DUNCAN/The great commandment
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 22:34-40. In this passage we will see Jesus’ enemies coming to Him again trying to trap Him. Even with His enemies trying to trap Him, Jesus takes opportunity in His response to instruct His people and to encourage us in the truth, teaching us about the foremost duties of life and teaching us about the proper biblical relationship between love and law. I’d like to look at that glorious subject with you in this passage in three points today. First, we will see the Pharisees attempt to tempt Jesus. Second, we will look at the lawyer’s question. Third, we will see Jesus’ question.
I. The Pharisees Attempt to Tempt Jesus
In verse 34 Matthew makes it very clear to us that the purpose of the Pharisees was to trap Jesus. They wanted Him to give a wrong answer in order to alienate Him from the crowds or in order to accuse Him of false teaching. In spite of the fact that Jesus had just put to silence their arch rivals, the Sadducees. The Pharisees aren’t pleased by that at all. In fact, the Pharisees are immediately conspiring against the lord Jesus Christ. They want to undermine Him. His testimony. His witness meant nothing to them. He had just upheld the precious doctrine of the resurrection of the body from the dead, and they didn’t care. All they cared about was that the people would follow after Him and they didn’t want that to happen and so they seek to undermine Him.
That’s a warning to us. When we see the truth upheld by someone who is not of our party, we should not despise them and envy them, and harbor malice like the Pharisees. That’s the heart of a Pharisee. To envy. To be malicious towards those who uphold the truth even if they are not part of us. And so again, we see that Jesus’ conduct and His claims and His teaching and His testimony have no immediate saving impact on these Pharisees. Jesus’ testimony is clear as day and they don’t get it. They’re hearts aren’t changed. And there is a monumental message in that for us. Bear this in mind when you are praying for, and witnessing to, friends who are hardened about the gospel. God alone changes hearts. When we are praying for and witnessing to those who do not respond to the gospel, let’s remember that even Christ’s witness was rejected. But Christ’s witness was not in vain and God alone changes hearts. That’s the first thing I’d like you to see as we look at this passage together.
II. The Lawyer’s Question
There’s another thing I’d like you to see if you’d look at verse 36. In verse 36 we see the testing question which this young lawyer asks of Jesus. It’s a question of great importance. It’s a question much more significant than the silly question that the Sadducees had asked. The Sadducees had asked a question about the resurrection because they wanted to make fun of Jesus and they wanted to make fun of His belief in the resurrection and they wanted to make fun of the doctrine of the resurrection. But this was a serious question. It was a question about what our greatest duty is in life. What is the supreme obligation in our life? That’s a question worth meditating on. Whatever the sinful attitude of the Pharisees was, when they asked this question, this question prompts us to ask, do we reverently reflect on what our supreme duty is to God? Do we meditate on His word? Is it the authority of our lives? Do we delight in that word? Do we examine ourselves by that word? This question, what is the greatest commandment, presses that issue on all of us.
And Jesus basically responds: “Love God and love your neighbor.” But we learn something else from verses 37- 40. Jesus shows us here implicitly that love to God and love to neighbor flow from God’s love to us in Christ. You can’t love God or love neighbor Christianly unless you have experienced the love and the grace of God yourself. Jesus makes that implicitly clear. Here Jesus goes immediately to Deuteronomy 6:5, and He quotes the second part of the Sh’ma. The Sh’ma is just the first word of that confession which means hear. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God. The Lord is one.” He quotes the second half of that: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” That thing which is so important to the Jews that it was recited twice daily. And it’s very important to note that in answer to this question, Jesus does not set love over against the law. He does not say, “You know, the problem with you Pharisees is that you spend too much time thinking about the law. You’re legalistic. You think about the law all the time.” No, Jesus doesn’t say that. Isn’t it brilliant how Jesus doesn’t oppose love and law nor does he confuse love and law. Jesus doesn’t say the law is love. And he doesn’t say that love is law. They are distinct. But in the Christian, they work together. The law is the rails. It’s the guideline. Love is the energy which drives the train on the rails. Law without love cannot be kept, because the whole purpose of the law is that love might be guided in its expression. Let me put it this way: the function of law is to guide our practical expression of our love. Love to God. Love to neighbor. And so, love needs law and the law needs love in the Christian.
III. Jesus’ Question
And so, after having called attention to which command was the greatest, Jesus would go on to ask these men a question himself. If you look down in Matthew 22, you’ll see it. “What do you think about the Christ?” That’s the very next question that comes from Jesus’ mouth. What’s He telling them? Is Jesus saying to these men, “You know, your question, ‘What is the first commandment?’ Is a good question. Let Me ask you a better one. ‘How are you going to keep the first commandment? And the second one? And the third one?’” The real question is, “How in the world do you do that?” And there’s only one answer. Christ. The most important question about the law is not what it is, but how do you keep it? John tells us in 1 John 4:19. “We love Him because He first loved us.” Love to God is enabled only by God’s prior love for us. If you would love God, you’ve got to know His Son. And you’ve got to know His love through His Son. Believe on Him today.