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"The Greatest Commandment"




The Greatest Commandant

Matthew 22:34-46


We have forever, it seems, divided into factions as people. The haves, and the have Nots. The rich, and the poor. Royalty, and peasants. Industrialized, agrarian. First world, Third World. Presbyterians, and Methodist. Religious, and non-religious. And all this just scratches the surface of the million different ways we divide ourselves.


Even when it comes to church... When it comes to Christianity alone, there are about 300 legitimate subsets… We call them denominations. About 300 different ways of being Christian. We seem to be a people who thrive on divisions. Factions.


Of course, in Jesus’ time things are no different. You have the Sadducees, and the Pharisees, the Essenes… The Zealots. Herodians (who were Jews who supported the Herod, and restoration of Jewish self rule). You had Rome, and Israel, and every possible faction in between.


If anything in the whole of God’s word, reminds me of the world in which we live in today, it would be the divide between the Sadducees and Pharisees. Because the Sadducees and Pharisees were not just religious orders, they were basically the lawyers\politicians of their day.


The Sadducees, were ultra conservative. Today we would call them the Constitutionalist. The Sadducees held to the law of Moses and the law of Moses alone. Anything else in the Torah was considered extra… Maybe good for reading, maybe provide a little history… But that was about it. They hung their flag on the Law of Moses. And if the Law of Moses didn’t address it... didn’t mention it... didn’t consider it... they didn’t either!


Of course, the Law of Moses was actually quite a lot... there are 613 laws of Moses. Imagine having to memorize 613 laws in order to live by them. We Presbyterians struggle with remembering the hundred questions of the Westminster shorter catechism. Most of us can’t obey the speed limit, and there are signs posted for that.


Of course, the Pharisees represented the other side of the Isle, so to speak... the political spectrum, what you’d call, the liberals. Jesus was often harshest on the Pharisees. The Liberals held to the letter of the law as well, as they believed in keeping the 613 Laws… But they included the teachings of the prophets, and the writings in the Old Testament. Books like the Prophet Isaiah, Jeremiah, Job… The Psalms... were included as being equally God‘s word and useful for teaching... and they didn’t mind filling in the gaps with commentary from Rabbis and Elders and Teachers of the Law. They didn’t just rely on the Law of Moses (the first 5 books of the Bible).


The fact of the matter is, both the Sadducees and Pharisees had come to view themselves as the keepers of the law. And the ones who got to disperse the law, or interpret the law, while enforcing its interpretation. And as a result, the law became more of a roadblock to finding to finding grace and peace and hope in God… than a path to deliverance.


So when the Pharisees came up to Jesus, with this question... “of all the laws, which is the greatest?” Jesus took full advantage to show just how wrong both sides were.


Jesus said, “you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. For on these two commandments, rest, all of the law, and the prophets.”


One of the most transformational answers, ever given in a religious context. Completely revolutionary. Jesus had a way of taking the grandest, most complex arguments in all of theology… where generations of scholars had studied, and offered their opinion on the matter... And he summed it up, all of it… with just two commandments. Love God. Love others.


Jesus was basically saying, that there’s only one view... one opinion... one position... that matters. If you’re a rule follower, who has to have a list of do’s and don’t in order to stay on the “straight and narrow” by all means, do it. If you’re the kind that needs to examine an issue from the top to the bottom (and from every possible angel), do it! Study to show yourself approved! There’s nothing wrong with study or rule following... God’s Word actually calls us to do both!


But if you and I want to make sure the way we’re living-out our faith is right... then let’s be sure to follow Jesus. “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul… And love your neighbor as yourself.”


All the other stuff can certainly add meaning, and does add meaning. You and I should want to study God’s Word from every angle... we should strive to keep the Commandments. But why? Out of love of God, and a commitment of faith born from a relationship with Jesus Christ and his calling to love others.


Not because it makes us right with God. The only thing that can do that has already been done, by Christ!


We keep the keep the Commandments and Study God’s Word... in response to his salvation. Not in order to earn it - but to show how much we appreciate it - to show our gratitude for God’s grace.


But the only way to truly find life, and direction, and purpose, as a follower of Christ… is to...


“love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, and mind...

“Love the Lord your God...”

“Love...”


And the second is like it:

“Love your neighbor as yourself”

“Love your neighbor”

“Love”


All of the Law and the Prophets hang on these two... and they both begin with “Love.”

Amen.

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