Text: Matthew 22:34-46
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Pharisees love the law. They love to talk about the law. They love to ask Jesus questions about the law. This isn’t the first time they’ve done it and it won’t be the last. It’s not wrong to love the law. The law is good. God gave it to us. It’s his law. He gave it to us in order that sin might be kept in check, in order that we might become aware of our sin, and that we might have a guide for what it is to live as his people. The law is a good and perfect gift from God. The problem the Pharisees have is that they love the law for all the wrong reasons. They love the law because they see it as a means to an end. Namely, they see the law as the way of salvation. They see it as a list of instructions that, if kept well, will result in their being counted righteous before God.
Of course, their improper use of the law of God has also resulted in them coming up with their own interpretation of what is and isn’t allowed according to God’s law. It shouldn’t surprise us that the law was tailor-made by the Pharisees to fit their lifestyle. They took God’s law and added to it. But they didn’t actually add to it to the point that it made the law of God harder to keep. They actually made it easier to keep. If there was a law from God that seemed impossible, they would take it and make it easier to keep.
Take the Fourth Commandment, for example. The Fourth Commandment teaches what it means to honor one’s father and mother. It means that we are to love and cherish them. It means that we are to serve and obey them. This takes on many different forms depending on what stage in life we’re in. As children, we live in our parents’ home and we depend upon them for our well-being. God serves us through our parents. In exchange, we love, cherish, serve, and obey them. That is, we listen to them when they instruct us and do as they say. We’re kind to them and help them when they need help from us. As life goes on, that part becomes even more important. Our parents who took care of us as children when we could not care for ourselves, need us to care for them as they become advanced in age. The Pharisees were teaching that someone who gifted their money to the synagogue was not obligated to provide financial support to their parents. It was a way to get themselves off the hook.
That’s a really long way to explain away one of God’s commandments. That’s what the Pharisees were so brilliant at. They could take a simple commandment from God and create a whole bunch of other commandments that extended off from it. While this may seem to make God’s law more difficult to keep, it did just the opposite in practice. It was a way for the Pharisees to make themselves look great for keeping all of their extra laws and then denigrate anybody who didn’t keep their additional laws.
So when one of them asks Jesus the question “What is the great commandment of the law?” they’re trying to get Jesus to pick one. “Pick the most important thing that’s in the scriptures, Jesus. Go ahead.” Jesus does just that. Sort of. The thing is that Jesus doesn’t answer with a commandment. He actually gives two. But Jesus is showing the Pharisees that you can’t separate the two. Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He could have simply left it at that, but he doesn’t. He adds “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The reason for this is that you can’t have one without the other. You can’t love God and not love your neighbor. You can’t love your neighbor without proper love for God. The Pharisees were trying to do just that. They were trying to pick and choose through God’s law and decide which ones were of greater importance. Jesus won’t play their game. In fact, Jesus says that ALL of the Law and the Prophets hang on those two commands of love God and love your neighbor. He’d not even just saying that they’re the most important commandments. Every bit of the scriptures is about those two things: love God and love your neighbor.
Not much has changed in the world when it comes to how people view the scriptures or religion in general. It’s all so often viewed and discussed in terms of what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. Does your church let you dance? Can you drink alcohol? How about watch TV or movies? Are women in your church allowed to wear pants instead of skirts? Or how about some of these: Are you allowed to get a divorce in our church? What does your church think about cohabitation or homosexuality or (insert whatever new way we’ve discovered to break the Sixth Commandment here)?
Now, I could go through each of those questions and answer them. Some of them could be answered with just a word or two, in fact. But that’s not the point of Christianity and that’s not the point of the scriptures. The scriptures show us what it means to love God and love our neighbor. Remember, Jesus said that the Law and Prophets hang on these two.
I used that word “hang” on purpose. The ESV, the translation we use in the Divine Service and in Bible Classes, says “depend” there, but the word literally means “hang.” It’s the same word, in fact, that’s used to describe crucifixion. Some might say that’s just a coincidence, but as Jesus continues this discussion with the Pharisees, it becomes clear that his choice of words was on purpose.
Having answered the question of the lawyer who was one of the Pharisees, it’s Jesus’ turn to ask a question. So he asks them whose son the Christ is. They give a correct answer. They answer that he’s the Son of David. They aren’t wrong. The Christ is the Son of David. This is what was promised to David long ago. A Son of his would sit on the throne of Israel for eternity. The Christ, the Messiah, is that Son of David who will reign for eternity over God’s people. But that’s not the whole answer. Jesus quotes David himself from the Psalter to show that the Christ was to be more than simply the Son of David. For David wrote, in the Spirit (That’s a really important bit, by the way. Jesus makes it clear that David didn’t just write his own opinion here. He was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write these words. All of the scriptures, in fact, were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Let us never forget this very important truth! There are times for man to express his own opinion, but the Word of God is never a matter of opinion!), “The Lord (that is, Yahweh) said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’” It’s a passage that makes no sense until you come to the realization that the Christ is not just the Son of David, that is, true man, but he is also true God. The Pharisees were fine with the Christ being the Son of David, but the Son of God? How can that be? They don’t want to believe that, but Jesus isn’t just expressing an opinion. He’s backing it up with the Word of God. That’s why they have no answer for him when he asks them how this can be.
Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is true man and true God. He had to be. He had to be true man so that he could take our place under the law. We can’t keep the law perfectly in thought, word, and deed. We fail repeatedly. Jesus did not. Where we failed, he succeeded. But if he had not taken on human flesh, it wouldn’t have mattered. This is Jesus’ active obedience to the law. Additionally, Jesus suffered and died in our place. The consequence for sin is death. The Law and the Prophets hang on the two-fold Law of Love that Jesus presented to the Pharisees. This Law hangs on Jesus as he hangs on the cross. This is his passive obedience to the Law. He suffers the wrath of God for sin on our behalf.
Jesus also had to be true God, though. His fulfilling of the Law for us would not have been sufficient if Jesus had only been true man. Remember that every sacrifice that was prescribed for the Old Testament Christians had to be made using a perfect animal without blemish. Since the fall into sin, every human being born of man and woman has been conceived and born in sin. Jesus is the Son of God. He did not inherit sin from his Father. He is the perfect, spotless Lamb of God who takes away the son of the world. His sacrifice, his death, is the only one that possibly pay the price demanded by our sin. Only the very Son of God could possibly overcome sin, death, and the devil for us.
Remember, the Law of God serves three purposes for you. First it protects you. It keeps terrible things from happening to you and to others in the world. Second, it shows you your sin. It shows how you’ve failed to love God and neighbor. This is not done to drive you to despair. Rather, it’s done to lead you to see that there is nothing you can do to save yourself. It’s done to direct you to Christ who comes to redeem you. Third, the Law is given to show you how to live as God’s people. You have been redeemed by the holy, precious blood and innocent suffering and death of Jesus. This is the love of God for you. Now you, the redeemed, are able to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Now you are able to love your neighbor as yourself. You love because God first loved you.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.