Zealousness Misdirected

To be zealous means to have an overriding desire for something. You could be zealous for a sports team, collecting paraphernalia until you have a roomful of it. You could be zealous for work, staying late and starting early every day of the week and never going on vacation. You could be zealous for the Lord- worshiping daily, attending every community function that your house of worship holds, being on every committee, and talking about God and his plan of salvation to everyone and anyone you can.

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We are told that zealousness for the Lord is good. David talks about it in the Psalms 69 and 119; Isaiah mentions it in his writings (Isaiah 37, 59 and 63); and Pinchus was rewarded for his zealousness for the Lord in Numbers 25:11-13.

Now, as wonderful as it may be to be zealous for something, when that zealousness is misdirected whatever good may have come from it will be turned to evil.

We see this in the letter Shaul (Paul) wrote to the Galatians. This letter was written to protect the Messianic community in Galatia, which Shaul founded, from the Messianic Jews who were not trying to dissuade them from following Yeshua but to burden them with wrongful teaching about the necessity of following the Torah. This is what we have come to call “legalism”, which is the idea that without exact and literal obedience to the instructions in the Torah, we cannot be saved. Whereas it is true that we should do everything we can to obey the Torah instructions, it is not the path to salvation. Shaul was writing to remind the Galatians that faith comes before obedience, and obedience then comes as a result of that faith.

In Galatians 4:17-18 he says the following:

True, these teachers are zealous for you, but their motives are not good. They want to separate you from us so that you will become zealous for them. To be zealous is good, provided always that the cause is good. 

The issue of legalism that was a problem to these early Messianic Gentile communities has been replaced with the doctrine of Constantinian Christianity, created at the Council of Nicene in the year 325 C.E. From then on, legalism no longer mattered because by that time Christianity had become so separated from its’ Jewish roots that it was a totally different religion, which pretty much rejected the instructions in the Torah, altogether.

You would think that that would be the end of legalism, but it wasn’t. Today, Gentile Believers who want to worship as Messiah did, and want to go back to their Jewish roots, have resurrected legalism.

They aren’t so worried about following the Torah as they are about the minutia within the Torah.  For example, we see many arguments about something that would never even be a consideration for a Jewish Believer, or even a “mainstream” Jew, which is the way to pronounce God’s holy name, the Tetragrammaton. I have seen so many arguments about the difference between the Paleo-Hebraic spelling (Y-H-W-H) and the modern Hebrew spelling (Y-H-V-H) that I wonder if they even realize that none of the early Messianic communities ever pronounced that name, at all? Jews do not use that name because we respect it, yet Gentiles who suddenly feel the need to get back to their Jewish roots show no respect at all for God’s name. They misinterpret the use of “the name of the Lord” that is in the Tanakh to justify pronouncing the Tetragrammaton: their zealousness to know God better is misdirected and becomes disrespectful to God, and also to all the Jewish Believers who are told they are wrong not to pronounce God’s holy name.
I’m sorry, but we have been the chosen people for nearly Six Thousand years: not to sound self-centered, but maybe Gentiles should consider we know what we are doing?

I also see so many arguments about when the festivals start. The modern Jewish calendar is accepted by almost every Jew in the world and yet, Gentiles who are just beginning to observe God’s commanded festivals (which is a good thing) are now arguing over when they really start (which is a legalistic thing.)

I am saying “Gentiles” but I am sure there are Jews within these groups also who are of the same mindset, but from my experience, it is almost exclusively Gentile Believers who are arguing for this modern form of legalism.

For instance, Rosh Chodesh is the celebration of the new month, which begins with the sighting of the moon in the new moon phase. Today we have science to show us exactly when this happens, unlike the ancient days when it was required to have three witnesses agree that the moon is in phase. Yet, I see so many people argue over when it really is a new moon, and when that festival really begins.  OY!!

Don’t they know that in the olden days, which they are trying to legalistic recreate, the new moon and festival beginnings had a “grace period” of some three days?  There might have been clouds in the sky obscuring the view or it could have been raining, in either case, the moon could not be seen. Once the ones responsible for officially stating when a festival began (who were in Jerusalem) agreed it was time, they would light signal fires on mountaintops throughout the land of Israel to announce the beginning of that festival. This means that the exact phase of the moon wasn’t really as important as everyone celebrating at the same time.

Think of the harvest festivals- no harvest is at the exact same day as the prior year. Shavuot is one of the most important holy days of the year, one of the three pilgrimage holy days requiring us to go to the Temple in Jerusalem. It begins 50 days after Habikkurim (First Fruits), yet first fruits depended on when the harvest was done, which was never the exact same time every year. Today we celebrate Pesach, Habikkurim, and Shavuot based on the calendar days and not on any harvest. That means that no one who uses the Jewish calendar is exactly right about when First Fruits and Shavuot begin. So, nu? Do you think that God is going to send every person who observes his festivals based on the Jewish calendar to Sheol?

Here’s the problem with this modern form of legalism: it is misdirected zealousness. The zealousness to be obedient to the Torah has been perverted to obedience for the sake of obedience, which leads to faithlessness. I believe this to be true, and just as Shaul told the Galatians that they were being made zealous for someone else, the Enemy of the Lord wants to make us zealous for him. And how can he do that to faithful Believers? By separating them from God through misdirected zealousness.

When we are arguing amongst ourselves over things that have no relationship to our salvation, such as exactly when the moon is in a certain phase, or how to pronounce a name, or when a festival begins we separate ourselves from each other. Haven’t you ever heard the term “divide and conquer”? Well, that is what this legalism is doing within the Messianic and Christian Believing communities.

It is good to be zealous for proper worship, which I define as worship the way God said to do so. He gave us a User Manual to teach us how to worship him properly, which is called the Torah. All we need to do is follow the instructions as best as we can. I cannot speak for God, but since he constantly tells us throughout the Tanakh that he is not interested in the blood of bulls or sheep (meaning obedience for the sake of being obedient) and that he sees the heart, I think it is safe to say as long as your heart is zealous for God he will understand and forgive you if you celebrate a festival day early or a day late. To be safe, just use the same calendar that every other Jew in the world uses.

Also, if you want to get back to your Jewish roots, don’t reinvent the wheel by doing what Jews don’t do, such as pronouncing the holy name of the Lord. Use Adonai, Lord, God, Elohim, HaShem or some other biblical name for God. And, for Pete’s sake, don’t use transliteration spellings that are wrong, like Quodash or Alohim- OY!! If you use a transliteration, use the ones Jews use because they are based on the Hebrew spelling, which is the correct pronunciation.

Legalism is trying to do things exactly as instructed for the sake of being correct. God really doesn’t care about performance, he cares about the reasons for that performance. If your desire to be obedient is zealousness for God as a direct result of faithfulness, then that is good. You don’t have to be perfect, just willing to try from a heartfelt desire to show God you love him.

If your zealousness for God leads you to obedience for the sake of obedience, that is legalism and zealousness misdirected.

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Using Shaul’s Letters as a Weapon Against the Torah

The New Covenant writings are the historical record of Yeshua’s ministry and teachings, as well as a narrative of the travels (and travails) of some of the Apostles. The majority of the New Covenant is made up of the Epistles (letters) written by Shaul (Paul) to the congregations of Messianic/Believing Gentiles that he founded throughout Asia.

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These letters have been used to form much of the doctrine of modern, or Constantinian Christianity, and are considered, by many Christian denominations, to be more important than God’s instructions in the Torah.

I liken it to Judaism and the Talmud: the Orthodox and Hasidic sects of Judaism will often go to the Talmud for spiritual guidance before they go to the Torah; in fact, the rabbinic doctrine in the Talmud is called Halacha- the Way to Walk. Most Jews live more in accordance with opinions from the great Rabbis written in the Talmud than they do to the instructions God gave us in the Torah.

The same thing has happened with the letters Shaul wrote, except for one major difference: the Talmud tells us how to live in accordance with the Torah, whereas each letter from Shaul addressed only specific problems within the congregation he wrote to. His references within his letters to the Mosaic Law were never intended to tell people they were no longer necessary or valid for Gentile Believers, but to explain that they are not the path to salvation (anti-legalism) but the result of a faithful desire to please the Lord.

The instructions Shaul gave to his congregations was supposed to be used as a weapon, loaded with bullets from the Torah to shoot down and kill the wrongful teachings and ideas that were infiltrating his congregations, such as Gnosticism, Legalism, incorrect understanding of the Kashrut instructions, and internal dissension caused by individual political agendas.

What happened was that the early “church” leaders took Shaul’s weapon, reloaded it with bullets of wrongful teachings and used it to murder the Torah!

We must read the letters from Shaul as what they were designed to be: not instructions establishing religious doctrine but condemnation for incorrect worship and personal relationships. These letters were addressing problems within the congregation, and instead of seeing them for what they are, Christianity has turned them inside-out and made them appear to be doctrinal commandments. That is why instead of doing what Shaul meant them to do, which was to help his Gentile Believers live in accordance to God’s instructions properly, they have been misused in order to deny the necessity of following the Torah.

It doesn’t help that it is very hard to understand much of what Shaul wrote because he used what I call “Jewish logic.” Jewish logic is how we Jews argue- we never tell you what something is until we first tell you everything that it isn’t. If you read Shaul’s letters carefully, parsing the sentences and separating thought by thought, you will see that he starts his discussion with the negative aspects (the “Anti” side) of the Torah, then he comes back to show how the things he just said might be true, aren’t.  This form of argument, as well as implied cultural and religious meanings which Jews would understand but the Gentiles couldn’t, is why it has been easy for Christian leadership to twist the intent of Shaul’s letters.

If you don’t believe me, just read the postings within Christian or Messianic discussion groups or talk to Gentiles who DO want to follow the Torah, and I will bet you dollars-to-donuts that the vast majority of passages they use to prove their doctrinal beliefs will be from the Epistles of Shaul! They won’t pull from where he quoted, the Torah, but they will use his letters as justification for what they say. When you talk to most any Christian about the Bible, they will quote exclusively from the New Covenant because most Christian teachings won’t even include the Tanakh.

When I do an Internet search for something I know is in the Torah, the majority of the “hits” I get are from the New Covenant, where the writer is quoting from the Torah but I won’t see the original passage from the Torah.

Going forward, if you have been able to see the truth in the letters Shaul wrote, that truth being confirmation of the Torah and not condemnation of it, then please help others (compassionately and with love) to see this truth, as well. And, if you are saying to yourself that what I have been saying here is a bunch of hooey, I would ask you to test my statements and read Galatians, or Romans, or any other Epistle and look specifically for the method of argument I said Shaul uses. If you are able to read these with an open mind and not-prejudging the outcome, I believe God will open your eyes to what I and many others believe is the true meaning of those letters.

Thank you for being here, and I do welcome comments and discussion- all I ask is that you be nice.

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Why the Good Die Young (Maybe)

Billy Joel had a hit song with the title, “Only the good die young.” We have heard this phrase used many times over the years, and always wondered if it was based in truth. After consideration, I think it may be a valid conclusion.

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The premise for my argument has a few “givens”:

  1. God has a plan for everyone;
  2. God has given each of us the talents and gifts to achieve his plan;
  3. God isn’t concerned with how others would feel if you were dead.

Working with these foundational premises, the idea that God wants us to achieve something for his glory means that, once we have achieved it, he will either give us a new job to do or “take us home.” Consequently, those who are godly early in life, and who perform wondrous activities for God’s glory, might just beat their own deadline, and as such get called to God sooner than what any human would consider being “fair.”

How many times have you heard or known of a young person who was so angelic he or she made everyone they met love them? Or maybe you have read about a child being killed in an accident and thinking, “How sad- taken away at such a young age. Why would God allow that?”

My point is that maybe, just maybe, God didn’t allow it but caused it. Maybe that young person, or that wonderful adult, had performed all that God wanted that person to perform, and as such their reward was to be with God?

Shaul (Paul) tells us in Philippians 1:21 that he would rather be dead:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have complete boldness, so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. So what shall I choose? 

Of course, he isn’t really saying he would rather die, but he certainly won’t be upset by it! He is living his life to perform God’s work, and when that work is done, he will be done, as well. God even tells Shaul that he has a job to do in Rome (Acts 23:11). And we know that once that job was done, that was it for Shaul. At least, that was it for this life.

So when you read or hear or know of someone who is a wonderful, godly person dying, don’t feel bad for them or think they were “cheated”- be glad for that person! It might be that they have fulfilled what God wanted them to do and now are receiving the reward they deserve. On the other hand, when you feel called to do something, don’t hesitate because you think that doing God’s will may kill you-you will be fine, and so will the ones left behind. And you may have more than one thing God wants you to do.

Shaul was a pretty smart fellow, and he knew it is better to be with God than on the earth; I believe he is right, don’t you?

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Until our next time together, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

 

(Oy gevalt- now I am going to have the song in my head all day!)

Parashah Nitzavim 2018 (You are standing) Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30

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The previous parashah ended with the blessings and the curses, and this one continues from there. Moses advises the people that everyone listening to him is subject to this covenant and he then prophecies that when the people turn to their own desires and sin, all the curses will fall upon them and they will be a byword to the other nations, asking “Why has this happened?”, to which the answer will be because they rejected God and his commandments.  

But as with all prophecies of destruction for disobedience, Moses assures the people that once their hearts turn back to Adonai, no matter how far he has scattered them, he will bring them back to their own land and bless them. 

Moses ends with the decree that these laws are not too hard to do, and he offers them the options of live or die, blessings or curses, and the suggestion that they take the blessings.

My message today is regarding what Moses says about those that bless themselves in their heart (Deut. 29:18-20), meaning those that hear the word and purposefully disobey, thinking that because God promises to regather the people they will be selected with the others. Moses assures that person that this will not happen; indeed, the one who persists in indulging himself (or herself) in evil will certainly not be blessed or forgiven. That person will be cut off from the people and all the curses of the covenant will fall on his head. 

When I read this I thought of all those that have been taught that once they are saved, they are always saved. Shaul (Paul) refutes this in his letter to the Romans. In that letter he says (Romans 6:15-16):

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law, but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that when you offer yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey, whether you are slaves to sin leading to death, or to obedience leading to righteousness?

The sins we commit can be forgiven through the Messiah’s sacrifice, but that is only those sins we have committed to that point, i.e. to the exact moment we confess, repent and ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name.  Whatever sins we commit after that are on our head until we repent of that sin and, again, ask for forgiveness. 

If we sin and continue to sin, without asking forgiveness, then we are- by definition- unrepentant. There is no doubt in my mind after reading the Bible over and over for 20 years and more that God will not forgive an unrepentant sinner, whether they know they are unrepentant or not.  We may feel sorrow in our heart for doing something wrong, but if we do not confess that wrongdoing and ask forgiveness, it is NOT automatically given. We need to have a contrite and humbled heart when we repent and ask forgiveness, but we need to do it all: heartache, repentance (T’shuvah), request for forgiveness (in Yeshua’s name.)  

I also thought of all those who have been taught that Yeshua did away with the law; all those poor souls who blindly follow the blind. Even if they think they are obeying God, they are not. And this is a form of blessing themselves in their heart and they WILL be held accountable. The covenant Moses made was not just with who was there, but those who were not there, as well (Deut. 29:13-14). In other words, this covenant is for all who claim to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Not just the Jews, but all people: those there at that time and those who are not there. 

What this means for you is that you need to make sure you read the entire Bible- Genesis through Revelation- and accept that if you worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob then you are also under this covenant. You may not like hearing that, you may want to argue (as if it will do you any good with God) that God didn’t mean Gentiles who accept Yeshua as their Messiah ( remember that Yeshua taught the Torah) or that Believers aren’t under the law but under Grace (remember what Shaul said to the Romans) or even that Yeshua did away with the law. 
Which is a total lie: Yeshua is the living Torah, the Word that became flesh so how could he have done away with himself? Duh! 

The Torah is still valid: God said these commandments were to be throughout all your generations. That means forever. And those that join themselves to God’s chosen people are not only able to enjoy all the rights of natural born Jews, but they are also subject to all the laws natural born Jews are subject to, and that means the Torah. 

What it boils down to is this: God gave the Jews the Torah to learn and teach the rest of the world, and those that obey are blessed while those that disobey are in BIG trouble. 

The Pharisees were teaching performance-based salvation, and Yeshua gave us faith-based salvation. We obey God’s commandments as a love-response to God’s goodness and because we are obedient children.

Grace is not a license to sin, it is the means by which we can avoid the eternal consequences of our sin; however, faith doesn’t overrule obedience. 

Is the “Israel of God” a What or a Who?

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“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.  Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.”

This is the ending of the letter Shaul (Paul) wrote to the Messianic community he had started in Galatia.  His letter was written for a specific purpose, which has been terribly misunderstood, pretty much since the time he wrote it. It has been used as a polemic against circumcision, as well as justification that Torah observance is just for the Jewish people.  

The worst usage of this line has been by Replacement Theologists, who claim that “Christians” are now the Chosen people of God, who rejected the Jewish people as his because they rejected his son.

Poppycock.  But that is for another time. 

I always found this one line to be very confusing, and have tried to figure out what he could have possibly meant by writing that. I am glad to say that finally, after having read this particular letter too many times to count, a revelation came to me recently about what it could mean.  

That’s one of the best things about reading the Bible over and over: suddenly, one day what you couldn’t understand for years will be made clear to you. I like to think that this happens when God thinks you are ready for it. 

So, nu?  What’s the big revelation? I’ll let you in on it…Shaul wasn’t talking about a who; he was talking about a what!

Let’s go back to the reason for writing this letter. The members of this congregation were being “Judaized”, meaning the Gentile converts to Judaism were being told they had to undergo B’rit Milah (circumcision) in order to be saved. This was under the system called “Legalism”, which was being proliferated by Believing Jews who were infiltrating the new Messianic communities composed of Gentile Believers. Shaul was never against obedience to the Torah; he was against this legalistic approach to it.

Let’s stop here for a moment to make sure we’re all on the same page. Legalism was the belief that no one could be “saved”, i.e. found to be righteous in God’s eyes, unless they obeyed the Torah commands. Under legalism, faith is secondary to performance. Shaul’s constant battle against Legalism is why he has been so misunderstood. Shaul never said not to obey the Torah at all, he said not to obey the Torah as the means to become righteous. 

This letter was to get the Galatians back on track by obeying the Torah as a result of faithful obedience and not resulting from a system of performance-related salvation.  That’s why he said being circumcised was useless to them if they were doing it to be legalistically obedient. He never said they shouldn’t be circumcised, just that they shouldn’t do it as a means of gaining salvation.  

I always have known there was a battle going on in Galatia; the new Believing Gentiles were wrestling with legalism vs. faith. I understood that this dynamic was the reason Shaul contacted them. And my revelation came when I suddenly remembered what “Israel” means.  We are told this in Genesis 32:29 (taken from the Soncino issue of the Chumash)- 

And he said: ‘Thy name shall be called no more Jacob but Israel; for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” 

The comment notes in the Chumash state that the name “Jacob” meant “the Supplanter,” who prevails over others by deceit. “Israel,” on the other hand, is said to be a title of victory, probably “a Champion of God.” The children of Israel, the Israelites, are Contenders for the Divine, conquering by strength from Above. 

Remembering what “Israel” means I realized why Shaul called the Galatians “the Israel of God”: he was identifying them as ones battling with both men and God. They were being wrestled with by men who wanted them to be legalistic in their actions, and with God who wanted them to show faithful acceptance and not try to earn their salvation through performance. The Galatians were just like Jacob: on the one side they had to deal with men (as Jacob had to deal with Esau) and on the other side they had to deal with faith in God (Jacob wrestling with the angel, representing his faith in God to save him from Esau.) 

The “Israel of God” could be used to describe each of us as we struggle with our faith in God and Messiah Yeshua against worldly pleasures and our naturally sinful tendencies and desires. Christians also wrestle with the (usual) teaching that the Torah is only for Jews against the faithful obedience that God has required of all who worship him. 

To the Replacement Theologists out there, sorry; the “Israel of God” is not meant to be Christians. It isn’t really who someone is, it is what condition someone (or some people) are suffering through. And that condition is wrestling with our iniquity and with God’s will for our lives. Obedience to Torah is only one form of this battle between flesh and spirit, which was the message Shaul was addressing to the Galatians.

As we wrestle with our salvation, being pulled between earthly desires and spiritual fulfillment, we also go through that same “Israel” experience the Galatians did. Let us fight the good fight so that we, too, can be the “Israel of God”- one who has conquered by strength from above. 

A Conversation with Shaul of Tarsus

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Steve: Today we have a special guest. He is a classically trained Pharisee who studied under the great Rabbi, Gamaliel. He is a Benjamite, and like his namesake from that tribe, received a calling from God to lead God’s people.  His letters to the Messianic communities he organized throughout Asia make up the majority of the New Covenant writings, and also have contributed to much confusion regarding Gentile observance of the Torah commandments. 

I am sure you have guessed by now who we have in the studio today: that’s right, it’s that little ol‘ tent maker from Tarsus, Shaul. 

Shaul, welcome to Messianic Moment. 

Shaul: Todah, Steve. It’s a pleasure to be here. 

Steve: My first question is this: how do you feel about most every Bible titling Acts 9 as “Paul’s Conversion on the Road to Damascus?” 

Shaul: I hate it!! First off, my name is not “Paul”- that is a Greek form of my name. Your name is Steven- how would you feel if I called you “Esteban?” That’s your Spanish equivalent, but it’s not your name, is it? Next, I never converted to anything. My whole life, before my acceptance of Yeshua and afterward, I lived as a Pharisee. The only difference was that when I learned (the hard way, I should add) the truth about Yeshua I stopped persecuting my brothers in Messiah and joined them in helping other Jews come to faith. Eventually, I went mainly to the Goyim (the Nations) to bring them to faith, as well. But I never stopped talking to my fellow Jews.

This whole idea that there were Christians when I was organizing the kehillot throughout Asia is ridiculous. That term was just starting to be used at the end of the First Century. There were two religions when I was a kid: Judaism and Paganism. When Yeshua came, there were still only two religions: Jews who accepted him as Messiah, Jews that didn’t (but they were all still Jews worshiping as Jews do), and the Pagans. When I was walking all over the world, there were Jews who rejected Yeshua, there were Jewish Believers, there were the Gentiles who did T’shuvah and accepted Yeshua (converting to Judaism), and (you guessed it)…Pagans.  The Believers didn’t “officially” through practice become a different religion from Judaism until Constantine made it that way.

Steve: Thank you for clearing that up for us. Now, let’s get right to the question that comes up often, and one you had to deal with throughout your ministry: Do you, or do you not, believe Gentiles that accept Messiah Yeshua need to obey the Torah? 

Shaul: Oy vez mear! Again? OK- let me try to answer this for you in two parts. First off, we need to remember that the Gentiles I talked to were pagans whose religion was based, in essence, on hedonism. They could drink to excess, have sex with anyone (and anything) they wanted to, and eat themselves into oblivion. The most basic, self-centered and physically pleasurable experiences a human can have were the foundation stones of their religion.  For those that were willing to repent of their sins and turn to Yeshua for forgiveness, the culture shock was tremendous. Even the most fervent of those doing T’shuvah would find it difficult to go from hedonistic pagan to observant Jew overnight.  That’s why the Elders in Jerusalem only had them do 4 things immediately. We all figured they would get around to the other 609 commandments in Torah as they became more accustomed to living a holy lifestyle. So, what I was against wasn’t the Torah, but trying to force feed it to these new converts all at once.  

Steve: That makes sense, but there are so many things you wrote about, such as in Romans where you say uncircumcised or circumcised makes no difference, and also in the first letter to the Corinthians, it seems you told them they can eat whatever they wanted to.  What’s with that? 

Shaul: Look- the most important thing I wrote to the Corinthians was in the passage you guys have annotated as Chapter 9:19-22.  I told my congregation in Corinth that I would be whatever I had to be and say whatever I had to say to get out the Good News of Messiah. So what I really mean is that the ends justify the means- no matter what I say, so long as I bring people to Messiah and help them find the forgiveness and salvation that is offered by God through his Grace in Yeshua ha Maschiach, so be it! As for what to eat and the other things, you need to consider that there were many Believing Jews who did not agree with me , or the Elders, that the Gentiles converting to Judaism needed to have some level of dispensation (Oy! I hate using that word, but it fits here) with regards to their observance of Torah. As I said earlier, following Yeshua was a real game-changer for them.

So, nu? Where was I? Oh, yeah…what I wrote in my letters

So what I was against wasn’t Torah, but the idea that you needed to obey Torah to be saved. Again, we all figured that they would eventually learn all the commandments, so I just took them bit-by-bit., but too many people misunderstood what I was doing and that led to them thinking that Gentile Believers didn’t need to obey what’s in the Torah. Never did I say that or mean that. Never!  

Steve: I understand. Yet, even today there is still confusion with your letters to your Gentile Believers regarding what they need to do and don’t need to do. Can you please explain again for us this whole idea of being “under the law?”  

Shaul: No problem. Let’s start with this: righteousness, from God’s view, is sinlessness. If you have no sin you will be perfectly righteous. That means if someone could live the Torah exactly as it says, never violating so much as a stroke of the Torah, then that person would be righteous, or as you like to say today, he would be “saved.” Here’s the problem with that- no one can live the Torah perfectly! If someone could, then we’re all screwed because there would be only three people in heaven: God, Yeshua and that one jerk who ruined it for everybody else. 

Now for the second thing.  Pretty much all the Jews at that time didn’t accept the fact that no one could ever live the Torah perfectly and believed righteousness was only possible through perfect Torah observance. This is what the Pharisees I was (am still am) a member of taught the people. Let’s call that school of thought “Legal Righteousness”, which is almost the opposite of what God offered through Messiah, which we can call “Faithful righteousness.”  It was this “faithful righteousness” that Avraham Avinu demonstrated.

So, because we can’t live the Torah exactly, God sent his Messiah to help us overcome ourselves. Messiah Yeshua was, is, and always will be the ONLY human being who was both “legally” and “faithfully” righteous because he lived the Torah exactly and had total and perfect faith in God. That’s why God sent him to us!- so that through his righteousness we could be seen as righteous, also. Righteousness is not possible for us except through the Messiah, and especially so after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. That’s why more than ever it is faith in God and Messiah Yeshua that saves us, not special knowledge or traditional practices. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore God’s commandments. 

Steve: I can see that a little more clearly now. Let me restate this for our audience… you are not against following the Torah and did not tell your congregations they don’t need to. You only said what they needed to hear in order to keep them on the right path, which would result in a gradual conversion to Judaism. Is that right? 

Shaul-: Tov Meod– you got it!!  And I was against those that were confusing my congregations with the legal righteousness the Pharisees were teaching. I always expected that my people would eventually observe the Torah because Yacov was right. 

Steve: I’m sorry…Yacov? 

Shaul: Yeah, Yacov. You know, James. He said that faith without works is dead, which means that once you faithfully believe in God, you have to show that by your change of lifestyle. If someone truly doesn’t want to sin, and the Torah is the User Manual for not sinning, then by definition someone who has really done T’shuvah will live in accordance with the Torah. I told my people they could take it slowly because if I shoved Torah down their throats, they would have upchucked it and gone back to their old ways. 

Steve: It seems that you constantly fought against that- every letter in the New Covenant that you wrote to a congregation was addressing the problems they were having with adjusting to giving up their paganistic ways and becoming Jewish. 

Shaul: Exactly. Oy- what a mishigas they made of things. I had to constantly keep them on track, and these Yiddisher nudniks that kept telling them they had to obey everything really got my goat. If you read Galatians you will see just how mad I was. I would’ve paid the Mohel, myself! 

Steve: Yes, frustration castration, right?

Shaul: Absolutely!

Steve: Well, our time is almost up and I really want to thank you for coming all this way to answer these questions for us. Is there anything you would like to add before we close?

Shaul: Just this…listen, people, keep your eyes on the finish line. Once I learned the truth, I fought for the rest of my life against people trying to figure it out and believing that they just had to know what everything meant in order to be righteous. That’s how I started out, and believe-you-me, none of that matters. All that matters is what Yeshua said- love God and love each other.  When people love each other they don’t care about anything except the way they feel when they are together, and they only want to make the one they love happy. You wanna know how to make God happy? Do what he says.  Too many people today want to know everything: did Yeshua exist before people, how does God pronounce his name, which commandments don’t matter anymore, and many other things that all boil down to nothing more than a new form of some Greek-thinking, Gnostic legalistic drek. All that matters is this: do you believe in God? Do you believe that Yeshua is the Messiah? If you say “Yes” to both of these, then love God and each other and don’t sweat the small stuff. It won’t help you to stay saved, but it can lead you to wrong thinking. 

Steve: Well, words from the wise to the wise. Let those that have ears listen.  Thank you, again, Shaul, for being here with us and we look forward to seeing you again in the Olam Haba. 

Shaul: Zeit gesunt, Bubbie. 

Steve: If you liked this program, please comment and let us know. You can also suggest a guest for future interviews. In the meantime, l’hitraot! Baruch ha Shem!!

What Did Jesus Really Nail to the Cross?

 

If you prefer to watch a video, click on this link: Watch the video.

One of the things I have heard often is the statement that when Jesus was nailed to the cross, the law was nailed to it with him.

This is similar to the statement that because Jesus fulfilled the law, it has been done away with.

These statements are both based on what Shaul (Paul) said in Colossians and what Yeshua said in Matthew, respectively. Both of these statements are also uniformly and completely incorrect.

Today I am only dealing with the statement Shaul made, so let’s actually see what Shaul said was nailed to the cross in Colossians 2:13-14 (from The Complete Jewish Bible):

You were dead because of your sins, that is, because of your “foreskin,’ your old nature. But God made you alive along with the Messiah by forgiving you all your sins. He wiped away the bill of charges against us. Because of the regulations, it stood as a testimony against us; but he removed it by nailing it to the execution-stake. 

Before we discuss what was nailed, we need to first understand the context in which this letter was written. It was written to reinforce the message of the Good News that was first brought to the Colossians by Epaphras. This letter is written by Shaul to Gentile Believers in order to remind them how their faith in Yeshua has saved them from their previous sinful lifestyle, which condemned them to death. Throughout the letter he reminds them of the Good News message that salvation comes through continued faith in Yeshua and continued worship of God. Shaul was, essentially, giving them a pep talk to help them stay the course of faithfully following Torah, believing in God and Yeshua. I believe that all his letters have, in one way or another, a reminder that a legalistic observance of Torah as the means of earning salvation will never work, but faith in Yeshua (while still obeying Torah) is how we are able to overcome our sinful nature and be saved.

Now that we know what the context of this letter is about, we can see that when Shaul was talking about the “bill of charges against us” he meant the sins they had committed. When he says “Because of the regulations” he meant to identify the Torah and God’s commandments; this is also seen in the letter Shaul wrote to the Roman Believers where he stated that the Torah created sin, he meant that because the Torah tells us right from wrong it identifies what is sinful. And in this letter when Shaul refers to the “regulations” that create the bill of charges (or sometimes called “trespasses” in other bibles) against us he is talking about the Torah.

Now for the really important part- what was (and is) being nailed to the execution-stake? It is only the bill of charges; it is our trespasses; it is those specific sins we each have against us. It was (and is) NOT the Torah; it was (and is) not the Law; it was (and is) not anything other than the list of existing sins that stand between those people and God. When we confess our sins, repent and ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name, those sins- and ONLY those specific, already committed sins- are what get “nailed to the tree.”

In other words, the sins we have already committed are the only things “nailed to the cross.” Nothing else is nailed, especially not sins we commit after those sins were wiped clean.

When we first confirmed our belief in Yeshua, confessed and repented of our sins asking forgiveness in his name, we received that forgiveness. Those existing sins that were listed against us, and only those sins, were nailed to a tree.  Everything that happens after that is still valid and against us until we again confess, repent and ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name. Then that list is “nailed to a tree.”

There are a lot of trees out there with a lot of paper nailed to them.

Yeshua was nailed to an execution-stake once, and that was all that was needed. His death doesn’t save us- it is because of his resurrection that we can find forgiveness through his sacrifice. His resurrection proved that his sacrifice was accepted. As such, each time we sin we need to ask forgiveness because the sins we commit from one forgiveness to another are going to be held against us unless and until we repent.

The only thing that was “nailed to the cross” was the existing list of sins. There has never been a person who didn’t sin after being forgiven; we all are sinners who always will sin. As I often say, we can never be sinless but we can always sin less.  And when we sin, we must repent of that sin and ask forgiveness through Yeshua’s sacrifice.

The Torah is still valid and the regulations, mitzvot (laws) and instructions regarding the festivals are all still required for any and all people who confess that they worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

What we really need to nail to the cross are the wrongful teachings.

Was I Saved Before I Knew About the Torah?

A wonderful movement in Christianity that is gaining momentum is the Hebrew Roots movement. Basically, this is made up of Christians (mostly Gentiles) who are discovering the roots of their faith, the “real” Jesus (Yeshua) and the truth that the Torah has not been done away with, but is still valid for them, and all who accept the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as the Messiah God promised to all, Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah.

But some of the wrong attitudes inherent in “Constantine Christianity” are being seen in this new movement.

To Give Candy or Not to Give Candy: That is the Question

Tomorrow night is Halloween, and all good Believers know this is a pagan and demonic celebration.  But what about the little children, too young to know anything more than this is a time to dress up and get free candy? How do we witness to them? And can we even be an effective witness to a child, whose parents are putting out Jack-O-Lanterns, decorating the house with black cats and witches and dressing up in costumes?

Click on the link below for my feelings about it:

 

PS: in this clip I refer to the days of the week being named after Greek and Germanic Gods, but the names are of Roman and Germanic Gods.

Parashah V’etchanan (and I sought..) Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

Moses asks God to allow him to enter the land, and God says, pretty much, “Enough already! Stop whining about this because I told you that ain’t gonna happen! But, I will do this- after you anoint Joshua climb up to the top of Mount Pisgah, and I will let you see the land.”

Some believe, as I do, that not only did God show Moses the land, but also the future. He showed Moses the eventual degradation of the people into idol worship, the consequent dispersal into the Diaspora and exile to Babylon, ending with their return to Israel. I believe this because of the warning Moses gives right after he observes the land, which is not so much the warning of a possible future as it is the narration of events from one who has seen it happen.

This rest of this parashah holds nearly everything that is important to the Jewish people, and thereby the world:

Deuteronomy 5:6-19: Moses reviews the Ten Commandments;

Deuteronomy 6:4:        Moses teaches us the Shema;

Deuteronomy 6:5-10:  Moses teaches us the V’ahavta;

Deuteronomy 6:16:      Moses teaches us a lesson that is used more often in Christianity (from my experience) than in Judaism: Do not test the Lord, your God.

Clearly, there is in just those 4 lessons more than I could write in a single post, unless that post was something like 15 pages or more. Don’t worry- this won’t be.

Actually, the message I have today is not about any of those passages. It is from Deuteronomy 4:5-8, which is what Moses told the people before he told them all those other things:

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

I often state that the Torah is not just for the Jews, but for the entire world. The Jews received it so to learn it and live it (just like it says here), so that they may be an example to the world.

Shaul says pretty much the same thing, but to a different audience, in Romans 11:11

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.

Moses is telling Israel to obey Torah so that when the other nations see the wonderful rulings, peacefulness, social closeness, morality and compassion of the people, and how God is always close at hand to help and protect them, they will be jealous and want to be part of it. And Shaul, some 1500 or so years later, tells the Messianic communities that their living in faith to Messiah Yeshua will eventually be an example to the non-believing Jews how much better it is to accept Yeshua and make them jealous for their own Messiah.

Here we have the same message faithfully believe God and do as He says being told to Jews and Gentiles first going into the land, and centuries later to Gentiles and Jews who have been living in the land. And the reason is the same: to incite, through jealousy, those living outside of God’s plan to choose to accept God (and His Messiah.)

There are many passages in the bible that confirm this message, and it is unfortunate that much of Christianity has perverted and misused the writings of Shaul to dissuade people from hearing the proper message. Shaul says he is delivering the Gospel to the Jew first, then the Gentile (Romans 1:16); I believe this means if the Good News of the Kingdom of God is not presented in a way that is acceptable to a Jewish person, it isn’t the correct message for a Gentile.

Still and all, we can be confident in this: God’as plan will win out in the end!  Torah will be written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) and we no longer ask our brother (and sister) if they know the Lord, because all will know Him.

In the meantime, what should we do? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Live your life as an example to those who have rejected God and/or Messiah Yeshua to show them how blessed and peaceful it is to be living as God has told us we should.

Most everyone knows that God’s house has many rooms, but what many don’t know is that there is a really big pool in the backyard, which is always refreshing, so to you who are suffering the emptiness, despair, heat and discomfort of living a worldly life…C’mon in- the water’s fine!!!