Happy New Year! I hope you had a good Christmas and New Year’s. It’s great to have the students back. For you undergrads and grads, I trust that the restful break will translate into renewed vigor and enthusiasm to tackle your studies. Kids are back in school – kids, are you excited? Parents, are you excited that the kids are back at school? I love my boys, but it’s time for them to get back to school.
Most people enter the New Year’s with some resolutions. If you are a youngster with siblings, your resolution might be, I have fight less with my siblings and I need to listen to my parents. If you are a student, your resolution might be things like, I need to stop procrastinating, I need to wake up before noon and stop playing video games. If you are married, your resolution might be, I have to be nicer to my spouse. And take her out on a date on a regular basis, not just on anniversaries and birthdays. If you are a parent, your resolution might be, I need to spend more quality time with my kids and control my temper and yell at them less. If you are middle aged, your resolution might be, I need to shed a few pounds. Some of the sisters here are battling each other to see who can lose the most weight. I want to officially announce that I would like to enter that competition, if they would have me. But I’m not sure if they want me to compete because, frankly, they’d lose. So I fully understand if you sisters want to compete amongst yourselves.
As a Christian, what should our resolutions be? Based on my reading of Scripture, there are 3 things that all Christians ought to resolve to do better, not just from one year to the next, but daily. Daily is hard. So at the very least, the turn of the new year gives us a re-calibration point. Cars need to be re-calibrated. Cars get out of whack over time so you have to do a tune-up or re-alignment. Instruments need re-calibration. We got an old piano from Jackie’s parents and it hadn’t been tuned in over 30 years. So it sounded terrible. And we had to spend a good chunk of change to retune it. As Christians, we can get out of tune. 1 Cor 13 describes Christians who sound like clanging cymbals because they have no love. We can become noisy and harsh to the ears and there can be a lot of background interference if we lose focus on the essential things. And so the new year affords us an opportunity to re-tune, to re-align, to re-calibrate ourselves.
If you are a violinist, then you know, you first tune your A string, then you can tune the rest, G, D and E strings. And if you are concert master, you step out in front of the orchestra before the performance begins and you play that A string and every other instrument tunes to your A string. As Christians, we have at least 3 A strings. There are 3 things that are so fundamental to what it means to be a Christian that it would serve us well as a church to spend the early days of this new year re-tuning ourselves to these things.
On that NOTE, pun intended, I want to suggest 3 resolutions for us in 2013.
1) Love God
2) Love Neighbor
3) Make Disciples
This is going to be a three-part series. Today, we’ll cover the first one, loving God, and we’ll save loving neighbor and making disciples for the following two Sundays.
If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to Mark 12:28-34.
Before we take a look at the Greatest Commandment, let’s set the stage because I believe the context teaches us some valuable lessons. Notice who Jesus is talking to. v28 – he’s talking to one of the teachers of the law. A religious leader. If you were with us last year, you know that Jesus and the religious leaders don’t get along very well. It’s like oil and vinegar. They just don’t mix well. In the eyes of the teachers of the law, the Pharisees and Sadducees, to the religious establishment, Jesus is a heretic. He is a revolutionary that must be quieted. He’s a Rabbi, just like them. Yet, Jesus is telling the Jewish nation, and the leaders in particular, essentially, that they need to start over because they have abandoned God and all they have left is empty religion.
Put yourself in the shoes of these teachers of the law. They’ve been attending the synagogue their entire lives. They felt so passionate about what they heard that they devoted their entire lives to God and they even chose to become full-time teachers of the Old Testament law as their vocation. They were well respected in the community, and along comes this no name Rabbi named Jesus and he tells you, you’ve got it all wrong. Repent. Start over. For some of us here, Jesus is telling us the same thing. You need to start over in 2013. Whatever you learned from the past, whatever traditions you followed, it’s time to hit the reset.
To these Jewish leaders, Jesus said countless times, your religious system is broken. You are like the blind leading the blind. You are like white-washed tombs. You are dead inside. If you are the recipient of these kinds of words, how would you respond? You’d be offended. You’d want to punch Jesus in the face. He says things like, I am the Son of God. That’s blasphemous. What he is saying is offensive to the entire religious community.
In our age of tolerance, everything has to be PC. Everything has to be politically correct. Everyone’s opinion has to be valued and accepted. We have to be tolerant of views, no matter how off the views might be. I don’t think Jesus would be very tolerant if he were living today. You might find him in churches overturning pews. This is not my message. This is not why I came and died for your sins. Truth is offensive. The message of Christianity is offensive. We believe, it’s not all roads lead to God. There is one way that leads to God and Jesus is THE WAY, the truth, the life.
Given Jesus’ track record with the Pharisees and the other religious leaders, this conversation stands out. It’s unusual. v28–
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him…
…an important question regarding which commandment is the most important. Most times, religious teachers come to Jesus with a hostile attitude. With an attitude of testing. An attitude of judgment. They are often trying to show how right they are and how wrong Jesus is. When confronted by this kind of attitude, Jesus responds in one of two ways. Either, he teaches in parables and keeps things hidden from the listeners. Or, he rebukes them. He offends them. It’s one or the other.