The High Holidays

People connected to the Messianic Jewish movement and Evangelicals with passion for Israel often have a significant understanding of the High Holidays in the Bible and in Judaism.  This is the period between Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur.  Some have a depth of understanding.  However, it amazing how many have no significant understanding at all, maybe the majority. 

The High Holidays are the holiest time of the year on the biblical Jewish calendar. Sadly, in my view, the name Rosh Hoshana and part of the theology of the day in Judaism obscures some important meanings.  It was not wrong for Israel to adopt the New Year date of the ancient Near East just as we in the West celebrate January 1st.  However, the idea of that the date is really the anniversary of the creation of the world is speculative.  By calling this the first month, we obscure the meaning that stems from Nissan, Passover month, being called the beginning of the year in the Torah.  So yes, we can have new year meanings for the 1st of Tishri, but this should be secondary, and the emphasis should be on Tishri being the seventh month, the primary meaning.  Seven is the time of perfecting.  

In the seventh month on the first day, we hear the sound of the shofar, hence the Biblical name Yom Teruah, or the blowing of a trumpet.  Teruah is the sound of that blowing.  The Bible also notes silver trumpets at this time, but this has also been obscured.  We do have a new beginning due to the meanings of these holidays.  The blowing of trumpets means that we are to get ready, for we are entering into a time judgment by God and seeking forgiveness and atonement whereby we will not fall under God’s judgment but his mercy, forgiveness, and grace.  This is why we have the trumpet emphasis in the book of Revelation, and the last trumpet emphasis in I Cor. 15 that is sounded at the return of Yeshua.  Rightly, in Jewish tradition for this season, we are reminded of the last judgment and the Age to Come.  The day is fraught with eschatological meanings. The trumpets are connected to Passover and exodus as well, the trumpet was heard at Mt. Sinai.  Therefore the book of Revelation includes both meanings.   Following this day, a Sabbath, we have the intermediate days leading up to Yom Kippur on the 10th of Tishri.  The Sabbath in that mid-period is called Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of return and repentance.  Repentance is a daily exercise but is especially emphasized now so that all will repent. 

The holiest day, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is a time or fasting, of self-searching, repentance, recommitment, and receiving of forgiveness/atonement.  The prayers of the synagogue are mostly corporate.  We pray for the sins of Israel since the sin of any is part of the corporate sin of the nation.  Lists of sins are comprehensive.  Unless one understands this corporate dimension, he or she will not think that all of it is relevant to them, though the lists can point of individual sins.  Westerners are so individualistic.  We need to learn the importance of corporate intercession.  We especially thank God for the book of Hebrews which shows us the great fulfillment of the meaning of Yom Kippur in Yeshua.  He is both our High Priest and our sacrifice.  He enters into the most holy place in heaven with his own blood procuring the fullness of our forgiveness and the perfecting of our conscience.   The sacrifices of old in themselves could not take away sin. Their meaning is participation in the sacrifice of Yeshua who is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the World.  We can see an anticipation of this in the Jewish teaching that all the sacrifices were only efficacious because they participated in the sacrifice of Isaac who was offered in the place where the Temple would be built.  However, Isaac is not divinity and is only a type, a foreshadowing of the great antetype, Yeshua our High Priest and Sacrifice.  All the images of atonement in the Torah find their fullness of meaning in him.  

There are also last days (eschatological) predictions of atonement that show Yeshua’s sacrifice will be provided for the sins of the whole world.  In John, we read, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World.”  The vision of the conversion of the nations who all go up to Jerusalem in Isaiah 2 is only possible if the sacrificial atonement of Yeshua is applied to them.  In Zechariah 13 we read that a fountain will be open to Israel for her cleansing.  From this text we get the famous hymn, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.”  I also believe optimistically in interpreting Rev. 1:7 when all the nations see the returning Yeshua and morn.  I think they mourn for their sins and rebellion against Yeshua, the King.  This is why the survivors of the last wars can go up to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem to worship the King every year, a fitting parallel to Isaiah 2.  Yom Kippur looks toward the future application of the blood of Yeshua to all the nations on earth. 

Jewish Ministry: Why all Should Care

Two very large megachurches have made Israel and joining together in support of Messianic Jews a key foundation of their ministries.  Some of their megachurch leadership friends think that they have gone overboard in their emphasis.  They do not have a vision for this as an important part of their vision.  Sadly, in my view, these churches that don’t agree with this Jewish emphasis are missing it and need a revelation of from the Spirit of what the Bible says.  

In the first century, the Jewish hope for those who believe the prophets was that Israel would get it right in regard to holiness and purity.  This would lead to the coming of the Messiah, Israel’s deliverance from her enemies, and then the redemption of the nations, the whole world.  The amazing prayer of Zechariah, upon the circumcision of John the Immerser (Baptist), makes this theology very clear and can be well understood as fitting that first-century Jewish context in Israel.  

“He has raised up a horn of salvation for us, in the house of David

Just as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ages past, 

Salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 

So, He shows mercy to our fathers and remembers His holy covenant, 

The vow which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us—

Rescued fearlessly from the hand of our enemies—

to serve Him in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

For Paul, the mission to the nations was a new piece of the puzzle not before revealed. It was that salvation coming to the nations would be a key to fulfilling the promise to Israel, the fulfillment of the hope voiced by Zechariah.  “Salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous.”  This is part of the purpose of world missions.  

In verse 14 Paul points to himself as a Jewish disciple of Yeshua called to magnify his ministry (the supernatural work of the Spirit, “to provoke to jealousy those of my flesh and save some of them.” However, Paul uses his example as one for the gentiles to follow. They are to join him in this task resulting in a growing number of Jews coming to faith in Yeshua.  This growing number of Jews, called the “remnant saved” in v. 5 and the first fruits that sanctify the rest of the nation in v. 16 are a key as well to Israel’s salvation   Why is it so important? Because it will lead to Israel turning to Yeshua.  ”What will their acceptance be but life from the dead.”  This little phrase is shorthand for the rapture, the resurrection, and the salvation of the nations. And so, ”All Israel will be saved.” (v. 28)  

The New Covenant does not change the hope of the prophets, that Israel will be the instrument of God that will lead to the salvation of the nations.   Every Christian is given the charge by Paul to embrace the concern of Israel’s salvation, for he says, “I am speaking to you who are Gentiles.”  He says this as one who has given his life for them, as an apostle to them.  His example is for everyone. 

Therefore, my friends in the two megachurches which I reference have not gotten off balance. They have simply discovered the Biblical emphasis.  Scripture Quotes from The Tree of Life Version. 


Torah in Messiah and the Present Crisis

Michael Rudolph and I wrote a book on applying Torah entitled Torah in Messiah.   It is our view that Torah is practical but must be applied according to New Covenant fulfillment, primarily through the teaching of Yeshua.  Messianic Jews and Gentiles should have something to say to the difficult social justice issues of our day.  And it must be based on a Biblical definition of justice, not Marxist or socialist which come from a wrong worldview.  This is why I wrote a book on Social Justice.  

I do not have much hope for attaining progress in society without the influence and believers and the transforming power of the Gospel.  So, if you are putting trust in mere human efforts you will fail. Many books have been written on the history of progress in social justice since the first century.  Progress has come from the influence of believers and the Bible, first of all, due to the unheard-of idea that every person is created in the image of God and is due love, respect, and justice on that basis.  

What is love and what is justice?  If you study the whole Bible, you can conclude the following.  Love is the passionate identification with others that seeks their good guided by Law.  Their good is defined by God’s intended good destiny for them. This must always be our motive.  Then justice is seeking an order of righteousness that maximizes the potential of people to fulfill their God-given destinies or that maximizes the fulfillment of love for all people.   We seek an ordering of society that maximizes love and justice.  However, unless there is a great influence of the Gospel by a significant number of committed disciples of Yeshua, history does not give much hope that much can be attained.   I want to now apply this to the life and teaching of Yeshua and what he has to say about the issues of racism and the violent riots.  Richmond is a historic center for the pain of these matters and the Confederate monuments are controversial. Z how do we bring healing?  I approach this message assuming the definitions.  

  1. Love and Justice begin with a call for repentance.  Mark 1:15.  Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand, or available to you.  What does this mean? God’s Kingdom order of love, justice, and miracles is breaking into this world and you are called to repent and enter into it.  Repudiate selfishness and hatred, and vengeance and give yourself to the power of the Kingdom.  The Kingdom influences all of life.  Note the ending of slavery largely came from Evangelicals.  Many books on progress in history show this. Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason and British historian Tom Holland, Dominion, How the Christian Revolution remade the World.
  2.  Yeshua calls for submission to the Torah teaching of Yeshua.  This is most clear in the Sermon on the  Mount near the beginning,   Matthew 5:16, 17, and the end Matthew 7, were we are told to build on the rock of his teaching.   
    1. The context of Luke 4 is important.  Yeshua said that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me to proclaim liberty.”  To whom?  The Gospels is first to the outcast, marginalized, and oppressed.  The year of Jubilee is the context of Luke 4.  It is the year when the slaves go free.   Mennonite J. Howard Yoder in The Politics of Jesus is brilliant on this. 
    2. The Sermon on the Mount’s Beatitudes proclaims the end of victim status. You cannot claim victim status and know the power of God and your life is now in his hands.   Matthew is about the great reversal because the kingdom has now invaded earth. 
  3. Our approach to change must include the rejection of violence:  The Zealot movement and its attempts to overthrow the Roman government by violence was the context of Yeshua’s teaching against violence.  The Romans did practice terrible oppression and racism.  I am not saying that there is no place for just war, but this is far secondary to the way we seek change. 
    1. Yeshua councils turning the other cheek and volunteering to carry a load a second mile when a Jewish person was conscripted by a Roman soldier to carry his load.  This response to Roman oppression and shaming was unprecedented.  It is the way of love.  The oppressed shows love to the oppressor, the enemy. 
    2. Satan comes not but to rob, steal, and destroy.  The false shepherds of  John 10:7,  10:10 were the ones seeking violent revolution.  
    3. When Yeshua wept over Jerusalem and predicted its destruction it was because he knew the zealots would gain control and ultimately go to war.  The chose the false  shepherds instead of the Prince of  Peace  
    4. Romans 13 speaks of submitting to authority during the days of Nero!   Now there are limits to submission and the Apostles made it clear that this did not include obeying sinful commands or shutting down the spread of the Gospel.  
  4. Our approach calls for reconciliation and forgiveness based on the Gospel.  We are to attain a heart of love for the enemy:  Matthew 19:21 councils us to forgive 70 X 7 and teaches this forgiveness on the basis that the debt we owe to God far outstrips any debt another might have to us.  He has given us the ministry of reconciliation to God and one and other.  II Corr. 5:18 
  5. A successful movement that pursues justice has to be driven by reconciled believers.  Jonathan Blanchard (founder of Wheaton College), revivalist Charles Finney, EvangelicalHarriet Beacher Stowe, The Pastors Beachers, William Ward and Henry, and Wilbur Wilburforce show this witness.  A Marxist humanistic movement of violence will lead to destruction and greater suffering.   A true movement begins with reconciliation, with the Body of Believers with the repentance, reconciliation, and unity of all races and ethnicities.  In this time of anti-police rhetoric and black offense, the best way forward would be a movement led by Christian Policemen and Black Christians, pastors, and members. These kinds of people can lead a non-violent movement of justice.  Martin Luther King led just such a movement with Christians and Jews, blacks, and whites.  His themes were Christian or biblical. 
  6. The history of 20th century white churches is one of the saddest chapters. I am not speaking about southern Christians who had a racist or segregationist theology which was terrible. I am speaking about the non-racists who would sing with their children,  “Red  and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” The sin was in neglect of their responsibility to first focus their efforts of the Gospel and their works of love to the poorest communities.  An escapist theology as fostered and they, therefore, did not see pursuing justice as a central part of the Gospel.  
  7. You can know that the violence, destroying, and killing is not from God and is like unto the zealots and will set back the cause of justice.  
  8. However, pursuing justice and reconciliation has to be based on finding the truth and not based on lies. The claim of systemic racism is not helpful.  Being guilty on the basis of being born white is anti-biblical.  Rather we need to pursue the issue of specific areas of racism.  In education, housing, family, business, and policing.  The black experience is not that so many are killed unjustly, but that so many are mistreated.  Why does the government allow 7,500 black on black murders per year?  Where was the Church on mass?  The Church should be there, preach the gospel and its members should be willing to lay down lives?   Just where does racism show itself?  It is in the heart.  Is it in corporations?  Which?  Real discrimination has to be proven. I note public school disaster and the black underclass and the need to escape this system. Anecdotal evidence is not going to help solve this.  There has to be objective social science studies by people without a Marxist agenda.   A vague broad claim will just be denied.  I know that only a Gospel effort for the poor and massive investment of our lives will turn around the poor of the cities.  This is why we support every month the Richmond Ministry CHAT and its high school.  It is one example of the Gospel in action.  There should be thousands of examples.  I am not thinking the government will solve it.  By some measures, 22 Trillion has been spent since Johnson’s great society legislation.  Much was squandered and did not work. But If we identify with and support violent revolutionaries or sympathize with it, we have abandoned the Gospel way and the power of God. 

Sinai and Zion, Covenant, Spirit, and Torah

The day of Shavuot or Pentecost on the Jewish calendar is the date for the celebration of the giving of the Torah, the covenant of the ten words, or the ten commandments.  The Jewish calculation that this is the date is reasonable.  Often, however, people do not notice that the phenomenon of the Sinai events has very close parallels to the events that took place in Acts 2 on the day of Shavuot/Pentecost.  Sinai is actually a foreshadowing of the events of Pentecost/Shavuot.  Note the words of the text in Exodus 19:16.  

On the third day, there was thundering and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and the blast of an exceedingly loud shofar. . . then in v. 18, “Now the entire Mount Sinai was in smoke, because ADONAI had descended upon it in fire.  The smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace.  . . . When the sound of the shofar grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him with a thunderous sound.  V. 18, All the people witnessed the thundering and the lightning, and the sound of the shofar and the mountain smoking.  When the people saw it, they trembled . . . 

How do we picture the event on Mt. Zion in the Temple.  The notes in the NIV and my own reading is that the Holy Spirit fell upon the 120 on the Temple Mount in the Portico of Solomon.   Were the tongues of fire small little tongues?  Or were they enveloped in glory?  Were the disciples quietly speaking in Tongues almost in a whisper or shouting out (declaring) with a noise that was awesome?  Why else would the thousands have gathered to where they were.   Then they heard the voice of God in the tongues of the people just as the voice of God was heard by the people at Mt. Sinai.  They were declaring, I believe,  in loud voices.  The wind itself was mighty and probably heard way beyond the 120.  

Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  And tongues like fire spreading out appeared to them and settled on each one of them.  Thy were all filled with the Ruach ha Kodesh and began  to speak in other tongues as the Ruach enabled them to speak out . . . And when this sound came, the crowd gathered.   They were bewildered, because each was hearing them speaking in his own language.  And they were amazed and astonished  . . . we hear them declaring in our own tongues the mighty deeds of God.  

There are amazing parallels in both events.  Bible students and scholars have noted the parallels.  They were both public dramatic miraculous events.  Both are on mountains.  Mt. Sinai was a temple of God’s presence as was the Temple in Jerusalem that was its successor. 

The days of Moses were not bereft of the Spirit.  Moses had the Spirit and the Spirit came upon the 70 elders who prophesied Numbers 11:24-26.   Moses seemed to anticipate the New Covenant and said, “If only Adonai would make all the people prophets.”

The Spirit is certainly important in the Mosaic period, but the Torah, the Word, the commandment is much more emphasized.  Due to the failure of the nation, the prophets predicted a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31ff, Ezekiel 36:24ff) where the Spirit in us would move us to obey God’s word.  The New Covenant brings the Age of the Spirit where the two mountains come together, the Torah of God-given on Sinai and the Spirit of God given on Mt. Zion.  The giving of the Spirit establishes a better covenant (Heb. 8:7-12).  The better covenant empowers through our dying and rising with Yeshua (Romans 6) and being filled with the Spirit.  Romans 8:4 summarizes, “So that the requirement of the Torah might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Ruach.”  

In the Mosaic order, the Word of Torah is the larger emphasis, in the New Covenant the power of the Spirit is the larger emphasis.  The giving of the Spirit in power brings a great harvest.  It did in the first century and onward and from every great revival a harvest was gained.   

The words of Joel 2:28 ff and Acts 2 show us that that outpouring was not the final fulfillment of Joel 2.  It was, as with the Kingdom having come, in an “already not yet” way.  Why?  Because these texts still envision a greater final outpouring that would lead to the final harvesting and the second coming of Yeshua.  This was understood by Puritans and Lutheran Pietists hundreds of years ago and was also the hope of the Pentecostals in their beginnings.  It is hard to miss this:  The underlines that follow note the parts of the text that show that the great fulfillment of Joel 2 is also not yet and still to be greater than anything that has yet been seen. 

And it shall be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Ruach on all flesh.   Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall dream dreams.  Even on My slaves, male and female, I will pour out my Ruach in those days, and they shall prophesy.  

And I will give wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth beneath, blood, fire, and smoky vapor.  The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and glorious Day of ADONAI.  And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of ADONAI shall be saved. 

All flesh anticipates something more than the few thousand who experienced the Spirit at that time.  The events of Joel 2 are to occur just before the final mighty Day of the Lord.  This is the Day when God intervenes in final deliverance for his people but judgment on the wicked who will not repent.  The phenomena of signs in the heaven, the sun, and the moon were not yet fulfilled.  Yes, the first century was a day of the Lord but not the Day of the Lord.  The final outpouring leads to a mass harvest so that whoever calls on the name of the ADONAI shall be saved.   The images here of the smoke and fire are also Sinai images.  

We see an amazing aspect of this end-time revival and outpouring of the Spirit in Isaiah 4:2-6.  It is an astonishing passage.  

In that day the Branch of ADONAI will be beautiful and glorious . . . whoever is left in Zion and whoever remains in Jerusalem will be called holy—everyone who is recorded among the living in Jerusalem.  

After ADOANI has washed away the filth of the Daughters of Zion and has purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning, then  ADONAI will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her convocations, a cloud by day and smoke and shining of a flaming fire by night.  For over all, glory will be a canopy.

Note the days of Moses images but also the greater promise of the ultimate presence of the ADONAI in Jerusalem.  This day will come when Jerusalem calls on the name of Yeshua.  

We, therefore, seek a mighty Shavuot/Pentecost worldwide, in Israel and Jerusalem but until that day we can see revivals that are local and regional.  The Disciples were mightily filled a second time in Acts 4:29-31, and Peter’s prayer needs to be ours.

And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant Your servants to speak your word with utmost courage—while You stretch out Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy Servant Yeshua.  

And when they had prayed, the place where they were gathered was shaken. And they were all filled with the Ruach HaKodesh and began to speak the word of God with boldness.   



The Day of Resurrection and this Prophetic Season

The resurrection of Yeshua from the dead is the foundation of our faith.  This is a day to rejoice in spite of all the challenges of the coronavirus.  I hope all of you are taking time today to meditate on this great victory and the implications for you and the whole world.  


Not long ago I wrote up a summary of my sense of the prophetic interpretation of these days. I mentioned that I did not resonate with the overly optimistic nor with the very pessimistic words of prophetic people who only had a word of judgment and repentance.  Yet this is a very important time of searching our hearts and repentance. Much prayer is being offered and there is much good repentance while exercising faith and hope. There is fasting and prayer for breakthroughs. Congregations have adapted to social networking by internet calls, home groups, larger meetings, pastoral care and more.  This is the case in Israel as well.


There is a growing prophetic consensus that fits my evaluation that I presented here a few weeks ago.  It was that the peak of this would be Passover-Resurrection season and then there would be a continuing decline.   A sense of some prophetic people with credibility, and I agree, is that this challenge will continue until Ascension Day and then will lead on to Shavuot or Pentecost.  The period of 40 days from the Resurrection day until Ascension day parallels the days when Israel was in the wilderness journeying to Mt. Sinai. It also parallels the 40 days of the ministry of Yeshua to his disciples between his resurrection and Ascension.  Note also the prophetic parallel with the Sinai manifestation of God at Pentecost and the Spirit being poured out at Pentecost.  


I also believe that this year’s calendar is a good fit to the Biblical events.  It is not always so. If so, we should as we continue in prayer and intercession.  The resurrection was not publicly proclaimed until Shavuot or Pentecost (Acts 2). However, the disciples were experiencing the risen Lord, 120 were gathered in Jerusalem and then 500 in one gathering where Yeshua appeared (I Cor. 15).  However, the harvest came at Shavuot. In our intercession, we should be experiencing resurrection life and hope now. We are called to prayer for outpourings of the Holy Spirit after the 49 days. I think the large challenge of this virus plague will be generally behind us by that time.  This can be connected to therapies, immunities, social distancing, vaccines and all kinds of things on a human plane, but it ultimately will be by the sovereignty of God. In a very unusual way it is tracking with the great events on the Biblical Calendar, from the peak of suffering and death to the victory and harvest.  May God encourage you all during this time. 


The Annual Vilification of Christmas

Probably almost 2 billion Christians, whether nominal or really committed, celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Yeshua.  They celebrate the meaning of the incarnation. We will soon be treated with internet writings, Youtube teachings, and Facebook posts telling us how awful it is that Christians celebrate Dec. 25 as the birth of Yeshua (and have in the Catholic Church a communion service, mass, celebrating his birth or Christ’s Mass).  We will be told that this is pagan, a blot on the faith, syncretism. The attack against Christmas does not come from any of the mainstream Messianic Jewish organizations, not the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations in America, the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, Tikkun America, or the Messianic Jewish congregations in Israel, Ukraine, Russia, and South America.   Where does it come from? It comes from gentiles who are embracing their interpretation of a return to Jewish roots. Many Messianic Jewish congregations do not make a big deal out of Christmas in their corporate celebrations. They allow members to celebrate according to their conscience, but because they are Jewish oriented and think that Yeshua was not actually born on Dec. 25th, they have not made it part of their religious year of celebrations.  


Those on the attack claim that Dec. 25 was chosen due to pagan associations with the Sun, Mithraicism and more.  I do think it is the wrong date. Besides, Jews celebrated miraculous events and not birthdays. Jewish people in the first century may have seen the conception by the Holy Spirit as the great miracle.  I agree with the non-Catholic scholarship consensus of His birth in the Fall, maybe at Sukkot (Tabernacles). But as I have argued, the meaning of a practice is according to the definition of those who embrace it.  That is the sum of it. The Church is not celebrating the gods or something pagan. Most of us as Messianic Jews are glad that the World celebrates the birth of the greatest Jew in history. 


So here are a few points in response.  First, Dr. John Fischer, one of the fathers of the Messianic Jewish Movement and the President of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations today, argues that Yeshua was really born on Dec. 25th.  He has not convinced me, but his argument is credible.  You can write and get his video on this from St. Petersburg Theological Seminary in Florida.  That he would argue this should give us pause. Secondly, we have to distinguish between Protestant Church traditions and celebrations and the secular culture.  I for one am hard-pressed to know any historic Protestant traditions that are pagan and not worthy of admiration. Can you list any? The tradition of the hymns for the season are wonderful, touching and biblical.  Church tradition reenacts the events leading up to his birth and then the birth in the four weeks of Advent. All of the biblical passages on his birth and incarnation are read. Sermons are prepared on these themes.  Choirs visit shut-ins and bring them cheer by singing the Christmas hymns. Without Christmas, it would be a much darker world. The only pagan thing that is noted is the date (this is in question) and the Christmas tree, which is interpreted by Christians as life coming into the world and the tree as a reminder that He would die on a tree.  The Jeremiah 10 text on the tree, often quoted by these folks, has nothing to do with this. It is about a tree being cut and chiseled into an image of a god. Besides, the Christmas tree is a recent thing and not part of the historic Protestant Church tradition. 


But there are troubling aspects in the larger culture.  The secular celebrations and office parties to reach back to the winter pagan orgiastic gatherings.  They rebel against the Christian tradition, and this is a more recent development. The materialism and buying sprees are certainly not part of the spirit of the Church tradition.  Giving to the poor is. Mistletoe is also a faint reminder of pagan practices. Santa Clause is at best neutral but again not part of Church tradition. I am all for Christians making their traditions more truly biblical in accord with church tradition. 


Messianic Jews and their scholars are fighting serious issues.  They include replacement theology, the election of Israel, the special calling of Messianic Jews, the right understanding of law and grace, the prophetic understanding of Israel’s restoration in our ancient Land and more.  However, fighting the Church and its traditions of Christmas is not one of these battles. It is more like tilting at windmills Don Quixote style. It really hinders us in our work of building John 17:21 unity with believers.  It is a foolish battle. Rather, let’s visit churches during this season and bring them more of the Jewish context of the coming of Yeshua, especially the Jewish aspects of Luke 1, 2, and Matthew 1, 2. I am thankful that this is not the orientation of the mainstream of the Messianic Jewish Movement in the world.  Those who pursue this look cultic, narrow and sectarian. 


Should Gentiles Keep The Feasts of Israel?

As we move into the Holiday season, I want to address the issue of Christians keeping the Holy Days. 


I am not planning on defending my interpretation of the passages that talk about Gentiles keeping the Feasts of Israel, also called God’s appointed times, and the Feasts of the Jews in the Gospel of John.  They were God’s appointed Feasts for Israel. They are still central to Jewish tradition and Jewish identity and have been celebrated continuously even with the destruction of the Temple and the scattering of the Jewish nation in the first and second centuries.  They are all national holidays in Israel. 


I read Romans 14, Galatians 3, and Colossians 2 straightforwardly.  I know that there are arguments that the passages do not really mean what they at first glance, in almost all translations, seem to say.  Romans 14 states that keeping specific days is according to the conscience of the person who keeps does so. He does not enjoin their keeping. In context, of course, Paul knows that Israel was and is enjoined to keep the Feasts and the Sabbath, but the context is that Gentiles are not so required.  Colossians states that the Feasts are a shadow of the realities that are in Yeshua, who is the substance of the feasts. The Colossians are exhorted to allow no one to judge them with regard to a Feast, New Moon or Sabbath day. The New Testament scriptures do not explicitly require the observance of the Holy Days by Gentiles, so we want to avoid making any requirement that Gentiles observe these days in the same manner that are incumbent upon the Jewish people. Yet, the sentiment that all scripture is useful for teaching (2 Tim 2:15-16) portrays that it is possible for Gentiles, both K’rovei-Yisrael (those who have been led by the Holy Spirit to join Messianic Communities for the sake of Jewish witness) and other Gentile believers who wish to participate with Jewish congregations as guests, may experience spiritual enrichment and greater revelation of Yeshua as a result of a deepened understanding of, and participation in observances of the biblical feasts and Holy Days.


However, the conclusion that the Biblical Feasts are irrelevant is foolish and incoherent.  The Feasts of Israel are revelatory and teach us about God’s provision for our needs, the work of the Messiah Jesus, and are prophetic for the end of this Age and the Age to Come.  Understanding the Feasts is part of understanding the Bible. Why did Yeshua die during Passover? Why was he raised from the dead on First Fruits? Why does the book of Hebrews interpret the atonement of Yeshua on the basis of the Day of Atonement (Heb. 7-9) and the meaning of our spiritual life through the Sabbath (Heb. 4)?  When we understand this, then Gentiles can be supportive of Jewish people who keep these special days. 


I think one of the very good ways that I encourage is that the churches would teach on the Feasts during the seasons that Jewish people celebrate them.   This brings out the reality that the Church is an international people joined to Israel. Understanding Israel through the Biblical patterns of Israel is greatly helpful.  Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words. Joining with Messianic Jewish congregations for celebrations can be a great way of bringing out the meaning; a key teaching tool.  Many do Passover Seder Demonstrations for churches.  


Must Christians keep the Feasts, and take particular days of the year as Sabbath Feast days?  No, in my view the Bible is clear. But should Christians connect to the meaning of the Feasts in various ways?  Yes, if we are to understand the Bible better and be more in tune with rooting in Israel. 



I have known three men who are with the Lord who were so filled with God that they seemed not of this world. The first was an elder of the congregation where I was saved, Larry Carroll. He was a spiritual father to me. In December 1964, he and the youth director of The Reformed Church of Westwood, came to our home when it was almost midnight to pray for me to receive the immersion in the Holy Spirit. That was a wonderful experience. Larry walked in a level of faith and love that I had never seen before. He owned a decoration and upholstery business in Westwood, New Jersey. Larry later lost 12 year old son in a terrible accident where five of the church young people on a youth group outing were killed. Now as a married adult, Larry simply said that his son had the privilege of being in heaven before him. He continued walking in love and faith. He won many to the Lord. Then he survived a brain tumor that left him a bit bent over, but continued for many years showing amazing joy and love. It was as if he had one foot
in heaven and one on earth.

The second was another spiritual father, Chaplain Evan Welsh of Wheaton College. During the darkest days of my life, he invited me to his home and opened his heart with an unusual love. Chaplain Welsh also a man who knew tragedy, and yet poured out his life in love for people. His comfort, his constant availability to me, tears of empathy, and hospitality were amazing.  This was the experience of many others. For me, in those dark years, he was proof of the existence of God and the truth of the Gospel.

The third, we have just lost, a messenger of the love of God, Eddie Santoro, the first senior pastor of our congregation in Jerusalem, Ahavat Yeshua. I first met Eddie in Kingston, New York when Dr. Michael Brown was a keynote speaker at a conference at a church where Eddie was an elder. Mike had a strong sense that Eddie was to start a Messianic Jewish Congregation. I encouraged him to do this as well. Eddie was a businessman; his company built houses. Now he would be a Messianic Jewish congregation leader. His new congregation soon flourished. His love and enthusiasm just drew people. Then Eddie and Jackie, his amazing and dedicated wife, sensed they were called to make aliya to Israel. Eddie eventually became an elder of Tiferet Yeshua in Israel which was led by Ari and Shira Sorkoram. Soon young adults gathered in large numbers to experience the presence of the Spirit and to be enjoined to walk in love as Yeshua.

When he was called to plant the new congregation in Jerusalem with Asher Intrater, he was appointed the first pastor and held this role for ten years. He and his wife Jackie offered hospitality, mentoring, counseling and prayers which again drew people. They knew they were loved and valued. This enabled them to believe in God’s love for them. This love did not mean that Eddie was indulgent with regard to sin. Eddie’s love was biblical love, not humanistic indulgence. He called for those he loved to receive the power of God to overcome sin and exhorted all to high biblical moral standards. Eddie was a wonderful cook and invited those he shepherded to enjoy his culinary creations. Eddie’s preaching usually turned to the love of God and our call to love one another. When Eddie was diagnosed with brain cancer, he decided to fight the cancer with prayer, medicine and the word of God and to love all the more. He came through the first surgery and went through a period where no cancer was found. He increased his evangelistic witness everywhere he went. The hospital waiting room was his opportunity to reveal the truth of the good news. He continued to lead the monthly gathering of the over 55 fellowship (third seasoners) sponsored by our congregation but including an inter-congregational contingent. Then came the return of cancer and another surgery and recovery. For a season there was a good result. Eddie’s life was extended three years beyond the doctor’s predictions. The love continued to flow through Eddie and Jackie. This continued in the final weeks before Eddie was no longer able to communicate well. Eddie now is in glory. He is one of those three most god like and loving in my experience. Yes, it is sad and hard for us to be separated from him, but we are with him spiritually at the throne (Eph. 2:6). We will be
rejoined either in our deaths or at His return.

A Brainwashed People

Recently I came across an article by Daniel Greenfield.  He is a conservative Jewish writer who sometimes provides great insight.  This article engaged the subject of cultural brainwashing.  In Greenfield’s view, many of the people on the left or far left have been brainwashed.  They have not come to rational conclusions by weighing all the evidence, but have been conditioned.  There is a parroting like we experience when talking to people in a cult.  We have created a national cult society.  We watch the news and see so many speak the exact same talking points.  I have been lately amazed at the deep intense hatred for those who believe in traditional morality.  When I try to engage issues with some acquaintances, they simply get angry, dismissive and won’t or cannot engage arguments.  The issues are black and white and there is no alternative view point. If you press beyond that and ask questions for which there no stock answer, the intended dialogue partner simply bows out of rational discourse and resorts to name calling and abuse.  But issues are complex.  These responses are religious cult responses.  It is why there are violent protests on campus against reasonable conservatives. This mass conditioning takes place in schools, media and entertainment that repeat the same points over and over again.  It is group think and group speak on steroids.  George Orwell would have been amazed.  

Generally, the leftist culture (I am not speaking about classical liberals) is totally opposed to traditional morals.  Sexual fidelity, the reserving of sexual relationships and bonding to committed traditional marriage, avoidance of promiscuity, the sanctity of human life (it is not your body but a human being created in the image of God) the command to have no other gods before the Creator, and we could go on.  The leftist culture hates these with a vengeance.  Even the idea of not bearing false witness is compromised if such false witness gains the ends of the relativistic post-modern progressives.  (Note the Kavanaugh hearings)

Sometimes it is depressing to read the news.  Recently a California court required a Christian dating service to include LGBT people.  Chick Fil A is banned not because they discriminate in service and hiring, but because their founder embraced the standards of traditional morality and marriage.  Again and again we see Christians and conservative Jews censored in social media.  We see the symptoms of decadence all around us, but the culture formation elite seem to not even notice; the homelessness, the divorces, the opiate epidemic, the suicide rate, the sleaze, the alarmingly low birth rate.  Some on the more radical left point to global warming as the reason to not have children (others include the crises of this world, the environment in general, and the desire for meaning through a career for women).  The birth rate is declining at an alarming rate and will leave us with huge social problems.  Greenfield notes that so many think the same way due to the constant repletion of the same messages from Hollywood, in the universities, in journalism, and the internet.  The group think is amazing.  Greenfield believes that this cultural direction was planned; that gaining control of education, entertainment and media was central to the leftist revolution.  So was dividing the country in identity politics a key part of the plan.  In my view, one finds an amazing similarity in the brainwashing in the radical right and its racist world view, a conditioning that shows irrationality.  Both radical left and right are full of conspiracy ideas.  Both seek control of others and hence control of the society, but it seems the danger today is more from the left.  They seek control and are planning by every possible means to get control.  I  think they don’t believe in a democratic republic from of government but control by the elite on the left     

Greenfield notes the key elements of brainwashing. 

Those three elements are control, crisis and emotional resonance. To successfully brainwash someone, you have to control their environment, force a crisis on them, and then tap into core emotions, fear, love, guilt, hate, shame, and guide them through the crisis by accepting and internalizing a new belief.

Since the Left still lacks total control over the United States, it relies on repetition, itself a form of control and stress, to create fear and panic. It makes up for its lack of physical control by bombarding Americans with messages meant to inspire fear, love, hate and guilt through the media, through the educational system, through entertainment and through every possible messaging channel. 

The political brainwashing campaign in this country targets the upper class and the middle class. The best subjects for brainwashing are intelligent and emotionally vulnerable. They’re easier to manipulate by using the gap between their emotions and their reason, and their emotional instability makes it easier to force them into crisis mode. The ideal subjects are in their teens and their early twenties. In modern times, that’s a period in which identity is still developing, and can be fractured and remade.

Like every cult, the modern campus claims to serve an educational purpose, helping students find meaning and purpose, but insisting that they must first be cured of the subconscious evils such as white privilege and toxic masculinity that are holding them back through a process that deconstructs their barriers, encourages confession, expressions of trauma, shame and guilt, to create new identities.

This isn’t education. It’s not even dogmatic lecturing. It’s the same basic set of techniques used by any major cult in the country. Once colleges began trying to cure their students of subconscious evils at closed sessions, under the guidance of unlicensed therapists associated with a movement, there was no longer any difference between them and that of any cult, except billions in taxpayer dollars.

Some on the right respond by promoting a counter brainwashing. Have you noticed the amazing levels of repetition in some of  the right wing media? However, brainwashing is immoral and is a violation of the human person.  I note in talking to my more leftist friends and acquaintances an inability to dialogue in a reasonable way.  They cannot argue their points beyond a certain repetition or regurgitation of the content of the brainwashing. Because he or she cannot rationally defend the position they simply seek to shut up the other.   “In the hands of left-wingers, the mantle of oppression has become the greatest tool for oppressing others, denying free speech, the free exercise of religion, academic freedom, the free exchange of ideas, and intelligent free debate, thereby proving the doctrine of depravity” —Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph

Is there any hope.  In the movie The Matrix, the star character takes a little pill to awaken to the fact that he was living in a totally fake world.  He joins the opposition to the government controllers.  We have such a solution.  It is in the Gospel preached with power, with signs and wonders that break through the naturalistic world.  It is in the power of prayer which is mightier than the social conditioning of the culture.  It is the outpourings of the Spirit in revival that is mighty to reverse the decay.  As I was contemplating these issues in a semi sleep state, the power of prayer as mighty to pull down the strongholds of the mind, the mind of the culture.  May God give us the grace for prayer gatherings in every town and city, in every congregation, to realized the issue and to come against these forces of evil by the power of prayer and the proclaimed Word.  Also, today more then ever, we need to see that our children are not given over to the educational establishment for this conditioning, and to choose a college with real education that respects classical biblical views.


Some, but not most are aware that the ultra-orthodox Sephardic political party Shas controls the Interior Department in Israel.  This is the price Benjamin Netanyahu pays to stay in power.  His coalition government requires a parliamentary majority (the K’nessset).  Shas required this prize.  When the Netanyahu decided to dissolve his last government and go to elections almost 4 years ago, I feared that he was going to exchange the Yesh Atid party under Yair Lapide in his last collation for the ultra-orthodox parties in the new coalition. That is just what happened.  The leader of Shas is convicted felon, Arye Deri who spent a good bit of time in jail.   The Interior Department controls immigration into the land, visas-entries and exits, the population registry, citizenship issues and more.  There is great injustice form this party, not only against Yeshua followers, but against many others.  Here are some examples of gross in justice.

  1. The biggest one I see is that they have rejected the immigration of over 7000 Ethiopian Jews who have applied for citizenship and remain in poverty in Ethiopia.  Many have relatives here in Israel and want family unification.  These are the Falasha Mora who some centuries ago who were baptized under pressure in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  They maintained a Jewish identity and are desirous of conversion to Judaism.  The Israeli parliament has approved this and allocated funds.  Yet, they are in limbo?  Why?  Do to prejudice and maybe even racism in the Shas leaders?
  2. The second situation is connected to medical treatment for Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens.  One of the great things about Israel is that when there are catastrophic situations of need, Israel will treat them with great care in the hospitals in Israel proper.  However, those in the territories need to get permission papers for this.  Such permission is granted for Gaza Palestinians as well.  However, there is a rule now that if a person in Gaza is sick and needing to come to Israel, Israel will not approve it if they have a relative from Gaza who has moved and is living in the West Bank (Judea-Sumaria).  This week the press reported on one who is in danger of losing their sight, but due to a relative in Ramalla they will not give permission.  The relative has to move back to Gaza.  Yet time is of the essence in this situation.  The reason is that the government does not want Gazans to swell the population in the territories.  Yet this is draconian and a terrible way to assure this.
  3. The third injustice was reported this week.  Two teenagers form South America flew to Israel to visit their mother and stepfather.  The mother married an Israeli and converted to Judaism.  The teen girls live in with the natural father.  The Interior Dept. authorities at the airport interrogated them, and then would not let them enter and put them on a plane back to South America.  They claimed they were not convinced they would not stay illegally.  The mother in Israel protested and got legal help.  They were going to take this to court and certainly would have won.  The Interior Dept. relented and accepted that they could visit?  Would they issue new tickets?  No.  The vacation period is over and a visit is no longer possible.  We regularly hear horror stories of people detained and put back on planes to go home without good reason. 
  4. The government rescinded policies that would require more of the ultra orthodox to be drafted or do national service and policies that would reduce the number on welfare who refuse to work for a living so as to study Talmud (Don’t call it Torah study.  It is not the books of Moses that they mostly study, but the Talmud.  After all, how many years all day can you study the Torah.  But studying Talmud and Rabbinic law can easily last  lifetime).  

For all these reasons a good number of Yeshua followers will not vote for Benjamin Netanyahu.  We like some of his policies, but are having a hard time knowing that a vote for him is a vote for the ultra-orthodox.  How would the prophets respond to these injustices?  I think it would be a pretty intense response.