Scene of Activity
Upon His arrival Tuesday into the temple Jesus is ambushed by the the religious leaders.
- Scribes, Priests, and Elders question Jesus on his authority.
- Pharisees and Herodians question Jesus on taxes.
Sadducees question Jesus on marriage and the resurrection.
These men were only interested in discrediting His ministry and minimizing His popularity.
At this point in our travels through Mark, I want to take a moment and address a relevant question for the sake of context and contrast with the story we’ll be looking at this morning.
Q: Why are the religious leaders knowingly rejecting their Messiah?
A: Sadly, it’s the same 3 reasons people knowingly reject Jesus today.
1. Jesus was a threat to their authority.
If they conceded Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the implications were more then they were willing to accept for it would mean He possessed the authority to tell them what to do.
People reject Jesus because they don’t want to submit to authority!
People want to rule their own lives - be the captain of their own ship - the master of their own destiny. People want to call their own shots - do what they want when they want to do it.
At the core of man’s rebellion has always been man’s desire to be his own God! People want to be their own authority when it comes to social matters (a woman’s right over her body, legalization of drugs, sexual freedom, etc.).
However, if you accept Jesus as God, then you must also accept the reality that His authority concerning these matters overrides your own.
2. Jesus challenged their religious system.
These men had established a religious system that combined Scripture with their own traditions. They took pride in their own moral standing; and yet, Jesus was constantly undermining the flaws within their system.
Teaching: Jesus openly claimed their religion only produced a false morality.
Activities: Jesus showed open disregarded for their man-made traditions.
Associations: Jesus contrasted their judgmental attitude towards sinners.
Truth: Religion has never saved a soul because it establishes the framework whereby man seeks to achieve God’s approval without God’s involvement.
People reject Jesus because they don’t want to admit they need help!
For many, acknowledging the need for divine help is seen as nothing more than a sign of human weakness. God is viewed as a crutch for the weak.
It’s been said, “Only sheep need a shepherd.”
Ravi Zacharias, “A man rejects God neither because of intellectual demands nor because of the scarcity of evidence. A man rejects God because of a moral resistance that refuses to admit his need for God.”
The first essential stage of salvation is the admission I’m in need of a Savior.
3. Jesus was a threat to their way of living.
After years under Roman rule, the Jewish leaders had not only adapted to the governance of Roman but had begun to thrived under the occupation.
Because Rome allowed a certain level of self-governance and autonomy, evidence suggests that (though life was difficult for the population at large) life was good for the Jewish establishment.
As long as the religious leaders kept the peace, Rome would allow their relationship to prove mutually beneficial.
Problem: Jesus and His growing popularity had become a political liability.
People reject Jesus because they don’t want to change their way of living.
People understand that when you surrender your life to Jesus many aspects of your life will automatically change: friends leave, activities change, lifestyles are effected, and behaviors are adjusted.
For many, Jesus is rejected because they’d prefer life without His influence!
These men hadn’t rejected Jesus on the basis of the truth, a lack of evidence, or some glaring inconsistency; these men rejected Jesus because they refused to submit to His authority over their lives - humble themselves by admitting their need for a Savior - or accept the life change that comes with following Jesus.
The religious leaders rejection of Jesus demanded our attention because it establish a context and contrast as to what’s about to occur next?
For though the majority of the scribes would reject Jesus, not all of them would prove so resistant to the truth. Following this morning of inspection, Jesus is now approached by what seems to be genuine seeker of truth.
[Mark 12:28] “Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
Scene of Activity
Though this scribe wasn’t part of the initial group that had come to interrogate Jesus at the end of Mark 11, it appears he was present when they returned to give their report.
The way he handles this exchange is interesting....
1. He “heard them reasoning (discussing, examining, disputing) together.”
The scribes had challenged Jesus on the basis of His authority, and Jesus had responded with the scathing “Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers.”
Mark 12:12, “They knew He has spoken the parable against them.”
It appears this scribe eavesdrops in on the conversation....
2. Then he “perceived (discerned, knew) that Jesus had answered well.” (Literally, Jesus had answered “so correctly that there was no room for blame.”)
Understand, the scribes perception was more than a curiosity spawned by the shear brilliance of Jesus’ answer, rather it was the actual substance of His answer that the man perceived to be correct.
Substance: Jesus was God’s Son and they were knowingly rejecting Him.
3. So the scribe came to Jesus with a question of his own....
Note the Progression: He heard what Jesus said - he perceived that what Jesus said was correct - so he came to Jesus to investigate on his own.
Consider: How did Mark come by this backstory?
His question for Jesus, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
“First” - Greek adjective “prôtos” - “first in rank, influence, principal.”
Akin to asking, “What is the most important of all the commandments?”
[Mark 12:29-30] “Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”
Jesus’ initial answer can be divided into 2 sections:
1. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
This verse was known as the “Shema.” It was the centerpiece of the Jewish morning and evening prayers making it one of the most quotable sections of the Law.
The Jews cherished this verse because it encapsulated the monotheistic essence of Judaism. Ironically, it also validated the trinitarian view of God.
“The Lord” - “The Existing One” - the unpronounced name of God.
“Our God” - “Elohiym” - “plural, masculine name for God.”
“Is one” - “echad” - “one, singular”
“The Existing One our Elohiym (plural natured God) is one!”
2. But then Jesus does something uncommon.... He continues by quoting the lesser known Deuteronomy 6:5, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
For context we should discuss what Jesus means by “you shall love the Lord?”
Western Philosophical Perspective of Love:
Western culture has contorted the concept of love in 2 ways:
- We use the same word to describe a myriad of ranging interactions.
Love is defined as being either an emotional feeling or a sexual exercise.
With this in mind, the commanding directive “You shall love” (whether issued by God to mankind - a husband to a spouse - or parents to their children) is at best unrealistic or at worst extremely offensive.
If love is either an emotional feeling or a sexual exercise, then by definition you cannot command or demand love from another person.
To understand what Jesus is saying you have to remove your Western context of love and instead look at the idea from an Easter perspective.
Eastern Philosophical Perspective of Love:
In the Greek we find 4 words for love: (In order of less to greatest importance)
- “Storge (stor-gay)” (emotional love) - love parents have for their children.
- “Philia” (friendly love) - love people have for their friends or brothers.
- “Eros” (romantic love) - love between people in a physical relationship.
“Agâpe” (all-or-nothing love) - love of decision & committed consequence.
Because the Greek’s esteemed the mind above the emotional and the physical, to the Eastern mindset, the purest love transcended a person’s emotional capacity and was never relegated to being simply a physical pleasure.
Instead, the purest demonstration of love existed in a person’s will to decide to love unconditionally and committedly no matter what the costs.
This is why in the East it was commonplace for pre-arranged marriages.
They believed that right from the onset of a marriage the husband and wife would be forced to experience the deepest manifestation of love when they had to choose to love each other without preconditions.
Their love would begin in the will ever before it ever demonstrated itself physically or yielded itself emotionally.
In contrast, in the West our love must first yield emotionally, then demonstrate itself physically, before a decision for committed love is made.
Ironically: Divorce rates in the East are drastically lower than the West.
When Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God” He uses the Greek word “agâpe” referring to a love based upon a willful decision.
Understand: Jesus was never implying that God forces humanity to love Him through some dominating directive. Instead, He’s saying the greatest command God ever issued to humanity was His invitation that we might choose to love Him.
Truth: Obedience to God without a love for God is nothing more than an empty ritual preformed out of some guilty obligation - of which God has no delight in!
Note: In addition to this invitation, God also went to great length to demonstrate His love towards us in so that we might choose to love Him.
The more we know God - the more we learn how much He loves us. The more we learn of His great love - the more we should love and obey Him in return!
Another component that makes this “love of the will” so powerful:
In the West, love based on emotions is hard to differentiate with infatuation; and love based on the physical is hard to differentiate with lust.
This is why you should choose to wait to have sex.
In the East, love based on the will either simply exists or it simply doesn’t.
A person either loves unconditionally or establishes unwarranted conditions.
A person’s love is either self-sacrificing or selfishly motivated.
A person’s love is either committed or it wavers.
Love of the will is a love that will either demonstrate itself in obvious ways or demonstrate that it never existed in the first place.
This is why Jesus continues by saying, “You shall love with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”
The phrase “with all” can be literally translated “out of all.”
This means I’m not loving God with my heart, but rather the decision I’ve made to love God is demonstrated from my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Since “agâpe” love for God will possess an outward manifestation, Jesus continues this thread of thought by saying the greatest manifestation of our love for God will be our love for one another.
. . . . . . .
[Mark 12:31] Jesus continues, “And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Once again Jesus used this Greek word “agâpe” to describe the love we should have for our neighbor. Flowing out of our choice to love God, will be the decision to love others.
Jesus then qualifies this by saying you should “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Truth: You have a love affair with You!
When a person says, “I hate myself because I’m ugly or fat” they are actuality affirming, not a hatred of self, but instead a deep-seeded love for themselves.
If you really hated yourself you’d be glad you were fat and ugly, but since you actually love yourself, you hate the fact you’ve allowed something you love to fall into such disarray!
“I hate myself” = “I love myself so much I hate what I’ve done to myself.”
Q: How can we realistically love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves?
A: You have to love God more than you love yourself.
You will never be able to “love your neighbor as yourself” without first experiencing the power of God’s love for you! Love for neighbor is a byproduct of your love for God - which is a response of God’s love for you!
Radical implications of Jesus’ answer:
In the Torah, the Law existed as 613 commands (365 negative - 245 positive).
In Exodus 20, Moses summarized them into 10 commandments.
In Micah 6, the prophet whittled them down to 3 simple commands, “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
In Mark 12, Jesus condenses them into only 2: Love God and Love people.
Paul would later say the law is summarize in one word: LOVE!
Reality: Christianity really is simplistic!
The only condition that is a requirement for a life with God is a love for God.
Augustine, “Love God with all of your heart and then do what you will.”
[Mark 12:32-34] “So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But after that no one dared question Him.”
It would appear by his affirmation of Jesus this scribe was a genuine seeker.
Q: Why would Jesus say to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
A: It seems there were 2 final hurdles in his way:
1. If you compare the scribe’s quote of Deuteronomy 6 with what Jesus said, you will notice a subtle difference.... the scribe omits the word “Lord.”
As we’ve mentioned, in the Hebrew “Lord” was the unspoken name for God.
The reason the scribe didn’t utter this word when he quoted Deuteronomy 6:4 was the fact the name for God was held in such high regard it was consider sacrilegious to speak it verbally.
Jewish Mishna, “He who pronounces the Name with its own letters has no part in the world to come.”
In order to insure someone didn’t use the name of God while reading the Scriptures, the scribes removed the vowels from the text.
When you’d read “LORD” in the O.T. it’s actually four Hebrew letters “YHWH” called the “Tetragrammation” - this occurs 6,828 times.
The problem with this approach boiled down to the reality the scribes demonstrated a false reverence at the expense of a real relationship.
Sadly, over time, the Jews lost the vowels and today have no idea how to pronounce their most reverent name for God.
Jesus’ Point: In order to know God’s love, one has to know God; but how can one know God if one is not even willing to use His name?
2. We’re told “when Jesus saw that he answered wisely” He responded saying the man was close, but not quite there.
“Wisely” is translated by the King James Version as “discreetly.”
Though the word indicates the man was correct in his assessment, it also implies an inability by the man to acknowledge these things publicly.
The scribe knew what he needed to do - the question is - will he do it publicly?
Matthew 10:32, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”
In conclusion: Stop rejecting Jesus and instead come and follow Him!