This High Holiday season, Messianic Jews should not be surprised to find that the theology of repentance in the Siddur and in rabbinic literature follows similar lines to what Yeshua and the apostles had already said. The apostolic message flows from the Hebrew Bible as does the rabbinic tradition. It is to be expected that these two streams would have much in common.
Some may be surprised by the strong note of repentance required in the New Testament. Others may be surprised by the radical forgiveness offered by God. The Bible upholds the notion of repentance and good deeds on the one hand and the insufficiency of our deeds and the need for mercy on the other.
Perhaps most surprising to some will be Paul’s words, as he is known as the apostle of freedom. Yet he calls for persevering in good in order to obtain eternal life. Some find it difficult to assimilate this into their view of Pauline salvation and suggest this is a hypothetical case of being saved by perfection. It is not difficult to assimilate this idea without resorting to hypotheticals. Good works are necessary for salvation, but they can never be sufficient.
Yeshua’s Main Message
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the good news. –Mark 1:14
The Prayer Yeshua Taught Us
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. –Matthew 6:12
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Messiah Yeshua for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” –Acts 2:37-40
Beating the Chest, Humility
The following saying of Yeshua is a sort of trap for the unwary listener. Even as you listen to Yeshua’s story, you are tempted to look down on the arrogant Pharisee in the story. But watch out, because in so doing, you become like him.
May we all, this Yom Kippur, beat our own chests like the tax collector and grieve and wail over our sins.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” –Luke 18:9-13
Be Wretched and Mourn
Yeshua’s brother, James (Jacob), the leader of the central Jerusalem congregation which was the prototypical community of the whole Yeshua movement, sounds a note which may sound foreign to some. The idea that Yeshua has made atonement for us leads some to the erroneous conclusion that we have already obtained all grace.
James’ words would be a fitting call to the congregation to stand before the Ark on Yom Kippur.
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. –James 4:8-10
Self-Condemnation Versus Repentance
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. –Romans 2:1-5
Judgment by Deeds and Persevering in Good
For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. –Romans 2:6-10
A King Compared to God
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. –Matthew 18:23-27
The Place of the Penitent
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. –Luke 15:7
Restitution Seeking Forgiveness
Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Yeshua said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” –Luke 19:8-10
The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. –2 Peter 3:9