Mark 12:29-31, “29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
In verses 29-33 Jesus is reciting a popular passage from Deuteronomy 6, which would have been known as the She-ma, and it was a prayer that was recited twice a day by a faithful Jew, and it is a reference to a time when Moses was leading Israel out of the wilderness.
Mark 12:32-34, “32 And the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no other besides Him; 33 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 the burnt offerings and sacrifices. 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And then, no one dared any longer to question Him.”
Now, the rebuke is a little cryptic, so stay with me. In verse 32 the Scribe responds, “Well said, Teacher” and you have to remember the context of Mark 12 to feel how tone deaf this is in response.
Remember, Jesus has been rebuking their hypocrisy left and right, flipping tables in the temple, getting baited into arguments, and then the Scribe responds, “Well said, Teacher.”
Are you kidding me? First, the word “love” in the original language isn’t #love. This isn’t fist bump love. This isn’t “I love Krispy Kreme donuts.” In the English language we have one word for “love” which we use for about 75 different contexts, but in the Greek there were three primary explanations of love.
There was “phileo” which means brotherly love. There is “eros” which is romantic love. But, the word that is used in Mark 12 is “agape” love.
Second, did you notice the word “all?” It isn’t “love God” sometimes. It isn’t a little heart, strength, soul, mind and a neighbor as yourself when they align with you politically and you like the same movies.
It is all encompassing sacrificial love, and the Scribe standing in the temple with tables that Jesus just flipped and responds, “Well said, Teacher.”
Listen, you need to know Jesus is dropping the hammer in Mark 12. This is a rebuke that the Scribe doesn’t see coming, and everyone in the crowd knows it, because at the end of verse 34 it says, “No one dared any longer to question Him” which is equivalent to “Dang, Jesus!”
1. What does this have to do with morality? In Mark 12 Jesus is introducing a standard of morality when He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, soul, mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
When Moses calls out, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, soul, mind and neighbor as yourself” there is an ethic being established in Deuteronomy that would have set Israel apart from the rest of the world.
It might be hard to see, but when you look at these two commandments applied we see Jesus laying a foundation of morality, and this is an ethic that we only see in God’s Word.
For example, when our culture criticizes injustice like racism, equality, abuse, marginalized people, sexual exploitation, human rights you need to know our culture is borrowing their ethic from God’s Word whether they admit it or not.
When Jesus shows up in the Greek and Roman culture in the first century the ethic was that certain men were created to be masters, and others created to be slaves, and that was just fact. Fidelity in marriage would have been unheard of, pedophilia would have been the norm, but the influence of Christ and His Word changed everything, and our culture might reject Christ, but they are still borrowing from His ethic.
Even during the Age of Enlightenment in the 1700’s when philosophers began to break away from a biblical worldview they began to drift toward the natural sciences, humanism, we are all here by chance, simply by evolution doesn’t lead to an ethic of compassion for the strong to care for the weak, but instead survival of the fittest where the strong take out the weak.
Therefore, when you hear our culture speaking out against all kinds of morality and injustice, which is great, you need to know their pursuit of morality isn’t naturalism and humanism, but in God’s Word.
2. What about the commandments? It is easy for us to reduce our relationship with God to simply keeping the commandments.
We think if we keep the commandments then we are moral people, God is happy with us, and if we don’t keep the commandments then we are immoral people, and God isn’t happy with us.
In the context of Mark 12 the religious leaders had reduced their relationship with God to keeping commandments 80-90% of the time, and then sacrifice and offerings are there to fill in the gaps.
Today, the church can still get confused about commandments and we think if we can obey God’s commandments 80-90% of the time we are doing good, and then we fill in the gaps with serving others, financial giving, or attending a worship service.
Therefore, the purpose of the commandments are not meant to be a spiritual challenge, but instead a spiritual exposure. James uses the imagery of a mirror. Paul uses the imagery of a tutor.
The commandment cries out, “You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, soul, mind, and neighbor as yourself.” Our response, “That’s impossible, Jesus we need your righteousness. You are to be holy as HE is holy. That’s impossible, Jesus we need your holiness.
The commandments are there to lead us to Christ, expose our need for a Savior who meets the demands of every commandment and by grace through faith gives us His righteousness.
3. The gospel. Our culture believes being a good person is all based on works.
If we fight against racism, fight for women, speak out against oppression, feed the homeless, pick up trash, plant a tree…we call these people warriors!
But how does that not lead to pride, arrogance, and judgment toward others? This is why it is great to see our culture’s new interest in morality and injustice, but any pursuit of morality and injustice on our own is always going to lead to more immorality and injustice.
In Mark 12 Jesus is standing in a temple where sacrifices and offerings have been made for years, and Jesus says, “You’re close to the kingdom of God” but Jesus didn’t come so that we might get close to the kingdom of God. Jesus has come so that we might live and dwell in His eternal kingdom forever. This is the gospel!
There is injustice and immorality in our world, and no matter how hard we might try we will never be able to accomplish justice and morality on our own, so Jesus comes to establish His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus is clothed in power and privilege, and steps out of the heavens to live a perfect life, and willingly take our immorality and injustice upon Himself and by grace through faith in Him we are given His righteousness, His morality, His perfection.
In that moment Jesus fulfills the greatest commandments, and Jesus love the Lord God with all His heart, strength, soul, and mind, and His neighbor as Himself by laying down His life at the cross and giving His righteousness freely to all who call out His name.
The hope for humanity isn’t that we will accomplish justice and morality on our own, but that Jesus has come to give us His righteousness freely, so that we are men, women, and children in Christ who have no room to boast, but every motivation to live out His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.