Read Matthew 22:34-40
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:
GOD LOVES YOU – LOVE ONE ANOTHER
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.