Mark 12:28-34

Sunday Morning Bible Study

May 15, 2005



A man on a camel rode through miles of the sun-drenched desert searching for some sign of life. His supplies were running low when his camel died. Now on foot, he desperately sought refuge from the heat, and, most importantly, a source for water. Suddenly, he came across a vendor in the middle of the desert. “Thank God I found you!” the man cried. “Please help me. I’m in dire need of some water.” “Well,” said the vendor, “I don’t have any water. But would you like to buy one of these fine ties.” “What am I going to do with a tie?” the man asked. “That’s what I’m selling sir. If you don’t like it, I can’t help you.” The man left the vendor and walked on for many more miles, praying each minute that he would find refuge from the scorching sun. His eyes squinted a bunch of times when he came across a restaurant in the distance. Unable to comprehend a restaurant located in the middle of the desert, he assumed the place was a mirage, but decided to check it out anyway. As he approached the door, his mouth opened in amazement, seeing that the place actually existed. The doorman stopped him before he entered. “Excuse me sir,” the doorman said, “but you can’t come in here without a tie!”

As we’re going through the desert of life, do you ever wonder if you’re spending time on what is most important?

It’s Tuesday of the final week of Jesus’ life on earth. Jesus has been teaching in the Temple. He has been faced with several challenges from various groups.  Jesus now faces one last question.

:28-34 What’s important

:28 …Which is the first commandment of all?

scribegrammateus – these guys were experts in the Law of Moses.  Matthew tells us that this particular fellow was of the strict, religious sect of the Pharisees (Mat. 22:34-35).

first – He isn’t asking what the first of the Ten Commandments was; he’s asking which is the most important of all the commandments.

The scribes had counted and catalogued 613 individual commandments in the Mosaic Law, not just ten. They had concluded that there were 365 negative commands and 248 positive ones.

Even though they considered that all the commandments were important, they were constantly working on which commandments were more important and less important and searching to sum up the entire Law with a single commandment.

Yet this is more than just a minor trivia question for religious scholars. It’s a matter of priorities.

What is the most important thing in life?

When I come to realize that there actually is a God, and that He is my Creator, I’m going to be faced with the issue, “What does He want from me?” What is my purpose in life? Why am I here?
When I get to His oasis, what will He require of me to get in the door?

:29 …Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:

Or, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one”.

Jesus is quoting from Deut. 6:4-5.

This portion of Scripture is called the “Shema” (from the word “Hear”). It is recited twice daily, morning and evening, by devout Jews and is considered the foundation, the “creed” of Judaism. It was put on small pieces of parchment and put inside a small leather box called a phylactery, and then worn either on the arm or the forehead by the orthodox Jews.


The Unity of God.

The Jews who had come out of Egypt were living in a world filled with many “gods”. The plagues that Moses called down on the land of Egypt were seen to be judgments on these “gods”. And even the typical Hebrew word for “God”, elohim, is a plural word. It’s not the singular form, “el”, or even what the Hebrew “dual” form, “elah” meaning “two gods”, but the plural, meaning more than two.
All this gets confusing if you asked a Jew in Moses’ day about how many gods they worshipped.
The answer? They worshipped ONE God.
God spoke through the prophet Isaiah,
(Isa 45:21-22 KJV) Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. {22} Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.
Now some may say that as Christians, we worship three “gods”, the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
No, we worship One God, who manifests Himself as three distinct persons.
Even this concept is built into the Shema…

(Deu 6:4 KJV) Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:

The Hebrew word for “one” (echad) doesn’t just carry the idea of an absolute “one”, but carries the idea of a “compound unity”. It’s the word used to describe marriage:

(Gen 2:24 KJV) …and they shall be one flesh.

One God, one in essence. Three distinct persons. Triunity. How can there be three persons yet one God? Don’t ask me to explain it. Every attempt at explaining God falls short of what He is. He’s just a whole lot bigger than our ability to explain Him. That’s why He’s God.

:30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

loveagapao – (the verb is future indicative, not imperative). Agape is a love based on the will more than the emotions. It is a choice to place value on another person or thing.

withek – out of; it speaks of the “source” of where the love is coming from

allholos – all, whole, completely

heartkardia – the heart; we could see this as the “control” center of the person, where your “will” springs from.

soulpsuche – breath; the soul; the seat of the feelings, desires, affections

minddianoia – the mind as a faculty of understanding

strengthischus – ability, strength, might (physical strength, bodily powers)

Put it all together:  God’s primary desire for us is to choose to place a high value on Him with a love that comes out of a complete commitment of our will, a love that comes out of all of our emotions, a love that comes from all of our mind, and a love that comes from all of our physical being.


Complete devotion

Do I love Him completely? With ALL of my heart, soul, mind, and strength?
Is He the center of your life? Does your life revolve around Him or do you expect God to revolve around you?

1. Heart/Choices

Question: Do I show my love for God by the choices I make?
The Ephesians learned to make choices:

(Acts 19:18-20 NLT) Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. {19} A number of them who had been practicing magic brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. {20} So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.

The Ephesian people made a choice to serve God rather than Satan and that choice caused them to burn their magic stuff.

Someone wrote … Michael is the kind of guy you love to hate. He is always in a good mood and always has something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, “If I were any better, I would be twins!” He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day Michael was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation. Seeing this style really made me curious, so one day I went up to Michael and asked him, “I don’t get it! You can’t be a positive person all of the time. How do you do it?” Michael replied, “Each morning I wake up and say to myself, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or you can choose to be in a bad mood. I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or...I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or...I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life. “Yeah, right, it’s not that easy,” I protested. “Yes, it is,” Michael said. “Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations You choose how people affect your mood. You choose to be in a good mood or bad mood. The bottom line: It’s your choice how you live your life.” I reflected on what Michael said. Soon hereafter, I left the Tower Industry to start my own business. We lost touch, but I often thought about him when I made a choice about life instead of reacting to it.
Several years later, I heard that Michael was involved in a serious accident, falling some 60 feet from a communications tower. After 18 hours of surgery and weeks of intensive care, Michael was released from the hospital with rods placed in his back. I saw Michael about six months after the accident. When I asked him how he was, he replied. “If I were any better, I’d be twins. Wanna see my scars?” I declined to see his wounds, but I did ask him what had gone through his mind as the accident took place. “The first thing that went through my mind was the well-being of my soon to be born daughter,” Michael replied. “Then, as I lay on the ground, I remembered that had two choices: I could choose to live or... I could choose to die. I chose to live.” “Weren’t you scared? Did you lose consciousness?” I asked. Michael continued, “...the paramedics were great. They kept telling me I was going to be fine. But when they wheeled me into the ER and I saw the expressions on the faces of the doctors and nurses, I got really scared. In their eyes, I read “he’s a dead man. I knew I needed to take action.” “What did you do?” I asked. “Well, there was a big burly nurse shouting questions at me,” said Michael. “She asked if I was allergic to anything. “Yes, I replied.” The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for my reply. I took a deep breath and yelled, “Gravity.” Over their laughter, I told them, “I am choosing to live. Operate on me as if I am alive, not dead.” Michael lived, thanks to the skill of his doctors, but also because of his amazing attitude. I learned from him that every day we have the choice to live fully. Attitude, after all, is everything.
I’m not sure that Michael or the writer is a Christian, but they do set the example about choices.  Do you choose to value God in the choices you make?

2. Mind/Intellectual

Question: Do I show my love for God with how I use my mind?
This man asking the questions of Jesus is close. Jesus was impressed with this man’s intelligent answers (vs. 34)
The Bereans were people who used their minds:

(Acts 17:11 KJV) These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Some folks have this notion that becoming a Christian means you have to surrender your ability to think and become part of some mindless mass of unthinking, submissive zombies. Perhaps we get this idea because the Scripture talks about how God uses the foolish things to confound the wise.
But in reality, there is nothing more intelligent than Christian thinking. In history, God has used great minds like Blaise Paschal and Isaac Newton to change the world. In more contemporary times, minds like C.S. Lewis, Charles Colson, and Dallas Willard will challenge the smartest brains.

3. Soul/Emotional

Question: Do I love God through all of my emotions?
Not just with the “happy” emotions, but with the difficult ones as well.
Not too many people have had lives as difficult as Job. He lost his possessions, his children, and his health. Yet he still worshipped God.
(Job 1:20-21 NLT) Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground before God. {21} He said, "I came naked from my mother's womb, and I will be stripped of everything when I die. The LORD gave me everything I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!"
Matt Redman wrote the song:
Blessed be Your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be Your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be Your name
When the sun's shining down on me
When the world's all as it should be
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name
Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say “Blessed be the name of the Lord”
I can choose to love God despite the emotions I’m feeling right now.

4. Strength/Physical

Question: Do I show my love for God with how I use my body?
God is concerned with how we use our bodies.
(1 Cor 6:12-20 NLT) You may say, "I am allowed to do anything." But I reply, "Not everything is good for you." And even though "I am allowed to do anything," I must not become a slave to anything. {13} You say, "Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food." This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them. But our bodies were not made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. {14} And God will raise our bodies from the dead by his marvelous power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead. {15} Don't you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which belongs to Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! {16} And don't you know that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, "The two are united into one." {17} But the person who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. {18} Run away from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. {19} Or don't you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, {20} for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

Is He my highest priority in all I do?

:31 …Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

This comes from Lev. 19:18.


Loving others

Some have suggested that the reason people don’t love others is because they don’t love their own selves. They concluded that we need to teach people how to love themselves and then they can go out and love others. Great emphasis was placed on “self-esteem” and “self-image”.
But the problem with this is that the command isn’t to love your self. The command is to love others. The command assumes that you and I already know how to love our selves.
When a person feels bad about himself, the problem isn’t that they don’t love their self, the problem is just the opposite.
When you stand in front of the mirror in the morning, are you happy with what you see, or disappointed? We might think that the person who is disappointed has low self-esteem, but the reason that they are disappointed is because they love their self and they don’t think they’re as good as they should be. If they really didn’t love their self, they would stand in front of the mirror and say, “It’s so great to see that I’m so ugly! I hate myself so much that I am glad that I look terrible”.
God assumes for the most part that we already know how to love our own self. Our problem is not with loving our self, it’s with turning our thoughts away from our self and learning to love others.
Instead of being a person focused on “me”, I am to become a person focused on “you”.
This command isn’t separate from the first commandment, to love God. It flows from it. John wrote,
(1 Jn 4:20-21 NKJV) 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

If you’re having problem loving other people, perhaps the real problem is that you don’t love God.

When you get things correct vertically (with God), things horizontally (with others) fall into place.

:31 There is none other commandment greater than these.

When we do these two commandments, we’ll naturally do the others (Rom. 13:8-10)

:33 … is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.


Love is better than religion

It’s better to do what’s right than always be trying to make up for your sins by offering sacrifices (2Sam. 15:22)
Some folks think that if they’ve really blown it during the week, that they can make up for it by going to church on Sunday, maybe even putting an extra twenty in the offering plate. God would rather that you keep your money and learn to obey Him than always trying to make up for what you didn’t do right.
For some of us, our tendency is to get busy doing lots of things for God. We can get to thinking that if we’re doing lots of things for God that He’ll be real happy with us.
(Luke 10:38-42 KJV) Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. {39} And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. {40} But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. {41} And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: {42} But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

What’s the one “needful” thing? To sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him. Loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

:34 …Thou art not far from the kingdom of God

discreetlynounechos (“mind” + “having”) – wisely, discreetly, prudently

The man answered Jesus intelligently. And Jesus likes that.


On the windy Brittanny coast of France the Abbe Adolph Juelienne Foure spent nearly ten hours a day every single day for 25 years carving more than 300 figures out of a huge section of rock above the sea. The statues tell the fantastic history of the Rotheneuf Family, a 16th century tribe of smugglers, pirates, and outlaw fishermen. Why the French priest devoted the last third of his life to chiseling in stone these craggy creations no one knows. The figures were carved in the late 1800s and the wind and waves are beginning to wipe them out.

Perhaps I just don’t understand, but it seems to me that this fellow, as a “priest”, wasted 25 years of his life doing something not very important.

What does God want from you?  What does it take to get into God’s “oasis”?

God wants you to love Him.

He’s already demonstrated His love for you by sending His Son Jesus to die on a cross, dying in your place, paying the penalty for your sins.

Will you now choose to love Him and live for Him?