The Pagan Origins of Easter
Humans possess an extraordinary capacity to make up stories and then invent evidence to believe them. For years it was widely believed that the Norwegian lemming committed mass suicide by every few years mindlessly joining their fellows in huge migrating throngs and pitching themselves off cliffs to die in the sea. This idea seemed to be supported by the wide fluctuations in Norwegian lemming populations commonly observed. Also, large numbers would sometimes be seen migrating from one area to another.
This story became so entrenched that when Disney made the acclaimed documentary “White Wilderness” in 1958 it contains a scene of dozens of lemmings hurtling over a cliff into the ocean. The problem was that the lemmings in the scene were not Norwegian lemmings but brown lemmings indigenous to Canada and the makers of the film had paid the local Natives $1 a piece for the lemmings and then forced them off a truck into the water. As a child, the picture of the little bodies flailing helplessly through the air never left me and I was convinced that lemmings committed mass suicide because I had witnessed it. The problem was the whole idea is a complete myth. It became embedded in many people’s consciousness because they had seen it.
This morning I got up early to check on a heifer that was close to calving. The clear sky sparkled with stars. I looked up and found the Big Dipper and, of course, right next to it the Little Dipper. The tail star on the handle of the Little Dipper is called Polaris or the North Star and has been used for centuries to denote “north” to travelers and sailors. Because of their association this morning I could see that the Big Dipper was slightly west of the Little Dipper. While I observed this with my own eyes I am still dependent on what I have learned from others. The whole identity of the two constellations is something I learned from my big brother when I was quite small. It appears to be confirmed by others but the fact remains that there is no knowledge that is not dependent upon previous observation and identification by other people. Nothing we know is completely independent.
A frightening thing about us humans is our ability to believe falsehood or half-truths and constantly see the world through this distorted prism. A classic example of this is the “blood libel” against Jews. This idea has existed for over 2000 years and has been written down countless times. A classic version comes from Apion who tells of a traveling Greek who was captured by foreigners (Jews) who kept him prisoner and plied him with all kinds of tempting food. He had discovered that the Jews’ intention was to prepare him for an annual ritual feast. “They would kidnap a Greek foreigner, fatten him up for a year, and then convey him to a wood, where they slew him, sacrificed his body with their customary ritual, partook of his flesh, and, while immolating the Greek, swore an oath of hostility to the Greeks. The remains of their victim were then thrown into a pit.” [Josephus, Against Apion]
This lie exists in many forms and iterations and has directly caused the death of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Jews. Anyone who actually knows Judaism would know their complete antipathy for human sacrifice of any kind and especially the consumption of human blood. But even today millions of humans repeat this calumny in some form and use it to fan their hatred of Jews.
I am happy to confess that I am Messianic, Hebrew Roots—whatever the acceptable contemporary term being used for those who believe in the Hebraic roots of our Messianic/Christian belief and that God’s call to Israel and his instructions (Torah) are eternal. But we are developing some dangerous myths that are corrupting our message and blunting our witness.
One of the most salient of these is the idea that Easter comes from pagan sources and that the Church’s celebration of Easter does not come from the historical celebration of the death and resurrection of Yeshua (Jesus) but carries over from pagan and idolatrous practices. These ideas are so entrenched that one can even find them in supposedly credible sources such as encyclopedias.
One of the pillars of this belief lies in the term “Easter.” It is thought to be an adaptation of the goddess Ishtar or possibly Eostre. The concept is that the term reveals the actual origins of our Easter practice.
I am going to suggest a little research for you. First google the original documents from the Nicaean Council and see the actual term used to describe Easter (the time of Constantine.) Then check out the Latin, Greek, Aramaic, Italian synonyms for Easter. You will note that all of the historic Church languages do not have the word Easter nor any cognate for it. The word is Pasch or Pascha a derivative of the Hebrew Pesach. Easter is an English, Germanic word some believe derived from the goddess Eostre or even just the direction “East.” By the time Tyndale translated the Bible in the early 1500s the word Easter was so associated with the Resurrection he refused to use the word Easter to describe the celebration of Pesach in the book of Exodus and he coined the term Passover which for a lot of reasons is a great approximation of the Hebrew Pesach. English Jews of Tyndale’s day even called their Passover fast “Oesterfesten.” You can check all these facts out.
So Easter is an older word than Passover. Those telling you that Easter is pagan and the Bible prescribes Passover are victims of linguistic manipulation. Because the English, German and Dutch churches use the term “Easter” the next research you can do is to find out if these churches do different things at Easter than the traditional churches based in Rome, Athens, and Istanbul. Check out the liturgical history of Easter observance. You will discover Lent, the stations of the cross, emphasis on Yeshua (Jesus) as the Paschal Lamb and voluminous scripture readings including Exodus 12 where God gave the instructions for Pesach. What you won’t discover is any substantive difference between the churches using the term Easter versus those using Pasch or Pascha. Nor will you find any evidence of Ishtar, Asherah, Semiramis, etc. Scholars such as Tyler Dawn Rosenquist have done extensive research on these so-called associations and debunked all of them.
The association of eggs with both the Jewish Passover Seder and the celebration of Easter is ancient but its exact derivation is unclear. It appears to be associated with the idea of new life. It is not necessarily pagan. The bunnies are a very late addition, not present in all Christian tradition, and obviously a distraction. My suggestion is avoid the distractions.
One of the things that we Messianics ignore is that as believers in Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Christ) our emphasis has shifted. All four gospels expend considerable effort showing Yeshua as the Passover Lamb slain for the sin of the world. Paul corroborates this concept in 1 Corinthians 5:7 where he states “Christ our Passover” before admonishing us to celebrate the Feast. Excoriating Christians for gathering to celebrate the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lamb of God is counterproductive and plain wrong.
We keep the Passover Seder every year on the traditional Jewish dates and have gained much from doing so. The Last Supper of Yeshua looks very much like a Seder admitting that the formal Seder traditions we have now were not present at that time. My point is trashing one tradition to exalt another is counterproductive. It is lashon hara (evil speech) designed to divide the brethren. Those of us who celebrate the Seder realize that we are, at best, merely rehearsing. The Bible dictates that the true celebration of Pesach take place in Jerusalem and requires a functioning Temple.
Finally worship is intentional. We don’t accidentally worship God or idols. One of the sacred names of God is Yah. It is the term we use when we say Hallelujah—praise the Lord. German speakers invoke “ja” numerous times every day saying this exact word. Are they calling upon the Lord? Of course not. There is no worship without intent.
We can do wrong unintentionally or out of ignorance but there are no accidental pagans. Calling something Christians do out of reverence for their Passover Lamb and from the joy they experience celebrating his Resurrection is not only wrong it is hateful and counterproductive. We can disagree with something and not believe the worst about those who practice things we don’t like.
Sadly, the emphasis on the so-called paganism of the early church has robbed us of the church’s real sin—anti-semitism. So much of what went wrong and that has stained our past comes from this great sin. Study of the early church fathers and on down through the generations reveals that this is not an empty accusation. The changing of dates, methods of celebration and a general movement away from Biblical practice is much more connected to our “hatred” for our fathers (the Jews) than paganism. It is probably good to remember that slander is wrong—whether speaking of our enemies or of our friends. In the beatitudes Yeshua tells us that if we want to look like our Father, to truly be his children, we will be peacemakers. My prayer is that we could all become peacemakers in God’s family.
Avoiding Friendly Fire
Letters from the MIA Shepherd's Council
By John Conrad
Nothing stirs the heart like stepping on to the soil of Israel, the land YHWH calls his own possession. The heart trembles as it touches our shared history. A beauty, sometimes serene other times savage, pierces the senses. One sensation, however, is inescapable - this land is under attack. This is contested territory.
We are fellow travelers on this holy path leading to the restoration of all things. Even as God's physical land is under attack, so also is the place of our spiritual call. Satan and his minions resist every step we take to seize our inheritance as Israelites. The apostle Paul describes it this way Eph. 6:11, Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. (NASU)
To be effective in this battle, we must be aware of the identity of our enemy or our efforts will be wasted and possibly even counterproductive. In recent history, the story of Pat Tillman serves as a stark reminder of this fact. Pat was a talented football player. After the devastation of 9-11, he turned down a professional football contract with the Arizona Cardinals and signed on to serve in the U.S. military. In 2004 Pat died a hero's death-cut down in a hail of bullets in Afghanistan. After his death, the military was not forthcoming with details about his gallantry. Later, the truth came to light. The hail of bullets that killed Pat Tillman sprayed from the guns of his comrades--not the enemy.
We will not win the war we are fighting if we are confused as to whom we are fighting. We cannot afford to reproduce the Pat Tillman story within the ranks of Israel. In many places in scripture, our bodies are likened to the Body of Messiah. The body fights infectious disease with a marvelous immune system that recognizes the enemy (bacteria, viruses, foreign substances) and makes antibodies and mobilizes killer cells to destroy the enemy. It takes some time for this entire mechanism to come into full production. This is why recovery from a common cold takes around 2 weeks. That is how long it takes to recognize the attacking virus, mobilize the phagocytic (killer) cells and produce antibodies against the invaders, and then allow the cells of the body to be healed and return to normal function. The destruction or crippling of this system renders the body extraordinarily susceptible to attack and renders us vulnerable to otherwise innocuous invaders.
This awesome system so perfectly orchestrated by our creator becomes frightening if it loses its specificity-the ability to discern what is good and what is bad. This is the origin of juvenile diabetes. The immune system attacks the Islets of Langerhans (the part of the pancreas responsible for insulin production) and destroys the cells. Over time the function of the pancreas becomes compromised to the point that little or no insulin is produced. This wreaks havoc on the body as glucose (the energy unit of metabolism) cannot enter cells and the entire metabolic system is ambushed. Without intervention death is the result. When a person becomes diabetic, they are much more susceptible to serious infection. When the body attacks itself, weakness results and weakness in the body renders it vulnerable to fatal attack.
Another facet of medicine today speaks to the body of Messiah. This is the area of organ transplantation. My brother-in-law was diagnosed with leukemia over 10 years ago. Leukemia is a derangement of the production of white blood cells. The treatment given him was to irradiate his bone marrow and kill the stem cells that were producing the malignant white cells. Then he received a bone marrow transplant from his brother. Fortunately, the transplant was successful and his new bone marrow began to produce healthy leukocytes (white blood cells). Suddenly, he became very ill. The new blood cells recognized his body as foreign. They formed antibodies and killer cells against his own tissues, particularly his liver. He only survived because of YHWH's miraculous intervention through continuous and sustained prayer.
There are important lessons here. We must recognize the cells of the Body and clearly distinguish them from the enemy. Otherwise we fire our ammunition and destroy the fellow soldiers who are our allies in the fight to gain our inheritance. We must also lose our immunological memory or we end up recognizing the body as foreign because it is not familiar to us. As Paul tells us in Romans 11, the "wild branches" are grafted into the trunk of the olive tree. We are all transplants. Our call is to put on the Messiah and transform our thinking to the "mind of the Messiah" so we no longer further the schemes of the devil. My brother-in-law's transplanted bone marrow could not "lose" its memory, so it declared his liver as the enemy. Sadly many of us, because of our experiences and lifetime hurts, are out there spraying potential allies with venom and destructive fusillades. For some the "church" is the enemy, others "Rome" is the enemy, others "tradition" is the enemy, and on and on. It gets so silly that if someone associates a wholesome practice with any of these "enemies," we immediately turn our full cannon fire on the practice and anyone even close to it.
The author of disease is the author of division. A divided body is easy to attack and conquer. The apostle Paul recognized this when he stood before the Sadducees and Pharisees and proclaimed in Acts 23:6-7, "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!" As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided." (NASU) The conflict was so great between the two groups that it undermined their purpose to convict Paul. This was wonderful for Paul, but devastating to the purpose of the council (which, of course, God sought to frustrate). The lesson for us is this: don't get so busy fighting over your differences with other believers that Satan and his demons escape the line of our fire.
The apostle Paul hammers this point home in 1 Corinthians 11:28-30, "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep." (NKJV) Here Paul states that the failure to recognize or discern the Lord's body brings sickness and death to us when we partake of the Yeshua's life in communion. We need to pray for a gift of discernment to differentiate between friend and foe. The call is to heal, to restore, to lift up. We are in a fight. Fight the good fight. Today let Satan experience the sting of our warfare. No more casualties in our cause due to friendly fire. Let us join with Yeshua who says in John 10:10 "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
© 2006 Messianic Israel Alliance
Letters from the MIA Shepherd's Council
By John Conrad
In 1974, Jamie Buckingham wrote a book about the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service, (JAARS) the aviation arm of the Wycliffe Bible Translators. This group consists of radio technicians, mechanics and pilots who fly small planes into the Amazon rainforests and African jungles. Their precious cargo is translators who master the language of indigenous peoples, painstakingly develop an alphabet for the native language and then gradually create a written language. The next step is to teach the people how to read their own language. After this careful foundation is laid, they translate the Bible into the "new" language and give the people the gift of the Word of God in their own language. Miracles and transformations follow in the native cultures as Godly harvests spring up from the planting of His Word.
Jamie spent two years flying into the jungles--interviewing jungle pilots and witnessing the impact of the written word of God on the local populations. The book displayed all his considerable skill producing a story that inspires and also clearly recognizes the sacrifice and devotion displayed by these spiritual aviation pioneers.
Convinced that the story belonged to the Kingdom, Jamie donated all the royalties. To his dismay, Jamie took a lot of flak from the group from which he least expected it--the Wycliffe translators themselves. They found fault with many aspects of the book, particularly some facts. The smallest detail incorrectly reported provoked scathing responses. Accusations streamed in. He called a "Teak" tree an "ironwood" tree. He incorrectly identified a "tribesman" as an "Indian." He described a chocolate-skinned native as "brown." Jamie drowned in an avalanche of nit-picking and fault-finding.
He snapped. Firing a letter to one of Wycliffe's directors he branded the entire organization "jot and tittle" people who "strain at gnats and swallow camels." This director wrote back to Jamie, thanked him for the book and expressed his approval of Jamie's work with the organization. As a caveat he gently reminded Jamie, "When you are translating the bible, you need 'jot and tittle people.'" After painful reflection, Jamie realized the source of the problem. He wrote the book to tell a powerful story, to show men and women of God braving impossible odds to bring His Word to a lost world. He tried to get the facts right but, for him, exact details paled in importance to communicating the story. Conversely, the translators cared immensely about exact detail. Their craft demanded precision and painstaking care. A letter or sound not exactly correct completely changes the meaning of a word. The development of a written language leaves little room for error. The translators were nit-pickers and hair-splitters because their craft demanded it.
This story speaks to Messianics today. Many who have come to see the eternal truth of Torah, the Hebraic background of scripture and the Jewish identity of Yeshua arrived at these truths through deliberate study and research. Deliverance from an error-saturated church culture demanded an ability to walk alone, even when accompanied by a chorus of boos and cat-calling from the pews. These pioneers learned to depend upon their own ability to think and research. They became suspicious of tradition, groupthink, and anything approaching consensus that seemed to sacrifice truth at the expense of conformity.
An example of this is Hale Harris's experience when he shared his growing conviction based upon scripture that the seventh day Sabbath had not been abolished. The church leader informed of this belief immediately exclaimed, "Careful now, Hale. You are beginning to color outside the lines!" The experience of so many in the burgeoning Messianic movement with this typical tradition based, scripturally ignorant thinking produced a mistrust of leaders. Over time a hardy band of Robinson Crusoes, people on their own little islands, self- sufficient and unaware of the existence of others, developed within the Messianic community.
In large part due to the Robinson Crusoe mentality, efforts to create groups or fellowships were doomed. The very characteristics so necessary to break out of the crowd (Ex 23:2 "Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong") have now become impediments. Annual congregation splits are common. Messianics can't walk together. The originally healthy questioning of church traditions has often grown into an antipathy for the church and a distrust of all leaders. This is a problem for a people called to build a restored nation.
In our zeal to be right we are often not righteous. Yeshua declared the weighty matters of Torah to be "justice, mercy and faithfulness." (Matt 23:23) This would indicate that our observance of Torah must be girded with these qualities. If not, our spiritual house will be in jeopardy. The situation articulated in 1 Cor 3 describes us: Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly-mere infants in the Messiah. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?
I praise Yeshua for the extensive scriptural understanding of Messianic men and women and their commitment to the truth. However, perhaps it is time to ask the Ruach for guidance and temperance to learn to walk together. Our Torah obedience would be more believable if we were able to do it together. Also because much of this walk is new to us we are still learning. We occasionally fall down. Just as illustrated in the example with Jamie's book, we need people who can conscientiously ferret out the truth but we also need those who see the big picture. As Paul addresses in the 1 Corinthians 3 text, maturity reveals itself in unity not necessarily "new" Torah truths.
There are many legitimate areas of concern facing us as we walk this restoration pathway. What does it mean not to "kindle a fire on the Sabbath"? What is Aviv Barley? How do we nullify the Torah through our own traditions? The questions go on and on. In addressing these legitimate questions we must avoid the spirit that comes from the enemy-one of finicky attention to details that misses the broad picture. As alluded to earlier, Yeshua rebuked the Pharisees, Matt 23:24 "You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel" It is a wonderful testimony to the Father's faithfulness to see the thousands of faithful believers returning to the truth of Torah and with a zeal for the truth. However, in our zeal to follow Torah and return to the Hebraic nature of our faith we must remember that our walk with our brother is the most reliable outward indicator of our walk with our Creator.
The prophetic word foretelling the joining of the two sticks-the stick of Joseph with the stick of Judah-demands an ability to walk together, to become unified, to submit to one another. The gifts of independence, careful study, meticulous attention must be redeemed to be used by the Father to build his nation in this day. Similarly Paul reminds us of the purpose for the authority YHWH had given him in 2 Corinthians 13:10 "the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down." May all of those in the MIA devote the wonderful gifts the Father has showered upon us to His work in this day of "restoring all things."
© 2006 Messianic Israel Alliance
Letters from the MIA Shepherd's Council
By John Conrad
If any proclamation defines the Messianic Israel movement, it is Malachi declaring, "Remember the [Torah] of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel." (Malachi 4:4) When the early church distanced themselves from Torah, they were effectively cut off from Israel. Now the Elijah cry to return to the Torah of Moses awakens the souls of slumbering Israelites and points them homeward. Likewise, the revelation that Yeshua is "Torah in the flesh" renders Torah both priceless and irreplaceable.
A while back, I met a couple who attended a Messianic synagogue for several years but quit going. When I asked "why?" they didn't want to say. I persevered and discovered that contentions over Torah drove them away. Liturgy, proper Feast celebration, how to wear tzitzit, dates of the Appointed Times, how to pronounce the names of deity--all furnished endless fodder for controversy. They desired to be faithful to Torah but could no longer face the non-stop wrangling.
Their experience brings to mind Titus 3:9 "But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law [Torah], for they are unprofitable and worthless." Without the Ruach, Torah is easy to mishandle. In Matthew 23:4 Yeshua indicts Torah teachers of his day: "They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger." Many commentators misconstrue this passage as an attack against Torah. But any student of scripture immediately recognizes Yeshua would never permit attacks against Torah. Instead, he scolds the scribes because "you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition." Matthew 15:6
The issue before us then is how do we correctly interpret Torah? Our forefathers in Israel and the church threw off the yoke of Torah because they believed it burdensome. Yeshua encourages us to "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30) For Ephraimites returning to Torah, too often we encounter the spirit of Rehoboam. 'Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.'" (1 Kings 12:11) Our first reaction to this resembles Jeroboam's response, "What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse." (1 Kings 12:16)
To choose Torah is to choose life! Yeshua is the goal of Torah and the fulfillment of Torah is love. Yeshua established that the weighty matters of Torah are "justice, mercy and faithfulness." (Matthew 23:23) Torah on the outside will not and does not save us. It is Torah hidden in the heart, written there by the Ruach, and humbly implanted in the depths of our soul which saves us.
Detail is important but it must not be allowed to camouflage true meaning. One classic example of this quibbling concerns the command in Exodus 23:13 "Now concerning everything which I have said to you, be on your guard; and do not mention the name of other gods, nor let them be heard from your mouth." Knowing the Hebraic origins of our creator's assigned name helps us in our study of Torah. But it is crucial to understand that a name is more than letters and syllables.
The promise is that "whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you." (John 15:15) In our fervor to be Torah observant, this commandment and others like it have been twisted to put emphasis on pronunciation of the name and not on the relationship with the Father. If I go to Spain and speak in President Bush's name, Spaniards won't check my pronunciation; they will check my relationship with the President to find out if he has empowered me to be his ambassador. When the seven sons of Sceva attempted to exorcise the evil spirit from a man in the name of Yeshua, the demon scoffed, "I recognize Yeshua, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" (Acts 19:15) The demonized man beat the seven men and drove them away naked. These were sons of the Jewish high priest, Sceva. I suspect they knew how to pronounce the name. What went wrong?
I attended the Promise Keepers' Clergy Conference in Atlanta in 1996. Max Lucado asked the 40,000 pastors present to shout out the name of their denomination or fellowship. Predictably, bedlam and chaos erupted. Next, he asked all of us to proclaim the name we were depending upon for our salvation. All 40,000 men stood and shouted "Jesus!" Electricity crackled through the air. We all knew exactly who we were talking about-the only begotten son of the Father, born of a virgin, from the kingly line of David, who destroyed the works of the devil and satisfied the demands of Torah by his sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection. If this question were asked at a Messianic event, the response would be pandemonium. Some would say "Yeshua," others "Yehoshua," still others "Yahshua," some "Yehushua," and on and on.
The search for his real name is commendable. However, the teaching that "Jesus" is a pagan god whose name derives from the Greek god "Zeus" is simply pathetic. Likewise, we are told that "God" and "Lord" have pagan origins so speaking these words breaks the commandment in Exodus 23 because we have spoken the names of pagan deities. This kind of instruction reduces the name of YHWH to mere vowels and consonants.
Etymologically these assertions are silly. "God" in English is the synonym for "Elohim" in Hebrew. "Lord" in English is the companion word for "Adonai" in Hebrew. Learning to use the Hebrew names is helpful in recovering our Hebrew roots. YHWH was not telling us to never voice syllables which might describe pagan deities. He was admonishing us to refrain from speaking their names in worship. How many times does YHWH himself speak the names of Baal, Asherah, Molech? Elijah, the great prophet who represents the voice calling us to return to Torah, uses the names of Baal and Asherah in 1 Kings 18. Is he a Torah breaker? Of course not. It is not the words themselves that matter but why and how they are spoken. When we place this over-reliance on the right word or name we enter the world of soothsayers, sorcerers, and magicians. There it matters how the spell is spoken. With YHWH the relationship with the Father determines the outcome.
We are blessed by scholars who have researched the Hebrew names of deity and shown us what we have lost by our march into the nations. Many of them have told me how they believe these names should be spoken, which they do in their personal lives. They do not, however, break fellowship with other believers who don't see it their way. As Israel regathers we must refrain from placing an unbearable yoke upon returning Israelites. The search for true doctrine comes from the Father. However, it must be viewed through the prism of "Shema Yisrael: YHWH Elohenu, YHWH Echad! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and might." To which Yeshua added "Love your neighbor as yourself." May the Torah we obey and teach bring joy and deliverance to all Israel.
© 2006 Messianic Israel Alliance
by Dr. John Conrad
A single woman went to a pet store and bought a parrot for companionship. She looked forward to having the parrot talk to her and simply spice up her day. At first, the parrot seemed bored. It perched listlessly in the corner of the cage so she bought a different cage in a brighter color. This didn’t stimulate the parrot so she purchased glittering, colorful toys and creatively arranged them in the cage. Still the parrot moped and stared lifelessly into the distance. Repeatedly, the woman went back to the pet store, buying colored perches, toys to play on, and anything she could think of to tickle her parrot’s fancy. Sadly, the parrot grew more and more quiet. Finally, one day the woman went in to check on the parrot. It lay on its side breathing its last. With one final effort it croaked, “Lady, don’t they sell bird feed at that pet store?”
This silly story reminds us of an old adage. People with enough to eat have lots of problems. People who don’t have enough to eat have only one problem. The story of the parrot is a parable of the Messianic Train. Many of us are enamored with the Train, but we forget where it is going. We spend more time fluffing the seat cushions and decorating the windows than we do making sure the train has fuel, is functioning properly and, most importantly, headed in the right direction. Because of misplaced priorities we often find ourselves ending up at the wrong destination. Like the woman with the parrot we major on minors and minor on majors.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting theothers. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24)
In this passage the Greek word translated “weightier” is barus Strongs 926. It means heavy, of great moment. In other words, important or most important. So Yeshua’s comment informs us of the most important of God’s instructions to His people.
A quick review of Yeshua’s statement in Matthew 23:23 reveals it to be a restatement of Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does Yahweh require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”
Another way to understand Yeshua’s pronouncement would be to constantly view our keeping of the small matters of Torah through the lens of justice, mercy and faithfulness. When our method of obeying Torah sabotages justice, mercy or faithfulness it needs to be discarded.
Our ability to discern the weightier matters is directly related to our ability to see the goal. The end or goal of the Torah is the Messiah. Romans 10:4: “For the Messiah is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” “The end” here is the Greek word telos which means goal. It is like saying at the end of this road is Salt Lake City. At the end of Torah is Yeshua. If our Torah observance does not lead to Yeshua we have jumped the tracks. Since God is love, Paul makes the obvious statement in Romans 13:8 that “love is the fulfillment of the Torah.” We make a huge mistake when we argue about minor details of Torah when the need in the person’s life is to know Yeshua. Like the parrot, they may be surrounded with the apparatus of Torah observance, but they die because they are not connected to the vine and its life-giving nurture.
A simple way to evaluate our actions is to ask several questions:
1. What is the goal of my behavior?
2. Who will be helped or hurt?
3. Will the Messiah be lifted up by my actions?
4. Does this action reveal or display God’s love?
People are drawn to genuine justice, mercy and faithfulness. I often wondered why my Swiss grandparents converted to Mormonism in the late 1800s. When I read their testimonies some of the reasons became abundantly clear. When my great grandmother read her Bible it stirred up many questions in her mind. When she took these questions to her priest he rebuffed her angrily. She was told it was not her place to read the Bible and she was to accept what the church and its officers told her. Conversely, when the Mormon missionaries came to Switzerland they patiently listened to her questions and did their best to answer them. They prayed with the families and told them that each of them could approach God through Jesus Christ (Yeshua the Messiah) on their own because of His sacrifice. The idea that an individual could pray and reach out to God on his own was revolutionary and life-changing. It was only a short time before the families converted and were baptized. This story does not testify to the correctness of Mormon doctrine, but to the correctness of showing love and mercy.
I’ve been told many times that we (Ephraim) must provoke Judah to jealousy with our observance of Torah. This is a recipe for a contest--someone wins and someone loses -- it is a competition. It is like a game of tag.”You trimmed your beard -- you’re out! Your tzitzits are the wrong blue, the incorrect length, you’re out! You pronounced Yeshua (Yehoshua, Yahshua) wrong -- you’re out! You followed the rabbinical calendar for the observance of the feasts -- you’re out! Or you didn’t follow the rabbinical calendar for the observance of the feasts -- you’re out!”
On the other hand, it would be helpful to refrain from saying that the church doesn’t keep Torah. Sadly, many churchgoers eschew Torah in their speech, but while they disdain many provisions of Torah, they try their utmost to be just, merciful and faithful. Our wearing tzitzit, celebration of new moons, Feasts, Sabbaths, observance of clean and unclean foods springs from our commitment to be faithful. Our obedience should not be a hammer to smash the church. A loving example of Torah obedience will ultimately be much more effective.
A couple of years ago, we held a Seder for a group of people in Missouri. Several families didn’t come because they were horrified by the “un-Biblical” Jewish traditions they had identified as part of the Seder. A teacher had been in the area warning people about all evil traditions -- both those perpetrated by the church and those from rabbinical Judaism. Anyone keeping these traditions would be hopelessly compromised by them. However, nothing in the Seder could be construed as thwarting justice, mercy or faithfulness. While straining out a gnat they had swallowed a camel. An opportunity to develop friendships and fellowship with other Israelites had been thwarted by silly, unfounded fears. When they had a chance to gather with the Messiah, they had opted for scattering with the enemy. Unintentionally, they had made their understanding of Torah the goal, instead of Yeshua and His love.
Another clear obstacle to true Torah observance is the human tendency to judge what we see or sense with our five senses. Isaiah 11 makes it clear that the Messiah will not judge by what he sees or what he hears. He will judge by righteousness. Samuel would have picked several incorrect candidates from Jesse’s sons to be the next king of Israel. Yahweh had to remind him that He did not look at the outside of a man, but at his heart.
This means sharing Torah requires a deep spiritual connection with Yeshua. Our goal is to bring people into a relationship with their Messiah. This relationship is lived out in a life that follows the precepts of Torah. It is important not to fall prey to the idea that Torah consists of the externals; tzitzit, Sabbaths, Feasts, and diet. It is our connection and love of our Messiah that motivates us to keep His commandments. We don’t wear tzitzit to let people know that we are Messianic. We wear them to remind us to love Yahweh with all of our heart, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
I’ve never forgotten a young man who had come into a strong Messianic understanding. He considered himself very magnanimous because he accepted to some degree any who kept the 7th day Sabbath. Now there is no question that the 7th day Sabbath is an eternal Biblical principle. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered he was hiding his chewing tobacco habit (disgusting) from me and the fact he was sleeping with his unmarried girl friend. I know of another Messianic with a long, untrimmed beard, side curls and tzitzit down to his knees. He enjoys internet pornography rationalizing that “men will be men.”
I will briefly touch on another sensitive area. In Messianic circles we often honor speakers with exciting teaching abilities or those given to sensational prophetic statements. We display a total lack of discernment when we do not hold our leaders to the weightier matters of Torah--justice, mercy and faithfulness. We need discernment to listen to that which is true. When statements are made based upon faulty research, or bent to fit a particular point of view, we become politicians espousing a partisan line and not teachers of Torah.
Another point comes from Rabbi Shalom Arush, who counsels many troubled marriages. One of the precepts he stresses is that if one of the partners is led to become Torah obedient this must become a very good thing for the other partner. Otherwise, the partner will view Torah as destructive. We must ask ourselves--has the Torah in my life made me a better spouse, a better son or daughter, a better parent, a better employer, a better employee, a better member of the Messianic fellowship? Have those living around you sensed your humility, your desire to serve and your fervent love for Yeshua? Or did they turn away because you reeked of religious arrogance and self-righteous certainty?
Torah is the DNA of our Messiah -- it is His genetic material that He has planted in our hearts. It is the seed of the Kingdom. When it is nurtured and grown in the proper environment it yields love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As Paul reminds us, none of these qualities are against Torah; none violate it. I would go further and say that when these attributes do not characterize Torah-keeping folks, the seed has been corrupted. Yahweh makes an astonishing pronouncement in Isaiah 1:12-14 “When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies -- I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them.”
Why does He reject all these activities that He commanded Israel to do for Him? Because they had neglected the weightier matters of Torah. He pleads with Israel, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)
We have been so blessed to be a part of this restoration in this day. Torah is not bondage, but rather life. This revelation transforms us. Let’s make certain that in our holy pursuit of Torah that the foundation of Yeshua is built in well. That the important things have truly been given the credit they deserve. For many their introduction to Torah will be the lives we live before them. May the Messiah and His love be revealed in us, I pray.
Printed in the MIA Herald, Sept 2011.
House of Aaron Articles/ Teachings
Please remember that these resources represent the understanding of the author and the conditions at the time of their presentation. Any reference to particular groups or persons is for the purpose of illustration and explanation.