Reasonable Response

Today I want to talk about what a reasonable response to the mercy of God looks like. The portion of today’s portion is Leviticus 7:37-38. It reads: This is the law for the burnt offering, the grain offering, the sin offering, the restitution offering, the ordination offering, and the fellowship sacrifice, 38 which the Lord commanded Moses on Mount Sinai on the day He commanded the Israelites to present their offerings to the Lord in the Wilderness of Sinai.

These two verses conclude a section dealing with instructions for the Levitical priests concerning the Mishkan or Tabernacle offerings (Lev. 6:8-7:38). The main theme in this section is who may eat what parts of these offerings and where they can be eaten. These directives comprise the specific laws God prescribed for the handling of these offerings.  And in the big picture of things, what we have here are regulations which underscore the privilege and responsibility of leading the Israelites in corporate worship.  And we should note that the worship culture in view here did not equate spontaneity and lack of preparation with spirituality, but rather they were focused on conformity with this divinely mandated expression of devotion which required following the Lord’s injunctions to the letter.

Also, these commands contributed to the overall purpose of the sacrificial system in the Mishkan – namely drawing people close to God.  And basically that process involved “moving” from the realm of the “unclean” (tamei) to the “clean” (tahor), and from the clean to the realm of the “holy” (kadosh). And so again what we have here is a concluding summary of the laws which regulated how the priests were to conduct themselves in relation to the offerings described in the immediate preceding context (Lev. 6:8-7:36).

Now retrospectively, from the vantage point of the New Covenant, all the Old Covenant repeated sacrifices and the temporary Aaronic priesthood, ultimately point to Messiah’s once-for-all sacrifice and eternal Melchizedekian priesthood (cf. Heb. 5—10). This is because the concept of reconciliation is tied to the atoning sacrifices, and the concept of mediation is tied to the intervening priesthood, and the concept of holiness is the object of reconciliation.

Here’s where I’m going with this: Since God gave mercy, we give our lives. Listen to Rav Sh’ual explain the rationale behind his direct appeal for dedication in Romans 12:1: Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice– alive, holy, and pleasing to God– which is your reasonable service.

Here’s the deal with the appeal: We need to reach the point in our Messianic journey when in recognition of all that God has done for us, paying the supreme price so that we can be redeemed, we make a conscious intentional decision of personal presentation in the sense of offering up our bodies as a living holy playing for an audience of One sacrifice!  Messiah made an offering for our reconciliation, now we must make an offering for our consecration.  And notice here that in contrast to the Levitical system, our sacrifice is to be a living sacrifice!  We keep on living after we’ve made this dedication. This is not the slain sacrifices of the Old Covenant system. Is that significant? Absolutely! Living sacrifices can, and often do, wiggle off the altar! We struggle and stray hoping God will look the other way. So we need to repeatedly, and continually be saying, “Lord I give you all of that I am, and all that I ever hope to be, to use as you see fit; because in light of all that You are, and all that You’ve done, and all that you continue to do and will continue doing;  this, is my reasonable response to Your mercy!”

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Side Door – Nothing Less/Nothing More

Well, because today’s taste of Torah is Leviticus 4:3-4, we have to go through the Side Door.  And in these two verses, Leviticus 4:3-4, we learn that punishing the innocent means forgiveness for the guilty.

First this is seen when we consider the concept of substitution. Verse 3 reads, If the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, he must bring to the Lord a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed.

At the beginning of the process to bridge the relational gap between God and man caused by sin there was the designation of a substitute.  And in the case of this particular sin offering, a young bull without any physical imperfections. The substitute takes the place of the sinner. The substitute bears the sinner’s guilt.  All of the judgment that the violator of God’s standards has incurred upon himself, or herself, is transferred to the substitute.

Secondly, punishing the innocent in order to forgive the guilty is seen when we consider the concept of identification. Verse 4 says that the anointed priest is to lay is hand on the head of the bull. When the priest laid his hands upon the animal the animal not only took the place of the priest in terms of accountability before God but the animal also became his sin. The substitute became the embodiment of sin’s repugnant offensiveness to God. This meant transmission, delegation, and representation. It meant punishing the innocent secured forgiveness for the guilty.

Thirdly – this truth is seen when we consider the inescapable reality of death. The end of verse 4 says, “…slaughter it before the Lord.” Here we see that the sacrifice of the substitute sin- bearer served as a graphic object lesson that the penalty of sin is death. In the Hebrew Scriptures it’s clearly and repeatedly stated that, “The soul that sins will die (cf. Ezek. 18:4)!”

However, there’s a positive aspect to the death required as payment for sin. This action can further be interpreted as the animal giving its life to the offerer so that the offerer can continue living!  In other words there’s an exchange of life taking place. The animal took the life of the offerer by identification, and because the offerer’s life was sinful, the animal died.  But on the other hand the animal gave its life to the offerer so that the offerer could continue living!

Punishing the innocent means forgiveness for the guilty. This is seen when we consider the concept of substitution. It’s seen when consider the concept of identification. It’s seen when we consider the inescapable reality of death as payment for sin.  And it’s seen when we consider the exchange of life signifying the completion of forgiveness.  So here’s an easy way to remember this; just think of the acronym side, S-I-D-E: Substitution, Identification, Death of the Substitute, Exchange of Life.

So – on our side of Messiah’s Roman execution stake – what does this side door look like? It looks like this:

Substitution – Messiah died the death each person should die. Messiah as a perfect representative of mankind endured the judgment that everyone should endure. He died in behalf of us. He died in our place.

Identification – God charged the sins of the whole human race of all times to Messiah.  Messiah never committed sin personally, and yet in the mind and plan of God the sins of everyone were charged to Him.

Death of the Substitute – Messiah’s human spirit was separated from His body. His divine person was separated from the person of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. And while the extent of this separation was eternal in degree, it was not eternal in time because He was resurrected.  And by raising Messiah from the dead, God the Father gave testimony to the fact that He had accepted the work of God the Son on behalf of sinners. The resurrection was God the Father’s divine stamp of approval.

Exchange of Life – Messiah’s death took away the penalty of sin which is eternal spiritual separation from union and fellowship with God coupled with conscious physical and emotional suffering in a location and state so terrible we have no mental construct to fully put that in. It also means that His death paid the price of redemption and satisfied the offended holiness of God. Through the death of Messiah, man is thoroughly changed in his relation to God and made potentially savable.

How do we open this side door?  We open it by faith. This involves believing that Messiah died in our place instead of us to meet our need and God accepted this.  It’s trusting Messiah to deliver from the spiritual death penalty of sin.  It’s being so convinced that these gospel facts are true that you’re actually willing to stake your eternal destiny on them.  It starts with assent to knowledge, followed by being convinced, resulting in active continual trust.

So, on the other side of this side door that can only be opened by faith;  is permanent never ending forgiveness of sin.  And, on the other side of this side door that can only be opened by faith; is the only entrance to the small gate and narrow road leading to permanent never ending possession of spiritual life (cf. Matt. 7:14).  And this is why, in the truly biggest and most important sense of things, when you go through that side door; you need nothing less and nothing more!

Illumination for the Duration

The portion of today’s Torah portion is the final conclusion to the book of Exodus. I’m calling this passage illumination for the duration. The text is Exodus 40: 34-38. It reads: 34 The cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses was unable to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud rested on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36 The Israelites set out whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle throughout all the stages of their journey. 37 If the cloud was not taken up, they did not set out until the day it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and there was a fire inside the cloud by night, visible to the entire house of Israel throughout all the stages of their journey.

In Exodus chapter 40 we see the building and consecration of the Tabernacle, also known as the Tent of Meeting. The Israelites erected the Tabernacle on the first day of the first month, almost exactly one year after they had left Egypt (vv. 2, 17); which was about nine months after Israel had arrived at Mt. Sinai (cf. 19:1). And when the Tabernacle stood complete, God descended in a cloud that so filled the Tabernacle that neither Moses nor anyone else could enter it (vv. 34-39). The term for this visible manifestation of God’s presence is the Shekinah. And although this specific term does not appear in the Hebrew Scriptures, it is found in the Targums. And the Targums are explanations of the Hebrew Scriptures which were written later in the Aramaic language for the benefit of those Jewish people who, because of the Babylonian captivity, had not learned Hebrew.

So finally, at last, God was dwelling among His people. His redemption of them was now complete. He had liberated them from bondage in Egypt (chs. 1—15), and He had adopted them as His special treasure (chs. 15—40). He had made a covenant with them and now blessed them with His presence. And now He would guide them “throughout all their journeys”(vv. 36, 38). The Israelites had illumination for the duration of their trek to the Land of Promise. And so this descent of God to take up residence in the midst of His people is a fitting climax with which to close the book of Exodus.

But what about us, right here/right now? What’s our illumination for the duration of our trek toward the consummation of our salvation? Well, right here/right now, God’s written revelation is the spiritual light that illuminates the path of our life (cf. Ps. 119:105); and that reason alone,  is reason enough, for determining to follow it.

So what does this determination look like? Well, one aspect of this is what we could call bein’ Berean. In Acts 17:11 it says concerning the first century Jewish community in Berea that they diligently examined Paul’s teaching to see if it was consistent with the Hebrew Scriptures. And as a result of this diligence many of these Berean’s became believers in the messiahship of Jesus because Paul’s message was consistent with the Hebrew Scriptures (cf. Acts. 17:12).

Today, anytime or anywhere we hear or read anyone claiming to teach spiritual “truth;” like the Apostolic Berean Jewish community, we must compare what we’re receiving with Scripture in order to correctly evaluate its validity. Of course this assumes a functional level of biblical literacy that’s increasingly rare in today’s world. So initially bein’ Berean is attaining the degree of familiarity with God’s Word required to exercise doctrinal discernment. And for that there’s simply no substitute for reading the Bible cover to cover.

Bein Berean also requires our own personal engagement with the biblical text before reading the interpretative conclusions of others we respect as reliable Bible teachers. Yes, in each and every generation God has given the body of Messiah teachers to equip believers for ministry (cf. Eph. 4:11-12), but that doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility to correctly handle the Word of Truth (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15). Our convictions have to be our convictions and not just the parroting of someone we think will probably agree with us even though we haven’t really checked it out for ourselves first. You see our own personal interaction with the Word where we’re playing for an audience of One as an expression of worship, is the mandatory first step, for staying in step with the Spirit.  And that’s absolutely critical; because the Spirit of God, takes the Word of God, and makes the child of God, conformed to the image of God (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18).  And the image of God is Messiah Himself, the Living Word (cf. John 1:1, 14).  And so as we increasingly become conformed to His image, in terms of our character and conduct; we increasingly have a clearer vision of God’s illumination for the duration.

Bein’ Berean 2.0

One of my all-time favorite Hendricks riffs, (in this case Howard not Jimi), is “Most people don’t think, they just rearrange their prejudices.” Going on close to sixty years now, I’ve observed this tendency in myself and others. And its almost default way of deciding where we’re going to hang our hat on any particular issue carries over to theology.

Doing theology is basically a matter of doing responsibly what all of us are already doing. Anytime we express anything right or wrong about God, including denial of His existence, we’re doing theology. Is theology often dry, divisive, and derisive? Of course it is. But is doesn’t have to be. Nor should it be. Good theology connects the dots of what is above us and what is within us to explain what is and why it is. And again, in some way shape or form we all do this so we might as well try to do this with integrity.

So what does doing theology in a way that honors the source of the subject matter look like? Well since God has made Himself known; “In the beginning God created” (Gen. 1:1) and, “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1); doing well what we’re already doing involves the following questioning type of interaction with any given biblical text:

1) Inductive Observations – What does the text it say?
2) Exegetical Interpretations – What does the text mean?
3) Practical Applications – What do the principles derived from text look like when lived?
4) Deductive Summations – How does the text relate to the entirety of Scripture?

This kind of doing of theology is the great business of life. It intersects with every aspect of life; both in this world and in the world to come. And there’s no need to feel intimidated by this. This is not an academic competition. It’s an intensely profound communal act of worship and adoration for an audience of One. It is faith seeking understanding in order to think and live in a manner that is pleasing in God’s sight. And we have the rest of our lives to get better at it.

During the Apostolic period of the early church, the Jewish community in Berea was a great example of this. In Acts 17:11 concerning these Jewish people who were seriously considering whether or not the messianic claims of Jesus were valid, it says, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

In contrast to the Jewish community in Thessalonica who treated Paul harshly because they were jealous of the popularity and effectiveness of his message (cf. Acts 17:5), these Berean Jews did not react out of jealousy but rather listened carefully to what Paul preached and compared it to the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures. And many of these same people became believers in the messiahship of Jesus because Paul’s message was consistent with the Hebrew Scriptures (cf. Acts 17:12).

Today, anytime or anywhere we hear or read anyone claiming to teach spiritual “truth;” like the Apostolic Berean Jewish community, we must compare what we’re receiving with Scripture in order to correctly evaluate its validity. Of course this assumes a functional level of biblical literacy increasingly rare in today’s world. So initially Bein’ Berean 1.0 is attaining the degree of familiarity with God’s Word required to exercise doctrinal discernment. And for that there’s simply no substitute for reading the Bible cover to cover.

This brings us to Bein’ Berean 2.0. This involves non-passively reading and listening to bible teachers with some awareness of their underlying presuppositions and interpretative method. In other words, taking doctrinal evaluation and discernment to the next level demands that we think big-picture in the sense of trying to understand how someone got from A -what does the text say – to Z – how does the text relate or contribute to what the entirety of Scripture says concerning a specific doctrinal topic.

In contrast to this, often we chose to align ourselves with certain teachers because we suspect or know that they’re in basic and general agreement with us. Now in and of itself that’s not a bad thing if we have first studied and tried to determine the meaning of a passage or group of passages for ourselves.  And essentially that means doing the four steps outlined above to the best of our ability.  If we invest the time and expend the effort to do that, then our convictions are truly our convictions.  But on the other hand, we end up short circuiting the entire theological process if we’re fishing for confirmation of a position before trying to formulate a position through our own personal engagement with the biblical text!  In short, this is precisely what we want to avoid if we are going to be Bein’ Berean 2.0.

Northern Invasion Equation

In the sixth and last message the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel received from the Lord, there’s a prediction of an alliance of nations that will descend on Israel from the north (Ezek. 38:14-16) and cover her like a storm cloud (cf. Ezek. 38:6; 39:2; Dan. 11:40-45). A comparison of ancient geographical regions with present day political entities reveals that the vast army which will come against Israel “in the last days” is led by Russia with Iran as the foremost partner (along with Turkey, Libya, and the Sudan). Ezekiel 38:8-9 reads, “After many days you will be summoned; in the latter years you will come into the land that is restored from the sword, whose inhabitants have been gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel which had been a continual waste; but its people were brought out from the nations, and they are living securely, all of them. “And you will go up, you will come like a storm; you will be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your troops, and many peoples with you.”

The “land restored from the sword” is Israel and refers to its present restoration as a State after the demise of the Ottoman Empire. The “mountains of Israel” refer to those areas recovered for Israel after the Six Day War and the conditions of regathering to the land “from many nations” refers to the past and on-going aliyah (immigration) to Israel from all over the world. The setting then for this future invasion is a time when present conditions exist coupled with an alliance between the Russians and the Iranians and the other countries previously mentioned.

Now while there may not be enough prophetic detail given to determine exactly when this event will occur, current conditions suggest when it could occur; conditions such as a nuclear deal with Iran, the increasingly aggressive behavior of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and Turkey’s new trend toward Islamic militancy and declared hatred of Israel. These conditions are part of a northern invasion equation and they indicate that we’re rapidly moving closer to the realization of this coalition of military aggression against Israel.

At the end of the day, God is going to do what He has already said He is going to do both for and through Israel despite any and all opposition whether it be geo-political or demonic. And so as individuals we either affirm this as part of our recognition of the inerrant authority of His inscripturated revelation or we don’t.  In the final analysis, I’m convinced it’s really that simple; and if we trust in His promises of future messianic victory and kingdom rule it’s also really that wonderful!

Holy Perilous Parallels Batman!

In his recent speech before a joint session of congress, the most prominent representative of “The People of the Book;” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made some striking references to the Book. The biblical account he referenced first was a most timely one. He highlighted the parallels between the situation of the Jewish people today and the time, 2,500 years ago, when they faced similar danger at the hand of another Persian leader. Citing the story of Esther was particularly appropriate given that the day of Netanyahu’s speech was the day before the day Jewish people worldwide celebrate the holiday of Purim and its incredible story of providential deliverance from an evil murder plot.

At that time, Persian King Ahasuerus ruled over 127 provinces, which was the known world of his day. His viceroy, Haman, had a burning hatred for the Jewish people; and he manipulated the otherwise peaceful Ahasuerus into permitting him to order the deaths of all Jews in his empire. And were it not for the bravery of the Jewish Queen Esther, who risked her life to bring Ahasuerus’s attention to Haman’s wicked plans, the Jewish people would have been wiped out on this very day.

All these events took place in the region that is modern-day Iran. And, in Esther like fashion, Netanyahu risked his political life to bring America’s attention to the Persian plot to destroy Israel and all the Jewish people. A nuclear Iran poses an existential danger to the State of Israel, as Iran’s leaders on many occasions have expressed a desire to wipe the Jewish state off the world map.

Also, just as it was not enough for Haman to take down only his Jewish enemy Mordechai, (for Haman plotted to wipe out all of Mordechai’s people); the destruction of the Jewish state is not enough, for Iranian-backed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has expressed, “If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of chasing them down around the world.”

During the conclusion of his speech Netanyahu made use of another biblical narrative. In the aftermath of a 400 year period of Egyptian slavery, Moses led the Israelites on a forty year trek through desert wilderness toward the Land God had promised to His covenant people. In his farewell speech to these people, Moses encouraged the Israelites to be brave and strong, to have faith in God and not be intimidated by the enemies they would inevitably face. Drawing attention to this critical juncture in Israel’s history, Netanyahu appealed to US Congress which sits under an image of Moses himself, to stand with Israel, to be brave and strong, and not be intimidated by the common enemy the US and Israel face: a nuclear Iran.

Regardless of whether or not this speech inspires any meaningful diplomacy, the Prime Minister articulated what needed to be said with compelling moral clarity.  And that in and of itself was inspiring.

Rebel With A Clue

When we get to the point in life where there’s more behind us than ahead of us, when we recall how we sometimes lived when we were physically more robust, when we take into account the skills for wise living we painfully attained; it’s nothing short of incredible to consider how undeservedly God has allowed us to physically survive the totality of our self-willed rebellion against Him. Correspondingly, it’s remarkable and humbling to realize that God’s long-fuse response to our sin somehow actually managed to significantly and positively affect our sanctification! Truly, and often quite mysteriously, God demonstrates His faithful commitment to complete the good work He has begun in us (cf. Phil. 1:6). And when demonstrating this commitment, the Father reserves the right to do whatever He chooses to do to make us more like the Son. Such actions may include the loss of a short-term good in exchange for a superior long-term gain. From the time of our deliverance from sin’s penalty until our entry into promised deliverance from sin’s presence, He never vacillates one iota as a friend who sticks closer than a brother (cf. Prov. 18:24). Affirming and rejoicing in this holy and loving juxtaposition of discipline and grace aligns our will with the nurture of our soul.