Cornerstone EPC Franklin, NC 28734
Sunday morning March 14, 2021
“The Greatest Commandment”
We continue this week in our short series of messages from the last week of Jesus’ public ministry—what we call Holy Week. Last week we learned to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s—and to God what is God’s. Neither of those is as easy to accomplish as it first appears; we shall need power from on high in order to comply. Today we learn a bit more fully how to render to God what is God’s. We, once again, shall require great help from on high. Let’s get that help, in part, as we hear the Word of God read and proclaimed once again in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Our passage opens today with a scribe entering the scene. A scribe was a member of the Jewish religious elite, for he was an expert in Jewish law. He understood, at an impressive level, both the canonical Law of Moses (contained in Genesis-Deuteronomy) and the traditional law allegedly based upon Mosaic Law. He enters a scene of constant dispute between Jesus and the Jewish religious elite—the scribes, chief priests, elders, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians, to name but a few. He enters a scene both of constant validation of Jesus’ Person and message and of constant worsting of His opponents.
The scribe, now on the scene, notes that Jesus answered His opponents well and asks his question: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” This is a fair question, since Jesus could choose any one of six hundred thirteen commandments in the Mosaic Law: two hundred forty-eight stated positively (“Thou shalt…”) and three hundred sixty-five stated negatively (“Thou shalt not…”). The Holy Spirit, through Moses, sums these manifold commandments nicely in the Decalogue—the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21).
Let’s consider one question before we note Jesus’ answer: What was the scribe’s motivation? Perhaps the scribe, like the others, aimed to trap Jesus in something He might say—in order to arrest Him, mistreat Him, destroy Him, etc. It is at least possible that this scribe, unlike his peers, seeks genuinely after God’s truth. Note, in any case, that Jesus upbraids him not. He gives the scribe a straightforward answer; let’s turn our attention to it now.
Jesus replies with what we know as the two-fold love command, prefaced by Shema (Hebrew imperative: “Hear thou…”): “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Then Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-5). This summarizes the first table—that is, the first through fourth commandments—of the Ten Commandments. We are to love our God with all our visible and invisible abilities, resources, facets of our being, and so forth. In short, we must love the Lord our God with all we have and with all we are. Jesus continues, “The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Leviticus 19:18). This summarizes the second table—the fifth through tenth commandments—of the Ten Commandments. By neighbor, we mean not only our fellow believer in Jesus, but anyone at all—as the expert in the Law learned to his chagrin in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). There are no greater commandments than these, Jesus says—and, of course, He is right.
The scribe agrees, saying, “You are right, Teacher.” He agrees with Jesus further, affirming that God is one and that there is no other god save Him. He also concurs with Jesus that the two-fold love command is the greatest of all the commandments in the Law. The scribe then asserts a surprising claim, for a scribe, at least: Loving God and neighbor in this way is greater than all the ceremonial law and its duties. Yet the Old Testament supports the scribe—and Jesus. Samuel cries to Saul that to obey the Lord is better than sacrifice—and to listen to Him is better than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22). The prophet Hosea, centuries later, cries out that God prefers steadfast love to sacrifice—and knowledge of Him to burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6).
The scribe’s wise words thus ended, Jesus responds, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” The scribe’s estimate of Jesus’ doctrine is correct. Now he needs to take one crucial step, namely, to believe in Christ and, consequently, to be saved. Note also the crowd’s non-response: No one dared ask Him any more questions. None could flummox Him, and the attempts, hence, abated. Do not think for a moment, however, that the desire to destroy Him abated. It only intensified—and, by later this week, the Jewish religious elite’s intense desire to destroy Jesus appears to be satisfied to the diabolical full. However, this is appearance only, as we shall see, God willing, on the first Lord’s Day in April this year.
Jesus, in the final week of His earthly ministry, calls us to love the Lord with all we are and all we have. This includes our inward affections, emotions, and thoughts, on the one hand, and it includes our apparent strengths (physical, fiscal, and otherwise) on the other hand. He also calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. On Thursday night of Holy Week, Jesus told the eleven disciples then present in the upper room, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:35). This love for one another must extend to the one we least likely would love—or least desire to love—as in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Let us, to fulfill this, remember. Remember the words of the Holy Spirit through the Apostle John, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10) and, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Let us, to fulfill Jesus’ two-fold love command, pray unto God the Father for the power to fulfill it. Let us, to fulfill the thrust of today’s text, fortify ourselves for the task upon His appointed means of grace. By getting Scripture—read and proclaimed—into us, by prayer, by public worship attendance, by observance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and by other appointed Scripture means of grace, we gain strength for the walk of faith in Christ—including ever-increasing desire and ability to fulfill the two-fold love command and to shun its opposite. May the Lord prosper you, our church, and Christians everywhere in obedience to and display of this greatest commandment.