Sukkot 5778

The Ultimate Sukkah

We interrupt our series on Revelation once again to consider the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.  This is the third and last of the traditional Fall Holy Days. In 2017, the festival of Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles, begins at sundown on Wednesday, October 4th.

Sukkot is the third of the great annual pilgrimage festivals (Vayikra 23:33-43).  Each year, all adult Jewish males were required to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts of Matzah, Shavuot, and Sukkot. The festival is also called the “feast of ingathering (Sh’mot 23:16; D’varim 16:13).  It is celebrated immediately after the harvest, in the month Tishri, and the celebration lasts for eight days (Vayikra 23:33-43).  During this period the people leave their homes and live in a sukkah, a temporary dwelling, formed of the branches of trees as a memorial of the wilderness wanderings when the people dwelt in sukkot (Vayikra 23:43).


Typical Backyard Sukkah

Like Thanksgiving Day in the United States, Sukkot is a time of feasting, rejoicing, and giving thanks to God for His bountiful gifts (D’varim 16:13-15).  In fact, it is widely believed that the Puritan colonists, who were great students of the Hebrew Scriptures, based the first American Thanksgiving on Sukkot.

We are to “rejoice before the Lord God” during all the time of this feast (Vayikra 23:40).  The tradition of the Jewish people is that they were to express their joy by dancing and singing hymns of praise to God, with musical instruments.

Sukkot (the plural form of sukkah) are temporary dwellings, many with canvas walls.   The roof is made of natural materials such as bamboo, corn stalks, or other greenery, usually supported by a few wooden beams.   It provides more shade than sun, but you can still see the sky through it and the stars at night.

Today, as in the Second Temple days, we still wave the lulav (palm branch) and etrog (citron) as mandated in the Torah.   The lulav is made of a palm branch, arava (willow), and hadas (myrtle).   The etrog is a citron.   Together the lulav and the etrog are referred to as the Four Species.

Of all the feasts of the Lord, Sukkot best illustrates the fact that God would dwell in the midst of His people through the presence of the Messiah (John 1:14).  He may have fulfilled His promise on the very day of Sukkot.  We don’t know the exact date of Yeshua’s birth.  But we do know; it certainly wasn’t December 25th.  For me, there is sufficient evidence to corroborate that Yeshua’s first coming came on Sukkot.

Sukkot pictures the future kingdom God has prepared for Israel when Messiah returns (see Zechariah 12:10-13:1; Isaiah 35; Luke 1:67-80).  The Prophet Zechariah described the changes that will take place in the topography of the holy land and how the Gentile nations will celebrate Sukkot along with the Jewish people   (see Zechariah 14:16-19).

For Israel, the best is yet to come!  The scattered people will be gathered; the sinful people will be cleansed; the sorrowing people will rejoice.  And for Messianic Believers, the best is yet to come; for we shall be together with the Lord and His people, every stain washed away, rejoicing in His presence.

Sukkot has always been known as the appointed time that commemorates God dwelling with His people.  How fitting for the Kingdom of God, when it fully comes to the redeemed earth, to be considered the ultimate fulfillment of this appointed time.  God himself will finally dwell with His people in all His fullness.  The Sukkah of God will be among men when Messiah Yeshua dwells as the ruler of the 1000-year Messianic Kingdom!

All the Feasts of the Lord have their particular lessons to teach.  Because of its latter day fulfillment, Sukkot seems to be the apex of all the other appointed times of God.  The goal of God’s plan is ultimately the establishment of His Kingdom here on earth.  This explains why, of all the appointed times, Sukkot is said to be the premier celebration of the Millennium.

As the Prophet Zechariah has told us in Chapter 14, in the last days all nations will be gathered against Jerusalem.  They will take the city and plunder it. (Zechariah 14:1, 2)  The Lord will then take charge of His people; He will appear upon the Mount of Olives.  By splitting this mountain, He will prepare a safe way for the rescue of those that remain.  He will come with all His saints (Zechariah 14:3-5) to complete His kingdom.

The other pilgrimage feasts (Matzah and Shavuot) have been fulfilled, but the Feast of Tabernacles – Sukkot finds its fulfillment during the millennial kingdom of the Messiah (Vayikra 23:33-44; B’midbar 16:13-15; 31:10; Nehemiah 8:17, 18; Revelation 20:1-6).

The remnant of the nations will turn to the Lord and come yearly to Jerusalem, to keep the feast of Sukkot (Zechariah 14:16-19).  Can’t you just imagine it?  The feast of the Millennium!  What a party that will be!  This feast will be kept by all who have come to believe in Messiah, to thank the Lord for His grace in that He has brought them out of the wanderings of this life into the blessedness of His kingdom of peace.

In the perfected kingdom of God there will be no more sinners, but only those who are righteous and holy.  This is affirmed in the last clause of Zechariah’s prophecy: “there will be no merchants anymore in the house of Adonai.” (v. 21)

Thus, does Zechariah’s prophesy close with a prospect of the completion of the kingdom of God in glory.  All believing commentators are agreed that the final fulfillment of Zechariah 14:20-21 lies before us in Revelation 21 and 22.

According to Isaiah, God has promised His people a new heaven and a new earth (see Isaiah 65:17; 66:22).  The old creation must make way for the new creation if God is to be glorified.

Indeed, many interesting questions could be asked about our future abode in heaven, but most must go unanswered until we reach our glorious home.  In fact, John closed his book by reminding us that we have responsibilities today because we are going to heaven.

Sukkot has always known as the appointed time that commemorates God dwelling with his people.  How fitting for the Kingdom of God, when it fully comes to the redeemed earth, to be considered the ultimate fulfillment of this holy day.  God, Himself will finally dwell with His people in all His fullness.  The Sukkah of God will be among men when Messiah Yeshua tabernacles with us as the ruler of the 1000-year Messianic Kingdom!

What a celebration there will be as His people, both Jews and Gentiles, wave the lulav and chant, Ana Adonai Hoshiana!  (Lord, do save us!)  Amen.  Come quickly, Lord Yeshua!  Come and dwell in Your Ultimate Sukkah!

In my next post, we will return to our series on Revelation by looking at Revelation 6:8-9 ~ The Fourth Bowl.

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Yom Kippur – 5778

The Day of Atonement

In this post, we take a break from the series on Revelation to observe the second of the fall Jewish feasts of Yom Kippur.

In 2017, Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement begins at sundown on September 29th.  The Tanakh says that the blood of the sacrifice is given to make atonement.   The Hebrew words translated as “atonement” in English are Kippur (noun) and Kaspar (verb).   The root occurs about 150 times in the Tanakh and is intimately linked with forgiveness of sin and with reconciliation to God.  What does “atonement” mean?

Atonement means making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 16 provides detailed instructions for a unique sacrifice to be offered once a year, on the tenth day of the seventh month – Tishri.  On that day the whole community of Israel was to gather at the Tabernacle (and later, the Temple) to fast and to pray.  The high priest followed carefully prescribed steps and entered the Especially Holy Place (Holy of Holies), bringing the blood of the sacrificed animal.  There he sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat.  This animal was a sin offering for the people (16:15).  That sacrifice was an “atonement … to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”  Following that sacrifice, Israel was told, “You will be clean before Adonai from all your sins” (v. 30).

It is important in looking at the Tanakh to realize that in it we see realities acted out that would be unveiled later.  The whole of scripture is a progressive revelation of God.  He reveals Himself more and more throughout human history.   God planned for continuous enactments of reality so that when Yeshua finally came to lay down His life for us, we would realize just what He was doing?  Should we be surprised at the centuries of animal sacrifice, and the stress on the shedding of blood as necessary for forgiveness?  No.  In the repeated sacrifices of the Tanakh we are led to understand that, to God, death has always been the price of life for sinful men.

Yom Kippur in Yeshua’s Time

Vayikra 16:7-10 states that the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) is “to take the two goats and place them before Adonai at the entrance to the tent of meeting.  Then (he) is to cast lots for the two goats, one lot for Adonai and the other for ‘Az’azel (scapegoat) (He) is to present the goat whose lot fell to Adonai and offer it as a sin offering.  But the goat whose lot fell to ‘Az’azel is to be presented alive to Adonai to be used for making atonement over it by sending it away into the desert for ‘Az’azel.”

There were also a few traditions that were added to the scapegoat ceremony.  According to the Mishna, lots were drawn to decide the fate of both of the goats.  The lot for the sacrifice said “for the Lord,” and the lot for the scapegoat said “scapegoat.”  The people considered it a good omen if the lot “for the Lord” came up in the Priests right hand.  Also, a red sash was tied to the scapegoat’s horns, and a portion of it was also tied to the door of the temple.  The sash on the temple turned from red to white as the goat met its end in the wilderness, signifying to the people that God had accepted their sacrifices and their sins had been atoned.  This idea came from Isaiah 1:18 which says, “Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow…”

Also stated in the Mishna as well as the Talmud, four events occurred during the forty years before the destruction of the temple which foreshadowed its doom.  (This would have started at the time when Yeshua was sacrificed once and for all.)  For forty years:

  • The lot that said “for the Lord” did not come in the Priests right hand…this was considered a bad omen.
  • The portion of the red sash that was tied to the temple door stopped turning white with the death of the sacrifice.
  • The westernmost light of the temple candelabra would not burn. This was crucial because this was the shammash” (servant) used to kindle the other lights.
  • The temple doors opened by themselves. The rabbis saw the prophetic fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 11:1 that says, “Open your doors, Lebanon, so that the fire can consume your cedars.”  In fact, fires did consume the cedars of Lebanon that may have adorned the inside of the temple.
Yeshua’s Fulfillment

What should surprise us is that God would give His Son for us.  What should amaze us is that the blood spilled on history’s ultimate altar would be His own.  But we should never be surprised that only the sacrifice of another life can exempt one from the death penalty that sin and guilt deserve.  Sacrifice has always been central to the history of God’s gracious dealings with men.  Over and over again, that picture is presented to us.  Over and over again we see the blood.  Over and over – till with awed amazement we look at Calvary and suddenly the pictures from the past merge into one.  And we bow, stunned by the reality.

He died.
He died for me.
He died for you.

Even in ancient times, God lifted the veil to let us peek beyond the shadows of the reality.

Isaiah 53 was long understood by the Jews to speak of the coming Messiah – the Deliverer to be sent to them by God.  In this passage, we have a clear picture of Yeshua, and of sacrifice.

“Like a lamb led to be slaughtered” (v. 7).
“He would present himself as a guilt offering” (v. 10).
“He exposed himself to death” (v. 12).
“Actually bearing the sin of many” (v. 12).

We cannot read these words today with out realizing that they contain God’s explanation for Yeshua’s life – and for His death.

According to Hebrews Chapter10, the sacrifices of old were “a shadow of the good things to come, but not the actual manifestation of the originals” (v. 1).  The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sins (v. 4).  The sacrifices only covered and concealed sin, thus permitting God to overlook His people’s sins until Yeshua could come to take away sins by the sacrifice of Himself (Romans 3:25-26).  What the ancient sacrifices foreshadowed, Yeshua accomplished!  By one sacrifice, He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

In Yeshua, our sins and lawless acts have been forgiven entirely, and we have been cleansed. (Hebrews 10:14) Thus “an offering for sins is no longer needed” (v. 18).  We just need to appropriate for ourselves the atonement of the shed blood of Yeshua.

The animal sacrifices had to be repeated again and again.   Their repetition was a continual reminder to Israel that sin, while temporarily covered, must still be dealt with.  The repeated sacrifices served to demonstrate that no animal’s life could ever satisfy the righteousness of God.  What a different message the bread and wine of Communion!  No longer is fresh blood required.  Yeshua has died, offering “for all time one sacrifice for sins” (v.  12).

It is enough. 
Redemption’s work is done. 
By the blood of Yeshua, you and I have been set forever free.

The focal point of God’s atoning work is Yeshua’s death on the execution stake.  Sha’ul wrote, “we were reconciled with God through His Son’s death when we were enemies” (Romans 5:10).  These words not only define the meaning of atonement, but they also reveal the heart of the gospel as well.

At the beginning of His ministry, Yeshua was identified as “the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  The purpose of His coming was “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  He explained His death regarding His “blood shed on behalf of many” (Mark 14:24).

The relation of Yeshua’s death to forgiveness of sins was implicit in the earliest Messianic preaching (Acts 2:21; 3:6, 19; 4:13; 5:31; 8:35; 10:43).  Sha’ul proclaimed, “Yeshua died for our sins” (1 Cor.  15:3), that He was the “kapparah – atonement” (Romans 3:25 KJV; “sacrifice of atonement,” NRSV, NIV; “expiation,” RSV), that He became “a cursed on our behalf” (Galatians 3:13), and that those “who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of the Messiah’s blood.” (Ephesians 2:13).   Furthermore, Yeshua has been “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28) and has become “a new and living way” (Hebrews 10:20) into God’s presence.  He is the one who “bore our sins in his body on the stake” (1 Peter 2:24).

Though atonement is focused in the execution stake, the Brit Hadashah makes clear that Yeshua’s death is the climax of His perfect obedience.  He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the execution stake” (Philippians 2:8).  “Even though he was the Son, he learned obedience through his sufferings (Hebrews 5:8).  Romans 5:12-19 contrasts Yeshua’s obedience with Adam’s disobedience.  His sinless obedience qualified Him to be the perfect Sacrifice for sin (see Hebrews 6:8-10).

The atonement for sin provided by Yeshua’s death had its origin in divine love.  No other reason can explain why “God reconciled us to himself by Yeshua” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  The anthem that continuously peals from the Bible is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only and unique Son” (John 3:16; see 1 John 4:9-10).  This does not mean that God loves us because Yeshua died for us.  Rather, Yeshua died for us because God loves us.  Thus, “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that the Messiah died on our behalf while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8) Because atonement issues from love, it is always seen as a divine gift, never as a human achievement.

No day was, or is, as sacred to the Jewish community as Yom HaKippurim, the Day of Atonement. 

After the high priest had made atonement for his sins and those of his household, he proceeded with the rites of atonement for the whole community.

“God put Yeshua forward as the kapparah – the atonement – for sin through his faithfulness in respect to his bloody sacrificial death.” (Romans 3:25)  Scripture depicts all human beings as needing to atone for their sins but lacking all power and resources for doing so.  We have offended our holy Creator, whose nature it is to hate sin (Jeremiah 44:4; Habakkuk 1:13) and to punish it (Psalms 5:4-6; Romans 1:18; 2:5-9).   No acceptance by, or fellowship with, such a God can be expected unless atonement is made, and since there is sin in even our best actions, anything we do in hopes of making amends can only increase our guilt or worsen our situation.

As a perfect sacrifice for sin (Romans 8:3; Ephesians 5:2; 1 Peter 1:18-19), Yeshua’s death was our redemption.  He paid the price that freed us from the jeopardy of guilt, enslavement to sin, and expectation of wrath (Romans 3:24; Galatians 4:4-5; Colossians 1:14).  Yeshua’s death was God’s act of reconciling us to himself, overcoming his hostility to us that our sins provoked (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Colossians 1:20-22).

Yeshua’s atoning death ratified the inauguration of a renewed covenant, in which Yeshua’s one sacrifice guarantees access to God under all circumstances that cover all transgressions (Matthew 26:27-28; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:15; 10:12-18).  Those who through faith in Yeshua have “received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11) “in him…  become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We no longer need the blood of bulls or goats.  Yeshua is our perfect atonement.  He is the Messiah!

In my next post, we will return to our series to continue to explore Revelation 16:4-7 on The Third Bowl.

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Rosh Hashanah – 5778

Be Ministers of Reconciliation

In this post, we take a break from our series on Revelation to observe the first of the fall Jewish feasts of Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah:  The Key Is Repentance, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation

Biblical References:  B’midbar (Numbers) 29:1–6 and Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:23 – 25 ~ Yom Teruah (The Feast of Trumpets).  In 2017, the holiday begins at sundown on September 20th.

Rabbinic Change:  Since this is the first Shabbat of the Fall Holidays, it has been considered as the “spiritual” New Year.  Hence the name changed to Rosh Hashanah, “the head of the year.”  It is also seen as the anniversary of creation; the sacrifice of Yitz’chak; the release of Yosef from Pharaoh’s prison; and, the birth of Samuel, the prophet

The purpose and traditional observance of the Holy Day is summed up in one word – regathering.  Since the fall holidays call us to regather to a pure faith in God, Rosh Hashanah has come to represent the Day of Repentance.  It is the day when people of Israel take stock of their spiritual condition and make the necessary changes to ensure that the upcoming New Year will be pleasing to God.

The shofar is sounded daily to alert the faithful that the time of repentance is near.  The observance takes on a somber character, yet always with a hint of hope because of God’s forgiveness.

The traditional challah is shaped in a circle to symbolize God’s Kingship and the coming of Messiah.  Sweet honey cakes and apples dipped in honey are a real treat and express the hope of a new fresh year.

Tradition tells of three books that are opened in the heavenly courts during the feast of Rosh Hashanah; one for the completely righteous, one for the thoroughly wicked, and one for the average person.  The completely righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life.  The completely wicked are immediately inscribed in the book of death.  The average person is kept in suspension from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  If they deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of life; if they do not deserve well, they are written in the book of death.  Consequently, the Ten Days of Awe are a time of solemn self-examination with time spent in seeking reconciliation and doing good works in the Jewish tradition.

Since the 15th Century, the ceremony of Tashlich is celebrated in the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah.  The congregation meets at a river or stream.  Special prayers of repentance are recited, and a portion of Micah is read.  People then take breadcrumbs and cast them into the water symbolizing that our sins are carried away by the water.

Rosh Hashanah has profound Messianic significance!  The rabbis have taught that one day the shofar would sound and the Messiah would come.  According to Rabbi Sha’ul, in the future, all true believers in Yeshua will be gathered to meet Him in the clouds.  The dead in Messiah will rise first, to be followed immediately by those believers alive at the time.  “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with God’s shofar, those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise; then we who are left still alive will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will always be with the Lord.  So encourage each other with these words.”  (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)  That day will indeed be characterized by joy, delight, and sweetness for those who are called home!  As we observe Rosh Hashanah, we should anticipate the time of Yeshua’s return.

The traditional greeting during Rosh Hashanah is, “L’shanah tovah tikatevu!”  May your name be inscribed in the book of life!  As Messianic Believers, we can rightly say, “L’shanah tovah tikatevu b’shem Yeshua!”  May your name be inscribed in the book of life, in the name of Yeshua!

 Read 2 Corinthians 5:17 – 21Rosh Hashanah: repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  Rabbi Sha’ul wrote to the Corinthians about these key ingredients to our annual observation of this holy appointed time.  As Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the new spiritual year, so it is that we become new creations when we are united with Yeshua as our Messiah.

The key idea in this passage is reconciliation.  Because of our rebellion, we are the enemy of God and out of fellowship with Him.  Through the work of the execution stake, Yeshua has brought God and us together again.  God has been reconciled and has turned His face in love toward the lost world.  The essential meaning of the word reconcile is “to change thoroughly.”  It refers to a restored relationship with God and the lost world.  “And it is all from God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:18a)

God does not have to be reconciled to man because Yeshua accomplished that on the execution stake.  It is the sinful man who must be reconciled to God.  “Religion” is man’s feeble effort to be reconciled to God, efforts that are bound to fail.  The Person who reconciles us to God is Yeshua, and the place where He reconciles us is His execution stake.  He not only reconciles us to Himself, but he gives us the task of reconciling other people to Him.  We have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation.

Another key idea in this paragraph is that God does not count our sins against us.  In the KJV, the term used is imputing.  This is a word borrowed from banking; it just means, “to put to one’s account.”  When you deposit money in the bank, the teller puts that amount into your account.    When Yeshua died on the execution stake, all of our sins were imputed to Him – put into His account.  God treated Him as though He had committed those sins.

What was the result?  All of those sins have been paid for, and God no longer holds them against us, because we have trusted Yeshua as our Messiah.  But even more: God has put into our account the very righteousness of Yeshua!  “God made this sinless man be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in union with him we might fully share in Gods’ righteousness.”   (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Reconciliation is based on imputation: because the demands of God’s Torah have been fully met on the execution stake, God can be reconciled to sinners. Those who believe in Yeshua, as their Messiah will never have their sins imputed to them again (see Psalms 32:1-2; Romans. 4:1-8).  As far as their records are concerned, they share the righteousness of Yeshua!

How does this beautiful doctrine of reconciliation motivate us to serve Yeshua?  We are ambassadors with a message.  God has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

Since we are the ambassadors of Yeshua, this means that the world is in rebellion against God.  He has sent His ambassadors into the world to declare peace, not war.  “Be reconciled to God!”  We represent Yeshua (see John 20:21; 2 Corinthians 4:5).  If sinners reject our message and us, it is Yeshua who is rejected.  What a great privilege it is to be heaven’s ambassadors to the rebellious sinners of this world!

God has not declared war on the world; at the execution stake, He said peace.  But one day, He will declare war; and then it will be too late for those who have rejected Yeshua (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10).  Satan is seeking to tear everything apart in this world, but Yeshua and His Messianic community are involved in the ministry of reconciliation, bringing things back together again, and back to God.

Ministry is not easy.  If we are to succeed, we must be motivated by the fear of the Lord, the love of Yeshua, and the commission that He has given to us.  It is indeed a privilege to serve Him!

During these next ten days before Yom Kippur, I encourage you to do some self-reflection.  Is there any unconfessed sin in your life?  Do you need to forgive someone who has hurt you?  Are there any relationships that require a reconciliation?  As we enter into the start of a new spiritual year, resolve to make a fresh start and be ambassadors of Yeshua HaMashiach, “so that in union with Him, we might fully share in God’s righteousness.”

In my next post, we will return to our study of Revelation 16:3 on The Second Bowl.

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Shavuot (Pentecost)

God’s Appointed Times

We will take a break from our series on the Revelation 9 and return to God’s Appointed Times ~ Shavuot (Pentecost).  In 2017, Shavuot will be observed by Jewish Believers beginning at sundown on Tuesday, May 30th.  Christians will be celebrating Pentecost on Sunday, June 4th.

Scriptural Basis

15“‘From the day after the day of rest — that is, from the day you bring the sheaf for waving — you are to count seven full weeks, 16until the day after the seventh week; you are to count fifty days; and then you are to present a new grain offering to Adonai. 17You must bring bread from your homes for waving — two loaves made with one gallon of fine flour, baked with leaven — as firstfruits for Adonai. 18Along with the bread, present seven lambs without defect one year old, one young bull and two rams; these will be a burnt offering for Adonai, with their grain and drink offerings, an offering made by fire as a fragrant aroma for Adonai. 19Offer one male goat as a sin offering and two male lambs one year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. 20The cohen will wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before Adonai, with the two lambs; these will be holy for Adonai for the cohen. 21On the same day, you are to call a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work; this is a permanent regulation through all your generations, no matter where you live.” (Vayikra [Leviticus] 23:15-21)

 Basic Description

Shavu’ot was one of three festivals (Pesach/Matzah & Sukkot being the other two) appointed by Adonai where all Jewish males were to go up to Jerusalem.  Shavu’ot means “weeks.”  It comes exactly fifty days after Pesach.  In Greek, we have come to know it as Pentecost.  Pentecost means “fifty.”  It was an agricultural festival to celebrate the latter fruits of the spring harvest.  Recall that Yom HaBikkurim (First Fruits) immediately following Pesach celebrated the barley harvest and, as Believers, we recognize it as the resurrection of Yeshua – the first fruit from the dead.  Shavu’ot celebrates the thanksgiving for the wheat harvest symbolized by the two loaves of challah.

Observance

The two loaves of challah were brought into the Temple and with great ceremony, waved in every direction before Adonai.  In addition, blood sacrifices were offered to cover the sin of the people.  Since sacrifices can no longer be made with the destruction of the Second Temple, the modern Jewish observance of Shavu’ot has changed.  Rabbis calculated that Moshe received the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavu’ot.  Hence, the rabbinic name for Shavu’ot is Zman Matan Torateynu (the Time of the Giving of the Torah).

The custom of decorating the synagogue in greenery, flowers and baskets of fruit to symbolize the harvest aspect of Shavu’ot; the practice of marking the holiday with a meal featuring dairy products in recognition of Scripture being described as the pure milk of the Word (I Peter 2:2); and the inclusion of the Megillah (scroll) of Ruth in the service are all the primary reminders of Shavu’ot’s agricultural prominence.

But Ruth’s story sounds another theme, one more relevant to the celebration of Shavu’ot by modern Jewish people and Messianic Believers.  When her husband dies, Ruth – a gentile – elects to stay with Naomi, her mother-in-law, telling her “your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16) binding herself willingly to the people Isra’el.  Ruth’s story is one of commitment to the Jewish people freely made and to the covenant with God that is the core of the Jewish religion and experience.  Like Ruth, the gentile woman who was in the lineage of Yeshua, we have voluntarily said to our fellow Messianic Jewish believers your people will be my people, your God will be my God.

Shavu’ot celebrates the most important moment in the Mosaic covenant – the giving of the Torah to Moshe and its acceptance by Isra’el at Sinai.  Shavu’ot has come to be dedicated to the idea of Torah study and Jewish education.  Traditional Jews stay up all night on the first night of this festival studying the Torah.  In keeping with the theme of Jewish education, Shavu’ot has traditionally been the time when many Jewish schools mark graduation.

Messianic significance abounds in this festival.  From God’s perspective the time of great harvest when large numbers of Jewish believers and later Gentiles came into a personal relationship with Him was initiated at the Shavu’ot immediately after Yeshua’s resurrection. (Acts 2:40-43)  The two leavened loaves of Shavu’ot may therefore symbolize Jew and Gentile presented to God and now part of His family.  God set us free from slavery to sin by placing his Spirit in us to enable us to live as He intended (Romans 8:1-4).  Hence God visibly placed His Ruach HaKodesh in Yeshua’s followers on that important Shavu’ot centuries ago (Acts 2:4).

The coming of the Ruach HaKodesh served as the completion of Pesach, the completion of our atonement, in the sense that through the Ruach, God gives us the power we need to overcome our tendency to do evil.

The theme of Shavu’ot can be best summed up by the word revival.  Isra’el was called to praise God for the first fruits of the ground, knowing that these early fruits assured the latter harvest.  This also applies to the spiritual Kingdom of God.  The first fruit of believers at Shavu’ot virtually guarantees a revival in the latter-day spiritual harvest for Messiah.  Now we can understand why God included Shavu’ot in the three required festivals for every Jewish male.  He had gathered Jewish men from throughout the region to hear the Good News of Yeshua in their own language.  They would take that message back home with them to tell their families and friends.  As Pesach speaks of redemption, Shavu’ot speaks of revival.  The message of Shavu’ot is one of great hope and joy.  It was a message heard and accepted by 3,000 Jewish people on that special Shavu’ot (Acts 2:41).  Note that 3,000 Jewish people died because of their rebellion of worshiping the Golden Calf at the giving of the Torah.

When Is The Biblical Feast Of Shavuot?

Many people desire to know the actual Biblical date for Shavuot.  It is the only feast that God did not say fell on a specific date in the Hebrew calendar.  Rather He gave a formula for calculating the day.  Though the traditional Jewish community will celebrate Shavuot according to that traditional calculation, there is a difference of opinion on the matter.  In the first century the Pharisees and Sadducees differed on the date that Shavuot was to be celebrated. The question arose over which Sabbath does Firstfruits (see Vayikra 23:9-14) take place after: the day after Pesach, which is generally considered a Sabbath or the regular seventh day Sabbath, i.e. Saturday during the week of Pesach?

The Pharisees claimed the correct day was the day after the first day of Matzah, the sixteenth of Nisan. The Sadducees taught that the correct day was Sunday, the day after the weekly Sabbath. Since the writings of the Pharisees survived and developed into traditional Judaism, their opinion is accepted in modern Judaism.

But who is biblically correct?  Remember, the Scriptures state, “you are to count seven full Sabbaths until the day after the seventh week; you are to count fifty days.” (Leviticus 23:15-16).

For it to be the day after the seventh Shabbat, the initial Sabbath would have to be the weekly Sabbath. So it would appear the Sadducees were right. Consequently, I believe that the Sadducees got this one correct. Amazingly, the year that Yeshua died, the sixteenth of Nisan fell on the Sunday, which is the day after the Sabbath for the Sadducees as well. God worked it out that neither group would have a reason not to recognize Yeshua as the Firstfruits of the Resurrection.

In my next post, we will return to our series on the Revelation 9 as we continue to examine the Description of Locusts.

Click here for PDF version.

There Is More Than the Cross…

Resurrection Day
God’s Appointed Times

I’m taking a break from my series on the Book of Revelation on this special day to share my thoughts about Resurrection Day.  I’m not going to get into the controversy over the use of the name Easter other than to say it has only secular significance to me.  Cute bunnies hopping around laying colored eggs and delivering chocolates to the children pales in comparison to what we should be focusing on.  There Is More Than the Cross … There Is An Empty Tomb!

As Max Lucado writes: “On the eve of the cross, Jesus made His decision.  He would rather go to hell for you than to go to heaven without you.”  [1] That decision would only be validated if He truly rose from the dead.

As far back as I can remember, every Resurrection Day we would go to church and joyously sing out:

Jesus Christ Is Risen Today”

By Charles Wesley
Performed by: Huddersfield Choral Society & Joseph Cullen

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!

But the pains which he endured, Alleluia!
our salvation have procured. Alleluia!
Now above the sky he’s King, Alleluia!
where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!

Sing we to our God above, Alleluia!
praise eternal as God’s love. Alleluia!
Praise our God, ye heavenly host, Alleluia!
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Alleluia!

We were there to celebrate that Yeshua had paid the price for our transgressions, just as Isaiah had prophesied.  “But he was wounded because of our crimes, crushed because of our sins; the disciplining that makes us whole fell on him, and by his bruises we are healed.  We all, like sheep, went astray; we turned, each one, to his own way; yet Adonai laid on him the guilt of all of us.” ~ Isaiah 53:5-6 (CJB)

As I’m sure that most of you already know, the Tanakh does not contain a wealth of information of the subject of resurrection from the dead.  This is probably why the P’rushim and the Tz’dukim (who didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead) got into arguments over the subject and the Tz’dukim tried to trap Yeshua in Matthew 23:23.

Perhaps, Job has one of the oldest references. “But I know that my Redeemer lives, that in the end he will rise on the dust; so that after my skin has been thus destroyed, then even without my flesh, I will see God.  I will see him for myself, my eyes, not someone else’s, will behold him.  My heart grows weak inside me!” ~ Job 19:25-27 (CJB).  When the book of Job was written, Israel did not have a well-developed doctrine of the resurrection. Although Job struggled with the idea that God was presently against him, he firmly believed that in the end God would be on his side.

David writes: “For you will not abandon me to Sh’ol, you will not let your faithful one see the Abyss.” ~ Psalm 16:10 (CJB)

Daniel writes: Many of those sleeping in the dust of the earth will awaken, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting shame and abhorrence … But you, go your way until the end comes. Then you will rest and rise for your reward, at the end of days.” ~ Daniel 12:2, 12 (CJB)

On the other hand, the Brit Hadashah has much to say about the resurrection.  Just a short sampling would include:

Yeshua said: “How blessed you will be that they have nothing with which to repay you! For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:14 (CJB) “And as for whether the dead are resurrected, haven’t you read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Avraham, the God of Yitz’chak and the God of Ya‘akov’?  He is God not of the dead but of the living!” ~ Matthew 22:31-32 (CJB) “In this age, men and women marry; but those judged worthy of the age to come, and of resurrection from the dead, do not get married, because they can no longer die. Being children of the Resurrection, they are like angels; indeed, they are children of God” ~ Luke 20:34-36 (CJB).  And my favorite quote, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life!  Whoever puts his trust in me will live, even if he dies; and everyone living and trusting in me will never die. Do you believe this?” ~ John 11:25-26 (CJB)

Rabbi Sha’ul wrote extensively about the resurrection.  I would refer you to 1 Corinthians 15 for your own study.  One of my personal favorite passage is: “But the fact is that the Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died.  For since death came through a man, also the resurrection of the dead has come through a man. For just as in connection with Adam all die, so in connection with the Messiah all will be made alive” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (CJB).

In one of my recent morning devotionals, A. W. Tozer asked the question what is the “Worth of a Soul?” [2]  As in our secular world, the worth of anything is determined by what you are willing to pay for it.  In our case, Yeshua HaMashiach paid the ultimate price to redeem our souls ~ He gave Himself for us in His death and sacrifice.  That’s why it is so important to give Him thanks and praise for what He has done for us.

As time went on, I discovered a new worship song that was equally appropriate for Resurrection Day.

Easter Song

By Keith Green
Performed by: Keith Green

Hear the bells ringing
They’re singing that you can be born again

Hear the bells ringing
They’re singing Christ is risen from the dead

The angel up on the tombstone
Said He has risen, just as He said
Quickly now, go tell his disciples
That Jesus Christ is no longer dead

Joy to the world, He has risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
Hallelujah

Hear the bells ringing
They’re singing that you can be healed right now
Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing
Christ, He will reveal it now

The angels, they all surround us
And they are ministering Jesus’ power
Quickly now, reach out and receive it
For this could be your glorious hour

Joy to the world, He has risen, hallelujah
He’s…

The Tomb Is Empty – He Is Risen!!!

He Is Risen – He Is Risen Indeed!!

 

In my next post, we will return to our series by beginning to look at Revelation 7.

Click here for PDF version.

[1] Grace for the Moment, Vol. 1, April 3 by Max Lucado

[2] Renewed Day by Day, Volume 1, April 4th by A.W. Tozer.

Pesach and Hag HaMatzah

(Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread)
God’s Appointed Times

We return to God’s Appointed Times from the Tanakh.  Both Pesach (Passover) and Hag HaMatzah are tied to the remembrance of the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.  The principle Scriptural reference for Pesach is in B’midbar (Exodus) 12:1-13 and Hag HaMatzah in Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:5-8.  In 2017, Pesach starts on the eve of April 10th and Hag HaMatzah on the eve of April 11th.  This eight-day remembrance ends at sundown on April 18th.

For Believers in Yeshua, this time can be a great time to reflect not only on the deliverance of the Jews from Egyptian bondage and death of the first-born by the shedding of the lamb’s blood on the doorpost; but also on the shed blood of Yeshua on the cross.  His death and resurrection paid for our sins and purchased for us eternal salvation.

I have attached a PDF version of an explanation of the traditional Pesach Seder provided by Chosen People Ministries.  Click here..

However, for those of you who want to have a Scriptural-based observation of Pesach, I highly recommend Kevin Geoffrey’s “Behold the Lamb and Preparation Guide.”  Click here to order.

In my next post, we will return to unpacking the Book of Revelation by finishing Chapter 6.

 

Sukkot 5777

The Ultimate Sukkah

In 2016, the festival of Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles, begins at sundown on Sunday, October 17th.  Sukkot is the third of the great annual pilgrimage festivals (Vayikra 23:33-43).  Each year, all adult Jewish males were required to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts of Matzah, Shavuot and Sukkot.   The festival is also called the “feast of ingathering” (Sh’mot 23:16; D’varim 16:13).  It is celebrated immediately after the harvest, in the month Tishri, and the celebration lasts for eight days (Vayikra 23:33-43).  During this period the people leave their homes and live in a sukkah, a temporary dwelling, formed of the branches of trees as a memorial of the wilderness wanderings, when the people dwelt in sukkot (Vayikra 23:43).

Sukkah

Typical Backyard Sukkah

Like Thanksgiving Day in the United States, Sukkot is a time of feasting, rejoicing, and giving thanks to God for His bountiful gifts (D’varim 16:13-15).  In fact, it is widely believed that the Puritan colonists, who were great students of the Hebrew Scriptures, based the first American Thanksgiving on Sukkot.

We are to “rejoice before the Lord God” during all the time of this feast (Vayikra 23:40).  The tradition of the Jewish people is that they were to express their joy by dancing and singing hymns of praise to God, with musical instruments.

Sukkot (the plural form of sukkah) are temporary dwellings, many with canvas walls.   The roof is made of natural materials such as bamboo, corn stalks, or other greenery, usually supported by a few wooden beams.   It provides more shade than sun, but you can still see the sky through it and the stars at night.

Today, as in the Second Temple days, we still wave the lulav (palm branch) and etrog (citron) as mandated in the Torah.   The lulav is made of a palm branch, arava (willow), and hadas (myrtle).   The etrog is a citron.   Together the lulav and the etrog are referred to as the Four Species.

Of all the feasts of the Lord, Sukkot best illustrates the fact that God would dwell in the midst of His people through the presence of the Messiah (John 1:14).  He may have literally fulfilled His promise on the very day of Sukkot.  We don’t know the exact date of Yeshua’s birth.  But we do know, it certainly wasn’t December 25th.  For me, there is sufficient evidence to corroborate that Yeshua’s first coming came on Sukkot.

Sukkot pictures the future kingdom God has prepared for Israel when Messiah returns (see Zechariah 12:10-13:1; Isaiah 35; Luke 1:67-80).  The Prophet Zechariah described the changes that will take place in the topography of the holy land and how the Gentile nations will celebrate Sukkot along with the Jewish people   (see Zechariah 14:16-19).

For Israel, the best is yet to come!  The scattered people will be gathered; the sinful people will be cleansed; the sorrowing people will rejoice.  And for Messianic Believers, the best is yet to come; for we shall be together with the Lord and His people, every stain washed away, rejoicing in His presence.

Sukkot has always been known as the appointed time that commemorates God dwelling with His people.  How fitting for the Kingdom of God, when it fully comes to the redeemed earth, to be considered the ultimate fulfillment of this appointed time.  God himself will finally dwell with His people in all His fullness.  The Sukkah of God will be among men when Messiah Yeshua dwells as the ruler of the 1000-year Messianic Kingdom!

All the Feasts of the Lord have their own particular lessons to teach.  Yet, because of its latter day fulfillment, Sukkot seems to be the apex of all the other appointed times of God.  The goal of God’s plan is ultimately the establishment of His Kingdom here on earth.  This explains why, of all the appointed times, Sukkot is said to be the premier celebration of the Millennium.

As the Prophet Zechariah has told us in Chapter 14, in the last days all nations will be gathered together against Jerusalem.  They will take the city and plunder it. (Zechariah 14:1, 2)  The Lord will then take charge of His people; He will appear upon the Mount of Olives.  By splitting this mountain, He will prepare a safe way for the rescue of those that remain.  He will come with all His saints (Zechariah 14:3-5) to complete His kingdom.

The other pilgrimage feasts (Matzah and Shavuot) have been fulfilled, but the Feast of Tabernacles – Sukkot finds its fulfillment during the millennial kingdom of the Messiah (Vayikra 23:33-44; B’midbar 16:13-15; 31:10; Nehemiah 8:17, 18; Revelation 20:1-6).

The remnant of the nations will turn to the Lord and come yearly to Jerusalem, to keep the feast of Sukkot (Zechariah 14:16-19).  Can’t you just imagine it?  The feast of the Millennium!  What a party that will be!  This feast will be kept by all who have come to believe in Messiah, to thank the Lord for His grace in that He has brought them out of the wanderings of this life into the blessedness of His kingdom of peace.

In the perfected kingdom of God there will be no more sinners, but only those who are righteous and holy.  This is affirmed in the last clause of Zechariah’s prophecy: “there will be no merchants any more in the house of Adonai.” (v. 21)

Thus, does Zechariah’s prophesy close with a prospect of the completion of the kingdom of God in glory.  All believing commentators are agreed that the final fulfillment of Zechariah 14:20-21 lies before us in Revelation 21 and 22.

According to Isaiah, God has promised His people a new heaven and a new earth (see Isaiah 65:17; 66:22).  The old creation must make way for the new creation if God is to be glorified.

Certainly, many interesting questions could be asked about our future abode in heaven, but most must go unanswered until we reach our glorious home.  In fact, John closed his book by reminding us that we have responsibilities today because we are going to heaven.

Sukkot has always known as the appointed time that commemorates God dwelling with his people.  How fitting for the Kingdom of God, when it fully comes to the redeemed earth, to be considered the ultimate fulfillment of this holy day.  God Himself will finally dwell with His people in all His fullness.  The Sukkah of God will be among men when Messiah Yeshua tabernacles with us as the ruler of the 1000-year Messianic Kingdom!

What a celebration there will be as His people, both Jews and Gentiles, wave the lulav and chant, Ana Adonai Hoshiana!  (Lord, do save us!)  Amen.  Come quickly, Lord Yeshua!  Come and dwell in Your Ultimate Sukkah!

In my next post, we will return to our series on Eternal Security by looking at the issue of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will.

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Yom Kippur – 5777

The Day of Atonement

In this post, we take our second break from the series on Eternal Security to observe the second of the fall Jewish feasts of Yom Kippur.

In 2016, Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement begins at sundown on October 11th.  The Tanakh says that the blood of the sacrifice is given to make atonement.   The Hebrew words translated as “atonement” in English are kippur (noun) and kapar (verb).   The root occurs about 150 times in the Tanakh, and is intimately linked with forgiveness of sin and with reconciliation to God.  What does “atonement” mean?

Atonement means making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 16 gives detailed instructions for a special sacrifice to be offered once a year, on the tenth day of the seventh month – Tishri.  On that day the whole community of Israel was to gather at the Tabernacle (and later, the Temple) to fast and to pray.  The high priest followed carefully prescribed steps and entered the Especially Holy Place (Holy of Holies), bringing the blood of the sacrificed animal.  There he sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat.  This animal was a sin offering for the people (16:15).  That sacrifice was an “atonement … to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites”.  Following that sacrifice, Israel was told, “You will be clean before Adonai from all your sins” (v. 30).

It is important in looking at the Tanakh to realize that in it we see realities acted out that would be unveiled later.  The whole of scripture is a progressive revelation of God.  He reveals Himself more and more throughout human history.   God planned for continuous enactments of reality, so that when Yeshua finally came to lay down His life for us, we would realize just what He was doing?  Should we be surprised at the centuries of animal sacrifice, and the stress on the shedding of blood as necessary for forgiveness?  No.  In the repeated sacrifices of the Tanakh we are led to understand that, to God, death has always been the price of life for sinful men.

Yom Kippur in Yeshua’s Time

Vayikra 16:7-10 states that the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) is “to take the two goats and place them before Adonai at the entrance to the tent of meeting.  Then (he) is to cast lots for the two goats, one lot for Adonai and the other for ‘Az’azel (scapegoat)(He) is to present the goat whose lot fell to Adonai and offer it as a sin offering.  But the goat whose lot fell to ‘Az’azel is to be presented alive to Adonai to be used for making atonement over it by sending it away into the desert for ‘Az’azel.”

There were also a few traditions that were added to the scapegoat ceremony.  According to the Mishna, lots were drawn to decide the fate of both of the goats.  The lot for the sacrifice said “for the Lord” and the lot for the scapegoat said “scapegoat.”  The people considered it a good omen if the lot “for the Lord” came up in the Priests right hand.  Also, a red sash was tied to the scapegoat’s horns and a portion of it was also tied to the door of the temple.  The sash on the temple turned from red to white as the goat met its end in the wilderness, signifying to the people that God had accepted their sacrifices and their sins had been atoned for.  This idea came from Isaiah 1:18 which says, “Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow…”

Also stated in the Mishna as well as the Talmud, four events occurred during the forty years before the destruction of the temple which foreshadowed its doom.  (This would have started at the time when Yeshua was sacrificed once and for all.)  For forty years:

  • The lot that said “for the Lord” did not come in the Priests right hand…this was considered a bad omen.
  • The portion of the red sash that was tied to the temple door stopped turning white with the death of the sacrifice.
  • The westernmost light of the temple candelabra would not burn. This was crucial because this was the “shammash” (servant) used to kindle the other lights.
  • The temple doors opened by themselves. The rabbis saw the ominous fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 11:1 that says, “Open your doors, Lebanon, so that the fire can consume your cedars.”  In fact, fires did consume the cedars of Lebanon that may have adorned the inside of the temple.

Yeshua’s Fulfillment

What should surprise us is that God would give His Son for us.  What should amaze us is that the blood spilled on history’s ultimate altar would be His own.  But we should never be surprised that only the sacrifice of another life can exempt one from the death penalty that sin and guilt deserve.  Sacrifice has always been central in the history of God’s gracious dealings with men.  Over and over again, that picture is presented to us.  Over and over again we see the blood.  Over and over – till with awed amazement we look at Calvary and suddenly the pictures from the past merge into one.  And we bow, stunned by the reality.

He died. 

He died for me.

He died for you.

Even in ancient times, God lifted the veil to let us peek beyond the shadows at the reality.

Isaiah 53 was long been understood by the Jews to speak of the coming Messiah – the Deliverer to be sent to them by God.  In this passage we have a clear picture of Yeshua, and of sacrifice.

“Like a lamb led to be slaughtered” (v. 7).

“He would present himself as a guilt offering” (v. 10).

“He exposed himself to death” (v. 12).

“Actually bearing the sin of many” (v. 12).

We cannot read these words today with out realizing that they contain God’s explanation for Yeshua’s life – and for His death.

Acccording to Hebrews Chapter10, the sacrifices of old were “a shadow of the good things to come, but not the actual manifestation of the originals” (v. 1).  The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sins (v. 4).  The sacrifices only covered and concealed sin, thus permitting God to overlook His people’s sins until Yeshua could come to actually take away sins by the sacrifice of Himself (Romans 3:25-26).  What the ancient sacrifices foreshadowed, Yeshua accomplished!  By one sacrifice, He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

In Yeshua our sins and lawless acts have been forgiven fully, and we have been cleansed. (Hebrews 10:14) Thus “an offering for sins is no longer needed” (v. 18).  We just need to appropriate for ourselves the atonement of the shed blood of Yeshua.

The animal sacrifices had to be repeated again and again.   Their repetition was a continual reminder to Israel that sin, while temporarily covered, must still be dealt with.  The repeated sacrifices served to demonstrate that no animal’s life could ever satisfy the righteousness of God.  What a different message the bread and wine of Communion!  No longer is fresh blood required.  Yeshua has died, offering “for all time one sacrifice for sins” (v.  12).

It is enough. 

Redemption’s work is done. 

By the blood of Yeshua, you and I have been set forever free.

The focal point of God’s atoning work is Yeshua’s death on the execution stake.  Sha’ul wrote “we were reconciled with God through His Son’s death when we were enemies” (Romans 5:10).  These words not only define the meaning of atonement, they reveal the heart of the gospel as well.

At the beginning of His ministry, Yeshua was identified as “the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  The purpose of His coming was “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  He explained His death in terms of His “blood shed on behalf of many” (Mark 14:24).

The relation of Yeshua’s death to forgiveness of sins was implicit in the earliest Messianic preaching (Acts 2:21; 3:6, 19; 4:13; 5:31; 8:35; 10:43).  Sha’ul proclaimed, “Yeshua died for our sins” (1 Cor.  15:3), that He was the “kapparah – atonement” (Romans 3:25 KJV; “sacrifice of atonement,” NRSV, NIV; “expiation,” RSV), that He became “a cursed on our behalf” (Galatians 3:13), and that those “who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of the Messiah’s blood.” (Ephesians 2:13).   Furthermore, Yeshua has been “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28) and has become “a new and living way” (Hebrews 10:20) into God’s presence.  He is the one who “bore our sins in his body on the stake” (1 Peter 2:24).

Though atonement is focused in the execution stake, the Brit Hadashah makes clear that Yeshua’s death is the climax of His perfect obedience.  He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the execution stake” (Philippians 2:8).  “Even though he was the Son, he learned obedience through his sufferings” (Hebrews 5:8).  Romans 5:12-19 contrasts Yeshua’s obedience with Adam’s disobedience.  His sinless obedience qualified Him to be the perfect Sacrifice for sin (see Hebrews 6:8-10).

The atonement for sin provided by Yeshua’s death had its origin in divine love.  No other reason can explain why “God reconciled us to himself by Yeshua” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  The anthem that continuously peals from the Bible is that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only and unique Son” (John 3:16; see 1 John 4:9-10).  This does not mean that God loves us because Yeshua died for us.  Rather, Yeshua died for us because God loves us.  Thus, “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that the Messiah died on our behalf while we were still sinners”. (Romans 5:8) Because atonement issues from love, it is always seen as a divine gift, never as human achievement.

No day was, or is, as sacred to the Jewish community as Yom HaKippurim, the Day of Atonements.  After the high priest had made atonement for his own sins and those of his household, he proceeded with the rites of atonement for the whole community.

“God put Yeshua forward as the kapparah – the atonement – for sin through his faithfulness in respect to his bloody sacrificial death.” (Romans 3:25)  Scripture depicts all human beings as needing to atone for their sins but lacking all power and resources for doing so.  We have offended our holy Creator, whose nature it is to hate sin (Jeremiah 44:4; Habakkuk 1:13) and to punish it (Psalms 5:4-6; Romans 1:18; 2:5-9).   No acceptance by, or fellowship with, such a God can be expected unless atonement is made, and since there is sin in even our best actions, anything we do in hopes of making amends can only increase our guilt or worsen our situation.

As a perfect sacrifice for sin (Romans 8:3; Ephesians 5:2; 1 Peter 1:18-19), Yeshua’s death was our redemption.  He paid the price that freed us from the jeopardy of guilt, enslavement to sin, and expectation of wrath (Romans 3:24; Galatians 4:4-5; Colossians 1:14).  Yeshua’s death was God’s act of reconciling us to himself, overcoming his own hostility to us that our sins provoked (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Colossians 1:20-22).

Yeshua’s atoning death ratified the inauguration of a renewed covenant, in which access to God under all circumstances is guaranteed by Yeshua’s one sacrifice that covers all transgressions (Matthew 26:27-28; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:15; 10:12-18).  Those who through faith in Yeshua have “received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11) “in him…  become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We no longer need the blood of bulls or goats.  Yeshua is our perfect atonement.  He is the Messiah!

In my next post, we will observe the third and final of the Fall Feasts of Sukkot.

Click here for PDF version.

Rosh Hashanah – 5777

Be Ministers of Reconciliation

 In this post, we take a break from our series on Eternal Security to observe the first of the fall Jewish feasts of Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah:  The Key Is Repentance, Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Biblical References:  B’midbar (Numbers) 29:1–6 and Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:23 – 25 ~ Yom Teruah (The Feast of Trumpets).  In 2016, the holiday begins at sundown on October 3rd.

Rabbinic Change:  Since this is the first Shabbat of the Fall Holidays, it has been considered as the “spiritual” New Year.  Hence the name changed to Rosh Hashanah, “the head of the year.”  It is also considered the anniversary of creation; the sacrifice of Yitz’chak; the release of Yosef from Pharaoh’s prison; and, the birth of Samuel, the prophet.

The purpose and traditional observance of the Holy Day is summed up in one word – regathering.  Since the fall holidays call us to regather to a pure faith in God, Rosh Hashanah has come to represent the Day of Repentance.  It is the day when people of Israel take stock of their spiritual condition and make the necessary changes to insure that the upcoming New Year will be pleasing to God.

The shofar is sounded daily to alert the faithful that the time of repentance is near.  The observance takes on a somber character, yet always with a hint of hope because of God’s forgiveness.

The traditional challah is shaped in a circle to symbolize God’s Kingship and the coming of Messiah.  Sweet honey cakes and apples dipped in honey are a real treat and symbolize the hope of a new sweet year.

Tradition tells of three books that are opened in the heavenly courts during the feast of Rosh Hashanah; one for the completely righteous, one for the completely wicked, and one for the average person.  The completely righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life.  The completely wicked are immediately inscribed in the book of death.  The average person is kept in suspension from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  If they deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of life; if they do not deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of death.  Consequently, the Ten Days of Awe are a time of solemn self-examination with time spent in seeking reconciliation and doing good works in the Jewish tradition.

Since the 15th Century, the ceremony of Tashlich is celebrated in the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah.  The congregation meets at a river or stream.  Special prayers of repentance are recited and a portion of Micah is read.  People then take breadcrumbs and cast them into the water symbolizing that our sins are carried away by the water.

Rosh Hashanah has deep Messianic significance!  The rabbis have taught that one day the shofar would sound and the Messiah would come.  According to Rabbi Sha’ul, in the future all true believers in Yeshua will be gathered to meet Him in the clouds.  The dead in Messiah will rise first, to be followed immediately by those believers alive at the time.  “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with God’s shofar, those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise; then we who are left still alive will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will always be with the Lord.  So encourage each other with these words.”  (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)  That day will certainly be characterized by joy, delight and sweetness for those who are called home!  As we observe Rosh Hashanah, we should anticipate the time of Yeshua’s return.

The traditional greeting during Rosh Hashanah is, “L’shanah tovah tikatevu!”  May your name be inscribed in the book of life!  As Messianic Believers we can rightly say, “L’shanah tovah tikatevu b’shem Yeshua!”  May your name be inscribed in the book of life, in the name of Yeshua!

Read 2 Corinthians 5:17 – 21Rosh Hashanah: repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.  Rabbi Sha’ul wrote to the Corinthians about these key ingredients to our annual observation of this holy appointed time.  As Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the new spiritual year, so it is that we become new creations when we are united with Yeshua as our Messiah.

The key idea in this passage is reconciliation.  Because of our rebellion, we are the enemy of God and out of fellowship with Him.  Through the work of the execution stake, Yeshua has brought God and us together again.  God has been reconciled and has turned His face in love toward the lost world.  The basic meaning of the word reconcile is “to change thoroughly.”  It refers to a changed relationship between God and the lost world.  “And it is all from God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:18a)

God does not have to be reconciled to man, because Yeshua accomplished that on the execution stake.  It is sinful man who must be reconciled to God.  “Religion” is man’s feeble effort to be reconciled to God, efforts that are bound to fail.  The Person who reconciles us to God is Yeshua, and the place where He reconciles us is His execution stake.  He not only reconciles us to Himself, but he gives us the task of reconciling other people to Him.  We have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation.

Another key idea in this paragraph is that God does not count our sins against us.  In the KJV, the term used is imputing.  This is a word borrowed from banking; it simply means, “to put to one’s account.”  When you deposit money in the bank, the teller puts that amount into your account.    When Yeshua died on the execution stake, all of our sins were imputed to Him – put into His account.  God treated Him as though He had actually committed those sins.

What was the result?  All of those sins have been paid for and God no longer holds them against us, because we have trusted Yeshua as our Messiah.  But even more: God has put into our account the very righteousness of Yeshua!  “God made this sinless man be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in union with him we might fully share in Gods’ righteousness.”   (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Reconciliation is based on imputation: because the demands of God’s Torah have been fully met on the execution stake, God can be reconciled to sinners. Those who believe in Yeshua, as their Messiah will never have their sins imputed against them again (see Psalms 32:1-2; Romans. 4:1-8).  As far as their records are concerned, they share the righteousness of Yeshua!

How does this wonderful doctrine of reconciliation motivate us to serve Yeshua?  We are ambassadors with a message.  God has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

Since we are the ambassadors of Yeshua, this means that the world is in rebellion against God.  He has sent His ambassadors into the world to declare peace, not war.  “Be reconciled to God!”  We represent Yeshua (see John 20:21; 2 Corinthians 4:5).  If sinners reject our message and us, it is Yeshua who is actually rejected.  What a great privilege it is to be heaven’s ambassadors to the rebellious sinners of this world!

God has not declared war on the world; at the execution stake He declared peace.  But one day, He will declare war; and then it will be too late for those who have rejected Yeshua (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10).  Satan is seeking to tear everything apart in this world, but Yeshua and His Messianic community are involved in the ministry of reconciliation, bringing things back together again, and back to God.

Ministry is not easy.  If we are to succeed, we must be motivated by the fear of the Lord, the love of Yeshua, and the commission that He has given to us.  It is indeed a privilege to serve Him!

During these next 10 days before Yom Kippur, I encourage you to do some self-reflection.  Is there any unconfessed sin in your life?  Do you need to forgive someone who has hurt you?  Are there any relationships that require reconciliation?  As we enter into the start of a new spiritual year, resolve to make a fresh start and be ambassadors of Yeshua HaMashiach, “so that in union with Him, we might fully share in God’s righteousness.”

In my next post, we will return to our study of Eternal Security with Part 2 on Apostasy.

Click here for PDF version.

Pesach and Hag HaMatzah ~2016

(Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread)

 We return to God’s Appointed Times from the Tanakh.  Both Pesach and Hag HaMatzah are tied to the remembrance of the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.  The principle Scriptural reference for Pesach is in B’midbar (Exodus) 12:1-13 and Hag HaMatzah in Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:5-8.  In 2016, Pesach starts on the eve of April 22nd and Hag HaMatzah on the eve of April 23th.  This eight-day remembrance ends at sundown on April 30th.  Because of differences in the Hebrew and modern calendar, Pesach is almost one month after the Christian celebration of Resurrection Day this year.

For Believers in Yeshua, this time can be a great time to reflect not only on the deliverance of the Jews from Egyptian bondage and death of the first-born by the shedding of the lamb’s blood on the doorpost; but also on the shed blood of Yeshua on the cross.  His death and resurrection paid for our sins and purchased for us eternal salvation.

I have attached a PDF version of an explanation of the traditional Pesach Seder provided by Chosen People Ministries.  Click here.

However, for those of you who want to have a Scriptural-based observation of Pesach, I highly recommend Kevin Geoffrey’s “Behold the Lamb and Preparation Guide.”  Click here to order.