Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hanukkah - Past, Present, and Future

This year we celebrate an early and unique Hanukkah (meaning dedication); the only time in our lifetime when Hanukkah converges with Thanksgiving.  The last time it happened was 125 years ago, and because of the nuances of the calendars, it will not happen for another 70,000+ years.

In other words, never again.

Hanukkah Past

Going back a few centuries, we can discover that the first Thanksgiving in America, celebrated by the Pilgrims, was based on Sukkot, or Feast of Tabernacles.  This seventh feast of the Bible can be likened to a Jewish Thanksgiving.  Sukkot has always been a time of celebration after the last great harvest of the year (and has a future fulfillment of the last great harvest of the Earth).

Going back even further, we discover that Hanukkah was a celebration to re-dedicate the refurbished holy temple in 165 BC.  It had been desecrated by the Syrian ruler Antiochus IV, who was then defeated by a small but feisty band of Jewish fighters known as the Maccabees.

What you may not know is that this particular celebration of Hanukkah in 165 BC was also based on Sukkot - in particular the Sukkot when Solomon dedicated the first temple in I Kings 8.  They were having such a blast at that dedication that Solomon decided to add a second week to the festivities, and finally on the eighth day of the second week, he sent them home.

This year's "Thanksgivukkah" brings them all together again.

Hanukkah Present

In this period we live in, between the previous second and future third temples, the Word tells us that we ARE the temple of the Holy Spirit. 

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body."  I Corinthians 6:19-20

Thinking about the cleansing and rededication of the Temple - that Hanukkah commemorates - reminds us that we are to be continually cleansing and dedicating our lives and our bodies to the service of the Lord.  This dedication is not a one-time event, but a continual process of sanctification that lasts the rest of our lives.
Hanukkah Future
This will also have a future fulfillment when the third temple will be re-dedicated after the desecration by the antichrist.
The book of Daniel gives us a prophecy of the last seven years of history.  Without going into too many numerical details, after sixty-nine weeks (seven-year periods), a Messiah was to show up and then be cut-off (meaning be killed).  Guess who showed up 483 years after this prophecy?  The math shows Him riding into Jerusalem on a donkey at exactly the right time.
When the Jews as a national body rejected the Messiah, that seventieth week was put off until a future time so that the kingdom could be offered to the Gentiles. 

(Thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to join Your kingdom!)
Daniel 12 speaks of the horrible things that will happen during the second half of that 70th "week," which will last 3 1/2 years.  Revelation speaks of 1260 days, and Daniel speaks of 1335 days.  Why the extra 75 days?
It is interesting to note that there are 75 days from Yom Kippur to Hanukkah.  While we cannot dogmatically predict how every element of the fall feasts will be fulfilled, it seems to me that the national salvation of Israel on a future Yom Kippur will be followed by the third temple's dedication (or re-dedication) 75 days later. 
And the best part of all this is that the Lion of Judah - Yeshua, our King of Kings - will be present during all the festivities!


Sunday, November 24, 2013

New Covenant Giving

The church today teaches that Jesus fulfilled the law given to Moses at Mount Sinai.  Which is a good thing to teach, because this is true.  He became our Law when we put our trust in Him.

I find it interesting, though, that the one aspect of the Sinai covenant still taught by congregations today is tithing; the giving of ten percent of your income to your local church body.  Believers are often surprised to learn that this is not taught anywhere in the New Testament.

Under the Mosaic covenant, the main purpose of tithing was to support the priesthood. Numbers 18:21 said, - “Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.

The priests and Levites had no inheritance of land for farming.  They needed to be freed up to concentrate on their service at the holy temple.  (Side note: if you add up and estimate all the required tithes and sacrifices that were required under the Moses Covenant for various holy days and special offerings, it was more like 22 percent).

In Genesis 14, Abraham gave a tithe of war spoils to Melchizedek in Genesis 14.  This mysterious priest shows up out of nowhere, with no geneology, as a snapshot of our future High Priest, Yeshua.
Melchizedek shows up again in Hebrews 7:11-12, which says, Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron?  For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 
Since Yeshua fulfilled the tenets of the Sinai covenant perfectly, he was qualified to become our new high priest.  And WE are now priests in His kingdom. 1 Peter 2:9 says we are a royal priesthood.  Revelation 1:6 tells us that He has made us kings and priests forever!  There is no longer a Levitical priesthood to support, since we are all the priesthood. 
So does the New Covenant get rid of giving altogether?  By no means!
The letter of the law was abolished, and we now have the Spirit to lead us.  New Covenant law gets rid of the externals of the law, and magnifies the internals – the matters of the heart.  New Covenant law is MUCH more difficult to keep, which is why we need the power of the Holy Spirit.  Some examples given by Yeshua are:
  • Don’t murder, but you are just as guilty if you hate your brother.
  • Don’t commit adultery, but you are guilty even if you harbor lust in your heart.
Giving is definitely a matter of the heart.  If other internals were magnified, would giving not also be magnified?  Let's look at some concepts of New Covenant giving taught by Yeshua:

In Matthew 6:19-25  Yeshua tells us, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

The middle part of this passage, referring to good and bad eyes, seems out of place.  But when you understand that it is referring to a Jewish idiom (a good eye means a generous eye, bad eye means a selfish eye), the  passage suddenly makes much more sense.

The account of the rich young ruler is told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke:  He asks Yeshua,  "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  He’d kept the letter of the law all his life. Yeshua replied,  You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.  Yeshua knew that this man's heart was given over to his money.

Mark and Luke record the story of the widow's mite:  Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

Both accounts underline what Matthew 5 tells us; that where your heart is, there will your treasure be.

(May I just insert here an exhortation to the wealthy American church?  We are approaching the holiday called Thanksgiving, where we spend the day being thankful for all that we have. Then the next day, we celebrate "Black Friday" and get a whole bunch more stuff.  Just sayin'...  Traditions die hard, but really, aren't we supposed to avoid being conformed to this world?  Can I get an amen here?  Hello?  Anyone?  Cricket, cricket...)

Anyhoo, let's continue our perusal of New Covenant giving.  How did the early believers give, and to whom or what did they give their money?

1.  To each other
Acts 2:44-46 - Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Acts 4:34-35 - Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

These accounts are a narrative of what the early believers did, and not a command for us to go live on a socialistic kibbutz (although you can if you want to).  The point is, that these believers had an attitude of generosity among each other, giving wherever there was a need.  They didn't give ten percent, they gave EVERYTHING, knowing that it was all God's money.


2.  To the Jewish believers in Judea
Paul spent close to 10 years soliciting funds for the believers in Jerusalem.  Then and today, life was difficult for Messianic Jewish believers in Israel.  As a tiny minority in Israel today, they are sometimes persecuted and/or have a hard time finding a job.
Acts 11:29 - Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.
1 Corinthians 16:1-3  Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem.
Romans 15:25-27  But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints.  For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.

 Below are listed several Biblical reasons to support Jewish missions:

1.  Genesis 12:3 - I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. It is important to note that two different words are used here for "curse." the second one means to treat as unimportant, or lightly esteem.

2.  Romans 1:16 -  For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

3.  Isaiah 40:1-2 - “Comfort, yes, comfort My people! says your God. “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her.  Isaiah is talking to us here.  He isn't telling Israel to comfort herself.

4.  Matthew 25:40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
The word used for brethren here is literally close kinsmen.  How you treat the Jews matters.
5.  Romans 11:15 -  For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?  The salvation of the Jews is the culmination of God's many promises to Israel throughout the scriptures, and will be accompanied by a tremendous, worldwide harvest.  It should be high on our priority list indeed!

3.  To missionaries

In Matthew 10:9-10, Jesus is sending out the twelve to the house of Israel:  Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul speaks further of financially supporting gospel workers.  "If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more?

Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.

But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me… What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.”

Paul, one of the church-planting apostles, is saying that it is not wrong to support workers for the gospel.  However, he himself will not accept such support – he was a tentmaker.   Each person must allow the Spirit to lead him/her in this matter. 

2 Corinthians 9 really seems to capture the essence of giving:  But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.

Put another way, you simply cannot outgive God!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Musings on the Fifth Commandment

Exodus 20:12 tells us, Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

Obedience to the fifth commandment comes with a special blessing, unlike the other nine.  Could there be more to this commandment than meets the eye?

I have said before that Yeshua did not come to Earth to start a new religion called Christianity. (I know, I am changing the subject, but bear with me). 

He is the Messiah, the fulfillment of all that was written about Him in the Tanakh, the Hebrew scriptures (aka the "Old Testament"). Christianity is simply a continuation of YHVH's plan. He was first promised in Genesis 3:15 as the Seed of the woman... the first suggestion of parenthood in scripture. 

Biblical Judaism and Christianity were both birthed from the ultimate parent, YHVH Himself.  But scriptures are filled with all sorts of family analogies.  We can also say that Christianity was birthed out of Biblical Judaism, after Yeshua came to earth - as the Seed of the Woman - and was sacrificed for our sins.  In this way, Biblical Judaism can be called our parent faith.  (Rabbinic Judaism, birthed after the destruction of the temple, re-wrote Biblical Judaism).

The early church was all Jewish.  But as it grew and expanded, it became more and more Gentile.  By the fourth century, the Roman Emperor Constantine had adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.  Tragically, he (and so many others) did not like the Jews.  He forbade any Jewish expression of faith within the Roman church.  The Sabbath was changed to Sunday.  The Biblical feasts - which ALL point to Yeshua - were made illegal, and are still generally not taught in the church today.  The faith became something that was totally unrecognizable to the Jewish people (much like Joseph, who had fully taken on the look of an Egyptian and was not known by his brothers).

Even worse, the disassociation did not stop here.  Throughout history, Jewish people have been horribly persecuted, many times in the name of Christ.  Major events like the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Pogroms, and the Holocaust, are accompanied by hundreds of lesser-known tragedies such as forced conversions, expulsions, tortures, and massacres.  It is not hard at all to understand why Jews would distrust Christians.

We did not honor our parent faith. 

Genesis 12:3 says this:  I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

There is a promise of blessing when we bless Israel.  There is also a curse attached to cursing them.  But it is important to know that two different Hebrew words are used for curse here.  The first one, arar, means to curse, and the second one, qalal, means to lightly esteem, or treat as unimportant

The very last verse in the Tanakh, Malachai 4:6, is in the context of the Day of the Lord, when Messiah returns to Earth. 

And he will turn
The hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.

Can this mean that the historical rifts between the Jews and the Christians will be healed in the days leading up to Yeshua's return?  I hope so!
The church has a lot of repenting to do for its sins against the Jews.  And many in the church still cling to Replacement Theology, the idea that YHVH is done with the Jews, has disowned them, and has instead given all the Biblically-promised blessings to the church.

To the early church fathers, Replacement Theology seemed logical.  The Jews had been scattered to the four corners of the Earth after the temple was destroyed 70 AD.  No ethnic group could possibly keep their cultural identity and then be re-gathered from such a scattering abroad, not even after one generation.  No, that was humanly impossible; it had never happened in the history of the world.

All that changed in 1948.  The miraculous  rebirth of Israel took place, as foretold in the scriptures.  The Jewish people came - and are still coming - from the four corners of the earth to settle in that little gem of land no bigger than New Jersey.

To cling to the idea that YHVH has disowned His chosen people is to miss the heart of the Father for His chosen people.  Yeshua gave us the story of the Prodigal Son.  It is a terrible thing for the church to take on the attitude of the arrogant older brother.

Now more than ever, we need to bless and esteem the members of our parent faith.  Very soon, Yeshua will return to the very soil of Israel and reveal Himself to those who do not yet believe.