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Faithful love - our purpose
One of the Hebrew words for ‘love’ is hesed (חסד, pronounced kheh-sed”), which is actually a difficult word to translate into English. That is because there is a range of meanings for hesed. Theologian John Oswalt said hesed is “… a completely undeserved kindness and generosity”.
The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Though the mountains be shaken, and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love (hesed) for you will not be shaken”. (Isaiah 54:10)
Hesed is not just a feeling, but an action. It “intervenes on behalf of loved ones and comes to their rescue”.
Hebrew Understanding of Love
Hesed is not a romantic, infatuation kind of love. It is a faithful, reliable love. When a wife prays for years for her husband to know God. It is parents lovingly caring for their autistic child. Hesed is faithful. It is loyal. And Hesed is love put to action.
And most importantly, hesed is the unfailing love God has for YOU.
Meanings of Hesed in the Bible
Hesed is one of the most fundamental characteristics of God, consistent with what we know about His covenantal nature. Hesed is “wrapping up in itself all the positive attributes of God: love, covenant faithfulness, mercy, grace, kindness, loyalty–in short, acts of devotion and loving-kindness that go beyond the requirements of duty,” elaborates Bible scholar Darrell L. Bock.
Throughout the Hebrew Bible, we see hesed translated in a number of different ways; steadfast love, mercy, kindness, and goodness. While these synonyms develop our understanding, they only just skim the surface of this multifaceted, rich word.
Hesed – Love in Action
Perhaps the most effective way to grasp its meaning is to see hesed in action. Thankfully, examples of hesed abound throughout the Scripture.
In the book of Ruth, we meet Naomi in nothing less than a bleak situation. She is living in a foreign land and has lost not only her husband but her two sons as well. While she has two beloved daughters-in-law, she makes the difficult decision to leave the life she and her family have established in Moab.
Naomi decides to return to her native Judah and she is ready to start afresh. To this end, Naomi encourages her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to stay in Moab with their families, and to find new husbands.
This is a wise suggestion because in those days women without a husband were in a vulnerable position. And these two women could most likely remarry easily – they were still young and had no children.
A Love that Extends to Loyalty
Orpah considers this, and with a heavy heart agrees to stay in Moab. Ruth however remains with Naomi. And she even further solidifies her bond with Naomi, with her now-famous declaration:
“Do not urge me to leave you or return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Ruth 1:16
Ruth had every right to start anew and pursue a husband from within her own people. However, by affirming her fidelity to Naomi and the people of Israel, Ruth chose an unknown path. She was a widow and an outsider. But she was also a foreigner from a people the Israelites had an enemy history with.
She affirms how important Naomi is to her, despite these other considerations. Ruth clearly had a strong relationship with her mother-in-law, so much so that she forsakes the easier path. Her display of hesed – the love and loyalty to Naomi are just one of the multiple examples found throughout the story of Ruth.
Hesed Love goes Above and Beyond
Another tangible display of the hesed love, which goes above and beyond, is an organization called Satmar Bikur Cholim, in New York City. This amazing group provides home-cooked kosher meals to hospital patients and their families, free of charge, regardless of background or affiliation.
Satmar Bikur Cholim began in the 1950s with a small community of Holocaust survivors who recognized the value of supporting other survivors, as they started building a new life in the US. They wanted to help fellow survivors sustain the Jewish tradition they had before the war. And they would travel all around NYC to do just that.
They strive to maintain the same ambition as in their founding days to help whoever needs it. Preparing and delivering home-cooked meals to others in the community extends beyond a simple act of kindness. You could even say it’s… lovingkindness.
Hesed: Lovingkindness in Hebrew
Lovingkindness is an interesting word in the English language. Built out of two other words, it combines the definitions of both and then some.
It means tenderness and consideration towards others. Those are the keywords capturing the essence of lovingkindness; it is always towards others. This is an outward expression, not one of self-seeking motivation. If this sounds familiar, it is easy to understand why.
While “lovingkindness” can be considered somewhat archaic, many English Bible translations use it in Psalms. Alternatively, some translations use “steadfast love”. Try studying the Psalms with translations that use loving-kindness and you’ll discover a new depth of meaning and understanding to these passages.
Here are a few examples to get you started:
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities,
heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies…” (Psalm 103:3-4 NKJV)
“Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? [or] thy faithfulness in destruction?” (Psalm 88:11 ASV)
“Let not the floodwater overflow me, nor let the deep swallow me up; and let not the pit shut its mouth on me. Hear me, O LORD, for Your lovingkindness is good; turn to me according to the multitude of Your tender mercies.” (Psalm 69:15-16 NKJV)
Each time we come across lovingkindness in these passages the Psalmist is suggesting hesed as the covenant love. Even though it’s not a word we commonly use, it has a unique way of pointing to the enduring love of God.
Hebrew Definition of Unfailing Love
“Hesed is never merely an abstract feeling of goodwill, but always entails practical action on behalf of another”, describes author and biblical scholar Dr. Will Kynes.
How can we tangibly show our love to God and His people? Hesed. It is through a hesed kind of love that we worship Him and serve others. Through the abundance of hesed that God shows us, we can in turn be abundant in our expression of hesed love for others.
This is a strengthening truth, a reliable foundation. As pastor Rick Warren said, “God’s love is like an ocean; you can see its beginning, but not its end”. Today, no matter what you face, you can rely on God’s hesed. In the best way, His love is predictable, tenacious, and unchanging.
“Though the mountains be shaken, and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love – hesed – for you will not be shaken.” — Isaiah 54:10
As we journey towards Easter, God continues to speak about the promise of resurrection life. Not as in ‘one day when I get to heaven’ but experiencing it now, in every area of our lives, that we would surrender to Him. He is asking us if we would invite Him into each area of our life in which we are simply surviving and not fully thriving.
The Lord speaks specifically about the way we are thinking, the lies, the half-truths we are believing which were keeping us from experiencing the fullness of life.
Will we allow Him into our unbelief and doubt so faith could rise? Will we allow Him into all of the lost hopes and dreams? Will we let the Holy Spirit confront every area of pride in our lives, self-reliance and self-protection? He is leading us into a deeper trust in a faithful God.
Reading the account in Mark 5, see the faith of a Dad willing to push through to see His little girl live. Our Heavenly Father is just as willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary to see each one of us become fully alive. “This is how much God loves the world: He gave his Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed. By believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.” John 3:16-18 MSG
What areas of your life have you not been trusting Jesus with?
In which areas are you just surviving and not thriving?
Name some of the areas where you have no hope?
Invite Jesus into these areas and ask Him for His truth and for His solution.
Expect Him to show up with abundant life.
Now let us pray and see what He will do
Oftentimes the resurrection is used by preachers and theologians alike to defend the historical account of Christ’s resurrection and to defend the deity of Jesus. While both of these are truthful realities, they miss the most important aspect of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His purpose for having risen from the dead. The ultimate objective and hope of the Christian Gospel, which was accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus Christ have a much greater purpose than simply getting into heaven and having a glorified body. It is to allow for the restoration of God’s life to man in Jesus Christ, allowing His life to be lived out in our behaviour NOW, on the way to heaven.
All Christian theologians agree that there are three main events of Jesus’ life; the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. The incarnation was necessary so that the Son of God could identify with humanity as the God-man - fully God and fully man. Jesus had to be fully man because only a man could be tempted and only a man could die. The crucifixion was necessary because Jesus Christ had to voluntarily submit to death in order to vicariously and substitutionally take the death consequences of all sin upon Himself. The resurrection was necessary to enact the restoration of God’s life in man by a restorative spiritual rebirth.
It's important to emphasize that the incarnation and crucifixion are not the whole story! If the incarnation and crucifixion were the only acts of God on man’s behalf, then the gospel would cease to be good news. God's declaration to man would be, "I came, I fixed the problem of sin, you are fixed, now go and do a better job of living than you've been doing." That is not good news! That is tragic teaching! The incarnation and crucifixion alone serve only to condemn man all the more. Man's greatest need is Resurrection Life!
Christianity is not a message of merely what has been and what will be, it is the message of what IS; the vital dynamic of the resurrected “I AM” of God, who restores the whole of creation. If we do not understand how the historical event of Jesus’ resurrection connects to the living reality of Jesus Christ in us by the indwelling presence of His Spirit, then we do not understand the gospel.
The Resurrection defines the Christian faith.
I Pet. 1:3 states that “God according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
We appropriate and receive Christ’s resurrection life by FAITH, which is our receptivity to His activity. The Resurrection is the basis of everything that can be legitimately called Christian. It is only by the indwelling activity of the risen Lord Jesus that the dynamic life of Christ continues to affect the Christian. Apart from the Resurrection, there is no gospel, no spiritual life, no salvation, no righteousness, no holiness, no hope, and no godliness. Resurrection Life forces the character of Christ out and into Christian behaviour, right NOW.
Apart from the Resurrection, there is no Christian living.
All of God’s promises and man’s expectations are realized in the resurrection Life of Jesus Christ in us! As stated in Col 1:27, the riches of the glory of this mystery is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Friday contains, but Sunday remains
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.
But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”’ – Matthew 28:1-7 (NKJV)
Jesus is risen! Yes, he is risen from the grave! Hallelujah! Today, we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Christian faith would have been very different without the resurrection. It would have been the same as any other religion on earth. Jesus’ resurrection is what sets Christianity apart; what makes it true, reliable and impactful. His resurrection is what completes the story and gives it purpose. It is a beautiful story indeed!
God sends His only son, in whom He was well pleased (Matt.3:17) into the world to die so that we, his enemies at the time, could live and not be condemned to eternal death.
Jesus’ death was not accidental. It was planned and foretold (Is.53:4-5). His whole mission on earth was to die for us. He laid down his life willingly so he could take it again. It was deliberate and borne out of love for us as John 15: 13 tells us, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.
Jesus’ resurrection is what completes the story and gives it purpose.
By his death on the cross and his resurrection, Jesus obtained redemption for anyone who believes in him and accepts him as Lord. For such a person, there is no more condemnation (Rm.8:1). You are forgiven, redeemed and set apart for God’s glory. Your name is written in the book of life. Sin has no hold over you; neither does death.
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor.15:55)
This is what Colossians 2:14-15 says, “having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which us in the decrees that stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
There is benefit in being prisoners of hope
“Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.”
– Zechariah 9:12
The concept of the double blessing has been used and abused by name-it-and-claim-it preachers for longer than I’ve been alive. I understand the dangers of misinterpretation and misapplication as it relates to God’s promises, but we better not throw the blessing out with the bathwater! We must understand what it is and what it isn’t.
The double blessing is not health, wealth, and prosperity. It’s not a 200 percent return on every investment either. It’s something bigger and better than that.
There are half a dozen “double promises” in Scripture. The prophet Isaiah promised a double portion of joy or prosperity, depending on your translation of choice. The apostle Paul conferred double honour on those who lead well. And a double portion of Elijah’s spirit netted twice as many miracles in the ministry of Elisha. But perhaps the most unique binary blessing in the Bible is declared by the prophet Zechariah:
“Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.”
The prophet Zechariah declared this double blessing to Jewish prisoners of war, but he called them prisoners of hope. Those are polar opposites, are they not? So which is it—prisoners of war or prisoners of hope? That depends on your perspective, doesn’t it?
If you let your circumstances define the way you see God, you are a prisoner of perspective. Or worse, a prisoner of your past mistakes! But if you let God define the way you see your circumstances, you are a prisoner of hope.
Please don’t let anyone name you except God. You are not the labels people put on you. You are who God says you are! You are the apple of God’s eye. You are the object of His affection. You are more than a conqueror.
Israel had experienced a bitter defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. They were at the mercy of their captors, who had defiled their temple and mocked their God. But God reminded them of who would have the last laugh. For their pain, He prescribed the promise of double blessing.
The NIV says, “I will restore twice as much to you.”
The KJV says, “I will render double unto thee.”
The NLT says, “I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles.”
We’ve got to be very careful not to turn biblical principles into quadratic equations. Yes, better is one day in the courts of the Lord than a thousand elsewhere. But I’m not convinced that the psalmist was formulating a one-thousand-to-one ratio. After all, the blessing of God’s presence cannot be reduced to hours or minutes any more than to dollars or cents. A day is like a thousand years to God, yet He exists outside our four dimensions of space-time. So time is immaterial to an eternal God.
That said, let’s not underestimate the blessings of God or ignore the fact that God is the one who promises a double blessing. I recognize that this promise was given to Jewish refugees living in the fifth century BC, but I also believe it belongs to us. Why?
Because the God who made the promise is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Because every spiritual blessing is ours in Christ. And because “no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.”
You cannot claim the promises of God like a game of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”, but every promise has your name on it. Every blessing in the Bible is part and parcel of our spiritual birthright by virtue of what Christ accomplished on the cross.
Positioning ourselves for those blessings begins by kneeling at the foot of the cross and ends with us casting our crowns before the throne of God. In between, we flip every blessing.