Okay, this was my Rosh HaShanah sermon . . . WAIT! Don’t leave just because it’s a sermon. Give it a chance. It might interest you.
There’s a great promise in the Bible and, in Messianic Judaism, we associate it with Rosh HaShanah:
This we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18
What motivates people to seriously desire the coming of Messiah? It’s a good question to ask on Rosh HaShanah. I don’t believe we want Messiah to come badly enough.
Let me share with you with a Jewish history lesson, a lesson from the Chmielnicki massacres in Ukraine and Poland and the sad tale of Shabbetai Zvi.
First, the Chmielnicki massacres:
In the 1600’s the leaders of Europe fought the 30 Years War. The economy of Europe was oppressive, especially in Poland and the Ukraine. The wars were provisioned on the backs of Ukrainian peasants who got little for their toil growing grain and vegetables.
The Polish aristocrats used Jews as financiers and middle-men to run the system. In 1648, a peasant uprising started.
Started by Polish Aristocrat, Bohdan Chmielnicki. The battle cry was, “The Poles have sold you into the hands of the dirty Jews!”
300 Jewish towns and shtetls were destroyed and all the people killed. 20,000 Jews died. You say, what’s 20,000 compared to the Holocaust and 6 million? These 20,000 had to be killed by hand. No mass killing machines like gas chambers. This was bloody and gory. It was a horror tale told all over the Jewish world. The Cossacks killed our people, men, women, and children, in cold blood!
Next, you have to understand the atmosphere this created in Jewish Europe. The Jews could be killed any time the people in power decided to. There was fear that more massacres could come.
The majority of Jews turned to kabbalah, hope in magic and charms, and a rabid desire for Messiah to come. Wouldn’t this be a good time for Messiah?
Through the influence of kabbalah, the belief in Messiah became superstitious. Something was broken or wrong in the world. That’s why Jews suffered so much. Messiah would come and end the exile and fix the world. Then Jews would no longer suffer.
Many Jews were praying for Messiah. Many were keeping Torah to bring Messiah. The Jewish community united around this idea. We need to work together to merit Messiah’s coming in our generation.
In his book, A History of the Jews, Paul Johnson puts it this way,
On May 31, 1665, as if on cue, the Messiah appeared and was proclaimed as such in Gaza in Israel.
This Messiah was Shabbetai Zvi and his prophet was Nathan of Gaza. Nathan had long ecstatic visions from God, he said, and was a brilliant man. He was an expert in kabbalah.
Most of the rabbis in Europe agreed. Shabbetai was the Messiah. The time was right.
You can’t begin to imagine the excitement in European Jewry. Everyone expected that the world was about to change.
Think of the prophecies about Messiah’s coming:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
So many things happened to Shabbetai Zvi. But the world never changed. Eventually, in 1666 (yes, I note the coincidence of the year) Shabbetai Zvi was arrested by the Sultan of Turkey. He was imprisoned. He was eventually forced to convert to Islam.
People still believed he was the Messiah even after that. They said he converted to Islam because he was going to convert all the Muslims to Judaism.
Then, in 1676, Shabbetai Zvi died.
No peace for the Jews.
No changing of the world.
But there’s a lesson in the story for us.
People want Messiah to come when there is suffering. In suffering, people want God. People want to have God come and save the world.
Think about it in your own life. When the chips are down, don’t you think more about God and the World to Come? Isn’t that when you cry out for God?
But in good times . . .
when money is good
when health is good
when bills are paid
and the job is good
and the kids are good
and marriage is good
and life seems rosy
and everything is fine
In good times . . .
we’re having too much fun.
God? Messiah? The World to Come? I hope he doesn’t come and ruin it now. Now would not be a good time, Lord. Please don’t come and mess up all my fun!
We must meditate on Messiah’s coming. We must want him even when times aren’t so bad. We must understand . . .
This world cannot compare to the world to come. What do we have that’s so great here: TV? Air conditioning? Money? Leisure?
Listen to how one faithful Jew describes the way we should feel about Messiah’s coming:
waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Yeshua the Messiah, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Blessed hope. Think of what that means.
Hope is longing for something better.
Hope is what we have when we haven’t gotten there yet.
Hope is from the underside.
Hope is from those who need something.
Blessed hope is even better.
It is hope that is God’s answer to our needs.
It’s not just hope in positive thinking.
It’s not hope in our own strength.
It’s not hope in self-help or man-made golden ages.
It’s blessed hope.
Hope in the answer only God can bring to a thirsty world,
a world that longs for redemption
a world that desperately needs fulfillment.
That hope is the time of the appearing of Yeshua on the clouds with glory.
He will bring something we never experienced before.
He will bring absolute transformation when we meet him up in the air.
He will bring adventure like we never had before.
He will bring us to Jerusalem, to the glory, to the rejoicing, dancing, and singing that has never been equalled through all the ages of man.
He will bring total peace and freedom at last.
He will bring joy beyond weeping.
He will bring us home at last.
Maybe times aren’t so bad. But we can meditate on Messiah’s coming, can’t we? We can pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”