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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Centraility of Israel's God

(This is a a Sermon for Shabbat Vayikra presented April 1, 2005 Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA. It concerns a fundamental paradigm shift to which Scripture calls us, a shift in perpsective that changes everything).

It would do all of us a lot of good just take a few hours to go somewhere and sit and think about what it means to know God and to grow in the knowledge of the Holy One. I am not speaking here of thinking of theology alone. Rather, I am speaking of experience. But not that alone. I am speaking of how do we know that God is, and how do we know that we know Him? The problem is, of course, it doesn’t generally occur to most of us to make time for such an endeavor. We don’t know much about ourselves, nor do we live in a culture that encourages us to think about our relationship with God. So we trundle along with a bundle of half-formed or misshapen assumptions.

Today’s haftarah is striking, stunning, and instructive. In fact, it could change your life. At least it could change the way you look at your life. Today’s passage calls us all to a paradigm shift—to a quantum leap into an entirely new perspective—a perspective most of us have never before experienced.

This perspective is a world-view assumption in the Bible, but something we 21st century post-modern, post-Enlightenment people are apt to miss entirely. For want of a better explanation, “Post Enlightenment” refers to that mentality which began to spread in the 17th century, which sees man as the measure of all things. One of its major figures is Rene Descartes who, seeking to find a dependable still point at which to begin thinking, said, he could be sure of one thing: “cogito ergo sum”—I think, therefore I am. In other words, come what may, I can be sure of this—I am thinking at this moment and that means that there is a me doing the thinking. Therefore everything begins with the thinking person

But the perspective of the Bible is different—and this passage is striking for how it peels back the curtain and shows us this different biblical perspective. To the extent that we make it our own, this perspective changes absolutely everything we think and experience in all of life.

Before looking at this perspective, or rather, before beginning to look at everything else from this perspective, there is something that must be said. What is being offered us here is not simply a novel way of looking at things, if we have the time and inclination to do so. Rather, from the perspective of the Bible, this shift is a necessary revolution in our thinking: until we begin to see things from this perspective, we will both miss and misunderstand what life is all about.

So prepare yourself to consider something that wants to unseat your entire way of looking at things. And if this passage is right, then most all of us here are wrong about life most of the time—and we likely have been wrong in our perspective all of our lives, or very nearly so.

This perspectival change, this paradigm shift is simply this: we need to learn to see all of life from the vantage point of God being at the center. This means the center is not us, not our concerns, not our family, not our business, not our career, not our feelings or spirituality, not our thoughts, not even our salvation, not our faith, nor even our service to God. None of these things deserve to be central in our lives. Only God does. Only God deserves to be central in our lives.

The people I formed for Myself
That they might declare my praise
(Isaiah 43:21)

God formed Israel for Himself. That, in itself, is jarring. God did not form Israel just to bless us, because he wanted us to enjoy ourselves, because in his kindness he wanted to form a people, set them free, and watch them go run and play as he benevolently looked down on them from heaven’s window, nursing a Chai Tea Latte. We were created to serve a purpose identified by God: we were created to declare His praise. This is very self-centered of God. And whenever and however we fail to live for God’s pleasure, and fail to declare His praise—His praiseworthiness—to that extent, our lives are an exercise in thievery and misappropriation. Our lives become one massive embezzlement. And most people are like that. I know I am.

Isaiah continues reporting God’s indictment of Israel for the sin of making themselves central instead of Him.

Isaiah 42:22 But you have not worshiped Me, O Jacob,
That you should be weary of Me, O Israel.
23 You have not brought Me your sheep for burnt offerings,
Nor honored Me with your sacrifices.
I have not burdened you with meal offerings,
Nor wearied you about frankincense.
24 You have not bought Me fragrant reed with money,
Nor sated Me with the fat of your sacrifices.

His point is a little complex. First of all, he says that the people’s inattentiveness to matters of worship is a symptom of their self-centeredness and the failure to give God his due. There is no way of getting around this. From God’s point of view, being too busy to get around to worshipping him is, dare I say it?—criminal, indictable, and narcissistic. It is a failure to give God his due, and a symptom of spiritual malaise.

Instead, you have burdened Me with your sins,
You have wearied Me with your iniquities.

Here is another symptom of our self-centeredness and failure to give God his due—our moral lives, our values, the way we think, act, live. When we live our lives without God at the center, our off-center lives weary God. Scripture also speaks of God being disgusted with us, nauseated by us, and eventually needing to chastise us with severe consequences. And all of these are the result of our self-centered living and failure to give unto the Lord the honor due His Name.

Such lives are inauthentic, off center, and a continual cheat.

But God is not only meant to be central in our living, thinking, and doing. From the point of view of the Bible, he is the central actor—the One who takes the initiatives that need to be taken. Read on.

25 It is I, I who — for My own sake —
Wipe your transgressions away
And remember your sins no more.
26 Help me remember!
Let us join in argument,
Tell your version,
That you may be vindicated.
27 Your earliest ancestor sinned,
And your spokesmen transgressed against Me.
28 So I profaned the holy princes;
I abandoned Jacob to proscription
And Israel to mockery.

Here it is Israel’s God who takes the initiative in dealing with our sins—in atoning for them, and in making us aware of them.

While we go blissfully along, unaware and uncaring that our lives are a monstrosity of self-serving inauthenticity, God takes care of business and helps clean up our mess. The Newer Covenant expresses it this way: “God commends his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners—and thus narcissistic rebels against God’s centrality—Messiah died for us. God gives His absolutely best to the absolute limit for his absolutely infuriating people.

The text goes on to report that this God, the God of Israel, not only accomplishes our redemption, but also our renewal—our restoration and refreshment.

Chapter 44
1 But hear, now, O Jacob My servant,
Israel whom I have chosen!
2 Thus said the Lord, your Maker,
Your Creator who has helped you since birth:
Fear not, My servant Jacob,
Jeshurun whom I have chosen,
3 Even as I pour water on thirsty soil,
And rain upon dry ground,
So will I pour My spirit on your offspring,
My blessing upon your posterity.
4 And they shall sprout like grass,
Like willows by watercourses.
5 One shall say, "I am the Lord's,"
Another shall use the name of "Jacob,"
Another shall mark his arm "of the Lord"
And adopt the name of "Israel."

And finally, the text goes on to make an extended comparison between God and idols—how the God of Israel is the unique one, the central one who takes the initiative. As we read this extended meditation on his uniqueness, his centrality, and his initiatives, consider this one question: What ought is our appropriate response?

6 Thus said the Lord, the King of Israel,
Their Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts:
I am the first and I am the last,
And there is no god but Me.
7 Who like Me can announce,
Can foretell it — and match Me thereby?
Even as I told the future to an ancient people,
So let him foretell coming events to them.
8 Do not be frightened, do not be shaken!
Have I not from of old predicted to you?
I foretold, and you are My witnesses.
Is there any god, then, but Me?
"There is no other rock; I know none!"

9 The makers of idols
All work to no purpose;
And the things they treasure
Can do no good,
As they themselves can testify.
They neither look nor think,
And so they shall be shamed.

10 Who would fashion a god
Or cast a statue
That can do no good?
11 Lo, all its adherents shall be shamed;
They are craftsmen, are merely human.
Let them all assemble and stand up!
They shall be cowed, and they shall be shamed.

12 The craftsman in iron, with his tools,
Works it over charcoal
And fashions it by hammering,
Working with the strength of his arm.
Should he go hungry, his strength would ebb;
Should he drink no water, he would grow faint.

13 The craftsman in wood measures with a line
And marks out a shape with a stylus;
He forms it with scraping tools,
Marking it out with a compass.
He gives it a human form,
The beauty of a man, to dwell in a shrine.
14 For his use he cuts down cedars;
He chooses plane trees and oaks.
He sets aside trees of the forest;
Or plants firs, and the rain makes them grow.
15 All this serves man for fuel:
He takes some to warm himself,
And he builds a fire and bakes bread.
He also makes a god of it and worships it,
Fashions an idol and bows down to it!
16 Part of it he burns in a fire:
On that part he roasts meat,
He eats the roast and is sated;
He also warms himself and cries, "Ah,
I am warm! I can feel the heat!"
17 Of the rest he makes a god — his own carving!
He bows down to it, worships it;
He prays to it and cries,
"Save me, for you are my god!"

18 They have no wit or judgment:
Their eyes are besmeared, and they see not;
Their minds, and they cannot think.
19 They do not give thought,
They lack the wit and judgment to say:
"Part of it I burned in a fire;
I also baked bread on the coals,
I roasted meat and ate it —
Should I make the rest an abhorrence?
Should I bow to a block of wood?"
20 He pursues ashes!
A deluded mind has led him astray,
And he cannot save himself;
He never says to himself,
"The thing in my hand is a fraud!"

21 Remember these things, O Jacob
For you, O Israel, are My servant:
I fashioned you, you are My servant —
O Israel, never forget Me.
22 I wipe away your sins like a cloud,
Your transgressions like mist —
Come back to Me, for I redeem you.

23 Shout, O heavens, for the Lord has acted;
Shout aloud, O depths of the earth!
Shout for joy, O mountains,
O forests with all your trees!
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
Has glorified Himself through Israel.

Our response ought to be at least the following:

Our first response ought to be to be reassured. God comforts us with the knowledge that He’s got things under control. He can and does take care of the things that concern us. Especially, in the matter of our sins—he knows all about our stuff and he has done what is necessary to take care of it out of gracious, generous, omnipotent love.

Our second response is to be grateful.

Our third response is to return to Him, to give to Him the centrality in our lives that he deserves. “Come back to Me, for I redeem you!”

Our fourth response should be worship—to give to the Lord the glory due His name. To worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. He is the God who created all, who chose us, who revealed Himself to Israel in His world, who spoke before times the things that were to be. He is incomparable, and deserves to have his worthiness admired and extolled. This is worship.

Our fifth response is a revolution of life—to live our lives from this new and true center. To cut out our narcissistic, self-centered living, to live instead with the biblical God at the center, by his rules, by His values, to live to please Him, to live to bring honor to Him and a smile to His face. In the words of the prophet—to be His servants.

On a moment by moment, day by day, decision by decision basis, what us central in your life? And when are you going to let God’s adequacy be your undeniable security?

And finally, notice today's passage from the Newer Covenant, Matthew 4:1-11. Notice how Yeshua got this precisely right, how, in this encounter with the Evil One, he doggedly stayed oriented to the centrality of God. Considering Isaiah's admonition, and Yeshua's example, how can we justify doing anything else and any less?

1 Then the Spirit led Yeshua up into the wilderness to be tempted by the Adversary. 2 After Yeshua had fasted forty days and nights, he was hungry. 3 The Tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, order these stones to become bread." 4 But he answered, "The Tanakh says, `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of ADONAI'" 5 Then the Adversary took him to the holy city and set him on the highest point of the Temple. 6 "If you are the Son of God," he said, "jump! For the Tanakh says, `He will order his angels to be responsible for you. . . . They will support you with their hands, so that you will not hurt your feet on the stones.'" 7 Yeshua replied to him, "But it also says, `Do not put ADONAI your God to the test.'"h 8 Once more, the Adversary took him up to the summit of a very high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their glory, 9 and said to him, "All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me." 10 "Away with you, Satan!" Yeshua told him, "For the Tanakh says, `Worship ADONAI your God, and serve only him.'" 11 Then the Adversary let him alone, and angels came and took care of him.