Trinity Eighteen Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| October 10, 2004| Matthew 22:34-46
Every word that comes to us from God is to teach us. But God does not teach us many different doctrines. God teaches us essentially two things: the law and the gospel. They appear to contradict each other, but God cannot contradict Himself and both of these teachings come from Him. The law teaches us what are our obligations. What do we owe God? What do we owe our neighbor? The law tells us. It says that you are to love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. It says that you are to love your neighbor as yourself. It judges you when you disobey. It speaks the thunder of Sinai against all that sin against it.
The gospel does not teach us what are our obligations. It does not teach us what we owe to God or to our neighbor. In fact, the gospel does not set any burden at all upon us. It takes our burdens off of us. It doesn’t teach us what we are to do. Instead, it teaches us what we should believe. It teaches us about our Savior, Jesus. The gospel is never simply inert teaching that lies in a closed book or is filed away in the hidden recesses of our mind. The gospel is God telling us that Jesus really is our Savior who has fulfilled the law for us and suffered the just punishment we deserved because of our disobedience. The gospel is the voice of the Holy Spirit, giving us the forgiveness of sins that Jesus has won for us.
We learn the law and the gospel in the Catechism. The law is summed up in the Ten Commandments. The gospel is summed up in the Creed. First we learn the law in order that we may learn what is good and bad, right and wrong, holy and sinful. Then we learn the gospel in order that we may become good, right, and holy. The law can show us what is good but it cannot make us good. It can show us what is right but it cannot make us righteous. It can show us what is holy but it cannot make us holy. The gospel alone has the power to make us good, righteous, and holy. Yet this gospel is spoken only to those who are bad, wrong, and sinful.
If you are not bad you don’t need the gospel to make you good. If you are not wrong you don’t need the gospel to make you righteous. And if you are not sinful you don’t need the gospel to make you holy. This is why every Christian must learn the law if he is to learn the gospel. The law has no power to set you free from your sins, bring you forgiveness, and rescue you from the punishment that you deserve. But while the law has no power to save you, if you will not learn the law you cannot be saved. St. Paul put it so simply that any child can understand it. He wrote: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15) If you are not a sinner, you cannot be saved from your sins. Only God’s law can show you your sin. Therefore, without the teaching of God’s law you cannot be saved.
God’s law is not like man’s law. God’s law requires us to love. It doesn’t require us to obey a list of rules except insofar as love requires us to obey a list of rules. Even when treating our obligations to those who make the rules – such as fathers and mothers and whatever government is placed over us – God’s law teaches us to do more than merely to obey them. We are to honor them. Mere outward obedience is not enough. Nor is it enough to refrain from murdering anyone. We may not hate him in our heart. It is not enough to retrain from committing adultery. We may not lust after anyone to whom we are not joined in lawful marriage. It is not enough to refrain from stealing what does not belong to us. We are to help our neighbor improve and protect what belongs to him. It is not enough to refrain from telling lies about our neighbor. We are to defend him from hurtful gossip, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest possible way within the boundaries of the truth.
And why are we to love our neighbor? We are to love our neighbor because he was made in the image of God, because he was redeemed by God’s blood, and because God wants him to come to faith in the gospel and receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Christ. We are to love our neighbor because in this way we love God. We cannot love God whom we have not seen if we do not love those we can see. To love God with our whole heart means that we with our whole heart agree with God’s decision to love our neighbor as much as God loves us. To love God with our whole soul is to love the soul of our neighbor as much as we love our own lives. To love God with our whole mind is to think of what benefits our neighbor with at least as much affection as we think of those things that will benefit us.
The law of love is not an option. The Christian is not set free from the obligation to love God and neighbor. The gospel that gives us forgiveness of our sins against the law of love does not give us permission to hate. In heaven there will be no hatred. In heaven love will be perfected. In heaven we will indeed love the LORD our God with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind. In heaven we will not love ourselves more than we love our brothers and sisters. To teach that the gospel permits us to hate would be to teach that the gospel that promises heaven denies the very gift it promises. Hell is where hatred will rule forever and ever and shut out every particle of love. Heaven is where we will fully experience the love of God in a purity of perfected love that will replace faith and hope. God does not forgive us our sins so that we will embrace them more firmly. No, God forgives us our hatred, malice, lust, envy, covetousness, defiance, and every other sin against love because God loves us and wants us to live in that love. To live in God’s love is to receive and to give love.
We receive God’s love by believing what God tells us about His love for us. This is not just abstract knowledge, like learning the capitals of the states or the multiplication tables. To learn what God tells us about His love for us is to learn to know Christ.
Only those who have been indicted, tried, and convicted by God’s law are in a position to understand Christ. When Jesus asked the Pharisees whose Son the Christ was they said He was David’s Son. They were not wrong. The Christ was David’s Son. But the Christ was also David’s Lord. He was David’s Son and David’s Lord at the same time. The Pharisees didn’t understand this but they could hardly deny it. Jesus did nothing more than to set forth the clear teaching of Psalm 110, which begins with the words: “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’” King David wrote these words. The Pharisees knew perfectly well that this psalm was a messianic prophecy. It foretold the coming of the promised Christ. The fact that David called the promised Messiah or Christ “Lord” meant that the promised Christ would be the Lord God in the flesh. Known as the “Son of David” the Christ would also be the Son of God. The Pharisees did not think they needed God to become flesh. They did not believe they needed a Savior who would fulfill the law for them and suffer for their sins. Since they refused to see their need for a divine Savior, they rejected the plain teaching of God’s word on the subject.
And so it goes today. The teaching of God’s word about the Christ is important to those who know their sin and their need for forgiveness. But if we think that we have loved God and our neighbor as God’s law requires of us we won’t care much about who the Christ is. Is Jesus Christ a great man but only a man? Is Jesus a godlike figure but not true God? If we did not need Jesus to be our Savior it would not matter if He were really and truly God and really and truly man at one and the same time. But since we do need Jesus to be our Savior it matters very much that He is not only David’s Son but also David’s Lord.
The theology of the Pharisees is much like what passes as Christian theology today. Theology is simply talk about God. What do we talk about when we talk about God? For the Pharisees it boiled down to talking about the right rules for the right situations. They thought that religion was about what to do and when and how to do it. But that’s so far from the truth! True religion is about love, and not a sappy, sentimental, humanistic notion of love that avoids the facts of life. True religion is about the love that puts God above everything: every affection, every perceived need, every personal goal, and every hidden fear. True religion loves God with a single-minded purpose that cannot be denied. This love loves truly and sincerely in the face of competition from other loves that appeal to our affections, our needs, and our desires. This love sees the opportunity to love God by loving everyone in need of whatever love can provide.
But the love that is required is simply too far above us. We cannot reach out to it and bring it down to us. We cannot reach inward to find it within ourselves. We cannot produce it by any amount of struggling in prayer or discipline or self-denial. But this Love became incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man. A true Son of David, born in Bethlehem, the city of David, He was begotten of His Father before all worlds. His love never failed Him. When confronted by hatred, bitterness, and jealousy, He loved. When bearing mockery, spite, and painful beatings, He loved. When suffering the just punishment of God against the loveless world of sinful humanity, He loved.
His love conquered hatred. It destroyed it at its root. He routed the father of lies and murderer of souls who leads Adam and all his progeny into every expression of hatred that his devilish genius can devise. The purity of Jesus’ love did battle against the malice, deception, violence, murder, and inexpressible cruelty that is the hatred of all humanity. One Man, the God-man, the Descendent of David and David’s God faced hatred with love and defeated it.
He defeated it in the crushing of the devil’s head. He defeated it in the drowning of all our sins in the sea of His innocent blood so they cannot rise up to accuse us or claim us. He defeated hatred root, trunk, branch, and leaf. The full display of that victory will be seen only in heaven at the resurrection, but Christ’s enemies have already been put under His feet. He sits at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us Christians as we struggle over hatred, fall back into hatred, and rise up to love again. He sends us His Spirit who pours His love into our hearts. He uproots from our hearts, lives, and very minds the hatred that would capture us and lead us into slavery. He does so by the gospel, the final teaching to us from God that tells us our sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ, David’s Son and Lord.