Month 3:01, Rosh Chodesh, Year:Day 5937:061 AM|
ROSH CHODESH III (Shleshi haChodesh)
Gregorian Calendar: Sunday 9 June 2013
Rosh Chodesh III
Yahweh as Dark Mystery & Person
"We [Besorah/Gospel workers] give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of Elohim (God): in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), by sincere ahavah (love), by the Davar Emet (word of truth), by the power of Elohim (God), by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Cor.6:3-10, NKJV).
Chag sameach Rosh Chodesh kol Beit Yisra'el and may the grace and shalom (peace) of our Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) be with all assembled today to hear this Rosh Chodesh (New Moon Feast Day) message! May the month that lies ahead be one of spiritual equipping and more advanced preparation for the challenges that lie ahead.
What Kind of Mark are You Making?
I wonder what kind of a mark you and I are making on the lives of others, and particularly on those who dod not know the Messiah? Everbody is brought to salvation by both similar and different circumstances which is why each of our testimonies is important. For in each testimony there will always be something that we can relate to and also be something that is unknown and yet interesting. We often make the mistake, don't we, of wondering why someone has a 'better' testimony than we do, or a more dramatic New Birth, and we wish we too could have had this or that experience to deepen our own testimony. Important though our first conversion is, what equally matters is how we continue convert for the rest of our lives. For conversion is not just a single event - the moment of accepting Yah'shua (Jesus) and of initial regeneration - but it continues all our lives as we progressively repent from more and more sin and have our spiritual horizons widened and our spiritual life enriched.
The Four Things That Brought Paul to Yah'shua
As you read the life of the apostle Paul you realise that there were a number of key events, experiences or realisations that brought him to the point of conversion - to the moment when he would declare his life for Messiah and never turn back.
1. The Failure of Judaism
The first of his realisations was that the religion he professed - Judaism - was a failure. It had not brought Him shalom (peace) with Elohim (God) and it gradually dawned on in him that it never would. But what do you do when you feel a loyalty - an obligation - to your religion which brings you no simcha (joy)? What do you do when you begin sensing it is dead and you come across a new faith that is vibrant and alive? Because of his sense of loyalty, he threw his whole fury into attacking and persecuting those first Christians, the early Messianics, who challenged his whole way of life in exposing its vaccuousness. This did not bring him shalom (peace) or simcha (joy) either - the deadness of his religion (and by 'religion' I mean trying to get right with Yahweh through good works) simply compounded his misery.
2. The Historical Yah'shua
Added to this was the fact that Paul was haunted by the historic Yah'shua (Jesus) which, even if he had never met Him, he would have received reports of Him through his Pharisaic associates. Now those reports were, beyond a question of doubt, highly biased, but in spite of this bias, something of the nobility of this Man from Nazareth must have come shining through. Even atheists, once they have got past their irrational anger, are forced to admit that there were admirable qualities in Him which, if reproduced in the lives of ordinary people, would bring about a huge improvement in society. It is inconceivable that a soul so passionately religious as Paul's would have allowed any new trend or spiritual movement to escape his intense scrutiny. He would have known of Yah'shua's (Jesus') messianic claim and would have researched Him thoroughly. His contact with the victims of his own persecution activities would have further increased his knowledge of the Nazarene and he would have been astounded by the devotion of these followers to a man he believed was dead! In spite of his hostility and rage at Yah'shua (Jesus), he was unable to completely cast off the emet (truth) about His sublime teaching and exemplary character. He could not silence the still, small voice within that contradicted the demonic fury within his soul. It was hard to fight his conscience, to kick against the goads (Ac.26:14).
3. The Impact of the Death of Stephen
A third matter that would have deeply impacted him was the death of Stephen. Some part of him felt remorse at being instrumental in the murder of a righteous man. He was deeply troubled as much by his own murderous act as he was by the final testimony in Stephen's last words:
He must have been confounded by such a bold, impelling testimony whilst presumably sharing in the insanity of the crowd's blind rage:
"But [Stephen], being full of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), gazed into heaven and saw the glory of Elohim (God), and Yah'shua (Jesus) standing at the right hand of Elohim (God), and said, 'Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of Elohim (God)!'" (Acts 7:55-56, NKJV).
Who could not be impressed - and even shamed - by a man of such powerful conviction genuinely forgiving his murderers while in his death throes, and asking Yahweh to forgive them while they took the most precious thing he had - his life! Can we doubt that Paul was impacted by this, especially as he was there countenancing the whole grizzly business?
"Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul (Paul). And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on Elohim (God) and saying, 'Master Yah'shua (Lord Jesus), receive my ruach (spirit).' Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, 'Master, do not charge them with this sin.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:57-60, NKJV).
4. The Inspirational Lives of the First Believers
But there was a fourth thing that would have deeply impacted the highly religious and spiritually impoverished Paul, which leads me into the substance of my message today, and that was the lives of the believers. These were not your regular zealots of Judaism, the Judas Iscariot's of the day. Their bravery under persecution, their absolute conviction that they had found the emet (truth), their calm confidence and peace of heart that stood every imaginable test, their unconquerable happiness, their glad fearlessness - how could have any of this not have impacted the man who would become the Apostle to the Gentiles and who would in turn exhibit the self same characteristics that had so baffled and tormented him in the days of his hostility to the Emet (Truth)? He had absolutely no intention of being infected with this new 'heresy', as he viewed it, but as Tertullian noted, he was "struck with an inward misgiving", unconfessed probably even to himself, as he witnessed the lives of his protagonists as compared with the dismal failure of his own. But it was precisely this messianic living, coupled with the other three items, that would combine to ripen him for the salvation that Yah'shua (Jesus) brought on the Damascus Road and would transform him into becoming an unstoppable witness of the incomparible love which he had received.
The Discovery of the Early Messianic Christians
What was it about these early believers? They had found something - some power, some shalom (peace), some simcha (joy) - to which Paul himself, for all his seeking and striving, was a stranger. You see, when an unbeliever - religious or irreligious - see such a thing, he has no choice but to confess (if he is honest), that something inexplicably wonderful is going on. As we read in the Psalms:
The Preeminence of Changed Lives Over Theology
"Then said they among the heathen, Yahweh hath done great things for them" (Ps.126:2, KJV).
I have spoken to you in the past, many times, of the importance of right doctrine, of Torah-obedience, and such things, but we are reminded today of the over-arching importance of the witness of changed lives. Without this bravery, conviction, calm confidence, peace of heart, unconquerable happiness and glad fearlessness our testimomny will always be deficient and insufficient to convert the likes of an unsaved Paul or anyone else stubbornly and angrily resisting the Besorah (Gospel). I don't care how Torah-loyal you are (and as you should be) but if you do not have these things then you are, in some very real sense, still lost, and need to seek deeper.
What Do the Lives of True Believers Look Like?
In today's passage, which was given to me for this Rosh Chodesh address today, we are again reminded of what true believers actually look like. They are not characterised by their fancy clothes, their 'wealth' or their 'health', their plastic smiles, their irrational zeal, their pride in lawlessness, their inflated sense of self-importance, their fancy church buildings, their successful careers, or anything else that the world prizes. Indeed, on the face of it, they appear to be contrdictions.
Let's consider some of the words of the apostle who, as we have seen, knew what it was like to be religiously lost, knew what it was like to believe he was near perfect, possessing it all, knew what it was like to be zealous in error, knew what it was like to be frustrated, angry and profoundly dissastisfied with life in spite of claiming that he had it all together! He knew what it was to live a lie and then have it all exposed by the One he had been persecuting. He knew, to borrow the American vernacular, what it was like to 'eat crow'. As he himself testified:
The True Believer's Experience in All Dispensations
"If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the Torah (Law,) a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the messianic community (church); concerning the righteousness which is in the Torah (Law), blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Messiah. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Messiah Yah'shua (Christ Jesus) my Master, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Messiah and be found in Him" (Phil.3:4-9, NKJV).
Our circumstances are obviously not identical to those of the first believers, at least not here in the decadent and (for now) prosperous West. They soon will be, but that's another matter. And they already are in many parts of the world today. And yet the Roman Empire at the time of the apostles was prosperous. So it would be wrong to say that believers in the West should be living different lives to the believers back then. No, the characteristics in all ages and in all circumstances are pretty much the same:
The Apparent Contradictions
"in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), by sincere ahavah (love), by the Davar Emet (word of truth), by the power of Elohim (God), by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things"
There is no need to artificially 'cultivate' this kind of living, as some misguidedly do, for it will come quite naturally on its own. Teach unadulterated emet (truth) and you'll get opposition quickly enough. The challenges faced by believers today are no less than before, though it is true persecution comes in different degrees and forms at different times. The unsaved Saul was perplexed by what he saw in believers, enraged that he didn't have those positive virtues they possessed which he wanted even though he believed he was far more righteous and deserving than they! And yet discipleship is not a picnic either - it is full of dramatic and sometimes violent and apparently contradictory things! We are honoured and dishonoured, loved and hated, subjected to both good and evil reports, sorrowful and rejoicing, poor and rich, chastened yet not killed...all at the same time. If you are looking for a permanent trouble-free oasis in the Besorah (Gospel), I am afraid you have swallowed one or more lies of the prosperity preachers. The Emet (Truth) always brings blessings and trouble both to the ones delivering the message as well to the ones receiving it. Yah'shua (Jesus) said it would because He said that He would:
The Messiah of Division in the World
The Reality of Conflict
"Do not think that I came to bring shalom (peace) on earth. I did not come to bring shalom (peace) but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.' He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a talmid (disciple), assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward" (Matt.10:34-42, NKJV).
Remember the words: "Do not think that I came to bring shalom (peace) on earth". This is not our retirement centre, it's a mission, a battle ground. Even if you're not religious, you only have to look around the political world to see that this is true. In grasping and accepting that reality, we will spare ourselves a lot of unnecessary sorrow and be equipped to live the victorious life assigned to us by our Messiah.
We Just Make It Worse in the Flesh
No, I don't like it any more than you do. And, yes, I whine sometimes too. Living here "on earth" is tough but we don't need to make it worse for ourselves by fighting Yahweh as Paul initially did even though he believed he was one of His most faithful talmidim (disciples) in his unsaved state.
Intellectualism Leads to Idolatry
Because of the nature of life in this world, Elohim (God) can sometimes appear very close to us and sometimes very far off. This is, in part, because He is not man. He isn't fully comprehensible, any more than an adult is to a child. You will never come to understand Yahweh exhaustively through the resources of your reasoning brain. The moment we try to do so, we are embarking on a course of idolatry, because any such attempt to define or understand Him purely intellectually is to fashion Him in our own image. And that you will find profoundly unsatisfying. Such an Elohim (God) can never be the true Elohim (God) of the Bible. Man is made in Elohim's (God's) image, not the other way round.
The Mystery of Elohim: Knowledge Through Love
For this reason Elohim (God) will always be a mystery to us. But, having said that, this Elohim (God) of mystery is also uniquely close to us, filling all things, present everywhere around us and within us. Moreover, He is present not as some 'force' but in a very personal way. The Elohim (God) who is infinitely beyond our understanding reveals Himself to be a Person and a Father. Between ourselves and this transcendant Being is a relationship not of brainwaves but of ahavah (love) that is similar to the kind we experience with those who are dear to us. And we come to know these people who are dear to us through our ahavah (love) for them and in no other way. You cannot 'know' someone through mere intellectual analysis - you can only know through loving. But Yahweh is altogether more affectionate, more just, more loving, more a part of us and more necessary to us than any human being.
The Two Poles of Divine Reality
We live between two poles when it comes to experiencing our Father in Heaven and it's well to remember this when at times He appears distant to us. He is both further from us as well as nearer to us than anything or anyone else. And the amazing thing is that these two poles don't cancel each other out! The more we are attracted to the one pole, the more vividly we become aware of the other at the same time! As we walk along the Derech (Way) of Discipleship, we discover that Elohim (God) grows ever more intimate and ever more distant - "known and yet unknown" to borrow Paul's words - well know to the smallest child and yet incomprehensible to the most brilliant theologian. For He "dwell[s] in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honour and everlasting power" (1 Tim.6:16, NKJV).
The Unapproachable Walks With Us All the Way
And though He dwells in this "unapproachable light" the amazing thing is that He is the host who welcomes us at the conclusion of our life journey, He is the companion who walks by our side at every step upon the Derech (Way). He is Mystery, yet Person too!
Abraham: Surrender or Flee
When you meet Yahweh through Yah'shua (Jesus) for the first time, all the familiar footholds disapear. The experience makes you dizzy because you come face to face with a Cosmic Mystery. There is nothing to grasp by which we can relate - there is only the option of surrendering or fleeing. And Yahweh has coded this Divine Encounter in the story of Abraham was who commanded to completely uproot himself from all that was familiar to him and venture out into the unknown without any sort of clear conception of his final destination. You can neither plan your encounter with Elohim (God) not your response because you will never be prepared for it. We are asked simply to go out from our old life and obey in emunah (faith).
The Threefold Theophany of Moses
Consider the threefold progressive revelation of the Father to Moses: first, in a burning bush (Ex.3:2), then in the mingled light and darkness of the pillar of cloud and fire (Ex.13:21), and finally in "thick darkness" at the top of Mount Sinai (Ex.20:21).
From the Light to Darkness of Elohim
For both there was a progressive journey from light into darkness - not the darkness of evil but the darkness which is the unknowable Elohim (God). This is important to note: we do not simply proceed from the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge (as the Gnostics teach) but we go forward from the light of partial knowledge into a greater knowledge that can only be apprehended by emunah (faith) which is so much more profound that it can only be described as the darkness of unknowing.
Realising Our Ignorance
Like Socrates we begin to realise how little we understand. And teachers like myself soon realise, if they are walking in any kind of Ruach (Spirit), that it is not our task to provide easy answers to every question (even though I have certainly tried), but to make people progressively aware of Yahweh's Mystery. Yahweh is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder, specifically His Name:
His Name is All About the Depths of His 'Darkness'
"O Yahweh, our Master, how excellent is Your name in all the earth, who set Your glory above the heavens!" (Ps.8:1, NKJV).
The wonder of His Name, Yahweh, is not its perfect spelling or pronunciation, or the various concepts and meanings undoubtedly hidden in it, but the alef (alpha) and taw (omega) of the Almighty's Total Being which we can never comprehend by mere linguistic or intellectual analysis. All that we affirm about Him, however correct, falls far short of the living emet (truth). Once we have exhausted the capacity of our little grey cells to analyse and define, we can do no more than point and say, "Go and find out for yourself".
The Blinding Flash
The prophetic dream I had last sabbath was the beginning of 'coming down to earth' for me - or better - adjusting more to the actual reality of Yahweh hugeness and unknowableness. I have sought for clarifications to this vision long and hard these last two days and I have not been disappointed. Baffled, yes; amazed, yes; dizzy, yes. That blinding light and its impact on my front door was, and remains, a mystery - how can you begin to comment on it? I expect to understand more of that light but not exhaustively because it leads to the depth and 'darkness' of Elohim (God). There has been one clarifying vision since but I need more time to digest it before sharing it with you.
Surprised Rather Than Disappointed
Always the optimist, and in spite of dips into occasional pessimism and blues, I am more surprised than disappointed by the hopeless quest I have been on to understand everything...or at least enough to help others struggling in the mire and to push back the mists a little bit more for myself. That encounter I has was so gigantic that I shall probably be tongue-tied for a very, very long time.
How Do You Understand People?
Good grief, if we cannot understand each other, how can we ever hope to understand Elohim (God)? We are, ourselves, mysteries. And if it is clearly impossible for us to understand the fullness of what makes up you or me, then why does He, firstly, throw us together, and secondly, expect us to find and interact with Him?
Only One Way to Actually Know Someone
The answer to the first question we have, I think, already hinted at, and that it is impossible to begin to know someone without loving them. I have had my critics over the years who neither know or love me and who have created complete fabrications of my personality based entirely on their fertile imaginations. Reading their diatribes you'd think I was some devil-worshipping child-sacrifcer or at best some psychopathic ego-maniac. You cannot know someone intellectually - you can only know them by loving them. Once humanity comes to that realisation, then the first of the two equations of life will have been solved. But then you can't really love your fellow man without being filled with the love of the Creator in the first place - and you won't figure Him out by mere intellect but by turning that ahavah (love) you have toward Him. That's why humanism can't save you or any other religion or spiritual discipline that claims you can get to the Father without going through the Son (Jn.14:6).
No Wonder We are Misunderstood
Is it any wonder, then, that believers are misunderstood and forced by unbelievers (not to mention some ignorant believers) to experience such opposition? Never mind the demonic factor in the equation that turns opposition to fury, cruelty and murder! And yet how futile to shut our or even oppose Yahweh as the Dawkins' and Hitchens' of this world and their followers have done! "Woe to him who strives with his Maker!" (Isa.45:9, NKJV). What a waste of time and life to do so! Far better to seek Him and begin to heal.
This has been a rather unconventional (for me) Rosh Chodesh message born out of some personal experiences but I hope that has been helpful to at least some of you who are desperately trying to fathom our Father in Heaven and His will for our lives. I do, inevitably, come back to the Vision of the Crosses - to preach Messiah crucified - and the conclusion and final charge of a dissipated Solomon to us to:
"Fear Elohim (God) and keep His mitzvot (commandments), for this is man's all. For Elohim (God) will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Eccl.12:13-14, NKJV).