You Keep Using That Word… Do You Know What It Means?
What are the tv shows, movies, or books that you can read or watch again and again? I swear I've watched Seinfeld through too many times. I've watched the Pirates of the Caribbean over and over. I listen to my playlist of Bob Marley several times a week. There's a book called "Helping Those Who Hurt" that I've read multiple times. I do this because 1) I like it, and 2) every time I read, watch, or listen, it doesn't get old, but in fact, I get more out of it. We were talking in the Adult Sunday School class on Worship last week about songs that repeat, and as they repeat, the more we sing the chorus, the more meaning that often gets drawn out.
Especially with scripture: You don't read the letter of James once, and put it away and say I never have to read it again, no we read it, and study it, and read it again and again because each time we read scripture, more meaning is drawn out. And it gets better than that too - the more we study scripture, the more meaning and influence it can have on our life. God's word is deep, living and dynamic. This sermon today is going to dive really deep into the language and culture of the Israelites - not because I want to show off that I went to school or that I'm smart. Not because when you read and study the bible at home that you can't grasp the meaning of it, but because this passage that we are dealing with today has so much depth and meaning beyond the English that it if we can understand it, I promise you that God is going to do awesome things in your life. Are you ready to put your big boy pants on? Here we go.
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mk 12:28–34.
Jesus was asked from one of the scribes, one of the experts in the law, one of the people who knew the Old Testament through and through, which commandment is most important of all. In other words, the Scribe was asking one of the questions of the time - "What is the fundamental premise of the law on which all the individual commands depend? Rabbis would attempt to formulate "the great principle" from which the rest of the law could be deduced. He quotes a passage from Deuteronomy, chapter 6. The Old Testament was crucial in the life of the early church - it was "THE SCRIPTUREs" as they knew it. The New Testament writers relied on it heavily. New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament somewhere between 933 to 1009 times. Depending on the scholar and what they consider as a reference, the number fluctuates. Think about it this way. If I were to say "Seth's really into maidrite." you guys know what I'm talking about and you know that Seth really enjoys what most of the country refers to just a dry sloppy joe. If I were to post online on facebook that "Seth's really into maidrite" where most of the people who would see that post are either in Minnesota or Colorado, they would not understand what it was that I was talking about. We have phrases and ideas that we understand given our context and time that others outside of our context and time do not. In the same way, the New Testament has allusions to the Old Testament that the original audience would have noticed and understood that we do not. For example, some scholars look at the gospel of Mark and they see it as one big allusion comparing Jesus' story to the Exodus. For Example, Le Peau divides the Gospel of Mark as 1) The Liberator Arrives (Mark 1:1-8:27), 2) The Way to Jerusalem (Mark 8:22-10:52), and 3) Conquest in Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-16:8). Le Peau also argues that in Mark, Jesus is presented as a new Moses comparing Mark 1-4 with similar scenes in Exodus and Deuteronomy. No matter on the number of quotes or allusions, there is no doubt that the Old Testament is VERY Jewish, and that it is important for us today because it was the scriptures for the New Testament People. So let's take a much more detailed look at what Jesus was referencing in Mark 12 when he answers the scribes.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (ESV, LEV. 19:18)
Here, we see that Jesus is referring to Leviticus 19:18. When was the last time you've read through Leviticus or have done a bible study on it? It is a THICK book. I am working on reading the Bible in a year - and when I say a year, I mean on my own pace..... And I am currently in Leviticus. It's a hard read. It is this huge list of laws and expectations for Israel. It is God's expectations that HE had upon His people to be His people. It sets Israel apart from all the other tribes and nations as God's people. It makes Israel a Holy people. One of the major themes was "Be holy, for I am Holy." After Leviticus comes Numbers which continues the narrative from Exodus, and the final book of the Torah is Deuteronomy. It is the passage in Deuteronomy that Jesus is ultimately quoting that we are going to spend the rest of our time. Many scholars recognize Deuteronomy as a suzerain-vassal treaty. A what? A Suzerain-Vassal Treaty. In Mesopotamian empires, the pattern of a Suzerain-Vasal treaty was commonplace, especially among the Hittites in the fourteenth century BCE. (K.A.Kitchen)
Deuteronomy as a Suzerain-Vassal Treaty
1. Preamble: 1:1-5
2. Historical Prologue: 1:6-4:44 3a. Stipulations: General: 4:45-11:32 3b. Stipulations: Specific: 12:1-26:19' 4. Document Deposition: 27:1-10 5: Public Reading: 27:11-26 6. Blessings and Curses: 28:1-68 7. Solemn Oath Ceremony: 29:1-30:20
So what is a Suzerain-Vassal Treaty? Well. Let's break it down. A Suzerain su·ze·rain - is a sovereign or state that has some control over another state that is internally autonomous. AKA a feudal overlord. A vassal was a person who was under the protection of a feudal lord to whom he has vowed homage, someone who has been granted the use of land in return for rendering homage. So a Suzerain-Vassal treaty was a treaty or agreement or covenant between the sovereign who has control to a vassal who is under the protection of the sovereign and in the land or control of the sovereign. Historical examples of Suzerain-Vassal treaties exist between the Hittites, Egyptians, and Assyrians as Suzerains to the Israelites and other tribal kingdoms in the Levant from 1200 to 600 BCE. These agreements were written down in a common format A Modern example might include the United States and the relationship to Indian tribes. Article 1, Section 8 of the constitution states that "Congress shall have the power to regulate Commerce with foreign nations and among several states, and with the Indian tribes." If Deuteronomy is to be recognized as a Suzerain-Vassal Treaty, it would be YHWH as the Suzerainty and Israel as the Vassal.
When the book of Deuteronomy is considered from the perspective of the form of the suzerain-vassal treaty, the command in 6:5 ("You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength') is placed immediately after the Preamble and Historical Prologue in the section providing the General Stipulations of the covenant. It is, in fact, the first command given after material that is Repeated from Exodus 19-24 and is, therefore, the greatest command among the covenant stipulations: To be completely devoted and loyal to Yahweh. This passage is the core expectation of what God expects of his people. This passage became so important for Israel that it became a daily prayer that Jews would recite twice a day. It was one of the core pieces that made up what it meant to be a Jew - an Israelite - a person chosen and special to YHWH the creator of the universe.
Wait a second. We're American Christians. Not ancient Israelites. Why do we care? Heritage is spiritual too. I've recently been going through some stories from my ancestry. Before my grandma and her sisters passed away, their story was recorded and translated from German, each from their own perspectives, and then transcribed and translated. I've been going through this binder of stories and learning about my heritage. It's quite an amazing story. I'm still just beginning to understand the whole story, but the gist was that between 1763 to 1862, Empress Catherine II a Manifesto opening the land of Russia to immigrants at Russia's expense. In a sense, this Manifesto was a Suzerain-Vassal Treaty that we were just talking about. It was inviting immigrants from Germany to immigrate to the Russian Empire with the ability to settle on free, productive land, or other rural areas in return for an oath of allegiance in accordance with their religious rite. Russia issued the right to build churches and bell towers, to maintain the necessary number of priests and church servants, as long as they did not attempt to persuade any of the existing Christian co-religions of Russia. Russia also issued interest-free loans for 10 years to build factories, the right for villages to write their own constitution and to import property tax-free. Immigrants were also free from military draft and freedom for the descendants of the immigrants. My Ancestors from Germany decided to take Empress Catherine II up on this opportunity and immigrated from Danzig to Russia in 1809. During the time of the Revolution and the Communes, and the collectivization, life in Russia became unbearable for those of German ancestry. When the war broke out against Germany in 1941, my ancestors were arrested into concentration camps and had to be smuggled out of the camps, only to be rearrested and relocated several times. There's a particular story of my grandma and her family hiding in the woods on Christmas when her mama and papa reading the Christmas story from the Bible and discussing their desire to have religious freedom. My Grandma wrote about how she was afraid of mentioning at school to her best friend "do you know today is Christmas?" By the hand of God, my ancestors were able to escape from Russia and eventually immigrate to America. As I read the story, I am continually astonished by the trust, strength, and courage that my family had in God. Throughout the story, their dependence on God does not waiver. Given the spiritual heritage that I have, I feel the need to be continually reminded of the work that God did in my family, and even more so to have strength and courage in God throughout my circumstances because of the work that God has done in my family. It is my responsibility to pass this down to my family, and so every week at our Thursday night dinner kicking off our day of rest, I say a blessing over Seth. "Seth, you are a Petry and you are my son. May you be strong and courageous, and not fear or be in dread, for it is the Lord Our God who goes with you. He will never leave you or forsake you." I wrote this blessing in light of the story from my ancestors and I hope to pass it down for many generations to come. This idea of ancestry and passing down stories and values are not unique to my family. I wonder - what stories and values are you passing down to your family, and are you being intentional to see God's work and to be sure to teach and remind it to your kids? As Christians, we too have ancestry that has been passed down to us, and for us is can be found in the Old Testament. If you are Christian, you have a spiritual ancestry in Israel. Just as I am reading this story from my ancestry that has been passed down to me, we can read of Our ancestry passed down to us in scripture. When we read about the work of God to the Israelites, we are reading OUR story. When we read in Deuteronomy 6 the core expectation of what God expects of his people, it is the core expectation of what God expects of US!
Do I have your attention yet? This passage in Deuteronomy is crucial for us. It is God's expectations for the way we are to live. Let's look at it in some more detail. 4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Dt 6:4–9. Shema Israhel, Adonai Eloheynoo Adonai Eh-Khad. Veh-ah-hav-ta Et Adonai Eh-lo-HEY-kha Beh-Khol Leh-vav-Kah OO-veh-Khol Naf-sheh-kah Oo-veh-Khol Meh-oh-deh-Ka. Hebrew is a beautiful language and has many words that have deep meaning that can't easily be translated to simple words in English. The central command is to love God and its modified by 3 prepositions, qualifiers to tell us exactly what He expects: (1) with all your heart, (2) with all your soul, and (3) with all your might.
The first word of this passage is "hear", or "listen", or "shema." Because this is the first word, this passage is often referred to as The Shema. The word Shema means to hear or listen. In the Hebrew Language, the word Shema also means obey. In fact, there is no separate word for Obey as shema means to hear and obey. This is why in Jeremiah 5:21 it says "Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but see not, who have ears but hear not. To hear something means both listen, understand and do. To shema, we need to not only listen to what God tells us, but to do what he tells us to do. What does God tell us to hear and do? To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might.
If you have been around the Christian circle for any amount of time, I'm sure you have heard about the different types of love in the Bible. Normally in this conversation, we look at the New Testament and the four Greek words used to communicate different types of love. Eros as a sensual or romantic love. Storge (STOR-jay) as family love - an affection that develops between parents and children, brothers and sisters, or Philostorgos in Romans 12:20 when Paul commands believers to "be devoted" to one another with brotherly affection. Philia (FILL-ee-uh) as the intimate love in the Bible that most Christians have towards each other - a powerful emotional bond in deep friendships, as in John 13:35 when Jesus says "By this everyone will know you are my disciples if you love one another." Agape - the highest of the four types of love, defining God's immeasurable and incomparable love for humankind. A perfect, unconditional, sacrificial, and pure type of love. In Hebrew, a different language, we have Ahavah. A more broad type of love, the love that Abraham had for Isaac. The Love that Rebekah had for Jacob. The love that God has for his people. The love that Jonathan had for David. The Hebrew does not narrow in on the type of Love that was implied. In Mark 12:30 when Jesus was asked by the scribe and Jesus quotes the Shema, Jesus quotes something called the Septuagint. The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the Old Testament. It was the copy fo the scriptures that would have been taught in the time of Jesus. In that copy, the word that Jesus quotes from the Septuagint from Deuteronomy 6:5 was Agapaeo, from Agape - the highest of the four types of love. God's expectation for His people was to love him back in a form of love that no human could humanely carry out. It's like asking a dog to be a best friend. Yes. Dogs can be best friends but in comparison to a human best friend, humans can offer a type of love that dogs cannot. Yet, the standard is set high. And not only is the standard set high, but the standard of love is also given three qualifiers that make it clear how high the standard is set.
The word "heart" in Hebrew is Lev - and it refers to the core of who you are. In fact, the Ancient Near East culturally knew of the brain as they dissected bodies, but they did not know its function. Culturally, the heart refers to the place where we feel, where we think, and where we make decisions and plans, i.e. emotions, mind, and will. Proverbs 15:13
A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. Proverbs 17:22
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. These proverbs refer to a "glad heart" or "joyful heart" referring to emotions and feelings in terms of a healthy psyche. Deuteronomy 29:4 But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. Isaiah 6:10
Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed. These passages show that one understands with the heart, what we normally would call the mind. It is the place where we reason, think, and understand.
Prov. 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Ps. 20:4 May he grant you your heart's desire and fulfill your plans! These passages show that the "heart" makes plans and has desires, it is the place where we make decisions. The Hebrew word "heart" refers to the mind in approximately 400 of the 814 passages speaking of the human heart. It is in this light that H.W. Wolff that we must guard against the false impression that the biblical man is determined more by feeling than by reason. In the Western world, the heart is associated with emotions, feelings, love, Valentine's Day. In the Bible, the heart is where we reason and think and make decisions and plans. In the worship matters class last week, we were discussing the gap between head and heart when it comes to worship. For the ancient Hebrews, there was no such gap, as the heart is the center of one's being and the place where emotions, mind, and will operate in harmony and union. This is why when Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 in Matthew 22:37, Jesus adds the word "mind" in quoting the text to make sure a greek audience would understand what is conveyed by the Hebrew word for heart.
4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul. What does it mean to love God with all your soul? The Hebrew rendering of Soul is Nephesh, which doesn't quite translate to what we think of when we think of soul. I'm going to geek out here for a second - if You just want to get the main point, go ahead and zone out for a second. If you like goary details, check this out. Long before the conception of Ancient Israel, we had Mesopotamians. Mesopotamians believed that humans had a number of ethereal entities. In the Sumerian language, these are Zi, Im, Gidim, and Lil. The Zi is the personal breath or life-force, it's what is released at the moment of death. The Im is what they believed continued afterlife and descended into the netherworld, where it became the Gidim or a "ghost". If the body is not properly buried, the Im does not become the Gidim, but becomes the Lil - the dream soul and its job was to communicate omens that pertained to the future. In later periods - like the post-Babylonian period, the distinction between Mesopotamian ethereal entities was almost entirely lost. They transitioned from the Sumerian language to the Akkadian language and with the conversion of language became a conversion of meaning. The Zi became the Napistu, the breath soul. The Gidim became etemmu, the "body-soul" - the part of the body that continued its existence in the afterlife. People would worship their ancestors etemmu. The Lil became the Zaqiqu - the wind that travels freely and eventually became the idea of dreaming, as it could safely depart the body when one was asleep. In the Hebrew Bible, the Nephesh can refer to the human being whether they are alive or dead. Leviticus 19:28 forbids the cutting or marking of flesh for the nephesh - referring to the dead - relating the nephesh to the idea of the physical body. In Job, Isaiah, and the Psalms Nephesh is also equated with the idea of flesh and blood. There is a separate word in Hebrew for the "wind" that travels or the breath of life - ruach. Alright? Got it? If you just zoned out, come on back now. We're going to get back on it. The nephesh does not refer to something that leaves you, but to your being. In Ancient Greek philosophy, the soul was the non-material essence of a human that survives after death and is trapped or contained in the body to be released at death. This notion is foreign in the Bible. The most basic meaning is throat. When the Israelites were hungry and thirsty in the desert, they said to God that their Nephesh was dried up. In Psalm 105, it says that Joseph's Nephesh was put in shackles on his way to Egypt. Nephesh also refers to the whole person, like in Genesis 46:15 when there were 33 Nephesh in Jacob's family. In Numbers 31:19, a murderer is called a Nephesh slayer. in Deuteronomy 24:7, a kidnapper is called a Nephesh thief. in Genesis, both humans and animals were called living nephesh, and if life-breath leaves, the nephesh remains, and it is just a dead nephesh. All that to say, people do not have a Nephesh, they are Nephesh. Living, Breathing, Physical beings. Although the text is usually translated as soul, the word really refers to the whole human as a living physical organism. Often people would use the word Nephesh to refer to themselves. Like in Psalm 119:175 it says Let ME live that I may praise you, but in Hebrew it reads "Let MY NEPHESH live that IT may praise you." This emphasizes the entire being - life and body offer praise. In Song of Songs, the young woman refers to her lover as "the one my NEPHESH loves (Song of Songs 3:1) which makes sense because love is not just intellectual, it is an emotion that activates the entire body, the entire Nephesh. In my favorite Psalm, Psalm 42, it reads "As a deer pants for water, so my NEPHESH pants after you, my NEPHESH thirsts for the living God. Yes, your throat can be thirsty but the physical thirst is a metaphor for how your whole physical being longs to know and to be known by your creator. To love God with your Nephesh means to love God. To devote your entire physical existence to your creator, the one who gave it to you in the first place. To offer your entire being with all of its capabilities and limitations in the effort to love God and your neighbor as yourself.
4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. You shall love the Lord your God with all your might. After this discourse on heart and soul, you might be surprised if I told you that the word might simply mean might, or strength. You surprised you would have been because once again, this word means far more than what it seems at its surface. Yes, "might" is not wrong, but there's more. The word is Me'od. Me'od is normally an adverb, or a word that describes an action by adding a -ly to the end of the description. Like slowly, or rapidly, or clumsily, or warmly, or sadly. The word appears more than 300 times in scripture and strength or might is often not the best translation. If the author wanted to say strength, there is a better word for that. The most common meaning is "very" or "much" and it usually comes alongside other words to augment their meaning. For example, in Genesis chapter 1, God looks at the world that he has made and six times he calls it good, but then the climactic seventh time, he says it is "me'od" good, or "very good." Later in Genesis in the story of Noah, the floodwaters rise and become "me'od powerful" or extremely powerful over the land. In Cain and Abel, Cain wasn't just angry at his brother, he was "me'od angry". When Saul became king of Israel, he was "me'od happy." This is why the word is so common, it is used all over the place and it intensifies the meaning of other words. Very this, or really that. Sometimes "Me'od" was used in unique ways to increase the force to total capacity and they will say "me'od" twice. Like when Jacob became "me'od me'od" wealthy with flocks and camels and donkeys. Or when the Israelites spies went to the promised land and they came back to say "the land we passed through is me'od me'od good." I think it's clear that me'od doesn't mean strength in terms of muscle power, but rather very or much. When we go back to the Shema where people are called to love God with all of their heart, that is their will and affection, and with their soul, that is their whole life and physical being, and with their me'od, that is with all of their "muchness." It sounds kind of awkward, but you kind of get it. If me'od can intensify any words meaning to total capacity, then the final thing you use to love God isn't a thing, but it's everything. Loving God with your me'od means devoting every possibility, opportunity, and capacity that you have. Me'od can refer to almost anything. When they eventually translated the Hebrew into Greek, they used the word Dunamis - power or strength. This was the word that Jesus would have read when he went to the synagogue. If you look at an Aramaic translation, scholars translated me'od to mean wealth. When Jesus was asked in Luke and he quoted the Shema, he used two words to unpack me'od. With all your mind and all of your power. What's the right translation? Strength? Wealth? Or Mind? Wrong question. The word me'od doesn't limit the way you are to show love for God, but the opposite. Love God with every moment, every opportunity, every ability, and capacity. Love God with all of your muchness.
4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. In other words, Church. Christians. People of God. Listen and obey: YHWH is God, and YHWH is the only God. You are to Love God with all that you are, in every way, with every opportunity and situation, every problem and solution, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in health or sickness. It kind of sounds like a wedding vow doesn't it? That's really what it is. It is God, the Suzerain, the sovereign, setting his expectations for what it looks like for His People to live. We cannot be ignorant or passive of God's expectations. That means that coming to church on Sundays or Wednesdays or Thursdays or whenever you do your "God Time" is not the time to put on the Christian mask and play Christian, and then go home or to work and live your life just like anyone else would live it, no. It means that your "God mode" doesn't ever stop. You never stop worshipping God. In a way, we shouldn't segment life into the ideas of secular or sacred. We like to think that "this song is Christian" or "this song is secular" or this movie is a "Christian" movie. But if everything is worship and we are to do everything out of love for God, do we really get to pick and choose when something is "Christian" or "Secular?" We shouldn't be living our lives in a way that we are "secular" at work and "sacred, or Christian" when we're at church in God mode - every day, everything. Do it for God.
Verse 7. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. For the Israelites, it was the job of the parents to teach and disciple, and evangelize the kids. I don't think we intentionally do it, but in our American churches, we often create programming that allows for parents to drop off their kids at church to be discipled, just like we drop off kids to get piano lessons. And dare I say that we are doing a disservice today to expect the church programs to do the discipleship today? God commands that parents are to teach the scriptures and Jesus to your kids, and to talk about it all of the time. What a poetic way for the author to describe this. Talk about them when you sit in the house. Talk about it when you're walking on the path. Talk about it when you lie down and rest after work and talk about it when you rise and are getting ready for the day. In other words, maybe you have a child in AWANA and on Tuesday night before AWANA you sit down and try to memorize a verse with your kid, and you get the opportunity to have a conversation with your kid - that is awesome. But the expectation in this Vassal Treaty is much more - it is to continually, frequently bring daily life back to God. Every day, every situation is an opportunity to talk with your kids about God. What an awesome opportunity that we have as parents and influencers to disciple, teach, and evangelize to our kids! Seniors - You might not have kids anymore, but believe me, you have kids. You have grandchildren. You have loads of children at Oak Grove Church that need your influence in their lives. Don't believe me, just come on a Wednesday night to see all the Awana kids and youth group kids. I wish my grandparents would talk to me about God. I wish they would remind me of what God has done in their lives. I wish for my parents to talk to my son about God and read the scriptures to him. There is a way to have intentional multigenerational families on mission where it is the families that do the discipleship, where it is the families who meet together on a weekly basis for a meal together to honor and worship God together. Can you see the vision? Right now is not the time to fully develop this idea but I tell you what: This is the direction that we are bringing the family ministry of Oak Grove Church. Yes, we're going to have cool and fun programs for kids, but the weight will be shifted back to you as parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, to disciple and evangelize your kids. We're not going to abandon you, but we're not going steal the opportunity and great joy from you. We will give you resources and ideas and encouragement, but we don't want to do it for you. Last week we unrolled these worship bags for kids. You'll notice that we don't have "children's church" and dismiss the kids from the worship service, and that's intentional. We want the kids to be in the service. We want them to see you reading the Bible, singing praise, and to see you actively listening to the sermons. I have a 2-year-old and trust me, they're always watching. We want them to see you take communion, and to take communion with you when they are ready. The service can be long and hard for little hands, and so we provide these bags as something to make it a little easier for little hands to stay busy. You might notice that also in that bag is a sermon notes page for kids. It's simple. Just a little template for kids to practice writing down things they hear and things they're thinking about. At the bottom are some questions that you can discuss with your kids afterward. When you go to lunch or make lunch after church - don't waste the opportunity to talk about the sermon with your kids. Trust me. They are always listening, always watching and it keeps me on edge. When I work with middle schoolers and high schoolers, it is often the kids that seem the most distracted and busy that are the ones who are soaking up what's being taught. Your kids can know Jesus in a real and intimate way - why wouldn't you want to be part of that? 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. Every part of life is and is for God, for His glory. Israelites took this command awfully seriously. For them, it was the same as a wedding vow. And like a wedding vow has a symbol, a wedding ring, they too had a symbol for this vow and it was called a Tefillin. Basically, it's a pair of black leather boxes with Hebrew Parchment scrolls of God's commandments. A set includes two - one for the head and one for the arm. They would take the Tefillin and they would wrap it around their arms and around their head and they would recite the Shema twice a day as a continual reminder for the way they ought to live life. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. While I was in Seminary, I got to work at St. Joe's hospital as a chaplain. St. Joe's hospital was obviously a Catholic hospital, but it was partly purchased by National Jewish Health. It was an awesome opportunity for so many reasons, but one thing I noticed as I was going in and out of patients' rooms was that on the doorpost of every room was a box with a scroll inside containing the commandments. The commands were literally posted on the doorposts, as God commands here in this text. Maybe that sounds legalistic. But it's not. It's something they would do in response to the love that God has already shown them. Sometimes I think we blur the lines between doing something in the hope to receive favor or love (as a way to earn the love or favor) and doing something as a response to the love and favor that is already received. This is no works-based gospel where if you love God rightly that you will be saved or loved by God. This is God already loving, already caring, already offering salvation, and in response, we worship and glorify God with everything and all of who we are. God loves us. We are to love him with the best of all of who we are. We need to be learning what God expects of us and constantly growing into His image.
If we can do this, if we can love God with all of who we are, all of the time, in every circumstance - just think of the implications. So much of what we try to accomplish in discipleship and growing in spiritual maturity would be automatic. Idolatry would not be a problem. Yes, we would still struggle because on this side of heaven sin will always be an issue, but we would sin and go to God quickly and eagerly and repent and be restored. Our finances would not be our means of power, safety, and control, but would be our means to trust, give, and grow, a resource that we get to steward and protect. Our marital conflicts - because we all have them - would be conflicts that would eventually resolve because honoring God with our marriages would be more important than being right. When we go to work, we would work in a way that honors God with everything we do, rather than for our own glory, to get our promotions, raises, recognition, security, safety, and control. The way we parent would change. Our family would be our first and primary ministry and the way we discipline, converse, and spend our time would be transformed. All of this comes back to our worldview. What is the most important commandment on which all the rest are based? To love God with all of who you are, and to love your neighbor as yourself. We didn't even talk about loving your neighbor as yourself, but if you get the first part down, loving your neighbor is automatic.
Just like the Israelites would use the Tefillin as a physical reminder of their vows as God's people, we too need a physical reminder of the work that Jesus accomplished on the cross. When Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem, they celebrated together with a Passover meal, not unlike they did together in years past. Every year the Israelites would commemorate the Passover in Egypt when the Holy Spirit passed over the doors of God's people before the Exodus, and when the firstborn of every Egyptian household's life was taken. But this particular Passover meal was different - and we refer to it as the Lord's supper - the Last supper. It was different than the years previous because Jesus took the Passover meal elements and he gave it new meaning, and after Jesus was betrayed and arrested. 26 As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 But I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), Mt 26:26–29. Later, the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth. 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. As Paul taught, we are now going to pass the bread and the cup in the form of a wafer and a thimble of grape juice. There is nothing magical that happens when you take the elements, but rather we use them to remind ourselves the body of Christ that was broken and the blood that was spilled for the forgiveness of sins. If you are a born-again Christian, if you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and King of your life, that you are a sinner and deserve wrath but put your life in Christ's hands, and have received from Jesus the gift of eternal life, we encourage you to join us in this celebration. If you're not quite sure or if you are sure that you do not fit that description, just go ahead and pass the plate. If if you want to make that decision to make Jesus Lord of your life, there is no better time than today and today you can celebrate your first communion. As the plates are being passed, you can either take it right away or if you would prefer to take the elements and hold on to them, you are welcome to. I encourage you to spend a few moments asking for forgiveness from any sins that you have yet to take to God, to ask for conviction if there is some way you have sinned against God this past week, or if there is someone that you need to make things right with before you take the elements. A song or two will play on the piano and/or organ and everyone is finished, we will finish the service with responding with worship - singing "Here's my heart, oh, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above. Let's pray.
Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God. He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood. Oh, that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face. Clothed then in the blood washed linen. How I'll sing Thy wondrous grace, come, my Lord, no longer tarry. Take my ransomed soul away. Send Thine angels now to carry me to realms of endless day. What a great day it is when we put God first, just as He's on the throne in heaven, he's on the throne in our lives. And so, shall the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Have a great Sunday. I'm glad you're here.