Monthly Archives: June 2011

What is the Gospel?

The Gospel or not the Gospel?

A couple of months ago, a friend and I we’re driving home from a Passover Seder that was led by Rabbi Marty Waldman at Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue. My friend and I had purchased our tickets separately and were assigned to different tables. He was telling me about some of the discussions he had at his table with a couple of guys who felt that the “gospel” wasn’t being presented explicitly through-out the evening. This was perplexing to my friend and I because we felt that nothing but the “gospel” had been presented through the telling of the Passover story as it related to the Exodus from Egypt about God’s redemption and calling out of His people Israel up to Yeshua’s (Jesus’) Last Supper and sacrificial death on the cross.

Last week I was listening to an audio teaching by D. Thomas Lancaster on Evangelism. Lancaster is the congregational leader of Beth Immanuel in Hudson, WI as well as the Educational Director for FFOZ. In this audio lecture, he said that from time to time he will have listeners come and ask him why he didn’t preach anything about the “gospel” during his message that week. Lancaster says this question of not preaching the “gospel” is perplexing to him as well. From his perspective his message is always the “gospel” and nothing but the “gospel”.

So what is the common denominator for the discrepancy of the “gospel” being presented or not being presented accurately in these two stories?

More than anything it comes down to defining What is the “gospel”?

Do you have to say the word “gospel” in order for it to be about the “gospel”?

Is the “gospel” more than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?

If you don’t talk about Yeshua’s death, burial and resurrection, has the “gospel” been proclaimed?

Most importantly, our definition of the Gospel and its corresponding goal must be reached from Scripture. Naturally, we are all influenced by what our Pastor or Rabbi teaches, what we read in commentaries and books, and what our home group and family/friends discuss. All these things and more will shape and fill in the spaces of what the Gospel means in our lives and how we live it out. Still though, our foundation for what the Gospel is must be built upon what Scripture says it is for us to have the most complete answer and scope of What is the Gospel?

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentile)”  Romans 1:16

For starters, let’s talk about the terms and word origins. The most commonly used term “gospel” literally means “good news” and is derived from the old-English word “God-spell” which literally means “the good (true) story”.

In Hebrew this word is “besorah” such as in Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news (besorah), who publishes peace, who brings good news (besorah) of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

In the Greek the word is “evangelion”. This is where we get the word “evangelism” which literally means “the proclamation of good news”.

The Gospel message is paramount! You could say that the Gospel message is the primary focus of the entire Bible, the meta-narrative and should be of primary importance in how we think and express those thoughts in actions when we’re alone and to the rest of the world. I’ve become increasingly convinced that the majority of us (myself included) have restricted the Gospel message (along with the Scripture that gives it) and we have a much much smaller view of the Gospel and its implications and potential than we can even fathom. Still, we all agree the Gospel is important, but what exactly is it?

To begin with, Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, who were a young congregation in the Lord, in chapter 15 that of “first importance“, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”. This is a fundamental “gospel” truth that most would probably think a “gospel” message should include. To complement this passage, Paul also says in 2 Timothy 2:8 “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,”. In his letter to the Galatians chapter 3:8, Paul broadens our scope a bit about what the “gospel” message is when he says “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify [1] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” The “gospel” was that in Abraham’s seed, one would come (Yeshua) who would take away the sin of the world and offer relationship with God through himself. In Yeshua there is blessing for all the nations-that is a “gospel” message. In Acts 14:15, Paul broadens the definition of “gospel” once again when he says to the people of Lystra who were trying to worship him and Barnabas as “gods”, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” This sounds identical to the “gospel” ministry of John the Baptist and was Yeshua’s first public sermon about the “good news”, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. This one verse is the “gospel” in a nutshell and widens the scope yet again. As D. Thomas Lancaster said in “What about Evangelism?”, “Where is the Torah found in the Gospel message? In the word “Repent””. For it is the Torah that teaches us what is right and wrong (sin) and what it is we are repenting from and furthermore Who it is we are turning to. A “gospel” message is that The Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) has come, The King, Son of David has started building His Kingdom, The Kingdom of Heaven on earth but it’s not done yet, but we don’t have to wait for its completion, we can enter this Kingdom now and get a foretaste of what this Kingdom will be like when it’s brought to its sure perfection soon.

Going back to the TaNaK (Old Testament), Isaiah 52:7 proclaims one who brings the “gospel” as he who “who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Also, in Isaiah 61:1, which is a passage Yeshua applied to himself, we also get an explanation of what the “gospel” is and what it “looks like” when it says “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; [1] he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; [2]. The prophet Isaiah definitely proclaimed the “gospel”. See also Isaiah 53 (what many call, The Gospel of Isaiah).

In 1 Peter 1:23-25, Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6-8 which says “the Word of the Lord lasts forever”. Then Peter says “this Word is the Good News which has been proclaimed to you”. This Word that Peter is talking about is the Word that became Flesh as spoken about in John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” On a separate level which is just as true, this Word is also what makes up our Scripture as recorded in Genesis through Revelation, what we also call “The Word of God” which is indeed “Good News”.

In the Book of Revelation chapter 14:6-7, we get another angle of the “gospel” defined. Except this time there is an adjective before the word “gospel”. In this passage an angel of the Lord has come to proclaim an “eternal gospel”. What is the “eternal gospel”? And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

So, What is the Gospel? To quote Matt Chandler from The Village Church “it’s about pushing back the darkness” with the light and testimony of Yeshua for God’s glory to all of creation!

The above Scriptures are just a sampling for there is much more height, depth and width that make up this “eternal” message. Would you have it any other way? Something so grand, mysterious and holy to search out and learn about for “eternity” and yet you don’t have to wait for “eternity” since you can start right now – sure sign me up for the Kingdom!

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah!

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Misunderstood Moses

***Disclaimer: the man in the picture is not actually Moses, it’s Charlton Heston playing Moses. There are no known photographs of the real Moses***

In Judaism, Moses is primarily known as Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our Teacher) due to the fact that he was the one chosen by God to teach the children of Israel the ways of the Lord. In Christianity, Moses is primarily known as the lawgiver or the one who mediated the Mosaic Covenant with all of its instructions and regulations. Both of these descriptions that describe the roles of Moses are true in a historical and Biblical sense but we also know that God is our Teacher and Lawgiver in their fullest sense. Many times I hear a negative or critical tone when talking about Moses and his relevance his role plays in our faith. What I don’t hear much about in relation to Moses is his role as intercessor for the people (this is a major foreshadow of Messiah’s role) which we see time and time again through-out the First Five Books or the doctrine of grace associated with his name. Most that I know tend to think of Moses with the dispensation of Law juxtaposed with Yeshua and the dispensation of grace. To this thought I say that if Yeshua is the one who was to come as the prophet like Moses, then we should have evidences of Yeshua as teacher/lawgiver a la Moses in Exodus-Deuteronomy (hint, we do – it’s called the New Testament or B’rit Hadashah in Hebrew), while at the same time we should have evidence of Moses and the doctrine of grace that Yeshua paid his life for to make so amazing. To the latter thought, this week’s Torah portion Shlach L’kha (Numbers 13:1-15:41) has an example.

In this portion of Scripture, God had asked Moses to send 12 leaders from the children of Israel to go and appraise the land of Canaan. These 12 leaders went and surveyed the Land for 40 days and brought back some pretty amazing sounding fruit, but unfortunately they also brought back a damning report about the Land. Even with all of the miracles and wonders God had performed in their sight, they didn’t trust that He could lead them into the Land safely. Only Joshua and Caleb spoke up in faith that the Lord could lead them just as He had done to this point. The children of Israel had reached a low point of despair and were about to stone them to death when none other than the Creator of the universe, the God of Israel appeared before all the people and He spoke to Moses.

So what did the God of creation say to the man Moses about the people He had called out of Egypt? “I am going to strike them with sickness, destroy them and make from you a nation greater and stronger than they are!” (Numbers 14:12) Whoa! Somebody is upset and has had enough!

So what was Moses’ response to this proposition of having a super nation created from him? Moses basically quotes Exodus 34:6-7 (though at this point there probably wasn’t an Exodus, much less chapters added:-)). Moses says “Please! Forgive this people according to the greatness of your grace” (Numbers 14:19).

So what was the Lord’s response to Moses? “I have forgiven, as you have asked.” (Numbers 14:20)

That to me is one of the most amazing encounters in Scripture; the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent God conceding to the man Moses and at the same time, the man Moses who humbled himself to the point of pleading for the nation that has caused him nothing but problems since they left Egypt instead of taking the easy way out and saying to God “finally you see my point, I wished you had destroyed them a year ago”.

But this wasn’t Moses, he wasn’t the power-hungry, pride fueled leader we are all too used to seeing these days. For just in last week’s Torah portion we read “Now this man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone on earth” (Numbers 12:3).

In Hebrews, the writer says “Moses was faithful in all God’s house, as a servant giving witness to things God would divulge later” (Hebrews 3:5)

What was something Moses revealed? Namely, the one who was to become the greatest intercessor and most gracious teacher, lawgiver and prophet unto Moses this world has ever known, Messiah Yeshua (Jesus).

And what were his words about the man Moses? “If you don’t believe Moses, how will you believe me?” (John 5:47)

To be clear, Yeshua deserves more honor than Moses “for Yeshua is the unique Son of God and over God’s house” as the writer of Hebrews says, but I would caution those who seem to disparage Moses and what he was about with a question God asked his detractors in Numbers 12:8;

“So why weren’t you afraid to criticize my servant Moses?”

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah!


The Sublime

“The grand premise of religion is that man is able to surpass himself; that man who is part of this world may enter into a relationship with Him who is greater than the world.”

This is my summary of God in Search of Man, Chapter 3-The Sublime. Read related posts Ways to His Presence, Philosophy and Religion and God in Search of Man Part I.

Picking up from Chapter 2, Heschel says that one of the primary starting points of contemplation about God is; The way of sensing His presence in the world, in things. But how does one find the way to an awareness of God through beholding the world here and now? How does one find a way in this world that would lead to an awareness of Him who is beyond this world?

Over the next several chapters, Heschel will try to ascertain what the world means and to comprehend the categories in which the Bible sees the world: the sublime, wonder, mystery, awe and glory.

Heschel begins by noting that there are three ways in which we relate ourselves to the world; we may exploit it, we may enjoy it and we may accept it in awe. The Greeks learned in order to comprehend. The Hebrews learned in order to revere. The modern man learns in order to use.

“Knowledge is Power” is the mantra of our day. This is how people are urged to study, for knowledge = success. Religious knowledge on the other hand is thought by many to be the lowest form of knowledge and not useful for post-modern man who has been dazzled by the brilliant achievements of his intellect in science and technology. To the modern man everything seems calculable; everything reducible to a figure. He has supreme faith in statistics and abhors the idea of a mystery. He ignores the fact that we are all surrounded by things that we apprehend but cannot comprehend; that even reason is a mystery in itself. He is sure of his ability to explain all mystery away.

Are the claims of modern psychology true? Are our religious beliefs nothing more than attempts to satisfy subconscious wishes? Is the conception of God merely a projection of self-seeking emotions, the self in disguise?

“In future generations, people will find difficulty in understanding how at one time generations existed who did not regard the idea of God as the highest concept of which man is capable, but who, on the contrary, were ashamed of it and considered the development of atheism a sign of progress in the emancipation of human thought.”  Walter Schubart

“Out of a system of ideas where knowledge is power, where values are a synonym for needs, where the pyramid of being is turned upside down-it is hard to find a way to an awareness of God….If the world is only power to us and we are all absorbed in a gold rush, then the only god we may come upon is the golden calf.” If nature is used only as a means or resource to satiate our appetites for more comforts and luxuries, then we lose the ability to see beyond it through it’s granduer and sublimity. Our systems of education teach our children how to exploit the power aspects of nature and the techniques of measurement and weight, but there is no education in how to revere, how to sense wonder and awe.

Sublime defined – Of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe: The word sublime doesn’t get used much in our vernacular today compared to awesome, which is a similar word that has all but lost its true sense of meaning in our modern culture where just about everything is deemed “awesome“.

“The sublime is that which we see and are unable to convey….it is a silent allusion of things to a meaning greater than themselves.” Here is where the Biblical view of the reality of nature serves as a guide. Heschel says that the theme of Biblical poetry is the  grandeur and sublime aspects of nature, not just its charm or beauty. The sublime may be beautiful or fearful, quite or loud, small or large. The sublime might be thunder and lightning, a destructive tornado, the boundless ocean or it could be a single drop or rain, snowflake, a sprouted seed or even “the still small voice” (1 Kings 19:22).

“The sublime is not the ultimate…..the sublime is but a way in which things react to the presence of God.” The sublime is never an ultimate aspect of reality, a quality meaningful in itself. It stands for something greater; it stands in relation to something beyond itself that the eye can never see. The Biblical man in sensing the sublime is carried away by his eagerness to exalt and to praise the Maker of the world:

1 Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
2 sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise!
3 Say to God, “How sublime are your deeds!  – Psalm 66:1-3

Heschel makes one final point in this chapter about the Biblical man’s experience of the sublime. “The most exalted objects such as the heaven or the stars and he himself have a mystery in common: they all continually depend on the living God.” In Colossians 1:16-17, the Apostle Paul gives further revelation of this fact about Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) that “all things were created through him and for him….and in him all things hold together.” Now that is a sublime thought indeed!

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah!