Trinity 18 – September 29th and 30th, 2018 – Matthew 22:36-44
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
What are you hoping to see? When you open up your bible and read, what are you hoping to see? When you come here to this place and hear the Scriptures read, hear a sermon preached, what are you hoping to see? What do you want to get out of all of this? What are you expecting and hoping to get out of all this religious stuff that you are here for? I ask, I bring this up because that is really the setting and context for our Gospel lesson. It is Holy Week – just days before Jesus is crucified, and Jesus has been in the temple preaching. And we hear this: “When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him.”
Why had the Pharisees come to the temple that day? Apparently it was for political power and posturing, networking and social gain. That's why Matthew notes that they came after the Sadducees had been silenced. Think of the Sadducees as the crazy liberals of the day and the Pharisees as the stalwart conservatives. There's blood in the water, as it were – and maybe we should see what is going on. So they have one of their heavy hitters, a laywer, a master of Jewish custom, ask Jesus a question... not to learn, but to test Him. Is this enemy of my enemy going to be my friend, or is He going to fail the test?
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” You learn a lot from the questions a person asks – it says a lot about them. It shows what their priority is. The disciples kept asking Jesus when the kingdom was going to be restored to Jerusalem – that was because they wanted power. James and John even jockeyed to be seated at His right hand. If you go travel anywhere interesting, I'll probably ask you about the food. Food's a priority for me. But as for our Pharisees in the text, they asked a question about the law – what is the greatest, most important thing that I am supposed to do? It shows their priority – their own action. How well they acted was everything to them – it gave them status and prestige – it was their source of pride. Knowing the Law and doing the Law, that was where it was at, and the Scriptures were simply a tool towards that goal.
So, which is the great commandment in the Law? Matthew lets us know that this is more than a question, it is also a test. It's not just a question of interest, but it is a weapon. It is a question asked not to get an answer, but a question this lawyer asks to get a weapon to use against Jesus, to elevate himself above Him. And it's a classic trap – ask for a person to pick one thing out of a list, and lambaste them for not picking something else. But Jesus doesn't play that game. He is a teacher, and so He teaches.
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, but a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and Prophets. Well, since you asked, I can't really just answer that with one – because while the commandment is that you should love God, in reality that means you love your neighbor. That's the reality. The way in which we should and do demonstrate our love for God isn't anything abstract, it isn't going through certain rituals or going through some pious motions – we love God by loving the neighbors that God has placed into our lives. Loving the neighbor is like it, it's tied up with it – the old King James says “like unto it.” To love God is to love your neighbor – or as John puts it in his epistle - “If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
This leads to a pretty big question. So, laywer – did you ask this question out of love for your neighbor, or to put him in his place? Oh, it was to test your neighbor, to embarrass Him and wreck Him. Oh, and you thought that this was going to impress God? Oh. Well, you were wrong. As Jesus told Satan at the beginning of His ministry during the temptation, Thou shall not put the Lord Thy God to the test. And this is where we here must examine ourselves. We have to consider Jesus' answer – who are the neighbors that we disdain, the ones we get annoyed with, the ones we'd rather be angry and annoyed with instead of love and serve? That's danger, that's sin crouching at the door like a lion ready to devour you. But even bigger than just that – when we read the Scriptures, when we look at God's Word, is it so that we can put Him to the test? Is it so that we can saunter up to God and say, “See, I've done X, Y, and Z, and so now you owe me.” Well, maybe we're not as brazen as that – maybe just the thoughts of I don't deserve this, why do bad things happen to good people like me, how can I make sure God blesses me. The temptation is this – we want to use God's Law as a lever against Him. That's what sinful man does, that's how this world operates. And we can get caught up in that too.
Back to the text. Jesus' answer dumbfounded the Pharisees. They we all a flutter over it – Now while the Pharisees were gathered together – do you see them, gathering together, going back and forth over what Jesus said, trying to figure out how it would impact their own personal power dynamics? While they are busy doing that, Jesus decides to ask them a question. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?” Now, this is very skillful on Christ's part. There are the Pharisees, all stuck in the Law, all focused on what they do and what they don't do and who is better than who – that's what they thought was the point. But Jesus asks a question – not about what you or I do, but about the Christ. The Messiah. Let's talk about Him. “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?” Now, this is some heavy duty sledding for us today who aren't Pharisees. The Pharisees noted that the promised Messiah, the Christ, would be the son of David, a descendant of David. And then Jesus quotes for them Psalm 110 – one of the great Messianic Psalms. And He points out something – the Messiah will be David's Son, but also David's Lord. That's not the way it works, normally – you honor your father and your mother – you don't get to out rank them. My dad will be my dad as long as we both shall live. And yet, with the Messiah, there's something else. Now, we know what that something else – Jesus is not just the son of David but He is also the Son of God, He is Christ the LORD. And this is something that David pointed forward to – it is part of the great mystery of Salvation, that God Himself would come down to be the Messiah.
Why, O Pharisees, are you so focused on trying to elevate yourselves, when the Scriptures tell the mystery of God becoming Man for your salvation? That's the point, that's where your focus should be. The Bible is not just a mere handbook for right living, it isn't “basic instructions before leaving earth” - even though that's a witty acronym. It is the story of God's salvation – it is the story of Christ Jesus who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. The Old Testament all points forward to this and promises it; the New points back to it and proclaims it. That is where our focus should be – upon the mystery of the ages, Christ Jesus becoming man to win you eternal life.
So, I will ask again. What are you hoping to see? When you open up your bible,when you come here to this place, what are you hoping to see? Sometimes we are focused upon the Law – maybe for our good and improvement, or maybe to use it as a weapon against our enemy. The thing is, when we get a full dose of the law, we get reminded that we do not follow it as we ought and are driven to confess our sin. But there is One who does, who actually fulfilled the Law. And actually, in truth, the Bible is His story. It is the story of Christ Jesus, who demonstrated His love for the Father through His love for you, and His love for you by His obedience to the Father. It is the story of Christ, who in the Garden before His crucifixion prayed, “Not My will, but Thine be done” - and went to the Cross and died to rescue you. That is how He loved you, His neighbor. Of course, it's not just a past love – that is how Christ Jesus loves you now. Over and against this rat race of a world, He loves you now. He has joined Himself to you in Baptism, so that He is with you now and you are His and nothing, not heights nor depths can separate you from His love. He has His love proclaimed to you in His Word, He pours His Spirit upon you so that you see Him in the Scriptures, so that you are continually renewed. He comes to you in Bread and Wine with His Body and Blood, to forgive you, to strength your faith and make your love towards neighbor more fervent. This is His delight – to have you know that you are loved by God, redeemed and forgiven and holy in His sight on account of Christ Jesus.
And should the time come when we get a bit uppity with the Word, when we start to want to put on airs about how we are such good Christians, He comes to us again and makes us to see Him again. He reminded the Pharisees that He was the promised Messiah even as they were planning on killing Him; how much more so will proclaim His salvation and victory to you who are joined to Him in Baptism, you who are His beloved bride whom He could never forsake. Sometimes we wander, sometimes we get proud. Our flesh tries to drive us there always, but Christ Jesus is always faithful to you. You are forgiven and redeemed in Him. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +