Mark 12-13 To love is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices

From Mark 12-13

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How do you view the commands in the law of Moses? Which do you think are the most important? In today’s passage Jesus identifies the two most important commands in the law. The first command is actually at the heart of the Jewish faith and practice.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

In todays chapter Jesus is being challenged and questioned by several groups of Jews.

First he is asked by some Pharisees a trick question about paying taxes to Caesar. They use flattery to try and disguise their intent. Jesus could have said no, but if they did they could probably get him in trouble with the Roman authorities. If he said yes, he would possibly offend the Jews who did not want to be under Roman rule. Jesus sees through their deceit and marvels them with his answer (Mk 12.13-17).

Then he is approached by the Sadducees. The Sadducees only hold the Pentateuch (the first five books of what we know to be the Old Testament) to be authoritative. Neither do they believe in the resurrection as most other Jews do. They think the Pentateuch does not teach people will rise from the dead. Jesus shows from Genesis, God claimed to Moses, he is God of Abraham, Isaac and of Jacob. The implication is these people are alive because he is their God, which means they were raised from the dead (Mk 12.18-27).

In today’s passage he is again approached by Jewish leaders. The scribes.

“With the restoration under Ezra–Nehemiah, the term scribe begins to be associated more narrowly with those who gathered together, studied, and interpreted the Torah (Jewish Law). They became in essence a separate profession of teachers (although unpaid), able to preserve accurately the Law of Moses and interpret it to meet conditions in postexilic times.” (Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1913). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.)

[28] And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mk 12.28)

The scribes were disputing with one another. On some occasions I assume they might have bored passers by with some esoteric passage or interpretation. Not today. They were arguing about which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses.

What do you think is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?

[29] Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord 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.’ (Mk 12.29-30)

Jesus replies with the Shema.

“Shema comes from the first Hebrew word of the verse, sh’ma, “hear”. Religious Jews recite the Shema three times daily as part of their devotional life; no Sabbath worship is conducted in the synagogue without its proclamation. Within the Shema is found both a fundamental doctrinal truth and a resultant obligation.” (Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1945-6). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.)

Hear and apply this to your lives. Day by day.

Although the Shema teaches that God is a unity within himself, its primary thrust affirms the absolute uniqueness of Yahweh: there simply are no gods in addition to him.” (ibid)

The LORD is one. There are no others.

“This being the case, man is obligated to love the sole deity with all of his heart, soul, and strength (Dt 6:5). Moses clearly taught that to acknowledge other deities is both a grievous sin against the Lord and a denial of the unique covenant of redemption (4:23, 24; 17:2–5).” (ibid)

Love God with every part of your being. With everything you have. Heart, soul and strength.

Love is strongly associated with obedience in the Old Testament. Those who love him obey his voice (Dt 7.9; 10.12; 11.1,13,22; 19.9). Joshua suggests the people of Reuben and Gad loved the LORD because they kept all that Moses commanded and the charge of the LORD (Josh 22.1-3,5). The Lord promised through Moses he would cause his people in the future to love him as he commanded (Dt 30.6).

[31] The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mk 12.31)

They ask him for the most important commandment and Jesus gives them the Shema. But he doesn’t stop there. He gives the second most important commandments as well. It also is based on loving others. How do you love yourself? How can that apply to your neighbour?

Loving your neighbour as yourself. Who is your neighbour?

Jesus said a very similar thing when he instructed, ‘whatever you wish others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets’ (Mt 7.12).

Note as well, the command to love God will demand more of us than the command to love our neighbor.

[32] And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said 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 whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mk 12.32-33)

The scribe who asked him the question agrees with Jesus. Smart response! These are amazingly important commands that have great influence over how we think and behave.

He repeats what Jesus said and puts them above another set of commands. The sacrificial laws associated with temple worship. Israel has had a poor record with how they used these rituals (e.g. Isa 1.11; Jer 6.20; Eze 20.28; Amos 5.22; Hos 6.6).

Perhaps he was arguing against the importance of these commands. Jesus agrees with him. Paving the way for the early Christians, and most importantly Gentile believers to let go of the practice altogether.

[34] And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Mk 12.34)

The scribes answer gains a commendation from Jesus. Knowing what is truly important is a sign of one’s proximity to God and his kingdom.

Jesus has answered many questions well. So well in fact he has scared all the others from seeking more answers from him.

About Jesus

Of all the commands in the law of Moses Jesus has identified the commands to love as the most important. Loving God with everything we have and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Do you think obeying these commands is important? Will you seek to obey them all your life?

Jesus puts these commands above the requirement to make animal sacrifices and offerings to God. Instead following Jesus’ example, we offer ourselves as pleasing and acceptable sacrifices to God.

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