The Gospel of God

Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18
Psalm 1
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

 

Most of us can wrap our minds around the Ten Commandments (as found in Exodus 20), but the other 611 commands are not always so meaningful. (By Jewish count, there are 613 commands. The people heard God speak the first two of the Ten, so those are traditionally added to the 611. That means the total, including all the Ten, is 621 commands.)

In verse 19, we read, as an example:

“’Keep my decrees.

“‘Do not mate different kinds of animals.

“‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.

“‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of materialNIV

 

You may notice that we Americans have violated all three of these commands, so what was God trying to say? Basically, God is saying that there are some natural boundaries in the world and I want you to stick to them. I want you to show respect for my creation and thus, respect for me.

Later, God commanded that the priests of the Tabernacle and Temple wear robes woven of linen and wool, violating verse 19. He also commanded that every man wear a prayer shawl with four zit-zits (tassels) made of two materials. Here, God is saying that the commands are different when they deal with what is Holy.

While I’m on the subject of God’s commands, let’s look at the word some people love: abomination. It is sprinkled throughout the King James translation but is not so common in more modern translations.

There are actually seven Hebrew words that have been translated as abomination. They each have a somewhat different meaning: a moral stench, unclean, disgusting idol, to pollute, a filthy idolatrous object, something disgusting, and detestable. Apparently, the KJV translators preferred to use one (Elizabethan) English word for most of the meanings.

The first use was in Genesis 43:32 stating that it was an abomination (disgusting) to the Egyptians to eat with the Hebrews.  The first use in Leviticus is 7:18 regarding the eating of meat sacrificed. The second use is in 11:10 saying that the eating of any animal from the waters that does not have both fins and scales is an abomination; so, no more catfish, shrimp, crabs, and crawdads.

Many Christians like to pick and choose from the 621 commands of God, arguing that they were important 4,000 years ago, but are no longer necessary. The problem is: which ones are no longer necessary? Has God said, “Throw out these, but keep those?”

Enter Jesus.

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees they came up to him in a body, and one of them, an expert in the Law, put this test-question: “Master, what are we to consider the Law’s greatest commandment?” Phillips

Notice that the question came from an expert, a supreme court justice. Also, notice that the question assumes that some of the 621 rules are more important than others. The Pharisees were about the only people who tried to follow all of them. Most people avoided killing people and eating catfish.

Jesus may have been thinking, “This test is too easy.”

Jesus answered him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’. This is the first and great commandment. And there is a second like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. The whole of the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments.” Phillips

 

The first quote comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second from Leviticus 19:18b. Do not make the mistake of assuming he surprised the Pharisees with this answer. The two verses were linked together and quoted daily by most devout Jews of the day, and still today.

That is the Gospel of God.

How does it work in practice? If you invite 20 people to dinner, be sure to ask each if they like shrimp before you serve it. If in doubt, serve chicken.

 

Read my comments on these NT readings here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

All the Gods of the Nations

Isaiah 45:1-7
Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

 

Great is Yahweh, worthy of all praise,

More awesome than any of the gods.

All the gods of the nations are idols! NJB

Civilization began about 5,000 years ago. It was a time when wandering people found places along rivers where grain was available, and they decided to build permanent houses. Because food was more readily available, they had time to devote to religion. Nomadic people carried gods with them, but in a settled environment, they decided there must be a god who was specific to that place. They continued to worship all the old gods while placing their city god above the others.

God chose the Hebrews to carry the message to the world that there is only one God. They struggled with the concept, but after Babylon took to it with determination, if not perfection. By the time of Jesus, there was no open worship of other gods within Judea or Galilee, but secret worship did occur to some extent.

Today, worship of national gods occurs, even within Christian churches in America. Witness the struggles that divide our country along the lines of abortion, women’s rights, minority rights, political parties, military power, support for the poor, and others.

Notice with all these that Christians are often the most outspoken, and that they take differing sides. When our support for one side becomes a religion, we have set up a new god.

What is the difference between being involved in the world and worshiping a god of the world? If you find yourself spending as much time on the issue as you do in communion with God, you may have divided religious loyalties.

For example, the two basic sides politically in America are represented by the Republican and Democratic parties. There are small splinter and subgroups, but those two run the country. In some churches, it is dangerous to declare membership in the Democratic party. Only the Republican party is on the side of God. In other churches, the Republicans believed to want to send all the poor to Hell.

When we forget that each side is partially right, that neither side gets it perfectly right, that we must work out a compromise that both sides can live with; only then can our political system do what it is supposed to do.

Jesus was neither a Democrat nor a Republican, and probably would be neither if he walked with us today. For him, as it should be for us, America is of little importance. We only live here for a short time, and we must participate in life here as best we can, but our real lives and loyalties belong elsewhere.

What is important while we live here is the well-being of all 7.5 billion people who share this planet with us. If I can vote for people who are respectful of everyone, then I am doing the best I can in this country. Mostly, I vote for candidates who show compassion on many, but rarely all people.

Read my comments on these NT readings here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

In Perfect Faithfulness

Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

 

Psalm 23 has a long, rich history in the Christian tradition. Arnobius the Younger wrote this in the Fifth Century: We have in the previous psalm the tribulation of the passion. In this one let us receive the joy of the resurrectionACCS Others have added that Psalm 24 shows the Messiah in triumph over evil and death.

Reading verse 1 of the Isaiah passage, it is easy to have the same impression, that the psalm and Isaiah are talking about the Messiah resurrected. Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long agoNIV

If we back up and read Psalm 22 and compare it to Isaiah 25:2, we see the crucifixion. But Isaiah does not spend much time on it in this passage for in the next verse we read: Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear youESV Most of these nine verses show us the coming Messiah.

Again, we see the Messiah as the protector of the poor and suffering. Isaiah reminds Israel and modern Christians, grafted onto the branch of Israel, that we are to do what the Messiah did (and does).

A close reading of the Bible will confirm that the poor and suffering of the world (at least one-third of the world today) will be seated at the banquet Jesus promised. One of them will be our friend from Haiti. She is perhaps mid-fifties now. She lives in one room, making no more than $2 a day. She took in an abandoned baby a few years ago. And, she gives to the poor.

She is a saint.

Most of us are not that faithful in our walk with the Messiah. Most of us are not as dedicated as Paul. Fix your minds on the things which are holy and right and pure and beautiful and goodPhillips

Do not forget that the Grace of God will cover over all our missteps and procrastinations.

 

Read my comments on these NT readings here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Vineyard

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-14
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

 

As today’s readings exhibit, grape vines and grape vineyards are common images in the Bible representing the descendants of Abraham, the House of Israel. The Temple in Jesus’ day included a vine made of gold that grew around the entrance to the Holy Place. It was so large that each grape on the vine was the size of a bowling ball, and weighed much more because they were solid gold.

Grapes represent life, as well as Israel. That is one reason Jesus used wine in his remembrance celebration. When we say the blood of Jesus saves us, we leave out important points. We must include the body of Jesus; his life, his presence on earth, those years he spent living the human life.

We also leave out the connection of Jesus to Israel. Jesus is Israel. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus is the true representation of Israel on earth. In his living, he did not change Israel, he only reminded Israel of what God expects of Israel.

Those of we Gentiles who have decided to walk in the way of Jesus have been grafted into the vine of Israel. Christians are not separate from Israel, we are a part of Israel.

When God says, So why, when I expected good grapes, did it produce sour, wild grapes? CJB God is talking to American Christians in our time. We cannot say, God was angry with the Hebrews; I’m glad I’m a modern Christian. No.

We must ask ourselves: when did I last feed the hungry, visit the sick, help the poor, build a house, prevent war, bring comfort?

 

Read my earlier comments on these NT readings here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence