Friday, February 24, 2006

Why the New Covenant Doesn’t Do Away with the Torah, Pt. 3: Loving ADONAI your God

"That's Jewish! You're trying to earn your salvation! That's the Old Covenant, we're under the New! Those old rituals were just the carnal shadows of the things to come!"

It's an objection that rings down through the ages, but is it really true? Did the Messiah do away with all shadows in the ceremonial commands? Let us consider for a moment those commandments which every Christian would still consider binding:
Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?"

Yeshua said to him," 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
--Mt. 22:35-40
Love then, first for God and then for our neighbor, is the core principle of the whole Torah. As Rabbi Hillel said, “The rest is commentary. Now go learn it.” That is, the Torah tells us how to love God and our fellow human being in practical terms. And how do we love our fellow man? "Thou shalt not steal, bear false witness, commit adultery, murder, or covet" while we should “honor your mother and father.” These commandments all give specifics on how to love our fellow man. So do the commandments to help our enemy if we see him stranded on the road, to take community responsibility for an unsolved murder, or to care for the widow, the orphan, or the alien in the land (or the visitor to our congregations, for that matter). I can't think of too many Christians who think of such things as "living in the shadowy world of the old covenant, with its carnal symbols."

How do we love God, then?
If you love Me, keep My commandments. (Jn. 14:21)

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome. (2 Jn. 5:3)
The first four commandments of the Decalogue all deal with the love of God:
1) I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Many people think the first commandment is the injunction against other gods or idolatry. It isn't. The first command is to know who God is and what He has done for you.

2) You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make to yourselves any graven image . . . Knowing who God is, we shall not show Him hatred by worshiping anything made by our hands, whether Baal, Moloch, Zeus, our house, our car, our job, our favorite sport or hobby, our church, our orthodox theologies--nothing.

3) You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. For the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain. Here is a most misunderstood commandment. I don't think it has anything to do with cursing. The command is literally that we should not take God's Name, His reputation, upon ourselves for nothing. We must show who we are in our every deed.

4) Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. . . For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day, and sanctified it. The Sabbath is the first Feastday, the first appointed time, of the Lord. The Rabbis believed that it came once a week instead of once a year was not that it was common, but because it was that important. It was not to be a burden, but a gift from God to man--and not just Israel, but to the whole world. It prefigures the "Sabbath rest" of the seventh Millennium.
Let's summarize: We love God by keeping His Commandments: To know Him and know what He did for us, to not worship anything else, not to take His Name ("Christ-ians") upon ourselves for nothing, and to take the weekly Feastday that He gave us to rest as a gift.

What then of the other commandments? Let's take an “absurd” example that I don't think was ever mandatory for Gentiles under any covenant (which I can prove from the Torah, not just the NT): Kosher. What does eating only certain meats have to do with loving God or our fellow man?

When Noah took the animals onto the Ark, he was commanded to take seven of the clean ones. Obviously, the concept of clean and unclean goes back long before Sinai, but the question is why? The Antidiluvians were vegetarian; meat-eating wasn't allowed until after the Flood. So what possible difference did clean and unclean meat make to them?

The answer, I believe, is that they may not have eaten meat, but they did do sacrifice. Therefore, the distinction to Noah was not what was eatable or not, but what could be brought to the altar of the Lord or not. Therefore, by eating only kosher meats, Israel, the nation of priests, was eating only what was acceptable to offer to God. Or to put it another way, the kosher Messianic Jew is only bringing meat into the temple of his or her body that is acceptable to offer before the Lord in the Temple built by hands.

I didn't think of such things before I started keeping kosher. When I started keeping kosher, I did so only because that's what God did when He walked the earth. But by keeping a commandment that I did not understand in faith, a new insight was given to me.

What about celebrating Passover? How is that loving God? I'd think this one would be obvious: It's a celebration of God's deliverance of us from both Egypt and sin by His miraculous work and His willingness to make Himself our Passover Lamb, so that we might be spared by His blood from death. Just as we eat bread without leaven (which symbolizes sin, cf. 1 Cor. 5:6-8) for seven days, we are cleansed of all sin completely by Messiah Yeshua’s once-and-for-all sacrifice.

Firstfruits? Sha'ul himself explains this one when he calls Yeshua "the firstfruits of them that slept." And just as Yeshua, the firstfruits of the dead, was Resurrected and glorified, so we, the latter harvest, will be Resurrected in His likeness.

Pentecost? A memorial of when the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit or Holy Breath, first descended upon the "firstfruits" of all the Church in the upper room, assuring us that we latter fruits would receive the same Spirit.

What about Rosh Hashanah? It is a memorial in advance of the Second Coming, when Yeshua shall return on the clouds of the sky with a loud trumpet (shofar) blast to raise the dead and take us to be with Him.

Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement? A day to prayerfully consider our sins and repent of them, remembering that Yeshua is our High Priest in the heavenly Holy of Holies. Also prophetic of Israel's future reconciliation to the Messiah.

What about celebrating Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles? That's Yeshua's birthday, believe it or not, when He came to "tabernacle" among us, and the eighth day of Sukkot celebrates His circumcision, His admission into the community of Israel. This Feastday also celebrates the coming age, when the Messiah will rule bodily over the earth; it was so joyful, and so important, that it was often called simply the Feast. Will be compulsory to celebrate in the Millennium (Zec. 14:18-19).

What about wearing a tzitzit, or blue thread or tassel, on one's clothing? It's a reminder to follow God's commandments, not unlike the WWJD bracelets that were so popular a few years ago.

Sacrifice? A daily memorial of the price of sin and the fact that the Messiah paid that price for you and me. (Not that sacrifices are currently possible, but we know from Scripture that they will begin again.)

See, all of these "carnal shadows" many Christians speak against are all about continually reminding us of God's plan and God's commandments, celebrating what He has done and what He will do, and actively loving Him for them in our hearts, souls, and bodies. By keeping them physically—in the right Spirit, of course—I am loving God with all of my might. By meditating upon God's Word, I am loving Him with all my soul, or mind. But before all that, I had to receive a new heart, so I could love Him with all my heart and worship Him in Spirit and truth, for the natural heart "is deceitful above all things."

By keeping all of these "carnal shadows," I have seen dry theology turned into a living culture. Pure theology is noble, if directed properly, but when God presented Himself to Israel, did He give them theology, or did He give them commandments, celebrations, a culture? When Yeshua walked the earth, did He write the Institutes, or did He also give commandments, celebrations, and a culture--and moreover, did He not infuse all of those with new meaning?

God did not give theology because theology would keep proper worship of Him solely in the realm of the intellectual elite. Instead, He gave a culture so that everyone, from the most brilliant mind to the severely retarded, from the white-haired to little children, from the eclectic to the simple, could all know Him for who He is. He thus infused every element of their lives with meaning, from the keeping of the time to the clothes they wore to the food they ate.

That is Torah. And to keep it is to love God, and to learn, a little bit each day, how to be like Him.


Next: Torah in the New Testament

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