Thursday, November 25, 2010

Mark 12:28-37 "What is the Greatest Commandment?"

28 Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” 29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. 30 ‘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.’ This is the first commandment. 31 “And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 “And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But after that no one dared question Him.

The passage continues with the Sadducee's departing and a scribe upon hearing the Sadducee's reasoning together and perceiving Jesus had answered them well thought to ask Jesus a question of his own. Now like the Sadducee's the scribes question was not something he was seeking an answer to. But rather a question by which he could test Jesus’ orthodoxy. Now Jesus’ response to the scribes question is to quote from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which is known in Jewish circles as the shema, which means hear!, and is still to this today recited as orthodoxy amongst both Jews and Christians. Therefore in no way does Jesus depart from this foundational teaching of the Word of God, that contains within it, the Oneness of the Godhead or Trinity; which the Old Testament Scriptures clearly reveals as three distinct Persons within One Godhead (Gen. 1:26-27; Ps. 2:7; 110:1; Isaiah 48:16 etc.) just as surely as the New Testament does.
Now this precursor statement by God before giving Israel His commandments stands juxtaposed to the polytheism practices and beliefs of the pagan cultures that seemingly surround God’s people everywhere and in every generation. Thus Israel from its inception as the covenant bearing people of the One true God were to worship the Lord God and Him alone. Thus Jesus in so citing this passage to the scribe is not only affirming God’s Word, but specifically the Oneness of God’s Person. Now the second half of the first command is: ‘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.’ This is the first commandment. Vs. 30 That is mankind’s highest duty, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. Thus with our entire person, that is fundamentally what we are created for, to love God. Yet in loving God one must first get to know God on the deepest and most personal level and this one can only do by believing in His Son. That is how one enters into a personal relationship with God which then makes loving Him something that becomes a desirable reality in our lives. The first and greatest commandment then directs us into a right focus, pointing us exclusively to the magnificence of God Himself; that there is no greater Person for loving adoration and obedience then He Himself (1 John 5:3). Thus all that is within us is to be directed towards loving Him. Loving God then and all that entails must always override every other relationship and duty that one has in their life. Which is what Jesus made abundantly clear of being His disciple; that earthly relationships and duties must never supplant our loving relationship and duty to Himself and the gospel, and thus God the Father; whose Son we are to love and serve, that is paramount (Matt. 10:34-39; Luke 14:25-35). Therefore God's Person is the One whom we must render our highest love and loyalty to. And this we do by holding to the exclusivity of His Person in faith and obedience as both the Law (Deut. 13) and the Lord Jesus Christ declares of God having given Him Authority over all flesh so that He might grant eternal life to as many as God grants Him:  "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." John 17:3 Therefore God’s Person is the One whom we must always love the most. Now Jesus having reiterated the first and greatest commanded follows that by saying “And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Vs. 31

Jesus’ giving us as the second greatest command to love ones neighbor as oneself is from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus quoting from there the last half of the verse as a follow up command to His affirming Loving God as mankind’s highest duty; our second highest duty then is loving those who bear His image to us, that is our neighbors as ourselves (1 John 4:20-21). For all the Law, including the Ten Commandments "....and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Rom. 13:9-10

Therefore consider Jesus Christ’s Words and actions for He always exemplified this while commanding that as a priority of the Kingdom of God, whether this other believers, or even one's enemies (Matt. 5:44). Loving one's neighbor is a reality of having been born again by His Spirit (John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:10, 14). Loving people then is in the eyes of the Lord priority one, next to, or maybe prove of loving God. Now in order to love ones neighbor as oneself one must see all people as equal to oneself. Since Jesus makes no distinction between people, as one more deserving of God's love then another, since He bore the cross for us all. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Rom. 3:23 Think then about the implications if Jesus’ command was obeyed it would end every social plight and injustice that has plagued mankind since Adam Eve left the Garden to try to find their own way apart from the presence of God. Yet the sinful desires and selfish heart of mankind keeps on insisting on it's own ways; on putting oneself first before God and obeying Him as well as before one's fellow person, and thus you have the current state of affairs in the world; which always leads us to the necessity of the gospel. Since the heart of the problem is the human heart, sinful and unregenerate it neither loves God as Jesus commands, nor others as oneself. Therefore it must first be transformed by love of God through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ before the love of God can be manifested through the life which seeks to obey Him. Since love for God and ones fellow person cannot take lasting root in a person’s heart and life unless one is brought into a reconciled peace and union with the Source of all Love and Peace and that is God Himself. Which begins with our reconciliation to God by Jesus Christ’s atonement for our sins on the cross where He bore the judgment of them, since it is both our sins and our sin nature which alienated us from God and inevitably makes us hostile towards God. Then by His resurrection life, where He paved the way for us to likewise receive new and everlasting life by His Holy Spirit who transforms our soul and spirit and thus brings us into a loving and peaceful relationship with God.
Therefore we must first receive the reconciliation that God worked for us through His Son, then having been giving a new heart we can begin to live out the Lord Jesus Christ’s commands in the power of the Holy Spirit and manifest His fruits in our lives which not only transform our persons (Gal. 5:22-23) but also will have a major impact on those around us. Now in loving people, both the Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles give us some tangible commands on just how we can do that. In the gospels the Lord Jesus' 'parable of the Good Samaritan clearly tells us just what loving ones neighbor or fellow person must look like. And it’s not “religious piety” which in the interest of “purity” turns ones back on ones fellow person in their time of need. Rather it is getting ones hands dirty by getting involved when someone has been brought down by life’s circumstances (See Luke 10:27-37 also consider Matt. 25:31-46). The Apostle John said of Christian brotherly love: “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18 The Apostle James likewise thought little of religion that showed partiality to the rich and influential, but neglected to show compassion on and respect towards the poor (James 2). Or Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son which clearly reveals to us the heart of God towards any sinner when they, or better we likewise return to Him, then there is jubilation in heaven. For the angels of God rejoice over just one sinner who repents, rather than ninety nine "just" persons who think they have no need of repentance (Luke 15:7, 11-32). How about you? Does your heart swell up with love and joy and rejoice at the mercy and grace of God as the angels in heaven do when just one sinner repents and returns home? Or does it swell up with something reflecting more of mans anger as the older brother did in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son? For how we respond to the pardoning grace of God when it is extended to others (whom we feel don't deserve it) can be a reflection of our love (or lack thereof) for our neighbor as ourselves. In regards to this Jesus did'nt mince words about those who receive God’s pardoning grace for their sins, yet refuse to pardon another’s transgressions, saying, they shouldn't expect to be released from their own indebtedness to God when they sin, until all is repaid (See Matt. 18:21-35).

Therefore loving ones neighbor as oneself always entails forgiveness, as Jesus said in giving us the Lord’s Prayer: "And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us." Matt. 6:4 Which if we are obedient stands justaxposed to seeking vengeance or judgment on them, by whatever means a person would to do that, as the Law also says: “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.” Lev. 19:18 For the ministry of reconciliation, that is the gospel of God’s grace through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross on our behalf demands nothing less of us. For when we receive the grace of God by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, whether as people who grew up in the church and kept all the rules outwardly. But inwardly we became rather adept at masking our own inner evil tendencies. Or as sinners who never knew anything else. Everything that the gospel entails must be born out of a heart with a desire for reconciliation with God and others. For peace cannot happen without it, nor can community, and certainly not Christian community. Therefore we are first commanded to be ministers of reconciliation as Jesus exemplified by His life and through His death on behalf of not righteous people in the sight of God, but sinners. So then we must be people of reconciliation extending the grace and love of God to all. Now in saying that, not all will want to be reconciled as Jesus said in Matt. 18:15-20 of an irreconcilable brother. As well there are people who want the grace of God, but sadly just to carry on in their sinful lives. But that is not the grace of God that the gospel, nor we are to offer. God's grace entails repentance and faith as Jesus commands (Mark 1:15) by which He by His Spirit and through His shed blood transforms and justifies the poor in the spirit (Matt. 5:3, Rom. 5:9; Col. 1:14, 19-20). Therefore let us as the Apostle Paul said, also say: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” Rom. 1:16-17

Scripture Quotations
The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

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