These Forty Days of Repentance

d292416d60612194086a889d5b25ce80During the forty days from Rosh Chodesh Ellul until Yom Kippur we are required to search our souls and to make conscious efforts in repenting our sins and purifying ourselves. This includes that we should separate ourselves from unhealthy spiritual influences, and from doctrinal and practical errors in our walk of life. For Messianics, who nowadays face numerous challenges and have to deal with the reality of many rivaling perspectives, this time of the liturgical year can be a particularly fruitful spiritual exercise.

Messianic congregations and ministries are all very young and inexperienced in comparison to traditional and established Christian denominations, not to mention traditional Jewish communities. It is not at all an amazing phenomenon, therefore, that these young congregations and ministries go through a series of crises and “growing pains” in their development of a genuine messianic lifestyle and worldview. In fact, this is quite normal, and everyone who would expect something different shows a lacking sense of realism.

Oftentimes Messianics themselves are insufficiently aware of the gigantic proportions of the theological and practical project they have begun to join. This project is nothing less but the return of Christianity to its biblical and Jewish roots and to the Torah obedient lifestyle of Yeshua and his talmidim. Many people inside the messianic movement complain about its internal doctrinal divisions, its lack of established practice and halachah, leadership failures, and one or two other things. Many also experience spiritual discomforts and a number of practical difficulties because of lack of community. Messianic congregations are often small and geographically thinly spread. In many cases they are too far away from one’s home to allow for regular attendance of Shabbat services, or to have regular meetings at all.

Many people that have joined the movement might at first have expected to arrive at a place of more sense of community, more spiritual unity and a better style of worship  than they found in the churches and congregations they left. This is only natural, since no one leaving a community wants to get in a worse situation than he was in before. But at present people are discovering the big number of potentially divisive issues, the halachic incompetence and theological amateurism of a lot of messianic leaders and “Rabbis”, the fragile community structures, the frequent quarrels, &c, &c. Consequently, a feeling of disappointment has set in, and some are even considering to return to their former denominations and congregations.

Yet I firmly believe that this route back should not be taken. Faithful believers know that following their Master means walking a difficult path, since it means taking up the Cross, the execution stake. This path demands sacrifice and self-denial. And the more disciples are following their Master the more they must be prepared to accept the rejection of the world, including the world’s religious establishments. Those who want to follow Yeshua without making compromises are even in danger of being rejected by a part of the believing community. The Apostle Paul experienced this when he complained “that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me” (II Tim. 1:14).

We should not delude ourselves by imagining that we can have an easy and comfortable life in this world and at the same time be faithful followers of Messiah Yeshua. Blessings will only come to us and our communities if we are willing to accept the price of suffering. Only if we suffer with Messiah, we will also be glorified with him (cf. Rom. 8:17). This is also a lesson to be taken from the great Yom Kippur sacrifice. Alluding to Lev. 16:27 the author of the letter to the Hebrews develops a spiritual analogy of the rejection of Messiah (in Hebr. 13:10-14) when he says: “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the Sanctuary by the High Priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Yeshua also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come”.

By those “which serve the tabernacle” the author seems to mean those who are more concerned for the service of the earthly and temporary Sanctuary than for the heavenly and eternal things symbolized by it. The Hebrew believers were in danger to return to a Judaism without Messiah Yeshua (cf. Hebr. 6:4-8; 10:26-31), in order to save themselves from persecution and suffering. Today’s Messianics are in danger of returning to a Christianity without Torah, in order to escape isolation and ostracism. Both alternatives are incompatible to the true service of HaShem. Suffering and ostracism cannot be escaped. They should be accepted for the sake of Messiah, as necessary means in the painful process of the purification and sanctification of our lives.

Let us use these forty days to become more dedicated to HaShem, his Messiah and his Torah. Only genuine repantance and genuine self-denial and self-sacrifice will bring about lasting fruits for ourselves and our communities. Let us consider and take to heart the penetrative words of our Master in the Gospel of Luke (14:26-33):

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, this man began to build, and was not able to finish.

Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an embassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.


4 Responses to “These Forty Days of Repentance”

  1. 1 graspingmashiach September 5, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Are you saying that it is a sin for a believer who has taken on Torah observance to worship on Sunday in a church setting for fellowship? From what I have seen and read on various blogs and forums, those Messianics who are going back to church are doing so with every intention to continue observance of Shabbat, Festivals, parashah study etc. in their personal lives.

    Unfortunately, involvement with “Messianic” groups often results in gross disobedience to Torah, more so than non-involvement with them. The incompetent and immature influences you pointed out include leadership who by their lack of halachic understanding make a mockery of Judaism and can actually lead others into sin. When a community encourages (Gentile) believers to take on the yoke of Torah as full-fledged members of Israel and doesn’t know how to live this out the results are not only comical but serious.

    Examples of this in Messianic environments I have personally attended include; selling of handmade Judaica items on Shabbat; serving chametz (cookies and crackers) as part of the festive lunch on 1st Day Pesach; celebrating festivals (such as Shavuot and Shemini Atzeret) on the closest Shabbat to the actual date because attendance to a mid-week service is poor; holding a praise and worship concert featuring a popular “Messianic artist” on the evening prior to ninth Av. Needless to say the list could go on and on.

    How is it that involvement in this type of environment can be termed “quite normal” and “realistic” while attendance to worship with other believers on Sunday is a serious sin in need of repentance? Which situation is truly the more unhealthy spiritual environment regarding practical errors in our walk of faith?

    • 2 messianic613 September 5, 2010 at 7:32 pm

      Let us first establish that, taken on itself, there is nothing wrong with worshipping on Sunday. Each traditional Jewish community does it, since Shacharit, Minchah and Ma’ariv are daily communal prayers and are said on Sunday as on all week days. The divine service of the Mishkan was instituted to be performed on every day. On the Sabbath and the yearly feast days it only had a more solemn character because of additional sacrifices and other additional elements. This state of affairs is reflected in the structure of the Synagogue liturgy of our post-destruction era.

      Worshipping on Sundays in a Church setting is somewhat different, however, from worshipping on Sundays tout court. In a Church setting Sunday is singled out as the proper day of worship, as the weekly “day of the Lord”, in contradistinction to the Sabbath. Sunday worship in this context always contains an implicit polemic — wholly apart from individual intentions — against the Sabbath and against the whole structure of the biblical calendar. Therefore it is questionable, in my view, whether Messianics should attend Christian Sunday services for the sake of fellowship. Will they not, in doing this, unintentionally affirm the legitimacy of the Christian calendar?

      Having said this, I fully acknowledge that there are circumstances which can make attending Sunday Church services expedient. In places where there is no messianic congregation, joining a Sunday Church service might be the only option to have an occasion of communal prayer and fellowship.

      Yet one should not underestimate the dangers of attending weekly Sunday Church services. If a family with young children does this, inevitably the effect will be that the children will accept the unbiblical Sunday pattern as the normal thing. It will be difficult to train children in Sabbath observance if “the real thing” for them happens on Sunday morning. And it can easily be seen that, even for adults, to observe the Sabbath at home and Sunday in Church can simply be too much of the good. A pious person would feel necessitated to first recite Shacharit at home on Sunday morning and only after that go to the Church’s service.

      In practice, it will be difficult to separate the attendance of Sunday services from the Church ideology behind it. Therefore my advice would be to attend these services only on an occasional and irregular basis. Each person should follow his own conscience in this intricated and complex matter, but perhaps the best option is to attend Church services occasionally, off and on, if this is necessary for fellowship and outreach.

      If one were able to find a suitable Christian Saturday evening service, which could be attended as a conclusion or extension of the Sabbath, this would of course diminish the danger of introducing a non-biblical day of worship.

  2. 3 Dan Benzvi September 10, 2010 at 6:50 pm


    “When a community encourages (Gentile) believers to take on the yoke of Torah as full-fledged members of Israel…”

    You are unfairly singling one particular group. You of course know that the practices you described are common in messianic groups who do not teach that Torah is for Gentiles.

    • 4 messianic613 September 15, 2010 at 12:28 pm


      I don’t know much about the situations in Israel and the US, but from my own experience here in Holland I can say that there are — or at least there were — messianic congregations with a “One Law” persuasion which had a very confused and defective perspective on Torah observance. Their Sabbath, for instance, often looked more like a Sunday falling on a Saturday than a proper Sabbath. To give a telling example: at one occasion the Chanukiah was lit during the morning service of Shabbat Chanukah. At another occasion food to be served at the after-service Oneg was prepared on the Sabbath morning itself. Things like these are embarrassing for a person who is interested in properly keeping the commandments.

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