GODSPELL: Movie Review

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These are the ruins of the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem.  In GODSPELL, John baptizes Jesus and his followers in New York City’s Bethesda Fountain named after the Pool of Bethesda.

GODSPELL was produced as a play in 1971 and as a film in 1973.  I have never seen the play, but since “Day by Day” is one of my favorite songs, I decided to rent the film and see the story behind the music.  The story is based on the Gospel of Matthew.  If you’re unfamiliar with GODSPELL, but plan to watch the film, be prepared. This is not your typical orthodox presentation of the Gospel–far from it; but it is the Gospel, nonetheless.

The story takes in New York City.  “John the Baptist” (played by David Haskell, who also plays “Judas”) is a magician.  Sounding the shofar and shouting “prepare ye the way of the Lord,” he walks through the city appearing supernaturally to eight ordinary people, including a waitress, a taxi driver, a parking attendant, a college student, a window shopper, and a ballet dancer.  All of them leave their jobs and/or activities to follow John the Baptist to the Bethesda Fountain where he baptizes them–and Jesus (played by Victor Garber).

Replacing their city clothes with colorful, hippie-like garb, Jesus’ rag-tag followers listen closely as he teaches them about the importance of the Law of Moses and the commandments from the Sermon on the Mount.  Much of the film is devoted to the parables. As Jesus tells the parables, the cast acts them out through a clownish but clever combination of mime and vaudeville.

The most engaging parable is the Prodigal Son.  The cast not only uses mime and vaudeville to illustrate the parable, they also use clips from silent films–mostly slapstick.  Silent film fans will have fun sorting out which clip belongs to which film.   While the film clips are playing on screen, “Jerry” (played by Jerry Sroka) gives a hilarious impersonation of a cowboy.

Despite the comical way in which some of the parables are presented , the doctrines of heaven, hell, and the divinity of Christ and his role as the Messiah are not compromised. The most sobering parable is that of the sheep and goats, which stresses that only the true followers of Jesus–the ones with whom he has a relationship–will inherit eternal life.

Jesus and his followers are filled with joy and frivolity as they parade through empty streets, stop at landmarks (such as Times Square), and sing on rooftops.  In light of 9/11, it is jarring to see the cast singing “All the Best” on top of one of the Twin Towers.

The 10 member cast is made up of five men and five women, most of whom sing a solo.  “Day by Day” (sung by Robin Lamont) is not the only song that highlights the intimate relationship the group enjoys with Jesus.  Lynne Thigpen gives a hearty rendition of “Bless the Lord,” and young, innocent Merrell Jackson praises God with “All Good Gifts” (James 1: 17).

Joanne Jonas singing “Turn Back, O Man” is a show stopper.  The words added to the hymn are sassy and suggestive.  Her style, resembling Mae West‘s, is supposed to taken entirely as a joke. While one or two lines may raise some eyebrows (including mine), the solo showcases Jonas’ incredible talent.

The story takes a somber turn when Jesus encounters the authorities.  The Pharisees try to bait him, but Jesus sees through their schemes and hypocrisy.  After this, Judas  conspires to betray him.

My favorite scene is the Last Supper.  Never mind that it takes place in a junk yard with disciples drinking out of a paper cup.  The jewel in the crown is Jesus saying the blessing over the bread and wine in Hebrew.

Near the end of the film, Jesus entreats each of his followers to look in the mirror.  One of them proclaims, “I look like you!”  And that’s the point of the sequence.  By following his teaching, Jesus followers have taken on his character, and they will take the Gospel to the world.

The original play was the brainchild of John-Michael Tebelak, who wrote GODSPELL for his master’s thesis at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1971.  He co-wrote the film version with David Green.  Stephen Schwartz composed the music.

Click here to watch Robin Lamont sing “Day by Day.”  Its appeal is timeless.

 

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The Valley of Jehoshaphat

The phrase “Valley of Jehoshaphat” occurs only twice in the Bible, both in the third chapter of the Book of Joel.  Jehoshaphat was a good king because he obeyed God’s commandments, walked in His ways, and did not follow the false gods Baal and Asherah.  He defeated the enemies of Judah and Israel in a valley–perhaps the valley that Joel refers to as the Valley of Jehoshaphat.  (You can read about King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 17-20.)

The name Jehoshaphat means “the LORD judges.”     The English Standard Version of the Bible, introduces Joel 3 with the heading “The LORD Judges the Nations.”  Consider verses 1 and 2 below:

“For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.  And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land.”

Where is the Valley of Jehoshaphat?  The Valley of Jehoshaphat is believed to be the Kidron Valley.  The Kidron Valley runs between the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount.  I took some photos in Jerusalem last winter in that area (see below).  Look for the drop between the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount.  That’s the Kidron Valley.

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Photo taken from the Mount of Olives, which is a cemetery today.
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The Mount of Olives is on the left.

The Kidron Valley contains a number of tombs, including the tomb or pillar of Absalom.   “The valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23 is beleived to be the Kidron Valley.

Yeshua was in Jerusalem when he compared religious hypocrites to “white washed tombs, which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23: 27, NASB).  The metaphor might have been inspired by the “white washed tombs” in the Kidron Valley.

Acts 15: Gentiles and the Law of Moses

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Acts 15 fascinates me.  The Messianic Jews were wondering what to do with the Gentiles that were coming to faith in the Messiah.   Here are some highlights:

Verses 1 and 2 state the problem.  Some men came from Judea to Antioch and started teaching the believers, “You cannot be saved unless you are circumcised as the Law of Moses requires.”  Paul and Barnabas got into a fierce argument with them about this, so it was decided that Paul Barnabas and some of the others in Antioch should go to Jerusalem and see the apostles and elders about this matter (GNT).

If you read all of Acts 15, you will discover that more than one group of Jews thought that circumcising Gentiles was necessary–but not for the same reason.  The first group (verses 1-2) thought it necessary for salvation.  The second group in verse 5 saw it differently. “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” (NIV). In other words, they believed that the Gentiles were saved by faith but they should nevertheless be circumcised and follow the law of Moses. This spawned a lively debate.

After hearing Peter, Paul, and the other debaters, James reached this conclusion.  “It is my opinion,” James went on, “that we should not trouble the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead, we should write a letter telling them not to eat any food that is ritually unclean because it has been offered to idols; to keep themselves from sexual immorality; and not to eat any animal that has been strangled, or any blood.  For the Law of Moses has been read for a very long time in the synagogues every Sabbath, and his words are preached in every town” (Acts 15: 19-21 GNT).

Notice that “the basics” were a combination of food laws and moral law.  James was confronting the paganism that was rampant in the Roman Empire, which involved drinking blood and having sex with temple prostitutes.  No doubt he was also influenced by verses like the following:  Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood–I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people.  For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.  Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood” (Leviticus 17: 10-12 NIV).

I find verse 21 in Acts 15 most intriguing:  For the Law of Moses has been read for a very long time in the synagogues every Sabbath, and his words are preached in every town.”  The implication is that Gentiles could go to the synagogue on the Sabbath and hear the Law of Moses read. The New Testament did not as yet exist and neither did the printing press.  Whenever Paul referred to the Scriptures, he was referring to the Old Testament.

He wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed” (2 Timothy 3: 16 GNT).

Thanksgiving and the Feast of Booths

Many have noticed the similarities between Thanksgiving and the Feast of Booths (Leviticus 23: 33-43), also known as the Feast of Tabernacles/Sukkot.  Both have spiritual meaning, occur in the autumn, and feature plenty of food.  The Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving around the time of the Feast of Booths–September or October, which corresponds to the seventh month (Tishri) on the sacred Hebrew calendar.

Leviticus 23: 33-43 (NASB) gives a detailed explanation of the Feast of Booths:

Again the LORD spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to the Sons of Israel, saying, ‘On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the LORD. On the first day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work of any kind.  For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the LORD; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work. On exactly the fifteenth of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. Now on the first day, you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD for seven days.  You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month.  You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths,  So that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’”

The Feast of Booths is a reminder of the forty-year period in which the Hebrews lived in booths (temporary shelters) in the Sinai Desert.  According to Zechariah 14: 16 (NASB), someday ALL nations–Jew and Gentile alike–will celebrate the Feast of Booths.

Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.

The Feast of Booths is the last of seven annual feasts listed in Leviticus 23.  The other feasts in consecutive order are Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Shavuot (Feast of Weeks/Pentecost), Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets), and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

Not all of the Biblical  feasts involve food.  For example, Yom Kippur is a fast, not a feast.  The term “feast” in Leviticus 23 means a “holy convocation.”  A holy convocation is a “dress rehearsal.”  In other words, the Biblical feast days, which are GOD’S APPOINTED TIMES, are prophetic.  The Feast of Booths foreshadows the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Jesus the Messiah and his bride, the Church) and the beginning of His Millennial reign.

The Sukkah (booth) is equivalent to the Chuppah (canopy) in a Jewish wedding.

BACK TO THANKSGIVING

Although the Pilgrims and the Puritans celebrated Thanksgiving around the time of the Feast of Booths, no specific date was set until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November–and even that was iffy.  FDR almost succeeded in changing the date to the third Thursday in November to comply with retailers who wanted to boost their sales by adding more shopping days before Christmas.

For more information explore the Plimoth Plantation website.

SHAVUOT, FEAST OF WEEKS, PENTECOST

 Shavuot, Feasts of Weeks, or Pentecost (different names for the same feast) began June 3, at sundown.

SHAVUOT IN THE TORAH

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From the day after the Sabbath [Firstfruits], the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks.   Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath,and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD (Leviticus 23: 15, 16 NIV).

Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain.  Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessing the LORD your God has given you.  And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name–you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you.  Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees (Deuteromony 16: 9-12 NIV).

Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Law to the Hebrews at Mount Sinai.

It is customary to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot.  Ruth arrives in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest (Ruth 1: 22) and meets Boaz, her kinsman redeemer, while gleaning from his fields. (The redemption theme runs strong throughout the book.)  Boaz, a descendant of Judah, marries Ruth, a Moabitess (Gentile).  Ruth and Boaz become the great-grandparents of King David.

PENTECOST (SHAVUOT) IN THE BOOK OF ACTS

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The New Testament begins with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David (Matthew 1: 1).  He is our Redeemer, God’s Lamb, who takes away the sins of the world.  He was crucified on Passover, rose from the dead on Firstfruits, and appeared to his disciples many times between His resurrection and Shavuot or Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit came in power on  Pentecost, and the believers were filled with the Spirit and praised God in different tongues.  Some 3000 people repented and were added to the number of believers on that day.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2: 1-4 NIV).

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.  These men are not drunk, as you suppose.  It’s only nine in the morning!  No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 

” ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people, Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.  I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood ad fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ “ (Acts 2: 14-21 NIV).

For more information about Shavuot and Pentecost, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Has the Law of Moses Been Done Away With?

Years ago a friend invited me to her son’s bar mitzvah.  As a born-again Christian, I was curious about Judaism but had never been to a bar mitzvah.  As it turned out, her cousin was curious about me.  A conservative Jew, he sought me out and sat beside me during part of the bar mitzvah.  He wanted to know how a born-again Christian viewed the Law of Moses.  I parroted what I had heard all of my life.   I said something like, “We are not under the Law.  Jesus fulfilled the Law.”  I could tell that he was not satisfied, and to be honest–neither was I.

His question made me think.  Has the Law of Moses been “done away with?”  What does it mean to “fulfill the Law?”

JESUS AND THE LAW OF MOSES

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5: 17-20, NIV).

The Ten Commandments have not changed.  If you repent of your sins and believe in the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus), the Ten Commandments will be written on your heart.  “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you, and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36: 26-27, NASB).  (See Exodus 20: 1-17; 2 Corinthians 3: 3; Jeremiah 31: 31-33; and Hebrews 8: 8-12 also.)

THE LAW OF MOSES VS. MAN-MADE TRADITIONS AND DOCTRINES

The Torah is the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Old Testament.  If the Law of Moses has been done away with, then there is no reason to even read Genesis.  Sadly, the church pays lip service to the Old Testament but dismisses the Law of Moses as legalism.  Legalism has nothing to do with the Law of Moses.  It’s all about man-made traditions and doctrines that are taught as if they were God’s laws. (See Matthew 15: 1-9; Colossians 2: 8, 20-23).

LEVITICUS: God’s Timepiece

Before I began attending a Messianic Jewish Congregation, I had never heard a preacher or Sunday school teacher discuss Leviticus in-depth.  So I figured that most of Leviticus didn’t apply to Christians.  I was wrong.

Yes, Jesus is the Lamb of God.  He was the perfect sacrifice for our sins, so we don’t need animal sacrifices.  But there’s much more to Leviticus than animal sacrifices and ceremonial laws pertaining to the temple (which was destroyed in 70 AD).  In fact, you can’t understand God’s calendar and His appointed times (or feast days) unless you read and study Leviticus.

God does not go by the Gregorian calendar.  He goes by the Biblical calendar found in Leviticus 23.   God’s Appointed Times are dress rehearsals.  Yeshua fulfilled the spring feasts with His First Coming.  He will fulfill the fall feasts with His Second Coming.

JUST SAY NO TO HAM

You won’t go to hell for eating a ham sandwich, but you might live longer if you follow the food laws in Leviticus 11.  Most Americans follow most of the food laws most of the time. Seriously, besides pork and shell-fish, which of these “unclean” animals does the average American eat?  Rats, lizards, cats, dogs, vultures, badgers, buzzards, snakes, weasels, roadkill?  If you read Leviticus 11 carefully, I think you will agree with God that unclean animals are “detestable.”

*By definition unclean animals are not considered “food” for human consumption, but they do serve a purpose.  By and large, they are the garbage collectors of the animal kingdom.  Notice that Noah took seven pairs of every clean animal (and seven pairs of every bird) aboard the ark but only one pair of every unclean animal (Genesis 7: 1-3).   If he had eaten an unclean animal, the animal would have become extinct.

The Bible is the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation.  Read it.  Study it.  Discuss it.  Agree to disagree.  “Test everything.”

 

*Recommended reading: THE MAKERS DIET by Jordan S. Rubin with Foreword by Dr. Charles F. Stanley.

Ask God: “No Response Is Not an Answer”

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“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight” (I John 3: 21-22, NASB).

About 1 hour and 50 minutes into the service, Rabbi Carlson says, “No response [from God] is not an answer.”  Then he quotes I John 3: 21-22 and lists 17 questions (see below) to ask God.  Every follower of Yeshua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) should consider these questions and listen for God’s answer.

1) God, in Yeshua’s name do You love me?

2) God, in Yeshua’s name are You happy with me?

3) God, in Yeshua’s name am I pleasing You?

4) God, in Yeshua’s name is there anything in me–any sin–that would hinder Your presence, Your will, Your power in my life?

5) God in Yeshua’s name are there any idols in my life?

6) God, in Yeshua’s name do I have sinful thoughts, hidden agendas, anger, hurt, or unforgiveness in my life?

7) God, in Yeshua’s name is there any spirit in me that is not of You?

8) God, in Yeshua’s name have I offended You?

9) God, in Yeshua’s name how can I serve You?

10) God, in Yeshua’s name what is on Your heart?

11) God, in Yeshua’s name how can I minister unto You?

12) God, in Yeshua’s name what do You want me to pray for?

13) God, in Yeshua’s name what are Your plans and purpose for my life?

14) God, in Yeshua’s name what can I do to have more of You in me?

15) God, in Yeshua’s name does my life reflect Your kingdom?

16) God, in Yeshua’s name have I offended or hurt anyone?

17) God, in Yeshua’s  name may I have more heavenly power to reveal Your power here on earth?

 

 

Messianic Sabbath Service Prior to Resurrection Sunday

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I encourage believers to watch the above service before or after you read my “commentary” below.  The sermon begins about one hour and nine minutes into the broadcast.

THE FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD

“‘These are the appointed times of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at the times appointed for them.  Passover is followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which lasts seven days.  Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.  On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work.  But for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.  On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work.  But for seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD.  On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work'” (Leviticus 23: 4-9 NASB).

Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.  For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (I Corinthians 5: 7-8 NASB).

FIRSTFRUITS

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest.  He is to wave the sheaf before the LORD so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath'” (Leviticus 23: 10-11 NIV).

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (I Corinthians 15: 20-23 NIV).

FIRSTFRUITS (Resurrection Day), not EASTER

Firstfruits falls on the *Sunday after the weekly Sabbath during the week of Passover.  In addition, to the weekly Sabbath, two special sabbaths occur: one on the first and one on the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  The late Zola Levitt explains this well in his article at http://www.levitt.com/essays/first-fruits.

Easter is often confused with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  How you ever wondered what egg-laying bunnies have to do with the Resurrection of our Lord?  Nothing.  But they have everything to do with Easter.  Easter is another name for Eostre, the goddess related to spring, according to the OXFORD ENCYCLOPEDIC ENGLISH DICTIONARY (Oxford University Press 1991, 1995, 1996).

For an extended explanation of Easter versus Resurrection Sunday and how the timing of each is calculated see my post “Easter, Eostre, Resurrection Sunday.”

*On the Biblical calendar, Sunday begins after sundown Saturday.  In the same way, the Biblical Sabbath begins Friday after sundown through Saturday at sundown.

 

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