Summary: This sermon looks at getting to the heart of our calling, which is found in the Great Commandment.
Sermon - Getting To The Heart
If I were to give a definition of religion, part of it would be that religion is about the business of keeping and maintaining laws and the traditions that surround and are interwoven within them.
What Jesus states in our text, however, basically nullifies the rules and regulations in favor of a relationship, and within that relationship all the laws of God are contained and worked out.
Back in the days of Jesus, the religious leaders were devoted to carrying on lengthy debates on religious traditions and the laws they considered important or greater than others. This was no easy task considering how many laws there were, not to mention all the rules and traditions that surrounded them.
Take for instance the one law of keeping the Sabbath day holy, Exodus 20:8. There are over 300 rules and traditions that surround it. Now consider that there are 613 commandments in God’s law. What the religious leaders did was to divide these into greater and lessor commands, that is those they felt were more important than others.
Jesus, however, never got caught up in such debates; rather He taught that all of these were tied up in what He called the weightier matters, or what we would call today as the principles contained within the laws.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” (Matthew 23:23 NKJV)
The religious leaders were so intent on keeping the law, even in its minutest detail that they forgot what the laws were all about and the principles God desired to teach us through them. These principles, however, never countered or voided out the law, as Jesus said that the tithe was to continue regardless of what they did.
The reason Jesus was so intent on the principles rather than the specifics was because no one can keep the full extent of the law. And by trying to make some laws greater than others would give people an excuse for not keeping those laws they considered less important, thus discounting God’s word altogether.
The Apostle James speaks to this problem and sin.
“Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10 NKJV)
James said the law comes as a packaged deal. If we break one law, no matter how inconsequential we may think it is, then we are guilty of breaking them all.
Just because we may deny the importance of some of the laws doesn’t make them unimportant. Our unbelief and denial doesn’t void them out. They still condemn us no matter how little we may value them.
Under the law, therefore, we are judged guilty. This is why Jesus came and died for us, that through His death and resurrection we are no longer judged by the law, but rather upon our acceptance of God’s grace and mercy through faith in Jesus Christ.
A common deception that has affected the lives of many is that if we deny, ignore, or refuse to accept something that it will not come to pass. Many treat the Bible in much the same way, especially when it doesn’t line up with what they want.
And so people start conforming religion and beliefs to their own culture and behaviors. They want the right to do what they want, and so they make everything, including God’s word, fit into their wishes. Therefore they only follow those commandments that allow them to do things their way.
When pressed for an answer to which commandment was the greatest, Jesus answered in a surprising way saying that it begins and ends in having a love relationship with God.
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38 NKJV)
Therefore, it is only in a love relationship with Jesus that we are able to keep the commandments.
Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15 NKJV)
Our love of God, therefore, should be our focus.
Have you ever been to the circus and watched the lion tamers? We see them with their whips and pistols. But neither are not the most important. The stool is by far the most important. Holding the stool with its four legs pointed at the lion paralyzes him because the lion tries to focus on all four legs at once, thus fragmenting its attention, making it relatively tame.
Like the lion, fragmenting our attention also paralyzes us, and this is usually through the various religious rules and regulations we allow in our lives. Therefore, by stating the first and greatest commandment to love God, Jesus is taking the stool out of Satan’s hands and helps us live a focused life.