“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail …Simplify. Simplify.”
Those are the words of Henry David Thoreau, the American writer, who in the early 19th century, for two years, lived alone, isolated by the shore of Walden Pond in the woods of Massachusetts.
Do you have any interest in simplifying your life?
Does that sound appealing to you?
Do you feel like we tend to complicate things, even spiritual things?
In terms of the purpose of your life, what would God have you do?
We need answers, don’t we?
But where will you go to find your answers? Out into the woods like Thoreau?
Well, to discover answers it is helpful to use another quote by Thoreau’s: [he said] we must
“drive life into a corner and reduce it to its lowest terms”. “Simplify. Simplify.”
I believe Henry David Thoreau is right, because this is precisely what Jesus himself does in our passage today.
What is the most important thing you can do? Answer is “Simplify your life!”
What is the most important thing we can do in our relationship with God?
Answer: Simplify it down to its most basic terms: Hear God!
What is the most complicated thing we can do in our relationship with God?
Answer: Test Him! Repeatedly ask “Whom, What, Where When and Why!”
Hear God or Test God?
Hear God or Resort to “turning your hearing aids off” Selective Hearing
Trust and Obey unless you personally believe there is definitely another way.
Take your Bibles and turn with me to Mark chapter 12.
Mark 12:28-34Christian Standard Bible
The Primary Commands
28 One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which command is the most important of all?”
29 Jesus answered, “The most important[a] is Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[b] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.[c][d] 31 The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself.[e] There is no other command greater than these.”
32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, teacher. You have correctly said that he is one, and there is no one else except him. 33 And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, [f] and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is far more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to question him any longer.
The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.
The Sadducees come to Jesus to debate and to test him – their intention is to try and “trip him up” that they might publicly embarrass and humiliate him. They want to “hear” what Jesus has to say about how he prioritizes God and the Law.
Jesus “heard” their words very well. Jesus also heard their hearts beating at the anticipation of taking Jesus down in full view of the gathered and gathering crowds of onlookers who also waited to “hear” how Jesus would respond now.
But notice here Jesus “hears the question” and also hears the murmurs and the curious silence of those who have gathered, he does not hesitate in responding.
For Him the answer is obvious. And it should have been for all of them as well, seeing as how they “heard themselves’ reciting the ‘answer’ twice every day!
You see, the greatest of all the OT commandments came from Deuteronomy chapter 6, from a section recited daily by faithful Jews everywhere, even today; a confession called the Shema. It’s exactly what Jesus quotes in verse 29 and 30.
So, what do we see here? We see a scribe coming to Jesus, listening in as Christ interacts with the Sadducees back in verses 18-27. From what we can tell, the scribe doesn’t seem motivated by jealousy or ill-will. He seems to ask Jesus this question because he simply recognizes there is wisdom in the words of Christ.
Here the Scribe was listening from a short discrete distance to the exchange of words between the Sadducees and Jesus. The Scribe was trying very hard to hear the responses as the conversation took place in real time.
As the Scribe was in the active process of hearing the exchange of words, he was also actively trying to hear the message both were trying to communicate to each other. Hearing these messages, the Scribe knew, would help him respond most efficiently and effectively back to both parties.
The conversation between the Sadducees and Jesus ends. And immediately the Scribe becomes more than just a little bit curious about the exchange, instead also becoming complementary at the words Jesus spoke (Verses 32-33).
Did you also notice the Scribe made no further effort to complicate the moment, add to the debate, by asking Jesus’ dozens more complex theological questions? I believe He heard the correctness and simplicity of Jesus’ few spoken words.
He undoubtedly had more questions he wanted to ask and have answered to suit his own particular nuanced theological interpretations, understandings.
He undoubtedly would’ve enjoyed sitting on a bench in the Temple to debate him. Instead, the Scribe heard the simplicity of Jesus’ words and approached him on the basis of that simplicity and acknowledged with Jesus the simplicity of them.
Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!
Now, I want you to notice something else here.
Do you see how Jesus takes advantage of this opportunity? Jesus is not simply humoring a peripheral question asked by a scribe with misplaced priorities.
This scribe has asked a fantastic question, and Jesus makes the most of the opportunity by giving not just the greatest commandment, but the second most important command as well.
What I’m saying is that this is not just a question that was important to the scribe. It is a question that was and is important to Jesus. Why? Because in it, Jesus has the opportunity to simplify the issue of man’s highest end before God.
And did you notice, the scribe understood the importance of Jesus’ answer.
His response to Jesus in verse 33 simply reveals that this man recognized how obedience to these commands was far more important than obedience to all of the sacrificial laws of the Hebrew Testament.
Such laws were simply worthless if a worshiper’s heart was not aligned with the simplicity of God’s greatest law.
And then something else odd happens. The text takes us in a very interesting direction. A Scribe steps forward and seeing that Jesus had answered well… he simply asks a sincere question of Jesus. “Which commandment is first of all.”
And Jesus again, answers wisely quoting scripture in verse 29. “Hear, 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,” … and to that he adds, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
And then here, the really amazing thing happens.
We have a Scribe, an ‘expert in the law’ who “gets it” without further debate.
Not only does he understand what Jesus is saying… he takes it another step.
You see… one thing you have to understand about the Scribes is that they were very strict about following the rules… the letter of the law.
They made completely sure that they did everything just so. So much so they made everything far too complex, often missing the very simple point of what God was really calling them to do.
And Jesus, in a way of “rebuking them”… pointed them to the heart of their calling. Love God, and love neighbor. It’s as exquisitely simple as exactly that.
And the scribe echoed back to him… in verse 32.
“You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And Jesus replied back to him in verse 34… “seeing that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
Or we might also re-write that verse this way by adding to it this thought… “Jesus, knowing that the Scribe had heard him … “seeing that he answered wisely, ….” he said to him, “you are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
What made this Scribe so different?
Why, amidst so many examples of Scribes on the wrong side of it all, do we have this one shining example of a Scribe “gone right?”
Thinking about this, I believe there is enough evidence in today’s scripture for us to understand what makes this Scribe stand apart.
First of all… he came with a heart that was all about listening and hearing rather than a heart that was all about testing.
Instead of coming into the conversation with his mind already made up, already thinking his way was the only way… he came seeking to listen, seeking to hear, seeking to know… seeking to understand… perhaps even to actually learn God.
What about us? I think that we too… far too often fail to listen and rather come to the conversation with our minds already made up we are going to test God with a whole host of theological debates, exercises in theological semantics.
Here, in today’s lesson… we have a bunch of the “bad guys” (Sadducees) setting the example for those of us more inclined to incessantly question and debate …
Then we have the Scribe who models and sets the example of “enough debate!” Hear what God in Christ Jesus is saying to His Children through the length and breadth and width and height of His everlasting and ever living Holy Scriptures.
“May we one day acknowledge the difference between the two approaches. May we be willing to hear and listen to those simple truths so that we may hear. May we come with learning hearts seeking rather than with hearts that are testing.”
This “I Will” “first hear the Word of God, listen to the Word of God, listen to Jesus as he “keeps it simple smart” first is exactly what set the Scribe apart.
He was willing to keep the primacy of God first and really listen and pay close attention to that … and as a result he actually heard what Jesus was saying.
And this is my second point… the Scribe heard the message… and the message was this:
Talk with God, Hear God, Listen to God, Love God with all your 1) heart, all your 2) soul, all your 3) mind, and all your 4) strength. Again… the English words are good, but they come far short of what is being said in the original Greek.
Take the time to go through each individual word of each individual verse.
Learn the Nuances. Listen to and then Hear God speak through the nuances.
For example, begin with the nuanced understanding behind
1) the heart… is so much more than this thing in our chests.
It not only represents the center of all of our physical being… it represents the very center of our spiritual life.
More than that, it represents all of our passion, our desires, our appetites, even our affections… and Jesus calls us to direct all of them rightfully towards God.
Then move on to learning the nuances of the rest – Soul, Mind and Strength.
God, through His Son Christ Jesus, is definitely trying to converse with you.
Insert yourselves into this picture – Become the Scribe, the Crowd, and Jesus.
Hear what God really has to say – what God really wants us to hear and learn.
Without making this section into its own mini sermon…
Just think about all the things in this life we are passionate about, all the things that take priority… more often than not, these things are not God. And yet… this is the example set for us in today’s scripture.
We are covenanted to make God #1.
We are covenanted to listen, hear, and learn from God first!
We are covenanted to be doers of the truth of God first!
In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
Let us Pray,
Almighty God, we ask you to clean our minds and hearts of all the things that may prevent us from hearing your word. Empty our hearts of doubt and empty our minds of preconceptions and assumptions. May we know that you are the source of our knowledge. Prepare our hearts to be ready to accept your truth. Help us be capable of hearing your voice speaking to us. Gloria! Alleluia! Amen.