"I am the vine, you are the branches"
Holiness, Part 4
Preparing Our Hearts for Pentecost
The last several months, we have been looking at holiness. We started with Yeshua overturning the tables of the money changers and the warning that He told the priests of the Temple. We saw how that warning is for us today. Last month we looked at following Yeshua and picking up our cross and crucifying the flesh. This month we want to look at what we need to do to accomplish that.
Answering the Call Daily
When we answer the call to follow Yeshua, we begin our daily walk with Him. Scripture tells us that the Torah is a tutor leading us to Messiah. It is the only manual we have to teach us how to walk in holiness along with our Counselor, the Holy Spirit, who leads us in all truth. The Torah shows us our sin, and the Holy Spirit convicts us of that sin, and this process leads us to repentance. God prefers us to judge ourselves, but if we do not listen to His voice and we harden our hearts, then He must discipline us. Unfortunately, all too often, we do not repent because we have been taught that Yeshua died for our sins so they are all forgiven. Only part of this is true. Our sins are forgiven when we repent and turn from our sins, then the blood of Messiah washes us clean. Paul tells us not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies. We are not to be slaves of sin, but slaves of righteousness. There is no condemnation to those who are in Messiah Yeshua who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. And it is this that we are going to take a closer look at.
Wrestling With Sin
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. Paul tells us how he wrestled: "For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Torah, confessing that it is good. So no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not." Paul, through this wrestling, comes to the conclusion that the only one who can rescue him was Yeshua, thanks be to God! But what we miss is when he says that the requirements of the law are fulfilled in us when we do not walk by the flesh but by the Spirit. Why? Because we are no longer sinning but living in God's commandments. For those who are living according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are living according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
Is your heart divided? Do you serve two masters? Do you want the things of this world more than the things of God? What do you spend most of your time doing? How far would you go for money? Do you find yourself looking at things that you ought not, even on TV? Are you angry with your brother, maybe even a little intolerable? Do you love the praises of men? Do you trust in your own righteousness, even blinded by it? We are to love God with all of our heart, all of our life, with all of our strength. So how do we begin to solve this problem? Let's look!
I Must Die to Be Born Once More
When I accept Messiah Yeshua as Lord and Savior, than I must die to myself. I must die to the world and all its lusts and desires. I must lay down my life so that I can pick it up again in Messiah, so that it is no longer I who lives but Yeshua who lives in me. We must let go of self and robe ourselves now in Messiah. Job writes, "Naked I came from my mother's womb and naked I shall return there." What does Job mean when he says that he will return to the womb? Nicodemus asked Yeshua the same question, "Can a man return to his mother's womb a second time and be born?" Job was referring to the second birth and Yeshua explained it to Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven."
How is a person born again? Well, you must be born of the Spirit. Your new birth is a birth of the heart. Jeremiah tells us that, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately sick; who can understand it?" Yeshua says, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of men proceeds the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness." Sin hardens our hearts and thoughts. We no longer hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us. We have seared our consciences and we make all sorts of excuses and we begin to rationalize our thinking. We walk according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit, though we can make ourselves believe that we are in God's will while in reality we are not, and we do not even realize that God is no longer walking with us. The solution: we must cut away that which is of the flesh, we must circumcise our hearts. How do we do that?
God tells us that He will never turn away a contrite and broken heart. We must repent. Repentance is a turning back to God and walking now in His ways. A heart always in the state of repentance is truly a circumcised heart. Now I know that this is exactly what preachers teach against. They say you should not walk in guilt. Exactly! But remember, there is no condemnation to those who walk uprightly, those who are walking according to the Spirit and not the flesh. Repentance is God's blessing to us. Do we not wash ourselves every day? Then why would we not want to spiritually cleanse ourselves daily? Remember, God's mercies are new every morning. The difference between a repentive heart and a hardened heart is hearing God's voice. This is a warning from God, "Today if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts like they did in the wilderness when they rebelled."
We must be willing to lay our lives down on the altar and die to ourselves so that God can consume us with His Spirit and transform us into His new creation. The old man must die so we may become the new man in Messiah.
New Birth, New Life
Paul tells the Corinthians, regarding the Feast of Passover, to "clean out the old leaven (sin) that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Messiah our Passover lamb also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." According to Torah, no person could celebrate Passover unless they were physically circumcised. This was because they were not considered a member of the covenant. Jeremiah, when speaking of the new covenant, says that, "God will write His laws upon our hearts." God can not write His laws upon a hardened heart, a heart of stone. We must be people who walk in newness of life, not according to our former ways. For us to take part in our Passover Lamb, we must be made new. Just like Yeshua, we too must die and be buried and rise again, not as the old but as new, not of the flesh but of the Spirit. For if any man is in Yeshua, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away, behold, new things have come. John writes, "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."
Now as new creations, our lives are hidden in Messiah. It is no longer I who live but Yeshua who lives in me. And what is this new life in Messiah? It is one who abides in Him. Yeshua tells us that if we keep His commandments we will abide with Him. This abiding is done by walking in the Spirit, who leads us in all truth, the truth being His Word. Yeshua tells us that if we abide in Him, we will bear fruit, and what is this fruit? "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." It is in these things that there is no condemnation, because this is the opposite of walking in the flesh. But, once again, to do this we must crucify the flesh and begin to walk in the Spirit. It is in this that we no longer live out the old man but we begin to walk in newness of life as new creations.
We now read God's Word with new insight. It not only becomes alive to us, but it convicts us of our sins and it changes us from the inside out. We no longer can live behind our excuses and our rational thinking. We see ourselves as guilty of sin and we now feel remorse for those deeds done in the flesh, and this godly sorrow leads us to a broken and contrite heart of true repentance. We no longer run from truth, but we head for the Cross of Calvary on bended knee and confess Yeshua as Lord of our lives, so we surrender our will to His. He is faithful to wash us clean, pick us up, and walk with us again. We begin to love God more than our own lives. We become attentive to His voice. We long to hear from Him not occasionally, but daily. God has so much to say to us, so much He wants to show us and share with us. We fall in love with God all over again, and we love Him more each day, not less. He becomes more apparent in our lives each day, like John the Baptist who said, "He must increase as I decrease." This is abiding in Him. This is the New Man. This is the Spirit filled life. And those who walk by the Spirit are the children of God, obedient to our Master's voice. We become good and faithful servants.
Countdown to Pentecost
To understand Pentecost, we must have some background information. According to Torah, no portion of the sacrifice which was for the priest could be kept past three days, because by then it would begin to decay. Yeshua was our Passover sacrifice. Because of this, Yeshua could not have been left in the grave longer than three days. This was the miracle of Lazarus. Yeshua waited four days on purpose because of the Jewish belief that one's soul remains with the body for three days before leaving, and so the body begins to decay. By waiting four days, Yeshua symbolically showed that the body and soul would one day reunite in the resurrection. Yeshua died on Passover which is the fourteenth day of Nisan. On the sixteenth day, the barley harvest was brought in and a wave offering was presented to the Lord. This was called the Feast of First Fruits (Yom Habikkurim), because it was just that: the first fruits of the harvest, and it was brought into the Temple as a wave offering. A wave offering was done as a sign of dedication. Anything that was dedicated to the Lord was waved.
This began the fifty day countdown to Pentecost (Shavuot). This time of counting is called the "counting of the Omer." This particular Feast must have fallen on the regular weekly Sabbath at the time of Yeshua's death. It was after sunset, after the Sabbath evening service, called Havdalah (which ends the Sabbath and begins the new day), that most Jewish scholars believe that the women went to the tomb to find that Yeshua had risen, only to fulfill this Feast. Scripture tells us that Yeshua is the First Fruit. He is the first offering, He is the wave offering, He is the Omer. Paul wrote, "But now Messiah has risen from the dead, and became the first fruits of them that slept." This daily counting is a time when we should prepare for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It was during this time that Yeshua spoke these piercing words to Peter: "Peter, do you love Me? Feed My sheep."
Yeshua restores us when we repent. Our hearts are now open to obey His voice. Every day that we count the Omer we remember His death and resurrection. It was also during this time that Yeshua returned to heaven with these words: "For John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit. You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit (Ruach Ha Kodesh, the Spirit of Holiness) has come upon you; and you will be my witness both in Jerusalem and the remotest parts of the earth." We acknowledge that we too are His witnesses, and we are ready to serve Him. We also are demonstrating that we are anxiously awaiting the Lord's return. Pentecost is the second wave offering of the wheat harvest. This is very significant because it was Yeshua who said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
This brings us full circle. Unless we die to ourselves by crucifying our flesh, we cannot bear fruit. We cannot be a new creation; we cannot walk in newness of life. Only by picking up our cross and dying to our wants, desires, and the world can we live for Yeshua. We must put on the yoke of the gospel to be a true disciple of Yeshua, following Him in every step of obedience. It was at the Feast of Pentecost, which is an Appointed Time of God, a Sabbath, in which they were all gathered at the Temple, that Peter rose up and spoke to the crowd that was gathered for Morning Prayer: a restored Peter, no longer living according to his righteousness, but now walking in the Spirit of God. He was sober and ready to meet the challenge that Yeshua had placed before him to feed His sheep. Peter preached the message that Yeshua commanded them to preach, that "Repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47) and, "To make disciples, teaching them to observe all that He commanded them" (Matthew 28:19-20), and "All who would believe would cast out demons, speak in new tongues, pick up serpents, and drink deadly poison without harm, they would lay hands on the sick and they would recover" (Mark 16:16-18). They would be His witnesses (disciples). They would walk no longer by the flesh, but now by the Spirit: that same Spirit that raised Yeshua from the grave, that same Spirit which is the two-edged sword, the Word of God, which pierces as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. The same fire that came down on Mount Sinai came down on the followers of Yeshua. It was on that day that lives and hearts were changed.
Now, when the people heard Peter speak the words of the Torah to them, they were pierced to the heart and asked what should they do? And Peter said, "Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit... For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself."
How about you, have you repented? Have you taken on the yoke (the cross) of the kingdom? Have you answered the call? To walk in holiness is to walk in the Spirit, and it begins by losing your life to gain it.