Trinity 18 – October 14th and 15th, 2017 – Matthew 22:34-46
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit +
Always putting Jesus to the test! Always trying to trip Him up, always trying to get Him to say something strange, to do something weird. How tiring it must have been for Jesus to deal with these Pharisees. He was constantly hounded by them – and yet how does He respond? Does Jesus respond in anger? Do we see Jesus in our Gospel lesson jumping up and down and throwing a fit? No, with patience He not only answers the question of the Pharisees, but He also shows them the question that they need to be asking. Let’s look at the Q & A that Matthew records for us in the Gospel lesson this morning and see what we learn.
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Here Matthew refers to just before our text – the Sadducees liked the first five books of the Bible but didn’t believe in the resurrection – thought that was just myth, hooey, hogwash – like many of the “educated” today. And they came up and were trying to trap Jesus, and Jesus shows them that He will raise the dead. God doesn’t raise people, you say? Then why does God say to Moses “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Issac, and the God of Jacob?” Is God the God of the Dead? - Oh no, God raises the dead, in fact, that's the Messiah's main job. Now, the Pharisees were the Sadducees' main opponents, so when the Sadducees fail, the Pharisees get together and they decide that they are going to tangle with Jesus. So they get together, they confer, they chat – and they come up with what they think is a doosey for Jesus.
And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” This is a classic trap question. It's a set up. You make a person pick between multiple good things and then hammer them for whichever they don't pick. Which of your kids do you love the most? What's more important, Baptism or the Lord's Supper? Well, what's wrong with my family? These are questions to which there is no good simple answer – if you try to give a simple answer, you are in trouble. They can bite your head off if they want to. Pick one of the commandments Jesus, and then we’ll complain about whatever You don’t pick. That’s the set-up, that’s the trap. Pick one Jesus, and we’ll accuse you of not respecting the all the other commandments. This isn't an honest question – it's a question looking for a fight.
But Jesus doesn’t play along. 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. This is the great and first commandment.” So do you see what Jesus does? I’m not going to pick one of the ten, I’m not going to let you trap me – rather I’m going to let you know what all the commandments really mean. Love God. That’s the commandment, that is the summation of the entire law. And it is – Jesus points out the simple truth that any and every sin is just an instance or a place where we don’t Love God. We choose something else, we follow something other than His Word, we sin. And my, that happens often, doesn’t it? You see, God’s Law isn’t a checklist of things to do – Alright, I came to Church this morning, that means I don’t have any other gods and I’m honoring the Sabbath day – wow, two down, see how wonderful I am! No, God’s law is about the attitude you are to have, about what motivates you to act. Is it the Love of God? Whenever your motivation is something other than simply God’s Love, be it earning praise, worrying what other people will say, desiring to prove yourself better than your neighbor, then you are sinning. Period. As the Catechism puts it, you're fearing, loving, and trusting something other than God. Jesus points this out – whenever we put something above God – we sin. And this means we sin a lot, basically constantly, even in the nice things we do. Jesus, with His answer, rips our eyes off of our own sense of righteousness and instead shows us our lack.
And a second is like it – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. And just in case these Pharisees were going to attack Jesus for ignoring His neighbor, for ignoring commandments 4-10, He cuts them off. Note what Jesus says. This second commandment, it’s like the first. In fact, it really is just an extension of the first. If you love God, then you will love your neighbor. Why? Because that’s what God created you to do. That's what He gave you your neighbor for. So your love for God is chiefly and primarily shown in how you treat your neighbor. We know this. How do we demonstrate our faith, how do we show the World out there that we love God? By how we love them. The purpose of Church, of this Worship isn’t primarily, isn’t first and foremost to demonstrate your faith – This service is about God’s Word, about Him giving us forgiveness and strength and life – that’s the primary purpose of Church. Where we show God that we love Him is by what we do when we walk out those doors, by the love that we show the people whom God puts into our lives. But you see what this means, don’t you? The great and terrible warning that Jesus speaks here. When you don’t love your neighbor, you stop loving God. When you treat your neighbor with scorn – that’s sin, that’s not loving God. When you gossip, when you harm your neighbor’s reputation – that’s sin, that’s not loving God. Our Lord says, “Whatsoever ye hath done to the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” When you hate your neighbor, you are hating God. Plain and simple, no way around it.
On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. Every command we see in Scripture, every instruction, every piece of Godly advice is simply an explanation of these two commandments. Here, this is how you Love God. Here, this is how you Love God by loving your Neighbor. These are the commandments that should be before us whenever we make a decision – how am I showing love, how am I loving God and my neighbor in what I am going to do. What God wants us of us isn’t mysterious – it’s not some dark hidden secret, it’s quite clear. Love God, love your neighbor – even love the ones that don’t love you.
Well, there's some wind out of my sails. I do not love like God's Law demands. The Law just reminded me what a jerk I actually am, in spite of the I'm so great tales I like to tell myself. That's what the Law does – it reveals our sin. When we look at our actions under the light of God's simple Law, we see how they are lacking, how they fall short of what God wants of us. I don’t love God with my whole heart – I don’t love my neighbor. I’m a greedy, selfish, nasty little fellow, who sins constantly in thought, word, and deed – and I brag and boast about the little that I do! Good night! When I consider what I do I ought to cower in terror of God Almighty. If left with just the Law, that's where I'd be stuck. But then Jesus asks His Question.
Now, while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” 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 does – alright, enough talk about your lack – let’s put the focus on Me, the Christ. Here we see Jesus ask a question to teach and instruct, to prepare them so that they would understand. The Christ, the Messiah, He will not be just an earthly king – He won’t be focused on the political power you dream of. The Son of David will also be the Son of God and David's Lord; the Christ will be True God and True Man, begotten of the Father from all eternity, born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus points them to Himself, to the mystery that He is both God and Man, that He is indeed the Lord of His own Earthly ancestor.
So the question becomes for us, why? Why does Jesus ask this specific question this way? Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. That’s why. Jesus is pointing out to these Pharisees who He is and what He is going to do. The Christ is not just simply a man, not just a fellow down the street, but He is also God Almighty. And why does God Almighty take on human flesh? Because in order to save mankind from sin, a Man must fulfill the law – there must be some Man somewhere who is righteous, who actually does fulfill the Law, who Loves God with His whole heart, who loves His neighbor as Himself, who shows them the greatest love in that He lays down His life for them. The law must be fulfilled, or we must die despairing. That’s the way it is – if there is to be any hope for humans, then a human must fulfill the law. And that’s what Jesus does. God takes it upon Himself to fulfill the law in our place. And indeed, Christ completely and fully does the law – not for Himself, but for you and me. The wages of sin is death – the Law demands punishment and death for your violation – and out of His great love for us Jesus fulfills that as well. Jesus goes to the cross, Jesus says “I will pay the penalty – if man is to be punished, then I will be punished.” Upon the cross He pays for our sin, takes up our punishment – and in return He gives us His life. All His Love, He gives to us. All His righteousness, He gives to us. We now have His righteousness. When God sees us, He sees us Holy and redeemed, spotless and blameless – because He sees His Son. We are Baptized into Christ, and all that belongs to Christ is truly ours now as a free gift.
Do you see? Jesus asks the question that we need. We need a Savior, we need a Christ who is both God and Man to win us from sin and give us His own righteousness. His question brings us to Himself, Jesus’ question focuses us upon His Cross and His salvation. Rather than trying to trap us and embarrass us, Jesus teaches us and shows us the Gospel, holds on to us with His Love, so that we would see and understand who He is. This is what He always does – He calls out to us sinful folk and brings us to Himself, so to give us forgiveness and life everlasting, indeed to give us Himself and all that He is. Take and Eat, Take and Drink. Behold the goodness of our God, who loves even us sinners, and makes us His righteous saints. All praise and Glory be to Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns forever and ever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.