I sat in my office reflecting on God’s Word as I prepared for our Wednesday night prayer service. As I thought about the many prayer requests that we had received that week, the Holy Spirit put an image on my heart. It was an image of one of the many people in the Gospel who were healed by Jesus, the woman who had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. In Mark 5, we read that this woman had been treated by many doctors, spending her life’s savings, but still had received no relief. In fact, as we read in Mark 5:26, she had gotten worse. So now, she crawled on her hands and knees through a crowd of people, seeking to get close enough to Jesus to touch his robe. She had faith that Jesus could heal her. As she touched Jesus’ robe, she was immediately healed, and Jesus told her that it was her faith that made her well.
As I reflected on the faith of that woman, the thought that came to my mind was that she had a faith that was driven by her desperation. The Holy Spirit then started speaking to me about faith. He reminded me of the four men who, being unable to get through the door into the home where Jesus was teaching, took their paralyzed friend to the roof, tore a hole in that roof, and lowered him down to Jesus. Jesus saw their faith and healed their friend. They had a faith driven by their compassion for their friend.
Finally, the Holy Spirit reminded me of the Roman centurion, who sent some Jewish elders to ask Jesus to heal his servant, who was sick and close to death. Jesus went with the elders but, before they arrived at the centurion’s home, the centurion sent men to stop them. The centurion gave them a message to bring to Jesus (Luke 7:6-8): “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.” Jesus marveled at the faith of this Roman centurion and healed the servant. That centurion had a faith that was driven by his knowledge. He had heard about Jesus. He knew what authority meant, and he knew that Jesus had authority over sickness and death, and that all Jesus needed to do was say the word to heal the servant.
What drives your faith? Is it driven by desperation that has come after you’ve tried everything but still have not seen a solution to your problem or healing from an illness? Is it driven by compassion for someone you are praying for, a friend or family member? Is it driven by knowledge? You know the authority Jesus has over sickness or other trials, you have seen Jesus come through for you before and you know that he will do it again. Whatever drives your faith in Jesus doesn’t really matter. All that really matters is that you have that faith. Faith can move mountains. Look at what Jesus says in Matthew 21:21-22:
Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.”
On a recent visit to my eye doctor, as the doctor was checking my eyesight, she inserted various combinations of lenses in the machine and asked which was better.
“Which is better? One…,” she asked before flipping to the next lens, “…or two?”
“Well,” I responded, “two is better, but I’m seeing double.”
“Okay,” she said. “How about three… or four.”
“Three is definitely better. But I’m still seeing double.”
After a few more combinations of lenses, with the same result, the doctor looked at me and said, “I think you have cataracts.” She then proceeded to examine my eyes and determined that the lenses of my eyes had become significantly clouded by cataracts, enough to require corrective surgery. The cataracts were clouding my vision, and I was not seeing as well as I should have been. And so, I was scheduled for cataract surgery in both eyes.
In Ephesians 5:8, Paul begins by telling us that we were once in darkness. That darkness was the result of sin, and since all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), we all walked in that darkness. But Jesus is the Light of the World, and when we choose to follow him, we no longer walk in darkness but have the light of life. Through Jesus, God has rescued us from the darkness we were in, and as Paul continues to say in Ephesians 5:8, we are now light in the Lord and need to live as children of light.
We can live as children of light when we choose to be obedient and walk in the way that Jesus taught us to walk, when we follow the two greatest commandments: love God and love each other. Scripture is very clear that we cannot have one without the other. 1 John 2:9-11 says, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”
We can choose to live in light, to reflect the light of Jesus, or we can choose darkness. We can choose to see things clearly or to be blinded, not by the light, but to the light. We can choose to see the path we are walking perfectly through healthy eyes, or stumble in the darkness through blind eyes. We need to have our eyes fixed on God and not on the world. If we allow our eyes to be focused on the world, rather than on God, the light will turn to darkness.
I had my second cataract surgery this past week. The difference between how I saw the things around me before the surgery and how I see them now is drastic. Things are brighter. Why? Because the new lenses implanted in my eyes are allowing more light into the eyes. As I look around now, Jesus’ words in Luke 11:34-36 have taken on new meaning:
“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:10-14, NIV)
The Israelites had already witnessed the power of God as He forced Pharaoh’s hand to let them leave their captivity in Egypt. They had witnessed His faithfulness to His people as He struck down the firstborn son of every family in Egypt, yet spared the firstborn sons of Israel. They had seen Him turn the hearts of the Egyptian people toward them as they willingly gave them items of value. And yet, despite all this, when the Israelites saw Pharaoh and his army pursuing them as they were fleeing Egypt, all that they could do was panic and cry out in terror. They turned against Moses and began to wish they had never left Egypt.
But Moses still trusted in God and in His faithfulness. He told the Israelites not to be afraid but instead to stand firm as the Lord brought them deliverance. He told them that the Egyptians whom they now saw pursuing, they would never see again. And then, in Exodus 14:14, Moses said, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” They did not have to lift a finger. God saw their distress. God saw the danger that they were facing. God saw what they saw, but God also saw the outcome. And that outcome meant that the freedom that He had promised His people from their captors would come to pass, not because He would equip them to fight off the Egyptian but because He would do the fighting for them.
As I read these verses in Exodus 14 this past week, one phrase stood out to me: “be still.” I put it aside, but it kept coming back to me: “be still.” Believing that God was trying to tell me something through these words, I decided to do a word study and discovered that the Hebrew word translated as “be still” actually means to be silent. But it also means “be deaf.” God was telling the Israelites to be deaf and be silent. As I reflected on this God began to speak to me.
How often do we (I include myself here!) look at the circumstances that we are facing and forget about all the times that God came through for us, the times when, through His great faithfulness, He has brought us through one difficulty, one struggle after another? How often do we grumble and complain as the Israelites did when they found themselves stuck between the pursuing Egyptian army and the Red Sea? Why is it that we find it so hard to remember what He has done for us in the past when facing new worries, new problems, new challenges? Why do we seem to have amnesia when it comes to relying on the faithfulness of God to bring us through these things?
I believe it has everything to do with where we focus our hearts in those moments of life. It has everything to do with what voices we are listening to. It has everything to do with what words we allow to come out of our mouths. We listen to the voice of the world. We listen to the voice of the enemy of our souls. And we listen to the voice of our own weaknesses. What we need to be listening to is the voice of God. What we listen to will ultimately affect the words that come out of our mouths. When we listen to the wrong voices, the words from our mouths will be words of doubt, words of fear, words of anxiety and worry, or words of hopelessness. So what do we need to do? We need to be still.
As I mentioned before, the Hebrew word translated as “be still” in Exodus 14:14 also means to be deaf, to be silent. What God was telling the Israelites, what He is telling us, is that when we face the challenges in our lives, we need to be deaf to the voices that tell us that it is hopeless. We need to be deaf to the voices that create doubt, fear, worry, and anxiety. And we need to be silent. We need to quiet our hearts, to quiet our tongues, and listen to the voice of God. When we do these things, instead of focusing on what’s in front of us, instead of focusing on the problems we face, we will focus on the faithfulness of God. God promised that He would fight for the Israelites, and He was faithful to that promise. He parted the Red Sea, allowed the Israelites to walk through on dry ground, and then caused then buried the Egyptian army in a watery grave. All they needed to do was stop focusing on what they saw, stop focusing on what they heard, and be silent while God came through.
If you are facing a difficult circumstance, if worry, anxiety, or fear are causing you to forget all that the Lord has done for you in the past, remember the words of Exodus 14:14: The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).
2020 has been a very different kind of year. We have had to do everything in ways that are different, including church. For many churches, services have been online only, for most of the year. For others, while there may have been indoor services, they were done at smaller capacity with social distancing and face coverings in place. Ministries in our churches have been done differently, if at all. Many of us may be saying that we don’t understand all of this, we don’t like it, because it is not what we are used to. It’s not the way we want church to be. It’s different!
Even Christmas is different this year. Kids are still having pictures taken with Santa but now they’re separated by plexiglass barriers. Christmas shopping is still taking place but shoppers are standing in lines on stickers spaced 6 feet apart on the floor, while everyone is wearing a face mask. Many stores are offering curbside pickup so that shoppers who choose to can avoid entering the stores at all. Christmas pageants, Christmas concerts, and many other similar traditions are done via livestream or not done at all. And church services, candlelight services, and other forms of Christmas worship are, in many cases, happening only online. Christmas 2020 is not what we are used to. It’s not the way we’d like it to be. It’s different!
As I reflected on all of this, I was reminded of an episode in season 1 of the television series, The Chosen. In this episode, there is a scene in which Jesus calls Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him. Peter doesn’t understand why Jesus would choose a tax collector to be one of his followers. When Jesus reminds Peter that some people didn’t understand why he chose him as a follower, Peter responds that “this is different” because Matthew is a tax collector. Jesus replies, “Get used to different.”
We don’t like “different.” And, at least when it comes to the things I have mentioned here, we don’t want to “get used to different.” We want things to be the same as they have always been. We want things to be what we’re used to. But maybe God is telling us that we need to “get used to different.” Now, I’m not saying that God is telling us that things will stay the way they are now, in this time of a pandemic. But maybe he is saying that we need to be willing to do some things in a way that we haven’t before. Maybe, when it comes to how we do church, how we do ministry, even how we share our faith, we need to “get used to different.”
When this pandemic is finally behind us, some things will go back to what we consider “normal.” Other things may change. We may find that God wants us to do some things in a different way. But no matter what may change, no matter what may be “different,” there is one thing that will never change. And we can see that in Hebrews 13:8, which says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The way we do church may change. The way we celebrate Christmas may change. But what doesn’t change, and never will, is that Jesus came to earth over 2,000 years ago. He came as a tiny baby, born in a stable in Bethlehem. And, as a man, Jesus would give his life so that our sins might be forgive, so that we might have eternal life. That will never change!
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
In 1993, when I ran the New York City Marathon, I hit the wall at about 20 miles into the 26.2 mile race. If you’ve ever run a long distance race, you know what I’m talking about. It wasn’t a physical wall, but it might as well have been. The wall is that point in the race where you feel like you can’t continue. It’s the point where you feel like there is a wall in front of you that is keeping you from going any further, keeping you from the victory of finishing the race.
In life, there can be times when we hit a wall, something that keeps us from moving forward. It could be the wall of marital conflict. It could be the wall of addiction. It could be the wall of financial problems. Whatever the circumstance, when we hit that wall, we feel that we can’t go on. We feel like victory is unattainable. No matter what we do, that wall is standing there, standing in our way, mocking us as we face it with a sense of despair, a sense of defeat. Victory stands on the other side of that wall but there is nothing that we can do in our own strength to overcome that wall.
But there is a way to get beyond that wall, there is a way to get to the victory on the other side. It’s found in God’s Word, in chapter 6 of the book of Joshua.
In the passages leading up to Joshua, chapter 6, the Israelites had finally crossed the Jordan River and had entered the Promised Land. But, before they could call that land their own, they would face opposition from the people who currently inhabited it. They would face obstacles as they sought to claim that land, and the first obstacle came in the form of a wall.
Now the gates of Jericho were tightly shut because the people were afraid of the Israelites. No one was allowed to go out or in. (Joshua 6:1, NLT)
The city of Jericho was a walled city and, out of fear of the Israelites, the people of Jericho had tightly shut the gates to the city. In order for Joshua and the army of the Israelites to take that city, they had to deal with that wall. And, as we read in Joshua 6:1, no one was allowed in or out of Jericho. That wall stood between the Israelites and victory. There was nothing they could do in their own power to get through that wall. So there they stood, facing that wall. I love the way that verse 2 begins: “But the Lord said to Joshua…” The wall may have been keeping the Israelites from victory, but God had a plan, which He revealed to Joshua: “Alright, Joshua, take your men and march around the city once a day for six days. Have seven priests join them, walking ahead of the Ark, each carrying a ram’s horn. Then, on the seventh day, I want you to march around the town seven times, with the priests blowing the horns. Then, the priests will give one long blast on the rams’ horns. When that happens, have all the people raise the loudest shout they possibly can. The walls of Jericho will fall and you can charge straight into the town to victory.”
Now this may have seemed like a crazy plan. Who would have blamed Joshua if he said, “So, we just walk around the city for seven days, the priests blow their trumpets, we shout, and the wall falls down? Come on, Lord, what’s the real plan?” But this was the God who parted the Red Sea so they could escape the Egyptians. This was the God who provided manna in the wilderness, the God who opened the Jordan River so that they could enter the Promised Land. So, Joshua gave the orders and the Israelites followed God’s plan to a T. Let’s look at what happened next.
So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. (Joshua 6:20, NKJV)
The Israelites got to the other side of the wall that faced them. They received their victory. Why? Because they had faith in God, and that faith inspired obedience. Hebrews 11:30 (NLT) says, “It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down.” The faith Joshua and the people of Israel had in God was great, and so they obeyed the word of the Lord and followed His plan. When we face walls in our lives, we need to look toward this example of faith. In faith, we need to come before the Lord and seek his plan. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV) says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
When we exercise faith, allow God to show us the way past our walls, then submit to Him in obedience, we will see the walls we face fall flat and will receive our victory. Our faith is our victory. As God’s Word tells us in 1 John 5:4 (NLT), “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
Jesus taught that we should love our enemies and pray for the people who persecute us. One way in which we can show love to our enemies is to share the Gospel with them. Yet in sharing the good news of salvation through Jesus, we may be inclined to draw the line when it comes to people with whom we have an issue, people who are openly hostile towards us, or people who we think may be too far gone. This may be especially true when it comes to sharing the Gospel with people who are openly hostile to us and to our faith. We may think
, “I’ll just stick to sharing my faith with people who are nice to me, or people who are friends of mine. Thank you very much!” But, as Jesus pointed out, anyone can love someone who loves them back, anyone can be nice to a friend. As followers of Christ, we are called to a higher standard than that. We are called to God’s standard.
John 3:16 says that God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son to die for them. It doesn’t say God so loved some people. He loves ALL people! And all people is inclusive of our enemies. Jesus died for them just as He died for us. They deserve to hear the Gospel just as much as our friends, our families, and anyone else whom we like. And because we who have received the gift of salvation are called to spread the Gospel across the street and around the world, we are called to spread that Gospel even to our enemies, even to those who hate us or persecute us. We are called to have the same heart towards them as Jesus has. As followers of Jesus, we want to be more like Jesus, and yet we struggle with this.
In the book of Acts, we see someone who experiences a similar struggle, a man named Ananias. Saul, a pharisee whose mission was to do away with all of those who followed Jesus, was on his way to Damascus to arrest the followers there. His mission was interrupted by an encounter with Jesus that knocked him off his horse and left him blind. He was told by Jesus to go to the city and wait for further instructions. And that’s where Ananias comes in. Ananias was a believer who lived in Damascus. In a vision, the Lord told him to get up and go to Saul. Now, Ananias knew who Saul was. He knew that Saul was an enemy to all who called Jesus Lord. And so, he was hesitant. But the Lord told Ananias that Saul was His chosen instrument to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, to kings, and even to the people of Israel. Despite his reservations, in obedience, Ananias went to Saul. He laid hands on Saul, whose sight was restored, and Saul went on to become the apostle Paul, one of the key leaders in the early church and the writer of much of the New Testament.
When it comes to bringing God’s Word to those who hate us, to those with whom we disagree, and to those who we may feel are not deserving of the good news of salvation, we may be hesitant, like Ananias. But, as a follower of Jesus, Ananias chose obedience to God over his own opinions and reservations. May we all be like Ananias and follow the words of 1 John 2:6, which says, “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.”
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. (Mark 15:23, NIV)
In my time of devotions today, I was reading in Mark 15. When I got to verse 24, which begins with, “And they crucified him,” I had to stop and go back to verse 23. “Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.” Now, I have read those words before, but today, they jumped off the page as if I had never seen them before. Before they crucified Jesus, before they nailed his hands and his feet to that cross, before he hung there struggling to breath, he was offered wine mixed with myrrh. Why? Because wine mixed with myrrh was a first-century narcotic, meant to lessen the pain of the person being crucified. It would have taken some of the edge off Jesus’ pain. But Jesus did not take it.
In 2015, I underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder. Following the surgery, I had to begin what would be six months of physical therapy. In the first few weeks, any movement in the shoulder caused pain. So before I would go for my physical therapy sessions, I would take a painkiller. I didn’t want to feel that pain. But Jesus had already been beaten. He had been whipped to within an inch of his life. Roman soldiers had place a crown of thorns on his head. He was already feeling pain. He was now about to feel the intense pain of nails driven through his hands and feet. He was about to feel like his chest was going to explode as he struggled to take a breath. So, if he had taken that wine mixed with myrrh, who would have blamed him? But Jesus did not take it.
The night before, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that the cup he was about to experience, the cup of pain and humiliation he was about to endure, would be taken from him. But Jesus chose to do the Father’s will, and so he took that cup and drank from it fully. He was arrested, he was insulted, he was given what was basically a fixed trial that could have resulted in only one outcome, his being put to death. He was subjected to more pain than many of us have ever experienced. He took that cup and drank it completely. But when he was offered the chance to escape at least some of the pain, when he was offered that cup filled with wine mixed with myrrh, Jesus did not take it.
Jesus chose to suffer in an unimaginable way; he chose to endure incredible pain. He chose to endure ALL of the pain. And so, he did not take the wine mixed with myrrh. If that sounds totally counter-cultural, it is! Would you choose to suffer that kind of pain if you were offered a means of escaping at least some of it? Would I? I can tell you, without hesitation, that I would not. But Jesus did. He chose the pain because it was only through suffering that pain that he could accomplish the mission he was sent for, to redeem a fallen world, to pay the price for my sins and for yours so that, through faith in him, we could enjoy eternity with the Father. Hebrews 12:2 says, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” For Jesus, the joy of our redemption far outweighed the pain of the cross. Hallelujah!
Scripture verses taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Seasons. On the earth that God created, we experience four different seasons, each one bringing differences in the weather, each one having different characteristics, and each one serving a different purpose. In many parts of the world, winter brings the cold. Trees are bare, the grass is not as green, and the landscape looks dull and bleak. But then spring comes and plants come to life, new leaves sprout on the trees, and the landscape looks bright and colorful. The summer brings the warmth of the sun and bright sunshine, and then the fall arrives and the leaves begin to fall, signaling a return to the cold, bleak winter.
In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, we read that there are seasons for everything in life, a time for everything and for every matter under heaven. There are times for birth and times for death. There are times to plant and times to reap. There are times to break things down and times to build them up. There are times to weep and to laugh, times to mourn and to dance, times to seek and times to lose. There are times for love and times for hate, times for war and times for peace. Just like the seasons of the earth, each season of life brings something different from, and often opposite to, another season.
There are seasons in our spiritual lives, as well. There may be times when, like the plants in spring, we are growing, when we are seeing the move of the Holy Spirit clearly in our lives. Then there may be times when, like the summer, we feel the warmth of the Son as we walk with Him, when all around us looks and feels right. During these seasons, we feel at our closest to God. But, there also may be times when we start to feel as if God is farther away. These may be times when the trials of life begin to pull at us. It may start gradually, like the fall, but eventually, we may feel as if God has abandoned us. We are in a season like that right now with the pandemic that has gripped the world and the divisions that are tearing at the fabric of our nation. At times like these, things look as bleak as winter.
The good news is that God never abandons us. He is with us always. When He seems far away, it’s not because God has pulled away from us but rather, we have pulled away from Him. But, He is always there, no matter what season we are in. What season are you in right now? If you feel like you are in fall or winter, reach out to God. When you do, you will experience new growth and a new closeness to God as a new season begins.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
On the doorposts of Jewish homes, you will find a decorative case called a mezuzah. Inside this case is a piece of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, which is comprised of what we, as Christian believers, know as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Those verses include the Jewish prayer called Shema Yisrael: “Hear, O Israel.”
The word shema has a primary meaning of “to hear,” but it also takes on other meanings, including “to obey.” In Deuteronomy 6:4, the meaning of the Hebrew word shema is literally “to hear and obey.” In addressing the Israelites in chapter 6 of Deuteronomy, Moses was telling them that they needed not only to hear and understand what he was saying but also to obey it. So what was it they were to hear and obey?
Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Moses was reminding the Israelites that the Lord their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was the one true God. When Moses used the words, “Shema Yisrael,” he was telling them that they need not just to hear the words that followed, but also to understand them. There was only one true God and He was YHWH, the Lord. This was something that they needed to fully understand. But there was more than that required of them.
Moses continued by saying, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)
Moses had just reminded the Israelites of the ten commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-21). Now he was making it clear to God’s people that the God whom they understood to be the one true God must be loved with total devotion. He must be loved with their entire being: heart, soul, and strength. And the way by which they would be able to show that love is by the way in which they lived their lives, by obeying His commands. They were to keep those commands in their hearts, in their minds, and in their mouths.
The words of the shema are not just for Jewish believers. They are for followers of Jesus Christ, as well. In Mark 12:29-31, Jesus confirmed this when He said, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
There is only one true God, and He is the Lord. He is the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, When we live our lives as Jesus commanded, loving God with our hearts, with our souls, with our minds, and with our strength, and when we love our neighbor as ourselves, we fulfill the greatest commandment. But more than that, when we live our lives understanding that the Lord our God is the one true God, and obeying His commands, our lives become true worship in His eyes (Romans 12:1-2).
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13, NIV)
On February 2, 1943, the Dorchester, a luxury liner renovated for the purpose of transporting troops made its way through the treacherous waters of the Atlantic. The ship was transporting 902 troops from Newfoundland to Greenland when it was attacked by a Nazi U-boat. The U-boat scored a direct hit on the Dorchester, dooming the ship and its passengers. As the ship began to sink, four men sprang into action as they began to place the lives of others above their own. In an ultimate act of self-sacrifice, the four men refused to abandon ship. Instead, they gave up their own lifejackets, took care of who had been wounded by the torpedo’s explosion, and offered spiritual counsel to those who were unable to get off the ship to safety. As the Dorchester vanished below the waves, survivors of the attack told of seeing these four men standing with arms linked, praying out loud together to the very end.
Those four men, a Methodist minister named George L. Fox, a Jewish rabbi named Alexander D. Goode, a Reformed Church reverend named Clark V. Poling, and a Catholic priest named John P. Washington, became known as the “Four Chaplains.” On that February night in 1943, these four men made the ultimate sacrifice. One of the dictionary definitions of the word “sacrifice” states that it is the act of giving up something of value for the sake of something else that is regarded as more important. As the Dorchester sank and the Four Chaplains stayed on board tending to others, they were giving up their own lives, which were of value for the sake of something more important, the lives and souls of the other men on that ship. They embodied the words spoken by Jesus in John 15:13 (NIV), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.“
There is no doubt that the life of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, was of great value. Yet, God valued each and every person who has or will ever walk the face of this earth, so much so that He was willing to exchange the life of Jesus, His Son, of whom He had said, “I am well pleased,” for what He regarded of even greater value, your eternal soul, my eternal soul, and the eternal souls of every man, woman, and child, regardless of who we are, the color of our skin, or what we have done. Jesus confirmed this when He said in John 3:16 (NIV): “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That was the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus came to earth and gave His life so that, if we believe in Him, we will enjoy eternal life in the presence of the God who created us.
Jesus calls us all to love others. He calls us all to be willing to sacrifice our own lives for others. There are times when that sacrifice means giving up your physical life, as the Four Chaplains did in February 1943. But sacrifice can also mean giving up our own time to spend it with others who are in need of comfort, who are in need of encouragement, or who simply need a friend to walk with them through life’s difficulties. It means looking at others, all others, and seeing in them something that is of greater value than ourselves. Jesus calls us, not just to simply love others, but also to love them as He has loved us. And by giving His life for us, he showed us that the love He gives us is a love that says, “I value you more than my own life.”