IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




The Most Important Thing

Date: Mar. 1, 2020

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Mark 12:28-34

Key Verse: Mark 12:33

To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.

I’ve got a question for you. Have you ever been too busy to watch a whole movie or read a whole book or study all the material you are supposed to? We’ve all been there before. We don’t have enough time to do everything that we need to do, so we try to find a summary. We want to know the most important points and leave out all the filler. There are some movies that you like, but there are parts that you kind of skip over to get to the good scenes. You might jump over all the talk of trade negotiations and senate hearings in The Phantom Menace, so that you can get to the awesome lightsaber duel near the end. Or you might quickly go through The Fellowship of the Ring, skipping most of it, because it is a little slow at most places, just so you can see the remaining two movies, which have a lot more forward momentum and the battle of Helm’s Deep. We like to get rid of all the unnecessary fluff and get to the meat. When you are studying, you just want to know the most important parts. The material may have been over a large variety of topics and not all of it will be on the test. You just want to know what is the most important. If it is too long, then people just don’t want to go through the effort. Some news sites even have a TL;DR version that gives a short summary. It is not entirely a new concept. As we will see today, even in Jesus’ time people wanted to know the short version and figure out the most important thing.

This passage is a continuation of what we have already been going through for a few weeks now. When Jesus arrived at the temple, he found the temple courts filled with people selling things. People had turned God’s house into a marketplace. Jesus got rid of all that wasn’t supposed to be there, but the religious leaders didn’t like it. The next day, they confronted Jesus wanting to know who gave him the authority to clear the temple. In response, he asked them a question about John the Baptist’s authority, but they chose not to answer. So, Jesus didn’t answer them. Instead, Jesus told a story about a vineyard with some unruly tenant farmers. The religious leaders knew Jesus was talking about them and went away furious. They didn’t directly want to attack Jesus because the people loved him, and they were afraid of the people. So, instead they devised a plan. They would attempt to trap him by asking impossible questions. First up were the Pharisees and the Herodians. Their trap was a simple one they gave him two choices to pay taxes or not. To support the tax would alienate most of the Jews because they hated the tax. To be publicly against the tax would put him in the crosshairs of the Romans. It looked like a no-win situation for Jesus, but he found a way. He shut those groups up by saying, “Give back to Caesar was is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. Next were the Sadducees. They came to Jesus with an impossible and ridiculous question. Seven brothers all married one woman, whose wife would she be at the resurrection. Jesus saw a huge flaw in their question. The Sadducees’ question assumed a resurrected life would be like this life. But at the resurrection, we are renewed and live anew because the Lord is the God of the living.

That gets us to this passage. “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’” (28) As Jesus and the Sadducees were having a discussion, one of the teachers of the law was going by. He heard the Sadducees’ question and Jesus’ answer. The teacher of the law liked Jesus’ answer. There were probably a number of times that he got into a debate with some Sadducees and his answers were not as good. Since he liked Jesus’ answer, he decided to ask Jesus a question of his own. Now, this man was a teacher of the law. He was a religious leader, a rabbi, but unlike the other many of the other religious leaders, this one seemed sincere in his question. The teacher of the law wasn’t asking to trap Jesus. He truly wanted to know the answer to his question.

Now, his question was something that sounds familiar, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” The commandments were the commands of God given in the Bible. The teachers of the law of Jesus’ time identified 613 commandments in the Old Testament. That’s a lot of commands to try to keep. One of the things that the teachers of the law did was to attempt to categorize them. They separated them into 365 negative commandments and 248 positive commandments. Now, by negative I mean that they state “do not do” something, whereas the positive commandments say to do something. They also divided them into “heavy” and “light” commandments, which is to say more and less important. With 613 commandments, there were a number of different ways of ordering the importance. It was a common topic of discussion for teachers of the law and they debated the merits of each of the commandments often. The most important commandment should be one that best sums up the other 612. All the other commandments should be able to be derived from the greatest commandment. He wanted the TL;DR version of the commandments.

Just like the previous questions that were asked, Jesus knew the heart of the person asking the question and responded accordingly. Unlike the previous questions, however, there was no intent to trap Jesus. This was a sincere question, and Jesus sincerely answered it. “‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’” (29-31) In Jesus’ answer, he doesn’t just give the teacher one commandment, like he was asked, he gives him the top two. Jesus goes above and beyond because of the sincerity of the teacher’s heart. Let’s take a look at Jesus’ answer.

Jesus starts out by declaring the most important one. He said, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” (29-30) Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. The first part he quotes, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” solidifies the oneness of God. There is only one God, which is why we must love our God completely. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Because God is one, our love for him must not be undivided. In polytheistic societies, a different god would require a different part of you to be devoted to him. However, there is only one God, so we should love him with everything that we have. The original quote in Deuteronomy has heart, soul and strength. Jesus here adds mind to that list. This might be because of the influence of Greek and Roman culture that valued philosophy and logic and to help better signify our whole selves. The list that Jesus quoted is not meant to be a checkoff, but simply to signify our whole selves. So, Jesus is saying that the most important commandment is to love the one God with every fiber of our being.

So, when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense that loving God with everything is the most important commandment. If you love God first and with every fiber of your being, you obey his other commands. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15) If you love someone who has authority over you, then you do what they say. You want to obey because you love them. You want to obey because they have told you what they like and don’t like, and you want to impress them. That love drives obedience to other commands. If you love the Lord with everything, then you don’t want to worship other gods and you keep the things that are considered holy separate from the things that are not.

Which brings us to the second most important commandment. “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (31) This commandment is a quotation from Leviticus 19:18. It its original context neighbor referred to other Israelite, but later in chapter 19, the definition was expanded to include foreigners living in Israel. During Jesus’ time, he expanded the definition of neighbor further to include everyone. (Luke 10:30-37) If you look at the commandment, you will notice that it doesn’t just say to love your neighbor, but to love them as yourself. This doesn’t mean you should love yourself a whole lot, but it acknowledges that people love themselves, but we should love other people no less. To love you neighbor is the positive version of the commandment, but many Jews held to the negative version. Don’t do anything hateful to your neighbor. Don’t do anything bad to your neighbor, because you wouldn’t want anything bad to be done to you. However, the negative form only leads you to neutrality. You just don’t do bad things, but to love your neighbor allows you to do good for your neighbor.

By having love for your neighbor, the interpersonal commands are already taken care of. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you won’t want to steal from them or hurt them or abuse them, because you wouldn’t do that to yourself. If you love your neighbor, you will want to take care of them as much as you want to take care of yourself. You take care of those in need. You do not detest the poor or pity them even; you love them and provide for them. When you love others, you don’t ridicule others, but you build them up. Just think of all the problems in the world that would be solved if we were to just love each other. Arguments would never arise. Crime would be non-existent. Corruption would be gone. Politicians would actually have all the people’s best interest in mind, not just their own interests and pet projects. The world would be such an improved place if we would just love our neighbor as ourselves.

The teacher of the law was impressed by Jesus’ answer and agreed with him. “‘Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’” The man recognized that loving God with everything and loving each other than any offering or sacrifice that you could give. God doesn’t want a gift without love. Have you ever received a gift that had no love behind it, but was given only out of obligation? It is a gift that has no meaning, and you just sort of look at it, wondering what you are supposed to do with it. You don’t like those types of gifts and neither does God. God loves the gifts that have heart behind it, because those have meaning and carry sentiment.

Again, you can see that the man is sincere in his desire to know Jesus’ answer to his question. When Jesus answered, he didn’t try to pick it apart or get jealous of it, he was impressed by it. The man liked the answer. The other religious leaders grumbled because they were trying to trap Jesus and failed, but not this teacher of the law. Again, Jesus saw that heart. He didn’t have to call out the man’s hypocrisy, because there was none. Instead, “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.” (34) Jesus gave him a hint that he was not far from the kingdom of God. He wasn’t there yet, but he was close.

Now, the teachers of the law thought that by keeping God’s commands, you would be able to enter God’s kingdom. However, here, Jesus gave the teacher of the law the two most important commandments: to love God and to love others and all other commandments flow from these two. Yet, even those following those two commandments will not gain you entry into God’s kingdom, but they get you close. They are the most important commandments, but not the most important thing to know. When a rich man came to Jesus asking what to do to gain eternal life, Jesus responded about keeping the commandments, but he also said the man lacked one thing. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21) In that last part, Jesus says to follow him. To obtain eternal life, we need to follow Jesus. The teacher of the law in this passage did not yet follow him. It is the one step that he needed to do. He needed to believe in Jesus to find salvation. Following the law wouldn’t save him. We have all broken God’s law in some way and already deserve death. If you break one law, but then proceed to keep all the others, including the one you broke going further, then you still have broken the law and should face the consequences. By the pure law, it doesn’t matter how much good you have done. If you break the law, you should face the consequences. We need more than the law and that is Jesus and what he has done for us.

Following Jesus and remembering what he has done for us is far more important than keeping any command. In fact, we can’t even keep the commands unless we follow Jesus and remember what he has done for us. The apostle John wrote, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Our being able to love God and love each other hinges on the fact that God loved us first. John also wrote, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) God loved us first by sending Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins. In our sin, we broke God’s law. Our hearts are so twisted that it is our nature to sin and break the law. Our thoughts drift to selfish things and evil. That is just our nature, but in this part of Mark’s gospel, Jesus is on his way to the cross to atone for our sins. He is about to take the punishment that is due us for our disobedience. His body will be broken instead of ours. He will be mocked and tortured. He will be alone and forgotten, so that we don’t have to be. Jesus will die, so that we will have life. That is the most important thing to know. With that knowledge, we are thankful and are transformed.

When you try to keep the commandments, you are trying to conform to them. You try to use your own strength and will to keep them but seeing and remembering God’s love for you is transforming. It doesn’t take effort to keep God’s command. It becomes second nature to keep them. You don’t have to struggle against your sin, which is your first nature, to love God and love others, but you have a second nature that is thankful for what God has done and that thankfulness causes you to love God because of what he has done and love other people because you see them from God’s perspective. There is no more petty rivalry because we all love God and Jesus and follow him.

Now, I’ve noticed a pattern that most, if not all, believers go through. When you first believe, you want to please God, so you try hard to follow God’s commands to the point it becomes legalistic. We look down on others who do not follow the parts of God’s law that we are able to keep. It is something that we try to do with our own strength. Then one day, we realize our legalism and discover grace, which we then try to have toward others. We try to tolerate others’ deficiencies with hope and prayer that, one day, they will get there, but again, this is attempted by our own strength and we inevitably fail and become so frustrated with people. That is when we finally delve deeper in our faith and realize what Jesus has done for us. We recognize God’s love for us, and that love begins to power us. It fills our souls and starts to overflow, and we really start loving each other and singing true praises to God. Our hearts are opened and that very love that God had for us, just starts pouring out and we can’t even stop it, nor do we want to. We are truly liberated from the burden of sin.

In other religions and faiths, it is all about keeping commands. If you keep the holy commands, you will find God or enlightenment. But, with Jesus, it is different. We don’t have to keep commands by our own strength, we have to remember the love God has for us and be transformed by that love. Everybody who asked Jesus questions in the past few passages have had flawed questions. The Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees were all trying to trap Jesus with their questions, but there were fundamental flaws in the logic behind their questions. Although this teacher of the law was not trying to trap Jesus, his question still had a flaw. The greatest commandments are to love God with everything that we have and to love others as we love ourselves, but we are not even able to keep those commandments unless we remember something even more fundamental: the Lord our God loves us to the point that he is willing to sacrifice his own son for us. He is willing to kill is own son to give us a new life. Jesus was willing to go through death and be raised again to break the power of sin and death to reunite us with the love of the living God. God’s love for us through the sacrifice of Jesus and his resurrection is truly the most important thing.

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