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Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The New and Better Way to God

Under the terms of the Old Covenant outlined in Torah, the Israelites were commanded to seek God at the place which he had designated for worship. Indeed, in the book of Deuteronomy, we read:

"These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the Lord your God with such things.

But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the Lord your God has blessed you.

You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes— for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you. But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, then there will be the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the Lord. And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you. Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; but in the place which the Lord chooses, in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you." (Deuteronomy 12:1-14, NKJV)

Students of the Bible refer to this as the Law of the Central Sanctuary and know that God eventually designated Jerusalem to be that place. It was there that David established his capital city, and Solomon built God's Temple (I Kings 6 and I Chronicles 28). However, we also know that God became very disenchanted with the Israelites and eventually allowed the Assyrians and Babylonians to conquer them and destroy Jerusalem and the Temple (II Kings 25 and II Chronicles 36). Nevertheless, the same Hebrew Scriptures later inform us that the Jews were eventually permitted to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple (II Chronicles 36, 37 and Ezra). This was the Temple (refurbished and expanded by Herod the Great) which Jesus often attended at Jerusalem.

For the Jews of the First Century, the Temple at Jerusalem represented God's presence on earth. For them, the Hebrew Scriptures (especially Torah) outlined the way to God - representing his instructions about the proper way to worship him. They were God's people, and the Gentiles which surrounded them were NOT. This was the world into which Jesus was born. This was the reality which he confronted with his message.

Interestingly, in the Gospel of John, we find an account of Jesus coming face to face with a Samaritan woman (a Gentile), and a very interesting conversation ensued. We read:

A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, 'Give Me a drink.' For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, 'How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?' For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

Jesus answered and said to her, 'If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.' The woman said to Him, 'Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?' Jesus answered and said to her, 'Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.' The woman said to Him, 'Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.'" (John 4:7-15, NKJV)

Continuing in the account, Jesus tells the woman that she has had five husbands in the course of her life, and that the man whom she was currently living with was not her husband (John 4:16-18). The conversation continued: "The woman said to Him, 'Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.'

Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.'" (John 4:19-24, NKJV)

In the following chapter, we have an account of Jesus healing on the Sabbath and telling the Jews that God was his /Father. All of which enraged the Jews (John 5:1-18). Jesus, however, did not retreat. Instead, he told them: "I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life." (John 5:36-40, NKJV) Knowing his audience and what was important to them, he continued: "Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" (John 5:45-47, NKJV)

Later, in the very same Gospel, Christ told his disciples: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6, NKJV) Jesus revealed to them that he represented the Father and his will - that HE, not the Scriptures was the way to God. Just as he had earlier told the Jews, their Scriptures pointed to HIM! He continued: "'If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.' Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, 'Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?' Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.'" (John 14:15-24, NKJV) Clearly, under the terms of the New Covenant, the way to God was NOT to be found in Torah - it was to be found in Jesus of Nazareth and paying attention to his message and commandments.

Finally, in addition to predicting his own death and resurrection, the Gospel of Matthew informs us that Christ predicted the physical destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. We read there: "Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, 'Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.'" (Matthew 24:1-2, NKJV) Now, from the writing of the Jewish historian, Josephus, we know that Christ's prediction was fulfilled in the year 70 CE. The occupying Romans completely destroyed the Temple at Jerusalem - the focal point of Torah observance and the Jewish religion. Coincidence? Why would Christ predict the Temple's destruction if it didn't have any relevance to his Father's plans? Remember, Jesus had already promised his disciples that he and the Father would make their home within the disciples through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! In other words, after Christ had completed his mission and fulfilled Torah, the Temple was superfluous. It no longer represented God's presence or the way to God! Through Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings, there was now a new and better way to God!

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