Take Five

Getting to Know God Better Through The First Five Books of the Bible

Rev. Gordon Tubbs
29 min readNov 7, 2023

The following are the manuscripts for a sermon series I preached at my church. To get the most out of this blog article, I suggest you read the accompanying scriptures. Enjoy!


In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, author Douglas Adams wrote “In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.” But seriously, there probably isn’t a single chapter in the Bible that isn’t disputed more than Genesis 1. Now why is that, do we suppose?

One reason is that ever since the Enlightenment, the West has put more and more stock into scientific accounts of the world rather than religious ones. Now personally I’ve always found this a bit odd because Genesis 1 does not read like a scientific journal article. Sure, it refers to certain facts of the world that can be investigated by the sciences, but at the same time there are no formulas or theories presented, or disclosures of methodology or anything like that. Given that, I think trying to force Genesis into a rigid scientific paradigm that can be either verified or falsified by some experiment or theory is largely missing the point.

Genesis 1–3 is an etiological account of the world that concerns itself with the origins, initial conditions, and the root cause of things as a way of explaining why the world is the way it is. In terms of theological and philosophical subject matter, it covers metaphysics, ontology, cosmology, anthropology, metaethics, and psychology.

As such, we have permission to read and value this text in ways that don’t have to be framed in terms of a conflict between faith and science; or more specifically, as a conflict between theology and physics or evolutionary biology. In fact — and this is just my opinion — it doesn’t matter if you read this story as literal history or folklore when it comes to the days of creation. This too is missing the point of the text.

The point of Genesis 1 was not to educate us on the timetable of creation, but rather to educate us about who God is, what God’s relationship to us is, and what we should think about the Universe and our place in it. On this front, Genesis 1 makes a huge difference to our lives, especially when you see the symmetry embedded in the creation story.

The first three days of creation fit into a poetic pattern of God doing some initial formation and framing, and then in the last three days of creation some major expression and embellishment. To think about it in terms of Legos, when God created the heavens and Earth, this could be thought of as dumping a bunch of Legos on the table. And then God starts partitioning out these pieces for different purposes. First for light, then to form the Earth and the waters, and then for land and vegetation. This sets the stage for the next act of filling space with stars and planets, filling, filling the sea with creatures, and the sky with birds. Life of all kinds, wherever God can squeeze it in. Genesis 3 gives us a little more detail into the story of how human beings were created, but we see this pattern again in us, of God forming us out of dirt, and then breathing life into us.

This pattern is a lot like a painter who may blanket their canvas with some initial coats to make the background. And we’ve all seen Bob Ross work this way, right? He never goes straight into a painting by starting on the object of focus like some mountain or cabin. No! He always starts with the background first. Likewise in the biblical story, we see this play out in a similar way, with the background being created first, and then the foreground, with the last object God putting on his canvas being us. And when God steps back and rests, he calls the whole thing good. The big picture, then, is that this is God’s Universe, it’s God’s galaxy, God’s solar system, God’s Earth, and we are God’s magnum opus as it were, created to do good and to walk in the Way of the LORD.

Now unfortunately, even though we don’t need to see this narrative as conflicting with science, others do. There are some folks who see a deep incompatibility with the biblical worldview and a naturalistic worldview (as motivated by science):

  1. In a lecture he gave to the Royal Institute about his aptly titled book The Big Picture, Sean Carroll said this: “We are very, very, tiny. Insignificant. The universe is not about us. If the universe was about us and there was some purpose to the world that was for our greater glory, then we would not be around a medium sized planet around a medium sized star in a galaxy with 100 billion stars in a universe with two trillion galaxies. We’d be more central.”
  2. Carl Sagan, who produced the famous Cosmos docuseries in 1980 has said that: “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
  3. Richard Dawkins, who is another famous science communicator, said in his book River Out of Eden that: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

When you have decades of well-known and respected scientists advancing this sort of view, you have to wonder where it came from. Granted, it is completely fair and easy to look at pictures from the Hubble or James Webb telescopes and feel everything that we read in Psalm 8. (There is a black hole called TON 618 that’s over 40 billion times the size of our sun!) And in my opinion these are all good mind-boggling feelings to have and in some sense they are feelings that God wants us to have.

After all, the Universe is God’s throne room that displays his glory and majesty, and I should hope to feel humbled and deflated when considering how vast it is. In this sense, the gentlemen I quoted are certainly correct. But it’s another thing entirely to go from ‘look how small we are’ to ‘human life is cosmically insignificant and irrelevant.’ The attitude really, is that it wouldn’t make any difference if the Sun suddenly exploded and wiped out our Solar system. From a cosmic perspective it would be just another Tuesday. But that seems to be the consequence of what happens when you abandon the idea that we are living in God’s Universe. Everything’s a wash.

Not so with us. We can offer a better and more holistic perspective, that is best summarized in Question 28 of the Heidelberg Catechism, which asks: How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us? Answer: We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from his love. For all creatures are so completely in God’s hands that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.

Now some skeptics might say they are just following the evidence where it leads, and they see no proof of God. But this leads to an absurd outcome, that is unlivable and dare I say nihilistic. When I reflect upon the Universe, I see structures at every level, from the quantum to the cosmic. From the tiniest particles to galaxies and superclusters and beyond, there is an orderliness to it all that to me only begins to make sense if there is something — or rather Someone — directing and bringing to order all of the randomness and chaos. Or, to put it in a way we can all understand: He’s got the whole world in his hands.


When was the last time you heard the Voice of the LORD? The last time you witnessed a miracle? Or the last time you were overwhelmed by the presence or Spirit of God? I’m talking about something genuinely supernatural, a true encounter with God. Most of us, when looking back on our lives, can probably see in hindsight how God was shaping circumstances to work out in your favor, but it’s rare to get that feeling in the present — to know in the moment something is happening that it’s a sign, or miracle, or something from God. I have heard some incredible stories of people seeing visions of Jesus, angels, and so forth. These sorts of things tend to stick with people for their whole life, and they become core memories that are very detail-oriented. But none of the stories I’ve heard hold a candle to Moses’ encounter with God through the burning bush.

Prior to this moment in the overall biblical story, God’s interest in human beings was seemingly limited to just a handful of individuals. In using the families of Adam and Noah, then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we can see that God’s redemption plan for humanity started small. God wanted to see if he could mold and redeem single families before expanding and moving to larger groups. Eventually we see the fulfillment of that plan revealed in Christ, who came to save the whole world. But the first big step towards that goal happened when God heard the plight of his people, and then called upon Moses to lead them.

Last week our text was Genesis 1, and we saw that God is the creator and ruler of everything. But from a theological perspective, there is a big difference between a God who makes the whole Universe and then remains distant and impersonal, versus a God who gets up close and personal. And in my experience in sharing my faith and beliefs with others, a lot of folks get hung up on the God question. They might accept that some Ultimate Force or Absolute Being exists, but they’re not sure what that even means, or they don’t know how to describe it.

The thing is we all have our own ideas about God. In the words of R.C. Sproul, ‘everyone’s a theologian.’ And so for my intellectual money, thinking about God and studying God (aka theology) is one of the highest pursuits in life. My reason for this has been given by the famous philosopher Mortimer Adler, who was the mastermind behind the Encyclopedia Britannica and The Great Books of the Western World, because cataloged and traced just over 100 big ideas that are the DNA of Western civilization, and it’s no surprise that he ranked God at the top of that list. He wrote: “More consequences for thought and action follow the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other basic question.” But going beyond merely affirming or denying the existence of God, thinking about who and what God is will radically shape other pursuits in philosophy, psychology, and other sciences.

In many ways this parallels Moses’ own concerns about telling the people who God is. Like many of us, Moses clearly believes in God, and wants to obey God, but it’s another matter entirely when you want to share your beliefs about God with others, especially when you’d like to see them walk a similar path of obedience. Moses understood his assignment perfectly, and so it was brilliant of him to ask God what his name was. And as we read in the text, God’s answer is just weird, and doesn’t seem to make any sense. “I AM WHO I AM.” … Wait, what? Why be complicated? Now if we want to better understand the way God is presenting himself, then we need to unpack the translation and meaning of the text at hand. This occurs in a couple of ways: (1) in verse 14, we see how God identifies himself, and (2) in verses 15 and 16, that shifts to how God names himself.

In the Hebrew manuscript, “I AM WHO I AM” is rendered as eyeh asher eyeh, and eyeh is a conjugation of the verb hayah which is the verb of being and becoming. One of the linguistic and cultural distinctives of ancient Hebrew is that there were only two verb tenses of perfect and imperfect. Ancient Hebrew does not have past, present, and future verbs like we do in English. I know it’s been a minute since we’ve all had a grammar class, so just to remind you, the perfect tense expresses completion and finality, whereas the imperfect tense expresses an ongoing process or incomplete action. Eyeh is the imperfect tense, and when combined with asher which is a conjunction that has multiple meanings, you could render eyeh asher eyeh in different ways, such as ‘I am which exists’ or ‘I am that is’ or ‘I will be who I will be’ or even ‘I am being that which is being.’ The rendering of ‘I AM WHO I AM’ is simply a function of the most basic and literal translation. This is how God identifies himself.

When we move to verses 15 and 16, we read that God is offering his proper name, which in Hebrew is YAHWEH, which phonetically is related to two similar verbs: hawvaw (which means ‘to breathe’) and havah (which means ‘to become’). You might be familiar with the expression ‘as I live and breathe’ and that’s actually pretty close to what YAHWEH means, but some more precise meanings such as ‘The Existing One’ or ‘He Who Exists’ or ‘I Am Existing’ or even ‘I Am Breathing And Becoming’ are all acceptable. Given all this, we can appreciate how God identifies and names himself with dynamic terms. God is not a static and immovable object, but rather a dynamic and unstoppable force.

On a side note, nearly every English translation of the Bible renders YAHWEH as LORD in all capital letters, and this is for a good reason: in the Jewish tradition, all the priests, scribes, and rabbis felt that the best way to never take the LORD’s name in vain was to simply never use it! Whenever they would read scripture out loud, and come across YAHWEH, they would mumble or skip over it, or more commonly just say Adonai, which means ‘Lord.’ So strong was this tradition that it actually influenced the Septuagint, which was a 3rd century translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, and every instance of YAHWEH is rendered as kyrios in Greek, which also means ‘Lord.’ English translators felt that the best way to respect this tradition was to spell out Y-H-W-H as L-O-R-D in all capital letters.

But even with that deeper understanding of what EYEH ASHER EYEH and YAHWEH mean, thinking about God as ‘being and becoming’ it can be difficult to picture what that looks like in your head. Unlike Jesus, whom we have a really concrete mental image of, YAHWEH is fairly elusive. The Holy Spirit — or what the Old Testament calls the Spirit of the YAHWEH — is kind of abstract, but most folks probably think of it as The Force from Star Wars or something like that. But how can we picture YAHWEH?

One way is to think about what it means for you to be alive. From a clinical or medical point of view, being alive is simply a function of your various physiological systems. But there’s more to being alive than simply having a pulse and being able to breathe, right? When God molded us and made us in His image, he breathed life into us. We all have that spark of creation in us, an energy that motivates and inspires us to turn a bunch of lumber into a wheelchair ramp, or paint something beautiful, or go to the Moon, or simply to just get out of bed and get things going with some pep in your step. That ember inside each of us that YAHWEH breathes on to light our inner fire is our soul.

In the movie Chariots of Fire, which is about British sprinters competing in the 1924 Olympics, one character stands out among the rest for his faith, and that’s Scottish runner Eric Liddell, who refused to run on the Sabbath. Eric Liddell’s missionary story is powerful, and we don’t really have time to get into it, but there’s a line his character says in the movie, which is: “I believe God made me for a purpose… but He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Now I can’t guarantee you’re going to have a burning bush experience or some profound vision from God, but if you want to feel God’s presence more, then obey that Voice that says “come, follow Me” and start running your life with Jesus. God may not take you to a land of milk and honey like He did with Moses, but if you’re running with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, then He will take you to places where you will feel His pleasure and know that YAHWEH is real.


I’d like to settle a long-standing debate between the preferred method of cooking meat. For review purposes, let me mention the 5 most basic methods. The first is the simplest, which is braising or boiling. Done right, you get delicious results like Beef Bourguignon. The next is the Southern classic of deep frying. Breaded, crispy, secret recipe, maximum flavor. The third is baked, which is fairly reliable because you can control the temperature. The fourth is char-grilled or fire-roasted, which is a classic for both camping and cooking out. The last is smoked, of course. Although the most time-intensive, you can’t disagree with the outcome. Whatever your preference is, I think there’s a biblical way for us to resolve this debate. I submit to you Leviticus 16:25 “The fat of the sin offering he shall turn into smoke on the altar” (NRSV). Now I don’t know about you, but if God prefers his meat smoked, then who can argue with that?

I’m kidding of course, but the Book of Leviticus contains a lot of instructions for both the priests and the people when it comes to various offerings and sacrifices that must be made for sin, purity, restitution, cleanliness, holiness, and so forth. For that reason, we tend to skip or skim over Leviticus, because as Hebrews 10:14 says: “For by one offering [Christ] has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (NKJV). Given that Christ became the all-sufficient once-and-for-all sacrifice, we don’t need to bother with Leviticus. But if you have one of those red-letter bibles with the words of God in red, then you’ll quickly realize that Leviticus is far and away the reddest book of the Bible. So we should probably take it pretty seriously. And there’s so much in this book that I found it hard to pick just one chapter to encapsulate the main theme, and so before digging into chapter 16 specifically, I wanted to provide a big picture view. One way to interpret Leviticus as a whole is to think of it as a legal code. And if you’ve ever spent any time reading our own legal code (as boring as that might be) you’ll see a very clear resemblance.

Now we have to ask, what is the whole purpose of this legal code? But in order to answer that question we have to retrace our steps a little bit and understand who the Israelites were at this point in time, where they had come from, and what God’s plan for them is. In terms of the identity of the Israelites, the vast majority of them were still fiercely committed to their tribe. And we know from history just how strong tribal loyalty can be based on every tribal culture. Take for example Scottish clans, which didn’t always get along, or tribes in Kenya, which are a stumbling block for national unity. For similar reasons, the Israelites at this time were not truly unified. They all knew their God was the same, but after living for generations under slavery in Egypt it’s hard to say just how unified the Israelites were in worshiping God — if at all.

Now, looking ahead in the biblical story, we know that God’s plan for His people was to make a nation out of them. And so God has a large problem to solve. He has to get a bunch of different tribes to come together (right now, over me), so that they can be built into a nation. Where do you begin? At this point all the Israelites knew was slavery and to do whatever their Egyptian masters told them to do. God needed them to drop that mindset and get with a new program of trusting in His authority. And in order to do that, God gave them laws so that His people could be transformed into a people who respect the rule of law and are obedient to it, so that over time, their faith could grow.

But more importantly is that God wanted to build a new kind of culture. Now oddly enough the word ‘culture’ does not show up in the Bible at all. And as far as I can tell we didn’t start using that word to describe the set of customs, beliefs, practices, laws, and arts of a particular people until the Middle Ages. But while that word may be foreign to the Bible, in my opinion that’s what Leviticus is really all about. God wants to build a new culture before he builds a nation around it. Culture is really important.

Speaking of our own nation as an example, it probably comes at no shock to most of us to say that we’re in the middle of a culture war right now. Our values and customs as a society are being pulled in two different directions. An example of this can be seen with the whole ‘cancel culture’ phenomenon. What cancel culture espouses is that it is perfectly acceptable to publicly shun and shame someone provided they’ve done something that is socially unacceptable. What bothers me about cancel culture is that it originated in this country, a country whose people still on the whole attend church and largely identify as being Christian. So why isn’t ‘grace culture’ a phenomenon instead?

So yeah, culture is really important. God didn’t want His people to have Egyptian culture, or Canaanite culture, or any culture in the land. He wanted them to create their own culture based on the customs He provided. And so we have to ask, what kind of culture is that? With a plain reading of the text, it takes no biblical scholar to see that there’s a whole lot of sacrificing going on in Leviticus. And so you might be thinking, well, God must want His people to have a ‘sacrifice culture.’ But that’s missing the point just slightly, because elsewhere in scripture we read that God desires mercy, not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6), and that the sacrifices of God are broken hearts, contrition, and our repentance (Psalm 51).

So what’s the deal with the animal sacrificing then? When I was a youth pastor this question always came up. The practice of animal sacrifice seems so foreign to us that often we have a hard time imagining why God instituted it in the first place. But this actually goes back to the covenant that God made with Noah in Genesis 9, in which God says “5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. 6 Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind” (Genesis 9:5–6, NIV). In verse 5, ‘lifeblood’ here comes from the Hebrew word nephesh, which means ‘soul.’ If you remember last week’s sermon, you’ll know that the soul is our inner fire that makes us get up and go and live life to the fullest. And so God has every prerogative to demand an account for how we live our lives, because he’s the one that gave life to us in the first place. Whenever we sin, we vandalize God’s Image. In God’s eyes, our sin is like ugly graffiti on a beautiful work of art.

So going back to Leviticus 16, which is about atonement, the word atonement comes from the Hebrew root kaphar, which means ‘to cover up.’ In this sense, the blood of animals is being used to cover up the ugliness of our sin. God could not abide people entering His Holy Presence with the covered in the ugliness of their, and so the animal sacrifices allowed them to do so, if just temporarily. For Aaron specifically, he had to bring a young bull as the sin offering for just himself, which is no small sacrifice. The lesson to be learned here isn’t so much about the transaction that occurs when sacrifices are made, but rather that in order for something to live, something needs to die. Life requires death. We know this to be true just in our everyday circumstances. I don’t know what you had for breakfast this morning, or what your diet looks like this week, but your nutrition is being paid for by dead plants and animals. The gasoline in our cars came from dead plants and animals (that’s why it’s called fossil fuels). There are countless examples.

Likewise, our spiritual lives have been paid for by the death of Christ. This is why Baptist preachers are always talking about the blood of Christ. *God’s judgment is upon you, and the only thing that will save you from the fires of Hell is the blood of Christ.*

As Paul writes in Romans 8:11 “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (NIV). This my friends is what our culture should really be about. God wants us to have a ‘culture of life.’ We can live out that culture by making it a daily practice to proclaim the Day of Atonement, to remember the sacrifice of Christ and the grace he gives, and the more we do that, the more I think we can get busy celebrating the life in Christ that we have. Amen?


The basic definition of sacred is that it’s anything that has been set aside for a holy and special purpose. As we are discovering in our own culture today, having some idea of what is sacred, or what has sanctity, or what is sacramental is a cornerstone of civil society. And it seems like that today nothing is sacred anymore. We are living in an era where everything is now up for grabs. And this is important, because having some understanding of boundaries and limits, and what is true or false is the mortar that binds every institution we have.

Now what’s ironic is that there are some atheists who are beginning to pick up on this. Douglas Murray who is a prolific author and columnist, has said that the Church is “falling into all of the latest tropes” when it should be preaching the Gospel, and that he sees the Church “giving up its jewels and becoming something else.” In his book called Dominion, by Tom Holland (no, not the actor who plays Spider-Man), he retraces the history of Christianity and said that it is ”the most influential framework for making sense of human existence that has ever existed.”

Well, the Christian framework has its roots in the Jewish framework, and the basis of that framework can be traced back to the Exodus and the subsequent 40 year journey in the wilderness. In a very literal sense, the Exodus was God’s way of consecrating His people. He was removing them and separating them from Egypt so that they could be isolated for a special purpose. As the Israelites began their 40 year journey in the wilderness, God needed them to be nomads because He needed time to work on changing their attitudes and values. So while they were being set aside as an entire people group, God gave them additional instructions on other objects that needed to be set aside.

All the materials used to build the Tabernacle, the Ark, the garments of the priests, the animals to be sacrificed, everything had a holy and special purpose. Of course, in order to make sure you’re setting aside the right things, you got to take inventory. The Book of Numbers is named precisely because it’s one long ledger. From the first four chapters, the census of fighting men aged 30–50 years old is recorded to be 603,550; in chapter 7, I don’t know who Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai is, but his dedication offering of plates, bowls, and animals was counted and weighed exactly as it was given. Look, the priests and scribes might’ve helped Moses write Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus, but it was the bookies that wrote Numbers. Everything was being accounted for.

No doubt, the bookkeeping the Israelites did made them get more organized. See God is all-knowing and could’ve just told Moses how many fighting men he had at his disposal, but that wouldn’t have taught Moses anything. Parents know this all too well, because sometimes we want our children to discover solutions and skills for themselves rather than just handing them everything. We want to give them that sense of pride and accomplishment for using their imagination and figuring something out.

So I have to ask, when was the last time you took stock of things and conducted an inventory, or really tried to balance your budget, or sorted out your agenda or calendar? We all know that if you want to do anything interesting with your time and money, then you need to get both of those resources organized so that you can invest them into worthwhile things. In this way, the Lord was tasking the Israelites to get organized so that they could start using their resources for a sacred purpose.

During the 40 years of wilderness, their entire way of life became centered around the Tabernacle, both in terms of atoning for their sins, as well as taking care of the priests who performed the sacrifices. Every person and piece of property was in some way participating in that holy economy.

Likewise, we should consider this whole building and every piece of property from this giant cross to our disposable cups in the kitchen is for a holy and special purpose. That’s why I’m really proud of everyone who was here yesterday either physically or supporting us in spirit for the Church Clean-Up, because the ancient Israelites would be proud of us for wanting to take care of God’s House as seriously as they took care of theirs.

And we take care of it precisely by offering a tithe. Uh oh. Well, in the vein of that classic 80s workout slogan “No Pain, No Gain” today’s sermon is titled “No Tithe, No Thrive.” And the bottom line up front is this: there is no Bible verse that says ‘thou shalt give 10 percent of your income to the church,’ but our text today suggests we are supposed to set aside our first fruits to be used for a holy and special purpose.

Now we can debate what ‘first fruits’ are supposed to mean, but the simplest interpretation I’d like to offer this morning is that this is your profit. Everything we do can be thought of in terms of profitability or not. This isn’t merely a business idea. For example, if you’ve invested a lot of time into studying for a test at school, then getting a good grade is a profit. If you’re really good at something and you’ve gotten a lot of training and put in a lot of practice for a particular skill, then your expertise is a profit. There are all sorts of ways to think about profitability that don’t have to be reduced to time or money. So when it comes to tithing, what that really means is using your profits — whatever those might be — for a sacred purpose.

According to the Great Commission, the chief end of the Church — our sacred purpose — is to preach and teach the Gospel and to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. And if atheists like the ones I mentioned earlier are sounding the alarm, then we have got to take what we do as the Church seriously. Because if you really value something or someone, and you’re using your profits to build that thing or person up, then it’s no so much a sacrifice that you’re making as it is an investment.

Thriving congregations are tithing congregations. Tithing is a way of keeping the sacred, sacred. It’s a way of becoming a stakeholder and taking responsibility and ownership over this building and the work we do. And so we have an important legacy and heritage to uphold in the Church, not simply because we want our individual congregations or buildings to stick around, but because we want to continue to be salt and light for our communities as well. We want to let all our friends and family know that because we’ve been set apart as a holy people, we need to set apart our profits and dedicate them to work that the Lord is doing.


We guys have a tendency to argue about greatness a lot. There’s not a week that goes by on social media that I don’t see some halfcocked opinion about who the GOAT — the greatest of all time — is when it comes to basketball, football, or baseball, or U.S. Presidents, or Roman Emperors, or whatever the case may be. There is something about the male spirit that is drawn to competition and excellence, and I think when we see certain individuals dominate in a particular arena, we feel compelled to recognize their greatness. And who are we to judge really? We’re sitting on the sidelines so it’s not like our opinion means anything. But the funny thing is, when you ask the great ones who they think the greatest is, very rarely will somebody just own up and say “I am the greatest” — they always point to somebody else or they just deny it when somebody calls them the GOAT.

But for me the GOAT to end all GOATs is Jesus Christ. In fact Brett asked me one time why I follow Christ, and that was the answer that I gave. Jesus is the GOAT. Nobody else in human history comes close to the greatness of Christ and the impact he had. In fact there’s the book I have called Person of Interest by J. Warner Wallace, in which he explores the impact of Christ from a unique perspective. He asks a simple question: if you were to suddenly delete every copy of the Bible from existence, would you still be able to know who Jesus is just from cultural impact alone? Wallace surveys many different areas, from art to architecture, to even what other religions say about Jesus and after collecting all of that, Wallace says that not only can you know who Jesus was, but you can reconstruct his basic life story and his core teachings without referencing a single Bible verse.

And for me this is a powerful apologetic for Christianity, because if God exists and wanted to tell humanity what the truth is through some kind of special messenger, then we would fully expect that messenger to be the greatest person of all time. We would expect our world to be completely changed by the life of this person — and that’s exactly what Jesus did, and more — because it wasn’t just his teaching that was great, but he also showed his greatness with the radical act of love of sacrificing himself on the cross to atone for our sins, and defeating death by rising after he was buried. If Jesus hadn’t risen, then history would’ve remembered him as just another failed visionary. But because Christ did come back to life, we have to take every single one of his teachings very seriously.

We went through a tour of the Sermon on the Mount last month in which we explored the basics of Christianity, and this month my goal was to do a survey of the Jewish foundations of Christianity, and today everything I’ve preached on is coming to a focal point. The essence of Judeo-Christian religious practice can be found in what Jesus called the Greatest Commandment, so we should probably take it seriously, right? But the thing is, we’ve heard this so many times that it just sounds rote. This Baptist Church I was at for the conference I went to even had banners in their sanctuary that said: “Love God, love people, make disciples.”

This is a common phrase you hear from Christians everywhere, and while I can appreciate the simplicity of it, I never quite understood what it meant until I was an adult. But everything that Jesus taught eventually comes back to Deuteronomy 6. Even the process of discipleship is found in this chapter, because it instructs each of us to keep God’s commands in our hearts, to impress them upon our children, and to let everything we do (which is what binding them on our hands means) and how we present ourselves (which is what writing them on our gates means) be done in such a way that people will know who we are by how we live our lives.

It all starts with verse 4, which according to tradition is known as ‘the Shema’ in Judaism. There is not a single worship service in modern Judaism that does not begin until a prayer is said that is based around this verse — Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.

The reason for this is simple: it is to call all of God’s people to recognize the universal lordship of God — that He is the one God for all. The Shema is not dissimilar to a bunch of military personnel being called to attention. When somebody says ‘captain on the deck’ everybody stops what they are doing and stands ready to receive orders. Our order in this case is to love God with all our heart, soul, and might (which consists of mental and physical power). In basic terms this means that everything we do ought to be done in love.

We kind of take these ideas for granted as Christians living in the 21st century, but during the time period of the ancient Israelites, none of the surrounding cultures or religions had any inkling of something like Deuteronomy 6. Virtually every nation at the time viewed their rulers as divine, or having some kind of divine seal, and with one possible exception every single religion was polytheistic. So the idea of one God for all was somewhat radical, but so was the command to love God with everything you got. This was also radical because again, other ancient religions did not emphasize loving God as the chief end of man.

The oldest religion that is still functioning today is Hinduism, and although Hinduism has a lot of diversity in terms of beliefs and practices, one of the threads that runs through all of them is that our chief end is to ultimately be freed from our cycle of suffering, death, and rebirth. We can escape this cycle by detaching ourselves from things that cause suffering. We have to let go of everything that is transient in life. Now you might be thinking: ‘wait, isn’t everything in life transient?’ and the answer is yes. And most Hindu mystics and teachers will say coming to that realization is your first step towards Enlightenment.

An example of this is like going to go see a movie that you’re really excited about and you’ve been hyping up, and then you go see it and you’re really disappointed by it and underwhelmed. Well, according to Hinduism, the reason why you’re disappointed is because you were too attached to the movie to begin with. So next time you go see a movie, just detach yourself from all expectations and standards, and just go with the flow. That’s how you’ll find freedom from suffering. Then just rinse and repeat with everything else you do in life. But there is something that really disturbs me about that system, because to me it seems backwards.

For me, life is defined by our attachments. The family, time, and place in which we were born. Our relationships with one another, our vocations and mutual pursuits. Life becomes more meaningful when your attachments are healthy and positive. And sure there’s heartache and heartbreak along the way, but there’s also heart-mending and heart-growth that you’ll be better for in the long run. So if you really want to get the most out of life and experience flourishing, the answer cannot possibly be detachment. That’s NOT the way. No, you need to lean in and embrace your attachments and see them how God made them and gave them.

And this is what’s so great about the greatest commandment — because unlike Hinduism, where the path to God is through detachment, the Greatest Commandment shows us that the path to God is through love — which is the greatest form of attachment. The greatest commandment also underscores a basic concept in Judeo-Christian theology that I cannot emphasize enough, which is the centrality of God. In this way, God for us is like our center of gravity, just like all the planets orbit around the sun, everything in our lives orbits around God.

The more we can do to put God at the center of our devotional life, our vocational life, our marital life, or whatever, the more we’re going to experience His grace and goodness… especially when there’s heartache and heartbreak, which is guaranteed to happen. Once we understand more and more how to derive a sense of personal meaning, value, and purpose from our love of God, we’ll understand how to see meaning, value, and purpose in everything and everyone that God has made. This is why Jesus also cited Leviticus 19:18 after Deuteronomy 6:5, because loving your neighbor is a natural entailment of loving God. When you love God, you see His Image reflected in you and that same Image reflected in others.

So if you want to live a life of greatness, then why not follow the greatest person who ever lived, and in doing so, rediscover what it means to love?


  • Genesis 1 is an etiological account of reality, and it tells us that God is the Creator and Sovereign of the Universe, and that he made everything that exists — including us — which makes us his magnum opus, especially considering that we were made in His Image (the Imago Dei).
  • Exodus 3 reveals who and what God is to us — a dynamic, eternal, and unstoppable force that is the source of all light and life, and the giver of our souls. As we live and breathe and experience the fullness of what it means to really be alive, we become aware of our souls and Who put them there.
  • Leviticus 16 establishes what must be done when our sin blemishes the beautiful Imago Dei that we were made in — it must be atoned for. As our Creator, it is God’s prerogative to demand an accounting for the life He has given us (Genesis 9:5–6), and the damage of sin requires the life of an innocent to restore us to righteousness.
  • Numbers 18 places the Temple at the heart of the Israelite’s society, economy, and religion. Everything they do is for the sacred purpose of living a new kind of culture that God is cultivating in them — a culture of faith in Him, of keeping certain things sacred, and of mutually contributing to the greater good.
  • Deuteronomy 6 contains what Jesus referred to as the Greatest Commandment. Outside of Judeo-Christian theology, it is difficult to find any other religion or philosophy that begins its system of thought with the task of loving God. When we make God the center of our lives and love Him wholly, we will become transformed from the inside out and start loving ourselves and our neighbors more. The person who was the GOAT in doing this was Jesus Christ, and that is one reason why we call Him our Lord. Why not follow Him?



Rev. Gordon Tubbs

Clear and critical thinking-out-loud about philosophical and theological topics from the perspective of an ordained Christian minister.