Passover on the Plains of Jericho

“Let the people of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time.” Numbers 9:2 ESV

Our family Passover preparations are now in full swing as we prepare to host a Seder at our home with family and friends in just a couple of days. Passover begins this year on Friday evening, April 6th. Today we are busy finalizing our guest list, grocery shopping, studying, rehearsing, writing this blog and doing plenty of Spring cleaning (which also means we have to drink up all the beer in the fridge really soon – it’s not that much I promise:-)!

Last week I wrote about The “Egyptian Passover” and gave a brief history of that very first Passover event and what made it unique in comparison to all others after it. For this post, I originally wanted to take a quick look at the post-Exodic (not “exotic”, but “exodic” as in after the Exodus) Passover up until the time of the Men of the Great Assembly. But as I begin to research the Passover from the Biblical and extra-biblical sources starting with the Book of Joshua to King Josiah on to the Book of Jubilees and The Wisdom of Solomon, I quickly realized that this would not be a quick survey after all. Instead of writing a 4,000 word blog of which I have scarcely the time, I decided to split this chronological theme up into much smaller sections over a longer period of time (I have Passover ideas to blog about for many years to come now:-). Makes sense right?

Passover on the Plains of Jericho

“While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho.” (Joshua 5:10 ESV)

This phrase “on the plains of Jericho” sounds very idyllic to me, like some sweeping grandiose setting from a bygone era that gets romanticized in a Hollywood movie. I can picture the scenes in my mind well and imagine some of the interactions of the people. The sweeping Jericho plains at sunset with Palm trees shadowed in the background and the Jordan river flowing in the distance. The tent sites are abuzz with campfires crackling and the excited chatter of the relatively youthful Israelites, almost all who are under the age of sixty with the majority not even forty years old yet. These young generations of Israelites who had weathered the sins of their parents and the harshness of desert life, have just crossed over the Jordan river into this Land they have heard only stories about since they were born. Now it is coming to pass before their very eyes, all of their hopes and dreams will soon be realized in this Land that had been promised to the generations of old, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joshua, who is one of only two who are left from their parents generation, is their courageous and very capable leader. Joshua was Moses’ right hand man while Moses was alive and Joshua was ordained by God to take Moses’ place after his death. Joshua gives a speech to this young nation that is both inspiring and sobering at the same time. He recounts the faithfulness of the Lord in leading them to this Promised Land and details the blessings spoken of to Moses about how God will shower them with so much provision and abundance that it will be like the Land breaking forth into song and dance all around them. Yet, Joshua also reminds them of the dangers of disobedience and rebellion, of a lack of trust in the Lord and the byproduct of that behavior that they know all too well. The youthful crowd responds to Joshua, “We will take care to do all that the Lord has commanded us to do”!

Many of the young men of the camp were anxious to go forth and “conquer” the Land. They were confident and not a few a bit cocky after they had seen what had happened to the Kings of the Amorites and Canaanites (Joshua 5:1). They knew well the report of the their brethren who had went to spy on the city of Jericho and had brought back this report to Joshua, “Truly the LORD has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.” (Joshua 2:24 ESV). But before the next battle was to begin, the Lord commanded patience, an obedient patience in the form of circumcision.

 Circumcision?! This second generation of Israelites had not been circumcised in the wilderness due to the sins of their fathers, which had delayed the Israelites from entering into the Promised Land in the first place for 40 years. That ancient rite of passage “hadn’t been practiced in many years” some of them said and others cringed at the thought of the pain it entailed. Nevertheless, the whole nation was obedient to the Lord’s command through Joshua and they remained in their camp at a place called Gilgal until they were healed.  After Joshua had all the males circumcised, God told Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” (Joshua 5:9 ESV). This circumcision was important for multiple reasons;

  1. According to the Covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 17:10-11, all of Abraham’s descendents should be circumcised as an act of obedience.
  2. Circumcision is a sign of the Israelites being in covenant with God and the Land of Canaan is a Promise of that Covenant (Genesis 17:8).
  3. According to Exodus 12:48, no one uncircumcised may partake of the Passover sacrifice.

During the time of healing and waiting, their was another rite, albeit a much more “modern” one that perhaps some had never took part in and others had but it had been since their teenage years or earlier – The Passover. Passover was the memorial and commemoration of God’s deliverance of His people Israel, that culminated in the Exodus out of Egypt and set in motion the journey that led them here, to the plains of Jericho – the gateway to the Promised Land.

Sure, they all knew what the Passover was and what it meant to them historically, but most had never actually experienced this sacred event. So here they were on the plains of Jericho, on this side of the Jordan river, with their tribes and divisions of families and they were about to fulfill God’s command to Moses to “Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night.” (Deuteronomy 16:1). On this night so long ago in the shadow of the infamous walls that would soon come tumbling down, I can imagine all the families remembering the past 40 years gone by since the Lord’s redemption from Pharaoh and his army and a young son of Israel probably no more than 4 or 5 years old asking his father “what does this night mean?” and his father replying with the words of Exodus 13:8 ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ I could also imagine the words and thoughts of the evening not just dwelling on the past but looking forward to the future redemption as well, when God will deliver yet again the people who He saved for all eternity in peace and glory. At least that’s how I suppose it could have all happened out on the plains of Jericho over 3,000 years ago. This was the first Passover celebrated in the Promised Land!

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

Chag Sameach Pesach 5772!!! Happy Passover 2012!!!

The Bond Family

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The “Egyptian Passover”

‘The blood shall be a sign for you……And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you” (Exodus 12:13 ESV)

Passover is less than two weeks away. This year Passover begins on the evening of Friday, April 6th, which is also the day that Christians through-out the world will be observing Good Friday (the traditional day of the week that Yeshua was crucified). On Passover Eve, Jewish families gather to have a festive meal called a “seder” in which there are special readings that tell about the Exodus from Egypt. Through a book called a “haggadah”, Jews remember the plight of their ancestors and how God through Moses miraculously saved and redeemed them from their oppressive state in Egypt. This celebration of Passover, which has been  an institution of the Jewish people for thousands of years also has special significance for the Messianic community today that is made up of Gentile Christians as well as Jewish believers of Messiah Yeshua(Jesus).

My home congregation Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue (BHS) is not having a corporate Seder this year. This is the first time that I know of that they are not hosting a congregational Seder. The reasoning is that they wanted to go smaller this year and encourage greater fellowship amongst the BHS family by having members host a home seder (which is how the first Passover recorded in Scripture is celebrated as well as all subsequent Passover’s since the destruction of the 2nd Temple) and invite other BHS attendees and guests. In preparation for this Rabbi Marty Waldman taught a very demonstrative and interactive Passover Seder training course in which he walked through the entire Haggadah. In addition to this, I have also been studying The JPS Commentary on the Haggadah by Joseph Tabory in preparation for the home seder I will be leading this year. In the Foreward to The JPS Commentary, Professor David Stern says that Tabory is “one of the world’s leading authorities on the Haggadah”. Needless to say I came across plenty of insight and I got the idea to chronicle a short summary of that First Passover up to the time of Rabbi Hillel, Rabbi Shammai and the Rabbi Yeshua from Natzeret, who they call Mashiach.

A Quick History Lesson (Exodus 1-13)

Under the Pharoah of that time, the Israelites had become enemies of the state and the Egyptians  feared them causing a revolution. Due to this, the Israelites endured many hardships including  infanticide and harsh slavery.  Through Moses and his brother Aaron, God made Himself known to His people Israel, as well as the Egyptians by His judgment upon the so-called gods of Egypt. God’s power and sovereignty was made known through the 10 plagues, which culminated in the death of the firstborn. The Israelites were told to apply the blood of a lamb to their door posts so that the Angel of Death would “passover” their homes. Due to the Israelites trust in this provision of God, they were saved from death and given the opportunity to have a new life no longer bound by the shackles of their previous existence but freedom to serve the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The “Egyptian Passover”

Some scholars refer to the Passover spoken of in Exodus 12 as the “Egyptian Passover”. The Rabbincal Sages considered the instructions from Exodus 12:11 to be a onetime occurence and a permanent distinction of that first Passover and every other that would come after it.  “In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover.”  Modern Samaritans on the other hand still consider this instruction to be applicable today.

The Torah itself doesn’t make any other distinction in regard to the timeliness of the meal, but it is assumed that Passover in post-Exodic times were festive and leisurely. The Torah does suggest a change in setting, from home based to Temple based in Deuteronomy 16:2  “And you shall offer the Passover sacrifice to the LORD your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place that the LORD will choose, to make his name dwell there.” This change in setting would happen once the Israelites had settled in the Promised Land and God had chosen a place for His dwelling (The Temple).

The only items mentioned in Scripture that were on the table that first Passover were: 1. Lamb (The actual Passover sacrifice) 2. Unleavened Bread 3. Bitter Herbs as it says in Exodus 12:8  “They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.” The cups of wine, haroset (apple and nut mixture), debates about lettuce or horseradish, etc etc. were much later additions.

The Torah also omits any instructions for any specific ceremony connected with the meal though the Torah does suggests that some type of narrative or commentary would accompany the meal for later generations in Exodus 12:26-27  “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” Also in Exodus 13:8 “You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ I agree with Tabory when he states that it would be “hard to imagine that a meal in the memory of the Exodus would not be used by parents to transmit the story of the Exodus to the younger generation – even if there were no specific Torah mandate.”

It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.
(Exodus 12:42 ESV)

For additional insight into the “Egyptian Passover” check out Rabbi Derek Leman’s recent post on the matter The First Passover.

Next Time (Hopefully by next weekend:-): Post-Exodic Passover to the Men of the Great Assembly

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

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Esther: A Diaspora Story of Israel

“Who knows whether you have come to the Kingdom for such a time as this” Esther 4:14

The Jewish festival of Purim is coming upon us rather quickly. In fact, it begins this evening and might just last until Friday evening (depends on how long you would like to extend the party:-). Purim is traditionally celebrated on the 14th of Adar according to the Hebrew calendar and Shushan Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar. What’s the difference in dates? According to the Book of Esther, those who lived in unwalled villages at the time defeated their enemies on the 14th of Adar and those in walled villages (Shushan) by the 15th of Adar. Purim is celebrated as a very joyful festival with a carnival like atmosphere that includes a lively and participatory reading of the Book of Esther, plays, masquerading, customary food and plenty of drink. It is also interesting to note, that Esther is the only book of Scripture, outside of the Torah that addresses the origin of a new festival. In true diaspora style, you could easily celebrate this holiday for 2 days; after all it is a diaspora story!

Last year I picked up the JPS Bible Commentary for Esther by Adele Berlin and decided to put it on the shelf until the time was right in the year to break out the “scroll”. Just the introduction to the commentary is formidable in its own right and is probably 2-3 times longer than the actual Biblical book.

Berlin begins her commentary by alluding to the question of which came first; Esther or Purim? That is, did the book precede the festival or did the festival precede the book?

Berlin says that the book’s fame is largely based on its association with Purim. And without the celebration of Purim with its annual reading of Megillat Esther (Scroll/Book of Esther) as its core tradition, “Esther would languish in obscurity”. But on the other hand, without the Book of Esther, “there would be little reason to perpetuate the observance of Purim.” So, however it happened and whatever the order (Berlin gives her educated opinions – she believes Purim existed in some form or fashion as a festival before the events recorded in Esther actually happened), Esther and Purim are forever attached and bundled up together for the benefit of all who might enter into this Biblical story of comedy and drama that is mixed with a heavy dose of courage and carousing.

What do I mean by “A Diaspora Story on the Continuation of Israel”?

The term “diaspora” is an ancient Greek term which literally means “scattered” or “dispersed”. As in a people or ethnic group living outside of their ancestral homeland. This is the setting and condition of the Jewish people in the book of Esther. The majority of modern scholarship dates the writing of Esther to the late Persian period or early Greek period, somewhere between 400-200 B.C. Berlin personally thinks the book was written between 400-300 B.C., after the reign of Xerxes (486-465 B.C.), but before the Hellenization of the East that was spurred on by Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.).

Outside of establishing an “official” reason for the observance of Purim, Berlin states that a main purpose of the book was to “promote pride in Jewish identity and solidarity with the Jewish community and with Jewish tradition”. Esther reflects the all too common circumstance of the history of the Jewish people where they are a “minority in a larger society and where it fell to the individual Jew, not the state, to ensure Jewish continuity”. The Book of Esther is not alone in this mode of “diaspora stories” for the time period. The Biblical Book of Daniel (especially chapters 1-6), as well as the Apocrypha Book’s of Judith and Tobit, also have similar settings and features of “pious Jews overcoming all odds to defeat the oppressive enemy”.

Berlin also stresses an important dimension of Jewish Diaspora stories that she says are rarely adequately noted. That is, “these stories not only provide models for Jewish success and Jewish pride in foreign lands; they also provide answers to the critical question of how a Jewish community in exile can see itself vis-a-vis the Israel of the Bible”. It is clear that Esther has accomplished its two primary goals;

  1. To establish the festival of Purim in perpetuity for Jews of all generations
  2. To tie the fate of the Jewish Diaspora community to the story of Biblical Israel

I encourage you to pick up your Bible and read Esther in lively fashion to your family this year, you could even have everyone dress up and have a part. Go to your congregation or synagogue for a play or Purim party and participate in the “boos” and “cheers”. Eat some Hamantaschen or chocolate, have a few strong drinks (not for the kids) and watch One Night With The King (one of my wife’s top 3 favorite movies). Whatever you do, do it unto the Lord and have fun, a lot of it – now’s the time!

May you be filled with the joy and strength of the Spirit which comes from HaShem in Messiah Yeshua this season and always!

Happy Purim 2012!!!

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Awesome Enthusiasm

They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. Psalm 145:6

Awesome and Enthusiasm are two buzz words that are commonly bantered about back and forth in our modern society. This is especially true in the business world where it is “awesome” to hit your daily quota or sales goals for the month; and in order to achieve this objective you must be filled with “enthusiasm” for your employer. To quote the former Green Bay Packers legendary coach Vince Lombardi “If you are not fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm”. I don’t disagree entirely with the reality of the modern use and view of these words, as I frequently use them in the same context myself. I mean come on’, I lead a team in retail banking and I do need this kind of “enthusiasm” from my associates and it is “awesome” when we hit our numbers. However, what if we took away the context of post-modernism and peeled away the layers of western influence? What if we took these words “awesome” and “enthusiasm” back to their Biblical perspective? Once we begin to dig a little deeper, many might be surprised to learn of the theological weight and depth associated with these words that many of us use weekly, if not daily as a part of our regular vocabulary without a second thought.

The word Awesome has all but lost its original scope and depth as a definition for something which is “profoundly reverent or that which inspires awe”. I would say that the majority of events that are connected with its use today are neither that “profound” or “inspiring”. An example of the word awesome used in this fashion would be “I went to Chick-fil-a today and they gave me a free chicken sandwich” “Wow dude, that’s awesome!”. The word Enthusiasm is generally equated with being motivated or ecstatic about something. A common example of how this word is used today might be “John, as a part of your career development, I would like to see you show more enthusiasm during our team meetings and when we have a team contest”. The famous 19th Century writer and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm”. To the Emerson quote I say an enthusiastically Amen! Hopefully, you will too after some additional insight into what is so awesome about the greater meaning of these two words.

I have been reading a couple of different books simultaneously that I believe compliment each other well; God In Search Of Man – A Philosophy of Judaism by Dr. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Messianic Judaism – A Modern Movement With An Ancient Past by Dr. David H. Stern. This post in part is a continuation of a series (albeit a slow one:-) in which I am going through God In Search Of Man chapter by chapter. You can read other posts in this series here; Beyond the MysteryBeing is MysteriousA Legacy of Wonder, The Sublime, Ways to His Presence, Philosophy and Religion and God in Search of Man Part I.  This post draws heavily from Chapter 7 of God In Search Of Man, with some additional insight provided by Stern around the word enthusiasm.

I will begin with what Stern notes about the word “enthusiasm”, which will in turn set the tone and backdrop to what makes this so “awesome”. Stern notes that the word Enthusiasm comes from the Greek en (in) and theos (God). Enthusiasm therefore literally means to; be in God and have God in you. That bit of info brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “filled with enthusiasm”! Maybe the next time someone in a “secular” setting brings this word up, you could use this info as a great conversation starter about what this means to you. Stern says that when you are in relationship with the God of the Bible and He in you, as His Word promises, then you will surely find yourself enthused in the most ultimate sense. Stern goes on to say that God’s answer to Man’s ultimate questions such as “Is there meaning to life?” and “Does my existence really matter?” is an enthusiastically charged Yes when we are aware and a part of this relationship.

“The loss of Awe is the great block to insight” – Abraham Joshua Heschel

From what I gather, Heschel believes that in order to get to the deeper and spiritual meaning of enthusiasm, we must understand What?, Why? and most importantly Who? it is that is doing this “filling up”. As the quote above alludes to, without Awe, there is no Awesome. I will let Professor Heschel take it from here for a few minutes and give us a broader view that could lead to us regaining this Awe and in turn being able to understand that which is Awesome.

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. Deuteronomy 10:17

Heschel begins this chapter by stating that “all reality is involved in the will and thought of God, he who wants to understand the world must seek to understand God.” But how do we do this? What is the way of understanding Him?

Heschel says that practical wisdom can availeth much, but human wisdom comes up short when confronted with the mysteries of nature and history. He says that some people may regard wisdom as “an uncommon degree of common sense.” I know that many people, myself included, like to think of themselves as somewhat within this “common sense” realm because we suppose we know a little about a lot of subjects. We may be able to navigate and structure our “wisdom” in a way that makes us look and sound “wise” until we get to the ultimate questions of “What is this life really about?” and “Why does it matter?”.  Human wisdom in and of itself ultimately leads to despair or agnosticism when confronted with ultimate questions because all of its answers are grounded in uncertainty – they are finite by nature; human nature that is. In comparison to the Atheist or Agnostic though, the Bible doesn’t convey the message of “we don’t know”, but “God understands the way to it”. What is unknown or concealed to us is known and open to God. Heschel says that “true wisdom is participation in the wisdom of God.” For the Biblical man, “wisdom is the ability to look at all things from the point of view of God, sympathy with the divine pathos, the identification of the will with the will of God.”

So what is this way to ultimate meaning and wisdom? It is our relationship with God. Heschel says that that relationship begins with awe, which he defines as “an act of insight into a meaning greater than ourselves.” This “act of insight” and “meaning greater than ourselves” is where we begin to get a wider glimpse at the word Awesome and its meaning.

And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” Nehemiah 1:5

Heschel says that Awe is a way of being in rapport with the mystery of all reality. The awe that we sense or ought to sense when standing in “the presence of a human being is a moment of intuition for the likeness of God which is concealed in his essence. Not only man; even inanimate things stand in relation to the Creator. The secret of every being is the divine care and concern that are invested in it.”

What Heschel says here is profound and yet so simple that we almost certainly miss the insight of it every waking hour of the day. With every single person we come into contact with everyday and with every step our feet take we have the opportunity to enter this insight which leads to this awesome experience. Heschel says that this “mystery” is not a synonym for the unknown but rather a name for that which stands in relation to God. Awe is “an intuition for the creaturley dignity of all things and their preciousness to God; a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something absolute.”

Heschel relates an expression of awe in an example from Maimonides:

“…any man who wishes to be a true “man of God” must awake to the fact that the great King who constantly protects him and is near to him is mightier than anyone……that King and constant guardian is the spirit emanated upon us which is the bond between us and God.”

This example of Awe by Maimonides sounds like it could be commentary on a number of Apostolic (New Testament) writings which depict the Holy Spirit as God (King) and yet also as our “guardian” and “bond between us and God”. According to Maimonides, the awesomeness that the “man of God” realizes is being “awake” to the fact that God is the great sovereign King of his existence.

 And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear (yirah) of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” Job 28:28

The fear (yirah) of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7

Heschel says that according to the Bible, one of the prime religious virtues is yirah. Yirah is a Hebrew word which can mean fear and awe. Heschel says that the Biblical man is not motivated by fear in the sense of God punishing him in this world or the next, but rather by awe, by the realization of the grandeur of God’s eternal love. Heschel defines fear as the “anticipation and expectation of evil or pain.” He contrasts this with hope, which he defines as the “anticipation of good” and Awe, which he says is the “antithesis of fear”. Heschel states that Awe, unlike fear, does not make us shrink from the awe-inspiring object, but, on the contrary, draws us near to it. Heschel believes that Awe precedes faith because it is at the root of faith. Heschel states that for this reason, Awe rather than faith is the cardinal attitude of the religious Jew. He says that in Biblical language the religious man is not called a “believer” which is undoubtably the most popular term in use today, but Yare HaShem (One who stands in Awe of God).

Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. Psalm 66:5

For the Christian or Messianic Jew, our personal and corporate relationship to God is through Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah. It is in this relationship that we find “a meaning greater than ourselves”. It is through this relationship in Yeshua that we are all collectively “One who stands in Awe of God”. That the God of eternity would humble Himself and take on flesh to walk among us is Awesome! That He would suffer with great pain and sorrow, even unto death on our behalf is Awesome! That He would do all of this because of His immense grace and love for humanity and creation is Awesome! That He would provide a new and living relationship with Himself through Yeshua the Messiah in communion with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) is Awesome! That through His resurrection He has proved mightier than death itself is Awesome! That He has deposited in all of us this “anticipation of good” which is the resurrection of all who trust in Him is Awesome! That He will complete the work he started in us no matter what is Awesome and should fill us with more than enough enthusiasm to “run the race that is set before us”!

“Who is like you, ADONAI, among the mighty? Who is like you, sublime in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?” Exodus 15:11

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

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Bring Back The King

*Attention: This is not a post about Elvis, Michael Jackson, or even that goofy looking character from the Burger King commercials.*

This post is about a hope and a prayer, that I pray and hope will turn into a plea by Yeshua’s (Jesus’) brothers and sisters according to the flesh (i.e. The Jewish People) really soon in the coming days. Amen! These thoughts are primarily drawn out of the 16th Chapter entitled Life from the Dead in Michael Brown’s book Our Hands Are Stained With Blood.

For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:39 ESV)

Yeshua (Jesus) spoke these words in sadness to Jerusalem not too long before his death. These words come after a long litany of warnings to the oppressive and unbelieving leadership of the Jewish people in Yeshua’s day. Yeshua’s words as recorded here in Matthew are insightful and indeed prophetic. These words are magnificent and the implications are probably beyond our full scope of understanding until they become the reality that will usher in the Age to Come. And yet with clarity, there is an aspect and an event in view that all believer’s should understand right now in this present age – The Jewish People play an integral part in the 2nd Coming of Yeshua!

Ever since I can remember, in my lifetime, there has always been talk of the Lord’s return to this earth. This is popularly known as the 2nd Advent or 2nd Coming. This desire and speculation of Yeshua’s return has not just recently become the hot topic of believers, but it is true of my parent’s and grandparent’s generation as well. In fact, the imminent expectation of Yeshua’s return goes all the way back through every generation of the last two thousand years, even to the very generation(s) in which the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) were written. But, have we really had genuine reason to believe that He could return at anytime? I suppose that each and every generation could validate and give “evidence” for His return in some form or fashion. Some of the “evidences” of our modern times (most of which I agree with) are the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, Jewish control of Jerusalem for the first time in almost 2,500 years in 1967, Tens of thousands of Jewish people coming to faith in Yeshua in the last 40-50 years, the increased frequency of natural disasters, the increased frequency of wars and rumors of wars, the explosion of knowledge and technology, etc, etc. Yeshua talked about many of these things being a “sign of the end”, but there is still a caveat, there is still something else that must happen before his return – Yeshua said so, very plainly, himself. As Brown makes note of  in his book “He will remain in heaven until Jerusalem welcomes Him back. That is how it must be!”.

So it is with this caveat in mind that I write this post; that Yeshua will not return until his own people, the Jews, welcome him back as Melech Mashiach (King Messiah).

Brown brings up a portion of Scripture from 2 Samuel, having to do with King David, in which he suggests is prophetic in light of Yeshua’s words in Matthew 23. At this point in David’s life, he had been on the run after his son Absalom had stolen his throne. David had previously left Jerusalem out of fear for his life, but now his son Absalom has been killed and David was ready to return and resume his kingship from the City of the King. After hearing of Absalom’s death, the Israelites argued amongst themselves saying;

“The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies and saved us from the hand of the Philistines, and now he has fled out of the land from Absalom. But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?” (2 Samuel 19:9-10 ESV)

King David took their sentiments a bit further and went right to the source of contention. He sent a message straight to the leadership in Israel at the time and said;

“Say to the elders of Judah, ‘Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king? You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?’ (2 Samuel 19:11-12 ESV)

“You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?’ These words could easily reflect the attitude of Yeshua to his brothers and sisters in the flesh. All the nations of the world are represented in wanting to bring back the King (including Messianic Jews), but until Jerusalem (represented by Israel and the Jewish People as a whole) receive and welcome Him back – He will not return!

So this is one of the great challenges and opportunities we face! Some might say Mission Impossible, it can’t be done or it won’t be done until Yeshua comes back, but wait, according to Yeshua’s own words it must happen before He returns – not after! Many Christians might be surprised to learn that religious Jew’s pray for their Messiah’s return daily, as well as it being a central tenet to their faith (though currently they reject Yeshua as this Messiah).

The 15th blessing of the Amidah (daily standing prayer) is called The Kingdom of David and it appeals to God to bring the Messianic King to sit on David’s throne:

May the seed of David thy servant flourish speedily and may You exalt in Your salvation. For in Your salvation do we hope all the day. Blessed are You, Lord, Who brings forth the horn of our salvation.

The 12th principle in Maimonides 13 principles of Jewish faith states; the belief in the coming of Messiah and the Messianic era.

How can we challenge and change the status quo of long-held assumptions about who the Messiah is? What part can you play in this Divine objective?

For starters, we can all join in prayer a la Psalm 122:6; Pray for the Peace and Salvation of Jerusalem. Jerusalem will not experience true and lasting peace and salvation without her true Messiah, Yeshua.

Second, we must understand Paul’s words in Romans 11 and keep them continually on our heart and in focus:

Christians (non-Jewish believers from among the nations) must understand that it is only in part to Israel’s stumbling that we are able to proclaim God’s amazing grace as grateful believers today.

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. (Romans 11:11 ESV)

To me, this is also one of the lost callings of the Church and Christianity in general. We have hardly provoked Israel to jealousy by showering them with the love of Christ, but instead, historically speaking, we have persecuted them in Jesus’ name as Christ killers! All believers everywhere must repent for ourselves and our ancestors in the faith. We must take a stand against and denounce all anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic behavior and theology. 

Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! (Romans 11:12 ESV)

I believe that many Christians are eternally thankful to God for “calling them out of the darkness and into His marvelous light”. “For O’ the depths and heights” of God’s blessings that he has bestowed upon us and yet this is only a taste of the mutually universal blessing that will be showered upon all believer’s once Israel is brought back into the fold under her Messiah.

For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (Romans 11:15 ESV)

This portion of Scripture penned by Paul through the Holy Spirit is astounding! Israel’s rejection enabled all the nations of the world, you and I, to be brought into a personal and corporate relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The I AM who spoke to Moses, the God of Israel, the Tetragrammaton – YHVH! Meditate upon this, all of this was done because of Israel’s (temporary) rejection! We should hardly be able to contain ourselves at the thought of Israel’s future acceptance and welcome message back to her King “Baruch Haba B’Shem Adonai”, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”! For this message is about one of our primary and eternal hopes – The Resurrection!

The Resurrection is a central tenet to the theology of Christianity and Judaism and is something in which we are all eternally hopeful. Again, from Maimonides 13 principles of Jewish faith; #13 – the belief in the resurrection of the dead.

Finally, I believe that it is to this end that the modern Messianic Jewish movement has arisen in these last days. I believe that Messianic Judaism will be the great bridge of reconciliation between Christianity and normative Judaism. I believe that it is the high calling of the Messianic Jewish movement to prepare the remnant of Israel with all believers from the nations alongside her in love and prayer to proclaim the message “Bring Back The King”!

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

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2011 In Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for my blog. I’m pretty sure you’ll want to read about it:-)!

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,600 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people. Ladies and Gentlemen, All Aboard – It’s time to jump on board the Messiah Connection Light Train and take a little trip!

Click here to see the complete report.

2011 is officially history now!

It happened as of about 10 hours ago as I sit writing this post! It’s a time to feel good about a new beginning, a clean slate, a fresh start, new opportunities and adventures. This feeling will last at least until about your 2nd day back to work or school and you realize that for now things are not that much different in reality than they were the last week. Time will tell and there’s always hope. Here’s to wishing you and yours the best in the year to come!

Welcome to 2012 and Happy New Year!

2012 is undoubtably the most hyped up year in the “apocalyptic/end of the world” sense that this world has known since the year 2000. The year(s) leading up to 2000 were hyped up by the fact that we were entering a new millennium, which is in fact a rarity, since it does only happen once every one thousand years. The year 2000 was also hyped up by the Y2K scare, which was basically a theory that the world’s computer systems would not know how to handle going from 12/31/99 to 1/1/00. And this “numerical glitch” would send our post modern world and technology back to the turn of the 20th century. This real life “back to the future” scenario would make our electrical grid non-existent, world financial markets would crash, airplanes and satellites would fall from the sky, food supplies would stop, the mark of the beast would be initiated, world-wide anarchy and chaos would ensue, and on top of all this, aliens would probably attack our poor state of existence. Looking back, this sounds ludicrous, but at the time I heard all of these theories from respectable, educated persons. I knew people at the time, who had been preparing “hideouts” in the country, stockpiling canned food, water, and weaponry (yes, guns and lots of ammunition), for the mass hysteria that would be our existence at 12:01 am, January 1st, 2000. At the time, I worked for a mobile paging and phone company. The owners of the company were planning to “camp out” in the server rooms on New Year’s Eve 1999 in case there was any “technical difficulty”. I was also in a band at the time and we had a gig on NYE in a town about 30 minutes from our hometown. One of our band member’s parent’s was “extremely concerned” about us “traveling” 30 miles to play a Rock n’ Roll show on this most fateful of nights. On the way to the gig that evening, we spotted numerous bonfires and camping sites off the highway in the distance, safe from all of the world’s troubles (though these self-proclaimed hide-outs could hardly be verified as such since they were only 200 yards from the highway!). As a group of teenagers, we could feel the excitement in the air that evening and we all hoped “something might happen”, and we all thought it would be “very cool” if it did. How awesome, we thought, would it have been to be on a stage, playing a rock n roll song, when the world stopped turning! That’s how a 19-year-old thinks, or at least that’s how I thought.

None of that happened of course. The New millennium and Year began just like all the rest before them and by the time September 11th, 2001 happened, the world had all but forgotten about the perceived threat of our existence with Y2K, as a new era of reality and fear in the name of Terrorism had begun.

2012 is another one of those types of years. It has been hyped as such for at least more than a decade. I remember seeing a tv show (I forget the channel) in 1998 about the end of the Mayan calendar  on December of 2012. Why didn’t they date past that date? What will happen then? Does it predict the end of mankind’s existence as we know it? Why? What? Why? How? When?

Here is what I do know; There will be shocking things happen in 2012. There will be unbelievable events happen in 2012. It will be the end of the world for millions of people in 2012. I can guarantee that. But, does that make me a prophet, a modern-day Nostradamus? Does it mean that 2012 will be all that it’s hyped up to be in the doom & gloom department? Probably not, at least not according to the popular view of it. I do believe that we are getting nearer to the Lord’s return (everyday in fact), and that leading up to this nearness, there will be birthpains before the birth of a new age. The Messiah said so in Matthew 24:3-8. The Biblical view of these things is vastly different from the popular view though. For in the Bible, the end of this age doesn’t signify the end of mankind and all death and despair. Though that is a reality in the Bible, what is in greater focus is the Age to Come, an age of increased peace and joy due to the Messiah’s rule and reign over this earth with Justice and Truth. The end of this present age will segue into the Age to Come when the Messiah returns and sets up His world government from Jerusalem.

I hope to publish a post about Yeshua’s (Jesus’) return and the peace of Jerusalem in the coming days. I hope that you would add these two things to your prayer requests/resolutions for 2012. Maranatha!

To end on a lighter note, I heard a joke a year or two ago about the Mayan Calendar that went something like this:

                      

Happy New Year everyone and many blessings to you in the Name of the Lord for 2012!

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

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Between Miracles

 “Do you believe in miracles?”

– asks Matisyahu in the song Miracle. This will also be my over-arching question and theme for this post.

Last week I wrote about some of my views and shared a bit of my personal journey on whether or not you could have a Chanukah and a kosher Christmas celebration if you were either a Messianic Jew, a Messianic Gentile, or a Judaically informed Christian. I share my perspective as a Christian (The word Messianic is a synonymous term) who has been influenced and continues to be informed by Judaism and it’s philosophy and traditions. Since Hanukkah and Christmas intersect this year, I wanted to continue to explore a thematic parallel that is shared between the two holidays.

I originally sat down to write this post with a working title called Festivals of Light. I was going to look at how the Festivals of Light could describe both Chanukah and Christmas and how they relate to God and His Word, Messiah and His Disciples, plus customs and traditions associated with the Light of both festivals. But, like what happens so many times, inspiration strikes from out of nowhere (or somewhere) it seems and the next thing you know you’re being led into a direction that you hadn’t prepared for but amazingly ideas are flowing like a proverbial river. Ok, so I don’t know if this happens to everyone but it happens to myself enough for me to think it might be a common occurence that leads to creativity for everyone else.

Yesterday, my wife and I officially became members and a part of the mishpacha (family) at Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue. For the last 4 months we have been reading through 3 required books and attending a weekly class for membership. So, after a 4 month hiatus, this morning I picked up God In Search Of Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel. I haven’t had the time to continue reading and studying through God In Search Of Man due to our membership class requirements with Baruch HaShem. I have posted multiple times in the past about this book and I started thinking again of what Heschel had to say about the mystery, wonder, awe, amazement and glory of God. One of the reasons that led me to Heschel and God In Search Of Man today, was a Facebook comment that a friend of mine posted last week about the death of one of his hero’s and fellow atheists Christopher Hitchens. In addition to that, I heard through song and movies a few references to miracles this past week. When I sat down to write this blog originally about the Festivals of Light, all these various thoughts from the last few days led me to start thinking about miracles and the shared miracle theme of Hanukkah and Christmas.

It is common to hear stories about miracles during Hanukkah and Christmas.

For Hanukkah, probably the most traditional and well-known story of a miracle has to do with the Miracle of the oil for the Temple Menorah. In the Talmud in tractate Shabbat 21, it is said that when the Maccabees defeated the evil Antiochus Epiphanies and his Greek army, they took back control of Jerusalem and the Temple. Upon doing this though, they found only enough oil to light the Temple Menorah (that should burn continually in representation of God’s presence) for one night and that it would take a total of 8 days to consecrate new oil that is fit to be burned in the Temple. Miraculously, the one night of oil lasted for 8 nights and hence God provided the miracle in order to create new oil and we have the 8 nights of Hanukkah. This is a great story and the primary event that the holiday commemorates. Perhaps though, a more historical and even more miraculous event to happen that led to Hanukkah being celebrated, is when the outnumbered and outsourced band of guerilla fighters led by Mattathias and Judah Maccabee overcame all odds and adversity to defeat the larger, better trained and more equipped Greek army. After the Jewish victory in about 165 BCE, on the 25th of Kislev, the Temple and Altar were cleansed and re-dedicated (this is what the word Hanukkah means) back to God. At this time, an 8 day festival was proclaimed with much feasting, song and sacrifice and is thought by many scholars and historians to be a belated festival of Sukkot (which last 8 days). This is also alluded to in 2 Maccabees 1:18. The Jews had been unable to properly celebrate the feasts during the years preceding the victory and Sukkot was the most recently missed holiday. I know of at least two other miracle stories which are interesting that relate to Hanukkah as well:

  1. 2 Maccabees 1:18-36 also says that the reason that the 25 of Kislev was chosen for the day of Hanukkah (re-dedication) was that, that was the same day that God had miraculously caused the fire for the sacrifice of the Altar to be re-lit by those priests, who had preserved in the Persian exile, the elements of the former fire of the Temple Altar.
  2. It is thought by some in the Messianic and Jewish Roots movement that Yeshua was born in the fall, perhaps during one of the fall feasts. If this was the case, then if we were to rewind the clock back 9 months, one would come to the approximate time of Hanukkah. This is all merely speculative, but it would be very interesting to suppose that the Light of the World could have been conceived during the Festival of Lights. That would be yet another miraculous event indeed!

For Christmas, it is often said (in the movies at least) that something that happens out of the ordinary or that cannot be explained easily at this time of year is a “Christmas miracle”. Many times this is probably thought of in the secular and general sense of the “spirit” of Christmas creating these “miracles”. I equate this type of “miracle” thinking to the kind of “miracle” of the mythical Santa Claus figure who can fly around (through flying deer who pull his sleigh) the world in a single night and drop gifts off at all the good little boys and girls homes. This is what I would call the fairy tale “miracle”. But for many who might proclaim witness to a “Christmas miracle” there is another source. A Source and Reality that is hidden and yet more real and evidenced than many would like to admit or contemplate. A miracle that has a deep-seated mystery about it and causes a wonder and amazement that is beyond belief, yet in some glorious way is believable. There is one such “Christmas miracle” that is proclaimed by many at this time that is one of the most miraculous events to ever happen in the history of the universe……a birth of a baby boy by a young women. What? What in the world is so miraculous about that? Absolutely nothing! That is, unless you believe, that the child (Yeshua) was born of a virgin (Miriam) who had been conceived by God (The Holy Spirit) and that the child who was born had been with God in the beginning before there was the concept of creation and time and that this child was in fact God Himself who had left His exalted position to take on flesh and literally became Immanuel (God is with us), the Author, Perfector, and Sustainer of our faith! That is the greatest miracle I have ever encountered!!!

What of these miracles of the past you might ask? What about the here and now? How do we really believe in miracles today?

In the book, God In Search Of Man, Heschel talks about the sense of wonder and miracles being the “source of prayer”. Heschel mentions that the religious Jew will pray 3 times a day: “We thank You……For Your miracles are with us daily, For Your continual marvels….”

As I sit typing this post about miracles, at this very minute I just received a text from a good friend of mine who lives in Georgia. My friend’s dad has been critically ill while waiting for a heart transplant and has spent the past few weeks in the ICU of the hospital. The last update I had from him was on Thanksgiving, Nov 24th. The text reads verbatim “Thanks everyone for all your support and prayers. There is a heart match and my dad goes into heart transplant surgery in an hour.” Praise God!!! I would ask that you keep this friend of mine and his dad in your prayers for a speedy and strong recovery. I would even ask for a miraculous recovery!

Heschel says that in all things, no matter how great or small, good or bad we perceive them to be we must remain aware of God’s wonder and miracles. We must seek and learn to invoke His great name and our awareness of Him continually.

“There is no worship, no music, no love, if we take for granted the blessings or defeats of living.”

Heschel says that one of the goals to the Jewish way of living is “to experience commonplace deeds as spiritual adventures, to feel the hidden love and wisdom in all things.”

According to Heschel, you might say that daily, we are constantly between miracles. Living life each day from one miracle to the next.

“Do you believe in Miracles?”

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