The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
October 4, 2015
“The Law and the Gospel”
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 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 then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool”’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore. Matthew 22:34-46
The two main teachings in the Bible are the law and the gospel. The law is God’s commandments. It tells us what we must do. It teaches us God’s holy will for our behavior in thought, word, and deed. The law threatens God’s punishment to all who disobey it.
The gospel is the message that God forgives us all our sins, sets aside his anger, and delivers us from the punishment we deserve for the sake of Jesus Christ who has fulfilled the law for us and suffered for our sins on the cross. The gospel promises forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who believe it.
The gospel would be meaningless without the law. Unless we know what God requires of us we cannot know our sin and our need for a Savior. There is no gospel without the law. The law without the gospel will lead people either to hypocrisy or despair. The law tells us what to do and it shows us our sins for our failure to do it. The gospel doesn’t tell us what to do. The gospel proclaims Jesus to us. Jesus is not a new lawgiver. He is the law fulfiller. He did all that God’s law required of us and suffered all that God’s law threatened against us.
If you can distinguish between the law and the gospel you can understand the Bible. If you cannot, you cannot. The greatest minds and most profound thinkers are spiritually blind because they cannot distinguish between law and gospel. That’s because they have no idea what the gospel is.
Most religious people think that the essence of religion is the law and that the law is comprised of rules. If you follow the rules you should be okay. So it was with the Pharisees. They thought they knew everything God required of them and they were determined to do it all. They had carefully examined the Ten Commandments and, having considered the various circumstances of life, came up with 613 commandments which, if they obeyed them, they would be obeying all of God’s law. There were 365 things they could not do and 248 things they had to do. To obey the Ten Commandments, they had to obey these 613 commandments. Naturally, the Pharisees argued among themselves about which of these 613 commandments was the greatest.
The Pharisees gathered together after Jesus silenced the Sadducees. Pharisees and Sadducees were on the opposite side of the theological divide. The Sadducees were well educated, politically connected, and fashionably liberal. They questioned various mysteries of the faith, denying the existence of angels, the resurrection of the body, and other things. The Pharisees despised them. They regarded themselves as the most faithful of the faithful, strictly holding onto biblical teaching. As more and more people listened to Jesus, the Pharisees saw their influence declining. They were jealous of Jesus’ popularity, so they decided to put him to the test, setting a trap for him. What would Jesus do if they asked him which was the great commandment in the law? Which of the 613 commandments would he choose? He would be trapped. No matter how he answered, he would become embroiled in an unwinnable argument.
Jesus did not fall into their trap. He ignored all 613 of their commandments, and summarized the entire law of God in only two commandments. The first: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The second, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Instead of adding commandment upon commandment as if God’s law could be expressed by a list of rules, Jesus encompassed the entire content of God’s law in the single requirement to love.
God is love. His commandments are summed up in the one word: love. The Ten Commandments are divided into two tables, the first table requires love for God and the second table requires love for the neighbor. You must love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind. The first three commandments teach you what this entails. You shall have no other gods. You shall not misuse God’s name. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. You must love your neighbor as yourself. The next seven commandments teach you what this entails. Honor your father and mother. Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t lie about your neighbor. Don’t covet what belongs to him. The commandments explain what it means to love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. If you do not love, you haven’t begun to obey a single commandment.
To love God with all your heart is to desire his will above your own. The heart is the seat of the will. It is what you want. To love God with all your heart is to want to be with him and to enjoy perfect fellowship with him.
To love God with all your soul is to devote your life to serve him. Your soul is your life. To love God with all your soul is to regard your body, soul, property, income, health, family, and everything you own as belonging to God. All you are and have is to serve, honor, and glorify him.
To love God with all your mind is to reject all the appealing and promising philosophies of men, to love everything God says, and to regard his wisdom to be of greater value than all the treasures of this world.
We cannot truly love our neighbor unless we love God more. We must love God more than we love anything or anyone else. Husband, wife, son, daughter, mother, father, – none of them can compete with God.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is the basis of the Golden Rule: whatever you want others to do for you, do this for them. Would you want your children to honor you? Then honor your own parents. Every commandment of the second table of the law is simply application of the golden rule. You wouldn’t want your neighbor to injure you, cheat on you, steal from you, or lie about you, so you don’t do any of these things to your neighbor.
After Jesus so succinctly summarized God’s law for the Pharisees, he turned to the gospel. They asked him a question about the law. He asked them a question about the gospel, specifically about the Christ. Whose son is he? David’s, they replied. Everybody knew that the promised Savior would be a descendent of King David and would assume his throne. But they saw no need for God to become a man to save them from their sins. They did not believe that the promised Christ would also be the Son of God. That’s why Jesus posed his follow up question,
They couldn’t answer. Their view of religion put them in control of God. Now they were confronted by a mystery they couldn’t understand, much less control. With all their many rules for human conduct, they didn’t know that love was their fundamental duty to God and neighbor. Ignorant of the law, they were ignorant of their own sin against it. Blind to their inherent sinfulness, they were blind to their need for a Savior. They had never considered David’s words, “The LORD said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
David called the Christ, his descendent, his Lord. Here in Psalm 110, a thousand years before God became a man, David teaches the true deity and true humanity of Christ. David’s Son is David’s Lord. Our God comes into this world to become our brother and as our God and brother to do battle against our enemies. Our enemies are his enemies, for he is our God who loves us.
Our love did not meet the test of God’s law. But Christ’s love did. His life of perfect love was how he did battle against our fiercest enemies, putting them under his feet. His love overcame our sin as his loving obedience was offered up to God to replace our sin. His love overcame our death as he bore all our sins in his body and paid the wages of sin all by himself. His love overcame the lies and deceptions of the devil, as he, the only human being who ever loved God with his whole heart, soul, and mind became our Champion, our Advocate, and our Mediator before God.
In knowing David’s Son as David’s Lord we know him as our Savior from sin, death, and the devil. This is the source and strength of our love. Our love for God and our neighbor will not reach perfection this side of eternity. But the love that Jesus offered up to heaven as our representative has rendered us righteous before God. This is the gospel truth that is ours through faith in Christ. In receiving this love we learn to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbors as ourselves. And whatever is lacking in our love is not counted against us, but washed away by our Savior’s blood.
Rolf D. Preus