Dr. RB McFee
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“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Deuteronomy 6:5
Does this scripture look familiar? As a Jew it is part of the Shema. For Christians, it is something Jesus was quoted saying in the Gospels; apparently it was one of His foundational scriptures, given Jesus’ first commandment, based upon Deuteronomy, is found in Mark 12 and Matthew 22.
In the course of writing this, I was tempted to suggest everyone has a ‘go to’ scripture, the one we default to at critical times in our lives. But that may not be the case even with people of faith. Alternatively, some might ask, do we need a ‘go to’ scripture?
Well that depends on our relationship with the Lord, and do we spend enough time seeking His counsel, and are we confident in His Word, that in important or difficult times, we hold onto the Lord’s guidance as written in Biblical texts?
Fortunately when we are caught in a quandary, like any challenge, often the best strategy is to go back to the beginning….and as Christians, that Beginning is Jesus.
Put differently, looking at the ‘crib sheet’ I wear as a bracelet, which has four letters on it…. “W W J D” i.e. what would Jesus do?“
What would Jesus do? Which is to say, what are His ‘go to’ Scriptures?
Speaking of which, I remember a television sermon by Dr. David Jeremiah during which he referenced Matthew 4, and talked about Jesus during His 40 days in the desert facing hunger, thirst, fatigue, heat, cold, and temptation.
At Jesus’ most challenging moments as a Divine mortal, knowing we would be reading about His life and action, our Savior left us powerful tools with which to triumph over the dark and threat-filled times that come upon us.
Implicit of course is prayer – something Jesus did often and in all circumstances; times of hardship and fear, times of joy and thanksgiving.
But in the desert Jesus also used another powerful weapon – the Word of God – as His strength and protection.
Biblically we know Jesus is the Word, and according to the Gospel of John, Jesus is the manifestation, creator, and animator of all things, including all our scriptures. Which is why it is interesting that of all the verses Emmanuel – God Incarnate – could and would quote against His biggest earthly temptations, Jesus chose to quote Deuteronomy.
In retrospect, it is not difficult to understand why Jesus quoted well known Jewish scriptures – His followers, His Disciples, His audiences were all primarily practicing Jews, and the examples of His life, the references He made to scriptures were usually ones that most people would have studied repeatedly, even sung (Psalms) and known by heart (Isaiah, Proverbs).
As Christians we are grafted to the tree of Judaism, and our faith is built on the religion Christ practiced.
Christianity is inextricably linked to the Judaism of Christ, and His followers were mostly Jews, or people who knew and revered the texts, including Samaritans. Jesus linked God’s Word to His people – often texts from the historic greats – Moses, David, Abraham, Elijah – and to His current ministry.
Even Jesus two great Commandments – love God, love thy neighbor, have similar texts from what we refer to as the Old Testament. Where have you seen in the Gospels the text from Deuteronomy I started this article with?
Consider in Judaism the first five books of scripture (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) known as the Torah, or Pentateuch, and associated with Moses, are read, recited, studied, and presented repeatedly, and extensively in synagogues – then, and now.
But in your times of trial and tribulation, would you, do you cling to scripture from any of these five?
It’s been said there are no atheists in foxholes – and you don’t have to be in a war to experience foxhole moments in life – those moments when everything seems to be crashing around you, and death, despair, heartache, illness, loss are attacking from all sides.
What would you pray in a foxhole?
Ever wonder what foxhole converts do in times of stress? Probably prayer! But many reach out to the Psalms. In one of my earliest sermons at CCUMC I called Psalm 23 “the foxhole Psalm” because it is written to give us hope and strength through our God in difficult, scary, “valley of the shadow of death” times, and the blessed assurance “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me….”
We know from Ephesians that when big challenges attack us, we are to put on the spiritual weapons of God – all based upon scripture. We know David – King David – perhaps the greatest of all Israeli mortal leaders – wrote much of the Psalms, and his lyrical prayers have become the ‘go to’ scriptures for many. Since Jesus is a descendent of the House of David, it would seem reasonable to assume He would quote Psalms.
Jesus would have known that scripture. He would have known all of them! After all, the Bible is about the Character of God, and His relationship with what He created.
And yet, in the desert at each of the three ultimate temptations offered to our Savior, He chose these 3:
Matthew 4, verse 4 describes the first temptation…. And Jesus’ reply was drawn from Deuteronomy 8:3 “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
Then in Matthew 4, verse 7, Jesus’ answer to temptation 2 was based on Deuteronomy 6:16 when He said “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”
At the last temptation in the desert, from Matthew 4:10 Jesus’ answer again is based upon Deuteronomy (6:13) “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”
As I reflected on my own life, and the times of joy, sorrow, temptation and triumph, I thought about the scriptures I went to, clung to, knew by heart, and utilized in very specific moments. And I knew why I selected each one. There was a reason. It was purposeful. Which is why I kept coming back to the same question….why did Jesus select Deuteronomy?
What makes Deuteronomy so special that it is referenced a bunch of times in the New Testament, and not just in Matthew 4 (hint – go on a scavenger hunt to find other references to Deuteronomy in the New Testament….here’s a starter Matthew 22:37 references Deuteronomy 6:5).
Scholars suggest Jesus quoted Deuteronomy more than any other book in the Jewish texts. So when the Holy Spirit nudged me to read the entire book of Deuteronomy (I’ve just started from the beginning), it became easy to understand why Jesus often referenced it.
Jesus recognized the book provided strong advice connecting God and man on how to face difficult challenges is drawn upon heavily in Judaism, including the Shema, and points us to Jesus as the Messiah, the Divine human connection between our Creator and His people, is part of Deuteronomy.
And Jesus was all about helping us build relationship with our Heavenly Father, and to live lives reflected of His love to a weary world, to be the light in the darkness. Deuteronomy fits that purpose.
We sometimes need an instruction manual, and much of what Jesus instructs in the New Testament has as a foundation something from Deuteronomy, or Isaiah, or well you get the idea.
So dear reader, have you thought about your ‘go to’ scripture? The Biblical passage that seems to be written just for you, for just the moment you are saying it, praying it, using it to connect you deeper to our Lord and Savior?
We all should have scriptures that each of us can call our own, especially that ultimate one ‘secret handshake’ scripture that God whispered into your spirit, that connects you both in a way that prayer becomes more than a practice, but in fact transforms into a deep and private communication between intimates, between God and His beloved child.
And that’s what scripture is for – to guide us, to comfort us, to reassure us that what we experience, our Savior probably did, too, and to lead us to the same place of peace He sought, and can now provide to us. Scripture is a starting point towards a more meaningful prayer, a deeper relationship with God, a time carved out to hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit, and to help us converse with our Creator.
If you don’t have those, then may I humbly suggest two things – although I’m pretty sure the Lord will make the second one as apparent as I am on this page….
First, ask God how you and He can have your own scripture. I have a couple “Robin scriptures” that when I need to get back to basics, and really connect with my Heavenly Father, I go right to them in my Bible, albeit I know most by heart. And if you ever see any of my Bibles, if you look carefully, you can tell pretty much where those “Robin scriptures” are by the well creased pages that stand out.
Which brings us to the second thing – the Bible. Trust God to lead you where you need to be. But start exploring. For me, pretty much anything about the Apostle Paul resonates. He is the sailor story teller in my mind, the one who knew Jesus in a most unique way. Virtually any of the Psalms are worth a look, too. Perhaps as a physician, the Gospel of Luke resonates. And Matthew has a way with words.
And maybe you, like me, could work our way through Deuteronomy. If you do, send me an email and let me know what you think!
How you talk with the Lord, in His language of love, starts with prayer, and taking time to find passages in His Book that can speak to you personally.
What’s your ‘go to’ scripture?