On one occasion and expert of the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
‘What is written in the law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’
He answered, ‘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, “Love your neighbour as yourself.’
‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied, ‘Do this and you will live.’
Who was this man asking questions of Jesus?
In one sense it does not change things at all to know more about the person who was talking with Jesus, because it does not change what is intended to be taught from this passage of scripture. But then on the other hand there are some interesting thoughts here when you consider the situation.
In this translation we are told that it is an expert in the law who was talking with Jesus. We have some confusion as to who exactly this person was. Some translations favour the idea that he was an expert in religious, or Mosaic, law and state this in the translation. Other translations call this man a lawyer – which seems to suggest civil law. Another translation uses the word ‘scribe’, which can be one of a number of jobs.
The most religious of these jobs was to make copies of the holy scrolls for synagogues. That was a job that required lengthy training, lengthy preparation, and a lot of care. It was preferred for a Levite to do this, because that is the tribe that was appointed specifically to the priestly duties in Israel. So there is some credence to saying that this man was a Levite.
Certainly a scribe would very likely also be an expert in the religious law because he would be one to read and re-read and to copy these out again and again. In contrast, a lawyer, or an expert in the civil law, seems to me to be the least likely profession of the person talking with Jesus. Why? Because of the question itself and because of the answers that he gave to Jesus. These are quotes directly from the Old Testament law.
People talk much, and I talk much, about the three love commandments of Jesus, and in this text we have the first two of them. But these commandments did not originate with Jesus. There were already there in the Old Testament scriptures.
The first in Deuteronomy 6:4-5
“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 strength.”
The second in Leviticus 19:18
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”
I have a few reactions to this part of the story. My first is, I wonder what answer to the question, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ would be given by many people today? And what would they know from scripture in order to be able to give the whole answer from the scriptures – the same way as this expert in the law, or Jesus himself in another section of scripture?
It may be an interesting exercise to find the scriptures for yourself that would very quickly say all that there is to know about salvation and eternal life. Can you do it without legalism? Can you do it so that it includes an active and living relationship as a child of the Father? Can you do it with love?
And then I must confess, and even feel amused by, my natural second reaction. Those of you who have read my daily devotions on Facebook can probably guess what is coming. Because, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus showed us how legalism will lead to failure. We will fall short of what is necessary to enter the Kingdom.
Jesus also showed us how literal interpretation of scripture leads us into error, and that there is much more meaning ‘beneath the surface’. So if literalism is of paramount importance to you, this means you will also fall short of the standard to enter the Kingdom.
And yet, here we have 2 quotations taken directly from the Law, and Jesus saying that to do this is to live.
However, I wonder how much it is truly possible to fulfil these laws completely. Think about it. To love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.
I don’t know about you, but with me certainly a part of my heart is reserved for love of my children. Then there is a special corner for the one I have that special love for. There are the loving memories of my parents, and the love for them that never dies. And I feel all of this in my heart… So I know that not all my heart is the Lord’s because of these others in my heart. Or is sharing OK? There is no scripture to give authority to that… or if there is, I will gladly be corrected. I know of some that could be twisted that way, but I don’t ‘twist’ scripture.
I have heard too many times very learned biblical scholars twist scriptures in fantastic ways to try to prove that it does not say what it actually says (this is mostly the greatest problem for those who follow the ‘bible is infallible’ school of thought. And this school of thought arose because of the tradition for calling the scriptures the ‘Word of God.’ But this is a false and incorrect title for the scriptures, and the scriptures themselves tell us what the ‘Word of God’ really is – it is a person: Jesus).
If you are not careful, you can begin to tie yourself into spiritual knots here, or force upon yourself certain behaviours and ways of thinking that just are not natural. They will haunt you and make you feel like you fail for making the slightest mistake. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is always at the crux of the problem with the law and legalism.
That is why God, even before the world was created, had already prepared a solution to the problem.
There is someone, and only one, who fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets.
You know the answer to the question of who this one is: Jesus. And you know that because of my sins and because of your sins, Jesus suffered the terrible torture of the death on the cross of Calvary. He took the punishment that I deserve, and that you deserve.
I even find it helps make things clearer to me to imagine that it is my sin that drove the nail through his hands. And if I have been convicted of a particular sin, this is exactly how I deal with it – because it brings a certain sharpness and clarity to repentance.
But the wonderful thing is that the work did not end with the passion of the sacrifice of Christ. As we identify ourselves, our old lives crucified with him there, so we, like him, are raised into new life. Now we are clothed with the pure white robes of the righteousness of Christ and have access to the throne room of the Most High. We don’t need to grovel there. We are now sons of the Father, can sit on His lap and call Him daddy.
The amazing thing is that this incredible salvation deals with all the sins we did in the past, all the sin that is still in our lives, and all the sins that we are yet to do in the future. And yet the Father does not see the stains of that on our lives. He sees instead the wonderful righteousness of His son, Jesus.
Does that mean we are free to continue in sin? Of course not! And this is where we are to be like little children in the family, with the best Father in the universe.
Listen, in any family children get things wrong, make mistakes, or try to do things their own way and so fall and make a mess. You have selfishness in every child, and even a baby can try to rule the home. But does a good parent make a big deal over this? No! The hugs keep coming and the love is unconditional and constant.
It takes time before the tiny child can begin to understand certain things. There can even be habitual things the child does that make you squirm in your thoughts, but it can take time before the child can even understand that what they are doing is not normal and needs to be changed.
As an example, more than once I have been told about little boys using a corner of their room as the toilet. Yes, I know – yuk! But this really will not be solved by shouting and spanking, and in fact those things can make it worse. This is a very small child, and needs to know that it is unconditionally loved and accepted all the time. Don’t panic! This is a problem that will be solved. With some it can be as late as 7 years, but it will be solved!
And in a similar vein of thinking, how much patience do we offer to the person who comes from a life where they have been a part of the ‘gay’ community? I will be blunt here, there are many parts of the Christian world where such people are treated so badly by so-called Christians that it has become impossible for them to hear and receive the gospel message. Their blood will be on the hands of the Christians that participated in this. And there is terrible judgement to come on those churches because of this. How dare anyone act in a way that prevents another human being from receiving the saving grace of Jesus? There will be judgement in return – as Luke said, pressed down, shaken together and running over into their laps.
All people are drawn by the love and the knowledge of Jesus and the Father. Being told that they will burn in hell, and not to be shown even pity for this, let alone the complete lack of love and kindness… that builds a wall. And it is the so-called Christians who are building it. It burns the bridges, and it is the Christians setting them aflame.
Yes – there is judgement on the church and even on the lands because of robbing souls of the chance to hear the gospel.
Some would ask what Jesus would do. I am sure he would show that there is a way to discover the love of the Father.
Of course he never shirked the responsibility of calling sin what it is. But think of the woman caught in adultery facing the painful death of stoning. Jesus had compassion and rescued her. He had certainly won her respect before he told her to sin no more. And I think rather more than respect, a real sense of gratitude.
When was the last time we read in the papers about a gay person having gratitude to members of a Christian congregation?
The way some have preached, they would prefer to be among those wanting to cast stones. And they even show their sinfulness by ignoring the sin of the other party in the crime (referring again to the woman caught in adultery. It does take more than one to commit adultery…).
So even by their ‘legalism’ they are not in obedience to scripture, but rather making up their own religion. Will this be approved by the Father? I think not!
So, in your love for the Lord, how will you respond? Do not lovers have a great interest in the things that their partner loves? So do you have an interest in what the Lord loves?
I think it is revealed in his rescue program for all mankind that the Lord loves all people. So are we to hate who He loves?
And then the next step – to love them as ourselves.
Brothers and sisters, this is simple doctrine and very clear in the scripture. It is not rocket science… And it is not something that you will struggle to obey if you are a child of the Father and love your Daddy!