The Greatest Commandment(s)

Well, what a sweet morning! This is our first Sunday morning gathering together as Table Rock Church. We are so thankful to God for this time and for you—our friends, family, and guests—for coming today. 

Introduction

I know one of the questions many people wonder is, “What will you do for your first sermon?” Because, you only get one first sermon. No pressure there! 

What the pastors decided was that we wanted to start this church plant by explaining and focusing on what makes us so excited about God that we desired to see yet another church in Boise. While we will usually go straight through books of the Bible and teach the issues that come up as we do that, this seemed like a unique season and a unique moment that required a special series. Today, we are going to focus on Matthew 22 and how that links to our mission as Table Rock Church. Then, over the next ten weeks we will focus on our nine priorities (one of them will take two weeks!) These priorities are concepts that, as we read scripture, we feel come up again and again, and we want to highlight as core to who we believe God is and who he has called Table Rock Church to be!

Connection

Really, we do this because we are constantly forgetful people. At the daily level, we forget things like our keys, our sunglasses, our books. We can’t remember that ‘one item’ that was missing from the refrigerator until we are standing back in front of it after getting back from the grocery store. On a larger scale, we forget what has happened to us in our lives—both the good and bad. Outside of some very large incidents, unless you are still younger than 20, you probably can’t remember many of the lessons you learned when you were 7. Those moments of sheer joy (or fear) at seeing a new bug, feeling the rush of a swing-set for the first time, or the wonder at how an airplane stays aloft in the sky. 

At the far end of this problem, we can begin to take life and people for granted. What should be awe inspiring and amazing, we find mundane. We are no longer thankful for, but rather expect, that our family should love us. We presume that our lungs will keep breathing properly, our legs move correctly, our brains function properly until one day, they don’t. 

One of the joys of preparing a sermon is all the unexpected ways it intrudes into your life while you are pondering a passage. I was putting some items in my truck in the parking lot and caught a glimpse of the skyline. And I thought to myself, “That is a nice sunset behind the mountains.” Then I remembered, the mountains I can see are in the east. I looked back up, and here was a wall of clouds, so black that they looked like mountains as the sun set behind them. A small flock of birds flew in front of it, and a contrail from a jet glinted bright white above them. 

We need moments where we are jolted and see something that has always been there for what it really is—awesome! That is what I pray we see here in Matthew 22 today.

Passage Introduction

Jesus has just been challenged by one of the religious groups—the Sadducees—regarding the resurrection. Now, another religious group, the Pharisees, are taking their shot. Look at what the text says here:

“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34–36)

Notice a couple of things here. This man was a lawyer. Don’t think about our version of a lawyer, as one who goes before the judge and argues for or against a motion or plaintiff. Rather, this was a man steeped in “the Law.” He knew his Old Testament. It has been said that the Pharisees had 613 laws they counted in the Old Testament, not counting all the other additional laws they added to that to “hedge” themselves from even getting close to breaking one. This was his area of expertise, and he wanted to see if he could “test,” and presumably fail, Jesus.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t shy away from this challenge. Some teachers and preachers try to present Jesus as the “anti-commandment,” as though his focus on grace and mercy means he did not like the commandments. But just previously, in Matthew 5 Jesus is recorded as saying this:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17 ESV)

Passage Main Point #1

And here, Jesus goes straight back to the law to answer this lawyer. Look at what he says:

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. This is the great and first commandment.” (Matthew 22:37)

If it wasn’t overly clear here, the beginning to Mark’s account of this exchange makes it crystal clear:

“‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Mark 12:29–30 ESV)

Any Jewish person, upon hearing this phrase, would know exactly where Jesus was quoting from—Deuteronomy 6. If you walk today in Jerusalem near the western wall, you can still hear them saying this, “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai ehad.”

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5 ESV)

If any statement should shock us awake, this one should! There are two amazing statements here. 

First is the claim that God is “one.” This isn’t just a statement or monotheism—that God is truly only one existing in three persons—though that is included here. This is all about God’s singularness. In the scope of all heaven and earth, time eternal past and future, the reality isn’t that God’s throne is the largest when compared to other gods, nor that he is just the most important, most powerful, the most revered. God alone is on the throne. And as we survey the scene around him, there is none other! As though on an island of holiness with, as Revelation describes it, with a sea of glass extending out from him (Revelation 4:6; Revelation 15:2). When we behold our God, nothing else should be in our view. None can compare to God!

Second, because this is our God, we are commanded to love him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. And even though the New Testament uses the word “mind”, I really like the Hebraism in Deuteronomy 6—“and with all your might.'' The idea behind the word “might” is veryness. When we realize who this God is that we are serving, he doesn’t just demand part of us. We are to respond with our very nature—everything we are. I think that is what the phrase of heart, soul, and mind is trying to convey.

We could spend weeks of sermons just on this. What I think will help us this morning is to realize how these two statements confront two main objections believers and unbelievers have with God. 

For the unbeliever, a common objection to God is that he commands their love. “Who is God,” they rail, “That he should command me to love him? Shouldn’t that happen without him demanding it? Isn’t that narcissistic of him?” (Sometimes we even struggle with this as believers.) But what else could God do? As we look at Scripture we find again and again that God is working all things for his own glory. Look at this list:

  • God’s glory is revealed through creation (Genesis 1; Psalm 19:1–2; Romans 1:18–25).

  • God’s glory is identified with humans’ being created in the image of God, crowned with glory (Genesis 1–2; Psalm 8:3–5; 1 Corinthians 11:7).

  • God’s glory is linked to the exodus (Exodus 3; 13:31; 16:10; 24:9–18; 34:29).

  • God’s glory is linked to fire/bright light/shining (Exodus 3; 13:31; 16:10; 24:9–18; 34:29; Leviticus 9:23; Isaiah 60:1–3; 60:19; Ezekial 1:28; 10:4; 43:2; Luke 2:9; 2 Corinthians 3:7; 4:4–6; Hebrews 1:3; Revelation 18:1; 21:11, 23).

  • God’s glory is linked to a cloud (Exodus 16:7, 10; 24:16; 40:34; Leviticus 9:6, 23; Numbers 14:21; 16:19, 42; 20:6; Deuteronomy 5:22–24; 1 Kings 8:10; 2 Chronicles 5:14; Luke 9:26–36; Acts 1:8–11).

  • God’s glory is linked to the Sabbath (Exodus 19, 24).

  • God’s glory was manifested to Moses (Exodus 33:18–23), when Moses described his experience of God’s glory in something resembling physical form.

  • God’s glory fills the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34; cross reference Leviticus 9:6, 23; Numbers 14:21; 16:19, 42; 20:6).

  • God’s glory fills the earth (Numbers 14:20–23; Psalm 19:1–2; Isaiah 6:3).

  • God’s glory fills the temple (1 Kings 8:11).

  • God’s glory is above the heavens (Psalm 8:1; 113:4: “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!”).

  • God’s glory is revealed in a vision to Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1–5).

  • God’s glory is revealed in a vision to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:28; 3:12, 23; 8:4; 9:3; 10:4, 18; 11:22).

  • God’s glory is identified with his people, Israel (Isaiah 40:5; 43:6–7; 60:1).

  • God’s glory is identified with the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 4:14; cross reference John 16:14; Ephesians 1:13–14).

  • God’s glory is identified with the church (Ephesians 1:22–23; 3:20–21; 5:22–29).

  • God’s glory is manifested in the new creation (Isaiah 66; Romans 8:18–27; Revelation 21–22).

And that is just a small sampling. God is all about his glory because what else could the person who defines love, goodness, and holiness do but point to himself in all things? That is the most loving thing he could do. And before I complete that thought, let’s bring in the second main objection that this section confronts.

We often want to admit that we surely love God, but does he really require us to love him all the time, in every way, completely? Certainly, before we were saved nothing we did honored nor glorified him. All our actions proved we did not believe that God deserved our adoration and affection. Yet we find, even as believers, that we often set-up small idols in our hearts that we serve before our God, who deserves everything. That sea of glass before the holy throne of God quickly gets filled up with small little thrones. One for TV. One for “my time.” One for McDonalds. We find that even as those who love God and put our faith fully in Jesus Christ, we struggle. We all, believers and unbelievers, prove God true when he says:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 ESV)

Even exemplary brothers like Paul say, 

“What I want to do I don’t do, what I don’t want to do I do.” (Romans 7:15–20). 

This side of heaven, not even believers experience total victory over sin.

What we all have to come to find—believer and unbeliever—is that the answer to these two objections are summed up in Jesus Christ. Praise God that Romans 3:23 doesn’t stop there:

“and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:24–26 ESV)

God doesn’t demand we worship and love him as a God who sits at a distance from us, unengaged, uninvolved. God himself entered into our problem with us. Jesus Christ lived a righteous life on our behalf because we couldn’t do it. He died our sinner’s death upon the cross. He rose again in power, defeating sin AND death, and now reigns at the right hand of the father. Hebrews 1 says it this way:

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1:3–4 ESV)

Jesus doesn’t point to Deuteronomy 6 just to answer the question the “right” way. This is the holy requirement of God. For the unbeliever, it is meant to affirm the reality we all know, which is that we don’t meet God’s requirements. It’s an opportunity to see that God himself has revealed a way in Jesus Christ. And for the believer who has already taken that decisive step of faith, Jesus remains the only hope we have at a life that is continually growing as his Spirit works in our life. 

This is the beauty of who God is and what he has revealed to us in Scripture. God hasn’t left us with just clouds and grass, butterflies and bees. He himself has drawn near to us! Only in Jesus have our eyes been opened and our hearts changed so that we truly want to love God! Only in Jesus can we say with the Psalmist:

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1 ESV)

In just this first statement, we see that we both have to see God rightly—see him as the one to whom all glory is due—and we have to have our affections changed so that everything about us rightly aligns with that truth. And we thank God for Jesus! He is our answer as we come to faith and back into relationship with God the first time, and he is what we need every day as we realize the weakness of our flesh. 

Passage Main Point #2

The second statement by Jesus pushes us further on how much this wonderful view of God should affect our lives. Look at the second statement Jesus makes:

“And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

Jesus appears to be quoting Leviticus 19:

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18 ESV)

Yet, if you have been around preachers, teachers, or churches long, you undoubtedly will think of one particular story: the parable of the Good Samaritan. This story is so ingrained in our culture that we use it colloquially. You remember this story. A man is robbed and left beaten and dying on the road. Many pass him by, including religious people of Israel, until a Samaritan, the one no one expected to do something good, stops and cares for him. 

This story is often used to discuss who your neighbor is. Who the person is that you are supposed to look out for and care for. But that is interesting given the context of the passage. The man who comes questioning Jesus says this:

“But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”” (Luke 10:29 ESV)

The point of the story is that your neighbor is whoever God puts into your path, literally in the case of everyone in the parable. That part of the question isn’t difficult. Usually, when we are asking that question, "Who is my neighbor?” we are trying to act like the man in Luke 10 and want to justify ourselves. We want to feel better that we are not responsible for anyone other than the ones we believe we have already helped. 

It’s not wrong to think of all the people we have never considered may be our neighbors. However, look at Jesus’s main question after this parable:

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”” (Luke 10:36–37 ESV)

When we finish wondering who our neighbor is, the real question is, “Who are you?” 

Being a good neighbor definitely has practical out-workings. We go over to someone’s house and help them with yard chores after a surgery or injury. We bring them food after having a new baby. As someone who is young, we help a friend out on the playground when we see them having a hard time. We have compassion on a person struggling to find a home, a job, or food.

Loving our neighbor is never less than these things, but it is much more. It has a much deeper expression than only that. I find this at work in myself often. If I see something truly interesting in the news, I might put it on Facebook or text the link to some friends. If I see a guy in a motorcycle helmet that looks like a panda, I immediately think of my friend Dan and send it to him. I’ve even seen friends of mine tweet and Facebook good coupons. Yet, we are so reluctant to share with our friends and family and coworkers about the amazing God of everything who has met our needs and returned us to a relationship with him through Jesus Christ! What good is it if we help someone find a home or job, or keep their lawn mowed, or eat well amidst new babies, if they never hear of our joy in having saving faith in God through Jesus Christ?

That is why the bigger question when we think about loving our neighbor well is not identifying who the neighbor is, but rather who you are. If you are one enamored by God and what he has done in your life, you will find it inescapable to tell others about that love. You will want them to have what you have, to experience that amazing joy you have in Jesus Christ. 

You and I have the privilege of being a part of God’s great missional work on this earth. I get spend all next Sunday talking about that—our Spreading mandate—so I won’t belabor it here. But it is a sweet thing that God uses us, frail and sinful people, to spread the news of his love for us throughout the entire earth. As the Holy Spirit works in your life, as you find yourself loving God more and more, as he removes the idols of your heart and you cast your gaze increasingly more on him alone, he allows others to see that love and joy and for you to tell them about it. 

Conclusion

In Mark 12 we have a recorded response of the lawyer (or at least someone else who asked the exact same question). He says:

“You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”” (Mark 12:32–33 ESV)

What God is working in us is a heart that loves him with everything and overflows in love for our neighbor—especially as we share with them our love for God and our salvation in Jesus Christ. 

We love that Scripture reminds us of these aspects of our faith. Perhaps you came here this morning, or are even sitting there right now, feeling guilty at this reminder. This is not meant to be guilt inducing, but love awakening! Praise God that he throws reminders in front of us that reawaken our hearts to our love for him! 

And as the forgetful people that we are, we want to try to keep these truths in front of us. So, we put it into a statement—a phrase that we use to remind us who we are in God and our passion to see this statement in Matthew 22 lived out. So here at Table Rock Church, our mission statement is this:

We exist to spread a passion for the glory of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.

Do you see all the themes from this morning wrapped up in there? How loving God with all our heart, soul, and might is a passion for his glory? How we want that to overflow in spreading that joy in all things to all people? And that this is only possible through Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we take part in this process?

When we gather on Sunday mornings, this is one of our major goals—to remind and encourage ourselves of these truths. Whether it is through congregational singing, prayers, or the preaching of the word, we want to be reminded of who our God is and his amazing love for us in Jesus Christ. And then we pray that would overflow into our lives and our love for others.