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A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES
Intro: As Jesus moves closer to the cross, He finds Himself under attack by certain religious Jews who want to see Him dead. The Pharisees and the Herodians, two groups who were bitter enemies, came together to ask Jesus a question about ownership. They failed to accomplish their purpose, but Jesus used the occasion to embarras them publically, v. 13-17.
When the Sadducees saw that their enemies had failed to trap Jesus in His words, they came to the Lord with a theological puzzle. They believed they could embarrass Him by asking Him to answer a difficult theological question. He did not fall for their trap either. He exposed their hypocrisy, and they too were publically embarrassed, v. 18-27.
While Jesus was speaking with the Sadducees, a man was listening in on their conversation. The man was a Pharisee, and he was a scribe, Matt. 22:35. This scribe was amazed by the answer Jesus gave to the Sadducees and he had a question on his mind that he wanted to ask the Lord.
This man’s motives do not seem to be evil. He seems to be seeking information. Matthew tells us that he came “tempting Jesus. This word can refer to one person seeking to test another in a malicious sense, or it can be used to speak of finding out what another person thinks about a matter.
In this encounter, Jesus is asked a very important question. His answer to that question gets right to the heart of what it means to be saved and what it means to worship. What Jesus had to say to this man has much to say to us today.
I want to take these verses and preach for a while about A Question Of Priorities. The truths in these verses teach us how God expects us to live our lives, both vertically and horizontally. These verses teach us how we are to respond to God above and to our fellow humans all around us.
Let’s take a few minutes to consider A Question Of Priorities. Let the Lord speak to your heart today and let Him show you something about the priorities in your own life.
I. v. 28 THE QUESTION ASKED
· As Jesus spoke with the Sadducees, a man was listening. We are told that he was a “scribe. This means that he specialized in interpreting the Law. When the Bible speaks of Lawyers, this is the profession it is referring to.
This man listened as Jesus answered the question of the Sadducees. In this man’s opinion, Jesus “answered them well. The word well means beautiful; complete. Jesus answered the Sadducees and had left them no wiggle room. Jesus had totally shut them down.
· This man now asks his own question. He wants to know “Which is the first commandment of all? This was a common area of discussion between religious Jews.
The Jewish scribes and rabbis had identified 613 commands in the Law. 248 of these were viewed as being positive in nature, while 365 were viewed as negative. These commands were then subdivided into two groups: heavy and light. The problem was, the scribes could not agree on which commands were heavy, or more binding, and which were light, or less binding.
The scribes loved to debate the Law. They were constantly trying to figure out which command was the most important. Besides this, they spent considerable time trying to come up with clever, one sentence summaries of the Law.
· Having heard Jesus answer the Sadducees so well, this man thinks that perhaps Jesus can settle this debate for them. He wants Jesus’ opinion about which was the greatest of all the commandments.
(Note: People still try to play with the Word of God. They love to argue about the Bible. They love to devise riddles and puzzles based on the Bible. They try to figure out what they can and can’t get away with according to the Bible. People are always looking for a loophole. In these verses, Jesus is going to tell us how to honor the whole Law.
Before we talk about that, however, I think we need to be reminded of a very important truth. The only way anyone will ever see God is to perfectly keep every command, both positive and negative, in the Law. One slip, one broken commandment, and we are as guilty in God’s eyes as if we had broken every Law of God, James 2:10; Gal. 3:10. Jesus said that we have to be more righteous than the cleanest most religious men living if we want to go to Heaven, Matt. 5:20.
The truth is, we are all guilty in the eyes of God, Rom. 3:10-23; Rom. 5:12. We are not good and we cannot produce anything good, Isa. 64:6; Rom. 3:12. The only hope we have of being accepted by God is for His perfect righteousness to be given to us. When we come to Jesus by faith, we are given the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, Rom. 4:24-25. When we believe on Jesus, we are regarded by God as having kept the full letter of the Law. He sees us as righteous, Rom. 10:4, even though we are still sinners.
How is this possible? Jesus, living as a man, perfectly kept the Law of God. When He died, He died as an innocent man dying for guilty sinners, 2 Cor. 5:21. Those who trust Him by faith are given His righteousness. They are treated by God as though they are Jesus Himself, and as though they had perfectly kept the Law.
Jesus is the only hope a sinner has! Without Him, you will remain guilty and you will go to Hell. With Him, your sins will be forgiven and you will be saved. Salvation is not a matter of who can keep the Law. Salvation is simply a matter of who believes upon Jesus, John 14:6; 1 John 5:12.)
II. v. 29-31 THE QUESTION
· Jesus responds to this man’s question by first quoting the “Shema. The Shema was quoted by all religious Jews every morning and evening. It still is! The Shema was written on small strips of paper and placed in leather boxes called Phylacteries.
These leather boxes were worn on the forearms and on the foreheads, Matt. 23:6. This was an effort to literally fulfill the command of Deut. 6:8, where the Lord said, “And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. Orthodox Jews around the world still use these phylacteries.
The Shema was also written down and placed in a small round box called a “Mezuzah and placed on all the doors in the home. This served to remind the Jews of God in their going out and coming in. Most orthodox Jews still use the Mezuzah today. This is an effort to fulfill the command of Deut 6:9, where the Lord said, “And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
· The Shema can be found in Deut 6:4-9; 11:13-21 and Num. 15:37-41. It always began with an affirmation of the existence of God and of a reminder that He alone is God. Thus, Jesus began in the traditional way by saying, “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord. Then Jesus took all 613 commands in the Law and condensed them into two commandments.
· Let’s take verses 30 and 31 and our Lord’s powerful answer phrase by phrase.
Ψ Thou shalt love This is agape love. It refers to love that is intelligent, purposeful, and committed.” It is love that “is an act of the will.” It is more than “phileo with is merely emotional love and tender affection.” It is far more than “eros, which is sensual, physical love.
Agape speaks of the kind of love God has for us. It is unconditional, perfect, eternal and changeless. It is utterly unselfish. It is love that gives itself away with the expectation of nothing in return. This is the kind of love that caused Jesus to go to the cross to give Himself for us, Rom. 5:8. In other words, we are to love Him like He loves us! This love is possible, but only because He loved us first, 1 John 4:19.
Ψ The Lord This is the word kurios. It speaks of one who owns another; a master. We cannot truly love the Lord until we see Him as Lord. We do not truly love Him until we have surrendered all to Him and acknowledged that He is our Master and we are His slaves. This is a call for a life of absolute submission and surrender, Rom. 12:1; Matt. 16:24.
Ψ Thy God This phrase speaks of being in a saving relationship with God Almighty. He is not thy God until you have surrendered to Him and believed the Gospel for your salvation.
Is He your God today? It is not enough for Him to be your father’s God or your mother’s God. He must be your God. You cannot love Him until you know Him personally.
Ψ With all thy heart The word heart refers to the core of our physical beings. The very core of your being should throb with love for the Lord. When we love Him with all our heart, loving Him in all the other areas of our lives will be no problem, Pro. 4:23.
Ψ With all thy soul The word soul refers to the seat of the emotions and the will. Our love for Him should be an emotional love. That is, we should not be ashamed to express our love with the emotions. Shouting, crying, testifying, etc. are all emotional manifestations of our love for the Lord.
The will should also be involved. That is, loving the Lord is a decision we make within the will. After we have experienced His love, we are capable of loving Him in return. Love for the Lord is a decision we make! We either choose to love Him with all our souls, or we choose to hold back our love from Him!
Ψ With all thy mind The word mind refers to the intellect.” As we understand Who God is, as He revealed in His Word, we respond to that truth by focusing the power of the intellect to worship Him and to love Him.
Ψ With all thy strength The word strength speaks of our might, our power and our abilities. Every ability, every gift, every talent, every strength is to be mobilized to love the Lord.
(Note: The idea presented here is that we are to love God with the entirety of our beings. The Lord has given us perfect, complete love. He loves us with all He has. We are to love Him the same way.
When the Lord possesses a person, He also possesses all that person has. We are to use every fiber and molecule of our being for His glory. This is what it means to love Him! The image is made clear in Psalm 42:1-2.
The Jews quoted the Shema twice a day. They thought they were expressing their love for the Lord. For most of them it was merely an empty ritual. Much like church is for many people.
The person who truly loves the Lord is the person who fully trusts God and obeys the Lord in every area of his or her life. It is the idea of total commitment and total surrender. This is genuine love for the Lord. Do you have it?)
Ψ This is the first commandment Loving the Lord like we should is the primary commandment of the Law. If we can keep this commandment, we will have no problem with the rest!
Ψ And the second is like The second commandment builds on the first. The scribe had not asked about anything beyond the first commandment. Jesus goes a step farther to teach us the truth that genuine love for God also manifests itself in perfect love for ones fellow man.
Ψ Thou shalt love Here is that word agape again. I am to love others with the same kind of love with which God has loved me. I am to love them unconditionally, perfectly, eternally and with purity.
Ψ Thy neighbor Who is my neighbor? Jesus answered this question in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:30-37. My neighbor is not just the person who is my friend. He is not just the person who looks like me or who runs in my circles. According to Jesus, my neighbor is anyone who wears a suit of skin.
Ψ As thyself Everyone in this room loves themselves! When self is hungry we find it something to eat. When self is thirsty, we find it something to drink. When self gets sick, we get self some medical treatment. In other words, we always seek to meet the needs that pertain to self.
We are to love those around us with the same kind of love. This does not mean that we love them with a mere sentimental or emotional love. No, we are to love them with a love that actively seeks their good. We are to do more than talk about love, we are to demonstrate genuine love to those who live around us, James 2:16; 1 John 3:17-18.
This kind of love is seen in the Lord Jesus, Who willingly gave Himself for us, Rom. 5:8; 2 Cor. 8:9. This love is explained for us in 1 Cor. 13:1-8a.
If we loved like this, there would be no problems in the church, the home or the community! Love would solve the problems and meet the needs that exist all around us.
Ψ There is none other commandment greater than these Jesus was the first man to put these two commandments together to give a summary of the Law. If we loved God like He commanded us to, we would never break the first four of the Ten Commandments. If we loved our neighbor as we should, we would never break the other six commandments.
In Matthew 22:41, Jesus stated that the whole Old Testament could be summarized in these two commands. We need to stop trying to please God by our self-righteous deeds and by our religious works. We need to learn to love Him with all the heart, soul mind and strength and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Getting those two things right would change our churches, our homes, our communities and our world.
When all the veneer is ripped away, all of our problems and our sins can be traced to a lack of genuine love for God and for our fellow man. The question we face is what are we going to do about it? Are we going to continue as we are, or are we going to come before the Lord and seek His help to love like we are commanded to love?
III. v. 32-34 THE QUESTION
· When this scribe hears the Lord’s answer, his response is to say, “Well! This word means beautiful. He is saying, Yes! That is a beautiful answer! There is one God and to love Him perfectly and to love others perfectly is far more important than all the religious rituals in the world.
· This scribe had come to understand that the Law of God was more than a religious system to follow. He had come to understand that it was essentially spiritual. He understood that the Law existed to draw man to a faith relationship with God, Gal. 3:24.
· This man had come to understand a truth that eludes most people. He grasped the truth that God is not reached through empty worship and external rituals. God is a Spirit and He is only approached by a heart that is filled with love for Him.
That kind of love for God is only possible because God first reaches out to us, 1 John 4:19. When His love touches us and draws us to Him, we are able to return that love and we are able to live out that love in obedience to God and in service to others.
· Here is what we need to understand. This scribe grasped the truth that external religion and its rituals will never be enough to save the soul. He understood that relationship is far more important than religion. He knew that he could keep all the Law and offer all the sacrifices and still not be right with God.
Most folks never understand that truth. All over the world people will go to church and go through their rituals and think they are in a saving relationship with God. In truth, they are lost and on their way to Hell!
Religious works will not save the soul, Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5. It is grace that saves the soul! A person can go through all the things we place so much emphasis in like baptism, church membership, communion, and still die lost. It is not enough to be religious or to do religious things. For a sinner to be saved, that sinner must have vital faith relationship with Almighty God.
How is this possible? It can only happen because God makes the first move. The sinner is “dead in trespasses and sin, Eph. 2:1. He cannot feel God, desire God, know God or get to God.
Somehow, somewhere, that sinner comes under the preaching of the Gospel, 1 Cor. 1:21; Rom. 10:13-17. God comes to that sinner and convicts him of his sins, John 16:7-11. When God quickens the dead sinners spirit and shows him his condition, God draws that sinner to Himself, John 6:44; 65. When God calls, the sinner is given faith to believe the Gospel, Eph. 2:8. That faith reacts in the heart of the newly awakened sinner and he comes to Jesus for salvation, John 6:37.
Genuine biblical salvation is the work of God from start to finish. It is a spiritual work from start to finish. It is not about ritual or religion. It is about simple faith in the Gospel of grace. Have you believed the Gospel? Are you saved?
· Jesus hears the response of this scribe and he sees that this man is one who refuses to speak to party line. Here is a man who can think for himself. Here is a man who is beginning to understand that knowing God is not about ritual, it is about relationship.
· Then, Jesus looks at him and says, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is saying, You are close, but you are not quite there! What does Jesus mean?
· What He means is that this man was close, but he still had a ways to go. He was standing at the door of salvation and was looking in on the things of God, but he had yet to take the step of faith that would guarantee his salvation.
· We need to understand the implications of this statement. Jesus was speaking to a decent man. Jesus was speaking to a religious man. He was speaking to a man who kept the Law to the best of his ability. Jesus was speaking to a man who probably lived a cleaner life than any person in this room today. Here is what we need to know.
Ψ It is possible for a person to have a religious upbringing and still be lost.
Ψ It is possible to know the truth and still be lost.
Ψ It is possible to have heard the Gospel preached all you life and still be resting on your own goodness and good works.
Ψ It is possible to be Gospel hardened and to seal your own damnation while sitting on a church pew.
Ψ It is possible to be within an inch of Heaven and still die and go to Hell.
· Does this message find any of you in that condition? You have been around the things of God, but you have never been saved. You have done all the things people told you to do, but you have never really trusted Jesus for salvation. You need to deal with that today. It is dangerous to delay for even one more minute!
If you know that you have never truly trusted Jesus to save your soul, you need to come to Him by faith today. You need to repent of your sins, believe the Gospel and be born again. It would be a shame to die and go to Hell from the church pew.
That is exactly what will happen to some otherwise decent people! They are close, but they are lost. They have looked into the door of salvation for years, but they have never stepped inside. They are only inches from Heaven, but they are still headed to Hell. Don’t let that happen to you!
Conc: How is your relationship with God? If it is all it should be, you love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and you love others as you love yourself. Is that true about you? Or do you need to make improvements in that area of your life?
Are you saved today? Or, are you religious but lost? If you have never truly trusted Jesus for salvation, I invite you to come to Him and receive Him by faith. If you will come, at His call, He will not turn you away. Regardless of your age, your sins, or your past, He will receive you, forgive you and save you if you will come to Him.
I don’t know your heart, but I know you need Jesus. If He has spoken to you on any level today, please do business with Him today.