If you have ever asked yourself any of the age-old questions like…
What’s it all about?
Why am I here?
What is my purpose?
If you have ever asked yourself these or similar questions, then you are in for a treat in this week’s PODCAST. Because in this podcast, you will get the answer to these most-important questions.
So let me start with a news-flash for you. One of considerable consequence. Yet one that you will not find to be surprising at all.
For all of its majestic wonder such as glorious sunrises, breathtaking sunsets, forests, oceans, falling snow, and so much more that the beauty of creation holds for us to take in… the truth is that our world is broken.
But, it hasn’t always been that way. We read in the first chapter of Genesis, in fact, a total of seven times that God looked upon His creation and said, “It was good.” Actually, for good measure, the seventh time, God looked upon the totality of the world and said that “it was very good.”
And, in Hebrew, the word used for “good”, tov, is better translated to mean “something that is pleasing, joyful, pleasant, favorable, excellent, happy… something whereupon everything is right”. So, God looked upon the world and saw that everything was right. God’s creation actually reflected God, Himself!
Sadly, if God were to look upon His creation today, He would not come to that same conclusion.
Instead, today’s world is described by the Biblical writers as:
…creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:21-22)
This is a far cry from where the world started. Our world is broken in ways that God never intended.
This is why, just hours before He would be arrested, beaten, and killed, Jesus prayed for His Disciples – and for us today – these words:
Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. (John 17:18)
And, just a few verses prior to this, He prayed:
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. (John 17:15)
But, why would Jesus pray specifically that God not take us, humanity, His followers, out of this broken world?
Why doesn’t He just take us to heaven now??
To answer this question, I need to introduce you to a man named Hillel the Elder. Hillel is known by Jews worldwide as, “the greatest sage of the second Temple period”. Hillel casts a huge shadow and his fingerprints appear all throughout our New Testament. He lived during Jesus’ time here on earth, born around 60BC and died around 20AD, though he died 10-15 years before Jesus’ ministry. Still, their lives overlapped.
It has been written about Hillel that he was “the single most influential figure in post-Old Testament Jewish history.” Born in Babylonia, Hillel came to Israel for the sole purpose to continue his Torah studies under the greatest Torah teachers of his day, and in time, he rose to be the president of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish equivalent of the Supreme Court). Thus, he became the de facto head of the Pharisees.
When Herod the Great called a meeting of the religious leaders after being questioned by the Magi about Jesus’ birth and asked them, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”, Hillel was undoubtedly one of the Jewish leaders who were consulted. When Jesus went to Jerusalem for His Bar mitzvah, which we read about at the end of Luke 2:46-47,
Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. 47 All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
Jesus was twelve-years-old at this time and I have no doubt that Hillel was there in Jerusalem’s Temple. If he wasn’t there, his disciples most certainly were.
All this to say that Hillel’s impact on the rabbinic Judaism of the day cannot be overstated. He founded a dynasty of presidents who ruled in Israel through the Sanhedrin for the next four centuries. In fact, one of these presidents was Hillel’s own grandson, Gamaliel.
But, if it is awkward for you to come to terms with a Jewish member of the Sanhedrin influencing Jesus and the Biblical writers, remember what Luke wrote:
“…as Jesus continued to grow in body and mind, He grew also in the love of God and of those who knew Him.” (Luke 2:52)
Jesus grew mentally and physically. He went to Sabbath school just like the other kids. And whenever He, Mary, and Joseph would make it to Jerusalem, it would be instinctive for Him to seek out the experts of His Jewish tradition. And, these experts were either Hillel, himself or his followers.
Even Paul, in establishing his own Jewish authority, indirectly referred to Hillel:
Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. (Acts 22:3)
This is Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel. The same Gamaliel who literally spared the lives of the Apostles in Acts 5:
the high council was furious and decided to kill them.34 But one member, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who was an expert in religious law and respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be sent outside the council chamber for a while. 35 Then he said to his colleagues, “Men of Israel, take care what you are planning to do to these men!
…“So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” (Acts 5:33-39)
If it weren’t for Gamaliel’s intervention, this whole Jesus movement may have had a short and very abrupt ending!
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his classic work Jewish Literacy, wrote this:
Hillel’s greatest legacy was neither his assiduous commitment to study nor his warm personality, but his forceful intellect, which directed Judaism [that being the Judaism of Jesus’ day] toward the goal of tikkun olam, the ethical bettering (literally, perfecting) of the world.
You see, at the forefront of Hillel’s priority list is the bettering, perfecting, or repairing of a broken world. This was foundational to the New Testament writer’s culture, upbringing and understanding of what it meant to be God’s chosen people…. People who worship a good God and therefore work to repair our broken world in a good way through justice, mercy, grace, selfless sacrifice, service for the good of others, etc.
That’s what Hillel taught. It’s what Jesus taught. It’s what Jesus prayed that we would do.
As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world…
My prayer is not for them alone [the disciples]. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message [that’s us] (John 17:18, 20)
That’s right, YOU were chosen, too. Chosen to be part of God’s people to join in His work to repair our broken world. That’s why you’re here!
To sum up, anytime you do anything for the good of someone else without seeking any good for yourself, you are practicing the spirit of tikkun olam. Every time you treat someone in a way that brightens their day, you are fulfilling the spirit of tikkun olam. Each time you bring a smile to someone’s face, some sense of joy to someone’s heart, a little bit of peace to a troubled soul, comfort to someone in despair, or encouragement to someone about to give up, you are fulfilling the spirit of tikkun olam. In doing so, you are fulfilling the very reason that you were chosen by Jesus on the night before He went to the cross, when He took the time out to pray specifically that you would be sent into the world and you would be protected in that world from the evil one… so that you can partner with Him in repairing the world.