This conversation is different. First off, this particular teacher of the law has been sitting in the background and listening to Jesus debate with other teachers of the law. And unlike the rest of his peers, this teacher of the law actually thinks Jesus has good answers. This teacher of the law is actually listening. He’s actually paying attention to the content of Jesus’ responses. He’s not out to prove a point. Or to elevate himself. Or to shame Jesus. He is listening. He is a truth seeker.
It’s very reminiscent of Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish ruling council. So he was high up there in rank. He was a celebrity Rabbi. A rockstar. Jesus even refers to him as “Israel’s teacher.” Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. We can speculate that someone of his credentials going to Jesus for answers would have immediately caused him to become blacklisted among his peers. But despite his learning and his degrees and the potential to be ostracized from his peer group, Nicodemus goes to Jesus. And Jesus tells him, you need to be born again. You need to be born a second time, born of the Spirit.
It’s amazing to consider that Nicodemus was the first person who heard the famous words from John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus reveals this kind of deep spiritual truth, the essence of faith, not even to one of his own disciples, but to a Jewish leader who was seeking Jesus for answers. Nicodemus was a bonafide truth seeker. Jesus revealed the deep things of God to Nicodemus and he is doing it again to this unnamed teacher of the law.
We know this guy in Mark 12 is close to being saved spiritually because Jesus says it himself in v34–
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
What can we learn from this? We learn that Jesus reveals deep spiritual truths only to those who are truly seeking him. Of course, there are exceptions. Like Saul of Tarsus who was a murderer of Christians, God stopped him in his tracks, he was blinded by a flash of light and he encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road. And he became the great Apostle Paul. He was saved even though he wasn’t looking for Jesus, in fact, while he was an enemy of God. But those miraculous conversations are the exception rather than the rule. In most cases, God reveals himself gradually and saves people who are genuinely seeking after truth.
Jesus is not like the SWAT team. He doesn’t normally barge through the door of our hearts unannounced. He can, but he doesn’t choose to, except on occasion. Instead, he knocks gently. He woos us. He waits patiently. And we respond by opening the door and letting him in.
We also learn the sad reality that this teacher of the law in Mark 12 as well as Nicodemus in John 3 are in the minority. Genuine truth seekers are rare, even among a people like Israel who were highly religious. The vast majority of Israel settled for religion. And because of this mindset, they missed Jesus.
In addition, we learn that religious people cannot obey what Jesus is about to tell them. I’ve never seen a religious person who can love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. I’ve never seen a religious person who can love their neighbor as themselves. They can’t love God, nor their neighbor in this kind of all-out manner. They can love God half-heartedly. Or, love their neighbors some of the time. Or, love certain kinds of neighbors and not others. Only born again Christians can love in this all-out manner consistently. Why? It’s because we can love God only as a response to His love for us.
Instead of loving God and loving neighbor, religious people focus on–v33–burnt offerings and sacrifices. These are things within our control. These are things that come from human effort. Jesus is saying, your approach is all wrong. A Holy God doesn’t love you more than the next guy because you sacrificed $100 to help the poor and the next guy sacrificed only $50. Our love for God is not measured by how much and how often we sacrifice.
God wants a love relationship. The problem is–as sinners, there is no love in us. That’s the problem. Not our ability or inability to sacrifice. Selfish people can sacrifice. Loveless people can sacrifice. Arrogant people can sacrifice. You can sacrifice for your entire lives and not become even one iota more loving than you were before you started attending church. You can go to church your entire lives and go through the motions and not ever become experience the love of God personally. You can be an active member or a deacon or an elder and still know nothing about love, or forgiveness or mercy, or grace. And therefore, it’s quite possible to never grow in your love for God or for others even after decades in the church.
It’s because we can’t generate love on our own. When you look inside your heart, do you see love? There is none. We need God’s love to come into our heart first. Then, we can love in return. We can love God only as a response to His love for us.
God’s love is like the Pacific Ocean. When you repent of your sins and place your faith in Jesus, the love of God comes flooding into your heart. And that love enables us to love God in return. And, that loves cannot be contained and it spills over, it overflows to our neighbors.
Obeying the greatest commandment and the second greatest command pre-supposes that we have undergone a radical inner transformation. That we have been saved. That the love of God has come into our heart. That we’ve been born again.
We can speculate that this teacher of the law came to Jesus because he realized that something in his approach to God wasn’t working. He might have been diligent, he might have been faithful, he might have gone to the synagogue and fasted and tithed, but his heart wasn’t changing. And to this religious-minded teacher, Jesus is offering a new paradigm. Love. You need to experience the love of God. You need a heart change. Then and only then will you be able to live out what I am about to say–the two greatest commandments.
If you are not a Christian, then you haven’t experienced the love of God yet. I want to encourage you to keep seeking. Keep asking questions. Don’t give up. Continue to be a seeker of truth. God promises that those who seek him with all their heart WILL find him.
Some of you who grew up in the church and still you are not experiencing the love of God. And because you are not experiencing the love of God, there is little love for God and for neighbor. It’s a Catch 22. You want to love God, but he feels distant so you don’t have the motivation to love him. You want to love neighbor but there is no overflow because it’s been a while since God has touched your heart. So you’re stuck. If this is you, if you feel stuck this afternoon, I want to extend the same encouragement. Continue to seek God. Continue to seek His face. Slow down. Don’t rush through life. Open your eyes wide to the countless ways that God’s love is near. Be a seeker in 2013.
Now, we’re ready to dive into the Greatest Commandment. Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We are going to talk about each of these four things, but a little disclaimer. These four things actually blend together. Each one bleeds into the others. You can’t separate these things into distinct elements. When I say, I love Jackie, it involves more than just my heart. It involves my mind for one. Take a simple thing like deciding where to go to eat. If it were just me and the boys, we could go to Rubios. Put a bean and cheese burrito and some taquitos in front of the kids and they’re happy. Jackie doesn’t like Mexican food as much as we do. And she is trying to eat healthy. So if I love her, then I have to use my mind. I have to consider what she would want. She likes healthy so this rules out fast food. Although she does like nachos, but nachos usually are topped with gobs of cheese and sour cream. Maybe a place that serves nachos with artichoke dip. The dip is not healthy, but at least it has spinach and artichoke in it so it will give her the impression that we are eating healthier. You see, I’m using my brains. Where can I go that is cheap, healthy and has nachos with artichoke dip on the menu? Loving someone involves our mind. You can’t separate heart from soul, mind and strength.
Basically, Mark’s point is that in response to God’s tremendous love for us, we ought to love God with our whole being, with everything we are and everything we have.
In any case, let’s look at each of these 4 things to see how a love-saturated, heart filled to overflowing, born again believer relates with God.