Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What is the most important commandment? i.e. Which commandment should we try hardest to obey?


WE live our lives on a number of different levels which we might compare with the skins of an onion.  The more you peel layers away, the more layers you find within.  What we do and say at one level might be distasteful at another.  Eventually we come to the center.  The people in the New Testament had a name for that.  They called it the heart.  They also knew about the organic heart, something which birds and animals have as well as people, but they used the word "heart" to speak of this core of the personality.  When Jesus told the lawyer to love the Lord with all his heart, he was speaking about this vital center.  What He said about the Second Great Commandment applied to the heart as well, because loving your neighbor as yourself must also come from the depths of your soul.

The Pharisees and scribes had all sorts of replies.  The one whom they put forward as the spokesman was probably chosen because of his intelligence, but also because of his personal piety.  He was expecting Jesus to choose one of the 613 commandments to elevate above the rest, but all he could reply in this case was, "You have spoken truth."  This was the Law.  Even Jesus' enemies had to admit that He knew it.

Understand this:  these commandments were intended for you and me.  They aren't just for Jewish people, or VIPs, or adults.  There is no way you can push these over to some "other guy," so listen and believe.  Is it your intention to walk with God after you leave here today?  Then listen to the Lord, and notice that these commandments are positive, not negative.  The lawyer did not ask what is the great prohibition?  How sad it is when people compare their religions so that they sound like criminal codes!  "We can't do this… you can't do that…" These commandments are both absolutely positive.

However, as important as the scribe's question was, Jesus asked them a more important one when He asked What do you think of the Messiah?  Why is this more important?  Because to know the Law is not the same thing as to keep it.  If you heard somebody say, "All my life I loved the Lord with all my heart, and my neighbor as myself," would you believe that for a minute?  Doesn't it sound ridiculous?  So consider, if it sounds ridiculous when someone else says it, do not even begin to think it in your own heart.  The Law is too holy.  Keys are small, but if you lock them in your car on a rainy day, suddenly they are the most important objects in the world.  Pounding on the door and clawing at the windows accomplishes nothing, so all of your efforts to keep God's Law will not get you any closer to the holiness he demands.  You will get frustrated, and possibly turn against God, so when Jesus asks "What do you think of the Messiah?" He's talking about the keys.  That was really the important question all along. 

At this point in the discussion Jesus had the Pharisees' attention.  They could not get the best of Him.  The Law they loved so much was condemning them in His mouth, so Jesus turned the discussion to the Gospel.  The Gospel is not about commandments.  It is about a Person. Those Jewish leaders were locked out, and needed the Key of David.  Did they realize their situation?  St. Matthew doesn't say, but they did know that the Messiah was the Son of David.  So far so good.

Both parts of the Great Commandment demand love.  Jesus makes no demand at all.  He gives love.  While these lawyers and teachers had difficulty with Jesus' question, a short time before this a humble fisherman heard the same question and answered boldly that Jesus was the Son of the living God.  That was an answer of faith.  Jesus called that fisherman a Rock.  Jesus explained to him that being the Messiah meant dying and rising again.  Now the time for fulfilling that was getting very close.  He tried here to explain the Gospel to these religious people, but they can't give Him any answer at all. In fact, they refused to talk to him any further.  Jesus was David's Son according to the flesh.  He was David's Lord because He was God Incarnate.  He quoted the prophecy from Psalm 110 that the Messiah would sit at the right hand of God, that all His enemies would be under His feet.  It took the cross and the resurrection to bring that about.  He assured us that His love was, and is, strong enough to suffer the horrible consequences of human sin, strong enough to make atonement, to conquer death for us.  Yes, you heard correctly.  Jesus conquered death.  The cross of Jesus is the key that lets us in to the ark of safety when the fiery rain starts to fall, when the process begins the final renewing of this planet.  Jesus redeems all the layers of our lives, starting at the core, which means He has to penetrate to the heart.  He loved the Father with all His heart, and we are the neighbors He loved as Himself.  What do we think of the Messiah?  He has bought us; we are His.

Now don't think that I'm going to tell you to give your heart to Jesus. That would be an exercise in futility. Your heart isn't yours to give. Every time you sin you sell it to the devil. If Jesus has your heart it is because He took it, without any help from you. His word is a double-edged sword that separates joints and marrow. With it He conquered your heart, He bought it with his blood, He seized it as the spoils of combat. You could not help Him in any way, but this is a good thing, because it makes your salvation absolutely certain. Jesus is the Firm Foundation, our new role as priests and kings with Him is absolutely certain.

The story isn't over yet.  Now that Jesus owns you there is something you can do.  All those outer layers of your onion, your feelings, your thoughts, your will, your outward behavior - Jesus wants all these as well.  He wants to be King over everything.  You can focus the power of the Savior who claimed your heart to transform those outer levels.  His thorough-going love pervades His church.  Since Jesus has conquered your heart, let him show through. Since you are a spoil of victory, act like a spoil of victory.  AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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