Empty as a Tomb

It was early on an Easter Sunday morning. The sun had not yet risen. I was in Jerusalem with a small group of journalists. Before sunrise we made our way to the garden tomb, the possible site where Jesus had been buried.

As the sun began to rise, we sang about the Resurrection. I made it through “Thine is the glory, Risen conqu’ring Son. Endless is the vict’ry Thou o’er death hast won.” We were just starting to sing the words “Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away” when I had to stop.

I was too overwhelmed to go on. The words spoken by the angel to those women who had rushed to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning 2,000 years ago struck me as never before: “He is not here; He has risen” (Matt. 28:6).

The man standing next to me asked, “Why are you crying?”

Nothing was wrong; how could I explain that everything was right?

“He is not here; He has risen.”

There was a time when I didn’t feel anything about the Resurrection. I did not believe it. I did not even care.

Did the apostle Paul, who knew the meaning of the Resurrection, know that someday people like me would be saying in a patronizing way, “Well, of course Christ has risen if He has risen for you.” Was the apostle aware that skeptics like me would later teach that it was somehow mass hysteria that made people just think that Jesus was risen—even though we read about the sheer numbers of people who saw Him: “He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of who are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:5–7).

Any of those people could have refuted that mass–hysteria teaching in a minute.

The apostle wrote the words, “If Christ has not been raised … we are to be pitied.” Or, as the King James Version of the Bible puts it, “we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19).

I was one of those “most miserable” people.

I tried to make a life without the risen Christ. I tried to trust in myself. I used the arguments refuting the Resurrection to push people who believed it away—especially those who wanted to tell me about it.

When I was growing up there was no celebration of the Resurrection at our house. And when I became a university student, I knew what it meant to try to make my own life without the Resurrection. As far as I was concerned, Christ had not risen and life for me was most miserable. The only thing that made life tolerable was that I didn’t know anybody who had anything else.

A sense of feeling incomplete was normal for me. There was that feeling that there had to be something more to life. But no one I knew could tell me how to find that “something more.” The words “hopeless” and “most miserable” described the way the people I knew lived. I was no exception, until one of my friends, who had been just as secular as I was, came to faith in Christ. He was no longer like me; he was different. And every day he was on me about Jesus. I argued my best arguments. He wouldn’t let me go. To him Jesus was a living Savior and he thought I needed to know that.

And over time he was the one who started me on the road that brought me one evening into the living room of a businessman who explained to me about the death and Resurrection of Christ—and that this was done for me.

That Christian man answered my arguments not by using other arguments of his own, but by showing me the Scriptures. That night I gave in. I stopped fighting. I trusted God’s Son as my Savior.

Now I, too, can sing those wonderful words: “Thine is the glory, Risen conqu’ring Son … ”

By Roger C. Palms

My Lord & My God

Stone rolled back? Tomb empty? Guards gone? Angels? What the women said was made more confusing by the early morning hour following another sleepless night. Although the disciples tried to dismiss it as hysterics, the women insisted everything was absolutely true. While the rest of the disciples tried to sort things out, John and Peter were out the door in a holy foot race to the tomb. John’s youth served him well, outdistancing Peter. But he stopped dead in his tracks at the tomb’s entrance. Before he could think another thought, Peter ran past him into the eerily quiet tomb, empty except for folded grave clothes left neatly where a body once lay. Their walk back was much slower as they struggled with the events of the morning.

Mary walked past them, returning to the tomb. Now she was not seeking a dead body to anoint, but trying to find answers. Weeping as she went, Mary’s life had been defined by her tears from the time she greeted Jesus following her brother’s death (John 11:32-33) to when she washed Jesus’ feet with her hair (12:1-3).

Once again in the garden, she saw someone. She failed to recognize who it was. Then He spoke, “‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put Him’” (20:14). Again He spoke to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” (vs. 15). Still not grasping what was going on, Mary thought she was talking to the gardener. She pleaded for the body of Christ, just wanting to touch Him again even in death.

In a flash, the moment—no, history itself—turned on its heel. “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’” (vs. 16). It was Jesus! She cried out in recognition, approaching to hold Him in a loving embrace. He commanded her to let Him go, explaining rather mysteriously that He had to yet ascend to Heaven. But first, He gave her an assignment. “Go to my brothers and tell them . . .” (vs. 17). The first task of the believer then and now remains to go and tell.

The news did not reassure the disciples. Rather it unnerved them even more. Locked securely behind solid doors, their fear of the Jewish leaders dictated that they huddle together for support and safety. The door mattered little to Christ as He effortlessly passed through it to be in their midst once more. His first words were those of comfort in the midst of an unnerving moment: “Peace be with you!” (vs. 20).

Jesus then commissioned them to go change the world. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (vs. 21). With that charge He empowered them with the Holy Spirit to share the good news. They were not to be frightened, complaining soul-whiners but empowered soul-winners.

There was only one problem. Thomas was not among the ten disciples. Perhaps he had already decided to move on with his life or chose to hide elsewhere so that if the other disciples were captured, he would be safe. Thomas had always been a man of extremes. When Jesus set off to raise Lazarus from the dead in Bethany, just over the hill from Jesus’ enemies in Jerusalem, Thomas said in resignation to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). Later, at the Last Supper, when Jesus said that they all knew the way, Thomas was stumped. “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). Now, when the disciples felt that they needed to be together, he opted out for his own path.

They reconnected with Thomas and told him the wonderful news about Christ. He was not only unmoved, but answered them condescendingly, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Thomas would settle for nothing less than an autopsy on the Savior.

A full week went by, no doubt marked with the bubbling optimism and bursting enthusiasm of the disciples who had seen Christ, in contrast to Thomas’ darkening mood. How could they be so deluded, he wondered. He loved Jesus just as much as they did, but he was a realist. Saying or wishing
He wasn’t dead did not necessarily make it so. Really, these friends of his were pathetic.

Thomas was with them this time, the same door bolted shut because, despite what Jesus had said, the disciples’ faith hadn’t yet moved them beyond that one room. Again the door was useless in keeping Jesus out, His arrival announced by the soothing and comforting words, “Peace be with you!”
(vs. 26). Jesus then turned His attention to Thomas. “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe” (vs. 27). A wave of shame washed over Thomas as he heard his mocking words quoted back to him. There was no defense and, quite obviously, since Jesus walked through the door, no place to hide. And Thomas, previously absent from the scene when Jesus was nailed to the Cross, now saw graphically what it had cost. These wounds, the wounds Thomas had doubted, were what saved him not only from his doubts but would deliver him from his sin.

Thomas blurted out, “My Lord and my God” (vs. 28). By calling Jesus “my,” Thomas claimed that he possessed Him. By calling Jesus “Lord,” Thomas acknowledged that Jesus was his master. In naming Jesus “God,” Thomas identified Him as the Great “I AM” who met Moses on Sinai, the one, the only true God. This was his Creator; this was his Savior. Doubt was neutralized and overcome by a saving faith.

No autopsy ever brought belief, but naming Christ Lord and God changes death to life. The wounded hand of Christ is extended to you today as surely as it was to Thomas then. Will you now abandon your doubts in order to believe and live?

By Major Allen Satterlee

Kingdom Come

Morning breaks upon the craggy edges of earth’s darkest vault.
The guarded place is awash with light.
The rocks could cry out “Hallelujah!”
For no mortal breath has yet to utter this praise:
“He is risen!”

Kingdom come in unexpected places.
God-in-humanity was sealed in death.
But forces of men and evil
And the cold stone’s surety have faltered.
“See! The stone is rolled away.”

Surely, this is reason for the heavenly host
To sing their “Gloria!”
But one Herald, dressed in dazzling light,
Sits upon the conquered stone,
Waits to announce to seekers wrapped in mourning still,
The incredible birth from death to life.
“He is not here. Just as He told you.”

In the prescience of this glorious day
There is a heartbeat, new breath, speech
A dare to hope, an urgency:
“He goes before you to Galilee.”

Mystery awaits a viewing:
The swaddling linens lay clumped aside
And the work of the grave is finished.
Our God appears:
And like all things new
Not fully seen, until clearly viewed.

By Karen Young

The Week That Changed The World

Events surrounding the celebration of Passover in approximately 33 AD would change the course of history forever. Although public sentiment seems to have taken a swift and dramatic turn, the Pharisees and Romans had been plotting behind the scenes to get rid of Jesus for some time. On Sunday, the crowds shouted “Hosanna” and waved palm branches as Jesus entered the Holy City of Jerusalem in a procession worthy of a king. Only four days later the echoes of joyous praise would dissolve into hateful cries of “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” On Friday morning, three years of selfless ministry—in which Jesus fed us, healed us, taught us, celebrated and cried with us—came to a horrifying close. During this fateful week, Jesus left many clues to help us find and follow the path to the salvation God has provided, and to help us live authentically, in the footsteps of the most authentic One to ever live.

Palm Sunday
by Major Darryl Leedom

Scripture gives reference to a parade, the arrival of Jesus to the city of Jerusalem. The event is recorded in each of the four gospels, one of only a handful of events from the life of Jesus represented in each account. The narratives, when layered upon each other, provide a… Read More

Fig Monday
by Major Keith J. Welch

The wise old sage from Ecclesiastes informs us that there is a time for everything. Jesus teaches us that there is also a purpose for everything. The key is to discover God’s purpose for all things in our life. If something is not fulfilling its intended purpose, we need to take another… Read More

Immersion Tuesday
by Major Tim Foley

Getting right to the heart of the matter was the standard method of operation by Jesus. Throughout His ministry on earth, He had a unique way of cutting to the core of challenges and contradictory issues that would rise up from His critics and cynics. Read More

Spy Wednesday
by Major Allen Satterlee

Propelled by a seething anger, Judas pushed his way through the Passover crowds until he reached the Temple. Worship was not at all on his mind. He had had enough. No one understood him, no one seemed to care about his opinion, no one appreciated the depth of his… Read More

Maundy Thursday
by Dr. David Rightmire

According to the New Testament, Jesus of Nazareth shared a final meal with His disciples on the night before His death. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) identify the Last Supper as a Passover meal. According to the Synoptics, Jesus ate this meal with His disciples…Read More

Good Friday
by Lt. Colonel Vern Jewett

The day we call Good Friday is the day that changed the world forever. The specific event that marked that day was the death of Jesus, a Jewish teacher from Nazareth. Jesus’ death fulfilled His teaching, which echoed like a drumbeat during the last weeks of His life… Read More

Silent Saturday
by Dorothy Post

What remains when dreams die? Perhaps you know from your own experience the ensuing dazed numbness that alternates with overwhelming emotion. If you do, then you will understand something of the disciples’ grief, hopelessness and disbelief after Jesus’ death. Read More

Resurrection Sunday
by Colonel William Harfoot

The apostle Paul pointed to three ultimate attributes of those who follow Christ Jesus — faith, hope and love. To paraphrase Paul, these three qualities will always distinguish those who follow Jesus. It would have been true when Paul said it in the first century, and it is still true… Read More


A Legacy of Salvation

When I received the phone call from my mother that my grandma was dying, I was stunned. It wasn’t her age or the kidney failure that shocked me, though. It was the idea that this seemingly invincible Japanese woman of 79 wouldn’t be among us anymore. She’d always been around, and she’d also been told on several occasions in her life that she would die. Of course, the doctors didn’t know my grandma. Perhaps it was her Japanese blood. She was resilient and always had been. Even when I went to see her the last time, I still couldn’t believe it would be good-bye.

My heritage has been something of a secret. When I tell people that I’m part Japanese, they look at my blonde hair and ostensibly Caucasian features and say, “Really?” Well, one-quarter doesn’t show up well on the surface, but technically, I could claim to be Japanese-American. It’s a stretch, but my grandma was born and raised in Japan. She married a Caucasian American soldier, came back to the U.S. with him, and gave birth to two half-Japanese daughters. My mother appeared less Japanese with lighter hair and less-defined Asian eyes, whereas my aunt’s Japanese DNA was more prominent–– dark hair, Asian eyes, and high cheekbones.

Legacy of SalvationMy grandma was a Buddhist, which made her death all the more painful for me. When I sat with her the last time, I tried to talk to her about the Lord. I asked her if she’d read the Japanese Bible I’d given her several years earlier. She said she had but showed little interest in discussing Jesus with me. In my despair over her death, I was reminded of the Lord’s promise from Isaiah 55:11, “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” I could trust that God, who loved my grandmother even more than I did, would do all that He could to woo her to Himself.

I prayed and asked others to pray for my grandma in her final days. I still don’t know what happened to her soul after she slipped into the coma, and I won’t know on this side of heaven. It sounds like a depressing story with no happy ending, but it’s not.

Isn’t it like God to take a hopeless heritage and bring forth a legacy of salvation? My grandmother was born and raised in a country where Shintoism and Buddhism, forms of idol worship, dominate the landscape. In fact, today the percentage of Christians in Japan may be as little as one percent. Yet, in His amazing plan, the Lord brought my grandma to a Christian nation where her legacy could be transformed.
Recently, I gave a presentation for the ladies in my corps in Raleigh, North Carolina, about my Japanese heritage. After getting some genealogical information from my mother, I discovered a lot of interesting tidbits. My grandma’s brother was a kamikaze pilot, and her sister was a geisha. Another sister gave birth to an illegitimate son, and her own parents chose to officially adopt him. Therefore, my great aunt and uncle were actually mother and son. My grandma’s mother and father were even adopted brother and sister. Strange, huh? We all have kooky family histories. (My husband’s grandfather was so despicable that even the Ku Klux Klan wouldn’t give him membership!) Yet, God can take a shameful family history and resurrect it.

When I think about my family tree, I can see how many limbs were cut off. Many souls were lost, but God chose to save a branch. Why? The answer is always for His glory. For years, I thought my testimony was unimpressive, lacking in a road-to-Damascus moment or a rising up from rock bottom. But I was as lost as any of us have been.

I was raised in a blended family. My parents, neither committed to any particular religion, divorced when I was nine years old. My mother remarried, and my stepdad did a wonderful job making our home life as normal as possible. But I still felt a void and a longing for something I couldn’t explain. I knew I was loved by my mom and my stepdad, but I was deeply wounded by the absence of my father. I had questions about my purpose and where we all came from. All the while, God stood ready to provide the answers by sending people of faith in my direction.

By 1996, I’d attended numerous churches, and at a youth event at a Baptist church, I gave my life to Jesus Christ. It was then that God began the work of resurrecting my family line and building a legacy of faith where there had been none. Less than a year later, I met my future husband and began attending his church, The Salvation Army, in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

We should never give up hope for our unsaved loved ones or families that are cursed within an endless cycle of sin. Today, the granddaughter of a Japanese Buddhist is a Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, resurrected soul. As a mother of two and a woman of God, I teach my children, descendents of a Buddhist, all about the truth of God’s Word, salvation in Jesus Christ, and the hope of heaven. My heritage has been resurrected from the dead, and because of God’s amazing grace, my legacy will extend into His kingdom.

By Melissa McGovern Taylor

Dead Sea Scrolls Now Online

The five Dead Sea Scrolls that Bedouin shepherds uncovered in caves in the Judean Desert are considered by many to be the most significant archaeological find of the 20th century. The scrolls are thought to have been written or collected by the Essenes, an ascetic Jewish sect that fled Jerusalem for the desert 2,000 years ago and settled at Qumran, on the banks of the Dead Sea. The hundreds of manuscripts that survived, partially or in full, in caves near the site, have shed light on the development of the Hebrew Bible and the origins of Christianity.

Isaiah ScrollThe 2,000-year–old manuscripts are very sensitive to direct light. At the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where they are housed, the scrolls are rotated every few months to minimize the damage. The Great Isaiah Scroll, which is the most ancient biblical manuscript on Earth, is so sensitive that only a copy of it is on display.

Now, in cooperation with Google, the museum has digitized five of those scrolls and today are available online. The scrolls are searchable in English and were digitized at high-resolution so you can zoom in and get a feel for the animal skin they was written on.

One of the real treasure troves from Qumran was found in Cave 1. It contained two scrolls of Isaiah. The first one, the Great Isaiah Scroll, was found preserved in a clay jar, and is a complete manuscript of the entire book, all 66 chapters, and measures 7.34 meters in length.

The scrolls answer one of the most critical questions about Scripture: How do we know the Bible we have today has been passed down to us accurately and is its message trustworthy?

The manuscripts clearly demonstrate that the scribes who tran¬scribed the text of the Bible were so meticulous—they had such high standards of accuracy, counting every word and every letter of every word—that we can be certain that the Old Testament text available today is in essence the same as the originals.

VISIT http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/isaiah to access the Isaiah scroll.

Challenging the Challenges: Mitchell Marcus’ Big Moment

Mitchell Marcus, a teenage student at Coronado High School in El Paso, Texas, is the team manager for the Coronado Thunderbirds and an avid basketball fan. During the last game of the season on Feb. 12, Marcus, who has a “developmental disability,” was given the chance to play, according to Fox local affiliate KFOX 14 in El Paso. With 90 seconds left, Coach Peter Morales put Marcus into the game.

Watch this heartwarming video to learn the outcome.

Palm Sunday – What Might You Need to Surrender?

As a middle school student, I was a member of the “Red Hat Marching Band.” We were 200 strong in number and looked rather impressive as we marched down the street in our clean crisp uniforms and, crowning our heads, the famous red cowboy hat. We marched in several community parades and local festivals; however, the highlight of the marching season was the annual trip to the state fair.

Parade days were always exciting. We’d arrive early to school, change into our uniforms, engage in “meaningful” conversations and board the bus. Upon arriving at our destination, Mr. Olson, our band teacher, gave his final words of instruction and we assembled ourselves in the staging area. Brass instruments to the front, woodwinds in the back, drum line strategically placed in the middle, and leading us down the parade route our three drum majors. Once assembled in position, we quieted and waited for the command to “step-off.” The drum majors called us to attention with their whistles, two long blasts followed by four short. The drum line would begin to play the cadence and we stepped off and make our way down the parade route.

Scripture gives reference to a parade, the arrival of Jesus to the city of Jerusalem. The event is recorded in each of the four gospels, one of only a handful of events from the life of Jesus represented in each account. The narratives, when layered upon each other, provide a colorful snapshot, capturing a moment of time, “a day in the life of Jesus.”

The events begin with Jesus and His disciples traveling on the road from Jericho. They pass through the town of Bethany and the small village of Bethphage, approaching Jerusalem from the east. This route ascends several mounts and provides spectacular views of the capital city. As they near the small village of Bethphage, Jesus sends two of His disciples ahead to fetch a donkey and her colt. As instructed, the disciples find the animals and bring them to Jesus, removing their outer garments and placing them on the animals as they do so. Jesus then sits upon the colt and rides the remaining distance. Others join in as they make their way. The Matthew narrative indicates that a “very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’” (21:8–9)

Luke adds, “The whole crowd began joyfully to praise God in loud voices” (19:37). Again, from Matthew’s account, “the whole city was stirred and asked ‘Who is this?’” (21:10).

Palm SundayThe pomp and circumstance must have caused many to turn their heads. The paparazzi would have had a field day capturing the moment. The evening news would have reported, “In glorious fashion, Jesus, a prophet from Nazareth, welcomed.” No doubt the disciples couldn’t have fallen asleep easily that evening as they replayed in their minds the activities of the day.

Many incidents of that day provide timeless truths regarding the character of Jesus. His humility is demonstrated by riding on a colt, not a stallion. His compassion is shown when, “As He approached the city, He wept over it” (Luke 19:41). The peace and praise that naturally flow from Him and to Him is evident in His riding upon an untamed animal and by the exuberant shouts He attracted from the crowds that thronged to Him.

It is one quiet moment in the account, however, that I find myself drawn to as a defining moment of immense significance. It occurs before all the pomp and circumstance, before the joyful celebration, before the accolades and cheers from the crowds. It involves only three people, none of whom are the main character. The setting is rather simple and involves those two animals tied to a post that Jesus instructs two disciples to fetch. As they untie the animals, the startled owner asks, “What and why?” They reply, “The Lord needs it.”

A decision has to be made. What will the owner do? He surrenders his prized possessions to be used by Jesus.

What do I possess, securely tied down, that I must surrender to Jesus to be used by Him? Am I willing to do so? Are you?

By Major Darryl Leedom

Fig Monday – A Purposeful Day of Judgement

The wise old sage from Ecclesiastes informs us that there is a time for everything. Jesus teaches us that there is also a purpose for everything. The key is to discover God’s purpose for all things in our life.

If something is not fulfilling its intended purpose, we need to take another look at it. Sometimes it may be best to display kindness in our response when someone strays from their purpose, but there are also times when a controlled harshness is necessary in order to effect change or to teach a lesson that will be remembered and implemented.

After Jesus entered Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Passover, He went to the place with which He was most familiar. “Jesus entered the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, He went to Bethany with the Twelve” (Mark 11:11).

What did Jesus see as He looked around? He found things in the temple court that should not have been occurring. The outer court of the temple was designated as a place for Gentiles to pray and worship, but it had been taken over by those who were selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging the government currency for the temple shekel.

It was a convenience for the Israelites who came to worship and a means of financial gain for the merchants and moneychangers. They set up a permanent shop in a prime location that was rent free and heavily trafficked by potential customers. They even had the blessing of the priests to conduct business. The merchants became so comfortable selling their wares that they even brought tables and benches to make their location more permanent.

Jesus casting out the money changersJesus said, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers” (Matt. 21:12). The house set aside for prayer had been converted into a place for economic gain.

Opportunists were present in Jesus’ day, and they still exist today. An opportunist is defined as someone who does something for his own gain to the detriment of another.

“Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves” (Matt. 21:12). “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume Me’” (John 2:17).

Not everyone will accept lessons that others try to teach. Some may be offended or threatened when their ways are being overturned or destroyed. “The chief priests and teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill Him, for they feared Him, because the whole crowd was amazed at His teaching” (Mark 11:18).

Everything Jesus did was for an express purpose. The cursing of the fig tree teaches about the place of prayer in everyday life. Jesus is hungry and reaches for a fig from a fig tree and finds none because the season for ripened figs has not arrived. “Then [Jesus] said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And His disciples heard Him say it” (Mark 11:14).

Why would Jesus curse this fig tree? Whenever Jesus was involved in judgment, whether temple cleansing or fig tree cursing, He also included an important teaching. His hunger was probably not the lesson, for He had fed 5,000 people with very little. Jesus said, “My food is to do God’s will and accomplish His work” (John 4:34). “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matt. 21:22).

What was occurring should not have been happening, and what was not occurring should have been happening. Our own life may sometimes follow this same pattern. Paul even indicated he sometimes didn’t do what he should have done and did what he shouldn’t. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom. 7:15).

There are some questions we should ask ourselves concerning these two biblical lessons. Is there anything in my worship that does not belong or is unfruitful? Is there anything in my individual life that does not belong or is unfruitful? If your answer is “yes” to either of these questions, a good place to begin is to follow Jesus’ instruction to pray.

By Major Keith J. Welch

Immersion Tuesday – The Great Commandment

Getting right to the heart of the matter was the standard method of operation by Jesus. Throughout His ministry on earth, He had a unique way of cutting to the core of challenges and contradictory issues that would rise up from His critics and cynics.

The Pharisees saw Him silence the powerful Sadducees when they asked questions in order to trap Him. On one occasion, the Pharisees decided to put forward a lawyer who was attempting to trip Jesus up by asking Him the tough question: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matt. 22:34-35)

Jesus and the PhariseesContrary to what some may think, Jesus wasn’t bringing forth any revolutionary ideas with His response: “He said to them, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets” (Matt. 22:36-40).

This was not some sort of new love ethic. Jesus was simply reminding them of the foundations of faith. Jesus had immersed Himself in the Torah throughout His life, and all of His teachings were based on its foundations.

The Pharisees were constantly challenging the people to maintain the strict standards of purity based on the law. Jesus took the law a step further to remind them of the greater need—to show compassion and care in all earthly relationships. This was the demand of Old Testament holiness, nothing more, nothing less. It had been simply overlooked and not carried out.

The Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4, is the fundamental expression of what life with God should look like for the individual believer. It is to live in such dedication to God that every aspect of our being is encompassed – heart, soul and mind. The expression of that is pounded out in practical holiness – loving others as ourselves.

It sounds simple. Yet it seemed so complex to many then, as it does now.

The message of the cross reminds us of the need for mercy in our dealings with others and within ourselves. Perhaps we can’t love others because we cannot deal with the fact that we don’t love ourselves. Our self image is often based on what we are not, instead of what we truly are in God’s sight: imago dei – created in His image. The psalmist reminds us that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).

God in His great love has shown all of humanity that He has not given up on us. The message we still need to understand today is that we should not give up on each other. The Great Commandment is an essential message for us to keep on proclaiming and practicing, not only in this holy Lenten time, but in every waking moment of our existence.

Let us rise to that challenge daily by learning to live simply and to love others, as God has shown His great love to us. The Holy Spirit provides the power to transform us in this way and drives us to make this a reality in our lives. May it be so for you and for me.

By Major Tim Foley