Sunday, October 11, 2020

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity Mt 22:34-46


                                                                                                            Trinity 18

                                                                                                            Mt 22:34-46




            In the darkest days of World War II, just before Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Winston Churchill said, "if Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.”  Churchill was expressing an example of the ancient proverb, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  And indeed, although Great Britain, and then the United States were opposed to almost everything which Stalin and the Soviet Union stood for and sought to do, they supported the Soviet Union in every possible way as it bore the brunt of the fighting against Germany during the years 1941 to 1944.

            Of course, it was only an alliance of necessity.  The leaders of Great Britain and the United States never really considered the Soviet Union to be a friend.  They were extremely wary about Stalin’s intentions – after all, he had jointly invaded Poland and spit it up with Germany in September 1939, and then had invaded Finland in November of that year.  And their fears were confirmed by everything that Stalin did in the aftermath of World War II.

            We see the same sort of thing playing out in chapters twenty one and twenty two of Matthew’s Gospel.  Our Lord had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday at the beginning of chapter twenty one. During these two chapters he then engages in constant debates and conflict with the Sadducees and Pharisees. Although these two groups were opposed to each other, they shared a common hatred of Jesus and worked together to destroy him. 

            Our text begins by saying, “But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.  And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.” The Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, had just asked Jesus a question that attempted to show how foolish the idea was.  However, in his answer, Jesus had silenced the Sadducees.  Now the Pharisees, who did believe in the resurrection, saw their opportunity to take another run at Jesus.

            They sent a man whom our text describes as a “lawyer.”  The Pharisees were largely a lay group.  They sought to live in ways of a higher purity as they took parts of the Torah that specifically applied to priests in the temple, and applied it to everyday life.  Their “tradition of the elders” was a way of interpreting the Torah itself – the Law that God had given to Israel at Mt. Sinai - that they basically placed on the same level as the Torah. This tradition was a very complex and developed one, and so within the Pharisees there were experts who were well studied. They can be called “scribes” or in this case, “a lawyer.” In the time before his conversion, the apostle Paul would have fit into this category.

            The Pharisee asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  He feigned respect for Jesus by calling him “teacher,” and then asked a question about what was the greatest commandment in the law. We know that this kind of debate – ranking commandments in relation to one another and arguing about which one took precedence in different situations – was the sort of thing that the Pharisees did. It’s only natural when your whole approach to God and life is based on the law.

            Apparently the lawyer thought that he had laid a trap – that he had asked a question to which Jesus might give an answer that provided the basis for further attacks. But instead, the Lord made short work of it.  Jesus said, “‘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.”

            Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 which says that we are to love God with all that we are.  This is the great and first commandment, and of course it summarizes the first three of the Ten Commandments.  And then our Lord quoted Leviticus 19:18 which says that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves – a statement that summarizes the next seven of the Ten Commandments. And then Jesus added that these two commandments summarized what all of the Law and the Prophets – the whole of the Old Testament – was really all about.

            In our text, we don’t hear about any response from the lawyer. What could he say as a come back?  But then again, the same thing can be said about us.  Listen again to these words: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 

            What can we say in response to this?  Love God with all your heart and soul and mind – with all that you are. Love your neighbor as yourself. Martin Luther described our sinfulness by saying that we are “turned in on ourselves.”  Our actions show that we love ourselves with all that we are. Given a choice between God’s Word and ways, and what might not be our first choice or might be inconvenient for us, the answer is often very clear: God loses. This becomes particularly apparent in anything that involves what we really value – our time and our money.

            And if God can’t compete with our love for ourselves, what possible chance does our neighbor have?  I will choose to ignore my neighbor’s need. I will speak about my neighbor in ways that entertain others, even as I hurt his or her reputation.  I will speak angry and hurtful words to my neighbor.

            If this is all that we had: love God with all that you are; love your neighbor as yourself, then we could expect nothing except God’s wrath and judgment.  Time and again we love ourselves more than either.  And this violation of God’s law is sin that brings God’s eternal judgment.

            Yet thankfully, God’s Word to us does not end there, just as our text does not end there.  Matthew tells us next: Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’”  The Pharisees were gathered there for the lawyer’s question to Jesus.  So now Jesus asked them a question. On the surface of things, it was an easy one.  He asked, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”  This was so easy – basically a no brainer. They said to him, “The son of David.” Everyone knew that the Messiah would be the descendant of King David.

            And then Jesus threw them the curve ball they did not see coming.  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?”

            Jesus quoted Psalm 110:1, a psalm written by David.  These are words that, as Jesus says, David wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They are therefore certainly true and what God wants us to have.  And then something very strange happens.  David speaks about the Messiah as his “Lord.” As Jesus asked, “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”  In the normal human arrangement of the time, no son or descendant of David would ever be considered greater than David.  We learn that “no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”

            They couldn’t’ answer how the Messiah, the descendant of David – the son of David – could be David’s Lord, and that was it for them. But actually there is another point here that is equally remarkable:  How can a descendant of David be seated at the right hand of God?

            You already know the answer.  Matthew gave it to us in the first chapter of the Gospel when the angel said to Joseph about the pregnant Mary, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

            The law of you shall love God with all that you are, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself is not God’s final and only word to us.  Instead he sent his Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  Because Joseph took Jesus as his own, Jesus was part of the line of David.  He was the son of David. Jesus is true man, like us in all ways except for sin. But he is also true God.  For that reason, David had to call this son of David his Lord.

            The angel said that Jesus the Christ came to save his people from their sins.  Thanks be to God, he didn’t come only to save the Jews, the descendants of Israel.  He came to save all people from their sins: from every way we love ourselves more than God; from every way we love ourselves more than our neighbor.

            The Pharisees could not explain how the son of David was David’s Lord.  But this isn’t even the most surprising thing about the Christ.  Instead it is the fact that Jesus the Christ came to win forgiveness for all by dying on the cross.  In the first century Jewish understanding, the Christ was always the winner, the conqueror, the mighty one.  You knew that a person was not the Christ when the Romans killed him.

            There was no expectation that the Christ would suffer and die on a cross crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Yet this is what Jesus the Christ did as he took our place; as he bore our sins and received God’s judgment. Jesus the Christ was also the Suffering Servant who offered himself as the sacrifice in our place to gain the forgiveness of our sins.

            But of course, Psalm 110 that Jesus quotes today is a statement about the exaltation of the Christ.  And so on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  He vindicated Jesus as the Christ, and demonstrated that he was more of a Christ than anyone had ever imagined. For in his ascension, Jesus the Christ who is still true God and true man, has been exalted to the right hand of God.

            Our text todays says, “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”  Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord has been exalted to God’s right hand.  And when will God the Father put his enemies under his feet?  It will happen on the Last Day when he returns in glory. Jesus will raise the dead and he will pronounce the final judgment. 

            On that day, the whole world out there that thinks you are stupid for being here this morning; that mocks your faith in Jesus Christ; that ridicules the ways you seek to live according to God’s ways, will find themselves under his feet. They will be judged and condemned by the very One they rejected.

            And you? You will rejoice in the presence of the Lord who will have given you a share in his resurrection.  You will join the heavenly host and all the saints in praising God who loved you in this way and by his grace gave you salvation.  For today, you already know that Jesus Christ is David’s son and David’s Lord, and that the crucified and risen Lord has been exalted to the Father’s right hand until he puts all of his enemies under his feet. 

















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