Saturday, January 25, 2014

Who is my Neighbor?

I love the continuity of scripture.

The parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 follows on the heels of the seventy disciples returning from their Yeshua-given mission, filled with joy at all they had seen.

Yeshua then rejoiced that God had hidden kingdom mysteries from the wise, and revealed them to simple babes (the disciples - who were ordinary men, not scholars).  Proverbs 30 shows the great desire of wise men to know God’s mysteries:  Agur asks beseechingly,
Who has ascended into heaven, or descended?
Who has gathered the wind in His fists?
Who has bound the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is His name, and what is His Son’s name,
If you know??

As we head into the parable of the Good Samaritan, the narrative now jumps to the other side.  Enter the expert in the law.  The "wise one." 

In Luke 10:25, this teacher of the law asks Yeshua what HE needs to do to inherit eternal life.  (In other words, he is asking how he can work his way to justification).

Yeshua, in typical Hebrew fashion, asks him a question… What is written in the law... how do you see it?

The law expert gives the two greatest commandments - love the Lord your God with all you've got, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus says yep.  And then He waits.

The law expert continues.  Wanting to justify himself, he presses on and asks who constitutes his neighbor.

I need to pause here for a moment and describe what is behind that question.  This question had been debated by the Jewish teachers of the law ever since the command had been given on Mt. Sinai.  Who exactly is my neighbor?

Leviticus 19:16-18 says, You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord. ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

The context of neighbor in the Torah is one’s fellow Israelite.  The man wanted to know if he had to love all the Jewish people, or just the ones in his circle.  The ultra-orthodox?  The Hellenized?  He would not have even remotely meant a Gentile, and especially not a Samaritan. 

The Torah is about to be amplified.  The Messiah is preparing them for the change in the law. 

The progression of Priest - Levite - common man was a typical Hebraic form of thought.  For example, the order of reading from the Torah would have been priest, then Levite, then the common man.  However, Yeshua changed the third character to a Samaritan!  He also changed the law expert's question at the end of the story.  Not who is my neighbor, but which one acted like a neighbor?

The law expert couldn’t even bring himself to say the word Samaritan, but grudgingly said the one who had mercy.  (It reminds me of the way many Arabs today cannot bring themselves to say Israel, but instead say that Zionist state).

Under the surface, we find a picture of Yeshua and the Body of Messiah in this parable.

Yeshua is the good Samaritan; the only one able to show unconditional love, in spite of rejection.  The Samaritan is highly rejected by the Jews, and Yeshua is also the stone that the builders (such as the law expert) rejected.

The Jericho Road was a rough place.  Even today, one can picture how it might have been thousands of years ago.  The route ascends 4000 feet going up from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem.  It is dotted with Bedouin tents, some of whom are descendents of robbers that used to lay in wait for pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem.

The Jericho Road is our life.  It’s tough.  We are the ones laying at the side of the road of life, and this road beats us up.  There are robbers and a lot of things on the road of life that cause the hurts.  We lay there beaten, robbed, naked, and half dead, and we need the Merciful One.

What does Yeshua do?  First, He binds up our wounds (He binds up the brokenhearted – see Isaiah 61:1, Psalm 147:3, Luke 4:18).    He then pours oil on us (which represents the Holy Spirit).  Isn't that a wonderful picture?  He takes care of our wounds, but He doesn’t stop there… then He pours out His spirit on our lives.  The third thing applied to our wounds is wine.  Wine represents joy!!  Joy that comes from the Holy Spirit.

This is what the Merciful One does when He finds us.

Then, just like the Good Samaritan, He puts us on His beast of burden so we don’t have to walk.  In this way, He carries our burdens.

The wounded man is taken to the inn, which represents the Body of Messiah, the congregation, the church.  He gives the innkeeper 2 denarii and then departs, promising to come back.  (Each denarii represents a days wages…. and in Hebraic thought, a day projects to one thousand years.   2 Peter 3:8 confirms this:  But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.)

In this way, He gives us what we need to minister at the inn, and then He departs for two thousand years.  He brings the wounded person into the care of the congregation, and says, “When I return, I will reimburse you for any expense.”  The reimbursement is the rewards we earn for ministry in the Body of Messiah.

Jesus is preparing the disciples for New Covenant Law… we must love everyone, not just those in our own circles or nationality.  The symbolism in the priest and the Levite walking by represent the passing away of the Sinai covenant.  The priest and the Levite will no longer be able to help (and in fact, most were put to death in 70 AD when Jerusalem was sacked by Rome).   The book of Hebrews describes the new and better covenant 15 times.  The former law was all based on the system of the priesthood and Levites.

So, back to the law expert's question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"  There are no works which will qualify us. We must have the Merciful One find us on the road of life.

Welcome to the Inn!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Church as a Midwife

We owe a huge debt to Israel.

Without the Jews, we would have no covenants, no prophets, no apostles, no Bible, and no Messiah!  Yeshua Himself declared in John 4:22, "Salvation is of the Jews."

But God's plan was not only for the Jews.  They were His starting point, to be a light to the nations.  But they are also going to be His ending point as well.  Romans 11 tells us that it was for our benefit (the Gentiles) that the natural branches (Israel) were blinded in part, so that salvation could go out to the rest of the world, and then the nation of Israel would be saved.  We are also warned in Romans 11 not to be arrogant toward those natural branches.

Sadly, church history shows that the opposite happened.

Replacement Theology arose in the second century among the early church fathers.  This theology (wrongfully) teaches that God is done with the Jews for good, and that all blessings and promises have been transferred to the church.  Perhaps these church fathers were well-meaning; after all, the Jews had been kicked out of the Holy Land with no prospect of ever returning.  That would take a miracle!

However, this dangerous theology has led to the death of millions of Jews throughout the 19 centuries of their exile.  There has been persecution, pogroms, expulsions, the Crusades, blood libel accusations, forced conversions, accusations toward the Jews of deicide (aka "Christ killers"), the Spanish Inquisition, and the Holocaust, all too often perpetuated in the name of the Jewish Messiah.

This theology also continues today in many (if not most) mainline denominations, in spite of the totally miraculous return of the Jews to their Promised Land.  Whoa!  Talk about messing with one's theology!  This explains why so many Christians today are actually AGAINST the rebirth of the nation of Israel - treating it as a renegade nation instead of the fulfillment of God's promise, thousands of years ago, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But God has given the church a very special role to play in these last days.  We actually get to be the midwife for Israel's spiritual rebirth - forerunners, so to speak.  Intercessors.  What a privilege!  There are four things that Scripture calls us to do.  (He who has ears to hear, let him hear!)

**Update!  Four years later, I realize that I forgot one.  So make that five ways!

#1 - Bless Israel
Genesis 12:1-3 says, Now the Lord had said to Abram:  “Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
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.”

This promise was repeated to Isaac in Genesis 26 and Jacob in Genesis 28.  This promise to Israel, regarding the Land, the Seed, and the Blessing, is the Abrahamic covenant.  It is everlasting and was never rescinded.

Notice the promise of blessing to those who bless God's people.  Scripture also gives us warnings if we neglect to bless them.  There are two words used for curse in the above reference.  The second word for curse actually means to lightly esteem, or to treat as unimportant.

Zechariah 2:8-9 says, For thus says the Lord of hosts: “He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye. For surely I will shake My hand against them, and they shall become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me.

#2 - Comfort Israel

Isaiah 40:1-2 says
Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”
Says your God.  (Think of the pronouns used here... comfort MY people says YOUR God)
 “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her,
That her warfare is ended,
That her iniquity is pardoned;
For she has received from the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”

Matt 25:37-40, in the context of the last days, says “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  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 Greek word for brethren literally means relatives or close kinsmen).

#3 - Make Israel Envious

Deuteronomy 32:21 (repeated in Romans 10:19) says,
But I will provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation;
I will move them to anger by a foolish nation.

Romans 11:11 - I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.

Romans 11:14 (Paul is speaking here) if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them.

#4 - Intercede for Israel:

Psalm 122:6 says –  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
  (Another scripture with a promise!)

Is 62:6-7 - I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem;
They shall never hold their peace day or night.
You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent,
And give Him no rest till He establishes
And till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.

And just who are these watchmen?  It's you who make mention of the LORD.  Do YOU make mention of the LORD?  Are you His follower?  If so, He's talking to you.  You must not keep silent!

**Here it is, the missing fifth directive in regard to our treatment of Israel.

#5 - Support Israel
Acts 11:27-29
And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.

Romans 14:27
For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they (us) owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings

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.

1 Cor 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.