Holiday Greetings in Messiah,
A Month of RETURNING
All three of the Fall Feasts occur this year in the month of September. That makes this month a special holy month on God’s calendar. Yom Teruah, the Feast of Trumpets, begins the evening of September 13, 2015. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins the evening of September 22, 2015, with the Kol Nidre (all vows) service. Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, begins on the evening of September 27 and lasts for eight days.
Holy, Holy, Holy. What is a Holy God saying to us during this holy month? RETURN! SHUV in Hebrew, (pronounced SHOOVE). Return to our Father in Heaven with all your heart and soul. We had a foretaste of what this means at the Ladies’ Retreat that Jamie spoke at in Naples, FL. The theme was Abba’s Love and one of the sessions was a “Homecoming” experience—“Coming Home 2015”- Coming Home to the Father, to greater intimacy with Him. Each woman present received a rose, and wore a crown and sash as her “Homecoming” photo was taken. All 68 women were Homecoming queens. Each had a special place in the Father’s heart and home. Thank you to those who prayed. Jamie was thrilled to welcome out His love upon all of us!
The Shofar Call to Return
The shofar, or ram’s horn, plays a major role in the High Holy Days since its piercing sound is a call for God’s people to repent and return to Him. The shofar is sounded 100 times on Yom Teruah alone. It calls to mind the often repeated concepts of the season: sin, repentance, forgiveness, mercy, and the Kingship of God. The Fatherhood of God is also emphasized with one of the major prayers being Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father, Our King (A-VEE-nu, Mahl-KAY-nu).
The Hebrew word for REPENTANCE is Teshuvah (pronounced t’shoe-VAH). It literally means to RETURN, specifically to return to God our Creator. Teshuvah is both a turning away and turning toward, a turning from the wrong path and returning to the right one. In returning to God there is both a change of heart and a change of one’s life. Throughout the Tanach (Hebrew Scriptures), we hear the voice of God, like a shofar, calling His people to repent and return to Him. The call hasn’t changed. “Return, (shoe-VOO) O backsliding children,” says the Lord; “for I am married to you.” (Jer. 3:14) “Turn, turn (shoe-VU, shoe-VU) from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11) “Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies’, says the Lord GOD. ‘Therefore turn and live’.” (Ezek. 18:31-32)
How is repentance or returning connected with death? The whole Bible makes it clear that sin is connected with spiritual death, (beginning in the Garden), and separation from God. Twice in Ezekiel chapter 18, God says, “The soul who sins shall die.” (vs 4 and 20). The Brit Hadasha confirms this: “For the wages of sin is death, BUT (emphasis ours) the gift of God is eternal life in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.” (Rom 6:23)
True teshuvah, according to Jewish thought, begins with a realization of having sinned. (As Messianic Jews, we see the Ruach Hakodesh being actively involved in showing us our sin.) Realization of guilt is not enough, however. The sinner must also forsake his way. “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” (Prov. 28:13) There are, therefore, three conditions necessary for teshuvah according to Jewish tradition: 1. Regret for sins (correction of thought) 2. Confession (correction of speech) 3. Desisting from objectionable conduct, and a firm resolution never to backslide (correction of action).
In the Brit Hadasha, Yeshua’s ministry began with teshuvah: “From that time Yeshua began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17) “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) “…unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3) A turning and returning is necessary. Turning from sin, and returning to the Father. His love makes this possible-even for the hardest heart. “…the goodness of God leads you to repentance.” (Rom 2:4)
Returning During the Days of Awe
The ten days between Yom Teruah / Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are called Yamim Noraim (Yah-MEEM no-rah-EEM), Days of Awe. They are days of repentance and turning to God in which God’s people are called to realize the chasm between what we believe and how we live. We are to examine ourselves and our relationships, both with the Lord and others. These days are characterized by heartfelt prayer and heshbon ha-nefesh, (hesh-BONE ha-NEH-fesh), taking stock of one’s soul. This is an “inner accounting,” what the Brit Hadasha calls “self-examination.” The Sabbath that occurs during the Ten Days of Repentance is called Shabbat Shuvah, Sabbath of Return, because its special Haftorah reading begins with the words Shuvah Yisrael, “O Israel, return” from Hosea 14:1.
We live in AWESOME DAYS. Whatever the world situation might be this month – September 2015 – you can be sure that God was not caught by surprise, and He is still in control! He’s got the “whole world in His hands,” and He has not dropped the ball! As for us, the main thing is to make sure we are as close to God as we can be. “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” (2 Cor. 13:5) “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble.” (2 Peter 1:10)
How are WE doing spiritually? Has our intimacy with the Lord deepened in the past year? Are the relations with our family and friends pleasing to our Father? Are we seeking to do the will of God on a daily basis? Are we producing fruit? Are we walking in the works that God has already prepared and ordained for us? Have we allowed sin in our lives to compromise our faith?
During these Awesome Days, we should pray as King David did, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps 139:23-24) We agree with Maimonides, a famous Jewish rabbi of the 12th century, on his interpretation of the shofar sounds heard throughout this solemn season: “Awake all ye who sleep, raise yourselves all ye who slumber and search your deeds and repent; remember your Creator.”
Let us return to our Father, with prayers of forgiveness and mercy, with love for Him and thankful hearts. Let Him hear our voices, as we cry out together, “We are coming Abba!”
We sense the Lord saying to someone reading this letter that they need to return, not only to God, but to their family. God is saying to you what He said to Jacob, “…Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.” (Gen. 31:3) There will be an awesome reunion and reconciliation!
The Fast Returning
While Yom Teruah marks the beginning of the season of teshuvah (repentance, returning), Yom Kippur completes it. This day, Tishri 10, is the holiest day of the Jewish year. It includes a complete 24 hour fast (tsoom in Hebrew). Traditional Jews begin fasting before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and end after nightfall the following day. It is customary to wear white on the holiday, symbolizing purity and recalling the promise of Isaiah 1:18
Yom Kippur, known in the New Covenant as simply “The Fast” (Acts 27:9), was instituted by God as described in Leviticus 16:29-30, “This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all…for on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.” Those of us who know the Scriptures, know that the priest used blood to make atonement for the children of Israel. No blood, no atonement, based on Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” Life for life. The blood of an innocent animal was used to cover the sins of Israel, one year at a time.
When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, there could no longer be any blood sacrifices for sin. The rabbis had a dilemma. They found the solution in prayer and fasting, due primarily to three verses from the Tanakh. “O Israel, return to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you, and return to the LORD. Say to Him ‘Take away all iniquity; Receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.” (Hosea 14:1-2) Prayers of repentance became the substitute for the traditional blood sacrifices. It was also decided that to “afflict the soul” meant to fast, based to a large degree on Isaiah 58:5 which connects fasting with afflicting the soul. At some point, charity was adopted as the third practice that would help avert the evil decree.
Do traditional Jewish people have atonement? Are they “at-one-with” God through prayer, fasting and charity? Not according to the Torah nor the Brit Hadasha. As Messianic Jews, we have atonement because of the blood sacrifice of our Messiah. His blood does not merely “cover” our sin, it completely takes it away!
Even though we have been redeemed, we still fast. Why? To identify with our people. To pray for their atonement. To ask God to forgive us of our sins, knowing that “the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” (Rom 7:19)
WE, Yeshua’s Body, have sinned and need to repent. If we had been the salt and light that we are called to be, our nation would not be in a state of moral degradation. If we had been a godly influence in politics and culture in general, making our voices heard, perhaps society might have been influenced for good. How active have we been in trying to stop the murder of innocent babies, happening daily in abortion mills throughout the U.S.? (Estimated at 3,500 per day) Abba, forgive us! We have looked evil in the face and remained silent. Yom Kippur would be a good day to pray, not only for the Jewish people, but for ourselves and our country!
Returning to God’s Tabernacle
How thankful we should be that our redemption does not depend on any goodness in ourselves. Abba says to us, “I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” (Is 44:22). “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…” (Titus 3:5) “…For You (Yeshua) were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9)
Repentance has preceded redemption, and now we arrive at the Feast of Rejoicing, Sukkot. God commanded His children to dwell in flimsy booths or sukkot (sue-COAT) for eight days each year. He wanted them to return to the simplicity of living life with Him-depending on His provision and His presence—as they did in their wilderness journey after leaving Egypt. At Sukkot we enjoy a renewed relationship with God. We celebrate His Faithfulness in our own wilderness wanderings and rejoice in His goodness.
Sukkot is a return to the security of our Father. As we dwell with Him in His tabernacle, His banner over us is love. We are forgiven. We are cherished. His love is unconditional. We are deeply aware of the fact that although we are faithless, He remains Faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (2Tim 2:13)
Whatever happens in the world this month, our lives are hidden in God. (Col 3:3) As you contemplate the Blood Moon (full lunar eclipse) on the first day of Sukkot, embrace with joy the promise found in Psalm 27:5, “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; (sukkah) in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.” Yeshua: He is the Rock of our salvation!
Returning to Abba’s Love
Jamie ministered on this topic at the Ladies’ Retreat, sharing teaching that we heard many years ago at a Shiloh Place Ministries Conference led by Jack and Trisha Frost. The teaching so impacted us that we feel led to share it with you, our Jewish Jewels family. It is based on the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” of Luke 15:11-32. Please read this to familiarize yourself with the story of a man and his two sons, one who took his inheritance, left his father’s house, and squandered all he had been given (the prodigal). The other son stayed in the father’s house, but was jealous and angry when his younger brother came home. The father welcomed the son who had left home with open arms, giving him gifts and throwing a huge party to rejoice at his son’s return.
We prefer to call this parable the “Parable of the Father’s Love.” The father represents God, our Abba. He loves both sons. He grieves over both sons, since He does not have the intimacy that He desires with either son. He assures both sons of His love for them. Both sons are “fatherless” and disconnected from the father’s love. Both have strayed. Both need to return. Both are spiritual orphans. They represent two different lifestyles. At any given moment, we can be like either of these two sons, if we get off center, instead of resting in Abba’s love.
Lifestyle of the Younger Son:
- Prodigal behavior-obvious sin
- An addictive lifestyle: food, lust, drugs
- Independent spirit (doing things “my way”)
- Looking for love in the wrong places
Lifestyle of the Older Son:
- Aggressive striving/performance oriented
- Religious Spirit
- Driven to prove oneself worthy of love/core insecurity
- Always looking for approval
Whatever tendencies we have, we all need intimacy with the Father. We need His Love. We need to come to our senses, repent, and return to a place of resting in the embrace of God’s unconditional love. When we are tempted by addictive behavior or an independent spirit, it is time to move toward affection. When we find ourselves striving to please everyone, it is time to return to Abba’s love. He is about relationship, not religion.
Our Father loves us for who we are, not for what we do. Our identity comes from our relationship with Him. His love motivates and culminates in repentance. His love is the “book ends” of repentance. Return to Him. Let this be the month that you return to the simplicity of a Father/child love relationship with your Creator. God our Father is always looking for us, and waiting patiently for us. You have a place in God the Father’s heart.
Enjoy the journey from mourning to joy this month. Abba says to you what the father in the parable said to both sons, “All that I have is yours.” (Luke 15:31)
Resting in Abba’s Love,
Offers this month: In the Bosom of the Father CD by Alyosha Rabinov is heavenly piano instrumental music with a 14 minute Father’s blessing at the end. Ladies at the retreat felt angels touching them during the blessing. Powerful. Repentance, the Joy Filled Life Bk by M Basilea Schlink–One of Jamie’s favorites.