Summary: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing because only God is everything.
A week ago, after watching Wisconsin beat Nebraska in football, I was thrilled to hear that Michigan lost to Michigan State. During a commercial break, a promo for Michigan came on the screen. The voiceover described a wounded wolverine and then showed clips of players tackling, running, passing and scoring. As the 30-second spot was wrapping up, this tagline came on the screen: “Every game is everything.” This made me LOL because Michigan had just lost. If every game is everything, what happens when you lose? Does that mean you are nothing? If we put our sense of security and significance in sports, as if it is everything, we will be let down…especially if you’re a Michigan fan.
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing because only God is everything.
Please turn to Mark 12:28-31 where we’re introduced to a man who was trying to figure out what was everything: “And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Here’s the setting. It’s the last week of Jesus’ life and He’s just cleared out the temple and chased away the moneychangers. As a result, his enemies have unleashed a hurricane of hatred toward Him. After disposing of the Pharisees and the Herodians and making the Sadducees sad, a scribe was drawn to Jesus because he heard that Jesus “answered them well,” which means, “admirably or beautifully.”
The title scribe describes the work these men did to hand copy the Scriptures. They were also called teachers because they taught the Torah to young men. In addition, they were known as lawyers since they often ruled on disputes.
This is the first time since Jesus arrived in Jerusalem that a solitary individual comes up to Him. This seeking scribe had a question: “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
He wants to know which one has the most weight. The phrase, “most important” means, “foremost.” This was an often-debated question among the religious leaders. They liked to count and categorize the commands, arguing about which ones could be blown off and which had to be kept.
If I were to ask you, “How many commandments are there?” you might say, “Ten.” But if you asked a first-century Jew, he would say, “613.” The Pharisees had actually counted them – 248 were positive: “do this” or “do that” and 365 were negative: “don’t do this, don’t do that.” For them, a “don’t a day” kept the devil away!
As Dr. Seuss put it, “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” The answer Jesus gives is simple and yet summarizes the entire teaching of Scripture: Love God and love your neighbor.
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing because only God is everything!
Notice that this time Jesus doesn’t answer a question with a question because this scribe is sincere. His answer is immediate and direct in verse 29: “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’” The top priority, the consummate command is so important that Jesus quotes “The Shema,” which literally means, “to hear” and comes from the first word of Deuteronomy 6:4: “Shema, Israel…” The greatest commandment starts with listening to the Lord.
We might say, “Listen up!” The Shema is a declaration of faith, a pledge of allegiance to the Almighty. It was said when arising in the morning and when going to bed at night. It was the first prayer that a Jewish child was taught to pray and it was the last thing a Jew would pray prior to death.
Notice that Jesus goes right to Scripture as He establishes three truths:
• God is powerful. The name “Lord” is Yahweh, the self-existent one. The name “God” is Elohim, the creator. This name is in the plural, which is early evidence for the Trinity.
• God is personal. Do you see the phrase, “our God”? God is powerful and He is personal; He is majestic and He is mine; He is other and He is ours. Warren Wiersbe points out that Jesus’ answer reveals that we are to live “not by rules but by relationships.”
• God is preeminent. We see that Yahweh is unique, “the Lord is one.” J. Vernon McGee translates it this way: “Jehovah our Elohim is one Jehovah.” We could render it, “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” The Israelites are about to enter a land with more than 40 people groups, filled with polytheism and pantheism. In the midst of all this pluralism, they must not forget there is only one God. That’s a good word for us.