10. Deuteronomy (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 10.  Deuteronomy (2)

Deut 6:4,5   Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength    

Six times in Deuteronomy Moses uses this formula, “Hear O Israel” (4:1, 5:1, 6:3, 6:4,  9:1, 20:3) as a special call to take note of what he is saying. In it’s first usage when he turns from reminding them of their history since leaving Mount Sinai nearly forty years before, he used “Hear now O Israel,” as a pivotal point calling them to now heed his teaching there on the Plains of Moab. He is going to remind them of the Law that has been imparted to them, and then there are going to be multiple but varied calls to faithfulness. In some ways Deuteronomy is the most compact and dense book in the Bible and it is Moses discharging his role as their leader before he leaves them to die on Mount Nebo.

It would appear that Moses spoke before the nation several times there. The second, “Hear O Israel” appears in 5:1 at what appears to be the start of his second talk to Israel: Moses summoned all Israel and said….” Now in chapter six we observed the third “Hear O Israel” in the previous meditation noting it was a refocusing on the blessings that would follow their complete obedience.

Now as we arrive at this fourth usage we observe it goes to the very heart of their existence, a relationship based upon love. Now of course we find Jesus referring to this command: Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Mt 22:37,38) Thus we now find ourselves meditating upon a command that Jesus considered the greatest of all commands and, when linked with the command to love your neighbour as yourself (see Mt 22:39), he declared that all the law and the prophets hung on these two commands, essentially meaning that they sum up all other laws.  That is how important this verse is that we have before us.

I suspect that to many, if not most of us, this is a very well-known command, one that perhaps we almost take for granted,  but I want us to step into the shoes of the Israelites who are listening to Moses. What would they think about that command? How do you love a God you cannot see? In fact I think that many Christians have this deep down worry, “How do I love God? Do I really love God?”

Let’s be absolutely basic. What is love? In the past when I have looked in a dictionary I have found, “warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings”  which, if you translate that in respect of all that we know of God, then in respect of Him it means, “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards us.” Do either of those sets of definitions suggest what we can feel about God?  Let’s stick with the Law for the moment, trying to apply definitions to our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. I’m struggling. The first definition, I think I can go along with but then I think, there seems a difference between the two sets; the first seem to be about emotions and the second seem to be more about will.

Let’s think about what I have learned about love from my marriage. It started out very emotional but there were times, over the years, when for a variety of reasons (tiredness probably being the main one) I couldn’t conjure up the same emotional buzz that I had for my wife when we first went out together. But then I ponder on what our love is about today after well over forty years of married life. On a good day I am absolutely sure I love my wife more now than I ever did in the past. If you like, I appreciate her more and am amazed at her love for me which constantly blesses me. On a tired day when emotions are all over the place, I declare my love, if for no other reason than loyalty. She has stuck with me over forty years and that’s amazing! I will stick with her accordingly.

So yes, love seems to vary between being an emotional thing and an act of the will. So what was Moses call? To love God with all your heart, soul and strength, that last one changed to ‘mind’ in the New Testament. So what do those three things mean? Heart has to do with acts of the will. Pharaoh was hard hearted in Exodus and set his heart against God. It was an act of will. Soul is all about feelings (ever heard ‘soul music’?) and mind is about intellect and reason.  (Strength is about energy and direction).

So let’s take them in reverse order. Intellect & Reason: When you know about someone you have reason to appreciate them. Israel had been through the Exodus and all that that meant and so their ‘faith’ is built on the testimony of God, what He had done, what He had revealed to them. For us, our knowledge of God through His Son, Jesus Christ has had the content of the Gospels added to it.

Feelings/Emotions: When God had blessed them, like the psalmist they could rejoice and praise Him. When we find ourselves forgiven and adopted as His children and are then indwelt by His Spirit and even filled with His Spirit, we too find ourselves overflowing with gratefulness, thankfulness, praise and worship, all of which involve our emotions.

Will: And whether it is a good day or a bad day we resolve we will remain faithful. That was the call to Israel and to us, and it has nothing to do with how we ‘feel’. It is a pure act of will.

Now as I ponder this, three conclusion rise in my consciousness. The first is that my ‘loving God’ can include emotions but in the absence of emotions then all that is required as my expression of my love for Him is my faithful obedience. (This is love for God: to obey his commands.” 1 Jn 5:3).

The second is that without His grace (the presence of his Holy Spirit within) I am doomed to remain a self-centred, godless being. It is His grace than enables me to love my neighbour etc. Grace is more and more available the more and more we draw near to Him and experience His presence.

Third, and finally, because I am less than a perfect (yes, I am in His sight, but we are talking about daily experience!) my love (reason, feelings and actions) may fall short and therefore, ultimately, I rely upon the Cross. The truth is that Moses’ command was ‘the Law’ and we all fall short when it comes to law-keeping and therefore I must rely on the Cross for my salvation in this area as much as in any other area.

Yes, I will use my intellect to build my intellectual knowledge of Him. Yes, I will worship and pray and praise to build my emotional experience of Him and, yes, I will seek at all times to be obedient, but while I do this, I will turn to Him and seek both His grace as the provision I need, and His forgiveness through the Cross to cover my failures and my inadequacies. When I declare, “Lord, I love you,” He knows the reality of that, my seeking to obey His leading and His word, my yearning to feel more about Him, and my desire to be found faithful when He returns. Yes, Lord, I love you, you know I love you, you know all things (Jn 21:15-17).

18. Resurrection and the Life

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   18. Resurrection and the Life

John 11:25,26      Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

We said earlier in this series that one of the great overriding themes in John is the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Very briefly we mentioned that in reference to Jesus speaking about his own resurrection (Jn 2:19,21) when he said, Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” But the temple he had spoken of was his body.” The whole subject of his resurrection power is now presented to us head on in his words and deeds in respect of Lazarus.

The start of the story seems strange at first sight. Lazarus is ill and his sisters send for Jesus (Jn 11:1-3) but when Jesus receives the message he purposely stays where he is for another two days (v.4-6).  Eventually he tells the disciples they are going back to Judea to ‘wake him up’ actually meaning to revive him from death (v.11,13).

By the time they get to Bethany Lazarus has been dead and buried four days (v.17). When she hears Jesus is coming, Martha goes out to meet him and when she greets him it seems a greeting with faith in it: “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (v.21,22) Jesus reassures her, “Your brother will rise again.” (v.23) to which she replies, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (v.24) She simply states what good Jewish teaching taught, that we will all rise on the last day to face the Lord. If her previous greeting had been one of faith it seems she dare not quite go as far as to say, “Yes, you can bring him back now.”

It is in this context that Jesus then made the next of his ‘I Am’ statements: I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (v.25,26) After this he presses her, “Do you believe this?” (v.26b)  to which she replies, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”   (v.27)  Excellent!

To cut a long story short, Jesus then goes on and with a word of command raises Lazarus from the dead. And so we have word and action together. What do they mean? Well very obviously we see that Jesus doesn’t only have the power to change water into wine, a little bread into much bread, heal from a distance and heal the long-term sick, he can even raise people from the dead, people who have been well and truly dead for at least four days. This is power and authority beyond anything ever seen in a human being before or since.

So what did Jesus actually mean by the words, “I am the resurrection and the life.”? (v.25)  Well we must take his own explanatory words. First, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies,” i.e. if we believe in Jesus even though we pass through death we will live. There is no time element in this and so it seems to imply that we will go on living even as we apparently pass through death. On the other side we will be alive. We don’t have to wait for some end time resurrection. This seems confirmed by what he then says, “and whoever lives and believes in me will never die,” (v.26) saying the same thing but in different words.

It thus seems that Jesus means, I am the cause and the means for you to have eternal life and never die. Yes, there will be an end time resurrection when all come before the Lord, but before that believers will be resurrected in the sense that they will rise up the other side of death and continue living in heaven. Eternal life is conveyed at the moment of new birth. Jesus had previously said,  “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”  (Jn 5:25) Life comes with his word just as it did with Lazarus. When we are born again, he speaks the word and we receive eternal life at that moment, a life source (his Spirit) that ensures that even though our body will one day cease operating our soul and spirit will continue living in eternity.

In the Synoptics there are references to “inheriting” eternal life. We inherit it the moment we come to Christ and are ‘born again’ (Jn 3:3) or ‘converted’ (Acts 15:3) and we will realise it in reality as we pass through the experience of death and find ourselves alive with Him on the other side of that experience. We will not have to wait but it will be there as a steady, continuous flow of life of the soul. Today you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus told the thief on the cross. (Lk 23:43)

The fact of the resurrection being applied to us, is the first part of Jesus claim but he also added, “and the life.” There is a life to be lived out both here now and on into eternity. For the moment we live it through a material body but in the same way that Jesus’ resurrected body seem to have different characteristics, so will our ‘spiritual body’, as the apostle Paul put it:it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor 15:44)  As theologian-author Tom Wright puts it, ‘That is what Paul means by the ‘spiritual body’, not a body made out of non-physical spirit, but a physical body animated by the spirit, a spirit-driven body if you like, still what we would call physical but differently animated. And the point about this body is that, whereas the present flesh and blood are corruptible, doomed to decay and die, the new body will be incorruptible.’

It is in this ‘body’ that we will live in eternity. It is an experience of which we are told little in the Bible only that it is real and that it is with God and that it is good. That is the life that Jesus gives us having ‘raised’ us from ‘death’. This is our destiny. We will go on to consider ‘the life’ more in a later study.