We like it when anyone makes something more simple for us. Depending on the circumstances involved, we might even say something like, ‘Wow, thanks! You saved my life!!’
How is it that we can effusively thank mortal men for things not even all that important, yet not thank the Creator of all that is seen and unseen for the most profound simplification of all?
In the Gospel of Mark, the following conversation is recorded…
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
By the time of Jesus, the Jews had amassed a collection of 613 principles of law, ethics and spiritual practices derived from religious interpretation of the first five books of the Old Testament known as the Torah, referred to in Biblical Hebrew as the Miswoth, and generally referred to as the Law. In order to be regarded as a pious Jew, every commandment had to be observed without lapse… a practical impossibility; so much so that by the time of Jesus, the religious leaders of Israel had, in effect, long since stopped trying to observe all of them without lapse, thus leading to empty religious observance, merely a rote following of the commandments without any regard for the spirit behind the law. This “falling away” from the pure intentions of the Law had so hardened the hearts of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes of Jesus’ day that they could not match the teachings of Jesus Christ to the hundreds of prophecies from their own Scriptures regarding the coming of the Messiah that would uniquely identify Jesus Christ as that Messiah.
In the passages from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus took the entire Miswoth… all 613 of the commandments… and simplified them as loving God and loving others. In the Gospel of Matthew, the conversation is recorded in this way…
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
Note very carefully what Jesus said about all the Law and the Prophets hanging on the two commandments of loving God and loving others. Please understand: every commandment from the Old Testament, and the testimony of every one of the Prophets, is underpinned by, and can be simplified to, loving God and loving others.
Jesus intended the “Good News” to be readily understood by even a small child. It was never His intention to burden His people with a path to righteousness that could never be followed because following it would be a practical impossibility. If Jesus had come to insist that men had to observe the Law without fault to attain the righteousness leading to salvation, then no one would be saved. Instead, Jesus came to shed His blood so that all would be saved.
Jesus did not back away from a very dangerous circumstance when it came time to take the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes to task over their legalistic righteousness: He took them to task and thereby sealed His death at their hands:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Matthew 23:1-39)
My thought is this: Woe betide us if we ignore what Jesus Christ has taught us is what we should be doing… loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving others as we love ourselves! We have no excuse that will prevail before God for not doing these things… what will we say? That what God wanted was not understandable? That what God wanted was too hard to do?
Jesus made it simple. However, the impact is far from simple… doing what God has asked of us, fulfilling the two critical commandments that Jesus spoke of… the impact is single-purpose in that it is our eternal life with God that hangs in the balance. Our common sense alone tells us that Jesus would never make the requirements for our eternal salvation impossible to fulfill. The love of God for His people as documented throughout the Holy Scriptures indicates His willingness that not a single soul should be condemned to hell.
If you have not done so to this point in your life… fall on your knees and cry out to the Living God for forgiveness of your sins by the shed blood of His Son Our LORD Jesus Christ. There is not a sin you have committed that God is not willing to forgive if you receive Him willingly into your heart, believing in Him and in the One He has sent, confessing your sin before Him and turning away from it to ask for the free pardon of that sin by the blood of His Son, to thereafter live and walk by faith, saved forever by grace.
It is indeed simple… LOVE GOD. LOVE OTHERS. LIVE FOREVER.