We are in the middle of a sermon series focused on this word; legacy. It’s a word that has a couple of definitions. The first is about money and stuff. We all want our families, friends, and businesses to be secure and stable when we’re gone so we set up wills, trust funds, and put all sorts of plans and strategies in place. Which is a really good thing, and we should be talking about that.
But throughout this series, we’ve been focusing on the second meaning of this word. A legacy is something that outlives you. Something that’s intentionally passed on from one generation to another.
And the question I want us to think about this morning is . . . Would it make a difference if you learned you had very little time left? Would it change your priorities if you felt life slipping away?
The reality is that we are all running out of time. The opportunity to leave the legacy we want is one day shorter than it was yesterday and so we must be intentional.
This morning, we’re going to look at a conversation between Jesus and one of the teachers of the law. We don’t know his circumstances, but we do know that he was wrestling with ultimate issues.
And though Jesus was surrounded at the time by men intent on arguing with him, this man was not one of them. He approached the group religious leaders and heard them debating with Jesus. As he listened, he recognized that Jesus was a brilliant teacher and so went straight to the heat of the matter.
Let’s listen to our text: READ Mark 12:28-31
When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment of all, he quoted the Shema
In Hebrew, “Hear o Israel,” is “Sh’ma Yes’ra’eil.”
So important is this passage, it is the first a Jewish child will memorize. So treasured are the words, they are written on small scrolls, rolled up, and inserted into a small container called a mezuzah, which mark the doorways of Jewish homes. And as people enter their homes, they touch it to be reminded of the greatest command.
This question of the most important commandment had long been settled among God’s people:
Love the Lord God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And all of Israel knew that
truth. Knowing the truth was the easy part. Pulling it off was the difficult part.
But not for Jesus. He loved God completely. He wasn’t interested in power, wealth, or
popularity. But He was passionate about God. He depended on God through prayer, through
knowing the Scriptures, and by submitting to God's will - even at the cost of His life.
And so, Jesus says, the greatest commandment is one you know, Love God completely. But the question is, what’s involved in loving God completely? Or maybe the better question is, “What’s not involved?”
In Mark, chapter 10, another man approached Jesus, desperately wanting to please God.
He fell on his knees and asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Again, thinking about ultimate issues.
Jesus told him, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not
steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
The man on his knees was like, “Sweet, I’ve kept all the rules.” We all know that he didn't, right?
He merely claimed the external righteousness that Jews of his time believed they could purchase through their tithes and offerings. You know, you go through the motions, give some money to the church, check off the boxes, and you’re good to go.
And yet he’s still on his knees, still waiting on the answer. Obviously, something is missing.
And so, Jesus looked at him and said, “One thing you lack, Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
The man’s countenance fell. He left the conversation, overwhelmed with emotion. You see, he was a very wealthy individual. The problem? He loved his wealth too much to give it all away, and until he was willing to make that sacrifice, he could not have the one thing he lacked: Jesus.
Now, Jesus loved the rich young ruler, and he wanted nothing more than for this man to follow him but the man who came to him couldn’t part with the things he loved. If loving God completely meant submitting everything to God, well, he just couldn’t cross that line.
And so, he fell into the category of knowing the truth – love God completely but not putting it into practice.
Let’s jump back into today’s story.
After Jesus said that the most important command was to love God completely, without being asked to add any other commands that belonged in the same category as the Shema, he added, “love others as yourself”.
In other words, Jesus seemed to be suggesting that loving God completely takes a twofold approach. Knowing and putting it into practice.
What’s interesting is that the audience didn’t seem surprised by his answer. Here’s why. There was a raging debate in that day between two points of view on keeping the commandments.
One group argued that to properly love God, one must keep His commands, even if those commands kept you from helping a person in need.
For example, if the person was in need on the Sabbath, and it would require work to help him, then it would be better to keep the Sabbath.
The other group argued that a person in need trumped the law of the Sabbath. When Jesus added the answer, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he was identifying with the more moderate of the two groups.
We see multiple examples of this throughout the New Testament. In fact, much of the tension we see between Jesus and the religious leaders was created because Jesus loved people over “keeping the law”
But Jesus went even further.
In a strikingly similar story, found in Luke Chapter 10, an expert in the law tested Jesus with the question of eternal life, “How do I get it?” Jesus responded to his question with a question, “Well, you’re the expert so you tell me what’s written in the law?”
The man promptly answered with the familiar words of Shema; Love God completely. And then he, too, added, “Love your neighbor as yourself’”.
Jesus congratulated him, only to hear another question, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus promptly tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, where the hero of the story is a Samaritan, a half breed whom the Jews despised, and the religious leaders had condemned.
This story would have made most in the group cringe with the thought of crossing racial lines as part of being a good neighbor!
As it turns out, loving your neighbor completely is very similar to loving God completely. It will take your entire heart, mind, soul and strength to get the job done.
It's also impossible to accomplish apart from Jesus. You see, Jesus loved his neighbor perfectly.
- He was constantly criticized for befriending “sinners.”
- Sometimes they were prostitutes.
- Other times, they were tax collectors, the white-collar criminals of their day.
- Jesus loved the religious people around him who had excellent morals.
- And he loved the religious guys who were constantly criticizing him.
- He was as comfortable in the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.
- He partied with Zacchaeus.
- Jesus loved them all, until he had breathed his last.
- He even loved those who nailed him to the cross. He chose through the pain to ask God to forgive those who were in the process of executing him.
- And He loved you, enough to finish His work on the cross and die so that He could bring you near to God.
This was Jesus’ legacy and his legacy has had more impact on the world than any individual in history. He didn’t leave a legacy of money, property, or power. Instead, he left a legacy of loving God completely, and sacrificially loving us. It is in his perfection to fulfill the law that we are found perfect.
With all of this in mind, let’s swing back to our opening question; Would it make a difference if you learned you had very little time left? Would it change your priorities if you felt life slipping away?
Ask any pastor who’s walked the journey with someone who is dying and eventually had to preach at their funeral.
As families and friends gather to talk about their loved one, they almost never mention work or money, unless the stories are about how their loved one had used a job or their money in giving to others.
Instead, the stories will come of fathers who read, or mothers who stopped to play, with their children. They’ll tell of vacations and days when they finally understood the sacrifice of a giving grandparent.
They’ll tell of letters written, hugs given, and of being loved.
Strangely enough, it usually catches us by surprise to find that the things others considered most about us is not how successful we might have been, but rather, how much we loved them.
But it is in loving others that we best show how we love God. Because Jesus loved His neighbor – because Jesus loved us - you and I can also love our neighbor as Jesus loved his neighbor.
You see, when we choose to follow Jesus; God’s spirit comes and dwells within us and when it does, we begin to see the world as God sees it; with compassion, grace, and love. And when it gets hard to love our neighbor . . . and it will . . . we must come to foot of the cross to remember that Jesus loved God completely and love his neighbor and through him, he is calling us to do the same.
Don’t underestimate the importance of Jesus' “love-your-neighbor” addition. Read one of the last parables in Matthew’s gospel, and it’s easy to see that Jesus took this very seriously.
It was a story of sheep and goats, and in the separating process, all parties wanted to know why they’d missed their reward because they were “goats,” or why they’d received their reward because they were “sheep.”
In both cases, the deciding factor was whether or not those facing judgment had loved others. They either had or had not fed the hungry, satisfied the thirsty, housed the stranger, clothed the naked, ministered to the sick and visited those in prison.
Jesus shows us that we will be separated according to what we are. And what we are determines what we do. Jesus' sheep follow His voice. They do what He does. They love their neighbor.
Everyone leaves a legacy. For good, bad, or even indifferent, we all leave footprints behind us. We will be remembered for our generosity or selfishness. Those who mourn us will talk about the ways we loved them, or the ways we neglected them.
There’s only one way to leave a Christ-like legacy -to leave footprints that will last. You cannot do this on your own. You cannot find life in loving God and loving your neighbor, because that is the Law.
Scripture makes clear that the letter kills, but the gospel brings life.
Receive Christ's offer of mercy, let Him fill you with His Spirit, and then watch as He empowers and teaches you how to love Him and others.