MARCH 13, 2016
MAIN TEXT: MARK 12: 28-34
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And 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.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Today’s text appears in the midst of a series of controversies between Jesus and the religious leaders in Jerusalem. There is a super intense tension. It is Jesus’ last week of His life. After dealing with hostile questions from some Pharisees and Herodians, then Sadducees – Jesus was posed a question from by a representative of the scribes. The scribes were the theologians – experts in biblical interpretation among the Jews.
The question has to do with the scriptures – but surprisingly it does not seem to be dripping with venom. He is not hostile. Instead, the man was profoundly impressed as he listened to the way in which Jesus handled the previous trick questions. The man is interested in the priority of God’s commandments, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (verse 28). The man wanted to know the chief duty of every human being created in the image of God.
Love God Supremely
Jesus directed the man’s attention to the most fundamental summary of man’s obligation that God gave to His people in the Old Testament (verses 29-30). This was a good answer, but it was not a new answer. In fact, Jesus was repeating some well-known teachings. Love God - no Jew would disagree with that statement. Of all the obligations the Torah demanded, every rabbi, every scribe, and every priest saw this as essential, above every other obligation in life. This saying
- was the Shema (“hear”), the beginning of the Covenant of Israel (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
- was the beginning and the end of all Jewish piety.
- was the source for every one - from a king to a ditch digger.
- would always generate total agreement without dispute.
The Israelites were not commanded to love God simply because what He had done for them – just as we ought not to love God simply for the gifts and benefits we receive from His hand. Neither are we to love Him simply for His attributes – His infinite wisdom, His unlimited power, His perfect justice, and so on. Rather we are to love Him for who He is. Maturity in our faith is when we understand that we are to love God simply because He is lovely and wonderful, worthy of every creature’s affection.
The Shema commands the people of God to have a comprehensive love for God. It is broken down for us:
- With all your heart: The idea is that our love for God is to come from the very root of our beings. Our love for God is to be an affection that surpasses all other affections. It is to be an undiluted, unmixed love for God.
- With all your soul: Our love for Him is not to be tepid or lukewarm (Revelation 3:15-16). It is to be a blazing fire in our souls- a white-hot love for God.
- With all your mind: This was not in the original Shema but added by Jesus. We are to love God with the fullness of our understanding.
- With all your strength: The affection that we are to have for God is not to be a weak, impotent thing. We must call on all of the strength we can muster to express our affection for Him.
None of us have kept the Great Commandment for even a single day of our lives. The troubling part of this is that we are not under great conviction on this matter because we see that no one loves the Lord God so supremely. We tend to think that it is no big deal if we do not keep this command either. We are greatly mistaken in thinking this way.
If the Greatest Commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – then the greatest transgression is the failure to keep this commandment.
Love Others Genuinely
Jesus didn’t stop with love the Lord Your God, and that was the problem for the crowd that was listening. Jesus went on to parallel this greatest truth with another - “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Any well trained Jew, any skilled teacher of the Law would have argued, “How could you compare love your neighbor with the first and greatest commandment? What about the Ten Commandments? Why would this be above those Moses himself carried from the presence of God on Mount Sinai?” In Matthew’s account, Jesus essentially said, “If you keep these two commandments, you will then fulfill all of the others” (Matthew 22:40).
How you respond to loving God will determine how you respond to loving your neighbor. When you obey the second command, it shows that you have embraced the first. Tim Keller says:
“Jesus shows us that love actually defines the lawful life, and He shows us that the law actually defines the loving life…When Jesus says all the laws boil down to “love God and neighbor”, He is saying we have not fulfilled a law simply by avoiding what the law prohibits, but we must also do and be what the law is really after – namely love”.
The original Shema (Deuteronomy 6:6-9) included words of instructions for the great commandment. We are never to forget the Great Commandment as well as the other commands in God’s Word. Scriptures must be an integral part of our lives and something that we teach our children – and the next generation – with diligence. The cross tells us that Jesus loves God supremely. It tells us He loves us genuinely. This is why the Holy Spirit moved John to write (1 John 4:7-12).
To love God is to love others.
To love others is to love God.
APPLY TO LIFE
This week, as you reflect on the message, utilize this section to help you apply what has been taught to your life. Think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing as you open God’s Word together.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
DISCUSS THE MESSAGE
Read: Mark 12: 28-34
Why do people like to discuss “greatest” questions? How are such questions valuable? When do such questions become trivial or even harmful?
Which of the Ten Commandments do you consider the most important? Why?
How would you respond to the person who says, “Jesus is telling us we need to learn how to love ourselves first and then to love others”?
How is obedience to these two great commands different from observance of religious ritual? How do you explain that God commanded Israel to observe sacrificial rituals?
How was Jesus an example of absolute love for God? How was He an example of perfect love for His neighbor?