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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller

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Matthew 22:34-46 | “Law and Gospel”
Sunday of Trinity 18 | 25 September 2016

Dear Saints,

Today’s Gospel reading puts before us the two great doctrines of the Christian faith: the Law and the Gospel, and it does this in the form of two trick questions, really two riddles.

The occasion is this. It is Holy Week, Holy Tuesday, in fact, three days before the crucifixion, and Jesus is in Jerusalem, in the temple, teaching. This is the last time Jesus would teach in public until He would preach His seven last words from the cross.

The Sadducees and the Pharisees have been plotting to arrest Jesus, but they can’t catch Him. They are still trying. First the Pharisees asked Him about taxes, and if they should pay taxes to Caesar. (They did this to trap Jesus. They thought that no matter how He answered they could have Him arrested or rejected.) Then the Sadducees asked about the woman whose husband died, and she was remarried, and this happened seven times, and they want to know whose wife she will be in the resurrection. (They asked this because they didn’t believe in the resurrection.) Jesus has answered both of their objections, so they will give it one last try.

So our text begins with a question of the Law.

A lawyer from the Pharisees comes up to Jesus, and asks, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

This is any easy question for us to answer. We teach the children the first commandment all the time: You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. The Pharisees should have known this, but they had two theological problems.

First, they had been busy, for centuries, piling on their own man-made laws. They had expanded the Ten Commandments and the laws gives through Moses to include all sorts of instructions to keep themselves set-apart from the rest of humanity. The second problem was that they set different parts of the law against each other, especially this, they separated love for God from love for the neighbor.

In their attempts to be holy and pure, they had pushed their neighbor aside.

We see this is a number of ways through the Gospels. Remember how offended the Pharisees were when Jesus would sit and eat will sinners? That is because they would never do such a thing; they kept the sinners and the unclean at a distance so that they would remain pure. Remember the Priest and Levite and Pharisee that Jesus talked about in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, they walked on the other side of the street so that they wouldn’t come into contact with the dying man, and thus become unclean for their service at the temple. In the very next chapter of Matthew Jesus preaches a fierce sermon against the Pharisees and Sadducees, denouncing their hypocrisy.

Matthew 23:23-28:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

They were misusing the Law, misusing it to exalt themselves, to destroy others. They used their “love for God” and great holiness as an excuse to despise their neighbor. They used their service in the temple as an excuse to neglect their parents and their neighbors.

Which is why Jesus answer to the question, “Which is the greatest commandment?” is so wonderful:

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. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

You have the first commandment, love for God, and you have the second table of the Law, Love your neighbor, and these two are together. “The second,” Jesus says, “is like it.”

There is enough here for us to meditate on for our whole lives. I’d like to think of this one thing in particular: when Jesus says that the command to love our neighbor is like the command to love God, He is giving us a fantastic gift. He is saying, “When you love and serve and help your neighbor, it is as if you were loving and serving Me!” In Matthew 25 Jesus is talking about the judgment, and the separation of the sheep from the goats, and to the sheep, the blessed, He says,

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40)

Remember that? John says it like this:

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 this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21)

Imagine, for a moment, that we had news that Jesus was going to come down from His throne for a quick visit. He would come to church, stay for refreshments, and then come for lunch at your house. Think of what a privilege that would be, how we would get everything ready, we would spare no expense and no effort to demonstrate our love for Him. We would consider it the highest privilege of our lives to receive Him and care for Him.

Well, says Jesus, I give you that opportunity with every one of your neighbors. Children, when you honor your father and your mother, you are giving your service to God. Parents, when you care for your children you are blessing Jesus. Friends, when you take care of your friends, when you bless your neighbor, when you help those in need, you are serving and loving God. “The second is like the first,” says Jesus.

So we don’t have to invent our own forms of holiness, we don’t have to run away from our neighbors to stay pure, we don’t have to spend a lot of money to find a way to serve God, these opportunities are always right in front of us. And for that we give thanks to God.

But this command to love God and our neighbor is the doctrine of the Law, and it will always accuse us. We never love as we should. In fact, the more we try to love our neighbor the more we see how fear and laziness cling to us. We are afraid to give and be generous because we might not have enough left over. And so often we don’t wat to do good because, well, we don’t want to, we’d rather sit around. The Lord Jesus stands in front of you in each of your neighbors, giving you the opportunity to serve and bless Him, and you haven’t.

The preaching of love is always a preaching of repentance. So, repent.

But Jesus isn’t through with us. In fact, He’s not even through with the Pharisees on that Holy Tuesday. After He answers all their questions, He puts a question to them, a riddle, a riddle that they could not answer, but that we can.

We want to look at this carefully, it’s verses 41-46 is the Gospel lesson, you can read along if it will help:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”

That’s the set up, and it is true. The Messiah, the Christ, would be the Son of Adam, of Noah, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Judah, but the most recent promise was to King David, that his Son would sit on the throne eternally. So they are right that the Christ would be the Son of David.

Now, the riddle, Jesus will quote Psalm 110, a Psalm of David.

He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

Let’s see if we can sort this out. The key phrase is the first one, “The Lord said to my Lord.” The first Lord is God the Father. The “my” is King David. The second “Lord” is the Christ. So God the Father is talking to the Christ, but David calls the Christ his Lord. And Jesus asks, “How can this be?” A father would never refer to their son as their Lord, why does David do it here?

Here’s the Pharisees’ response:

And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

It is an amazing thing that the Pharisees, who were experts in the Law, couldn’t even sort out what the greatest commandment is. They don’t have a chance when it comes to the greatest teaching of the Bible: the doctrine of Christ and His work of us.

But look, just like our confirmands know the greatest commandment, so they also know the answer to this riddle. How can the Christ be both David’s Son and David’s Lord? Because He is true God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary. He is David’s Son according to His human nature, and David’s Lord according to His divine nature. See it? You have more wisdom than the Pharisees.

And there is more. This text not only teaches the great mystery of the person of Christ, it also teaches of His work. “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.” What are these enemies? Sin, death, and the devil. These are our enemies. I suppose the devil is God’s enemy, but what can the devil do to God? Sin and death cannot touch God. They destroy and devour us. But look, when Jesus becomes a Man, our Brother, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, He now has the same enemies that we do. The devil can get to Him. He can take upon Himself sin and death, and He does. On the cross Jesus is bearing our sin, dying our death, being destroyed by the devil in our place. He makes our enemies His enemies, and He destroys them for us!

What joy! This is the doctrine of the Gospel, the good news that Christ has died and risen for us, to forgive our sins and rescue us from sin and the devil. He has done it. Where our works and our love fell short and we stood condemned, Jesus took the condemnation for us, and demonstrates His love, His perfect and complete love, by suffering and dying for us. This is our comfort and confidence and joy. May the Holy Spirit keep us in these two great doctrines: love and grace, Law and Gospel, and my, by the Gospel, He keep us to life eternal. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller, Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO