Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 9, 2018
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" 29 Jesus answered, "The most important 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 and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." 32 And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
— Mark 12:28-34, ESV
A conflict between common characters is now coming to a close. On a day in between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, a serious debate took place. On one side sit scribes and Pharisees and other religions rulers of Israel. On the other side stand the Lord Jesus Christ and His ragtag band of faithful followers. The question concerns commandments. The answer is love.
Love springs a trap that is being laid by the religious leaders. Each of their carefully crafted questions is meant to trick Jesus. They want to make Him say something that will cause Him to fall out of favor with the people, and ultimately fall into the hands of the Roman government. Their aim is to crucify Him, quite literally.
Of course, Jesus wins the debate, hands down. “And after that no one dared to ask Him any more questions.” Yet, Jesus still walked willingly into their superficial trap in order to accomplish His spiritual goal.
The goal is the gospel. The goal is love. The goal is gospel love.
Sabbath Love is Self Love
Ask any pharisaical Jew in ancient times and most orthodox Jews in our day which is the greatest commandment. They will turn in Exodus to the ten and tell you four. In their mind, keeping the sabbath is the glue that keeps all the other commandments together.
Such a notion seems foreign to our culture, where life is lived at a seven-day-a-week pace and church attendance is deemed optional even for many professing Christians. However, shutting down on the sabbath for worship and rest was serious business for the scribes and Pharisees, a lovely cause polluted by legalistic motives.
The lingering conflict between Pharisees and Jesus was essentially a sabbath day conflict. Jesus repeatedly and intentionally irked them by doing things they deemed illegal on the sabbath, like healing people of their sicknesses and helping people out of ditches. So, if Jesus answered the question with any commandment other than the fourth, they think they’ve got Him cornered.
But Jesus had already exposed their sabbatical hypocrisy. The rules they made for keeping the sabbath were man-made, not God-given. Furthermore, they concocted these regulations so that they could keep them, take personal pride in keeping them, and show everyone around how they kept them. In doing so, they plainly showed that the person they really loved was not the Lord of the sabbath, but their own puffed up, prideful selves. It was not sabbath love that drove the Pharisees, but self love.
On the flip-side, do not be so in love with yourself that you blow off worship and rest on the Lord’s Day. And do not allow modern Pharisees to ruin Sundays for you. Show up in your church, outnumber them, out worship them, and out love them. For Christ’s answer calls us to love the sabbath based upon a more biblical and better way to love.
Biblical Love is Better Love
Jesus’ teaching in this text bests the Pharisees and other Bible thumpers who use the Scriptures as a weapon. But Jesus uses the Bible, too, and a more biblical and better way. Yet instead of choosing one of the top ten found in Exodus 20, Jesus offers the more comprehensive answer found in Deuteronomy 6.
The words were familiar to Jewish ears then, so much so they even had a name for the passage, the “Shema,” from the first word in Hebrew which means “to hear.” The words are familiar to Christian ears, also. We love them and we love what they teach us about love.
Biblical love begins with God. The supreme being deserves and demands our supreme love. It cannot be half-hearted. It must consume the whole soul. It burns in the inward affection of the heart and mind and lights up the world around us. Those of us who have been created by God in His own image owe our first love to the Creator Himself, not ourselves, for this is biblical love and better love.
Biblical love makes us better people. Love for the Creator overflows into love for the creation, especially our fellow man, woman, boy, and girl. God-fearing and God-loving people make for better neighbors, who embrace the biblical concept of this golden rule.
Christ’s critical answer turns the worm in two ways. The larger group of religious rulers walk away to put the finishing plans on their diabolical plot to kill Jesus. They realized their trick questions had failed to expose Jesus as a fraud, but rather served to turn a prosecutorial eye on their own brand of religious legalism and hypocrisy. Jesus would have to be destroyed, and the plot that put Jesus on the cross went fast into motion.
The lone scribe, however, begins to walk in a different direction. Jesus’ answer and teaching on love began to convert the lost man away from legalism and toward the Lord. It began to turn him away from works-based righteousness to a righteousness that can only be found in the gospel. This tells us something extraordinary about the gospel, about love, and about gospel love.
Gospel Love is Greater Love
I think the scribe lobbed his question without any love for Christ. Like the other questions, it was a trick and a trap. After Jesus’ wise answer, however, a better love dawned, a bright light illumined his head, and a burden began in his heart. Like the grinch who stole Christmas, a change was taking place in this scribe, culminating in gospel love.
In his mind, the scribe became convinced that the greatest commandment is not keeping the sabbath, but loving God, from which keeping the sabbath and all other commandments find their foundation and meaning. In his heart, the scribe came to view people not as object to be taken advantage of by means of some religious shakedown, but as living, breathing, human beings just like himself who deserved to be treated with dignity, respect, and above all, love. But he had yet to willingly surrender his life to Christ. Loving God and loving people is not enough to gain eternal life.
I believe the very scribe mentioned in this passage of Scripture was turned by Jesus’ tactful answer. I believe he fell in love with God and pledged love for his fellow man, yet he was still not saved. We know this because Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” He wasn’t in. What was lacking?
Do you know anyone who is not a Christian, but honestly loves God and shows love for other people? Do you know adherents of other religions that love God, as they understand Him, and would not harm a hair on another human being? They need a greater love,gospel love.
In order to experience the greatest of all loves, the love of God which rescues us from perishing and saves our souls for eternity, you must love God, the true and triune God of the Bible. You must love people, for if you do not love people who you can see, you cannot love the God you cannot. And, you must love the gospel, the good news which transpired right after this monumental question and answer session.
You must love Jesus who walked to the cross for you. You must love the precious blood He shed for the forgiveness of your sins. You must love the grave that could not hold Him as He arose on the third day. You must love the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus Christ who will one day come back to earth in the same way He left, when He will establish God’s visible kingdom on earth.
All other loves fade away, all other loves fail you in the end, unless you have gospel love. It includes loving God in the way prescribed by Jesus’ answer. It results in loving others in spiritual and practical ways. It is caused by loving the gospel, which is grounded in grace, given through faith, and found in the perfect person and work of Jesus Christ. This is love, biblical and better and greater and gracious. This is gospel love.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org