After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, just a few days before the crucifixion, a Pharisee came to Jesus, wanting to test him. He asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus responded, “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. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36; 37-40 ESV).
Jesus made it clear that everything written in the Law and all the words delivered by the Prophets depend on love. Love of God and love of others. But have you ever felt like all the love-giving depends on you? After all, Jesus said that the biggest and greatest commandment is that we love God with everything we’ve got, and once we do that, we are supposed to scrape together whatever is left over and use it to love our neighbors! Have you ever felt like you’re in a one-sided love affair with God and you’re trying your best to love him with all your heart and soul and mind, and it’s so exhausting you just don’t have any love left over for everybody else?
If so, Beloved Friends, take heart and rejoice because you’ve got it backwards! Listen, 1 John 4:19 says, “We love [God] because he first loved us.” God’s love is not stingy, and it never runs out. God does not need us to love him first so that he can love us back. That is not what Jesus was saying to that doubting Pharisee!
Let’s examine what Jesus was talking about. Remember, he spoke to the Pharisee before the crucifixion happened, and the Pharisee – literally a lawyer – was trying to trick him into saying something that would contradict the Law. But Jesus had already proclaimed, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17 ESV). Jesus fulfilled the Law because he was completely without sin: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV), and the very last chapter of Luke tells us that Jesus explained the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets concerning himself to the two disciples who walked with him on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection (Luke 24:27). And finally, Jesus told Nicodemus, a different Pharisee who visited him under the cover of night, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17 ESV).
God the Father sent God the Son into the world to save us. Not because God needs us to love him, but because he first loved us. God sent his Son into the world to save us, because he loves us. Jesus came to take the punishment for our sins to set us free from the curse of sin and death, because he loves us. We did not have to love him first. We couldn’t love him first, because we were lost in sin! Jesus had to bring the love of God to the world, before the world could even begin loving him back. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son!”
You see, the Pharisee came to Jesus and asked him a question in terms of the Law. A question about commandments. Jesus answered the Pharisee in terms of Love. We can understand Jesus to have said something like, “Love fulfills the Law, and I am about to show you, in action, exactly what that means at the cross.” God is not demanding love from us. That idea is Pharisaical, based on the legalism of the Pharisees. That is why Jesus answered the Law in terms of Love. Because the greatest of these, is Love (See 1 Corinthians 13).