(This article first appeared in the Late Summer 2021 newsletter.)

In the Old Testament God gave laws to the people through Moses as they were about to enter the promised land. What did Moses tell them?

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. —Deuteronomy 6:5

Centuries later, Jewish religious leaders, hoping to trap Jesus, asked Him what was the great commandment of the law. Jesus said,

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. —Mark 12:30

I’ve wondered why Jesus added the word “mind” to the quote from Deuteronomy. Several Bible commentators I’ve consulted say they believe Jesus and the Gospel writers were more concerned with the fullness of the command — obey God with everything you’ve got — than with copying the Old Testament text word for word. (There are other places where quoting the Old Testament is not done in a word-for-word fashion.)

This commandment is Christianity 101. The proverbial “man in the street” thinks being a Christian is simply to believe that there is a god, or else merely to be and do good. Scripture teaches there’s so much more and Deuteronomy 6:5 / Mark 12:30 is foundational.

Do you want your claim to be a Christian to be accurate? Then devote yourself to this foundational command.

Let’s look at the key words in this verse.

You Shall
“Shall” is a command word.

It’s not, “if you feel like it;” it’s, “do it.”

It’s not, “if you conclude you might get something out of it,” but “render this unto God, not expect something for yourself.”

It’s not, “believe that loving God is a good idea,” but, rather, “act on that idea.”

These words are a commandment.

Love the Lord your God
αγαπη agape ag-ah’-pay

Once again, we are not speaking fundamentally about emotion but about dutiful action. The word translated here as “love” is agape. Agape is about making a choice to do something good for someone else — and in this case that someone is God — often at some personal cost. There are other Greek words for love that speak of emotions and feelings. Agape is not primarily an emotional choice although emotions will figure in later.

Over the years as I studied the four parts of the person that are to love the Lord — heart, soul, mind, strength — I discovered most Bible scholars see them as overlapping in what they are and do.

Love with All Your Heart
καρδία kardia kar-DEE-ah

A consensus scholarly understanding of the term “heart,” is that, because it is the human (and animal) organ which is the center of blood circulation, the “heart” is to be seen as the seat of a person’s life.

As the center of a person’s being, the heart is the seat of thought, will, character, choices, conscience, purposes, endeavors, passions, desires, appetites, and affections. Some Scripture verses use καρδία to mean the whole person, while other verses mean just one of these aspects.

Did you note that the first half of this list of meanings — thought, will, character, choices, conscience, purposes, endeavors, — are rational and volitional, while the second half — passions, desires, appetites, and affections — are emotional?

Seen this way, we should conclude that while an emotional response to God is valid, it must be under the control of the mind and the will. It’s not irrational.

Love with All Your Soul
ψυχή psuché psoo-KHAY

The soul is what makes a person different from an animal. Unlike as it is with animals, humans were given a soul which gives us the ability to choose, not merely react according to instinct.

Moreover, a person is able to relate to God through his or her soul: “my soul thirsts for You …” (Psalm 63:1).

Further, a person’s soul is what makes that person different from someone else. In my personality type workshops I stress that because God has given us our own personality type and our job (with our effort, the help of others and the grace of God) is to become better versions of that, not try to become someone else whom we admire. One way to love God, therefore, is to become a better you.

Love with All Your Mind
διάνοια dianoia dee-AN-oy-ah

The mind is, of course, a person’s rational process of coming to discern, understand and believe what is true. To love the Lord with our mind is to believe what God teaches with Scripture being the final arbiter.

This is not anti-intellectualism. I defer to Scripture because it is smarter than me, just like I defer to my electrician and auto mechanic.

It is not “American middle class white man’s religion” either. Ours is not the first century having people comment on Scripture. Ours is not the only place in the world and ours is not the only culture having godly pastors and scholars interpret the Scriptures. The “consensus of the faithful” is what we seek. When I wrote my last book, Fifty Days of Glory, I made sure to consult and quote Scripture commentators from throughout Christian history. Additionally, I valued what I learned in the Asian Bible Commentary and the African Bible Commentary. The authors frequently had different insights.

Love with All Your Strength
ἰσχύς ischýs is-KHOOS

I am blessed by the insight of Colin Smith, Senior Pastor of the Orchard Evangelical Free Church in metro Chicago:

The word might or strength in Hebrew literally means ‘much-ness.’ Love God with all your ‘much-ness’! It means your substance, your possessions—all that God has given you.

While we are not saved by our works for God, saved people say thank you to God by doing good works (see Ephesians 2:8- 10). We are saved by grace to do works.

In the church of my youth, youngsters at age 12 united with the church on profession of faith. The pastor had a Scripture verse for each one of us. He gave me 1 Corinthians 15:58:

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

We Are Called to Love the Lord with Everything We Are and Everything We Have:

With our will / obedience
Do we obey His commandments?
With our affection
Do we have emotion for the Lord?
With how we relate to God personally
Is our prayer personal?
With our unique personality
Do I work to become a better me?
With our intellect
Do I believe what God’s Word says?
With our hard work
Do we give God our best effort?

As you look at this list I bet you’ll point to two or three of the items and say, “While there’s room for improvement, I think, and others tell me, that I do rather well at loving the Lord in those ways.” And you’re probably right.

Then I bet you’ll point to two or three of the items and say, “I really need to work hard on these. I’m letting the Lord down.” And you’re probably right.

Most of us motivated to love the Lord better would likely focus on where we are weak. While certainly we need to work in those areas, might I suggest you balance that work with working to improve where you’re already strong. Why? This is where you’re bearing spiritual fruit. Working only on your weaknesses will soon make you tired, frustrated and down on yourself. Balance it with working on your strengths.

Yes, obeying Jesus’ commandment to love the Lord is a duty, but because of all God has done and continues to do for us, and because He’s a personal friend, this work of love is something we want to do. And we know God is grateful and will bless us for it. +


My prayer is that this article will accomplish three things:

1. Tell us all more about Jesus and about God the Father. Jesus told Philip, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father…” (John 14:9).

2. Show leaders how Jesus is our model. Leaders, take this to heart. He is what we must pray and work to be like.

Inform church people how pray for your leaders that they become more like Jesus. While no one will attain sinless perfection until Jesus returns, the standards for church leaders are high ones.

People, your leaders must be accountable for serious, unrepentant wrong behavior, but there are right ways and wrong ways to hold them accountable. (See, for example, 1 Timothy 5:1, 19-21).

3. Remind all of us who profess Christianity what we must become. Many of us remember the life and ministry of John Wimber (1934-1997). He was a professional musician, playing on the Las Vegas circuit for five years, and later with the Righteous Brothers. In 1963, God grabbed what Wimber described himself as: “a chain-smokin’, beer-guzzlin’, drug abusin’ pop musician.”

It was my delight to be with him at the national charismatic leaders’ retreat for a few years. Comparing the band he performed with to his new life in Christ, Wimber once told us, “I was once a Righteous Brother. God grabbed me and I became a righteous brother.” He stressed that ministry was everyone’s job

So, this article is for everyone.

Once again I pose the question, “Why Did Crowds Gather for Jesus?” because it is clear they did. The Gospels give numerous references to this, but let me give you a sampling from Matthew’s gospel:

Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. — Matthew 4:25.

Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan. — Matthew 8:1.

And He went off …; and a large crowd was following Him and pressing in on Him. — Matthew 8:18.

The disciples said to Him, “Where would we get so many loaves in this desolate place to satisfy such a large crowd?” — Matthew 15:33.

Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. — Matthew 21:8.

While it is true that He often withdrew from the crowds to lonely places, He did so to pray, to have fellowship with His Father, and for His human nature to be replenished with the Holy Spirit so He could then rejoin the crowds and minister effectively once again.

So, why did crowds gather around Jesus?

1. He taught only God’s truth and He taught it with authority, not as the Jewish teachers did.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds (again, crowds) were astonished at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. – Matthew 7:28-29.

The scribes, to bolster their teachings, would cite other authorities, and sometimes even authorities those authorities look to. We do that. Many during the pandemic had strong opinions about masks, vaccines, and social distancing, and they buttressed their statements with citations of this or that scholarly article, person in authority, or somebody “in the know.”

Jesus did not speak that way. Most of the time He said, “Truly I say to you.” Why? Because He was the highest authority to which He (or anyone else) could appeal.

In addition, although we hear citations of the Old Testament in His teaching, sometimes He said, “You have heard that it was said … but I say to you …” (see the several examples in Matthew 5:21-43).

Jesus was not contradicting the Old Testament because it was divinely inspired. What He was doing was contradicting the non-biblical traditions and requirements that adhered to Judaism as it was taught and practiced by the scribes in His day. He criticized them, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men” (Mark 7:8).

Jesus taught only God’s truth and He taught it with His own authority. There are many today, sad to say even in the Church, who teach secular conclusions that come from the ideological right or left, and not from God’s word. Too often we are quick to grab these conclusions without checking to see whether they are in sync with what God’s Word says.

So, why did crowds gather around Jesus?

1. He taught only God’s truth and taught with authority, not as the scribes and Pharisees did.

2. He applied His teaching to real life.

True religion must go to the core of a person’s very being and not be something superficial.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8).

One point that Jesus reiterated over and over to His disciples is that what’s in the heart tells the true story about a person.

Additionally, true religion is expressed in genuine humility.

“And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:3).

Spending time with Jesus means having Him constantly call you out on pride, arrogance, and ways that are contrary to spiritual growth. The disciples were fascinated with prominence, position and power. He had to break them of that attitude (see, for example, Matthew 20:20-28 and Mark 9:33-35).

True religion is often hindered by an abundance of earthly riches.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

“The rich young ruler” (Mark 10:17-27) was excited to meet Jesus and approached Him with sincere motives. However, when Jesus gave Him the command to sell all he had and follow Him, he walked away unhappy. Jesus illustrated through this and through many other examples that wealth and earthly possessions can impede spiritual growth. We start making compromises to protect what we have, and eventually we have gone far from putting Jesus first.

True religion is done to worship God, not to impress others.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:5).

Jesus modeled private prayer, regularly going to quiet places to have fellowship with His Father. Even corporate worship is a group coming together to focus on God, not a chance for an individual to show off before others.

So, why did crowds gather around Jesus? 1. He taught only God’s truth and taught with authority, not as the scribes and Pharisees did. 2. He applied His teaching to real life.

3. He walked the walk.

People saw Jesus in almost every situation imaginable. They saw Him anchoring Himself in God’s presence through prayer. They observed Him avoiding the spotlight and the praises of the crowds. They noted His refusal to give into the temptation of self-ambition and self-promotion. They concluded He never compromised on either truth or love.

In short, He modeled what good people want to be.

So, why did crowds gather around Jesus? 1. He taught only God’s truth and taught with authority, not as the scribes and Pharisees did. 2. He applied His teaching to real life. 3. He walked the walk.

4. He taught the truth and “did the stuff” – both.

Huge throngs followed Jesus in every city, in awe of the miracles He worked. Demons were cast out. People were raised from the dead. Food was multiplied. People were healed of various maladies. Lives were changed.

I had earlier mentioned John Wimber. After his conversion he read about these miracles Jesus performed and the supernatural gifts of the Spirit the early Church did as noted in the Book of Acts and as taught in various of the Epistles. However, Wimber did not notice the church he was then attending being on board with these things as part of their individual and collective walk with God.

Finally, John asked a church leader, “When do we get to do the stuff? You know, the stuff here in the Bible; the stuff Jesus did, like healing the sick, raising the dead, healing the blind – stuff like that?” He was told that they didn’t do that anymore. All they did was what they did in their weekly services, which John found quite boring. John replied, “You mean I gave up drugs for that?”

Why should we conclude, as John Wimber did, that we, not just Jesus, are to “do the stuff”? It is because Jesus taught, “Anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father – John 14:12.

But we know of no one who has ever done them to the degree Jesus did. The aspect of theology that explains where we are in terms of being used of God to “do the stuff” is called “Partially Realized Eschatology,” or the “The Time of the Already but the Not Yet.”

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit moved but only occasionally and miracles happened but not all that often. When Jesus returns to make the new heavens and earth, all will be perfect.

We are living in-between, where the move of the Holy Spirit and the experience of the miraculous is expected to be far greater than in Old Testament days but not to the degree they will be when Jesus returns.

While there are those who castigate others and eventually themselves for not being successful in praying and receiving miracle after miracle, far more of us give up too soon, believing miracles will almost never happen, and certainly not around us or through us.

If the supernatural is part of “the stuff,” so is social concern. Jesus manifested great care for the poor and needy, the widows and orphans. Note Jesus’ care of the poor in Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33; Luke 14:12–14. This tracks with what we find throughout the Old Testament.

To be sure, it is not incumbent upon us to help the greedy. Paul gave this instruction, “For when we were with you, we gave you this order: If anyone will not work, neither give him something to eat” – 1 Thessalonians 3:10. We are to help the genuinely needy but not the greedy.

And when we help those in true need, we are, Jesus said, helping Him: “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” — Matthew 25:40.

So, why did crowds gather around Jesus? 1. He taught only God’s truth and taught with authority, not as the scribes and Pharisees did. 2. He applied His teaching to real life. 3. He walked the walk. 4. He taught the truth and “did the stuff” both.

5. He loved His audience.

Over and over, the Gospels tell us the motive behind what Jesus did and said: compassionate love. For example:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd –Matthew 9:36.

When he went ashore he saw a great throng. He had compassion on them, and he healed their sick.— Matthew 14:14.

When the Lord saw the widow of Nain and her newly deceased son, He had compassion on her … – Luke 7:13.

So, why did crowds gather around Jesus? 1. He taught only God’s truth and taught with authority, not as the scribes and Pharisees did. 2. He applied His teaching to real life. 3. He walked the walk. 4. He taught the truth and “did the stuff” both. 5. He loved His audience.

And this is the Jesus we love, worship, serve and obey. Let’s do our part, accept the help of others, and receive the grace of God that we may be more like Him. +


by the Rev. Thomas M. Morris

First please read Mark 10:46-52

The healing of Bartimaeus is the last healing miracle which Mark records in his gospel before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jericho was almost the last stop on Jesus’ journey from Galilee –only the towns of Bethphage and Bethany remain — before His triumphal entry to shouts of “Hosanna, Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!”

As Mark tells us, when Jesus, His disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, they passed a blind beggar by the roadside whose name was Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus found out that the tumult which he had heard and felt was because Jesus was passing by. He began to cry out loudly, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The term “Son of David” is a Messianic term. Whether Bartimaeus knew the implications of this name is an open question, but the fact that he twice calls Jesus, “Son of David,” suggests he had some inkling of the uniqueness of Jesus. The crowd told him to hush up, but he cried out all the more.

Jesus stopped. He said, “Call him.” Bartimaeus threw off his mantle, sprang up and came to Jesus. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He replied, “Master, let me receive my sight.” Jesus said, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus.

Bartimaeus did many things right. First, when he heard Jesus was passing by he cried out loudly to Him. He did not care what the crowd thought and he did not listen to them when they told him be quiet.

When I was a seminary student at Gordon-Conwell Seminary I did my field placement at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Mattapan, in Boston. This church hosted a conference one weekend. My task was to help a blind man who was in charge of recording the speakers at the conference. At the beginning of one of the presentations the recording equipment was not set up yet. The man asked me to stop the speaker and the conference so he could get the equipment ready.

I was too shy and unsure of myself to ask the speaker to stop. As the speaker continued, the blind man began to cry out, “Stop everything. I need to set up the recording.” He cried out loud enough and long enough for the speaker to do just that. This blind man was right to interrupt the conference, regardless of the momentary embarrassment it might have caused, and so was Bartimaeus. He didn’t stop until he got a response from Jesus.

When Jesus called him, he threw off his mantle and came to Him as quickly as he could. The blind man’s mantle represented his whole way of life. He would wear it for warmth. He would sit on it by the roadside where he begged day after day. He would lay it out for passersby to throw money on it. But when Bartimaeus came to Jesus he did not bring it with him; he threw it off. He was ready for, even expecting, a new way of life when he stood in front of Jesus.

Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” That seems like a strange question. Why would Jesus ask that of a man who could not see? Isn’t it obvious what the man wants? I think that Jesus asked Bartimaeus that question to allow him to tell Jesus that he was ready to give up what was familiar to him, his blindness and his life of begging, in order to follow Jesus. He was. He said to Jesus, “Master, let me receive my sight.”

When Jesus then said to Bartimaeus, “Go your way; your faith has made you well,” he received his sight immediately. But Bartimaeus did not go his own way. He went Jesus’ way. He followed Him to Jerusalem. This was yet another thing that Bartimaues did right. One commentator writes, “[Bartimaeus] joined the crowds following Jesus, pressing on to the Passover they expected and the Cross they did not.”

Although physical blindness was fairly common in the Near East, there was, and is, something even more common, and even more serious, in the Near East and throughout the world: spiritual blindness. Jesus gave Bartimaeus his sight just before Jesus was to enter Jerusalem where he would encounter men with spiritual blindness who had no desire to be cured.

A stark example of this is when the soldiers who had been guarding Jesus’ tomb told the Scribes and Pharisees what had happened: there had been an earthquake, an angel had rolled away the huge stone which covered the tomb, they had been terrified and that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb.

How do these Jewish leaders react to this news? Do they go to the tomb to see for themselves? Do they wonder if the Resurrection might be true? Does it cause them to reevaluate their judgment of Jesus? Do they see things any differently?

No, it does not appear to have had any such effect on them. Instead they pay the soldiers to lie and say that the disciples stole the body while they were sleeping. They promise to cover for the soldiers if this story reaches Pilate, because sleeping while on duty was punishable by death. This is an example of willful spiritual blindness and it is much more dangerous and debilitating than physical blindness. If left unchecked and unchanged it leads to eternal death.

Helen Keller wrote about this kind of blindness as well. She wrote, “The poets have taught us how full of wonders is the night; and the night of blindness has its wonders, too. The only lightless dark is the night of ignorance and insensibility. We differ, blind and seeing, one from another, not in our senses, but in the use we make of them, in the imagination and courage with which we seek wisdom beyond our senses.

[Helen Keller continues] “It is more difficult to teach ignorance to think than to teach an intelligent blind man to see the grandeur of Niagara. I have walked with people whose eyes are full of light, but who see nothing in wood, sea, or sky, nothing in city streets, nothing in books. What a witless masquerade is this seeing! It were better far to sail forever in the night of blindness, with sense and feeling and mind, than to be thus content with the mere act of seeing. They have the sunset, the morning skies, the purple of distant hills, yet their souls voyage through this enchanted world with a barren stare.” (The World I Live In, page 36.)

When we see the sunset, the morning skies, the wood, the sea, the sky, and one another, what do we see? What are we looking at? We are looking at signs pointing beyond themselves to their Creator. If we don’t see that, we are spiritually blind, seeing only with a barren stare, as Keller wrote.

On Christmas Day, 2014, an article appeared in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.” The article was written by Eric Metaxas, a Christian, who wrote a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a book entitled Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life.

Metaxas wrote, in part, in this article, “Today there are more than two hundred known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing. As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero. The odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here.”

Metaxas continues, “The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist.

Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” at these developments. He later wrote that ‘a commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, chemistry, and biology. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”

Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that, “the appearance of design is overwhelming” and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said, “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.” Metaxas concludes, “The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something—or Someone—beyond itself.”

The whole universe, its very existence and everything in it, points to God. Metaxas writes that the existence of the universe is the greatest of all miracles according to scientific probability. As Christians, we believe in an even greater miracle. We believe that the One to whom the universe points, the One through Whom it was made, became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ. He came so that we could see Him and know Him.

When we are blind by troubles, the darkness of life in this fallen world, sickness, distress, our own sins, confusion or anything else, Jesus asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?” May we respond with Bartimaeus, “Let me receive my sight.” “Let me see you, Lord Jesus.” And then may we, like Bartimaeus, have the grace and strength to follow Him. +