Trinity 18 2015 Matthew 22:34-46
October 4, 2015
Scripture: Matthew 22:34–22:46
We’ve all been looking for it; the answer to life’s hardest question, validation that we’re doing well, that we’re right.
The Sadducees and the Pharisees hated each other more than Eagles fans hate the Cowboys and any chance either one had to get one up on the other group they took. So it was in the verses preceding our text for today. The Sadducees had been silenced and the Pharisees looking to get a leg up jumped at the chance to trap Jesus into answering a question that they had no doubt been arguing about. The Pharisees loved laws, they loved making laws that they could attain to and they especially loved laws that they succeed in following. They had over 600 laws that they said had to be followed and it is clear from the Lawyers question in our text for today that they did want to know which one was the greatest; “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? And Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And if it had ended there that lawyer would have left thinking “Hey, I do that, I Love God, I love Him quite a bit actually.” That’s how it would have ended if Jesus would have left it there with that one command. And yet our Lord knew the pride of the lawyer, the pride of the Pharisees, indeed He knew the pride of all men, He knew the attention that they paid to making and following laws in order to be pleasing to God; Jesus knew that the Pharisees were the best at following the law. But Christ our Lord had had this conversation with the Pharisees before back in Matthew 9 and it was clear that the lawyer and the whole lot of them still had no idea of who Christ was or what He had come to do for them, for us and for the entire world. Had Christ left the question answered with just love God, with all your heart and soul and mind He would have led those poor men astray. They sought salvation, justification, freedom and peace with God through their obedience to the law and most of them really believed that they could do it; Our Lord noticed that they wished to be judged by the law and so He persisted to show them just how much of it they actually had to fulfill if they wished to be saved by their obedience. He continued. “Loving God is the greatest and the first commandment and a second is like it.” Imagine it; you’re a law following fiend, you love laws, love to follow them, love to have steps to follow in order to measure your holiness, love to hear about laws you think you’re keeping and then some guy Who claimed to be both David’s son and Lord comes up and says that there’s another law like the first; in fact, the second law “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” measures the first law. How much you love God will be measured by how much you love your neighbor. This was a problem for the Pharisees and it is a problem for all of us too. Too often we hear Love God…. And then we recount all the ways that we love Him; I pray to Him, I think about Him all the time, I give Him thanks and praise for all things; and while this might be true; the fact is that all thanks and praise is due to Him for Paul reminds us in 1st Corinthians 12 no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity Who was given to us in Baptism speaks and does all these good things. But that’s not all, if we think that we are great… or greater than anyone else God reminds us in 1 John 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And God says through St. Matthew But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. The two commands are similar, and loving our neighbor is the measure of our Love for God. Our Love of God is not a golden ticket that we get to placard and boast about, we do get to boast however that He has first loved us, and that is the only reason, the only way that we could ever begin to love others. And so it is that Christ reveals today that there is no one who has loved God and this is evidenced by the sheer hatred that the Pharisees have for the Sadducees. There is none of us that has loved God in the way that would be necessary for the perfect fulfillment of the law that God requires.
But who has authority to say such things? Certainly only One who has done these things perfectly could stand to say that anger toward a brother will be liable to judgment. Only One Who was perfect could cast souls into Hell. And to many, both in the past and the present, that doesn’t sound like the kind of God worth believing in. I tell you, that one who believes does not believe this does not believe not in the true God, the Son and Lord of David but rather a God that can be pushed around, a God that can bullied and tricked. That is not Christ your Lord and King. For you have believed in the very one whom David called Lord, the Son of man and the Son of God. And yet to you who have given into the idolatry of our modern day, repent! Cease your belief in weak gods that cannot save. Give ear and listen for the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the God who hates sin, death and all evil speaks to you. “There are two great commands; but these two laws are the summary of the entire law which your loving God has given to you. You have learned and have been taught that loving God comprises the first three commands of the Decalogue, you have been taught and you have heard that loving your neighbor comprises the last seven commands of the Decalogue as such you will notice then that Christ speaks the fullness of the law when He addresses the Pharisee and us today. And yet knowledge of these laws cannot save you, knowing that it is wrong to do wrong things does not save your soul from eternal death. In addition to this, no doubt all of you can think of one time that you have failed to love God and yet another time that you have failed to love your neighbor. And you may say; well that was just once, surely God doesn’t expect perfection. But it was your God and Lord who spoke through James when He said: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”
This is what the Pharisees failed to or refused to hear. They loved laws; but they loved them for the wrong reasons. They loved laws because they could place them into a place of subservience. Laws served them, and so very often when obedience became too tough to attain they changed the rules, and when they changed the rules they began to change what God said and after a while they had forgotten entirely. They failed to love the law because it had been given for our good by a loving and gracious God or order. They had lost track of what the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:165; Those who love Your law have great peace, And nothing causes them to stumble. Those who love the law because a Good God gave it have the peace of knowing that God is still in control, those who love the law cannot stumble because they know that God is in control. We do love the law because it is good, and all thanks and praise be to the Holy Spirit for this; and yet there remains a part of us who rightly fears the law, for the sinner in us is revealed by the law, the Good and gracious Law reveals that we have not done as we should, we have not thought as we should, we have not loved God, and we have not loved our neighbor. And it is in this predicament that we who are sick in our sin, dead in our trespasses call out as only the dead can; through the enlivening of the Spirit of God for mercy.
Your gracious God reminds you “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. These are the words Jesus had spoken to the Pharisees all the way back in Matthew 9 and it was after saying this that He directed them to Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Dearly beloved, learn what this means!
Our Gospel text comes from an interaction in the Temple during the early part of Holy Week. The time had arrived for the Son of God to be merciful. Christ revealed this to those Pharisees that day and dear Christians He reveals it again to you and me today that He would be merciful to the point of death; you know this for you are reminded of this every Sunday from this pulpit, in the liturgy in the Lord’s Supper. Who is this Christ that you worship? What has He come to do for you?
He’s the Son of David, born as a baby boy in the Messianic line. But how could that very baby be the One whom David called Lord? That is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith; how could He be God and man? This great mystery cannot be answered except to say that He must be, He has to be or you and I are gathered here today in vain. He must be God and man or you and I must trust in our works to appease a God who demands perfection that we are incapable of exacting.
The Pharisees were scandalized by Jesus claim to be God, for no man could claim to be God without facing the charge of blasphemy. Some, may have believed His claims, still others could or would not hear that He had come to save His people by mercy and grace and that works of the law were for the benefit of the neighbor not to appease God. To the person who loves the law because they think they can conquer it; Christ coming to be merciful would have been terrible news; for all of their law abiding to appease God would amount to nothing, all the time they had spent building systems and belief structures around law abiding would mean nothing, entire lives built around obedience for gain would crumble, wills would be crushed, hopes dashed and confusion about what it all meant would ensue; and that’s precisely what happened. Men, would go crazy, disorder would ensue and by the end of that week an innocent man would be killed. Jesus spoke that He was God and Man and it silenced them; He spoke as the very One who had given the law to Moses on Sinai and they were without words, they literally had nothing else to say, they were dumbfounded, rudderless for their false gods were perishing before their eyes and their only recourse was to act out in anger and wrath.
The only human who COULD and did obey the law went innocently to die at the hands of those He had come to save. He was neither a blasphemer nor was there any sin found with Him. Christ was the obedient one unto death. He went as a Man, the Son of David, to die, for only man can die. The wages of sin is death, and yet it was not His sin that He carried to death but yours and mine. Every sin against God, every prideful attempt we make to justify ourselves before Him, every sin against our neighbor, both when we transgress against them or fail to do that which would be for their good was carried to death with Him. The necessary payment for sin was remitted, it was necessary for man to die for just as one sin resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:18-19
Jesus was God in order that His sacrifice might be sufficient for all of us, for only God could die for all, only God could say it is finished, only God could rise again on the third day and hear the words; “Sit at my right hand.” Only God, came to His people from Heaven, out of Zion to rule as a priest in the midst of His enemies. He came to conquer the heathens and make us children of God. He came to justify us that we might not attempt to justify ourselves. He came, not requiring sacrifice but mercy and yet offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice in mercy and then sent the Holy Spirit that we might be made Holy in Christ Jesus our Lord. Dearly beloved, know this; In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. The law has been fulfilled in Christ we have been and are loved immensely in Him; you have been set free from the bondage of your sin and death you are free now to share in the joy of loving your neighbor. Amen.