Jesus: The Demonstrator of Love

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I praise our God that each of you is here for this installment of our series, “Who is Jesus Christ?” Over the past two months, we have seen several answers to this question. Who can remember what event we looked at last week in the life of Christ? Go ahead, shout it out. Yes, thank you, we looked at the Triumphal Entry. And the Triumphal Entry showed us how Jesus Christ is a great king, but how the people misunderstood what He had come to earth to do. We discovered that Jesus did not come to earth to establish a physical empire for His subjects. No, He created a spiritual empire in which all of His subjects would be blessed with eternal life. And this week, Jesus speaks to these same crowds about what is most important in life.

Have you ever met those guys that are in their forties, and all they can talk about is how they won the district championship their senior year of high school? As if, somehow, the defining moment of their lives was a victory more than twenty years ago. I really want to ask them what on earth they are living for. And that’s the question I ask you this morning. What is really important in your life? What inspires you to get up each morning? Maybe another way to view this question, “What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?” Do you want people to say, “I tell you what, that old boy sure could throw a pigskin?” Or, “She always drove the nicest cars, didn’t she?” This morning’s Bible passage tells the story of when a group of Pharisees approached Jesus and asked Him what the most important thing was in His life. And if Jesus comes out and says what His number one rule of life is, I think we would do well to pay very close attention. And so, if you are not already there, I invite you to turn to Matthew chapter twenty-two, and we will be reading verses thirty-four through forty. So again, Matthew 22:34-40.

“But when the Pharisees had heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Him a question, tempting Him, and saying, ‘Master, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus answered unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Let’s pray together.

This morning, the title of my sermon is, “Jesus: The Demonstrator of Love.” And this passage basically breaks down into three segments. The first segment is the introduction, where the stage is set for this epic question. The second segment is where Christ answers their question by saying what the most important commandment is, and then the third segment is where Jesus gives them a bonus answer by telling them His number two commandment. Sound good? All right then, let’s begin.

Let’s start off by seeing what is going on in verse thirty-four of our text. Verse thirty-four reads, “But when the Pharisees had heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.” In this verse, Jesus is approached by a group of Pharisees immediately after Jesus had successfully answered a question from the Sadducees. And this begs the question, “Who on earth are the Sadducees?” But before I can answer that question, you need to understand the political climate of first-century Israel. In Jesus’ day, there were at least six sects of people that were vying for the peoples’ loyalty. The closest parallel that we would have to these religious sects would be political parties. But instead of having two political parties that are constantly bickering back and forth, the Jewish people had at least six main groups of people that wanted their loyalty. There was one group that was essentially a guerilla army that wanted to dethrone the Roman people. There was also a group of people who were basically monks that lived in communities out in the desert. And then there were the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees were like the liberal Protestants of the New Testament world. I mean, sure, they liked the Bible and everything, but as soon as the Bible started talking about miracles, they would shy away. In fact, the Sadducees denied that miracles took place, and they especially denied the chief of miracles, resurrection from the dead. And in the passage immediately before the passage we are studying, Jesus successfully answers a sarcastic question from a group of Sadducees about resurrection from the dead.

And so that is the context of this verse. The Pharisees would have been extremely pleased that Jesus put the Sadducee party to shame, because the Pharisees did believe that people could be raised from the dead. And you know that old adage, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Well, that mentality lasted about two seconds with the Pharisees, because look what happened in verses thirty-five and thirty-six. “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Him a question, tempting Him, and saying, ‘Master, which is the great commandment in the law?’” So in this verse, the Pharisees sent forward a lawyer to ask Jesus a question. And just like today, a lawyer was an expert in the law. But unlike today’s lawyers, this lawyer was an expert in the Law of Moses. Most likely, this lawyer would have had the entire law of Moses committed to memory. And thinking that Jesus was just some carpenter from Nazareth, the Pharisees put forward their best lawyer, so that they could once and for all show that Jesus was not nearly as intelligent as they were. To the common people watching in the crowd that day, this probably would have seemed like a modern day David and Goliath. No doubt the people would have recognized this lawyer as a top authority in all things concerning the law. And when this lawyer approached Jesus and asked Him what the most important law was, everyone there knew that Jesus was being set up for a trap.

Because, you see, in those days, there was a major debate going on about what the most important law was. Some thought that the most important laws were the laws about cleanliness. Some thought that the most important laws were the ones about murder. And believe it or not, there were members of the Pharisees who believed that the most important law was the one that stated that they must wear cloaks with exactly four tassels on them. And so when they asked Jesus what the most important law was, they were trying to entangle Him in their endless debate about which of the laws were the most important. And just so you know, there are a lot of laws. And in the Law of Moses, there are two basic types of laws. There were the laws that told people what to do, and the laws that told people what not to do. And there were exactly 248 laws that told the people what to do, which was fascinating because by the Pharisees’ count, there were exactly 248 parts of the human body. And there were exactly 365 laws that told the people what not to do, which is interesting because there are 365 days in a year. So the Pharisees would attempt to do the 248 positive laws with all 248 members of their bodies, and avoid the 365 negative laws 365 days out of the year. And the two types of laws added up to 613 laws, which is the exact number of letters in the Ten Commandments in the Hebrew language. All of that to make the point that Jesus was being set up for a trap, and the Pharisees were eagerly anticipating how He would mess up with this question. But in the next verse, Jesus Christ says what He thinks is the number one greatest commandment in all the law.

Commandment #1

Look at what Jesus says in verses thirty-seven and thirty-eight of our text. “Jesus answered unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.’” While the Pharisees were expecting something about the kosher laws or the laws about cleanliness, our Savior cut to the heart of the matter by saying that the greatest law is to love God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your mind. Jesus pulled this law from Deuteronomy 6:5, which I’m going to read to you now. “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” And that passage that Jesus quoted from goes on to say that our entire lives need to revolve around keeping that commandment. That passage commanded the Israelites to hide that law in their hearts, and to teach it to their children night and day. Deuteronomy six says that we need to think about this law when we lie down at night and when we wake up in the morning. As a matter of fact, they even had to wear a copy of this law on their hands, and on their foreheads. Recently, Lydia and I were in a jewelry shop so that we could have her anniversary ring repolished. And as I was trying to listen to the jeweler explain the repolishing process; my attention was drawn to a Jewish man sitting behind me talking to another one of the jewelers. This Jewish man had a wrist watch that was made of very costly materials, and this watch had some Hebrew writing ornately engraved into it. And the jeweler asked what the writing said. And guess what, it was this exact same law from Deuteronomy chapter six! At least one Jewish person took the verse very seriously that said to bind this law upon his hand!

And even though Deuteronomy six makes it very clear how important this law was, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were so absorbed in all of their petty debates, that they had missed the big picture of what the law was all about! They couldn’t decide if they needed to focus more on the tassels on their cloak or on the way they prepared their dinners, when they were neglecting the fact that they needed to love God above all else! And while I do have some applications to draw from this, I want to keep moving for now, and talk about the second commandment that Jesus gave them. And so…

Commandment #2

For this commandment, let’s look at verse thirty-nine of Matthew chapter twenty-two. “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” I love how so often in the gospels, Jesus answers a question that the people didn’t ask. Notice that the Pharisees did not ask Jesus what the two greatest commandments were. No, they just asked Him for one. But Jesus knew that the Pharisees, and the crowds that were listening in, needed to hear His next words. Jesus says that the second most important commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our Savior was quoting from Leviticus 19:18, which reads: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.” And then our Savior caps it all off in verse forty by saying that “On these two commandments hang all of the law and the prophets.”

No doubt at this point, these Pharisees would have been absolutely astounded at Jesus. He basically said that all 613 laws, and all of the hundreds of pages written by the prophets could be summed up by saying that we need to love God with everything that we have, and then we need to love our neighbor as ourselves. And you may be saying that this sounds overly simplistic, but let’s apply this principle to the Ten Commandments. Who remembers what the first commandment is? That’s right, you shall have no other gods before me. Now, if you love God with all of your heart, you are not going to have other gods before Him. Let’s move down to number three. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. Jesus is asserting that if we truly love God, then we will not use His name in a way that dishonors Him. And think about numbers six through eight. You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal. I think you will agree that if we truly love other people, then we will not kill them, commit adultery with them, or steal from them. Love doesn’t do those things. While Moses gave many specifics in the law, Jesus is saying that the overarching principles in all of the commandments is that we must love God, and we must love our neighbors.

And this is where it gets down to the nitty gritty for us here this morning. What does it look like for us in the body of Christ to love God above all else, and to love our neighbors as ourselves? While I realize that this question is way too big to answer in one little sermon, I think that we can take a stab at it. What would it look like if you loved God more tomorrow than you did today? What would it look like if you truly loved Him with all of your heart, soul, and mind? I think if we are honest with ourselves, then we can admit that there are several aspects of our lives that would have to change. Because in John 14:15, Jesus says that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. In other words, Jesus says that love elicits obedience. Don’t you wish sometimes that this were simply not the case? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could simply say that we loved God, and that would forever settle the case? But Jesus knew that day, that when He said that we must love God with every fiber of our being, He was not giving us an easy task.

Because, church, love is not an emotion that we feel sometimes and then it goes away. No, true love is the driving force that causes us to do what is in the other party’s best interest, even if it means that we suffer in the process. And if you think about it, isn’t that how God loved us? For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life! God could have merely said that He loved the world, but instead He backed up that love with the best demonstration of love that the world has ever known. And while there are four distinct words in the Greek language that we translate as love, it is the same word for love in John 3:16 as it is in Matthew 22:37. Do you see the implication of this? We are to love God in the same way that He loved us! Now obviously, we can never love God as much as He loves us, but Christ challenges us to love God with the kind of love. A love that costs us something. Jesus did not seek to develop a religion of followers who would say that they loved God and then go out and act as if He does not exist!

And as far as the specifics of this sacrificial love go, to some degree it differs from person to person. For Jim Elliot and his coworkers, it meant going to a tribe in Ecuador to tell them about Christ, even though it meant losing their lives. For James Cash Penney (better known as J.C. Penney), it meant giving the church ninety percent of his annual income, because he didn’t need any more than that. For Patrick (better known as St. Patrick), it meant going back to Ireland, even though some of the men there had enslaved him as a boy. And what does it mean for you? What does God want you to do to show your unending love for Him?

But, as you are well aware, Jesus did not only tell us to love God with all of our hearts, did he? No, He told us to love our neig o9h g fd vv n bors as ourselves. And, to be honest, sometimes this second one is harder than the first! I mean, I can understand loving the God that loved me first; but loving the people that sometimes do us wrong, that’s a whole other matter. And yet, Jesus, in all of His wisdom, told the Pharisees that day that to truly honor God, they had to love other people. And church, I believe that we can say with certainty that we cannot truly love God, unless we love others as well. Because think about it, if Jesus said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments, and then the same Jesus told us that we must love other people, then we cannot truly love God unless we are willing to love others, as well.

And I think that maybe loving our neighbors is even harder in the year 2011 than it was when Christ walked on the earth. Every time you open the newspapers, you see another piece of evidence that shows how wicked our world has become. But, as Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan, our neighbors are not just the people that live within one block of us. No, our neighbors consist of everyone who lives on the same planet as us. And remember how I said that the same type of love mentioned in John 3:16 is the same kind of love mentioned in verse thirty seven? Well guess what, it’s the same kind of love mentioned in this verse, too! We in the church have been called to love every other human being with the same kind of love that Jesus Christ showed us on the cross.

What would it look like if we truly loved our neighbors as ourselves? It would look like not avoiding that stretch of sidewalk that that homeless man always frequents. It would mean making a batch of cookies for your neighbor that always scowls at you from his front porch. Loving our neighbors means praying that Osama bin Laden will be transformed by the power of the gospel and not blown away by a missile.

Church, we can say with absolute certainty that this kind of radical love is exactly what sets Christianity apart from every other religion. Christianity tells the story of a God who was not willing to let His people perish with no hope, so He loved the world enough to send His only Son to die in their place. And that Son, before He so willingly laid down His life, told the world that they needed to love God with all of their hearts, and love their neighbors as themselves. Wow! You know, Muslims do not love like that. When Muslims are wronged, as they were by that pastor in Florida, they proceed to kill anyone who they suspect to be a Christian. But as Christians, our love is supposed to be completely unchanged by what people do to us. And church, it is your love for God, and your love for the world that is going to change Weatherford, Texas. When someone is entirely rude to you, and you then try to bless them instead of curse them, you have been a more powerful witness for the gospel than any sermon is ever going to be to that person.

In these seven short verses, our Messiah set up a system of love that has proceeded to turn the world upside down. More hospitals, schools, rescue missions, and charities have been founded by believers trying to love God and love people than by any other segment of the population. And this simple message of love has been passed down through the millennia to us here this morning. Church, I urge you to love God with everything you have. And church, I urge you to demonstrate your love for God by loving those people around you. Earlier I asked you what your driving motivation in life was. I asked you what you wanted people to say about you at your funeral. I pray that you can say with certainty that everything you do in life is motivated by a love for God and a love for other people. And as your pastor, I pray that if you can say nothing else good about me, you can at least say with certainty that that man up there loves me. I pray that the love that God has so richly bestowed upon us would cause us to give ourselves entirely to Him, and entirely to His people. Just like the Pharisees were confounded by Jesus’ answer, the people of this world will be absolutely confounded when you love them when they don’t deserve it. And when you tell them that you love them because you love God, it will force them to take seriously the claims of the Bible.

But if you have never made Christ the Lord of your life, then simply saying you love God and love others is not going to amount to much. Because while God loves you immensely, His holiness demands that your sins be paid for. Because we have sinned, we deserve an eternal death in Hell. But by the grace of God, He sent Jesus Christ to earth so that He could pay the price of your sin for you. And in love, He has offered His free gift of salvation to all who would accept and follow Him. Being a Christian is not always easy. You have heard this morning about how being a Christian compels us to love the people that sometimes we would just rather hate. But becoming a Christian is the most worthwhile decision you will ever make, and you cannot truly know what love is until you have experienced first-hand the love of God in your life. So if you are here this morning, and you have been a Christian for years, yet your love for God and others is not what it should be, I invite you this morning to commit to God all of your heart, soul, and mind. And I encourage you to begin loving others just as much as you love yourself, because God will use your love for them to show them His love for them. And if you have never accepted Christ, I encourage you to do so today, before it is too late.

Let us pray.

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