MATTHEW 22:34—40 ESV
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 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
We come to end today of our discussion about the mess of sin our lives. We’re thankful for Tom Berlin’s book RESTORED which gave us the language and perspective that we’ve used here with you. Some of our classes are still going through the book and I know they’ll benefit from all that it has taught. Today, we close with THE MESSAGE IN THE MESS.
It’s Palm Sunday, the day we commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The people cheered and shouted with joy because their hope was that God would finally put an end to their earthly troubles, their oppression by the Roman authorities. But God had other plans. It was through Jesus that God would show the world how to live. He would teach them how to survive in the midst of God’s great renewal and restoration of a broken and scarred world. God didn’t come in Jesus Christ to forsake the world or trash it. God came to clean up the mess the world was in and He would do so by saving us and sending us to help Him work.
Like the people of Jesus’ day, we can’t stand the mess and for good reasons. It destroys lives, tears apart families, and ruins plans we have for ourselves and others. And in our hatred for the mess, we long for things to change and for them to change right now. We struggle with words like wait, not yet, patience, and process.
Imagine never seeing or knowing about the great and violent trouble a caterpillar goes through in order to become a beautiful butterfly. A massive process of transformation occurs, but you miss it. You wake up one day and instead of a long, hairy caterpillar you see the butterfly. You’re awestruck and moved, but you think, “Wait! Where’d the caterpillar go? I missed it! What happened? How? Why? What was it like?” The impact isn’t near what it could have been.
There’s little to experience or deeply appreciate in the instantaneous. We take for granted the miracle and the majesty of process. Any successful business will tell you not to focus solely on the outcome but on the process. Its what gets you there that counts. Jesus rides into Jerusalem to initiate a process and its through that process that we are saved.
In our spiritual lives, we find ourselves struggling with not reaching the end result. We want the change that God wants, Jesus lived, and the Scriptures talk about, but we want them now!Do any of us feel like this…
Poor Veruca. She can’t appreciate what the geese are doing; what the Oompa Loompas are doing; what Willy Wonka is doing through this arduous process of making Chocolate for the world. She has to have it now. And in the midst of her impulse—her rush to have what she wants now—she loses it all. Even her poor father is living under the same pressure. He put her impulse above his own journey, and falls just the same.
The message in the mess is that what God is doing in our lives is a journey, a process; it is meant to take time. The Holy Spirit doesn’t microwave our spiritual formation. The fallen side of us says, “But God, I want it now!” We are impulsive, even with God.
The text you heard Kathy read has HUGE implications. The Pharisees want Jesus to answer their question so they can trap Him, so they can be justified in their desire to see Him fall, and they want that justification now. Jesus’ answer is not only clever, but has deep implications for their lives:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
This is not what the Pharisees want to hear. For many of us, its not what we want to hear. Jesus is saying that we have to choose, everyday, to love God, to stay in relationship with Him; that we must chose, everyday, to love our neighbor, to value you them as much as we value ourselves. This is a long process, daily showing the nature and characteristics of Jesus, and for the rest of our lives.
My most influential seminary professor at Asbury Seminary was Dr. Steve Harper, who told us with tears in his eyes in class one day, “Spiritual formation is a labor of obedience—from first day to last.” As Christians, we believe that God is 100% sovereign, reigning over this world with a guiding hand. And we also believe that we are 100% accountable, responsible for our actions and for walking in grace.
And so, in covenant with God, the One who will give us grace and empower us with His Holy Spirit, we choose (knowing it is possible with His help) to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind, and we choose to love and value our neighbor as we do ourselves.
To love God is to choose Him above all else. To love our neighbors is to value them as we value ourselves. The message in the mess? I’ll quote Tom Berlin to close:
“If there is any message from God in the mess of life, it is this: You are deeply loved, and with God’s help you can have and become so much more than you are right now.”