Over the last chapter, Jesus has displayed his wisdom and authority over nearly every group among the influential leaders of Jerusalem. The Scribes, Pharisees, Elders, Priests, Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees all have tried to catch Jesus in his words and trap him, yet he eludes them. Their attempts to discredit him or have him arrested for something he says have failed. After seeing and hearing all of this, there is one from among these groups who comes to Jesus privately. He is struck by Jesus’ wisdom, and wants to talk to him further in Mark 12:28-34.
There was somewhere around 600 or more specific laws found in the Law that many of the Jews of Jesus’ day worked to follow. It was also commonly known that completely adhering to all of the law was nearly impossible, so in several places outside of the Scriptures there are discussions ranking the laws. A common way to debate this was to consider which laws were heavier and which were lighter. So, when Jesus is approached with this question, it wasn’t so out-of-the-ordinary. Most translations will translate verse 28 with the word “important” because that makes it easy to understand. But the phrase is more nuanced than this. A better way to understand it would be which command is “primary” or “foremost”. All the laws were important. The question is, “is there a law from which the whole law can be derived?” Which law must we be sure to uphold most of all? Which law is the weightiest? Which law sums up the others? This is what Jesus is being asked.
Jesus answers with a dual response. He says in verses 30 and 31 that Loving God and loving people is the sum of the Law. All of the laws or rules in the Law were given so that Israel would properly love God and properly love people. He gives his answer in such a way that we can’t view these as two separate laws, but as one law together. Like faith and works, like belief and practice, loving God and loving people cannot be separated biblically. This is why the message of the Gospel must be responded to with belief and repentance. It affects mind and body, thoughts and actions. You can’t love God without loving your neighbor and you won’t love your neighbor without loving God.
He begins with a passage from Deuteronomy 6. This passage is a foundational passage for understanding who God is, and Jesus points to this passage in response to the question about the greatest commandment. Jesus gives four ways in which we are to love God – with our heart, soul or life, mind or will, and strength. In other words, with everything we have, do, and are, we’re to love God. There is nothing that we possess or nothing that makes us who we are that we are not to love God with. If it’s connected or related to us in any manner, we are to love God with it.
Secondly, in verse 31 Jesus says we are to love our neighbor. This is from Leviticus 19:18 (but you all knew that already because of your familiarity with Leviticus). The context of that chapter includes paying employees in a timely manner, leaving parts of your field unharvested so the poor could come and glean, and avoiding slandering people. We understand these as ways to show love to other people. Leviticus 19:18 sums these up by saying, “love your neighbor as yourself.” You’ve heard of “do to others as you would have them do to you” as the Golden Rule and that is certainly an expression of loving others, but there is more to it. It’s not just doing things for people and treating them right, we are supposed to love them. This means, patience, forgiveness, generosity, and all sorts of things.
In verse 31, he says “there is no commandment greater than these”. All of the other 600 or more laws flow out of these two. The remainder of the Law describes the ways to love God and others. The remainder of the laws describes how the people of Israel were to love, but this dual law that Jesus gives describes who we are to love. Jesus takes something that was very complex and simplifies it. In many ways Jesus simplifies the 10 commandments of Exodus 20. The first 4 related to God and the final 6 related to people and Jesus summarizes them both under the singular command to love.
An author named Tom Wright illustrates the nature of God’s commands by describing a road with guard rails and I have adapted his illustration here. Life with Christ is a life of love. Love is the name of the highway we are travelling. It has two lanes since we love God and love people, but it is one road. The Scriptures give us commands to shape that love and to direct it properly. These are the guard rails on the road. If we follow the guard rails we will go the right directions, but it’s a lot more fun to drive without hitting the rails all the time. Breaking the commands are like driving through the guard rail and you get banged up and damaged. They are there for our good, to teach us how to love God and others. But we aren’t meant to drive down the road bouncing off of the guard rails, we are meant to love God and others. As Jesus continues to renew us until eternity, we will be able to stay in the middle of the road all the more and enjoy our journey. The commands of Scripture aren’t to be avoided, but embraced, because they shape us and make us into the people God designed us to be.
At Shore Community Church, our mission statement is Loving God and Loving people simply, deeply, and authentically. This statement was formed largely as a result of what Jesus teaches here. Loving God and others cannot be separated. This is the goal and completion of our religion and our relationships. Whatever it is that we do as a church or as individual followers of Jesus must be related to this love for God and others.
At SCC, we are striving to love God and other people. There are three values that guide the way we do this – simplicity, depth, and authenticity. Christianity is difficult. It’s not easy. But it is simple. The Gospel is simple enough to explain to a child, yet deep enough to keep theologians busy for centuries. Jesus died for you and rose again to give you eternal life. It’s Simple. But this simple truth is so deep it will change everything about you. The more we know and obey God, the more we grow to love him. It’s Deep. However, none of us live perfectly before God, so there is no sense in pretending. Rather than being hypocrites, we are going to be authentic. Authenticity means humility. It means we know we need one another and we need God’s grace if we are to walk rightly before God.
Jesus sums all that God requires of us up in a few simple words: Love God and love people. In verse 32, the man Jesus was talking with responds to his answer and he says “well said”; “right on!” In verse 33, he says to love is better than offering sacrifice, which is significant since they are standing in the Temple where sacrifices are happening while they are talking. This is another way that Jesus is showing that everything God promises and commands is fulfilled in him. We love God by following Jesus, not by offering sacrifice. We love God and others, not by keeping a strict law code, but by living out the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection in our lives every day. In verse 34, Jesus tells this other teacher, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” This man understood that loving God and others was the sum of the Law. He even understood that love was the reason sacrifices had to be made for sin. What he didn’t understand was that Jesus was making that possible by living to fulfill the Law and bringing God’s Kingdom through his sacrificial death and bodily resurrection. He was close to the Kingdom, he only needed to take one more step and follow Jesus.
There are a lot of people who understand eternal life is only possible through what God has done in Jesus. They are not far from the Kingdom. What remains is that step of obedience in following Jesus. If you are following Jesus, this means that you love God and others. Any refusal to do so in our hearts or in our actions is rebellion and we need to repent of that. If you believe in Jesus, but you haven’t yet begun to follow him, you may not be far from the Kingdom. Decide today to follow him by not only believing, but responding to him by aligning your life with him, living for him.