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כִּי־עִמְּךָ מְקֹור חַיִּים בְּאֹורְךָ נִרְאֶה־אֹור

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On This Rock

Dec 20, 2011

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The Calling of the Church


We’re exploring the historical origins and the Hebraic dimensions of the radical root church.

Shimon Petros, whose name would normally be called Shimon bar Jonah, his full name Simon son of Jonah, was given two names as a boy. One his Hebrew name, Shimon, which by the way was perhaps the most common male name in this First Century. But he also developed  the nickname Petros, a lone word from Greek but which had come into the Hebrew vocabulary, as well as the Greek term petra. And this Shimon who was a leader of the apostles makes this rather startling and supernaturally disclosed revelation. In response to Rav Yeshua, the rabbi Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” it is Simon who has the revelation, “You are Messiah, the son of the living God!" And Jesus says, “How blessed are you Shimon for you are Petros, you are a small detached stone, but upon the petra I’m going to build my church.”

This play on words, well-known but misunderstood, is actually using Hebrew terminology that has come into the Hebrew language. The rock, as we established in our first session, probably includes at least three dimensions. First of all the individual, Simon Peter. The first among equals with the apostles, truly a key man. Secondly the identity of Jesus of Nazareth as not just messiah, which was widely attested throughout his ministry, but as the Messiah of God, the Divine Messiah. And thirdly, very essential, the torat Yeshua, the teaching of Yeshua. Those who hear it are wise builders, they build upon the rock.

Do you know at the temple in Jerusalem, of course, were the holy precincts. In fact in Jewish tradition it is said that of all the earth Jerusalem is at the navel, or the center of the earth, and at the center of Jerusalem in the temple, and at the center of the temple is the holy place and at the center of the holy place is the holy of holies, and at the center of the holy of holies is a foundation stone. It is that foundation stone, according to Jewish tradition, upon which God built the world. We also saw a reference in the Midrash (Jewish commentary) that God was looking for someone on whom he could build his people, and that petra, that solid rock was Avraham.

Jesus is operating fully within this Jewish stream of thinking and tradition. Speaking as a Jewish sage to his Jewish disciples who is at the point of going up to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover and to be handed over as the Passover lamb and then be raised by God himself. And now he’s saying, ‘I’m giving you, Shimon,’ and subsequently he says to the other apostles you, plural, ‘I’m giving you the authority to make binding decisions for my community, for the church.’

This well-known figure of speech, to bind and to loose, is not a reference to spiritual warfare, it’s not a reference, in this context, to forgiving sins, it’s making decisions of  halakhah, how you walk, what is appropriate conduct in view of the Torah of God, the word of God. And that Torah, as was interpreted by Rav Yeshua, so that it becomes the torat Yeshua, the instruction of Jesus. That instruction is the foundation upon which the church is built and will be one of the key pillars in supporting the church in its growth — the teaching of Yeshua which was conveyed by the apostles. In fact that’s part of what gave them their authority. Not just that they had been with the man Jesus for three and-a-half years, but that they had his teachings committed memory that they could convey to the church. The word has authority. The word comes from heaven, but that authority is now shared with men on earth so that they can make decisions as to what the word of God prohibits and what the word of God permits. This is the binding and loosing. It’s an issue of governance. Jesus here is giving his apostles the authority to govern the church. He’s no longer going to be on the scene to make such rulings.

Now we see an example of this binding and loosing, of the keys of the kingdom being utilized, not alone by Simon but by James, by the apostles, by the elders and by the church at Jerusalem in Acts 15. What does the Torah require of the Gentiles who come to faith in Yeshua? They’re not converts to Judaism, proselytes, what is their obligation with respect to Torah? By the way, it’s a curious point seldom mentioned, really an assumption that’s going on that few people seem to notice, and that assumption is, never is it questioned whether the Jewish followers should continue to observe Torah. They were. Paul himself as I’ve documented in other studies, was Torah observant and continued to be. But the question is with respect to the non-Jews who have joined the Messianic community and thereby been grafted into the covenant people of Israel, what was their relationship to the Torah?

The apostles make a decision. They bind and they loose. They come to the conclusion, announced by James, the first among equals of the Jerusalem church, the mother church, that in fact the Gentiles are prohibited from certain things, all relating to idolatry and immorality. But on the other hand they do not bind the Gentiles in that apostolic decree to all the details of Torah observance in the ordinances and decrees, and so forth. So here they are using the keys of the kingdom that Jesus has conferred upon them. That authority to govern for the sake of the kingdom.

Jesus is setting in place his apostles to provide leadership for this thing he’s calling the church. Now we must step back a bit because before I can explain to you adequately, or effectively, the terminology that Jesus is using here in Hebrew when he speaks of the church, you need to have some background from the Torah. Not only background as to terminology, but more importantly, background as to the bigger picture of what God is doing in the earth. This is going to prove to be one our most important insights into the calling of the church. For invariably when we Christians speak of the church we tend to think of it as an instrument for getting people saved so that they go to heaven in the world to come. And bless the Lord for that. Indeed, who would not want to be forever in the presence of Almighty God? But in fact, in view of the scriptures, Torah all the way through Revelation, there’s a bigger story going on. It’s beyond a mere individual and it’s not occurring in heaven, it’s occurring in the earth. And that bigger story is God’s desire to come into the earth and dwell in the midst of his people.

Recall, Jesus makes this proclamation regarding the church on the eve of Passover. Let’s go back to the original Passover. Let’s go to Exodus chapter 8, and I want to show you in maybe six or seven points the theological background and spiritual import of Passover.

The biblical world-view, the Hebraic world-view of Yeshua, informed by the Hebrew scriptures, is quite different than our world-view which has been informed by Greek philosophy and Western logic. Not that one is good and the other is evil, there’s a place for both, but when it comes to the Scriptures the Hebraic mind-set is very important. And one of the key differences is this — when we think of the Exodus and the Passover lamb we tend to think of the redemption story in terms of freeing people from enslavement so they get to go to the world to come. In other words, deliverance or redemption is about getting out of this world into the next. But in the Bible, in the Torah, something quite different is occurring. God redeems Israel not to take them to heaven, but that they might live before him in the earth as a holy nation, a kingdom of priests, who will construct for him a sanctuary whereby he can come and dwell in the midst of them and be the source of their life, of their peace, of their joy, and of their blessings.

In fact, the revelation of the word of God from Genesis to Revelation is that God is passionate about a people and about a purpose, namely coming into the earth. When we go to the end of the book, the new Jerusalem we’re not going up to it, it’s coming down. The heavens and the world, the earth will be renewed and God’s dwelling will be with men. We, the church, are to be the foretaste of that future reality. We’re being built into a holy habitation, Ephesians chapter two, a spiritual sanctuary in which God can come and dwell in our midst. It’s a different point-of-view, isn’t it?

Remember Hebraically we always need to think with two hands. It’s never simple linear logic. On the one hand, on the other hand. Of course there are profound implications for the world to come, but what we’ve neglected to understand, which is so critical to Jesus’ understanding of the church, is that there’s a profound calling upon the church in this world and it’s not just to do with individuals, it has to do with a people and a God who is in pursuit of a people for the sanctifying of his name and for the consummation of his covenant purposes in the earth. And that, dear friends, is exactly the high calling of the church in Messiah Jesus. To be joined to that purpose, to be united with that people. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s go to Exodus chapter one. God tells Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Let my people go.’” So the first goal, if you will, the end of the exodus, was the freedom of God’s people. God desires that all made in his image be free. But that’s not the whole of the sentence or the proclamation. Exodus 8:1, “Go into Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, ‘Let my people go in order that they may serve me [or worship me].’” So the second goal of the exodus was that the people whom God was setting free would become free to serve him. Of course this is the great paradox that the apostle Paul elucidates when he says, “We’ve been made free in order to become slaves, servants of Messiah.” And it’s not a coincidence that virtually every apostle who writes in the New Testament, the Apostolic Writings, describes himself not only as an apostle, but as a slave or a servant of Messiah Jesus.

So, number one, God wanted to set the people free. That was the first goal of the exodus. Number two he wanted to set them free in order that they might serve him, worship him. Point number three, Exodus 19:4, tells us that the end of the exodus was, God says, ‘I have brought you to myself.’ God saved them not just so that they could be free, not just so they could serve him, but that they could be with him. This speaks of God’s passion, of God’s love for his people. How great is his love. Romans 11:28, though in some mysterious way Israel has become adversarial to God with respect to the gospel of Jesus Christ, on the other hand they will forever remain elect, chosen, and beloved for the sake of the Patriarchs. They are graven on God’s hands, they are the apple of his eye, this family that the Sovereign God freely and graciously chose to identify himself with in the earth. Abraham and his offspring.

God is passionate. He wants them to be near him. “I bore you on eagle’s wings, I brought you to myself, you are my treasured possession.” You are my treasured people. In effect, at Sinai, Israel becomes the bride of Yahweh and that’s what the Song of Songs speaks of. It’s the holy of holies, said Rabbi Akiva, for it speaks of God’s love for Israel. And it is at Mount Sinai in Exodus 24:7 that, in effect, Israel as a bride joins herself voluntarily to her groom. Moses is the matchmaker, he reads the ten words, the wedding contract, and the bride, Israel, says, “We do.” In Hebrew, we will do, we will hear, we will obey all that the Lord says. And then when they’ve joined themselves to God’s people, God gives them a further piece of instruction and direction. He says, ‘I want you now,’ this is the fourth goal or end of the exodus, ‘to become a holy nation. I want you to become priests under my kingship, a kingdom of priests.’

It’s at Mount Sinai, as you’ve heard in our teaching series Unveiling The Kingdom Of Heaven, that the kingdom of God is first proclaimed. You have redemption, you have revelation, the word of God, the Torah, the teaching of God, and you have responsibility, Israel commits to the covenant and the kingship of God is proclaimed.

So God says, ‘I’m setting you free,’ point one, ‘in order to worship me,’ point two. ‘I’ve brought you to myself because of my great love for you,’ point three. ‘Now here’s how I want you to serve me,’ point four. ‘First I want you to be a holy nation, I am holy, you be holy. Secondly, I want you to serve me as priests.’ Priests are those who can draw nigh to God, minister on behalf of the people to God and on behalf of God to his people. ‘So you will be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,’ point five. And point six, a key text, Exodus 25:8. God says, “I want you to make for me, construct, build [we have this word again] for me a sanctuary, because I want to dwell in the midst of you.”

The goal of the exodus is for Israel not only to get free, not only to serve God, be near and loved on by God, be a holy nation and a kingdom of priests, but to build a sanctuary, so that the Holy One, the one who is kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, can come down into the earth and dwell in the midst, not only of his creation, but most importantly, in the midst of his covenant people.

God says, ‘I brought you out of the house of slavery in order to build a holy house of habitation for me.’ If we had time we could look at these wonderful texts of Exodus 29:45-46, Exodus 40:33-38, where the house is built and God comes down. This portable temple called the Tabernacle, is going to be a very important concept that finally comes to it’s permanent place in Jerusalem as a temple. And so here we have point seven, and the last one. If you’ll go with me to I Kings you’ll find a fascinating scripture. Chapter six. It’s the only scripture anywhere in the Hebrew bible that connects by a specified number of years an event to the exodus from Egypt. The only scripture, very significant, wouldn’t you say?

I Kings 6, “In the 480 year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv [which is the second month] Solomon began to build.” On this rock I will build. Four hundred and eighty years from Passover, from the exodus out of Egypt, Solomon began to build. Notice what is said, “He began to build the house of the LORD.” In other words, one could say the fullness of the telos of the Torah for Israel only came about 480 years after the exodus from Egypt when the Temple was built and sanctified and God’s dwelling presence, his spirit, filled it with his glory in the midst of the people.

Remember everyone contributed to the building of the Tabernacle. Everyone contributed to creating a house for God. So here we have a big picture going on that is absolutely critical to understand what Jesus is talking about with respect to the church. God redeems in order to reveal and reign. He brought Israel out of Egypt — freedom in order that they might serve him. He wanted them to be near unto himself because great is his love for his covenant people. He wanted them, once near to him, to serve him as a set-apart nation, as a holy people and their calling was to be priests under his kingship. That kingship was established when they received him, in effect, as king and as bridegroom, at Mount Sinai. The Torah, in effect, was the wedding contract and now that they have received God’s word, God says, here’s my final objective — build me a sanctuary that I might dwell in the midst of you.

By the way, when we go to Revelation and that new Jerusalem comes down and wrath has run it’s course, the people of God, the covenant people of God will be singing the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb, united. Great and mighty are thy works, O Lord! You’re going to be King over the whole earth and God’s dwelling will be with men. No longer tears, no longer darkness. God’s dwelling will be in the earth and his reign will be perpetual shalom, righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.

This is the background that Jesus is building upon when he says, “I will build my church.” By the way, there are references in Jeremiah, a number of reverences, three, four, five where God uses this language, ‘I will build up my people. When I bring them back from exile I will build them up, I will not tear them down.’ Jesus speaking here in his identity as the divine Messiah is saying, ‘I will build a church and this church is going to be a holy habitation.’ Later he’s going to say to the apostles, ‘I must ascend,’ following his resurrection, ‘for if I don’t go up the Holy Spirit can not come down.’ He ascends to the right hand of the Father and the Spirit of God falls upon the disciples and fills the house where they are, the house of the Lord.

Now, go with me, a final scripture here, to Exodus chapter 12. On the very eve of Passover we find a key term, one that’s going to give us insight into the Hebraic dimensions of what Jesus means by the term, in Greek, ekklesia, in English, church. Exodus 12:1, “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months, it shall be the first month of the year.” In effect, we measure our history from our redemption. Notice verse three, “Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb, etc.”

Do you see that language? “Tell the congregation of Israel...” It’s the first time we find this phrase in the Torah. The adat Yisrael. The root term is the word for witness, ed. And the noun edah, a witnessing community identified in its unity, in its corporateness with a spiritual calling an appointed mission to go forth as a holy nation and a kingdom of priests. This is the term I’m going to suggest to you, in our next session, that Jesus has in mind when he says, “I will build my church.” He says, “I will build my edah.” And only when we understand the fullness of the implications of this can we begin to approach the fullness of what the church is called to be in Messiah Jesus. A redeemed people with a high calling. “Build me a sanctuary that I might come and dwell in the midst of you.”

Until our next session....Shalom!

Author: Dwight A. Pryor

© 2011 The Center for Judaic-Christian Studies.