What Did Jesus Teach?

Here’s something to chew on. I’m still chewing on it. Much of this was written in response to a teaching given by Wayne Jacobsen, the publisher of the Shack, at the University of the Nations on June 4, 2009.

In Matthew 22:34-40 we have that famous passage where Jesus talks about loving the Lord God with all your heart, soul and mind.

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.”

I have always thought Jesus was giving us the greatest commandment here. I love this passage and have often quoted it and seen it as giving us the new way of looking at things – a summary of the Law, showing that it was based on love.

But it is worth noting that this is Jesus’ response to a very pointed question by a Pharisee and lawyer. When answering a lawyer, every word is extremely important. As a lawyer myself I know this too well. The question is not simply “What is the greatest commandment.” The question is “What is the greatest commandment in the Law.” (emphasis added) Clearly, the lawyer is referring to the Pentateuch.

So, considering that language and context, is it possible Jesus simply answers that question. Jesus, in response to the question about the Law considered the entire Pentateuch and told the Pharisee the best the Old Covenant had to offer. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. With this in mind we can then draw the conclusion that this passage doesn’t present Jesus’ preeminent teaching or the greatest God has to offer. Jesus may be only answering a pointed question with the very best of the Old Covenant.

You may ask why I am even dissecting this passage in this way. I am sure I am not alone in loving this passage and finding it to be a foundational teaching point. The reason I am is because I am comparing it to John 13:34-35, where Jesus tells us this:

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.

Jesus isn’t wasting words here. This is a new commandment. It isn’t something from the Old Covenant. It is different. And it is His new command to the disciples shortly before He leaves them. How is this markedly different from the Law and the Old Covenant?

It’s different because it isn’t based on our performance at all. Rather than telling us to Love God and love others or to refrain from unloving things (like adultery, murder, idolatry, etc.), Jesus is telling us this – “I’ve set the example; I’ve loved you. Now, just as I have loved you, love one another.”

Rather than focusing on what we can do for God, Jesus is telling us that the new covenant is based on what God has done for us. God has loved us; now we can respond to that love and to our being loved by loving one another.

That is new. That is exciting. That is amazing. The God of the Universe, Who could do as He pleases (and Who does do as He pleases), is pleased to love us unconditionally. Good news!

Consider what John wrote later in I John:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 John 4:7-21.

And remember Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:16-19.

It would appear that Jesus wants us to wake up to the reality that God loves us unconditionally. The focus absolutely is on knowing and understanding the depth of God’s love for us. To the degree we understand and know God’s love, we will be able to love others. The good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the reality of the Cross, is that God loves us so much that He died for us so that we might live loved forever and that we might love one another. Everything else can just fall away and we can be unified in one thing. Our sole fixation – fixing our eyes on Jesus – is to fix our eyes on the work He did at the Cross, demonstrating God’s love for us. This then frees us to love one another and demonstrate to the world the Truth of Jesus Christ. We can stop focusing on our performance, our religion, and our guilt and be free to live loved and love. We can understand what Paul was saying in places like Galatians 3-5 where he cries out to the Church at Galatia to stop relying on the flesh and to be free in the Spirit.

What do you think?

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