23rd Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 26) LSB #’s 605, 740, 392
Text – Mark 12:28
One of the scribes came up & heard them disputing with one another, & seeing that [Jesus] answered them well, asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
WHO’S NUMBER ONE?
Who’s number one? It might be the most common question in all of sports. We’re number one may be the most common answer. This might put some of you grandparents in hot water, but I’m going to ask, “Who is your number one grandchild????” Don’t flinch! Don’t move! And don’t you dare smile! Your grandchildren will be looking for any sign to tell them.
No matter how perfect they are, in the heart of every grandchild is the desire to be number one. It’s the same desire that was in the heart of the church leaders of Jesus’ day. They wanted to be number one & when Jesus refused to acknowledge that it made them angry.
King Herod had that same desire & once he found out that Jesus was born Herod tried to have the Son of God killed. When it comes to being number one, our sinful nature has a tremendous desire to push aside or eliminate any & all competition. Even grandchildren, cute as they can be, have no natural interest in sharing the limelight.
In the Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus had just finished plainly telling some of the church leaders, the Sadducees, that they were quite wrong in their thinking. The Lord even told them why they were wrong – because they “…know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Mark 12:24 ESV)
At that time, one of the Scribes came to Jesus because he was impressed with the way in which Jesus had answered the Sadducees. This Scribe seemed to have a genuine interest in the answer to his question, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus responds by telling the man which commandment is number one. Americans like to know who’s number one. The sports pages & websites list, every day, the standings for all the major sports so we can easily look it up. During 1984 Major League Baseball season, the Detroit Tigers went ‘wire to wire.’ That means they were in 1st place after every single game of the season. They were number one all year long.
In our own daily living we have to admit that’s a pretty rare thing. We hardly ever feel like number one for anything approaching even a week, let alone an entire season. Do you remember how the 3rd chapter of Ecclesiastes describes life?
“…there is a season, & a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, & a time to die; a time to weep, & a time to laugh; a time to mourn, & a time to dance; a time to seek, & a time to lose; a time to keep silence, & a time to speak…” (ESV) King Solomon, the wisest man ever to live, understood that there was a rhythm to life – a constant cycle of ups & downs.
Even if God grants you the privilege of being number one at something in life it will only be for a time. 1984 was a great season for the Detroit Tigers, but they haven’t gone ‘wire to wire,’ or won the World Series, in the 34 years since. Being number one in something of this life can be a blessing, but like all other things of this earth Matthew 6:19-20 applies:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth & rust destroy & where thieves break in & steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys & where thieves do not break in & steal.” (ESV) The Scribe asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” & Jesus answered:
“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart & with all your soul & with all your mind & with all your strength.’ The 2nd is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 ESV) What Jesus is saying is this: the only way, the only way you can truly love your grandchildren is to first love the Lord your God with all your heart & with all your soul & with all your mind & with all your strength. If you are not loving the Lord your God in that way, then any love you have for your grandchildren is idolatry, because it is fruit from the wrong tree.
It is only the Tree of Life that gives life. The tree of the knowledge of good & evil – it brings death. If Yahweh is not the center of our existence you & I are eating of the forbidden tree. That is what sinful creatures do, & it’s why so much of what we pursue in life does not satisfy – it is our nature, in this world, to put the wrong tree at the center of our existence.
Do you recall the words of confession we spoke earlier? We say to God, “We have not loved You with our whole heart.” (LSB p. 151) And because we have not, it flows from that sin that “…we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” We don’t properly love our neighbor, or our grandchildren, because we don’t properly love God.
So, is your mind arguing with me yet? “Pastor, it’s impossible to love God like that! You can’t seriously be saying that we don’t love our grandchildren just because we don’t love God with all our heart & with all our soul & with all our mind & with all our strength. You’re making us feel like bad people.”
If you’re feeling like bad people you should know that is what the Word of God does to us when we hear the Law correctly. The Law convicts you of your sin. Once that conviction happens then the Good News of God’s Word is there to create repentance in your heart & your soul & your mind. The Good News can then turn you back to your Creator.
If you aren’t convinced that you’re a sinner, then the good news is pointless to you. If you are not a sinner then you don’t need Jesus. That’s the whole point of what Jesus said in Mark 2:17, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (NLT) Being a sinner should make us feel bad, but we don’t have to stay there wallowing in our sins & in our feelings. The far more powerful word of the Gospel makes God’s children rejoice. As St. Paul wrote:
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16 ESV) That’s why, in the worship service, immediately after we confess our sins, the pastor pronounces the Absolution: “Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you & for His sake forgives you all your sins.” (LSB p. 151)
To know the power of God is to know & believe that even your most reprehensible sins have been erased by the blood of Jesus. To have the guilt of our sins removed is far better than having cancer or dementia cured, but the devil works overtime against the joy of being forgiven. So we need to hear the message of that joy over & over again.
For it is in that joy of having our sins & our guilt erased that we truly discover love for our heavenly Father. He knows we cannot love Him with all our heart & soul & mind & strength as we should. That’s why He sent His perfect Son to live in this world. Jesus kept all of the Law & He kept it perfectly so He could credit that perfection to every sinner including you & me.
Jesus loved God perfectly so that we can love Him imperfectly & still enter heaven. Jesus loves your grandchildren perfectly so that you can love them imperfectly & still enter heaven. Jesus put Himself last, even to the point of death on a cross, so that when we push others aside, in our desire to be number one, that sin too is forgiven & we receive life instead.
When you grasp the incredible power of the good news about your sins being forgiven, you can’t help but love God in return. And when you love God in that way, then you find in Jesus the power to love your neighbor as yourself. The greatest struggle for Christians is to keep their love in the proper order, God 1st, grandchildren next. If we get the order turned around, love for grandchildren is turned into idolatry. God is number one because He is the source of all life, & light & power & love. Keeping Him number one is a battle we fight every day, but His Holy Spirit is with us to strengthen us, to guide & direct us, & to turn us back to God in repentance whenever we lose our way.
Who’s number one? The 1st commandment tells us, & the blood of Jesus cleanses us when we get that mixed up. There is no greater blessing than to believe that Good News. Amen.
I am Jesus’ little lamb, ever glad at heart I am; for my Shepherd gently guides me, knows my needs & well provides me, loves me every day the same, even calls me by my name. Day by day, at home, away, Jesus is my staff & stay. When I hunger, Jesus feeds me, into pleasant pastures leads me; when I thirst, He bids me go where the quiet waters flow. Amen. LSB 740:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet