The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf Preus| September 25, 2016| St. Matthew 22:34-46
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 Bible contains two teachings: the law and the gospel. To understand God’s Word we need to distinguish between these two teachings and not confuse the one with the other. The law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, teaches us what God requires of us. He tells us how we must think, speak, and behave. The law promises life to those who obey it. It threatens to punish everyone who disobeys it. Since everyone disobeys the law, the law threatens everyone. The law condemns everyone to hell for their disobedience.
The gospel does not tell us what we must do. It tells us about our Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of David and the Son of God. It shows us our Savior who defeated our enemies on the cross and now sits at the right hand of the Father where he intercedes for us. The gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ. Jesus has fulfilled the requirements of the law and has suffered the punishment of the law. By his obedience and suffering, Jesus promises eternal life to sinners whom the law has condemned. Jesus calls sinners to himself and he speaks the gospel to them. The gospel promises eternal life to those who believe it.
People by nature understand neither the law nor the gospel, but they have a partial understanding of the law. They have no understanding of the gospel at all. By nature, folks understand that there is a right and a wrong and that if they do what is right God will reward them and if they do what is wrong God will punish them. Since they have a conscience, they have a basic understanding of what is right and wrong. It is wrong to show disrespect to God. It is right to honor our parents. It is wrong to steal what belongs to our neighbor. It is right to be faithful to one’s husband or wife. Telling lies to hurt someone else is wrong. Telling the truth to defend someone falsely accused is right. And so on. People understand such things.
But, while most people have a partial understanding of the law, they don’t know what it really requires. When they think of the law they think of rules. They think of a list of dos and don’ts. Obey the rules and you are obeying the law. This is how they regard religion. Religion is a matter of obeying the rules. And of course religious folks will argue among themselves about which rules are more important than which. It is from this religious context that we can understand how the Pharisees thought they could trap Jesus in his words. The question seems sincere enough, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” But it’s a trap. Jesus can’t choose one rule among many without giving the impression that the rules he doesn’t choose are unimportant. That would suggest disrespect to the whole law. They think they have him effectively trapped. The lawyer who asked Jesus the question was an expert on all of the religious rules. There were 613 of them. But Jesus ignored their rules. He summarized the entire law of God in just two commandments. The first is that you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and the second is that you shall love your neighbor as yourself. That’s it. That’s all that God’s law demands.
If you love God with all your heart, you will obey the Ten Commandments. You will obey them, not just outwardly, but from the heart. You will want to do what God wants you to do. You will go to church. But you won’t go to church merely to obey a rule. You will go to church because you love God’s word and sincerely want to know it and hold onto it. You will want God’s reputation honored above that of any human being, including yourself. You will not want to do anything that displeases God.
If you love God with all your soul you will never waver in your love for him. Your entire life will be devoted to pleasing him in everything you think, say, and do. Your love will be a constant flame that burns brightly wherever you go and whatever happens to you.
If you love God with all your mind you will think of what his commandments really require of you so that you will do them, not to gain a reward or to fulfill an obligation, but because this is what brings you true fulfillment, happiness, and purpose in life. You won’t waste your time and energy speculating about God, but will seek out his word to know it and understand it and pattern your life according to it.
If you love your neighbor as yourself you will obey the Ten Commandments. You cannot love your neighbor by disobeying God. You love your neighbor by obeying God. If two people do together what God forbids them to do – they may do it in the name of love – but that doesn’t make it love. To love your neighbor requires that you obey God and do what God says you should do for your neighbor and avoid doing what God forbids you to do to or with your neighbor. God determines what love is. God determines what obedience is. When they asked Jesus – who is God in the flesh – which was the greatest commandment he appealed to what was written in the Holy Scriptures.
God law written in the Scriptures indicts us all. None of us has loved as God requires us to love. We haven’t loved God with all our heart, soul, or mind, and we haven’t loved our neighbors as ourselves. Maybe we’ve obeyed the rules. We have failed God by failing to love him and our neighbor as he requires. He has the right to require such love. We have the duty to give it. We have not. For that we deserve punishment.
Now listen to Jesus talk. Those out to test him and trap him asked him a question about the law. Not knowing anything about the gospel they didn’t ask a question about it. But Jesus wants to talk about the gospel. The gospel is the message about Christ. So he asks them who Christ is. Whose son is he? They say, “David’s.” That was perfectly true. And if the Christ were merely the son of David, that is, merely a man, there would be no gospel to preach. But Jesus preaches the gospel to us. He asks them how it is that David, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, called him Lord. Psalm 110 begins:
The LORD said to my Lord
Sit at my right hand
Until I make your enemies your footstool.
David wrote Psalm 110. He here refers to the promised Christ as “My Lord.” How could David’s son be David’s Lord? This is what Jesus asks. They couldn’t answer him. Nobody has ever been able to answer that question. Because they couldn’t answer him, they didn’t dare question him. That’s because they questioned him, not to learn from him, but to put him on trial. They knew they couldn’t best him in a theological argument, so they didn’t talk with him. They didn’t ask him any more questions.
They should have. And they should have listened to his answers. The question they couldn’t answer was how can a man be both David’s son and David’s Lord at the same time? We can’t answer that question, but we can confess it. God became a man. He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.
If God did not become a man then we would be left under the judgment of the law. Our failure to love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves would condemn us. But David’s son is David’s Lord. God became a man. God became a man to do as a man what we did not do. He loved as no man ever loved. He loved God with all of his heart, all of his soul, and all of his mind. He loved his neighbor as himself. He blessed those who cursed him. He prayed for those who treated him with spite. His love was pure, holy, and very public, as he refused to give into bitterness or recrimination even when liars slandered him, tortured him, and nailed him to a cross.
The love of David’s son and Lord was offered up to God as the offering of all humanity. This is how the seed of the woman crushed the serpent’s head. This is how the devil was undone and his power taken from him. All of our enemies lie under Christ’s feet.
Jesus is at the right hand of God. What is he doing? He is interceding for us. St. Paul writes in Romans 8:33-34,
Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
Those who reduce the law to rules that they can obey don’t see any need for David’s son being David’s Lord. They don’t need God to join them in their humanity and to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. They think they can obey God by obeying the rules. Yet their hearts are far from God. They are filled with idolatrous desires, selfish ambitions, and sins of every description. They need to confess their sins to God. They need an advocate who will speak for them. They need to trust in him who sits at the right hand of the Father. They need him as their intercessor, because if Jesus doesn’t speak on your behalf before God’s throne of justice then you literally don’t have a prayer. True love required perfect obedience and suffering. No mere man could provide it. David’s Lord became David’s son. He joined the human race to do what all of us needed doing. His love fulfills God’s demand to love. His love covers our sins. His love makes us righteous in his sight. His love is poured out into our hearts. His love empowers us to love.
If you want to learn to love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind; if you want to learn to love your neighbor as yourself; listen to Jesus as he answers the law with the gospel. He is David’s son and David’s Lord. He defeated our enemies on the cross. Satan lies vanquished under his feet. All our sins are forgiven. He pleads for us at the right hand of the Father. This is the gospel truth on which our faith rests. From this faith we learn to love even as we are loved. Amen.