Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, July 18, 2021

Shavuah Tov,

Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)

Sun 18 July 2021 9th of Av, 5781 Tish’a B’Av

De 4:25-40 Jer 8:13-9:23 Lam 1-5 1 Co 3:1-17

Ex 32:11-14; 34:10 (afternoon) Isa 55:6-56:8 (afternoon) Mt 5:1-12

Looking for Loopholes… Finding None! by Dr. Raymond Finney

INTRODUCTION: A loophole is a way of avoiding or escaping a legal burden that would otherwise apply by means of an omission or ambiguity in the wording of a law or contract. 

A RAMBLING SIDELIGHT: This rambling sidelight may seem irrelevant. I ramble, because I seem to have perfected the art of rambling. Years ago, I was a member of a Blount County congregation of Believers. This congregation had an active jail ministry, and I volunteered to be a ministry member. Being a minister in this outreach was one of the most enjoyable Yeshua-serving experiences I ever had. On Sunday and Thursday evenings, we visited the Blount County Correction Center (Jail) to minister to inmates.

I never entered the female side (which was restricted to female ministers), but the male side, arranged in the shape of a hexagon, consisted of six pods. Each pod had a large day room, common to all, and a double story of cells, each secured by an electronic lock. Up to thirty-two inmates could be housed in each pod.

The inmates were almost all younger than my children. Most were convicted of “crimes of stupidity.” They broke laws that you and I would not consider breaking.  Drug offenses seemed to be the leading reasons for their incarceration.  I was impressed by two things: (1) Many of them were exceedingly talented. (I still have hanging in my home office a beautiful painting one of them made for me in appreciation for sharing the Gospel. Having no painting supplies, he took a package of M&Ms [available through the jail commissary] and a Q-tip. Moistening the Q-tip, he rubbed the colored candy coating from the M&M candies to use as water color paints.) (2) Inmates who attended services (the majority in each pod did attend) had a deep hunger for the Gospel. Rabbi Weiner would be pleased if all Shomair congregants would be as eager to hear about Yeshua, as were these inmates. The inmates called me (and the other volunteers) “preacher,” and we were, in effect, the only ministers of the Gospel with whom they had contact.

There are two reasons I share this boring story: (1) In recalling a good time in my life, I emphasize that opportunities to serve Yeshua can come in many unexpected ways.  Anyone can serve as a “missionary” in his/ her home county. People need to learn about God not only in Africa and Latin America, but also in eastern Tennessee. There are more opportunities for service than will ever be filled. (2) I wish to set up today’s RR. END RS (Rambling Sidelight).

YESHUA’S THREE COMMANDMENTS: I prepared a message for these inmates a number of years ago. That message was to teach the only three commandments ever given to us by Yeshua. These three commandments are:

● First and second commandments (Matthew 22:34-39): But the Pharisees, when they heard that Yeshua had silenced the Sadducees, gathered together in one place. And testing Him, one of them, a lawyer, asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Torah?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Yeshua claimed that these two simple commandments summarized the entire Word of God– the Bible (Matthew 22:40): [Yeshua said] “The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

SIDELIGHT: Although these commandments really need no explanation, I will make a few comments. Yeshua, here, quoted the Tanakh. The first commandment (“Love Adonai…”) was given in Deuteronomy 6:5. The second commandment (“Love your neighbor…”) was given in Leviticus 19:18b. In a broader sense, Yeshua’s two commandments summarized the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17), with the first commandment summarizing man’s responsibility to Adonai and the second commandment summarizing man’s responsibility to other men. Rabbinic tradition eventually concluded that there were 613 commandments in the Torah. Yeshua had the genius of simplifying complicated issues.

Yeshua’s commandments did not alter the Tanakh commandments in keeping with His promise to fulfill, not abolish, the Torah (Matthew 5:17-18): [Yeshua said] “Do not think that I came to abolish the Torah or the Prophets! I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. Amen, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or serif shall ever pass away from the Torah until all things come to pass.” Explanation: “smallest letter” in Greek text = iota; in Hebrew text = yod. “serif” in Greek text = a punctuation horn, projection, stroke; in Hebrew text = a punctuation crown, ornament, stroke. In other words, Yeshua pledged not to change even the seemingly most insignificant feature of God’s Word. Every word is important and is given to us for a reason. END sidelight.

● Third commandment (John 13:34): [Yeshua said] “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so also you must love one another.” Yeshua was preparing His disciples for His death,  resurrection, and departure to be with the Father. For the rest of their earthly lives, they would have no contact with Yeshua; they would only have each other. Yeshua  would finally leave in His ascension into the heavens, recorded in Acts, chapter 1. Then, they would need to love, trust, and protect each other.

I suspect Yeshua still was uncertain whether the disciples comprehended what was about to happen. He had taught them parables about the Master leaving servants behind, and how the servants were expected to continue working in the Master’s absence. Had they grasped the meaning of these parables? Regardless of their many good attributes, some of the disciples seemed slow in applying to real life what they were witnessing in Yeshua’s ministry.

Yeshua seemingly worried about the future of the faith He had planted and was  contained in the Gospel message.

A prophecy of HaMashiach (Yeshua) was that He, our Suffering Servant, would be a Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3-4): He [the Suffering Servant] was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,…. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our pains. Many instances of Yeshua’s sorrow are recorded in the B’rit Chadashah, including His anguished prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane and His lamenting that His brothers and sisters in Jerusalem rejected His ministry. In a beautiful prayer (John, chapter 17), Yeshua asked that we, His followers, would become united with the triune God and with one another. Nearly two-thousand years later, we Believers are not united with God or with each other. 

WHERE ARE THE LOOPHOLES? As I prepared this message for the inmates, I wished to prepare for their questions. The inmates have a great deal of time on their hands, and some are voracious readers. Religious books (Bible, Koran, etc.) are always allowed by the sheriff to be in the inmates’ possession, and the Bible is favorite reading material. At times, an inmate’s sharp question left me muttering apologetically, “I don’t know the answer to that question.” Some seemed fascinated with Melchizedek, and I regret to admit their knowledge of this king of Salem (Jerusalem) and priest of the Most High God was probably superior to my knowledge at that time.

Yeshua’s three commandments were simple. They were all based on love (love Adonai…, love neighbors…, love fellow Believers…). They were simple enough that even a child can understand them, an intentional feature of Scriptures. As simple as the commandments were to understand, they are also so profound that even scholars cannot understand their full meaning. And even though they sound simple, they are most difficult (perhaps, impossible?) to apply fully to every-day life.

I anticipated questions about loopholes, which would start with: “What about…?” I became interested in searching for loopholes in these commandments. I searched not to find ways of breaking Yeshua’s commandments, but in preparing to answer a question that might surface in that evening’s service. Could Scriptures be so complete in their simple wording that they are perfect? In short, could these commandments have no loopholes? America’s best lawyers and legislators craft laws and contracts, but even sharper lawyers can nullify the laws or contracts by finding loopholes. 

I spent considerable time on a Sunday afternoon prior to that Sunday evening service, searching for loopholes. I, then, concluded, there are no loopholes!  Yeshua’s message was complete and perfect! His commandments covered all situations! 

If a Believer truly follows these simple commandments of Yeshua, how can he/ she commit sin? If a Believer loves Adonai with all of his/ her being, and loves his/ her neighbor as he/ she loves self, and loves brothers/ sisters in Yeshua’s congregation as they are loved by Yeshua, how can there be sin in his/ her life?

A PROJECT CONSIDERED, BUT LEFT UNFINISHED: Once again, Yeshua’s message to us is perfect. If we could follow these three commandments fully, we would be sinless saints on earth.

My wife complains that I start more projects than I ever complete, and she is right. I think of many things I want to do, but I get bored too easily and skip from one project to the next. At the time of this jail ministry message, the “…for Dummies” books were popular. You remember the yellow-cover paperback books that simplified complicated subjects (for example, “Computers for Dummies”). I thought about writing one, entitled “Christian Faith for Dummies.” Inside the famous yellow cover, the only text would be the three commandments given to us by Yeshua. There… the basis of faith in Yeshua is distilled into the three commandments He gave us.

Of course, the book would never be published, and no one would purchase such a one-page book (which would seem more like a prank than a thought-provoking book), but at least the thought was good. Yeshua simplified our faith and our responsibilities to Adonai in three brief commandments. His commandments distilled the Gospel message into a few sentences. And yet, we “dummies” still do not understand or keep these commandments.  Let’s work on that.  Until next Sunday, Shalom and Maranatha.