One New Man Up Close and Personal Part 2
One New Man Up Close and Personal Part 2
By Lonnie Lane
To When Nicodemus came to Yeshua at night to ask theological questions as he tried to figure out how Yeshua could do the “signs” he was doing, Yeshua responded by saying, “…unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) After Yeshua’s resurrection, when the Kingdom of God entered the human arena, those who had eyes to “see” the new Kingdom became immediate citizens. For both Jew and Gentile, making Him Lord of their lives often required radical changes. Many were faced with critical decisions which could be quite costly.
For the Hebrews this was less of a change than for the Gentiles as the Jews were already camped on the doorstep of the Kingdom of God, waiting for the door to fully open. How they lived, loved and learned had all been defined by God for them centuries ago. Instructions for all matters of social interaction, health regulations, and religious experience, that is, their relationship with God, were established parts of their long-lived culture. There were, however, factions among them as to how to live it out, some more orthodox, some more worldly. But still it was by Torah they lived.
They did so while anticipating the re-establishment of the sovereignty of Israel as a nation as it had once been. Ultimately, they looked to the complete establishment of the Kingdom of God when Messiah would come. At that time God would end the “age of chaos” which began at the Fall in the Garden of Eden, by removing all evil from the universe. This indicates an awareness which the Hebrews had of what was good and what was evil, what was holy and what was acceptable to their holy God. But not everyone agreed with what that meant, as you will see.
When Messiah Yeshua arrived on the scene, many thousands did “see” that the Kingdom had come, not as they expected in a cataclysmic overthrow of evil, but rather evil being defeated in the hearts of each person. Being familiar with animal sacrifices to cover their sins, the Believers came to understand that Yeshua was indeed the Lamb of God Who took upon Himself the sins of Israel. They gratefully received the forgiveness which God offered to them through His sacrificial death. To those who could not “see” who He was, this was preposterous. Who could even think such a thing? But the Believers joyfully trusted that God was in control and was in the process of defeating evil, expecting that all of Israel would come to believe in Yeshua as they did.
Knowing they were accepted by God enabled the Believing Jews, including even the angry Zealots, to surrender to God and give up their hatred for the Romans who ruled over them, subjecting them to their pagan ways. This in itself was a major challenge, especially for the Zealots, to “turn the other cheek,” to give up their ever-present obsession with retaliation against how mistreated they were by the Romans. What were they to do with the rage against the injustice?
Only by the Grace of God could they let go of it, repent and turn their anger over to God. Yeshua was, after all, the example of how to deal with injustice. To follow Him was to be as He was. He had taught them, not just in words but by His very life, to love each other and to love their enemies, and to forgive as they were forgiven by God. This was a radical departure for many from believing that God hated Israel’s enemies more than they did and would bring immanent judgment upon them.
But not all Hebrews were against the Romans. Many of the well-to-do, including the Sadducees who were the least religious of the Temple leaders, felt it was practical and pragmatic to go along with the Romans and stay in their favor. They adopted their Hellenistic ways which were as much Greek as Roman. Many, including the Pharisees who held closely to the Torah, had animosity toward other Hebrews who aligned themselves with the Romans. But they too were to be forgiven and loved, and passions for vindication for what was “right” had to be released to the Lord. Being “right” had to yield to being “righteous!”
The Pharisees and Scribes felt that if one wasn’t studying the Word of God which included the Talmud and other writings, and wasn’t walking in an impeccable purity such as befits a priest when serving in the Temple even when outside of the Temple one couldn’t possibly be considered as “righteous” by God. They would be entirely unacceptable to God in their eyes, while those who studied all day, meaning themselves, would certainly be accepted as righteous. They, who touched nothing “unclean,” would be whom God would be pleased with in judgment, gathering them safely to Himself but certainly not the “unclean” working people who never had time to study.
That Yeshua hung out with those who were “unclean” made it quite clear that He could not possible be the Messiah! The Messiah would NEVER touch an unclean person, let alone eat with them. He’d never align Himself with them rather than the elite and educated. It was outrageous to consider otherwise. Then imagine the humility it would take for one of these religious elite to come to accept that Yeshua really was the promised Messiah. It would take a complete change of perspective.
To make his faith public and to begin to count as friends and companions those he’d previously considered the “unlearned” and “unclean” would cause him to loose his place in the Sanhedrin and in the society of the Temple leadership. This would affect his family greatly. But the equality of life in the Lord required any of these learned men to take the position of being equal with and no higher than the am ha eretz, the people of the Land, the peasants. Perhaps their knowledge helped interpret the Scriptures at times, but it’s fishermen, a tax collector, a tent maker and saved slaves we see in leadership among the Believers, not anyone with Temple credentials.
When Peter preached that first message on Shavu’ot (Pentecost) and 5,000 Jews came to believe in Yeshua as Messiah, their numbers grew daily from that day until they “filled Jerusalem” with their teaching.” No secret Believers here! Obviously every person who came to Yeshua immediately told everyone they knew that they had “found the Messiah!” As we read in Acts, there were certainly frictions between the Believers and the Sanhedrin, who tried to intimidate the Believers so they’d stop telling people about Yeshua.
But their loyalty was to a higher authority, that of the Risen Lord and this they would not do. When ordered not do speak of Him again by the High Priest, Peter and John answered, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19,20) And so they fearlessly continued to speak of Him to anyone who would listen.
As the Believers met daily from one house to another, “the Lord increasing their numbers daily” it was easily known who was involved. Since Jerusalem streets are narrow, houses right next to each other, basically it functioned like a small town where everyone knew everyone else’s business. So also in the small towns surrounding Jerusalem or throughout the Land. There was not much chance of being a Believer without it being known by everyone around them. And every Believer knew that Yeshua had said that to be a secret Believer is to be no believer at all!
To be ashamed of admitting to believing in Him would result in Yeshua being ashamed to call them His own in the end when it really mattered most. (Please see Mark 8:38.) But the Bible account gives us no indication of Believers hiding their faith. Quite the opposite they were filled with excitement and a sense of being a part of the historic things God was doing among them in their day. I feel the same way!
Since the Romans tolerated the religious practices of the nations under their dominion, prior to the great destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Rome allowed the Jews to worship in their Temple without restriction. Judaism was rather fluid at this time. There were a number of ways to express one’s faith so the Messianic Believers were just another Jewish faction among the Jews. There was no idea then that Believers in Yeshua as Messiah would no longer be Jewish. Absurd to think so! A Jew is a Jew. Period.
They still went to the Temple as before and kept the Sabbath and the various Feasts just as they had before, the only difference being that now they would not bring sacrifices to the Temple as Yeshua had been their final and complete atonement. So for the Jewish Believer, his or her life changed as their hearts were changed and they became newly “alive” to God and in how they were “one” with other Believers. However, in terms of their being a part of God’s “kingdom” there was initially little change in that regard they were still Jews who served God among Jews wanting to serve God.
For the Gentiles, however, their new faith required a complete change of values and practices. Being “born again” was unique enough among the Jews who believed in Yeshua, but to the Gentiles the accompanying values were entirely unfamiliar. Their lives were completely divorced from the kind of life lived unto God by the Hebrews. The exception would be those Gentiles who, living near the Jews, observed their ways and drew close to them in order to partake of the Jews’ high regard for life and relationships, which values were certainly not shared by the Roman world. These would be the God-fearing Gentiles referred to in the Book of Acts such as Cornelius from Caesarea. (Acts 10)
But for the most part, the lives of everyone else throughout the empire were entirely differently motivated, as they had no input at all from the One True God of the Jews. So as not to avoid presenting a view of Rome as entirely depraved, recognition must be given to the many ways in which they improved the quality of life not only for its citizens, but we employ many of their advances in concept if not practice still today. A few examples would be: a sophisticated and complex form of government; city planning which included a grid of paved streets; beautiful and majestic architecture as a result of brilliant engineering and art. Even clocks were a Roman invention. Think about how they have contributed to society. The Roman empire spread from Spain to Armenia, from Britain to Egypt, with each people group within the Empire maintaining much from their respective cultures.
As Christianity began to spread throughout the Empire, however, for those who came to genuine faith in Yeshua, their values and many of their customs began to change as they became more like those of the Hebrews who’s Torah was now written on their hearts by the Holy Spirit. Murder, stealing, lying, hatred, immorality, drunkenness and idol worship were no longer a part of their everyday lives. This for many was a radical change in life style and values.
For someone whose heart was stirred by the Gospel, as a Roman citizen who well understood the place of a slave or a bond-servant, to choose Yeshua was to become His bondservant. This would mean total obedience to His Words. Slaves, they understood, did not choose which commands they would obey or not obey. Becoming a follower of Yeshua would mean abandoning allegiance to any other gods which would include worship of Caesar.
While Rome generally tolerated the religions of the peoples over whom they ruled, for a Roman citizen to renounce or no longer acknowledge Caesar as a god, either verbally or by his or her actions, (such as association with “those Christians,”) was to suffer the consequences. Depending on which Caesar was in power, it could mean your very life, not just your livelihood or your family, unless of course they became Believers along with you, in which case they had to deal with many of the same complex issues. One had to realistically weigh, on the scale of ultimate value, if life as they had known it mattered to them or if they were ready to sacrifice it all if necessary for the privilege of belonging to the one true God.
A song comes to mind you may be familiar with. Some of the words are: “I have decided to follow Jesus…the Cross before me, the world behind me…no turning back, no turning back.” I was told by a Christian minister from India that the song was written and sung by those in India who had been Hindus who converted to Christianity at great cost to them in the loss of life and family in many cases. The song means more when you look at it that way. It’s not just a Vacation Bible School song for the children to sing. It’s a declaration of commitment to follow Yeshua regardless of the cost.
Should you be in or near Rome in the first or second century AD, deciding to become a Believer in Yeshua at some points in history, whether you were Jew or Gentile, could get you a gig in the Gladiator arena, be you man or woman, and you could find yourself scheduled for a wrestling match with a hungry lion. One story of a woman named Junia is told when recounting martyr stories. Having recently given birth to a baby, she refused to renounce the Lord, as her well regarded Roman father to whom she had given the baby pleaded with her to do. Stripped naked, her breasts dripping milk, she faced the lions in the arena with her faith in God intact. This is a woman who “saw” the value of the Kingdom!
Learning of the cost to many of the early Believers as they came to the Lord brings up a question as to the way we often invite people to accept Him in our congregations today. We set the stage: “Every head bowed, every eye closed, no one looking around.” Then we politely ask them if they’d like to ask Yeshua into their hearts and lives. We try and make the process as painless as possible, not wanting our “seekers” to be uncomfortable.
May I humbly ask, is being given the right to become a child of God and be welcomed into His presence even eternally not worth being momentarily uncomfortable? Would facing a lion not be uncomfortable? What kind of message do we send when we make it seem like coming to the Lord is something to be hidden from anyone knowing it, almost as if it’s something to be ashamed of? Then we wonder why Believers are reluctant to share their faith when their first experience tells them, “Don’t let anyone see you.”
Yeshua had something to say about hiding one’s faith in Him. Consider these words below being recounted to someone living somewhere anywhere in the Roman empire who is considering giving their life to the Lord. Try and hear them as they might have as they are weighing the issues of salvation. Remember, the first-century people had a first-hand acquaintance with the cruelty of crucifixion. People dying on crosses was not unfamiliar to them. It was the usual Roman form of execution for criminals or infidels. Maybe even someone they loved had carried the cross on which they were executed to the appointed place. Maybe for renouncing their worship of Caesar. These were not words of metaphor to them as they might be to us. Someone is quoting Yeshua. Let’s listen in:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. What is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-27 my emphasis)
I’ve observed that Believers who come to the Lord in congregations that celebrate their decision for the Lord, cheering them, letting them know it’s something to rejoice about as they have them stand up or come forward and publicly display their decision, tend to be stronger Believers than if they were told to “just slip your hand up and then put it down” so no one sees to indicate they want to accept the Lord. Whether someone is led to the Lord in a service or by another person outside of the congregation walls, they found out God loves them! That’s something to celebrate. The angels celebrate them. We should too.
This experience of being welcomed into the Kingdom like that tends to encourage folks to share their experience with others. Those who tell their family and friends immediately are much more likely to be joyful Believers and have more power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. God responds to us when we respond to Him. He honors with His Presence those who honor Him by telling others what He’s done for us. He shares His joy with us when we do. What a treasure that is!
Perhaps that is one of the keys to the joy and power in the first century Believers. Choices had to be made; cherished ideals and practices had to be abandoned; values had to be weighed; positions had to be willingly relinquished; and significant social boundaries had to be crossed. Elite and educated Jews had to take the place of equality with those they had previously considered themselves better-than; Roman nobility had to be willing to befriend even slaves, and in some cases, submit to them as their elders in the Lord. Jews who had kept themselves apart from the Gentiles in obedience to Torah now accepted the Gentiles who followed Messiah as being equal with them in God’s eyes.
Gentiles who had nothing to do with the Hebrew’s God before now worshipped the Hebrew Messiah as their own God and adopted what the Hebrews had known for centuries of God’s value system. Yeshua had destroyed with His death the commandments and regulations that had kept Israel separate from the Gentiles, but now even the Gentiles were following the Spirit of Torah by Grace and a heart of love for the God of Abraham. (See Romans 4.)
Becoming “one new man” was a complex issue, as we have seen. It was made up of the ongoing choices of each one of God’s people to choose His ways over their own. Should less be expected of us? Each person, each day must “choose this day whom you will serve.”
Perhaps the little slice of history above will provide more insight into Paul’s words to the Ephesians:
“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth…that at that time you were separate from Messiah, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who one were far away have been brought near through the blood of Messiah.
For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the Torah with its commandments and regulations. He purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the Cross, by which He put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Messiah Yeshua Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”
Lonnie would enjoy hearing your response to this or her other articles. You may send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and she will be glad to respond to you. Use this same address to contact Lonnie about speaking engagements. Please put “To Lonnie” in the subject line.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Lonnie Lane comes from a family of four generations of Jewish believers, being the first one saved in 1975. Lonnie has been in church leadership for many years, and has planted two “one new man” house fellowships one with her brother Michael Lane in the Philadelphia suburbs and the other in Jacksonville, Florida, where she now lives near 6 of her 8 grandchildren. Lonnie is the author of “Because They Never Asked.” She is the Producer of Messianic Vision’s radio and TV shows and the International Prayer Co-Coordinator for Messianic Vision’s intercessors.