“One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked Him, “Which command is the most important of all? ” “This is the most important,” Jesus answered: Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. “The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.” Then the scribe said to Him, “You are right, Teacher! You have correctly said that He is One, and there is no one else except Him. And to love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is far more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to question Him any longer.” (Mark 12:28-34 HCSB)
There are some things in life that just seem to be forever linked or connected together. Like popcorn and butter, potato chips and salt, peanut butter and chocolate. Why are all of those food related? I must be hungry. We also tend to connect smells and memories together, like the smell of bacon frying and biscuits baking with the memory of my grandmother’s kitchen. More food stuff. Good grief. Ok, one more that’s not food related. Seeing the first Indiana Jones movie, The Raiders of the Lost Ark, at a $1 movie theater in Tulsa sitting on the very front row. Man, I even had hair back then – lots of it, too. It was the 70’s, after all. I guess my hair wasn’t inextricably linked to me, at least. No bald jokes, ok?
What things are inextricably linked – connected in such a way as to be impossible to disentangle or disconnect – in your mind or memory? If you want, leave a few of them in the comments section. I’d be interested to hear some of yours. I hope they aren’t all food related, like mine seem to be.
Before last week’s study, I would probably have applied that idea of being forever linked to my marriage. Tina and I are inextricably linked in this life, but we won’t be in heaven. That really is a good thing because we will be inextricably linked to Jesus. So, obviously I want to consider the idea of things that are linked or, perhaps, should be linked together – forever. Things that would be impossible to disconnect or disentangle from each other.
In this week’s focal passage, we move from a series of direct confrontations with senior Jewish religious figures to what seems to be a very genuine and personal question from a scribe. While a scribe’s specific job is to make copies of the manuscripts, scrolls and the rabbinical writings for distribution, they became experts in the Jewish law because of this repetitive, laborious work. So, one of the scribes approaches Jesus after realizing all of these attempts at discrediting Him had failed – he saw “that Jesus answered them well.” That’s why I think the scribe’s question is heartfelt and genuine. He was not seeking to trick Jesus, he really wanted Jesus’ honest answer.
He asked Jesus, “Which command is the most important of all?”
That’s one of those questions that just cuts through all of the fat and gets straight to the meat of the issue. Let’s get past all of this political jockeying and positioning yourselves for maximum social benefit and go right to the heart of the matter. Jesus, which of God’s commands is the most important? I believe this scribe knows that Jesus’ answer to this question will reveal more about Him and who He is than all of the questions posed by the Chief Priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, Herodians or Sadducees put together. An honest answer to this question will reveal the true desires of a man’s heart and it reveals the true desires of Jesus’ heart.
In essence, the question of importance comes down to what comes first. What should I devote my time, energy and resources towards? What’s at the top of the list? Unfortunately, we are often slaves to whatever seems most urgent in the moment. We may have different priorities for what we want to do, but we become tied up with whatever emergency needs fixing or whichever fire needs putting out. I get it, I work in this environment every day. In some ways, this even seems to define our church environment. We may have big ideas for where we want to go and who we want to be, but right now we are kept busy just making things work.
What we make important in our lives is quite revealing and what we make as MOST important in our lives is very, very revealing. It really exposes things that we often keep hidden from public view. How can you tell what is most important in someone’s life? Look at what they spend their time and their resources on. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21 HCSB) Your heart and what you treasure are inextricably linked together. The things you treasure in life will be tied directly to your heart – together they affect your choices, the resources you expend on those choices, the direction your life takes and the goals you set and passionately pursue.
But hear what Jesus says should come first: “Listen, Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is One. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is called the SHEMA, and is Hebrew for “hear” – the very first word in Deut. 6:4. It is easy to hear these words, but it is much harder to heed them. In fact, I really think we are supposed to do much more than just hear them and heed them. Notice how we are called to love the LORD our God, with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We aren’t just called to hear them or heed them, we are called to INHABIT them. Live them and live in them.
As pastors often do, I want to break down the components of that phrase and develop each word into a complete lesson of its own. HEART. SOUL. MIND. STRENGTH. The heart is the seat of the emotions and the will. The soul is the person and his/her identity. The mind is the intellect and logic. The strength is the physical body and human effort. While each of these areas needs to be addressed in our lives, the real intent seems to be more about the Hebrew concept of the completeness of man. Jesus wants and demands to be the LORD your God in every area of life – all of God wants all of you. God is not divided, He is ONE and He wants you in that same way. No division. No divided loyalties. No compartmentalized living. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength – every bit of you given completely up to HIM!
What is most important? That the LORD your God gets all of you!
God uses the analogy of marriage throughout scripture to illustrate this very idea. One man and one woman for all of life. In fact, it can even be argued that the entire purpose and design of biblical marriage is to demonstrate God’s true relationship with man – heart, soul, mind and strength. When we love God as He deserves to be loved, we hold nothing back. All that He is loves all that I am and all that I am loves all that He is.
When I first thought about marriage and who I might marry, I’m quite certain that I didn’t fully appreciate and understand things quite like I do now. My thoughts and ideas about marriage and married life were much more limited, much more narrowly focused. To be honest, I was less interested in what Tina would get out of our marriage and more interested in what I would get out of it. Oh, don’t get me wrong. If you had asked me, I would have told you just how MUCH I thought I loved that girl. Wow, did I have it all wrong. Back then, I thought love was more about emotions and hormones and less about sacrifice and commitment. Now that we are approaching 45 years of marriage (7/7/78-7/7/23), I can tell you that my perspective on love and marriage have changed dramatically.
In similar ways, my relationship with God has changed dramatically over the past 55+ years of discipleship, too. While the things I was taught about loving God and following Jesus are true, the details of that relationship are much more focused now. What I had originally conceived as being quite simple and easy has proven to be quite difficult and challenging. But it has also proven to be very rewarding. As I discover just how much I’m loved by God, I am also challenged to evaluate and redefine how much I love Him and what it means to love Him with all of my being. I understand much better what Jesus meant when He told the story about discovering a field with a treasure in it and then selling everything so you can purchase the field. You won’t be willing to sell everything until you recognize the true value of the treasure, then you’re all in.
Are you all in? Be careful here. It is easy to get blinded by beliefs and loyalties. That’s what happened to many of the men who have been challenging Jesus in the passages we’ve studied the last several weeks. If you had asked them, they would have told you that they loved God supremely even as they sought to destroy Him. The simple truth is, we always love the god(s) of our lives supremely. We just don’t always call them gods or recognize them as such. Most often, we see them when we look in a mirror.
I want to take a moment and address this phrase, “the LORD your God.” No, Jesus isn’t being redundant. The word “LORD” is the personal covenant name that God gave to Moses, YHWH. It is the name of God that the Hebrews feared to use because of the third commandment — “Do not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” In Biblical circles, it is known as the TETRAGRAM or Tetragrammaton. The letters YHWH are simply the English equivalent to the Hebrew letters that constitute the name. It is the same as the Hebrew “to be” verb – or I AM. Just for clarity sake, many Bible scholars have German backgrounds and YHWH was transliterated into German as JHVH and became Jehovah. English speakers tend to dislike words with too many consonants, so we like to add vowels but vowel sounds are often implied in Hebrew. Hence, YHWH becomes Yahweh for those of us with English backgrounds.
But, just for a second I want you to do something with me. I want you to stop talking and just breathe. Breathe in, breathe out. Listen to the sound of it. Yh… wh… many Hebrew words sound like what they mean. The sound of your breathing is the sound of life. The meaning of “to be” is to exist, to live, to be and to have breath. As you breathe in an out, you are pronouncing the covenant name of the LORD. Now as you think about that, consider that the word for Spirit is the word “breath” or “wind”. When God created man, He breathed into him the “breath of life”. The LORD intended that we should live and walk with Him and that life would be supplied by His Spirit, His breath. However, when man sinned then the image of God in man was marred and broken and we would no longer have His breath giving us eternal life.
However, the LORD our God longed to restore what had been broken. To do that, He would have to take it upon Himself because man could not – we continually fall short or “miss the mark” of God’s design for our lives. We sin but God wants to restore His Spirit in us. So, when the wind (or breath of God) blows it has an effect but we don’t really understand its purpose or plan (see John 3:8). But when God wants to express Himself and He wants man to understand, He doesn’t just breathe but He speaks. The Word of God is the expression of God’s being and His power in a way that man can hear and understand.
“The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 HCSB)
“Jesus replied, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “But how can anyone be born when he is old? ” Nicodemus asked Him. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born? ” Jesus answered, “I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again.” (John 3:3-7 HCSB)
““For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God. “This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed. But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.”” (John 3:16-21 HCSB)
So, when you begin to love the LORD your God with all of your being, you then also begin to see life and the world around you differently. Your perspective changes. When that happens, this next greatest commandment starts to come into focus: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As I mentioned above, we are all made in God’s image and when we begin to love Him like we should then we will begin to see and love others like God does. We are to love our neighbor in the same way we love ourselves.
Let me state this very clearly, this isn’t about loving people as a means to an end. This is about loving people in the same way that God loves us. God doesn’t love you or me because we are so adorable and cute. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that God loves us in spite of the fact that we are unlovable. God doesn’t love me because I’m kind, generous, handsome, loyal and always seeking His best interests. Nope. He loves me in spite of the fact that I am, more often than not, none of those things. But He does know one thing about me, I do love myself. More than I should. And He says, I want you to love others with that same attitude. Love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself.
The scribe liked what he heard from Jesus. “You are right, Teacher!” Catch the very last part of what Mark tells us he said, “…to love Him [God] with all your heart, understanding and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself is far more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Wow. This guy really seems to get it. Jesus thinks so too, “When Jesus saw that he answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” This guy is right on the edge, just about to step into the kingdom of God. What’s holding him back?
Trusting Jesus enough to turn loose and follow Him…
Is he willing to sell everything so he can buy the field with the treasure in it. You see, there’s not an easy way around this. Jesus says that the gate is narrow, the road is steep and only a few are going to find it. He’s the gate into the sheepfold and there’s no other way to enter. If you really love God, you will love the one whom God has sent – Jesus. The breath of God has now spoken and He has spoken very, very clearly… Come, FOLLOW ME!
You simply can’t get to God on your own. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except as the Spirit draws him through the Son. They are inextricably linked.
Are you inextricably linked to Him?
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