“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. [Matthew 22:37, 38]
We know Jesus said this. And since He declares it to be the great commandment, we must take it very seriously; we should approach it as the most important thing of all and be prepared to give an account for its demands when the day of judgment comes. Jesus also said, if you “Do this, you will live.” [Luke 10:27]
Martin Luther said that this commandment alone clarified all of the other ones. He taught this truth this way: We should fear and love God so that: We have no other gods; We do not misuse the name of God; We remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy; (We must fear and love God so that) We honor our Father and Mother; We do not murder; We do not commit adultery; We do not steal; We do not lie; We do not covet our neighbors house or possessions; We do not covet our neighbors spouse. So you see…
Everything in life really is a First Commandment issue.
We must love the Lord our God not just to the best of our ability, but perfectly, with every atom that forms, and holds together brain, blood, bone and sinew, with our whole undivided self, with our whole heart, soul, and mind.
But we also know how difficult, in fact how impossible this is for us on our own. I mean, if we loved God above all, we wouldn’t have such a hard time confessing our faith before other people. We wouldn’t find ourselves thinking of the commandments as an insurmountable burden. We would never fear God’s wrath, since perfect love cast out all fear. [1 John 4:18] We would never be uncertain when there is a choice between God and the ways of the world.
And yet we know that this happens to us. If we take God’s Word seriously, we know how grim a matter it is to not keep the First Commandment. We understand the troubled question, which the apostles asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” [Mark 10:37]
It’s important to remember that even the commandment of love belongs to the law which Christ alone has fulfilled. The demand of this chief commandment reveals to us more clearly than any other place that we are and continue to be sinners who cannot answer before God in any way.
But because we’re interested in what makes the First commandment supreme, we must also consider a second commandment that is like it in supremeness. This is why Jesus mentioned a second commandment, specifically the one declared in Leviticus 19, in the eighteenth verse: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In quality it is “like” the one regarding God. Here again we have “love,” and here again we have the full extent of this love, which includes every contact we have with our neighbor and indeed all of humanity.
The truth is, we would all be lost and shut out from God unless God Himself acted to save us; unless God out of His love for fallen and sinful people like us acted first. And He did! He acted first when He gave His own Son who shed His life blood for us upon the cross. So you see, it is not our love that saves us but God’s love towards us. Love is not to be found in that we have loved God, but in that He first loved us and sent His Son to redeem and save us from our sins. The true and complete nature of love, which does not seek its own ends, has come into the world, into your very life, in the person of Jesus Christ.
In our gospel lesson, [Matthew 22:34-46] Jesus after successfully demonstrating the two most important commandments now sets His face towards the cross; the instrument of death that the very men He was speaking with would ensure He would walk to and die upon in just two short days. He does this so that these men and indeed all of mankind would understand just Who it is that gives His life and why He gives it. He does this with a simple question…
“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?” The Pharisees quickly parroted the answer that had been passed on through many generations after David’s prophecies concerning the coming Messiah’s bloodline: “The son of David” they answered. But Jesus will not allow that answer to be sufficient; He cannot, because there is infinitely so much more, and if we do not grasp this truth and accept it by faith we cannot be saved from our sins. You see…
Jesus cannot simply be a complete man who reveals how a good man can love. If that were the case, we would be lost in our sins and mandated to suffer God’s judgment and punishment for our sinfulness, because let’s be honest, even after our best efforts we still do not love God as we must. No, Christ must be more than “the son of David,” that is, He must be more than a mere man with unusual qualities and of unusual importance. You see, He must also be David’s Lord, and far beyond any of the greatest figures of history. This is why Jesus follows up with another question. “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?” If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
In this question, Jesus is passionately trying to demonstrate exactly Who it is that they will condemn in two short days, and who it is who will suffer and die as the only true innocent man upon the cross of a criminal. He wants them also to understand that in just three days after the death of this innocent man, who it is exactly who will rise from the dead and both proclaim and give victory over mankind’s true enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil!
Who do you say Jesus is? Do you agree that He is the second person of the Holy Trinity, the very Son of God who comes to us as the perfect, mysterious son of Mary, who has come to die for you? If you answer yes by faith, then you have both learned and received the divine gift of agape love. [1 John 3:16; 1 John 4:9]
Jesus is God’s solution to our sinful natures’ inability to love both Him and our neighbor as we should. As both Creator and creature, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and son of Mary came into this world as one of us. He lived the perfect life of love for God and neighbor that we can not, but most importantly He did it for sinners; He did it for you!
And if you do the one most important thing that God has equipped and encouraged you to do, that is if you receive Jesus as your Divine King and live under and within God’s love by faith, it will become a power in your very lives. He who believes “is born of God and knows God.” [1 John 4:7] It will be as when a man finds a treasure in a field, or a merchant discovers a pearl of great price that he has searched for long and patiently. Your heart will become dominated by the power of this great treasure. [Matthew 13:44-46]
When our hearts are opened to the love of God, we can’t help but be overwhelmed and captured by it. Not so fully that we cease to be sinners, because we still live and struggle with our sinful flesh, but so that we can honestly say along with St. Peter, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.” [John 21:17]
Who you say Jesus is will then determine how you will live the rest of your life.
In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus gave the Great Commission, one last commandment of love to His church before He ascended back to the right hand of God the Father. Listen: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Why do we preach and teach the Word of God and then form and support the various congregations throughout this world? Because we fear and love God; because we love our neighbor who is still trapped, dead in their sins. Why do we meet each Sunday, careful not to neglect the meeting of the saints? Because we love our brothers and sisters born of Holy Baptism just as we were. Because together we equally need the gifts that God so freely lavishes upon us in Word and Sacrament every day so that we can continue to grow in love towards God and one another. And then together, with one heart, the heart of Jesus, we are enabled by God to go out each and everyday, prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have in God through Jesus Christ. And the answer we give, will always be centered in God’s gift of mercy and love that fulfills both the great and second great commandment to love.
May God the Father Who created us, may God the Son Who redeemed us and saved us from our sins, may God the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies us and fills us with divine love and wisdom, keep both us and Christ Church until the resurrection of the dead. In Jesus name… AMEN!