On a recent 12-hour flight to Israel most of our traveling companions were Orthodox Jews. It gave us a lot of time to observe them, and I was impressed!
Clad from head to toe in black, they still mourn the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. They spent long hours into the night reading their Scriptures. As dawn broke, they tied their "tefellin" — black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with Bible verses — on their foreheads and arms (Deut. 6:8). They put on their long white prayer shawls (Num. 15:38-40).
With heads covered as a sign of respect and fear of the Lord, they stood, prayer books in hand, facing Jerusalem and rocking back and forth as they prayed. Women prayed separately with their children at their sides.
Later, as we walked through a long, dark, dusty tunnel adjacent to the foundations of the Western Wall, the most sacred place in Judaism, we came across women praying with foreheads pressed against the huge blocks of masonry — some weighing 100 tons — longing for Messiah to come, pleading for the restoration of the Temple.
Emerging into the brilliant sunlight, we saw hundreds of men also deep in prayer, placing tiny slips of paper bearing petitions in cracks in the masonry of the Western Wall.
In our hotel on Shabbat, or Sabbath, there was no cooked breakfast, and special Shabbat elevators operated that automatically stop at every other floor. Why? Because Torah says on Shabbat God's people must do no work (Ex. 20:12), and pressing an elevator button is defined as work. Torah also forbids lighting a fire on Shabbat, and, as electricity is defined as fire, no cooking is permitted. Every aspect of life for these people is governed by God's Law.
Watching their remarkable, meticulous observance, I thought of Paul's words concerning his fellow Israelites: "I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge."
By lack of knowledge He was referring to their failure to recognize that the "righteousness of God" — or our opportunity to be in a right relationship to God — is appropriated by faith, not by works of the Law.
Paul also said, "It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good" (Gal. 4:18). He recognized their admirable zeal — and so did I.
It is easy for Gentiles to ridicule Jewish legalism and for Christians to say proudly — and accurately — that we are "not under Law but under grace." But can we learn anything about zeal from the Jewish people? I think so.
• Their zeal for distinctive living is unmistakable. There's no problem recognizing an Orthodox Jew! I wonder if people say that about you and me...that our zeal for distinctive living as followers of Christ is unmistakable.
• Their zeal for a devotional life is exemplary. Their prayer books are constantly in use! Is that true in our lives? Do we have a zeal for a devotional life that seeks an authentic, consistent communion with our Father?
• Their zeal for a disciplined lifestyle is legendary. Ten Commandments became 613 laws! Just how disciplined are we in applying the truth of God's Word to our everyday lives? I fear that in our biblical recognition of grace and not works as the means to salvation, we modern-day Christians are in danger of taking the Christian life too easily. Today's world has made such incursions into our Christian lifestyles that distinctiveness is not always apparent.
Easy living has frequently limited disciplined living to dieting and weight loss, and devotional life for many is limited to listening to praise songs. We need a renewal of ZEAL!
Jesus put it simply: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." That is what we teach on Telling the Truth, and it is because of your commitment — your zeal — for this ministry that we can share biblical truth with more people, in more places, in more circumstances than we ever could otherwise. And with new doors opening for outreach, we ask that you keep us in your prayers so that we, together, use our resources fully, wisely and in powerful ways to "seek first the kingdom."
Christians who seek to live lives worthy of their high calling are aware that they are involved in a struggle. They need to be clear about the unique nature of the struggle and the way in which God plans for them to stand firm against the enemy and to win the victory.All Sermons by Stuart, Jill & Pete Briscoe