By Diane Caston
Mk. 12:28-34 Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He (Jesus) had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 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. 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.” 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.”
In the week after Palm Sunday, Jesus kept returning to Jerusalem each morning. He curses the fig tree, He turns over the tables in the temple, and He engages the religious leaders as they question Him. The chief priests and the scribes, the Herodians and the Sadducees had been putting Jesus to the test trying to catch Him in what He was saying. They were challenging Him with questions, hoping to stump Him and make him blaspheme or look foolish. It was as if Jesus was allowing them an opportunity to revile Him, seeking to reveal where their hearts really were. There was an on-going debate, day after day, as they sought to catch Him in dishonoring the God He claimed to represent.
A lawyer, a scribe, heard the debate and agreed with what Jesus was saying, and sincerely asked Him the question, which is the first commandment of all? He had a desire in his heart to know the truth. This is a desire all who follow God should have in our hearts. What is the most important thing in life? He wasn’t seeking to play games with Jesus, he was a scribe who asked an honest question and received a direct answer, no parable or return question as with those who challenged Him, but a straightforward answer.
In His response to this question, Jesus didn’t just answer what the first commandment is. He defined the essence of the whole law, the weight and the glory of it. What was the most important law of all? Jesus went clear back to Deut. 6:4, to what the Jews call the Shema. This is the section of scripture that the Jews would write down and roll up (orthodox Jews still do) in little boxes and wear on their wrists or foreheads. On their feast days they would chant the Shema when they gathered in the temple courts. The song would build and build as the people cried out, “Hear of Israel the Lord our God is one Lord.”
Hear, oh Israel, the LORD (Yahweh, existing One, name of God, singular) our God (Elohim-plural, reveals the plurality of God) is one Lord (Yahweh). He alone is God. There is no other God or other to worship. The Lord reveals the unity of the God-head in this one scripture.
And continue, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all of your strength”
Matthew Henry: “He is God, He is our God, therefore we ought to love Him, set our affections on Him, take delight in Him, seek to please Him. He is our Lord and must be loved with the whole heart. He has all right to us and should have our sole possession. He is one; our hearts should be one with Him. He should have no rival.”
“When Jesus calls us to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength, He means that the primary, most important and most basic purpose of our lives is to know and love the true and living God. That’s first, above everything else. We are to love and worship only the true and the living God, no one else.
And what a love He requires. Jesus says we are to love the one true God with all of our heart (the deepest area of our lives), with all of our soul (the conscious area of our life), with all of our mind (the intellectual area of our life – an area that Jesus added to the list), and with all of our strength (the physical area of or life). In other words, He want us to love God with everything in us, holding nothing back. In fact, we were made for exactly that purpose. God designed us in love that we might love Him in return. It’s the whole reason for our existence.”
God wanted to make so sure that His people didn’t miss this calling that He repeated the same idea in several places and at several times. For example, read what He said through Moses elsewhere:
And now, Israel, what does the Lord you God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul. Deut. 10:12
Unfortunately, the Jews had completely complicated the law. By this time, they had 613 laws. They had removed the simplicity of the fact that the law was to deal with the human heart. The law that should have brought them to their knees in repentance was something they used to compete with one another to see who could keep it the best. You would think they would have realized, if they really could keep the law, there would not be any need for the perpetual sacrifices they had to make day in and day out.
What they missed is what God really wants from His people. He wants us to love Him! It’s that simple. And if we love Him, we will be willing do what He asks of us. “ If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Jn 1:15
Every act of obedience is empty if we don’t love God first, as we read in the love chapter, 1 Cor. 13.
In Mount Sinai God delivered to Moses the tablets of stone. The first four commandments dealt with man’s worship to God, the last six man’s relationship to other men. It was Jesus who adds these words to the Deuteronomy verses with, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”.
Jn. 4:20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?
Jesus simplifies all the commands in His succinct statement, like our church motto, Love God Love People. It’s that simple, but at the same time, difficult! How can we ever do this without the power of God? How do we love God with all our being? We can’t without His Holy Spirit!
I know you have probably tried, as all of us have, but we know how well that goes. When we concentrate on our self-effort we fail spectacularly! Have you ever asked the Lord to help you love Him with all of yourself? To seek Him for His love, to be in His word and truly learn who He is, to truly see Christ on a cross reconciling the world to Himself, changes our thinking. He fills us with a supernatural love for Him, love we can’t explain, that we revel in when we truly experience it!
Love neighbor as self. If we are all created in God’s image, then we are all precious to Him. We all know how to love and care for ourselves. Because He loved each of us so much, we are obligated to love one another – to see the image of God in others and treat them the way Christ would. If our neighbor is a fellow Christian, we are actually family. “Do good to all, especially to the family of faith.” There is no commandment greater than these.
We are responders . “We love Him because He first loved us.” That’s the way it works! When we are filled with this love for God, we serve wholehearted, not out of obligation, we seek Him to make our relationships with others right, because we know this is what He desires. “The love of God constrains us”. We do know that we will never attain to the fulness of His love in this flesh, s we need to grow in grace and the power of His Spirit.
This loving our neighbor part of the command is becoming more difficult each day. The times we are living in, which are signs of the end of the age, bring about challenging situations daily. Disagreements over elections, fair or stolen? Arguments over a virus, biological or man-made? To vaccinate or not to vaccinate, that is the question. So many subjects are in debate today that are causing even family structures to disintegrate. Right or wrong on each of these issues, we need to remember that love is to be paramount in our lives.
God requires this love. It is after all a commandment! He commands that we reverence Him, that we walk in all of His ways, that we love Him and serve Him with all our heart and all our soul. That we love others as we love ourselves! That’s a lot in a concise commandment, isn’t it? And clearly, we haven’t done it! And so, we say “I have failed in that!”
We fail; we stumble, we repent, but we know no one has ever loved us the way that Jesus does. Human love has strings attached, but it was His very nature to redeem us before we even knew Him. The more we realize it, the more we grow in love towards Him and others.
Even Paul the apostle said:
Phil 3:12-14 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Some believers live like newly adopted children, not realizing how freely He has given Himself, that His Spirit is poured freely on each of us. I remember when Steve and Susie first adopted their daughter Chris. Susie had to train Chris to not eat everything in sight. Because food was scare where she was raised, she was greedy for food. She wondered when there would be food again? Sometimes we live that way. We are greedy; we are distrustful. Will God really care for us? Can I let go of this thing, because if I do, will He really bless me? We don’t realize that He has already lavished on us everything we really need. When we begin to see it, we can say Abba Daddy. We learn to trust that He knows best what we need. What does He want from us in return? Love Me, and the person next to you!
We need help!
Ezk 11:19-20 Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.
We need a new heart. We need new desires, not old laws. The law is to show us we can’t achieve it. The love of God motivates us to love Him more!
Finally, this young scribe’s answer is right on the money. He knew there was only One God who deserves our worship. He knew that loving God and his neighbor was worth more than any sacrifice.
Matthew Henry - Loving God with all our heart, will effectually take us from, and arm us against, all those things that are rivals with Him for the throne in our souls, and will engage us to everything by which he may be honored, and with which he will be pleased; and no commandment will be grievous where this principle commands, and has the ascendance.
The scribe attests, "This commandment is better, it is more than all whole-burnt-offerings and sacrifices, more acceptable to God, and will turn to a better account to ourselves." There were those who held, that the law of sacrifices was the greatest commandment of all; but this scribe readily agreed with our Savior in this-that the law of love to God and our neighbor is greater than that of sacrifice, even than that of whole-burnt-offerings, which were intended purely for the honor of God.
Jesus saw that this scribe answered correctly and encouraged him to keep seeking when he told the scribe that he was close to the kingdom. This surely pleased the Lord, since he had been encountering so many scribes, learned men who answered him and questioned him with no understanding, with hard hearts, with no will to truly seek the things of God. Jealous, bitter, prideful, they were all about preserving their own little kingdoms. This scribe however answered as a rational intelligent man, as one that had his wits about him; as one whose reason was not blinded, whose judgment was not biased, and whose understanding was not hampered, by the prejudices which other scribes were so much under the power of. He answered as one that allowed himself liberty to truly consider what the truth is. Jesus answered the scribe, “you are not far from God”. Knowing these things does not make you a child of God, surrendering to God and His finished work on the cross are the culmination of the settled salvation of man. Jesus was encouraging this man to go further.
Now, one would think, that this revelation of the simple requirements of the Lord would have invited many to affirm Him and ask honest questions, but it had a contrary effect. This conversation puts an end to the questioning of the religious leaders. No one dared to ask him another question. Everything he said, was spoken with such authority and majesty, that everyone stood in awe of him.
After the scribe answered and gave acceptance to what Jesus taught, what more could they say? They would have to agree, or be ashamed of their own hypocrisy, so they stayed silent.
After this conversation, the remaining words of Jesus in the book of Mark were only to his followers, preparing them for what was to come. No more confrontation with the religious leaders. Everyone knew where they stood.
Imagine the conviction but also imagine the cost. The Pharisees would have had to leave their little fiefdoms, lose their power over the people, lose their prestige and their profits from the coffers of the temple! They would also have had to admit that they were wrong and had been wrong for so long! No, they couldn’t face it! They would end up with the mob that cried, “Crucify Him.” But to the young scribe and to all who humble themselves and receive His sacrifice are the expectation of the pure joy of knowing our Savior.
Love God; Love People. God give us the grace and power of your Holy Spirit!