A Light to the Nations

POSTED 11 SEPTEMBER, 2006

As Messianic Believers, we give an incredible amount of attention to the teachings of the Torah and Tanach. Every week in Messianic fellowships and congregations, the weekly Torah and Haftarah readings are considered that should bring great depth and dimension to our faith. We are called to consider the history of Ancient Israel, its deliverance through the wilderness by God, and the mission that God has for His people. When we examine what the Torah says, we are forced to see that the world that we live in today is sinful, is rife with problems, and is in desperate need of change. As representatives of the Lord on Planet Earth, we are to help instigate that change through a testimony of being changed by a supernatural encounter with Yeshua the Messiah, and being continually renewed through the working of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul says that we are to be ambassadors for God working for the reconciliation of others to Him (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Each one of us has entered into the Messianic community and adopted a lifestyle of Torah obedience for any number of reasons. Hopefully, the principal reason that each one of us should consider is the fact that we wanted more of God and we wanted to grow and mature in our walk of faith. We were secure in the elementary teachings about the Bible (Hebrews 6:1-2) and were ready to move on to deal with more complicated things. Hebrews 5:14 attests, “solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” As we experience more and more of God, He will increasingly give us the spiritual and mental abilities to deal with complex circumstances and issues.

One issue that is often not given a great deal of consideration in today’s emerging Messianic movement—for any number of reasons—is the relationship of the Messianic community to the broader community of Believers, not only in America or the West, but around the world. We have been keen to note that many in the Christian Church have forgotten all about Israel—at the expense of the world. This is primarily evidenced when the Tanach or the Old Testament is not considered in one’s Bible study or teachings in much of today’s Christian Church. But equally so, have some in the Messianic community so focused on Israel that they have forgotten about the world? Have some forgotten that we are in a covenant relationship with people claiming a belief in Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) not only in suburban America, but with those living in mud huts in the Amazonian rainforest or in underground churches in places like China and the Sudan? How are we to have a true global vision?

I would ask you to consider some of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, which can be easily applied to both the people of Israel and Messiah Yeshua. Thus, I would have to say that they apply equally to the mission of the Messiah, and the mission of God’s people. He says,

“Thus says God the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it, I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison” (Isaiah 42:5-7).

One does not need to go far to see the Messianic significance of this passage. Yeshua Himself says, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life…I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness” (John 8:12; 12:46). Our Lord also tells us in His Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). These all correspond to what Isaiah has referred to as “a light to the nations.” But what is this to mean? Have we missed anything as today’s Messianic community—seeking to be as Biblical as possible?

An important Torah passage for every Messianic Believer to know is Deuteronomy 4:5-7. Deuteronomy 4:5-7 attests to the fact that it was Israel’s obedience to God’s commandments that would enable them to be a testimony to the other nations surrounding them, and the awesomeness and power of Israel’s God:

“See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him?”

The Keil & Delitzch Commentary on the Old Testament remarks, “the laws which Moses taught were commandments of the Lord. Keeping and doing them were to be the wisdom and understanding of Israel in the eyes of the nations… History has confirmed this. Not only did the wisdom of a Solomon astonish the queen of Sheba (1Ki 10:4), but the divine truth which Israel possessed in the law of Moses attracted all the more earnest minds of the heathen world to seek the satisfaction of the inmost necessities of their heart and the salvation of their souls in Israel’s knowledge of God.”[1] The Divine nature of the Torah was to attract outsiders to the God of Israel.

This is no different than what Yeshua says in His Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Note that it is immediately following this that He says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). As Believers in Yeshua, who have believed in the good news of salvation available in Him and have been transformed by Him—this should be a very easy concept to consider! Our obedience to God comes because of our love for Him; by obeying God He can bless us; those in the world get to see God’s blessings upon us; we get to testify to the world how we have been changed by the power of Yeshua!

This is not a difficult mandate at all when our motivation for becoming Torah observant is to have the best possible relationship with our Heavenly Father as we can. It is not to come out of some forced “obligation,” but rather because we want to please Him and be empowered to perform the work that He has for us. The assignment that Yeshua gave His Disciples before He ascended into Heaven was that “you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

In the Messianic community today, we focus largely on Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. We pray for the people living in the Land of Israel, that God may protect them, and that our Jewish brothers and sisters might one day come to a knowledge of Yeshua as the Messiah. If we are non-Jewish Messianics, we eagerly follow the instruction of the Apostle Paul to provoke our Jewish brethren to jealousy in Yeshua the Messiah (Romans 9-11). But how many of us forget the part about “unto the uttermost part of the earth” (KJV)? Our prayers and spiritual focus cannot be exclusively centered on Israel if we are to be “truly Biblical.” Surprisingly, Ancient Israel of the past and the Ancient Pharisees may have had a better handle of a “global vision” than some in today’s emerging Messianic movement.

King David proclaims in Psalm 67:2-7, “May God be gracious to us and bless us; may He show us favor, that your way may be known on earth, your deliverance among all nations. Peoples will praise You, O God; all peoples will praise You. Nations will exult and shout for joy, for You rule the peoples with equity, you guide the nations of the earth. The peoples will praise You, O God; all peoples will praise You. May the earth yield its produce; may God, our God, bless us. May God bless us, and be revered to the ends of the earth” (NJPS). David’s prayer was that the whole world may know of the One True God of Israel. And we do know that one day this is going to be fully accomplished. One day all peoples of Planet Earth will know that the God of Israel is the One True God—and many will praise Him for His salvation!

At the dedication of the First Temple, Solomon praised the Lord and prayed, “concerning the foreigner who is not from Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your great name’s sake and Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm, when they come and pray toward this house, then hear from heaven, from Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, and fear You as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name” (2 Chronicles 6:32-33). Solomon prayed that the fame of the Temple he built for the Lord would spread abroad and that foreigners would come to a knowledge of Him and know Him as their God.

The Pharisees, while often viewed as the principal antagonists of Yeshua’s ministry, actually believed in what is commonly called the “Great Commission” (cf. Matthew 28:19-20). While Yeshua condemned the leaders of the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, Yeshua’s basic theology (and likewise Paul’s) was quite Pharisaical.[2] The Pharisees were active in what we would today call “missionary evangelism,” based on Scripture texts such as Isaiah 2:20 and Jeremiah 16:19:

“In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship” (Isaiah 2:20).

“O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, and my refuge in the day of distress, to You the nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, ‘Our fathers have inherited nothing but falsehood, futility and things of no profit’” (Jeremiah 16:19).

These prophecies formed the basis of Pharisaical “missionary evangelism,” whereby steps were taken by the Pharisees to go out into the nations and make converts. These words both predict that the nations will acknowledge the God of Israel. Ron Moseley remarks in his book Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church, “the Pharisees engaged in aggressive and effective evangelism for three hundred years, especially during the time of Christ.”[3] Why were there so many Jewish communities outside the Land of Israel in the First Century in such foreign areas such as Northern Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome? The reason that there were Jewish synagogues in these distant locations is primarily because they were planted there by Pharisees to convert the masses in anticipation of the eschaton where all nations would acknowledge the God of Israel.

Can it be said that the great figures of faith that we read about in the Tanach had a better handle on seeing the world from God’s perspective than we as Messianics might have today? They all understood that Israel was God’s vessel to see that the whole world might come to a knowledge of Him and thus be redeemed. They understood Israel as God’s servant to others around them. They knew that if Israel obeyed God it would be empowered to perform His work in the world.

This has really been an issue weighing on my heart for a long time, but especially during the crisis in Lebanon this past July and August (2006). Aside from the fact that a great deal of unwarranted end-time prophetic speculation took place (and still is taking place as it always is), I received a large amount of correspondence and e-mail from people asking for prayers for the Jews in Israel, particularly in areas under Hezbollah attack. I think that this is a good thing, as we need to pray for our Jewish brethren whose lives are threatened by terrorists—and I do not know anyone who would disagree with this. As Believers, we are required by Scripture to pray for peace.

But too many of the things that I saw and heard also included statements like: “May Israel’s enemies be utterly destroyed! May the armies of Israel prevail!” I can understand the motives of those making statements like this. I agree that Israel’s enemies should be defeated, but in this conflict what is Israel’s ultimate enemy? Terror. Terror is an idea or ideology; it can only be defeated when those who perpetrate it realize that they will utterly fail. Praying for the defeat of terrorism is not something I am against. I am against those who believe that the answer to the “Arab problem” is pushing the Arabs into the desert—the reverse mistake of those thinking that the “Jewish problem” is pushing Israel into the sea.

Is it right for us to pray that Israel’s enemies be stopped? Yes. But is it right for us to pray that they be “utterly destroyed”? No. As Believers in Yeshua the Messiah, He has given us the command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This is a critical part of His Sermon on the Mount and how we are to follow the Torah. The ultimate answer to Hezbollah or any Muslim group wanting to see Israel’s destruction is not having the terrorists wiped out—because more terrorists will only come and replace them—the answer is that these people have a supernatural encounter with the Messiah of Israel! Unfortunately, I only saw a handful of prayers issued by people praying for Israel also wanting to see the salvation of the terrorists. My friends, Hell does not need any more Muslims.

While some in our ranks may have been “caught up in the moment,” and be more “Zionistic” in their prayers than need be, these things speak of a larger problem that needs to be resolved in today’s Messianic movement. On the whole, we lack a global vision.

All of us, at one point or another, have made the mistake of “putting God in a box.” We have thought that we have a neat, packaged, fully comprehended understanding of God and His universe. Quickly via life experience we discover that as humans we are arrogant to think that we can fully understand God.

In a similar way, how many of us as Messianic Believers, focusing a great deal of attention on Israel, the Jewish people, and the Hebrew Scriptures, have actually placed ourselves in a box? This is not to say that these things are unimportant—because they clearly are—but when we do not pray for the salvation of our enemies, it means that we do not see the big picture. It is ironic when we can see Pharisees, the “bad guys” in many people’s minds, going to places as far as Rome or Spain in the First Century B.C.E. making converts—when Messianics today are often unwilling to walk into a Christian church down the street and tell their fellow brothers and sisters about how the Lord has reinvigorated their faith through understanding their Hebraic Roots.

How are we to embrace a global vision? For many, this can be a difficult concept to fathom because it does call us to look at the world and individual humans from the perspective of God, and not a limited mortal point of view. It calls us to realize that each person has been made in His image, that He cares about them, and that He desires to see each man and woman reconciled to Himself. As Messianics, it calls us to understand that being Torah observant is not an end to itself. We ultimately become Torah observant so that by being separated from the world, the world will be attracted to us to know why we have such spiritual fulfillment in our lives. As was the case with the First Temple, Solomon prayed that people be drawn to the Temple after hearing about the glory of God that filled it. Are people attracted to us when they see the glory of God that is supposed to fill us?

The best thing that today’s Messianic community has going for it is the same thing that can easily kill it, if we are not careful. We are, on the whole, a largely American movement. As a largely American movement, we are open-minded and are willing to consider new ideas. We are eager to embrace a different style of worship and approach to the Bible. If we are non-Jewish, many of us are eager to embrace Jewish customs and traditions. Personally, I believe that these are all good things.

At the same time, as Americans we also expect instantaneous change. We expect answers to come immediately, and are often unwilling to let the Lord work things out in His timing. We want to know everything there is to know about God and what He is doing right now. We often think that the world revolves around us—and that may come because of our American sense of being the world’s sole superpower. Our American-centric approach has caused us to apply an American-style of theology on the entire world. This is not only true of much of today’s Messianic movement, but also of the American Christian Church in general.

One of the things that we as Americans largely lack—that we must have—is having a regard for things that are ancient. Our country is less than 300 years old. The history of the United States can easily fall into the time period of the Maccabean rebellion against Antiochus Epiphanes to the death of the Apostle John: the “elongated” First Century from 125 B.C.E-95 C.E. That’s America, folks. Europeans have a better handle on time than we do! And just consider this: as you begin the next Torah cycle, the first two Torah portions (Bereisheet and Noach) cover at least 2,200 years of human history—and probably much more.[4] How many of us are going to just “jump over” this and not realize how much we are covering?

Our fallen human nature dictates that each one of us, whether we are an individual, or part of a certain culture, is going to focus on ourselves. To an extent, this cannot be avoided. All of us were born and raised in a particular part of the world, speaking a specific native language, eating a particular style of cooking and eating it a certain way, and having a particular set of cultural likes and dislikes. I can think back on the history of my own family, and how my grandparents from Alabama would speak about “Yankees,” their fellow Americans living in the North. This did not necessarily mean that they did not like Northerners; but they did have a set of customs, values, cooking style, and certainly an accent that was different from them.

As part of the emerging Messianic movement, each one of us has made changes in our lives. We have adopted things that we were not raised with. Jews who have come to faith in Yeshua have certainly changed their lives, by virtue of the fact that they recognize Him as the Messiah and accept the testimony of Him as true. Many have had to work beyond, and are still working beyond, prejudices that they grew up with toward Christianity. Likewise, many non-Jews in the Messianic movement have had to work beyond stereotypes about Judaism and the Jewish people. I believe that if we can recognize one another as fellow members of the Body of Messiah, and keep Him as our focus, that we will be miraculously empowered to perform God’s work in the world.

This does need to be tempered by the fact that what we largely see in the Messianic movement today is not necessarily Jewish and non-Jewish Believers as one in Messiah Yeshua; what we largely see is American Jewish and non-Jewish Believers as one in Messiah Yeshua. Admittedly, we also see some in Canada, Western Europe, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Latin America. What? Latin America? ¿No habla español? Western Europe? Sprechen Sie deutch nicht? And what about Asia, and the rest of Africa?

When one looks at the demographics of Christianity today, it is absolutely true that over 60% of Christians live in the third world—and this number is on the rise. The minority of Christians live in the West. At the same time, though, the great majority of Christian theology comes from the first world, and theologians in Western Europe and North America are wrestling with issues that they have not had to consider before. If this is true of the Church, then what challenges face today’s growing Messianic movement? If part of Israel’s mandate is to be a light to the nations, we cannot remain concentrated solely in Israel, Europe, or North America. We will have to, at the very least, interact with others in societies and cultures that are foreign to our own. Some may also have to swallow their pride in thinking that they are the only ones with “the Truth” with a capital “T.”[5] More than anything else, we are going to have to pray that God gives us a heart for all people, and allows us to see the world from His perspective.

There are some in the Messianic movement today who believe that only people who observe the Torah, or perhaps even the Torah as they do, will be the ones who enter into God’s Kingdom. I sincerely hope that some of these people simply have not thought through all the ramifications of this judgment, because it effectively means that most people who claim a belief in Yeshua or Jesus, all over the world, are destined for eternal punishment. And surely, while there are people who claim to believe in the Messiah who do not know Him, there are likewise many people who do believe in Yeshua and have had a supernatural encounter with Him. At present, most of these people may not keep the finer points of the Torah like Shabbat, the appointed times, or kosher laws—but they certainly have love for one another. According to James, the half-brother of Yeshua, “If…you are observing the sovereign law laid down in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, that is excellent” (James 2:8, NEB). The Apostle Paul likewise says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10; cf. Galatians 5:14).

Love is to be the motivation for us obeying God. We are to obey God because we love Him and we want the most out of our relationship with Him. We love others because we are serving God and because of the Holy Spirit inside of us that has transformed our thoughts and motives. Our love is to be something that is tangible through our actions of faith. This is something that is best understood by third world Believers under persecution probably more than any other group of people. Some Messianic Believers may claim that they experience “persecution” when they are harassed for keeping kosher, are treated unfairly by their former pastor or Bible teacher, or lose friends for being Messianic. Certainly, these are terrible things when they take place, but too many Messianics in America and the West are in the habit of victimizing themselves, when they are frequently the cause of their own harassment (often for not sharing their Messianic beliefs without any grace or mercy). For many Believers in the third world, it is illegal for them to believe in Yeshua or Jesus. They face death every day. They know via daily experience what Yeshua meant by “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Consider what the author of Hebrews writes to his broad First Century audience, and some of the varied persecutions that they faced:

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised” (Hebrews 10:32-36).

Have you ever been publicly paraded and flogged because of your Messianic faith? Have you ever had your house or assets seized because of your Messianic faith? Have you ever been put in jail because of your Messianic faith? Do you know anyone personally who has been killed because he or she is Messianic?

It is very true that many Jewish Believers in Israel do face harassment for their faith. Many of them have lost jobs, have difficulty paying their bills, and have challenges living as normal Israelis in a society that is supposed to be open and secular. One of the worst things that could ever happen to Jewish Believers in Israel would be an Orthodox religious government coming to power—which would likely make any kind of evangelism illegal, would shut down many Messianic congregations, and would probably even clamp down on Christian tourism. Fortunately, this is unlikely to ever take place.

But I would ask you to consider the condition of those living in countries where believing in Yeshua is illegal. These people are no more or less saved than you or I. The difference between us and them is that we have it easier. We are unbelievably blessed in America as the right to practice religion as we choose is protected. We do not have to worry about the government shutting us down for keeping Shabbat, the appointed times, or eating kosher. We do not have to worry about the state confiscating our Bibles; in fact, we can have all the Bibles we want. We have the leisure time to explore the finer matters of theology, because we do not face harassment or persecution from the authorities. But because of this relative ease, many of us have become obnoxious and think that we are the only ones who “understand.”

You might be surprised in hearing this, but I do not expect to see many Chinese, Indonesian, Sudanese, Indian, or Pakistani Christians in the Kingdom. This is not because I do not think that they are going to be there. I think that such people—who face extreme persecution every day—are going to be there. I think that they are going to be so close to the Lord that His glory is going to envelop them. We will be unable to see them because they will be so close to Him. I also think that many of today’s Messianics are going to be shocked when they do not find themselves as “great” in the Kingdom as they think they will be. This is not because they did not obey outward parts of the Torah; but because they may have forgotten the ethics and morality of the Torah that is evidenced in our love for one another[6]—and ultimately in dying for one another!

The remedy for these problems is for us to understand that from the very beginning of Genesis the Lord has always had a global vision. Israel was called out by God not so that we would have Israel on one side and the nations on the other. Israel was made holy by God so that the nations would hear of Israel being blessed and want to join with it. The Pharisees, almost a century before the Apostles, actually went out to the nations and planted synagogues. The Apostles in Acts would then go to those synagogues and proclaim the good news to the Jews and non-Jews in attendance. They followed the Messiah’s mandate of going to the uttermost ends of the Earth.

For most of us today, our calling is not to go to the African Congo or Malaysian rainforest to tell the natives about the Hebraic Roots of their faith. Most of us who have been raised in English-speaking America have enough difficulty relating to our Spanish-speaking neighbors to the south. For most of us, our call as Messianic Believers is to make a positive impact on others we interact with every day. These will largely be people who look just like us, have been raised in a similar way like us, speak the same native language as we do, and are used to the same cultural norms as we are. But no particular person is the center of God’s universe, and we have to understand that we are in this thing called “faith” with many, many more people. In our collective Messianic experience and encounters, I urge every single one of you to consider this.

Whatever our sphere of influence, be it people we have known all our lives, or people of a foreign language or culture, our call as a part of the Kingdom of Israel is to be a light to the nations. As we obey the Torah, we do not follow its commandments to prove ourselves better than others. We follow the Torah out of a love for God, and so that He can bless us and we can thus testify of His blessings to others. This should give us an opportunity to share about the good news of Yeshua and how He has transformed our lives. Others should be able to see the glory of God filling our hearts, and the wisdom of God filling our minds—and inquire how they can have this too.

One day Yeshua the Messiah is going to return and establish His throne from Jerusalem. Israel will once again be the definite center of the world. But the Lord has never desired for His people to only be concerned with Israel, because Israel is His servant to the world so that all might be saved. We have not yet reached the time when all the world will come before the Messiah of Israel and worship Him, as Revelation 15:4 attests:

“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; for ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED [Psalm 86:9].”

Only now in our day is the Messianic movement growing in significant numbers. We have come a long way in the past few decades and have made great progress. But we have more to do. We have to move beyond the confines of Israel, Europe, and America and branch out into other places. Perhaps we are not ready for this in the present season. If we are not, let us pray for God to give us His Divine patience and give us the ability to see the world from His point of view, so that He may prepare us for even more work to do in the future.


NOTES

[1] E-Sword 7.0.5: Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament. MS Windows 9x. Franklin, TN: Equipping Ministries Foundation, 2003.

[2] For a further examination of this issue, consult the editor’s article “You Want to be a Pharisee.”

[3] Ron Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church (Baltimore: Lederer Books, 1996), 125.

[4] The early chronology of human history is an excellent example of a subject that many Messianics avoid in “Torah study.” Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website “Genesis 5, 11 Genealogies.”

[5] Consult the editorial “Have You Met My Friend ‘Truth’?”

[6] Consult the editor’s commentary James for the Practical Messianic for a further discussion of these, and related issues.

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