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Not Withholding our Lives

“And the Angel of Yahweh called to Abraham — a second time from heaven. And he said, ‘In myself I swear, utters Yahweh; because of this thing that you have done in not sparing your son, your only one, I will surely bless you and your seed will surely be great as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the lip of the sea. And your seed will take possession of the gates of his enemies. And in your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed on account of your obeying my voice.”

(Genesis 22:15-18)

 

There is truly a ton of material in this passage, but it is valuable to keep the whole statement of the Angel of Yahweh, the pre-incarnate Christ, as we look at the parts. Once again, He speaks for God and with authority. He states to Abraham that “you have not withheld your son from me.” Notice too, the language of Abraham sparing his son. Jesus uses similar language in teaching his own disciples:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If someone desires to come after me, then he must renounce himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For the one who wants to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it benefit a man if he acquires the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?’”

(Matthew 16:24-26)

Now our English translations of this passage in Matthew do a bit of a tricky switch on us, that I am hopefully remedying here. In each of the cases that I have translated as “life” the Greek word yuch/ (psuche) is being used. This is the term from which we get the English word, “psyche,” and it means much the same thing in both English and Greek. The yuch/ (psuche) refers to the seat of one’s person or you could say his personality. It is what makes us tick and what makes us individuals and different from one another. It is also typically seen as the primary place in which we bear God’s image. It can be used to refer to our physical life here on earth and sometimes it can be used to refer to the ongoing nature of our spiritual life, though it is a distinct thing from the pneuvma (pneuma) or spirit.

The dominant English approach to translating this passage of Matthew is to presume that Jesus is talking about one’s physical life in the former part of the statement and talking about one’s eternal spiritual life in the latter part, but that is not what is literally being stated. If we render the word consistently, all of the way through, we realize that the emphasis is not so much on eternal things but on temporal ones. And what good does it do for you if you spend all of your energy building an empire for yourself, but it kills you in the process? As people often say, “you can’t take it with you…” Jesus is not condemning a man to eternal fire for building a financial empire, but he is asking the question, “are the sacrifices you are making worth the riches you have acquired?”

Abraham is a wealthy man at this point in his life, but the greatest wealth that he holds is found in the person of his son Isaac and in the promise of God that Isaac and his children will be multiplied greatly on the face of the earth. God has thus asked Abraham to place even that on the altar of sacrifice. On a purely human level, Abraham and Sarah could have lived the life of a king in terms of their wealth, but then they would be gone and their witness forgotten. This child was everything, yet they were willing to lay even that to the side if God so desired it — choosing to be in submission to God’s design and not to their own.

This is the heart of what Jesus is teaching his disciples. Their obedience would cost them their lives in a variety of ways. Most would die martyrs deaths. But for all of them, the real cost would be that they would set to the side their personal plans and aims and follow God’s plans for them. Ultimately, God’s plans for us are far better than any plans that we could make on our own, but it takes faith and obedience to go through the process of getting there. It means picking up the implement of our suffering and death (the cross) and following Jesus wherever he would lead. It is counter-cultural to do so, but in the end, it is far better. Ask any pastor or missionary who has left a life behind to follow Christ, and like Abraham, they will affirm, “Yes, it is infinitely better than what I could have designed on my own.”

The Scribe’s Comment (Mark 12:32-33)

“And the scribe said to him, ‘Very good, teacher, you speak truthfully that He is one and that there is not another besides him.  And to love Him with the whole heart, with the whole understanding, with all strength, and to love a neighbor as ourselves is far greater than all of the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

(Mark 12:32-33)

 

It is obvious that the scribe is pleased with Jesus’ response, and this sets up an interesting dynamic, for Jesus will commend (at least on one level) the scribe as well.  This makes for one of the more unusual interactions that Jesus has during this week.  Prior to this question, Jesus has been bombarded by challenges to his authority and traps to try and trick him into siding with this group or that.  Here, as we discussed above, is at least an underlying question again as to who Jesus will side with in his interpretation of the law.  Some have made the suggestion that this comment by the scribe is rather insincere, but that seems rather odd given the context of Jesus’ statement in response.  So how are we to understand this dialogue and how are we going to understand the variation between what Jesus taught immediately before and how this scribe paraphrases his statement?

To begin with, we see the scribe giving the briefest summary of the Shema.  Jesus has quoted it verbatim and the scribe is giving his own interpretation of what Jesus said,  tying in Deuteronomy 4:35 to support his answer.  This was a common rhetorical technique amongst the Jewish Rabbis.  Theology was done in the form of dialogue, so one might begin with a question, and the discussion that ensued would be in the form of more questions, answers, and interpretations in the hopes of arriving at a better understanding of the question at hand.  We should not see the Scribe as being incompetent and unable to quote the Shema back to Jesus, but that he is interpreting Jesus’ statement in the context of the discussion.  With this in mind, it sets the stage for the second part of the scribe’s statement.  The scribe misses the language of yuch/ (psuche), or life, altogether and he replaces Jesus’ language of dia/noia (dianoia), or understanding, with the language of su/nesiß (sunesis), or intelligence.  In addition, the scribe ties in passages like Hosea 6:6 and 1 Samuel 15:22, to speak of our loving obedience to God is far better than the ritual sacrifices of the temple.  Again, what we find is that the scribe is responding to Jesus’ statement by offering an interpretation of it, and Jesus will respond favorably.

One of the major issues that Jesus battled with during his earthly ministry was the issue of people missing the intent behind the law in their pursuit of the letter of the law.  The Pharisees, especially, were guilty of this.  In their zeal for obedience, they had allowed the law to be understood in a legalistic way and had become blinded to the truth behind what God was commanding.  God demands love and obedience from his people in every aspect and area of their lives.  As Abraham Kuyper commented, “There is not an inch of this whole life that Jesus, as Lord of creation, does not put his finger on and declare, ‘Mine!’”  And in the case of this scribe, it seems that he got it.  He understood the intent of the law and demonstrated that understanding by the way he tied in other passages of scripture that spoke of similar things.  So, beloved, what should we be reminded of from our scribe’s answer?  We should be reminded that in all that we do, in whatever capacity that we serve the church, we are to be wholly committed to the Lord Jesus Christ.  This commitment must never take the form of a list of “dos” and “don’ts” apart from what scripture commands to be a “do” or a “don’t,” but instead, we are to pursue God and his righteousness in service to our fellow man.  This is our calling, to share the gospel with all and to make disciples by baptizing and teaching people to obey all that Jesus taught.  Beloved, what a task we have before us; pray that the Holy Spirit will bless that task and empower it in such a way that God is glorified in all we do.

The Scribe’s Comment (Mark 12:32-33)

“And the scribe said to him, ‘Very good, teacher, you speak truthfully that He is one and that there is not another besides him.  And to love Him with the whole heart, with the whole understanding, with all strength, and to love a neighbor as ourselves is far greater than all of the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

(Mark 12:32-33)

 

It is obvious that the scribe is pleased with Jesus’ response, and this sets up an interesting dynamic, for Jesus will commend (at least on one level) the scribe as well.  This makes for one of the more unusual interactions that Jesus has during this week.  Prior to this question, Jesus has been bombarded by challenges to his authority and traps to try and trick him into siding with this group or that.  Here, as we discussed above, is at least an underlying question again as to who Jesus will side with in his interpretation of the law.  Some have made the suggestion that this comment by the scribe is rather insincere, but that seems rather odd given the context of Jesus’ statement in response.  So how are we to understand this dialogue and how are we going to understand the variation between what Jesus taught immediately before and how this scribe paraphrases his statement?

To begin with, we see the scribe giving the briefest summary of the Shema.  Jesus has quoted it verbatim and the scribe is giving his own interpretation of what Jesus said,  tying in Deuteronomy 4:35 to support his answer.  This was a common rhetorical technique amongst the Jewish Rabbis.  Theology was done in the form of dialogue, so one might begin with a question, and the discussion that ensued would be in the form of more questions, answers, and interpretations in the hopes of arriving at a better understanding of the question at hand.  We should not see the Scribe as being incompetent and unable to quote the Shema back to Jesus, but that he is interpreting Jesus’ statement in the context of the discussion.  With this in mind, it sets the stage for the second part of the scribe’s statement.  The scribe misses the language of yuch/ (psuche), or life, altogether and he replaces Jesus’ language of dia/noia (dianoia), or understanding, with the language of su/nesiß (sunesis), or intelligence.  In addition, the scribe ties in passages like Hosea 6:6 and 1 Samuel 15:22, to speak of our loving obedience to God is far better than the ritual sacrifices of the temple.  Again, what we find is that the scribe is responding to Jesus’ statement by offering an interpretation of it, and Jesus will respond favorably.

One of the major issues that Jesus battled with during his earthly ministry was the issue of people missing the intent behind the law in their pursuit of the letter of the law.  The Pharisees, especially, were guilty of this.  In their zeal for obedience, they had allowed the law to be understood in a legalistic way and had become blinded to the truth behind what God was commanding.  God demands love and obedience from his people in every aspect and area of their lives.  As Abraham Kuyper commented, “There is not an inch of this whole life that Jesus, as Lord of creation, does not put his finger on and declare, ‘Mine!’”  And in the case of this scribe, it seems that he got it.  He understood the intent of the law and demonstrated that understanding by the way he tied in other passages of scripture that spoke of similar things.  So, beloved, what should we be reminded of from our scribe’s answer?  We should be reminded that in all that we do, in whatever capacity that we serve the church, we are to be wholly committed to the Lord Jesus Christ.  This commitment must never take the form of a list of “dos” and “don’ts” apart from what scripture commands to be a “do” or a “don’t,” but instead, we are to pursue God and his righteousness in service to our fellow man.  This is our calling, to share the gospel with all and to make disciples by baptizing and teaching people to obey all that Jesus taught.  Beloved, what a task we have before us; pray that the Holy Spirit will bless that task and empower it in such a way that God is glorified in all we do.

Love God with All (Mark 12:30)

“And you will love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your life, and with all of your understanding, and with all of your strength.”

(Mark 12:30)

 

Jesus continues the passage with an explanation of what it means to be committed to God as Wnyheloa/ (Elohinu), or “our God.”  And Jesus says that the way we live this out is by fully committing ourselves to God’s adoration and service.  The first section of this passage is a direct quote of the LXX, the Greek Translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, yet, it would seem, at the initial onset, that Jesus has added to the text as we move to the latter half of what Jesus is teaching, but we will address that as we get to that section.

Jesus begins with the command from Deuteronomy 6:5 to love the Lord our God with all of our heart.  In the modern, Greek, mindset (remembering that our way of thinking is predominantly influenced by Greek thought, not Hebrew thought), the heart is the seat of the emotions or passions.  Thus, when many of us read this line initially, we immediately assume Jesus to be commanding us to love Yahweh with all of our passion.  While Jesus certainly does command us to love Yahweh with our passions, that is not what he means by heart.  In the Hebrew mindset, the heart was the seat of one’s personality and reason.  If a Hebrew person wanted to speak of one’s passions alone, he would talk about something as being from our bowels (I can’t figure out why Hallmark hasn’t picked up on that idea—I can just see the Valentine’s Day cards now; I love you with all of my bowels, dear…).  Thus, the command that is being given is that everything that makes you a reasoning human being—the whole of your personality, if you will—is to be dedicated to the love of God.  This would include, then, not only your reason and intellect, but also those little quirks that make you who you are.  Beloved, have you ever considered the fact that you are to love God with your idiosyncrasies?   They are part of your very makeup, thus, they are designed to be used by you to the glory of God!

Jesus continues with the command that we are to love God with all of our life.  This is the Greek term yuch/ (psuche), which is the word from which our English word “psyche” comes.  Many of our English translations will translate this word as “soul,” but I have opted to translate this as “life” out of deference to the Hebrew word that yuch/ (psuche) is being used to translate in this case.  The Hebrew term is the word vp,n< (nephesh), which refers to all that which gives life to and animates the body.  It is variously translated as life, breath, and even soul, but it is distinct from the word x;Wr (ruach), which means “spirit.”  In modern English, we don’t normally distinguish between the idea of a soul and of a spirit, so to preserve the Hebrew distinction, I have opted to translate this as life.  In Hebrew, the spirit is understood much in the same way as we understand a spirit today, but the soul was intimately bound to giving your physical body life, and hence our translation.  Thus, the idea being communicated in this first half of Jesus’ statement is not a dichotomy between the passions of man and the soul of man, but a united image of how we are to love God with our personality and with all that gives us life and breath in this world.  We are to be wholly committed to Yahweh, our God.

Now, as we look back to Deuteronomy 6:5, from which Jesus is quoting, we find a peculiar difference.  The Hebrew concludes with a third command, that we are to love God with all of our daom. (meod), or, literally, all of our “veriness.”  The idea expressed, by making the adverb “very” into a noun, is that of applying all of your abundance, all of your blessings, and all of the external things that God has put into your life toward the worship of God.  All of the rich blessings that have come to you in this world, as they have come from God, are to be used and applied toward the love of God.  That raises an important question for all of us—how are we using those blessings?  How do we use our vacation time; how do we use our savings; how do we use the finances that we have been afforded; and how do we use the retirements that God has given to us?  Beloved, we are often guilty of applying these things—these things that make up our “veriness”—toward our own ends and not for the love of God.  How we need to regularly look at our lives and see just how we are using the blessings that God has afforded us.

Yet, Jesus does not use this language, nor is he quoting from the Greek LXX, which reads, all of our du/namiß (dunamis)—or might (dunamis is the word from which we get the English word, “dynamite”).  Instead, Jesus breaks this final command into two separate parts: dia/noia (dianoia) or understanding and ijscuß (ischus) or strength.  My initial response was that maybe Jesus was breaking up the language of vp,n< (nephesh), or life, as yuch/ (psuche) and dia/noia (dianoia) and replacing du/namiß (dunamis) with ijscuß (ischus).  Thus, the idea of life would be expressed by both life and mind or soul and mind and power would be changed to reflect the idea of strength.  The problem with this interpretation is two-fold.  First of all, it seems odd that Jesus would add the word dia/noia (dianoia) to yuch/ (psuche) when yuch/ (psuche) is a direct quote of the Greek LXX.  Secondly, given that Matthew does not record Jesus as saying ijscuß (ischus) at all, but ends with dia/noia (dianoia).  Matthew, being a good Jew, would have been intimately familiar with the text and importance of Deuteronomy 6:5 and it would have been very unlikely that he would neglect to record an element therein.

That leads us with one other reasonable alterative, and that is to understand Jesus as expanding on the idea of our loving God with all of our daom. (meod), or veriness.  Instead of using the LXX translation, then, we see Jesus giving his own translation of daom. (meod) into Greek by using two terms: dia/noia (dianoia) and ijscuß (ischus).  In other words, Jesus is saying that for us to worship God with all of our abundance, or veriness, requires us to do so with our mental capacity, or dia/noia (dianoia), and our physical capacity, or ijscuß (ischus).  In other words, all of the energy we might expend, to accomplish all that we do in this life, we are called upon to use to love God.  We are to think about God, reason about God, meditate about God, and then the work of our hands—as mighty as that work may be, must too be done for the glory and love of God.  Indeed, this translation would capture the idea of the abundance that God has given us (as that abundance so often comes through the labors of our hands and/or our minds).

Thus, Jesus, in quoting Moses here, leaves no stone unturned when being asked the question of how we are to express our love and adoration for God on high—every inch of our life is to be devoted to God’s glory regardless of our career, trade, or background.  Does this mean that all should be preachers and missionaries?  Certainly not!  Yet, this does mean that whatever you do, whether hobby, curiosity, or career, should be done to the glory of God.  Dear friends, I wonder, can we say this about our own lives?  Can we say that the way we have ordered our career or the way we have spent our leisure time is designed to glorify God?  Oh, beloved, how we should look deeply at our hearts, our lives, and our efforts and ask ourselves, “how is God glorified in this.”  And then, when an answer is shown, work diligently to change how we live our days so as to submit ourselves to the challenge of Jesus’ words.  May our lives be lived all for the glory and honor of God alone.