Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost
November 10, 2019
“The Most Important Verse in the Bible?”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
What is the most important verse in the Bible? It has to be John 3:16, right? “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and 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 to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16-17) That verse is so precise concerning our eternal future – a trust in Jesus brings eternal life!! But maybe the most important verse in the Bible is Psalm 23. Those words telling us about a Good Shepherd caring for His sheep give us great comfort. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4 KJV) Or maybe the most important verse in the entire Bible is Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
Oh, I guess it is a bit subjective isn’t it? The most important verse in my life is my Confirmation verse, I Corinthians 6:19-20, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” When I was given it 46 years ago it has compelled me and confronted me and comforted me. I hope you have a verse that is yours and it means the world to you.
This question about the most important verse in the Bible was more than speculative to the folks who brought the question up to Jesus, though. Those that taught from the Old Testament said that there were 613 commands from God. 248 that were stately positively – things that God’s people were to do and 365 laws of things that we were not to do – a command for every day!! In our reading from Matthew 22, a section that tells us that the enemies of Jesus tried to trick Him in His words, a Pharisee, a man who was an expert in the law, asked Jesus a simple question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36) Jesus gave him this answer to what the most important verse in the Bible is: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. That 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.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Everything that we are is to love God. He is first. He is most important. Nothing in all of our life should be more important than God. We are to have a passion for God. Our desire is to please Him, to do His will. Our passion for Him includes our intellect, our mind, our will, our personality – everything that makes us a person.
The words of Jesus come from the Great Shema, the recitation, the creed, that Jews spoke daily. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) The second portion about love for others is from Leviticus. “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18)
Jesus isn’t saying something new but He is saying something great. And the most important words are always the most difficult. Love for God shows itself in action. Jesus said that love, deep love, enduring love, true love, is shown by actions. “You are My friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14)
About 10 years ago Tiger Woods was in a golf tournament and a 31 year-old man, Brandon Kelly, was arrested for throwing a hot dog at Tiger while he was putting on the green. Kelly said, “I threw the hot dog at Tiger Woods because I was inspired by the movie, ‘Drive’. As soon as the movie ended, I thought to myself: ‘I have to do something courageous and epic. I have to throw a hot dog on the green in front of Tiger.’”
Now that is courageous and epic!! And stupid!! As security took him away to jail I hope he saw how grand such a move was!! Jesus calls for us to do something courageous and epic – Love God. Everything that we do in life is a statement of love to God. Our trust in Him, our praise of Him and our desire for Him is courageous and epic. Especially in our world today!!
The most important verse in the Bible doesn’t stop with a heart for God – it moves to people. Remember – “Love God; Love People”. Sometimes us religious types can talk about how God is so important in our lives but we are a pain in the you-know-where with people. We can be mean and short and easily offended. We can do the worst of things to others-especially the people closest to us!! The most important verse in the Bible talks about loving the Creator and His creation. St. John says, “We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God’, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (I John 4:19-21)
This most important verse calls for action, change, repentance – fruit. William Willimon for many years was dean of the chapel at Duke University. He writes, “When I first came to my present pulpit, a chapel in the middle of a university, people sometimes would say after my sermons, ‘That was so interesting. Very interesting. Never thought about the matter in just that way. I’ll have to think about that.’ Fool!! I took all of this as a compliment! Later I realized such cool comments – abstract, distant, disengaged – were merely the way that intellectuals keep themselves apart from the demands of the gospel.”
This is the most important verse in the Bible for us – it is a statement of our faith and also of our life. This verse is the most important verse for Jesus, as well. His life was a life of love to His Father. He speaks often for His love to His Father by doing the will of the Father. This is what He says in John 6: “For I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given Me, but raise them up on the last day. For My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life.” (John 6:38-40)
When Jesus taught His followers the Lord’s Prayer it included a petition of pure love – “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) And in the Garden of Gethsemane, the evening before He dies, He agonizes over the damnation to be suffered for mankind, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39) Jesus didn’t just give us a verse to be our greatest verse – it was His greatest verse. His love for God, His Father, encompassed His will and His strength and His mind, His soul and His heart!!
And then His love flowed right to us. We are the recipients of His pure heart. He said the greatest verse in all the Bible contains the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And that is what Jesus does!! Some years ago Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ came out. Because it is a movie and not everything that happened to Christ in His final days in mentioned in the Scriptures, Gibson takes some poetic license in the film. One of the scenes is Jesus as He is carrying His cross toward the crucifixion. Jesus is bloodied and beaten. He has fallen a number of times under the weight of the cross. As He falls the third time, His mother, Mary, reaches out to catch Him. Scenes of the childhood of Jesus are remembered by her. She remembers as He ran to her in the streets of Nazareth. The images of the past only make the present more painful. She realizes that this time she can’t catch Him, she cannot save Him. This day her Son is going to die.
Then Jesus catches Mary with a word. He turns to her and says, “Behold I make all things new.” While Mary’s mind is filled with images of the past, Jesus offers her a promise of the future. When Mary’s heart is breaking over the end, Jesus comforts her with the new beginning. When Mary can only see death, Jesus reveals to her life. Jesus teaches Mary to see this horrible destruction as God’s most creative act. (Words from Dr. David Schmitt, Living in Love)
This is God’s love for people. It is seen in the act of Jesus for our rescue and forgiveness and it is seen in His rising from death so that we are given new resurrected life now, and we will be made new eternally, and will rise with a new and complete body on the final day, the day when Jesus Christ returns. Jesus loves people, He loves us when He confronts, compels us, or comforts us.
The most important verse in the Bible? This one!! It must be our ambition to love Him and to love others with everything that makes us God’s people. This verse is His saving work to us!! Amen!!
(This sermon was originally preached for God’s people at Ascension on Sunday, October 23, 2011)