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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:The Greatest Commandment
Text:Matthew 22:34-40 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race
 
Preached:01/19/2014
Added:2014-02-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


01/19/2014

Pastor Ted Gray

“The Greatest Commandment”

Matthew 22:34-40

 

Last week we read how the Sadducees had tried to trap Jesus with their story of a woman who had seven husbands, all brothers, all who died, and so they had asked, “At the resurrection whose wife will she be?”

It was a foolish question because it was based on the view of the Sadducees that there is no resurrection of the body. The Sadducees were the theological liberals of their day; they did not believe in the resurrection of the body or in the reality of the angelic world. But Jesus silenced them effectively by pointing out, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (29).

Seeing that the Sadducees were unable to trap Jesus, we read in verse 34 how the Pharisees got together. They were probably delighted on the one hand that their enemies, the Sadducees, had been silenced; but on the other hand they had this great concern: The One who had silenced the Sadducees was an even greater threat to the Pharisees than the Sadducees were. The Pharisees saw themselves as the ultimate religious authorities. And now here comes Jesus, a teacher who could do miraculous works and gain the attention of the people, all the while exposing the sinful hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

They came out of “the huddle” - they had huddled together, just like a football team, trying to map out the next step, - the best strategy to trap Jesus. Coming out of the huddle, they sent an expert in the law, a lawyer, which is another name for scribe, to test Jesus. 

The lawyer tested Jesus on a subject that was near and dear to them, the subject of the law and which law was most important. The Pharisees weren’t  just thinking about the 10 commandments here, as we use this passage as a summary of the 10 commandments.  Rather they were thinking of 613 commandment which they had categorized into positive and negative commandments. 

Of the 613 commandments that the Pharisees prided themselves for keeping, 248 were positive and 365 were negative. Because they had so many laws, both negative laws about what you could not do and positive laws about what you must do, there was extensive discussion about which law was more important. 

As an example they had a number of laws concerning the Sabbath Day and how to keep it. One law said that it was OK to eat the egg from a chicken that had been hatched on the Sabbath – a fresh egg – so long as you put that chicken to death the next day because it had broken the Sabbath by working in hatching that egg!

Another Sabbath law was that if you had a sore throat you could gargle a mixture of water and vinegar to relieve the pain, but if you swallowed any of that mixture you sinned because that constituted work. So the question might be, “Which is the most important law, to kill the chicken that hatched the egg on the Sabbath, or to make atonement for swallowing some vinegar and water by mistake?”

The Pharisees loved to “split hairs” especially over anything related to the law, so naturally they figured they could trap Jesus by asking, “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” (36).  And again, they had in mind 613 commandments.

Jesus Brings Good Out of Evil

However, in this passage we not only see that Jesus was constantly tested, we also see how God brings good out of evil. The attempts to test and trap Jesus result in teaching which edifies the church eternally. Think of how many generations of Christians, all the generations from the first century on, have known that the supreme commandment, above all others, is love. Wholehearted love for God and wholehearted love for others is central to the law. Jesus points out that love is the peg upon which all the law and all the prophets hang.

Now had the Pharisees not huddled together and sent this expert in the law to trap Jesus, He may have taught us this crucial truth in another setting. But this setting was ideal, because out of a plot to do evil, a plot that was hatched and motivated by hatred, Jesus teaches the greatest good, love.  And isn’t that how God works in so many situations?  He is able to bring good out of evil, working all things for the good of those who love Him who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28).

This past Tuesday some of you may have heard Rev. Nathan Brummel being interviewed on Moody Radio. Rev. Brummel is the United Reformed pastor from De Motte, Indiana who is the director of Divine Hope Reformed Seminary in the Danville Prison. From the darkest of places, the greatest good comes, as hatred is replaced by Christ-like love, as lives are transformed by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

God is able, and indeed does on a regular basis, bring good out of evil. The hateful attempts to test and trap Jesus result in teaching which edifies the church eternally.

Love as the Fulfillment of the Law

Third, as we see the Lord turning an evil plot into an opportunity to show the importance of love, we also see that love is the fulfillment of the law. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the law, as He had stated in Matthew 5:17. But in verse 40 we clearly see that love fulfills the law, because all the law and the prophets depend on those two great commandments summarized by love.

As an example, if you and I truly loved the Lord our God with all that we have - heart, soul, mind and strength, - would we worship false gods? Would we run after idols?  Would we take the name of the God whom we love with heart, soul, mind and strength, in vain, - as a common curse? If we truly loved Him with all we have, would we not keep His day as a joyful, wholly separate day?

Likewise, if we truly loved our neighbor as our self would we murder our neighbor with words, looks or harmful intents if not the actual deed of murder? If we truly loved our neighbor as our self would we commit adultery with our neighbor’s wife or husband?  Would we steal from our neighbor or give false testimony against our neighbor, or covet our neighbor’s possessions if we truly loved our neighbor as our self?

In that way love is the fulfillment of the law. In that way, all the law and the Prophets hang, or depend, on love. This is clearly taught in other Scriptures as well, including Romans 13:8-10, where Paul writes:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Love also fulfills the law in the sense that love encompasses all other blessed attributes. If you were to go out to the mall some Saturday afternoon and ask shoppers there to define love, imagine all the unusual responses you would get: You would hear of romantic love, of holding hands, candlelit dinners, a bouquet of long stemmed red roses.  I’m sure you would get a wide range of answers as to what people in our world picture “love” as being. And you would probably get a fair number of people who would define love as a mirage, as a heartless joke that gets you pumped up with anticipated joy and then leaves you flat and empty.

But the biblical definition of love encompasses all the other blessed attributes that bring blessing into our lives and the lives of others. 1 Corinthians 13 contains the biblical definition of what true love is: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

It is that type of love that is a fulfillment of the law. It is that type of love with which we are to love our neighbor, our spouse, our children, all those around us even “the stranger within our gates.”  In the parable of the Good Samaritan we see that our neighbor is anyone whom the Lord brings across our path. Everyone we meet is our neighbor to whom we are to show patience, kindness, goodness and all the other attributes in the biblical definition of love.

Jesus, in John 14:13, defined the greatest love as laying down one’s life for another. That is what Jesus did for us, and there is no greater love that that. And while we might not lay down our life literally, as He did on the cross, we lay down our life figuratively when we sacrifice of ourselves for the good of others. True biblical love involves self sacrifice. And loving sacrificially, rather than robbing us of joy, gives us true biblical joy as we love, not (only) in words or tongue but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18).

 The Totality of Love

By way of application, Jesus tells us to love God with all we have within us. Here in Matthew 22:37 Jesus says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And in the parallel account in Mark 12:30 He is also tells us to love God with all our strength.

Jesus is not teaching a compartmentalized love – that when you love with your mind or soul its different than loving with your heart. Rather He uses heart, soul, mind, and strength to emphasize the totality of how we are to love, with all that we have. It is not a partial giving of ourselves in love to the Lord and others, but the wholehearted love that encompasses all that we have within us.

One of my favorite Old Testament characters is Caleb. When he and Joshua, along with ten other men, were sent to spy out the land of Canaan, Caleb and Joshua were the only ones who trusted that the Lord would give them victory over the giants, - the Nephilim - who were living in the land. Caleb had faith that the One who was within him was far greater than him who is in the world, as 1 John 4:4 assures us all of that truth.

Caleb and Joshua, because of their faith, entered the promised land while so many others perished in the desert. And then when they received the land, Caleb described how he felt at eighty-five as strong and vigorous as he did at forty (Joshua 14:10-11). If God grants me eighty-five years I hope I can say the same thing! 

But what really impresses me about Caleb, and causes him to be a role model for us all, is that six times over, in three different books, - Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, - he is given this description: It says six times over that Caleb served the Lord wholeheartedly. He didn’t just serve the Lord by thinking good thoughts in his mind; he served the Lord with all his heart, soul mind and strength.  And that’s the point that Jesus makes to us as to how we are to love Him and love others: We are to love wholeheartedly, totally, with everything we have: soul, mind, heart and strength.

Close, Yet Not in the Kingdom

A second application:  It is possible to be close to the kingdom of God, but not be in it. In Mark’s account of this occasion he writes:  When Jesus saw that (the man) had answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).  He didn’t say, “You are in the Kingdom...” – but, “You are not far from it.”

That’s a terrible place to be in, if you think about it: to be so close, yet not saved. To have knowledge in your head, but emptiness in your heart. To be in the visible church, but not in the invisible, the true church, the body of Christ on earth and in heaven.

And this Pharisee, this scribe, was not the only one who was close, yet not in the kingdom. How many covenant young people have grown up in the church, been so close to the kingdom, have heard the proclamation of the gospel time after time, have been catechized, encouraged and motivated to follow the Lord, yet have wandered off on their own and have taken the broad road of the world which leads to destruction?

How many older folks are so close to the kingdom, yet not in it?  They have heard the Word, read the Word, perhaps memorized portions of the Word, but it has stayed in the mind as head knowledge and never sunk with all its beauty and life-transforming power into their hearts to cause change that is evident by a life of genuine love for God and for others.  JC Ryle, in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, writes:

Let us learn from this brief exposition of the true standard of duty, how great is the need in which we all naturally stand of the atonement and mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Where are the men and women who can say with truth, that they have perfectly loved God or loved man? Where is the person on earth who must not plead “guilty” when tried by such a law as this?  No wonder the Scripture says, “there is no one righteous, no not one” (Roman. 3:10, 20). It is only gross ignorance of the requirements of God’s law which makes people undervalue the Gospel. The man who has the clearest view of the moral law will always be the man who has the highest sense of the value of Christ’s atoning blood.  (Vol. 1, pg. 263).

Which leads to the third application: Love that fulfills the law only comes through faith in Christ.

True Love Inseparably Connected to Saving Faith

1 John 4:19 is a short verse with only seven words,  yet they speak a great truth: We love because He first loved us. Unless by God’s sovereign grace we know His love through saving faith in Jesus Christ we cannot love either God or our neighbor.

And if by grace we do know God’s love through saving faith, then we must love others as we have been loved by God, with that wholehearted, unconditional, sacrificial love. John writes: If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21).

In those verses John emphasizes what Jesus taught in John 15:9:  “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love. ...My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”  (John 15:9, 12).

* * *

The scribe who asked the question was so close, yet so far. By grace through saving faith in Christ Jesus may we not only be close to the Kingdom of God, but in the Kingdom, striving to love God and love our neighbor wholeheartedly, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, looking forward to the day when our love will be perfect in the glory of the life yet to be revealed. Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 01/1, Rev. Ted Gray

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