The First Commandment
When someone asked Jesus “what is the greatest commandment” Jesus replied “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” This commandment was very different than the focus of the religious leaders of the time. Pharisees and the religious elite focused on the rules and regulations of the law. They would “tithe” off of their trees by picking off every tenth leaf and make other impractical outward gestures to prove their obedience to God’s law. The Bible says that man looks on the outside, but God looks at the heart. Those who benefited or found status in the religious structure were happy to focus on the outward appearance of the law. Their ability to fulfill and walk in line with the commandments of God that were easy to quantify and see gave them power and prestige in Jewish society.
It is easy to fall into this mindset in current church culture. When looking at the Bible as a rulebook, it is easy to judge fellow Christians and create a hierarchy based on past or present mistakes, what is currently considered acceptable or unacceptable “Christian” behavior, or even physical appearance or perceived financial success. Jesus’ answer was not a ‘checkbox’ commandment. It is not a commandment that can be easily gauged. There is no outward zero to one hundred scale on our love of God. Sometimes children in an effort to somehow describe their amount of love will stretch out their arms as wide as they can and declare “I love you THIS much!” Love is hard to measure, but it is proven through action. Love is a powerful force that travels between two people. It occurs only in relationship.
God’s greatest commandment can only begin as the believer begins to speak to God and begins to understand God’s presence in his or her life. As the presence of God invades the believer’s life, the Bible takes new life. The knowledge of God’s goodness and forgiveness through His son Jesus Christ grows. As you spend time speaking to God today, may all outward measures of spirituality or goodness fade away and may His presence become tangible to you and may your love of God grow to new depths!
When Jesus went into the temple to read the daily scripture, He chose to read from Isaiah the passage that states, “The Spirit of The Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, bind up the broken hearted, set the captives free, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. Many of Jesus’ disciples who believed that he was the Messiah believed that He was going to overthrow the Romans who had conquered the Middle East and brought it under the rule of the Caesar. They took the line “set the captives free” to possibly mean the Jews that were roman prisoners, or the entire state of Israel, who was subjugated by Roman rule. As Jesus’ ministry unfolded, He continued to shed light on God’s plan for humanity.
The passage in Isaiah wasn’t referring to just the state of Israel or Roman occupation, but the entire human race enslaved by sin. The freedom Jesus was speaking of in John 8 was a freedom from sin. In this passage, Jesus highlights that truth, and knowing the truth shall set His followers free. As we as followers of Jesus understand and believe the truth of God, we are set free from sin and bondage. Just like Eve and the snake in the Garden of Eden, sin begins in a lie. When we believe a lie from the enemy of our soul, iniquity enters into our heart. This iniquity is realized through sinful actions. But the power of God shines truth into every area of our life. As truth is revealed to us, and a revelation of God’s truth takes hold, the lies of the enemy are destroyed. This releases us from the captivity of sin. Today, may every lie of the enemy be disintegrated by the Word of God, and may you walk in the freedom of God’s truth.
Entering His Rest
The book of Hebrews is a beautiful and deep revelation of Jesus through Jewish history and Old Testament scripture. In Hebrews Chapter three and four, the writer begins to draw parallels between accepting Jesus Christ, and entering God’s holy rest, drawing parallels to the Sabbath. At Mount Sinai, God calls the seventh day the Sabbath, and calls His people to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. All work would be done in six days, and the seventh day was to be set aside for rest. Later God elaborates that it was for a sign that God will sanctify His people, and separate them from the nations.
As the believer accepts Jesus Christ through faith, and is obedient to His word, he enters God’s rest. As we are born again into a living hope, we shed our carnal ideas of succeeding, or reaching salvation, through our own works. For the Jew, this includes striving to achieve holiness through the Law. We are able to enter a rest from striving because we have been made righteous through the blood of Jesus Christ that has washed whiter than snow.
For all those who hope in Jesus Christ, there is also a Sabbath rest waiting in eternity. Just as God rested from His works on the seventh day of creation, we shall receive rest from the toil of the world, and fleshly temptations, when Jesus Christ returns at the end of this age. All those who have kept the faith of Jesus Christ in their hearts shall be transformed, no longer tied to a body of flesh, but given a new spiritual body. The toil of the old earth will be ended, as a new heaven and new earth, free from sorrow and pain, replaces what has been. As God’s light shines eternally, and all those who believe and confess Jesus see God face to face, a new glorious rest will be revealed to the human race. Today, may you rest in the righteousness achieved through Jesus Christ, and may you look ahead to the rest that will come at the end of the age.
Outside the city
Throughout the New Testament, the apostles and church leaders warn Christians to not be led away by other strange and varied teachings. Here the writer of Hebrews encourages to be strengthened by grace, and not by foods. As Jews converted to Christianity, they faced social and cultural pressure to conform to Jewish laws and customs. This was particularly noticeable when it came to refraining from certain types of foods. To eat of these foods from ‘unclean’ or dirty animals would seem gross to those who born and raised in Jewish custom. People who ate these foods were looked down on.
In this passage of scripture we see another aspect of the beauty of the new covenant. Animals were brought as sin offerings under Jewish law. The blood would be taken into the holy places as a sacrifice for sin, but the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp, they were not allowed to be eaten, unlike other sacrifices, where part of the animal was given to the priests to eat. We are not covered by the blood of animals, but by the blood of Jesus Christ. Not only this, but as those that are born again, we partake of the body of Christ, that was broken for us. He carried the cross out of Jerusalem to Calvary, and was crucified in reproach.
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to go with Jesus and bear the reproach that he bore outside the city. We are not to be dissuaded by the reproach of the earthly world, society or culture. We are not to be swayed by popular opinions, what they find moral and acceptable or to conform to their beliefs to avoid reproach, or to avoid being looked down on. Jesus bore all shame on the cross. He was tortured and killed as criminal, bearing the reproach of the entire world, all of the shame that comes from sin was born by the holy son of God. Today, may any remnant of shame be removed, and may you boldly walk and proclaim the holiness and righteousness of God to the world.
Wells were vital in the ancient Middle East. In order to raise livestock, or even to survive, a constant source of water is needed. Throughout the Bible a well represents life and a source of life. When Jesus meets the woman at the well, He uses the well to speak to her of the life-giving water becomes in the believer a well of living water that provides eternal life. At the Feast of Booths Jesus declares “He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Similar to the Philistines in Genesis, our walk with Jesus can become hindered by spiritual forces.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His tender mercies never come to an end. However, our mindset and attitude can affect our ability to sense and realize the goodness and joy of The Lord. After a period of time, we can become set in our thinking. Like Isaac in the above passage, intentional effort must be taken to ‘un-stop’ the wells of the Holy Ghost that should be freely flowing in the believer.
In Psalms the writer declares ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” At times, we must instruct ourselves to worship the Lord and to praise and thank Him for all of the things that He has done for us. In several places the Bible says that David “encouraged himself in the Lord.” In Psalms a recurring theme is a deliberate declaration to praise and worship the Lord in every circumstance. Not only during the good or easy times, but always. These are times of ensuring that our well is flowing with the power, grace, and joy of the Holy Spirit. Paul instructs the Philippians to think on those things that are true, honest, just, pure, and lovely and of a good report. We are instructed to think and focus on praise reports and virtuous things. As the hindrances to well of the Holy Spirit are removed, hope and joy are restored, and faith begins to build. Today may you be encouraged in the power of God and may the praises of God flow from your heart unhindered.