As Christians, our spiritual roots are in Judaism. The call of Abraham and the choice of Israel as God’s people is the start of the process by which God calls us to salvation through Jesus Christ. More than two-thirds of our Bible is about God’s relationship with the Jewish people; this is the portion we call the Old Testament. The rest of our Bible, the New Testament, is about Jesus’ coming to bring a new message, which we call the Gospel, to his people, and ultimately to the whole world. The OT is the ground in which the NT is planted. We can’t completely understand and appreciate the Gospel of the New Testament unless we embrace the Gospel of the Old Testament.
The Gospel of the Old Testament is summarized in what Jewish people call the Shema. This is the clearest, simplest statement of who God is and how he wants to relate to his people. It’s found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your might.
By the end of the Old Testament period, this classic and memorable affirmation had become accepted as the most profound confession of faith of the Jewish people. It’s name, Shema, is the first word in the Hebrew version. It was copied over and over again by devout rabbis. Religiously observant families took literally what is commanded in the verses following the Shema:
Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.
Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home
and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.
Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead,
and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Even today, most Jewish houses have a mezuzah on the front door jamb, a little box containing a copy of the Shema. Orthodox Jewish men pray using phylacteries, leather thongs attaching small boxes to their foreheads and one arm, and these boxes contain copies of the Shema. The Jewish equivalent of the bedtime prayer “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” is reciting the Shema.
During his teaching ministry, Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He answered by quoting the Shema. This is recorded in Matthew 22:37 and Luke 10:27. He was showing his respect for the great insight that came through God’s revelation to his people Israel. In fact, he took this Old Testament Gospel and added his own teaching and personal sacrifice to create the New Testament Gospel of salvation.
We have decided that our next sermon series, beginning this Sunday will be an in-depth study of the Shema. We’ll look at important concepts, words and phrases that have shaped our understanding of God and of ourselves. We hope you’ll enjoy this journey with us.
— Pastor George