SCRIPTURE: Matthew 22: 34 – 46
When Pastor Jose asked me to share the message with you this week, he sent me the reading from the liturgical schedule, and after reading it, I actually became pretty excited about what I was reading. So I went back and reread all of chapters 21, 22, and 23, as a way of reminding me of the environment in which Jesus presented these teachings which, in essence, make up the heart and soul of His Gospel. I encourage you to go back and read all three of these chapters together in one sitting because Jesus is giving some of His best stuff here, all while He’s embroiled in this conflict with these Jewish leaders.
What’s happening in these chapters is: Jesus is now in His last week of ministry before He’s to be crucified. He has already ridden into Jerusalem on the donkey and now goes into the temple where He finds Himself being put to the test by just about everybody who counts himself as part of the ‘religious establishment’ in Jerusalem at that time.
He’s being questioned by the scribes, the priests, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians. And His interrogators (and that’s what they are: they’re not being friendly, they’re being hostile; they’re not seeking any spiritual truths here) have been trying in vain to trip Him up with their questions so that they can level some kind of charges of insurrection against Him. And this has culminated to a point now where, in our scripture reading from this morning, an attorney is asking Him what will turn out to be His third and final question from them. And my interest in sharing this scripture and its message with you this morning centers around the question this scribe asked, the answer Jesus gave him, and how and where Jesus moved the conversation at the end of this encounter between Jesus and the religious elite at the temple. Because the considerations that are presented in this give and take between Jesus and this lawyer are, in essence, the standards by which every Christian must live when making the decision to answer the call from God to believe in and accept Jesus Christ as God’s Son, as our Lord, and as our Savior.
In considering the question put to Jesus in these passages, we should first consider who is asking the question: an attorney. This attorney asks Jesus, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36 CEB). Now, according to the Chronological Life Application Study Bible, the Pharisees classified over 600 laws, and they would often try to distinguish between what they felt were the more important ones from the less important (1441). And I believe this attorney was hoping that Jesus would choose a law that He felt was important, so the attorney could counter with a law that he could say he felt was more important, and that would lead to a long, drawn-out argument where the attorney hoped that Jesus would somehow incriminate Himself, and then charges could be brought against Him. Even though the attorney’s question might seem to be rather benign, it was his intent that was hostile.
But Jesus was able to turn his question of bad intent into a good question because of how He answered the question. His answer left the attorney no room to weasel his way into a meaningless argument.
Jesus quoted from Deut (6:5) when He answered that the greatest commandment is that we are to love God with all of our heart, with all of our being, and with all of our mind (Matt 22:37 CEB). From my perspective, the question was being asked by someone who was more eager to discuss ‘law’ or ‘religion’ than to discern the true meaning behind the law or the intent of the One who gave the law. And I think Jesus understood that this was what was going on. So Jesus’ answer was that it’s of the greatest importance that we love our creator, God. A simple answer that I think the attorney might have even expected.
But then, Jesus quickly followed up His answer with a second part that I think was unexpected when He said that “you must (also) love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matt 22:39 CEB). Jesus was saying here that loving God with every fiber of our being, with all of our heart and soul and mind, was the first and greatest commandment, but that there’s a second commandment that’s just as great and just as important, and that’s to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
I believe the reason He did this is because He is teaching these guys that the way God’s chosen people show their love for God, is in the way they express their love for one another! Jesus surprised these guys by tying these two commandments together. And these were the religious leaders: the very ones who should’ve already known this and should’ve been teaching this to God’s chosen people!
Jesus was telling them that no matter how religious they were, no matter how closely they followed the law, it was all meaningless if they weren’t doing it out of love for God. He knew that there were too many in this group who were following the law for nothing more than just the law’s sake. They had completely missed the point that God’s Law is a Law of Love. They made the law about rules… and regulations… and traditions. God’s intent was that the Law was to be about LOVE: our love for Him and our love for each other.
To better understand the depth of what Jesus is saying here, it might be a good idea for us to define what love is, according to the Word of God. In our world today, we spend a great deal of time and resources doing research and conducting experiments, trying to figure out what love is. The problem is that we too often fail to go to the SOURCE!!
To get to what I believe is one of the best definitions of love, let’s turn to the apostle, Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (13: 4 – 8a NKJV) and see how he describes love, where he writes, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth; bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
It’s interesting to note here that Paul writes as much about what love doesn’t do as he writes about what love does do. But what I want us to focus on in these scriptures is that Paul is writing about love in the active state! In these verses, we see that love requires that we either take action or refrain from taking action. Here, in these scriptures, love is a verb. It’s something we do! Contrast Paul’s concept of love with society’s concept of love, and we find a notable difference. Part of this, I believe, is because we’ve become confused about what love is. We talk incessantly about all of the things we ‘love’: chocolate cake; pizza; strawberry ice cream; or even the smell of sandalwood.
We say we ‘love’ things, but can we really love things? In truth, we lust after many things, because lust is what we feel whenever we desire something that brings us pleasure. With lust, the focus is always inward. But when it comes to Bible love, the focus is always outward. At the risk of oversimplifying, here’s an example: I can stand up here and say to you that I love French silk pie. But that isn’t true at all. The truth is that I lust for French silk pie because I derive a great deal of pleasure from its flavor. But in our culture today, we express this type of desire as love, and therein lies part of the reason for our confusion.
Another part of the reason for our confusion comes from too many people today thinking that love is just a feeling, when the truth is that it’s way more than that. Paul is showing us here that love is a choice that requires, again, some kind of action on our part.
Feelings are passive. But according to Paul, there’s nothing passive about love. We have to exercise it or express it to make it happen. We can be told we are loved, but do we really know we’re loved if that love isn’t expressed in some way? In other words, don’t just tell me you love me, show me you love me. And Jesus is telling these religious leaders in these chapters from Matthew: that’s what God does, He shows us His love for us. And He REQUIRES we do the same. Of course, the ultimate expression of God’s love for us came in the person of Jesus Christ and is shown in what He did for us on Calvary. For us, God’s love started with creation, was clarified in the Mosaic law, and then fully fulfilled and expressed in Jesus Christ.
Jesus was in an extremely difficult place: He was facing death by crucifixion and facing these enemies who should’ve been His friends, yet, He still loved them enough to try to get them to see the light. Even in the worst of times, He still loved. He ended the encounter that day with a question concerning the Christ. In bringing up David’s writing from Psalms (110), Jesus was showing that He was the Lord that David wrote about and as such, He was, He is, and He will be.
He was making them face this truth; forcing them to think about what they understood about Messiah while revealing the truth about Messiah.
Before we finish here, I ask you to consider:
We, too, are facing difficult times That come to us in the form of: A global pandemic; continuing racial issues; another contentious election. And yet, things could get worse. Do you love God? Then I encourage you, as Christ’s chosen, express your love for God in how you love your neighbor, whether in the best or the worst of times?
Chronological Life Application Study Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers,