Why Did Peter Attack?

The night Jesus was betrayed, Judas led a band of men to the Mount of Olives to arrest Jesus. As the Son of Man was surrounded by soldiers, priests, and Pharisees, Peter charged the captors and struck the high priest’s servant in the head with his sword.

But why?

Despite what you’ve seen in movies, Jesus and His disciples weren’t surrounded by a small group of religious men. John’s gospel tells us Judas brought “a detachment of troops.” A detachment, for those not familiar with the Roman military, was one-tenth of a legion—a legion being five thousand men. In other words, Jesus was waylaid by about 500 trained Roman soldiers—as well as a group of priests and Pharisees.

So… you have 500 armed soldiers from the world’s most power army on one side… and eleven day laborers with two swords who just woke up from a nap. What was Peter thinking?

To make sense of this, you need to understand the prophecies of Zechariah. In the final chapter of his book, Zechariah foretold of a day when God’s people would be surrounded by enemy nations bent on destroying the Jews (Zechariah 14:2). On that day, the LORD Himself would go forth against the nations to fight on behalf of His people. And His attack would start when the Messiah stood on the Mount of Olives (v. 4).

As the Messiah stood upon the Mount of Olives, surrounded by enemy nations, a great earthquake (seismos)—greater than the earthquake in the days of Uzziah—would strike, splitting (schizo) the mountain in two. Uzziah’s earthquake, of course, had occurred when the priests tried to stop the king from making a sacrifice in the temple, causing the roof of the temple to split in two (2 Chronicles 26, Antiquities IX, 10.4). Then the LORD would enter Jerusalem with the saints (hagios) (v. 5).

Next, the lights would be diminished in the middle of the day and living water (hydor) would flow from Jerusalem. Then the faces of God’s enemies would melt (think Raiders of the Lost Ark), and the LORD would be declared King over all the earth (v. 9, 12).

This prophecy may seem obscure to you, but to a persecuted first-century Jew living under Roman occupation, this would have been well-known and oft-discussed. Now consider what the disciples would have thought. They have been traveling with the Messiah, the true King of the Jews, for over three years. Jesus has been constantly talking about finishing His work, and then they head to Jerusalem during the Passover. No wonder His disciples offered to call down fire on those pagan Samaritans a few days earlier (Luke 9:54). This was the end! The time for all of their enemies to be destroyed.

Every night that week they retired to the Mount of Olives. And every night the disciples waited for Jesus to begin His holy war on God’s enemies. And finally, after days and weeks and years and centuries of waiting, five hundred Roman soldiers and a pod of imposter priests launched their attack. On the Mount of Olives, of all places. And Jesus stood to His feet.

Now was the time.

Peter charged, expecting Jesus to begin shooting lasers out of His eyes and melting all these evil men in their armor.

But Jesus’ attack never came. Instead, He reprimanded Peter and surrendered to the troops, to be taken away, tortured, and murdered on a cross.

Where was the victory of the Messiah? Where was the earthquake? The splitting of the mountain? The darkness and the flowing water and the saints? Where was the King over all the earth?

Maybe the disciples were wrong about Jesus. Maybe He wasn’t their Messiah.

But as He hung on the cross, darkness swept across the land. At noon. In the middle of the day (Matthew 27:45). Then as He took His last breath, the earth quaked (seismos), splitting the rocks apart (schizo) and tearing (schizo) the veil of the temple from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51).

After He died, Jesus was pierced by a soldier, and living water (hydor) flowed from His side (John 19:34). Then the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints (hagios) were raised and entered the holy city (Matthew 27:52-53).

Peter and the disciples were expecting the Messiah to attack their enemies as He stood upon the Mount of Olives. And they were right. They just expected it to happen the wrong way. They expected Jesus to wipe out all the Romans. But the Romans weren’t their true enemy. The real enemy is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Just as Zechariah had prophesied, the rocks were split in two. The priests tried to stop the King, but instead the veil was torn apart. The lights were diminished. The living water flowed. The saints entered Jerusalem. Death was defeated. And Jesus became the King over all the earth.

O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?
…Thanks be to God, who gives us
the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57)

The Kinsman Avenger

If you’ve ever heard a sermon on the book of Ruth, you’ve probably heard about the “kinsman-redeemer.” As described in Leviticus 25, if a married man dies without children, his brother is told to marry the widow and bear children with her on behalf of the deceased brother, continuing his brother’s name and ensuring he essentially has life after death through his children.

The brother who performs this noble deed is called the “redeemer” (ga’al in Hebrew), and the most famous redeemer of this sort is Boaz. Boaz—described as a “man of great valor” (Ruth 2:1)—faithfully fulfills this role, revering, romancing, and redeeming the widow Ruth. Through their subsequent marriage, both Ruth and Boaz were faithful to God’s Word and Ruth’s first husband, and they ended up becoming the great-grandparents of King David and the ancestors of the ultimate Redeemer, Jesus.

But the ga’al has several other obligations that don’t get nearly as much attention. For instance, another responsibility of a redeemer is to buy family members out of slavery (Leviticus 25). But the one I’d like to focus on is described three times in the Law—the role of the avenger of blood.

If a man is killed by another, a relative of the deceased is tasked to become the avenger of blood—he is commanded to track the manslayer down and ensure that justice is served. The avenger brings the charges before the elders of a city of refuge, who in turn judge whether the manslayer is “deserving of death” (Deuteronomy 19:6). If the manslayer is found guilty, the avenger executes judgment on the criminal; if the manslayer is found responsible but nonetheless not guilty of murder, the avenger makes sure that justice is still served by forcing the manslayer into exile until the High Priest dies. (A more detailed description of this law is found in Numbers 35, Deuteronomy 19, and Joshua 20).

Now all of these jobs—the redeemer who guarantees his brother has some sort of life after death; the relative who liberates his kinsman out of slavery; the avenger who carries out justice—are one in the same. They are all the responsibilities of the ga’al. And throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, this title is almost exclusively used of God—especially in the prophets, where God promises that He will become the Redeemer of His people.

For those of us in need of liberation from sin and in need of resurrection from spiritual death, the idea of God as our ga’al—our Redeemer—is fantastic news. But the Redeemer doesn’t just bring freedom and life after death—He also executes judgment on those deserving of death. He is not only a Redeemer—He is an Avenger as well.

This isn’t great news for us, for—in the words of Paul—we have all sinned (Romans 3:23), and the wages of our sin is death (Romans 6:23). We are guilty. We are deserving of death, and not even a life in exile or the death of the High Priest will change that.

So what happens when the person who needs redemption and liberation is also guilty of sin and deserving of death? How does the Kinsman-Redeemer, the Blood-Avenger, fulfill both sides of the law?

Surprisingly, this exact question is asked and answered in 2 Samuel 14, midway through the reign of King David. A wise widow from Tekoa comes to the king with a problem: she had two sons, but they got into a fight and one brother killed the other. If they execute the murderous brother, no one will remain to redeem the family name and guarantee the deceased brother (or his father) has a life and legacy after death. But if they allow the murderer to live, they have failed to carry out justice.

In this parable (and it is a parable, as you find out later in the chapter), the murderous brother is a stand-in for every one of us. It ushers us back to the second sin ever committed, when Cain killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4); it reminds us of the sin Esau tried to carry out against his brother Jacob (Genesis 28); it calls to mind the attempted murder of Joseph by his jealous brothers (Genesis 37); and it represents you and me, who are guilty of sin and deserving of death, but nonetheless desperately need of salvation from our Redeemer.

So what was the king’s decree?

David declared that the guilty son would live—“not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground” (v. 10)—and if anyone disagreed, he would personally take care of it—“if anyone says anything to you, bring him to me” (v. 11). The wise widow prophetically responds, “God does not take away a life; but He devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him” (v. 14). She adds that in all this, “the king and his throne [will] be guiltless” (v. 9), and that the king is like the Messenger of Yahweh in that he brings comfort by “discerning good and evil” (v. 17) and “knows everything that is in the earth” (v. 20).

In short, the king promises that God will personally find a way for the murderous son (and his entire family) to be redeemed, without neglecting the just requirement of the Law. The guilty ones need not be expelled from Him.

And while this is an interesting story about David and a wise widow… what does this have to do with us? Well, there’s another interesting thing about this chapter. From the time David is introduced in 1 Samuel 16 until his death in 1 Kings 2, David is mentioned by name in every single chapter—41 chapters in all—except for a single outlier. 2 Samuel 14. For some reason, David is never mentioned by name in 2 Samuel 14. Instead, he is referred to as Adonai (meaning “Lord”) thirteen times and King an astounding forty times.

In a chapter that compares David to the Messenger of Yahweh (a title typically associated with the Messiah), where the King is said to be “guiltless” and to “know everything,” where the subject is the redemption of those “deserving of death,” and where we are told that God will devise a plan so that all of us sinful mortals are not expelled from His presence, we are told that every decree and judgment is coming from the throne of “Adonai the King.”

So… what is the LORD’s plan? How is justice executed if the guilty ones are redeemed and escape death?

Judgment is supposed to come upon those “deserving of death” (Deuteronomy 19:6). That phrase (mishpat mavet, “judged worthy of death”) is incredibly rare in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it surprisingly appears just a few chapters later, in Deuteronomy 21:

If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him from a tree… he who is hanged is accursed of God.” (Deut. 21:22-23)

Over a thousand years later, this verse was quoted by the Apostle Paul, in reference to Jesus Christ:

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” (Galatians 3:13)

For us to be redeemed, someone had to be cursed. For all of us deserving of death to be made free, someone had to pay the price for our sin. And so Jesus our Adonai, the Messenger of Yahweh who knows all things, the King who sits upon the guiltless throne, devised a plan. Our Lord and King personally saw to it that we would outlive death. The Son of David guaranteed that we’d never be banished from His kingdom. Even if it meant taking our curse upon Himself, being hung from a tree and executed in our place.

Jesus Christ. Our Redeemer. Our Liberator. Our Avenger.

I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death (mavet). (Hosea 13:14)

O Adonai, You have pleaded the case for my soul;
You have redeemed my life. (Lamentations 3:58)

Checed & Emeth

In Genesis 24, Abraham sends his most trusted servant (possibly Eliezer) back to his homeland to find a wife for his son, Isaac. Eliezer is told to find a wife among Abraham’s people, but if he is unable to find a woman (or she refuses to marry Isaac), he will be released from his oath. Essentially, if this doesn’t work out, the line of Abraham might end. This is sort of a big deal.

As you would expect, Eliezer prays to the LORD for help, asking Him to show Abraham “checed” (faithfulness, goodness) and to lead him in “emeth” (truth) (Genesis 24:12, 14, 27, 48).

These two attributes of God appear throughout the Bible, very often together. Jacob prays to God for his checed and emeth (faithfulness and truth) when he returns home to face Esau (Genesis 32:10); David prays for God’s checed and emeth throughout the Psalms (Psalm 40:11); God even reveals Himself to Moses as “the LORD abounding in checed and emeth” (Exodus 34:6).

So Eliezer prays for God’s checed and emeth as he journeys to Nahor, hoping to successfully find Isaac a wife and secure the lineage of Abraham. Sure enough, God delivers. Just as Eliezer finishes praying, he is approached by Rebekah, who is the perfect answer to his prayer. He thanks the Lord, tells her his story, and meets her family.

But then something interesting happens. He asks once more for checed and emeth—but not from God. He asks for it from Rebekah and her family. He asks them to deal faithfully and truthfully with him, to give him a straight answer, to let him know if she would marry Isaac, fulfilling God’s plan for the family of Abraham.

In other words, the plan of God was accomplished by the joining together of God’s checed and emeth and Man’s checed and emeth. God is always faithful and true, and when we respond in faith and truth, God’s plans are realized.

“Let not checed and emeth forsake you. Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, and so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man.” (Proverbs 3:3-4)

The First Commandment (TEN COMMANDMENTS)

If a man brings accusation against another man, charging him with murder, but cannot prove it, the accuser shall be put to death.”

This is the first commandment… of the Code of Hammurabi. Other “first commandments” are similar: Sharia Law and the Laws of Eshnunna start by prohibiting theft; The Code of the Nesilim and the Code of Ur-Nammu begin with laws against murder; The Code of the Assura begins by outlawing women from “uttering vulgarity” and the Buddhist Edicts of Ashoka start by protecting animal life.

But the Bible’s Ten Commandments begin in a very different way. Before prohibitions on murder and theft and adultery, God tells us:

You shall have no other gods before Me.

Why does God place this commandment before all of the others? Why is this viewed as more foundational than the other laws? Surely murder is a more offensive crime than polytheism.

The reason this law comes first is that, without establishing this fundamental truth, none of the other laws are binding. Sure, YHWH says that you shall not murder. But Moloch is pleased with human sacrifice, so slaughtering your neighbor won’t be a huge deal if you choose to go with him instead. Jesus condemned sexual immorality. But Ba’al will be glorified when you participate in orgies in the temple, so go ahead and live it up.

If we accept a pantheon of gods and goddesses, there is always another authority who will permit whatever sinful behavior you want to partake in. Even today, when modern Americans aren’t tempted to make sacrifices to pagan statues, we still have a variety of “truths” that we can pick. How often is improper behavior tolerated and celebrated because “he/she/xe/they are just living its truth”? So long as we deny the existence of objective truth—and the existence of one objective Truth-Giver—the remaining nine commandments (and any other biblical, national, or moral law) are optional, subject to our whims.

But if we clear out the pantheon and make room only for one God—for the True God—we now have no other choice but to live for Him and obey His just laws. I can’t choose to go with Ashtoreth or Allah or Oprah or popular opinion instead. Those false gods have been banished, and only YHWH remains.

And if YHWH remains as the only God, then you have a responsibility to follow Him in all areas of your life. So often we adopt this attitude of “putting God first.” But if God is first, that implies that something other than God is second, third, fourth, or fifth. God might come first and be worshipped on Sundays, but career comes second and is worshipped come Monday.

What ends up happening is we create a “God” box and put it out in front, but then have a separate “Family” box and a separate “Work” box and a separate “Me” box, all partitioned away from that first box. God gets first priority on Sunday morning and Wednesday nights, but we keep Him in His box during staff meetings or when we’re out with friends.

But the truth of the First Commandment is that God doesn’t want to be first in our lives; He wants to be only. Every other box—work, friends, family, whatever else—needs to fit into that God box. We pursue our career through the lens of God’s Word. We raise our children to know God. We treat our spouse the way God has commanded us. Every part of our lives is governed by what God has spoken. No other god—Ba’al or Buddha or self—has control over any area of life.

During Jesus’ ministry, He was asked what the first commandment was (Mark 12:28). His answer?

“Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29-30)

He was quoting the Shema (Deuteronomy 6), but implicitly commenting on the nature of the First Commandment, the commandment against all forms of polygamy. The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You don’t get a pantheon of preferential deities. There’s only one LORD allowed in your life. And you shall love the LORD with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Every part of you, every fiber of your being, belongs to the One God. Don’t hold anything back from Him.

This is the first commandment.

Coats and Goats, Deception and Discernment

Jacob (the youngest son of Isaac), wore his brother’s coat, slaughtered a goat, and deceived his father concerning his identity to steal his brother’s blessing. When Isaac could not discern his identity, he asked Jacob directly who he was. Jacob lied to his father’s face.

A generation later, Jacob’s sons took Joseph (the youngest son of Jacob), stole his coat, slaughtered a goat, and deceived their father concerning the fate of their brother. The sons asked their father to discern what had happened, and then lied to their father’s face.

Some time later, Judah refuses to give Shelah, his youngest son, to marry Tamar. Tamar deceives Judah into an affair, and when he has no goat to pay her with, she takes his coat as a pledge. When she was found to be pregnant, Judah (not realizing she was his mistress) demanded that she be executed. Tamar then presented the coat, and asked Judah to discern who the father was.

All of the elements that had led to their family’s greatest sins were present: the goat, the coat, the deception of the youngest son, the request to discern. Tamar’s life was now in Judah’s hands. Would he deceive the court and have her killed, continuing the family’s legacy of betrayal? Or would he finally come clean and tell the truth?

“She has been more righteous than I,” Judah discerned in front of the crowd, judging himself guilty but justifying Tamar as innocent. Judah had finally broken the pattern. He had committed to the truth and admitted his sin.

This story is likely the reason Judah was chosen to carry the royal line of Israel. More than that, thousands of years later Jesus would be born from the descendants of Judah and Tamar’s affair.

It wasn’t Judah’s self-righteousness that brought the Savior into the world. It was Judah’s acknowledgement of his sin, his declaration of his own unrighteousness, that eventually led to the birth of the Messiah.

“I have not come to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Luke 5)

The Almost Acrostic Psalm

Psalm 25 is an acrostic psalm, meaning each of the 22 verses begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet (which has 22 letters). Well… it’s almost an acrostic psalm. Four verses break the pattern:

  • Verse 2 repeats aleph rather than use beth
  • Verses 5-6 skips over the vav
  • Verse 18 should begin with a shin, but it instead begins with a resh
  • Verse 22 begins with an extra pei

Given that this psalm is *almost* an acrostic, the author seems to be drawing our attention to the verses that break the pattern. So, what do those verses say?

  • Let not my enemies triumph over me
  • You are the God of my salvation
  • Forgive all my sins
  • Redeem Israel out of all their troubles

All of these verses are about salvation! And David (by the Holy Spirit) wants us to focus on God’s deliverance from our troubles and our enemies throughout this psalm.

But that’s not all. If you put the three missing letters together, they spell the word “hell.” And if you put the three extra letters together, they spell “healer.” In other words, while bringing our attention to God’s ever-present salvation, God has removed hell and replaced it with healing.

He truly is the God of our salvation.

“To You, O LORD, I lift my soul. O my God, I trust in You.” (Psalm 25)

The “Older” Shall Serve the “Younger”

While Rebekah was pregnant with twins, God appeared to her and said,

“Two nations are in your womb,
Two peoples shall be separated from your body.
One people shall be stronger than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)

We often interpret this in light of what we know will eventually come to pass between the two brothers: Since we know the younger brother Jacob will end up with his older brother’s birthright and blessing, this heavenly declaration must be prophesying those events. “The older (Esau) will serve the younger (Jacob)” by forfeiting his inheritance. Thus, Esau is the loser of the prophecy because he serves, while Jacob is the winner because he is served.

I think this interpretation is wrong.

For one, this verse doesn’t actually say that “the *older* shall serve the younger.” The word “older” is the Hebrew word “rab,” which actually means “greater.” And of the 458 times it appears in the Hebrew Scriptures, it’s only translated “older” in this passage. In fact, if the author meant to say “older,” there’s another word he could have chosen. The word “gadol” means “older,” as we see in Genesis 27:1, where Isaac refers to Esau as his “beni ha-gadol”: “my older son.”

In my opinion, a better translation of the end of Genesis 25:23 would be, “…and the greater shall serve the lesser.” When read this way, the passage is ambiguous as to who is the “greater” and who is the “lesser.” So… who was the greater one?

At first, we might think that the greater one was Jacob. After all, he outsmarted his brother and ended up with the blessing, right? Well… it’s not actually so clear. It’s true that Jacob deceived his father and brother in order to receive his father’s blessing (Hebrew berakah). But twenty years later, when Jacob returned home to face his brother, he returns the berakah, saying, “Please, take my blessing” (Genesis 33:11).

Okay, so maybe Esau is the greater one. He is stronger than his brother, after all. Additionally, after he meets up with his brother after twenty years apart, he tells Jacob that he doesn’t need his brother’s gifts, for “I am great (rab) enough” (Genesis 33:8). Right there, Esau declares himself to be the great one. Case closed, problem solved.

Except… Esau isn’t the only brother who is called great. After living in exile for twenty years, the Bible calls Jacob “exceedingly great” (rab) (Genesis 30:43).

So, both brothers are called great (rab), both brothers were increased greatly, and the blessing changes hands several times and doesn’t really seem to play into this all that much. Which one is the “greater” one? That original prophecy tells us:

“The greater *shall serve* the lesser.”

The greater one is the one who serves.

And with that in mind, which of the two brothers served? During the twenty years that they were separated, we read eleven times that Jacob served (abad) his uncle Laban. This service to his uncle led directly to Jacob becoming great, both in terms of finances, family, and influence. And then when Jacob and Esau finally reunite, Jacob calls himself Esau’s servant (ebed) five times. Those twins spent years and years seeking greatness by trying to steal the inheritance from one another. But finally, Jacob began to seek greatness *through service*.

You find this dynamic live on through their descendants. Esau’s people became the Edomites, while Jacob’s people became the Israelites. After 400+ years in slavery, the Israelites asked permission to pass through the Edomite’s land. The Edomites chose not to serve, refusing them entry into their land (Numbers 20:21).

Despite this poor treatment, God wrote it into the Israelites’ legal code that the Edomites would always be welcome to join the congregation of Israel and worship the One True God beside them, “for he is your brother” (Deuteronomy 23:7, 8). The Israelites were commanded to serve their brother Edom.

So often we read Genesis 25:23 and assume that the one who “serves” is the one that gets the short end of the stick, but the opposite is true. The one who “serves” is the one who is considered “great.”

And this interpretation of greatness and service fits much better within the whole narrative of scripture. The very first usage of the word “service” in the Bible (abad) is found in the Garden of Eden, where Adam was given the important task of abading the garden—of serving it, of tilling it. Hundreds of years later, Moses demands that Pharaoh “let God’s people go,” that they may abad Him. After their salvation from Egypt, God gives the priests and Levites the important job of abading Him in the tabernacle. And throughout the prophets, the future Messiah is called the ebed of the LORD—the Servant of God. Service is what God’s people are called to, and serving God and others is what makes us great in the eyes of the LORD.

And thousands of years later, we see this play out between two opposing kings. King Herod was an appointed “king of the Jews.” He was rich, ruthless, and wanted to be served. He considered himself to be so great that he gave himself the title, “Herod the Great.” And did I mention that he also was an Idumaean—an Edomite, a descendant of Esau.

But there was another King of the Jews. This One came not to be served but to serve. This One became poor that we might be made rich. This One bore our sicknesses that we might be healed. This One who knew no sin became sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God. This One—an Israelite, a descendant of Jacob—was the True King, the Servant King, the Great King.

And this Great Servant King taught all who would listen how to achieve greatness as well, by echoing the words He had spoken to Rebekah thousands of years earlier:

“He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11)

What is Love? (Church Basement)

Love. It’s what God is. It’s what we’re supposed to walk in. And depending who you ask, it’s also a battlefield, an open door, and all you need. But… what is it? What is love?

Nowadays most people would say that love is being nice, or maybe tolerance or acceptance. Some dictionaries say it’s a feeling of attachment, or passionate affection.

And a mistake many Christians make is using today’s cultural understanding of love and applying that to scriptures about love, rather than getting our definition of love from the Bible and living that out in the world.

So, what does the Bible say about love?

A few things, actually. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, people would ask Him, “What is the great(est) commandment in the law?” and His answer was always the same:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all of your strength.” “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Now these weren’t laws that He just made up on the spot. No, these laws were given thousands of years earlier, when God gave them to Moses on Mount Sinai. These are established laws from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Now notice the connection between love and God’s law. Jesus says that when you’re walking in love, you’re obeying laws that God has commanded. And this connection between walking in love and living according to the law continues throughout the Bible.

Writing to the Romans, Paul says, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” You shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not lie, you shall not covet. Paul says these are all summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Paul is making the same connection between love and law. When you walk in love, you’re obeying God’s law. And conversely, when you disobey God’s law, you’re not walking in love.

James says the same thing, writing, “If you really fulfill the royal law according the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” To love is to fulfill—to obey—God’s law.

Even John, Jesus’ beloved disciple, says the exact same thing. In one of his letters, he writes, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments.” In other letter, he says, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” Then he adds, “And His commandments are not burdensome,” as if to silence the objectors and say, “Guys, you can do this. You can walk in love.”

And finally, Jesus adds His agreement to James, John, and Paul. He tells His followers—He tells you and me—“If you love Me, keep My commandments,” and “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.”

Love isn’t some alternative to obeying God. Love is obeying God. Love is doing what God has said to do. To love someone is to treat them how God has commanded you to treat them. Love is obedience to God and to His Word.

And when you apply God’s standard of love to the world, you find that there are plenty of things that society says are loving that aren’t really all that loving.

Stealing something from one person and giving it to someone in need isn’t real love, because stealing is against God’s law.

Having sex with your girlfriend because you are in love isn’t real love, because sex outside of marriage is against God’s law.

Telling someone that their sin is okay because you don’t want to hurt their feelings isn’t real love, because lying is against God’s law.

If your supposed love is causing you to disobey God, then it’s not real love, because the most loving thing you can do in any given situation is to do exactly what God has said to do.

And real quick, I just want to point out that this isn’t a license to call people out like a tool. Ephesians 4 says our words should be used for godly edification and imparting grace, so if you’re not speaking words of grace, you’re not speaking in love.

So what is love, truly? It’s not what you see coming out of Hollywood. It’s not what you hear on the radio or what you read in Time Magazine or what you see trending on the internet. It’s what you find in the Holy Scriptures, revealed and commanded by the perfect and loving God.

Love is obedience to God’s Word. Love is keeping His commandments. Love is doing what God has said to do. And love is what God has called each and every one of us to do. So let’s get started.

Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.

Ten Reasons the Ten Commandments are Important (TEN COMMANDMENTS)

ten-commandments-meta-opt

Every few years, the Ten Commandments find themselves embroiled in controversy when some progressive pastor suggests that God doesn’t really like them all that much (a silly supposition, since God never changes and Jesus told us these laws would never fade away). And while I’d’ve hoped that Christians could agree on such basic universal truths as “We should only serve one God” and “Murder is bad,” it’s apparently not so obvious.

So here are ten facts about the Ten Commandments that you may or may not know:

ONE: They were literally written by God.

I know, I know. The whole bible was written by God. But technically, it was ghostwritten by God (or Holy Ghost-written by God, amirite?): God communicated His words through prophets and apostles, but God didn’t actually put pen to paper. David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote his psalms; Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote his gospel; Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote his epistles. That’s why the scriptures are called God-breathed, not God-written.

However, the Ten Commandments are different. We are told several times that God literally carved them into stone with His finger.

“…[God] gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” (Exodus 31:18)

“Then the Lord delivered to me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God…” (Deuteronomy 9:10)

In this way, the Ten Commandments stand apart from the rest of the scriptures, not being transcribed but literally carved by God.

TWO: God spoke them out loud to over two million people.

Many times throughout the Bible, you’ll read phrases like “Thus saith the Lord” or “Command these people, saying…” What that means is God spoke these words to some spiritual leader, who then repeated these words to God’s people.

But again, the Ten Commandments stand apart in that they were spoken directly by God to His people.

“These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly, in the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice…” (Deuteronomy 5:22)

It is estimated that there were somewhere between two and seven million Israelites at the time. And Moses gathered those millions of desert wanderers around Mount Sinai, and God spoke these commandments out loud to them all. There was no denying that these divine laws came from God.

THREE: They are listed not once but twice in the Law.

The first five books of the Bible contain 613 laws (if you think that’s a lot, keep in mind that the United States has over 20,000 laws about guns alone). And in that limited space, God doesn’t repeat many of His commands. For instance, the “greatest commandment”—to love your neighbor as yourself—is only listed once. And yet God presents all Ten Commandments not once but twice (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5).

FOUR: When God created a nation, they were His Bill of Rights.

After over four hundred years in slavery, God fantastically delivered His people from the greatest superpower on earth and led them to form a nation of their own. And the central tenets of this new nation was these Ten Commandments. Of all 613 laws He had given them (or the millions of laws that have been written by countless nations since), God felt these ten were foundational to a successful and free society.

FIVE: They explain Jesus’ commandments to love God and love others.

In one famous exchange, a lawyer asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Jesus responded that the right answer was:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all you soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and [to love] your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

However, it might not always be clear how to love God or love your neighbor. That’s where the Ten Commandments come in handy. The first four provide instruction related to loving God, while the latter six command us how to love others.

SIX: Jesus said the Ten Commandments were the key to eternal life.

In another famous exchange, a rich young ruler asked Jesus for the key to eternal life. Jesus responded,

“If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17)

The ruler pressed further, asking which ones He should keep. Jesus answered by listing half of the commandments and the command to love your neighbor (Matthew 19, Mark 10, Luke 18).

According to Jesus, anyone who wants to enter into life should keep the Ten Commandments.

SEVEN: The Ten Commandments apparently gave the rich young ruler riches and influence.

As mentioned previously, a certain ruler (Luke 18:18) who was rich (Mark 10:22) asked Jesus for the secret to eternal life. Jesus told him to keep the commandments (Matthew 19:17), specifically citing five of the Ten Commandments. The rich young ruler responded, “All these things I have kept from my youth” (Matthew 19:20).

Taking the whole Bible into consideration, it is likely that this young man found financial success and influence because of his obedience to God’s commandments. After all, God told Joshua that if he kept the Book of the Law,

“You will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8)

Promises of economic success and influence are found throughout the Bible (Deuteronomy 28:1-14 and Proverbs 3:1-4, to name a few). It’s no wonder that this young man, who made keeping God’s laws a priority, found both success and influence.

It’s worth noting that, while this man kept many of the Ten Commandments, he doesn’t claim to have kept all of them. Loving God and not coveting are famously absent from the list, and Jesus asks the young man to give to the poor, trust God fully, and follow Him (Matthew 19:21). Jesus later tells His disciples that if the man had obeyed Him—and kept all Ten Commandments—he would have increased his possessions and influence and found eternal life (Mark 10:29-30).

EIGHT: Paul quotes them too.

In Romans 13, Paul writes to the Christians of Rome about how to live as members of society. He lays out the role of government and instructs these believers to pay their taxes. Then he tells the Christians to “love one another” (Romans 13:8). To make sure they understand what this looks like practically, He elaborates further, listing the latter six commandments (the love your neighbor commandments).

Paul’s letter reaffirms that the Ten Commandments are central to a biblical understanding of love and that they are integral to loving successfully in society.

NINE: They establish moral absolutes.

In today’s world, most people either have one God or no gods. But that’s not always how it was. For most of human history, people worshiped many gods. There was a god of agriculture, a god of money, a god of weather. These gods didn’t always get along, and usually had competing views of morality.

As a result, it was hard to know what was right and what was wrong. After all, the god of the river might command one thing, but the god of war would command another. And humans were free to pick whatever god or system of morality suited them at any particular moment.

But the Ten Commandments changed all that. God started off these commandments by declaring that He was the absolute and only God, and that these commandments were His perfect standard of living. There could be no debate whether murder was right or wrong, or whether it was sometimes okay to steal. God, the one and only God, the true God, had declared that these were wrong, whether you or the king or the entire nation agreed. Right and wrong existed because they were established by God, and no matter who you were or where you lived, these commandments applied to you.

TEN: There are only ten of them.

Let’s be real. The “Ten Commandments” has a nice ring to it, and they easily fit on two tablets of stone. It’d be much harder to memorize the “Six Hundred and Thirteen Commandments,” let alone to fit them on a poster.

Conclusion:

The Ten Commandments are important. They are clearly important to God, they were important to Israel, and they should be important to us as well.

We’ll look more into lessons we can learn from God’s Ten Commandments in the coming months.

What is Love?

love

Dictionary.com defines love as “a passionate affection for another person.” But then again, Dictionary.com also believes that boys can turn into girls, so they’re probably not the best source for getting an accurate (let alone biblical) definition of love.

And it’s incredibly important for us to understand what love is. After all, we are repeatedly commanded by Jesus to love:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 25:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27)

Jesus reiterates this commandment in His final discourse:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34)

Heck, God goes as far as to say that He is love:

“We have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

So, what is love? Is it a feeling? Is it being nice? Is it an open door, or a battlefield, or a drug?

According to the bible, love is obedience to God’s commandments:

“If you love Me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” (John 14:21)

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2-3)

This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in them.” (2 John 6)

In any given situation, the most loving thing you can do is the thing God has told you to do. No wonder God gave us these wonderful commandments. It wasn’t just to keep us in line; it was to keep us in love, and as long as we obey His laws, we can be certain that we will be walking in love*.


Notes:

* Some readers might deny this biblical definition of love, citing the Pharisees as a counter-example. After all, the Pharisees supposedly kept the law, and yet would not be considered very loving by Jesus’ standards. In actuality, the Pharisees didn’t keep the law—at least they didn’t keep the whole law. Sure, they kept some of it, but they also rejected a whole lot of it (Matthew 23:23, Mark 7:8-13). Obeying a few commandments while intentionally ignoring the rest isn’t true obedience, and thus isn’t love.