The Gospel of Mark 11-13: The Greatest Commandment

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Throughout this week we are doing a survey of the gospel of Mark.  Today we come to a an important section of the book.  Specifically we are going to focus on what Jesus said is the most important of all the commandments.

Read Mark 11-13 

 

Our reading today begins with Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem.  We refer to this event as the triumphal entry, because the people in the city came out and met Jesus as He rode into the city. They threw their cloaks and palm leaves before Him.  The Jewish people had grown up believing that the Messiah would be a great political or military leader, so when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem they probably thought He had come to set up His kingdom through  might or force.   It is interesting that the same people who greeted Him on Sunday with shouts of “Hosanna!”, would on Friday be crying out “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!”  Much of the attention in this section is focused on the way people reacted to Jesus’ teaching. But He also took time during this week to give His disciples some of the basic instructions they would need to carry on His mission after He was gone.  The two most fundamental commands in the entire Bible are found in Mark 12:28-34.

 

What did Jesus say was the most important commandment? (12:28-30)

 

             The Jewish Scribes had identified 613 separate commandments in the Old Testament, which they divided into 365 negative and 248 positive.  One of the raging theological debates in Jesus’ day was which of these commands was the most important.  It is likely that the Scribe who asked Jesus this question simply wanted to draw Jesus into this debate.  But Jesus cuts right to the heart of the matter and quotes from Deut 6:4-5, a passage which every devout Jew recited twice a day.  The point that Jesus was making is that our first duty is to love God above all others, and to love Him with every fiber of our being.

 

This teaching connects us back to the book of Genesis, because Genesis 1:28 says that we were created in the image of God.  You will remember from last week that being created in the image of God primarily means that we were created to live in a relationship with God.  Sin has broken this relationship, but it does not change that we were created to “love God.”  Deep within the soul of every human being is a desire and longing for a relationship with God.  Sin often distorts and warps this desire by creating various idols such as money, power, false religion, or sex, but the human soul can never be satisfied by mere imitations.  Deep within us is a desire to love God.

 

Part of being a follower of Christ is to cultivate our love for God through worship.  Sometimes Christians make the mistake of thinking that worship is something we only do on Sunday mornings before the preacher gets up to speak.  But the Bible teaches us that worship is much more than just singing a few songs or going through a service on Sunday morning.  Worship is a lifestyle of cultivating our love for God.  Genuine worship requires every facet of our being: our affections, our minds and our bodies.  Loving God is not a passive activity; it requires that we put thought and effort into it.   As believers, we want to cultivate a lifestyle of actively pursuing a love relationship with God.

 

Jesus in the Word
Jesus in the Word (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 Love God with Your Affections:

 

Loving God with all of your “heart and with all of your soul,” means that He should occupy the first place in every area of our lives.  In others words, there shouldn’t be anyone or anything that comes before our relationship with God.  In the Ten Commandments, God says it this way in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me.”  The Bible refers to anything that we put before God as an idol.  In the Old Testament, this often referred to the various foreign gods the Israelites began to serve in hopes of receiving a blessing.  As followers of Christ, we have to be constantly on guard against the problem of idolatry.  John Calvin once said that the heart is an “idol factory” because we find it so easy to put other things or people in the first place in of our lives.  Frankly, speaking anything that we put ahead of God—money, pleasure, our spouse, our children—can become an idol.

 

What are some  idols that you have struggled with in your life?

 

Love God with Your Mind:

 

             Loving God with our mind requires that we begin to actively “take every thought captive for Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).  Satan wars against our souls by filling our minds with all kinds of evil thoughts and ideas. Everyday, we are bombarded with ideas that are often contrary to the things of God.  Sadly, most believers are unaware of how these ideas and philosophies are affecting how they behave.  The simple truth is that every sin begins with an idea.  If Satan wants to tempt us to sin, he must begin with changing how we think.  You will remember in Genesis 3, that before Satan could tempt Eve into sin he had to change the way she thought.  He deceived her into thinking that by eating the forbidden fruit that she would become like God.  If Eve had analyzed the words of the serpent with what God had already told Adam, she would have realized that Satan was lying to her.  If we are going to live the Christian life, we must learn that the battle for our souls is taking place in our minds.  If we are going to change the way we live, we must change the way we think.  If we want to serve God, we must actively check every thought and take it captive for Christ.

 

There are two key habits that believers need to develop to love God with all of their minds.  The first is to saturate their minds with the Word of God.   Saturation means that we are doing more than just casually listening to a sermon or reading through the Bible in a year.  Saturation means that we have made an intensive effort to passionately expose our minds to the Bible through a variety of means and actively allow the Word of God to adjust our thinking and actions.  This process would include the following steps:

 

A.)  Hear the Word– hearing means that we are actively listening to the preaching and teaching of the Word of God through sermons and Bible studies.

 

B.)  Read the Word- reading the Word means that we have a systematic plan for reading the Bible on our own.  This week you have read through the Gospel of Mark, but by the time we finish this course you will put together a personalized Bible reading plan.

 

C.)  Study the Word– studying the Word means that we move from just reading the Bible to actively studying it.  This would require that we begin to use some of the Bible study helps and aids that are available to us in print and online.  We also believe that Bible study is best done within the context of a small group, such as a Sunday school class.

 

D.)  Memorize the Word­- the next level of Bible intake is to memorize key passages of the Bible.  Psalm 119:11 says, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Memorizing the Word makes it available for us to meditate upon and so that the Holy Spirit can call it to our minds when we need it to be available.

 

E.)  Meditate Upon the Word– Meditating upon the Word means that we need to think about what it says and how we can live out the truth in our lives.  A good habit to develop is to choose a key verse to memorize and then think about what it means and how it can be lived out in your life.  You can meditate upon Scripture anytime and anyplace that you would like, but it is helpful to write your thoughts and ideas down so that you can go back and look at them.

 

F.)   Obey the Word- It is never enough to simply read or memorize the Scripture.  We cannot say that we love God if we do not obey the things He tells us to do (John 14:23-24). Therefore, we must be willing to put the things we learn from the Bible into practice.

 

Love God with Your Body 

 

            Romans 12:1 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”  As believers, we are to worship God by presenting our bodies for His service.  This means a couple of things.  First, it means that we stop using our bodies in ways that would be displeasing to God.  At the moment we become followers of Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives.  Since God now lives within us, we should be very careful how treat our bodies and what we do with it.  The Apostle Paul summed it up this way in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “…do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 

 

Presenting your body as a living sacrifice involves more than just dealing with sinful habits.  It also means that you need to be ready to get involved in the ministry that God has prepared for you.  The Bible teaches us that every believer has been uniquely gifted and shaped for the work of ministry (see 1 Cor 12).  Part of loving God with your body is presenting yourself to be available for service in the church and the work of missions.

 

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