October 22, 2023

Being Human Like Jesus (Mark 12:28-31)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2023-2024) Topic: One Lord: No One Like You Scripture: Mark 12:28–31

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Children's Lesson (click here)

I. The Image of God

The book of Genesis tells us some really important things about being human. First, in Genesis 1:27 we read “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” But when (in chapter 3) the first man and first woman turn away from God (with distrust, then disobedience), we might wonder about their status as image bearers. If human beings are now sinners before God and separated from God, do we continue to reflect our Creator's image? Genesis 9 says yes, we do. In that chapter God gives Noah and his family this warning about violence (one of the major reasons he judged the world with a flood in chapters 6-8) This is 9:6... “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” So each person continues to have incredible value as a human being; as those made in His image. But... in the New Testament (NT), in Colossians 3:10, Paul reminds disciples of Jesus that they have “...put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” So what I believe Paul is saying is that if you are in Christ, then you have a “new self” which is progressively being “renewed in knowledge”, and renewed according to the “image of its creator”. And so, in some way (and not surprisingly), though the image of God has not been erased in us, it has been distorted. It's an image in need of renewal.


II. The Passage: “No... Commandment Greater Than These” (12:28-34)

So how might we summarize what those verses are communicating? Maybe something like this: though every human life is fully human (created in God's image), because of human sin, the fullness of that image is only possible through Jesus. Turn over to Mark 12. I'd like to look together at verses 28-34. Think with me about those verses in light of this idea of being human and the fullness of the image of God in us. This is what we read (v. 28)...

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” [29] Jesus answered, “The most important is [Deuteronomy 6:4-5], ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. [30] 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.’ [31] The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Let's stop there. Though chapters 11 and 12 focus quite a bit on the spiritual unhealthiness and opposition of groups like the Pharisees and scribes, the scribe mentioned here has asked Jesus a really, really good question: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Now think for a minute about the focus of that question. In asking for the most important commandment, I don't think the man is interested in discarding the other 612 commands of the Law of Moses. Instead, I think he's asking, “Where do I, where do we, start? Which comes first? Is there one command that informs the rest? Is there an ultimately foundational commandment?”

But what exactly is a commandment? It's a divine instruction that aligns us with the God-centered reality in which we all live, but... a God-centered reality that all of us are tempted to ignore in favor of our own me-centered version of reality. But when the commandment aligns us with that God-centered reality, it's also restoring us to God's ultimate design for humanity.

So with that in mind, I think the scribe's question could also be expressed this way: “In light of what God has revealed, what it is the most important way that we can be realigned with and restored to what it means to be a human being made in His image?”

Now, there's a lot that we could talk about in terms of the two commandments that Jesus identifies and elevates here. As Jesus expressed in Matthew's version of this story, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:40) That's a pretty monumental statement about 75% of your Bible. Paul said something similar in Romans 13:8–10 where he wrote...

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. [9] For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [10] Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

But what I believe would be extremely helpful for us this morning is to take a few minutes and think about these two commands in light of... the perfect obedience of the One who taught us about the greatest commandment; the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. Mark 1 records this simple statement, “And [Jesus] was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.” (v. 13) Matthew and Luke's Gospels clearly confirm what's implied in Mark: that Jesus stood firm in that time of testing/temptation. His did not give in. And before and after that 40 days, he never, ever wavered. That's why the writer of Hebrews describes him as “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (4:15) Later in that same book, the writer boasts that we have ”such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners”. (7:26)

Looking through the lens of our main text, what that means is that Jesus, at all times and in every way, perfectly obeyed these two commandments. Moreover, that means there is no better definition of what it means to be human than Jesus Christ, since only he has perfectly aligned his humanity with the God-centered reality in which we all live, and... only he has perfectly showcased God's ultimate design for being human. And if that's true (and it is), then our greatest desire should be to learn from him everything we can learn about the fullness of being human.

Brothers and sisters, friends, there's a new way to be human, and Christ is that way. So often my humanity, your humanity is just a given. It's who we are. But it shouldn't only be a given. It should also be a pursuit. Are you human? Yes. But shouldn't you desire to be even more so? Yes! We pursue the fullness of our humanity when we pursue Jesus, the perfect man!

So in light of Jesus' response to this scribe, and in light of his perfect obedience, we should be asking, “What can I learn from Christ about the fullness of being human?” Well, in light of how Jesus answered this scribe, I think we can say that I am most fully human when I love God with my all... and... when I love all with an 'as yourself' love. If, as 1 John 4:16 tells us, “God is love”, then it's no surprise that love best defines the fullness of our image-bearing humanity. Is that how you think about your humanity? Is that how you think about what it means to be a human being? To love? If you do, it wouldn't be unusual. I feel confident in saying that's how a lot of people think about being human. If I went door to door in the neighborhood across the street and asked them to give me just one word that might best define what it means to be human, there's a good chance they would say, “love”.

But is that love the same love Jesus is describing here? Well, when it comes to loving others, there would definitely be some overlap in terms of popular depictions of love and what Jesus has in mind when he cites Leviticus 19:18 here (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”).

But when we keep these commandments tied together, just as Jesus did here, and when we think of the life of Jesus (one of perfect obedience), then I think we have to say, “No. This love is not the same as popular depictions of human love.” Let me share three reasons why that's true:

First, Love for God is only possible through new birth. When Jesus asserts that the greatest commandment, the number one, the most important commandment, is to love God with every-thing you are, he is describing a heart condition or posture that is exactly the opposite of the heart posture with which every single one of us is born. We read in Romans 5 that, apart from His grace, we are labeled “enemies” of God. In Romans 8:7, we are similarly described as “hostile to God”. And in 8:8, Paul is crystal clear about our condition: “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” So apart from radical, gracious, divine intervention, God-hating humans will never obey the most important commandment. There have been and there are many today who love the idea of God, or they love a God fashioned in their own image, but the love that Jesus references in Mark 12 is only possible through new birth.

Second, Love of neighbor is best expressed when it is second. We can't miss the fact that when Jesus was asked to provide one commandment, he offered two instead. Why? Because when obedience to the second commandment is evident in our lives, it is the best, earthly evidence that obedience to the first commandment is also taking place. But we also cannot miss the order here. To truly be the “as yourself” love of neighbor Jesus exemplified, this command must always, always, always be second. Why? Because the first commandment informs and empowers the second. Only when I strive to love God with my everything, will I have the perspective and grounding to genuinely give to others what I've received from God. When that first commandment is not first, something else will be. Idols can also inform our love for others. And when that happens, the love in question is not the love Jesus is referencing here.

Third, Perfect human love was best displayed at the cross. We could spend hours looking at scenes from the Gospels, scenes in which Jesus is loving God with his all through prayer, worship, or obedience; we could look at scenes in which Jesus is loving others (w/o exception) through healing, teaching, or open arms. But just as the path of Christ was always leading to the cross, the death of Jesus is the very best place to see the ultimate fulfillment of the greatest commandments. In 1 John 5:3 we read this profound statement: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” Think about it: at the cross, Jesus lovingly obeyed his Father by giving everything (“heart... soul... mind... strength”... his life), and in so doing, was loving his neighbor in a radically sacrificial way that can never be rivaled. Not only was our new humanity made possible by the blood of Jesus, but his death perfectly defines the very love which Jesus commends in our main text from Mark 12. So when you ask yourself, “How can I genuinely love God and love others in obedience to these greatest commands?” you should always look to and meditate deeply on the cross of Christ.


III. Hunger for His Humanity

Brothers and sisters, friends, please ask yourself, “Where is my love directed? To what or to whom do I give it regularly? And... how do I love? In what ways do I love God and others?” Believer, please let the perfect humanity and perfect love of Jesus drive your discipleship to Jesus. Hunger and thirst to love God and love others as he did... and does. Please don't settle for any other standard. Keep looking to the cross. And if you're not (or not yet) a follower Jesus, think carefully about what it means to be human. More than that, think carefully about how only Jesus demonstrated and makes possible the fullness of our true humanity. Here's good news: there is a new way to be human, and Jesus invites you to experience that today. You can't earn that in any way. He already paid for it. Turn to Him today and simply receive it by faith.