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Jonathan Bernis - Is The Old Testament Relevant Today?


Jonathan Bernis - Is The Old Testament Relevant Today?

Jonathan Bernis: Shalom and welcome to, "Jewish Voice". We're so glad you're with us today. I'm Jonathan Bernis. Well, as a Messianic Jewish rabbi and a believer in Yeshua, Jesus, the Messiah, I'm often asked if the Old Testament is still relevant for us as Christians. After all, Jesus came to show us grace, so why should we bother with the law? My co-host today, Ezra Benjamin, is back with me and he's going to help us sort through this important question. Ezra, welcome back!

Ezra Benjamin: Thanks, Jonathan. Always great to be here.

Jonathan Bernis: We get so many questions - not just questions, but challenges.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: About the Old Testament, law versus grace, and it's really built on this dichotomy, conflict actually, between law and grace. But in actuality, this is not a biblical conflict in the New Testament, is it?

Ezra Benjamin: It's not at all. And actually, I want to, you know, point out the word you used there, because if we say, "Law versus grace," we've already mis-stepped a bit, haven't we? Grace isn't in opposition to the law. Grace is God's means for our ability to fulfill the law by his spirit, covered in the blood of his son, Jesus. That's the bottom line.

Jonathan Bernis: That's a great answer. I want to just highlight the word "Fulfill".

Ezra Benjamin: Sure.

Jonathan Bernis: Which is usually understood to mean complete, done away with, eradicated.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: But in fact, "Fulfill" - someone told me this, I thought it was great - is best translated or understood by reversing the word.

Ezra Benjamin: Reverse the syllables.

Jonathan Bernis: The syllables, so you have "Fill-ful," and I think that's a great definition of "Fulfill". Reverse the syllables. It's filling full. It's like taking a glass and filling it with water till it overflows.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly.

Jonathan Bernis: That's the idea. It's not that it's been eradicated, but that it's been brought into fullness.

Ezra Benjamin: Definitely. Jonathan, you know, I want to go right to, kind of to the bullseye of a very uncomfortable scripture maybe. As you've read the Bible, we know you believe it's God's word, but there's those verses, right? That we don't quite know what to do with, so we either become fixated and confused or we skip over them, and one of those is actually in Matthew 5, in what we know as the, "Sermon on the mount," right? Jesus has this great audience on the slopes of the Sea of Galilee. Jonathan, we've been there, the slopes of the northern, kind of coast of the Sea of Galilee, and there are so many people that he has to get into a boat so that he can be heard, and he starts sharing with Jewish people, many of whom kind of feel like outcasts, right? From the religious elite in Israel at the time. "Can I ever really be righteous? Maybe I can't. Maybe that means God's distant from me". And he's speaking to that crowd about what it really means to fulfill the law, what grace really means. And there's this verse here that, maybe it's made you uncomfortable. It's made me uncomfortable. This is Matthew 5:17. "Don't think," Jesus says to the listeners. "Don't think that I came to abolish the Torah or the prophets. I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill," or to fill full. That's the word right there. "Amen, I tell you," in verse 18. "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". And that word there, "Serif," it's the smallest Markation that can be made by the scribes, and we see in the Old Testament, right? For example, "Ezra was a priest and a scribe". What does that mean? It meant part of Ezra's job was to copy the Torah, over and over and over, exactly as the previous version existed, and that serif is the smallest jot or tittle that could be made - but if it's not there, the wording is inaccurate.

Jonathan Bernis: You miss it when you look at "Jot or tittle". It's because the root, this is Hebraic.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly.

Jonathan Bernis: So, you're talking about actual Hebraic letters.

Ezra Benjamin: Definitely.

Jonathan Bernis: The "Yud" is tiny.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly. It's actually the smallest mark on the smallest letter, is what Yeshua was saying right here. And in a way, you could still read it. It would make sense, but he's saying without that smallest mark, it's inaccurate, and "I'm telling you that until heaven and earth pass away, I'm not here to abolish that, I'm here to fulfill the very exact nature of what God required of Israel and what he requires of all mankind in terms of righteous standing with it.

Jonathan Bernis: So, that's conflicting for many people because of this idea that the law and grace are in opposition.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: And you have this picture of the God of the Old Testament.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly.

Jonathan Bernis: Being a God of judgment, a God of vengeance, right?

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: Very harsh, very vengeful. But then, the God of the New Testament - the same God, one God - but then you have the compassion, the mercy, the forgiveness, the healing. But they seem to be in contrast.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly.

Jonathan Bernis: You have a different picture.

Ezra Benjamin: I do, and we're going to look at some verses here today in the few minutes we have together from the "Sermon on the mount," and the phrase that's repeated so often, Jonathan, is, "You've heard it said," right? If you read almost any version of the Bible, you're going to find it's going to say something very similar to - like, in chapter 5, verse 21 of Matthew, "You have heard it said". And it's "You have heard it said" something, but I tell you something else or something more, and we can misinterpret that to see Jesus kind of saying, "You've heard the law, but now, I'm going to do something completely new". And what he's actually saying, what we're going to unpack today, is that, "You have heard it said this is what it means to fulfill the law, but I'm going to tell you what it really means at a heart level, because God doesn't see the outward appearance, he's looking at the heart," and that's what Jesus is telling his followers.

Jonathan Bernis: Great. Great.

Ezra Benjamin: Yeah. So, let's look first at verse 21, and this is - you know these verses, but we're going to talk about the Old Testament context of where this is coming from. When Jesus says, "You have heard it said" - well, where did they hear it said, right? It's a valid question. So, first of all, verse 21. "You have heard it said," or, "You have heard it was said to those of old, "You shall not murder, and whoever commits murder shall be subject to judgment". But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be subject to judgment. And everyone who says to his brother, "Raca," or kind of, "I curse you," "Shall be subject to the council: for whoever says, "You fool"! Shall be subject to fiery Gehenna". "Whoever says, "You fool"! Is subject to the same punishment as actually murdering, and this whole, "You have heard it said," it actually comes from the Ten Commandments. Right? And that's case in point in a way, Jonathan. People say, "Well, God's done with the law". Really? Is he done? Is he done with, "You shall not lie, you shall not steal, you shall not murder"? Definitely not, but we tend to throw out the whole law in the name of the New Testament.

Jonathan Bernis: Ezra, I have to note, when you hear this argument, grace versus law, and a common one is tithing. Tithing is old.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: But in the new covenant, they lay down 100% of their belongings and their resources at the apostles' feet. It goes from lesser to greater.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly.

Jonathan Bernis: And this is what we're seeing in this passage. Before the law brought you to this standard, but now, with the law written on our hearts, this is the standard. It's higher, it's not lesser.

Ezra Benjamin: Yeah.

Jonathan Bernis: So, if you... The argument to, okay, don't tithe 'cause it's the law, is, okay, then give everything away.

Ezra Benjamin: Sure.

Jonathan Bernis: I'm not suggesting you do that, by the way, but respond to that, that the law is done away as if we have no responsibility, but Yeshua says in the new, with the Holy Spirit you're capable of doing more.

Ezra Benjamin: That's the key, with the Holy Spirit, right? Because a wrong conclusion in the example of tithing is, "Well, you know, Paul says give whatever you've decided to give in your heart with joy. Okay, here's a half a percent, Lord. I can give that with a lot of joy and be on my merry way". But as you said, the ceiling of the law is the floor for God's followers filled with his spirit. And really, right? Oh, no, God's asking actually for 100% of my affections, my possessions, my treasure. In the natural, we can't do it, can we? It's by his spirit, by the indwelling of his Holy Spirit, day by day, that we're even capable of approaching the idea of fulfilling the commandments.

Jonathan Bernis: You know, when I think of grace and law, which is not a conflict, but they do hold each other in tension, I think of Jeremiah 31, where it talks about the spirit coming within you. We're no longer under the law. The question is, what happened to the law?

Ezra Benjamin: Sure.

Jonathan Bernis: It hasn't been eradicated, but it's been taken off of our shoulders. We're no longer under it. Now, it's in our heart.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly.

Jonathan Bernis: And that's where the law - where has the law gone? It's gone inside.

Ezra Benjamin: Yeah, I'm thinking of Jeremiah 31, right? "The days are coming," God says, "When I'll make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Jacob, not like the one I made with their fathers, which I wrote on tablets of stone," the Ten Commandments that Moses carried down the mountain.

Jonathan Bernis: It was a burden.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly. It was heavy for Moses and it was heavy - it was actually unbearable because of our fallen state, because of our sinful nature. We could not in ourself, by our own strength, in the flesh fulfill the law.

Jonathan Bernis: But in the new, "I'll write it in your heart and your mind".

Ezra Benjamin: Written on tablets of human heart.

Jonathan Bernis: And then it becomes not only doable, but we exceed the standards of the law.

Ezra Benjamin: That's exactly right. The ceiling of the law becomes the floor when we're filled with his spirit...

Jonathan Bernis: That's beautiful imagery. By grace.

Ezra Benjamin: Yeah.

Jonathan Bernis: By grace we're enabled to do the law. It reminds me of James. One says you have faith, another works, but the right response is, "I will show you my faith by my works".

Ezra Benjamin: That's right.

Jonathan Bernis: We actually become doers of the word because we're enabled with the law inside our heart.

Ezra Benjamin: Yeah. Amen.

Jonathan Bernis: We have to take a quick break so that we can tell you about how you can get involved, changing the lives of Jewish people through this ministry. Now, I know that you may be presented with a lot of different opportunities to give, but I want you to know that your support of Jewish Voice is making a huge difference in the lives of Jewish people right now. Please take a moment to listen to our announcer, and Ezra and I will be right back with much more.

Jonathan Bernis: Welcome back. Hey, before we get back into the topic, I just want to say thank you. We honestly couldn't do this work without you. We just wouldn't be able to, so thank you for your generous giving, and especially for joining Jewish Voice as a monthly shalom partner. Your ongoing support of this ministry is so valued. On behalf of our entire staff and all of the people that we're able to help, we appreciate you so much. So again, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Ezra Benjamin: Yeah. Amen. Jonathan, we get to be... What a privilege it is, what an honor in our lives, to be the feet of them bringing good news, and the scriptures are clear in the Old Testament and the New Testament, "How will they go unless they are sent"?

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah, and you may not be able to come with us to Africa, but you can send us and you share in the reward of that. I want to continue with this discussion and just say, with absolute clarity, we are no longer under the law. The question is, where is the law? What happened to the law? And the Bible gives us the answer - it's been written in our hearts and our minds. And Ezra, as you were saying before, that creates a floor, not a ceiling in the New Testament.

Ezra Benjamin: The ceiling of what we could ever, in our own righteousness, hope to achieve in trying to fulfill the law becomes the floor empowered by the Spirit of God with that law written on our hearts to actually walk in righteousness and to fulfill God's requirements of us. And I just want to point out here, Jonathan, some of our audience may be listening and saying, "Wait a minute, are you saying that all believers, Jewish and gentile, have to fulfill the 613 commandments"? We're absolutely not saying that. Jewish people can't. That's the whole lesson, is that we can't in and of ourselves. And certainly, believers in Jesus not from a Jewish background are not required to fulfill the law. What we're talking about here is a work of the Spirit of God for Jew and gentile alike, writing it on our hearts.

Jonathan Bernis: And you have lots of examples, but I've got to jump in with a Hebrew lesson here. I'm going to teach you all a word. We're going to put it on the screen in Hebrew and English - "Ruach". "Ruach" is spirit. The Spirit of God has enabled you to be a doer of the word and not a hearer only, and to actually demonstrate your faith by your works. I love that! Isn't that great?

Ezra Benjamin: It is. And you know, Yeshua's commandments, Jesus' commandments here to the listeners on the "Sermon on the mount," require the ruach, right? In essence, he's saying, "This was the standard before, but now the standard's way up here". And the response, if we're being honest with ourselves and we're being humble enough to acknowledge it, is, "O, Lord, have mercy. I can't do that. Only by your spirit," right? "Not by might, not by power, but by my ruach," says the Lord".

Jonathan Bernis: And I'll add grace, because it even deals with thought life.

Ezra Benjamin: Sure.

Jonathan Bernis: This is the law.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly.

Jonathan Bernis: But now I'm even holding you accountable for what you're thinking, and we all fall short of the glory of God. We all fall short of his standards.

Ezra Benjamin: Yeah.

Jonathan Bernis: And that's why it's all about grace.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly. Jonathan, right what you said here in verse 27 of Matthew 5, where we've been looking at the "Sermon on the mount," Jesus says again, "You have heard it said," or, "You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery". But I tell you that everyone who looks upon a woman with lust after her has already committed adultery with her in the heart". So, Jesus is saying, "You've been taught it's about the action, but I'm talking to you about the premeditation".

Jonathan Bernis: You're poking people now.

Ezra Benjamin: I'm poking myself and all of us.

Jonathan Bernis: You feel that finger going through the screen?

Ezra Benjamin: Right. Right? "Well, I'm righteous. I never did this and I always did that". Okay, but what did you think about and how long did you let it exist in your mind? And he's saying that's falling short, too. We need the presence and the Spirit of God to help us fulfill this law, and Jesus is speaking, as we said, to people in the Galilee, this region of people who, in a way, dwelt in a land of darkness, right? They were somewhat outcasts from the religious elite of Jerusalem and other parts of Israel, wondering, "Can I ever do what's required to be counted righteous in God's sight"? And Jesus is saying, "Yeah, because it's about the heart, not only about the action".

Jonathan Bernis: You know, Ezra, this makes the Old Testament so relevant.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: Because it's the foundation for the new, and if we really want to understand God's standards and his grace - by the way, this idea that God is a God of vengeance in the old and grace in the new is completely false. Just think of the sacrificial system and the faith that's required to lay hands on an animal and transfer sin. That's faith and grace. And then, of course, look at Ananias and Sapphira. They belong in the Old Testament. If you have this false dichotomy of grace and law.

Ezra Benjamin: Sure.

Jonathan Bernis: They lie to the Holy Spirit. They die on the spot.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly.

Jonathan Bernis: It's the same God, yesterday, today, and forever, and his standards haven't changed.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly. We see it all the way through the Book of Revelation, right? His heart is always to have mercy. He's not willing that any should perish, and yet, in his providence, we have to deal with the hard reality that he sees the condition of each of our hearts. And he knows, like Ananias and Sapphira - he knows the hearts that were somehow hardened towards him beyond repair, and yet, he's always stretching out a hand of mercy, not willing that any should perish. Jonathan, I'm working here, kind of a final example for today from the "Sermon on the mount," verse 38 of Matthew 5. "You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth". And this is actually coming from - it's in Leviticus... It's in Exodus, it's in Leviticus, and it's in Deuteronomy, repeated at least three times in the Torah, in the law. This is the law. In essence, equal punishment for equal situation, and yet, Jesus is saying if you want to really understand the heart of God, "But I tell you, don't resist an evildoer, but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him also the other". And so, he's saying you'd be righteous, right? "According to the letter of the law, you could take vengeance on your enemies, but you really want to be righteous, trust that I am the Lord who does mercy and justice in the earth".

Jonathan Bernis: Talk about lesser to greater. This is a hard one. We could do a show or even a series on forgiveness, on turning the other cheek.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: On this one scripture.

Ezra Benjamin: Sure.

Jonathan Bernis: It's important. It repeats itself, again and again, and again, and again, that we have to forgive, and it's more than just seeking justice.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: Fair justice.

Ezra Benjamin: Yeah, chapter 5 ends with, you know, "You have heard love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". And we all kind of say, "Amen. Yes, that's the word of the Lord". This is a hard saying. Apart from the ruach, apart from the Spirit of God, it's impossible.

Jonathan Bernis: I was going to use the word "Impossible," but by God's grace we're enabled to do it, but it takes time, and the beautiful thing is that God forgives us when we forgive others.

Ezra Benjamin: And Jonathan, as if the requirements of the "Sermon on the mount" in chapter 5 weren't enough, it goes even deeper. It gets to the heart in Matthew 6. It says - Jesus is saying to the listeners, "Beware! Be careful about practicing your righteousness before others to be seen by them: otherwise you have no reward from your father in heaven. So whenever you do tzedakah," in Hebrew, or righteous deeds, righteous work, "Don't sound a trumpet before like the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, so that they may be glorified by men". And it goes on, "Do these things in secret". And the idea here isn't that Jesus is changing the law, it's that the law was meant to be practiced in the eyes of God, and unfortunately, a religious system developed around the law which existed almost entirely to display our righteousness to the people to our left and to our right. And Jesus is saying that was never the point. It's about an audience of one. Right, I'm convicted as I'm saying this. What do I do to be seen by men? What do you do to be seen as righteous? What do we do to be seen as a good believer? And Yeshua is saying, "No, the father is looking deeper than that. He's looking at your heart. And if you do something that nobody else ever sees that's pleasing to him, that's where the real reward is".

Jonathan Bernis: And that's what he's confronting, that this is not a battle, Jesus against the pharisees or Sadducees.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly, exactly.

Jonathan Bernis: It's hypocrisy. It's missing, and it's not some new system. It's nothing new. It's speaking with authority that which was required from the very beginning, the heart intent.

Ezra Benjamin: Yep, that's it. That's it. In essence, it's the manipulation or the misunderstanding of the law, the holy, righteous law from God which, you know, won't pass away until all things are fulfilled, it had become about works unto being seen, and Yeshua's resetting, right? He's resetting and saying, "No, it's about the heart unto me".

Jonathan Bernis: You know, don't you think that that's an issue of human nature? It's not about Judaism.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: It's about a demonstration of righteousness that's false because it's outward. And Ezra, I'll be honest. I've found myself doing this repeatedly. You learn the language, you learn the behavior, and you demonstrate that behavior, even when your heart is far from God. But he sees, and I just want to say that to all of you. He sees the heart.

Ezra Benjamin: That's right.

Jonathan Bernis: The good news is, is that he forgives. Paul had this dilemma that he talks about. There's things that, "I know what I should do, but I can't do it".

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: "I know there's things that I shouldn't be doing, but I'm doing them anyway. What's the way out"?

Ezra Benjamin: Right. "Wretched man that I am apart from his grace".

Jonathan Bernis: And it is grace and the power of the Ruach. Remember that word, "Ruach". Hey, we have to take a quick moment to share with our viewers how you can get involved with Jewish Voice, and also how you can receive the resources that we're making available today. I want you to pray about joining us as a shalom partner, a monthly supporter. "Shalom" means peace and completion, and you can help us bring that to Jewish people around the world. Your continued monthly support will literally transform lives and give us the opportunity to share the Gospel with thousands of Jewish people and their neighbors. Stay with us. We'll be back right after this short message. Ezra and I want to come into agreement in prayer with you for your needs, so don't go anywhere.
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