When I was in England last October I came across, and purchased, a most unusual book that I found in a second-hand bookshop that was raising money to save a local hospital from closure - the one in which my father died, in fact. Ten years before I would have simply passed the book by as it concerned a subject which I did not consider needed the attention of a book. The Bible after all, I would have thought to myself, had already adequately taken care of this. And yet I picked up the book and felt strongly pressed by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) to buy it. I am going to tease you a little by not telling you the book's title. Instead I will sprinkle clues here and there. It's subtitle I will share with you, however, because it conveniently leads me to my subject matter today. The subtitle is, Moral Choice in Public and Private Life.
This evening we start the commemoration of the last of the annual biblical festivals which is known as Purim or the Festival of Lots. It is not one of the seven which Yahweh commands us to observe as part of our temporal and spiritual life as believers, but evolved as a tradition amongst the Judahites (and latterly the Talmudic Jews) to commemorate the time when they narrowly escaped extinction due to the wickedness of a certain Amalekite called Haman. And the Amalekites, you will remember, were a nation of such wickedness and depravity that Yahweh ordered their extinction, forbidding any of its people to ever become Israelite citizens.
Every year, during this time, the Book of Esther is read, and traditionally the congregation in the synagogue shouts and boos whenever the name of Haman, the Amalekite, is mentioned. This almost amusing tradition reminds me a little of the Muslims on their pilgrimage to Mecca who are required to throw stones, and shout, at a pillar called 'Satan's pillar'. Over the years this hatred of a dead man has been cultivated, a practice which I am sure we will all agree is spiritually dangerous in the light of the Bible's teaching about hating no man, but only sin itself, but rather to love your enemies (Mt.5:43; Ps.36:2). This is one of the reasons that we, as New Covenant Christians, only celebrate one day of Purim and not two, because the second tends to be celebrated by Talmudists as a day of revenge. Revenge is solely Yahweh's, not man's (Rom.12:19).
Purim is the story of an amazing deliverance of Yahweh's people, but at a price. We sometimes forget that when Yahweh delivers us from a difficult situation, it is often because we have foolishly placed ourselves in that situation in the first place. The Judahites were in captivity in Persia because of the sins of their ancestors. They were not innocent victims. Wonderful though their deliverance from extermination was, and indeed worthy of celebration because it demonstrates that Yahweh still loves and cares about us even when we find ourselves off the Way that leads to eternal life, we must nevertheless not forget that the better way is not to fall into sin and so cause our children and grandchildren to suffer because of our own carelessness.
Yah'shua (Jesus) said: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (Luke 12:48, NIV). The Hebrew nation was the recipient of extraordinary blessings. Yahweh picked out a family and decided to make a representative nation of them. He marked the Hebrew people for greatness but reminded them that such an election came with a price. And that price was that they carefully guard His commandments and give Him their pre-eminent love over all else. To whom much was given, much was expected. And that is why, throughout history, when they have been righteous, the Israelites have been blessed above all other nations; but when they have resorted to unbelief and evil, their punishment has been heavier than any other nation. This principle was reiterated by the apostle James who said of those responsible for the education of Yahweh's people:
"Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1-2, NIV).
We are judged the more severely in proportion to our stewardship, as is only right, because those who have positions of influence are in a position to affect the lives of more people, for good or evil. Accordingly, the people of Israel were given a mandate to set an example to all the nations of the world so that the inhabitants of the earth would know what right-living was and be able to see with their own eyes, as the Queen of Sheba did when she visited Solomon before he fell, the love and glory of the Creator, Yahweh-Elohim. The way we live reveals the God we worship. Wrong-living gives Him a bad name and unbelievers are less likely to turn to Him as a result. Therefore our works are to bring glory to Him and lead the heathen to repentance and salvation.
The Judahites found themselves captives of a pagan nation because of the wickedness of their ancestors. They were living out the truth that the sins of the fathers are paid for by their descendants for many generations. Thus King David would cry out to Yahweh:
"Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need" (Ps.79:8, NIV).
We are connected to our ancestors whether we like it or not and we, who are living, must understand that what we are will be passed down to our children in one way or another. The good news is that Yah'shua's (Jesus') death on the Cross of Calvary and His subsequent resurrection make available to us the power to break the curses that we have inherited from our ancestors. As a deliverance minister I know only too well just how powerful a hold these have - I have been blessed to help people break free of these generational sins as well as having to face my own. The sins of our fathers are not to be trifled with. They are very real and can be of such a character that they can even ruin our lives and those of our children if we do not do something about them. The sins of our fathers weigh heavily upon us - we behave in ways we don't want to behave, as Paul bemoaned when he said:
"We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it" (Rom.7:14-20, NIV).
The apostle was honest enough to admit that there were unresolved sin issues in his life which caused him great frustration, and we know that at least one of them was purposefully left there by Yahweh to keep him humble - what he calls his "thorn in the side" (2 Cor.12:7). He was not some super-holy man by virtue of his office as an apostle; he was not super-holy because Yahweh gave him the gift of miracle-working or of oratory. He, like everyone else, had issues that needed to be worked out. Like all of us, he know that salvation was not just a matter of saying, "I believe!" He knew and understood that we have to fight and struggle for that salvation in order for its complete effects to work in us. He knew, and declared: "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil.2:12, NIV). You can't just sit down and hope for the best.
Believers have a tendency, as we know, to get lazy and careless, the Hebrew peoples were no exception. In time they began to regard themselves not only as the "apple of Yahweh's eye" (Dt.32:10; Zec.2:8) but as somehow above other people. And so it is we hear voices amongst the Talmudic Jews today saying the same things about themselves as Hitler did about the Germans. "The body of a Jewish person," popular New York City Jewish Rabbi Mendel Schneerson bragged, "is of totally different quality from the body of members of all other nations of the world. Bodies of Gentiles are in vain. An ever greater difference is in regard to the soul ... A non-Jewish soul," he insisted, "comes from three satanic spheres, while the Jewish soul stems from holiness." Thus for Schneerson and his followers the lives of non-Jews are worthless.
We are rightly shocked and horrified at such statements but in truth people have been declaring themselves morally superior to others - a master race, if you like - since the beginning of time. This attitude was characteristic of the Judahites before the exile to Babylon. They really believed they were superior and treated non-Juidahites with scorn and contempt. Even Christians have fallen for this trap and I am sure many of you have heard of neo-nazi Americans who call themselves "WASPs", the letters of which stand for "White Anglo-Saxon Protestants" who believe they are a master race.
Last month I decided I would make a study of the history of the Jews in the inter-testamental period as I wanted to know, amongst other things, more of the background to Hanukkah which, like Purim, is another voluntary festival. I wanted to know more about the Jewish people in the time of the Hasmoneans, of their fight for independence from the Hellenists, and how they came to be prisoners of the Roman Empire in the time of Christ. I wanted to better understand their psyche - their mentality - and to understand better why they were so resistant to Yah'shua (Jesus) and why, once again, they were sent into Diaspora (dispersion/exile). What I read shocked me. Without realising it, I discovered that I had previously been propagandised by the Talmudic Jewish equivalents of former-day WASPs. I was appalled by the compromises with paganism that they had made in their willingness, just like the Israelites of Saul's day, to be "like the nations" around them. They lapped up Greek culture. Yes, there were opponents, and they were courageous, dying for Yahweh and Torah. But they were also, at times, spiritless and fanatical. The latter sometimes forcibly circumcised any Greeks they found and made them follow the Jewish religion. They were no different from the Catholics who forced the Jews of Europe to become Catholics on pain of death, or the Catholics who massacred the French Huguenots or Irish Protestants, or the Protestants of Calvin's Geneva who burned at the stake those who disagreed with their doctrine, or the Protestants of King Henry VIII's England who butchered Catholics. All of these people, irrespective of the correctness of their doctrines, had one thing in common: they had an uncommonly high regard for themselves, seeing themselves as morally superior to everyone else. And this moral superiority led them into acts which we can only describe as murder of which, I have not the slightest doubt, Satan heartily approved of.
It may surprise you to learn that the Purim that is celebrated by Talmudic and Messianic Jews today is rooted in the traditions of Maccabean or Hasmonean Judea. In those days there were three days of Purim, the first day being to celebrate the defeat of Nicanor by Judas Maccabeus which occurred the day before the traditional Purim. They called this first day 'Nicanor's Day'. They didn't even call it Purim but Phroureos which is a Greek word meaning to 'guard' or 'protect'. Purim doesn't strictly speaking even mean 'lots' as we have been taught by the Talmudists but is an Assyrian word, puru, meaning a 'pebble' or 'small stone', which were used by the pagans for divination.
I think, as human beings, we have this deep seated need to idealise the past. We want the past to be 'better' than it actually was. This we do for many reasons. It may be because of national pride - we like to think of 'our nation' as 'best'. We like to boast and show off, the more so when we can make an ethnic claim to being a part of it. The English used to view themselves as being morally superior to everyone else and once contemptuously called all non-Englishmen 'foreigners' as though that somehow made them more righteous. I am sure the Swedes and Norwegians do the same thing but in different ways - at least, that is what I have concluded about the jokes you say about each other. Look at this mug made in Sweden which I am holding up here - it has the handle on the inside, and the inscription on it says: 'Norge Muggen' or 'Norway Mug'. We can have a good laugh about such silly things and yet deep down there is a root of pride and arrogance that has perpetuated this kind of humour over the years. All humour has a root.
And so it disappoints me, for instance, when I meet Messianic Jews who get angry because we, as Messianic Israelites, don't, for example, play exclusively Messianic Jewish music, or dress as Talmudic Jews, as though this was in some way superior. Yet what has Yahweh said?
"Yahweh does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart" (1 Sam.16:7, NIV).
This is not, of course, to say that outward things are unimportant, because our outward behaviour usually reflects what is in our hearts. But it is to say that the important core issue is whether we are living from a pure or a defiled heart. Are we, for example, celebrating Purim because it is demanded of us, and so are we are doing it reluctantly with darkened hearts, or do we really see this as a time in which to appreciate the great gifts and salvation of Yahweh towards us? Do we see Purim and the other festivals as a celebration of the goodness of Elohim (God) and His Salvation, Yah'shua (Jesus), or are we celebrating it to show ourselves superior to those who, for whatever reasons, do not?
Purim is not mentioned in the New Testament unless it is the feast that Yah'shua (Jesus) went to in John 5:1 when He healed the invalid in the Pool of Bethesda. For the festivals of Yahweh to have any meaning they must make soul-connections that are redemptive. They must have a value that leads to changed lives, even if the changes are only microscopic, for as I have said before, the really lasting changes for good in us are the cumulative result of thousands of little repentances and changes from our sinful life habits to new habits of righteousness. We here, at any rate, have been enormously blessed by the festivals, and I know that much repentance and change for the better took place last year at Yom Kippur.
I began my talk today by introducing you to a book I bought last year, the subtitle of which is, Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. The subject material deals with an issue that is so important that we really cannot avoid dealing with it in the context of Purim and the circumstances of those desperate Judahites who faced extermination in the empire of the Persians. What was it about their ancestors that had got them into this predicament in the first place? What had their ancestors done which had led, dominoes-effect, to their exile in Babylonia? Would anyone like to guess what the primary title of the book is?
Well, here's the book. Yes, the main title is LYING. As if I need to remind you, Satan is the father of all lies (Jn.8:44). Not most of them, but all of them. And once you believe a lie, he has you, to one degree or another. Thus it is that Yah'shua (Jesus) said:
"In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me" (John 18:37, NIV).
Not some truth, but all truth. Now, you know that I don't mince my words. I call a spade a spade. Unfortunately, people get it into their heads that absolute truth is not necessarily important, that lies can serve righteous purposes. The book deals with what are called 'moral dilemmas' like, for instance, whether it is right to lie to individuals or to a whole nation in the supposed interests of those individuals or nations. In the first world war, the British propaganda machine spread the lie that the Germans were cutting off the hands of Belgian babies. They argued that if the troops could hate the Germans a bit more, they might fight better. This was at a time when the French army was close to mutiny and when more and more deserters were being captured and shot.
Today we believe a lot of lies about not only the Germans but nearly all races. Many of these lies originated as supposedly 'white lies', that is, an imaginary category of lie that leads to good. The Bible categorically states, however, that lies lead to no good whatsoever, as Montaigne observed when he wrote:
"If, like truth, the lie had but one face, we would be on better terms. For we would accept as certain the opposite of what the liar would say. But the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand faces and an infinite field" (Essays).
A hundred thousand faces. Have you ever tried to sift through lies and get to the bottom of them? The courts of the land spend millions of dollars, pounds and crowns trying to get to the root of the truth, and typically what happens is the most eloquent defence lawyers win ... especially those who are paid the most. Look at justice around you today. Is justice being done in society? We know it isn't! And why isn't it being done? Because there is no longer a belief in 'absolute truth'. The truth, we are told, is relative. It is a collective decision. It is your own personal truth. Crime is not lessening but getting worse. In Britain mobsters are machine gunning each other down as they did in Chicago in the 1930's. In Norway, Satanists - yes, those people who terrorise, mutilate, and murder - were recently awarded a prize! In Sweden, exhibitions of homosexual art have been displayed in Lutheran Churches in which Christ is in a homosexual relationship with one of His followers. Today in Sweden you can be taken to court for criticising homosexuality, but you can say what you like about Christianity, even to profaning it.
If every lie had a hundred thousand faces and an infinite field, then can you see how one lie - if allowed to go unchecked - can swallow up the whole world? The moment you deny the absolute claim of truth on your life, you are heading for spiritual exile. Why is it, then, that so many Christians compromise the truth? Well, this would be the subject of a sermon in itself, but I suspect it is because many of them make no distinction between the general and the particular. Yah'shua (Jesus) said:
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him" (John 14:6-7, NIV).
When you hear this very popular passage, it is usually only the first of these two verses. Yah'shua (Jesus) is the Truth. That is, He is the personification of Truth. Thus people rationalise: "Yah'shua (Jesus) is the truth. I have received Him in my heart as Lord and Saviour, therefore the Truth is in my heart. Therefore whatever I feel is the truth."
"I am the way and the truth and the life"! How sublime these words are. They are so beautiful that all Christians have memorised them. Yet they were given in a context. The context was that Yah'shua (Jesus) was about to leave the disciples and prepare a way for them. Thomas didn't understand. "Lord, we don't know where you're going, so how can we know the way?" (v.5) he asked.
Later on in the book of Acts we learn that Christians "belonged to the Way" (Ac.9:2). Also, that 'the Way' was maligned (19:9), disputed (19:23), that the Way was called a "sect" (24:14), that it could be acquainted with (24:22). From these five passages in Acts we learn that the 'Way' is both a gathering of believers, a lifestyle, and the Person of Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself. When He declared that He was "the way and the truth and the life" He was telling Thomas that all three were synonymous - your lifestyle, your life-energy, and truth are all one and the same if you are in Him. Yes, Yah'shua (Jesus) is the Truth, but the Truth is more than a person, because the Messiah consistently told His disciples to imitate Him, to do as He did, say as He did, behave as He did, fellowship as He did, obey the commandments of His Father. All of these things are part of that great and glorious phenomenon we call "eternal life". "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" asked a rich man. And He told Him to obey all the commandments - the Torah (Mk.10:17-22). Later, a prison jailer asked Paul and Silas what he had to do to be saved, and he received the answer: "Believe in the Lord Yah'shua (Jesus), and you will be saved - you and your household" (Ac.16:30-21, NIV). And at the end of the Bible, in the Book of Revelation, we read:
"Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city" (Rev.22:14, NKJV).
Faith in Christ, obedience to the commandments, living the Gospel way of life - all of these are in the parcel of salvation. You cannot pick and choose the kind of Christianity you want to live. There is only one kind, and that's the whole package. We know we can't leave out the bits we don't like because Yah'shua (Jesus) has warned us in no uncertain terms:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matt.7:21-23, NIV)
Or as it says literally, "you lawless ones" (v.23, NKJV).
You lawless ones! You who are without Torah, you who invent your own laws and traditions. He said - and He said it many times - that eternal life and law go hand in hand. Disobey the commandments, and you have no right to the Tree of Life. What does the Tree of Life give? Eternal life! Why was Adam not allowed to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life after the fall? "He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever" (Gen.3:22, NIV). Eternal life. He would have been immortal in sin.
The Judahites went into exile and found themselves in their terrible predicament during the reign of the Persian king Artaxerxes II (Ahasuerus) because their fathers had believed in lies and had started disobeying Torah. Satan is the father of lies. When we believe what is false, Satan has a grip on our minds. This may lead us to commit sin. Or we may, though an act of will, resist the committing of overt sin and yet find ourselves in civil war inside. Then, to protect ourselves, as we suppose, we lie to ourselves, suppress the truth, and lose a portion of the Ruach (Spirit). You all know the mechanisms. You have heard me tell you about them often enough from this pulpit.
This year I have chosen to make my Purim sermon an object lesson in the consequences of lying or believing in lies. The leaders of the Judahites preferred to believe in lies and establish their own traditions. They invented the Talmud and the Mishnah in place of the Law, putting a hundred thousand deceptive faces on the original truth which they denied. Do you know how big the Talmud is? I very naïvely, when I was a student at Oxford, decided I wanted to read it and so went to Blackwell's Bookshop to buy a copy. When I got there I was horrified to see that it was an entire library of books! I still can't afford them and frankly don't want them. Why should I want a hundred thousand confusing faces when I have the plain truth in my Bible? Just as the Jews have added their traditions, so Christians have added theirs. And so Yah'shua (Jesus) said to the leaders of the Judahites of His time, "you have let go of the commands of Elohim (God) and are holding on to the traditions of men" (Mark 7:8, NIV).
The traditions of men, which obscured the truth and blinded the people, is what led them into exile into Babylon to subsequently face possible extermination. We, who name the Name of Christ, face no less a fate if we do not strictly adhere to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We not only face massacre at the hands of the end-time antichrist, whose concentration camps have already been built, but an eternity without Christ who will say to us: "I never knew you. Away from me, you lawless ones!"
May I therefore invite you, most earnestly, to closely examine your lives, once again, to ensure that you have not compromised with the Truth in any way but have diligently sought after, and embraced, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, for the sake of your own souls. If we do this as a result of this Purim celebration, which begins this evening, then I will consider that we have learned and taken to heart a vital, saving message. And if you are in the position of the Judahites, perhaps disturbed and unsettled inside because of wrong choices in the past, or generational curses, Yah'shua (Jesus) stands ready to deliver you and give you freedom in Him. Seize the opportunity, do what is right, and start counting the blessings that flood into your life.
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well." Amen.