34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 Anda second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:34-40
The first and second of these questions designed to trap Jesus were somewhat silly and were easily answered. The third was serious, and we would probably think it an honest question if Matthew had not added the words “One of them, an expert in the law, test him with this question” (v.35).
Apparently, after the Sadducees had been bested by Jesus, the Pharisees got together for one last try. Calling on their “expert,” they asked Jesus a question they must have been debated in their own circles often: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” (v. 36). It is hard to guess what they expected to gain by this, but they probably hoped to catch Jesus in some misstatement that they could then pounce upon and condemn as heresy. At the least, they must have thought this an extremely difficult question. Not long afterwards the Pharisees would be making lists of the commandments. They would distinguish 613 commands, 248 of them positive and 365 negative. They thought that ranking and relating these was critical.
Jesus replied with a true and unchallengeable answer: “‘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” (vv. 37-40). The first of these commandments was in Deuteronomy 6:5; the second, from Leviticus 19:18.
It was a brilliant reply, and Mark records that it produced a favorable reaction from the lawyer who had asked it. “You are right,” he said.
Jesus replied by telling him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34), True, but he was not there yet. And the other Pharisees who were in on this terrible attempt to trap Jesus were, for their part, far from the kingdom and heading rapidly in the contrary direction.
Jesus summarized the law by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37,39). But as one teacher has said, “Man as sinner [actually] hates God, hates man, and hates himself. He would kill God if he could, He does kill his fellow man when he can. [And] he commits spiritual suicide every day of his life.” This is obvious in the plottings of these very men against the Savior. Jesus was love incarnate; he alone loved God the Father with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his mind, and he loves us also. But they, like all sinners, were doing everything they could to eliminate Jesuspresence from their lives.
Everyone should know that true religion consists in a perfect love for God and of other human beings. But none of us do that or can. It is why we need a Savior. We need Jesus. You need Jesus. You need to commit yourself to him as the only possible Savior and your rightful Lord.