Friday, March 30, 2018

It was for this very reason...

What a bummer for the Greeks who missed Jesus—let me go Maxwell Smart on you—missed him by that much.  People had come to see Jesus for about 3 years.  Not all were Jews.  In fact, many who were not Jews actually had better eyes to see than those from God’s Chosen people.

But these Greek men wanted to see Jesus and when Phillip and Andrew told Jesus that even the Greeks want to see you, Jesus told them they had bad timing.  What bad timing.

For earlier in John’s gospel we see Jesus say that his time had not yet come.  My hour has not yet come.  One of these instances involves Jesus talking with his mother at a wedding where the wine had run out.

But in this 12th chapter, Jesus said that his hour had come.  It’s time. Things of cosmic consequence would happen in a few square miles of our own planet.  The most important thing in all of creation since creation was about to unfold its final steps.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  That did not mean that there would be a coronation ceremony in the temple.  Red carpets would not be rolled out.  Musicians would not be assembled as when Solomon dedicated the original temple.  People were not digging in their closets looking for their tux or best dress and hoping they still fit.

This was something different.  Jesus said that a seed is only a single seed until it falls to the ground.  It’s life as a seed is over.  It is more.  It becomes a plant and grows and produces many seeds.  Jesus spoke in figurative language.  In just a few more chapters, he would tell his disciples that he wouldn’t do that anymore.

He told his disciples that if they loved this life so much that it was everything to them, they would miss out on real life.  They were not ready for eternal life. 

But if they really were his followers, they were about to go to the show.  They were being called up to the major league.  Things were about to change for the glory that would come at this time did not involve a royal crown but a crown of thorns.

The glory that Jesus spoke of would lead him to a brutal death on a Roman cross.  The glory that was about to unfold would be the reconciliation of creation with the Creator and it would come in the blood of Jesus.

OBTW—it was totally undeserved on our part.  The glory that was about to unfold was the unfathomable love of God that would put sinners in right standing with him through the blood of he who had no sin.

And if you think that Jesus had a God Switch that he could just flip and forego the pain, think again.  He could have called the whole thing off and legions of angels would have come to his rescue.  But to be the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world, he would die a real, very human, very painful—even agonizing death.

And Jesus knew it. 

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!”

This was going to be the real deal.  Whips and thorny crowns and hateful cries from the very people he came to save.  “Crucify him!

Not only would Jesus endure the pain—the physical pain—of being nailed to the cross and then lifted up so that every breath was labored; he would carry the sin of the world upon his shoulders.  He who had no sin became sin for us. 

The death sentence that was rightly ours was carried out on him.  The wrath that accompanied the justice required to account for the sin of the world was poured out on that place called The Skull, Golgotha.  We call it Calvary.  That’s got a nice, friendly sound to it.

But what took place in those finals hours was anything but nice and friendly.  As Jesus looked ahead to this death that awaited him, he said:  It was for this very reason that I came.  Father, glorify your name.

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

Jesus would be glorified in his death and resurrection and so too would his Father. 

There are several chapters between these words and the cross.  Jesus had much to teach his disciples in these few hours, but the hour had come.  His hour had come.

This morning we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord.  There would have been no resurrection without a crucifixion.  And there would have been no crucifixion without Jesus acceptance that he had come into this world for this very reason. 

His blood would do for us what we could never do ourselves.  No amount of sacrifices would ever get us to where we are now.  We are right with God. 

We can be the people that he created us to be now and forever.  Sin and death have no say in our eternity.  We celebrate the resurrection of the Lord today and every day.

We say, “He is risen.”
We reply, “He is risen, indeed!”

We celebrate the resurrection.   I charge us this day and every day to also bring glory to God whom we know so well through his Son.  Let us affirm these words:



Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed

It’s hard to get through an Easter morning without somehow finding your way to John 20.  Early in the morning Mary is headed to the tomb.  She brings back unbelievable news about the stone being rolled away.

Then Peter and another disciple, likely this gospel’s author—John—race to the tomb.  John won the race but stopped at the entrance to look in.  Peter caught up and went right on inside.  John followed Peter inside the tomb.

They saw the clothing that Jesus was buried in but there was no Jesus.  The scripture tells us that these two men did not yet comprehend what scripture had prophesied, that Jesus must rise from the dead.  They did all that they knew to do.  They went home, or at least to the place they were calling home for the time being.

Mary returned to the tomb and found two angels seated inside.  They asked:  Why are you crying?  Do you not understand what has happened?

See turned around and saw a man.  She didn’t know this was Jesus.  She thought it might have been the gardener, but he asked the same question:  Why are you crying?  Who are you looking for?

Can he not know what’s happening?  I am looking for my Lord.  Someone has taken him.  If it was you, please tell me where he is.

 Jesus replied:  Mary.  Jesus called her by name and instantly she knew who he was. 

She replied, Rabboni!  Rabbi!  Teacher!  There was not only recognition but joy in her voice.

She wanted to hold on to Jesus but instead, Jesus gave her instructions.  Go tell the disciples that you have seen me.

This was still early in the morning.  I could imagine the conversation among the disciples once they got this news.  Peter and John were probably thinking, “Hey, we were just there.”

I’m sure the disciples had a hundred questions that they asked a thousand different ways.  I would guess the place was abuzz with speculation.

That evening, with the doors locked for who knows that they might not be next to be nailed to a cross, Jesus entered the room and spoke a simple phrase, “Peace be with you.”

He showed them his wounds and gave them some preliminary instructions.  I am sending you into the world with this message of forgiveness and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  It would take about 5 weeks for this all to come together, but this thing that we call the church age was about to explode upon the world.

OBTW—Thomas was not there with the other disciples.  I don’t know if he had a dental appointment or was trying to be the crowd at the unemployment office—it did appear that he was out of a job, but he was not there when Jesus appeared to his fellow disciples.

And…  When he returned, he did not believe what his brothers had told him.  He was adamant that he would have to see Jesus for himself, wounds and all.  He wanted some hard evidence.

Now it was a week later and the disciples were all gathered in a locked room and Jesus appeared again.  He offered the same greeting, “Peace be with you.”

But the action moved directly to Thomas.  Jesus told Thomas to do what he needed to do.  Put your finger through the hole in my hands.  Feel the wound in my side.

It never got that far.  Thomas was overwhelmed.  He saw and he believed.  He acknowledged his Master:  My Lord and my God!

Next, we come to words for every believer who has professed Jesus as Lord for the next two millennia.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

This is us.  This is your parents and grandparents.  These are the settlers on the American frontier.  These are Martin Luther and John Calvin.  These are the early believers in Antioch, Philippi, and Corinth. 

Something over 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus.  Everyone else has professed their faith without this physical appearance. 

We have believed the unbelievable, and Jesus said that we will be blessed for it. 

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

I may or may not have told you this, but I can read minds.  Some of you are already thinking, “I bet he wants us to say that at the end of his two-hour sermon.”

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  There might just be a time for that.  There is a time for everything…

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
     a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
     a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
     a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
     a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
     a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
     a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

And there was a time for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem and be hailed as King.  There was a time for the people to cry out to him to save them.  Hosanna!  Hosanna in the highest!

Blessings and petitions from his own people who lined the road into Jerusalem defined that day.  It was as scripture had defined the moment.  Jesus road on the colt of a donkey.  He was given the royal treatment.

If you read the account in Luke’s gospel, the religious leaders thought that everyone was getting a little carried away.  They tried to rebuke Jesus for his disciples—and we are talking about more than the 12—as they were just taking this whole trip into town into town stuff to the extremes.

How did Jesus respond?  If I tell them to be quiet, then the very rocks on the side of the road will cry out in acclamation of what is happening here.  

Because what was happening here had been foretold by Zechariah
The religious leaders should have known exactly what was happening, but they suffered from the blindness of the Pharisees.   God’s own people had suffered under terrible leadership for too long. 

God had given the law to Moses so that the people could live good lives.  If they did what the law commanded, they would be in debt to no one and could freely forgive the debts of others.  The law provided a good model and obedience would leave the people in good standing.

Here is a big one.  If the people would live as God commanded, there would be no poor in the land.  Think about it.  If you live as the law commands, you will be blessed, God’s storehouse will be full, you will do no harm to your neighbor, and nobody will be poor.  That last part defies every economic model that we know today.  Someone always gets the short end of the stick.

The problem was that the people could not live by the law.  They tried and failed.  Tried harder and failed.  Didn’t try very hard at all and failed.  They just could not bring their rebellious human nature into obedience to holy God.
So the people missed out on many blessings, were conquered several times, and seemed to have poor people everywhere.  When Jesus came, he told these people who should have no poor among them that the poor would always be with them.  Had something changed?  No, the law offered possibilities—potential if you will—and Jesus spoke of the state of the people who could never live up to the law.

God’s own people were a mess, but their King had come.  He came riding on the foal of a donkey.  There was hope that as God had required his people to cancel debts, that their own debts to God might be cancelled.

There are some words here that we sometimes read past as we get excited with Hosanna, and blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, and your King is coming seated on the colt of a donkey.  What words?

Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion.

The Daughter of Zion verbiage was used several times in the Old Testament.  Zion is Jerusalem and the daughter is God’s people.  More than that, they are people in need of salvation.

The message that is ubiquitous in God’s word is do not be afraid. 
Oh you 12 tribes that have made a mess of things, do not be afraid.  The Daughter of Zion cries out Hosanna meaning save us and that salvation that you cry aloud for rides before you on a little donkey.

Do not be afraid.  Things were going according to plan.  God’s own people probably didn’t like the plan that was unfolding before them, but it contains the very thing they desired so much—salvation.

Had the crowd known that Jesus had already been anointed for his burial, they might not have cheered so vigorously.  Had they known that Jesus would breathe his last on a Roman cross in just a few days, it might have put a damper on things.  Had the people know what was required by the plan of God, they might have opted out or protested or posted angry emojis.  For this is not the way they would have put together a plan of salvation, but that plan was at work nonetheless.

We look back two millennia with fantastic hindsight.  We see how those pieces fit together, but how about now?  How about in our time?  What do we see?

Some have eyes to see blessings, lots of blessings.  A home, heat and air, running water, indoor plumbing, and food not just in abundant quantities but in unbelievable variety.  Those are some blessings.

Throw on top of that a vehicle or two per family.  The fact that Jesus walked everywhere, except for one trip into town on a donkey, has not held us back.  What a blessing the automobile is—wow!

But we also know trouble.  Discord, violence, global war—of which our nation is involved almost everywhere, and the never-ending threat of nuclear war—it only takes one crazy man to set that disaster into motion—that has hung over us for 7 decades now mark the tribulation of our modern lives. 

We know hatred and vitriol and fatal automobile accidents.  This can be a mean world.

We would like the world to get in step with God, and one day it will, but it appears that such a day is not in our immediate future.  And so, that leaves us to cry out to God to save us.  In the middle of this crazy world where blessings and blasphemies both grow like the wheat and the weeds, we ask God to save us from this insanity.

And we should hear God’s answer, for he has answered us.  He tells us not to be afraid.  He tells us to take courage.  God has not abandoned his plan for us.  He told us in advance that we would have trouble in this world.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Take heart, take courage, do not be afraid are God’s consistent messages to his Chosen People and now to us. 

In the week ahead, I want you not only to think about the kids and the palms and Jesus riding into town on a young donkey; but think of how much God loves us in the passion that would take Jesus all the way to the cross.  I want you to realize that God’s plan unfolded just as prescribed in that first century.

I want you to know that in the insanity and discord and vitriol of this modern world, he still has good plans for us.

He has already saved us from sin and death having any say in our eternity and he will never abandon us, even in our darkest hour.  He has not orphaned us in this world that has forsaken him.

He has answered our cries for help and sends us into this dark world with hope.  He sends us out as his light.  He sends us out with good news for a fallen world.

And as we go, do not be afraid, take heart, and take courage.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Words and actions, and the gospel

If you see someone about to step out in front of a moving car, you scream at them at the top of your lungs.  If you are nearby, you pull them out of traffic.

When someone in town is out driving on ice—thankfully that has not been a big deal this year—but when someone is stuck, we stop and help and push and pull.   This is Oklahoma.  You don’t just drive by shouting, “If you can’t drive on ice, then stay home.”

Now after you get them out of wherever they were stuck, you might suggest that they spend the rest of the day at home, but we help first.

Parents, if you catch your kids texting and driving or riding with friends who text and drive, you most likely take away some liberties closely associated with vehicular transportation.  When they complain that you are mean and that’s not the Christian thing to do, you remind them that Jesus walked.

If you see a friend about to try crystal meth for the first time, you might just grab them by the collar and pull them out of whatever mess they are about to get into.  There are no apologies for the abruptness of your actions.
When we find people that are hungry, we feed them.

When we find people who don’t have coats for the winter, we get them a coat.

When people have had their water cut off, we often help with a water bill or gas bill, especially if there are children in the home.  Yes, the parents are sometimes self-centered, financially irresponsible, and are trying harder to stay out of the family of faith than they are to budget their money, but we often help anyway. 

There are so many physical manifestations of being love that you know and do and are a part of while you walk this earth.

You may go buy some food for hungry neighbors or may stop by the church and get some of the food that we keep here just for those purposes.  Your heart leads you.  God’s Spirit that lives inside of you leads you.

You understand that we cannot know the great love that God has for us and do nothing for others in need.  We get that.  We really do.

But sometimes, we forget the most important thing.  Sometimes we forget that we carry not just food and money and love in so many various forms for our neighbor; but we carry the gospel with us.

We always carry the gospel with us!

I’m not talking about the little books that I have dared you to give out so that I have none left.  As I brought that up, I double dog dare you to run me out of those books because you gave them all away.

I am talking about the message of God’s great love for all of humankind, for all of creation.  We have the gospel, the good news of how much God loves us.  It is not something that we throw in at the end of giving someone food or help with a bill or a ride home.   The good news must never play second fiddle.

We must be people of good news first and foremost.  What we forget sometimes is that the delivery of the gospel is action.  It is action that is more powerful than food or money or anything else that we may help others with in this world.  Yes, we help with things that are only temporary but never at the expense of what is eternal.

When we are known as people of good news, not just good people, and then help with food or with a bill or with gas to get granny to the hospital or anything else, the physical things that we do are leveraged.  They become so much more.

When we leave out the good news or truncate it to an afterthought or just throw in a God loves you to check the block that this is a church thing, we have not been faithful to the One who gave his blood to atone for our sins.
We began this year with the topic of love.  We have graduated to love and action.  The latter proceeds from the former.

Peter and John were headed to the temple.  They had been emboldened by the Holy Spirit.  Peter was proclaiming the gospel.  A man who had been lame since birth called out to them asking for money. 

That was what he did.  He was a beggar.  That’s all that he knew.  He was lame and his career choice in those days was beggar.

Peter said, “Look at us.”  That’s an interesting response to please give me some money.  The man complied. 

Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I have none, but what I have I give to you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!”

The disciples helped the man up.  His strength returned.  He walked.  He even jumped up and down.  He praised God.

The man asked for money.  These two disciples knew they had more than money.  They ignored the man’s request for money—which would have been enough to eat for a day or to make sure that they added to what he had so he could eat for a day. 

Evidently, the disciples didn’t have any spare change on them.  There’s a message in that all by itself, but today we look at what they gave this man.  They were equipped by the Holy Spirit to heal this man.

This man may have very well given up on healing.  He was likely at the temple in the hope that people might be a little more compassionate.  He would have probably been fine with a donation made out of guilt.  The disciples saw what he needed most.

The man only wanted to be able to eat for a day.  The disciples knew that what they had was so much greater than what the man was seeking.

The gospel author John reminds us that words and speech are not enough by themselves. Read the book of James and you will see these thoughts echoed. Action is the fruit of our love.  If we see someone in need and can help, love compels us to help.  We don’t turn a blind eye, walk on the other side of the road, or dispense condemnation.

We are called to action!

For a brother or sister who have received salvation, knows Jesus as Lord, and is an active part of the family of faith, sometimes all they need is a little help with food or a bill or a budget.  But for the person who does not know Jesus as Lord, or they live as if he is not their Lord; they need the gospel before they need gas money for their car.  They need to know there is a way to abundant life and eternal life through Christ Jesus before they need their electric turned back on.

In our time, we sometimes jump right to paying the bill and skip over the best news this world has ever known.  When we see someone in need, we help.  We help, but sometimes we skip the real help.

But we who have eyes to see know that the greatest need in this broken world is to know the love of God in Christ Jesus. 

Here’s something that you hear a lot, even from longtime Christians. 

“Jesus always met the physical need before attending to the spiritual need.” 

It’s just not so.  Read your Bibles.  Jesus always took care of what was most important.  That most often involved the truth or forgiveness or some manner of teaching and instruction.  Where there was seemingly unprompted healing, Jesus noted that it was faith that was first present.  

He fed the multitudes after he ministered to them by teaching all day long.  He told the man who was lowered through the roof that his sins were forgiven before he told him to get up and walk.

He came to earth on a mission to take care of the most important thing—being the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.

Our most important thing is delivery of the good news.  We know how to deliver food and help with bills or get someone a bus ticket back home.  We know that part.

We must do our very best to make sure that the temporary part is not the only part.  We are vehicles of God’s love that sometimes comes in a box of food but must always be accompanied by the truth.  That truth is that God loves you.

We are uniquely equipped with God’s own Spirit inside of us.  God’s Spirit walks with us.  When we help those in need, we are without excuse not to be God’s messengers.  Love must be fully evident in our physical help.

We don’t beat people over the head with Bible verses.  We bring God’s love with words and deeds that are in harmony.  One without the other is incomplete.

We know God and we must be his love in this world.  We cannot deny that dynamic. 

I don’t ever want to give out a box of food that’s just food.
I don’t ever want to pay a bill that only turns the power back on.
I don’t ever want to put gas in a tank that only fuels the vehicle.

I want to meet the full need and that includes putting God’s love squarely in the middle. 

This should sound familiar.  We need to get out of the business of transactions and into the business of transformation.  We know the One who transforms.

If we only give out food for food’s sake, we miss the mark.  The love of God and witness to his goodness and a desire to bring people into the family of faith where they may know fellowship and abundance are the real sustenance.  Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  We must live the words that proceed from the mouth of God not forgetting the God part.

God’s love, God’s word, God’s abundance in the fellowship of believers must be foremost in all of our acts of compassion and benevolence. 

We get the stuff part.  We do this all of the time.  Let us lead with love and good news.  Let our words and our deeds be in harmony with God’s will.

We are sometimes challenged by the fact that some people only want their physical needs met.  They don’t want the gospel.  They don’t want to hear about God’s love for them.

We are not people of condemnation, but we are faithful to our God.  That means that we are people of good news and our words and our deeds are in harmony.  We never leave out the truth of how much God loves us just because someone doesn’t want to hear it. 

That means that for us, God’s love governs and is central in all that we do.  We are people of good news.  The delivery of good news is action prompted by love.

We are God’s love in action and our action must always includes good news.


Friday, March 9, 2018

All the Law and the Prophets

Let’s make sure of our perspective before we begin.  We say GOD LOVES YOU – LOVE ONE ANOTHER time and time again.  Do we fully believe that God loves us?  It does make a difference.

We know God is holy.  He is righteous.  He is all powerful.  He is sovereign.  He is all knowing.  He is immutable.  He is God and he is Creator and he is the Judge of his creation.

Most people acknowledge these things and those things should give us pause to think and reflect and maybe shake a bit in our boots.

But until we accept that the very essence of God is love, much of the Bible is obscured to us.  Until we believe that God loves us, our growth is minimal.  Until we accept that God is love and that he loves us, it is sometimes impossible to believe that he has good plans for us. 

Before we were just a little blimp in our mother’s womb, God knew us; but did he love us?  That’s the question that must no longer be a question for us.  If you question whether God loves you or not, the answer is that he does.

The struggle might be to know this with everything that you are—heart, soul, body, spirit, and mind.  Everything that makes you, you, must know that God is love and that he loves you.

When we say or read or think God is Love and God loves me, it must be more than theory.  It is reality for us.  Actually, it is reality for everyone, but we have eyes to see the truth.  We believe these things and therefore can move forward with this topic of love being more than an academic exercise.

Knowing the truth of God’s love for us produces action in us.

Love is not only real, it drives the universe.  Love propels everything with purpose.  And so we come to those words that we have said over and over and worn on our wrists and share with thousands:


There was a path to get to this point.  Here is the tweet version:  Creation, sin, preservation of a remnant in the flood, choosing a people to be his own, and the law.  Yes, there is a bit more in the 39 books on the left-hand side of your Bibles, but God was best known to his people for a time through the law. 

To keep people pointed in the right direction, God occasionally sent prophets.  People didn’t always do a good job on the home study and correspondence courses when it came to knowing and obeying the law.  Sometimes, they needed a person to point the way.

So the guiding forces for God’s people as they tried to be people of God were the Law—often called the Law of Moses—and the prophets.

By the time that Jesus came into this world as God with Us, there were many experts in the law.  They were Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and other religious leaders who thought they had a good handle on the law.  They were not always in agreement with each other.  There was much discussion and commentary among the experts.

They would have loved Facebook because everyone surely had a special insight that others had missed.  Some surely emerged as more expert than others.

This is the first century world in Judea and Galilee and in those areas of the Promised Land where knowing the law as important in daily life.  

Understand knowing the law often came with unique perspective. 

Rabbis—teachers—would accept disciples and train them.  The disciples were said to have taken on the yoke of their master—of their teacher.  That meant that they would learn his insights and adopt his perspectives, at least while each was a disciple.

But some would become experts.  They would dig deeper than most.  They had more analytical skill.  They connected the dots better.  They might have touched the edges of what today we call the full biblical witness, absent the other 27 books that came later.

Today, we take with a grain of salt anyone who claims to be an expert.  We see experts on television all of the time and many of them don’t seem credible, much less an expert in anything.

Most of us do know or have known experts in at least one area.  Perhaps we are or have been an expert in this area.  We all know expert parents.  What constitutes an expert parent? 

An expert parent is a parent who knows exactly what to do in each and every situation.  You might think that would take decades of parenting experience, but quite the opposite is true.

It seems to be that those with no children of their own have all of the answers.  Those who have never been a parent are always the expert parents.

The irony is that two weeks after having a child of their own, their expert status is revoked.

Today, you don’t always find experts where you think you should.  It seems that all of our state’s expert educators are in the state legislature.  Oops!  Did I leave that in my message?

My point is that today being an expert doesn’t carry the same weight that it did 2000 years ago.  A man believed to be an expert in the law would have been given this status by his peers.  It was not likes on Facebook or text your vote to the Sanhedrin.  Among all of the men who believed that they knew their stuff, a few were held in very high regard.

In this 22nd chapter of Matthew, we see 3 distinct encounters between the religious leaders and Jesus.   If you need the big picture context, the religious leaders of the day don’t like Jesus.  Jesus is bringing truth and the leaders prefer comfort.  They like things the way they are.

The Pharisees reinforced by the Herodians took their shot with is it legal to pay taxes to Caesar?  The question itself should have been escape proof.

Answer yes, and Jesus has told people to pay taxes to a very unpopular conqueror—the Romans—who just happened to have an emperor who had declared himself to be god.

Answer no, and the Jesus problem would be taken care of by the Romans.  The Romans didn’t care much what the Jews believed, but they would not stand for someone advocating not paying taxes.   Such a man gets locked up.  He can run a prison ministry but he won’t be circulating around the countryside anymore.

We know what happened.  Jesus asked for a coin and one was offered.  He presented a question:  Whose image is on the coin. The people answered:  Caesar.   He proffered a solution:  Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.

The Sadducees took their shot with their 7 brothers for one bride question and were told they were just wrong.  There is a resurrection.

So the Pharisees want to take another shot at tripping up Jesus.  They are still licking their wounds, but they select the best among them to test Jesus in the law.  The trick question didn’t work.  Let’s just see if Jesus paid attention in school.  Let’s just see if he knows his stuff.

The expert is polite and professional addressing Jesus as Teacher.  He asks, “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?”

Visualize the wheels spinning in the expert’s mind.  Depending upon how Jesus answers, the follow up questions will exploit anything that seems to be weak or incomplete.  He has been sent by his peers to test Jesus.

Jesus answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

He answered the question and even reminded the expert of the question in his answer; but Jesus does not allow the expert a follow-on question as he continues in explanation.

He continues, “And the second is like it.”

Hold on, the expert only asked for the greatest, but the first and greatest commandment is incomplete without the second which is like it.  An expert should know that.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Both of these commands come out of the law.  They are not paired together in what we call the Old Testament.  Jesus has connected two big dots.

It’s not that the Pharisees were a bunch of dummies.  At least one other expert in the law had connected these dots.  Read the beginning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Here, the expert gives the answer:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.

The pairing here is not new and some of the religious leaders had put these two commands together as very important.  But Jesus continued.

All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

The expert had asked about the law, but Jesus added the complete context.  God gave you law and he sent prophets.  If you read these words and listen to the words of the prophets, then you will realize that the foundation for all that you have received from God is loving God and loving your neighbor.

If you are truly expert in the law and in the books of prophecy, you would know that the infrastructure to what God is telling us rests on loving God and loving our neighbor.

If each of the books of the law and the scrolls of the prophets were cloaks, they would all hang on the coatrack called love God and love your neighbor.

If you were not blinded by your own self-righteousness, you would see that loving God defines the state of our hearts and minds.  Loving our neighbor calls us to live what is inside of us.

If you had eyes to see then you would realize that what comes in the law and through the prophets are not book answers but life answers.

Jesus was teaching that everything that you have learned from God’s laws and his prophets up to this point have pointed you to love God and love your neighbor.

There is a command that comes after what came in the law and prophecy.  We know it.  Jesus told his disciples, as I have loved you, so you must love one another.

It sounds like the old command, but it is more.

How did Jesus love us?  How did he love his disciples?  With everything that he was, that’s how he loved us.  He gave his very life for us.  That’s love.  That’s raising the bar.

The law directs us to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.  That’s tough but doable.

Jesus tells us to love our neighbor more than we love ourselves.  We love with the totality of our lives.  He has raised the bar.

What is the first and greatest commandment? 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

The law and the prophets take us to this pairing of fundamental directions.  Jesus takes us a step farther.  Love one another with your very life.  Love one another as much as I have loved you.  Love each other as much as God loves you.

I ask again.  Do you believe that God is love and that he loves you?  It is not a question of what you have read, though reading helps.  It is a question of what you believe.

You may not be an expert in the law, but you must be certain in this belief.  God loves you.

For once you truly believe that, there is one irresistible response within you; that you love one another.

Everything in all of history up to the advent of Jesus, said love God and love you neighbor as much as yourself.  Jesus takes us to the place where we love God by loving our neighbor as much as he loves us.

I remind you once again that God is love and that he loves you.  Let’s respond in love in all that we are and all that we do.

God loves you.  Love one another.