Passage: Mark 12:28-34
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV
Religious debates at church can get pretty heated, can't they? My first husband, while in seminary, found himself amused at the debates which always ensued during theology class. Let the Pre-, Mid-, and Post-millenialists sit together in a room for 5 minutes and you are bound to have one hot debate! Something more subtle creeps into discussions in Bible studies and Sunday School classes through. Slicing and dicing Scripture one verse at a time is like painting a picture pixel by pixel without zooming out to see what is forming from the work. Others pick apart Calvinism and Armenianism, among other theological differences. Yet more groups take a Bible passage out of context, leading to a bunch of "I think" and "I feel" statements. A person's set of beliefs can become very complicated... and on shaky ground. This sort of thing is why we have so many denominations and splinter groups, as well as wounded warriors, victims of "friendly fire", as if it's really ever friendly.
Jesus used a fig tree as an illustration for His disciples of the spiritual deadness of the Jewish faith of His day. There was no fruit in the Jewish leaders' lives, but they certainly looked the part. Such deception will be judged for what it is. He told them to never eat from that fig tree again, symbolizing to never sit under their teaching from now on, because it leads to spiritual death (Mark 11:12-14). Then He went on to clear the temple of the money changers who were dishonest, turning God's House into a den of thieves (Mark 11:15-19). This is the canvas for the debate in Mark 12.
The chief priests, scribes, and elders had a lot of complicated rules they based on the Law of Moses. After so long, they no longer resembled the original Scriptures! Their faith in the Almighty God had been exchanged for power and greed. Jesus' teachings brought people back to the heart of what the Scripture taught: loving devotion to God. This threatened their power over people. When Jesus disrupted business dealings in the temple courtyard, they were indignant, seeking to get rid of Him. After all, the Roman government didn't dig into their religious affairs, so killing Jesus would have meant nothing to them. They had painted a very ugly, dark picture depicting God's relationship with Israel.
They came to Jesus to try to trap Him by asking Him questions in hopes He would commit blasphemy, a charge worthy of death. After some time, one of the scribes, a scholar in the Law, asked Him which commandment was the greatest. Jesus started out with the Shema: "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" (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NIV). This was regularly recited at the Temple. By stating this passage for the scribe, Jesus pointed out what their version of the Law, and their hearts, were missing. Then He went on to say, "The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:31). He quoted Leviticus 19:18 from the Torah. This was another indictment against them. Because of their legalistic, self-serving, fake religiosity, they were missing both parts of the big picture: Loving God and loving each other. They made loving and obeying God very complicated, when it was really very simple.
Christians, in general, are notorious for mincing words when it comes to our beliefs. Sometimes we come up with our own "theology" pieced together from only God knows where. Other times, we are too busy picking at verses when we should be reading the passages as a letter to us, in it's actual context. In our desire to be "right", we begin judging our brothers and sisters in Christ as "guilty" of some sort of heresy. We could easily be judged the same way, you know. When we do this, we fail to live out the heart of what Jesus told the religious leaders of His day. There is a hurting world watching us paint a picture, disgusting them with our meanness. It is like hyper-focusing on the pixels and missing the picture entirely. What an ugly, horrible picture!
What if all the junk in our faith were stripped away? What if we stepped back to see the big picture of our Christian faith? We would see the awful mess we've made and begin correcting the mistakes that made the mess in the first place. Mincing words in Sunday school, or picking others apart in an online chat would end. The love we have for God and for others would be the beautiful painting our hurting, needy world desperately longs to see. I heard on Christian radio yesterday a story of a director who worked with Hillsong United on the movie, Hillsong United "Let Hope Rise". He wasn't a believer, but their witness to their love for Jesus and their mission to share His love with a needy world struck him at heart level. Even though he still did not know Christ as his Savior, he was certainly being made ready for someone to come bring the gospel to him in a personal, real way. Their witness to this man is a testament to what Jesus taught, love God with everything in you, and love others like you would yourself. That is the beautiful masterpiece of faith we are called to paint together.
What if we held a simple faith in Christ? The doctrine is simple. In fact, Paul made this statement, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV Let us get back to the basics of God's Word and simply love Him and others around us. It really is that simple.
May God bless you.