- Sermon Notes
The Greatest Commandments
We find Jesus in Jerusalem just days before His arrest, suffering at the hands of Jewish and Roman leaders, His crucifixion and then gloriously being raised from the dead on the third day.
The multitudes in Jerusalem held Jesus in high regard, they considered Him a prophet and His miracles were sending waves of excitement through the crowds; He had even raised a man who had been in the grave four days.
The Jewish leaders plotted to undermine His popularity by trying to trap him with various questions. First, the Pharisees came asking whether it was right to pay the Roman poll tax. They thought this trap would be foolproof. If He answered ‘no,’ the poll tax should not be paid, the Herodians in the crowd would have reported Him to the authorities and Rome would have solved their problem for them. If He answered ‘yes,’ then the crowd would have left him since they despised Rome.
But Jesus asked for the coin used to pay the tax and said, “Whose image and inscription is on this coin?” They answered, “Caesar’s.” Jesus then responded, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and give to God that which is God’s.” They marveled at His answer.
The Sadducees challenged Jesus next with a question designed to make Jesus look foolish. The Sadducees did not believe there would be a resurrection so they presented the problem of a woman who was married to a man who died, so she was given to his brother and he died and so on to the seventh brother and finally the woman died. “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?” They asked. Jesus then rebuked them with His answer, “You are mistaken because you do not know the Scriptures, nor the power of God.”
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had also put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together to challenge Him yet again, this time they used an expert in the Old Testament Scriptures, a lawyer, an expert in the law.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” they asked. From our perspective that may not seem like such a difficult question, but there was a raging debate in that day that caused great division. So if Jesus chose one side or the other, at least He would lose half the crowd and then He would be surrounded by those who wished to debate with Him.
Here was the argument; the Ten Commandments contained 613 Hebrew letters. By using each of the 613 letters they organized the commands of the Law. They were then categorized by 365 prohibitive laws, things that they should not do and 248 positive laws, things they were to do. These were then further organized by giving them relative weight.
In other words , some laws were weightier than others. The point was that if it became impossible to keep two laws at the same time, then they could break a lighter commandment in order to keep a heavier commandment. So the raging debate had to do with which of the commandments was the greater such that any of the other laws could be broken in order to keep that greatest or heaviest of all laws.
We do have similar questions today relating both to the laws of the land as well as principles of Scripture. When my wife was pregnant with our third child and near the time of delivery, something went terribly wrong. The hospital said that this was an emergency and to get her to the hospital immediately. The problem was that we came upon several red lights; what should we do?
Jesus amazed and confounded them with His answer. Once again, He answered the question so that we might consider our relationship to God. He then asked His own question which they were unable to answer, but we need to understand for our own relationship to God.
I. Love the Lord your God…
- Jesus answered by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. These are known as the Hebrew Shema, the centerpiece of morning and evening Jewish prayer.
- Jesus then added a second great commandment from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
- He then added, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and prophets.”
- In other words, it’s as though Jesus were saying, “You have it all wrong, God’s laws are not to be weighted and compared with each other, the entire Old Testament hangs from these two laws.”
A. We love because He first loved us
- First of all, some people are bothered because loving God is given as a commandment. How can you command love?
Illus – Although some have tried, and you can be sure that it hasn’t ended well. “You call that love? You better start loving me the way I say!” I’m thinking that relationship is probably in trouble.
- But there are several things for us to understand.
- First, we love God because He first loved us. In other words, we are responding to His love.
1 John 4:19, 21, We love, because He first loved us.… And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
John 3:16, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
1 John 3:1, See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.
- Secondly, God, in His great love, knows the way in which we should live our lives to our greatest good and He directs our way.
Isaiah 30:21, Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.
Deuteronomy 10:12-21 To love is for our good.
- In other words, God knows that the very best thing for our lives, the place of greatest blessing, is to draw near to God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and because He loves us, He will direct us in the way in which we should go.
Illus – In the same way that we direct our children to love as they are growing and learning, “Give your grandma a kiss and tell her you love her,” we might say.
John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
B. Love God with all your heart, soul and mind
- The key here is the word “all.” God wants us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and Mark adds; strength.
- If you love God with all your heart, will you have anything left for anyone else? Answer: absolutely yes, as we will soon see.
- I submit that there is a great lesson for all of us here. I submit that the way to love God is to receive more of God’s love for you.
- In fact, the Scripture suggests that when our relationship to God is lacking, it’s because we have moved farther from Him.
Revelation 2:4-5, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deed you did it first;”
Illus – When a child receives the love of his parents with an open heart, that is loving them in return. If a teenager turns a hard heart toward his parents, he is refusing to receive the love that his parents have for him.
- When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are receiving more of God’s love, and the result is that more love is seen in our lives; love that we can give to God and to others.
Galatians 5:22-23, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace… Against such things there is no law.
- As Jesus said to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2, if we have fallen from our first love, we need to remember… and we need to repent.
- To remember means to remember and do them again.
Illus – When couples start drifting from each other, they need to remember and do the things they did when they were first married. Did you spend time together? Talk together, take trips together, etc.
Do you remember the zeal you had when you first came to the Lord? The hunger you had for His Word? The joy of singing with all your heart?
- To repent means to turn around. If we have left our first love, we need to go back.
II. Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
- Jesus said the second great commandment is like the first, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- This is actually from Leviticus 19:18 and the complete verse is powerful.
Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.”
- This is a very personal verse for all of us and we really need to understand its application to our lives.
A. Love others even as you care for yourself
- First of all, we should understand what Jesus is not saying. He is not suggesting as some do today that we need to spend more time loving ourselves. In fact, self-focus and me-first thinking only creates many troubles.
2 Timothy 3:1-4 Difficult times will come…
- No, Jesus said that we need to learn to deny ourselves…
Luke 9:23, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one will find it.”
- No, Jesus is not talking about arrogant self-love; that only causes problems in our lives. And if anyone thinks he doesn’t have this problem, all he has to do is look at a group picture.
Illus – If you are in a group picture who is the first person you look for? And then you pick out what’s wrong with it. “But that only shows I don’t like myself,” someone might say.
Really? If you really hated yourself, then you would be happy with how bad you looked.
- No, Jesus is talking about the fact that we need to care for others, even as we care for ourselves.
- Paul makes a similar point when it comes to husbands and wives.
Ephesians 5:28, So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.
B. Love others because of God’s love in you
- One of our great problems in relationships is that were all imperfect, flawed people and we get locked into a very bad practice of responding in kind to each other’s failures.
- In other words, if someone is nice, then we’re nice, if someone is rude, then we respond with rudeness. The problem is often made much worse when we assume the worst about others.
Matthew 5:43-48 Even love those who don’t love you.
- This has very practical application in marriage and all kinds of other relationships…
Illus – In our marriage class recently we were talking about responding out of God’s love for us, rather than responding to the imperfection of others.
John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
- Finally, Jesus asked them a question. “Regarding the Messiah, whose son is He?” They answered, “The son of David.” “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord’?”
- David calls the Messiah, ‘Lord’ because He’s the Son of God, but as the son of David, He is also Son of Man.
- Why did God give David such a great promise? Because David was a man after God’s own heart.
Matthew 22:34-46 NASB
34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, ” ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”