Acts 7: 37 – 45 (Stephen’s address)
This is that Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.’ He was in the assembly in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us.
But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made. But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets:
‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?
You have lifted up the shrine of Molech
and the star of your god Rephan,
the idols you made to worship.
Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon.’
Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. Having received the tabernacle, our fathers under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them.
To begin with in this article, I am going to make a controversial statement: ‘The Western Church today is struggling in many areas of its ministry because it does not understand its Jewish roots!’
You may wonder how I can make such a statement, especially against statistics of unprecedented Church growth in the last 100 years or so. (Which even if it is the case, doesn’t validate or invalidate everything we do.) And what do I mean by Jewish roots? I do not mean becoming Jewish per se, or taking on another culture when you are not of Jewish decent. Rather, I mean the ways of God revealed to those key men and women of faith in Israel in Biblical history, of whom Jesus is the pinnacle in every way.
The Church can continue to be used by God, because His heart is gracious and wanting ALL to come to repentance. But His plan of salvation is more than access to heaven. It is about becoming a Kingdom people. That is why Christ came. There is a text, which demonstrates something of the difference between seeing God’s power, as opposed to those that go deeper to see His ways as well as His power.
Psalm 103: 7 – He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.
This for me is an interesting Scripture. God’s people can know His power without knowing His ways. It takes a unique person to find out God’s ways. Moses was such a man. He not only found out what God could do for the people of Israel, but what God wanted to do for them in terms of purpose and strategy. How we could benefit from doing such a thing!
It is my firm belief that with every reformation, revival, renewal and outpouring of any kind comes not only an intensifying of God’s power and presence, but a revelation of God’s ways. The same Lord who came to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob; the One who visited Moses at the Bush & Sinai; the One who led the people of God into the land of promise; the One who revealed Himself to David, Daniel and all the other prophets and kings – this God came in flesh and met with humanity. In particular, this God met with a people, and revealed His Son according to the flesh through and to a Jewish people, that through His death and resurrection Israel might reveal His Kingdom to men of every Nation. This was Israel’s unique call and destiny! This is why 12 uneducated men saw themselves as the beginning of that fulfillment. From them, and other early disciples, the people of ‘the Way’ continued to minister Jesus Christ according to a unique understanding. They saw themselves as an ‘eschatological people.’ They were a newly formed people of the age to come, foreseen in OT prophecy, living in the present and carrying the Kingdom because of the visitation of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God. Yet they knew that it was not yet all consummated as the prophets had also foretold. Israel as a nation had not yet fully turned (many had rejected Jesus) and all the nations had yet to experience the Gospel of this inaugurated Kingdom. These things would have been central to the early Jewish believers and their mission. So was their understanding of the gospel and the Kingdom of God on the earth, which was steeped in Jewish history and Scriptures, even if Christ came to redefine what some of that would look like. It was a very Jewish thing to be a follower of King Jesus.
So when the same Spirit of God of the early Church visits today by outpourings of various kinds, He comes to restore the NT faith as prescribed by Jesus and then the 12. This can often be startling, even offensive, and bring a great shock to the system if God’s people today do not allow His Spirit to enlarge their spirit during such a season of visitation. You see, we westerners have put the faith into a mold and we view it through a certain western shade. Hence, Church history has known its fair share of turmoil. Yes, there have been splits due to the division of the enemy, or the spirit of rebellion in a people, or even an abuse by a key leader. But not all schism has come because of this. Some have come, because God has revealed who He really is, and a return to the NT faith & practice is required, and reformation has had to come as a return to His ways – it’s the only wineskin that will hold the new wine!
The theme of Jewish roots is a big subject and thus I will not have time to even scratch the surface of it. So with the above issues in mind, I would like to look at one particular theme, which I believe is absolutely crucial in the ongoing purpose of the Church. I believe if the Western Church grasps this in the near future (as I believe the Chinese Church has), we could be hearing of powerful transformation coming to people, houses, communities and nations. It is what I call the New Testament Exodus.
Recently, I wrote these words in a booklet I put together:
I am convinced that to understand the true meaning of the Gospel disclosed by the New Testament writers, we have to get a grasp and revelation of the account of Israel’s Exodus. Even more so, I believe the Exodus will have special spiritual significance in the life of the Church in these early years of this new millennium. Perhaps the Exodus is the key moment in all of Israel’s history. It is central to their existence and understanding of the one true God and their role as His chosen people. I am a deep believer that it was with the Exodus in mind, the Gospel writers understood the emergence of Christ and His powerful victory on earth. In fact on the mount where He was transfigured and the disciples saw His glory, it is recorded that He spoke with Moses and Elijah regarding His ‘departure’ or ‘exodus.’
I believe that there are vital revelations deeply ingrained in the Exodus for the New Testament people of God. And to add to that, they will bear special significance and power in the imminent move of God that is about to break into the Western nations.
Getting back to the basics.
You see, we have to believe that when Jesus came to this earth, and when the early Jewish disciples ministered before and after His resurrection / ascension, they saw everything in a particular light. All their words, actions and perception, were deeply grounded in the revelation of God and His Kingdom, progressively promised in the prophets, shown in glimpses through types and shadows, revealed and fulfilled in Jesus! Matthew really seems eager to lay hold of this theme. In chapter 2: 15 in quoting Hosea, Matthew says:
‘Out of Egypt I called My Son…’
Already here Jesus is being described in ways pertaining to Israel as a whole. Even as Israel, as a son, was called out of Egypt into the Land of Promise, Jesus – the Son fulfills and embodies Israel and fulfills her destiny. (Even Isaiah’s prophecies use the terms ‘son’ & ‘servant’ and they hold double meaning in the light of the NT.)
Then to add to that Jesus is baptized in Matthew 3. Why did the Pharisees get offended at such a thing? Because ‘washings’ were an important part of Jewish practice. To receive the ceremonial washings in Israel was to identify with the Nation; and even Gentiles, if wanting to become a part of the Nation, had to go through such strict washings. Yet Jesus, identifies not with the traditions of men but rather John the Baptist’s baptism, and with all those of a humble heart – sinners, poor, weak and those without hope. Luke records in his Gospel narrative that Jesus was baptized, ‘…when all the people were being baptized…’ What a gracious & merciful Master!
He goes through a true baptism, not one of hypocrisy. He does it to fulfill righteousness. And what’s more, he is identifying with the people of God and the Exodus of the OT, and He is introducing a new Exodus. Paul, a Jew of Jews, in 1 Corinthians 10: 1 & 2 says:
‘For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.’
And later in verse 11:
‘These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.’
So, even in the act of Baptism Jesus is identifying with a people, ‘called out of Egypt’, and going through the waters, which signifies the cutting off of the old life, and entering to the new as a fulfillment people. Jesus really is making big statements even with His actions! How many times do we perceive in the West today, Baptism as just symbolic of an inward change? When whilst it carries that symbolism, it also has deeper significance in terms of our identifying with this glorious God-man Jesus and His end-time people. So then this was a very Jewish thing and an understanding of the early Jewish ‘Jesus -sect’ (as some would have called them) would have added a weightier meaning to this important act in response to faith. We as a NT people joined in union by Jesus, our Sacrificial Lamb, Deliverer and Apostle, have left Egypt (the world and its hold) and have become heirs of the promise – the Kingdom now and to come.
Now add to this Exodus viewpoint, there is also this thought coming through: Jesus is being baptized in the river Jordan, quite a dirty river, and indeed forbidden as a place of purification by early rabbinic tradition. Jordan was the second major body of water that the children of Israel crossed by miraculous intervention. After their crossing into the Land, 12 men were chosen to take 12 stones from the river and place them as a memorial for the 12 tribes of Israel. (Joshua 4: 1 – 9) The Gospel’s closely link the choosing of the 12 disciples / apostles in their narrative shortly after the Baptism & wilderness accounts. God is speaking in a significant way!
Now regarding the wilderness account in Matthew 4, Matthew then carries the Exodus theme further with these words:
‘Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights…’
Recorded here is how the Spirit leads the Lord into the wilderness (a place of significance for Israel.) There He is tried and tested, yet triumphs in weakness. He is there for a symbolic number of 40 days, without food, in comparison to the children of Israel who complained for lack of food. So the fulfillment of Israel’s existence and role is now starting to really take shape. Where a generation of the children of Israel under Moses did not go into promise because of unbelief and disobedience in the wilderness, this glorious Leader is different: He defeats the testing of satan in that wilderness and comes out filled with power of the Spirit! He has demonstrated that ‘man will not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ He did this in the power of God, and is making up for Israel’s unbelief in the God of their fathers. Israel’s glory and victory is in this glorious Man!
Now something quite phenomenal begins to take shape in the account of Matthew. From there he tells of Jesus going into the region of Galilee, or as quoted by Matthew from Isaiah – ‘Galilee of the Gentiles.’ In the OT, Israel when led out was given a unique mandate from heaven in Deuteronomy 7: 1 – 6, that they were to ‘drive out the nations… and burn their idols…’ and they were to then possess the land of inheritance. Jesus begins to demonstrate a whole new meaning to this. As mentioned earlier, He then gathers twelve young men to Himself (remember the symbolism.) However now, He begins to preach the Kingdom as drawing near, and it is recorded, ‘healed every disease and sickness… news spread all over Syria, and people brought to Him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering with pain, the demon possessed…He healed them ALL. ’
Jesus is redefining to the Jewish people what their calling really is all about. It is to be a light to nations covered in darkness. As He drives out all the affects of darkness on a poor and helpless people, so too are they called to bring Light to the Nations. As He is delivering them from idolatry, which culminates in demon possession, so are they to reveal the One true God in His Son – Jesus, and a possession of His Spirit. As He deals with the tyranny of satan, so too are they to preach release to the captive and an entrance into a new Kingdom which is not of this world. They – the people of Israel, in Jesus, are to be a people who fulfill what their ‘Moses / Joshua led ancestors’ foreshadowed – drive out the works of evil, inherit the promise of God, bless the nations, and enter the rest of God.
Later on in Matthew, Jesus teaches ‘the sermon on the mount,’ (which is itself symbolic of Moses & Israel receiving the OT law on Sinai) He comes down from the mountain and does powerful signs of the Kingdom, even to a gentile centurion with great faith. Make no mistake, Jesus really is moving and fulfilling things in an unmistakable way to the early disciples, and the nation at large.
I believe what is being portrayed is powerful and glorious. Because it is then the 12 disciples, after Jesus demonstrating to them and teaching them His law and His ways, who are then ‘sent’ or ‘apostlized’ to do the very same thing – take the Kingdom message and power, drive out demons and proclaim ‘peace’ to the house that receives them. They are embodying Israel’s rediscovered calling. Initially, they are to go only to the lost sheep of Israel for it is firstly a matter of fulfillment and significance to them as a historic covenant people. But Luke later records, that the 12 were to become a group of 70, and no such geographical or racial boundary is given at that time of sending. Thus the prophetic call to Israel as God’s son and servant is fulfilled in the Messiah – Jesus Christ, and all those who attach themselves to Him. Therefore, it is a VERY Jewish thing for a Jew to embrace this glorious God-Man; it is a very Jewish thing to be a missionary for God; in fact it is very Jewish to be Apostolic, and it is a very awesome thing for a Gentile to be accepted as part of the people and share in that calling!
As I quoted earlier from my book, in Luke 9, Jesus speaks of ‘His exodus’ later on when on the mount of transfiguration. He is to die a terrible death and become Israel’s Passover Lamb, as well as their deliverer in leading the people out of bondage. But His death is not final, rather it is a doorway. He is to go to the depths of the grave, as Psalm 68: 15 – 18 & Ephesians 4 says, and lead captivity captive. And He is to lead that formerly sinful idolatrous people, (Jews & Gentiles alike) into His rest, through death, resurrection, reigning and granting us access and peace with God, through Himself! Hebrews 3 even likens the greater ministry of Jesus to the lesser one of Moses. In fact the whole of that epistle is about this theme. It really is awesome, this New Testament Exodus!
This is another mountain experience with God, as was the Sermon on the Mount. Again, God is alluding to the Sinai experience. This time it is not only about His law entering the heart of men, but rather Jesus now being the fulfillment of the Law & Prophets. His Jewish disciples were not to see the preparatory types and shadows as an end in themselves. God thus hides the two OT figures away after Peter’s desire to build tabernacles for them. God centers His will and revelation in His Son. After this powerful experience on the mountaintop with the inner circle of Peter, James & John, (not forgetting Moses & Elijah) Jesus goes down and finds a mess. The disciples cannot cast out a demonic spirit from a boy. There is a large crowd watching. Jesus gives a startling indictment against that generation (not just the apostles) that they are ‘unbelieving and perverse!’ He subsequently casts out the demon and the people are amazed.
This carries with it tones of what Moses faced upon his coming down from the ‘mount of God’ after receiving the law. He came face to face with demonic activity in the form of worship of a golden calf. He too faced an ‘unbelieving and perverse generation.’
The difference now with Jesus, as opposed to the day of Moses, is that our Lord has not failed to deal with the powers of the darkness that affect the nations. Moses may have destroyed the golden calf, but later on he is himself disobedient and filled with unbelief over the use of the rod of God. Moses did not go in to inherit. Jesus, full of faith and the Holy Spirit has overcome! He was perfectly obedient to the Father’s will. (Phil 2: 8 / Romans 5: 19 / Hebrews 5: 8 -9) He has inherited and will possess the Nations. The decisive victory at the Cross has been accomplished! He now has entered the rest for us, and we are to know of this inheritance also, now and in the ages to come.
The book of Acts shows how seriously the early Church took the words, mission and methods of Jesus, and how they perceived them. They carried on in that pilgrim spirit, exporting and sending, dispossessing and inheriting. Jewish disciples and apostles bringing people of all tribes into Israel’s inheritance of the Kingdom, through the message of Jesus Christ. God had revealed His New Testament Exodus to His people – how could they do anything but respond!
Now because of God’s grace revealed in His Son, we have inherited a Kingdom! We must pray much and examine the early Jewish Church life and practice. Pray for the same understanding of God’s ways, grace and power to be upon us. The first Jewish disciples saw everything in this light (as well as much more), and so too must we! We are a chosen race, as Peter declares, to declare the praises of God, who called us out of darkness. That’s Exodus type language. Paul says in Ephesians 3, the Church is called to ‘make known the manifold wisdom of God to principalities and powers…’ – that’s Exodus understanding!
So then people of God, Jew and Gentile alike, through faith in Jesus Christ, let us rediscover our Jewish roots. If we do, it will affect our understanding of who we are, and where we are heading, in this age and in the age to come. I thank God for the Jews, chosen and elect of God to a unique destiny. I thank God for the early band of Jewish disciples – holy radicals for Jesus who turned the world upside down. I thank God mostly for Jesus. Who by His grace brought me – ‘an alien’ by natural birth, and adopted me as a son. So that with the faithful remnant of Jewish brothers we can see an Apostolic witness of ‘sent ones’ taking the Kingdom of God, through the message of Christ to the Nations and the Nation of Israel.
Finally, I believe that as we see the day of the Lord approaching, the Church will more and more understand her origins and identity. In that moment she will become by the Spirit, all that God has called her to be. Israel needs to witness an authentic apostolic expression of Jesus Christ today, as prescribed in the early Church of the 1st Century. Only then can a jealous Israel, like Moses, turn aside and ‘see God’ in us earthen vessels – a type of burning bush, and come closer and believe. My prayer with Paul is for ALL of Israel to be saved, and for the Nations to join with her to form a ‘Jesus-people’. When such a ‘New Man’ is formed we will see Christ’s return. May I encourage you to pray for revival in the Nations, including the Middle East. And pray for revival in Israel, for as Paul says in Romans 9: 1 – ‘…my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit…’ – it is God’s desire!
May God do it in our day! Amen & Marantha!
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