Summary: The Lord is our God and Father, and He wants it to go well with us forever. He has given us his Law to help us come to Him.
Turn to page # in your service book, and recite the words of the Greatest Commandment with me. … Every Sunday we hear these words; this Sunday we hear them three times, in the opening of our liturgy, in the Old Testament lesson, and in the Gospel proclamation. Every faithful Jew recites them morning and evening. This is the Shema. Its ubiquitous use attests to the importance that the followers of the Lord place on these words, and Christ Himself declares them the most important commandment.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The first verse of the Shema cuts immediately to the heart of our religion. “Hear, O Israel.” The declaration of who we are appears first, perhaps as a surprise. Man tends to be self-absorbed. And by declaring that we are Israel, He cuts us off from thinking we are God. God understands our weaknesses, and He desires not to leave us in weakness but, through our weakness, to bring about His strength.
“The Lord our God.” Throughout Scriptures God seeks to establish relationship. “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (Lev. 26:12). God is our Father, we are His children; He is bridegroom, Israel is the bride. If we desire the blessings of being His people, then we must have Him as our God. That sounds simple. But we always want to have our cake and eat it too. We want to have dual citizenship—in the kingdom of heaven and in the realms of this earth. If God is God, then I am not. And if I’m not God, then someone else makes up the rules.
“The Lord is one.” There is room for no other gods besides the Lord. He is a jealous God. “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Is. 42:8). God does not want any leftovers, nor does He call forth a people to be part-timers. God demands our full and undivided attention. There can be only one: one driver of the car, one conductor of the orchestra, one painter of the canvas, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:6).
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Dt. 6:5). That’s easy when there are blessings being passed around. My Steven is singularly focused on me when I have something that he wants. But when I’m scolding him for hitting his brother (again), what’s the last thing he wants to do? To look me in the eye. Anything else, any other object or person, any distraction will do. But he is my nephew and I am his uncle. I will not give up on him, though he may want me to, and though he may give up on me.
You’ve all heard about people giving their hearts to the Jesus? My mom and dad can tell you about the moment I did, in the bathtub, when I was three or four. (Maybe that’s why God likes to interrupt me in the shower…I wonder if I had shampoo in my hair back then too?) Loving God is not only a matter of giving Him our hearts. I can give my heart to one thing and can devote my strength and soul and mind to another thing. I can give my heart to helping raise my nephews and niece rightly, but if I withhold my mind from it, my efforts will be ill-conceived and will be to their detriment. But with my heart and my mind I can make actions that are seemingly ill-conceived but are measured and calculated to bring forth their growth. Or if I withhold my strength, then I will only be giving what extra energy I have to spare (and that happens less and less). Yet in giving them heart and strength, I act sacrificially and not only tell my dear ones about the wonders that are in God’s world, but I also take them and show them what these are.
What is the heart of the Lord in giving His people, Israel, now the Church, His ordinances? Why does He long for us to follow his commands? “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever” (Dt. 5:29). God has given His decrees not to kill our joy. His desire is that all go well with us. He longs for us to choose life (cf. Dt. 30:19).
God wants us to fear Him. Fearing God is not morbid fear; it is not fear that wallows in unpleasant and disturbing matters. Fear of God is having reverence and awe, because He is God, which makes Him awesome and reverend. Fear of God is being astonished that He stoops down to care for us: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:4). “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (Ps. 130: 3,4). Fear of God is amazed at His love, that God’s desire is that His people —as rebellious and disobedient and as terrible-twos as we are—be blessed.