Hear, O Israel!

“…and you shall love the LORD your God…”

The Greatest Commandment

Mark 12:28-30

-Recite Shema in Hebrew

  • That was the first line of the Shema, the greatest commandment given to the people of God, which the Jews recited to one another 3 times a day.
  • Translation I like: “Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone.”
  • It’s recorded in Deuteronomy 6, which is Moses’ farewell sermon, basically. His last words to the people of Israel before he dies on the mountain so the people can go into Canaan.
    • He reminds the people of Israel to obey the commands, laws, and statutes of the Lord. Obviously, Moses isn’t going to repeat to them every single thing the LORD has told them up til this point. So what does he do? He boils everything down into a paragraph or two.

–So, keep that in Mind, that’s where we’re coming from: book of Deuteronomy, Moses giving his final sermon to the Israelites and reminding them of the commands of God. Now let’s look at our main text for today.

Mark 12:28-30

Setup to here:

  1. Last week we saw Christ eating His last meal with His disciples. We’re now just a few steps before that. Christ has come into Jerusalem for the last time – the Triumphant Entry, and immediately people start getting ticked off at Him:
    1. Matthew 21:15-16 – During Christ’s entry and afterwards, the children were running through the streets shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” And the chief priests are indignant.
    2. Mark 11:15-19 – Jesus cleanses the temple of the people extorting money. The Chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to destroy him
    3. Mark 11:27-12:27 – Everyone wants to trap Jesus in His words so they can get rid of Him or kill Him
      1. i. Chief priests: They demand of Him outright, “Who gave you the right to do and say these things?” Jesus turns things around on them completely with this question: “John’s baptism, was it from God or from man?” They were trying to trap Him in HIS words, and He gave them an impossible question.
      2. ii. Pharisees: Ask the questions about taxes with the Herodians. They think they have Him in an impossible position, because the Herodians would have immediately reported to Herod if they heard Jesus say that taxes were unnecessary, and Jesus would have been imprisoned. However, if He said they must pay taxes, then the people would have taken that to mean He was saying that Caesar was a higher authority than God. (This was a long controversy.) If He answers yes, the people will reject Him, if He answers no, the Herodians will report Him. Again, He prevails and responds, “Whose impression is on the coin?…then if Caesar wants his money back so badly, give it to him!”
      3. iii. Sadducees: They believed there was no such thing as resurrection. They pose this question so that it seems that either a woman will have 7 husbands in heaven, or there will be an impossible task to decide whose wife she is. They ask this to make a mockery of the doctrine of resurrection, but Christ tells them, “Listen, you don’t even know what you’re talking about. You don’t understand the Scriptures.”
    4. 2. But then! This awesome scribe comes up. He’s awesome because he recognizes that Jesus is answering all of these questions and accusations incredibly well, and so He asks the best question of all: what’s the greatest commandment? (12:28)
      1. Jesus answers point blank, not in parables, not with the chastising authority He’s been using with the religious leaders, but with simplicity. Don’t miss the application that those who genuinely ask will be given to, and those who genuinely seek will find. Verse 29-30 (A quote of Deuteronomy 6)
        1. i.    This is the summation of the entire law given in the Old Testament, in these few short words.

The Greatest Commandment

“…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.” (vs. 30)

—Unless we consider this passage as we should, it seems to be a very simple command. “Yes, sure. I can love God.” But if this were simple, then Israel would not have been punished for breaking this command over and over and over again. So why is it the greatest commandment? Why is it so very easy to break?

  1. In it, God DEMANDS exclusivity. This is where studying Hebrew REALLY comes in handy. I spoke the Shema in Hebrew earlier to remind us that the Bible was not written in English. In our English translations the quote says “…love the Lord your God…”. In the OT it has the same word, however you’ll notice in modern translations that “Lord” is in all caps in the OT passage. That’s because it stands in place of YHVH, which the Israelites never spoke for fear of breaking the 3rd commandment. They would always replace it with “adonai” – Lord. So, when Moses, by the authority of God, commands this and when Jesus quotes it, it is far more specific than we think of it. Moses and Christ are saying: “You are to love the one God, the only God, who has revealed Himself to you by name!”
    1. This is the God who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, and when Moses asked His name in case the people of Israel asked, He told Him, “Tell them that I AM sent you.” VERY specific command. The difference between saying, “Husbands should love their wives.” And “Chris Mann, you must love Julie Mann.” And it is a specific command to us, just as it was to Israel, that we must love YAHWEH as OUR GOD, and let there be NO OTHER GOD among us
      1. i.    First, see how this sums up the first several commandments? What are the first 3: No other Gods, No idols, Name of the Lord. Love the LORD your God
      2. ii.    Secondly, Satan is constantly attacking this command in our hearts. What are Satan’s greatest efforts directed towards? Teaching people (including God’s people if he can) to break the greatest commandment. He would have us replace “the LORD” with something else, ANYthing else. Russell Moore said in a sermon in chapel last semester these haunting words: “Satan is training us to want what he is willing to give us.” TERRIFYING…and if we are not constantly watchful to LOVE YAHWEH and Him alone, Satan will train us to love other things, to be satisfied with other things, to trust in other things.
      3. iii.    How do we know if we’re obeying this command? How do we know if Satan has trained us to break this greatest commandment? We examine HONESTLY where our love and trust lies. If it is in God, amen! But if it is in sound financial planning, if it is in the produce of a well-tended farm, if it is in your family, if it is in your good job, then we are idolaters. If our trust is in ANYthing but our God, then we have replaced “the LORD” in that sentence. What does the end of the verse say? “…with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” All of it! Your heart and soul should pour into loving the Lord! All of your physical and mental energy should be devoted to loving God!
      4. iv.    This isn’t just monotheism. God is saying more than “I must be YOUR only God.” He is saying, “I am THE only God. There IS NO other God besides me.” How very unpolitically correct! That means that anyone serving another God is wrong. That means anyone who dies not loving Jesus Christ will spend eternity in torment. It’s a good thing I’m not trying to be politically correct, but Biblically correct.
      5. v.    Nothing else is acceptable. Look How the scribe qualifies even more: “…is much more than whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
        1. Doing stuff is nil if it doesn’t come from love of Him. Ananias and Sapphira, Isaiah 1:13 – meaningless offerings


  1. But, even though He makes a demand that we fail to keep so often, that except for His grace we are bound to break over and over again, He follows it up with a tremendous promise! He doesn’t just tell us to grit our teeth and bear the burden of loving Him with “…all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…” He says we are to love YAHWEH…OUR GOD. Our God. YOUR God. MY God. Praise His name!
    1. So first we see that the greatest commandment is to love God completely because He is the only God, and therefore by His very existence He demands our complete devotion.
    2. BUT, He also tells us that we love Him because He is OUR God and we are HIS people! Later in Deuteronomy 6:24 it says this: “And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that  he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.”
      1. i.    Did you catch that? “For our good always”!
      2. ii.    God revealed Himself to His people for their GOOD, and Christ came for our GOOD!
      3. iii.    I’m convinced that one of the most forgotten truths in modern American Christianity is that God came not only so save us from Hell but to give us everlasting, complete, unending joy and satisfaction, starting right now!
      4. iv.    WSC #1: What is the chief end of man? –To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. PIPER: “To glorify God BY enjoying Him forever…because God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.” Christ Himself (John 15:11): “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full/complete.”!
      5. v.    This is not simply a joy at the forgiveness of sins; at the freedom from bondage. Yes, that is an incredibly joyful thing. But in this promise of God that we are His people and He is our God is something even better than the forgiveness of sins! Think of it this way:
        1. Sins always push us towards total ruin, i.e., anger would be murder, lust would be adultery.
        2. But God ALWAYS pulls us in the opposite direction, towards TOTAL satisfaction and JOY!
        3. vi.    God says, “Love me, and adore me, and trust in me alone because I am the ONLY God and am WORTHY of it…But do so knowing that you gain EVERYTHING from it. Obey the command to love me above all else, and do it with:
          1. the EXPECTATION that I will love you back
          2. and the REALIZATION that My love and favor leads to your GOOD, your JOY, and your ABSOLUTE SATISFACTION!”
          3. Hebrews 11:6 – “…whoever would draw near to God must believe He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”
          4. As His people we have a particular and special connection by which we KNOW Him to be God even though others may not even acknowledge His existence, but ALSO as His people, we are the special, direct recipients of His gifts and rewards!
          5. We are set apart to love Him and BE LOVED by Him; to glorify His name as the one and only God, and to receive glorious gifts as His people!
          6. vii.    We do an INCREDIBLE disservice to ourselves and to the gospel when we accept salvation from Hell but do not cling to, and seek out, and expect the promise of present and eternal joy as the people to whom God says “Love the Lord YOUR God.”

One of the books I’m reading is on the 10 commandments, and this quote was in the chapter on the first command:

“Who is it in the end that we truly trust and adore? For in answering that question we find who our God is.”

Who or what is it that you trust? Where do you find your greatest joy? Is it in Christ?

Do you recognize Yahweh’s divine right to say “You will love ME above ALL else.”, and do you obey it? Who or what do you trust and love most? Is it Christ?

God does not call us to boring obedience. He does not demand to be the most adored in our lives without promising us that we will never be sorry if we do so.

God calls us to and promises us more than sitting in pews waiting to NOT be in Hell. He asks more of us than simply to recognize Him as God. He says to you, “Love me and adore me above all because I am the only God…but I am YOUR God! Ask And I will give! Love me and BE LOVED by me!” Romans 8:32 – “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?”

This is the greatest commandment because we see the entire history of Christianity in it: the one and only God YAHWEH has called a people to Himself, redeemed them by His mighty acts, and will now and for eternity give us all the good and great and wonderful and eternal satisfaction and joy that we will accept.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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.” …..because He is worthy of it; because He promises that it is for our GOOD!


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