Pentecost means “fiftieth (day),” a word used to translate the Hebrew Shavuot
. This holiday had come to its fulfillment fifty days after Messiah’s resurrection. For the traditional Jewish community, Shavuot
was first celebrated around the time of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, about fifty days after leaving Egypt (Exodus 19:1).
Therefore, Shavuot is called “The Season of the Giving of the Law.” It is also considered the spiritual birthday of Israel since the Torah brought twelve tribes together into one corporate people. From Shavuot’s fulfillment in Acts 2 we can also call it, “The Season of the Giving of the Spirit” since the Holy Spirit makes all believers, from many tribes, into one family in Messiah. Happy Birthday, Body of Messiah! During Shavuot the firstfruits offering was presented before the Lord. These sacrificial offerings were all meant to point to the Messiah and His fulfillment of them. The heart of the Good News is that Yeshua died for our sins. HOW MANY FIRSTS?
When we read regarding the special Shavuot meal offering, we see that it is also called “Firstfruits to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:17). However, we noted that there was already a firstfruits offering earlier during the week of Passover. Now there is a second firstfruits offering? At some point, one might think, shouldn’t it be called “secondfruits”? Not at all. Remember that the earlier firstfruits offering was presented the day after the Sabbath of Passover week (Leviticus 23:10-14). This was the firstfruits offering of the barley harvest, considered the poor man’s food. The second firstfruits offering was from the wheat harvest (Exodus 34:22), the rich man’s food (Psalm 81:16). As you will see, Messiah became poor that we might become spiritually rich in Him (2 Corinthians 8:9).
The earlier firstfruits offering pictured Messiah as our “firstfruits offering” from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:21-23). However the second firstfruits offering is a different picture altogether. This offering is a picture of the believers in Messiah made into His body at Shavuot in Acts 2. We are a second firstfruits offering in Yeshua. This is referred to in the book of James 1:18, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of firstfruits among His creatures.”
As Yeshua is the Firstfruits offering of the resurrection, so also we are a firstfruits offering in His new creation, the Body of Messiah. We learn in Ephesians that Messiah is the Head, and we are the body (Ephesians 1:23; 4:15-16). When my son Josh was born, the midwife exclaimed, “I see the head.” I did not need to ask if there was a body– if there is a head there is a body. Likewise as surely as Messiah was raised from the dead to be our Firstfruits offering, we must surely follow because where there is a Head there has to be a body. There had to be a second firstfruits offering. By being given the firstfruits of the crop, the Lord was honored and recognized as the Provider. Thus firstfruits are for God’s use only. The significance of believers being firstfruits is that we are to be totally dedicated to the Lord: we are for God’s use only, set apart as saints unto Him.
At the first Shavuot the “firstfruits” were the people of Israel. In Jeremiah 2:3 God declares, “Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of His increase. All that devour him will offend; disaster will come upon them.” Israel is not only God’s “firstborn” of the nations (Exodus 4:22, 23), but is also the firstfruits of His increase, a nation called to be holy unto the Lord. This resulted in God’s foreign policy of blessing or cursing those nations that interacted with Israel, “I will bless those that bless you [Israel], and curse those that curse you” (Genesis 12:3). This position of firstfruits also accounts for God’s chastening upon our people, Israel, even as it is declared in Hosea 9:10, 17: I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstfruits on the fig tree in its first season. But they went to Baal Peor, and separated themselves to that shame; they became an abomination like the thing they loved. My God will cast them away, because they did not obey Him; and they shall be wanderers among the nations.
Along with the privileges of being God’s firstfruits also came responsibilities, as we read in Luke 12:48, “to whom much is given, much is required.” Consequently we are expected to live in such a way that the Lord is honored in all that we do. This is why the Holy Spirit was given– to empower all believers in Yeshua to follow Messiah.
The ultimate fulfillment of Shavuot firstfruits are New Covenant believers. When the Spirit of God came upon them in Acts 2, He made them into His firstfruits (James 1:18). Similarly, believers today are people of both privilege and responsibility to live faithfully for the Lord. Through faith in Messiah we have eternal salvation and new life as children of God. What a privilege to have the enablement of the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) to live dedicated and holy lives to the glory of God. Though there is “no condemnation to those who are in Messiah” (Romans 8:1), there is chastening and discipline from the Lord for every child of His that we might grow in righteousness (Hebrews 12:6-8). As believers we are to present ourselves for God’s use only. We experience His spiritual blessings when we yield ourselves to the Lord, and in living for Him fulfill His purpose for us.
The final Shavuot firstfruits will be the 144,000 Jewish Tribulation believers. “These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (Revelation 14:4). Even in the midst of the darkest period of history, God will have His holy firstfruits as lights in the world to testify to all who will believe.
WHEN IS THE BIBLICAL FEAST OF SHAVUOT?
Many people desire to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost and want to know the actual Biblical date. Though the traditional Jewish community will celebrate Shavuot according to a traditional calculation, there is a difference of opinion on the matter. In the first century the Pharisees and Sadducees differed on the date that Shavuot was to be celebrated. The Scripture states that the Feast of Firstfruits was to be celebrated “the day after the Sabbath” (Leviticus 23:12, 15). Pentecost was then to be celebrated fifty days from that day. The question arose over which Sabbath does Firstfruits take place after: the Passover day, which is generally considered a Sabbath, or the regular seventh day Sabbath during the Passover week?
The Pharisees claimed the correct day was the day after the first day of Unleavened Bread, the sixteenth of Nisan. The Sadducees taught that the correct day was Sunday, the day after the weekly Sabbath. Since the writings of the Pharisees survived and developed into traditional Judaism, their opinion is accepted in modern Judaism. But who is biblically correct? Remember, the Scriptures state, “there shall be seven complete Sabbaths. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath” (Leviticus 23:15-16).
For it to be the day after the seventh Shabbat, the initial Sabbath was the weekly Sabbath. So it would appear the Sadducees were right. However, since Shavuot is literally the Feast of Weeks, the Pharisees state that the word for Shabbat, should be interpreted to mean week and not the day itself. Amazingly, the year that Yeshua died, the sixteenth of Nisan fell on the Sunday, which is the day after the Sabbath for the Sadducees as well. God worked it out that neither group would have a reason not to recognize Yeshua as the Firstfruits of the Resurrection.
Following the regular offerings for the Feast of Pentecost (Leviticus 23:36), the people brought their own freewill offerings as the Lord had prospered them. They would then share with various people from all over the world and rejoice in the Lord (Acts 2:7-10). This would customarily last almost a week with the people reaching out to one another in love and fellowship. What a great opportunity for the believers and especially for Paul to reach out with the Good News as the Spirit of God gave them an open door. Yet we are accepted as we are because we look to Yeshua. In Him we have forgiveness, cleansing and full acceptance in the presence of God. PAUL’S PRIORITY
For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 20:16)
What’s the hurry, Paul? And why Jerusalem? Why not stop at Ephesus where so much of your ministry has been accomplished? (Acts 19). It is likely that if Paul had stopped at Ephesus he would have been delayed by many old friends desiring to see him, and Paul was prioritizing to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost.
Three times a year all Jews everywhere were to come to Jerusalem and to the Temple for worship: The Feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:16). Though people came to the Temple at Passover, there were more out of town Jews able to come to Jerusalem at Pentecost . This was mainly because the favorable weather later in the spring made the roads passable, and Jerusalem more accessible.
That is why we read that multitudes were coming from different nations to Jerusalem at Pentecost. Messiah had promised His disciples that His Spirit would empower them to be His witnesses as they reached the world with the Good News (Acts 1:8). At that Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, was given to the body of believers in Yeshua. The many countries represented by individuals who received the pouring forth of the Spirit pictured God reaching out to the whole world. This was Paul’s priority: to make the most of every opportunity for the sake of the Good News. Hence he would write, “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
Paul’s priority reminds us of our ultimate purpose in life while on this side of heaven: to share Good News with those around us. Whether it is a feast day, a family event, work time or leisure, let us take every opportunity to share the love of God and reach out with the message of Messiah to all with ears to hear, even to the Jew first. Adapted from the book Messiah in the Feasts of Israel.
On May 14, 1948, the state of Israel was born. God continues to build this nation through the regeneration of His people. The Lord is building Jerusalem, not only through political influence in the world, but more importantly, by bringing Jewish people to faith in their Messiah. Jeremiah 31:3 states, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness
These words could be one of the most profound statements in the Bible, since for God, love is a personal matter. The word for “loved” in Hebrew is ahav
, which means a deep desire from the heart of God. Does God still personally care about the welfare of the Jewish people? Paul answers this question by saying that God’s hands are outstretched all day long to a rebellious and disobedient people (Romans 10:21). God’s Unfailing Love
He continues to reach out and just can’t “take the hint.” Where are His hands today? They are your hands and my hands. As our hearts are yielded to His heart, then our hands reach out on His behalf. Yeshua wept over Jerusalem because of their lost spiritual state (Luke 19:41). Today He is still weeping, for He personally loves and cares for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. This is hard for most people to understand, since in the human experience, everybody has a breaking point and eventually gives up. God’s love is unique. What we know in our everyday experience is one thing, but the “eternal,” by definition, is hidden from our experience. The word “everlasting” in Hebrew is olam which comes from the root that means secret or hidden. That is why we have “a peace that surpasses comprehension
” (Phil. 4:7).
This love of God is beyond our understanding. I have two sons and I would never even consider giving up one of them. But, “God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son
” (John 3:16). This is a love that goes beyond our experience or understanding. His love for us is based on His character. God is not only love, but He is also immutable. Therefore, His love will never cease. He loves you eternally, and He will never give up on you.Witnesses of His Love
But how is God’s faithful and perpetual love revealed to Israel today? Through you as you continue to pray and reach out to the Jewish people. In fact, God has two witnesses to His faithful love today. Paul proves that God has not forsaken His people through the witness of Jewish believers who have a present tense Jewish testimony (Rom. 11:1-6). Additionally, Paul shows God’s faithfulness through the witness of the Gentile believers, for they are specifically called to make Israel jealous by ministering His mercy to them (Rom. 11:11-31). As Messiah’s perpetual love constrains our hearts, we too, will reveal His faithful love to Israel (2 Cor. 5:14). His call upon Israel is as sure as His faithfulness to His word. It is His faithfulness that is on the line. Both Jewish and Gentile believers are necessary to be a living demonstration to the Jewish community of the eternal love of God that will never give up on them.Family Loyalty Counts
God’s love can powerfully change our lives! God continues to draw us to Himself with His lovingkindness, which is chesed
in the Hebrew. Chesed
is a word that speaks of a relationship commitment to one another, a covenant love and kindness.
It is what one would expect to receive when in covenant with another. This word chesed has the same root that is used for a stork, chasidah
. The stork is known as a self-sacrificing bird and is so called for being kind and affectionate to its young. Chesed
(lovingkindness), or loyal love, teaches that family counts.
Therefore, we are to care for our family members. God sees Israel as His family, even as the father of a prodigal or a runaway child—the father forever seeks the runaway’s return. As Psalm 89:28 reiterates, “My lovingkindness I will keep for him forever, and My covenant shall be confirmed to him
.” During Yeshua’s earthly ministry, He proved His faithfulness and loyal love to His Jewish family. His credentials as the Jewish Messiah were demonstrated in His priority to save His people from sin, which was evidenced when He initially sent His disciples to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:5-6). Since God cut the covenant with Abraham and his descendents, we can understand Yeshua’s reticence in ministering to non-Jews, for they were outside of the Abrahamic Covenant (Matthew 15:26)
In general, God made all redemptive covenants with Israel. However, the promise of the Seed was extended to all families of the earth. Through faith in Messiah, all can receive the spiritual blessings and benefits of the covenant that God has made exclusively with Jewish people (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:12). And all who believe in Yeshua receive His grace (chesed
) and are grafted into His olive tree.Drawn by the Beloved
Likewise, God through this covenant relationship is faithfully drawing each one of us to Himself, continuing His lovingkindness toward us, never letting us go. Why? Because His character is love, He therefore has the constant conduct of love (1 John 4:8). He loves us personally, perpetually, and powerfully. I have often thought how glad I am that it says He will “draw me,” not “drive me,” to Himself. He draws me as a beloved and does not drive me as a master. Israel needs the Beloved. He doesn’t draw us with better laws, but with greater love. What’s going to get me all the way to heaven? His love, which will never give up or fail me. What will bring national Israel back to God? Israel will be drawn back by God’s powerful love, even through us, as we yield our hearts to Him. God’s Word never returns void. As He made His covenant with Israel born out of love, by the same love He will keep and sustain Israel. He loves His people with the most zealous love as He says in Zechariah 2:8, “For thus says the LORD of hosts, “... he who touches you [Israel], touches the apple of His eye
Likewise, all our relationships work best when we relate God’s way, which is through love and mercy. Through our testimony of God’s great love, He will continue to draw many into His covenant relationship. Even now, God’s hands are outstretched all day long to His people. Therefore, let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem and that Israel will recognize her Beloved Messiah (Psalm 122). (Adapted from the book Messianic Foundations
This year marks the 65th
anniversary since Israel became a nation again! After many generations of dispersion and persecution, the people of Israel are once again back in their homeland and today every Jew has a place to call home. This miraculous rebirth was prophesied hundreds of years before the destruction of the Second Temple and tragic expulsion of Jewish people from their Promised Land, to return back to Zion. The word “Zion” represents the Land of Israel, though it originally referred to Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:1; Psalm 51:18). Zionism is the belief in a Jewish homeland, an organized return of the Jewish people to Zion.
It is no secret that Israel’s neighbors oppose Zionism. In fact, the Muslim world has never acknowledged Israel’s right to exist—hence, the continuation of war and terrorism with which we are all too familiar. Recent movies and books from even so-called evangelical perspectives have sought to critique “Christian Zionism,” which is the phenomenon of fervent Christian support for the state of Israel.
Yes, there is always a danger of prioritizing the politics of Israel over proclaiming Good News to the Jewish people. God’s Good News expresses His love in Yeshua which is for the redemption of all people, and this includes Arabs. However, most evangelical critics of Zionism parrot an extreme anti-Israel viewpoint, a perspective which often descends into anti-Semitism and madness. Theologically, they push the notion that Israel continues only as “the Church” and that the Jewish people as such are no longer relevant to God’s plan.
Thus, they fail to consider that even as there are Arabs who are believers, God has done a work in raising up Messianic Jews in the Land. Both are a part of God’s redemptive purposes as they reach out to all with ears to hear.
God is a Zionist. He is committed to and concerned with the return of the Jewish people to Zion. Let us consider what the Scriptures say. “Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths’” (Isaiah 2:2). “Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, they shout joyfully together; For they will see with their own eyes when the LORD restores Zion” (Is. 52:8). “Again, proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “My cities will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.”’” (Zechariah 1:17, Isaiah 14:32, 35:10, Jeremiah 31:6)
The prophets are clear that God will restore His people in their land. His love never fails. He Hasn’t Changed His Mind
In light of all the troubles that Israel has endured, including the many hundreds of years the Jewish people had gone without a state, one might think that perhaps God has changed His mind and forsaken Israel as a nation. Not so. The Scriptures are clear that even if the Jewish people themselves would think this, it is never the case that God could let go of Zion. “But Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you ... Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me” (Isaiah 49:14, 16). “‘For I will restore you to health and I will heal you of your wounds,’ declares the LORD, ‘Because they have called you an outcast, saying: “It is Zion; no one cares for her”’” (Jer. 30:17).
God actually chose Zion (not Mecca, Rome, or Salt Lake City) as the place where He would dwell with His people. “For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation.” (Psalm 132:13) “Blessed be the LORD from Zion, Who dwells in Jerusalem” (Psalm 135:21).
He never changed His mind on the matter (Romans 11:1,2). In fact, the Lord’s future headquarters will again be Zion. “Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst”declares the LORD” (Zech. 2:10).
When Yeshua returns, it is to Zion: “Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives”
Therefore He will dwell there in the Kingdom age: “Thus says the LORD, ‘I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain’” (Zech. 8:3).
All of the seething anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism we see today is but a foretaste of a future war by the nations united against Israel (Zech. 14:2). In this attack, God is giving over the nations to their own evil desires and wicked ways (Romans 1:24-28). This “giving over” reveals the truth that the anti-Semitism of these nations is really anti-God: For behold, Your enemies make an uproar, and those who hate You have exalted themselves. They make shrewd plans against Your people, and conspire together against Your treasured ones. They have said, ‘Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more.’ For they have conspired together with one mind; against You they make a covenant. (Psalm 83:2-5)
Again, the Good News is God’s priority and must be ours as well. The Lord’s Return to planet Earth is linked to Israel’s repentance and faith in Him (Matthew 23:39; Zechariah 12:10; Acts 3:19-21). Part of the enemy’s strategy, then, is to prevent believers from “praying for the peace of Jerusalem” (Ps. 122:6). The enemy does this by obscuring:
- Israel’s Biblical right to Israel and Jerusalem
- The only means of obtaining peace, through the Prince of Peace (as opposed to political solutions)
- God’s provision for the true spiritual need of Israel: forgiveness of sins through Messiah Yeshua.
Let us not be deceived by the schemes of Satan to destroy Israel, but rather pray and proclaim Good News to Israel and the Jewish people around the world, while we still can.
The congregation at Corinth, like any congregation, had its problems. Unfortunately, none of us are perfect, so when we come together for fellowship and worship, sometimes our imperfections come with us.
In writing to help correct this predominantly Gentile congregation, Paul explains to the Corinthians why their immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-5) was detestable and culpable before God, and amazingly uses the Passover to drive the point home.
“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Messiah our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
Paul speaks about boasting as leaven. What did he mean? Traditionally, families that celebrate Passover clean out the leaven/yeast products from their homes before the feast can be enjoyed. This, of course, is from Exodus 12:15, “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.”
Leaven is a natural rising agent in breads and is a biblical picture of natural corruption. Though the loaf is no larger in substance, it swells in size. Like pride, this produces an inflated, false sense of growth (1 Cor. 8:1).
Passover was understood by all first century believers. Paul could readily refer to Passover regarding spiritual areas of their lives because they all understood the issues of Passover.
Method of Discipleship
The apostles’ method of discipleship included teaching on the Feasts of Israel as the basis to understanding the salvation experience (Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits), their sanctification and growth in the Holy Spirit (at Pentecost), and their future hope in Messiah (Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Tabernacles).In fact, these feasts are literally “appointed times” (mo’adeem, Lev. 23:4) to meet with His redeemed people. I sometimes wonder if Paul could so easily use such references in our congregations and churches today as he did in the first century. Paul, and the other apostles might well be shocked at the lack of teaching and awareness regarding the Biblical Feasts among New Testament believing churches.
A Present Picture
Passover was relevant to all first century believers: It was a constant reminder that we are no longer slaves in the bondage of sin, but are now spiritually free to follow and honor the Lord because Messiah our Passover also has been sacrificed. We are to no longer live as slaves to sin but live as new creations though Messiah’s gracious atonement. Passover clearly demonstrates that we are free from bondage not that we might foolishly do as we please, but that we might now follow God into the ‘Land of Promise’, and be pleasing to Him. Passover is a present picture of living the fulfilled life, not merely a record of some ancient biblical event.
For All Believers
Passover was observed and celebrated by all New Covenant believers. Paul was not telling the Corinthians that they should start keeping the Passover, they already were. The point is that they needed to do it properly. Paul’s point is that Passover should be celebrated with a pure heart, otherwise it is a demonstration of hypocrisy. Paul understood that for believers, Passover was to always be celebrated even as Moses taught. In 1 Corinthians 5:8, Paul uses the very same Greek word that is used for celebrate in the Greek version of Exodus 12:14: “Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.”
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians (and us), “Therefore let us celebrate the feast” he may have been thinking of this very verse that Moses shared with Israel. We can see clearly the messianic fulfillment of the Passover in Yeshua, and we should celebrate it with the eternal perspective of Messiah, and to His glory.
Tradition or Truth?
Some have suggested that Paul’s use of old leaven might refer to ‘the Jewish traditions’. Thus we would need to celebrate Passover only in the Lord’s Supper, not as the Jews do for that would be “old leaven”. But this idea is wrong, and for two reasons. First, leaven refers to moral corruption, not traditional observance for Yeshua himself celebrated Passover according to the customs of the day, and He certainly never sinned.
Secondly, “old” in the Greek is the same word as in Ephesians 4:22, “in reference to your former manner of life”. Thus, this old yeast (1 Cor. 5:7) refers to the old self that is crucified with Messiah (Rom. 6:6). Paul is telling believers to keep celebrating Passover, but to be sure to celebrate it without impurity: not as in the former manner of life with malice and wickedness (an evil attitude and wicked activities). We’re to celebrate it with purity, with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth: that is, with a pure attitude and in accordance with the truth of God.
For followers of Yeshua, Passover not only reminds us of the Exodus story, but how redemption in the Lamb affects our lives now and even into eternity. In the Scriptures God progressively reveals this truth of the Lamb of redemption so we may grow into the image of the Son: the Lamb of God.A Lamb for the Person
A lamb for sacrifice is first specifically mentioned in Scripture in Genesis 22. God commanded Abraham to offer his only son as a sacrifice. He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2).
This trial went to the very core of Abraham’s being. Isaac was a miraculous gift from God to Abraham and Sarah. Moreover, Isaac was the child of promise through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. If he sacrificed Isaac, what would happen to God’s plan? Rather than attempting to figure it all out, Abraham simply trusted and obeyed, and with confidence stated, “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you” (Genesis 22:5). He would return with the child!
Carrying the wood for the burnt offering up the mountain, Isaac was described by the rabbis “like a man carrying his cross” (Genesis Rabbah 56:3). He and Abraham went willingly to the place of sacrifice, confident that God would work out the details. At just the right time, God halted Abraham, and provided a sacrifice “in the place of his son Isaac” (Genesis 22:10-13).
Why did God require a sacrifice lamb for Isaac? Even though he was a good, obedient son, the requirement for sacrifice pointed to the truth that even the best of people need the Lamb. We often think of Messiah’s sacrifice as sufficient for the worst of people, but all have sinned (Romans 3:32). At the first reference of a lamb for sacrifice, we see that there is a lamb for the person.A Lamb for the Family
When the first Passover took place during Israel’s exodus from Egypt the lamb was required. God told Moses that the blood of the lamb would be a sign for the “houses where you are” (Exodus 12:13). The lamb would insure the safety of each Israelite family:
They shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for a house. And if the household is too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls. (Exodus 12:3-4)
Please note that it says, “if the household is too little for the lamb.” The household may be too little for the lamb, but the lamb is always more than enough for the household! It is not your hard work, your income, or your sacrifice that will secure your family-- it is His sacrifice. Your family needs the Lamb of God, and thankfully there is more than enough for your family. Parents, the best service you can provide for your family is to share the Lamb of God with them. There is a Lamb for the family.A Lamb for Israel
In the days of the prophets, Israel had become more than just families and tribes, but a nation. With greater size, comes greater sin. What would meet the needs of this people? Isaiah wrote that Messiah would be the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7), and the prophet recognized that even he and his people needed the Lamb. Isaiah 53:6-8 says:
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth… He was cut off from the land of living for the transgression of my people was he stricken. Yeshua went willingly, “as a lamb led to the slaughter” to the place of sacrifice, “for the transgressions of my people.” There is not only a lamb for the person and the family, but there is a lamb for the people.A Lamb for the World
As we move along with God into the New Covenant we begin to understand what this world needs: Messiah!
In politics and the media the ideal of peace is a frequent topic. In our world’s efforts to bring about peace, one factor is often overlooked: sin. This world does not possess the power or the wisdom to deal with the unrepentant evil that resides in human hearts. In the New Covenant we read, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). There is no wisdom for attaining peace without purity from sin, just as “wisdom from above is first pure then peaceable” (James 3:17).
God has provided what the whole world needs–forgiveness of sins by faith in Messiah– and one size fits all. The best fit for the greatest need of this world is the Lamb of God, and the best news we can share with the world is the Good News. There is a Lamb for the world.A Lamb for Eternity
In the book of Revelation, John describes how he saw a “strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?’” John then tells us how he wept because no one was found worthy to open the book.
One of the elders said to me, “Do not weep: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” (Revelation 5:5)
John turned and saw, not a lion, but a lamb, standing as though slain. He tells how he saw and heard all creation saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing… unto Him that sits upon the throne and unto the Lamb for ever and ever” (Revelation 5:12).
We see here that there is a Lamb for eternity! What will secure your life forever? Is it that house, car, or career that you have invested your life in? I often tell the story of the Microsoft investor who was asked, “If you knew before what you know now, what would you have done differently then?” He answered, “I would have invested more; I would have invested everything!” Yes, those who are growing into maturity live out the eternal values of Heaven as they live their lives on earth.
God is committed to growing us into His love and life through concern for the individual, the family, the nation, the world and living with eternity in view. In eternity every tribe and nation will praise Him. Believers from all ages, Jew and Gentile, will be there. Will you be there? The Lord has provided Himself as the Lamb for eternity. Trust in the Lamb!
Adapted from the book Messiah in the Feasts of Israel
by Sam Nadler
What makes for a life of spiritual freedom as opposed to a life of spiritual bondage? Our identification with the Lamb. Yeshua (Jesus) the Passover Lamb fulfills God’s prescribed "type," or picture of Messiah. In fact, the entire New Covenant is based on this redemption (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7). Let’s look a little deeper at this picture as it appears in Shemot, or Exodus. Prioritized Identification with The Lamb Exodus 12:1-2 states, "This month shall be the beginning of months for you." Though the civil Jewish calendar begins in September, the biblical year was to begin at the month of Nisan (March-April). Why did God want the year to begin then? It was to emphasize God’s priorities. Passover is the redemption of Israel from bondage, and with God, all things begin with redemption. As Passover was to mark their redemptive beginning, so also faith in Messiah marks the redemptive beginning of those who have believed:
"If any person is in Messiah he is a new creation, old things have passed away, new things have come
" (2 Cor. 5:17).
So just as the yearly biblical calendar is to be based upon and oriented around Passover (giving direction and stability to the entire year), our lives need to be based upon and oriented around Yeshua. Redemption in Messiah, the Lamb of God, is the sure foundation upon which all else will properly develop. It is this sure foundation that determines your security that may come throughout the rest of the year.A Personal Identification with The Lamb
In Exodus l2:3 the lamb to be sacrificed was to be selected "on the tenth day of the month" and kept until "the 14th day of the month" (12:6). Why? During that time the lamb had to be inspected to certify that it was "without blemish" (12:5). For redemption, the lamb had to be flawless. Though the Israelites were anxious to flee bondage, it was better to take the time to insure having a perfect redemption, than to merely make a quick escape from their circumstances.
Yeshua entered Jerusalem at the same time, on the tenth of the month when the Passover lambs were initially selected. During that week, Yeshua was also inspected. He was questioned, interrogated and tortured, until on the 14th of the month of Nisan, the head of government declared, "I find no fault in Him!" (Luke 23:22). Therefore, Yeshua was declared fit to be our Passover Lamb, to die for our redemption from the bondage of spiritual slavery.
In this twelfth chapter of Exodus there is a progression regarding the lamb: the Hebrews were to select a lamb from the flock (12:3); once selected, it is referred to as the lamb (12:4); it was inspected for several days and then called your lamb (12:5); and only then it was killed (12:6). When you first realize your need for salvation you may see Yeshua as a lamb; any Savior will do, like a port in a storm. But in choosing Him, one realizes that He is objectively the Lamb, the Savior, indeed the Lord! Finally, it is in personally depending upon this One - making Him your Lamb, recognizing that His death was for your sins - that you receive salvation.A Public Identification with The Lamb
In Exodus 12:7 we see that the death of the Lamb was not the last part of their redemption. Those that trusted in the lamb had to place the blood on the outside of their doors. Oy! Why blood on the door? In verses 12-13 we see the reason:
"The blood will be sign for you… and when I see the blood I will pass over you and the judgment shall not come upon you."
It was the application of the blood that marked a home out for redemption on from judgment.
But why would the Hebrews need to do this? God was not going to merely redeem a people of the flesh, but a people of faith. Think about it: what would be the essential difference between a Hebrew and an Egyptian? To put it another way, what is the difference between a believer in Yeshua and a non-believer in Yeshua? The difference is the blood of the Lamb! Only those that responded in faith and applied the Lamb’s blood were redeemed from bondage.
Those who have confidence in His atonement are to confess His redemption as well. For Yeshua said in Matthew 10:32-33, "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven." Have you confessed Yeshua and experienced the fearless freedom He brings? He who the Son sets free is free indeed!A Private Identification with The Lamb
The Passover was also a time for families to privately find nourishment in the Lamb (Ex. 12:8-9). There were three items to be eaten at the Passover meal, yet in the Lamb of God, these all point to our redemption in Messiah:
A Prompt Identification with The Lamb
- Bitter herbs, which remind us of the purpose of redemption. We remember the pain of life in bondage before redemption came. Remember, too, the bitterness of pain that Messiah endured that we might live!
- The matzah or unleavened bread, which reminds us of the results of redemption. As yeast, or leaven represents sin, pride and unbelief (Lev. 2:11; Matt. 11:16,17; 1 Cor. 5:6-8), the unleavened bread speaks of the ‘sin free’ life that Messiah brings.
- The lamb itself, reminding us of the price of our redemption. Never forsake the sacrifice of Messiah! Passover reminds us to remember privately in our souls the Messiah’s redemption.
The people were exhorted to quickly respond to the opportunity for redemption. They were not to delay in "leaving the lamb over until morning" (12:10). Identifying with the Lamb demands an urgent responsiveness. Three times the Scripture exhorts us to leave nothing over till morning: with wilderness manna (bread from Heaven) in Exodus 16:19; with the thanksgiving offering in Lev. 7:15; and finally here, with the lamb.
The manna speaks of the ‘daily bread’ of the word of God. Don’t put off the word God has for you today: it’s for today’s needs. The thanksgiving offering speaks of the need to respond in faith with thanksgiving today. It is not faith to merely wait to ‘see how it turns out’ before you give thanks to the Lord. We know by faith that "all things work together for good to those that love God and are the called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). Therefore we are to "give thanks in all things for this is the will of God for us in Messiah Yeshua" (1 Thess. 5:18).
Redemption too is for today, while it may yet be called today, so we are to "seek the Lord while He may be found" (Is. 55:6). There are to be no ‘spiritual leftovers’: redemption won’t wait. Don’t put off responding promptly. The ate with their "sandals on their feet and their loins girded and their staff in their hands" ("we are talking fast food"). They were ready to go on a moment’s notice at the Lord’s command, living for and looking toward their deliverance. In the same way, we too are to live we’re going somewhere! Are we ready to leave in the "twinkling of an eye"? "No man knows the day or the hour" of Messiah’s return: He comes as ‘a thief in the night’.
"What’s the rush?" you may say, "there’s plenty of time." Not unlike a bridge with structural damage: it’s better to fix it five years too soon than five minutes too late! Your present salvation, future security, and eternal satisfaction come by your faith in the Lamb today! Happy Passover!
The Feast of Purim is a Jewish holiday found in the Book of Esther that celebrates God’s delivering his people from destruction. Purim is recognized each year in Jewish communities around the world (this year on February 23) with various services, get-togethers and activities. Esther and her cousin Mordecai are the heroes, but earlier in their lives we find that they, like us, had some rather weak moments.
In the story, Esther becomes the Queen of Persia, but she repeatedly hides her Jewish identity: “Esther did not make known her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make them known” (Esther 2:10). “Esther had not yet made known her kindred or her people, even as Mordecai had commanded her…” (v. 20). Presumably, Esther lied about her Jewish background by not disclosing the truth in the Babylonian palace. In God’s eyes not telling the truth is just plain sin:, “Now if a person sins after he hears a public adjuration to testify when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt” (Lev. 5:1).
Why Not Identify with The Jews?
Esther concealed her identity at the prompting of her cousin Mordecai. Why did Mordecai tell Esther not to reveal her Jewish identity? We must understand that years earlier, through the prophets, God had called His people to return from exile in Babylon to their homeland of Israel. Those that heeded God’s call left Babylon. But for others, life was pretty good in Babylon, so they chose to stay there: disregarding, or at least not identifying with God’s Chosen People. Since the Jewish residents of Babylon weren’t identifying with the call of God, they therefore didn’t identify themselves as the people of God. It is the same principle for us today. If you won’t identify with God’s call, you won’t identify with God’s people. After all, in Babylon, as soon as it would be mentioned they were Jews, the obvious response would be, ‘but I thought God called you back to Israel? Why are you still here?’ Hence their lack of faith and resulting shame would be revealed to everyone.
Heeding the Call: It’s For Everyone
Identifying with the call of God has always been evidenced by identifying with the people of God. Notice this in the life of Moses. “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Messiah greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11: 24-26).
Though not Jewish herself, Ruth identified with the people when she identified with theirGod. “But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Though Paul was called to the Gentiles he lived as a Jew and identified himself with his people throughout his ministry.
“But Paul said, “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, ... “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia.” “I say then, God has not rejected His people has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God will not forsake a people who He foreknew!” (Acts 21:39;22:3; Rom. 11:1-2). Why did Paul do this? Was it just mere ethnic chauvinism? No! By identifying with God's people Paul was identifying with God's faithful promises and unchanging purpose.
This may have been Paul’s personal commitment; but what was his influence on other Jewish believers? Ask Timothy!
“Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” (Acts 16:1-3). Paul identifies Timothy as a Jew through circumcision. Why? Who would know? Timothy would know.
Whether it was Daniel, Joseph, Moses, Paul or Timothy, or yourself, the challenge of faith is always...“Do we believe God will be faithful to His promises”? And therefore...Will we identify with Him and His people?
God Will Force the Issue
Esther’s failure to identify with God’s purpose and people was symptomatic of the problem of all the people that stayed behind in Babylon. Since God cared for His people, he confronted the problem head-on by allowing an anti-Semitic man named Haman to arise. This forced the issue of identification with God’s people (see Esther 3 & 4).
Gentile believers need to identify with the Jewish people by standing against anti-Semitism, pro-actively sharing the Good News with Jewish friends, praying for the Peace of Jerusalem, and identifying with ‘the Remnant of Israel’, the Jewish believers in Yeshua. Actually, that’s why so many Bible believing Gentiles are attending messianic congregations: they are identifying with God’s unfailing promise to Israel by identifying with the Jewish people.
If It’s Good Enough for Yeshua...
Jewish believers need to identify themselves and their children as Jews. That’s one reason messianic congregations are available: to help Jewish believers to grow spiritually and testify powerfully “Am Yisrael Chai B’Yeshua HaMashiach” “the People of Israel Live in Yeshua the Messiah!”
Even Messiah identified with our people. He could have come as a Persian, Greek, or Roman but chose rather to be identified as a Jew. Messiah identified with us to save us. “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him... For I say that Messiah has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers…for He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (John 1:11, Romans 15:8, Heb. 2:11). Those who identify with Him are saved in Him.
The Son of God, (Ben Elohim in Hebrew), came in the flesh, identifying Himself with us all (Phil. 2:5-8). But even in this He came as a humble Jewish carpenter. If we’re ashamed of identifying with the Jewish people are we not denying the purpose of God in Messiah? This is why Paul proclaims his Jewish identity in the book of Romans: not to boast in the flesh, but to boast in a faithful God who has not forsaken Israel.
God Can Restore You!
Through a turn of events, and by God’s grace, Esther repented (Esther 4:16) and eventually became a hero. We, as well, can repent of any failure to identify with God or His people. We, like Esther, can also play a significant role in God’s work in this world. As a believer in Yeshua, whether you have a Jewish or Gentile background, isn’t it time for you to identify with God’s people, promises and purpose? Remember:
Those identifying with God’s purpose will identify with God’s people. Messiah identified with us to save us; those that identify with Him are saved in Him.
Have a Happy Purim!
God is love and His book is full of the original love stories. To study these love stories gives us God’s perspective on His love. One wonderful example is the book of Ruth which contains one of the most magnificent love stories of all time.
We see the love of a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law that is poured out without hesitation or reservation. This love story culminates in the love of the redeemer for his bride. The declaration that Ruth made is often quoted at weddings as she so poignantly declares her love for Naomi.
“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
Ruth was a sacred reminder that though Naomi had forsaken the Lord, the Lord had not forsaken Naomi. Ruth saw that the God of Israel had called her to minister in love to His people. Despite Naomi’s spiritual condition she was still one of His people.
During Yeshua’s earthly ministry He and His followers were committed to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, as is beautifully pictured in Ruth (Matthew 10:5). God has called all believers not to forsake His people, and faith in God is seen in faithfulness to His calling. This applies to every area of our lives.
In Ruth’s declaration of love and loyalty she identifies with the people of God and the God of Israel in four areas of commitment: personal, national, spiritual, and mortal.
Ruth declared, “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge.” For all intents and purposes Ruth was saying, “My life will be intertwined with yours, both where you go and where you lodge. Where you go, though you leave the land of my birth, Moab, and where you lodge or settle, even in the land of Israel.” Ruth would rather follow a bitter believer like Naomi to the right destination, than to follow Orpah, a sweet non-believer, to the wrong destination.
Then she continued, “Your people shall be my people.” God’s blessing for the world is through the seed of Abraham, the Jewish people (Genesis 12:3). Identifying with God’s blessing means identifying with Israel. Paul uses the illustration of the Olive Tree in Romans 11:17-24 as a reminder for Gentile believers to show the kindness of the Lord as it was shown to them. The Olive Tree pictured the ministerial life of Israel and the priestly service; the roots are the promises made to the fathers.
These promises were to be ministered through Israel to the nations (Genesis 12:3, 22:18; Romans 15:8-12; Ephesians 2:11-22). Unbelief broke the natural branches off from this service. By faith in Messiah, Gentile believers are grafted into the Olive Tree alongside Jewish believers in order to minister the very same mercy and love they received to the Jewish people (Romans 11:30-31). Like Ruth, let us not only love Jewish people, but also be willing to identify with them for God’s sake.
“Your God will be my God,” Ruth implied, “I will identify with that which is unfamiliar but true, rather than that which is familiar, but untrue.” When Ruth declared, “your God will be my God” it made no sense to Naomi, because in her heart she believed that God was the cause of her problems (Ruth 1:13). Ruth’s declaration is similar to Rahab’s conversion and confession in Joshua 2:11, “for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.’’
Further she stated, “Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.” This commitment was an addition to that made in Ruth 1:16 and went beyond anything Naomi was thinking. Ruth was willing to give up her Moabite life rather than be disloyal to Naomi. Ruth did not fear death because she understood that the truth of eternal life overshadowed the terrors of death. Her trust in the God of Israel under whose wings Ruth rested, gave her the same confidence that all those of faith enjoy today (Romans 8:35-39).
Ruth then concludes her extraordinary response to Naomi’s counsel with the most eternal commitment: “Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:17). This language was a vow, a blood oath. But notice the language Ruth used: “May the LORD do to me!” She vowed in the sacred and covenant name of the God of Israel. She confessed the LORD as her Lord.
Ruth submitted to the Lord and His covenant relationship. She was saying, “My life is in His hands for death or for life –I trust Him!” Ruth “believed that He is; and that He is the rewarder of those that diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Although our faith is continually tested, it is a biblical norm and is spiritually good for us (Deuteronomy 8:16; James 1:2-4). We are to resist the temptation to forsake the Lord through obedience and trust in God’s goodness and purposes, and we are to resist by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:4-16). Those who pass the “test” using faith are also faithfully rewarded (James 1:12; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15). God is revealed in the midst of the test. Testing produces testimony. Ruth’s faith was tested; Ruth triumphed by faith and the God of Israel was glorified in her. She truly loved as God loves without reservation or fear.
We have a reminder of ‘out-of-season’ fruit in a winter holiday called the Jewish New Year for the Trees - Tu B’Shevat
. Although a minor Jewish holiday it can be encouraging to consider. In the Jewish calendar it is one of four New Years (Rosh HaShana) mentioned in the early rabbinic writings. This holiday was originally a time for counting the tithes and offerings of fruits. During the Middle Ages it developed as a recognized celebration and fruit eating was added. To this day it has become popular with many Jewish people. Growing up in my Middle Village, NY synagogue, we celebrated this holiday by eating different types of fruit and nuts and discussing the Land of Israel and its importance to our people.
Traditionally, grapes, dates, olives, and pomegranates are all part of the holiday because they are spoken of in the Hebrew Scriptures and especially because they are associated with the Land of Israel. Specific categories of fruit and nuts include:
- Fruit with hard, inedible exteriors and soft edible insides, like oranges, bananas, walnuts, and pistachios
- Fruit with soft exteriors, but with a hard pit inside, such as dates, apricots, olives and persimmons
- Fruit that is eaten whole, such as figs or berries
- Fruit which is associated with the Land of Israel
Let us consider how these aspects of the Tu B’Shevat fruits can picture our spiritual life: 1. Fruits and nuts with hard, inedible exteriors and soft edible insides--
What a vivid reminder of our spiritual life in Messiah! While we are in this world, we often need to be “hard on the outside” in order to be resistant and “not conformed” to conflicting influences (Rom. 12:2). For example, the Scriptures often teach us to “resist the devil” (James 4:7; Eph. 6:13; 1 Pet. 5:7-9). On the other hand, since He who is in us is greater than He who is in the world (1 John 4:4), we need to be soft inside, that is, yielded and responsive to the Holy Spirit, even as we are resistant to unholy spirits.2. Fruits and nuts with soft exteriors, but with a hard pit inside
— Here we have another contrasting illustration of our walk in Messiah. The soft exteriors remind us to be loving to all, yet with a “hard pit inside.” This is not to say that we should be hard-hearted, but rather uncompromising in the absolutes of God’s eternal Word. This gives us the internal character of righteous integrity and an iron backbone to withstand the wayward winds of this world. How often our merciful “soft exterior” may be offended and hurt by the unkindness of this world system! By internalizing the world’s attack on our testimony in Messiah, “the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). That is why we need a “hard pit”— a heart firm in the faith of His unchanging love in Yeshua. For no matter how others may despise our faith they cannot stop us from caring and showing God’s love.3. Fruit that is eaten whole
— As we mature, we enjoy all of His Word. Some portions of God’s Word are difficult to digest (John 6:60). But as we press on in His eternal word, we recognize that “solid food is for the mature” (Hebrews 5:14) and that “all Scripture is both inspired and profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16). As we mature in Messiah’s truth that will cause us to walk in His truth, then every area of our life will bring “praise to His glory” (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14).4. Fruit that is associated with Israel
— this category covers all of the rest. Mature fruit-bearing means being less concerned with our personal agendas and more concerned with God’s eternal agenda. A maturity for both Jewish and Gentile believers will further reflect the apostolic concern that Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles taught regarding the ministry of prayer: “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved” (Romans 10:1). Our heart’s desire and spiritual fruit is seen more and more as we become a person after God’s own heart like David who taught us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6).
Therefore may our maturity in Messiah reflect the heart of the King of the Jews in having fruit associated with Israel! Please join us in prayer that this year we all will be bearing fruit that testifies of the God of Israel’s love, His love that is fully and forever received in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the world.
For those of us who live in colder climates, we don’t usually think of winter as a season for bearing fruit. However the Scriptures encourage us to be fruitful not based upon the times and seasons. Rather, we are given confidence to be producing the spiritual fruit of the life of Yeshua--in season and out of season. Whether this fruit is seen in our praise which is the “the fruit of the lips” from Hebrews 13:15 or in our practice through “the fruit of righteousness” found in Hebrews 12:11, our spiritual fruit is not based on any season but by abiding in Yeshua (John 15:5).
In Romans 1:16, God’s ongoing love for the Jewish people is revealed in the Good News of Messiah. Though Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, he coined the phrase “To the Jew first” regarding God’s faithfulness, and his personal ministry approach (Acts 13:46). It’s a concept that didn’t begin, nor end with Paul, but from the foundation of the world God’s provision of salvation was to and through the Jewish people. In fact, the birth of Messiah would be God’s declaration that “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).
Gentile Seekers and the Jewish Messiah
Regardless of the specific date of Yeshua’s birth, the Jewish focus of His birth for the Gentile world is undeniable. The Magi, wise men from the east, came seeking Him: “Now after Yeshua was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him’” (Matt. 2:1,2). Who were the Magi, and what motivated these men to follow this particular star?
The Magi were a caste of wise men specializing in the study of astrology /astronomy, medicine and natural science. One of their own, Balaam, predicted centuries earlier about a Ruler who would arise, as contained in this prophecy: “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a star shall come out of Jacob; a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). Since a scepter is the symbol of the authority of a king, you can see why they knew the star would lead them to the one “born king of the Jews” (Matt. 2:1,2)!
When this particular star appeared in the sky, the Magi recognized that they were on the verge of a special event! The time had come, and by faith they followed the star and found the true king of the Jews and Savior of the world. Thus right from the beginning the fact that the Good News is to the Jew first wasn’t viewed as a lack of concern for the nations, but it was God’s means to reach all people, along with Israel.
Also available to the Magi would have been Daniel’s writings, as Daniel had apparently been identified with this crowd while in Babylon (Daniel 2:2-13). Therefore the time of Messiah’s coming, according to Daniel 9:24-26, would have made the Magi alert as to when to look to Israel for their hope and salvation. But in Daniel 9:24 we read, “Seventy weeks [490 years] have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.”
It was not only the timing of Messiah’s coming that would have been noticed by the Magi, but His spiritual purpose was emphasized: “to make atonement for iniquity, transgression and sin; to establish righteousness and anoint the Holy Place.” The date of His coming is intrinsically linked to His purpose for coming. Similarly, Messiah’s humility at His birth was a foreshadowing of and pointed to His humiliation at His death. Humility precedes glory, as repentance precedes redemption.
We Have Come to Worship Him
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:2). Think about it. As the elite of society, these Gentile Magi stepped out of their pagan culture, traveled nearly 1000 miles on camel, possibly for as long as two years, for the sole purpose of worshiping the true God in Messiah!
For these Gentiles, seeking out and trusting in a Jewish Savior crucified their pride, as well as put an end to their sin. They had to leave the sophistication in the east and travel to the backwater locales of the Empire, even Bethlehem of Judea.
These Magi were not merely seeking the Sovereign of the Jews, but the Savior of the Jews as well. They understood that in Messiah’s birth the Good News to the world is to the Jew first. Their journey was surely long and difficult, but it was worth it all to gain more than gold, myrrh and frankincense could ever purchase—salvation by faith in the King of the Jews, Yeshua!
Good News to the Gentile World
Isaiah too, prophesied that “To the Jew first” was Good News for the Gentile world. Not only did Isaiah foretell that Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14), that He would be God incarnate (Isa. 9:6), and that He would be David’s seed, born of the root of Jesse (Isa. 11:1), but this very Jewish Messiah would be the One in whom all the nations would trust: “Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious” (Isa. 11:10); “He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth’” (Isa. 49:6); and “Thus He will sprinkle many nations” (Isa. 52:15) with His atonement (Isa. 42:1,6).
Through Messiah’s death, salvation in His atonement changes our hearts from rebelling against the God of Israel, to relying upon Him and His promises, which alone can nourish our souls. Thus Isaiah predicts that in the time to come the hearts of the nations who turn to the God of Israel will also love the people of Israel. For those who recognize and appreciate the Jewishness of their faith, their hearts will be inclined to the Jew first, “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isa. 60:3);
“Be joyful with Jerusalem and rejoice for her, all you who love her; Be exceedingly glad with her, all you who mourn over her…For thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you will be nursed, you will be carried on the hip and fondled on the knees.’ As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you will be comforted in Jerusalem”(Isa. 66:10-13).
Indeed, for those who allow the King of the Jews to reign in their hearts, His love for the Jewish people will flow like a river. Better understanding that God’s “To the Jew first” program is not only the way to find the Savior, but the way to enjoy all the promises of God (Romans 11:17,18).
Wise Men Still Seek Him
The prophecies and promises of Scripture would be fulfilled and authoritatively recorded in yet another Jewish book, the New Covenant (New Testament, see Jer. 31:31). As those who sought salvation at Yeshua’s birth followed the trail of clues in the Hebrew Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15), wise men today still must recognize these Jewish apostolic writings to find the Savior of the world. Turning to the pages of the New Covenant we see the faithfulness of God manifested in a manger. To the Jew first was the call upon the Magi, and upon all that seek Him born King of the Jews.
Still To The Jew First
The birth of Messiah not only prepares us to better understand the rest of His life, but the rest of our lives as well. The Jewish context of the faith is still as relevant now as it was at His birth and in the ministry of Paul. God’s faithfulness to Israel according to His promises is not only manifested in the manger, but in the ministry of Messiah’s followers, who are called to demonstrate that same faithful God who will not forsake a people who He has foreknown (Rom. 11:2). This year as you celebrate His birth, let that miraculous event orient your life for the coming new year, and forever! Therefore “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Ps.122:6), and for our efforts throughout North America, Europe and Israel this coming year, as we endeavor to be faithful to His call and declare His forgiveness and New Life in the New Year, to all with ears to hear both to “To the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.