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 6

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 5

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.

Who Was Conceived By The Holy Spirit

At the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, the angel visits Miryam and tells her that: The Ruach HaKodesh will come over you, the power of Ha‘Elyon will cover you. Therefore, the holy child born to you will be called the Son of God ~ Luke 1:35 (CJB). This opening act of Yeshua’s story is meant to remind us of the creation story in Genesis 1, which we reviewed in The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 3.

So, when the Ruach covers Miryam, we see a picture of God’s creative work happening all over again. Yeshua is brought into being by the creative breath of God’s Ruach.

In the third century, the Origen of Alexandria, widely regarded as one of the most important Messianic theologians in the third century, came up with a striking image to illustrate how Yeshua’s humanity was united to the eternal Son of God. He pictured a piece of iron placed in a fire until it is glowing with heat. This iron, he says, has become wholly fire since nothing else is discerned in it except fire; and if anyone were to attempt to touch or handle it, he would feel the power of that fire. In this way, Yeshua’s human soul is like the iron in the fire.

Yeshua is genuinely human: nothing but iron. He is truly divine: nothing but fire. Yeshua is so permeated by the divine presence that every part of His humanity is filled with divine energy. He is born of a woman. The Ruach HaKodesh conceives Him. He is human: He is divine.

This way of thinking about Yeshua’s humanity and divinity is just an attempt to make sense of the complex things that are said about Yeshua in the Gospels. The Gospels portray Yeshua as someone whose life is drawn directly from the source of God’s creative energy. Even in His mother’s womb, He is already the bearer of the Ruach. In Luke’s Gospel, the same Ruach that brooded over Miryam’s womb is constantly flashing out and touching the lives of those who come into contact with Yeshua. When Miryam greets her cousin Elisheva, the baby in Elisheva’s womb leaps for joy, and Elisheva is filled with the Ruach (Luke 1:41).

The same Ruach who rested on Yeshua in His mother’s womb now rests on the whole company of Yeshua’s followers.

Born of the Virgin Mary

There are Believers that the idea of the virgin birth is a relic of bygone days when people were more straightforward and found it easier to believe in impossible things. They can handle the rest of the creed, but the virgin birth stretches credulity too far. To understand the virgin birth, we need to see how it fits into the whole story of Scripture – a story in which miraculous births play a starring role.

Isra’el’s story begins with a promise to Avraham and Sarah (Gen 12–17). A couple who cannot conceive are chosen by God and told that they would have a family. Sarah laughs at the promise. But later, when she has given birth in her old age, the child is named Laughter (Isaac ~ Hebrew: Yitz’chak) because of the astonished joy of his parents. Sarah can hardly believe her own body: and yet it is true. She has given birth to the promise.

The next great turning point in Isra’el’s story is the arrival of Moshe (Ex. 2:1–10). Although Moshe’s conception is not a miracle, his infancy is marked by a miraculous escape from danger. He is snatched away from the murdering hand of Pharaoh. He is placed in a basket and set adrift on the river, where he is found and adopted by a member of the royal household, an Egyptian princess. She then appoints the baby’s biological mother to be his nursing maid. The whole story portrays a unique providential design by which Moshe is spared and, as it were, smuggled right into the heart of Egyptian power. All this is meant to anticipate the great miracle to come when God delivers the people of Isra’el from slavery.

When Isra’el has come to the promised land, God raises up judges to lead the people before the establishment of the monarchy. The greatest of the judges is Shimshon (Samson), and his story begins with another miraculous birth (Judges 13:1–25). Shimshon’s mother is unable to conceive. But she is visited by an angel who tells her that she will give birth to a son who will triumph over the P’lishtim (Philistines).

That is how it goes in the Tanakh: at the great turning points of history, we find a woman, pregnant, and an infant child brought into the world by the powerful promise of God. Isra’el’s story is a story of miraculous births.

Later the people of Isra’el were taken from the promised land and led away into Babylonian captivity. It was the darkest hour of their history. Out of the depths of despair, the promise of God was heard again through the prophet Isaiah. The prophet compared the coming deliverance to the joy of a miraculous pregnancy in Isaiah 54:1–3, 13.

Against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise to find Isra’el’s Mashiach entering the world through a miraculous birth.

The confession that Yeshua was born of a virgin is not a random miracle story. It is a reminder that our faith has deep roots in Isra’el’s story and Isra’el’s Scriptures. The coming of the Savior was not just a new thing. It was the culmination of the whole incredible story of God’s loving faithfulness to the people of Isra’el. When we confess that Yeshua is born of the Virgin Mary,” we see Him silhouetted against the backdrop of God’s promise to Avraham, the exodus from Egypt, the rule of the judges, the coming of the prophets, and the promised deliverance from exile. [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.

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.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 4

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 3

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

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
“ALMIGHTY”

Almighty is a powerful word that is part of God’s character of being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.

This is not like the power of the pagan gods who might intervene in the world from time to time. God’s might is everywhere present in creation. It is the underlying mystery of everything that exists. It is not just a solution to problems in this world. It is the reason there is a world at all.

We could not trust in God if God’s power were limited, sporadic, or unpredictable. A god who exercised that kind of power would be a pagan god: not the world’s sustainer but its invader, or perhaps a distant ruler whose wishes have to be imposed by force.

That is the problem with trying to place any limitations on God’s power. If God’s power were just one power among others – if God were “mighty” but not “almighty” – then divine power would end up being another form of manipulation or control. Only a totally free and sovereign God can relate to the world with unconditional love, patience, and generosity. There is power elsewhere in creation: each living thing has its unique power and energy. But God does not have to compete with these other powers. God’s power is their source, the reason why they exist at all. God’s power is what sustains and nourishes the power of creatures.

True power is not the ability to control. Controlling behavior is a sign of weakness and insecurity. True power is the ability to love and enable without reserve. Like the power of a good parent or teacher, God’s power is the capacity to nourish other people and help their freedom to grow. Without the sovereignty of a good parent, children have a diminished sense of worth. In the same way, God’s sovereignty is what secures human freedom, not what threatens it.

In the creed, we confess the three great movements of God’s power: God lovingly brought the world into existence; God lovingly entered the womb and became part of the world as Yeshua HaMashiach; and God the Ruach HaKodesh who is lovingly transfiguring the world in the lives of the saints.

The world lives because of this gentle but all-embracing power, and we are free because of it.

“CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH”

In Hebrew, Genesis 1:1 reads B’resheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’arets – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. בָּרָא bara is a verb meaning to create. Only God is the subject of this verb. It is used for His creating: heaven and earth (Gen. 1:1); humanity (Gen. 1:27); the heavenly host (Isa. 40:26); the ends of the earth (Isa. 40:28); north and south (Ps. 89:12); righteousness; salvation (Isa. 45:8); darkness (Isa. 45:7). David asked God to “create” in him a clean heart (Ps. 51:10). Isaiah promised that God would create a new heaven and earth (Isa. 65:17). [1]

Belief in the truth of this one simple yet utterly profound verse hangs all the validity of the entire Bible and serves as the basis for a belief in creationism. If we cannot believe this one simple truth, then nothing else is relevant. If we cannot believe the veracity of this one simple statement, then the entire rest of the Bible is merely words with no lasting meaning. B’resheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’arets – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Henry Morris, President of the Institute of Creation Research, writes, “This simple declarative statement can only have come by divine revelation. Its scope is comprehensively universal, embracing all space (heaven), all time (beginning), and all matter (earth) in our space/time/matter cosmos. B’resheet 1:1 speaks of creation ex nihilo (Latin for “from or out of nothing”); only God could originate such a concept, and only an infinite, omnipotent God could create the universe.” [2]

Yet, in the second century, Messianic teachers struggled to define their beliefs and commitments in opposition to popular rival teachings. The prevailing cultural mood was one of deep spiritual pessimism. Members of the educated class took it for granted that the physical world was inherently evil and irredeemable. They yearned to escape from the world of the flesh and to experience spiritual enlightenment.

The Messianic baptismal confession developed, in part, in response to such world-denying doctrines and the broader culture of despair that had engendered them. Right from the start, Messianics were marked by their positive stance toward creation. John’s Gospel begins by retelling the creation story: “In the beginning …” (John 1:1; Gen 1:1). The followers of Yeshua believed that in Him, they had encountered the enabling source of creation. They had come to know the One through whom all things came to be (John 1:3). Looking into the face of Yeshua, they had seen the blueprint of reality and had come to understand God’s good plan for the whole creation.

It is often said that creeds are narrow and intolerant. But in the ancient world, the truth was precisely the opposite. It was the Messianic creed that took a stand on behalf of creation. It was the creed that said No to those doctrines that condemned creation, disparaged the body, and sought escape from the world of the flesh.[3]

As a side note, my wife’s small group got into a discussion of the word “heavens” in Genesis 1:1. So I did some research in my digital library (Logos) and found some interesting stuff. I have attached the PDF version of the one document that was the most comprehensive here if you are interested.

In my next post, we will continue to examine the Apostle’s Creed in detail.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament.

[2] Scientific Creationism by Henry M. Morris, Institute of Creation Research, Masters Books

[3] 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.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 3

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 2

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

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
“I”

The first word is perhaps the strangest part of the whole Apostles’ Creed: “I.” Who is this I? Whose voice is speaking in the creed. I remember in the late ‘60s, the Episcopal Church was in the process of updating the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. One of the changes that was proposed was changing the “I” to “We.” I did not like that idea at all! I knew what I believed, but I was not so certain about the others in the service.

In the past, one of the things that made a wedding special was the fact that you got to say exactly the same words that everybody else said. When a couple said their vows, they were not just expressing their own feelings. They did not use their own words; they used the same words that their parents and their ancestors had spoken, and they made those words their own.

But today we are skeptical about the past. We are skeptical about anything that is merely handed down to us. We assume that the truest thing we could ever say would be something we had made up ourselves.

In the same way, Believers today are often suspicious of creeds. Many churches are more comfortable with mission statements than with creeds. The thing about a Mission or What We Believe Statement is you always get to make it up for yourself. It is like writing your own wedding vows.

I believe. Who is the “I” that speaks when we make this confession? It is the body of the Messiah. It is a community stretched out across history. The whole company of Messiah’s followers go down into the waters of Baptism, crying out the threefold “I believe!” In Baptism nobody is invited to come up with their own personal statement of belief. All are invited to be immersed into a reality beyond themselves and to join their individual voices to a communal voice that transcends them all. The truest and most important things we can ever say are not individual words but communal words.

“Believe”

When politicians make promises, we do not really expect them to keep their word. We understand that promises are motivated by self-interest, that words are tactics to achieve other aims. And we are not just cynical about other people’s promises. We lack confidence in our own words too.

Nevertheless, when we say the Apostles’ Creed, we are reminded that life itself is founded on trust. Believers in the ancient church went naked to the waters of Baptism. The second birth is like the first. We are totally dependent. We bring nothing with us except life. The birth cry of Baptism is the threefold “I believe” of the Creed, a cry of total trust in the Triune God.

The creed is full of mysterious things. It speaks of things that I cannot immediately observe or verify for myself. I believe in God, the Creator. I believe in Yeshua HaMashiach, God incarnate. I believe in the Ruach HaKodesh, God invisibly transfiguring creation from within. How could I prove the truth of these statements? How could I know for sure? When I take the first step, I start to see the whole world through the eyes of God’s promise. I start to live in an environment of trust. And then I learn from experience that God is good.

“In God the Father”

What do we believe about God? Right away the creed uses the language of Scripture: God is Father. It is an echo of revelation when Christians use this word. It is not an idea based on speculation or philosophical reasoning. Yeshua reveals God as his Father. He relates to God as his own Father and invites his followers to share in the same relationship.

Yeshua’s relationship to God is unique but also inclusive. His followers stand on the inside of Yeshua’s unique relationship with God. Yeshua calls God “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36), and His followers are empowered by the Ruach to pray in the same way (Rom 8:15–16). That is what it means to be baptized into the TriuneGod. By the Ruach, we are immersed into the life of Yeshua so that we come to share in His position before God.

We speak to God, and God listens to us as if we were Yeshua. Yeshua is God’s child by nature, and we become God’s children by grace. Yeshua is born of God; we are adopted. So, when we confess that God is Father,” it is not a theological idea but a confession of the defining relationship of our lives. We call God Father because that is what Yeshua calls God and because Yeshua has invited us to relate to God in the same way. In other words, we call GodFather because of revelation.

If the word Father refers to a relation of origin within God, then we can draw one important conclusion: God is not only Father but also Son. These words, Father and “Son,” are relational terms. Neither would make sense without the other. Writing in the second century, Tertullian was the first to develop this simple but important insight: Father makes son, and son makes father.… A father must have a son to be a father, and a son must have a father to be a son.” When we confess that God is eternally Father, we always have in mind as well the eternal reality of the Son.[1]

In my next post, we will continue to examine the Apostle’s Creed in detail.

Click here for the PDF version.

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

Y’hudah (Jude) ~ Call to Persevere and Blessing

In my last post, we explored the Judgment of False Teachers ~ Part 2. We conclude our study of Y’hudah by experiencing his Call to Persevere and His Blessing.

19 These are the people who cause divisions. They are controlled by their impulses because they don’t have the Spirit.

The people who cause divisions again refers to the false prophets and teachers who are dividing the community, seeking the values of society rather than God.

Y’hudah denounces the actions of the scoffers as devoid of God; they don’t have the Spirit. This seems to compare to the false teachers’ claims that they rely on visions, which they argued were from God (v. 8).

20 But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in union with the Ruach HaKodesh. 21 Thus, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for our Lord Yeshua the Messiah to give you the mercy that leads to eternal life.

Y’hudah contrasts you, dear friends, genuine Believers, with the ungodly free thinkers of vv. 4–19 and prescribes four things to do: keep the faith, pray in concert with the Ruach HaKodesh, keep yourselves immersed in God’s love, and wait for Yeshua to bless you with mercy.

22 Rebuke some who are disputing; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and to yet others, show mercy, but with fear, hating even the clothes stained by their vices.

There are three kinds of people who have left the most holy faith (v. 20):

  1. Those who are disputing have closed themselves off to the truth. One can neither teach nor save them, only rebuke them, praying that God will change them.
  2. Others, who have been swept along by the free thinkers, are relatively innocent but in grave danger of falling away. Save them first by snatching them out of the fire, then ground them in the principles of truth.
  3. Yet others have fallen into sin but have not lost their basic teachability so that they may be restored. To them, show mercy, but with fear, hating even the clothes stained by their vices – love the sinner, but hate the sin. Brothers, suppose someone is caught doing something wrong. You who have the Spirit should set him right, but in a spirit of humility, keeping an eye on yourselves so that you won’t be tempted too. ~ Galatians 6:1 (CJB).

Not only must we grow in a relationship with the Lord, but we must also consider our relationships with the rest of God’s family. We must have mercy on those who waver. Some Believers struggle in their faith and need compassion. Others need to be aggressively snatched from the fire, that is, redirected from behavior or relationship that will burn them. But helping the latter, be wise: hate even the garment defiled by the flesh. As sure as clothing contaminated by a leper’s skin could infect you, helping others overcome their sinful tendencies could drag you down with them. Reject the sin; help the sinner.

24 Now, to the One who can keep you from falling and set you without defect and full of joy in the presence of His Sh’khinah (glory)2to God alone, our Deliverer, through Yeshua the Messiah, our Lord – be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen. ~ Jude 19-25 (CJB).

In addressing God as the One who can keep you from falling, the closing prayer follows the theme of vv. 22–23. This passage is one of the greatest of the Brit Hadashah doxologies, comparable with Romans 11:33–36, 16:25–27; Rev. 4:10–11, 5:12–13, 15:3–4.

God keeps you from being fooled by the deceptions of false teachers. He can also keep you from being tripped up so that you stand before Him without blemish and with great joy. No one is sinless. To be blameless means that whatever your failures, they are sufficiently covered. When you stand before God, based on your commitment to the truth, He is going to declare that you look exactly right.

Y’hudah closes by saying that to Yeshua belongs all glory, majesty, power, and authority. It is a reminder that God has the attributes, the position, and the legitimate right to get you through whatever challenges confront and the moral decay in the world around you. [1]

In my next post, we will begin to explore the Creeds of the Kehillah.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Tony Evans Bible Commentary.

Y’hudah (Jude) ~ Judgment of False Teachers ~ Part 2

In my last post, we began to explore the Judgment of False Teachers ~ Part 1. This post will continue to explore the Judgment of False Teachers ~ Part 2.

Scripture instructs us to obey the legitimate authorities appointed over us. But false teachers reject authority. In this case, they were accountable to no one but themselves.

Likewise, these people, with their visions, defile their own flesh, despise godly authority, and insult angelic beings. When Mikha’el, one of the ruling angels, took issue with the Adversary, arguing over the body of Moshe, he did not dare bring against him an insulting charge but said, “May Adonai rebuke you.”

Mikha’el is one of two archangels mentioned in the Bible (the other is Gabriel; see Dan 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19; Rev 12:7). Others, such as Raphael and Phanuel, are mentioned in early Jewish texts (see 1 Enoch 40:9; 71:8–9). Daniel 12:1 portrays Mikha’el as a special guardian to Israel.

These people refer to the false teachers we encounter in my last post. Although modern Jewish popular ideology holds that angels are a Christian invention reflecting a departure from pure monotheism, the Tanakh speaks of them often, and post-Tanakh Judaism developed an intricate angelology that helps explain this verse. Moreover, the tantalizing brevity of the Tanakh’s account of Moshe’s death and the fact that he was buried in the valley across from Beit-P’or in the land of Mo’av, but to this day, no one knows where his grave is. ~ Deuteronomy 34:6).

Here Y’hudah reportedly alludes to a story included in the Testament of Moshe, a Jewish writing from the beginning of the first century CE. However, some portions of it have survived; the relevant ones have not. However, elements of the legend are found elsewhere. Mikha’el, who, based on Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1, is regarded in Jewish tradition as Israel’s defender and HaSatan’s opponent.

Instead, in keeping with the warning, Adonai says, ‘Vengeance is my responsibility; I will repay’ (Rom. 12:19); Mikha’el said only, May Adonai rebuke you, echoing God’s rebuke of HaSatan (Zechariah 3:1–2).

10 However, these people insult anything they don’t understand; and what they do understand naturally, without thinking, like animals – by these things they are destroyed! 11 Woe to them, in that they have walked the road of Kayin (Cain), they have given themselves over for money to the error of Bil’am, they have been destroyed in the rebellion of Korach.

The road of Kayin took him out from the presence of Adonai (Genesis 4:16) because he refused to accept God’s advice and did not take advantage of any of the five or six opportunities God gave him to repent (Genesis 4:1–16). Kayin’s road led him to murder his brother Hevel, but murder was not the road itself.

They have given themselves over for money to the error of Bil‛am (Balaam). Numbers 16 reports the rebellion of Korach (Korah) against God’s appointed leader Moshe as a significant threat to the community of Isra’el, eliminated only when God had the earth swallow up Korach and his 250 co-conspirators. Because the false prophets and teachers similarly wish to take on themselves the authority in the Body of the Messiah which God has given to others, Y’hudah says they have been destroyed.

12 These men are filthy spots at your festive gatherings meant to foster love; they share your meals without a qualm while caring only for themselves. They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; trees without fruit even in autumn, and doubly dead because they have been uprooted; 13 savage sea-waves heaving forth their shameful deeds like foam; wandering stars for whom the blackest darkness has been reserved forever.

In Jewish culture, meals have always been festive gatherings meant to foster love; among Believers in Yeshua, this is seen in Acts 2:42 and 1 Cor 11:21.

Waterless clouds carried along by the winds may be an allusion to Proverbs 25:14, Like clouds and wind that bring no rain, he who boasts of gifts he never gives.

14 Moreover, Hanokh (Enoch), in the seventh generation starting with Adam, also prophesied about these men, saying, “Look! Adonai came with his myriads of holy ones 15 to execute judgment against everyone, that is, to convict all the godless for their godless deeds which they have done in such a godless way, and for all the harsh words these godless sinners have spoken against him.”

Y’hudah quotes 1 Enoch 1:9. 1 Enoch, a compilation of writings by several authors who lived in the last two centuries BCE., is one of the Pseudepigrapha, Jewish books attributed to famous biblical figures, such as Hanokh (Genesis 5:18–24), in the seventh generation starting with Adam (Genesis 5:1). Such attribution was not deceptive but either honorific or a means of identifying the message of the actual author with the character and activity of the supposed one; compare the writer of a historical novel or documentary who puts words in the mouth of George Washington. Y’hudah’s quoting a non-canonical book does not make 1 Enoch inspired Scripture, nor does it disqualify Y’hudah’s letter. Sha’ul quoted pagan authors at Acts 17:28–29 and Titus 1:12, and no one supposes that their works should be included in Holy Writ or Sha’ul’s excluded. [1]

16 These people are grumblers and complainers; they follow their evil passions, their mouths speak grandiosities, and they flatter others to gain an advantage. 17 But you, dear friends, keep in mind the words spoken in advance by the emissaries of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. 18 They told you, “During the acharit-hayamim (end times), there will be scoffers following their own godless passions.” ~ Jude 1:8-18 (CJB)

The majority of scholars hold that Second Kefa is an expansion of Y’hudah’s letter. Still, these verses suggest that Y’hudah drew on Second Kefa since Y’hudah not only excludes himself from the emissaries of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah but in reciting what they told you, he seems to be quoting 2 Kefa 3:3. A third possibility is that both books partly depend on a common source.

In my next post, we will conclude our exploration of Y’hudah by looking at his Call to Persevere and His Blessing.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Jewish New Testament Commentary.

Y’hudah (Jude) ~ Judgment of False Teachers ~ Part 1

In my last post, we began to explore this writing of Y’hudah (Jude). We looked at who he was when he wrote the letter, why he wrote the letter, and the conical history of its inclusion in the Bible. This post will continue to explore the letter in more detail beginning with Judgment of False Teachers ~ Part 1.

Y’hudah notes that while he intended to write about salvation, he felt compelled to address the danger confronting his audience – false teachers.

Dear friends, I was busily at work writing to you about the salvation we share when I found it necessary to write, urging you to keep contending earnestly for the faith which was once and for all passed on to God’s people. For certain individuals, the ones written about long ago as being meant for this condemnation, have wormed their way in – ungodly people who pervert God’s grace into a license for debauchery and disown our only Master and Lord, Yeshua the Messiah.

I was busily at work writing to you about the salvation we share. According to David Stern: “as with many books mentioned in the Tanakh that have not survived, our curiosity about Y’hudah’s soteriological [1] treatise cannot be satisfied. This salvation consists of freedom of enslavement, the gift of the Ruach HaKodesh, and the ability to live a pure life – all of which are offered freely because of Yeshua’s death and resurrection. Y’hudah is referring to the salvation that both he and his audience have experienced.

Keep contending earnestly for the faith which was once and for all passed on to God’s people. This suggests that the letter was written in the latter part of the first century when the faith had begun to crystallize. What the ungodly people do is not merely pass on erroneous information but pervert God’s grace into a license for debauchery and disown our only Master and Lord. They no longer recognize Yeshua’s right to command obedience but teach a perversion of Romans 3:28 and Ephesians 2:8–9 instead. A person is considered righteous by God on the ground of professing faith in Yeshua regardless of what sort of works he or she does. Such an attitude quickly results in debauchery and other kinds of antinomianism [2] since it removes the ethical and moral component of faith – faithfulness – trusting.

Written about long ago will be addressed when we look at vv. 14–15in a later post.

God’s condemnation for sin has already been decided. Since the false teachers mentioned here are intentionally and unrepentantly leading others astray, Y’hudah is sure of their fate.

In the following passage, Y’hudah recalls three examples from the Tanakh. Each of these examples highlights a particular aspect of the false teachers’ errors: They practiced the sin of unbelief (v. 5), sought authority they did not deserve (v. 6), and they engaged in immoral behavior (v. 7).

Since you already know all this, my purpose is only to remind you that Adonai, who once delivered the people from Egypt, later destroyed those who did not trust. And the angels that did not keep within their original authority but abandoned their proper sphere, he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for the Judgment of the Great Day. And S’dom, ‘Amora and the surrounding cities, following a pattern like theirs, committing sexual sins and perversions, lie exposed as a warning of the everlasting fire awaiting those who must undergo punishment. ~ Jude 1: 3-7 (CJB). [3]

Since you already know all this implies that Y’hudah’s audience is fully informed about the message of Yeshua and the events derived primarily from the Tanakh. All Jewish readers and even most recent Gentile converts knew the Exodus story. That people had experienced God’s redemption did not guarantee that they could not fall away and be destroyed.

In Genesis 6:1-3, the angels that did not keep within their original authority left their assigned place to have intercourse with women.

The transition to S’dom and Amora points to the similarity of the sin of homosexuality and what these angels did in Genesis 6. The destruction of these cities at the SE corner of the Dead Sea is used over 20 times in Scripture as an illustration of God’s judgment during the days of Avraham and Lot (cf. Ge 18:22–19:29).

In my next post, we will pick up our exploration of Judgment of False Teachers ~ Part 2.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Soteriology is the study of religious doctrines of salvation.

[2] The doctrine according to which Believers are freed by grace from the necessity of obeying the Mosaic Law.

[3] Even though Jude has only one chapter, it is customary to use the “1” nomenclature in front of the verse(s).