Mark 12: Undivided – One God, One Love, One Family

Introduction: the Meaning of Life and the Old Testament Law

Today we are going to ask a big question.
What is the purpose, the meaning of our life?
Why are we here?
There are many things we could do in life, but what is the most important?
What do you think?
 
Today we are going to see how Jesus answered these questions.
But first we need some background from the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible.
 
The second book is Exodus,
At the start, the Jewish people were in Egypt – around 1500 BC.
They were working hard to make bricks – maybe for building the pyramids!
They were slaves – they weren’t free to leave
sweating under the hot sun.
when they were tired and wanted to rest,
the Egyptians would just shout “you!  Stop being lazy!  Work harder!”
The people were very unhappy, but God knew and cared about them.
He sent a man called Moses.
God did all sorts of amazing things, and at last, his people were free.
 
Moses led the people out of Egypt, through the desert.
And they came to a mountain, Mt Sinai.
There God spoke:
Now you are free –
Here are my commands to help you live as free people.
 
This set of rules is called the Law of Moses, in books 2-5 of the OT.
Who’s read some of these rules?
There’s a lot – Jews count 613.
You must bring certain types animals at certain times of year and make a sacrifice to God
you must not eat certain sorts of food…
You must do this, you must not do that…
All sorts of detailed rules to remember.
 

Two Ways to Study

Who has had exams with a lot to learn like that?
There are two ways to study for them.
 
If you like details, you can just memorise it all.
Remember the answer to every possible question.
Who studies like that?
If you want to be a doctor, you need to – 100s of names of bones and muscles and parts of the body.
 
But some of us study in a different way.
“It’s too much.  Just tell me the big idea, the main thing I need to understand!”
Who’s like that?
 
A few weeks ago, Terry told me about his teachers in Malaysia.
His biology teacher gave hundreds of facts, details to remember, so he just forgot them all – too much!
His chemistry teacher focused on the key concepts, the few really important things – so he did much better.
 
 
At the end of our life, when we die, all of us will stand before God.
a sort of spiritual exam.
This is the test that really counts.
So how can we pass?
What do we have to do to please God?
How should we study for that final exam?
 
In the time of Jesus, we find Jewish thinkers had the same two ways.
Some of them liked details.
So they tried to think of every single situation in life, every single choice or decision you might have to make.
They asked what rule of Moses would apply, and extended it to make a new rule.
Soon there were 100s and 1000s more rules telling them how to live.
 
Now, that is not a bad thing in itself.
If you really love someone, you want to please him or her in every little way.
Many Jews wanted to know exactly how to please God every minute of their lives.
That can be very beautiful.
 
But if you’re not a details person, all those rules are bad news
too much! – There is no time to learn them all.
 
If you’re a big picture person, you want to know, what is the big idea?
So some Jews asked,
Of all the 100s of commands God gave us in the Bible, which is the most important one of all?[1]
 
It’s the Jewish way of asking that question we started with:
What is the meaning of life?
 
Don’t confuse me with lots of details.
if I want to please God, to pass the spiritual exam,
What is the one main thing I need to do?
 
 
Well, in the New Testament, someone asks Jesus that question.
Jesus was in the temple in Jerusalem, just a few days before he died.
The priests and religious leaders were debating with him,
arguing about little details of Moses Law (Mark 12:18-23).
 
 28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
 29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
 32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”
 34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Mark 12:28-34 
 
This guy is a big picture thinker.
He doesn’t want all those picky little details, he just wants the big idea.[2]
 
In fact, Jesus gave him three big ideas:
one great truth or central concept – God is One
and two great commandments – love God and love people.[3]
 
The whole Christian life is learning what it means to obey these commands in every situation.
Get these right, and all the details will fall into place.
 

The Central Concept: One God

There is one passage of the Bible that is more important to Jews than anything else
it is the first words Jewish children learn.
They think about it every day of their lives
It is often the last words Jews say as they die.[4]
It is the central concept of the Jewish religion, and it’s what Jesus said here
 
It comes from the fifth book of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:4 (page 144)
 4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”
 
The original Hebrew is just six words:
“Hear Israel.  Lord our-God Lord One.” [5]
 
Now when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, there were a lot of gods
some looked like cats or birds or crocodiles.
The Egyptians made many statues, called idols, and worshipped them.
 
In many countries, there are still idols today.
A few years ago, I went to India,
people say there are 330 million gods there!
 
If you want to do well in your exams, maybe you pray to the god of learning.
to get married, go to the goddess of love
to make money, make an offering to the god of business.
if you’re sick, go to the god of healing.
 
Is that a bit like some people back home for any of you here? 
 
But you know, we have idols here in the West as well.
like your car, your house, your money.
Maybe your boyfriend or girlfriend, your education, your job.
An idol is not just a physical statue.
It is anything that we love and trust and hold onto more than God.
What shape is your idol?
 
 
Remember, at Mt Sinai, God gave hundreds of commands to Moses.
Who knows the first ones? 
Yes, the famous 10 Commandments.
What were the first two?
 
 6 “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.
 7 “You must not have any other god but me.
8 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind.”
Deuteronomy 5:6-8.
 
No other gods.  No idols.
Because, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.
 
that is the big idea, the core concept, the take-home message of the OT.[6]
God is teaching us that he is ONE. [7]
 
In Egypt, there were many gods, and the people were slaves.
And still today, if we break those commands and put our trust in false gods, if we make idols of any sort,
sooner or later, they will make us slaves – who here has experienced that?
but the one true God sets us free.
He rescued us from slavery – don’t go back to it by trusting idols!
 

The Greatest Command: One Love

So that’s the central concept: God is One.
What does it mean for our lives?
 
Let’s carry on with Deuteronomy 6:4-5, just as Jesus did:
 
 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.
 
Jesus called it the most important command.
 
If there are many gods, we go to different gods for different things,
No one god has our whole heart.
 
But if God is one, whole, undivided
then we must love him with one, whole, undivided heart.
 
 
Jesus just said vss 4-5, but let’s read the full passage:
 4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9
 
good Jews really do this.
They write these words on pieces of paper.
and put them in little black boxes on their arm and head, and beside the doors of their house.
 
Isn’t it a bit strange – Why do they do all this?
Well, a great Jewish philosopher said,
these verses are really a love story.[8]
 
Think of someone who is totally in love – we say “head over heels”.
you talk about your guy or girl all the time – at home, on the road, wherever you go.
maybe you like to repeat his or her name again and again.
When you fall asleep at night, when you first wake up, who are you thinking about?
Some people even get a tattoo on their arm – the name of their girl in a heart to remember her.
 
 
It’s all a bit like those verses in Deuteronomy.
A person in love wants to shout out,
“Listen everybody! I am in love! This is the one!”
“Listen, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one!”
 
that’s how much God wants us to love him.
In fact, God’s relationship with his people is like a marriage.
 
When you get married, you promise:
“I will forsake all others”
there will be no other man or woman in my heart and my life.
From this day on, you alone will be my husband or wife.
 
And when you become a Christian, you promise:
From this day on, Jesus is my Lord
I will have no other gods, No idols.
No one and no thing will have my heart more than God.
The Lord is my God, the Lord alone.
 
And remember, love that lasts is not just a nice fuzzy feeling.
Jesus said,
“If you love me, you will obey my commandments…
Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me.” (John 14:15, 21).
Love means action.[9]
 
 
So what have we seen so far?
God is one undivided whole.
So our love for him must be undivided, single-minded, wholehearted.
love and serve and worship him with all your heart and mind and soul and strength.
Everything that you are.
 
That’s the first and greatest command.
Now let’s look at the second.
 

The Golden Rule: One Family

In the OT times, different countries had different gods.
When people follow different gods, they often end up fighting.
if my god’s better than yours, then I’m better than you.
So I can beat you in war, I can make you slaves.
 
But God is One.
He made everything, so he’s like the father of every person
that means we are all equal, brothers and sisters.
Because there is one God, there is one human family. [10]
 
So Jesus says the other great command from the Old Testament is this:
Love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).[11]
 
Some Jewish teachers agreed – that is the most important verse.
But others said there was an even more important concept – from Genesis 1:27:
God created human beings in his own image.
      In the image of God he created them.

when we look at each other, we see something of what God is like – amazing!
You and I are like walking, talking statues of God.
This is the reason we must love our neighbours: what I do to you, as an image of God, I really do to God.
 
If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a brother or sister, that person is a liar;
for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?
1 John 4:20
 
So I can’t love God, without loving people,
but I will only be able to really love people, if I’m in a loving relationship with God.
 
These two commands, love God and love each other,
go together, like two sides of the same coin – you can’t separate them.
 
You could almost combine them to say,
love God by loving people.[12]
love God, by loving every person you meet.
 
In particular, most of all, love God by loving the person who is most different, who you find hardest to love.
sometimes I meet a difficult person, someone very annoying.
I find it hard to love him or her.
But here’s the scary thing: How I treat that person is how I treat God!
 
Sometimes, sports people like runners and cyclists go up a high mountain.
there is not much oxygen, so when they practice, their lungs expand
when they come down, they can run or cycle faster – It’s called altitude training.
Sometimes when I meet a difficult person,
I think, God is giving me some altitude training in love.
When we get to heaven, everybody will be nice, so love will be a lot easier!
Think of that next time somebody makes you mad!
 

Conclusion: Christ and the Great Commandments

So how would you answer the big questions:
What is the purpose of all the commands in the Bible?
Why are we here?
What is the meaning of life?
What on earth has David been going on about all this time?
 
Here’s how I would sum it up;
Here’s the big idea:
“Serving One God” – making the one true God our only God
“Learning to Love” – love God by loving people[13]
all the commands are training in the art of undivided love.
 
And that means, in the opposite direction,
we can go wrong in many different ways
we can do all sorts of bad things.
But what’s the big bad idea underneath all of these?
Serving other gods, and failing to love.[14]
 
 
In Mark 12, as we saw, Jesus gave the great command, “love your neighbor as yourself”[15]
Can anyone here do that?
It’s pretty hard!
Jesus is the only person to fully keep the great commands of love.
 
But the night before he died, in the book of John,
Jesus gave his followers an even greater, harder command:
This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:12-13
 
That means, love your neighbour as Jesus Christ loved you …  even on the cross. [16]
The life and death of Jesus shows us what love really means.
We are called to follow him, to love like Jesus loved.
Impossible! – Yes, we will only be able to if God’s Spirit is living in us.
 
 
Remember the spiritual exam at the end of our lives.
All of us will sit it.
How can we prepare so we’ll pass?
Here’s a secret: there’s really only one question – do you know what it is?
We will meet Jesus face to face, and he will ask, “Do you love me?” (John 21)
“Do you love me?”
 
above all else, the most important thing in life is to be preparing to answer that question well.
Learning that God is One, and there is no other.
Getting that idea go deep inside us, until it shapes our whole lives, until we naturally keep the great commands:
 
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
 
As Jesus said, “Do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28)
That’s what life is all about.
Serving one God.  Learning to love.
One God.  One Love.  One Family.
 

Questions

How would you sum up the purpose of life in one sentence? 
Do you agree with “serving one God” and “learning to love”?
 
What idols or “other gods” stop you loving God with your whole heart?
What things make you love God more? 
 
Whom do you find it hardest to love? 
What can you do to learn to love more?
 
 How would your life be different
if you really obeyed the great commands as Jesus did? 
 
You alone are God… give me an undivided heart to love you
Psalm 86:10-11
 
 


[1] not long before Jesus, time, there were two great Jewish teachers – Shammai and Hillel.  The famous story is that a gentile came to them, and said he would become a Jew if they could summarise the law for him while standing on one foot.  Shammai chased him away in anger.  Hillel said, “what is hateful to you, do not do to others.  This is the whole law; all the rest is commentary.  Now go, study.”
[2] and until now, the scribes are just a faceless group, often Jesus’ main enemies in Mark.  This man is the first individual.  I’ve always found Jesus last words to him very poignant, “you are not far…” The scribes wise words echo Micah 6:6-8
 6 What can we bring to the Lord?
      What kind of offerings should we give him?
   Should we bow before God
      with offerings of yearling calves?
 7 Should we offer him thousands of rams
      and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
   Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
      to pay for our sins?
 8 No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
      and this is what he requires of you:
   to do what is right, to love mercy,
      and to walk humbly with your God.
And Hosea 6:6
 6 I want you to show love,
      not offer sacrifices.
   I want you to know me
      more than I want burnt offerings.
[3] in Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus also says “on these two commands hang all the law and the prophets”.  He gives the same two commands to the man who asks how to inherit eternal life, just before the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-28).  Also Matthew 7:12.  “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets”. 
[4] most famously, Rabbi Akiba, who was martyred by the Romans in 135AD.  As his torturers tore off his flesh with iron combs, they were surprised that he smiled and asked him why.  He replied, that at last he could fully fulfil the command to love God with all his soul – life itself.  So he pronounced “hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one”, drawing out the word “one” until he died.  As one author put it, “Love God until the last drop of life is wrung out of you.”
[5] it’s called the Shema-the Hebrew word for “hear” at the start
[6] Martin Luther describes the Psalms as meditations on the first command.
[7] What’s new in the New Testament, is that Jesus seems to be associated with the Jewish oneness of God.  Jesus prayed to God the Father for all his followers in the future: I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one (John 17:21).  In 1 Corinthians 8, discussing the issue of food offered to idols, Paul repeats the familiar Old Testament prohibition of idolatry and assertion of God’s oneness –“we know that no idol in the world really exists and that there is no God but one… For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist” – echoing the Shema, but with a shocking second parallel line “and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”  (1 Corinthians 8:4-6).  In Philippians 2:6-11, Paul associates great monotheistic texts like “there is no other God besides me… To me every knee will bow and every tongue confess” (Isaiah 45:21-23) with Jesus.  Also, Zechariah 14:9, “The Lord will be king over all the earth… On that day, there  will be one Lord and his name the only name”
[8] Maimonides.  See http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Liturgy_and_Prayers/Siddur_Prayer_Book/Shema/A_Love_Story.shtml 
[9] “You shall therefore love the LORD your God, and always keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments.” (Deuteronomy 11:1).  “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:2-3)
[10] for Paul, the oneness of God is the basis on which he argues that all people are equally saved by faith in Christ: “There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.”  (Romans 3:30).  “Bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit… There is one body and one spirit… One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:2-6).  “Baptised by one spirit into one body… Whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free” (1 Corinthians 12:13).  There is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free-all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11)
[11] the golden rule is similar in Confucianism: “Tse-kung asked, ‘Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?’ Confucius replied, ‘It is the word ‘shu’ — reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.’“ Analects 15:23 (and elsewhere in the same positive form that Jesus gave).  But, “in contrast with Christian thought, it must be noted that at no point in Confucian philosophy did the affirmation arise that Heaven  is our father and that all men and woman are brothers and sisters-and that this realisation is the foundation for the replete practice of the golden rule” (The Golden Rule, Geoffrey Wattles, 1996, page 26)
[12] as the perfect image of God, we find in Jesus Christ, the greatest equivalence of loving God and neighbour.  “What you did to the least of these, you did to me.”-The parable of the sheep and goats on judgement day, Matthew 25:31-46.  cf Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me… “Then take care of my sheep…  Follow me,” Jesus said.  John 21
[13] the 10 commandments are often grouped into two parts, the first can be summed up as loving God, the second is to do with loving people.  Rabbi Jacob Neusner said that the 10 commandments are really one thing in 10 different forms: how to make God “your God”.
[14] for Judaism, idolatry is the ultimate and root sin, and if someone fully rejects idolatry, it’s as if they kept the whole law.  St Augustine famously said, “Love God, and do what you want”.
[15] Paul says much the same in Romans 13:8-10. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.  For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.  For the “golden rule” of love, see also Galatians 5:14, 1 Corinthians 13, James 2:8.
[16] “we know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us.  So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”  (1 John 3:16). “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”  (Ephesians 5:1-2)