Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 17

The Nicene Creed~ Part 3

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we dig a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

We Believe in One God

The first article of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, popularly known as the Nicene Creed, is the shortest and probably also the oldest because it can be found (with only minor variations) as far back as the first baptismal confessions of the earliest Believers. In the historical development of the Creeds, brevity and antiquity usually go together, and, remarkably, this article survived the theological upheavals of the fourth century virtually unaltered.

It is not difficult to demonstrate that the doctrine that it contains was taught in the church from the very beginning. With the significant exception of the word Father, it can even be traced back to the opening pages of the Tanakh. It is the only article of the Creed to which a practicing Jew can assent without serious difficulty. However, he or she might find the combination of the words Father and Almighty somewhat unusual. In a real sense, therefore, the first article of the Creed is a confession common to both biblical Testaments, and its all-embracing nature may be one reason why it survived the ups and downs of early church doctrinal controversy substantially unchanged.

The first article of the Nicene Creed presupposes an objective body of teaching [1] that Believers are expected to confess as their faith. This idea seems normal and natural to us, but it was a novelty in the ancient world. Neither Judaism nor any pagan religion or philosophy could claim to have a closely defined set of beliefs that everyone adhering to it was expected to profess publicly and defend against all comers. Jews were generally born into their faith, and the relatively few converts were obliged to submit not to a body of doctrine as such but the prescriptions of the law. These could be very demanding, particularly when grown men were expected to undergo circumcision, and the requirement seems to have been quite a deterrent in many cases. Indeed, there was a substantial number of Gentiles, known in the Brit Hadashah as God-fearers. They adhered to Jewish synagogues but did not become full community members, presumably because the barriers were set too high for them.

Believers inherited their belief in one God from Judaism and were insistent on this throughout the patristic period. At the popular level, they had to defend their faith against the prevailing polytheism of the ancient world. Many early Messianic texts contain examples of anti-polytheistic satire, but few of them mount a sustained attack on polytheism as a belief system. The main reason for this is that Believers did not often have to fight this battle at the intellectual level since many educated pagans were equally critical of polytheism and ridiculed the ancient myths every bit as much as Believers did. They preferred to believe in a perfect being out of which existing reality had been formed. However, precisely how this had happened was a matter of furious disagreement among the different philosophical schools of ancient Greece. Believers were quick to point out the various theories’ inconsistencies to explain what we call creation.

The early Believers also insisted that God is a personal being who establishes a relationship with human beings created in His image and likeness. This relationship was initially given to the Jews, and in Yeshua, it has been extended to others. God does not reabsorb us into His being but establishes a fellowship with us that will endure for eternity. This personal character of God distinguishes Messianic belief most obviously from any philosophical equivalent, and the insistence with which it was hammered home is a good indication of how difficult it was for the average pagan to embrace this concept.

It would be wrong to suggest that the doctrine of the one God developed in any significant way during the first Messianic centuries. The teaching of Augustine and John of Damascus can be found in the second century, with very little difference. However, Messianic theologians had to explain how the one God was at the same time a Trinity of persons, a doctrine that did not contradict the monotheism of the Tanakh. Belief in a communion of three divine persons led to a growing understanding of God as love, a biblical idea that finds its most remarkable flowering in the works of Augustine. By stressing the concept of divine love, he combined the unity of the three persons in one God and our union with Him (and them) as the height of our spiritual experience and the ultimate goal of the divine plan of salvation.[2]

In my next post, we pause our series on the Creeds to celebrate Shavo’ut.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The canon of the Tanakh and Brit Hadashah.

[2] Bray, G. L., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One God (Vol. 1, p. 34).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 12

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 12

This post will continue our closer look at the third article of faith contained in the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT,

the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins

the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS

Yeshua wrote no books. He established no institutions. He did not lay down the correct answers to moral questions. He did not seem particularly interested in founding a new religion. He was the author not of ideas but of a way of life. Everything Yeshua believed to be important was entrusted to His small circle of followers. What He handed on to them was simply life. He showed them His unique way of being alive – His way of living, loving, feasting, forgiving, teaching, and dying – and He invited them to live the same way.

Becoming a Believer is not really about institutional membership or about adopting a system of ideas. To become a Believer is to be included in the circle of Yeshua’s followers. We are washed with the same bath that Yeshua and all His followers have had. We get to share the same meal that Yeshua shared with His followers. Four of Yeshua’s followers left written records of what he said and what He was like, and we get to spend our lives continually pondering those four accounts. We read them not because we are studying ideas about Yeshua but because we are studying Him. We want everything in our lives, right down to the most minor and most disappointing details, to enter somehow into communion with the life of Yeshua.

We share the holy bath and the holy meal, and we read the holy stories because we are seeking Yeshua. But when we do these things, we are also seeking ourselves. We want to find ourselves among the circle of Yeshua’s followers. We want to be wherever Yeshua is, and He is in the company of His friends. We want our whole lives to be hidden with the Messiah in God. ~ Col. 3:3 (CJB)

When this happens, our lives acquire a meaning beyond themselves. We begin to see ourselves as part of a great company, an ever-widening circle of people who have handed their lives over to the pattern of Yeshua’s life. This remarkable company of talmidim seems to speak with one voice, breathe with one Spirit, cry Abba, Father! with one unceasing prayer (Rom 8:15–16).

The Fourth Gospel ends by telling us that it has offered only a glimpse of Yeshua. If everything Yeshua did was written down, the whole world could contain the books that would have to be written! (John 21:25).

Perhaps, at the end of the age, the Total Gospel will be read out and will be found to contain everything – every life, every story, every human grief and joy, all included as episodes in the one great, infinitely rich story of Yeshua and His friends. The world itself is too small for such a book. Life and death are too small for the Communion of Saints.

THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS

The confession of the forgiveness of sins was a relatively late addition to the creed. The earliest baptismal confessions spoke simply of “the Holy Spirit, the holy church, and the resurrection of the flesh.”

But a dramatic debate arose among fourth-century Believers about the nature of sin and forgiveness. Believers in those days were still subjected to periods of persecution under the Roman emperors. In 303 CE, the emperor Diocletian ordered that the property of Believers was to be seized, their books burned, and their places of worship destroyed. All believing leaders were to be imprisoned. Only those who sacrificed to the Roman gods would be released. Some Believers were martyred. But martyrdom was always the exception. Countless frightened Believersincluding, of course, many clergies – came out to make the sacrifices. The emperor even permitted the Believers to sacrifice as a group, making it as easy as possible to renounce their faith.

By offering public sacrifice to the Roman gods, such Believers had effectively renounced their baptism. But before long, things returned to normal, and Believers were again tolerated as part of Rome’s pluralistic empire. Predictably, the apostate Believers, known as “traitors,” soon returned to the community as if nothing much had happened.

This situation created a pastoral crisis for many congregations. What is to be done with Believers who have renounced their baptism? Can they be accepted back into the faith? Is there a public way of marking their reentry into the community? Should they be baptized a second time? Or should they be permanently excluded from participation in the Believer community?

Even more awkward was the question about clergy who had made the pagan sacrifices. When ministers of Yeshua invalidate their faith, does it mean that their ministry has been invalid all along? What if you had been baptized by a minister who later renounced his faith? Would you need to get baptized again by someone else?

These were difficult questions. It was a time of intense soul-searching for many Believers. Through this struggle over the “traitors,” the most profound questions of Messianic identity came sharply into focus. What is it that makes you a follower of Yeshua? And what can you do if you have strayed from Yeshua’s path? Is the Messianic community strictly of the pure (as some called it), or can struggling, weak, uncertain souls also find a place within that community?

The fourth-century crisis eventually led to clear answers to these questions. Messianic teachers argued that the community includes everyone who confesses Yeshua and receives baptism. It is not only for the pure and the spiritually successful. Failures in discipleship – even dramatic public failures – do not exclude a person from the grace of God. As Augustine insisted in one of his many sermons against spiritual elitism: “We must never despair of anyone at all.” When backslidden Believers return to the faith, they do not need to be rebaptized. Through a changed way of life, they need to show that they are taking their baptism seriously. There is no need to be baptized more than once since that would imply that we need to be forgiven more than once. The forgiveness of sins has taken place once for all in the death and resurrection of Yeshua.

These conclusions were so important that the ancient community began to include “the forgiveness of sins” as part of the baptismal confession. In 381 CE, the Nicene Creed was expanded to include the statement “we acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” (We will be looking at the entirety of the Nicene Creed shortly.)

We believe that we stand not by our achievements but by the achievement of Yeshua’s death and resurrection. We believe that the spiritually strong and the spiritually weak are both sustained by the same forgiving grace. We believe that we rely solely on grace, not only in our worst failures but also in our best successes. [1]

In my next post, we continue to unpack the third article of our faith in the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 11

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 10

This post will begin our closer look at the third article of faith contained in the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT,

the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT

The story of the Bible begins with the Ruach brooding over the abyss, ready to bring forth creation out of nothing (Gen 1:2). And at the turning point of the ages, we find the Ruach brooding over the womb of a virgin (Luke 1:35). The Ruach rests on Miryam’s body in order to bring forth the new Adam, the beginning of a new creation.

The language of the creed reminds us that the work of this creative Ruach is not yet finished. The same Ruach is now brooding over the whole human race, bringing forth a new human community in the image of Yeshua.

One of the great themes of the Bible is the unity of the human family. In the garden of Eden, God makes a man and a woman, a miniature society imprinted with God’s own image. And the Bible ends with depictions of a future city where people from every tribe and tongue will live together in a perfect harmony of praise (Rev 7:9).

In Genesis, the fall brings about a tragic disorder in human relationships. There is a curse now at the heart of the relation between man and woman, as well as between parents and children. The relation between humans and the rest of creation is likewise blighted (Gen 3:14–19). God’s creation is divided. Each human being is a fragment torn loose from the whole.

This grim assessment of human error culminates in the story of Bavel [Babel ~ Confusion] (Gen 11:1–9). Here, human beings have begun to use their collective life to mock God. And so, God divides their language, making it impossible for them to work together. They can no longer share a common world or articulate a common good. They cannot form a coherent society. Each group is a mere splinter of humanity, all scattered across the cursed earth, exiled and alone.

But with the coming of Yeshua, the story of Bavel is reversed. When the Ruach descends on the frightened company of Yeshua’s followers, they all begin to speak in different languages. The multicultural crowd outside is astonished to find that each one’s language is being spoken by a band of Galileans. They ask, how is this possible? Aren’t all these people who are speaking from the Galil? (Acts 2:7).

The Shavuot (Pentecost) story shows the undoing of the fall through the creation of the Messianic community. There is now a new society in which all the old divisions are torn down. That is what happens when the Ruach is present. The Ruach fulfills the Creator’s original plan by bringing forth a universal community whose boundaries extend to the whole world. The Ruach broods over the chaos of human nature, lovingly piecing the fragments back together so that together we form an image of the Creator.

Sha’ul notes that the presence of the Ruach is marked by heightened individuality as well as a deeper communal belonging. The Ruach fuses unity and diversity by bringing many gifts together in one body (1 Cor 12:12–31). We become more truly ourselves as the Ruach broods over us and as our lives are knit together with other lives and stories.

In this way the Ruach broods over each of Yeshua’s followers, renewing the human race one life at a time and drawing all into a common family. There is nothing more personal, and more universal, than the Ruach HaKodesh.

The Holy Catholic Church

At baptism, each Believer proclaims that the Kehillah is “catholic.” The word simply means universal. It means that there is only one Kehillah because there is only one Lord. Though there have been many Messianic communities spread out across different times, places, and cultures, they are all mysteriously united in one Ruach. Each local gathering of Believers is a full expression of that mysterious catholicity.

The Kehillah is catholic because it is a microcosm of a universal human society. In the waters of baptism, all the old social divisions are made irrelevant. The Kehillah includes every kind of person: rich and poor, male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free (Gal 3:26–28). Whatever defined a person before is relativized by the new defining mark of membership in the company of Yeshua’s followers. There is no social barrier that could exclude a person from inclusion in this body. The boundaries of the Kehillah are as wide as the human race.

Further, the Kehillah is catholic because it preaches a catholic message. The Gospel is not addressed to one particular social class or ethnic group. It is addressed to every imaginable human being. There is nobody in the world for whom the message of Yeshua could be irrelevant. One of the most unusual aspects of the Messianic faith is its translatability. The other great monotheistic traditions, Judaism, and Islam place a high value on preserving the divine message in its original language, whether Hebrew or Arabic. But right from the start, the Messianic movement was marked by translation. Yeshua himself spoke Aramaic, but the four Gospels all translated His teaching into vernacular Greek so that the message would be available to as many readers as possible. Within a remarkably short time, the Messianic movement had taken root in many different cultures, each one reading and proclaiming the Gospel message in its own tongue. The message of Yeshua is a catholic message.

The message of the Gospel is also “catholic” in the way it responds to the human plight. The deepest human needs are addressed in the Gospel. The message of Yeshua does not just speak to a special part of life – the moral or spiritual part, for example. It speaks to the whole person, body, and soul, individual and social. It is a catholic message because it embraces the whole person in a word of grace and truth. The Gospel is as broad and deep as human life itself. It is a catholic word because it speaks to the whole human condition.

But there is an even more radical dimension of Messianic catholicity. The greatest barrier that divides human beings from one another is not culture or language or class. The greatest barrier is death. It splits the human family into the two classes of the living and the dead. All other social divisions are petty compared to this great division. All human beings are powerless before this fundamental boundary. But in the resurrection, Yeshua has stepped across the barrier and restored communion between the living and the dead. He has formed one family that stretches out not only across space but also across time. The body of Yeshua is the most inclusive community imaginable because it includes not only those who are now living but also all Believers who have ever lived.[1]

In my next post, we continue to unpack the third article of our faith in the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 10

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 9

This post will begin our closer look at the third article of faith contained in the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT,

the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT

This article of faith may be the hardest to wrap your mind around.

I know it was for me. The Father was not that hard even though He was not visible. I knew in my knower that something or someone must have created the universe and populated our small portion with the human race, along with the animals and vegetation. I was told that someone was God, and He was our spiritual Father.

Yeshua was not difficult for me to believe in. After all, He was divinely sent by the Father in human form to explain the coming of the Kingdom of God. There is just way too much evidence through His teachings and performance of miracles not to believe that He is the promised Messiah. He revealed to us more about the Father’s plan to redeem His creation.

Now, the Ruach was a different matter altogether. Who was He? There was not very much taught about who He was or what His function in the churches I had attended. However, as I mentioned in my About the Author page, I attended a Faith Alive weekend encounter at the Episcopal Church we were attending at the time. Several other Episcopalians from around Southern California came to share their experiences as Believers.

On Friday evening, the leader laid out the schedule for the weekend, and from two or three who shared their testimonies before we broke up into small groups to discuss the ups and downs of our own walk of faith. This was all new to me.

On Saturday morning, we met in the homes of parishioners to focus on prayer. The one I attended was led by one of the sweetest elderly ladies I had ever met. Her extemporaneous prayers were something that I had never experienced before. All the prayers I had ever heard were from the Book of Common Prayer used in the church.

At noon, the guys and the gals had separate lunches where the testimonies centered around personal ministries of caring for the widows, orphans, and prisoners. That also had a significant impact on me because I knew that ministry was mentioned in the Bible.

That evening, we met back at the church for some more testimonies and small group discussions. As the meeting ended, I went back into the church and knelt at the altar to pray. My prayer was simple, “Lord, I don’t know what these people have, but whatever it is, I want it.” Although I felt warm and fuzzy and at peace, there was no outward manifestation of an answer to my prayer, so I just went home to go to bed. I was scheduled to be the Lay Reader the following day.

On Sunday morning, as was my custom as a Lay Reader, I read the assigned Psalm for the day. I wanted to make sure that I could read it with dramatic emphasis as if I were an actor in a play. That is when the Ruach hit me; I actually understood what I was reading for the first time. He had opened my spiritual eyes.

From that point forward, I have experienced many manifestations of His presence in my life. Now, I can truthfully say that I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT.

In my next post, we will really begin to unpack the third article of our faith in the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 9

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 8

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

AND IN JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day, he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

He Ascended into Heaven and Is Seated at The Right Hand of The Father

Early Believers proclaimed a Gospel of Yeshua’s bodily incarnation, bodily suffering, bodily death, bodily resurrection, and bodily ascension. The faith of the ancient Kehillah was not about spiritual escape but about the redemption and transfiguration of human life in its fullness, including the life of the body. As Irenaeus said in the second century, the Son of God“did not reject human nature or exalt himself above it,” but united Himself with our nature in order to unite us to God.

When the Brit Hadashah writers speak of the ascension, they are not describing Yeshua’s absence but his sovereign presence throughout creation. He has not gone away but has become even more fully present. His ascent to the right hand of the Father is His public enthronement over all worldly power. No scriptural passage is quoted so often in the Brit Hadashah as Adonai says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” ~ Psalm 110:1 (CJB).

The earliest Believers proclaimed that Yeshua had been enthroned as the universal Lord and Messiah. The exalted Messiah has entered His glory (Luke 24:26; 1 Tim 3:16). From now on, all things are subject to His authority (Phil 3:21; Heb 2:8). Because He is ascended, His life is universally available. His loving authority extends over the whole creation and is present wherever Believers assemble (Eph 1:20-23). He has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. (1 Pet 3:22).

So, the ascension is not meant to make us wonder where Yeshua has gone. Instead, it ought to elicit the psalmist’s question: Where can I go to escape your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? ~ Ps 139:7.

And through our union with Yeshua, we share also in His ascension. When Yeshua ascends to the Father, He takes our humanity with Him. To quote Irenaeus again, because Yeshua has ascended we also “ascend through the Spirit to the Son, and through the Son to the Father.” In Yeshua, our nature has taken up residence in the presence of God.

He Will Come Again to Judge the Living and The Dead

To judge is to discriminate, to separate one thing from another. The Gospel of John portrays Yeshua as the light of the world. The same light shines on everyone, but there are different ways of responding to it. Some walk gladly into the light while others screw their eyes shut and remain in darkness. Now, this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the light. Why? Because their actions were wicked. (John 3:19). That is what it means for Yeshua to bring judgment. It is not that He is gracious to some and angry toward others. Yeshua is full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

The judgment that Yeshua brings, moreover, is not just a division between two kinds of people. When Believer’s light shines into our lives, it creates a division within ourselves. None of us is entirely good or entirely bad. Each of us is a mixture. The bad grows up in our lives like weeds among the wheat, and the two are so closely entwined that in this life we cannot easily tell the difference (see Matt 13:24-30). Sometimes our worst mistakes turn out to produce good fruit. And sometimes we discover that our virtues have produced unforeseen collateral damage. Our lives are not transparent to ourselves. We cannot easily tell where the bad ends and the good begins.

So, it is a comfort to know that one day someone will come and lovingly separate the good from the bad in our lives. The confession that Yeshua will come as the judge is not an expression of terror and doom. It is part of the good news of the gospel. It is a joy to know that there is someone who understands all the complexities and ambiguities of our lives. It is a joy to know that this one – the only one who is truly competent to judge – is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He comes to save, not to destroy, and He saves us by His judgment.

Yeshua will come to judge the living and the dead. That will be the best thing that ever happens to us. On that day, the weeds in each of us will be separated from the wheat. It will hurt – no doubt it will hurt – when our self-deceptions are burned away. But the pain of truth heals; it does not destroy. On our judgment day, we will be able for the first time to see the truth of our lives when we see ourselves as loved. [1]

In my next post, we will begin to unpack the third article of our faith in the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 8

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 7

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

AND IN JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

HE DESCENDED INTO HELL. ON THE THIRD DAY HE ROSE AGAIN FROM THE DEAD

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” ~ Psalm 139:8 (CJB). [1] The message of the Bible is that death is not the end. Death does not defeat God’s promise. Death is not separation from God. In Yeshua, God has dwelt among the dead. The Living has embraced the dead. Death has been incorporated into life.

Several of the Brit Hadashah authors describe Yeshua’s death as a descent into the world of the dead.

This is why it says, “After he went up into the heights, he led captivity captive, and he gave gifts to mankind.” Now this phrase, “he went up,” what can it mean if not that he first went down into the lower parts, that is, the earth?~ Ephesians. 4:8–9.

18 For the Messiah himself died for sins, once and for all, a righteous person on behalf of unrighteous people, so that he might bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but brought to life by the Spirit; 19 and in this form, he went and made a proclamation to the imprisoned spirits. ~ 1 Kefa 3:18–19.

Therefore, God raised Him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name; 10 that in honor of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow – in heaven, on earth, and under the earth11 and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai – to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:9–11 (emphasis added).

The dead are not lost forever. They are not condemned to silence. In Yeshua, the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who listen will come to life. ~ John 5:25. Because of Him, the emptiness of death has been filled with God’s fullness.

The Son ofGod has taken our nature to Himself. He allows our fallen nature to drag Him down. He descends to the very abyss of the human condition. He traces our plight right back to the root and takes hold of us there. He embraces our humanity at the point of its total collapse into nothingness.

Because He shares our nature, He can fall with us into death; because He is the Son of God, he can fill death with his presence so that the grave becomes a source of life. In Yeshua, the dead are united to God and are alive in the strength of that union. The resurrection is not just an isolated miracle that happens to Yeshua. It happens to us – to Adam and Eve, to me, to the human family. As Yeshua rises, the whole of humanity rises with Him.

In the ancient church, the message of Yeshua’s triumph over death produced some peculiar attitudes toward the dead. Believers would assemble for prayer in tombs. They would worship Yeshua among the bones of the dead. Believers would raise the bodies of martyrs in the air and parade them through the streets like trophies. At funerals, they would gaze lovingly on the dead and sing psalms of praise over their bodies. Such behavior shocked their pagan neighbors. According to Roman law, the dead had to be buried miles away from the city not to be contaminated. But Believers placed the dead right at the center of their public gatherings. The earliest church buildings were just big mausoleums erected over the remains of the martyrs. In the words of John Chrysostom, “tombs with life, tombs that give voice.”

When new Believers were preparing for Baptism, they would gather in the presence of the dead, and there they would receive instruction in the ancient catechism. Even today, the Apostles’ Creed makes the most sense when you imagine the words echoing among the bones of the catacombs. The creed is marked everywhere by a courageous acceptance of the facts of human mortality, coupled with straightforward confidence in the ultimate triumph of life – a triumph that has already happened once and for all in the person of Yeshua.

Where others see only defeat, Yeshua’s followers see a paradoxical victory. Where others see only contamination, we see the sanctification of human nature. Where others see only darkness and despair, we see broken gates. Where others see an end, we see new beginnings. Death is serious: but not as severe as life. It has been placed in the broader context of meaning. We bury our dead under the sign of the cross. We lay our bones to rest not in horror but peace. The dominant sound at a Believer’s funeral is not mourning but the singing of praise.

Death is no longer the ultimate power in this world. In the ancient church, the martyrs were seen as extraordinary proof of that. In the death and resurrection of Yeshua, death itself was altered.

By nature, we are all on the way from birth to death. But by grace, we are traveling in the opposite direction. The Believer’s life is a mystery that moves from death to birth. In the beginning, we are baptized into Yeshua’s death; and at the end, we are born into the resurrection life. We are born as though dying; we die as those who are being born. [2]

Death, where is your victory?
Death, where is your sting?
~ 1 Cor. 15:55 (CJB)

In my next post, we will continue to unpack this second article of faith that Yeshua is Adonai in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1]  All scripture quotations are from the Complete Jewish Bible.

[2]  The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 5

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 4

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

AND IN JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

AND IN JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD

We tend to think of creeds as cold moralistic summaries of doctrine. But the real centerpiece of the Apostles’ Creed is not a doctrine but a name.

Even before the ancient baptismal confession had taken shape, perhaps the earliest Messianic confession consisted of just three words: Yeshua Is Adonai (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3). That early statement remains the spiritual heartbeat of the baptismal creed. Everything else in the creed radiates like the spokes of a wheel from that hub: personal attachment to Yeshua; total allegiance to him.

At the center of the Messianic faith is not an idea or a theory or even a vision of life but the name of a person, Yeshua HaMashiach. Our faith centers on personal attachment to Him.

Attachment to Yeshua is personal, but that is not to say that it is a private matter. Sha’ul reminds the Philippians that one day all worldly powers and authorities will speak the name of Yeshua and will confess that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai (Lord) (Phil 2:9–11). To confess Yeshua as Adonai means to acknowledge him as the one who shares the identity of Israel’s God. In the Tanakh, God is named YHWH, transliterated as Adonai (Lord); and in the Brit Hadashah, Yeshua is revealed as the one who bears that name. So, to confess Yeshua as Adonai is to set Him above all other loyalties. It is to make a universal claim. If Yeshua truly shares the identity of YHWH, then He is the hidden truth of creation, history, and every human life (Col 1:15–17).

I confess Him as my Adonai only because I recognize him as the Adonai.

Such a universal claim might sound insensitive or even oppressive to modern pluralistic ears. And Messianics have indeed at times used the universality of the gospel to justify oppression and injustice. Rightly understood, however, the message of Yeshua’s lordship is a word of comfort and hope for all people.

In the ancient church, the confession of Yeshua’s lordship began to change the way Messianics thought about slavery. Societies were rigidly stratified and hierarchical. There were marked distinctions between men and women, rich and poor, Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free. But the Messianic community did not accept that those social distinctions defined people. All came to the same baptismal waters and confessed the same Adonai. When they entered naked into the waters of baptism, no one could tell the difference between rich and poor, slave and free. So even when the Messianic movement had barely begun, we find Sha’ul urging a believer to regard his Messianic slave as no longer a slave … but a dear brother (Philemon 16).

Because Yeshua is the universal Adonai, all worldly power is limited and provisional. Because He is Adonai, social distinctions are relativized and will ultimately be set aside altogether. All people owe their allegiance, not to any other person but Yeshua. Before Him, they can recognize one another as sisters and brothers. And so, the logic of universal lordship gives rise to a classless society.

The ancient institution of slavery did not vanish all at once. But when slaves and free persons stood side by side and confessed that Yeshua is Adonai, the days of slavery were numbered. When early believers entered the waters and took the name of Yeshua on their lips, the tectonic plates shifted. The slow revolution had begun. [1]

In my next post, we will continue to unpack this second article of faith that Yeshua is Adonai in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Pesach and Hag HaMatzah ~ 20211

(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 2021, Pesach starts on the eve of March 27th  and Hag HaMatzah on the eve of March 28th.   This eight-day remembrance ends at sundown on April 4th.

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’ve included a great video from Friends of Israel which takes you through the Pesach Seder.

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.

Observing Purim ~ 2021

Introduction

Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from destruction in the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus, or Xerxes I, as recorded in the Book of Esther. Held on the 14th and 15th days of the Jewish month of Adar, it is celebrated by feasting and merriment, almsgiving, sending food to neighbors and friends, and chanting the text of Esther. Although this is not a time appointed by God for remembrance, it is perhaps the most joyous day of the Jewish year, with masquerades, plays, and drinking of wine even in the synagogue.

In 2021, Purim is celebrated on February 26th & 27th.

Setting

The story of Esther takes place in Sushan, an ancient royal city of the Persian Empire, approximately 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf in modern Iran. It is the traditional burial site of the prophet Daniel. The events took place in approximately 465 BCE after the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonian captivity by King Cyrus.

Significance for Today

The Book of Esther is a story of teamwork that shaped a nation and a study of survival of God’s chosen people. The relationship between Esther and Mordecai vividly portrays the unity that Yeshua prayed for His disciples to experience. The success of their roles, even their very survival, depended upon their unity.

The Book of Esther reminds us that God destroys those who try to harm His people. From this, we are reminded that He is faithful to destroy HaSatan and that His sovereign purposes ultimately prevail.

The Book of Esther has been called the ‘secular’ book of the Bible. It is the only book that does not mention or even allude to God. However, His imprint is obvious throughout. Esther’s spiritual maturity is seen in her knowledge to wait for God’s timing to make her request to save her people and denounce Haman. Mordecai also demonstrates maturity in seeking God’s timing and direction for the right time to have Esther disclose her identity as a Jew.

As we have been learning as we discover the Jewish roots of our faith, having a firm foundation of the Tanakh opens the Brit Hadashah up to a deeper understanding of our faith.

Jewish Observance of Purim

  1. Listen to the Megillah: To relive the miraculous events of Purim, we are to listen to the reading of the Megillah (the Scroll of Esther) twice: once on Purim eve and again on Purim day.
  2. Give to the Needy (Matanot La’evyonim): Concern for the needy is a year-round responsibility, but on Purim, it is a special mitzvah (commandment) to remember the poor. Give charity to at least two (but preferably more) needy individuals on the day of Purim. Giving directly to the needy best fulfills the mitzvah. If, however, you cannot find poor people, place at least several coins into a charity box. As in the other mitzvahs of Purim, even small children should fulfill this mitzvah.
  1. Send Food Portions to Friends (Mishloach Manot): On Purim, we emphasize the importance of Jewish unity and friendship by sending gifts of food to friends. Send a gift of at least two kinds of ready-to-eat foods (e.g., pastry, fruit, beverage), to at least one friend on Purim day. Men should send to men and women to women. The gifts should be delivered via a third party. Children, in addition to sending their gifts of food to their friends, make enthusiastic messengers.
  1. Eat, Drink and be Merry: Purim should be celebrated with a special festive meal on Purim Day, at which family and friends gather together to rejoice in the Purim spirit. It is a mitzvah to drink wine or other inebriating drinks at this meal.
  1. Special Prayers (Al Hanissim, Torah reading): On Purim, we recite the Al HaNissim prayer in the evening, morning, and afternoon prayers, as well as in the Grace After Meals. In the morning service, there is a special reading from the Torah Scroll in the synagogue.”And (we thank You) for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds, for the saving acts, and for the wonders which You have wrought for our ancestors in those days, at this time – in the days of Mordecai and Esther, in Shushan the capital, when the wicked Haman rose against them, and sought to destroy, slaughter and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar and to take their spoil for plunder. But You, in Your abounding mercies, foiled his counsel and frustrated his intention, and caused the evil he planned to recoil on his head, and they hanged him and his sons upon the gallows.”
  1. Torah Reading of “Zachor”: On the Shabbat before Purim, a special reading is held in the synagogue of the Torah section called Zachor (“Remember” – Deuteronomy 25:17-19), in which we are enjoined to remember the deeds of (the nation of) Amalek (Haman’s ancestor) who sought to destroy the Jewish people.
  1. The Fast of Esther: To commemorate the day of prayer and fasting that the Jewish people held at Esther’s request, we fast on the day before Purim, from approximately an hour before sunrise until nightfall.
  1. The “Half Coins” (Machatzit Hashekel): It is a tradition to give three half-dollar coins to charity to commemorate the half-shekel that each Jew contributed as his share in the communal offerings in the time of the Holy Temple. This custom, usually performed in the synagogue, is done on the afternoon of the “Fast of Esther” or before the reading of the Megillah.
  1. Purim Customs: Masquerades and Hamantashen: A time-honored Purim custom is for children to dress up and disguise themselves-an allusion to the fact that the miracle of Purim was disguised in natural garments. This is also the significance behind a traditional Purim food, the hamantash-a pastry whose filling is hidden within a three-cornered crust.

Summary of the Story

The Book of Esther tells of the deliverance of the Jewish people of Persia from destruction and of the institution of the Feast of Purim as the annual commemoration of this event. Esther is an orphaned Jewish maiden raised by her older cousin Mordecai. (As an aside, there is some dispute amongst the various Bible translations as to whether Mordecai was Esther’s uncle or cousin. Irrespective, she was an orphan, and Mordecai raised her as his daughter.) She is selected from among the most beautiful maidens of the Persian Empire to be the queen of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), replacing the banished Queen Vashti, angered by Mordecai’s refusal to pay him homage, Haman, the king’s ambitious chief minister, plots to destroy Mordecai and all his people. He persuades the king to issue an edict authorizing a massacre of all the Jews in the realm on the ground that they do not keep the king’s laws. Mordecai urges Esther to persuade Ahasuerus to rescind the decree. Esther, risking execution by appearing unbidden before the king, exposes the intrigues of Haman, after that Ahasuerus orders Haman hanged and appoints Mordecai as his chief minister. The king then reverses his edict, allowing the Jews to destroy their enemies throughout the empire. On the appointed day, they carry out bloody vengeance. Finally, to celebrate their delivery, Mordecai and Queen Esther decree the annual feast of Purim.

3 Kefa 1:1-7

The Day of the Lord Will Come ~ Part 1

In my last post, we continued to unpack Kefa’s denunciation of False Prophets and Teachers ~ Part 2 in 2 Kefa 2:12-22. In this post, we move on to the last chapter of Kefa’s letter to the saints to learn that The Day of the Lord Will Come in 3 Kefa 1:1-7.

In this chapter, Kefa describes the coming of the Day of the Lord, the destruction of the world with fire, and the hope of a new heaven and earth.

Dear friends, I am writing you now this second letter; and in both letters, I am trying to arouse you to wholesome thinking by means of reminders; so that you will keep in mind the predictions of the holy prophets and the command given by the Lord and Deliverer through your emissaries.

First Kefa is obviously the first letter. Predictions of the holy prophets, either those of the Tanakh or recent Brit Hadashah prophets (Acts 11:27). The rest of the chapter suggests the latter, even though at 1:19, “the prophetic Word” refers to the Tanakh. Kefa regards the command given by the Lord and Deliverer through your emissaries as having as much authority over Believers’ lives as the predictions of the holy prophets, as is also clear from v. 15.

Your emissaries reference those who founded the church Kefa addresses, and perhaps more particularly some of the other 11 emissaries and Sha’ul. (Mark 3:13–19; Acts 1:12–14; 9:1–19; compare 2 Pet 3:14–16).

First, understand this: during the Last Days, scoffers will come, following their own desires and asking, “Where is this promised ‘coming’ of his? For our fathers have died, and everything goes on just as it has since the beginning of creation.”

The last days to which Kefa is referring to things happening in his day. This phrase describes the time between Yeshua’s ascension to heaven (shortly after His resurrection) and the time when Yeshua will return again (see Acts 2:17; Heb 1:2). Scoffers refer to people disputing the truth of Yeshua’s return (His second coming); this may be a reference to the false teachers. Following according to their own desires includes the false teachers and their followers who acted like they had a form of godliness, but they lacked the transformative power of Yeshua in their lives; their decision to repeatedly choose and condone sin showed that they did not understand Yeshua.

Where is this promised ‘coming’ of his? The scoffers point to the fact that Yeshua has not yet returned as evidence for their understanding of the world. In the scoffers’ view, God is not going to intervene and judge.

But, wanting so much to be right about this, they overlook the fact that it was by God’s Word that long ago there were heavens, and there was land which arose out of water and existed between the waters,

There was land which arose out of water, refers to Gen 1:9–10, where dry land emerges from the waters, which in the ancient worldview, now surround the land (with water above the sky, below the land, and beside the land). This description reflects common cosmological beliefs in the ancient world. [1]

 and that by means of these things the world of that time was flooded with water and destroyed. It is by that same Word that the present heavens and earth, having been preserved, are being kept for fire until the Day of Judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. ~ 2 Kefa 3:1-7 (CJB)

Kefa uses the example of God sending the flood in response to humanity’s great wickedness to show that things have indeed changed since creation, contrary to the scoffers’ beliefs. By the same word that created the world and brought the flood, God will intervene in human history again by destroying the present heavens and earth with fire and bringing a Day of Judgment and destruction of the ungodly. So, don’t scoff, saying, “I don’t see God.” Those who do so have forgotten what He has done. When God is ready to invade your situation, He can reorganize reality and bring the solution to your problem.

In my next post, we will complete our study of The Day of the Lord Will Come ~ Part 2 in 2 Kefa 3:8-13.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1]  Faithlife Study Bible.