Summary: This is the second in a series I did on the Great Commandment from Mark 12.
September 8, 2002
“Love From ‘Ground Zero’”
12 months ago, it wasn’t a place; rather, it was a concept, a term we used to describe the center of things. Now, everyone in America knows of it as a place, a geographic location on a map. It’s called "Ground Zero". Never will we hear that term again and fail to think of the site where almost a year ago two massive towers came crashing to the ground. Etched on our minds and consciences are the sights and sounds of that horrifying 102 minutes, the span of time between 8:46 AM, when the first jetliner plowed into the North Tower of the WTC, and 10:28 AM, the time when that same North Tower followed the South Tower in collapsing to the ground. The most current count suggests that 2803 people perished in that period of time, including as many as 200 who reached the horrifying conclusion that leaping from 80+ stories in the air to concrete below was the best of the available options. That day changed our lives--though sadly, for most Americans, not by virtue of causing them to turn to God. On September 10, those two buildings stood as silent testament to the robust American economic way of life; one day later, the burning, smoking rubble lay as testimony to a vulnerability we had never really considered. The horror of terrorism had come home--at Ground Zero.
The term “Ground Zero” speaks of the epicenter, the very core. There is in every human life a “Ground Zero”, if you will; the Bible terminology is the “heart”. The Greek term is “kardia”, and we think of words like cardiac, cardiogram, and pericardium, words which deal with the physical heart. We see a cardiologist when we’ve eaten one too many fast food meals and the arteries get clogged!
While this word is used of the physical heart, in the Bible the word “heart” refers to the command center of all of life, the place where decisions are made and plans hatched. The heart controls our feelings, our emotions, desires and passions. It is in our hearts that commitment takes root. The heart is the place where we decide for or against God. Our lips may say one thing; we may profess devotion to Jesus. But it is our hearts that betray our true loyalties (Mark 7:6-8).
Jesus is asked by a lawyer, a man knowledgeable in the Old Testament law, skilled in its application, which of all the commandments found therein was to be considered the most important. What is priority one, in essence? Jesus starts with ground zero, the very heart of man, and indicates that to love God wholeheartedly from the very epicenter of life is the beginning of that commandment. Before we get there, though, note Jesus’ statement as to
I. The Oneness of God
Jesus quotes from what was known as the shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-5. The shema was recited twice daily by every devout Jew; in fact, they carried this Scripture around with them on little parchment rolls which were placed into a little parchment compartment called a phylactery. These phylacteries would be placed upon either the arm or the forehead. This was a symbolic way of doing a very good thing, which was to keep the Word of God close to oneself at all times. We could stand to do some of the same ourselves. I’m currently getting involved in an in-depth discipleship program with a friend, and this program involves, in part, the memorization of Scripture. Many people will say, “oh, I can’t memorize Scripture.” If you say that, I will tell you right now, to your face, with the most love I can muster, that I do not believe you! The suggestion is made that a good way to memorize the Word of God is to take the time to write it out on 3x5 cards and carry these cards around in one’s pocket. You’re standing in line at the bank? Pull it out and read it. You’re getting a haircut? Pull the card out and read the Word. You do it over and over often enough and it will begin to stick in your brain! These pious Jews believed in the supremacy of the Word of God, and they demonstrated it in a tangible way by keeping it close to them at all times, again not a bad practice!
And so when Jesus made reference to this passage, the shema, it was one with which they would already have been quite familiar. It’s first sentence, as we see here, stresses the unity of God—He is One. In contrast to what the Jehovah’s Witnesses would say about Christians, we do not believe in three gods, but we believe in the tri-unity of God; He is Three-in-One; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is One, and in the pantheon of would-be gods, there are none others besides Him who are real, who can save, who have power. There is one YHWH, Who the Bible describes as a God Who is love. Muslims will describe their god Allah as a god who loves, but would stop short of our understanding that love not only is something God does, but love is part and parcel of Who God is. He is more than love, to be sure; there are those whose emphasis upon God’s love obscures the broader Bible understanding of a God Who is foremost “holy, holy, holy”. He is never described as “love, love, love.” Nonetheless, God is love, and He demonstrates that love by loving us where we are, as we are. Romans 5:8 tells us that Christ died for us as a demonstration of God’s love for us even while we were yet in our sin. What amazing love that loves all of us even as we are in the act of open rebellion against Him! Self-giving love is the kind of love that God has for us, and as He loves us with an everlasting love which spared not the totality of His own Son for us, He calls us to love Him with the totality of our beings. Which leads us to the next point, which is