…it’s all about love. Following God is not about religious ceremonies, but about whole-hearted all-consuming love. Received by us, reflected back to God, and overflowing to those around us. That Jesus is able to keep the focus so pure and simple when he’s just faced a barrage of dubious questions is pretty amazing. And that a few days after this he is going to voluntarily die on the cross as a demonstration of God’s perfect love for sinful humanity just demands that we forget our small ambitions and worship Him. Let the Lamb who was slain receive the reward of His sufferings! Here also we see that even in the midst of futile religious debate, it’s possible to ask wise questions and hear insightful answers that will help us draw nearer to the kingdom of God, and give us a deeper ability to simply LOVE. O God–would you help me to be more like this!
Passage: Mark 12:28-34
Present: Peter & Taryn + Isaac; Sophie, Ryan, Lucy & Theo; Linda + Adam
Eating: Roast chicken w/ pear, mashed potato, roast parsnip & onion; carrot & lettuce salad
-‘them’ (the Sadducees cf.12:18),
-the Lord God,
-‘no-one’ [dared ask questions]
-the temple (implied; cf. 11:27, 12:35)
-the kingdom of God (= “the place where God is king”!),
came, heard, disputing, seeing, answered, asked, answered, hear, love, love, said, said, love, love, sacrifice, saw, answered, said, dared, ask
[Lots of talking words]
‘The most important’ x2
Jesus repeats Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18.
Questions & Comments
– Is this an honest question?
This passage is the latest in a string of controversial encounters that Jesus has while in the Temple courts in the week before Passover — and, as Jesus has prophesied, his death. All the encounters thus far have involved questions intended to trip Jesus up — about his spiritual authority, about the tense political subject of Roman taxation, about a doctrinal disagreement over marriage and the resurrection.
Coming after all those questions, you initially expect this question also to be a trick question.
But it’s not. The question is a genuine open question from someone who happens to have been passing by and has been impressed by Jesus’ ability to speak truth in the face of trickery — and the encounter ends with Jesus commending the questioners insight.
– Why did no-one else dare ask any questions?
Theo jokingly suggested a misunderstanding of what it meant to be ‘close to the kingdom of God’ — ie. close to heaven and therefore close to death!
More seriously it might be that Jesus’ commendation of the scribe (‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’) shows that it’s not just Jesus who is being put under the microscope by those asking him questions. Rather, those asking questions are equally being scrutinised by Jesus. And although this particular questioner comes out with honour and commendation from Jesus, it takes rare courage to willingly put yourself in that place.
– What about the Ten Commandments?
The rabbis count a total of 613 commandments in the Torah, of which The Ten Commandments (given by God in Exodus 20) are the most well known. These two greatest are not included in The Ten, but do sum them up, in that the first four relate to God, and the second six to people. It’s worth noticing that while The Ten are all negative boundary-markers (‘Thou shalt not…’), these two greatest are simple positive essentials (‘Love…’).
– What is the difference between the heart, the mind and the soul?
In Western philosophy & theology we tend to think of people consisting of two parts: a body and a soul. And then people disagree as to whether or not the soul actually exists. But biblically, a human being consists of three parts: a physical body, a spirit (Greek = pneuma) or heart (Hebrew = lebab) — which is the part of us made in the image of God — and a soul (Greek = psuche; Hebrew = nephesh) which connects the two. Hence Paul in 1 Thessalonians talks about us being sanctified in spirit, soul and body. And in Genesis 2:7, God forms man’s body from the dust, breathes into him his spirit (‘the breath of life’), and he becomes ‘a living soul’. This tripartite structure also corresponds to the three parts of the tabernacle: the outer courtyard, the tabernacled ‘Holy Place’, and behind the veil ‘the Holy of Holies’.
But why does Jesus mention four parts of ourselves with which we are to love God? Particularly when the passage he is quoting, Deuteronomy 6:5, only mentions three?
Looking a little closer we see that Jesus has added in the exhortation to ‘love God with all your mind’. Why might this be?
I think there are two important implications of adding ‘mind’. One is to clarify, particularly in the context of a Hellenistic culture that radically distinguished the mind/intellect from the soul/emotions, that your mind is not your heart/spirit — ie. it is not the most fundamental part of who you are, nor is it the primary aspect of us which is made in the image of God. But on the other hand, using our mind is a vital part of our loving God — God doesn’t just want us to do things and feel things, He wants us to think!
If it’s love that matters, and not religious sacrifices, then what was the point of the sacrifices?
The answer is that the sacrifices in the Temple demonstrated the need of and prophesied the coming of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus ‘the Lamb of God’ on the cross. “For God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “For thus God loved the world: He gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And “we love God because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
On that subject
-A while ago, I preached a message on The First Commandment. You can read it here.
-Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer, has a whole sermon series on The First Commandment. There are free mp3s and fantastic summarised pdf notes here.
-A guy called Harry Blamires wrote a book called The Christian Mind, which is a classic about loving God with your mind.