When it comes to professional sports, let me just go on record as saying: Detroit is the place to live if you enjoy despondency! 2018 was another rough year for our teams. In spite of a lot of talented players, the Lions had a dismal season. The Tigers weren’t much better. It’s been 10 years since the Red Wings were in serious playoff contention. The Pistons… don’t get me started! They are six games under .500, they are on a 4-game losing streak, and I really don’t think Blake Griffin is the cure.
It’s kind of amusing the way we console ourselves when the hometown team falters badly and the season ends embarrassingly. We assign blame and try to figure out what went wrong. Deficient coaching? Clueless owners?
And yet, all of this, in the scope of eternity, means… what? Not a whole lot. In the ‘game’ of life, which of course isn’t a game at all, how you start out is much less important than how you finish. We need to end this life well.
Paul, the great apostle and emissary of Messiah Yeshua, as his days were winding down, could say: I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7). He was not an elderly man, but was fully aware through the Holy Spirit that his days were numbered. The Jewish leaders were gunning for him, and Rome’s leaders couldn’t have cared less about disputes between Jewish factions; their sole interest was to maintain order and collect taxes. From Rome’s perspective, it would be considered expedient to put Paul to death and placate the Jewish leaders, rather than risk the displeasure of a people with a reputation for volatility.
I so admire Rabbi Paul for preaching the Gospel relentlessly, often at great personal cost. The one who considered himself ‘the chief of sinners’ did more to advance the cause of the Good News than anyone in history. He personally authored 13 of the 27 New Testament books (14, if you include Hebrews). Through this man, and a handful of other Jewish believers, people from every nation and language have come to know the one true God, the God of Israel. And, historically, those nations that applied the truth of the Gospel to their form of government, have enjoyed tremendous peace and prosperity while they remained true to it.
Now I have a bone to pick. Rabbis today sometimes like to claim that it was the Jewish people who gave Monotheism to the world. Which Jews? And how does that square with the claim – also by rabbis – that Judaism doesn’t try to convert people? How did Gentiles come to recognize the one true God, if Jewish people have made it a policy to not influence or convert them? I’m left with two possible conclusions: 1. either the credit is undeserved, or else 2. Judaism owes a debt (and, may I add, an apology) to Paul and the other First-Century Jewish followers of Yeshua; because it was they who journeyed to the nations and introduced the Gospel. Messianic Jews advanced Monotheism worldwide.
And the world is so much better off because of sacrifices that men like Rabbi Paul and the early Jewish apostles made. Yet for all that, he is hated and maligned within Jewish circles, as few have ever been. And when I consider the apostles’ dedication, particularly in the face of so much disapproval and opposition, I am ashamed at my own lack of zeal, my impatience, my lack of discipline and self-control. Deep down I want to serve my Lord Yeshua with zeal, but apparently not enough to consistently put to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom. 8:13).
Last Shabbat we explored the idea of sanctified impatience – yearning for Messiah’s return to Planet Earth. Almost all human beings have a sense that things are not right with the world. As our dear late brother Moishe Rosen, put it: “The Universe is Broken, Who on Earth Can Fix it?” Even if things are pretty good in your world (and for many of you things aren’t especially good), it’s obvious from even a cursory look at the headlines that the earth is broken, filled with selfish ambition and dishonesty, with hatred and violence, and with war and famine and death.
Last Shabbat we asked the question:
Yeshua, When Will You Come Back and Fix the World?
According to the prophets of Israel, whose messages are altogether reliable, the Last Days (Acharit HaYammim) will be the worst of all history, but all of that will change dramatically, and for the better, upon the return of Messiah Yeshua; which is why those days are called Havlei Mashiach – the birth pangs of the Messiah.
Like children in the backseat of the car on a long road trip, asking about every 20 minutes “Are we there yet?” we impatiently yearn, and cry out for Yeshua to come vindicate us and restore the Earth. He will – He promised it.
But, you know, not everyone is eager. Some are having a grand old time here on Earth and would prefer things continue just as they are. Others struggle with besetting sin and actually fear for His sudden return. And then there’s the troubling question Yeshua Himself left for us to ponder: “But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the Earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Last week we asked, Yeshua, when will You come back and fix the world?
Today, I’d like to ask the question:
Lord God, When Will I be the Person I’m Supposed to be?
The problem stated: We’re not there yet! (ateleiothV – immature)
The Greek word telos means “goal” or “high point” or “end” (as in one’s objective). We are immature. Morally, ethically, we are a far cry from the example Messiah Yeshua left us. Forget about 613 commandments, we can’t seem even to consistently accomplish the two (loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls and might, and loving our neighbors as ourselves).
It’s one thing to ask why God seems to be taking His sweet time in bringing justice to the world (some ask that question out of genuine faith; others ask merely to give themselves an excuse to disbelieve). But, if we’re going to be perfectly honest about it, we ought also to ask ourselves to what extent we are part of the problem. Pointing out a deficiency is easy. Remedying it takes effort! It requires time, money, inconvenience, and admitting personal responsibility. The first is purely an academic exercise. The second one costs you something.
So, it’s easy enough to admit that we’re not there yet; we have not attained to maturity, though we are called to it. And why do we fall short? What prevents us from being the people God wants us to be?
1. Our sinful nature (natural appetites) works against us
King David wrote, The Lord has looked down from Heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one! (Psalm 14:2-3).
Wise King Solomon wrote, Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
The great Jewish prophet Isaiah wrote to his people, For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away (Isaiah 64:6).
As we pointed out last week, sin isn’t just a wrong action. It’s a condition. If I became feverish and pale and suddenly very weak and start shivering, it doesn’t mean I’m going to catch a virus. It means I already have it! Those things are just the outward symptoms; symptoms of an invisible but real condition inside me. People don’t become sinners when they lie or steal or cheat or kill or covet. People lie, steal, cheat, kill and covet precisely because they are sinful, and those things are the unfortunate outward symptoms; symptoms of an invisible but equally real inner condition. It’s why you have locks on your car and your house, codes you need to put in at the ATM and on your iphone and your computer and it’s why you’re sometimes asked to produce ID when making a purchase. This condition we call sin is the reason we need massive police forces, innumerable laws in countless legal volumes on the weight-strained shelves of who-knows-how-many law offices. It is also the only viable explanation for teenagers.
2. Sin adversely affects us
It affects our vertical relationship. Sin creates tension between us and God. When Adam and Eve (who were two very real people) rebelled against Adonai’s command, and ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, suddenly they became afraid when God came into the Garden. Suddenly they were alienated from Him. They had never been afraid before, nor ashamed. Now they had to hide themselves from Him, and that is because holiness and sinfulness cannot occupy the same space.
Sin creates a barrier – it causes us to be separated from the God who created us and loves us; but who will not turn a blind eye to evildoing. Isaiah also wrote,
Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that He cannot hear (in other words, God is neither lacking in power nor in compassion). But your iniquities have made a separation between you and Your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear (Isaiah 59:1-2).
God is a real Person. Heaven is a real place. Hell is a real place. Unforgiven sin is the thing that will separate us from God forever. Not our bad deeds outweighing our good deeds. Deeds don’t atone for deeds. But sin must be atoned for, and God Himself told us that blood atones for sin, because it is the blood that is the source of our life. I’m not making this up. The Torah itself says,
For the life of the flesh (being) is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood, by reason of the life, that makes atonement (Leviticus 17:11).
3. Sin adversely affects others
Sin affects our horizontal relationships. Not only does it create a rift in our relationship with God, but it also hurts our relationships with one another. It is what causes us to behave selfishly and thoughtlessly towards others. Sin causes us to feel guilty and insecure and so we resort to blame-shifting. Sin is what feeds fragile egos, leading to harsh words and wounded pride and broken relationships and a general lack of trust. It makes us cynical – causing us to presume the worst in people with whom we disagree and to demonize one another. Sin prevents us from giving others the benefit of the doubt when something they may have said or done quite innocently or unintentionally is interpreted the wrong way, and we react with hostility.
Well, it’s simple enough to diagnose sin. What do we do about it? Now this morning I am speaking to the members and friends of Shema, and the vast majority of you already agree with this assessment. For those who have not yet surrendered their will and said “Yes!” to Yeshua, the first and most important thing you need to do is to stop fighting Him, and allow God to circumcise your hearts so that you can believe. It isn’t something you can do in your own ability, but if you are even just willing, even this much (the faith of a mustard seed) God will give you the strength to believe in Messiah Yeshua, and will forgive your sins and write your name in His Book of Life.
But for you who already believe, who know that your name is recorded in Heaven for eternal life, there is still the question of what to do about sin, because all of us sin in various ways and at various times, and we know better than to rationalize it away by saying, “Hey, everyone sins!” If you genuinely love the Lord God of Israel and His Son, Messiah Yeshua, you desire to have victory over sin.
It was to fellow believers, not to outsiders, that Rabbi Paul wrote,
“I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:21-24)
The biblical solution: Take simple, appropriate steps!
1.Confess your sin
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).
It seems obvious enough, but the point is, you want to keep short accounts with Adonai. Don’t let things fester. As soon as you become aware of your failing, admit it to yourself and to Him. If you’ve sinned against someone else, admit it to them and ask forgiveness. By keeping short accounts, you keep your conscience clear and you enjoy restored fellowship with God.
2.Turn from your sin / turn towards God
Is this a sin following a pattern? Do you seem to return to it again and again? We are called not only to confess our sin, but to turn from it; to forsake it. Remember, the Hebrew word translated ‘repent’ is shuv, which means ‘turn’. Since sin takes us 180 degrees away from the Lord, we need to make a conscious decision to turn away from it and head back in His direction.
We walk it one step at a time, but it needs to be intentional and consistent. Paul gives us the prescription for successfully doing this. He wrote to the Galatians, “…walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Allow your conscience to be led by Him. Become sensitive to His gentle inner voice, His nudging. Determine not to grieve the Holy Spirit. Rather, submit and cooperate.
3. Hold yourself accountable to another (seek out mature believers)
Ya’akov (James) wrote, “…confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 5:16). Of course, you should confess your sin to the one you’ve sinned against, but beyond that, it is helpful to have an older and more spiritually mature brother (if you’re a man) or sister (if you’re a woman) to whom you can come and seek godly counsel. It’s a given that they’ve wrestled with sin, and may have wisdom to share with you about how to make good and proper changes in your life.
The resulting transformation in us:
- reprioritizing (our life is restored to godly order)
- greater joy (the effect of a clear conscience)
- more powerful impact (“ “ “ “)
- increased yearning for Messiah to return
Scripture describes us as seeing and understanding spiritual things dimly at present, but one day we will see Him face-to-face and our knowledge will be complete. Let me say this in conclusion: your destination depends on your trajectory, and your trajectory depends on what it is you’re aiming at. So where do you hope to be? What do you have your sights set on? And does the present trajectory of your life have you on a path to get you there? If not, take Rabbi Paul’s advice:
Not that I have already become perfect… Brothers, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Messiah Yeshua (Phil. 3:13-14).
Messiah Yeshua is coming soon! It will be at precisely the right time, the time of the Father’s choosing. He will make good on all His promises. But what kind of people will we be on that day? Don’t wait until the 11th hour to make the necessary changes in your life. With God’s help, straighten what has been crooked. Adjust your priorities. Live like it’s going to happen any day now, because it very well may.
And now, dear children, continue in Him, so that when He appears, we may be confident and unashamed before Him at his coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of Him (1 John 2:28-29).