By Root and Branch: A Personal Messianic Challenge
For the first 45 years of my life I was a Southern Baptist, a Presbyterian, or a Pentecostal, moving easily and comfortably among those denominations. At the age of 9 I accepted Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth as my Savior, publicly professing my faith in Him as Messiah (Christ) and submitting to water baptism. Today I am Messianic, meaning that I profess faith in Yeshua as Messiah and keep the commandments of the Lord as taught through Moses. Perhaps I could be described as a First Century Believer, or even a Revelation 12:17 believer. That verse says,
And the dragon was enraged with the woman [Israel], and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 12:17 NKJV, emphasis added; see also Revelation 14:12-13)
As an adult I continued to follow the Lord, never drifting far from the respectable Evangelical traditions of my youth. The priority of God in my life wavered some, but was always near the top of my list. But then something changed about the time I turned 40. In April 2001, the Holy Spirit introduced Himself to me and called me to a much deeper walk with the Father and the Son. Over the next several years the Spirit drew me and my family deeper into the prophetic and intercessory ministries, which required movement to congregations where we could receive instruction in such matters. At the same time, He awakened first me, and then my family, to the Messianic movement. In September 2007, on Yom Kippur, we began visiting a Messianic Jewish congregation not far from our home, and a year later became members of that congregation. My family is not of Jewish descent as far as I know, nor do I desire to be Jewish, yet as I approached middle age I found myself uniting with Jews and other Messianic non-Jewish believers and worshiping God on what the world calls the “Jewish Sabbath”. How did this happen?
It was in November 2001 that I began to ask God about what are commonly called the “Jewish Roots” of the Christian faith. At that time He highlighted the following passages, starting with the words of Yeshua Himself:
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19 NKJV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV)
He [the antichrist at the end of this age] shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time. (Daniel 7:25 NKJV)
As I meditated on the meaning of these passages, several thoughts came to mind. First, it occurred to me that we are saved by Grace through Faith, not by the Law, but according to Yeshua the Law is still in effect. Thus I began to ask God to explain how Law and Grace fit together. Second, I began to wonder why the church was not observing Sabbath on the day God specified. I wondered as well why we celebrated Christmas and Easter, which have their roots in pagan festivals, rather than Passover, Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and Tabernacles, which are all special times God commanded His people to observe. Then it occurred to me that perhaps something had conspired to move Christians in our various traditions away from the Commandments of God, and thus seek to change times and law. Such a thing would be in the spirit of antichrist, and in fact the Apostle John testifies to the presence of that spirit working in the Body of Messiah even in his day (I John 2:18, 4:3).
Over the next several years the Lord drew me to the conclusion that the Church had missed some key truths by distancing itself from its Roots, a process well underway by the 2nd century. Whether we call those Roots Jewish or Hebrew or Israelite, our separation from them has had several negative effects:
- It robbed the Church of much of the Power of God, which is found in being obedient to all of God’s commandments (II Timothy 3:1-5).
- It led to various forms of Replacement Theology and anti-Semitism, which has resulted in a nearly insurmountable division between Jew and Christian, particularly when we consider the atrocities committed in the Name of Jesus. That list is lengthy, including such sins as the slaughter of Jews during the Crusades, forced conversion during the Inquisition, and genocide during the Holocaust.
- It has kept Jews from salvation through the mistaken belief that Jews who accept Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah must cease being Jews.
- It denied the Truth of God, that the Oracles of God were committed to the Jews (Romans 3:1-2), and His Salvation comes through them (John 4:22).
I have come to understand that God’s congregation is now split in two, with each part having only half of the equation for applying His full Counsel and Power. To put this in military terms, consider that a ballistic missile has two essential elements: a warhead and a guidance system. Gentile Christians have the all-powerful Warhead, the Blood of Messiah, which overcomes every opposition of the world, the flesh, and the devil. However, they do not have the complete guidance system (all of God’s Commandments), and therefore the Warhead often misses the target. Jews have the guidance system, God’s Torah (Instruction, Commandments), which provides precision and accuracy in every aspect of life. However, they do not have the Warhead because they have not accepted Yeshua of Nazareth as their Messiah Who fulfilled all of Torah. Thus they often cannot overcome opposition even though they may score a direct hit on the target.
No one has the full answer to the question of how to fix this problem, but by now it should be clear that God has not finished with the Jews. He still has a big role for them to play at the end of this age and into the next one (Romans 11:1-5; Zechariah 8:23), and there is a connection between Jews and non-Jewish believers in Messiah Yeshua that we do not fully understand. Nevertheless, I can offer some observations. First, we must seek to understand the full counsel of God, much of which is in Paul’s explanation in Romans 9, 10, and 11. Second, we must realize that all Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews (Romans 9:6-8, 22-26). Everyone who accepts Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah, even if they are Gentiles (e.g., not physically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) become part of the congregation of Israel (Romans 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:11-22). That is a big part of what Paul meant in this key passage:
I say then, have they [Jews] stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob, for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. (Romans 11:11-28 NKJV, emphasis added)
Third, the Commandments of God apply to all Israel, not just to Jews. Since we are all Israelites, we must reexamine those “Old Testament” Commandments often considered applicable only to Jews, or only to ancient times, and find out what the Lord would have us do about them. The intent of our hearts should be to obey God’s Commandments as the Holy Spirit instructs us (Ezekiel 11:14-21 and 36:22-32; Romans 12:1-2). This is not a legalistic effort to obtain righteousness, which is what Yeshua and the Apostles warned against, but an expression of our love for the God Who saved us (John 14:15-24; I John 2:3-8; 3:18-24; 5:2-3). It is following in the example of Yeshua and His Apostles, and it is exercising our requirements as Israelites, whether native-born (Jews) or “naturalized” (Gentiles).
How do we keep the Commandments of God? We should not get snagged on the question of whether Commandments apply or not. Obviously the sacrifices and Commandments that applied to Israel while it was a kingdom in the land do not apply at the moment. We should focus instead on the Commandments which apply to all Israel at all times. Our starting point should be with the Appointed Times (Feasts) of the Lord, all of which carry the stipulation that Israel is to observe them “as a statute forever”, or “throughout your generations”:
- Sabbath (Shabbat) – Exodus 31:12-17
- Passover (Pesach) and Unleavened Bread (Matzot) – Exodus 12:14-20, 24, 42
- First Fruits – Leviticus 23:14
- Pentecost (Shavuot)– Leviticus 23:21
- Trumpets (Yom Teruah/Rosh Hashana) – Numbers 10:8-10
- Atonement (Yom Kippur) – Leviticus 23:31; 16:29-31
- Tabernacles (Sukkot) – Leviticus 23:41
What not to do
Half a millennium ago, Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformers grappled with the task of addressing centuries of church practice that had steadily departed from the standard of God’s Word. We now observe and apply their example as we continue the process they started. For all their giant steps forward, they made many mistakes we do not have to duplicate. We should not:
Get ahead of God. We have 2,000 years of Christian traditions that cannot be overcome in a day. For example, insisting that all Believers switch from Sunday to Saturday worship will only breed contention. Therefore, we must first examine these things in the Scriptures in light of the Holy Spirit’s instruction and do as He gives us understanding of the Father’s Heart.
Require others to do what we are not doing. It is futile to preach that the church is not keeping God’s Commandments when we do not do so on a daily basis. We must first learn to Follow God’s Commandments in our Personal Lives. As we can keep God’s Sabbath at home, we learn His Heart and begin to live it out in our daily lives.
Exchange One set of Man-made Traditions for Another. It is true that many Christian traditions are rooted in pagan practices, but that does not mean we must jettison everything Christian and embrace Jewish traditions without question. Many Jewish traditions are also rooted in error. Yeshua spoke quite clearly about this on several occasions, particularly in Matthew 23 and Mark 7. Once again, we must understand the Father’s Heart as communicated through His Word and His Spirit to understand which practices to follow.
Turn from the Strengths of Church Practice. God has wrought many, many wondrous things through various Christian traditions. Evangelism, expository preaching, hymns and spiritual songs, Spirit-filled worship, and much sound doctrine are among the powerful things God has raised up in the Church over the centuries. Let us carry the blessings of these good things with us so we may strengthen our brethren.
Continue to Push Jews Out. God never intended to cease dealing with and through Jews. They are the visible remnant of Israel on the earth today. Jews are descended largely from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, the three tribes which remained loyal to the House of David when the kingdom split (see I Kings 11-12). Judah and Benjamin are the tribes of the two royal houses that reigned over all Israel (kings Saul, David and Solomon), and Levi is the tribe of the priests. Consequently, Jews retain an anointing for the kingship and priesthood for all Israel (Genesis 49:10; Genesis 43:8-9; I Samuel 10:1; II Samuel 9:1-13; Ezekiel 37:15-28; Numbers 25:10-13; Ezekiel 48:10-16). Without them, the Body of Messiah is incomplete, for no other tribe, nor any Gentile people, can fulfill the calling God has placed on the Jews.
A Resurrection Calling
The point of this journey of transformation is to achieve the reunification of God’s people Israel. As Paul has explained, we who are grafted in from the Gentiles will make the Jews jealous when they see that we can be more zealous for the Torah than they. That jealousy will provoke them to investigate the claims of Yeshua of Nazareth and at last accept Him as Messiah. Their acceptance of Him will result in the completion of Messiah’s Body, bringing life from the dead (Romans 11:15) and the preparation of Yeshua’s Host for the tasks we must accomplish in this age and the next. And this, too, is just as Moses told our ancestors:
Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:1-6 NKJV)
119 Ministries presents a number of excellent video and written teachings examining the applicability of the entire Word of God to all Believers, and testing Christian traditions against the Word. Those which are particularly applicable to the topics presented in this blog post are:
- “The Sabbath Day”. An examination of the Sabbath according to Scripture and the establishment of Sunday worship: http://119ministries.com/the-sabbath-day.
- “A Few Questions”. A short series of questions designed to generate thought on the scriptural basis of our faith: http://119ministries.com/a-few-questions.
- “If . . . Then”, parts I and II. More thought-generating questions: http://119ministries.com/if-then-part-1; http://119ministries.com/if-then-part-2.
- “Pleroo the Law”. An investigation into what Yeshua meant when He said He had come to fulfill the Law: http://119ministries.com/pleroo-the-law.
- “The Missing Silver Coin”. Analysis of the Parable of the Missing Silver Coin from a Hebraic perspective: http://119ministries.com/the-missing-silver-coin.
El Shaddai Ministries has an excellent series by Pastor Mark Biltz on the Feast of the Lord at http://www.elshaddaiministries.us/feasts/feasts_of_the_lord.html.
First Fruits of Zion sponsors HaYesod (The Foundation), a comprehensive introduction to Hebrew roots for Christians, available at http://hayesod.org/. There are options for online study, or for home group study, plus additional resources on specific topics.