Sermon delivered January 8, 2000 by Pastor Kent Crutcher

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Greatest Commandment

Have people ever ganged up on you for any reason? Have you ever felt oppressed by a group of people? When I was thirteen or fourteen years old one of my favorite activities was riding my ten-speed bicycle down the hill about half a mile, being followed by my dog, and there we would enter into a sub-division called "Green Acres." I saw some smiles because some of you live there. I would ride into Green Acres and enjoy it so much because of the stir it would make. You see, there were several gangs of boys that lived there. They just loved to hate each other. You never knew what you'd find. Sometimes they'd be throwing rocks across the street at each other. Sometimes they'd be in a big pile, fighting for whatever reason. Other times they'd be arguing over some rule of their street-ball game.

But when they saw me come in... They didn't know who I was or where I lived. They just knew that I was an outsider. I would get a good head start, pedalling fast, because I knew trouble was trying to brew. They would all hop on their bikes, yelling names at me. "Get out of here! Who do you think you are?!" And I would ride as fast as I could, and they couldn't catch me. I thought it was great fun. And my dog could whip their dogs and that was even more fun.

It reminds me of when Israel was going through the wilderness. People who had been at war with one another all of a sudden said, "Who are these outsiders? Let's join forces and oppose them." It also reminds me of the "Gulf War." You remember: Iraq was already fighting Iran, but all of a sudden when we got into the mix they said, "Let's join up and fight the common foe."

It was this type of opposition Jesus faced. People who generally despised each other suddenly saw a common foe, and outsider. "Let's join together and despise Him collectively. Turn with me to Mark 12. Here we find the make-up of the opposition: Scribes, Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees. Before we actually get into the text, we have so many players you almost have to keep a score card to figure out who these people are. Let's look at them.

Who were the Scribes? The scribes were scholars who were primarily concerned with interpreting and applying the written Law. They were sometimes called "lawyers," but more often, "rabbi." They were teachers of the Law.

Then we have the Pharisees. They weren't generally opposed to the Scribes. In fact, Pharisees were laymen who were keepers of the Law that had been interpreted by the Scribes. They were extremely nationalistic. They were Hebrew to the bone. As long as they were allowed to practice their religion in peace, they did not make too many political waves.

Then we have the Herodians. On the other hand, Herodians liked to make political wave. In fact they were politicians. They enjoyed the rule of Rome. They were lovers of Herod Antipas. That's why they were called "Herodians." They opposed the Pharisees. In fact, if somebody had said to them, "We shouldn't pay taxes to Rome," these Jews would have said, "Yes, we should! They do so much for us."

The Sadducees were the aristocratic element of the Jewish society. They were close to the priests and were political realists. They took the situation they were in and said, "Yes, this is our situation. We're going to make the best of it. We're going to gain the most that we can from it. They were also religious realists. They did not believe in things that to them did not make sense. They did not believe in a resurrection. There were too many complications as we'll see a little bit later. Anything that was too complicated must not be for real. That's why they did not believe in angels. And they didn't believe in demons. They didn't believe in an after-life. They believed that once you were dead, that was it. No hope, that was it. You've lived your lot. You would have been heard of no more. They were such realists. They believed that God, the Creator of it all could not possibly have an interest in an individual human. God could not have an interest in the day-to- day life of any person. That's why they laughed at the Pharisees for all their legalistic rule-keeping. "Why do you bother to keep all these rules. God's not even paying attention to you."

The Priests were another group that opposed Jesus. They were Levites and controlled the work of the temple. In addition, the high priest was usually the supreme ruler of the Jews. His judgments were considered law. Since the priest's dedication was mainly for the temple services, the priest had a much higher regulation to follow. They had to maintain ritual cleanliness. They were not allowed to touch any dead thing and were not allowed to mourn for the dead.

You see how diversely opposed these different groups are. But they get together to gang up on Jesus. Let's look now at our text. Mark 12:13. Later, they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch Him in His words. Later? When something starts with a "Later" there must have been an "earlier." We need to put this into context. We need to know what happened earlier. We find that Jesus has had the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We find that Jesus has just cleared out the sanctuary of the money changers. We find Jesus telling parables that greatly upset the priests. And that tells us what the next word is about. "Later they, the priests that had plotted to kill Jesus but didn't dare do it because the people were not with them.

"Later they (the priests) sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch Jesus in His words." Since they could not outright kill Jesus without the support of the people, they went to plan B. "Let's trap Jesus in His words." Have you ever been trapped with your own words? Or trap someone else?

One day, I was sitting in my office in my home in south Georgia when a knock came at the door. I looked out the window and I knew who it was when I saw her. It was a Jehovah's Witness at my door. Her husband had gone on to the next house so I invited her in and we had a nice conversation. She was a precious lady in her late sixties and from Pennsylvania. She was doing missionary work in south Georgia. Very sweet, she was not pushy or defensive in any way and we spoke for a good half hour or so before she brought up a point on which she became quite pushy. "You realize, of course that Jesus is not God." Finally I had something I could differ with her on. I chose not to go along with that particular belief, referring to John 1. "It looks like right here in John 1, it's very plain that Jesus is God." Well, she told me, "If you could only read how John had originally written it in the Greek language you will understand what this is all about."

"Oh." I excused myself for a moment and I went to my study and retrieved my Greek New Testament. I took it and handed it to her and asked her to explain what she meant. She turned pale and said that she didn't actually know how to read it herself. I said, "I do. Let's look at it together." And I shared with her for another half an hour. She then said, "You're a pastor, aren't you?" She knew that she had been trapped with her own words. She left on friendly terms. Neither of us had been converted. It really doesn't pay to trap people in their words, does it. It didn't convert her and it didn't convert me.

This is what they were trying to do with Jesus. Trap Him into saying the wrong thing. Trap Him into putting His foot in His mouth.

Verse 14. They came to Him and said, "Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay not attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Well, that's pretty nice. I'd like people to say something like that about me. But with a little different motivation, I hope. They were simply trying to butter Jesus up, to set Him up for what was coming next. "Since you are so fair and honest, we have a question that we need help with. Something that has been bothering us." Let's see what the question is. "Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn't we?" What a question! "We have Him now. Whoever thought this one up was really bright!

" * If He says 'Yes, we should pay taxes to Caesar,' then He will be in trouble with the Jews for saying we should pay tribute to our captors. (And that was a very unpopular thought.)

" * If He says 'No', He will be in trouble with the Romans for spreading dissension. WE HAVE HIM NOW!

"If He says 'Yes," we have Him and if He says "No," we have Him."

Well, what did Jesus say? Verse 15. But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. "Why are you trying to trap me?" he asked. "Bring me a denarius and let me look at it." I like it that Jesus didn't pull a coin out of His own pocket. "Bring me one of your coins." That's a little more effective. "Let me see what your coin looks like." That's the way I like to do Bible studies. I seldom take my own Bible into the house. "Let's see what your Bible says. It's your Book."

And there they thought they had Him, and He says, "Let me see one of your coins." I'll bet they're wondering, "What's He talking about. He didn't answer 'yes' or 'no.' Where is He going with this?" Verse 16. They brought the coin, and He asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" And He holds up their coin. "Look at it! Whose portrait is on here? Whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" And they were amazed at Him.

Jesus here introduces a thought that was foreign to anybody that was listening. He was introducing a separation of church and state. Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. Up to that point everybody thought the church was the state and the state was the church. Jesus said that there can be a difference. You can serve the state, and you can serve God. You can serve the state as long as it doesn't interfere with your service to God. And eye-opener. Jesus used this question to teach a very important principle.

They were amazed that He had escaped their trap. But they did not give up yet.

Verse 18. Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him with a question. Now the question. The Sadducees loved putting this question to the Pharisees. And the Pharisees were always kind of like, "Well, we don't know about that." And they thought, "Aha! We'll catch Jesus with this very same question."

Verse 19-25. "Teacher," they said, "Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?"

Well, this question trapped the Pharisees. "What are you going to say, Jesus?"

Verse 24. Jesus replied, "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising--have you not read in the book of Moses, (The books of Moses were the only books the Sadducees believed in. The first five books of the Old Testament.) in the account of the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!"

You are in error because you don't know the power of God.

Look now at verse 28. One of the teachers of the law (a scribe) came and heard them debating. I picture this man just coming upon the scene. I don't believe he was part of the setup. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, "of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

This was another common question but was asked with sincerity. The scribes kept up with the six hundred thirteen written laws and were good at teaching which were more important than the others. Definitely to them, the law of murder was more important than the law of boiling a lamb in its own mother's milk. That was against the law, too, but murder was more important than that. They constantly debated: which was more important.

In fact, there were two main schools of interpretation. There were Shamai and Hileal. The school of Shamai taught that a person must know every law for one interprets the other, every six hundred thirteen of those laws. Hileal taught that one must simply know the principle of the law.

A man once asked Shamai: "Tell me the law while I stand on one foot." Shamai chased the man away with a stick.

Hileal would say: "Don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you."

But Jesus said: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." He is not content with avoiding evil. We should look for opportunity to do good.

Let's see how Jesus answers this question about which law is most important. Verse 29-31. "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

"The most important one," Jesus answered, "is this: Love the Lord thy God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength." This was nothing new. He was quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4,5. He quoted the very words they used at the opening of every religious ceremony. At any type of temple ceremony they used these words: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, with all your body,' so they said, "We've heard that before."

But then He adds something from Leviticus 19:18. "The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."

No commandment greater than these? Notice: "commandment" is singular, "these" is plural. Is He saying that there are two greatest commandments? No. These two statements are simply both sides of the same coin and are worth the same. Is one side of a coin worth more than the other? No. But both side make one coin. Jesus is saying, "The law is wrapped up in this one principle." Love the Lord your God with all your heart AND love your neighbor as yourself. You can't have one without the other. I can't go to the store and spend half of this coin. "I think I'll spend heads today." No, I have to hand them the whole thing. It is impossible to love God with out loving your neighbor. It is impossible to truly love your neighbor with out first loving God. They go hand in hand. They cannot be separated. So no commandment is greater than these. I used to wonder why it was said that if you broke one commandment, you broke them all. Now I understand. The commandments are one. Love.

New Christians sometime despair at keeping all ten commandments. Remember the Scribes were having to keep up with over six hundred. New Christians sometimes say, "How can I keep all of these things?" Well, it's not "all of these things", it's one thing. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. As you notice the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, they are all based on this. The first four show us our love to God, and the next six tell us how to love each other. We must all realize that they are simply an expression of one: Love.

So what did the scribe think of Jesus' answer? Verses 32 and 33. "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that god is one and there is no other but Him. To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love you neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." Now this is quite something for a Scribe to admit in public! I believe this man at this point had been converted.

Verse 34. When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask Him any more questions.

It sounds good to us: "You're not far from the kingdom of God," but to this scribe it was kind of a blow. "Far?" The scribe thought he was "in" the kingdom of God because of their knowledge, their wisdom, what they knew of the law, but Jesus says, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." He was not far because he acknowledged that Jesus spoke the truth. He was not far because he knew that love was God's way.

I have heard the complaint that preachers speak too much about love. Jesus heard that complaint about Himself; in fact He was eventually crucified for it. The whole Bible hangs on the concept of love. The Bible is a commentary on the meaning of love. It hangs there simply by love. If we take love out, the law and the prophets and everything falls flat. If we interpret the Bible without adding in the context of love, the Bible is simply another book. "If ye love me, keep my commandments" is a common and recurring theme in both Testaments.

Turn to 1 Corinthians 13. You know this is a commentary on love. We read this at weddings, but it actually has more to do with Christian love. Beginning with verse 1. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Do you see the importance Scripture puts on love. Basically, it says that we can have all the spiritual gifts offered, but if we don't have love, we are just so much undesirable noise, and undesirable clamor to the ears.

Lets' look at Revelation 2:1-5. Here we find the letter to the church of Ephesus, a church that was doing very well except for one thing. "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

"Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love." Do you remember when you first fell in love with your spouse, those of you who are married? Do you remember what it was like? It seems like everything you did went around the thought of love for that person. Every action taken, that person was in your mind. Every act that you did you thought, "How will this affect the one that I love? But marriage sometimes tends to make one take each other for granted. And no longer am I thinking sometimes, "Well, how will that affect the one I love so much?" If you've lost that firs-love experience with your family, find it again! If you've lost that first love experience with Jesus Christ, find it again!

Look how hard the church of Ephesus was working. They were doing everything right, but, they had lost their first love and they were not going to make it into the kingdom until they had found it.

God desires more than anything that we will have love for Him and love for each other.

If we understand this, we are not far from the Kingdom. If we follow this, the Kingdom is in us. For that is where the King will be dwelling!

One day I rode my bicycle down to Green Acres looking for the usual rivalry. But as I rode into the subdivision there was nobody outside. I guess they were al inside fighting over the remote control or something. I rode around a couple times and saw a boy come out on his bicycle. He was a kid I had never seen before. Suddenly I felt lonesome. "I'm going to do this a bit differently." I looked at that boy and that boy looked at me. And I circled the subdivision again and I looked at him and he looked at me. And finally I said, "Who are you?" And he said, "Who are you?"

We exchanged names and I found out that he was a new student at Collegdale Academy. We became very close friends. A whole different approach. Not adversarial, but one that is reaching out. That's what God wants us to do. He wants us to reach out and claim the friendship that He has for us.

I hope that our love for God and for each other will be stronger this year than it has ever been before. After all, Jesus loved us first.

Opening Hymn: #12, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
Scripture: Mark 12:28-31
Closing Hymn: #190, Jesus Loves Me

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