Baruch Hashem

As I wrote in Monday’s post, my sister and I visited a Messianic congregation last Sabbath/Shabbat. The teaching given that day by the Rabbi centered around the Hebrew phrase “Baruch Hashem,” which translates as “bless the name” or “blessed be God.” Jewish people traditionally write the initials B”H at the top of a letter to begin their correspondence, as a way of contextualizing everything that follows as being for God’s glory. The composer Johann Sebastian Bach did something similar by starting each new piece of music with the initials JJ (Jesu Juva — Jesus help me) and ended his compositions with the letters SDG (Soli Deo Gloria — all glory to God).

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Bless The Lord

One of the songs we opened services with last week was my new favorite Christian song, Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons. Like many of the Psalms, it is about wholeheartedly singing and offering praise to God at all times, “whatever may pass and whatever lies before me.”

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! (Ps. 103:1)

Praise the Lord, O my soul! While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. (Ps. 146:1-2)

Have you made it your purpose in life to praise God? Perhaps this comes naturally for some people, but I suspect it is hard for most of us to be in a continuing mindset of praise. When things are going well it is easier to feel  like praising, but we often get so distracted by how well things are going that we forget to offer glory to God. Things going badly can serve as a reminder, but when that happens our typical response is usually to beg God for help rather than praise Him.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9)

One of the reasons we have been chosen is the show forth God’s praises, not just when we feel like it, but all the time. Ephesians 1:5-6 tells us that we were predestined to adoption as sons “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Verses 12-14 add that we were “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” redeemed, and purchased “to the praise of His glory.” Praising God is one of the key reasons we were created.

Praising His Glory

When we talk about God choosing us, we often turn to 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, about how God has selected the foolish, weak, and despised people who are nothing apart from Him so “that no flesh should glory in His presence.” There’s a “but” right after this, though.

But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:30-31)

We’re not told to just mope around and wallow in our insignificance. We are to be humble, yes, but there is also something we are to “glory in.” It’s not something that came from or belongs to us, though. Even if we have something which is impressive by the world’s standards, it still pales in comparison to what God gives us.

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord. (Jer. 9:23-24)

If we’re going to talk about, glory in, and be inspired by something we have, it should be our relationship with God. I recently re-read a book called Refiner’s Fire written by Sylvia Bambola. It is fiction, but set during the very real reign of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania during the 1980s. A large part of the plot centers around the horrible persecutions Christians endured under Ceausescu’s leadership.

When we sit in our comfy armchairs reading about the apostles “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name,” it seems marvelous, but rather far removed from our own experiences (Acts 5:41). Perhaps we wonder if Christians in general, or us in particular, would react like that today. We in the U.S. complain about being persecuted when public prayer is condemned — not a bit of praise to God for being counted worthy to suffer for Him. Christians in Romania gloried in sharing the love of Christ when it meant being beaten to death or incarcerated and tortured. Reading something like Refiner’s Fire kinda puts things in perspective.

Can we do this? Can we live our lives in the context of always glorifying God no matter the cost? Do we let people see God’s work in us without fearing how they will respond? Will we bless His name even if people give us weird looks, wonder at our sanity, take us to court, or perhaps worse in days to come?

Written In Our Hearts

We might not write B”H at the beginning of our correspondence any more, but God is writing something in our hearts that should result in our lives being contextualized by blessing His name.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jer. 31:33)

God is writing on us, while He is re-writing us in His image. Let’s think about this analogy for a moment. When you write on something, you change it. I write these blog posts in pen on notebooks before typing them up. Once I’ve done that, you can’t use that paper for anything else — it has been changed by the writing process and the words are there to stay. Even if I used pencil and erased it there would still be marks visible. God wants to have an even more indelible impact on us.

At one time, God wrote His laws on “tablets of stone” (Ex. 24:12). Now, He is writing on a surface far more precious with the potential to be far more enduring — our hearts. In a way, we are His letter to the world, and our whole life should be contextualized by that.

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2 Cor. 3:2-3)

God’s work in us — what He is writing on us — should change the way we approach our entire lives. When people see us, they should be able to read what God has written in us, seeing His signature on all that we do.


Reasons for Atonement

Today, the 14th of September/10th of Tishrei is the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. It is, as far as my research can find, considered the holiest day of the Jewish year. That does not, however, mean this important day holds no significance for Christians. Like the rest of the Old Testament, God’s Holy Days were given to man for a purpose that did not expire when Jesus Christ instituted the New Covenant. Some things were replaced/filled to the fullest, such as animal sacrifices being fulfilled by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice (Heb. 7:26-28). Others were updated to be understood in a spiritual light, which is what I touched on in “Righteousness by Faith” and “Purpose of the Law.” In the case of God’s Sabbaths and Holy Days, we have ample evidence that Jesus Christ kept these days as Holy and that the New Testament church followed His example.

Loose The Bonds of Wickedness

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) for Christians marissabaker.wordpress.comThe Day of Atonement is specifically referred to as “the Fast” in Acts 27:9. But knowing that Paul and his fellow believers observed the Day of Atonement only gives modern Christians an example to follow. That in and of itself is not an explanation for why this day should be observed. For that, we have to take a look at the Old Testament observance.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God.For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people.And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people.You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.” (Lev. 23:26-32)

Leviticus 23 lists the most important days of the year in God’s calendar, yet Atonement is the only one where the people are told they will be “cut off” and/or “destroyed” if it is not properly observed. A possible reason for the significance placed on this particular day lies in the symbolism of fasting. In my Google searches looking for descriptions of the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur, I stumbled across a Christian website that had the following to say about Atonement. (To provide proper attribution, here’s the link [but I didn’t finish reading this article and I don’t know anything about the site].)

An Israelite’s refusal to fast, which resulted in the offender being cut off from the community (Leviticus 23:29) is the Old Testament’s equivalent of a person today refusing to repent, which will result in the offender being cut off from eternal life (Luke 13:3). Fasting is outward proof that the person doing the fasting is serious about repentance, which is vital for forgiveness.

This idea fits in nicely with the purpose of fasting. In Isaiah 58, God answers Israel’s question about why He has no respect for their fasts by describing an acceptable fast. “Is this not the fast that I have chosen,” He asks in verse 6, “To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?”

Undo The Heavy Burdens

When we fast, it serves as a reminder of how much we need God and of the severity of our struggle against sin.  Going without food or water for 24 hours (or 25, in the Jewish tradition) reminds us how weak we are as human beings. The reminder of how much we need physical food and water — which is provided by God (James 1:17) — also helps us realize how much we are dependent on God for spiritual things. We are to hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matt. 5:6), but does my soul always long for God as much as my throat longs for water today?

As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. (Ps. 42:1)

O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. (Ps. 63:1)

Fasting should also remind us of our daily struggle against sin. I’m so used to drinking and eating that I have to consciously remind myself not to  grab a drink of water or open my dark chocolate and cashew stash today. While we were without God in the world, we were in a similar state of sinning without really thinking about it. But now that we have been redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice, we are to walk in newness of life and must make an effort to run away from sin and toward Christ (Rom. 6:4). Without His divine aid, we would slide back into sin.

Let The Oppressed Go Free

As we know, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is what frees us from the heavy burden of sin (John 8:31-36). If freeing people from wickedness is also the purpose of fasting, it makes sense that fasting under the New Covenant would be related to the subject of repenting and accepting Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf.

In the Old Testament, the Day of Atonement was the only day of the year on which the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle or temple (Lev. 16:2-10; 16:29-34). It is, therefore, this day that is referred to in Hebrews when the writer says,

the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services.  But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. …

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood The Day of Atonement for Christians marissabaker.wordpress.comHe entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh,  how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:6-8, 11-14)

Christ’s sacrifice supersedes the physical animal sacrifices by a human priest, just as His priesthood supersedes the Levitical system. But doing away with the animal sacrifice does not do away with our need for repentance. Christ said His servants would fast (Mat. 6:16-18; Matt. 9:14-16), and our obedience to this (particularly in the commanded fast on the Day of Atonement) reminds us of our need for redemption. Fasting helps us draw near to God, shows us how much we need Him, and is a physical sign of our willingness to obey His commands.

Break Every Yoke

The third main element of the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament involved the “scapegoat” or the “Azazel goat.”

“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. (Lev. 16:20-22)

In the churches I’ve been a part of, this has traditionally been read as symbolic of Satan being bound so that he “so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished” (Rev. 20:1-3. Permanently removed in verse 10). I see no reason to contest this interpretation. Though God’s people have been freed by Christ’s sacrifice, we still have to deal with  living in a fallen world subject to Satan’s influence. The “whole creation groans” and is subject to “the bondage of corruption” until the time of Christ’s return and Satan’s removal (Rom. 8:21-22), which will finally fulfill the Day of Atonement. Today reminds us of the incredible hope God gives us that someday, the entire world will be released from Satan’s yoke and enjoy the true freedom found in being a part of God’s family.

Jesus The Christ

I’d like to share a quote from a book I picked up a couple weeks ago. I still haven’t decided whether or not I like Mysteries of the Middle Ages by Thomas Cahill, but it has given me several things to think about. For example, there is an interesting footnote to page 50, in which the author discusses the shift from approaching Christianity through a “Jewish conceptual framework” to a Greco-Roman view that disconnected Christianity from its Jewish roots.

By the time of Constantine, Jesus was already shedding his Jewishness; and the Greek word Christos (Christ), meaning ‘Anointed One,” a translation of the Hebrew mashiach (messiah), had become in effect Jesus’s surname.

The problem with this is that treating “Christ” simply as a surname can make us lose sight of an important aspect of Who He is and what He was sent to do. His names have meaning, but too often we pay no more attention to those meanings than we would to the fact that the names John Doe mean “God is gracious” and “a female deer.”

Christ, the Anointed, is a title that God gave Jesus. It is so important that it quickly became part of His name — the name “Jesus Christ” is used 198 times in the New Testament and “Christ Jesus” 58 times. “Lord and Christ” is how Peter referred to Jesus in his Acts 2 sermon.

This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on My right hand, until I make Thy foes Thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:32-36).

Looking For a Messiah

Having read from the scriptures we know as the Old Testament (some were discussed in this post last week), the Jews of Christ’s day were expecting an Anointed Savior to appear from the Lord. When Andrew (who became one of the 12 disciples) first met Jesus, he said, ““We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ)” (Jn. 1:41, NKJV). Even the Samaritan woman who Jesus spoke with at the well said, ““I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things” (Jn 4:25, NKJV). In reply, Jesus said, “I who speak to you am He.”

The fact that the Jews were expecting the Messiah — the Lord’s Anointed, or masiyach (H4899) — is why He is referred to as “the Christ” seventeen times in the gospels. It is why John’s Gospel was written, so “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name” (Jn. 20:31).

What Was He Anointed to Do?

 The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)

This scripture is one Jesus chose to read as He taught in the synagog at Nazareth on the Sabbath. After reading it, He said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). Quoted from Isaiah 61, this mission is what His anointing included. Here in Luke and Acts 10:38 are the only places I’ve been able to find where the word “anoint” is  used this way in the NT, but I think it is safe to say that the anointing Jesus received from God included other roles, such as High Priest (Heb. 5:1-10).

If we forget the meanings contained in Jesus’s names, we lose sight of much more than just the Jewish roots of our faith. The fact that Jesus is the Christ, the One chosen and Anointed by God, is one of the founding principles of our faith, and should not be ignored if we seek to follow and honor Him.