Summary: Probably no passage has been preached on more than this one - the summary statement of what it means to be a Christian.
The Greatest and Foremost Commandments
The challenge before me today is to open to you a passage of the Bible that contains the words of Jesus that have been more preached about than any others. In my library, I have collections of sermons from many of the great preachers throughout Christian history. And, online, I have access to the sermons of thousands upon thousands more. Rarely will you find a collection of messages that does not contain at least one on this passage.
So, what is a man to do? How can I hope to do more or do better than all those who have already gone this way? Do I borrow from them? Or do I ask God to give me something fresh and new; something that will just rock your socks off and make you amazed at my sermonizing prowess?
Both would be tempting. The first would be simple to do, but not at all honest. The second—well, that would be pretty arrogant, to say the least. No, my approach had to be, “Lord, I need for You to teach me the truth here that You want me to share with our fellowship this week. This is the portion of Your flock that You have given me to feed and to tend. Help me to be faithful with that.”
I begin with this because, while there are truths the depth of which we could spend months plumbing, the main point for us today is to discover what it is God has to say to us right here, right now, in this time and place, that we can take and apply to our lives.
That is the exciting part of seeing the truth of Hebrews 4:12 borne out in our lives. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
We each come to this gathering today from different backgrounds, different strengths, different challenges, and different needs. We could approach this passage from each one of those outlooks and still miss much of what God would have us hear and understand. I could bring two or three hundred messages on the truths that are here, and still end up not serving you well.
When I read and reread these passages, there seem to me to be four underlying themes. Perhaps presenting those four themes to you today will be enough to bring enough of the truth to light for each of you to then take what you hear and ponder it with God in the days ahead and He will bring the transformation that he intends. That is my hope; that is my prayer.
Let us read through the passage, and then we will see what God would speak to our hearts. Matthew 22:34-40:
“But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.” This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’”
The men who have come to Jesus here are the Pharisees. These are the men who have developed a keen understanding of the minutia of all of the Mosaic Law, as well as the attending additional laws and commands that have been added to ensure that the Law of Moses is protected from being broken—the fence around the Law.
As you may recall from when we studied the life of Paul, there were 613 commandments—365 “shall not’s” and 248 “shall’s”. With that many rules and regulations to follow and avoid violating—and there was no little contention among the Pharisees which should be given the most significance—having some simple, core value to focus on would be a grand thing indeed.
Luke’s gospel records that the scribe was the one who answered Jesus, while Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels record it as Jesus answering the scribe. These were on two separate occasions; Luke’s account came much earlier in Jesus’ ministry on earth. From that fact we can see that this was a matter of much importance within the circle o fthose who were the religious leaders of Israel.
The point is—and we can surely see it in our own lives—having a simple and easy to remember summary of what it means to be truly Christian meets a need that we all have. With this passage, we have it; we can breathe a sigh of relief.