How many of you have accidently said “love you!” at the end of a phone call to someone who wasn’t your spouse? Pretty awkward!
I suspect that, unfortunately, we’ve allowed the meaning and power of the word “love” to diminish over time. Just like we’ve done with the word “Christian”
But we better not do that. Or at least we should try to recapture the power and wonder of the word “love” …especially those of us who declare that we follow Jesus…because none other than He Himself, our Lord, our Christ, the captain of our souls declared “love” to be the essence or foundation of our identity.
Jesus down all of truth to this: Love God totally. Love people completely.
That’s His summary. That’s his encapsulation. That’s his distillation of God’s will for us.
You want to know what it is to be Christian then look no further than this.
· For this whole summer we’ve been examining ourselves…we who tack the nickname Christian on to our identity. We’ve been trying to ferret out what we mean by that since the word has been coopted and watered down.
· In a few weeks I will be revisiting all of what we’ve learned in the past couple of months about our DNA as followers of Jesus but today we may have hit bedrock. For what is more foundational than these 6 words:
Love God totally. Love people completely.
Today we apply to ourselves the prime test of certification of a Christian. Do you love God totally and do you love people completely?
Do you love God and people in the most extreme way possible?
Mark 12:28 page 842
Context: A series of stories of confrontations and debates with various antagonists. Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees and now a teacher of the law – scribe – 1st century version of a Bible Geek.
One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, OIsrael! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. 30 And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” 32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.” 34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
I believe, in this case, the man was asking a sincere question. Wasn’t trying to trap Jesus.
· It was one of the past-times of Pharisees to figure out which commandment superseded all the others. - Summarize God’s desires for human beings in one commandment
Jesus answers his sincere question by quoting two commands from the law that everyone knew…but perhaps had never put together before:
· Deuteronomy 6:4-5: Listen, OIsrael! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.
o Called the “Shema” = the first word “to listen”
o Recited morning and evening by committed people of God
o And he added a word – “strength”
· Leviticus 19:18:Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
o We’ll see in a minute the unique twist Jesus gives part 2 of this command.
I’m actually going to split this sermon in two parts looking at each of these commands separately…But they do function as one big idea: Love God totally. Love people completely.
Let’s begin with part one…Vs 30 And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’
· It would be impossible to overstate the intensity of this command – with 4 words he turns this into the ultimate mic drop moment…
o LORD = kyrios = owner and absolute master
o God – the creator of all things
o Love = unconditional, unqualified, unrestricted devotion and affection with an extreme bias toward the needs of the other.
o All = 4 times! Whole, complete, entire
§ Heart – emotions, soul – spirit, mind – intelligence, strength – will
· This command is so extreme that it short-circuits the brain and heart. I could not wrap my mind around it until something hit me like a ton of bricks.
o I pondered the question – what is the most extreme thing I could do for another being?
o What is the one human act…that could ultimately define this total love. It is DEATH. The willingness to lay down your life.
§ Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg address called it “the last full measure of devotion”
§ Jesus himself clarified it elsewhere when he said There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13
And there it is…how much do I love God? How much am I willing to die for Him?
Would you willingly die for God?
This led me to do some investigation…how did this play out in his initial followers? Did they love him this totally? Turns out…many of them did.
Here is a mix of recorded history and legend:
PETER- crucified, upside down at his request
PAUL– beheaded by Nero
THOMAS– speared to death
PHILIP- cruelly put to death in North Africa
MATTHEW- stabbed to death in Ethiopia.
JAMES- stoned and then clubbed to death.
MATTHIAS– burned to death
And these are but a few. People who loved God with all they had. And it goes on today.
So, again, let’s just cut to the chase. We could do an intellectual exercise: I could ask you…
Do you love God with all your mind?
Do you love God with all your soul?
Do you love God with all your heart?
Do you love God with all your strength/will?
…or would you be willing to die for God?
My sincere hope is that none of us has to physically die out of love for God…but who knows?
But let me show you how you CAN RIGHT NOW demonstrate your love for God…and die today for him.
End Part 1
Love God totally. Love people completely.
Let’s return to this seminal passage in our faith…
Mark 12:30 And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
Now let’s be honest…every time you read or hear this don’t you think that Jesus meant the 2nd command to be at least slightly less important than the first? I mean c’mon.
But all signs in Marks writing …choice of words, grammar…equate the two. Jesus says them in the same breath. Links them with the same level of importance.
· This was revolutionary. It had never been done before – putting them together like this.
· Jesus was implying you could not do one without the other. You cannot love God totally unless you also love people completely. You cannot love people completely unless you love God totally. They are inseparable twins
That’s intense….but it gets even more intense when you consider he chose the same word “love” to describe the devotion he expects us to display toward others:
Love is an unconditional, unqualified, unrestricted devotion and affection with an extreme bias toward the needs of the other.
This is the distillation of the totality of God’s commands to us – love others completely…with no restrictions… show every person your “last full measure of devotion”. Die for them if necessary.
And if that isn’t intense enough let’s be clear who our neighbor is…
· This teacher of the law/ scribe lived under the impression that neighbor = fellow child of God , which is hard enough, but…Jesus made it clear through his interactions with others and teaching (the good Samaritan story) that neighbor = ANY other human being.
How is this all sinking in? Do you get it?
Love God totally. Love people completely.
IL - Story of Juan Carlos Ortiz, Argentinian pastor’s sermon on “love one another”…
· The concept is so radical in its simplicity that it may take some processing to fully consider the applications…which makes an apparent throw away side comment at the end of the story so crucial.
Mark 12:32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.” 34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions. (maybe because they knew what they had to do?)
Hmmmm. What do you suppose Jesus meant?
· I think he was implaying they “got it” in their heads…but you’re not quite there until …what?...it turns into action.
· You will not enter fully into the will and power of God until this command gets legs. Then we got something.
Love God totally. Love people completely. Do it.
And there it is: Love God and people… up to and including your last full measure of devotion.