants were using the Temple area as a ‘short-cut’ to carry their wares to the abused area. Doves were the sacrificial animals for the poor, and the greedy merchants were selling them, probably at high prices. Yeshua had come to preach good news to the poor, who were being oppressed and taken advantage of.
So, too, the fig tree with leaves but without fruit. The tree looked good on the outside, but there was no fruit on the inside. The leaves were a covering for their fruitlessness. Remember when Adam and Eve knew that they had done wrong, and wanted to cover their naked shame, they put fig leaves over their private parts. So, too, this tree, and Israel and the Jewish people – and by extension, the church and Christians (Rev 3:1-6; 14-22) – can look good to the eye of man, but cannot satisfy genuine [spiritual] hunger. Israel is blessing the world in amazing ways today, but good works can be “dead works”, and they do not save unbelievers; or they can be good works of believers, but motivated by wrong motives or done without love. (Heb 6:1; 9:14) Religious life without love, or without intention to honor the name of our Lord, is empty. As a prophetic and priestly nation, the Jewish people are not consciously drawing people to know the one true God. No one can eat from such a tree and be nourished with the life of God. The good works are a ‘fig leaf’, a cover-up for the lack of God’s righteousness and fruit. The God of Israel will not grant His people peace and tranquility as long as they/we continue to seek it, to buy it, apart from Him – apart from Yeshua.
God cannot, and will not, bless fruitlessness in those who are called by His name. (Jn 15:1-12) We cannot satisfy the need in others – whether believers or unbelievers – when our hearts of flesh become hearts of stone again. Praise to our God and Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ: He is not finished yet, neither with Israel and the Jewish people, nor with those who profess to believe in the name of Yeshua/Jesus for salvation! Yeshua asked the Father — when He was nailed to the cross – to forgive that very people and nation, for they did not know what they were doing. He still calls His people to repentance, and to bear fruit of that return to HIM. This is especially regarding the state of our hearts towards God, and towards our fellow man. Israel, as represented by the fig tree, is also a sign of the last days that the end of the age is near, and that the Lord is coming again “soon”. (Mk 13:28-31; Mt 24:32-35; Lk 21:29-33) The same cursed fig tree is redemptively revived in the last days!
Yeshua took the opportunity of His disciples’ reaction to the cursed fig tree to teach them about believing prayer, but even more about the necessity and the power of forgiveness. (Mt 6:9-15) The Messiah, when He taught His disciples how to pray, told them and us that we must forgive others if we want our Father in Heaven to forgive us. To the measure that we forgive others, He will forgive us. Also in this passage from Mark, He says the same thing. We can pray with all faith to have God do miraculous things in our lives or for others – including the restoration and salvation of Israel – but if we are not forgiving someone – not loving Jesus above all, and others as ourselves — for what we think or know that he/she/they have done to me, I will have no peace with God my Father, and He will not be pleased with me, His son through Messiah. (It is very interesting that in the matter of divorce, which YHVH hates, Yeshua gave one exception for allowing it: adultery. But in the matter of forgiveness, there is no exception. A very challenging commandment and commitment!)
Brokenness – knowing how much we have been forgiven – produces the Holy Spirit fruit of love (God’s measure of love) towards others, especially towards those we think do not deserve it.
What then can we learn from this passage in the plan of God to redeem His people?
–The fruitless fig tree and the corrupted religious worship and ministry are indicative of the spiritual state of the Chosen People: there would be no more [godly] fruit from that again! Only when Israel repents and sees Jesus whom they pierced will that finally produce the broken heart and contrite spirit needed to produce fruit for YHVH their God. (Zech 12:10-14; Ps 51)
–This is also true of believers in Yeshua – of those who say we believe and follow Him. Some of us have let our own spirits push away the Holy Spirit, and we have let our new heart of flesh become like stone again. We then become hypocritical like the Pharisees: demanding of others what we ourselves will not do, nor help them to do. We separate ourselves in self-righteousness (which is the meaning of Pharisee), and do not love the brothers and sisters, and can oppress the poor. We look good on the outside – the leaves – but inside we are in rebellion against our holy and gracious Father and Savior.
–The Lord’s acts in this passage should put the fear of God in us, whom He has chosen to be the Lamb’s beloved Bride, obeying His commandments with thanksgiving, and loving one another as He has loved us.
Yeshua is our Judge and our Savior. Thank -you, God!
As Yeshua continued to prove Himself to be the Messiah and the Son of God, we also see how the opposition to Yeshua strengthened as He became more threatening to the established order. Despite all of the signs and good works and healings that Jesus did, the flesh and the natural mind were warring against the Spirit and the wisdom of God. The will of men was resisting the will of God: without repentance from unbelief to faith, the natural mind can not and will not understand the things of God. (1Cor 2:14)
I saw a blog on the internet by someone who calls himself an atheist and a believer in natural law. He wrote against the Sermon on the Mount! Everything that Jesus strengthened concerning the Law of Moses was, to this man, against natural law; e.g., Jesus saying that hating someone is the same as murdering him;, or that a married man lusting after another woman is the same as adultery; we have to love our enemy. The true God calls His people to holiness – within, and without.
In the passage we have read in Mark, we see that those who have taken upon themselves to control others by their own interpretations, customs, and traditions – all in the name of keeping the Torah – find themselves fighting against the very One who does in truth keep the Law, and is the very one who came to save those who do not! This is the essence of what is called “Replacement Theology”: replacing God’s Word with someone else’s. Some examples are Adam and Eve believing what the serpent said rather than what God Himself had told them; Judaism placing the “Oral Law” – their own interpretations and judgments, now written in the Talmud – as an equal or higher authority over the written Law and interpretations given through the prophets and even the Messiah Himself; Christianity saying that God has finished with Israel and the Jewish people, and that the Church and Christians have replaced them as God’s people, rather than becoming also God’s people along with the Jews and Israel; Islam claiming that God has finished with both Jews, Israel, and Christians, and that now Muslims are the true believers. All of this “replacement theology” results from a lack of the fear of God and not believing in what the true God – YHVH – has actually said. In essence, we place ourselves equal to or above the Father and the Son in determining truth and our choice to obey or not, or to approve or disapprove!
This accusation of Yeshua against His own brothers and people is true not of them only, but of all people. Remember, Israel is given by God as an example to the church (1Cor 10:11) – made up of men and women from every nation and tribe. In this “replacement theology”, Jews are not different than Gentiles, and Gentiles are no different than Jewish people.
In this passage, it is the third time that the religious authorities confronted Jesus and His disciples regarding their non-compliance to keep the traditions and regulations of the ‘Oral Law’. In the first instance (Mk 2:18), they failed to fast as the Pharisees did; in the second (Mk 2:24), they did not keep the Sabbath as the elders taught. To the religious Jews, the Oral Law was also received by Moses from God at Mt. Sinai, and passed on to Joshua and the elders of Israel. By this assumption (which was not true), they gave equal – even more – weight to the traditions of the elders – which Jesus calls the traditions of men – than to the Law of Moses itself, claiming that the Oral Law is what helps a Jew keep the written Law. In other words, the traditions of the elders/of men becomes the halacha, or the way to walk the pious life, and find approval from men. The Pharisees called themselves disciples of Moses (Jn 9:28), and Jesus told them that Moses would judge them for not believing in Him and what He said. (Jn 5:44-46)
When the Pharisees challenged Yeshua as to why His disciples did not walk according to the traditions of the elders, Yeshua responded with the Word of God as written in the prophet Isaiah, and in Moses. They were breaking God’s commandments because their hearts were far from the LORD. Yeshua took the first commandment with a promise – intended for children of all ages, even as adults – that children are to honor their fathers and mothers (Ex 20:12; Dt 5:16) – and told them that they were inventing ways to not honor their parents, and giving it religious authority as if it were from God, and as if they honored and loved God more than anyone else, even their own fathers and mothers. But they were actually guilty of cursing their fathers and mothers. (Ex 21:17; Lev 20:9) This can sound very pious, and even like what Jesus Himself teaches: that we must love Him more than all, even more than our own parents. (Mt 10:34-39) Only by really loving the Lord, and paying attention to all that He says – to listen and understand (v. 14) — can we begin to understand how to obey Him in the right Spirit and without contradiction or hypocrisy. By our own traditions, we can become worthy of death under God’s law, all the while justifying ourselves as being righteous! This is a very strong deception!!
With respect to eating food with unwashed hands, the issue that the Pharisees brought up was not really about having clean (i.e., not dirty) hands before eating. They only did a religious ceremony of pouring water on their hands/fists, having little to do with making sure that their hands were clean before eating, but rather, by their custom, making their hands ritually clean and not defiled. Jesus did not accept this at all, principally because their inner heart relationship with God, and with their own mothers and fathers (and towards other people), was not pure.
Jesus said to the multitude of people that were listening that what goes into the mouth does not defile a person, but rather what comes out from the heart. Even the disciples did not understand. (v 15-18)
Now, Jesus took the opportunity to make a huge change in the Law of Moses, with respect to what is acceptable as food. Remember, the LORD told Jeremiah the prophet that the new covenant would not be like the former one given at Mt. Sinai. Being new, there would be some changes and differences. Remember, too, that God’s eternal plan is that Jew and Gentile would become socially equal before God. The whole issue of food is huge socially: can Jews and Gentiles – in particular co-believers in Jesus — eat the same food, and together at the same table?
The Law of Moses says that some animals are unclean to eat, and that it is an abomination for Jews to eat them, and that those who eat them become an abomination. (Lev 11:12, 20, 41, 43) YHVH gave these laws and regulations so that Israel would learn to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, for He is holy. (Lev 11:45-47)
But NOW, Yeshua is saying that putting any food in the mouth does not defile a person – does not make him unclean or abominable! What goes into the mouth goes out of the body after nourishing it. But what comes out of the heart of a person can defile him or her. By this word of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah, He has made all foods clean (kosher), at least for the believer in what He said and meant. (v.19) Clean animals were already clean; He did not need to make them clean. Therefore it is the unclean foods which He has also declared as clean. To the Jewish people first of all, to whom the Law was given! Yeshua is our peace, and the middle wall of partition He has broken down between Jewish believers and Gentiles. Yeshua is able to send us to serve Him and the gospel among other people groups, and our conscience can be clean regarding the food we may need to eat for the sake of love and of the gospel.
If God can make me clean (and Gentiles, too!), He — the LORD and Messiah — can make unclean food clean that only goes in and out of me, and His word was reinforced by the experience and doctrines of the Apostles. (Mk 7:14-16; Acts 10:9-16; 11:1-10; Rom 14:2-3,14,20; Gal 2:11-14; 1Tim 4:1-5; Heb 13:9) What is OUR character?! Is it like one of the unclean animals and creatures? So we begin to learn in ourselves the difference between that which is acceptable to God and that which is not, sanctifying ourselves, purifying/cleansing our hearts, for our God and Lord and indwelling Spirit is holy and pure, and by faith we both establish the Law and fulfill its righteousness. (Rom 3:31; 8:4) When we speak of what is Biblically kosher regarding foods (including, of course, the man-made traditional ban on eating meat and dairy together), we must remember that the New Testament is part of the Bible! God is getting to the heart of the matter with us as His holy people and temple.
A Messianic Jew is not obligated to eat pork, for example — or, for that matter, a good kosher angus steak — but will he allow others to do so, or will he judge them for not being ‘good Jews’? Our own cultural and moral biases and sensitivities can keep separate what God has made possible to join together.
So, what do we learn from our passage in Mark: one lesson concerns external rituals. If people participate in congregational/synagogue/church services and follow all the rituals perfectly, they may have a heart after God’s, but may not. Unbelievers and nominal believers can have the appearance of being devout, but if there is not faith then their ritual will not help in worshiping God in spirit and truth. It is more important for people to get their hearts right with God than to ‘go through the motions’.
A second lesson is that there is a real danger in replacing the the word of God (the letter and the spirit of it) with our traditions. Traditions can be helpful (like a picture is worth a thousand words), but they have a way of pushing aside or replacing the basic commandments. We might also carry through what was appropriate for a ‘dispensation’ in life into a more mature stage where it becomes unsuitable for going on unto the fullness which is in the ‘seed’. The attitude of the “keepers of the law” in the passage also appears in many churches, even in Israel still! Many traditions have grown up over the centuries in different streams and denominations, and many of them have become “essential”. We can be more concerned that people might violate our man-made rules for leading and serving the congregation/church, the way we do baptism and communion, or the set of rules that our particular group follows in the name of holiness, than we are about mercy and humility. We can be more concerned about which way to take up the offerings than about meeting the needs of people in the community. If we are not careful, these traditions of ours can become ‘law’, and we might even forget what the Word of God actually says about some of those things we do, or do not do.
Then, when someone comes along – like Jesus and His disciples — who discerns the difference, we can become defensive, judging them while justifying ourselves. But then we remember the teaching of Yeshua that God is more concerned with what/who we actually are than what our outward religiosity looks like. There is a place for rituals and traditions, but they must retain their proper place in our faith-life.
A third lesson from our reading is that the New Covenant is just that – new. There are some things that continue from the old, but there also some changes and differences which promote and advance the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and the truth of the one new man in Messiah Yeshua – affecting all believers, allowing for full social fellowship among and with all. In love, we do not make our liberty a cause of stumbling for another brother or sister. (Rom 14:13-23; 1Cor 8)
“Yeshua/Jesus Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition/separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity – the law of commandments in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” (Eph 2:14-16)
To obey the Lord is better than sacrifice. He wants a heart that is one with His. This will ensure that we are with Him and not against Him as we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, as the apostle Paul writes. (Phlp 2:12) We do not want to be judged as hypocrites, but as righteous, in the righteous judgment of God, who sees the heart.
(Adapted for AMZI conference and ministry tour in Germany and Switzerland, June 9-14, 2016)
1Co 1:23-25 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness. (24) But to them, the called-out ones, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. (25) Because the foolish thing of God is wiser than men, and the weak thing of God is stronger than men.
1Jn 2:22-25 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He who denies the Father and the Son is antichrist. (23) Everyone who denies the Son neither has the Father. The one confessing the Son also has the Father. (24) Therefore what you heard from the beginning, let it abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, you will abide in both the Son and in the Father. (25) And this is the promise that He has promised us: everlasting life.
1Jn 5:19 We know that we are of God, and all the world lies under the sway of the wicked one.
Ps 2:1-3 Why do the nations rage, and the peoples conspire a vain thing? (2) The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers plot together, against Jehovah and against His anointed, saying, (3) Let us break their bands in two and cast away their cords from us.
Rom 11:28-32 Indeed as regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes. But as regards the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. (29) For the free gifts and calling of God are without repentance. (30) For as you also then disbelieved God, but now have been shown mercy through their disbelief, (31) even so these also have not believed now, so that through your mercy they may also obtain mercy. (32) For God has shut up all in unbelief, so that He might show mercy to all.
The subject we have is going to be tested to the limits as the last days of the end-times draw nearer to a close. The Scriptures are written for us living at the end of the age, and therefore the things written in them are for us living now, as much as, if not more in some things, than for those who lived at the time they were written. (Rom 15:4; 1Cor 10:11)
The name of our congregation, Nachalat Yeshua (Yeshua’s Inheritance) is itself a testimony to our Israeli Jewish society of our faith in Jesus. We intentionally decided to include Yeshua’s name in our name, rather than use a more general term, such as “The LORD’s Inheritance”. It better helps define who we are, and to be more open about it in discussions or conversations with unbelievers who inquire.
That we are here today with our friends from Beit Jala is also the fruit of building a relationship with our Arab Palestinian brothers and sisters – again, as a testimony to our peoples that the truth of God, and of His righteousness and peace, is found only through repentance and faith in the gospel. When we share with Israeli unbelievers – and even with other believers – why we go to Bethlehem every Christmas time, and to a church that does not support the return of the Jewish people back to the land promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and to their descendants – in these last days – it is to testify to the truth of the gospel of Jesus’ sacrificial death for us on the cross, and of His resurrection and ascension, as being greater than the disagreements we have on some important subjects. Israel is unique in that it is the only Middle Eastern country native to Jews and to Arabs, where believers in Jesus of each people can live and meet together. This cannot happen in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, or Iraq.
As a congregation, all of our local members send their children to public schools, rather than to Christian schools (which are not in Beer Sheva anyway) or homeschool. It is certainly a challenge, and a struggle, and a matter of great concern, given the level of education these days. The primary responsibility for children’s “education” lies with the parents, so we constantly monitored what was being taught to our children in subjects which could be problematic. (Gen 18:17-19; Dt 6:4-9) We would instruct our children in truths, if the school was instructing them in lies, such as evolution, or that all religions and faiths are equal, and nowadays in matters of “sexual identity”. We also taught our children not to be afraid or ashamed or embarrassed that our family believes in Jesus, even – and especially – in our Jewish society which rejects and hates Him. It is like sending out our lambs among wolves, but it helped them all to be able to be open about their faith in their classrooms, with their unbelieving friends, in the army, in college, and in their workplaces.
Evangelistically, we encourage everyone to be willing and ready to share their faith, and the gospel, with others, as the Lord gives opportunity. We have had some major public evangelism campaigns in Beer Sheva, and they have all generated a strong, negative reaction. Yet we continue to preach the Word of God, confess the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and baptize new believers, whether Jewish or other. But as light and salt in the world, each of us must be prepared to tell others the truth about the Son of God the Father, even though most of our people are religiously opposed to the only God and Savior. And our good works must be towards believers and unbelievers, for our Father is good and merciful to all. We want them to be saved just as we were: by the grace of God through repentance and faith in the gospel.
For me, Israel is a great place to follow the Lord. For one thing, there is nothing better anyway. And, it is a place where you must learn to trust Him and obey in faith. There is no Christian culture to support those who are disciples of the Lord Messiah, either culturally or in truth. There is no softening of the blows; believers themselves must learn to stand against all that attacks the true faith, and the true Jesus – who is neither “Yeshu” nor “Isa”. We need to help and support other brothers and sisters in this spiritual warzone. Reading the whole Bible as God’s Word is of great importance to grow in the faith, and in the knowledge and ways of God. In the Scriptures God has told us His plan, and the reasons for it, just as YHVH told Abraham why He was going to judge and destroy Sodom. Jesus tells us as His friends what the Father has revealed, and the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth.
Military service is a necessary part of being an Israeli citizen, especially for the Jewish people. As believers, this can cause a conflict: on the one hand, we must obey the civil authorities, and military service is part of the life in Israel; and Israel is surrounded by sworn enemies who seek her destruction. On the other hand, the Lord tells us that our warfare is not carnal, but spiritual, and that we are to love our enemies. How, as believers, can we live in this tension, and be overcomers? Each one has to hear from God, and act in faith with a clear conscience. In either case, we will be needing to explain ourselves to others, whether to our Arab brothers and sisters, or to our Jewish people among whom we live. What is important for believers in the military is to demonstrate a different spirit – a different motivation and attitude — in them than in those who do not know the Lord Jesus as their own Savior from their own sins, and from the sins of their people. Soldiers in Messiah will need to show their faith by their works, whether by sacrificially helping others, not complaining about their commanders and officers, not stealing, not falling to the temptations of sex or of other sins, but taking a stand for the righteousness of God.
The Bible makes a difference between killing, as in war or police actions, and in murder. This is very important to all of us, for conscience sake, and in matters of justice. As citizens who benefit from the security and well-being of the society, the fact that most of the believers are willing to sacrifice themselves — sometimes with their lives, and in other ways, such as delaying studies and careers – with others who are obligated to serve the country, helps to break down a barrier against Jewish believers in Jesus, which is that we are no longer Jews or have that we have joined the persecutors. Now, the military echelon has come to respect the believers, and to make them officers and put them in charge of important positions. This makes the testimony of faith more credible to them, and gives more respect for “Christians”, for those who do believe.
In the society, when we are known and respected, then opportunities are given us: taking in Christian refugees from Sudan; cooperating with a city soup kitchen; assisting Holocaust survivors; working with the government Tourism ministry; being entrusted with police and court procedures, such as translating for those whose Hebrew is insufficient.
We are in the world, but not of the world. We are the salt of the Earth. Let your light so shine, that by your good works they glorify your Father in Heaven. (Jn 17:16-17; Mt 5:11-16)
Prayer might be the only thing many believers can do; and prayer might be the only thing on which many believers across the denominational streams agree. Therefore, even here, the enemy comes in to bring inaction or disunity!
Let’s pray now together the prayer, commonly known as the “Lord’s Prayer”, but which is better described as the prayer pattern which Jesus taught His disciples and brothers to pray. Yeshua’s prayer in John 17 is definitely the Lord’s prayer! (Even now He intercedes for us!)
Mt 6:9-13 . . . Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed be Your name, (10) Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. (11) Give us this day our daily bread; (12) and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors. (13) And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Prayer is the life-breath of a believer in the living God. It is natural communication with God, our Father in Heaven. Prayer indicates a close, personal, loving, free relationship and fellowship between Him and the believer in Him through our faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. In the short epistle of Jude, it is written that we should pray in the Holy Spirit (Jude 20). And this is in the context of the end-times. All of the prayers that we have in the Scriptures are prayers in the Holy Spirit: they are according to the mind and heart of YHVH God, according to the circumstances and covenantal responsibilities and expectations. (Heb 12:22-24) So surely the manner of prayer which the Lord Yeshua teaches His disciples is one in the Holy Spirit. Praying in the Holy Spirit does not only mean to pray in tongues, but is for every believer.
Mt 6:5-15 And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, They have their reward. (6) But you, when you pray, enter into your room. And shutting your door, pray to your Father in secret; and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly. (7) But when you pray, do not use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles. For they think that in their many words they shall be heard. (8) Therefore do not be like them, for your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask Him. (9) Therefore pray in this way: Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed be Your name. (10) Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. (11) Give us this day our daily bread; (12) and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors. (13) And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. (14) For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; (15) but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Yeshua begins by telling us how not to pray! First of all, He says not to be like hypocrites who only want to impress others with their public prayers; but their private prayer life may be non-existent; or else, they want to impress people with their religious piety. God is not impressed in any positive way by this! Most of our prayer life will be in secret. After all, the apostle Paul writes that we should pray at all times. There is a place and time for corporate prayer, and we have examples of that, too, in the Bible. Both are appropriate; but mostly we need to develop our communication with God our Father in our private time and place, and this will rightly influence our public prayers, as well.
Yeshua also tells us not to simply repeat the same prayers or words over-and-over again, like some mantra or magic, as if this will cause God to answer us like we want. Every human wants basic necessities, such as food and clothing. Our Father in Heaven knows that also includes us! If we seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, we will not be worrying about our basic needs like unbelievers do; and the Lord tells us that our Father will provide these things to us as we seek first His interests and His ways. (Mt 6:31-34; cp Gen 28:20-21) We are to pray with faith, and with understanding of God’s will.
We are praying to a personal God (Hos 2:16), who is living and hears our prayers, and loves and cares about us as a Father. Through the gospel, God has become our Father in a personal way. In Judaism, they acknowledge God is a Father to Israel, and we see this through the Old Testament (e.g. Ex 4:22; Dt 32:6; Jer 31:9; Jn 8:41-42). Through the gospel and the New Testament, each believer has received the spirit of adoption to call God, “Abba, Father”. (Rom 8:14-17) The veil has been rent through Yeshua’s sacrificial death, and we have direct and open access to the Throne of God, Maker of Heaven and Earth!
In this prayer for disciples and God’s family, the Lord teaches us to focus on our Father and His interests. As children of God, we are to honor Him, and to desire that His will be done, not what seems necessarily right to us. We humble ourselves before Him, being under His authority. It is an occasion of self-judgment, acknowledging our need for forgiveness of our own sins, and our obligation to be merciful and forgive others who have sinned against us.
In other religions, their gods can be anything and anywhere. The God of Israel is in Heaven! In other religions, even those who claim to worship a god in Heaven, they do not relate to Him as to a Father: there is no personal relationship, no knowledge of a Person – whether unto God, or whether Him unto us/me. Jesus teaches us to pray to our Father in Heaven. Even Messiah prayed to God His Father n Heaven, and not to Himself, although He is God in the flesh, and the fullness of the Godhead was in Him. Also notice, we come to God our Father as part of a larger family: we pray to our Father, recognizing that we are not alone to know Him as the Father, and we seek His interests and our needs collectively, and not selfishly. Our Father in Heaven loves each and all of us, and we are to love one another with His love.
The very first matter of prayerful priority is that our Father’s name be sanctified. As His children, our lifestyle and choices should demonstrate that it matters to us how we conduct our lives, how we dress and speak and eat, how others would think of our Father’s good name by the way they perceive us. We should take an active interest in His business. (Lk 2:49; Jn 5:16-19; Jn 6:29) This is one way we show that this element of Holy Spirit prayer matters to us as far as I have a part in it. We are not to carry His name in vain.
Another way that our Father’s name is sanctified we learn from the Scriptures by what He Himself has told us:
Eze 36:17-28 Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their own way and by their doings, even as the defilement of woman’s impurity, their way was before Me. (18) So I poured My fury on them, because of the blood that they had shed on the land, and for their idols by which they defiled it. (19) And I scattered them among the nations, and they were scattered through the lands. I judged them according to their way and according to their doings. (20) And when they entered the nations where they went, they even profaned My holy name by saying to them, These are the people of Yehovah, and they are gone out of His land. (21) But I had pity for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. (22) Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord Yehovah: I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. (23) And I will sanctify My great name, which was profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. And the nations shall know that I am Yehovah, says the Lord Yehovah, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. (24) For I will take you from among the nations and gather you out of all lands, and will gather you into your own land. (25) And I will sprinkle clean waters on you, and you shall be clean. I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from your idols. (26) And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. (27) And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments and do them. (28) And you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers. And you shall be My people, and I will be your God.
Eze 38:14-17 So, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog, Thus says the Lord Yehovah: In that day when My people of Israel dwells securely, shall you not know it? (15) And you shall come from your place out of the recesses of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great company and a mighty army. (16) And you shall come up on My people Israel like a cloud, to cover the land. It shall be in the last days, and I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me when I shall be sanctified in you, O Gog, before their eyes. (17) Thus says the Lord Yehovah: Are you he of whom I have spoken in former days, by the hand of My servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied in those days and years that I would bring you against them?
Eze 38:23 So I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself. And I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am Yehovah.
Eze 39:6-8 And I will send a fire on Magog, and on the secure inhabitants of the coasts. And they shall know that I am Yehovah. (7) And I will make My holy name known in the midst of My people Israel. And I will not let them profane My holy name any more. And the nations shall know that I am Yehovah, the Holy One in Israel. (8) Behold, it is coming, and it will be done, says the Lord Yehovah. This is the day of which I have spoken.
Eze 39:25-29 Therefore thus says the Lord Yehovah: And I will return the captivity of Jacob, and will have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and will be jealous for My holy name; (26) after they have borne their shame and all their sins by which they have sinned against Me, when they dwell securely in their land and no one terrifies; (27) when I have brought them again from the peoples, and gathered them out of their enemies’ lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations; (28) then they shall know that I am Yehovah their God who exiled them among the nations, but I have gathered them to their own land, and have not left any of them there. (29) Nor will I hide My face from them any more, for I have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel, says the Lord Yehovah.
Yehovah God has told us that His name will be hallowed/sanctified when His people Israel is saved and no longer profaning His Holy name, and they are dwelling safely and permanently in the Land of Israel, which He promised to give them, and when their enemies are defeated who had thought that He is less than the God Most High that He is, and YHVH is still the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob! This is written in the context of the last days. The sanctification of God our Father’s name is of the highest priority with Jesus. Is it with us? Do we know and understand the will and the plan of our God? (I thank Keith Parker for this insight.)
Yeshua goes on to teach us to pray for the Father’s kingdom to come, and for His will to be done on Earth as in Heaven. This is connected with the sanctification of His name, when He finally restores the Kingdom to Israel and over all the nations. The whole creation is waiting for this! (Acts 1:6-8; Rom 8:19-23; Rev 11:15) Although we have tasted of the Kingdom of God when we are born-again and baptized with the Holy Spirit, and we are being sanctified through our faith in Yeshua, the Church is not the Kingdom of God, and we know that God’s will is not being done even within ourselves as it ought, nor is our Father’s and His Son’s name being hallowed as He deserves and requires. The reality of the Kingdom awaits the return of the Lord to establish it — what is called the Millennial Kingdom — and His kingdom will never pass away.
The Lord then, after setting the highest priority, teaches us that we can ask our Father for our daily bread – physical and spiritual. Again, it is a request with the interest of our other brothers and sisters in mind, as well as our own need. So, too, is the request for forgiveness: most of us need to be forgiven, and we are to care for one another’s peace and blessing from our heavenly Father.
But, now, there is a condition placed on this request for forgiveness: it is dependent on our forgiving others, whether financial debts or any other form of offense. This is the righteousness of God, and a condition for our fellowship with Him to be full. It is also identifying with Jesus in His sufferings for our redemption and salvation, who asked His Father to forgive us for all of our iniquity and transgressions and sin against Him. Although I do not believe this is an issue of salvation for the believer, nonetheless our fellowship with the Father and with the Son, and with one another, will not be healthy, nor will it contribute to the honor and holiness of our Father’s name. This is a great challenge for us, and also a cause of stumbling to others – even for unbelievers — when we do not forgive. It is a condition on the unconditional grace which we have received for the price paid for our adoption. It should of great concern to any child of God, and our own spiritual fruitfulness is dependent upon it. (Mt 18:21-35)
Next, Jesus would have us know that there is danger in the world, and that we are able to get into trouble, and to become captive to evil, including to the evil one, the devil and the antichrist. By asking our Father not to lead us into temptation, we acknowledge that there is danger, and we want Him to protect us from deception; yet we bear a personal responsibility, as well, to keep ourselves from evil in the fear of the Lord.
Lastly, the Lord closes with a ‘statement of faith’ for us to proclaim: the kingdom is not the evil one’s, but our Father’s and of His Son! And to Him is the power and the glory forever! While we are praying for His Kingdom to come, we also declare now by faith that it is already in His hands, despite what we see or feel or need now.
Let us pray again this form of prayer which our Lord has taught us, and being more mindful of the content and the intent of what we pray: our focus in the Holy Spirit is God-centered, on our Father’s holy name which is currently being profaned by His own people – both Jews and Christians – and by the Gentiles and His enemies; our vision is to be the coming again of Jesus to establish God’s kingdom back to Israel and over all the Earth; God is our primary Provider, being our Father; the absolute necessity to forgive others; protection from being led astray by deceitful temptations; the proclamation and praise of the truth that our God reigns! HalleluYah!
Est 2:1-4,14 After these things, when the wrath of King Ahasuerus had calmed down, he remembered Vashti and what she had done, and what was decreed against her. (2) And the king’s young men who served him said, Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king. (3) And let the king choose officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, so that they may gather together all the beautiful young virgins to Shushan the palace, to the house of the women, to the hand of Hegai the king’s eunuch, keeper of the women. And let their ointments be given. (4) And let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti. And the thing pleased the king, and he did so. . . . She went in the evening, and on the next day she returned to the second house of the women, into the hand of Shaashgaz, the king’s officer who kept the concubines. She did not come in to the king any more, unless the king delighted in her, and she was called by name.
Act 15:28-29 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these necessary things: (29) that you abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which, if you keep yourselves, you shall do well. Be prospered.
I want to look at the manner of seeking a wife in contrast to the way of the Gentile King Ahasuerus. You will remember that the people of Israel asked for a king like the Gentiles have, rather than have YHVH being their King. YHVH is holy, and searches the thoughts and intentions of the heart; whereas, Gentile (those not in covenant relationship with YHVH) kings are sinners. The people became sinners, rather than being a holy and righteous people who kept the Law of Moses with God’s commandments and judgments. As we read in the New Testament, God has shown that all people are sinful — Jews and Gentiles; those who have the Law and those who do not — and need the blood of the Messiah’s sacrificial death in order to be saved and cleansed from sin. With Passover coming next Shabbat, it is good to remember that God has chosen us to be His holy people.
King Ahasuerus was looking for another wife, and had all of the pretty virgins from his large kingdom come to him, in the hope of being chosen by him to be his wife. It did not seem to concern all of his youthful servants or him that he was not leaving many eligible single women for many single men in his kingdom! All of these pretty women apparently had to sleep with the king as part of his selection process (Est 2:14). This is the way of kings – especially Gentiles. When Israeli kings – and other men — acted this way, it was against the Law of Moses, and against the holiness of the God of Israel. They became like Gentiles, which is what they wanted. It brought ruin and shame to the king and to the nation, and did not bring honor to the name of the LORD.
In the New Testament, all believers are called to a higher standard of holiness and purity than even the Law of Moses required. And to emphasize the seriousness and importance of this in God’s eyes, the apostles agreed with the Holy Spirit that Gentile believers needed to stop fornication of whatever kind. The Jewish believer was supposed to already know that from the Law. Fornication is a word that includes any illicit sexual activity outside of marriage – whether before marriage or during marriage, and even after one has been married (whether widowed or divorced). Fornication includes sex for payment, premarital sex, adultery (illicit sex with another while married), homosexuality of men or of women, bestiality, pedophilia, pornography.
The Israeli news is full of political, judicial, military, and religious leaders, and entertainers who are accused, and sometimes convicted, of sexual harassment and of rape. Most of these men are married, but no one is talking about adultery. The men usually do not deny that there was sex with the complainant, only that it was not rape: that is, it was done not by force but with consent. But adultery? Not a word in the public media! Yet the damage to the marriage and to the family is often irreversible. There is a breach of trust and security when there is unfaithfulness within the closest relationship that God has made between a man and a woman. Our security as the Bride of Messiah is His complete faithfulness in our relationship with the Lord Yeshua.
For one who loves God, who cares about him/herself in God’s sight, who respects the other person, in the fear of YHVH, they will be empowered to resist all temptation – and the Holy Spirit will help overcome the urge.
Today there is a BIG problem: fornication is not taken very seriously, even by many who say that they are believers, and even born-again! In a poll (conducted by The Nat’l Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy) taken in the U.S. a few years ago, 88% of all unmarried young adults (ages 18-29) are having sex. Among Christians, who identify as “evangelical”, 80% say they have had sex. 80%. . .even though, according to a Gallup poll, 76% of evangelicals believe that sex outside of marriage is morally wrong. There is not much distinction between the Body of Messiah and those still “of the world”. And consider, that if 76% of evangelical believers think that premarital sex is wrong, then 24% think it is okay! Which means that 56% of these young adult believers are hypocrites: they believe that premarital sex is wrong, but do it anyway!
In Israel there is a law which recognizes common-law marriage (publicly recognized couples). These are two persons living together in a manner that is as if they were married, and after only 6 months (!), they can be considered to be in a legal relationship that binds them under the law. (A true marriage is a covenantal relationship, which carries with it more serious benefits and consequences.) Some believers approve of such relationships. But what is the couple doing up until the time that they are publically recognized?!: they are sinning by having sex outside of marriage, with some even having children. God’s standard of what is acceptable, and of what is holy, is being lowered even by some believers to fit the low moral level of today’s culture, which does not want the Holy One of Israel to be their God and King, but want to break the bonds of YHVH and of His Messiah from off of them. (Ps 2) We might lower God’s standard, but He has not!
King Ahasuerus wanted to know what the Persian law allowed him to do about Vashti his wife. Believers in Yeshua need to know what God’s law says in such matters, and not be hypocrites, but obey with faith what our Lord says. We live under the laws of our nation, but when there is a contradiction, we must obey God’s higher standard, and not use as an excuse, “it’s legal in our country”; or, “it’s culturally acceptable in our society”; or, “times have changed, and the Bible is not currently relevant”. All of these excuses say that our fleshly desire has higher priority and authority over God’s sovereign authority! This is no different than what Israel wanted in asking for a king like the Gentiles have. What does the Holy Spirit say about this?:
Eph 5:3-7 For let fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness not be once named among you, as becomes saints, (4) neither baseness, foolish talking, jesting, which are not becoming, but rather giving of thanks. (5) For you know this, that no fornicator, or unclean person, or covetous one (who is an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (6) Let no man deceive you with vain words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience. (7) Therefore do not be partakers with them.
If anyone should say, I am not really a believer yet, so it is okay. NO! Then you put yourself in the category of “children of disobedience” that God’s wrath will come upon!
Do not test God, but in the fear of the Lord sanctify yourself; for without holiness, no one will see the Lord.
If any of you are already approving of sex before, or outside of marriage, please confess this sin to God, and He will forgive you. Do not justify sin, or return to it. If any of you are actively engaged in illicit sex, then confess this sin, stop the activity, and you will find favor with God. Isn’t inheriting the Kingdom of God, and being with Jesus worth it? Do we love Him more than even ourselves, more than someone who is not really respecting you if he or she is causing me to sin against my God and Savior, and threatening my eternal destiny!? God knows our deepest needs; He created and made us, and He is the one that gave sex as something good and holy between a man and his lawful wife. Part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is self-control. In today’s world, there is a great battle going on for the souls of people, and for the dignity of human beings, whom God created in His image and likeness. Satan says that we can become like God by disobeying the Word of God and doing what we want. Satan is a liar and a murderer. The words of our Father are truth and life to all who trust and obey.
So, brothers and sisters – and especially those who want to find the right man or woman to marry, and who want to be the right person for someone – keep yourselves holy for that person, and for God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. You will never regret it!
The vision of Yeshua’s Inheritance Congregation is that we will be prepared for the coming again of the Lord, and to have part in the first resurrection. This matter of sexual purity is extremely important towards that readiness and overcoming the world by our faith, and being light in the increasing darkness.
(Modified June 26, 2016)
Eph 4:1-6 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the calling with which you are called, (2) with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, (3) endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (4) There is one body and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling, (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (6) one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all.
I was in Kenya a few weeks ago on a mission to help Christians there understand the importance of Israel to them in God’s plan of redemption. There is a unity of purpose with God through Christ Jesus. Many of the church leaders – pastors and bishops – came up to me to ask of me forgiveness for them thinking and teaching that God had finished with Israel. This week I was at a leadership retreat (SAYF – Sitting At Yeshua’s Feet) with Jewish and Arab believers, and others, as an expression of our unity in the common faith that we have in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. When SAYF first began in 2000, the concern then was to bring together as one the charismatics and the non-charismatics. The group that I was part of in Kenya included Catholics, Anglicans, Pentecostals. I was the only Jewish believer, and I do not belong to any of those particular churches or denominations. But we were all born-again believers, and that is what united us! There is one Body of Messiah; we are many and diverse members across and within the many streams. I thank God that even in our own small congregation of Yeshua’s Inheritance, there is a variety that challenges us, and also that is a witness to us of the truth.
We just finished our study of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation. The Lord was writing to all the churches as being together as one church under His headship and shepherding. The New Testament is written to all believers of all churches, and each of us will have to give an account to the Word of God, even the Lord Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul writes that we are to have fellowship and to bless all those who love the Lord in sincerity, and who call upon YHVH out of a pure heart. (Eph 6:24; 2Tim 2:22)
God has given Israel as an example to the Church – to Christians throughout the generations. Israel is not an example to other nations, but to the Church. Israel and the Church are the ones in covenant with YHVH God, and He deals with us in similar fashion, and the Scriptures are written to us about all things.
You remember that Israel became divided into two kingdoms: Judah in the south; Ephraim, or Israel, in the north. What we read of the northern kingdom is that they did not allow worship of God in the place which He chose – Jerusalem – and they were completely idolatrous. But, there were real believers in Israel, the northern kingdom. In 1Kg 18 we have the account of when the prophet Elijah needed to meet the evil king Ahab. There was a servant in Ahab’s council named Obadiah. He hid 100 true prophets of YHVH from being found and killed by the queen Jezebel. All of these persons were faithful to the true God, even though they lived and even served in Israel. They did not move to Judah, but remained in Israel.
The time came that God’s long-suffering ended towards this part of His people, and He sent them into captivity by the Assyrians. The Jews in Judea and Jerusalem trusted in themselves that they were okay with God. But the time came when He told them through the prophet Ezekiel that their sisters – Sodom and Samaria – were more righteous than they: Judah knew of the sins of Sodom and of the northern Kingdom (represented by the capital, Samaria), and why God had punished them; yet they did the same things and more! (Ezek 16:49-52) There were also real and faithful believers in Judah.
As we study the letters to the seven churches, we also see that within each of the churches there were those who heard and obeyed the word of the Lord, and those who did not. All who did were of one spirit in the faith.
Throughout the history of Israel and of the Church, we see that there were always those who thought that they were the true believers when comparing themselves with others among the people. We just saw how Judah thought towards Israel. The first Jewish believers thought that the Gentile believers needed to become Jewish in order to be saved. The Roman Catholics thought that they had become the New Israel instead of God still keeping covenant with actual Israel. Later Martin Luther thought that the Protestants were the spiritual Israel. The Catholics thought that those not in the Roman Catholic Church were outside of God’s grace, and the Protestants thought that all those inside the Catholic Church were not real believers. The Pentecostals came, and thought that unless you speak in tongues you are not baptized in the Holy Spirit, which would mean that you are not really saved. Others thought that if you speak in tongues you are of the devil. The Church of Christ that my wife grew up in thought that they were the true New Testament church, even while teaching that God was finished with the Jews, and also with musical instruments for now. The Closed Brethren think that they are the only believers faithful to Jesus and the Apostles. Many of these believers in these different denominations and camps will not take the Lord’s Supper together because they do not accept each other as Christ accepts all who put their trust and hope in Him for salvation. But it is the Lord’s Supper, not ours; He has invited all disciples and brothers and sisters.
Again, the apostle Paul writes that let each one examine himself if he is in the faith, and not be judging whether the next person is or not. (2Cor 13:5-6; 1Cor 11:28-29) Within each of the very many streams of the faith in Jesus – within the Body of Christ – there are those who believe, and those who do not. We cannot trust in our own righteousness by saying that I am okay because I belong to a particular church or denomination; nor because I do not belong to that church or denomination! This is what the southern kingdom of Judah thought towards the northern kingdom of Israel. God is no respecter of persons, and those who think that they see will be judged even more severely than those whom God has already judged.
To be clear here, I am not at all condoning what I believe are Scripturally aberrant institutions and churches, such as the Roman Catholic; but I do believe that there are within it some true believers, just as Obadiah and the prophets were in Israel. Yet the Protestant churches are not exempt from God’s judgments. Free evangelicals, Messianic Jewish synagogues — no one can place their hopes on any other foundation than Christ crucified, and Him risen from the dead. True believers from any of these “camps” should be able to freely fellowship outside the camp in the truth — and bear Messiah’s reproach — take the Lord’s Supper together, and justify God as alone righteous. Through the centuries the record is full of disciples of Jesus who were members of churches which today we call historic or traditional. Some were led by God to remain in them, while others left. Good King Jehoshaphat of Judah wanted to be united with wicked King Ahab of Israel, believing sincerely that all Israel was “family”. Yet we learn from his efforts and experience that ecumenism and political alliances are not God’s way or thoughts for true unity of His people who are estranged from Him.
Through the blood of the cross, God has reconciled Himself to us, and we are reconciled to Him and to each other who believe – across all the streams that come out from and converge into the one river of life. (Rev 22:1-3; Ezek 47:1-12) Let those who have an ear to hear, hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. It is a sin to judge God, and to make ourselves the judge of the Body of Christ, the Bride of the Lamb. Jesus is the Judge, and He says that His word will judge us. (Jn 12:42-50) Let us confess and repent of our sins against the Lord and our brethren if we have judged them unrighteously, simply because they belong to a particular church or denomination. At the same time, we can not reconcile with institutions or systems that remain opposed to revealed truth, in so much as we understand.
Eph 4:1-6 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the calling with which you are called, (2) with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, (3) endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (4) There is one body and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling, (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (6) one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all.
Joh 17:14-24 I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (15) I do not pray for You to take them out of the world, but for You to keep them from the evil. (16) They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (17) Sanctify them through Your truth. Your Word is truth. (18) As You have sent Me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world. (19) And I sanctify Myself for their sakes, so that they also might be sanctified in truth. (20) And I do not pray for these alone, but for those also who shall believe on Me through their word, (21) that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. (22) And I have given them the glory which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one, (23) I in them, and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me. (24) Father, I desire that those whom You have given Me, that they may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me, for You have loved Me before the foundation of the world.
1Co 10:16-17 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (17) For we, the many, are one bread and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread.