The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
October 20, 2019
“What Do You Think About the Christ?”
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. St. Matthew 22:34-46
The two main teachings of the Bible are the law and the gospel. The law is the standard for our behavior. It tells us what God wants us to do. It promises blessing to those who obey and it threatens punishment to those who disobey. The law is God’s will for our lives. We are not free to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. God decides. The law reflects God’s nature. God is sinless. Sin is lawlessness. We need the law. We need the law to keep order in this world. We need the law to show us our sins and our need for God’s forgiveness. We need the law so that we Christians may know what to do to please God. We need God’s law.
We need the gospel. The gospel does not tell us what to do. It does not threaten anyone. The gospel is about Christ, the Son of God and the son of David. The gospel tells us that God, for Christ’s sake, forgives us all our sins, rescues us from death and the devil, and gives us eternal salvation. The only way to receive what the gospel promises is to believe it. All who believe the gospel have what it promises: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Those who depend on their own obedience to the law to make themselves good enough for God will be cursed by that law. The law threatens to punish everyone who disobeys. That means everyone.
We need both the law and the gospel. The Pharisees wanted to talk to Jesus about the law. Jesus wanted to talk to the Pharisees about the gospel. When they saw how Jesus had bested the Sadducees, they decided to put him to the test. They got together and appointed a lawyer to question Jesus on the law. He went up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
The Pharisees had extrapolated hundreds of commandments from God’s law. They thought that God’s law was contained within their hundreds of rules. Jesus ignored their rules. He went straight to the Bible. He quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He quoted from Leviticus 19:16, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
To turn God’s law into a list of rules is to distort it. That’s what religious people regularly do. They want to justify themselves by their obedience to the law. How? They come up with rules that they can obey. Then they pretend that by obeying the rules they invented they are making themselves righteous before God.
Jesus makes it clear. We don’t decide what God’s commandments are. God does. Instead of multiplying God’s commandments into hundreds of rules, Jesus reduced all of God’s commandments to two commandments. The first is that you must love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. The second is like the first. It also requires love. It requires that you love your neighbor as yourself. Everything the Bible teaches about God’s law rests on these two commandments.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart. The heart refers to your affections. What do you want? What do you desire? You want God. You desire God. You want what God wants for you. You want God’s will, not yours, to be done. To love God with your whole heart is to desire more than anything else to be in fellowship with God and to please him. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul. Your soul is your life. Your love for God is not confined to this or that part of your life. It encompasses everything you do. You don’t leave God in church or consider him only when you pray or read the Bible. Rather, your love for God governs everything you say and do throughout the day, over the months and years, until the day you die. You don’t put God into a segregated ghetto with all of that religious stuff. You love him lifelong with all your life. You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind. To learn God’s word is your joy. To love the pure teaching of God’s word is to love God. The God you love with all your heart and with all your soul speaks to you in the Bible. He speaks in words. You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind. You want to know and to understand what God says to you. To love God with all your mind means that you look at everything in your life theologically. Yes, you must be a theologian! Theology is literally talking about God. To love the Lord your God with all your mind is to love theology, pure and sound theology, the law and the gospel, the mysteries of the faith, and to cherish God’s truth as more precious than all other knowledge in the world. You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind.
The second commandment is like the first because it, too, requires love. The love for God entails your whole heart, soul, and mind. You love God above all things. Your love for your neighbor is subordinate to your love for God. You love God first. You love neighbor second. You love God above everything else. You love your neighbor as yourself.
Consider the commandments. Honor your father and mother. Why? This is how you love them. You shall not murder. Why not? That’s not what love does. You shall not commit adultery. Why not? Love lives a chaste and decent life in word and deed. You shall not steal. Why not? You love your neighbor more than his property. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Why not? You love him. You value his reputation as much as you value your own. Every one of the commandments teaches you how to love your neighbor as yourself. Whatever you want your neighbor to do for you is what you do for him. Love your neighbor as yourself.
You shall. God doesn’t suggest. He doesn’t advise. He commands. He doesn’t say you must. He says you shall. That’s stronger than you must. It means you really are going to do it. You shall. But you have not loved as God commands. How can his commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” be fulfilled? You have not loved your neighbor as God commands. How can his commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” be fulfilled?
Look to Christ. Whose son is he? The Pharisees know their Bible well enough to say “The son of David.” Every child in school knew that! But they did not know that the Christ is also David’s Lord. They were more interested in justifying themselves by their manmade rules than they were in the promised Christ. They did not believe that the Christ was God. Just as Jesus had gone to the Bible to teach the law, he went to the Bible to teach the gospel. He said to them:
David was speaking in the Spirit. His words of Psalm 110 were inspired by the Holy Spirit. God says that the Christ is David’s Lord. If he is David’s Lord, he is our Lord. Lord means God. Jesus Christ is true man, born of David’s seed, and also true God, begotten of the Father from eternity.
God became a man. He fought for us. He died for us. He defeated all our enemies. He rose from the dead. He intercedes for us. Jesus quotes David’s psalm: “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’” Christ’s enemies are our enemies. These enemies lie under his feet. He is at the Father’s right hand. He has equal authority, equal dignity, and equal power with the Father. St. Paul writes in Romans 8:33-34,
Christ intercedes for God’s chosen people. He is at the right hand of God with all his enemies under his feet. Our sins, the devil’s power, and every evil that threatens us lies defeated under the feet of the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord Jesus Christ.
There is nothing more pathetic than a sinner trying to make himself into a saint. It’s like fighting a tar baby. The more you try, the dirtier you get. Those who try to make themselves righteous must pretend that God law of love doesn’t exist. They must replace God’s law of love with a list of rules that they can obey. But it doesn’t work. God’s law of love stands. You shall love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The law shows us we have failed to love as God requires. We see our sin in the light of God’s law. We suffer the pangs of a guilty conscience. We know that God has every right to require love from us and that we have failed the Lord, our God.
God speaks his gospel to us. It reveals pure grace. He shows us Jesus the Christ. God is our brother. On the cross where Jesus died for us, our sins were washed away by his blood. At the open tomb where Jesus rose from the dead, our resurrection to eternal life was gained. Even now, Jesus pleads for his Christians at the right hand of God, having defeated sin, death, and the devil.
When God speaks his gospel to our hearts so that we believe him; when he tells us that for Christ’s sake he forgives us all our sins and makes heaven our home; something happens inside of us. Love happens. The law told us to love but could not enable us to love. The gospel of God’s love for us does. We can love God and our neighbor because God has first loved us.
Rolf D. Preus