Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, October 22, 2023
Shavuah Tov,

God’s promise for Israel… please pray today.  Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Surely I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Salvation– Childlike Faith or Something More Involved? Part 4 of 4
by Dr. Raymond Finney

COMMENTARY ON SHAME, THEIRS AND OURS: We grieve that our Israeli brothers and sisters have once again been attacked (this time in Gaza). We surely are all appalled that the Hamas animals have decapitated little babies. Who could be so barbaric? Hamas terrorists have shown they are this barbaric. Before we Americans feel morally superior, I remind us that we Americans rip apart hundreds of thousands of little babies every year in our abortion clinics. The difference may be whether “they” (Hamas terrorists) do the killing or “we” (American physicians) do the killing. Does God recognize this difference? Does God understand “choice,” so loudly shouted by Planned Parenthood and others? Is God swayed by Supreme Court opinions?

If you are a woman who has had an abortion or you are a man who has impregnated a woman who ended her (and your) pregnancy by abortion, God is faithful to forgive you and heal your guilt, if you will ask Him and repent. But, what about America? Adonai’s people, over whom His name is called, have not repented over abortion and numerous other national sins (see 2 Chronicles 7:14). God raises up and takes down “kings and kingdoms.” Has God’s judgment of America for our unrepented sins commenced? I think it has.

Yeshua warned us against hypocrisy. << See Matthew 7:3: [Yeshua said] “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the beam in your own eye?” >> Hamas’ killing a few dozen babies is but a “speck,” compared to America’s “beam” of annual killing hundreds of thousands of babies.

As Israel faces an existential threat, we agree with David. << See Psalm 68:2: Let God arise! Let His enemies be scattered! Let those who hate Him flee before Him. >>

INTRODUCTION: In today’s RR, I conclude a series of brief, incomplete comments about salvation.

WHY IS THE SON OF GOD NAMED YESHUA? We believe in God in Three Persons (the Trinity). We call the Second Person in the Trinity, Yeshua.

Miriam (Mary) was told to name her immaculately conceived Son a rather common Hebrew name, Yeshua. << See Matthew 1:21: [An angel of Adonai said] “She [Miriam] will give birth to a son; and you shall call His name Yeshua, for He will save His people from their sins.” >> In Isaiah 7:14, the virgin (later identified as a young Hebrew maiden, Miriam) was instructed to call her Son, Immanuel. (Immanuel translates to “God is with us.”) Yeshua (English “Jesus”) is a contraction of another common Hebrew name, Yehoshua (English “Joshua”). Translating Tanakh Hebrew to B’rit Chadashah Greek, Yeshua became Iesous (΄Ιησους). Greek Iesous became the English Jesus.

Yeshua may be translated, “Deliverer, Savior.” Thus, Yeshua became the path by which we are delivered from (saved from) sin. Yeshua is salvation (see Matthew 1:21; Luke 2:11, 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15; Acts 4:12, 13:23; Titus 2:13; Ephesians 5:23; and other verses).

Early Believers faced Jewish and Roman persecution. These Believers used coded messages and signs to identify fellow Believers and to make their lives safer.

● One coded message was a greeting or salutation, using the Aramaic word Maranatha. Depending upon the way the word was pronounced (syllable emphasis), Maranatha could mean either, “Our Lord has come” (a statement of faith) or “Our Lord will come” (a statement of hope).

● A coded symbol involved drawing a simple fish with two curved lines. This fish symbol could be drawn hurriedly on houses, shops, neighborhood home walls, or other public spaces frequented by Believers. If a Believer found him-/ her-self in a neighborhood marked with a fish symbol, he/ she knew friends lived or worked in the area.

A fish had special meaning for Believers. Yeshua called His followers to be “fishers of men” (see Matthew 4:19). The Greek word for “fish” is ichthus (spelled  iota – chi – theta – upsilon – sigma, or ΙΧΘΥΣ). Early Believers used the letters of ichthus (“fish”) as an acronym to spell a statement of faith. Iota (Ι) represented Iesous (“Jesus, Yeshua”). Chi (Χ) represented Christos (“the Christ, the Messiah”). Theta (Θ) represented theou (“of God”). Upsilon represented huios (“Son”). Sigma (Σ) represented Sotēr (“Savior”). The Greek phrase (acronym), derived from ichthus, reads in English, “Jesus the Christ, Son of God, Savior.”

● Later, the cross, the symbol of Yeshua’s crucifixion, replaced the fish as a symbol of the faith in the fourth century, after Emperor Constantine’s proclamation that Yeshua would be placed in the Roman pantheon.

It is claimed that the Roman Emperor Constantine I was marching his army to Rome to confront adversaries. Looking into the sky, he saw a cross of light above the sun and the Greek words, (En) toútōi níka. Being a Roman, he translated this phrase to Latin: In hoc signo vinces. In English, these phrases translate to: “In this sign, conquer.” Constantine adopted the cross as a guarantee of victory. He ordered his soldiers to paint crosses on their shields. Constantine was victorious. He knew that the crucifix (cross) was a symbol of a new religious movement, Christianity, in the Empire. In appreciation, he ended persecution of Christianity and placed Jesus in the pantheon of Roman gods and goddesses. I believe the Catholic Church began its surge at this time. (History of early Catholicism seems murky to me.) The end of persecution was wonderful. The entanglement of Church and State may not have been so wonderful, however. The cross became a talisman for Constantine’s army. Today, the cross is too often worn as a piece of costume jewelry.

● Archaeologists excavating in the Jerusalem region have discovered pottery shards believed to date from the first century. Scratched into the pottery surface is a symbol, often called, “The Messianic Seal of the Jerusalem Congregation.” This congregation was probably the first Messianic congregation, established on the Day of Pentecost, AD 33 (see Acts, chapter 2). This symbol contains three smaller symbols– a fish, with triangular tail; a menorah, with triangular base; and blended fish tail and menorah base to form a Star (Shield) of David. This symbol is present in the sanctuary of Shomair Yisrael Messianic Synagogue. Chris McDonald, a former Shomair Yisrael member, has included photographs and description of the Messianic Seal in one of his Websites, http://www.threemacs.org/themes/jewish/answers/htm .

Contrary to Catholic dogma, the first Christian/ Believer congregation was in Jerusalem, not Rome. Worship was Judaic, except that Believers taught the Messiah had come in the Person of Yeshua, rather than continuing to wait for Him. The first congregation was led by Apostles Peter and John, and later by Yeshua’s half-brother James (Jacob) the Just. (To my understanding, Peter never claimed to be Pope nor did he hold a similar authoritarian position by another name.)

CAN ONLY ROMAN CATHOLICS OBTAIN SALVATON? In the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), salvation is a “process.” If you are interested, a summary of Catholic salvation is contained in: https://carm.org/roman-catholicism/summary-of-process-of-salvation-in-roman-catholicism/ .

This “process” is detailed, as this source outlines. I am not a Catholic. I am certainly not an expert on Roman Catholic Church doctrines or law. I mention a very few things in this RR  to raise awareness and questions.

Dating to the third century, the writings of Bishop Cyprian of Carthage coined the Latin phrase, Extra ecclesiam nulla salus. Translated to English, this phrase asserts, “Outside the Church, there is no salvation.” Of course, “the Church” is specifically the Roman Catholic Church (not Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Messianic, or other non-Catholic churches).

This doctrine is naturally offensive to non-Catholic Believers. Does this doctrine imply that only Roman Catholics are eligible to enter Heaven, and all other Believers must go to Hell? I have read certain Catholic publications about this assertion, but I have not performed an exhaustive study. I will not embarrass myself and possibly mislead you by trying to explain what Bishop Cyprian and generations of Church fathers after him have meant by this statement. As a literal teaching, I cannot resolve this statement with Scriptures. Yeshua asked each person to deny self, take up one’s cross, and follow Him. There is no command that a Believer must join the Catholic Church (which would not be formed for decades after Yeshua’s death) or any other organization.

Yeshua called people to follow Him and serve God and neighbors in love. He did not call people to join a specific worship congregation (denomination). Yeshua was critical of the religious elite of His time. I suspect He would look at the heart of a Believer, rather than be concerned about specific church or synagogue membership. Attendees (worshipers) and officers (popes, cardinals, priests, ministers, rabbis, and so forth) in all congregations– Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Messianic, etc.– probably will be in both Heaven and Hell.

During His earthly ministry, Yeshua was more critical of the religious elite of His generation than He was of “ordinary sinners” (prostitutes, thieves, etc.). I suspect this disparity in condemnation stems from the reasons people sin but seek forgiveness. The sins of the religious elite are often deeply ingrained in the prideful, “know-it-all” sinner, and he/ she may not be likely to change. The sins of “ordinary sinners” are often related to life circumstances and may be accompanied by forgiveness-seeking guilt. I suspect it is easier to point out sin to a prostitute than to point out sin of, say, a pope. A very religious person, who believes he/ she is correct beyond any argument and superior to all others, is unlikely to admit error, confess sin, and repent.

Speaking of the religious elite, how many “super-religious” people are overly zealous and turn off nonbelievers? There is always a place and time to witness to nonbelievers. I question the technique and timing of some Believers. Most of us know when we do wrong (when we sin), because we all sin. Most of us know we need to repent and re-direct our lives. Most people respond to a polite appeal, but not to be shouted at. When the Ruach ha-Kodesh has spoken to a human, it has been described as “a soft whisper of a voice” (see 1 Kings 19:12). I know when I was saved, the Ruach quietly implanted in my mind that it was time to follow Yeshua. There were no fireworks, trumpet sounds, or shouting, just the Ruach’s quiet, gentlemanly urging to accept Yeshua.

The RCC has a number of explanations and qualifications about this ancient doctrine. These explanations are written in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). I had summarized pertinent Catechism paragraphs relative to salvation, but these doctrines are just too many to duplicate in this RR. Pertinent sacraments and other doctrines related to salvation are listed in this article: https://carm.org/roman-catholicism/summary-of-process-of-salvation-in-roman-catholicism/ . If you wish to read the full Catechism (a daunting exercise), go to: https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/ .

SHOULD YOU BE A CHRISTIAN/ MESSIANIC, BELIEVER, OR FOLLOWER? As fruits of Yeshua’s apostles started to be realized, a movement began. What should the faithful be called? << See Acts 11:26b: … For a whole year they met together with Messiah’s community and taught a large number. Now it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christianoi.” >> The Greek Christianoi may be translated “Christians.” “Christian” implies “someone of the Christ” or “someone belonging to the Christ.” (Greek “Christ” = Hebrew “Messiah” = English “Anointed One.”)

In Messianic circles, “Christian” is not often used. When I started writing these RRs, I asked Rabbi Weiner what term I should use for the faithful. He suggested “Believer.” As a chain of command devotee, I follow Rabbi Weiner’s lead and use “Believer.” “Believer” also includes Satan and his demons. << Among other Scriptures, see James 2:19: You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe– and shudder! >> I personally would prefer “Follower” (in response to Yeshua’s command, “Follow Me”) or “Christian” or “Messianic” (belonging to the Christ or the Messiah).

ARE YOU ALONE, WHEN YOU SHARE THE GOSPEL WITH OTHERS? Before Yeshua left the world, He gave us a commandment, commonly celled “The Great Commission.” << See Matthew 28:18-20: And Yeshua came up to [the disciples] and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Ruach ha-Kodesh, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” >>

A Believer’s “marching order” is to spread the Gospel message to “the nations” (nonbelievers, wherever they may live). Is it lonely when testifying to “the nations” about the love of God? No. Whenever, wherever, and however you testify, the Spirit of God (the Ruach ha-Kodesh) is with you.

As I understand the Bible, all a Believer needs to do in the twenty-first century is “plant a seed of faith” in an unbeliever’s mind. A simple testimony may suffice. Presenting an honorable lifestyle puts your words in action. Trust the Ruach ha-Kodesh to take this planted seed and do the rest. Understand that some people will refuse to accept your efforts and the Ruach’s urging.

Multiple Bible verses confirm that the Ruach ha-Kodesh brings a person to salvation. A Believer’s testimony assists the Ruach in His work. Websites summarize the Ruach’s role in salvation, including: https://www.openbible.info/topics/holy_spirits_working_in_salvation

ARE SOME PERSONS INELIGIBLE FOR SALVATION? A person must be forgiven of sin to enter Heaven. Can all sins be forgiven? A curious statement is contained in the B’rit Chadashah. << See Mark 3:28-29: [Yeshua said] “Amen, I tell you, all things will be forgiven the sons of men, the sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever slanders the Ruach ha-Kodesh never has release, but is guilty of an eternal sin!” >> This blasphemy against the Ruach ha-Kodesh is often called “the unpardonable sin.” Synonyms for “unpardonable” sin include “unforgivable, eternal, ultimate” sin.

FORGIVE OR NOT FORGIVE? We are told God will forgive our sins. << See 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. >>

But, is more involved? Yeshua’s disciples asked Him how they should pray. He taught a model prayer (see Matthew 6:9-13). One verse asked the Father to forgive “debts.” << See Matthew 6:12: [Yeshua prayed] “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” >> The TLV translates the Greek opheilēma as “debts.” “Debts” is used metaphorically as “sins.” We typically think of a debt as an amount of money owed someone.

If someone dies with an unpaid balance on his/ her home mortgage, will he/ she be denied entrance into Heaven? Of course not. “Debt” is better translated “sin.” We must overcome sin to be admitted to Heaven.

Yeshua only explained one part of His model prayer, and these two verses immediately followed the prayer. << See Matthew 6:14-15: [Yeshua explained] “For if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” >>

Was Yeshua serious, or just joking? Did Yeshua really mean my Father will treat me, when I sin against Him, exactly as I treat others, who sin against me? Hmmm. I believe I need to be certain that I have forgiven everyone who has ever sinned against me. In fact, I need to reconcile my differences with others before even speaking to God about forgiveness. << See Matthew 5:23-24: [Yeshua taught] “Therefore if you are presenting your offering upon the altar [a prayer for forgiveness is a gift on the altar], and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” >> No one said following Yeshua is easy. Remember He said to follow Him, after denying self and daily taking up a cross.

WHY DID I WRITE THIS RR SERIES? As I conclude this RR series, I ask myself a question: “Why did I even try to write about salvation?” I should have written on a topic about which I know more.

To me, the Bible seemingly presents conflicting information about salvation. Is salvation so simple that even a child can understand it, or is salvation a lifelong dedication to God? Is simply confessing Yeshua as Savior sufficient, or must a reordered life be in evidence? Must a person’s cross be taken up daily, or is “once saved always saved” adequate? I can quote Scriptures to support seemingly contradictory positions. Does the Bible contradict itself, or are different messages presented for different persons?

I cannot answer these questions, which is the reason I start each section of these RRs with a question instead of a statement. Could each person’s salvation be unique to him or her? Two verses suggest this possibility:

● The Apostle Paul suggested each person must “work out” his/ her own salvation. << See Philippians 2:12: Therefore, my loved ones, just as you have always obeyed– not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence– work out your salvation with fear and trembling. >> Paul told me to work out MY salvation with fear and trembling. Paul told you to work out YOUR salvation with fear and trembling. He did not tell you and me to work on THE salvation (common salvation) process. Could we have different things we must overcome “with fear and trembling?”

● Each person’s life will be evaluated by our Divine Judge. Yeshua taught a principle applicable to multiple situations. << See Luke 12:48b: [Yeshua said] “… From everyone given much, much will be required; and from the one for whom more is provided, all the more they will ask of him.” >> Could it be that acceptance or rejection of salvation is tempered by circumstances? I present different circumstances in the following paragraphs:

Circumstance 1: Consider the freedoms and opportunities to worship God I enjoy. Under America’s Constitution, I must be allowed to choose how I worship or not worship. A church or synagogue is present on nearly every street corner in my community. I am welcome in any of these houses of worship. There, I will find people ready to love and support me. I will hear about God, and the Bible will be shared with me. If I turn on my television (I subscribe to satellite television), I find numerous channels proclaiming around the clock the Lordship of Yeshua. Numerous radio stations spread the Gospel. I own several Bibles. I must flee the Ruach ha-Kodesh to become a nonbeliever. God’s grace abounds in everything I see. Yeshua will judge me as “someone given much, from whom more is asked.” I must work to find my salvation. God’s mercy and Yeshua’s sacrifice have secured my salvation, but I must accept this precious gift.

Circumstance 2: Consider the lack of freedoms to worship God many persons experience in foreign lands. They have no rights to worship or not worship, as they choose. A church or synagogue is absent in their communities. No one is present to encourage the love for and worship of God. God and the Bible will not be shared with them. No television or radio stations proclaim the Gospel message. Believers are actively persecuted or even martyred. They do not own Bibles. Their only information about God may have been a single message from a visiting missionary. God’s grace is hidden from them in everything they see. Yeshua will judge them as “having been given little, from whom relatively little is asked.” They must work even harder at finding their salvation.

Of the examples given in the preceding two paragraphs, who will Yeshua judge more closely– me, with all that I have been given throughout my life, or a persecuted Believer, who has been given so very little in life?

Many American Believers should hang heads in shame, saying something like, “Forgive me, Father, that I have done so little with the many gifts and treasures entrusted to me.” Several of Yeshua’s parables taught relativism in serving God. A master (representing Yeshua) left his kingdom (Yeshua left to re-enter Heaven) and left behind servants (Believers) to work in the kingdom (Earth). Although the servants had different gifts and opportunities, they were judged on their relative productivity. A servant with ten units of gifted wealth was expected to produce more than servants with five or one units of gifted wealth.

Is salvation relative? If I have more opportunities than a person in a country in which Believers are persecuted and martyred, does Yeshua expect more of me? Is my response to the Ruach’s call for salvation expected to be more perfect than the responses of my persecuted brothers and sisters?

I repeat a previously cited teaching of Yeshua. << See Luke 12:48b: [Yeshua said] “… From everyone given much, much will be required; and from the one for whom more is provided, all the more they will ask of him.” >>

After my poor writing attempts in these four RR notes on salvation, I have more questions in my mind than when I started. Good. We should each explore our beliefs and always question whether we are correct or need to improve. Those readers familiar with Scriptures know that many pertinent Bible verses have not been included in these RRs. Think abut the Scriptures I have included, as well as the ones not included. Salvation may be a lifelong quest, not fully realized until we meet Yeshua face to face. Perhaps the most exclaimed phrase, as we begin walking the streets of Heaven, will be: “Aha! Now I understand!” Even the Apostle Paul desired to know more but could not understand fully. << See 1 Corinthians 13:12: For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. >>

CONCLUSION: Until next Sunday and, more importantly, that day we will “know fully” the answers to our many questions, I wish you Shalom and Maranatha.

<< Scriptures from the Tree of Life Version Bible. >>

Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarsson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Sun 22-Oct-2023 7th of Chesvan, 5784
Ge 12:1-13 Jos 14 Ps 14 Mt 12:1-21 (2 Pet 3)