Trinity 18 – October 11th, 2009 – Matthew 22:34-46
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Religious fervor when combined with self-righteousness is a horrid, horrid thing. Should you ever become convinced that you of yourself just know more about God, become convinced that you the master of God’s Word, repent. As Christians, we are always to be humble students, seeking to learn more and more from God’s Word, to ever more and more appreciate its depth. You are not the master of God, but rather God is your Master, and He will continue to instruct you.
It seems the Pharisees had forgotten this point. Jesus had just silenced the Sadducees, a sort of religious party of the day – they had taken on Jesus and he had wiped the floor with them. Then the Pharisees, who loved the law, who loved being good, being the best of the best when it came to being a Jew – they figured they would ask Jesus a real humdinger – show Him that they knew their Scripture. And so – “And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’” So, here is the test. Which is the great commandment? Trap question. It would be like me asking, “Which is the greater Sacrament – Baptism or the Lord’s Supper”. They are both wonderful gifts of God – why would you ever pit them against each other? You pick one, and people can complain that you didn’t pick the other.
But Jesus doesn’t just pick one commandment – note what He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your sol 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.” All Jesus does here is quote Moses. The first part is a quote straight from Deuteronomy 6, the second is right from Leviticus. This is how Moses sums up the Law – Love God. That’s the great commandment. But this second one, love your neighbor, is like the first, so like it that they are connected, inseparable – you cannot have one without the other. If you do not love your neighbor you cannot love God. If you love God, you will love the Neighbor God has placed into your life.
Now, Jesus here does again remind us what God’s Law is. Show love. Act in a way that glorifies God and cares for the neighbor. Simple as that. Hard as that. Do not think that the command to love God and love your neighbor is an easy thing – to us sinful folk it is harsh and burdensome and distasteful. When things in our lives don’t go our way, we would much rather blame God than praise Him. When people are cruel to us, we would much rather be cruel to them than show them love. And we would certainly rather make people like us, rather than showing the aptly named “tough love” that they often need. If you are you to love God, it means you can’t blame Him anymore for your problems, but rather you must admit that they are simply the consequences of living in a sinful world. If you are to love your neighbor, you must put their interests ahead of your own.
Again, this is a simple idea, and even preaching this, I know it sounds like I’m simply repeating myself – show love, show love, show love. It seems like this has been the refrain for the past two months. But, that’s part of the point. God’s law, God’s command is always to love – and never to stop. The Law is unrelenting, and it always demands more and more – it is repetitive –and each time we look at the Law it will demand more and more of us. And while it is good to pause and consider our lives and to see how we fall short – for whenever we hear God’s Law, whenever we hear “love your neighbor” each and every one of us here should say, “Ugh, I haven’t done that as well as I ought” – and each and every one of us must strive to do better. . . if we do nothing but focus on the Law it just wears us down, beats us down. We don’t do the Law. There are times we don’t want to take the time to pray – we’d rather do something else – we might even excuse ourselves and say, “I’m too busy.” There are times we’d rather blow off our neighbor, we have “other things to do.” And if we constantly are put under the harsh, examining light of the law, it will wear us down – if a coach were to make his team practice 20 hours a day, they’d have no strength or energy for the actual game. The Law wears us down. Or, even worse, we could simply end up playing pretend, not really paying attention to it and acting as though we do – a false, hypocritical approach. “Oh yes, I’m a good Christian,” while we despise and ignore the Word and scorn our neighbor. Both of these, both of these are deadly and horrid, and if we focus simply upon God’s Law, we will break, either by being worn out or by becoming holier-than-thou hypocrites.
The Pharisees were in love with the Law – and they were happily trying to break Jesus with it while they played pretend with it. It happens. It’s the cheap, easy way. If I look down on others, I feel better about myself. But note what Christ Jesus does – He doesn’t leave these Pharisees to stew over the Law – but rather, He moves to the Gospel. He asks them a question. “’What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” Note how Jesus changes the focus off of the Law, off of what we are to do, and rather onto God, onto Christ. When the Law has shown us our sin and our lack, Christ will pull our eyes away from the Law and unto Himself, will reveal the mystery of the ages unto us. “They said to Him, ‘The Son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls Him Lord saying “’The Lord said to my LORD, sit at My right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If then David calls Him LORD, how is He his Son?’” Do you see what Jesus says, what Jesus teaches here? How is David’s Son also David’s Lord? Because Christ Jesus, a descendant of David through His mother Mary, legally in the line of David by His adoptive father Joseph, is in fact God, is in fact LORD. The thrust, the focus of the Scriptures is that while we have fallen, while we cannot uphold and maintain the Law of God – God Himself will act for us, God Himself will provide the victory over sin for us – God Himself will fulfill all righteousness and win us salvation, giving us resurrection and eternal life in His Name, freeing us from the taint of sin so that in eternity the Law will no longer be a burden unto us. This is what Christ Jesus, the very Son of God does by His life, death, and resurrection. That Law that threatens to crush us, He takes up in our stead – and in so doing restores man to God. Christ frees us from sin, and being freed from sin, the Law ceases to be a burden. Now, in this life, we see this only in part – for we still keep on sinning, so we keep feeling the weight of the Law – but we also receive Christ’s forgiveness freeing us from the burden of guilt. In the life to come – then, then we will see this all so clearly and be completely free of all this angst and worry that comes with sin, for our sin will well and thoroughly be no more.
What our Lord says here is the cause of utter joy and celebration – the mystery, the wonder; that God Himself would come down from heaven and be our Savior is the great joy of all time. Yet we have another warning come up again in Scripture – “And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him anymore questions.” Why couldn’t the Pharisees “answer” Him? Why couldn’t they respond? It wasn’t because they didn’t know what Jesus was saying here – they knew that He was claiming to be God and Messiah. But rather this – they couldn’t give an answer that showed that they were their own saviors. You see, that is what the Pharisees had been trying to do in the first place – claim top billing – claim that they were the good and holy ones who were the most important. But that isn’t what Scripture shows us – we are not the heroes of Scripture – Christ is. The Christian life is not a tale of our heroic triumphs due to our strength and power – but it is a life where we see ever more and more that while we are weak He is strong – that Christ Jesus is our strength, our tower.
Dear friends, if you try to make the Christian faith be about you, about your actions – if you try to make yourself the hero of the story, you simply end up ignoring God’s Word and ignoring Christ. The hope of the Christian faith isn’t a hope that we can have more success, isn’t that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and conquer all, isn’t that we will have all that we want or desire if we just are good enough people. Those are all false hopes whispered in the ears of false prophets by Satan. Those are the same temptations that felled Adam and Eve in the garden when they thought they would make a better world by eating the fruit. Rather this – the Christian hope that we share is brutally honest – shows that we are horrid sinners who so often fail – yet God in His wondrous love and mercy to us wins for us salvation – that God’s love for us is so great that even our wretched stupidity and vileness cannot destroy it – and that God wills us to be saved. The ugliness of our self is overshadowed by the beauty of God Himself, and He says, “I shall call you forth on the last day, and when you open your eyes then, you will be as wondrous and beautiful as I am, for I have died for you, I have risen for you, I have baptized you and given you My own precious Body and Blood.”
This is the teaching of Scripture. This is what our Lord strives to point out over and over – that we are to turn away from sin, turn away from trust in ourselves – that we are to repent. And rather this – we behold all that Christ Jesus has done for us. As Paul says, we have been enriched by Him, and He will sustain us by His Word of salvation and life even unto the Last Day, all thanks and glory be unto Him. In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost +