Something very strange happens when people face an imminent threat to life and livelihood. The strange thing is unity such as would never have been possible otherwise. History provides countless examples, such as the defense of New Orleans in January 1815. When a veteran British force attacked the city, an odd assortment of people turned out to defend their home. They included Regular soldiers of the American army under Major General Andrew Jackson, as well as Creole gentlemen and their American merchant rivals, common laborers, farmers, militia men from far away states, black slaves and free men, and even pirates and smugglers affiliated with the infamous Jean Lafitte. Once the threat was past, these disparate segments of society returned to their separate lives and the circumstances that divided them, but for one glorious moment they experienced the joy of being a people united in a common cause.
We might consider as well the example of our Jewish brethren in World War II. Immediately before the war, an Arab revolt in British Palestine compelled His Majesty’s government to issue a White Paper in 1939 which closed the door on Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. This was a political and military necessity for the British; another Arab revolt would threaten their hold on Egypt, their link to India and the Pacific, and the lifeline of the Empire. When faced with war against Hitler’s Germany, Great Britain could not afford to lose that lifeline, and thus European Jews in peril of their lives in the Shoa (Holocaust) lost their last and best chance at escape from the death camps.
One might suppose the Jewish response to the White Paper – particularly among those living in the Land – would be violent rejection and revolt. Some did respond that way, but the most memorable response was by David Ben Gurion, at that time among the most prominent leaders of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish settlers in the Land. He expressed his position this way:
Ben Gurion’s pragmatism was instrumental in establishment of the Jewish Brigade, the only regular military unit of any Allied army in World War II comprised entirely of Jews. The Jewish Brigade served with distinction in the British forces in Egypt, Italy, and Northwest Europe, and it also served as a training ground for Jewish warriors who carried the fight for Israel’s independence after the British Mandate over Palestine ended in 1948.
What is Yeshua really teaching us through the Sermon on the Mount? Yes, He explains that it’s good to be connected to the Maker of all life, but is His sermon an explanation of how to do that, or is it a picture of what happens when we really connect with our God?
As with so many things about our relationship with our Creator, the answer is “Yes”.
By now it should be clear that the basic details about how to live a godly life are not in Yeshua’s teaching. The details are in the Torah. In the Sermon on the Mount Yeshua takes the principles of Torah, which His audience knew very well, and clarifies them. It’s not that He is teaching something entirely new, but that He is looking in a new way at what His Father originally delivered through Moses. That is why He uses the format, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you”. Consider these next points:
From what we have seen so far in the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua is indeed correcting our understanding of what His Father really meant when He gave His Law (Torah) to Moses. The attitude of our heart is the most important thing. Specific commandments like, ”You shall not murder”, and “Bring your gift to the altar”, help us measure how far our heart has come toward operating the way God designed. After all, that’s really what the Law is: God’s operating instructions. If we operate within the parameters of the Law (choose life), we get all kinds of good things (blessings); but if we operate outside His design parameters (choose death), we suffer all manner of consequences (curses). (Deuteronomy 30:11-20; James 1:22-2:13). If our heart is right with our Creator, then we will do His commandments naturally, as an act of love for Him. And that is the exactly what the Apostle John, the Apostle Paul, and Yeshua Himself told us.
Yeshua continues his teaching by addressing another sticky point of human nature:
If Yeshua really did make it possible to understand and live out God’s commandments (Torah) as our Creator originally intended, then we would expect Him to give us a few examples. And in fact He did. It’s all a matter of going beyond the “letter of the Law” and getting to the Spirit behind it. Consider what Yeshua said right after He told His audience that their righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees:
You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.” But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, “Raca!” shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, “You fool!” shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26 NKJV)
What did Yeshua mean when He said He had come to fulfill the Law (Torah)? Some people would say that He came to complete the Law so that it no longer applied to His followers. But is that really what He meant? Look again at what He said:
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. (Matthew 5:17-18 NKJV, emphasis added)
Where would we look to find a connection between Christians and ancient Israel? We need look no further than Messiah Himself. That’s what God told Moses:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, “Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.” And the Lord said to me: “What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him. (Deuteronomy 18:15-19 NKJV, emphasis added)
This is a major prophecy quoted by both the Apostle Peter (Acts 3:22) and Stephen the Martyr (Acts 7:37) in their explanations about Yeshua’s identity as Messiah. He is like Moses in that He speaks the Word of God directly to the people, but He is greater than Moses because He is God Himself. This is something Christians should have no problem understanding. But why is it that Jews have a problem with it?
At this point someone might say, “Wait a minute! That old Law of Moses doesn’t apply to Christians!”
Are we really sure about that? How can we even know that Yeshua is Messiah if we don’t study the Law of Moses? After all, Yeshua Himself said:
Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:45-47 NKJV)
If what Yeshua says is true, then Moses is a very important person in God’s eyes. Maybe we should pay more attention to him. At least we should pay attention to those parts of his writings that have to do with Yeshua. Or maybe we could start with what Yeshua taught and see where Moses taught it first. That might give us a clue as to what Yeshua meant.
If we want to follow Yeshua, should we expect trouble? Yes. He said so Himself:
Remember the word that I said to you, “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. (John 15:20 NKJV)
The question is not whether we suffer trials and tribulations, but how we get through them. To do that we need deep roots, and to get those roots we have to dig deep with the right tools. This is one big point of Yeshua’s lesson about the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15). The good seed of the Word of God was sown in four types of soil, but only one produced good fruit. The other three got eaten up, withered away, or choked out because they did not have any depth in the soil. Somehow or other their roots just could not go down deep enough to make sure the plants grew to maturity and produced good fruit.
You may be thinking by now that this decision to follow Yeshua seems to come with obligations that weren’t in the original advertising. It looks like there’s more to it than a simple agreement that we need Jesus, followed by peace and happiness for the rest of our lives. In fact, there is far more to this life than we normally hear about in church. We don’t really start to see the bigger picture until we decide to stop going through the motions of cultural Christianity and start really studying the Bible and living it out as the instruction manual for our lives.
It’s one thing to act like a follower of Yeshua when you’re in a crowd of people who say they follow Him; it’s quite another thing to act like a Yeshua follower when you’re in a hostile crowd, or when you’re all alone and no one is looking. That’s when your true heart condition is revealed. And, quite sadly, unless you’re open to the continual work of the Holy Spirit to change your heart, you’ll never be anything more than a surface dweller – a person who says they follow Yeshua, but never really digs deep to find out what that really means.
Following Yeshua really is a matter of the heart. No matter what we say we believe, we will only do what is in our hearts. Look at what Yeshua said about that:
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45 NKJV)
But how do we know what is good and what is evil? That was God’s whole point in giving His commandments (Torah). That was why Yeshua lived His sinless life in obedience to His Father’s commandments – not only to die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, but also to show us how to live. We are supposed to imitate Messiah Yeshua; He is to be our example in everything.