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The First Commandment In First Place

Notes Outline
INTRODUCTION
SHEMA ISRAEL
AT THE FEET OF THE MASTER

INTRODUCTION

A Call to Radical Devotion in this Last Hour

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them debating. When he saw that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart and from your whole soul and from your whole mind and from your whole strength.’ (The Shema, Deut. 6:4-5) 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, “That is true, Teacher. You have said correctly that he is one and there is no other except him. 33 And to love him from your whole heart and from your whole understanding and from your whole strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And Jesus, when he saw that he had answered thoughtfully, said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God (eschatological focus of the command).” (Mark 12:28-34, LEB)

SHEMA ISRAEL

THE HEARTBEAT OF SCRIPTURE’S COVENANT NARRATIVE

    1. The aim of my teaching today is to encourage us to cultivate a life of radical devotion and obedience to God amid a critical moment in history in preparation for the coming of the Lord and his Kingdom. Jesus will not stay in heaven forever and those who love him, love his appearing!

      Finally, the crown of righteousness is reserved for me, that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8, LEB)

    2. It has been said that ‘extreme times require extreme measures’, and in the face of the extremity of what lies ahead, the only safe place will be to remain in the very center of the burning flame of God’s love. Empowered by the Spirit of the Lord, the determination to love and obey even unto death will be for our own benefit, both in this life and in the life to come. 
    3. The first and “most important” commandment, also known as the Shema (lit. listen/obey), encapsulates the prophetic call to exclusive allegiance to the one true God. Declared in the context of the covenant with the nation of Israel (Deut. 6), the Shema would become the central paradigm of love and obedience to God. 
    4. For Jesus it was nothing less than the cornerstone of his teaching and discipleship, having his focus on the coming “of the kingdom of God”. In other words, the life of sacrifice and obedience to which the gospel calls us only makes sense in light of an eternal reward in the age to come.

      29 And he said to them, “Truly I say to you that there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children on account of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”  (Luke 18:29–30, LEB)

    5. But what does “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” mean? 
    6. Rather than dealing with different categories or areas of our lives, the phrase emphasizes the total or absolute character of devotion to God. But in a way it also reflects a progression that begins with the motives and affections of the heart and mind and culminates with our vitality and resources. 
      1. With all our hearts/minds: Motives, desires, and affections are so radically redirected that our ambition becomes to be pleasing to Him by constantly seeking obedience through prayer, praise, scriptural meditation, and a faithful witness of the gospel.  

        1 I will thank Yahweh with all my heart. I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. 2 I will be glad and rejoice in you. I will sing the praise of your name, O Most High. (Psalm 9:1–2, LEB)

        1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of Yahweh. 2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies; they seek him with a whole heart.
        3 They also do no wrong; they walk in his ways. … 57 Yahweh is my portion; I intend to heed your words. 58 I seek your favor with my whole heart; be gracious to me according to your word. 59 I think about my ways, and turn my feet to your testimonies. 60 I hurry and do not delay to heed your commands. … 145 I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Yahweh. I will keep your statutes.  (Psalm 119:1–3, 57-60, 145, LEB)

      2. With all the soul and strength: the biblical notion of the soul is that of the vitality or life force that God grants us. The life, the breath, the vigor by which we rise and produce. To love with all our vitality is therefore to absolutely dedicate our life and resources to the service of the Lord. With all the strength implies that we do it ‘with all our everything’. The final implication is that love, loyalty, and obedience is even unto death. This drive and determination would have come from the devoted mind and heart.  

        5 I await Yahweh; my soul awaits, and I wait for his word (His gospel-promise of eternal life). 6 My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning. Yes, more than watchmen for the morning (longing for His return). (Psalm 130:5–6, LEB)

        1 Praise Yah. Praise Yahweh, O my soul. 2 I will praise Yahweh while I live (with all my life force); I will sing praises to my God while I am still alive. 3 Do not place trust in princes, in a son of humankind with whom there is no deliverance. 4 His breath departs; he returns to his plot; on that day his plans perish. (Psalm 146:1–4, LEB)

    7. According to verse 34 of our main passage, the projection of the Shema’s message has an eschatological scope related to the coming of the Kingdom of God. Here is a quote from a good friend of mine in relation to that:

      This demand for exclusive devotion within the covenant with Israel also has eschatological implications. In context to the eschatological day of the LORD that humbles the pride of men, “YHWH alone will be exalted” (Is. 2:17). As the nations witness the end-time vindication of Israel and fulfillment of God’s covenant promises, they will turn to the LORD (Is. 45:22ff), stream to worship in Jerusalem (Is. 2:1-11; Mic. 4:1-8; Zech. 14:16ff) with purified lips (Zeph. 3:9), and the fulfillment of Zechariah’s vision will come to pass in that “the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be the only one, and His name the only one” (Zech. 14:9). This eschatological exaltation and exclusive devotion, widely commented upon by Jewish interpreters, involves the fearful judgment of YHWH’s cosmic (Ps. 82; Is. 24:21-22; 34:2-5; Lk. 21:26; 1 Cor. 15:24; Phil. 2:10; Jas. 2:19) and human enemies (Dt. 32:41-43; Ps. 2:4-12), the resurrection of the dead (Dan. 12:1-3), and the establishment of an everlasting kingdom (Dan. 2:44; 7:13; Acts 1:6). Thus, the prophets’ message of warning and wonder, concerning YHWH’s exaltation and the restoration of His nation, took the form of an announcement encapsulated in an idiom called “the gospel” (Is. 40:9-11; 52:7-10; 61:1-3; Mk. 1:14-15). This yet unseen, universal, and exclusive exaltation of Israel’s God calls for faith upon those who have ears to hear22 and etches a witness for such truth to be held fast with reliance. (Jesus’ Use of The Shema as Foremost in the Synoptic Gospels, David Rickman)

AT THE FEET OF THE MASTER

LIVES OF RADICAL DEVOTION AS A RESPONSE OF LOVE

    1. The centrality of the Shema was so evident in the thinking of the first disciples that Paul, the apostle to the nations, framed his discipleship of the gentiles within that framework.

      3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by him. 4 Therefore, concerning the eating of food sacrificed to idols, we know that “an idol is nothing in the world” and that “there is no God except one (alluding to the Shema).” 5 For even if after all there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, just as there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet to us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we are for him, and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we are through him (Paul “theologizes” from the ideology of the Shema in teaching Gentile disciples). (1 Corinthians 8:3–6, LEB)

    2. We are called to radical devotion to the Lord Jesus and his teaching in anticipation and preparation for the Day when ALL the nations of the earth will turn to the God of Israel and His Messiah to worship them exclusively and learn His ways. Jesus’ own example of extreme fidelity even unto death is the fundamental paradigm in our training as students of God’s ways.

      7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you (ultimately reward and vindication in the age to come as seen in Psa. 21:2-4). 8 My Father is glorified by this: that you bear much fruit, and prove to be my disciples.
      9 “Just as the Father has loved me, I also have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love (that is to say, fulfilling the Shema). (John 15:7–10, LEB)

    3. We want to be faithful disciples who, like Mary of Bethany, choose the “good part” of sitting at his feet to listen attentively to his words to respond with all our hearts. Disciples whose hearts “burn” when the Master teaches us.

      38 Now as they traveled along, he entered into a certain village. And a certain woman named Martha welcomed him. 39 And she had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the feet of Jesus and was listening to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much preparation, so she approached and said, “Lord, is it not a concern to you that my sister has left me alone to make preparations? Then tell her that she should help me!” 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things! 42 But few things are necessary, or only one thing, for Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38–42 (LEB)

      27 And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things concerning himself in all the scriptures. …  30 And it happened that when he reclined at the table with them, he took the bread and gave thanks, and after breaking it, he gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he became invisible to them. 32 And they said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the scriptures to us?” Luke 24:27–32 (LEB)

    4. As I said at the beginning, the only safe place for us to persevere and overcome in the midst of the trials and tribulations that are already upon us, is by remaining in the burning flame of God’s love. The unquenchable flame of his love for us that kindles and sustains the fire of our love for him. Let us live for something worth dying for!

      The writer of Revelation makes use of a reading of Song of Songs as a divine love song in which Jesus is correlated to the male beloved of Song of Songs (Rev 1:13; 3:20). The strong echoes to Song of Songs in Rev 12:1,11,15-16 and secondary echoes in 19:7,21:2,9; 22:17 link the female protagonist of Song of Songs to the people of God. For the writer of Revelation, this community has historic continuity with Israel and comes to include “those who keep God’s commandments and maintain their witness to Jesus” (12:17). This beloved community reciprocates God’s love through fidelity to the commandments even to the point of martyrdom. (The Song of Songs from the Bible to the Mishnah, Jonathan Kaplan, pp. 64-65)

    5. I end with an urgent appeal to parents and young people. Parents, give your children full license to radically surrender to Jesus as his disciples. Far above convenience, comfort and college careers encourage them to sacrifice and pour out their lives at the feet and for the sake of the only One worthy. It will inevitably be costly and disadvantageous to the ambitions of men, even within churches. But it will be for their eternal glory. Children, young people loved by the Lord, DO NOT waste your youth! Turn your eyes from the vanity of this life and its false promises and fix your gaze firmly on the God enthroned in heaven, and on the burning eyes of Jesus, his glorious Son who is coming from heaven with great power. Do something unusual like staying awake to pray through a whole night or fast for a whole day, or both, but do something concrete and radical and I assure you with all my heart that the Lord will visit you and that ultimately your “eyes will behold the King in His beauty.” (Isaiah 33:17)