The Core Commandments (Believe, and Love) – April 19, 2023 (120-122/365)

So I’ve been asked to speak to some kids that we’re taking care of as part of one of the main church’s partner ministries. This talk I have with them is part of their outing; With that said I’m suspecting that they’d want to be in the pool rather than listen to me.

So I’m thinking about giving them a crash course into their identity in Christ, and their responsibility as a member in the body of Christ. It’s nice that as I was typing all of that down I was reminded of the new commands we have been given through Christ Himself.

See, as we all know, the Israelites were given commands in form of the Law, to Moses on Sinai in the wilderness. This Law is more than just 10 Commandments; Apparently someone took the time to count the actual number of laws in the Old Covenant and they said that there were 613 of them in total. As the years of the Law in place turned into decades, and centuries, the nation of Israel tried its hardest to keep up with this rigid standard, only to find after so long, that they have been utterly exhausted as people as a nation (as we have seen their lackadaisical movements and offerings in Malachi), and they have been brought to the lowest.

Picture this: Even before they were in the land promised to them, they were already enduring hostile nations whom they had to pass through, or who tried stopping their progress. They were not only confronted with armies and attacked physically, but they were also assaulted by way of deceit (see the account of the nation of Gibeon) in at least one instance their enemies tried attacking them with literal curses (see the story of the prophet Balaam). In their infancy as a nation, they were still attacked by raiders and neighboring tribes, and even when they made the move to shift from being ruled by judges to kings, so the nations around them also attacked, from bands to actual armies.

They’d win, but they’d also lose – and this was especially the case in instances when they not only turned away from God, but turned towards other gods to worship and venerate. They were warned by the Old Covenant, and they were warned by prophets… but they would still have times that their hearts were hardened and their minds closed. As a consequence, they suffered not only being utterly defeated by their enemies, but they were literally brought to the countries of their conquerors.

They’d been brought to the lowest – the way I see it, they’d endured being attacked by all means necessary, they’d suffered being conquered and losing their homes… and with the conquest of the Romans, they suffered their entire identities being lost. For as the nations before the Romans only sought to conquer their people and their land, so the Romans also sought to dominate their minds and spirits.

Wow, I didn’t mean to go into that much detail, but it just felt good to put it all down. Anyway, throughout all this, in spite of the subjugation introduced and applied by the Romans, and in spite of their turning weary and literally numb at all that’s happened to them, Scripture remained, and the Law remained. Much so, that words had been passed from generation to generation, throughout all this time, that even Jesus Christ knew of them.

These words were the greatest Law in the Commandment, and they were as follows:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind, body, soul, and strength.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

How do we know that Christ knew these things? Well we remember the events prior to His sharing of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. A lawyer ‘put Him to the test’ by asking Him how to inherit eternal life.

Actually, let me go ahead and put it all here:

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Luke 10:27-37

Now see, for the longest time I’ve been brought to believe that we should follow the example of the Good Samaritan. And sure, there are lessons to learn from this exchange, on compassion, and selflessness, and unconditional mercy. Sure, we can learn that compassion can stir up from even the most unexpected of people (the Samaritan), and consequently, this same mercy isn’t always consistently practiced by those we expect to give it (the Levite and the priest). We can learn how this compassion can stir up so we can be bold to help someone by more than just talking to them, but giving our time and our resources to them. Finally, sure, we can learn how it is possible for us to have mercy on our fellow human beings, going beyond the stigma of hatred (e.g. the hostility between Jews and Samaritans), and even confounding practicality (spending not only for one day of recovery, but pledging to pay back the cost for as long as it takes).

The problem is, after Christ told this particular lawyer, ‘You go, and do likewise’, we don’t have any records of how the lawyer responded. We have the details we need to know on how Christ responded his question. Picture this abridged dialogue:

‘How shall I inherit eternal life?’

‘Love God, and love your neighbor.’

‘Who is my neighbor?’

‘The one who showed ridiculous mercy.’

‘You go, and do likewise.’

Here’s the thing. I say ridiculous mercy because I think the point of the parable was that it’s beyond our efforts to have mercy as was elaborated on. We’re supposed to have selfless mercy, and it has to be consistent. We’re supposed to give everything, to everyone. Commit such mercy to one man naked and half dead, see another person along the road in the same condition, commit the SAME mercy to this person.

And did you notice something else? The lawyer didn’t ask for details on regarding loving God. So even if we COULD pull off this mercy, we’d only be HALFWAY to eternal life, at best.

Let’s go to the story of the rich man, who asked Him about how to gain eternal life. Christ answered him without a flinch… and this rich man also answered, I imagine immediately, by saying that he’s been following these laws since he was a boy. Let’s look at Luke 18:

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”

And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

Luke 18:18-25

So say, by some stretch, you’re able to show that you’re able to love your neighbor by showing ridiculous mercy to one and all. And say, that not only are you actually able to love your neighbor, but you’re also able to follow the commandments – not murdering, not stealing, not bearing false witness, and honoring your parents, among other things.

Here’s the thing – what I learned from Christ’s talking to the lawyer and the rich man is this: It’s already impossible for us to love God with all our heart, soul, body and mind. It’s impossible for us to truly love our neighbor. But see here, even if by some impossible miracle you are actually able to follow the Law… It STILL wouldn’t be enough. Christ told the smug rich man who claims to have followed all the laws, and even as a youth, that he needed to give his life up, and follow the example of Christ.

Again, sure, there’s probably something to get from this, as we’ve already gone through this Scripture countless times as we grew up ourselves – sure, it takes everything to follow Jesus. A lot of other folks also equate this to us ‘taking up our cross’ to follow Him. But the point I’m seeing here is that, if the concern is for us to get eternal life on our own, well, stop trying. It’s not possible. We can’t do it. Just as the Israelites couldn’t do it, so we couldn’t.

In our delving into the old commands, we found out that neither the smartest nor the richest – none of us can come anywhere near God. In fact, ALL of us fall short of His glory. Clearly, we could NOT keep up with the Law.

In fact, if we see it from another angle, look – it’s not even a question of our capability, but it’s an issue with our identity.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…

Romans 3:23

I say it isn’t possible, because even if we follow the law, we still fall short of His glory, because we are sinners. Because Adam sinned, so we sinned, and even if we do everything right, we STILL fall short of the glory of God.

So do we disregard the old commands? Is there any value in them? Yes! Paul shares that the law has at least two functions. First, let’s see Romans 7:7What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” ; By the Law, we know sin, and if we truly value the Law, we see just how hopelessly sinful we are.

Second, let’s look at Galatians 3:24, in the King James: Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Friends, we still value the Law, because again, it shows us how hopeless we are on our own, but here we see the Law points us to our only Hope: No less than Jesus Christ.

See here, it’s no less than the Lord Jesus Christ who had compassion upon all of us, and not only was He demonstrating His righteousness which fulfills the Law (NOTE: In Matthew 5:17-18 He says He came to fulfill the Law, instead of using the word ‘follow’; I suppose I should look into this some other time. Note to self for my consideration and further discussion – sinlessness and righteousness fulfill the Law), but He gave EVERYTHING: He didn’t just sell His belongings (well, the Romans did) and gave money, no – He gave His body and blood, He gave His LIFE, so that WE would have eternal life.

This Lord, who is THE Lord, fulfilled the Commandments, and as such, has the authority to give us new Commandments:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

1 John 3:23-24

Pastor Joedy pointed this out during his time with us last Saturday, and I suppose I’m reminded to bring it up here as well. We’re to believe in Him, and we’re to love one another. We all know the famous John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The key is to believe, and without going through too much fluff on how to ‘demonstrate’ belief, let’s go through the definition of ‘believe’ by our good friends Merriam and Webster. The very first definition is as follows:

a: to consider to be true or honest, i.e. “believe the reports”, “you wouldn’t believe how long it took”

b: to accept the word or evidence of, i.e. “I believe you”, “couldn’t believe my ears”

It’s more or less in line with what I’m proposing we say is belief, or what it means to believe in someone, to be precise. According to the dictionary definitions we just read, we can say that to believe in a man is to consider him to be true or honest, and to accept his word or evidence. In other words, to believe in someone is to say we agree that he is who he says he is, and we accept what he says.

To believe in Christ is to say that He is who He says He is, and we are who He says we are.

And let’s take a moment to think about that. Christ is the Son of God – God, the Creator of the Universe, who is Maker of all things seen and unseen; He is the Maker of time and space, and is Himself beyond time and space. We believe Christ’s word when He says that He is the Son of God, and we acknowledge His evidence by way of His work – Healing people far away from Him, He demonstrated His power beyond space, and turning water into wine, He bypassed the laws of chemistry and of time, demonstrating His superiority above time.

By laying down His life, He presented Himself as a sacrifice representing all of humanity – He became sin and took the death that we deserved, so that we would be His righteousness and live as He deserved. He demonstrated beyond words that we are loved, by the One who matters; Again, no less than the Creator.

We are loved with an extravagant, selfless love – Christ gave everything up to give us everything we need, and so we know God gives us all we need.

We are loved with an everlasting, enduring love – Because of what Christ has done, nothing can ever separate us from this love that God has for us.

We are loved with an expanding, eternal love – Christ did the work to ensure that we are reconciled to God, so we are not only able to run to His throne, but by His Spirit we call God our Father.

I see here, friends, that it’s important for us to believe in Christ, because when we believe in Christ, we see that we are believing that we are loved by God. It’s as I always say: You can’t talk about love without talking about God, nor can you talk about God without talking about love; You can’t talk about God’s love without talking about Christ, nor can you talk about Christ without talking about God’s love.

Actually, let’s see the positive side of that coin: When you talk about God, you talk about love. When you talk about love, you talk about God. When you talk about God’s love, you talk about Jesus Christ. When you talk about Jesus Christ, you talk about God’s love.

…and it’s from this extravagant, selfless, everlasting, enduring, expanding, and eternal love, freely given to us through Christ and His finished work; It’s only from God’s love that we are able to love one another. We’re able to be extravagant and selfless in our love to others, we’re able to not only endure suffering, but to thrive in it, and to expand… All because of, and inspired and motivated by God’s everlasting and eternal love for us, through Christ.

Friends, to wrap it all up, what I want to share to you are two commandments that you have as Christians, and members of the body of Christ: That is, for you to believe, and to love one another. To believe is to agree that Christ is who He says He is. At the cross He proved God loves US with all HIS heart, body, mind and soul. At the empty tomb He guaranteed that we are able to love our neighbor, because we are loved by Him.

This is a whole lot more than I expected to produce, but I’m at least happy I have this. We hit on both identity and commandments at the same time.

Until the next post (probably coming soon), God bless you.

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