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(092112)

The Sign

by Scott Brown

Art by R. Chanin

Rosh Hashanah


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Since this is, after all, the season for confession, I must confess to two dreadful mistakes I’ve made lately.

The first: watching the Olympics. Not that the Olympics are bad; they may be one of the few justifiable reasons for owning a TV. The only problem with the Olympics is that - after a week or two of watching perfect physiques traipsing back and forth across your screen, you begin to think that that’s what people actually LOOK like!

Biceps and triceps and 6-packs and tiny little tight waists...after a while, you start getting used to it; you begin to think that’s NORMAL... which leads to my second dreadful mistake:

I looked in a full length mirror. I actually screamed at the sight. It was so horrifyingly different from the human bodies on my TV screen that - for a fleeting moment - it occurred to me that an alien might have taken over my body (y’know; like Men in Black) — which would explain the weird lumps.

If nothing else, the terrifying event of looking in that mirror served as a piercing, penetrating, urgent WAKE UP CALL. ("Better do something quick, Scott, before it’s too late! Move! Take action! Be on the alert! WAKE UP!"

At sunset this evening, we began the season of the WAKE UP CALL; Rosh Hashana; but more accurately and biblically known as the Feast of Trumpets; YOM T’RUAH; The Day of Blowing the Shofar; the Day of the Wake Up Call.

There’s good reason for calling it that, y’know. Even though God established this day, the Torah leaves us pretty clueless about how to celebrate it, except for telling us that its centerpiece is the shofar; the ram’s horn.

There’s just no missing the fact that - if you do nothing else on this first day of the month of Tishri, you MUST blow the shofar, and you blow the shofar for only one reason:

• to issue a wake up call

• to sound an alarm

• to call an alert

And if you doubt me, just listen to the voices of the prophets in the Hebrew scriptures as they speak of the shofar; the trumpet of the Lord:

JEREMIAH: Hear the sound of the shofar, the alarm of war; blow the shofar in Tekoa! Flee from Jerusalem!

HOSEA: Blow the shofar in Gibeah and Ramah; look behind you!

EZEKIEL: Blow the shofar and warn the  people.

JOEL: Blow the shofar in Zion, for the day of the Lord is coming!

AMOS: If the shofar is blown in the city, won’t the people be afraid?

ZEPHANIAH: The great day of the Lord is near, a day of shofar and alarm.

ZECHARIAH: The Lord God will blow the shofar and go with whirlwinds from the south.

EZEKIEL: He heard the sound of the shofar but did not take warning.

"ALARM... FLEE... LOOK BEHIND YOU... WARN THE PEOPLE... BE AFRAID... WARNING" — this is the "feel" of the shofar; it’s God’s alarm clock; His wake-up call for humanity, to revive those who are in a stupor; those who are distracted

(And speaking of revival, it’s no wonder that Judaism should look to the shofar as the symbol for resurrection, because resurrection is the ULTIMATE revival! And what instrument would wake up the dead from their sleep? None other than the shofar; the central symbol of Rosh Hashana.)

Jewish tradition doesn’t end there, in terms of it’s insistence that the shofar is God’s chosen instrument for waking up humanity, even from the sleep of death.

Classical Judaism attaches a fascinating commentary on the portion we heard earlier from the Torah; Genesis chapter 22; the story of the binding of Isaac, the son of Abraham.

You remember the story: Abraham, in what must have been the worst day of his life, hears these words from God: "Abraham, take your son, your only Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering..."

You know; just as a side note; when you enter into covenant with the TRUE and living God, He is not going to play games with you. He will stretch you and pull you and give you every opportunity to reestablish yourself on the throne of your heart and to go back to being your own God. Abraham was about to become a connecting link between God and the world, and this was the qualifying heat. Abraham could walk away if he wanted...}

But he didn’t. He took his son (who was a young man by this time), tied him up to a wooden altar, and prepared to slaughter the son in whom were all of Abraham’s hopes and dreams.

The Lord stopped the old man just before the knife plunged into his son. And looking around, Abraham saw a substitutionary sacrifice; a ram, tangled up by its horns in a thicket.

Abraham proved his devotion, and that animal died in the place of Isaac.

(Interesting to note that God still required a sacrifice be given, even after Abraham had proven himself. God didn’t cancel the debt. He merely paid it HIMSELF, by providing an innocent to die in Isaac’s place, in the very same way He provided an innocent Messiah to die in YOUR place and in mine.... (AND SPEAKING OF WAKE UP CALLS... please don’t miss THAT one!))

But we’re talking about SHOFARS... and Jewish tradition looked at this wonderful scene from the Torah, centuries ago, and concluded that the two horns of Isaac’s ram, that substitutionary sacrifice, became GOD’S SHOFARS; two ram horns that would be blown at two critical points of human history:

1) Revelation of the Torah at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19!)

2) and according to Jewish tradition, the second and last shofar would be blown by order of the Messiah, the Son of David, as a wake up call, waking the dead from their sleep.

Listen to this ancient rabbinic commentary, from the 8th century:

Messiah the son of David, Elijah and Zerubbabel will ascend the Mount of Olives. And Messiah will command Elijah to blow the shofar.

The second blast which Elijah will blow will make the dead rise. They will rise from the dust and each man will recognize his fellow man, and so will husband and wife, father and son, brother and brother. All will come to the Messiah from the four corners of the earth; from east and from west, from north and from south. The children of Israel will fly on the wings of eagles and come to the Messiah.

This is one of those rare traditions which is not in conflict with the truth... because just as that first shofar was blown to announce the giving of the Law on Mt.Sinai, this last shofar will - according to the scriptures - be blown to announce the resurrection of the dead:

Listen to the voice of the prophet, Isaiah, from the Hebrew scriptures:

"Your dead shall live; together with my dead body, they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust, for your dew is like the dew of the herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead." (26:19)

And the new covenant scriptures amplify the drama and the glory of that final wake up call at the sound of that last trumpet:

"Behold, I tell you a mystery, We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, AT THE LAST TRUMP; for the trump will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (1 Cor.15:51,52)

(And if you are one of those fabulous, faithful, small-minded people who dare to take God at His word and who are awaiting the imminent return of the Messiah, those words FILL you with a sense of joyful anticipation, don’t they....THE ULTIMATE WAKE UP CALL; AT THE SOUND OF THE SHOFAR... and if God’s prophetic calendar remains as flawlessly accurate as it has to this day, that DEATH-DEFYING trumpet blast will most likely occur on the Feast of Trumpets (better known to us as Rosh Hashana).)

It could be tonight...I hope you’re ready.

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Has it ever occurred to you how interesting it is that the Jewish civil new year begins with a trumpet call; a blast; the most obnoxious and unnerving way to wake up?

(Ugh... I remember summer camp... it felt like my head had just hit the pillow when - out of the peaceful, sleepy silence - came: REVEILLE

(murder never seemed more justified than in those moments...)

As a rule, people don’t LIKE wake up calls! Even the Bible makes reference to this, in the Proverbs: Proverbs 27:14 - "He who blesses his friend with a LOUD VOICE, rising early in the morning, it will be counted a curse to him."

(Has anyone ever "blessed" you with a VERY early phone call? Don’t ya just want to "bless" him right back??)

My point is simply that wake-up calls aren’t considered a blessing in the moment; they’re considered a CURSE. They’re rude and obnoxious and uncomfortable and unsettling...

It’s no WONDER that so many of our Jewish people have turned this day from a HIGH HOLY DAY with a RAM’S HORN to a high HOLIDAY with a party horn...

Dear ones; if you really want to approach this particular High Holy Day biblically, God’s prescription calls for a WAKE UP that leads to a SHAKE UP. You heard the prophets: "ALARM.... FLEE... LOOK BEHIND YOU... WARN THE PEOPLE... BE AFRAID... WARNING".

If some of you leave this place with the attitude that this message was rude and obnoxious and uncomfortable and unsettling, I will consider myself successful.



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For the rest of this little study, I want to alert you to SIGNS. After all, that seemed to be the basic purpose of the shofar: The wake-up call; the alarm; the alert, was not just to make you CRAZY; it had PURPOSE; it POINTED to something.

- David, the Psalmist, used the shofar to point to the new moon in the mideastern sky

- Jeremiah and Hosea used the shofar to point to the enemy

- Joel and Zephaniah used the shofar to point to the Day of Judgment (also known as the Day of the Lord in the Bible)

- Isaiah and Saul of Tarsus used the shofar to point to the resurrection

In other words, the shofar (in the hands of God) is especially designed to alert us to SIGNS. And my whole purpose this evening is to alert you to signs that are RIGHT HERE IN THIS ROOM; signs that some of you have eyes to see and some do not; signs that are so critical that - if you miss them - it could lead to devastation and ruin for you and your family.

I’m talking, of course, about spiritual signs, but even in the natural, everyday sense, we get in trouble when we don’t follow signs.

Rosh Hashana REMINDS US: WE NEED TO BE ALERT TO THE SIGNS

Not too long ago, an officer was kind enough to take time out of his busy day to escort me to the side of the road and personally invite me to meet a nice judge in the county courthouse. (I was so moved!)

Now, if you’ve never spent a morning or afternoon in traffic court, you’ve missed a SEMINAR on the human heart. The Bible says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?"

In traffic court, NOBODY’S guilty who is ACCUSED of being guilty! (of course, the officers; THEY’re all guilty of making terrible, unjust judgments!)

Granted; I WAS truly innocent and my officer WAS truly guilty of a bad judgment, but I was probably the one exception...

Anyway; in 90% of the cases, all the judge would have had to say was this: "You have no excuse. The signs were out in abundance and they were clearly marked. All you had to do was heed them...but instead, you are here today, facing judgment, because you refused to heed the signs."

Dear friends; we are living in the times of the signs; they are everywhere, in abundance.

It might interest you to know that the Bible is full of people begging God for signs. "What will be the sign?" "Show us a sign!" So the Bible becomes a road map, filled with signs that are designed to guide you and me to safety.

All we have to do is heed them....but instead, in the end of days, some of us will stand in a heavenly courtroom, facing judgment, simply because they refused to heed the signs...

I’m going to spend the rest of our time together "blowing the shofar" in a spiritual sense; alerting you; warning you; pointing to one particular sign that you can’t afford to miss... and before I finish, I guarantee you will at least know cognitively what sign I am talking about. Let’s turn to Exodus 19.

• TIME: about 3500 years ago

• PLACE: Mount Sinai

• EVENT: the giving of the Decalogue...10 words...10 commandments

[read 19:16-19]

God has just sounded a trumpet audibly, to their ears, and now He is about to sound it spiritually, to their hearts.

Exodus 20:1~ "And God spoke all these words, saying: 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.’"

• The first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before Me."

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve heard it said: "MY god wouldn’t send anyone to hell! MY god is a god of LOVE; he would never punish anyone."

Now, if I were to ask you whether that person were right or wrong, some of you would say that he was WRONG...but you would be mistaken; he’s DEAD RIGHT! - HIS god would never punish anyone, least of all HIM, because HIS god is just that: "HIS GOD; a god he has calculated and contrived; a god who will wink at sin and be our good buddy because - after all - we’re trying our best, aren’t we? What more could you ask?

The true God of the universe has "asked" nothing; He has COMMANDED that His creatures, men and women everywhere, LOVE Him and SERVE Him alone as the ONLY wise God.

As Abraham has already taught us; the TRUE and LIVING God will not tolerate any one or any thing that is placed before Him; be it your career, your money, your best friend, your children, your spouse, or even your dreams if they in any way compromise His preeminence in your life.

One reason God removes things from your life is because they are CROWDING HIM OUT. He does that to faithful people; people like ABRAHAM; people whose fellowship God desires to the degree of JEALOUSY (has it occurred to you that The Creator is jealous for your love??)

And one reason God allows those "first things" to remain on your heart is so you can taste their bitter fruit and return to your first love.

The simple point is that the TRUE and LIVING God will tolerate NOTHING that is crowding Him off the throne of your heart, regardless how acceptable that thing is to your sense of convention. He is a JEALOUS God; He will not be content to be "Avis", trying harder to win your business but content to be #2.

For the bulk of my life, the words "God" and "boring" were synonymous. "Devotion to God" was some dull activity of shaggy old people who had forgotten what it means to have FUN.

The Bible was DEAD RIGHT in its summation of me and those like me: "There is NONE righteous; there is NONE that seeks after God." By the time I put on my first pair of pants, I had broken that 1st commandment more times than any computer could calculate...yet the Almighty proclaims it without reservation, "You shall have no other gods before Me." — (break that commandment only ONCE, and you stand condemned before the Ancient of Days; the judge of all the earth... )

• The second commandment: "You shall not make for yourself any carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them nor serve them, for I the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments"

The images carved by 21st century men and women are more sophisticated than those of our pagan forebears.

In my 27 years of life before surrendering to the One True God, I fabricated many comfortable gods who would jump at my beck and call; jovial gods who tolerated my little quirks (these gods would not call them "sins"); gods who were mysterious enough to hold my interest but not holy enough to damage my precious self esteem. These were the gods of my mind, but not the God of my forefathers; the God of Israel; the God of heaven and earth...

Perhaps you also have one or more of these images; your genie-like, manageable, man-made god who supposedly shows up whenever you’re in a jam and then obediently returns to his cage (God FORBID this god of yours actually REQUIRE something of you! What treachery THAT would be! — please excuse the sarcasm... ).

The point is, if you have ever shaped an image to suit yourself and to serve yourself; an image who is too polite than to dictate a moral standard and hold you to it, then you are an idolater, and you have broken the 2nd commandment.

The Bible says: "Idolaters will not inherit the Kingdom of God"

• The 3rd commandment: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain."

I once worked in an office where the filth coming out of mouths was so fluid that it poured like refined sewage pouring out of sewer pipes into a huge cesspool (which was our office). The most skilled sewer mouth was my boss, whose office was attached to my cubicle, so I could hear everything.

Finally I could bear it no longer....went into his office..."May I speak with you?"

"Tom; I know how much you love your wife; how precious she is to you. Imagine if I were to use her name like I would use a toilet brush. Imagine if I were - all day and every day - reducing her name to filth and scum, and dishonoring her with every other sentence...
"Imagine that, and you’ll begin to know how I feel when you reduce the God I love to so much filth and scum."

I was prepared to lose my job... but rather than lose my job, I gained respect. What a surprise. But what stuck with me was one thing Tom said: "Scott, I’ll try hard to quit this (at least when you’re around...), but I gotta tell you; I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHEN I’M DOING IT."

And with those words, he summed up our own seared consciences. We have found it so easy to blaspheme the God who gave us life that we don’t even know when we’re doing it. I have mishandled His holy name; I have made frivolous vows in His name; and having done so, I stand AS GUILTY as my former boss, because God is HOLY; He does NOT grade on a scale, and He will not wink playfully at those who take His holy name in vain. The scripture says that every idle word that a man speaks he will be accountable for in the day of judgment.

•  4th commandment: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Have you become so wrapped up in living your life your way that you have neglected to enter into His rest? Break the commandment, and you stand condemned, regardless what your liberal god tells you)

• 5th commandment: "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you."

It’s the only commandment with a promise. Give honor and value to the vessels God chose to give you life and you will reap blessings; dishonor them and you will reap consequences.

Have you ever dishonored your parents, even ONCE? I have. I wish I could only recollect _ of 1% of the times I deliberately dishonored and shamed them with my words and my deeds and my decisions. According to the Torah, I stand with you, condemned before the Holy One of Israel

• 6th commandment: "You shall not murder."

Right around here, most of us breathe a sigh of relief... "Finally, a commandment I haven’t broken!" - Until we discover the rest of the story about murder.

Last Shabbat, in another congregation, a dear friend of mine took another fellow from the congregation into a private room, sat him down, and asked him to forgive him. — "What’d you do?" the man asked. My friend answered honestly, "I murdered you."

The Bible teaches us that whenever I am angry with someone without a cause, I earn the right to be condemned as a murderer. I don’t even have to lay a finger on him or say a word to him, yet the holiness of God is so offended by my silent hatred that - from God’s perfect perspective - I am classed as a murderer...

"BUT THAT’S UNREASONABLE!" you say. Of course it’s unreasonable to you, because you think like a man or like a woman; your thoughts aren’t God’s thoughts. But God thinks like GOD, and your arrogant annoyance doesn’t change things for a moment.

When you mutter to yourself, "I could kill that guy," chances are you’re right, and the only reason you’re withholding the deed is not because of your great mercy and compassion, but because you’re afraid of losing YOUR skin; you’re afraid of the consequences... but you’re still a murderer.

• The 7th commandment: "You shall not commit adultery."

Again, I’m tempted to breathe a sigh of relief... until I hear the words of the Messiah, when He said: "You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery, but I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart"... And it occurs to me, GOD REQUIRES TRUTH IN THE INWARD PARTS; He sees my thoughts and my intentions as though they were on an electronic billboard, and I cry out as a man undone..

We could go on...

• 8th commandment: You shall not steal

...but I’ve stolen. And the fact that I am tempted right now to justify my petty paper-clip thievery only belies the treachery and deceitfulness in my heart. The scripture condemns me: "Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord? He who has clean hands and a pure heart."

• 9th commandment: You shall not bear false witness

But I have lied. How many lies does it take to be a liar? From the perspective of holiness, only ONE. (Rev. 21:8 — "All liars shall have their part in the lake of fire.")

• 10th commandment: You shall not covet

But I have been greedy for gain (1 Cor. 6:10 - "the covetous shall not inherit the kingdom of God")

We could go on, but why bother? The shofar has sounded; the alarm has rung; the wake up call has wrenched us from our comfortable slumber...and for every man and woman who is convinced that they will somehow measure up to God’s righteous standard in the end of days,

...for those of us who are somehow convinced that we do not deserve to go to hell, God has blown his trumpet and met us on the mountain and displayed his measuring rod in all its terrifying glory... and He adds this commentary in the scriptures: "Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all."

Not fair? Tell it to the judge...in the end of days...with the Universe as your courtroom and the fiery indignation of the Ancient of Days ablaze with righteous fury.

See if your parched tongue will even move, much less spout out its pompous excuses for living the life you lived. No....you will not utter a sound; not a single sound. Your knees will bend and you will worship the King of kings and the Lord of Lords... and whatever He appoints for your destiny, you will receive without complaint, for you will be ...undone.

________________________

It’s time to close this message, and perhaps you are still trying to get the point. The point is simple: When the sun set this evening, a season of blowing of trumpets began; a season of alarm...alert...revival...waking up; that’s the purpose of the ram’s horn, according to the scriptures.

Dearly beloved, what you just heard was a wake up call.

A trumpet blew at Mt. Sinai, and God dumped out a revelation for all of us who think we measure up.

But the measuring rod (those 10 Commandments) prove us condemned. Truthfully, I didn’t have to go beyond the first commandment to prove without a shadow of a doubt that you and I have earned the right to be justly commissioned to hell. (Again; that may offend you, but it doesn’t change things.

Your belief system does not alter God’s established principles. (You don’t believe a train hitting you at 90mph will blow you into 1000 pieces, fine....but it doesn’t make the job of scraping you up any easier.)

In the spirit of Rosh Hashana, the festival of blowing of trumpets, I have attempted tonight to issue a WAKE UP CALL; to SOUND AN ALARM. And now, it’s time to ACT!

The Lord speaks through the Bible, saying, "Come, let us REASON together. Right now, I appeal to your REASON.

HELL MAKES SENSE! Of COURSE it does! What is more reasonable and rational than a just and holy God allowing those who have spent their whole lives resisting God, to resist Him eternally?

TELL ME...if we (even in our weak, perverted sense of justice) find it reasonable that lawbreakers be punished according to our standards, HOW MUCH MORE should we expect GOD - who is perfectly just - to punish lawbreakers according to HIS standards?

• HELL MAKES PERFECT SENSE TO REASONABLE, RATIONAL PEOPLE. What doesn’t make sense is CHOOSING TO GO THERE.

I mentioned earlier that the purpose of the shofar is to point us to signs...and I suggested that there are signs all over this room.

There are. YOU are a sign! Right now, where you sit, you are a sign; a demonstration of one of two things: Either His grace, or His wrath.

Some of you have chosen to be a sign of the Grace of God. Though you’ve broken His holy law and earned the right to be punished by God; nevertheless, you’ve chosen to receive His gift of Grace. "The wages of sin is death, but the GIFT of God is eternal life through Yeshua the Messiah"

Some of you have received the GIFT of God, and the moment you did that, the condemnation that was due YOU was transferred to the sinless Messiah. You were set free, and you have become a neon sign, declaring the grace of God that was greater than your sin.

But some of you have chosen to be a demonstration - not of God’s GRACE - but of God’s WRATH. You’re actually serving God by showing the rest of us what hopelessness looks like, and making us all the more desirous of GRACE. God sees behind your mask, and so do some of us.

Come, let us REASON together. Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow if you simply receive what you do not deserve: The grace of God as demonstrated in the sacrifice and resurrection of the Messiah of Israel, Yeshua.

Come, let us REASON together. Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow if you simply receive what you do not deserve: The grace of God as demonstrated in the sacrifice and resurrection of the Messiah of Israel, Yeshua.



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