Trinity 18| Matthew 22:34-46| Pastor James Preus| October 16, 2022
In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus is bombarded with questions from the Pharisees and Sadducees in vain attempts to catch him in his words. Finally, a lawyer from the Pharisee party asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment in the Law. Jesus teaches us that the greatest commandment in the Law is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” Every Jew knows that commandment from Deuteronomy 6, because it is part of the Shema, a prayer recited twice a day by observant Jews. Jesus added a second commandment found in Leviticus 19, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These two commandments are known as the two tables of the Law. The first table of the Law deals with your love toward God. The second table of the Law deals with your love toward your neighbor.
On these two commandments, Jesus tells us, depend all the Law and the prophets. By Law and the prophets, Jesus means the Holy Scriptures. The Old Testament is made up of the five books of the Law, written by Moses, and of the books of the prophets. The word for depend also means hang. So, as a visual you can imagine a cord connecting the Holy Scriptures to the commandments to love God and your neighbor. The Holy Scriptures are suspended by these two commands. If you cut the cord and sever the Holy Scriptures from these two commandments of love, then you lose all of Holy Scripture.
And with this teaching, Jesus tears down the Pharisee’s illusion that they are righteous. They can keep their six hundred plus outward observances of the Law, tithing, fasting, abstaining from certain foods, washings, etcetera, but if they fail to love God and their neighbor, it all comes crashing down. They’ve lost everything.
By teaching that the greatest commandment in the Law is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, Jesus teaches us that the First Commandment rules all Ten Commandments. In order for you to keep any of the commandments, you must first fear and love God, as your Small Catechism says. If you do not love God, then you have failed at every commandment, even if you have outwardly performed it. Likewise, the purpose of the second table of the Law is to love your neighbor. Even if you honor your father and mother, abstain from hurting or harming your neighbor, or committing adultery, or stealing, or slandering, if you do not do all these things out of love, then you have failed these commandments.
A good example of this is Jonathan, the son of King Saul. We learned in Bible study last week that Saul ordered Jonathan to kill David (1 Samuel 19). Saul was both Jonathan’s father and king, so you would think that Jonathan ought to have obeyed him according to the Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and your mother. But you cannot keep the Fourth Commandment without first fearing and loving God and loving your neighbor. Jonathan refused to kill David and instead, convinced his father not to commit this evil sin, but to let David live. In doing this, Jonathan loved God, David, and his father Saul.
Jonathan gives us a great example of how we should handle the often-conflicting responsibilities we have in life by first loving God and doing everything out of love for our neighbor. Yet, not even Jonathan kept the law of love perfectly at all times. These two commandments of love do not only tear down the Pharisees illusion that they are righteous, but they tear down our own illusion. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets, our entire religion. If we fail in one part, it all comes crashing down. The Law does not budge. Rather, this Law of love condemns us all as sinners (Romans 3:20).
After giving perfect instruction on the Law, Jesus asks the Pharisees a question about the Gospel. He asks them about the Christ, God’s promised Savior for us. “Whose son is he?”, Jesus asks. “David’s,” reply the Pharisees. Everyone knows this. God promised David that he would raise up a son from his own body, who would sit on his throne forever (2 Samuel 7). But the Pharisees are only half right. Jesus asks them, “Why then does David in the Spirit call him Lord saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I set your enemies under your feet.’” In Psalm 110, David calls the Christ his Lord. Why would David call his son his Lord? No, David is not mistaken. David made this statement by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus clearly states. The Pharisees have no answer. It’s not that they can’t figure it out. It’s that the answer is too terrifying. It is impossible to believe! The Christ is both David’s Son and David’s Lord. The Christ is both the son of David and the Son of God; he is both God and man!
This is what St. Paul teaches in the first chapter of Romans, saying, “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:3-4). Jesus is the Christ. He is descended according to the flesh from King David. Jesus is a man. He is also the Son of God, begotten from eternity from the Father. Jesus is true God.
The Christ sits at God the Father’s right hand. That means that he is all powerful. Everything Jesus does, he does as both God and man. So, that baby in the manger is the ruler of the universe. That man crawling under the burden of his cross is the commander of the armies of angels in heaven. God became man. And in so doing, he has made all our enemies his enemies. Sin, death, hell: these are our enemies. They have no claim on Christ. Yet, God takes on our human flesh and conquers our enemies, so that they are under his feet. This means that all who are joined to Christ also have sin, death, and hell forever under their feet.
“Who is the Christ?” is the most important question in all of Scripture. If you do not know that Jesus is true God and true man, who has come to save sinners from their sins, then Scripture remains a closed book to you. The Pharisees asked a question about the Law. And they didn’t even understand that! Now, they are confronted with a question about the Christ, and they prove that although they have read the Scriptures over and over again, it has remained a closed book to them. Jesus is the Christ, true God and true man. All Scripture is about Jesus, as Christ himself says in John chapter 5, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (vs. 39)
Jesus Christ is the culmination of all Scripture. All the Law and the Prophets find their fulfillment in him, as Jesus again says in Luke chapter 24, ‘“These are the words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead…’” (vss. 44-46).
And this brings some clarity to Jesus’ statement that on these two commandments (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself) hang all the Law and the prophets. Jesus is the embodiment of all the Law and the prophets. The word for hang or depend can also mean to crucify, which makes sense, because those who are crucified are also said to be hanged on a tree. A cross is made of two beams. These two commandments of love are each a beam. One beam says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” The other beam says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two beams is hanged Christ Jesus, he who fulfills the Law and the prophets.
Jesus fulfilled the Law throughout his life. He never sinned. Yet, his greatest show of love was in his crucifixion for our sins. Jesus, the man, loved the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, and mind. He was not forced to the cross, but he went willingly. Jesus could at a word send all the soldiers, who arrested him to the ground (John 18:6). His soul was in anguish as he bore our sins and considered his suffering and death. Yet, Jesus prayed to his God and Father, “If it is possible, take this cup away, yet not my will but yours be done.” (Matthew 26:39) As that beam was erected on Calvary with Jesus’ nailed to it, you can almost see it written in blood, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.”
In his crucifixion, Jesus fulfilled the command to love his neighbor. Jesus himself taught his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). And again, as Jesus permitted his hands to be nailed to that cross beam you can almost see the inscription in blood, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Our congregation uses Lessons for Lambs as children bulletins. And on the front cover, we have wonderful illustrations by a faithful Lutheran artist, which help teach the lesson of the day. However, I must disagree with the picture he provided for today. If you look at the children’s bulletins, you will see the two tablets of the law hanging on the cross, an obvious allusion to Jesus saying that the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. But the illustration has it wrong. The commandments of love are not hanged on the cross. The commandments of love are the cross. They are the beams on which Christ Jesus, the fulfillment of Scripture is hanged. The Law is not crucified. The Law crucifies sinners. That is why Jesus’ crucifixion is so important! He has saved us sinners from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, as it is written, “Cursed by everyone who hangs on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13) The Law is not crucified for our sins. Jesus is crucified for our sin. He has not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.
Now the Law of love cannot condemn us. Now, we are free to love God and our neighbor without fear of being condemned to hell. Most people think that you are saved (whatever they think that means), by doing good, by loving. That is why it is increasingly popular to say that Jesus is not the only way to heaven, because many ways teach us how to love equally as well as Jesus. God save you from that devilish teaching! First, it’s not true. Jesus teaches us to love infinitely better than the Hindu Vedas, or the Jewish Talmud, or the Islamic Koran. But more importantly, you will never be saved by following the Law. No matter how good you think you are, you do not love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. You do not love your neighbor as your own flesh; not all the times! But Jesus does! And Jesus did as he was hanged on the cross for the sake of the Law of love. Jesus is the only way to heaven. He is the only one who has saved you from your sins. Jesus, David’s Son and David’s Lord, has placed all our enemies under his feet. And he invites us to join him in his victory through faith in Christ. Amen.