Jesus had caused a stir in towns like Capernaum and Nazareth. His teachings and actions astounded and angered the religious establishment (Mark 3:6).
But he was now having come to Jerusalem, riding in on a donkey in what felt something like the inauguration of a promised Messiah king (Zechariah 9:9/Mark 11:1-11).
And having walked into the headquarters of Jewish religion, tearing up the place, effectively pronouncing judgement on the state of affairs at the Temple -Jesus had pulled the proverbial trigger that would lead ultimately to His death on the cross.
His reputation had proceeded Him, but since arriving in Jerusalem at a high point in their religious calendar, His actions had enraged the Jewish religious leaders.
And so, Jesus had the full attention of all the various religious groups who came to Him in unrelenting waves trying to expose Him, or trap Him in the public space with their crafty questions and wanting to arrest Him (Mark 12:12).
But one Scribe who most likely shared the angst of his fellow religious brothers was intrigued by Jesus’ handling of the various tricks and traps set by his associates.
Something about Jesus drew him towards Jesus. Mark records that he saw “that He answered them well” (Mark 12:28) and so he decided to risk asking Jesus a real question. One that wasn’t designed to lure Jesus into a trap but to learn; “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28)
Often when Jesus was asked a question with a warped motive, He would answer in an obscure way or would tell a parable exposing the bad heart motive of those asking or even pronounce judgement on those asking. But this man’s question must have felt like a relief to Jesus after the barrage of tricks and traps.
He actually wanted to know Jesus’ answer. And so Jesus gives a succinct answer that helped not just him but helps you and me as Christ Followers to understand what matters most to God. Quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 Jesus replies;
The God of the Bible is the only One worthy of worship, adoration and praise. And so we are to;
- Love God with all our HEART (our emotions/desires)
- Love God with all our SOUL (our entire body & life)
- Love God with all our MIND (our thoughts)
- Love God with all our STRENGTH (our energy)
Almighty God is worthy of nothing less than our wholehearted worship. Every facet of our humanity (Heart, Soul, Mind & Strength) is to bow to God in loving worship that is to be expressed to fullest since facet of our lives is prefaced with the word “all” by Jesus.
There is a holy discontent in my heart, soul & mind. Brothers and sisters, we live in distracted days that seem so at odds with Jesus’ commandment here in Mark 12:31.
Love for God, worship of God by even those who call themselves Christ-followers is so commonly lukewarm, so partial rather than wholehearted.
For so many God is like a ‘Genie-in-a-bottle.’ God can stay in His corner of our lives ignored like the Genie concealed in its container until we need him.
And yet when we have some desire or desperate need, we pick up the bottle and rub it in prayer summonsing God to answer us and act as we desire.
Lockdown and a Global Pandemic, today again is an opportunity for us to hit the RESET button if we have slipped into such a form of spirituality.
Jesus’ answer to the Scribe reveals God’s desire for us all; it defines what true Christ-followers lives will look like. And it is radical; it is wholehearted. It is the only way to really live, and living this way will never result in regret.
Jesus wants all of YOU, all of ME. Are you distracted, are you lukewarm, are you acting like a consumer rather than a wholehearted worshiper of God?
This is the greatest commandment – love God with all your affections, love God with all your thoughts, make God the centre of your attention, love God with your whole being, your physical body and all the energy you have been given by Him.
Don’t hold anything back, expend it all, don’t waste your time and energy and focus on anything or anyone else, expend it all on loving and worshipping God. You will never regret that decision!
So, do you need to hit the RESET button today? The Scribe knew that Jesus’ answer to him contained the truth. And that truth of Jesus’ answer is still powerful to transform your life in the present and your experience of life in eternity. It is still powerful to shape your life and to fill your life with that which is truly valuable.
Jesus continued in vs31 to add a second bonus answer to the Scribes question. He had asked for the ‘greatest commandment’ and Jesus answered him, but as a bonus Jesus went further to explain that obedience to the greatest commandment would lead to something else…
True and wholehearted love for God would result in another love – love for other people. You see, love for God transforms who we are and transforms how we treat all other people God made.
It is utterly inconsistent, therefore to claim that you truly love God if you don’t love all people.
And, therefore it is also utterly inconsistent for Christ-followers to be complicit or silent about things like racism or Gender-based violence or injustice since all of these evils are rooted not in love but in a lack of love for individuals God created in His image.
To love God fully & to love people sums up all the commandments. We can easily make following Jesus overly complicated, but Jesus makes God’s will exceedingly clear.
As the Westminster Shorter Catechism states; “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
This is our purpose, to love, to honour, to glorify God in all we do. And here in Mark 12, Jesus connects this with how we treat others. If we truly love God, our hearts will be soft toward God, and the Holy Spirit will lead us to love others as God has loved us. This is the whole message of Galatians 5:16-24.
Loving God leads to loving people, being compassionate, merciful, forgiving as we have been forgiven. That’s true godliness, true holiness, the Jesus journey!
And the only way to get to a life that truly looks like that is to have a life that is overtaken with love for God. And the only way to love God more deeply is to see God more clearly, to see who He is and what He has done for us and to live out your whole life as a response. #moreinawe
Jesus starts this well-known Parable of the Sower with the following single word; “Listen!” (vs3) Jesus is calling for those around him to take note, to give him their ears, to hear intelligently, to pay attention.
Human beings are outstanding at filtering out noise all the time. Sound waves, vibrations transmitted through the air reach our ears continuously. There is an overwhelming cacophony of sounds assaulting your ears continually, and your brain is continuously filtering out listening to it all to help you work out what you do and do not need to be aware of.
And yet, right now if I tune in to try to notice all the sounds I can hear, I can hear the fan in the photocopier in our office, I can hear Sindi speaking to Sithabile about something that doesn’t need my attention, I can hear the truck on the road and the chicken from Bhekulwandle that still thinks its dawn, the click of Sithabile’s water bottle top being clicked closed, Rob’s phone rumbling to notify him of a message, the Hadeda crowing as it flies past our building again, someone at our office table scratching their leg, the keystrokes on my keyboard, my breathing …. You get the idea.
Jesus was calling those around Him on that day recorded in Mark 4 to focus their attention on Him and on what He was saying. Later in vs9, Jesus says again; “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” It’s like Jesus is saying; ‘Use those sound-catching-appendages on your head and give your wilful attention to what I am saying’.
Jesus’ words hint at the importance of the will in listening and hearing. Having ears is not enough; having the ability to hear is not enough. To listen requires a decision to give someone your time, it requires the cessation of speaking and a will that desires to hear the person speaking. You could say it requires a humility that gives enough value to that other person’s perspective that it will be heard and considered.
I know Mark 4 is about the Parable of the Sower, but I am fixated on Jesus’ desire that those around Him would listen. I guess I’ve been sensitised to this is because of the race riots in the USA, the flood of #blacklivesmatter social media posts and reactions and the protest marches that have engulfed many cities of the world. As a white South African male, I have sadly heard many varied reactions to what has been happening some of which is rooted ignorance, fear, lack of empathy, lingering sinful racist attitudes most of which shut down the conversation or render it illegitimate – and this all makes me sorrowful. Sad that the desperately necessary conversations, the learning and healing needed in our nation and church, isn’t possible without honest, open conversations, expressions of lament and importantly the listening that is required for this all to be possible!
Just last night, a Zulu son of mine (Ntokozo Mkhize) and I met to talk openly about what he was feeling, how he has engaged with the newsfeeds of late. It was enriching to listen, to probe with questions so as to understand better his emotions and reactions. To really keep quiet and learn. And to do all this because I love him, and so what he thinks and feels matters to me and I believe matters to our church and country. I left feeling, I/we need more of this. We left not having solved anything but feeling mutually drawn together and hopeful. That encounter required intentionality and a desire to share and to learn, and it required the belief that there is hope in Jesus, otherwise talking would make no difference.
Truly hearing is a decision; it’s an action. We all have ears, but will we hear? Jesus exhorts us to hear, it’s an action we are able to take, it’s something we can do, but it is not guaranteed whether we will do. I want to urge all of us to listen more, some of us need to be brave enough to speak more, but all of us need to listen more.
We need to listen to one another; we need to listen to those with a different perspective from ours and value their perspective and humble ourselves so that we can learn and grow closer together and see healing from hurt.
And even more than this, we all need to listen to Jesus. Jesus will help us to listen to others, Jesus is the only One who can truly re-shape our hearts and heal us so that we are willing to share with one another and have hope for the future.
On this day recorded in Mark 4, Jesus wanted those gathered around Him to listen, to give Him their full attention. Jesus still wants this from you and me today and every day. We like to refer to ourselves in Reconciliation Road Church as Christ-Followers, but we can only refer to ourselves as Christ-Followers if we are those who are listening to Christ so that we can follow Him.
Those around Jesus that day had to decide to listen, to hear Him truly, make that same decision today – to lean in daily, to listen to and to hear Jesus through a habit of a devotional life, through the habit of reading the Bible with your ears tuned to God’s voice, through prayer that is listening not just speaking and through an awareness of God in the midst of your everyday life.
I believe that listening to Jesus; He will urge you to also then listen to others around you. To be intentional about validating and valuing all people in your life. Even looking for new relationships with people that are different to you, people with different life experiences and perspectives that can enrich your life as you listen to them and honour their life and story.
Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. 2 Everyone utters lies to his neighbour; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
Do you ever feel that? I mean not in a proud way, where you have convinced yourself of your goodness. But where you feel like the endless stream of bad news and news of scandals and bribery and corruption are overwhelming. Where it feels like godliness, leadership integrity has vanished, and in their place lies double talk abounds. So we can identify with David’s lament here in this Psalm, he could have written this in 2020 in South Africa. The human problem is the same in every generation – sin.
3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, 4 those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?”
David is tired of arrogant and boastful people who deceive and manipulate with their words. His prayer is that God would remove such people!
A great friend and father in the LORD (Mike Tabraham) always speaks of how when we have a problem with someone we should ‘speak to God about them before we speak to them’, and this is precisely what David does here.
You might not like David asking for God to ‘cut off’ people or to cut off their lips depending on how you read those verses, but it is way better taking that raw emotion to God than expressing it to others or doing something you regret later!
Lament is an amazing gift from God. God can handle our raw emotions with their peaks and troughs and their unsanctified requests. And when we lament about people or situations, we put ourselves in the presence of our Father who can and does speak to us and help us to gain His perspective if that is indeed what we need.
5 “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.”
In this situation, David’s lament is echoed by God. It is not a lament God needs to re-shape in David because God shares David’s disgust. These wicked boastful deceiving people are acting unjustly towards the poor and needy. They are using their lies and influence to manipulate and oppress the poor, and God is moved to action!
Our God is a God of justice, a defender of the marginalised and the weak. I love the phrase God speaks; “I will now arise”! and “I will place him (the poor & needy person) in the safety which for which he longs.” God’s response shows His righteous character. Our God is very good, a very present help in trouble, always there, always fighting for the weak and the oppressed.
6 The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. 7 You, O Lord, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever. 8 On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man.
God’s response elicits praise and worship in David. God’s words are pure! There is no one like our God; David knows that God will intervene; God is good and worthy of our praise.
So, when next you are unjustly treated, or you see injustice, take your raw emotions to God in lament. God can handle your emotions, God can re-shape your thoughts, and you can know that God will act when He sees injustice!