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  • Andy Grice

Read Mark Learn #46 - A Lawyer asks a question ...


No audio again I'm afraid ... script can be found below ...

So this morning we are continuing our journey through Mark’s Gospel ...

If you are visiting this morning our usual pattern here at Salem is to work simply work our way through books of the Bible ... section by section ... and this morning we have arrived at the section in Mark 12 that Jill read to us a few moments ago ...

But before we turn our attention to that passage I just want to share the question that has been hanging over me all week ... Should I preach an indicative ... or an imperative sermon? What do you think?

If that doesn’t mean anything to you ... that’s OK ... I’ll explain in a moment ... but for now just know that this is the question I’ve been asking myself as I prepared for this morning …

So with that in mind let’s look at today’s passage ...

Mark 12:28 page

So we are in the final section of Mark ... we are as we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks ... We are in the section often called “Under the Shadow of the Cross” ...

It’s Shrove Tuesday on Tuesday ... Wednesday being the beginning of the season of Lent ... when many of us will be engaging in some form of spiritual discipline ... fasting ... abstaining from something ... or engaging in some other activity ... and so you could say ... as we approach Easter ...

… our lives are lived under the shadow of the cross ...

And so too for Jesus ... and for us the readers ... we know that these events in mark 12 .... the events taking place after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem ... all take place under the shadow of the cross ... and so the atmosphere is getting tense ...

Following, Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on a donkey ... Jesus teaches in the Temple courts ... where He is challenged by the religious ruling elite ... He is then asked this trick question about paying taxes ... designed to get Him into trouble whichever way He answered...

then He is asked this convoluted question about marriage in heaven ...

The thing is ... each of these questions ... asked in the Temple courts ... were not asked to find out more ... instead these questions were designed to challenge ... and to undermine Jesus ...

But then ... in v28 ... it feels to me ... like there is a bit of a mood change ...

When one of the scribes ... one of the teachers of the law ... approach Jesus with a question ...

A Lawyer Asks a Question

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

Now this may seem like an odd question but this was the kind of thing that the scribes and lawyers loved to debate ...

Apparently there are 613 commandments ... or Mitzvot in the Old Testament ...

248 positive commandments ... commandments to DO something ... 248 one for each bone and major organ in the body ...

And 365 negative commandments ... commandments to NOT DO ...

The religious teachers of the day thought that all of these were important ... but they loved to debate their relative importance ... which were “heavy” and which were “light” ...

There is a story about one potential convert to Judaism ... struggling with the number of Mitzvot who challenged a famous Rabbi ... Hillel ... to teach him the whole Torah ... while standing on one leg ...

Which is an interesting way of limiting sermon length :-)

But in response to this challenge ... Hillel is reported as saying ...

That which is hateful unto you do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole of the Torah, The rest is commentary. Go forth and study.

Which is a but like a negative version of Jesus’ greatest commandment given in Mark 12 ... interesting that it was given by two Jewish Rabbi’s …

… [So] this was something the lawyers loved to debate ... so this lawyer comes and asks Jesus a question ...

to which Jesus responds ...

Jesus answers So Jesus is asked which is the most important commandment ... and He responds by saying ...

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Which is the Shema from Deuteronomy 6 which was and still is used as the centerpiece of morning and evening Jewish prayer services ...

But here’s the thing I want to point out ...

In answering the question what is the greatest commandment ... Jesus doesn’t immediately respond with a command ... but with a statement about God ...

Remember my opening question about whether I should preach an indicative or an imperative sermon ...

Imperatives are commands ...

… do this ...

Indicatives ... are statements of fact … … declarations of truths ...

And I find it really interesting that Jesus answers the question about the greatest imperative ... the greatest command ... Not immediately with an imperative … but with an indicative ... with a statement of fact ... a declaration of truth about God ...

That God is one ...

There are not many Gods ... there is one God ...

There are not many ways to God ... there is one God ...

I firmly believe that everybody worships something ... even the most devout atheist worships something ... there is something in their life that serves as a God ... but whatever that is … it is not really God … for in reality there is one and only one God alone ... the God of the Bible ...

Then having begun with this indicative statement about God ... Jesus then ... and only then ... moves to the imperative ... the commandment ...

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

All ... all ... all ... all

All heart .... all soul ... all mind ... all strength ...

That’s the imperative ... that’s the commandment ... which seems pretty clear ...

It doesn’t seem to be a difficult instruction to understand does it? Love God with all ... all ... all ... all

And yet although it may not be difficult to understand ...

Following it … is a little more difficult … the doing is a whole different bag of frogs ...

How many of us have part of our heart for God ... and part for something else ...

Use part of strength for God ... but part for something else??

It’s not the bits of the Bible that I don’t understand that I struggle with ... its doing the parts of the Bible I do understand ...

God’s love so amazing ... so divine ... it demands my soul, my life, my all.

And yet ... I don’t know about you ...

I’m pretty sure that I haven’t yet responded to God’s amazing love with all my soul, all my life ... all ... all ... all ...

So what do I do about that ...

Well if I am to preach an imperative sermon this morning … then this is the point where I say do better ...

… read the Bible more ...

… pray more ...

… Try harder …

… be better ...

But … to be honest with you this morning … I feel too personally guilty to heap this kind of pressure … this kind of guilt upon you ...

And here’s the thing ...

There’s more ...

Jesus goes on ... we are to …

v31 ... Love your neighbor as yourself

Apparently Lydia Masters was asking about this banner the other week ... and when told that it says we are to love our neighbour she responded ...

… so that’s everyone ... so we are to love everyone!!

Easy for a six year old to understand ... harder for a 41 year old to do ...

I love John Stott’s definition of a neighbour ... anyone in need ... whose need I know about and I am able to do something about ... irrespective of the persons circumstances ... colour, gender, nationality ...

I hesitate to wade into the political debate over the refugee crises ... but I was shocked to read about one MP who suggested in the house of commons this week that the poor conditions such as rat infestations faced by children in refugee camps on mainland Europe were not a matter for the UK and we should stop being so sentimental about the plight of refugees ...

Another MP responding to this said

Many children in Greece find themselves in detention centres where they’re made to sleep in crowded, dirty, rat infested cells, often without mattresses and are deprived of basic sanitation and privacy,” he said.

“It is reported that some boys are even turning to prostitution to keep themselves alive. If I am sentimental for bringing this up then I am very proud to be so because these are some of the basic facts.”

The first MP interjected to respond: “If we’re talking about Greece and being rat infested and no mattresses, whose fault is that? That’s Greece’s fault and they should be helping those children.”

To which was given the response

“A simple fact of the matter: the world is a small place and we all belong in it.”

Neighbours are everyone ... and we are called to love everyone ... and to help those whose needs are known and whose needs we have in our power to meet ...

I was shocked to read that some MP’s think that we are just being sentimental when we try to help fellow human beings in real need ...

But actually ... when I examine by own actions in loving ... I’m not sure I love everyone ... like I love myself ...

In fact ... I know that I do not do what I ought to do ...

So what should we do ...

Well again … the imperative sermon will tell you to try harder ... do more ... give more ... serve more ...

But I don’t have the stomach for this ... when I feel such a failure myself ...

Just as an aside ... when thinking about loving others ... we had a really really interesting time at deacon’s on Wednesday when we spent some time sharing what we loved about Salem ... I’d love to encourage you to think about how you would answer that question ... and perhaps share your answer with me before our AGM next week ... or come prepared to share your answer yourself next week ...

You see ... to love neighbours is intentional ... this is not about feeling warm and gooey inside ... this is love in action ... to let me ask you what it is you love about Salem ...

So that’s just an aside ...

Let’s come back to Mark 12 ... v32 ...

where our lawyer ... responds to Jesus answer ...

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

He says: More important that burnt offerings and sacrifices ... in the Temple courts ...

Declaring of course what Jesus came to do ... Jesus came to fulfil that Old Sacrificial system ... so that they would no longer be needed ...

Came as a temple ... to be a temple ... so that each of us may become a temple for the Holy Spirit ...

Don’t miss the hugeness of the lawyers’ response in v33

But then Jesus responds to the lawyers response ...

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.

You are not far ...

And it took me a while ...

But I think this is the cornerstone of this passage ...

Jesus says ... loving God and loving neighbour is what it’s all about ...

The lawyer agrees ...

And Jesus responds ... you are not far from the Kingdom ...

How do you hear those words of Jesus??

I’ve always heard them as affirming ... keep going ... your nearly there ...

You’re not far from the Kingdom ...

But then that doesn’t explain why this meant nobody else dared ask any more questions ...

So this week I’ve begun to wonder whether there is something in Jesus’ tone which says ...

close ... but no cigar ...

You’re not far from the Kingdom ... but you’re not in it either ...

You’re close ... but not close enough and a miss ... well a miss is as good as a mile ...

... almost doesn’t count ...

Love God, love your neighbour is, of course, the Golden Rule ...

And it is seen in countless religions ...

And yet ... the Lord our God is one ...

The countless other religions that teach Love God ... Love Neighbour leave you close ... but not close enough ...

You see this is an adequate summary of the Law ...

But not I think of the Gospel ... the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ ...

Over the months that we’ve been studying Mark we’ve seen that there are three particular issues that Mark consistently deals with … Identity … Mission … and Call … [EXPLAIN]

And it seems to me that there is a danger that we view this passage about the Greatest Commandment as being about Call … what does it mean to follow Jesus … when actually … it is about what Jesus came to DO … about His mission … under the shadow of the cross … we talk about something greater than sacrifices … and the one who sees the golden rule as the greatest expression of religion is seen to be …

Not far from the Kingdom … close … but not close enough …

You see the danger is that we see the Christian faith as imperative ... as DO ... Love God ... Love Neighbour ...

But actually ... I think the Gospel is supposed to be preached as indicative ... Christ has DONE ...

The Christian faith is not ... is NOT ... do this ... love God ... Love neighbour ... and you get into the Kingdom ... that only puts you close to the kingdom …

Instead the Christian faith is that Christ has DONE ... in His self-sacrifice on the cross ... Christ has DONE ... and it is this and only this that allows us to enter into the Kingdom of God ... the Kingdom of Heaven ...

Therefore ...

in response to this indicative ... in response to this statement of fact ... this Gospel truth ... in response ... we can get to the imperative ... to Love the God of the Gospel ... the One true God of the Bible ... and because of God’s Love for us ... and our love for Him ... we are free ... empowered ... enabled to truly love and serve our neighbours ...

And when we don’t??

The truth is ... God continues to sing songs over us ... to love us ... and accept us as we are ... not as we should be ... for we are never going to be as we should be this side of eternity ... but that love ... motivates us to try ...

This isn’t obvious ... is sometimes difficult to wrap our heads around ... but the reality is ... this is the Gospel ...

God loves you ... accepts you delights in you ... not because of what you have done ... but because of Jesus ...

Let’s pray ... before we sing ...


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