“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” This saying explains the strange alliance that the Sadducees and the Pharisees struck up together in opposition to Jesus. Now on their own, the Sadducees and Pharisees were strident opponents. The Sadducees base of power was tied to the temple. They held that the only the first five books of the Old Testament were Scripture, and they denied that there would be a resurrection.
The Pharisees on the other hand were a lay based group throughout Palestine. They had individuals who were specially trained in the interpretation of Scripture, such as Saul before he became the apostle Paul, but the majority of Pharisees were what we could call “lay men.” They accepted all of the Old Testament as Scripture and believed in the resurrection. As I have mentioned in the past, they also had their own oral tradition about how to interpret the Torah – the Law of Moses. This took aspects of the law that applied to priests, and instead required it of all Jews. The antagonism between the two groups becomes especially apparent in the Book of Acts.
Yet in Jesus the two groups had discovered someone they found so threatening that they were willing to work together in opposition to him. We see this in our text which describes events that took place during Holy Week. In this time, both groups launched a series of attacks against Jesus as they tried to find something they could use against him. The Sadducees had just debated with Jesus using their denial of the resurrection as the basis of their question to him. However, they were unsuccessful.
Our text begins by saying, “But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.” The Pharisees had seen the Sadducees fail. So they got together and plotted another run at Jesus. We learn that they sent the “varsity team” – a lawyer, that is someone who had special training in the Old Testament law and its interpretation. We are also explicitly told that he asked his question in order to test Jesus.
He said, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Now we know that Jews debated questions about the law, though we don’t have any evidence elsewhere about this particular question being addressed. Clearly the Pharisee believed that by engaging Jesus in this question he could trip Jesus up and get something to use against him.
The Pharisee and his companions got more than they expected. First, Jesus provided not one, but two answers. And then he came back at them with a question that got to the heart of the entire dispute.
In his answer, Jesus replied, “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.” Our Lord replied with the verse from Deuteronomy chapter six that was frequently spoken in Jewish religious life. This verse sums up the First Commandment. It says that we are to love God with all that we are.
But Jesus didn’t stop there. He added, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This verse from Leviticus chapter nineteen, goes beyond loving God. It says that we are to love our neighbor fully, because of course, that is how we love our selves. And then Jesus added, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” He declared that all of the Old Testament was summarized by these two commandments.
Jesus tied love of one’s neighbor to loving God. He was saying that a person keeps the first of the commandments by keeping the second. This was directed at the Pharisees’ lack of love for others as they focused on keeping their interpretation of the law. Twice Jesus had told the Pharisees that they needed to learn what God meant when he said through the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”
We may not be Pharisees focused on a particular interpretation of the Old Testament law, but we are no different in that we fail to love God by loving our neighbor. We speak angry and cutting words to our family members. We gossip and hurt our neighbor’s reputation. We ignore the things that we could do for others, because they would be inconvenient for us.
The Pharisee had asked a question about the interpretation of the law. Jesus had answered. And now, while the Pharisees were still there, he asked them a question. The manner in which their continuing presence is described in Greek indicates that we should understand Jesus’ question in relation to their original question about interpretation of the law.
Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” The answer was obvious. Everyone knew from the Old Testament that the Christ would descend from David. And so they said to him, “The son of David.”
Then, Jesus threw them a curveball that they never saw 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 the first verse of Psalm 110. It is a psalm written by David. Our Lord said that the Holy Spirit was speaking through David about the Christ. David said that the Lord – Yahweh – had said to David’s Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”
Jesus did not deny that the Christ was the son of David – the descendant of King David. But he asked the question, “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” The descendant of a great figure like David was not called his “Lord.” And beyond that, the Pslam verse said that the Christ would sit at the right hand of Yahweh. No human being was ever described in this way.
We learn at the end of our text, “And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” The Pharisees were baffled and could give no reply. There were two reasons for this. First, we have basically no evidence that this verse from Psalm 110 was considered to be a verse about the Christ – the Messiah – by Jews of this period. Jesus was using a Scripture text in a way that they had not seen before.
Even more importantly, he was using this Scripture text because he was the fulfillment of it, yet the Pharisees were determined to reject him. As readers of the Gospel we know that Jesus is the son of David because Joseph, who was from the line of David, had taken him to be his son. But we also know Jesus is not merely a man. The angel had told Joseph, “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.”
Jesus is the Christ, the son of David. But he is the One conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary. He is the Christ, the Son of God. He is true man born from the substance of his mother in this age. He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages. David must call him “Lord” because he is God. He is seated at the right hand of the Father because he is God.
The Pharisees had asked a question about the interpretation of the law – about how to interpret Scripture. Jesus’ reply was that he was the key to interpreting Scripture. He was the fulfillment of all that God had said in the Old Testament.
Jesus fulfilled Scripture by loving God the Father with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his mind. He fulfilled Scripture by loving us more than himself because of his love for the Father. Jesus said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus the Christ was in the world as true God and true man to offer himself as the sacrifice for our sins. He came suffer and die for all of the ways we love ourselves more than God or our neighbor. He received God’s judgment as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet he did this for the very reason stated by the angel to Joseph - to save his people from their sins.
In our text we see that Jesus is the Christ. He is the son of David, and the Son of God. He is true man and true God. As true man, Jesus was able to die. But on the third day, God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. He raised him – the One who is still true God and true. Yet he raised him with a humanity transformed so it can never die again. Jesus is the firstborn of the dead. He is the beginning of the resurrection in which we will all share on the Last Day.
Christ gives the forgiveness he won to you. He is doing it now, as you hear the Gospel proclaimed. He did it in Holy Baptism, and your baptism remains the source of forgiveness as you believe God’s promise that he has attached to water and the Word. He will do it yet again in the Sacrament of the Altar as he gives you his true body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
You receive forgiveness through faith in Christ and his gifts. This faith is God’s gift worked by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who called you to faith continues to sustain you in faith as you receive Christ’s Means of Grace.
Because of the faith Christ’s Spirit has worked, we now listen to the words in our text and recognize in them the way we want to live. We seek to love God with all that we are. We seek to love our neighbor as ourselves. Will we ever do this perfectly? No. But because the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us, we have the source that enables us to do this more and more. We have the One who leads us to make decisions and take actions by which we love God, and love our neighbor.
In our text this morning, the Pharisees are stumped by Jesus’ question. But because the Spirit has called us to faith in the crucified and risen Lord, we understand. The Christ, the One who brings salvation, is the son of David. He comes from David’s line and is a human being, just like we are. But he is also the Son of God, begotten of the Father from all eternity. It is for this reason that the Christ is David’s Lord. It is for this reason that he sits at God’s right hand.
We live by faith in the crucified and risen Christ. He is the reason we love God and love our neighbor. And we do so with hope, because in the Psalm 110, Yahweh says, “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” The Sadducees and Pharisees rejected Jesus. Many today reject Jesus.
But Jesus Christ is the risen and ascended Lord. He said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” On that day all who rejected him – all of his enemies – will receive the eternal judgment of hell. And we who believe in Christ will live forever with him as we perfectly love God with all that we are, and love our neighbor as ourselves.