HG135-136 Most Important Command Matthew 22:34-46, Mark 12:28-37, Luke 20:41-44
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Following on from last week where there was a form of entrapment about taxes that Jesus escaped by saying: render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. After that, the Sadducees who only used the Torah, the first five books of the bible as their Scripture, thought there was no resurrection nor angels and tried to come up with a convoluted way to prove their point of view. Except Jesus showed that what happens in the here and now will not be true in the future kingdom of God, that is, there will be no marriage in Heaven for we shall be like the angels. Makes you wonder whether marriage is made in Heaven, but that’s by and by. And then Jesus used the very Torah they loved and thought had nothing to say about resurrection to show that it did when God said He is the God of Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob. God is the God of the living not the dead. This amazed and silenced them. Understandably, for He had removed the foundation of all their beliefs at a stroke and left them foundering on the sand. Oh how we can give our lives to things that in the end are not of God - these too will be washed away as being of no consequence when we die. Better to discover that now than then.
Straight after this a Scribe asked Jesus a question to test Him. But this was no entrapment but a genuine desire to see whether Jesus could answer it. We know that this man’s heart was stirred and had wondered about Jesus for in Marks gospel Jesus, at the conclusion, said to him in Mark 12:34 “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
The question asked was an interesting question. If I was to ask how many commands there are I suspect that the majority answer would be “10”. But that would be the wrong answer for there are 613. And neither the 10 nor any of the 603 others did Jesus mention. And by the way - to keep the law you do not need to obey the ten commands but the 613.
So, the lawyer’s question is, which of these 613 is the one that takes top priority?
Jesus answers with a combination of two passages that no rabbi had done before:
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
[Depending on which book and chapter of the Bible you are reading you will read that we should love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all of your soul as in Deut. 10:12 or we should love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your strength as in Deut. 6:5 and Mark’s version he also adds with all your mind or here in Matt. 22:37 with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.]
What is meant by heart, soul, mind and strength?
Very often these are separated into the heart which is about true allegiance, the soul being the seat of the emotions and will, the mind being our intellect and loyalty, and strength thought of being our physical being.
But for the Hebrew each of these terms of heart, soul, mind and strength are all interchangeable and mean the same thing for these are where all decisions are made, emotions felt, secrets hidden, desires come from and thinking was done. Essentially it is WHO we are. In other words, we are to love God with all that we’ve got. It means total commitment. It means total obedience to God. We are to love God with our everything. The Holy Spirit should be allowed into every nook and cranny of our lives so that everything that we are will love God more perfectly. Anything that would demand or divide our affection towards Him are to be rejected.
But note that this is no ‘try if you can’ or some request – this is a command. This is easily forgotten in the melee of our lives. We can easily be distracted and centred upon ourselves and our needs and wants. The life we have was given to us by God. God needs no excuse to demand from us everything; after all we were created by Him.
[We know that many professing Christians do not believe in an instant creation but evolution. What is interesting is the downward spiral once we reject that God is our creator. The issue is that if God did not create us and we evolved from other animals then we are not worth anything more than them. We are just animals and it is survival of the fittest. And animal rights activists are right that if we are not wiling to be killed why kill animals? And if God did not create us then there is no moral compass, right or wrong except what is beneficial for our future existence. And how then do you love God?]
Part of that creation is that He implanted us a conscience.
A video went round on the internet a few years ago where tens of thousands watched an abortion take place where the woman was claiming that there was no moral harm and to quote her: “I feel super-great about having an abortion”. Of course, she would say that when she is an abortion counsellor who found herself pregnant. She said that men and women should not feel guilty. But actually she admitted that ‘everyone feels guilty’ when going through this process.
Her conscience was at work despite all her denials. God gave this woman her conscience. God gave us our conscience. It is not always a true indicator of all that is right and wrong but it does give us parameters for the lives we live. It is God who has given us a conscience – and it is activated very much when we sin. Our sin is an abomination to God. It goes against God and against ourselves. The only place to have peace is in the will of God. Our consciences should drive us back to God who alone can save us from guilt. Only God can save us in Jesus and His sacrifice in our place who took our sin, became sin, took our guilt, and suffered the consequences of our sin in death who then cried out: “it is finished!”. No more do we have to carry about the burden of sin or its guilt or punishment. Because Jesus paid in full.
God as creator has the right to demand loyalty from His creation. God as our Saviour invites us to be loyal. Either way to love God with all that we are is the overarching command and way to live.
[What does 1 Cor 13 say? Without love we are but a clanging cymbal. Well, a clanging cymbal is very annoying except when played in its right time with the orchestra – and there it can be very effective. That means we have to let God be the conductor and we play our part in the right way in His time and then we will not be a distraction from the music. But play a clanging cymbal on its own just draws attention to you and not in a good way at all – playing the cymbal in time at the right time will instead people to the music and the conductor.]
We need to be those drawing attention to God not to ourselves. We need to be doing our part at the right time as and when we are conducted to do it.
A professor of theological ethics opened his class for the semester by reading a letter from a parent to an MP. The parent complained that his son, who had received a good education, gone to all the right schools, and was headed for a good job as a lawyer, had gotten involved with a weird religious sect. The father continued that the members of this sect controlled his every move, told him whom to date and whom not to date and had taken all of his money. The parent pleaded with the MP to do something about this strange religious group.
Then the professor asked the students, "Who is this letter describing?" There was quite a debate, with the class discussing some off the wall group cults, and many were suggested from UFO cults to Satanic Ritualistic types. After about a 15 minutes of discussion the Professor revealed that the letter was from a third century Roman parent concerned about a group of people called....Christians.
[So, what was it about this son that caused so much concern that the father had to write a letter? The son was plainly someone who had allowed God to permeate every corner of his life. He could only date another Christian, could only use his money for good. It is good to count the cost of following Jesus, of what it may mean for us to love God with all our hearts, mind, soul and strength. This guy’s family thought he had lost his marbles. Even Jesus’ family thought he was mad at one time.]
Sometimes it comes down to choice. The family of God or our biological family.
For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”
It is also possible that God will lead us away from home comforts:
So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
We are in a relationship with our Father. We are in the greatest love story ever told. We were without hope but then we were adopted into God’s family. And now what is required is that we love God. And when we think on the cross and the forgiveness given we should love Him even more for He truly, really loves us.
And then it will follow that we can do the second command which is to love our neighbour as ourselves. It should be second nature that we look out for the needs of others. The problem is that there are problems. The problem is that we have problems. The problem is that my problems take priority over yours. However, we have to carry one another’s burdens as well as carry our own. And our problems get smaller when we start to help others. We realise that some people’s problems are insurmountable. That they will never overcome their situation. All we can do is help where we can in the same way that we would like others to help us.
We hear it said in society today: do unto others what you would have them do to you. This is society’s version of ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. Of course, they leave out the part of loving God, which is the first and overarching command.
I know I have spoken before of the loving ourselves part of this command. But this is not meant for us to be egotistic but the fact, without thinking, we look after ourselves on the whole by eating, drinking, being clothed, having shelter, interacting with family and so on. I know that some people have low self-esteem but the fact is we are called to deny ourselves. We deny ourselves to serve God and others.
Of course, we should never have such a low view of ourselves when we understand how much we are loved by God; when we understand that we are seated in Heavenly places blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ and are no longer in condemnation; that we are forgiven; that we are cleansed; that we are precious in God’s sight; then we can no longer view ourselves with such lowly views again.
It is also when we consider the amazing things that have been done for us that we should also realise that these things have also been done by God for our neighbours. When we get God’s perspective on us we get a right perspective on our neighbours. This should have an effect upon how we communicate with others whether face to face, through the internet or on the phone.
About 25 years ago I was told how bad I was on the phone. I’m grateful for that criticism because I instantly changed the way I was. you see, because I could not see who I was speaking to I forgot that I was speaking to a person. We’ve all had phone calls where someone was rude to us. Very often, these days, I put it down to the fact that they did not realise they were being so. The phone, because we cannot see the response, can easily be where we vent our anger without restraint. I feel sorry for those trying to make a living in call centres. It has got to be one of the most stressful jobs to have. I remember how I was interviewed for 3 hours for such a job – at the end of which I never wanted to work in such a place – and that was just the interview!
I know how I am when there is a problem with my bank account or when I am cold-called by some ‘claim your money now’ on PPI or some injury insurance company, let alone the fraudulent calls supposedly from BT engineers.
There are no doubt other ways we can be more neighbourly which we have to work out as each situation arises. The Pharisees were criticised by Jesus because they kept the law as far as tithing was concerned but neglected justice, mercy and faith. The point of this is that it is no good being an enforcer of rules if there is no mercy and love. What good is it to be right but do it with the wrong attitude? In other words, the right becomes wrong in the eyes of Jesus. Let me put it in a negative way that phrase that is common: If we would not like it done to us – then don’t do it to others. John gets to the crux of the matter:
And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
We are to remember the sacrifice of Jesus which is why we love for He first loved us:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
Let us not be like the Ephesians who forgot and put the Church at risk of closing altogether.
Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
Let us consider carefully whether we are obeying these great commands to love God with our all and whether we are loving our neighbour as ourselves.
We have the command to love God and our neighbour. Jesus showed His love to His Father by His obedience and showed His love for us in heading straight to the cross for the joy set before Him. God’s love to us knows no bounds. It is when we remember like today what He has done for us that we know what true love is.
The bread represents His body of which it says in:
Therefore, as he was coming into the world, he said: You did not desire sacrifice and offering, but you prepared a body for me. You did not delight in whole burnt offerings and sin offerings. Then I said, “See— it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.”
And the wine represents His blood:
he entered the most holy place once for all time, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God?
We meditate on these words.
“We thank you, Lord, for laying down your body and life to save us from sin, shedding your blood for our forgiveness, and purchasing for us eternal life. We can never repay You for the greatest gift that could ever be given. The life of our creator sacrificed to save us from judgement. Forgive us that we do not think as much as we should about the cross and do not live our lives in constant remembrance and thankfulness. We want to be like Paul who said that the only thing that matters is Christ and Him crucified. Thank you for your grace that has given us a glimpse of your love for us. Thank you. Amen.
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.