One of the very most important elements of our worship together is hearing God speak, and He speaks through His Word, and I invite you to open His Word, your Bible, and turn to Matthew chapter 22. And this morning we’re going to be looking at verses 34 through 40. Matthew chapter 22, verses 34 through 40. This is the time when we listen to the Lord’s Word. He confronts us with His truth, and it’s my prayer that truly we might respond in a way that would be pleasing to Him.
Someone has said - and I’m not sure who - that love may not make the world go ’round, but it sure makes the trip worthwhile and thereby sort of gathered up general human sentiment that the best of all experiences and the sweetest of all emotions is love. Whatever era, or whatever age, whatever group of people you may be talking about, it seems to be the rather universal thought, that love is the greatest, that love is summum bonum, that love is par excellence. The songs and the poems and the books and the stories and the films and whatever else that men have authored and participated in that are about love would fill volumes and volumes and volumes.
And so I would say the world kind of comes together in a consensus that love is really that which is the greatest experience, and at that point, God would agree. However, it’s quite a different kind of love that God affirms than that the world understands, and we’re going to see that in our text. For our text is about love, not normal human love, but a divine kind of love, which only God can produce.
But let’s remember the setting before we get into the text, and by now it ought to be very familiar to you. It’s Wednesday of Passion Week, as it’s been called, Wednesday of the Passover, the Wednesday before the Friday when Jesus is to be crucified. And Jesus is in the temple. He has entered the city and been hailed as the Messiah, the deliverer of the nation from Roman bondage, the One who would come to set Israel in freedom and liberty, the One who would come and make all things right. They hoped - they wishfully believed that He indeed would be that Messiah.
And so they triumphantly hailed Him on Monday. On Tuesday, He went to the temple. Rather than attacking the Romans, as they thought He might, he attacked them. At the very heart of their nation, He attacked their false religious system and cleansed the temple, threw out the moneychangers and the buyers and sellers who had desecrated God’s holy house. That was Tuesday. Now it’s Wednesday, and after spending the night in Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead, He with His disciples came back into the city, went back to the temple, and is spending the day teaching there and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom.
Well, alongside of these events in the life of our Lord has been the mounting, rising animosity, hatred, and venom of the religious leaders. They already resented Jesus Christ deeply. They already wanted Him dead. The Scriptures says they already were plotting His murder. You see, they resented Him for several reasons. Reason number one: He taught contrary to their teaching, and that irritated them. Perhaps reason number two: He was more popular than they were, He had a bigger following than they did, and that was hard for them to take because their egos really needed to be supreme. And thirdly, He demonstrated powers and abilities that they couldn’t even conceive of.
So here was a man who contradicted their teaching, who gained a greater hearing than they had, and who could do things they couldn’t even imagine doing, and they wanted Him dead. He was a threat to their position, He was a threat to their popularity, He was a threat to their doctrine, and when He came into the city of Jerusalem and was hailed as Messiah, that just heightened their desire to have Him eliminated because now the people were flocking after Him.
But it wasn’t an easy thing to eliminate Him because how do you eliminate a man when you, for one thing, don’t want to alienate yourself from the entire populace that have gone after Him? And as long as Jesus had the ear of the people, they were in a very difficult position, and also the Roman government had restricted their right to take lives, to execute their own criminals, and so they really were in a difficult place. So they attempt the only thing they can attempt, and that is to publicly discredit Jesus. They attempt to make Him look bad with Rome and look bad with His own people, Israel.
Now, that attempt takes place here in chapter 22, as they confront Him with a series of questions, and the questions are designed to discredit Him. They believe He will be forced to answer them in such a way that He’ll put Himself in a difficult position with Rome and with the Jews.
The first mounting animosity came just because He taught different than they did. It was escalated because of the tremendous power that He demonstrated and the popularity that He gained. It reached a fiery flame because He cleansed their temple. I mean who was He and what right did He have to do that? And He cleaned out the place at the most lucrative time of the year, Passover, when they made their most money. And so by now, they’re almost at a fever level wanting to eliminate Him.
And as if the cleansing of the temple wasn’t bad enough, He spent chapter 21 and the first part of chapter 22 giving them three parables that spoke of their own exclusion from the Kingdom of God. He said to those leaders, in effect, you are like sons that say you’ll obey and don’t; you are like tenant farmers who lease out a farm and then you kill the servants and the son of the one who leased it to you before you’ll pay the debt; and you’re like guests invited to a wedding who refuse to come and therefore are shut out. And chapter 21, verse 45, says they knew He spoke about them.
So the escalation of all of these things, climaxing when He cleansed the temple and then pronounced in three parables doom on these leaders, has made them angry with Him to a point that is beyond anything they’ve experienced heretofore. They gather some sense of control, and they try to confront Him in a way that will allow them ultimately to see His death.
Now, remember that the first question came in verse 15, and it was the Pharisees along with the Herodians, and they approached Jesus and they wanted to ask Him a question the answer to which would bring Him into trouble with the Romans. And so they asked Him whether or not they should pay their taxes to Caesar, and they had already conceived in their minds that He would probably say no because He was a man of God, He claimed, and He represented the law of God, and He represented the Word of God, He said, and there’s no way that He’s going to acquiesce to Roman government.
And they figured, too, that He didn’t want to become unpopular with the people, who were for the most part anti-Rome, and so they thought He would say, “No, don’t pay tribute to Caesar,” and they would send the Herodians to report Him as a insurrectionist leader, as a rebel leader, and the Romans, fearing His popularity, would eliminate His life. So that was the plot. We’ll get Him to say a statement that’s insurrectionist, that’s rebellious, and the Romans will eliminate Him before they let Him start a revolution. But His answer confounded them all, and that failed.
So the Sadducees came with the second question in verse 23, and they want to know His view on resurrection. Now, what they’re trying to do, if they can’t discredit Him politically, they’re going to try to discredit Him as a teacher before the people of Israel, and at least that’s a step in His elimination. And so they talk about the resurrection, and they make up an absolutely bizarre situation, and they assume that if He says there is a resurrection, He’s going to be stuck with this bizarre situation, and the people are going to see what an utterly inept and inadequate teacher He is.
And they’re trying to discredit Him, if not politically, they’re trying to discredit Him theologically - theologically. But again His answer confounds and astonishes and amazes them, and that test failed. And that brings us to the third. One more time they come to test Him. In fact, it says that that was their purpose, in verse 35, asking Him a question, testing Him, and their desire is that He would fail the test.
They tried to test Him politically, they tried to test Him theologically with a major doctrinal issue, and now they’re really probing in the spiritual dimension again, and they have one more shot that they want to give to try to discredit Him with the people. This is their last attempt. In fact, Mark 12, verse 34, paralleling this passage, says, “When this was over, no man dared ask Him any more questions.” This is it.
Now let’s see what happens as we introduce the scene in verse 34. “When the Pharisees had heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.” He had silenced them already and the Herodians, then He had silenced the Sadducees, and they heard about it and they gathered together to discuss the situation. A couple of interesting things in this verse, it says He put the Sadducees to silence. The verb to put to silence is literally gagged. He gagged them. It wasn’t that they wanted to be silent. They had no choice, He gagged them.
It is a verb used, for example, in Mark 1:25, of silencing a demon. It is used also in Mark chapter 4, verse 39, of silencing a storm, when the Lord did that. It is used in 1 Corinthians 9, I think it’s verse 9, of muzzling an ox. In other words, it’s an unwilling gagging. They had more to say, they just had nothing to say, in a sense. They couldn’t say it. There was nothing that they could speak. He silenced them. He brought their argument to an utter end where they were absolutely without another sound, they were without another thought, without another idea, without another retort.
He made them look stupid rather than them making Him look that way, and when the Pharisees saw this, they had a meeting. Now, they must have had mixed emotions. On the one hand, they would have been glad to see their enemies, the Sadducees, gagged. They would have been very happy to see that terribly disturbing question that the Sadducees had no doubt had asked them for years and they had never answered right. They no doubt were glad to see that that had been answered right and in their favor and in their behalf. They were glad that Jesus had said He believed in resurrection and therefore took the side of the Pharisees.
So on the on hand, there must have been a certain amount of gloating over the Sadducees’ ineptness, but that was far outweighed by the fact that they would rather have seen Jesus discredited than the Sadducees discredited because Jesus posed a far greater threat to them than the Sadducees ever did, and seeing their foes unsuccessful in destroying a greater enemy, namely Jesus, must have left them dissatisfied. And so it says in verse 34 they gathered together, and in this gathering together, I think we sense a real fulfillment of prophecy here.
In Psalm 2, which is a Messianic prophecy, in which the psalmist looks ahead to the Messiah, it says in verse 2, “The kings of the earth set themselves,” and then this, “and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed.” And that seems to be drawn right into this particular verse when it says they were gathered together. It’s the same idea that was predicted, that the rulers would come together and take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed, the Messiah.
In fact, in Acts chapter 4, that verse out of Psalm 2 is referred to. It says, “The kings of the earth stood up and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.” That’s Acts 4:26. So Psalm 2 looked to the cross and said they would gather together against Him, Acts 4:26 looked back to that time that they would gather against Him. We’re in that time right here. This is that which is seen in Psalm 2:2, which is alluded to in Acts 4:26. And what’s interesting about that is that this plotting fits into the plan of God as He foresaw it in Scripture.
Now, out of that little conclave comes the final question to test him. And let’s begin with what we’ll call the approach of the Pharisees. The approach of the Pharisees. We’ve got - we have to know what they have in mind. And this has not been clearly delineated, by the way, I don’t think, in the church’s understanding of this passage. It’s important that we understand what they had in mind. So often we refer to this passage, we talk about the passage, we isolate it from its context, and we major on the great thirty-seventh verse, and we don’t understand what they were really after, but it makes it really come alive if we understand what they’re approach intended to accomplish.
Verse 35, “One of them” - that is, a Pharisee - “who was a lawyer” - now the word “lawyer” means a law expert, really the same as a scribe. A scribe was one who copied the law, who was an authority on the law, who knew the law, who interpreted the law, who taught the law, and so forth. And normally Matthew uses the word “scribe.” It’s unlike Matthew to use the word “lawyer.” In fact, some commentators think it shouldn’t be there because it’s so uncommon to Matthew. Well, that’s ridiculous. He can use a word he’s never used before, that isn’t any problem.
But I believe the reason it’s here is because it’s a word that may suggest that this guy was a cut above the average scribe. He was a law expert. And all scribes were, to some extent, lawyers, half attorney, half theologian because their understanding of law was that it was biblical law and traditional law, not just secular law, so they were sort of theologian attorneys and advocates and teachers. And so this may have been one who stood out from the many scribes as a real expert. And he is sent to ask the question on behalf of the rest of the Pharisees.
Now, it’s interesting that this particular man is a mission-minded man. He’s an emissary, he is going on a direct task sent by the Pharisees, and they’re filled with venom and they’re filled with hatred, and all they want to do is see Jesus eliminated, but it seems to me that he’s not quite committed to that. He’s a little more objective than the rest of them, and we know that because if we compare the Mark passage where Mark describes the same scene, the lawyer starts out thinking that Jesus answered those other questions very well, so he’s attracted to the wisdom of Jesus.
When Jesus answers this question, the lawyer responds by saying, “You have said the truth. That’s exactly right.” And Jesus in turn said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom.” So while he is acting as an emissary for the Pharisees, on his own terms, he seems to have more integrity than they do. And while they are without any objectivity at all, seeking only to eliminate Jesus, he at least has enough to come with a somewhat open mind to hear an answer that he may receive.
So he’s not quite as venomous as the rest, and maybe that’s why he was willing to go. He could sort of kill two birds with one stone. He could play out his role as a Pharisee, and he could also get a direct contact and a direct answer for himself that might help him in his own thinking. But we don’t want to forget that it says in verse 35 he asked Him a question to test Him, so he’s not totally honest. It’s not a heart sincere question. He’s not really pleading for his own case. He’s somewhat objective, but not totally. He puts Him to the test.
And the idea, as I said before, is they want Him to fail the test. They want Him to be discredited. They want Him to lose His popularity. Now, it’s essential that we understand what this question is all about and what the approach is all about. Let me see if I can give you the background.
The number one hero in Judaism, historically, do you know who it is? Moses. Without question, Moses is the number one hero of Judaism - still is. Moses, who spoke to God face-to-face as a man speaks to his friend. That sets him apart from everybody else. Moses, whom when God searched the world for a man to whom He could give His law, was chosen the recipient of the Decalogue, the divine law of God. Moses, the priority writer, who penned the first five books of the Old Testament. Moses was their great hero.
Rabbi Jose ben Chalafta, in the second century said this: “God calls Moses faithful in all His house, and thereby ranks him higher than the ministering angels themselves.” And many of the Jews believe that Moses was in a category above the angelic hosts. He was it. He was the greatest one. In fact, in chapter 23, verse 2, it says the scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat because that was the seat of ultimate authority. That was the seat of absolute power. Moses had given the law of God. He was their greatest hero.
Now, the Jews believed - and this is the important point - that the teaching of Jesus attacked Moses’ teaching. They believed that. That is why in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:17, Jesus said, “I want you to know this: I have not come to destroy” - what? - “the law and the prophets but to fulfill them, and not one jot or one tittle shall in any case be removed from this law.” In other words, Jesus is very sensitive to the fact that He would be accused of attacking Moses, of setting Himself up as a new authority and diminishing the role of Moses, was sensitive enough to that to say, “I have not come to obviate the law of Moses, I have not come to remove one jot or one tittle,” not one little marking from it.
But they believe that Jesus is a diminisher of Moses. They believe that Jesus comes to postulate something beyond Moses, something above Moses, something greater than Moses, and they want Him to say that. They want Jesus to affirm that He has a word that supersedes Moses so that they can accuse Him of being a heretic and an apostate, who has apostatized; that is, departed from the faith delivered through the greatest of all, the greatest authority, Moses himself. If they can just get Jesus to say that He supersedes Mosaic authority, He will become a blasphemer, He will discredit Himself, He will become unpopular with the people who revere Moses as the greatest of all. So they want to put Jesus in a situation to attack Mosaic law by superseding it, and they believe that He will do that because they saw His teaching as something beyond.
That wasn’t true, by the way. He reiterated to them that God’s law had not been altered. They had merely changed things with their traditions. But their goal is to make Him look like an apostate. So we see the approach of the Pharisees. Discredit Him with the people by setting Him against Moses and pushing Him to a point where he articulates some law that’s above Moses and therefore the people will turn against Him. That’s the approach.
From the approach of the Pharisees, we come to the question of the lawyer in verse 36. And here is the question that is set to bring Jesus His own demise. “Master” - and again that flattery that they always seem to attach. “Master - the word means teacher - “which is the great commandment in the law?” And it would be very fair with the Greek text here to make this word great a comparative in this usage, “which is the greatest commandment in the law?”
Now, they had a lot of discussion about this kind of stuff among themselves. I don’t know if you remember your history of Jewish law, but they claim there are 613 separate laws because there were 613 separate letters in the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments. I don’t know what connection that has, but that’s the way they did things, some of the strange rabbinic letterism, as it used to be called. But they had one law for every letter in the Decalogue, Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments, and they divided that into two parts.
They said there are 248 affirmative laws, one for every part of the human body - I don’t understand why they did that, either - and there are 365 negative laws, one for every day of the week - or every day of the year, rather. So they said one for every day of the year, one for every member of the human body adds up to 613, and then they divided the 613 laws into the light laws and the heavy laws. And the light laws were semi-optional and the heavy ones were binding. I mean you can’t keep 613, you’ve got to have a break somewhere, so they lightened up on some and got heavy on some others.
And in verse 4 of chapter 23, we’re reminded that they bind heavy burdens grievous to be born on men’s shoulders. So they were into the heavy and the light, and there was a lot of debate about what was light and what was heavy, what was really important, what wasn’t so important, and so forth and so forth, so forth.
But their approach is this: If Jesus is who we think He is, and that is a man with a huge ego trying to establish Himself as the Messiah - because they didn’t really believe He was - if He is as false as we think He is, He’s going to say something that supersedes Moses. He’s going to set Himself up as the authority. He’s going to give some law that comes out of His mouth and thus we’ll know He’s apostate and He’s a heretic. So what is the great law? Just give us one, the greatest law, and they figure if He’s got something new to say, it can’t be something old, right? If He’s come with some new message, it can’t be an old law.
Now, the Sadducees accepted only the Pentateuch, so they really held Moses as the authority. The Pharisees accepted the Pentateuch and everything else, but Moses was still supreme, so the issue is Moses. If Jesus will just speak some unorthodox law. And so they ask, “Give us the number one commandment.” What is it? And so we go from the approach and the question to the response of the Lord. Look at this response in verse 37. Absolutely no hesitation. Jesus said to him: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.”
What an answer - what an answer. You know where He got that? He quoted Moses, Deuteronomy 6:5. He quoted Moses. I mean he did exactly the opposite of what they wanted Him to do. They wanted Him to supersede Moses - He quoted Moses. Not only did He quote Moses but He quoted the most familiar thing that Moses ever wrote, the Shema. Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one God. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” That was the most familiar Scripture to all of those Jews.
You ever gone to a Jewish house and seen a Mezuzah on the door, a little box that they put on the - by the front door? Look when you go to a Jewish household. You’ll see a little box, usually has the Star of David on it. Inside that is Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5. You ever seen an orthodox Jew strapping to his forehead the phylactery, the little box strapping to his arm, the little box? Inside the box on his arm and the box on his head is Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5. Every orthodox Jew, every Jew at the time of Jesus who was faithful to his religion twice a day had to stop and recite this statement: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy might,” out of Deuteronomy 6:5.
I mean He hit them right at the very core of their own religion. He is saying, “I’m no apostate. I’m no heretic. I’m not coming up with something you didn’t know about.” He affirms solidarity with Moses. He speaks to them of a verse that is most familiar to all of them. By the way, verse 37, the Authorized has the word “Jesus” there, but most of the Greek texts say “He” said unto them. It refers to Jesus, that’s just a note for your understanding.
But He quotes something with which they were all familiar. I’m not here to tell you anything different than what Moses told you. Same thing - same thing. The word in Deuteronomy 6:5, thou shalt love ahebv in Hebrew, the verb, refers primarily to the love of will, the love of the mind, the love of action, rather than the love of feeling, the love of emotion. It is that highest kind of love. Not - not the love that you just feel but the love of dedication, the love of commitment, the love that says this is right and this is noble, no matter what I feel. And that’s the word, agapaō.
Agapaō is the love of intelligence, it’s the love of purpose, it’s the love of will, as opposed to phileō, which is the love of emotion or affection and eros, which is the love of the physical animal senses. This is the highest kind of love, the love of purpose, the love of will, the noblest, purist, highest, self-sacrificing love of that which is right and that which is worthy.
And so he says to them what they already knew, that the number one thing is to love God with your whole being, your heart, your soul, and your mind. And they’re all called to participate. And Mark, in Mark’s recording of the passage indicates that the Lord also said strength, your heart, your soul, your mind, your strength.
Now, I think the point here is that He that He just collects all the parts of - of being. He just covers all the words, and there’s definitely some overlap in those words. Those words are used different ways at different times in Scripture. And He’s simply calling together all that a person is with your whole being, is what He’s saying, you’re to love God. And I don’t think the intent is to sort out every individual sense of every word, but I think there is something to be learned by just looking a little more closely at the words.
The word “heart” basically in the Hebrew understanding is the core of a person’s identity. You remember Proverbs 4:23, “Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it are” - what? - “the issues of life.” Everything comes out of the heart. I see the heart in the Hebrew understanding as the intellect, which produces the thoughts, produces the words, produces the actions. It’s as a man thinks in his heart that he is. And so it’s the intellectual part that’s most often stressed, although, as I say, the word is sometimes used of other aspects of human nature.
And then the word “soul.” It seems to me that that, when it’s isolated, can refer best to emotion. For example, in Matthew 26, verse 38, it says, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful.” And maybe the emphasis could be on the emotional part. And “mind,” let me talk about that for a moment because “mind” here replaces “might” in Deuteronomy 6, and I don’t think the Lord is out of line, I don’t think He’s misquoting. I think “mind” is another way to say “might.” “Might” is a very broad word but it seems as though might has to do with intention and will.
It has to do with moving ahead with energy, and I see that with mind. I see mind in the same sense, mind having to do with purpose or with intention or with will. For example, we say “he had a mind to do this” or “he had a mind to do that.” And then, as I said, Mark adds the word “strength,” which is all of our physical capacities.
And so you can see here that in an overlapping sense, there are four channels for love to be perfectly balanced. It’s an intelligent love, it’s a feeling love, it’s a willing love, and it’s a serving love. It carries itself right out to how we act in our physical strength. So our intellectual part, our emotional part, our volitional part, our physical part all comes together to love God, to love God with the total being, all that we are.
And would you notice that these things are not pushed together? It doesn’t say love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, and mind. It doesn’t say that. It’s not that they’re pushed together, it’s that they’re spread apart. It says literally that you are to love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind. It’s as if He wants to push them to as wide a possible level as He can. To really love God, that’s the great commandment.
You see, God is not looking for people who go through religious ritual. God is not just looking for people who, on the outside, can go through the motions. God wants people who with the whole being love Him. I mean when God loved us, He really loved us, didn’t he? I mean He loved us with His whole being, He must have, He gave us everything He was and is and will be. He gave us Himself in death for our sin. And He who gave us His wholehearted love does not want our half-hearted love in return. And as He loved us enough to give His Son, we’re to love Him enough to give ourselves.
As He said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down His life for His friends.” We’re to lay down our life for Him. As He demonstrated that here in His love, not that we love God but He loved us and gave us His Son, as He showed that love can sometimes happen even where there’s not initial reciprocation, so we are to love God not for what we gain but because it’s right - because it’s right.
And so we are to love God in a comprehensive way as He has loved us in a comprehensive way, with every part of our being loving Him. You see, that’s what God is calling for from humanity. That’s what He’s calling for from humanity. Now let me say something that you might misunderstand, but listen carefully. God wants more than our believing. Do you understand that? He wants more than our believing. James 2:19 says the devils what? Believe and tremble.
And why, then, aren’t they redeemed? Because though they believe God, they do not love God. And that is the distinguishing mark of the redeemed. They love God. And God demands that we love Him with a perfect love, with a love that is as wide as all of our capabilities and capacities. And no one is ever right with God, no matter what kind of religious activity they’re engaged in. No one is ever right with God no matter how much church they attend or how many good things they do or how many sacrifices they offer or how many rules they try to keep.
No one is ever right with God until his heart and soul and mind and strength manifests love for God. That’s why we’ve said this so many times through the years, that a person does not become a Christian just because they may believe, a person becomes a Christian when they demonstrate a consuming love for God. Paul had that in Romans 7, even though he sinned, he said, “The things that I do that are sin I don’t want to do, but I find that in me is my flesh and it does these things, but that’s not what I choose to do,” and the essence of what he is saying is I love God and I love what’s right and I love what honors God, and even though I don’t always do it, I love it. And even though sometimes I sin, I hate it.
It wasn’t so with the Jews. This is an indictment of them. Boy, when He said this to them they were unmasked. What God wants out of you is your heart of love. You have never given that to God, He’s saying to these leaders. And in chapter 23, I mean He spells it out in no uncertain terms. Look at verse 13, chapter 23, “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites;” verse 14, “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites;” verse 15, “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites;” verse 23, “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites;” verse 25, “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites;” 27, “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites;” 29, “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.”
And what is a hypocrite? It’s somebody who has something on the outside and nothing on the inside. They didn’t love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. They were going through the religious motions for what they could gain out of it, self-satisfaction, pride, ego, an appearance of righteousness. You say, “Well, maybe this was new to them.” No, it wasn’t new to them. When He said thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, soul, mind, and strength, that wasn’t new to them. That’s right out of Moses, and that way of describing the redeemed was the Mosaic say of describing them.
In Exodus 20, where you have the giving of the Ten Commandments. I don’t know if you remember this, what it says in verse 6, that God is a God who shows mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments. Yes, He wanted them to keep His commandments. That’s the outside. The inside was what? Love me and keep my commandments. And again that is repeated in Deuteronomy in the seventh chapter, that same basic injunction when God gives His commands again. In verse 9, He says, “Know therefore that the Lord thy God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy with them who love Him and keep His commandments.”
It isn’t anything new. It was repeated again in Nehemiah’s time, chapter 1, verse 5, “The Lord God of heaven, the great and awe-inspiring God who keeps covenant and mercy for them who love Him and observe His commandments.” There was never a time in the Old Testament or a place where God taught externalism. Never a time when He said I just want you to crank these rules out and I’ll accept you. It was always at first you love me and as a result of that love, there is a desire and a commitment to obedience.
So when Jesus says, gathered in the upper room with His disciples, “If you love me, keep my” - what? - “commandments.” That isn’t anything new. That’s what God’s been saying all along. There’s nothing new about it. If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments. You see, we are people who love God if we’re redeemed. First John 4:19 says, “We love Him because He” - what? - “first loved us.” Turn it around, He first loved us; therefore, we what? We love Him. We are those who love God.
In fact, we’re defined that way in one of the most beautiful definitions Christians could ever have in Ephesians 6:24. The last verse in Ephesians says, “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” Grace to those who love the Lord honestly, who really love Him, and the opposite of that, 1 Corinthians 16:22, it says there, “Cursed are those who love not the Lord Jesus Christ.”
You see, God calls people to love Him. Ask yourself a question: Is He worthy of that? Is He? Of course He is. How could you resist loving One who is perfect? How could you resist loving One who is gracious and who loved you with a supreme love? I mean not loving God is an absolute affront, and yet that’s characteristic of the world. They don’t love God. Exodus 20, verse 5, describes men as those who hate me. Deuteronomy 5:9 describes men as those who hate me. Deuteronomy 32:41 describes them as them who hate me.
You see, it’s basic to man to resent God and hate God and not want God because God comes down with these demands on our life. God says we’re to love Him, and if you don’t love Him, you hate Him. Jesus put it this way: “He that is not with me is” - what? - “against me.” And so what God desires from men is that we love Him, that we love Him, that we love Him. And what kind of love is this? Well, if we just look at Scripture, it is a love that meditates on God’s glory. We see that in Psalm 18. It is a love that trusts in God’s great power. We see that in Psalm 31:23.
It is a love that seeks fellowship with God. Psalm 63, verses 1 to 8 talks about that. It is a love that secures the peace of the soul, Psalm 119:165. It is a love that is sensitive to how God feels, Psalm 69:9. It is a love that loves what God loves, Psalm 119, verse 72, 97, 103, several places. It is a love that loves whom God loves, 1 John 5:1. It is a love that hates what God hates, Psalm 97:10. It is a love that grieves over sin, Matthew 26:75. It is a love that rejects the world, 1 John 2:15. It is a love that longs to be with Christ, 2 Timothy 4:8.
But more than all of that, this love is a love that obeys, that obeys, that obeys. That’s the desire - that’s the desire, and even though the obedience is imperfect, the love is there. I love God. I don’t love Him like I ought to love Him, and that’s why Paul in Philippians 1:9 says, “I pray that your love may more and more abound in all knowledge.” In other words, I love God, but I could love Him more perfectly, and so there ought to be in life a reality of love toward God that my whole being loves Him and yet there’s a continuing development of that reality.
So we can say it this way: Yes, if you’re a Christian you love God. Yes, you love God with everything you are. Yes, you could love God even more. You could love Him even more. And though it is a love that meditates on His glory and a love that trusts in His power and a love that seeks His fellowship and a love that secures peace with Him and a love that is sensitive to His feelings and loves what He loves and loves whom He loves and hates what He hates and grieves over sin and rejects the world and loves the Savior, most of all it is a love that obeys God’s word.
And so we are those that love Him and keep His commandments - that love Him and keep His commandments - and that’s the mark of a believer. A true believer is a lover of God, and that is made manifest because He keeps His commandments. You show me someone who doesn’t have any interest in keeping His commandments, I’ll show you someone who doesn’t love Him, and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t know him - who doesn’t know Him.
You say, “But can men just choose to love God that way? Can I just decide one day I’m going to stop hating Him and start loving Him and that’s something that I can generate on my own?” No. No, that’s not the case at all. In fact, that command itself indicts the whole world. For all of us have lived without loving God, all of us have lived hating God, and first of all, we need to be forgiven for that, don’t we? And we need a Savior who can pay the penalty for the sin of not loving God. And Jesus came into the world to die in our place and to pay the penalty for our sin, the core of which was we hated God.
In other words, the reason we didn’t obey Him and the reason we gave Him no thought and the reason we were indifferent to Him was because we never loved Him. And we need to be forgiven for that. We must be forgiven for that, and God wants to forgive us for that and that’s why Christ died on the cross. He bore on the cross the sin that we should have borne. And what sin was it? Dominantly, it was the sin of hating God, of rejecting God. If love is demonstrated in obedience, then its opposite is demonstrated in what? Disobedience. And our disobedience demonstrated that we hated God and we needed to have that paid for, and so Christ comes as a Savior to pay the price for our lack of love for God.
But there’s a second thought. He not only forgives us for a past lack of love, but He infuses us with an ability in the present and future to love God. And that’s what it means in Romans 5, it says, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit of God when given to us in salvation enables us to love God - enables us to love God. This is basic. We can’t love the way we’re supposed to love, and because we have not loved that way, we need forgiveness, and because we can’t love that way, we need enablement. So Jesus comes, pays the penalty, forgives the unloving sins of the past, and enables us to love God in the future.
And yes, a believer loves God with everything, and yes, he could love God, and yes, he sins, but that’s not what he wants to do. He hates the things that he sees as sin because he’s controlled by his love for God. That’s basic, and that has never changed, beloved. That’s always been God’s standard. God wanted people who love Him and keep His commandments. And the people of old should have awakened to the fact that they didn’t love God that way, and they should have seen it by their inability to keep His commandments and by their self-centered attitudes and their resistance to His absolute glory.
You see, until you know you don’t love God the way you should, you’re not going to ask for forgiveness for that. And until you know you don’t love God the way you should, you’re not going to ask for enablement to do that. But when you realize you don’t love God with everything you are and the supreme goal of your life is not to demonstrate love to Him, until you realize that, you don’t know you need a Savior. When you do, you’ll know, and it’s then that Christ comes into your life. The past is forgiven, the future enablement is granted. He doesn’t stop there.
Just briefly, verse 39: the second is the same. The second commandment follows the same track. It’s of the same nature and the same character. “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.” That ties right in with it - that ties right in with it. This flows from love for God. When you love God right, you love people right. That’s the idea. And the Pharisees didn’t do that. They bound heavy burdens on people. They used people. They abused people. They were cruel to people. Witness their treatment of the prophets, their treatment of Christ, and we’ll get into that in chapter 23 where it talks about the terrible things that they did.
They were not lovers of men. They were haters of men, users of men, abusers of men. They traded on them, they stole their money, they overcharged them, they made merchandise of them, and you can go back in the history of God’s people Israel and see how they abused the poor, how they were not just, they took bribes, all kinds of things. See, people are not basically lovers of others as they ought to be, they’re self-lovers. So you’re to love your neighbor as yourself. What does that mean?
It means love is, again, the love of purpose, the love of intention, the love of will, the love of action. In other words, I take care of somebody else the same way I take care of me. Let’s face it, we’re very concerned with our own comfort, we’re very concerned with meeting our own needs, we’re very concerned with our own goals being met. Are we as concerned about somebody else’s? I mean when I’m hungry I take care of me. When I see somebody else hungry, do I take care of them with the same alacrity, the same speed, the same concern?
When I have a need, I want that need met. Do I have the same feeling toward someone else who has a need? When I’m uncomfortable, I want to find comfort. Do I have the same feeling for someone else’s discomfort? The point is we are to care about others the same way we care about ourselves. We’re to turn it around so that we get lost in other’s needs. That’s basic. Love God, love men - love God, love men.
Christianity isn’t that complicated, neither is Judaism. Just says love God, love men. If you love God, you’ll do what He says. If you love men, you’ll do what they need, that’s all. That’s life for us. That’s the whole thing. Because verse 40 sums it up. “On these two commandments” - like two nails, two pegs - “hang all the law and the prophets.” Everything else God said in the Old Testament hangs on those two things. If you just love God with all your being and love everybody as you love yourself, you don’t need any more rules. That’s right. You don’t need any more - everything else is just a definition of that. Everything else is just an explanation of that.
I mean the fact that there are laws in the Scripture against murder indicates that people don’t love each other, right? The fact that there are laws in the Bible against idolatry means we don’t love God the way we ought to love God. If I love God perfectly, I’ll have no other idols, right? If I love God perfectly, I won’t take His name in vain, right? If I love men as I ought to love men, I won’t kill them, steal from them, covet what they have, be unkind to them, gossip about them, slander them, or hurt them in any way. You see the point? Everything is summed up in that.
Paul made this very clear, didn’t he? In the thirteenth chapter of Romans, he says, “He that loveth another has fulfilled the law. Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet, and if there’s any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love works no ill to its neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” In other words, do we need any laws if we love everybody? Of course not.
If I’m lost in meeting your needs and making sure everything is right with you and all of the things you need are met, then I don’t need any laws to protect you from me. And if I love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, then I don’t need any rules about that, either. Everything reduces to these two issues. I don’t even need a law that says don’t make idols if I love God supremely. I don’t need a law that says don’t take His name in vain if I love Him supremely. Those are just pinpoint descriptions of what these two things contain.
But this is the whole thing right here. What is God calling for? Love me, keep my commandments. Love your neighbor as yourself. That is, love others in a way that causes you to meet their needs as readily, as eagerly, as anxiously, as completely as you meet your own needs. I’m telling you, folks, these are very, very clear words. This is what God wants, these kind of people. And you have to come to the point in your life where you say, “I don’t love God as perfectly as I should, and I don’t love my neighbor as perfectly as I should,” and because you haven’t done that, you’ve violated God and you need two things.
One, you need a Savior to forgive the past, and you need an enabler to help you in the future, right? And if you are a Christian, you will love God and you will love your neighbor, but you’ll be recognizing right away that even though that’s what you desire to do and that’s what you long to do and that’s what you want to do, there’s a certain debilitating that comes upon you because of your flesh, right? And you’ll want to grow and grow that your love may abound more and more.
So the message comes to non-Christians that says you have not loved God. You need forgiveness for that and enablement to do that or you’ll be accursed from His presence forever. And the message comes to Christians who are believers and it says, look, you do love God. Look in your heart. Don’t you sense that? It’s there and you love others as well in the name of Jesus Christ, but not as perfectly do you do either as you should do. And so you need victory over the flesh.
The young man who asked Him the question, the lawyer, the law expert, I assume he may have been young, he may not have been, but the lawyer that asked Him the question said, “You’re right,” and he repeated what Jesus said. And Jesus said to him, “You’re not far from the Kingdom.” You see, if you believe this, you’re not far, but believing is one step short of what? Of loving. If you believe this is all what God wants, that’s good, but God wants you to take the step of loving Him, of opening your heart and saying, “I want to come in the name of Jesus Christ. I want you to forgive my unloving, and I want you to enable me to love, as I ought to love, you and men.”
Well, the answer was so right and so straight and so unmasking of these hypocrites that in Mark chapter 12, verse 34, as Mark closes his description of this account he says, “No one dared ask Him any more questions.” No more questions.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not says that the longest love letter ever written was written in 1875, and it was written from a Parisian painter by the name of Marcel de Leclure, addressed to Magdalena de Villeray, and he was so in love with her that he wanted to write - I guess it’s je vous aime in French a thousand times for every year, so it was 1875, so he wrote je vous aime, I love you, one million eight hundred and seventy-five thousand times. And not being a fool, he hired a secretary to do it.
But - but he did not want to diminish the expression of his love, so he did not tell her to write it one million eight hundred and seventy-five thousand times but rather he rather dictated each one to her separately. So he said it one million eight hundred and seventy-five thousand times and she wrote it one million eight hundred and seventy-five thousand times. And Ripley says, “Never was love made manifest by as great an expenditure of time and effort.” It’s a nice thought, but that’s not true.
Never was love manifested by such a great expenditure of time and effort? Listen, in the first place, God loved us in a way that couldn’t be measured when He gave Christ, right? And secondly, when we love God back with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we love God more than that guy loved that lady, and we express it, not by writing something over a million times, but by a life of obedience.
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