Archive for July, 2017

The Church & The Old Testament Law

I have been on a journey.  It started when a friend introduced me to the idea that there was insight to be gained by studying the Scriptures through Messianic Rabbis.  Then while reading through the book of Romans, God revealed quite plainly that the Jews are still His chosen people, and that the Gentile church should honor them as the root of our spiritual blessings (since our Savior was Jewish, and it is through the Jews that He came, ultimately offering salvation to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile).  I had never been taught that the Church had replaced Israel as God’s people (Replacement theology), but in fact, I had never really been taught anything about Israel, the Jews, or their role in the world, or in the Church.  As I continued to study throughout this journey, God slowly on taught me about His plan for the Jews and the Church.

About a year ago I wrote a couple of posts detailing the 7 feasts of Israel…those Israel was commanded by God in the Torah (specifically Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy) to observe every year.  My posts explained the direct link between the feasts and their purposes and prophecy, half of which have been fulfilled by the first coming of Yeshua (Jesus’ Hebrew name…the one given by God).  Those feasts are the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of First Fruits, and Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks.  They were each prophetically fulfilled in Yeshua’s death (as Passover Lamb), sinless life (unleavened bread; leaven/yeast representing sin), resurrection (first fruits of those raised from the dead to eternal life), and Pentecost.  At the first Pentecost, God gave the Israelites the Law.  Salvation was obtained through obedience to the Law.  On Pentecost after the resurrection of Yeshua, He gave believers the Holy Spirit, marking us as obedient/righteous through the righteousness of Messiah.

These four feasts are in the spring, and all have been prophetically fulfilled.  The remaining three feasts are the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).  The spring feasts are at the time of planting.  The time of growth follows.  In the fall, the remaining feasts are at the time of harvest, and they have yet to be fulfilled.  They will be at the 2nd coming of Christ.  The seven feasts bookend the Church Age, which is the “summer” of growth period between the spring planting and the fall harvest.

Back to my journey; as I studied and wrote about the Feasts last year, I wondered what the Gentile Christian is supposed to do about them.  And what about the Law, which is the Torah?  Is the Church supposed to be observing the Old Testament Law, including the Feasts?  The laws regarding clean and unclean?  The Sabbath?  Other?  More and more as I continued my Bible study, I was increasingly plagued by the question of how closely the Church and the Jews should be connected.

All of this was compounded this spring when I came under conviction by the Holy Spirit that I am to observe Passover in place of Good Friday.  If you follow my blog, you may recall the post I wrote as a result.  This led to more questions on my part.  Since I felt led to observe Passover, did that mean I should observe all of the Feasts?  And then of course, did that mean I needed to observe all of the Law.

After a long time of prayer and study, I believe that I can say with certainty what it is that God has been slowly on revealing to me over the years, and what His message is for the Church.  Let’s begin with some basics.

First and foremost we need to understand the Yeshua, as I stated earlier, was Jewish.  He was born to Jewish parents who observed the Jewish Law of Moses.  We know this because they observed Passover (when he went to the temple as a 12 year old boy), and he was circumcised on the 8th day.  Yeshua Himself said that he was sent to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” in Matthew 15:24.  In John 4:22 He said that salvation was from the Jews.  So Jesus was a Jew, who was sent to the Jews, and it was through the Jews that salvation would come to all the world.  In Luke 24, Yeshua walked with 2 men on the road to Emmaus…remember?  While He walked with them, He revealed to them all the prophecies from the Jewish Scriptures regarding the Messiah and how He had fulfilled them, so Yeshua is also the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy.  There is a direct correlation between Jesus, our savior, the bridegroom of the church, and the Jews.  This connection did not end when the Church began, nor when it began to spread to the Gentiles.  The connection to the Jews will continue into eternity.  This we know because Revelation tells us the great city that comes down from Heaven will be called…the New Jerusalem.  It’s gates will be named after the 12 Jewish tribes and the 12 Jewish apostles.

God had a plan for the Jews which He fulfilled in sending Messiah.  But that plan did not end there.  It will continue into eternity.  God has not given up Israel, nor has He replaced her in His plans with the Church.  Read Jeremiah 31:6-9, Jeremiah 33:34-36, Romans 11:1-2, 10-26.  Note Romans 11:28 TLV – “Concerning the Good News, they [the Jews] are hostile for your sake [the Gentiles]; but concerning chosenness, they are loved on account of the fathers–for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”  (Emphasis mine.)

Romans 11 is the chapter in which Paul (a Jew) explains how the Church is a wild olive branch grafted into the “cultivated olive tree” which is Israel.  He stresses that we are not to be arrogant, thinking that we are better than the Jews because we have seen the Messiah and believed when they have not.  It is because of them that Messiah came in the first place, but also we must remember that God allowed their hearts to be hardened so that salvation could go out from them to the Gentiles through a Jewish remnant who would believe.  Remember that the first church fathers were the Jewish apostles, and the first church members were Jewish.  And in fact, in Romans 15: 25-27 Paul commands the Gentile church to financially support the Jews.  Recall, too, that God told Abraham that those who blessed him (and his descendants) would be blessed, and those who cursed him would be cursed.  God is very serious about how the Church (and the world for that matter) treats Israel, and it would behoove us to examine our attitude and actions toward her.

The second point in this is that Jesus never intended for the Church and the Jews to be two separate entities.  The Old Testament Law is the basis for Judaism.  It is a religion that has been fulfilled.  The religion in its entirety points to the coming Messiah.  Thus, when Jesus came, He fulfilled Judaism.  The Church is built on the foundation of the original Old Testament Judaism.  The two, Old Testament Judaism* and the Church, are intended to be a union, two parts making a whole.  Ephesians 2:11-22 explain this.  In particular notice verse 14 which says, “For He is our shalom, the One who made the two into one and broke down the middle wall of separation,”  and verse 15b-16 which says, “He did this in order to create within Himself one new man from the two groups, making shalom and to reconcile both to God in one body through the cross.”

*Old Testament Judaism:  I am using this term to refer to the very specific written law that God gave to Moses in the desert and commanded the Israelites to obey.  This is the Law that is recorded in the first five books of the Bible.  Between that time, and the time that Yeshua came, many additional legalistic regulations were added to that written law.  They were called the Oral Law; Jesus referred to them as the traditions of men.  Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, there was also added the Rabbinical Law which was established to give guidance to Jews who wanted to practice the faith, but could not fully do so without the ability to include animal sacrifice without the existence of the Temple.

So far we have established the Jewishness of Christianity/the Church through our Jewish Savior, and as the very source, or basis of it.  And we have established that Jesus intended for believing Jews and the Gentile believers to be united as one body.

Next we look at the Law, or the Torah.  The Torah is contained in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  It begins with creation, including the Sabbath, the 7th day of rest; includes the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai; and it also includes all of the laws regarding cleanliness, sacrifices, and the Feasts.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18 TLV – “Do not think that I came to abolish the Torah or the Prophets!  I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.  Amen, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or serif shall ever pass away from the Torah until all things come to pass.”  He continued on to say in verse 19:  “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  But whoever keeps and teaches them, this one shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

It is clear that the Yeshua intended for the Law to continue and to be obeyed; obedience making righteousness.  When Yeshua was asked what the greatest commandment was, He said that it is to love God, and the 2nd is to love your neighbor as yourself.  All of the law is summed up in those two.  Paul refers to this as Messiah’s Law in Galatians 5:2.  If you consider the commandments (do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, honor your father and mother, etc.) this makes sense.  However, one commandment does not fit in under the love God and love your neighbor umbrella.  That is the “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” command.  This is really a topic for another post, so I won’t go into it in great depth, other than to say that God set the Sabbath aside as holy at the time of creation.  That was before the Israelites existed.  It is not a command just for the followers of the Jewish Law.  It is a command for all mankind.  Since Yeshua also said that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, I understand that to mean that we are to observe a day of rest, and keep it holy, but we should not allow legalism to rule it.  In other words, whether it be on Saturday or Sunday doesn’t matter as much as whether or not you have a Sabbath rest.  Try to limit your work, spend time in worship, and rest.

Now back to the rest of the Law.  The Old Testament Law had three primary standards:  the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the Temple.  These three standards were all the responsibility of the tribe of Levi.  The priests were Levites.  The sacrifices were performed by the priests.  And the Temple was cared for and maintained by the priests.  These standards were necessary to fully observe the Law.  What do we know about Yeshua in light of the standards?  We know that He is the Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14).  We know that His death on the cross was the sacrifice that was once and for all (Hebrews 10:10).  And we know that our bodies (those of believers) are now the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).  All three standards were met, fulfilled, in Yeshua.  Where the Old Testament Law pointed to righteousness, Messiah’s fulfillment of the Law became righteousness, which we receive by trusting in Him (Galatians 2:16).

I’ve shared a lot of information, but I still have not clarified what the Church should do about the Old Testament Law.  I already talked about observing the Sabbath.  I also think it is obvious that we should be observing the Ten Commandments as they are summed up in Messiah’s Law.  The sacrifices are no longer necessary as Jesus fulfilled them.  That leaves the laws regarding cleanliness, circumcision, and so on.  Is the Church required to eat kosher meat, and consider themselves to be unclean after coming in contact with a corpse, or observe the 7 Feasts?

Paul declared in Romans 6:14 that we are not under the Law, but under grace.  The question is, how much of the Law are we free from?  This was a question that received quite a bit of discussion in the early Church.  Since Jews were inextricably linked to Judaism, or the Old Testament Law, there was never a question of whether a Jew was a Jew.  If he was a believer in the Messiah, it did not matter, he was still Jewish.  He still attended the Synagogue and still observed the Law of Moses.  He just had a new understanding of the Law.  When Gentiles became believers in Messiah, new questions arose.  Are they Jewish?  Do they need to be circumcised?  Do they need to follow the Law of Moses?  In Acts 15:19-21, we see it was decided that the Gentiles needed to obey some of the Law, but were free from most of it.  James, the brother of Jesus, said, “Therefore, I judge not to trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God– but to write to them to abstain from the contamination of idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what is strangled, and from blood.  For Moses from ancient generations has had in every city those who proclaim him, since he is read in all the synagogues every Shabbat.”  The Gentiles who were becoming believers were meeting with the Jews in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  It was the only way for them to learn about God the Father, and His plans.  The portions of the Law that James listed as the areas to observe, were the specific things that would prevent a Jew from keeping company with them because they would have been considered unclean.  By observing this short list from the Law, the believing Gentiles would be allowed into the synagogue and could study and worship alongside the Jews.

Aside from this, there is nothing in Acts or the Epistles that instructs the Gentile believers to follow the Old Testament Law, with an exception, which I will get to in just a minute.  In Romans 14, Paul makes it clear that the believer is to do as his conscience leads him to do.  This is the passage that talks about being able to eat food offered to idols if one does not feel convicted of it as a sin.  But if one does feel convicted, then it is a sin because that person has gone against his own conscience.  It is also wrong to partake in such a way while in the company of someone who considers it a sin even if you don’t.  The gist of this passage is that nothing in and of itself is unholy as it is made by God.  It is what we do with it that makes a thing holy or unholy.

The exception to the Gentile observance of the Old Testament Law is with regard to the feasts, particularly the Passover.  In 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 NKJV Paul instructs the Gentile believers at Corinth in this way:  “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.  Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (emphasis mine).  

We know that Paul continued to celebrate the Feasts.  Aside from the above passage, we also see in 1 Corinthians 16:8 that he reported staying in Ephesus until Pentecost (the Feast of Weeks).  And in Acts 20:6 it is reported that he sailed from Phillippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which followed immediately after Passover, so we can conclude that he observed both.  We also know that Yeshua observed the Feasts.  In Luke 22:7 He instructs his disciples to prepare the Passover.  In fact, the Lord’s Supper, Communion, is a miniature Passover meal, and Yeshua’s followers are commanded to “do this in remembrance of Me.”  We also see in Zechariah 14:16 that all the people of the earth during the time of the Millennial reign of Messiah will travel to Jerusalem to worship King Jesus, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).

If Jesus observed the Feasts; and Paul, the disciple to the Gentiles observed the Feasts; and all believers are commanded to observe Communion, a miniature Passover; and Paul instructed Gentile believers to “keep the feast”; and the Feast of Tabernacles will be observed during the Millennium; and the Feasts are all prophecies pointing to either the first or second coming of Messiah…is there really a legitimate reason to not observe, or at the very least, recognize the 7 Feasts of Israel?  There is no place that I have found that specifically says Gentile believers are exempt from observing the Feasts.  Neither is there a place that explicitly instructs us to follow all of the Feasts.  But I do believe that instruction is implied.  Because sacrifices have been taken care of by Yeshua, they need not be a part of our observance.  It would be good to mark these dates on your calendar, though; study how God instructed them to be observed, and consider ways to observe at least some of each feast.  In doing so, won’t we be continually reminded of how Jesus fulfilled God’s promises for a Savior as the Passover Lamb, and be encouraged to look forward to the promise of the fulfillment of the remaining feasts in the return of the King?

The Nearly Obsolete Church

What is the purpose of the Church?  To answer that, we need to ask, what is the purpose of Israel?  Some, or perhaps many, of you may be wondering what the connection is.  I’ll tell you.  “…and you–being a wild olive–were grafted in among them….”  Here is the whole verse.  Romans 11:17-18 – But if some of the branches were broken off and you–being a wild olive–were grafted in among them and became a partaker of the root of the olive tree with its richness, do not boast against the branches.  But if you do boast, it is not you who support the root but the root supports you.” TLV

And your point is???

Here is my point.  We, the Church, are grafted in to Israel, to be partakers in the blessings they receive from God.  First and foremost among them the Messiah.  Their Messiah is our Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus).  Whether all, or some of Israel have received Him or not is beside the point.  The fact is that Yeshua is their Messiah regardless of their acceptance of Him.  And He is our Messiah as well, thanks to them.  It is thanks to them because it is through them that the Messiah came.

Just as we share in their blessings as a result of the grafting in, we also share in their purpose.  Not the purpose of being the physical DNA of Yeshua.  That belongs to Israel and Israel alone.  But all through their history, they have had a purpose beyond the source of the Savior.  That being a nation that has been sanctified and made holy, to be set apart as God’s treasure.  They were to be a nation of people who, by their righteous living, pointed to the righteousness of God.  Who by their small size, yet amazing conquest, pointed to the power of God.  Who by their existence, pointed to the faithfulness of God.  And who by their  actions, pointed to the love of God.  By watching this little nation, the world was to see that Israel’s God was like no other god; that He was near to them, not afar off, in fact, that He dwelt with them.

Exodus 19:5 – “…you will be My own treasure from among all people.”

Deuteronomy 4:7-8 – “For what great nation is there that has gods so near to them, as ADONAI our God is whenever we call on Him?  What great nation is there that has statutes and ordinances that are righteous–like all of this Torah that I am setting before you today?”

Deuteronomy 4:20 – But you, ADONAI has taken…to be a people for His own inheritance….”

Deuteronomy 4:33-35 – Has a people ever heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard–and lived?  or has any god ever tried to come to take for himself a nation from within a nation–by trials, by signs and wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors–like all that ADONAI your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?  You were shown so that you might know that ADONAI is God–there is no other besides Him.

Deuteronomy 14:2 – For you are a holy people to ADONAI your God–from all the peoples on the face of the earth, ADONAI has chosen you to be His treasured people.

Deuteronomy 26:18-19 – Now today ADONAI has affirmed you as His treasured people, as He promised you; that you are to keep all His mitzvot [commandments]; that He will set you high above all the nations He has made, for praise, fame and honor; and that you are to be a holy people to ADONAI your God, as He has promised.

Deuteronomy 28:10 – Then all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of ADONAI and they will stand in awe of you.

Deuteronomy 33:29 – Happy are you, O Israel!  Who is like you, a people saved by ADONAI, the Shield of your help and the Sword of your triumph?  Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample on their backs.

Ezekiel 37:26b-27 – I will set up My Sanctuary among them forever.  My dwelling place will be over them.  I will be their God and they will be My people.  Then the nations will know that I am ADONAI who sanctifies Israel, when My Sanctuary is in their midst forever.

The purpose of Israel is to point to God; to be witnesses to who He is (Isaiah 43:10).  The purpose of the Church, as a branch grafted in to Israel, is to do the same.  Of course additional to that, we are to be witnesses of Christ (Acts 1:8), and emissaries of Yeshua making disciples of all nations.

So we have determined the purpose of the Church, but let me ask you this question: how can we point to God, be witnesses of who He and Yeshua are, and make disciples of all nations when we look the same as every other person on the planet?

I remember when I was growing up going to church twice on Sunday and then Wednesday evening prayer service.  Then there were the other things.  There was youth group, Bible studies, choir, etc.  There were any number of ways to be involved, to keep my focus on God and His Word, and not on this world.  My family looked different from the families of my friends and neighbors because our lives revolved around God and His service, whether that was in the Church building itself, or in service to the community, or in worship and Bible study.  Whatever it was, it kept our eyes and hearts pointed in His direction.

What do our churches look like today?  Sunday morning service.  Sunday school during the school year; over the summer, that just gets in the way of family time.  Sunday evening service has been sacrificed on the alter of family time as well.  So has Wednesday evening prayer service…or maybe that was on the alter of school activities and “we are just too busy every other night of the week, so we need that night to just stay home.”  Youth group is attended as long as it doesn’t get in the way of …?  Even Sunday morning service is negotiable depending on 4H, the county fair, this trip to that place, that trip to the other place, and if we are honest, if we are not too tired from the busyness of everything else.

Busyness.  Yes, that is it.  The Church is actively being sacrificed on the alter of the god of Busyness.  I do not write this as someone who has no guilt.  In fact, I could be a lot more involved than I am.  Not that I am not involved at all, I am.  But there are things that I and my family could be involved with that we are not.  And the truth is it is because we have allowed church to have a priority level of about two.

To make matters worse, when we put church on the back burner, God tends to get pushed back there to the other back burner.  Our Bible reading and study at home slips until it is maybe once or twice a week, or not at all.

So what do our lives point to?  Who or what are they a witness of?  They point to Busyness.  They are a witness of Busyness.  Do we lead people to Christ?  No, why would we talk about Him when we barely give Him the time of day?  He’s an afterthought…oh yah!  It’s Sunday.  Maybe I should go to church.

Look at Israel!  Read through the book of Leviticus…its in the Old Testament.  Their entire lives revolved around keeping themselves righteous for God.  Being an Israelite was not just DNA, and it was more than cultural.  Being an Israelite was the definition of being set aside as a unique person for God.  They were intended to look different from everyone else.  God lived with them, and their lives revolved around Him.

Look at the Church.  The Spirit of God lives right inside each one of us!  How much more should our lives revolve around Him?  We already have righteousness through Messiah.  We have already received the salvation that they (Israel) worked for.  And yet we find it nearly impossible to set ourselves apart from the world.

How can the world see that God is worth living for if we don’t live for Him?  It is high time the Church tear down the idles of this world, and turn our faces to YAHWEH, the God of the Israelites and the God of the Church.

 

walking on the narrow path.

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