daily biblical sermons

How Jesus' greatest commandment should shape the life of a justified Christian
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Thursday, Ninth Week of the Year, June 04, 2020
2 Timothy 2:8-15, Psalm 24, Mark 12:28-34


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he [Jesus] answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Here, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater then these’” (Mark 12:28-31).



Today Jesus teaches us the two greatest commandments, but first of all we need to be clear that we are not justified by keeping the commandments, because we are not justified by doing good works, since justification comes only through faith, not through our good works. It comes to us because of the good work of Jesus Christ on the cross in atoning for our sins by suffering for us and in our place as our substitute the punishment that we owe God for our sins; and our faith connects us with Jesus’ atoning work on the cross that justifies us and saves us from our sins.



By dying on the cross Jesus potentially saved the human race from its sins and from their punishment, since he suffered their punishment for their sins for them and instead of them; that is, his death was a vicarious death suffered in punishment not for his own sins, of which he had none, but for our sins.



This is the act that justifies and saves us from our sins, but for it to be connected to us and to justify us personally and individually we must know about it, accept it, believe that his death really did justify us from our sins, and put our trusting faith in it. When we do this, God then declares us ungodly sinners righteous and reckons to us his own righteousness (Romans 4:5) so that we now shine with the righteousness of God himself, not with a mere man-made righteousness of our own doing by law keeping.



Justification is based on the saving act of Jesus on the cross, not just following his good example as a week human being accepting his weakness and submitting himself to the Father. That is salvation by following a good example, which is no salvation at all, for there are plenty of good examples closer to us then Jesus that we can follow, and none of them, of course, justifies or saves us. Neither does following Jesus’ good example justify or save us from our sins, because that would be salvation by works, works-righteousness, which St. Paul repudiates repeatedly, and rightly so (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).



Justification and salvation rather is based on an actual saving act of Jesus Christ on the cross in dying as our substitute for our sins, suffering our punishment for our sins for us so that when we put our trusting faith in him and in his saving act, God absolves us of our sins, declares us ungodly sinners righteous, and reckons to us his own righteousness (Romans 4:5).



But once we are justified by our faith, not by our works, not by following Jesus’ good example, not by accepting our human weakness, but by our faith in his vicarious death on the cross that paid our penalty for our sins for us, what are we then supposed to do with the rest of our life? Today’s gospel answers that question.



We are to live a new life totally centered on God, and no longer live for our own worldly pleasures. In fact, we are to deny ourselves daily and live a life of self-denial in order to be focused completely on God who should be the center of our delight. Did not Jesus say, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23 NKJV)?



These two great commandments that Jesus gave us are not to be followed to be justified thereby. They are only to be followed after we are justified in order to live as a “new man,” and when we do, we grow in holiness (sanctification); and on the last day we will be rewarded accordingly (Matthew 16:27).



According to these two great commandments of love of God and neighbor, “God is to have the supreme place in man’s life. No other love can be allowed to rival love for God” (William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1989), page 1353). We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, but we are to love God more than ourselves (Ibid.), that is, we are to love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. We’re not supposed to love ourselves that way, for that would be putting ourselves in the place that belongs to God in our heart. Nor are we to love our neighbor in that way. We are only to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.



So a justified Christian is to spend his life fully and totally dedicated to God, renouncing all unnecessary worldly entertainments in order to have an undivided heart in his love for him. In other words, we are to love God with all our heart and soul, mind and strength.



Then normally we are to spend our day helping other people with our work. If you’re a waitress, you try to serve your customers with love. If you’re a doctor or nurse or nurse’s aide or therapist you try to help your patient or client with all your knowledge, time, and skill. If you’re a priest, you will spend many hours carefully preparing your sermons, revising them many times so that you can bring the word of God to your people in a way that brings it to life for them so that they can be transformed and renewed by it. This will take many hours of your day, whichever of these vocations you are pursuing.



Until our whole life is formed anew around these two commandments, we will be like today’s scribe to whom Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). He was not far from the kingdom of God, but he was not in the kingdom of God, because he just k the new and recognized the truth of Jesus’ teaching about these two great commandments, but there is no indication that he became a disciple and really decided to pattern his life around Jesus in faith and around these two great commandments (JC Ryle, 1816-1900).



How many Christians today are like this scribe? They have heard many times about these two great commandments and give a little effort here and there to following them, but in all honesty they could not be said to love God with all their heart and soul, mind and strength. They simply know these commandments, but they have not really totally reformed their life around them as their guide. Being near the kingdom but not in it does not save you. You must have faith in Jesus Christ and then revolutionize your life around these two great commandments to be ultimately saved.



Jesus is really serious about these two commandments, especially the first one. This is not an easy matter in which you can continue to live a self-centered, pleasure-centered, worldly life, as the secular world around us lives, for then you will not be following these two great commandments. Didn’t Jesus say, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24). By a rich man Jesus means a wealthy man who lives a life of worldly pleasure that his wealth buys for him. It will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man who lives like that to enter the kingdom of God, because his heart will be constantly divided by unnecessary worldly entertainments, pastimes, and pleasures that dilute the love of his heart for the Lord and disburse it in frivolous, superficial, and useless directions.



St. Peter understood Jesus’ teaching and said, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” (Matthew 19:27). To follow Jesus the way he wants to be followed with all our heart requires that we do what St. Peter claims to have done, namely leave everything to follow him. This is what Peter and his companions did when they heard Jesus’ call. “And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11). Levi the tax collector did the same. When Jesus said, “‘Follow me,’ … he left everything, and rose and followed him” (Luke 5:27-28).



St. Paul sums up this new way of life of a justified Christian, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).



This means that since Christ died for all and since we have put our faith in him, we have therefore all died to our former sinful way of life so that we might live no longer for ourselves, as we formerly did, but now for him who for our sake died and was raised for our salvation. Hence we must die to this world, die to our former worldly and sinful way of living to now rise with the risen Christ to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).



When we rise to walk in newness of life, we rise to live in a new way in which we now seek to live completely for Christ and for God. This indeed requires a death to the world and to our former way of living. And those that think they can become Christians and continue living their worldly and even sinful lifestyle are mistaken, for we should be able to say with St. Paul, “Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).



We are not to be of the world anymore. We are not to live a worldly life and simply accept our weakness and worldliness and think that this will save us. It won’t, for we are not to be of the world any more than Jesus was of the world. We are not to live a worldly life, for “They [Jesus’ disciples] are not of the world, even as I [Jesus] am not of the world” (John 17:16).



Indeed St. John tells us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). God loves the world to save the world from its worldliness that it might henceforth renounce its former worldly way of life and center its life fully and totally on God with all their heart and soul, mind and strength.



St. James tells us the same, “Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).



Our life, therefore, is now to be one of abandoning everything, just as the man that found a buried treasure abandoned and sold everything he had to get enough money to buy the field where the treasure was found so that he could claim it as his own. The treasure is the kingdom of God and we must abandon our worldly pleasures in order to obtain possession of it (Matthew 13:44).



So the way of true discipleship is a difficult path, not the easy path that most people take of pleasure and worldly fun, for that is the path of destruction. The path of life is steep and difficult, and only a few find it. So “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).


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