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Rumination #8: Is there a "Great Commission" - something that all disciples of Messiah are sent to do?

Traditionally, Matthew 28:18-20 has been called the "Great Commission." Evangelical Christianity has been highly successful at promoting this as the ultimate mission for disciples of Messiah. It is ironic that some of the same people who are most out-spoken against "works-based" acceptance by the Almighty, are the ones that promote this passage as the mission statement for all believers (after all, there are no "I believes" or creeds in this passage - just commands and actions). Having said that, this passage really does give us "marching orders," but in ways that some may be missing.

And Yeshua came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Matthew 28:18-20

Because all authority is with Messiah, He gives these commands to His disciples:

  1. Go make disciples of all nations
  2. Immerse them
  3. Teach them to observe the commandments

Of course, the first command has been seen by some as simply "go" - which diminishes the actual command: make disciples of all nations. He does not say, "Get people to accept Jesus;" or "Get them saved;" or "Compel them to raise their hands;" or "Get them to join your congregation." He says, "make disciples." Knowing the First Century practice of discipleship quickly dispels the notion that many even know what this is, much less practice it.

Much the same with the second command: immerse them. This is not "baptizing" as our brothers and sisters accept as ritual (while denying almost all other ritual). Not new in the First Century, this practice can only be valid when practiced in the context and understanding of Tabernacle/Temple purity and the change of status from tamei to tahor. Words unknown to most pastors - and even misunderstood by some so-called "Messianic" leaders.

And the third command, to teach them to observe the commandments? Some teach that Messiah taught new commandments, which annulled the commandments of the "Old Covenant." Speaking of them that teach such nonsense, Yeshua says,

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority, but the Father Who dwells in Me does His works.
John 14:10

Twisting Scripture to their own theological demise, they act as if the Son and the Father gave opposing commandments. How foolish, and shortsighted!

Of the three commands of Matthew 28:19-20, only in the manufactured command "go" has normative Christianity excelled.

"I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied."
Jeremiah 23:21

Beloved, let us repent of our former ways. Let us not see the "Great Commission" as a mandate to evangelize the world by "winning souls" – which simply fills pews with people who only attend, without attending to righteous lives. Instead let us obey Him and follow His explicit instructions. They are remarkably different from what we have been taught:

  1. Make disciples
  2. Immerse them
  3. Teach them to observe the commandments

When we obey our Master in this, then will we know what being "sent" truly means.

Parashat Vayishlach - 'And he sent' (Genesis 32:3-36:43)

If you have a English Bible that comes from a Jewish publisher, this week's portion begins in verse 4 instead of verse 3. You will find this ever so often in the parasha schedule, where verse numbers that mark the beginning and end of a parasha vary slightly.

The name of this week's portion comes from the first line of the first verse of the parasha.

Vayish'lach Ya'akov malakhim l'fanav el-esav akhiv artsa Seir s'de Edom.

Then Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.
Genesis 32:3

In the phrase, "And he sent" the "he" is Jacob. We want to focus upon this verb, shalach [sent] as we study this week's Torah portion. There is quite a bit of "sending" going on.

Jacob Sent

Who does Jacob send, and where? Our translators honestly don't know. Which is why the same word malakhim [messengers] found two verses back in Genesis 32:1 is translated "angels." Did Jacob send angels, or messengers to Esau? Most English Bibles translate it as "messengers" - although a few translations in order to be consistent with the translation of this word say "angels." Either way, it is not by accident that we see this close proximity in 32:1 and 32:3. G-d sent angels to meet Jacob as he arrived back in the Land - and then Jacob sent messengers to Esau. We might derive that the purpose for these "sendings" is similar.

And he commanded them, saying, "Speak thus to my lord Esau, 'Thus your servant Jacob says: "I have dwelt with Laban and stayed there until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight."'"
Genesis 32:4-5

What is the response to Jacob's peaceful gesture?

Then the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, "We came to your brother Esau, and he also is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him."
Genesis 32:6

Jacob may have thought to himself, "I humble myself, I offer gifts, and I send a gesture of peace - and instead I am repaid with the threat of war!" It sounds a lot the modern history of Israel, doesn't it?

We do know that by the time Esau meets up with Jacob, the aggressive nature of those four hundred men with Esau is diminished because of the persistent expressions of peace from Jacob - but at least for the time being we are given a contrast of the response of Jacob and the response of Esau to "messengers being sent."

Jacob welcomes the malakhim [messengers, angels] in Genesis 32:1. G-d sent a gesture of peace and welcomed Jacob back into the Land. Jacob responded with awe and recognized them for who they were, and what they meant.

Esau welcomes malakhim [messengers, angels] in Genesis 32:6 with an army that has started out to attack the message-sender (Jacob).

Of these two, who better represents the "Sender of angels" in Genesis 32:1? Which of these two is mirroring the Almighty's grace? It is Israel, or as he is called here, "Jacob" that best mirrors the Almighty's gracious offer of peace?

HaShem Sent

Genesis 32:24-30 describes one of the strangest accounts in all the Torah. A "man" wrestles with Jacob until dawn - and Jacob describes this "man" as G-d.

Hosea 12:3-5 refers to this incident this way:

He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and in his strength he struggled with G-d. Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; he wept, and sought favor from Him. He found Him in Bethel, and there He spoke to us - that is, HaShem G-d of hosts. HaShem is His memorable name.
Hosea 12:3-5

Who is this, Who is wrestling and blessing Jacob - a man, and angel, or G-d? I would simply reply, "Yes." Some things not explained are best left unexplained. Suffice it to say, this "Wrestler" was sent by HaShem - and blesses Jacob.

Yeshua Sent

There are wonderful Messianic pictures in this week's portion. One that may have been missed by some is the issue of "being sent." Let's consider this for a moment.

Jacob, or Israel as he is named in this week's parasha, gives us the picture of the man of grace. In that, he represents Messiah's gracious sending of His messengers. To the world He seems to say, "I send you my messengers. They convey My message of peace, they speak my message of how I came in humility. They bring my gifts. What will your response be?"

We are like the malakhim of peace who were sent to Esau - we carry a message of peace.

Like Jacob wrestled with the Angel and did not relent until he received a blessing, so too Israel wrestles even today with Messiah. Israel's detractors have incorrectly assumed that this wrestling is rejection. To believe such a thing ignores the teaching of Scripture, and the final redemption. One day, as the "dawn approaches" - Israel will declare, "I will not let you go until you bless me!" And then as the day dawns, Israel's eyes will be open and declare that they have seen the Face of G-d. They will recognize Yeshua as their Messiah.

Haftarat Vayishlach  - 'And he sent' (Obadiah 1:1-21)

It is because of the opening lines of our Torah portion, where Jacob sends messengers of peace to Esau only to be met with an army, that we have the reading from Obadiah the prophet. Obadiah's prophecy is all about the descendants of Esau [i.e. Edom], and the wrath of Messiah that will come upon them in the last days. Our reading from the haftarah this week is the entire book of Obadiah.

As we read Obadiah, we should be struck with how long the battle between the descendants of Jacob and the descendants of Esau has been going on. And the battle has always been the same. Jacob sends emissaries of peace - and Esau sends an army in response. Look up all the references to Edom or Mt. Seir in the Scriptures and you will see the same pattern. Consider the descendants of Esau called "Amalekites," and their persistent and malicious hunting of Jews. From the moment the descendants of Jacob came out of slavery in Egypt, they were like vultures against Israel. Later, their king is spared by King Saul, only to have his descendant, the wicked Haman, try to murder all Jews in the book of Esther. These descendants of Esau are alive today, and the spirit that moves them is prevalent in the world today. It is the spirit of hatred for all things "Jewish." It even inhabits the very theologies of "grace" in some Christian circles. Replacement Theology, or Supercessionism, is merely a "Christian" face on the evil spirit of Esau and Amalek. It seeks to deny the inheritance and very promises of the Almighty to Israel and his physical descendants.

Replacement Theology even is evident in our government's actions toward the State of Israel. The U.S. government's desire for "Middle East Peace" continues to reward the purveyors of terror, and to urge Israel to give up Land given to her by the Almighty Sovereign of the Universe. Such incongruity comes from a world view that accepts "Esau" and "Jacob" as equal inheritors of the Land. They are not. This week's haftarah does not bode well for those who accept such error, or the nations they represent.

Early in the second term of the previous U.S. Administration, there was a decided shift in public tone toward Israel's right to the Land. In May 2005, President Bush publicly called on Israel to negotiate away the Land. That was not new, but what was new was the use of language that no previous U.S. President has ever used in referring to Israel. President Bush called on Israel to negotiate the "1948" borders of Israel. That was a dramatic shift in favor of the "Palestinians" in Middle East politics. Some of the leaders of the State of Israel itself were coming to similar conclusions, and the result was the disastrous policy of "Disengagement" which in 2005 led to the demolition of Israeli towns and villages like Gush Katif.

There is no doubt in my mind that such thinking originates from the spirit of Esau, and its error-filled theology. That same theology inspired the Presbyterian Churches of America to choose sides in the Israeli-"Palestinian" conflict - choosing to openly align itself with the enemies of Israel. That same theology inspires otherwise conservative theologians like R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, James Kennedy, and others to behave more like Esau than like Jacob. Even seemingly good men are so deceived that they deny the promises of the Almighty given to Jacob and his physical descendants - but they do so at their own demise.

That same spirit of Esau that is so pervasive in some corners of conservative Christianity was behind Haman and Hitler. Don't be fooled because the words seem less violent - the "Replacement Theology" of Martin Luther was often cited by Adolf Hitler. All around the world, there is an evil push against Israel and any who side with her. It goes from the extreme words of the President of Iran, to the thinly veiled threats by Obama against Israel. It is found in even milder form in the persecution of "Torah-keepers" by otherwise "conservative" Christian organizations. And all along the way it is the same thing - the spirit of Esau.

Make no mistake about it: Obadiah is a prophecy about a people and a spirit that denies the literal inheritance of the literal descendants of Jacob. Woe to all those who align themselves with Esau, whether spiritually, or physically - HaShem remembers His promises. It is not surprising that the United States is in the most serious decline in two generations and that she has exchanged bad leaders for worse. When a nation chooses to call evil "good," and good "evil" the Almighty begins to turn her over to the things she previously fought against. In the case of the U.S., radical Islam now is protected at the highest positions in government. Who could have imagined just a few years ago; that under Obama's "Justice" Department, terrorists are given "rights" and American soldiers are prosecuted as criminals.

The seeds of America's decline are found in a simple theology that turns its back on the descendants of Jacob. Now evil that is emboldened by political victory openly praises the enemies of the righteous, and condemns the chosen of HaShem.

Obadiah tells us:

The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the HaShem G-d concerning Edom...
Obadiah 1:1a

Anytime you see something like "L-rd G-D" with varying change in letter case, the Hebrew behind it is saying "Ad-nai" [L-rd] "HaShem" [the holy four-letter Name of G-d]. It is a particular Name that invokes the Covenants with Abraham and later with David. In other words, this is not about Israel per se, it is about HaShem remaining faithful to His word. He cannot deny Himself. The Almighty gives us the reason for this prophecy against the descendants of Esau [Edom].

For violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. In the day that you stood on the other side - in the day that strangers carried captive his forces, when foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem - even you were as one of them. But you should not have gazed on the day of your brother in the day of his captivity; nor should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; nor should you have spoken proudly in the day of distress. You should not have entered the gate of My people in the day of their calamity. Indeed, you should not have gazed on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity.
Obadiah 1:10-13

The prophecy against Esau's descendants could include those who align themselves with Esau in deed or in thought. Beloved, the western world is quickly aligning itself against the Almighty and His people – earning for themselves the name "Edom."

It all begins with a simple theology… Read Obadiah 1:10-13 again and then consider the oft repeated sentiments that some "Holy Land tourists" express after visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem. They usually go something like this,

"And then we toured the Wailing Wall, where the Jews go to pray. How sad that they rejected Christ and now are crying in vain at the Wailing Wall. That is what happens when people reject Christ. G-d does not hear them."

Those same people do not remember our Master's own words,

You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.
John 4:22

Nor do they apply the words of Paul to themselves:

Do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in." Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if G-d did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.
Romans 11:18-21

Beloved, we all have seen and (some participated) in this arrogance which leads to violence. We all need to remain continually humble and repentant before the Father in this regard. The Judgment Day is coming. Take heed, lest we fall.

For the day of HaShem upon all the nations is near; as you have done, it shall be done to you; your reprisal shall return upon your own head.
Obadiah 1:15

Esau, take note. Beware. The King of the Jews is coming. Count on it, as you do on the sun coming up each morning.

But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame; but the house of Esau shall be stubble; they shall kindle them and devour them, and no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau," for HaShem has spoken.
Obadiah 1:17-18

What a frightful thought. What a terrifying sight. Isaiah describes it like this:

Who is this who comes from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah, this One who is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength? - "I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save." Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like one who treads in the winepress? "I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury; their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes. For the day of vengeance is in My heart, and the year of My redeemed has come."
Isaiah 63:1-4

The book of Revelation describes it with similar language:

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of G-d. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty G-d. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND L-RD OF lords.
Revelation 19:11-16

The Gutnick Chumash, a Chassidic version of the Torah and haftarah translates Obadiah 1:21 this way:

And then when Mashiach [Messiah] and his ministers, the saviors of Mount Tzion [Jerusalem], will ascend the Mount of Se'ir to judge the children of Esau for all their wrongdoings to Israel, then everyone will willingly accept G-d's sovereignty, and G-d will be King - all nations will recognize His sole authority.
Obadiah 1:21

Beloved, choose sides. Choose wisely. If you find yourself nominally a follower of the Jewish Messiah, and yet opposed to His physical brothers and sisters either in deed or in theology, consider this: in opposing the descendants of Jacob, you are opposing the Descendant of Jacob - Messiah Himself.

If you have already aligned yourself with the descendants of Jacob and find yourself persecuted because of it, be strong. HaShem remembers those who oppose His anointed. Be of good cheer, you are on the right side - the winning side. HaShem's side.

Prayer Focus for Vayishlach  -  'HaMazon' [the blessing after eating]

HaMazon, the blessing after eating, is a prayer of thanksgiving for food and provision. It is traditionally used to fulfill the command in Deuteronomy 8:10:

When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless HaShem your G-d for the good land which He has given you.
Deuteronomy 8:10

Yes, praying before you eat is a tradition. Praying after you eat is commanded.

HaMazon begins with a recitation of Psalms 137 and Psalms 126. It reminds us of Esau's [Edom's] coming judgment.

Psalms 137
By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and cried as we remembered Jerusalem. We hung our harps on the willow trees along the rivers. There the people who captured us made us sing and play happy songs with our harps, "Sing Jerusalem's songs for us!" the commanded. We answered, "How can we sing HaShem's songs in a strange land?" If I forget you O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue stick to my mouth if I do not remember you; if I do not raise Jerusalem's memory over my greatest joy. O HaShem, remember the day of Jerusalem's destruction, to punish the children of Esau who say, "Destroy, destroy it completely!" O Babylon, you people who will soon be captured, praised is the one who will punish you the same way you treated us. Praised is the one who will destroy your offspring against the rock.

Psalms 126
This is the song the Levites used to sing as they walked up the steps top to the Beit HaMikdash [the Holy Temple]: When HaShem sends Mashiach [Messiah] to bring us back to Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel], it will seem like a dream. Our mouths will be filled with happy laughter and our tongues will sing glad song. The Gentile nations will exclaim, "What great things HaShem has done for these Jews!" Yes - HaShem will do great things for us, and we will rejoice. HaShem - please bring back all the Jewish captives, and make us flourish like a desert that becomes full of flowing brooks. Let Your servants be like farmers who cry when they plant, but will sing for joy when they harvest their crops. Your servants will be like people who cry because they have only a few seeds to plan, but who will come back home joyously, carrying bundles of grain.


First Blessing
We bless You, HaShem our G-d, King of the whole world,
Who feeds the entire world in His goodness - with love, kindness, and mercy. He gives food to all people, because His kindness lasts forever. Because of His great goodness, we have never lacked food; may He never let us lack food.
Why do we ask for this? - so that we can praise His Great Name,
because He is the merciful G-d, Who feeds and supports everyone, and does good to everyone, and Who prepares food for all His creatures that He has created.
We bless You, HaShem, Who feeds everyone."

-- from the Artscroll Birchon


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