Less Messianic and More Messiah
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Y’shua the Messiah and Him crucified.” – 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
I would like for the reader to thoughtfully consider the author of the above statement; consider his cultural background, his religious training, his life experiences and his God-given intelligence. After doing so, I think most people would have to agree that Saul of Tarsus (the apostle Paul) was, undoubtedly, a well-educated man, both intellectually and experientially, particularly well-versed in the Scriptures as well as the culture and traditions of Judaism. He described himself in the following manner:
“…circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” – Philippians 3:5-6
Furthermore, by his own testimony, we understand that Paul was fluent in Hebrew and, though born in Tarsus, he grew up in Jerusalem – ground zero for all things Hebrew - and was trained in matters of Torah by none other than the esteemed scholar and Sanhedrin leader, Gamaliel. This is the same Gamaliel who was the grandson of another famous Torah scholar, Hillel, and who, on one auspicious occasion, was directly responsible for saving the lives of Peter and other apostles arrested for preaching Y’shua in Jerusalem. The book of Acts records the incident:
“Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: ‘Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. … And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it - lest you even be found to fight against God.” – Acts 5:34-35, 38-39
Just to underscore the point, Gamaliel is still considered an esteemed sage of Israel and is reverently referred to as Rabban (our teacher) Gamaliel the Elder. My point in all this is to briefly demonstrate the depth of knowledge and human wisdom Paul was exposed to and was, no doubt, eager to absorb. In fact, he made the claim that, fed by his incredible zeal for the Torah and Judaism, he advanced far beyond many of his contemporaries in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:14). Some have even speculated that Paul may have been positioned, intellectually and politically, to rise to great heights within the Sanhedrin, and if correct, that is something not to be taken lightly.
All that we know about this man, then, leads us to this logical conclusion: Saul of Tarsus probably knew more Hebrew than any of us; he could probably talk circles around us when it came to Temple protocol or Priesthood-related concepts; he could probably blow our minds with his understanding of sod-level mysteries. In short, Paul was a pretty smart cookie! To some degree, it was his exceptional intelligence and ability to comprehend the inherent mysteries of sacred text that made him such a powerful force in his day as well as ours. On the other hand, that same intellectual prowess and zeal for the Law also served to incite Paul to persecute the earliest believers in Y’shua, many of whom were uneducated commoners, at least when compared to the likes of Paul. So then, I pose this question: does un-tempered zeal and desire for knowledge have the tendency to promote antagonism toward those who haven’t attained that same level of zeal and knowledge?
In contrast to his scholastic acumen before the Damascus road encounter, Paul makes it clear that, after his born-again experience, his learning did not come from books, commentaries, men or religious doctrine but “through the revelation of Y’shua the Messiah” (Gal. 1:12). If I may put it this way, flesh and blood did not reveal it to him, but the Father in Heaven revealed it to him by the Spirit. Knowledge may fill the brain but revelation goes straight to the heart. Having received this revelation and, after spending some time in Arabia, Syria and other regions, Paul took this simple message of Y’shua to the nations stopping in places like Ephesus, Phillipi and Corinth.
When he came to the believers in Corinth - they with their Hellenistic background and pagan roots and he with his Hebraic background, training and vast knowledge of Scripture - it is blatantly apparent that Paul could have easily regaled them with endless hours of information, word studies, and dissertations and then left them wide-eyed, their heads spinning and their brains on information overload --- but he didn’t. If ever a man had the opportunity to elevate himself, by parading his knowledge of things sacred before the spiritually destitute, it was the apostle Paul. Yet, he made it very clear that this approach – expounding upon man’s wisdom - was not conducive to the success of his mission. To the contrary, in regard to his theological pedigree, he told the congregants at Phillipi:
“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Messiah.” Philippians 3:7
Put simply, all that knowledge and all that information crammed into his head just wasn’t as important as the pure Gospel of the Messiah. He told the people of Corinth that:
“My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 2:4-5
Basically, he told them that, though he could have used eloquent and persuasive words of human (religious) wisdom – those things he had been taught all of his life – he refused to do so. Why? Because he didn’t want the Corinthian believers to put their faith in a man’s ability to regurgitate what he had learned from other men. He didn’t want them to put their confidence in the opinions and doctrines of men – sincerely and innocently conceived though they may be. He didn’t want them to place their trust in knowledge and intellectual stimulation; rather, he desired that they would put their confidence in the Spirit and power of God that raised Y’shua from the dead. You see, the Spirit of God can, in an instant, reveal to a humble heart more than any man could ever hope to learn in a lifetime of intellectual pursuits.
Let me put it this way; if Paul were alive today, I don’t know of one Bible teacher who would think so highly of himself as to ask Paul to keep silent while they taught. No, I’m pretty confident that anyone with half a brain would be wise enough to be silent, sit down and yield the floor in order to hear what this brilliant and insightful man had to share. So then, if Paul were alive and speaking to us today, what great mystery of the universe would he reveal to us? What kernel of Scriptural wisdom would he bestow upon us? According to his own words, he would be determined not to know anything, not to speak of anything or emphasize anything that would distract us from the greater message - “Y’shua the Messiah and Him crucified.” Apparently, he was convinced this truth was the most important piece of information anyone of any station could share.
Think of it this way; to one degree or the other we will all study the Scripture for the rest of our life and, if you are like me, you have already come to realize that it will take that lifetime of study just to scratch the surface. Frankly, the more I learn of the Word, the more I realize how little I know of the Word. Learning from the Word is like walking into a secret chamber that has just been opened for you only to find that, along with the contents of that chamber, there are five additional doors that lead to other chambers, also containing treasures, but also containing five more doors. The result is that, in my mind anyway, at the end of my life, though I will have accumulated more knowledge, I will also be faced with the fact that there were a lot of doors I didn’t have the chance to go through; meaning that what I don’t know in the future will be even greater than what I don’t know today.
That realization, then, leads to this one. If at the end of my life I have only scratched the surface of all the knowledge and wisdom contained in God’s Word, then those things that I do learn and do understand need to be the most important things! In my heart, I believe that is exactly what Paul was trying to convey to the Corinthians in chapter two of his letter – the most important truth one will ever learn in this life and the next is, “Y’shua the Messiah and Him crucified.”
Don’t get me wrong: I believe that we should continue to study, discuss, analyze and, yes sometimes, debate the Scripture but with this acknowledgment – that all our learning is to be founded upon the revelation of Y’shua the Messiah; that He is the Messiah and Son of the Living God – period. Our study of the Word should not serve to display our intellectual abilities or our zeal to be right but to show ourselves approved, rightly dividing the Word of Truth that we may, when called upon, contend for the faith that was delivered to us; that we would be ready in season and out of season to convince, rebuke, exhort and teach with the objective that men would know that Y’shua is the Messiah and Son of God! That being said, I also believe that there will be times when intellect and memory will fail us and we will, as Y’shua warned, need to rely solely upon His Spirit to teach us and give us the words to say (Mt. 10:16-20).
I realize that, for some, I may be overstating the obvious. Yet, having been part of the so-called Messianic, Hebrew Roots or Restoration Movement (whichever you prefer) for close to 25 years now, I am acutely aware of the seductive nature and lure of knowledge and its negative impact on the Hebrew Roots community. So many have, in my opinion, sought knowledge and information under the influence of anger, distrust and disillusionment toward their former church, pastor or family to the degree that some decided to discount or dismiss EVERYTHING they had been taught by Christianity. Folks, not everything we learned in Church was wrong! Though this pursuit of knowledge appears to be good - (it is seemingly centered upon understanding more of the Word of God) - somehow the results, in many instances anyway, are catastrophic: strife, envy, division and, unfortunately in some cases, abandoning belief in Y’shua as Messiah and Son of God.
I am convinced that information without understanding and knowledge that is not counter-balanced with the wisdom to properly appropriate it puffs us up, makes us proud, critical and religious, carrying us, eventually, to destruction. This desire “to know” is, in fact, the very inclination the Adversary exploited in order to seduce Eve and eventually bring about the fall of man. His methodology was essentially to ask the woman, “What did God say and what did He mean when He said it?” In the end, the woman saw the forbidden tree as “desirable to make one wise.” Allow me to suggest that, in order to turn toward the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the woman and her husband had to turn their back on the Tree of Life.
I have witnessed many who have turned away from Messiah – or at least diminished His role in their lives - in order to embrace knowledge. I have seen how zeal for the Torah of Moses became a quest to be right in the eyes of one's peers rather than an exhibition of love for Messiah and a commitment to follow Him. The irony of the situation is that to truly learn and understand what Moses wrote means to find and to know Messiah. To defend their diminished view of Y’shua, many of those I am describing will say that their commitment is to the Father and their goal is to follow His Torah and glorify Him. In response to that position, I would repeat what the Father said:
“This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” – Matthew 17:5
Listen to Him. Listen to what He said on the eve of His crucifixion.
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Y’shua the Messiah whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” – John 17:1-5
There is no doubt in my mind that this is the One of whom the LORD spoke to Moses and said:
“I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19
Though it may appear unrelated I want to, nevertheless, interject something at this point that, to me, is related and is at the heart of the issue I am addressing. That is, if one is to learn from Moses, he must grapple with the reality that God chose to give His instructions to Moses because he was the meekest man on earth (Num. 12:3). Therefore, if knowledge of the Torah makes one arrogant, combative and critical has that person truly learned the Torah’s lessons? Likewise, if pursuit of the Torah turns one away from the One it was designed to lead us to, have we truly embraced our Father’s Torah? Or might it be that we have eaten from the Tree we were commanded not to, mistakenly convinced that we would come to know all about God and learn everything that God knows?
I could easily amplify my concerns for the Hebrew Roots movement by detailing issue upon issue, argument upon argument that has plagued what I truly believe to be a move of God in these last days. I will, however, restrain myself from doing so – it would serve no good purpose. Besides, if you have been around the Messianic world for any length of time, I don’t have to elaborate – you know exactly what I am talking about. That being said, rather than overemphasizing the negative let’s accentuate the positive, that is, let’s discuss the remedy. Here is what I believe that to be.
First we need to accept that, more than knowledge and information, we need what Paul spoke of; we need revelation that comes, not from man but from God! We need a refreshing born, not of religious training or intellectual stimulation but, of and by the Spirit of Truth; one that is personal, relational and challenges us to walk closer to the Father by embracing His Son. You see, in our quest to understand more of God’s Word, we, unintentionally and unfortunately, lost something along the way or, at the very least, pushed it aside in deference to gaining more knowledge of Moses. Yet, that same Moses wrote of our Messiah. Please don’t misunderstand; I am not advocating a retreat from a commandment-keeping lifestyle. To the contrary, I strongly believe we should keep His commandments but because we love Him and, if we love Him, we will exhibit that love for one another.
“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.” – Matthew 22:37-40
In closing, allow me to share my personal conclusions and convictions regarding the current status of affairs within the so-called Messianic movement and what I intend to do about it in my life and within this ministry. After much prayer and reflection, I have concluded that I will probably never learn sufficient Hebrew to satisfy my desire to know this beautiful language the way I'd like to. As a consequence, I most likely will remain ignorant of many of the nuances within the Hebrew text and will not be able to, completely and accurately, provide the Hebraic understanding and solution for every question that life may present. In this vein, I have also concluded that this deficiency will likely preclude me from correctly pronouncing the Sacred Name of the Creator - at least to the satisfaction of many.
I have also determined that I will probably never unravel all of the secrets contained within the Temple and the priestly service associated with it and will, consequently, be compelled to continue approaching the Creator with a child-like understanding and/or ignorance; therefore I will have to trust in His mercy and compassion rather than my intelligence. Similarly, I'm sure my ponderings and speculations as to calendar issues and the identity of the anti-Christ will prove to be faulty and I'm likewise confident that my suggested end-time scenarios about topics such as the destruction of Damascus and the rise of the Beast et al will be just as faulty. In short, I will never learn all there is to learn and will never accurately predict all there is to predict; in some cases, I’m convinced I will find it necessary to go back and unlearn some of my current “learning.”
So, I have decided that I must and will focus on and emphasize the most important things in life. I am, therefore, persuaded – as Paul was persuaded - that my primary goal is to know Y'shua and to listen intently to His Voice that I may know, without a doubt, what He wishes for me to say and do today, tomorrow and every day thereafter, to this end - that I might more faithfully follow Him and that I may more consistently lead my wife and children in the way He has prepared for us and, hopefully, inspire others to do the same. I realize this conclusion is not very dramatic or earth-shattering; it’s nothing to make one exclaim, “Wow!” In fact, it is elementary and self-evident; nevertheless, this is my goal in life - no more, no less. As a result, this ministry intends to focus less on being "Messianic" and more on being like Messiah; less on being right and more on doing what is right.
For clarification, let me stress that I am NOT abandoning my decades-long belief that we are being called to return to the Hebrew roots of our faith. The very name of this ministry is a Hebrew word that means “roots.” Yet, I am also accentuating my belief that my identity is defined as being "in Messiah" (Gal. 3:29) and not necessarily being “Messianic” because that term, unfortunately, has come to mean different things to different people. Technically, “messianic” means “things pertaining to the Messiah.” However, in my opinion, it has devolved into something other than that. Consider that the word “gay” used to mean “joyous, lively and happy” but now it is used to define the homosexual community, so much so that I am certainly not comfortable being described as “gay.” Likewise, if “messianic” is becoming a term associated with angry, arrogant, impatient, paranoid and divisive people, I’m not sure I’m comfortable being described as “messianic” either.
In light of this, being labeled “Messianic,” “Hebrew Roots” or, for that matter, “Christian” should not be our goal and should not be the reason for keeping the commandments of our God. According to Paul, Messiah is the “goal of the Torah” (Rom. 10:4). So then, if we are zealous to keep His Torah shouldn’t we be more Messiah-like? Consider that the fruit of the Spirit did not magically appear within Paul’s letter to the Galatians; no, the fruit of the Spirit is revealed within the Tanakh. So then, if we are striving to keep His commands shouldn’t that endeavor be characterized by love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Why then do we see so much bitterness, impatience, criticism, anger, division and strife? Unfortunately, at least as I see it, the emphasis we've placed on being “Messianic” or “Hebrew Roots” has sometimes been to the detriment of being Messiah-like.
So then, I believe we need to reevaluate our motives, our methods and our fruit to determine if we truly are in harmony with our Father's Word; are we truly submitting to His Will and to His instructions with our whole heart or have we, once again, been seduced to eat from the forbidden tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Have we taken God's Torah and added our spin, this guy's opinion and that rabbi's halachic decision while, simultaneously, deleting its essence, that is, the weightier matters of Torah - justice, mercy and faith? My conviction is that where one stands on the pre-eminence of the Messiah and His humble example of servitude will provide the answer for each individual and to the Body at large. If we truly turn away from the forbidden tree and focus on Him, who is the Tree of Life, then our actions, our disposition - our fruit - will testify of the same. As for me, I have realized that all I have learned from studying God's Word through the years falls short IF it does not lift up the name of Messiah. I will continue to study, I will continue to learn and, if allowed, I will continue to share but, when all is said and done, more than anything, I wish to continue being conformed to the image of the Son of God. Therefore, I have concluded – to borrow from Paul – not to know anything among you except Y’shua the Messiah and Him crucified. I do hope and trust that you hear my heart. Shalom!