Light from the Sidra

Bo ('Come...'). 16th January 2016. 6th Shevat 5776

Torah: Exodus 10:1-13:16. Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28

Redemption. Only more so!

One Monday morning, a little over a year ago, a minister friend called me to say that two Jewish people had turned up at his church service the previous evening. One of them, Jake, was Israeli and had a lot of questions and my friend thought I might be able to help him. I called Jake that evening but he didn’t want to talk over the phone; he wanted to talk face to face. When we met later that week, we had hardly shaken hands before launching into a question and answer session that lasted more than four hours.

‘Why do Christians say God has made a new covenant with them and rejected the Jews?’ Jake demanded to know.

‘Some Christians might say that,’ I replied, ‘but that’s not what the Bible teaches. Jeremiah 31:30-33 says, “Behold, days are coming — the word of HASHEM — when I will seal a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah: not like the covenant that I sealed with their forefathers on the day that I took hold of them by the hand to take them out of the land of Egypt, for they abrogated my covenant, although I became their Master — the word of HASHEM. For this is the covenant that I shall seal with the house of Israel — the word of HASHEM — I will place My Torah within them and I will write it onto their heart; I will be a God for them and they will be a people for Me. They will no longer teach — each man his fellow, each man his brother — saying “Know HASHEM!” For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest — the word of HASHEM — when I forgive their iniquity and no more recall their sin.”’

By the goodness of God, many non-Jews – including myself – have come into that New Covenant and know that their sins are forgiven but the New Covenant was promised to Israel as an even better covenant than the one HASHEM established with them at Sinai.

‘Why don’t Christians keep the 613 mitzvot?’ was Jake’s second question. I was surprised he asked it because, according to the rabbis, Gentiles need only keep the seven Noachide laws. Apart from which, when there is a change of covenant, the laws that govern the covenant must also change in order to be compatible with the new covenant, as one of the earliest writers of the New Covenant Scriptures agreed: ‘With the priesthood being changed, it is a necessity for a change of law to take place also, since the people were given law concerning it.’

At the end of the evening, I asked Jake if the answers I’d given to his questions had satisfied him. He said they had. ‘Then may I ask you a question?’

‘Jake, if – God forbid – you were to die right now, would you go to heaven?’

‘You see, that’s the difference between you Christians and we Jews,’ said Jake. ‘Christians always want God to do things for them. They want him to save them. They want him to bless them. They’re always asking God to do things for them. But we Jews are God’s servant. We don’t look for God to do things for us. We exist only to serve him.’

I agreed. But was Jake a good servant or a bad servant? He suddenly went very quiet.
We had spoken about the Exodus during the evening, the subject of this week’s Parasha, so I asked Jake if he remembered what HASHEM instructed Moses to say to Pharaoh: ‘My firstborn son is Israel. So I say to you, Send out My son that he may serve Me’ (Exodus 4:23).

No one can serve two masters, and so long as the Israelites were slaves to Pharaoh, they couldn’t serve HASHEM. Israel had to be set free from the tyranny of Pharaoh, and their redemption took place by the blood of a lamb. Israel’s redemption from Egypt took place some 3,500 years ago but the Jewish people, just like everyone else in the world are in bondage, first of all to the Satan and secondly to the Yetzer ha-Ra, the evil inclination. What else could account for the fact that although Jake prided himself on being a servant of HASHEM and genuinely wanted to serve God, he found himself unable to keep the biblical mitzvot?

‘I feel so unclean inside’, Jake admitted.

That’s true, Jake. You are unclean inside. Instead of serving HASHEM, you are a slave to the Satan and you your own evil inclination. You need to be redeemed the way Israel was redeemed from Egypt; by the blood of a lamb. Jesus the Messiah came into the world to redeem Israel from her sins. He came as ‘the Lamb of God’ to take away the sin of the world.’ By his sacrificial blood you can be cleansed of your guilt and set free from your sins.

‘Before you go to bed tonight,’ I told Jake, ‘get on your knees and confess that although you are HASHEM’s servant, you are a disobedient servant. Acknowledge that you are in slavery to the Satan and to your own evil desires. Tell him you want to be set free to serve him. Tell him you believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God who can take away your sins and ask him to forgive you and bring you into his New Covenant.’

When I met Jake four weeks later, he was a different person. He still had lots of questions but he said his sins were forgiven. He had read the four Gospels, the book of Acts and almost all the letters to the Romans in the books of the New Covenant. He talked not about ‘Jesus’ but about the Lord Jesus.

Every year, Jewish people around the world commemorate the Passover, rejoicing that when they were slaves in Egypt, they were redeemed by the blood of a lamb. But what a tragedy that most Jews concentrate only on the Exodus from Egypt so that they miss the infinitely greater redemption that came 1,500 years later through the blood of another lamb, ‘the Lamb of God’.

If you had a time machine and could go back 3,500 years to the Israelite camp in the Sinai desert and ask someone what they were doing there, they might well explain, ‘We were in a foreign land, in bondage, under the sentence of death. But our mediator—the one who stands between us and God—came to us with the promise of deliverance. We trusted in the promises of God, took shelter under the blood of the Lamb, and he led us out. Now we are on the way to the Promised Land. We are not there yet, of course, but we have the law to guide us, and through blood sacrifice we also have his presence in our midst. So he will stay with us until we get to our true country, our everlasting home.’

Everyone who believes in Jesus the Messiah – Jew or Gentile – can say exactly the same.

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