Month Aviv 1:22, Week 4:1 (Shibi'i/Sukkot), Year:Day 5938:022 AM|
SHABBAT 1:3, Omer Count Sabbath #1
Gregorian Calendar: Monday 21 April 2014
Revelation of the Apostle Paul
Shabbat shalom kol beit Yisra'el and may the grace of our Master Yah'shua the Messiah be with you all. The Passover Season is over, and what a Passover Season it has been! It has been so busy, with so much going on, so many converts made in Africa, and so many possibilities now opening up to us that in all the rush I forgot that it was during Chag haMatzah (Feast of Unleavened Bread) last year, on the fifth day, that my mother passed away.
Remembering the Dead and Our Losses
It was on the first sabbath after the spring festivals that I spoke of her passing (Meeting Yahweh: The Comforter of Our Sorrows), and so I hope you will indulge me for a moment while I speak soberly about our losses - not just of family members and other loved ones who have passed away, but of those who have fallen away from this work over the years. I still grieve over the loss, more so since most abandoned their Saviour and chose to cross over into unbelief. Worst of all is the memory of those who abandoned the emunah (faith) and have passed on in death too and into an uncertain future. We mourn our late brother Grant Roberts who many years ago now, a while after he left us after his business collapsed, took his own life. We have never got over that. We also grieve with our brethren in East Africa who sustained two deaths in the last few months. We pray for the widow and her children whom the fellowship graciously built a new home for. We are not insensitive to the pain that death brings even when those who have passed on have gone on into glory and to a better world.
Hope For Those Who Are Alive
For those who are yet alive, and who have denied the emet (truth) and passed into unbelief, and in some cases persecuted us viciously, we also grieve, because we love them. But with them there at least remains tiqvah (hope) that they will repent, emerge from the darkness and embrace the light once again. So long as there is life there is tiqvah (hope). Let us now pray for these for some will return and share in the bounty of the Kingdom.
A Commission to Know Paul
My purpose today is to begin to fulfil the promise I made to Yahweh to obey a mitzvah (commandment) He gave me many weeks ago which, for various reasons, not least of which has been all the pressing business Spring Conference and other attendant matters, I have not been able to fulfil. I feel I must not delay longer. The substance of His instruction was that I should dig deep into Paul's theology and specifically into his letter to the Romans. As we now embark on the Second Exodus, no matter how early the days, it's important that we get our priorities sharply into focus.
Of Evangelicals and Messianics
Two burdens principally have occupied my heart when it comes to the struggles of fellow believers. The first, is the blindness of most evangelicals to the absolute necessity of Torah-obedience, not to mention the scriptural wriggling and logical twisting to justify antinomianism (lawlessnes). The second is the blindness of most messianics to absolute grace and the meaning of the B'rit Chadashah (New Covenant). As far as the latter is concerned, I have been much distressed over the years seeing so many messianics reject Paul (the anti-Paulists) and accuse him of being anti-Torah and therefore a false apostle. It is to those who are missing a fundamental key of the Besorah (Gospel) that I want to mostly speak to today. For evangelicals this may be 'old hat' but it's so important it's worth rehearsing carefully because messianics are perishing for lack of this emet (truth) and people need to know how to witness to them.
Paul the Messianic Evangelical
To remove Paul from the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) is to reduce the believer to comparitive poverty - not to a denial of salvation, for we can surely trust in Yah'shua (Jesus) without Paul, but definitely to a very pale spiritual life. I am speaking, of course, of not Paul the man, but the revelation given to Paul the apostle, since the bottom line is what is emet (truth) and what is not. No-one of any theological stature denies that Paul was one of the most influential religious figures in the history of Western culture. Even those messianics who reject him are more shaped by him than they realise, and even if they never lay eyes on one of his letters, they are influenced by the culture they themselves were raised and which he so strongly influenced. Paul is as Christian as a Christian can get but at the same time he is about as Israelite as an Israelite can get, and any attempt to separate the Christian Paul from the Israelite Paul is ultimately an effort of futility. He was, and remains, what a Messianic Evangelical is.
A Unique Encounter
People get confused over Paul's teachings not just because he was a high callibre intellectual who dealt with lofty ideas. I have struggled with his writings ever since I became a believer and for the most part because I have been unable to fully grasp the length and height and depth and width of his experience. How can we ever hope to understand what he experienced when such experience is so terribly, terribly hard to write down? How can we ever be fully a part of anyone's divine encounter? Part of our one-to-one relationship with Yah'shua (Jesus) will remain personal in perpetuity precisely because it is so personal, precisely because it consists of a unique and unrepeatale encounter between the unique person and his Saviour. It is part of what makes us so special because He knows us in a way that no one else ever can or will. And the same is true of a husband of his wife - he will know her in a way no one else ever will. Every one of us is utterly unique and therefore uniquely precious to Elohim (God).
Meeting the Real Paul
If you have ever tried to communicate with others your experience when you met Yah'shua (Jesus) for the first time, and continue to meet Him, you will know that not only will you tell the same story in a thousand different ways - it is so very, very hard to put into words unless the person you are sharing spiritual emet (truth) with is experiencing it themselves in their hearts, it will largely be a mystery anyway - but you can't even really explain it to yourself either. I think it takes a Shakespeare to a Dickens to convey the deeper things of the soul, requiring great artistic skills, because what you are trying to convey is not mere intellectual theology but it is the very force of chayim (life) and personality itself. Translating Paul into the kind of English that is intelligible to 21st century man is a tremendous challenge and it is only by my reading dozens of translations and almost as many commentaries by the translators as I have been able find, with a companion Greek lexicon next to me for help with difficult words, that I feel I am only now, thirty years on, beginning to grasp Paul the man. The man who can convey the real Paul and not the stereotypical Paul, the one shaped by denominationalism, is a true gem to the Body of Messiah. Since Paul dominates the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) in so many ways because of the shere volume of his writing, it's important that we get to know him as though he were a regular member of our own congregation.
Seeking the Heart of Paul's Message
I thought at first I should simply do a Baptist-type study of Romans by starting at Chapter 1 and slowly working my way through to Chapter, and there is obviously considerable merit in that if we want to understand is history and plain theology. But that is not my purpose today. I want to get to the heart of this apostle's revelation and to bring that heart out, beating, into the light of day, so that the myths about the man can drop away and we can gaze at the substance of his message. So I am going to excise those parts of Romans that I feel enables me to accomplish this task. I want to look first and foremost at his testimony. And to do that I want today to look at, not an extract from Romans, but one from Philippians.
The Witness of Philippians
So whatever version of the Bible you may have, I'd like to invite you to turn to Philippians Chatper 3 and verses 4 to 11. Most of you have the New King James Version so that is the one we will begin with and we'll start with verse 1 so that we can get the context, leaving the Greek Name forms in:
Torah Plus Yah'shua
"Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord (Master). For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God (Elohim) in the Spirit (Ruach), rejoice in Christ Jesus (Messiah Yah'shua), and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law (Torah), a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church (messianic community); concerning the righteousness which is in the law (Torah), blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ (Messiah). Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus (Messiah Yah'shua) my Lord (Master), for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Messiah) and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law (Torah), but that which is through faith in Christ (Messiah), the righteousness which is from God (Elohim) by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Phil.3:1-11, NKJV).
Now remember I don't want to talk about doctrine like circumcision, which is a holy cow amongst messianics, nor to I want to get into arguments and discussions about the vality of obeying the Torah or not. Our goal is to get to the very heart of Pauls' experience, His encounter with the resurrected Messiah. We're not going to debate Paul's Pharisee-ness - objective writers have already clearly established how his Pharisee background is a ubiquitous, ever-present watermark on every page of his writings. And I speak of the correct teachings of Phariseeism, not the false, of course. It is my thesis that before his Damascus Conversion, the Torah totally dominated Paul's belief system, and that after his conversion, Torah and Yah'shua (Jesus) did.
The Marcionite Heresy
That may seem rather obvious to you but it's important to underline. Paul did not kick Torah out to make room for Yah'shua (Jesus), which was the teaching of the heretic Marcion who formulated a lie more or less universally accepted by Protestant Christendom today, the lie that Moses brought condemnation whilst Paul enabled people to discover grace, pitting the two men against each other. Though Marcion was condemned as a heretic by the Western Church around AD 144, his peculiar approach to Paul, the Torah and the Bible has led generations of believers to feel uncomfortable about the clear Hebrew roots of the first talmidim (disciples). People have been trained to be scared of the Torah and law in general, as though it were a dangerous leper ready to infect them at the slightest touch. Marcion taught, and so too the very proto-Catholic Christians and their Protestant descendants who condemned and excommunicated him, that Paul removed the yoke of Judaism by preaching against the Torah (Law). That the Rabbinical Judaism of the religious leaders in Yah'shua's (Jesus') day was indeed a yoke is not, of course, denied. The problem was the way in which Torah was approached and twisted along with all the man-made laws added to it which weighed men's souls down and placed them in spiritual bondage.
I had thought to read you several versions of Philippians 3:1-11 but I will leave you to do that yourselves afterwards, especially the paraphrases like the Living Bible and dynamic equivalent versions like the New International Version or the Amplified Bible. Doing so afterwards, and comparing it with a translation I am about to share with you in just a moment, is well worth your while so that you can appreciate the translator biases we face in Bible versions. The version I am going to share with you is not, moreover, a Messianic one like David H. Stern's Jewish New Testament - JNT (or Complete Jewish Bible - CJB) but an evangelical one, by no less than a distinguished Anglican (Church of England) Bishop and, in my view, the foremost Pauline scholar of our day whom I have mentioned to you before, N.T.White. So let's look at what I consider to be the best translation to date, not a literal translation, but a dynamic equivalent one conveying the true sense of Paul's message:
"If anyone thinks they have reason to trust in the flesh, I've got more. Circumcised? On the eighth day. Race? Israelite. Tribe? Benjamin. Descent? Hebrew through and through. Torah-observance? A Pharisee. Zealous? I persecuted the church (messianic community). Official status under the Law? Blameless?
"Does that sound as though my account was well in credit? Well, maybe, but whatever I had written in on the profit side, I calculated it instead as a loss - because of the Messiah. Yes, I know that's weird, but there's more: I calculate everything as a loss, because knowing the Messiah, Jesus (Yah'shua) as my lord (master) is worth far more than everything else put together! In fact, because of the Messiah I've suffered the loss of everything, and I now calculate it as trash, so that my profit may be the Messiah, and that I may be discovered in Him, not having my own covenant status defined by the Torah, but by the status which comes through the Messiah's faithfulness: the covenant status from God (Elohim) which is given to faith. This means knowing Him, knowing the power of His resurrection, and knowing the partnership of His sufferings. It means sharing the form and pattern of His death, so that somehow I may arrive at the final resurrection from the dead" (Phil.3:4-11, N.T.White) .
Right out we must write in big capital letters, underline, highlight with a coloured marker, the emet (truth) of what Paul ISN'T and IS saying. Firstly, he isn't saying, Everything is Yah'shua (Jesus), we don't need the Torah any more. Far from it! He is saying that the living Torah (Law), Yah'shua (Jesus), is so much, much, much more important than the written Torah that by comparison the Torah seems to pale in significance. This kind of Hebrew comparison is not at all uncommon. Yah'shua (Jesus) used it often. Does anyone believe for one minute that Yah'shua (Jesus) was telling us to love Him and hate our families when He said:
A Hebrew Literary Device
"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My talmid (disciple)" (Luke 14:26, NKJV).
If you believe that Paul taught that the Torah (Law) has been done away with then you must similarly believe that Yah'shua (Jesus) has done away with human love, and that He taught us that in order to love Him we must hate our family members along with ourselves. Atheists accuse believers of all sorts of falsehoods when they read Hebrew writings through Western lenses. Yah'shua (Jesus) elsewhere said that we are to love people so much that we must be prepared to love our enemies too (Mt.6:43), so either the Master was mentally ill or He was using a literary device common to Hebrew but not to English. No serious Bible student who has the Ruach (Spirit) believes Yah'shua ever taught us to hate anyone.
A Man of His Time
What is so striking about this passage in Philippians is just how Hebrew it actually is, and remains so, even as the apostle is putting distance between himself and his talmudic heritage. The suffering element that he uses in respect of the resurrection is straight out of the Maccabean literature so popular with the Pharisees, yet he is using it in a new context. His utter devotion to Yah'shua (Jesus), rejecting everything else in order to cling on to Him, would have been warmly applauded by a follower of Simeon ben Koshiba. And his determination to seek from the Elohim (God) of Israel, the Elohim (God) of the Covenant, even though it might lead him through the strange, unfamiliar and dark paths that every pioneer must walk, is utterly and unmistakably characteristic of Israelite piety. Yet he has not by any means rejected Torah - he is simply declaring that the living version, the incarnation of Torah, is so much, much better and that unless we start with that - with Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself - the written Torah will remain dead and those teaching it will be serving bones instead of meat.
The Non-Ethnic Kingdom
The kernel of this revelation is that Yahweh has started a new family based on the person of Yah'shua (Jesus) and we are to swear allegiance to a new King and a new Kingdom which is a New Covenant - it's not a renewal of the Covenant made with Moses because we are no longer baptised into Moses but into Messiah (1 Cor.12:2 cp. Rom.6:3; Gal.3:27). This does not negate our Israelitishness if that is what we were before, because Israel continues on but in new clothes and with a new anointing. This is not replacement theology but it for sure excludes false claimants and fleshy claimants. But it is to say that we are 'Messianic' or 'Christian' before we are Israelite, because Yah'shua (Jesus) comes first. We are defined first and foremost by Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself and our relationship to Him and not by our father's genes, even if our father was a mighty man of Elohim (God) like Jacob, renamed Israel the Overcomer. All possibility of racial or carnal pride is extinguised in this new relationship. Israel remains, Torah remains, but these are secondary to what really matters - clinging to, and being echad (one) with, Messiah Yah'shua (Jesus). This Kingdom is not ethnic, it is Messiah-ic. This Kingdom is not Scripture-ic but the Living Scripture-ic. This is a new order, a new arrangement, which is why it is not a Renewed Covenant but an entirely New Covenant because it is founded on an entirely different basis to the former one. Yes, there is a sense in which much of what is old is 'renewed' IN Messiah but even that has to start anew FROM Him.
The Brothers and Sisters
This is key to everything we stand for. Messiah-people constitute a family even as Israel-people were a family. We are to, of course, live in practical ways as befits siblings, and that practical way - that lifestyle - is Torah, the Israelite lifestyle but in a new Messianic setting and with new Messianic rulers. One of Paul's most common forms of address is, in the Greek translation, adelphoi, which means 'brothers and sisters', and whilst this is also used to denote those of Israelite blood who have lived Torah all their lives, he uses it inclusively of all believers from different ethnic, cultural and moral backgrounds no matter whether they are in the Torah walk as infants or as mature adults. We don't have to have got it 'all together' or be perfectly walking in Torah as Paul was as a former Pharisee. What's important, to be embraced, is the fact that we have prostrated ourselves before the New Covenant Israelite King and have been regenerated. Whether we have no farther spiritually than Pesah (Passover) or whether we have reached the belssed Sukkot (Tabernacles) fullness does not matter provided we are facing Yah'shua (Jesus), provided we are moving and not stagnant, providing we are shedding the false an embracing the true once we discover what the true is.
The New Temple
In that matter we are to emulate Paul today and embrace all Christians and Messianics who are on the Derech (Way), who have a foundation of Messiah, who have the same vision as Paul does, no matter what denomination they are currently in though gradually exiting them. This is a process and this is what people are coming out of during the Second Exodus, some faster than others. We are those who look forward to the resurrection of the dead with a new kind of hope because we belong to the Messiah who has already been raised at Yom haBikkurim (Day of Firstfruits). We are those who anticipate the glory of genuinely redeemed humanity, restored in the Messiah, and glimpsed by emunah (faith) within the Messiah's people of New Covenant Israel . To lose Paul's vision of these things - to reject, cut-off, disparage or look down on those who have not yet embraced Torah, but have met the resurrected Messiah and love Him, is to walk a false way and re-embrace old Jewish prejudices and arrogance of Talmudic Judaisers, with a new, haughty 'talmud'. It is to lose the proper focus and to start putting Torah between believers and Messiah making it the messiah. It is to rebuild the old temple which is forever gone. There is no 'renewed' temple either - it's a new one made of people in Messiah, not of stones and mortar.
Torah is for the Summer
This is the central message of the Spring Festivals that we have just celebrated. The Torah (Law) doesn't even get a leg in the door until Shavu'ot (Weeks) though its influence is obviously felt as the first stirrings in the early part of Chag haMatzah (Feast of Unleavened Bread) as teshuvah (repentance) gets underway. Only when Messiah is alive, and burning, and consuming and in and through all in us, the first of everything, is Torah introduced as a serious exercise and lifestyle at Shavu'ot (Tabernacles). Then we put aside childish robes, the carefree days of the early romance of our salvation, and knuckle down to the serious business of overcoming and getting into divine tavnit. Sons become fathers and daughters, mothers. But without these wonderful early days, the experience and reality of it, no Torah-mandate is going to remain spiritual but become a dry-bones religion of legalists and dead men. To exclude it is to steal spiritual childhood and cripple the adult.
Today is the first of seven sabbaths plus 50 days of the Omer Count. We are commanded to mark these days because we cannot ignore Torah! We mark them to remind us that we cannot remain as babes drinking spiritual milk the rest of our days or we will grow ill and weak. We must walk the Torah lifestyle but firmly and fully IN Messiah Yah'shua (Jesus). And it is no accident that the Baptism of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) is marked on the Day of Torah! But more of that in the days ahead as we approach the summer festival. May Yahweh bless you as you make these ground truths the core of your spiritual life. Amen.
 N.T.Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (SPCK, London: 2013), Parts I & II, p.545
 Romans 4:2,4ff.,10; 8:18,21,28-30; 2 Cor.3:7-4:6