The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 30, 2018
“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.
Today’s Gospel reading provides us with a summary of the two main teachings of the Holy Scriptures: the law and the gospel. The law teaches us how to live. The gospel teaches us what to believe. The law tells us our obligations to God. The gospel tells us of God’s grace to us. The law promises us a good life here on earth if we obey it. The gospel promises us eternal life in heaven if we believe it. The law was given by Moses in the Ten Commandments. The gospel is revealed by Jesus Christ, the Son of David. There is no greater knowledge in the world than the knowledge of the law and the gospel.
The lawyer who tested Jesus believed that the law showed you how to get to heaven. He was a Pharisee. The Pharisees extrapolated hundreds of rules from God’s law and taught that the way to God’s favor and eternal life was by following their rules. They were legalists. They believed that obeying their rules was obeying God. They argued among themselves about which rules were more important than which. Where did Jesus stand? Which rule would Jesus choose?
Jesus did not pick one rule among several hundred as the greatest of them all. Instead, he summed up the whole law in two simple commands: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus concluded by saying that all of God’s law depended on these two commandments.
God’s law requires us to love. It’s easier to obey rules than it is to love. You may have a rule that tells you to go to church on Sunday. That’s a good rule. But you can go to church and still despise the word of God in your heart, thinking that his holy teaching is boring and preferring something else. You may have a rule that forbids gambling. That’s a good rule, too. Gamblers can win only when their neighbor loses. But obeying that rule won’t make you sincerely desire for your neighbor as much prosperity as you desire for yourself. You cannot produce love by setting down rules. It doesn’t work.
The Ten Commandments are more than ten rules to follow. Consider what God requires in these commandments: You may not participate in false worship, lie or deceive by God’s name, ignore church services, dishonor your parents, hurt your neighbor physically, have sexual relations with anyone but your own husband or wife, steal, tell lies about your neighbor, or try to get what you have no right to get. Now what do these commandments teach us? They teach us to love God with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
God wants our whole heart, our whole life, and our whole mind. He demands it all. He made us for himself and he has the right to demand our loyalty and obedience. Forget about your rules. Love God above everything else. Love your neighbor as yourself. Forget about your rules. But most people would rather have a list of rules to obey because it’s easier to obey the rules than it is to love.
Manmade religions invent rules that they attribute to God and teach that if you obey these rules you will get to heaven. But they lie. In order to get to heaven, you must be holy. Nothing sinful can enter into heaven, or it wouldn’t be heaven. Obeying rules doesn’t make anyone holy. Sinners cannot make themselves into saints.
If you do your best to obey the Ten Commandments, you will live a better life than if you ignore them. If you cheat on your husband or wife, you will have to live with the consequences. If you steal, you’ll get caught, sooner or later. If you get drunk – and that’s a sin – you will suffer for it. If you tell lies, you’ll lose friends and honor. On the other hand, it you put into practice the Ten Commandments and attempt as best as you can to obey the law of love, loving God first and most, and loving your neighbor as yourself, you will be richly rewarded for it in this life. This is the law.
Even the ancient pagans knew this. They taught that virtue is its own reward. That’s true. But the law is only for this life. The law cannot give eternal life. The law promises life only to those who obey it. In the life we live in this world, an imperfect obedience will bring an imperfect blessing. But only perfect obedience can bring the perfect blessing of heaven. The Bible says,
This is why, after addressing the law, Jesus asked those who were testing him about the Christ. Who was he? This was the question they needed to consider. They needed a Savior from their sins. When we consider God’s law, and not just the rules, we are forced to confront this deep, unfathomable darkness, this wickedness inside of us, what the Bible calls sin. It lies within you. It hates God. It loves self. It doesn’t want to do anything for God. It wants only to live for self. The Bible calls this the flesh. The flesh can obey rules. That’s easy. But he cannot love. This we must learn. It is a painful lesson. Who wants to admit that he doesn’t even love the one to whom he owes everything? We must learn to despair of ourselves. Only then will we care to learn about the Christ.
That crowd of legalistic, religious, rules obeying and God despising hypocrites knew exactly what Jesus was doing when he changed the subject from the law to the gospel. They knew that Jesus was claiming to be the Christ, that is, the Son of David, but not just his son – his Lord and his God. Jesus is Lord. He is the only one who can bring you to heaven.
God’s law exposes our sins and spiritual poverty. Two simple commands: love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself, show us to be guilty before God. No amount of rulemaking or rule obeying will change this.
Only Jesus Christ can change this. He asks, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is he?” He is David’s son. But David calls him Lord! David wrote in Psalm 110, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool.” If the Christ is David’s Lord, how can he also be his son?
Nobody can explain how, but we certainly confess that this is true! Only David’s Lord, the same God who gave the law on Mt. Sinai, could save us from our sins against that holy law. Only David’s son, true man, conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, could take our place under God’s law as a real substitute for us. David’s Lord and David’s son are one and the same: Jesus Christ, true God and true man. He is our answer to the Law’s demand that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and that we love our neighbors as ourselves. He is the answer because he, our God and our brother, has obeyed the law in our place and has given us the credit for it. He is the answer because he, our God and our brother, received the just punishment for our disobedience as he suffered for us on the cross. He is the answer because, instead of giving us rules by which we could evade the law of love, he lived the law of love for us in every thought, every word, and every deed. He is the answer because in him and only in him we have the power to love. The Holy Spirit himself lives in us, killing our legalistic flesh every day, working in our hearts, souls, and minds that love which is from God alone.
Who is Christ, and what is he to you? This is the question you must answer. Not, “Have I obeyed this or that rule which people have invented as a means of loving God?” Because when you know this Christ, who humbled himself to the death of the cross, although he was and remains the Creator and Judge of all people, then you know love, a love that empowers you to love God and to love your neighbor. It is a love that turns selfishness into generosity and bitterness into mercy. It is a love that attacks the legalistic and unredeemable flesh inside of us. It is a love that changes us, giving us the desire to fear, love, and trust in him who loved us in our wretched, sinful, loveless, blindness and elevated us to heaven.
To the legalist, every theological discussion is essentially self centered as he seeks to gain God’s favor by obeying man-made rules. To the Christian, every theological discussion is centered in Christ who has gained for us God’s favor by obeying the law of love. The legalist stands over God’s law, carefully constructing rules by which to show he has mastered it. The Christian stands under God’s law, crying out for mercy and forgiveness because he knows the law condemns him for his lovelessness. God, for Christ’s sake, for the sake of the doing and dying of David’s Son and Lord, Jesus, hears the cry of his child who admits his failure to love. God absolves him. God forgives him. God takes him out from under the burden of the law’s judgment and gives him the treasure of Christ. This is why we want to hear this gospel more than we want anything else in this world. And we know, as God’s own children, that he will always give it to us.
Rolf D. Preus