Wouldn't it be great to know exactly what was expected of us spiritually? To know what was really important so we could focus on that. To make the most important a priority. This week we'll explore that when we see Jesus asked, "What is the Greatest Commandment."
This message is based on Matthew 22:34-46
Isidor Isaac Rabi, a Nobel Prize winner in Physics, and one of the developers of the atomic bomb, was once asked how he became a scientist. Rabi replied that every day after school his mother would talk to him about his school day. She wasn't so much interested in what he had learned that day, but how he conducted himself in his studies. She always inquired, “Did you ask a good question today?”
“Asking good questions,” Rabi said, “made me become a scientist.”
Now, in order to ask good questions, I think you need to have a good motive behind the question. You have to want to know the answer. And if it’s not the answer you thought it would be, you have to be willing to accept it anyway, and learn from it. The Pharisees already thought they had all the answers. They thought they knew the truth.
How many times have we had it in for someone, asking a question that was really designed to trap them? We do it fairly often, don’t we? When we do this we are not trying to learn; we are trying to injure. And trying to injure has no place in our Christian Faith. Our motivation should always be to build another up, never to hurt someone, never injure someone.
In our reading this morning, the Pharisees come to Jesus with a question designed to injure him, to damage to His reputation. It’s not the first time, they had tried to trap Him on other occasions, too. In fact, the Sadducees had just asked him a question, and our reading starts out, “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together…” They asked him a question meant to trap him, and Jesus again gives a good answer that has people scratching their heads.
The question is: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” It was asked by an expert in the law, someone people looked up to. Someone knowledgeable and well respected. And even though this question was a test, it’s still a really important question. In fact, for a devout Jew of that time, it was probably the most important question one could ask.
And when Jesus answered their question, He asked them one, back. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They answered that he would be the son of David, which was probably a good answer if you were a Jew at that time. But Jesus responds by quoting Psalm 110:1, “The Lord said to my Lord…” That was one of David’s psalms, and David called him Lord, so how could he be his son. That was a good question, and it had them stumped.
These were probably the two most important questions of that day. I want to suggest that they are the two most important questions of our time, too. Which Commandment is the Greatest? What do you think of the Christ? We’ll try to answer these questions this morning, both from the standpoint of a Jewish person in the first century, and for someone today.
1. Which Commandment Is the Greatest? This is the question they asked Jesus. Now they meant to trap Jesus, but I think it was still a serious question. There were almost constant discussions among the teachers of the law attempting to prioritize the commandments. They argued back and forth among each other about which were the most important commands, and which ones were the lighter commands. So it was a legitimate question. It may have been asked with the wrong motives, they were hoping Jesus would say something they could later use against him. But it was a question they often argued among themselves.
And honestly, don’t we kind of do the same things. Not with, but with sins. Don’t we all think that some sins are more serious than others? Don’t we treat some a lot lighter than others. I mean, who doesn’t tell a white lie from time to time, that might be perfectly acceptable given the circumstances. At other times a lie is not at all acceptable. We’ve all got some ideas of some sins that might be unforgivable, like murder. While other sins, like those little white lies, aren’t really that bad at all.
Those were really the kinds of discussions they would have, not all that different from what we might have. So they asked Jesus what He thought, and we saw from the reading that he gave two answers, two commands, that together, were the most important. Let’s look at the first one. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”
There are two things about this answer that are worth noticing. First, when Mark records this, he uses a slightly different answer. Mark 12:30 reads, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” So Mark’s four are heart, soul, mind, strength. Matthew’s were heart, soul, mind. So there is a slight difference. Luke includes strength, that we are to love God with all our strength.
That not that big a difference, until we see where this answer came from. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, and there’s a good reason why he did. If we look at the context to this passage, we see that, beginning in verse 23, Jesus is asked questions by some Sadducees, there are a number of Sadducees present in this crowd. The Sadducees were devout Jews that didn’t believe any doctrine that couldn’t be supported by the Pentateuch, the first five books of the bible. So Jesus takes his answer from the Pentateuch, from Deuteronomy. So the Sadducees accepted His answer.
But in Deuteronomy, it says heart, soul and strength. So while Jesus is largely quoting Deuteronomy, he’s adding something to it. He adds the word mind. Both Matthew and Mark include the word “mind.” We are supposed to love the Lord our God with all our mind.
What does it mean to love the Lord our God with all our mind? I think it means to love God with our understanding, our intellect. We’re supposed to think about God, to intellectually pursue God. Not just blindly follow a list of do’s and don’ts, but do what we think God directs us to do. Our love for God need to encompass everything we are, including our mind, our intellect.
Jesus’ second answer is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Two comments here, again, Jesus goes to the Pentateuch for the answer, this time quoting Leviticus 19:18, which says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.” Again, by quoting Leviticus, the Sadducees would accept His answer.
What do these mean for us? Most of us might claim to love the Lord our God with all we have. But we can get so distracted in life. School becomes a priority. Work is a priority. Family is a priority. And honestly, these are all good things. My question is, can we really love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, with the very core of who we are, if He’s not our top priority? If school and work and family are larger priorities, then we must love them more than God. Then we’re falling short of this command. The most important command.
And if we’re truly loving our neighbor as ourselves then we aren’t backstabbing or gossiping or complaining about what so and so is doing. We aren’t jealous over another’s success. We are participating together, enjoying each other’s company, lifting each other up, not trying to hold another down. We aren’t divided over worship issues, or music issues, or personnel issues. If we love each other, we are there for each other – and there is no one we don’t like, because there is no one who isn’t a neighbor. To follow this command means we love everybody, and treat everybody well.
It’s all about love. At the core of both of these answers, it’s all about love. Love God. Love one another. Just love. Don’t hate. Just love. Let’s look at the question that Jesus asks in response now…
2. What Do You Think of the Christ? To avoid some confusion over the word, Christ is the Greek word for messiah. The word Messiah is Hebrew, the literal translation is the anointed one. In English, we sometimes confuse this, we refer to Jesus as Christ, as sort of His name, but we need to remember it is a title, referring Jesus being the anointed one of God, the Messiah. It’s like we might say Jesus Messiah, or Jesus is the Chrirst.
Back to our reading, Jesus stumped them with this question. They took a guess, a good guess, And they didn’t get it wrong, as far as they went. There are at least 27 passages that indicate that the Christ, the Messiah will be a descendant of David. Isaiah 9:6 is a favorite Christmas passage, it reads, “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throng and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness rom that time on and forever.”
In Jeremiah 33:15 it says, “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.” In verse 17, “For this is what the Lord says: ‘David will never fail to have a man sit on the throne of the house of Israel.’” And we know from the lineage in the beginning of Matthew that Jesus was a descendant of David. So the Pharisees were right, as far as they went.
But their answer made it clear that they didn’t see Jesus as their Messiah. And worse than that, their answer implies that they didn’t know anything of the Messiah other than his lineage. And to understand the context, that’s why the very next verse after our reading ends starts off with the section heading, the Seven Woes, where Jesus really lets loose on the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. We’re going to look at a little bit of that next week. These are the teachers, the leaders, the ones who are supposed to know these things. And the Messiah they have been waiting for for hundreds of years is standing in front of them, and they have no clue. And so He really blasts them. Because if the teachers don’t know, what chance do the people have?
But who is Jesus to you? What do you think of the Christ? I hope He’s more than someone’s descendant. To the Jews He was just a descendant of David, someone to come sometime in the future. Who is He to you?
That’s a question you each have to answer for yourselves. Let’s take a look at a couple of the titles the early church gave Jesus to see what we can learn from them. The first we’ll look at the one Jesus asked about, the Christ. The phrase Jesus Christ appears over and over again in the Scriptures, and it is a title meaning Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one of God.
Jesus is referred to as “the Lord” over 700 times in the New Testament. Often when Paul used this term, he referring to Jesus as ‘the divine image” in whose face the glory of God shines through. While this term can be used to denote respect for an elder, especially a leader or someone over you, one of the Greek definitions of the Greek word Kyrios is God, and when used of Jesus, this title refers to His divinity.
Son of God is another title for Jesus used several times in the New Testament, again it refers to His divinity. This is affirmed by God himself at the baptism, when the voice of God says, “This is my Son.” In Matthew and Luke’s Gospel, Jesus refers to himself as God’s Son, as does Paul in both Romans and Galatians.
These are only a couple, there some 70 titles used in the New Testament to refer to Jesus’ divinity and His role as our Savior and Master. But what about you? What do you think of the Christ?
Is He your Savior? Is He your Lord and Master? That’s different from being a friend, or just someone you look to when you’re in trouble. These titles imply that He is your first course of action. When you stay close to Jesus, when you come to Jesus first about everything, then He is truly Christ in your life.
Our take home from our message this morning is two fold. First, know that to properly serve God we need to love. It’s all about love. Love God, Love one another. And the second is that to truly love Jesus in a way that makes a difference, it means more than knowing His lineage, it means honoring Him with all you do, serving Him with all you are, and following Him wherever He may lead.