Friday, January 17, 2003

What is really different in the New Covenant -- Part 1 -- How the Old Covenant Failed

During the Passover the night before He died, Jesus said, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." (Luke 22:20) By this Jesus connected His death and resurrection to the New Covenant about which the Lord spoke to Jeremiah the prophet, "'Indeed a time is coming,' says the Lord, ' when I will make a new agreement with the people of Israel and Judah. It will not be like the old agreement that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. For they violated that agreement, even though I was a faithful husband to them,' says the Lord, 'But I will make a new agreement with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,' says the Lord. 'I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. And I will be their God and they will be my people.'"

The Old Covenant, or agreement as the NET Bible puts it, promised blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. In Jeremiah's day, the curses ruled. Jeremiah had the tragic task of being the Lord's spokesman to the generation that suffered the destruction of Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple. The Old Covenant had been presented and ratified by the children of Israel during the days of Moses. The covenant was a good covenant. It was fair. It faithfully laid out the duties of each side. It said that the Lord God would bless His people if they obeyed the Law and that He would curse the people if they disobeyed. Of course, when you distill the essence of the covenant in such terse terms, it sounds awful. The actual reading and meditation of the Old Covenant is enjoyable and uplifting, because one can sense the underlying principles and know that it speaks of relationship, truth, justice, and goodness. After all, it is the Old Covenant that the Psalmist refers to when he says, “Your instructions are a lamp that shows me where to walk, and a light that shines on my path.” (Psalms 119:105).

With great blessings for obedience and horrible curses for disobedience, why could not the nations of Israel and Judah choose rightly? Why did they come to receive the curses instead of the blessings? The answer lies in the ineffectiveness of the Covenant of Law.

The Law is ineffective because the heart (mind, will, and emotions) is defective. The heart of man does not naturally lean towards the Lord and His ways, but rather is full of self-interest. Jeremiah wrote: "The human mind is more deceitful than anything else. It is incurably bad. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). In other words, the heart leads the man against the things of God. It is dishonest and sick.

The Law is ineffective because the heart is unmoved by it. The Law can reveal lawless behavior, but it is usually ineffective in changing behavior. I may find myself wanting something my neighbor has. If I have the means, I may get one for myself. If I do not have the means, I may stew and fret over my misfortune. I may secretly hope that my neighbor loses his possession or breaks it or tires of it. The point is, I am in a mental and emotional state. Its origins are within myself, because of the deceitfulness of my heart. When the Law comes along and says, “You shall not covet,” what am I to do? Often, I am in the same mental and emotional state with the addition of the Law’s condemnation. The Law typically does not correct my heart; it only condemns my heart. I can read the command and know that I am a man who covets, but the command does not lead me to seek my neighbor’s good.

The Law is ineffective because the heart gravitates to legalism and defeats the intent of the Law. We have a sick heart and a law that shows its sickness. At the same time, we might acknowledge that the Law is good and marvel at our inability to meet its standards. One scheme that the heart, in its deceitfulness, has for self-justification is legalism. Legalism focuses on what is measurable in the Law. Meeting the requirements of such laws requires discipline and character, and in the meeting of the measure, the heart contents itself. The misfortune is that laws of measure do not get the heart right with God. Here is a maxim well worth understanding: “Legalism likes the tithe and hates the corners of the field.” The tithe, Deuteronomy 14:22, is a gift of 10% of your income. The corners of your field (Leviticus 19:9) are what you leave unharvested for the sake of the poor. One can know when he or she has met the tithe standard, but when have you left enough of your field behind? Can you count what you leave behind in your field as part of your tithe? The questions can go on and on. In the asking of the questions, the weightier issues of generosity and compassion are lost, and yet it is generosity and compassion that both the tithe and the corners of the field would like to promote.

The Law is ineffective because the heart misuses the redemptive provisions in the Covenant of Law. The blessings in the Old Covenant of Law did not demand perfect obedience. Instead, an entire system of blood sacrifice and offerings was erected to provide a covering for sin. So there were Guilt Offerings, Sin Offerings, etc. Once a year, the high priest would take blood into the Holy of Holies to provide redemption for national guilt. In other words, the Law never required perfect obedience. However, the provision for covering tends to promote more sin. What God intended as a vehicle for His mercy, man distorts as a palliative for a guilty conscience. The Lord, through Jeremiah, expressed this well, "“‘You steal. You murder. You commit adultery. You lie when you swear an oath. ... Then you come and stand here in my presence in this house I have claimed as my own and say, 'We are safe!'" (Jeremiah 7:9, 10).

The Law is ineffective because the heart’s deception and wickedness does not seek God by faith. Faith is not a New Testament concept. Genesis 15:6 and Habakkuk 2:4 both underpin the role of faith in establishing righteousness in a man or woman. However, the heart’s gravitation to legalism subverts the formation of faith.

In short: The Law reveals sin, but it does not impart righteousness. Ask yourself this question, “When is a thief not a thief?” You might answer, “When he is not stealing.” That is wrong; a thief not stealing is a thief out of work. When is an adulterer not an adulterer? You cannot say, “When he is not with his mistress,” because his mind is full of longing, fantasies and the schedule for the next encounter. Once more we see the commandments “Do not steal” and “Do not commit adultery” provide a diagnosis of sin, without imparting righteousness. You can see, in part, that this is because the Law identifies sin, but not righteousness. Righteousness is more of a “corners of the field” issue. It always moves outside of self-interest and engages in the interests of others. Thus, in answer to “When is a thief not a thief” one might prefer Ephesians 4:28, "The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may share with the one who has a need."

A person who works to have things to give to others in need is not a thief.

Monday: Diagnosis and Cure

Thursday, January 16, 2003

The Emergence of Messianic Judaism and Its Significance -- Part 2

Click here for Part 1

I will begin with a side comment: One reason that I can believe the Bible is the presence of the Jewish people on the earth. Nebuchadnezzar exiled the Jewish people in 586 BC. It was, I believe, his way of maintaining control over his empire. He mixed up the populations by shifting groups of people around. The subsequent dislocations and confusions reduced the ability of people to resist his power. The point is: The Amorites and the Hittites and other ethnic groups disappeared. The Jews are still here.

From Nebuchadnezzar's time until now, the Jews have found themselves all over the globe. Unexpectedly, they have maintained a separate identity, just as the Scriptures said that they would. A long time ago, Moses wrote, "Now when all these things happen to you--the blessing and the curse I have set before you--and you remember them in all the nations where the Lord your God has exiled you, if you turn to the Lord your God and listen to him just as I am commanding you today--you and your descendants--with your whole mind and being, then the Lord your God will reverse your captivity and have pity on you. he will gather you from all the peoples among whom he has scattered you." (Deut. 30:1-3) If the Jews had ever assimilated and disappeared, these verses and others like them would be unintelligible. We would be asking who these people were that had such exalted promises made to them.

Back to the topic at hand: To the dismay of the early believing Jews in the generation after Jesus' death and resurrection, the Jewish community largely and violently rejected the gospel message that proclaimed Jesus as Lord. In part this was because Jesus failed to meet popular messianic expectations. In part, this was because the gospel broke traditional Jewish borders and accepted Gentiles without conversion. Paul lamented, "I am telling the truth in Christ (I am not lying!), for my conscience assures me in the Holy Spirit--I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed--cut off from Christ--for the sake of my people, my fellow countrymen, who are Israelites. To them belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the temple worship, and the promises." (Romans 9:1-4)

Over the next centuries, the Jewish presence in Christendom declined and Christianity became a Gentile dominated affair. One could be a believing Jew in the time of Paul, but by the time of Constantine, a Jew had to become a Christian and renounce the heritage that Paul, in Romans 9:1-4, said was his.

But just as Moses, so long ago, could write of the global dispersion and future return of God's people, Paul wrote of the hardening of Israel and a time of future faith, "I ask then, they did not stumble into an irrevocable fall, did they? Absolutely not! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous. Now if their transgression means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full restoration bring? ... for if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? ... For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved." (Romans 11:11,12,15, 25, 26a) Is there not a sense here that after centuries of Gentile dominated Christendom, there would come a time when the Jews would find salvation again. Can you not also see that when this happens that there will be a great blessing beyond imagining?

In Messianic Judaism, we see the beginnings of this return. Add to this the Zionist movement of the last 150 years, which is bringing the Jews back to their land. Add to this that Israel, in 1948, became a sovereign nation again. Extraordinary!

We just might, might I say, be living in one of those generations that gets to see the wonders of God manifested on the earth. I hope so.

Tomorrow: What is Really Different in the New Covenant?

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

The Emergence of Messianic Judaism and Its Significance -- Part 1

I was looking through some personal memorabilia this week. Among the items was a copy of a Campus Crusade for Christ publication: Student Action (Vol. 5, No. 2, Fall 1971). This particular newspaper had my testimony and picture, but that is another story. Rather what caught my eye was the testimony of Sherry Levi. The last name Levi, of course, is Jewish. She spoke of becoming a "completed Jew."

"Completed Jew" was a common term for young Jewish people coming to the Christian faith in the late 60's and early 70's. The term marked an very important departure from "Hebrew Christian." That departure was the product of the revoluionary changes that the 60's swept in. We "did our own thing" and challenged existing institutions. So, young new Jewish believers asked, "Why can I not still be a Jew?" While Hebrew Christians converted to Christianity completed Jews developed other ideas.

They changed the language by which they talked about their faith. They called Jesus by His more correct Hebrew name Yeshua. They began to see how their Jewish cultural heritage supported a belief in Yeshua as their Messiah. They began to connect the dots between New Testament events, like the Last Supper, and their Jewish counterparts, like Passover. They learned how to speak without saying Christ (Messiah), Church (congregations), Christians (believers), and Conversion. In so doing they became able to communicate their faith without awakening centuries of persecution and trauma in the Name of Christ. And so, they grew in numbers.

"Why can I not still be a Jew?" was followed by more questions. Can I celebrate Passover as a completed Jew? What about the Sabbath? What does the New Testament have to say about being a believing Jew? They discovered that the first decades after the resurrection of Yeshua were predominantly Jewish. They discovered that the big new idea in the New Testament was that gentiles could come to faith without becoming Jews. They discovered that the New Testament said nothing about Jews not being Jews.

Hassidic Jews, Reformed Jews, Conservative Jews, Secular Jews, found a new kid had moved to the neighborhood. The young completed Jews reclaimed their New Testament rights and became Messianic Jews. The first Messianic Jewish synagogues opened their doors in the 70's and were spreading around the world by the mid 80's. You will find them, today, all over the USA, in Europe, in South America, Russia, and Israel.

They have adapted their liturgy to include Yeshua. They read from Torah (Books of Moses), the Haphtarah (Prophets), and the Brit Chadasha (New Testament). They celebrate the Jewish holy days and holidays. They walk the Torah scrolls. They hold Bar Mitzvas and Bat Mitsvas. They have developed Yeshivas to train their rabbis. They are Jewish, but fully believe that Yeshua is God's Son.

In my lifetime, I have seen, or nearly so, the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the establishment of the Nation of Israel, the occupation by the Jews of parts of Jerusalem, and the rise of Messianic Jews. So what is the significance of this? That is for tomorrow.

Tomorrow: The Emergence of Messianic Judaism and Its Significance -- Part 2

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Beginning Matters

Nagid Ben Chesed is my adopted Hebrew name. It means Leader Son of Lovingkindness. I adopted this name when I first walked the Torah in a Messianic Jewish synagogue. Nagid Ben Chesed loosely derives from my given name Donald Curtis.

Let me begin by providing links to my papers published at For those of you who are not already familiar with this site, please visit it soon.

Overviews of some books in the Bible: Part of the series From the Creation to the Cross

Other Papers

Tomorrow: The Emergence of Messianic Judaism and Its Significance