The Great Commandment - Mark 12:28-34

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If you could ask one question of God and receive an answer, what would you ask? Of course we all have things we want to know, things we’re curious about, but if you could only ask one question, what would it be? 

As we have worked our way through the last few sections of Mark we have heard Jesus being asked all sorts of questions. And while most of them aren’t honest questions asked out of sincere hearts, we have the benefit of hearing how Jesus answers them. And in Mark 12:28-34 a really significant question is asked and answered: Of all the commandments of the Law of God, which one is the greatest?

While this conversation between Jesus and a scribe is one that most of us have been familiar with for a long time, we shouldn’t rush past it or take it for granted. As Jesus tells us what is most important we should be quick to listen and careful to live out what He says.

The Setting – Another Religious Leader and Another Question (12:28) 

  • The scribe – The scribes were the experts in the Law and Jesus, who seems to be well educated in matters of the Law, intrigues this scribe. While we can’t be sure of his motives, his question certainly seems less venomous than those who have come before him.
  • A common question – The question the scribe asks is a question that had been discussed and debated for years. God had given over 600 Laws to His people and there was a constant conversation about which Law was the greatest. The story makes it clear that the scribe had an opinion and that this question was likely his test of Jesus’s orthodoxy.

Christ’s Answer – The Command to Love (12:29-31)

  • The Shema – The question the scribe asked was a common question, and the answer Jesus gives was familiar to every Jew. Jesus answers by quoting the first part of the Shema – a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 that devout Jews would recite every morning and evening.
  • Application – The Shema was familiar to the Jews, and these words of Jesus are familiar to us, and yet all of us have room to grow. All of us must continue to grow in our love for God and one another. If this is the most important of God’s commands, how diligent should we be to obey?

Understanding the Command to Love

  • The One We are Called to Love – Loving the One True God – As Jesus quotes the Shema we are reminded not only of the command to love but also of the One we are commanded to love. It’s not a call to love a generic higher power or a god of our own imagination. This is a call to love the God of Israel, the God of the Scriptures, the only true God. If we are going to love Him well and faithfully then we must know Him. We must give ourselves to knowing who He is and what He has said.
  • The Way We are Called to Love – Loving with our whole being – A simple definition of love is to delight in or treasure something or someone. Jesus is calling us to love God with all that we are. Heart, soul, mind and strength each speak to different parts of us, but together the emphasis is clear: we are to love God with our entire being. We must love Him with our thoughts, emotions, actions, intellect, and body – with our whole being. Desiring what He desires and living as He would have us live (1 Jn. 5:3).
  • The Expansion of the Call to Love – Loving our neighbors - By quoting the Shema Jesus has already answered the question. But He goes on and gives one of the most significant out-workings of a true love of God. The second greatest command is to love others as we love ourselves. The Scriptures are clear that those who love God supremely also love others sincerely (1 John 4:20). How well you keep the first command will determine how well you keep the second; and when you obey the second you show that you are striving to keep the first. This love must be genuine and shown to all (James 2:8-10).
  • The Supremacy of the Call to Love – Love as a fulfillment of the Law – Twice Jesus reiterates the supremacy of these commands, but what makes these commands great? We learn from other parts of Scripture that these commands are most important because all the other commands of the Law find their source in these two. In these two commands is the fulfillment of the whole law (Mt. 22:40; Rom 13:8-10).

The Response – The Priority of the Command of Love (12:32-33)

  • The scribe who asked the question wasn’t surprised by Jesus’s answer, in fact he agreed. And then he said something that reveals his knowledge of the Scriptures and his understanding of the heart of God – that to obey the command of love is greater than offerings and sacrifices. While God had instituted and called for offerings and sacrifices, what He really desired was the hearts of His people (Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8).

A Declaration from Jesus – The only way to enter the Kingdom (12:34)

  • This man knew the Law, and may have even gone a long way toward keeping the Law, but the only way we can enter the Kingdom of God is through Christ. The scribe was close, but He had not yet believed in the source of salvation.