The Sixth Sunday After Epiphany February 13, 2011
1 Corinthians 3:10-11
361, 37, 399, 363
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” They said to Him, “The Son of David.” He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool”’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore.
In the name of Jesus, whose love is truly overwhelming, dear fellow Christians:
Recently our school held a book fair. There were displays and reports on all kinds of books from adventures to biographies, from fantasy to sports. The students did excellent work in summing up the contents of the books and encouraging the rest of us to read them ourselves.
But there was one notable exception to the books covered. No one reported on the Bible. What is it all about? How would you summarize it at a book fair? Some people praise it as great literature. They are amazed at the poetry of the psalms and the word pictures Jesus paints in the Gospel accounts. Others see Scripture as a vast panorama of history from creation to the end of the world. Many view the Bible as a handbook for a happy, successful, contented life on earth. So what is it all about? How would you answer?
This was basically the question with which a certain Pharisee tested Jesus: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” The Pharisees were the Bible experts of the time. They analyzed, dissected, and discussed God’s Law in minute detail. They came up with 613 commands: 248 positive ones corresponding to the number of parts in the human body and 365 negative ones, one for each day of the year. They also had rules for judging the relative importance of each. Murdering one’s neighbor was worse than giving him a black eye. Stealing a candy bar was not as bad as embezzling a million dollars. The Pharisees recognized that sometimes keeping one law meant breaking another. If a neighbor’s house was on fire on the Sabbath—the day of rest—should you let it burn down or break the Sabbath by working to put the fire out? The Pharisees debated the circumstances under which a lower ranking law might supersede one higher on the list.
Underlying all of their efforts was the thought that they would not just know God’s Law inside and out, they would keep it and be in perfect compliance with it. They wanted to be able to say, “I’m a good person. I am doing just what God wants me to do.” That meant they also had to justify or make excuses for their words and actions when they might be called into question. They excused a lack of care and concern for their parents by saying that they were devoting all their time and effort to the Lord’s work. One author wrote that they were like a defense attorney who states: “My client is not guilty of robbing the bank at gunpoint. He was simply making an emergency withdrawal in order to buy the criminally overpriced medication his sick mother needed. The real criminal is the evil drug company.” To the Pharisees God’s Word was all about keeping the outward rules well enough to earn a passing grade from God.
Do you ever find yourself thinking like that, and then being on the defensive and trying to justify yourself? You lose your temper and let someone have it and then justify yourself by thinking, “At least I’m in church on Sundays, unlike others I know.” I speed sometimes, but there are others who are always going faster. I could probably do more to help others around me, but God knows how busy I am. Because we are self-centered by nature, it is very easy to see the Bible as God’s rules which we had better keep if we want to get to Heaven. The thinking is: “It’s all about me.”
Jesus’ answer, however, points in a completely different direction. Instead of seeing individual trees in the forest of laws, Jesus described the whole forest: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” [vv.37,40]
It’s all about love. First of all, there is the vertical love for God. This is not a part-time, half-hearted love. This is a complete, all or nothing devotion. Think of what it means to throw your heart into your work or a project at home. It’s the first thing that comes to mind when you wake up. You give it all the time and effort you possibly can and you don’t mind. It is the last thing in your mind before you drift off to sleep. The Law commands all-out love for God above all else all the time. Along with that is the horizontal love for one’s neighbor, that is anyone whom we can help in any way. It is not the warm feeling we get when someone does something nice for us, but rather wanting to do good for another and then doing it.
The Pharisees and we too by nature want to pick certain trees in the forest as our favorites—laws which we think we keep fairly well. But when we fail to act from a loving heart, we have already torched the entire forest! “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10 NIV). It’s foolish then to point to a few smoldering stumps, hang our hopes on them, and say, “It’s not too bad. I’ve done pretty well.” It is all about love in the heart not outward obedience to rules. Even the Pharisee who questioned Jesus acknowledged that in Mark’s account. “Well said, teacher,” the man replied…“To love God…and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:32ff.).
It’s all about love, but it is a love which we do not have in and of ourselves. None of us would dare to say before God: “I’ve done it. I have loved You with a pure and perfect heart every moment of my life, and it is evident in everything I have said and done. In love for You I have loved my neighbor and shown him every bit as much, if not more, care and concern than I have for my own wellbeing.” We know better. There is no one good, not a one! “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the Law; rather, through the Law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20 NIV). “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). It is all about love: a love commanded by God’s Law, a love we don’t have in our hearts, and a love we have not practiced in our daily lives.
This love is so important that Jesus states: “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” [v.40] Keep in mind that the term “Law and Prophets” does not refer only to Law in the narrow sense as God’s commands. The Law and the Prophets is the entire Old Testament Scriptures. To the Old Testament believer it was the same as saying, “The Bible.” The point is that all of Scripture is about the love spoken of in these two commandments which we have not kept and for that reason we deserve eternal damnation. Everything God plans, says, and does hangs on them like coats hanging in the hallway. Without the hooks or hangers everything falls down in a jumbled heap. It is a startling statement! God says, “You yourself shall love perfectly!” Where does that leave us imperfect, unloving sinners?
Our salvation is all about love, but not our faulty love for God, but rather His perfect love for us. Notice again what the commandment says: “You shall love the Lord your God.” If God is “your” God then there must be a relationship, a connection. He is yours because you are His. He has made you that. His name “Lord” stresses that He is the faithful God of loving promise. When He promises to help, He does. He reminded Israel of that just before He gave them the Ten Commandments. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2 NIV). On Mt. Sinai God identified Himself not just as the law-giver, but as “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7 NIV).
We have come to know the gracious Lord in Jesus. “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18). The Pharisees were looking for an earthly Messiah who would reestablish the golden age of David and Solomon when Israel was powerful and prosperous. They acknowledged the Messiah would be a descendant of King David according to the prophecies of Scripture. But Jesus showed them from David’s own words that David knew his descendant would be much more than a man. He would be David’s “Lord,” a divine Helper, God Himself.
He would come to establish an eternal spiritual kingdom. And He would do it with love, not military force. He was born under the Law to redeem those who were under the law. The Law demands perfect love of each of us. Jesus took the place of each of us. In our place He loved the Father with all His heart, soul, and mind. He humbled Himself and was born an infant in the poorest of circumstances. Even though the Lord of all, He obeyed Mary and Joseph, His teachers, and the government. In obedience to His Father He allowed His enemies to arrest and crucify Him. In our place He loved His neighbor as Himself. He laid down His own holy life as the payment for the sins of all people. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10 NIV). He conquered sin, death, and Hell just as God had promised. When He hung on the cross all the Law and the Prophets hung there too. It is all about love. Through Jesus God sees us as having fulfilled His command to love. He pronounces us holy and pleasing to Him in every way.
Because Jesus has given us the free gift of that love, a day will come when you and I truly will be able to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor perfectly too. We all like to dream of the wonders of Heaven and try to imagine the glories waiting for us there. One of the best things will be freedom from all sin, selfishness, and pride which mar our lives now. When Jesus raises us on the Last Day, our Old Adam will be left behind in the grave. We will finally be free to love God and each other wholeheartedly as we were meant to.
But there is more good news. We don’t have to wait for the resurrection to start loving. Our new life in Christ has already begun, and it grows as we grow in God’s Word. Remember, it’s all about love. When we see that God demands pure and perfect love, not just outward obedience to rules, our sin is exposed and our excuses shot down. When we confess our guilt and throw ourselves on the Lord’s mercy, the Holy Spirit raises us to new life in Christ and produces fruits of love in our lives. Read 1 Corinthians 13 or 1 John for more insights on those fruits. John writes: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).
Even though the Bible is a very long book, a report summing it up could be very brief. It’s all about love: love commanded, love received, and love to live. It’s all about love, and it always will be! Amen.
Oh, teach me, Lord, to love Thee truly
With soul and body, head and heart,
And grant me grace that I may duly
Practice fore’er love’s sacred art.
Grant that my every thought may be
Directed e’er to Thee. (TLH 399:5)
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.