A while back Garrett and I were challenged to devote more time to reading the biographies of famous believers in Y'shua. To learn from them --- their defeats and struggles, their successes and victories. To be challenged by their faith and steadfast commitment to the Lord. And so recently we began to read a wonderful series by John Piper entitled "The Swans are not silent." I can highly recommend them. There are three books in this series one of which chronicles the lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon and William Wilberforce.
This morning I would like to do something a little different. I want us to read and talk about an excerpt from this book detailing the life of John Newton and then tie this in with God's word as we prepare for communion.
It's hard not to think of the most famous hymn of all time, "Amazing Grace" when we hear the name John Newton. But there is something else that characterizes the life of John Newton. Love. We live in a society today where the word love is so cheap that it's almost meaningless. I pray that we will be challenged this morning to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to love from someone outside of our generation.
LET'S PRAY BEFORE WE BEGIN
Background to story:
The story we are about to read is how God used John Newton's love to intrigue, captivate and ultimately win over Thomas Scott for the cause of our Messiah.
From Liberal to Lover of the Truth
Another instance of remarkable patience and tenderness was toward Thomas Scott, who was a liberal, "nearly ... Socinian" clergyman in Ravenstone, a neighboring parish. Scott made jest of Newton's evangelical convictions. He looked upon Newton's religious sentiments as "rank fanaticism" and found his theology unintelligible. "Once I had the curiosity to hear [Newton] preach; and, not understanding his sermon, I made a very great jest of it, where I could do it without giving offense. I had also read one of his publications; but, for the same reason, I thought the greater part of it whimsical, paradoxical, and unintelligible."
But things were soon to change. Gospel-driven love triumphed over liberalism and turned Scott into a strong evangelical preacher. The turning point came when Scott was shamed by Newton's pastoral care of two of his own parishioners whom he had neglected.
In January, 1774 two of my parishioners, a man and
his wife, lay at the point of death. I had heard of the circumstance;
but, according to my general custom, not being sent for, I took no notice
of it: till, one evening, the woman being now dead, and the man dying,
I heard that my neighbor Mr. Newton had been several times to visit
them. Immediately my conscience reproached me with being shamefully
negligent, in sitting at home within a few doors of dying persons, my
general hearers, and never going to visit them. Directly it occurred
to me, that, whatever contempt I might have for Mr. Newton's doctrines,
I must acknowledge his practice to be more consistent with the ministerial
character than my own.
Scott and Newton exchanged about ten letters between
May and December 1775. Scott was impressed with how friendly Newton
was, even when Scott was very provocative. Newton "shunned everything
controversial as much as possible, and filled his letters with the most
useful and least offensive instructions." After a lull in their correspondence
from December 1775 to April 1777, Scott came into "discouraging circumstances"
and chose to call on the tenderhearted evangelical. "His discourse so
comforted and edified me, that my heart, being by this means relieved
from its burden, became susceptible of affection for him." This affectionate
relationship led Scott into the full experience of saving grace and
evangelical truth. He became the pastor at Olney when Newton was called
to London and wrote a distinctly evangelical book, The Force of Truth
and was among William Wilberforce's favorite preachers. Such were the
persons and fruit of Newton's habitual tenderness.
Two juxtaposed characters. John Newton and Thomas Scott.
What do we learn of Thomas Scott?
He was a liberal nearly Socinian. The Encyclopia Britannica defines a Socianian as; "an adherent of a 16th and 17th century theological movement professing belief in God and adherence to the Christian Scriptures but denying the divinity of the Messiah and consequently denying the Trinity."
Mmm, sounds a little like the liberalism that is sweeping New England doesn't it?
Thomas Scott, though a fellow clergyman, seemed to be on a very different playing field to Newton. The account tells us that Scott was pretty vocal about these differences.
• He made fun of Newton's evangelical convictions
• Looked upon his beliefs as "rank fanaticism"
• And publicly defamed Newton's teaching by
calling it whimsical, paradoxical and unintelligible.
I don't know about you but I am embarrassed to admit that I think I know how I might have responded to such accusations. But not Newton. We read that:
• He made a point of regularly visiting two
of Scotts' dying congregants. A man and his wife whom Scott had outright
neglected and forgotten.
• In 10 different letters, which were exchanged
between these 2 men, Newton was incredibly friendly even when
Scott was provocative.
• This is my favorite. Newton, as much as
possible shunned everything controversial.
• He filled his letters with useful / edifying
• And used the least offensive means of instruction
And what was the result? - - - To quote Scott directly:
"His (being Newton's) discourse so comforted
and edified me, that my heart, being by this means relieved from
its burden, became susceptible of affection for him."
In essence Newton's love clinched the heart of Scott. A man who intended evil, who was divisive, angry and mean spirited; was won over because Newton truly loved him. My favorite line in this story reads:
"GOSPEL-DRIVEN LOVE TRIUMPHED OVER LIBERALISM
AND TURNED SCOTT INTO A STRONG EVANGELICAL PREACHER."
When Newton had to leave his parish in Olney to respond to a church call in London, he turned to none other than Scott to take over his beloved church in Olney.
What a story! Challenging isn't it? It reminds me of a passage in the New Testament found in Mark 12:28-34
And before we read this passage allow me to put it into context. Y'shua is in Jerusalem. In fact the previous chapter, Mark 11 begins with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Right away this tells us that we are approaching the final week of Y'shua life. Things are heated in Jerusalem. Especially in light of Y'shua entering the temple, establishing his authority and clearing out the temple of false worshippers and corruption. In Mark 11 verse 17 we read: ........ "Is it not written:
"`My house will be called a house of prayer
for all nations'? But you have made it `a den of robbers'."
A fulfillment of a messianic expectation for the Messiah to establish authority in the temple as predicted is Isaiah 56:7 and Micah 3:1.
This heated confrontation in the temple provides the course for what is to follow. Mark 11:18 tells us:
18 The chief priests and the 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.
The Jewish leaders are furious and they begin to look for a way to set Y'shua up. To find a reason to have him arrested. And what follows is a number of trap questions:
• Mark 11 ends with the chief priests, teachers
of the law and elders confronting Y'shua and asking by what authority
he was taking charge of the temple.
• In Mark 12:13-17 we see the question "Is
it right to pay taxes to Caesar?" and Y'shua responds "Why are you trying
to trap me?'
• The Sadducees in Mark 12:18-27 then ask
Y'shua about the 7 times over widow. Their question? "At the resurrection
whose wife will she be?" Another trap question, the Sadducees did not
even believe in the resurrection of the dead.
• And this brings us to our passage. In fact
our passage is a continuation of this debate about the resurrection
and takes us to the final trap question, one that must have been a home
run, because the text ends with,
"and from then on no one dared ask him and
Read with me from Mark 12:28-34
28 One of the teachers of the law came and
heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer,
he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: `Hear, O Israel,
the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all
your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all
your strength.' 31 The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.'
There is no commandment greater than these." 32 "Well said, teacher,"
the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there
is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your
understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor
as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You
are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no-one dared
ask him any more questions.
Y'shua hits the nail on the head. You see here were all these religious; righteous Jewish leaders who saw themselves as near perfect when it came to obeying the law; as they understood it. No one dared point fingers in their direction. But Y'shua points out their error. You see they were obeying the Letter of the law but not the Sprit of the law. This was not about rules and regulations. This was about the heart. What good was it too obey all the laws of Moses if it didn't begin - - with a worshipful heart.
And neither was there an inherrent value and benefit in presenting burnt offerings and sacrifices; as this man addressing Y'shua in Mark 12 points out; by rightly expressing that to love God and to love our neighbors is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. A replay of Psalm 51:16-17:
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would
bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 The sacrifices
of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you
will not despise.
You see it is not about the external but the internal. It has to begin with the heart. And so Y'shua brings this to a climax by saying:
`Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord
is one Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your
soul and with all your mind and with all your strength."
The Shema followed by the V'havta.
The last time I spoke at Sar Shalom we addressed the Shema. Allow me this time to focus on the V'havta with the goal of tying this in with our opening story and preparing us for communion, L'Zichronee.
The V'havta is one of the most beautiful sections of Hebrew liturgy. And while I enjoy saying it each week, in preparing this message I found myself wondering how much I actually fulfill this commandment during the week. I thought to myself, "Nici what good is it to say these beautiful prayers if you don't apply them to your day to day life?"
(Pause: reflect on these things)
So what does it mean to:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
soul, mind and strength?
(Contemplate as you read ...)
Well; no half measures. It means to love God with everything we've got. Not only with our heart - the seat of our emotions, but also with our very soul, our nephesh. And that's not all we are to love God with our minds implying an act of the will, a choice we make. It's not just dependent on feeling like it. It's a decision. And finally we are to love God with all our strength. The Hebrew word for strength is "me-od" it means muchness. We are to love God with every thing we've got.
I love the theological wordbook's commentary on Deut 6:5 which is what Y'shua is quoting here in Mark 12.
Speaking of the threefold combination of loving God with all our heart, soul and strength the commentator explains and I quote:
"These three words were chosen to reinforce
the absolute singularity of our personal devotion to God. Thus the heart
denotes the intention or will of the whole man, the soul means the whole
self, a unity of flesh, will and vitality and strength accents the superlative
degree of total commitment to Yahweh"
I don't know about you but I fall very far short of that. And oh how we love to rationalize and make excuses.
It's been said of Christianity of this era "a mile wide and an inch deep". How true. We have lost our first love. We have allowed the lifestyle of the secular world around us to dictate how we live. God has been squashed out. This morning as we prepare to take communion let's spend some time reflecting on our commitment to the Lord. Let's ask ourselves the tough question: Am I loving the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? And if the answer is no, may we confess this before the Lord and use this communion as a time of rededication.
(Pause: reflect on these things)
Let's now turn our attending to the second part of the V'havta,
"V'havta Lerecha Kamocha"
`Love your neighbor as yourself
Y'shua words in Mark 12:31
And if we thought loving God was hard, this one is even harder. You see our God is perfect. He loves us unconditionally. Scripture says:
"But God demonstrates his own love for us
in this: While we were still sinners, Messiah died for us.: (Rom 5:8)
And so while it is may be hard to be totally devoted to God because of our own shortcomings; desiring to love God is easy. What is not to love about our God? Now that cannot be necessarily said of our neighbors. Can it?
Well --- perhaps if we narrowly defined who our neighbors are it could. But in Mark 12 Y'shua actually broadens the definition of the term "neighbor." You see in Leviticus 19:18 where we first see this command to "love our neighbor as ourselves" the word neighbor is identified as "one of your people," in other words a fellow Israelite. The Jews of Y'shua's day however interpreted "neighbor" even more narrowly. You see in the Leviticus passage it included resident aliens, whereas for Y'shua's contemporaries it included only Jews and full proselytes. Y'shua, however, blows this one out of the water and redefines the term to mean "anyone with whom we have dealings at all" And this redefinition is most notable in the story of the Good Samaritan. (cf. Luke 10:25-27).
The Expositors Bible Commentary, in a most practical application of this verse, remarks that "neighbor" embraces
"all within our home, those we meet at work,
in our church, and in recreations. And more than that: our employer
is our neighbor too; so are our work people, all who serve us in shops,
the men who empty our dust bins and those who try to keep streets and
parks clean. So too are the people of Jamaica, of West Africa (that
would be me ),
of Kenya, of Germany and of Russia. If we love our neighbors as we love
ourselves, we shall want for them the treatment we should want for ourselves,
were we in their place."
Oi veh are we in trouble. And I would love make light of this one; but friends let's face it; we don't love others the way we should. We have far to high a regard of self and far too low a regard of others.
And in reading the biographies of giants like Newton; this one glares at me like a neon light. I am shamed by these words of Newton in describing what a true follower of Y'shua is like and where his source of love for others is to come from:
"He (being that true follower of Y'shua) believes
and feels his own weakness and unworthiness and lives upon the grace
and pardoning love of his Lord. THIS gives him an habitual tenderness
and gentleness of Spirit, Humble under a sense of much forgiveness to
himself. He finds it easy to forgive others."(John Newton)
John Newton was keenly aware of his own sinfulness and unworthiness before the Lord and as a result his focus was not on self but on others. That's humility. And it is this that made it easy for Newton to forgive Thomas Scott and see him as a true neighbor. To love him no matter what. Let's remember Thomas was hard to love, he made fun of Newton's evangelical convictions, looked upon his beliefs as "rank fanaticism" and if that was not enough he publicly defamed Newton's teaching by calling it whimsical, paradoxical and unintelligible. Yet Newton loved Him through it all.
Newton lived John 13:35
"By this all men will know that you are my
disciples, if you love one another."
And that's GOSPEL DRIVEN LOVE.
And folks - - - that is what you and I are called to. Amen?
Let's now spend some time in quiet contemplation and confession before the Lord. In a little while we will be taking part in communion, let's use this time to prepare our hearts.
Let's consider the tough questions:
• Am I loving the Lord with all
my heart, soul, mind and strength? And if the answer is no, let's
privately confess this before the Lord now.
• And am I loving my neighbor as myself. And
if the answer is no, let's confess this before the Lord before taking
(ALLOW TIME FOR CONTEMPLATION)
V'a-hav-ta eit A-do-nai E-lo-he-cha,
And you shall love the Lord your God with
all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
"V'havta Lerecha Kamocha"
and you shall `Love your neighbor as yourself'
On these two commandments hang ALL the LAW
and the PROPHETS!