The Greatest Commandment
Matthew Lesson #134
September 4, 2016
“Our Father, we are so grateful that we have this time to come together to reflect upon what You have revealed to us, to come to understand more fully what the Scriptures teach about who we are and who You are, to come to understand the nature of our salvation, and as well our spiritual life.
Father, we pray that as we study this morning that You will, through God the Holy Spirit, open our eyes to the understanding of Your Word, and that its application in our lives would be clear to us.
We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
This morning we come to a third fascinating challenge from the Pharisees to the Lord Jesus Christ in this book, as we come to the end of this period in this week of our Lord Jesus Christ before He goes to the Cross. In this question, the Pharisees are going to ask Him a trick question. They’ve been asking Him these trick questions, trying to set Him up, trying to entrap Him, through some sort of these questions that if He answers one way, He’s in trouble with one group, if He answers another way, He’s in trouble with another group. So the question that is asked here is, “What’s the greatest of these commandments?”
We know that it is a test, and it continues this series of questions because of what is said in the previous verse, that this lawyer asked Him this question testing Him. We have to understand this context. It’s so important that the more that I study the Word, the more I, especially in Matthew we’ve seen this so many times, that these sections, these little stories that many of us are familiar with, are taken out of context, and they’re just used to teach different things without understanding the framework in which they’re answered.
Starting back in Matthew 21 with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as He presents Himself to be the King, He’s challenged by the religious establishment. All of the different groups during this three- or four-day period between His entry and His arrest is a period of confrontation with the religious leaders, and so they began to ask Him the basis for His authority and He gives three parables.
These parables, we saw, must be understood together. Each one of them developed further this subtle answer that He gives to His authority because each of these parables involve the father, something about the father’s authority in relation to the sons, and the rejection of that father’s authority.
And, of course, He is showing that the religious leaders have rejected the authority of God, even though they have all of the religious trappings, even though they are praying frequently in the synagogue, even though they are continually going to their schools, their yeshivas, usually studying the Torah all the time. Nevertheless, they have missed the point, and they’re in rebellion against God.
That’s what religion is. Religion is man’s substitute for the grace that God has revealed in the Scripture. Religion is always about man working his way to Heaven, and grace is about understanding that God did the work, and we simply accept it.
The third thing we noticed about those parables is that each of them is directed to these unsaved nonbelieving religious leaders in the temple area. He’s not talking to the multitude. He’s not talking to Church Age believers. He is challenging these religious leaders because of their false assumptions and the way they, as those who should be the shepherds of Israel, are leading the nation astray.
The fourth thing we’ve seen is that each of these parables built a case for God’s rejection of the religious leaders of Israel, even as they are rejecting Jesus as the promised Messiah.
That’s followed by these three questions that are covered in Matthew 22:15–40. The first was a trick question about paying taxes because if Jesus said it was okay to pay taxes, He would upset all the conservatives, and if He said it wasn’t, then He would upset the Romans, and so they think they have Him on the horns of a dilemma. And He takes the coin, says whose image is on it, and they said, “Caesar”, and He says, “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” showing that there is a distinction of realms between that of the secular governing power and that of Heaven.
In the second question, they attempted to entrap Him by setting up this somewhat fallacious hypothetical situation. The Sadducees, who didn’t even believe in resurrection, set up a situation where if under the principle of levirate marriage, if a woman was married to one brother, and he died without children, and then she married the next brother, and he died without children, and this went through seven brothers, then whose wife would she be in the resurrection.
Jesus just confronts them head on and said they err because they didn’t understand the Scripture. They didn’t really believe the Scripture. So He immediately turns it back on them.
This morning we get to the third question, where He is asked which is the great commandment of the Law. As we’ll see, part of the trick here is that all commandments from God are equally authoritative. So they think they’re going to trick Him into taking one over another, and it’s very subtle.
The more I’m studying in Matthew, which is the most Jewish oriented of the Gospels, the more I understand that we miss a lot of the nuances and a lot of the innuendo that’s going on here because we’re not familiar with Judaism. We’re not familiar with what was going on at that time in terms of the theological positions of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and so we miss the point that’s going on in the text.
Let me give you a little summary outline of this section from Matthew 22:34–40.
First of all, there’s a set up. There’s the attack. The parallel passage for this is in Mark 12, and that’s a lengthier account and gives us some additional information which we’ll be looking at.
Matthew gives us an opening introduction, telling us that the Pharisees heard that this previous confrontation with the Sadducees, where they’re sworn mortal enemies of the Pharisees, hated the Sadducees, and the Sadducees returned the favor. So for Jesus to turn the tables on the Sadducees and shut them up, they were rejoicing. They were gleeful. They were just as happy as they could be. But then they still want to trap Jesus, so they move forward. So that’s verse 34.
One of the Pharisees comes forward. We’re told in Matthew he’s a lawyer, but don’t think in terms of any lawyer that you know, okay? This isn’t a regular lawyer. This is a man who is an expert in the Law of Moses. He is a scribe, we’re also told. So he is more of an expert on the Torah, and he’s the one who asked the question.
Then we had Jesus’ response, and Jesus is going to answer them. Once again, He sidesteps the trap, and He’s going to just skewer them with the truth. Remember, the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, and if you want to know what that looks like, there’s one right in front of the pulpit.
It’s a makira. The primary function of using a makira in battle was to stab, was to pierce, and so that’s the idea. Jesus just uses the Word of God over and over again just to stick, just to directly stab into the heart of the Pharisees and their errors.
First He’s going to go to the Law. He’s going to go to Deuteronomy 6:4–5 and in Mark 12:29–30, which I think is important to understand why He does that. This is a central passage in Judaism. We’ll see that significance. Then he cites an additional Scripture, which He joins to that. We’ll see the significance of this and why they’re related together. It’s very important. Then He’s going to make a final comment that on these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.
Now you have to understand a little something about the Bible that they had at that time. The Hebrew Bible was divided into three sections normally.
The first section was called the Law, the Torah, which literally means “instruction.” That’s the first five books of Moses, the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
The second division was called the Prophets. In the Hebrew Bible you had the former prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, and then you had the latter prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. Those were the prophets.
And then there was a third division called the Writings. That would be Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Daniel. These were the Writings.
Often the Scripture itself was referred to by either the first division, just called the Torah, but it wasn’t used just as a restricted term for the first five books. It often was just used to refer to the whole of the Old Testament as the Torah. Other times, they would refer to it as “the Law and the prophets.”
So when Jesus says “the Law and the prophets,” He’s saying, “your Scriptures,” which are the same Scriptures we have for our Old Testament. He says all of the Old Testament—is basically what He’s saying—hangs on these two commandments. Everything focuses, everything is built on this framework of understanding the significance of these two commands.
Then we’re told by Mark, not by Matthew, that this scribe that has tried to set Him up is taken aback. He recovers, though. We know he’s trying to entrap Jesus. Jesus sidesteps with an answer he didn’t expect, but he responds and sort of repeats back to Jesus what He has said and says, “Teacher, You have spoken the truth.” But he’s going to try to use this to again kind of twist things a little bit.
But Jesus says to him, “You’re not far from the kingdom of God.” In other words, if you understand this, you’ve almost got it. You’re understanding is very close to grasping the gospel.
But in terms of the rest of the Pharisees, we’re told by Mark that they were jut shut down just like the Pharisees, and after that no one dared question Him again.
All right, let’s look at some of these details. We’re told in Matthew 22:34 that when the interchange of the Sadducees was over with, and Jesus has shut them down, that the Pharisees heard that and, actually they were just gleeful over it, and “they gathered together.” This is just a word indicating they get together as they have in the past, and they’re conspiring, they’re trying to figure out a way to trap Jesus. So the Sadducees, have failed, and now they’re going to come along and try to entrap Him.
Their goal is to show that He can’t possibly be the Messiah that He claims to be. Their goal is also to get Him to make some sort of self-indicting statement that would bring Him under the guilt of the Law, so that they could condemn Him because their desire is to completely do away with Him and to have Him killed.
So they’re conspiring together, and one of them comes forward, we’re told, in Matthew 22:35. He’s identified as a lawyer. This is a Greek word, NOMIKOS, which indicates that he is a specialist in the Torah, the Mosaic Law. He’s not like the kind of lawyer you would go to if you had a traffic ticket you wanted to fight, or you had some other problem. This is someone who is a specialist in the Law.
When we look at the parallel passage in Mark 12:28 it says, “Then one of the scribes came.” Now this isn’t a contradiction, which is what some people go, “See. Mark has Him one way; Matthew has Him another way,” but among the Pharisees as a whole, which was a religious group, a very conservative religious group among the Jews, you had different men who were part of different occupations. A scribe was someone whose responsibility was to carefully copy the text of Scripture.
And one of the things that we do, we sit down, we start to copy things out, and we make little mistakes and things like that, so we don’t quite understand, that’s not how they did this.
If you’ve ever looked at a Hebrew manuscript, you realize they have unique block letters, and they would memorize the text. If you were a scribe, you have probably had the entire Old Testament memorized since you were, at least by the time of your bar mitzvah, when you were 13 years old. You could cite the text.
You could be blindfolded and somebody would open the text to a given page and pick out a verse reference or pick out a section and begin to quote it, and you could finish the quotation from memory. You knew everything that was in the text. You were a specialist in the Law.
When they would copy, they would have the parchment, and they would begin with songs. Every verse would have a song that went with it. So they would be humming that, singing that while they were copying the text.
They would begin with each letter, and the first thing they’d do is they’d draw the outline of each letter. After you’ve drawn the outline of the letter, you can see the word, and then they would begin to fill in the outline of each letter. So they’d have one word down, and then they moved to the next word. It’s a very careful, painstaking procedure. But they have all of the Scripture memorized.
So we know this is a scribe who knows the Torah frontwards and backwards from middle to each end, and he is also a specialist in the Law. He is the one who is put forward to ask this question, which will trap Jesus.
Matthew records it as, “What is the great commandment?” The idea is that he probably said, “What’s the greatest commandment and what is the first commandment?” So he would have not just said it in one way but probably asked the question using a couple of different words to express the idea. He’s looking for Jesus to make a decision on which of the 613 commandments in the Old Testament, in the Torah.
In the Mosaic Law itself, 613 commandments were the greatest, but among the Pharisees, they not only believed in the 613 commandments, but after God had the Southern Kingdom of Israel destroyed by the Babylonians after their return because they had failed in terms of idolatry, and before they were disciplined by God, they were very careful after they returned, not to succumb to idolatry again.
They wanted to make sure that they wouldn’t violate any of the 613 commandments. So, for each commandment, they developed a system of additional commandments. They called this “a fence.” And these additional commandments were such that if you didn’t violate those commandments, then you surely wouldn’t violate the center commandment, which was what was in the Word. And so these additional commandments were a fence to protect you from violating the 613 core commandments.
That fence became known as “the tradition of the elders,” and the problem was, they made that as authoritative as the Scripture that came from God. Not only were the Pharisees insisting on the obedience of the 613 commandments, but to whole host of hundreds of other commandments beyond that.
They had divided the 613 commandments this way: They said that there were 248 affirmative precepts; that is positive things, such as obeying the Lord, keeping the Sabbath. Then there were 365 negative precepts. 248 affirmative precepts, they said that was as many as there are members of bones in the body. I’m not sure if that’s correct today, not in our understanding, but that’s what they thought. And the 365 negative precepts they said were as many as the days in the year—and the total of which was 613, including the 10 commandments. That’s called the Decalogue or the 10 words.
So this is how he is trying to entrap Jesus is by getting Him to take one, to pick one, and elevate it over the others.
Now Jesus’ answer is quite sophisticated as He answers it. I want to go to the Mark passage in order to get a fuller look at the answer that Jesus gives because Mark has Him citing not just Deuteronomy 6:5 but also Deuteronomy 6:4. Deuteronomy 6:4 is a very famous central passage to Judaism.
Deuteronomy 6:4 begins, “Hear, oh Israel.”
The Hebrew word for hear is the word shema; that’s the form that would be an imperative or command, and it means “to listen.” Some people putting it in the vernacular would say, “Listen up! Pay attention!” It has the idea not only of hearing, having your ears stimulated, but hearing with a positive, obedient response to the command. So it was called “The Shema”, and that is central. This is recited several times a day by a Pharisee. Even today among Orthodox and maybe some conservative Jews, the Shema is the central command.
So what’s interesting is he’s asking sort of this trick question like, “You pick. Which of all these commands by God, which because they come from God should be equal? You pick which ones the best.”
But what Jesus does by quoting the Shema is He says, “You guys have already done this. You recognize that some commands are weightier than other commands, so I’m just telling you that if I pick one that’s greater, you already have also, so that’s not a problem.” He’s just sort of turning the tables on them.
So Mark has the whole quote there, “Shema, Israel, Yhwh Eloheinu Yhwh Echad—in the Hebrew, and it’s—the Lord our God—and then it’s usually translated “the Lord is One.” But actually in the Tanakh, the more recent Jewish Publication Society translation of the Hebrew text into English, they translated it “the Lord alone.”
There’s a big difference between “the Lord is One” and “the Lord alone.” Because you see if you talk to somebody who is Jewish, they say, “Well, one of the problems we’ve got with you Christians is you think Jesus is God. We only have one God because the Shema says that the Lord is One,” and they interpreted that as a singular being. That He is One. He is a singular monotheist; whereas, Christians believe in a Trinitarian or three-Person, a one-essence God.
So Jews will go to this particular passage, but it has been argued by Christians for centuries that the word echad, that is translated “one” does not refer to a singular unitarian being, but it is a “one” that has a multiplicity with it. Now that’s a confusing concept for some people, so let me bring it down to where we can understand it.
In Genesis 2, when God brings Eve to Adam, Moses writes that now the two will become one flesh; echad, it’s the same word. It’s a singularity with multiples within it. So in a marriage you have one new unit that has come together. It’s a unity, but there is within that unity more than one person. They have become a new entity. Another way that you can understand echad is that in some contexts it means something alone.
If you read the whole context of Deuteronomy 6, it’s preceded by this prohibition of idolatry. They are not to worship the other gods. They are to worship only the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and so as the Tanakh translates it, they understand it contextually that this doesn’t mean the Lord is one, but that the Lord alone will be worshipped. You don’t worship the other idols. You only worship God. So it doesn’t say anything about the singularity of God, but the word itself also allows for multiplicity within that.
This is an important thing to remember, if you’re ever talking to or communicating with someone who’s Jewish. If this comes up, you can always say, “Well, even in your English Tanakh translated by the rabbis, they understand that this doesn’t mean a singular unity.
So Jesus begins with the Shema, and then He says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
There are four things that are cited there by the Lord: A heart, soul, mind, and strength. We’ll look at that here, that these are the different words.
The first word that I have highlighted is the word “love,” “You shall love the Lord your God.” This indicates a certain kind of love. In the Greek the way the Greeks translated this with the verb AGAPAO, it draws a distinction between that word and a second word that is used in the Bible for love and that’s the word PHILEO. Now the difference is PHILEO has the idea of a more intimate and maybe a little bit more emotion-oriented love; whereas AGAPE is more of a mental attitude.
When we love God, it’s okay to express emotion when we love God, but sometimes just like our own family, there are sometimes when you have kids and your kids are not obedient, and you love your kids, but you’re not feeling very loving. I think we can all relate to that. Sometimes as kids, when our parents disciplined us, we loved our parents, but we didn’t feel like we loved them.
You know love is not primarily a feeling. That’s what the English dictionary says, but when we look at Scripture, love is more of a mental attitude that is grounded in a commitment to a person. In fact, it’s really grounded in a legal commitment that we refer to sometimes as a contract or covenant.
When two people get married, and they come and they stand before a pastor, and they make vows that they will love the other person in prosperity or in suffering and adversity, whether richer or poorer, I always say what they hear is “RICHER or poorer, in PROSPERITY or in adversity.” They never hear the negatives, and yet those are very real, and I’ve come to realize dimensions of that in recent years several times.
I was always aware of that to some degree as a kid, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I did because my parents were married in 1948, and in 1952 when they’d been married for four years, and my mother was at that point 26 years old, she had polio, and she was paralyzed from almost basically the diaphragm area down.
In many cases, and I know of some, you have men who they’re just not going to stick around, and they’re going to be gone. And yet, when my dad made a vow of faithfulness and to take care of his wife whether it was in prosperity or adversity, they faced a level of adversity four years into that marriage that would shape the rest of that marriage. That’s what’s necessary, and I’ve run across other situations similar that.
I know of the of a man who lives out in in Arizona, and he and his wife were driving home late one night, and they were driving along on a highway, and he pulled out to pass the car in front of them, only to discover that somebody’s car had broken down and was lights out parked in the middle of the other lane. At 60 miles an hour, he hit that car. His wife is paralyzed from the neck down. And he takes care of every day. She is a great, wonderful mentality in spirit.
And we also know of others who, as they get older one spouse or the other becomes terribly ill with one problem or another, and we are to love them. It’s a mental attitude. It’s not a feeling.
So loving the Lord our God is not a feeling, it is mental attitude, and it comes from an understanding of the Scripture. To love God, we have to first know God, we have to understand God. The only way we can know Him and understand Him is to know His Word and to come to understand who He is, and then we’re able to love Him because we know that. When the Scripture says anything to us about the love of God, it’s usually connected with a measuring device, a metric, for figuring out how well we love the Lord.
In the New Testament, Jesus says it many times in the Upper Room Discourse. He says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” We see the same thing in Deuteronomy. There’s this connection between loving God and obeying Him. And if we don’t keep His commandments, Jesus is saying, “You really don’t love Me. If you love Me, you’d keep My commandments”. And so this is what we see in this emphasis on AGAPAO, “You shall love the Lord your God.” How much do I have to love God?
Well, then we have these four statements.
It’s “with all your heart.” This is a Greek word KARDIA, which it is often used not for emotion.
In our culture, we often think of heart as something that relates to emotion, but in the Bible it usually refers to the center most part of a person’s being, and it primarily focuses on their thinking. So “with all of our heart,” and I think these four words here are roughly used in an overlapping synonymous way to say “with every ounce of your being,” every area of your inner thought life of your soul.
It’s “with all your heart”—that relates to your thinking with all your soul. That’s every area of your thought life, your self-consciousness, your mentality, your conscience.
“With all of your mind.” That’s the Greek word SUNESIS, which means understanding or intelligence.
See a relationship with God is not based on emotion, it’s based on our thinking. We’re to think God’s thoughts after Him over and over again. That’s what the Word of God emphasizes.
Then the last word in the Greek is ISCHUS, which means strength or power or might.
But what’s interesting in the Hebrew text—in Deuteronomy it doesn’t use the word “might.” It uses a really unusual word. It uses the word me’od. In the Hebrew and the word me’od is an adjective which means “very.”
“You’re to love your Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and very.”
“Very” is a superlative. It’s talking about “to the uttermost” of something. How much do you love someone? You love them very much. How happy are you? You are very happy. You’re talking about the extreme.
So that became an idiom in Hebrew for something to the fullest extent, whatever it was you were talking about. In Deuteronomy it talks about loving the Lord your God with really every everything you’ve got; all your strength, all your power to the fullest extent is how that is expressed.
There’s a little bit of a difference in the way Mark cites what Jesus said and what Matthew does. Matthew is giving more of an abbreviated account. He’s not contradicting Mark; he’s just abbreviating it to get to the main point of what Jesus is saying. We’ve seen this many times as we’ve gone through these different passages comparing Matthew to Mark or Luke, that they will say a little bit more. But Mark is just giving the core information necessary in order to be able to make his point.
Now here’s the passage in the Old Testament, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
The word for heart is the Hebrew equivalent to KARDIA; it’s the word levav, again in the Old Testament, primarily has that idea of mind or understanding.
The word for soul is like the word that we have in the Greek. It just refers to the innermost part of a person.
And then the word me’od means “very” or “exceedingly,” and idiomatically came to mean with much force or fullest extent.
What’s interesting about this is if you dig a little bit more into what’s going on, that in the rabbinical teaching, in the teaching of the Pharisees about God and about the spiritual life and about the commandments, what they did was they would emphasize the Shema as the primary overriding commandment. You were to recite this every day and many, many times during the day, and there were very, very few exceptions.
One exception was that you didn’t have to recite the Shema on your wedding night. But the story is that one of the great rabbis at the time, this is Gamaliel, who was Paul’s teacher. The apostle Paul trained as a Pharisee, and his teacher, and it’s recorded in the Mishnah, that even on his wedding night, when he didn’t have to, he still recited the Shema.
Here this is just a direct quote out of the Mishnah, Berachot 25, his students said, “Did our master not teach us that a bridegroom is exempt from the recitation of the Shema on the first night of marriage?” And he said to them, “I don’t wish to suspend myself from accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven for one hour.”
Okay, so he still cited that, but that’s not the reason I put this up here on the screen for you. We’re not just going through a little academic exercise and say, “Ooh! Let’s go see what the Mishnah says.” I want you to notice what he says at the very end there at the very bottom. He says, “I don’t wish to suspend myself from accepting the yoke of the Kingdom for one hour.”
In Judaism, as they were breaking down the Mosaic Law, they describe it in two ways, there were two sections; there is the yoke of the Kingdom, and that relates to the Shema, and the Shema is the command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. That was required of all children, all women, all young boys until they reached bar mitzvah. Bar mitzvah was when they become a son of the Covenant.
But then they had a second yoke, and the second yoke was called the “yoke of the commandments.” That’s the 613 commandments plus all the fence commandments that I talked about earlier. So that’s a heavy load. That is put on every adult male. They are required that if they are going to be spiritual, they have to keep all the 613 commandments and all of the fence commandments. So that’s what Gamaliel is saying here when he talks about the yoke of the Kingdom.
There’s another quote here that’s a quote from another rabbi Joshua B. Qorha, and he says, “Why does the passage of Shema precede that of other commandments?”
What we have to understand is they had sort of three levels of citations for the Shema, and the basic one is a Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4–5. Then they would also quote from Deuteronomy 11.
In Deuteronomy 11 at the very beginning of that chapter, it says, “Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God and keep His charge, His statutes, His commands, His judgments, and His commandments always,” and then in Deuteronomy 11:13–22 it’s reiterated. And each time it’s followed by a list of things God’s going to do for them.
If they love the Lord your God completely, then God’s going to bless them in all of these additional ways. So that’s what He refers to here when He says that the Shema precedes these others, so that’s it staggered.
Then the third level was a quote from Numbers 15:40 which said, “That you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.”
Nine times in Deuteronomy there’s a command to love God that’s repeated and repeated.
So what Rabbi Joshua B. Qorha said is, “So that one that one may first accept upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,” That’s just loving the Lord your God. That’s not the other commandments, that’s just loving the Lord your God. “And afterwards may accept the yoke of the commandments.”
So those are the two stages.
Now that helps us understand passages that we’ve already studied, like Matthew 11:25–30. This is a well-known passage. Often it’s quoted in reference to salvation, but has a broader application, it also relates to the spiritual life.
In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to Me ,all you who labor and are heavy laden.”
Who are those who are laboring and are heavy laden? That’s those who are following the Pharisees, who have had to take on the yoke the Kingdom and the yoke of the Law. They are overburdened by all these traditions of men.
And Jesus says, “Take My yoke upon you.”
See, His yoke is basically the yoke of the Kingdom. It’s just a Shema because that’s repeated again and again in the New Testament—to love the Lord your God. It’s not works oriented, so Jesus says, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Because My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
See, Christianity teaches that we don’t do anything to earn or deserve our salvation. We don’t have to follow a list of rules and rituals and regulations in order to gain God’s favor. God’s favor or His grace has been freely given to us at the Cross.
But this has always been a bit of a problem and confusion, even in the early church.
In Acts 15, another passage with that we have studied, there was a meeting in the early church because there were these Jews that were coming in and saying, “Okay, it’s great that Jesus died for your sins, but you also have to follow the Law.” What are they doing? They’re saying you have to take on the yoke of the Law as well as the yoke of the Kingdom.
So this helps us understand, for example, the situation in Acts 15, which is known as the “Jerusalem Council.”
It starts off, “certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ ” What’s that? That’s the yoke of the Law.”
In verse two, “Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension in dispute with them.” Why? Because they’re saying, “No, you don’t get saved by following the yoke of the Law.”
So they had this big disputation, and in Acts 15:5 we read, “Some of the sect of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the Law of Moses.’ ” That’s the yoke of the Law.
And you go on and you read through this section. We come down at the end, we read in Acts 15:10, “Now therefore—this is a challenge from Peter’s sermon—now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.”
See, that’s that yoke of the commandments. Jesus in His answer of saying “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” is affirming the yoke of the Kingdom because we have to learn to love the Lord our God with every ounce of our being.
Now, as we as we look at this and continue in Mark, the scribe recognizes what Jesus is saying and says, “Well said, Teacher, You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all our heart, with our understanding, with also with all strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than the whole of all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
So he is affirming that Jesus has properly understood this. This is why Jesus will say you’ve gotten close to the Kingdom.
Then he says this “is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
He recognizes the principle of 1 Samuel 15:22, where Samuel said the Lord desires more than burnt offerings and sacrifices. “ ‘Has the Lord,’ Samuel said, ‘as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord. Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.’ ”
What we see here is Jesus affirming this first part of the commandment; the command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. So that’s the first part
Next time we’re going to come back, and we’re going to look at the second commandment that he links together. This is interesting because neither of these commandments are found in the 10 Commandments. They are embedded within the other 603 commandments that are in the Old Testament, and it’s a unique linkage. Because what Jesus is saying is if you love God, you’re going to love one another.
What does John say in 1 John? In 1 John 4, the Apostle John says, “If you say that you love God, and you don’t love your brothers, you don’t love one another, then you are a liar.”
There’s this intimate connection between our love for God and our love for one another. They have to reflect each other, because the underlying principle Jesus is saying is if you really love God, then you’re not going to have a problem loving one another. But if you have a problem loving one another, then what that shows is you have a major problem loving God.
So next time I want to develop this more because we have to understand more fully what it means to have a personal love for God the Father, and then we can better understand what it means, as the Old Testament put it, to love your neighbor as yourself. But the New Testament expands that and modifies it to you are to love one another, even as Christ has loved us.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to reflect and study upon these things, to realize that our love for You is a reflection in response to Your love for us. That You sent Your Son the Lord Jesus Christ to die for us. The issue isn’t that we are to do something, such as obeying the Law or rituals in order to gain Your love, but that You initiated with Your love and sent Your Son to die on the Cross for our sins, that by trusting in Him and Him alone, we can have eternal life. And only after we have become a believer and have been adopted into Your family and have become a member of the body of Christ, can we learn to love as You have loved us.
So Father, first and foremost we pray for anyone who’s listening to this message, that they would respond by trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior, believing on Him that He died for their sins.
And second we pray that anyone who is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ already will come to understand the central role of loving You has in the Scripture. That this is the focal point of the spiritual life. It develops even as we’re spiritual infants, but it is only matured as we grow and mature in Your Word.
Father, we pray that You would challenge us towards a greater spiritual maturity and a greater spiritual growth and not just be satisfied with a mediocre spiritual life.
We pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.”