Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sermon: Trinity 18 – 2011

23 October 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 22:34-46

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?”

The Pharisees were known for their knowledge of the Scriptures and their religiousness. They always went above and beyond when it came to the law and to the performance of rituals. And they were also known for their hatred of Jesus.

One day, a lawyer from the Pharisees came to ask Jesus a question. This was not really a question, however. Rather, it was a trap. For the question was designed to “test him.”

And so the Pharisee asks Jesus about the Law. And notice it isn’t about how the Law convicts him of sin, or how the Law drives us to seek forgiveness, or how the Law always accuses us so that we repent of our sins and turn to our Savior.

No, indeed, the Pharisee wants nothing to do with what the Law might do to him, how the Law might actually affect him in real life – but rather he wants to treat and tame the law like a dry academic subject. But, dear friends, our Lord points out that this is not the stuff of case law and argumentation. Rather, our blessed Lord – citing Scripture itself – retorts to the lawyer that the Law is all ultimately about love.

For the “great commandment” is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And right behind this greatest commandment is the second greatest: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Notice that our Lord doesn’t leave room for loopholes, excuses, or technicalities. Our Lord cares nothing for bureaucratic interpretations and political correctness. Instead, He cuts to the chase: “love.”

If you want to fulfill the law, really and truly fulfill it rather than just keep it on the surface, doing the letter of the law, jumping through hoops, and following mechanical directions – then you are to love God and love your neighbor. And if you do this, you will keep the Ten Commandments. For as our Blessed Lord teaches us: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

The Pharisees knew the Scriptures, knew the doctrine, knew the rules and regulations – but they lacked love. When they externally obeyed the law, they did so for an immediate reward: recognition of men and the self-delusion that God is impressed. But without love, was this really obedience at all?

Our Lord’s long-running disputes with the Pharisees demonstrate what they thought of love. For they refused to eat with certain kinds of people, criticized Jesus for ignoring their manmade rituals, attacked those whom Jesus healed, accused Jesus of breaking the law when he did miracles on the Sabbath, and they plotted with the Sadducees, Herodians, and Romans to bring a capital charge of treason against the only Man who never sinned, murdering their God, the one who gave them not only life, but who won for them eternal life.

No wonder our Lord tries desperately to make them stop yammering on about the commandments, and which is the greatest, and implored them instead to interpret the commandments in light of love.

And the reason the Pharisees knew nothing of love is because they wanted nothing of Jesus. We know that God is love, and we know that love impelled our Lord to not only take on our flesh, but also to take on our sins, to take on our punishment, and to take on death itself.

If the Pharisees wanted to see what perfect love looks like, what it means to keep the two great commandments of the Law, how the Law and the Prophets are indeed fulfilled – they needed to look no further than to the cross.

Dear friends, at the cross, our Lord not only kept, but fulfilled the greatest commandment: to love God with every ounce of His being, with all his heart, soul, and mind. He carried out the will of His Father, selflessly, in love for God and in obedience to His will. But just as the cross has not only a vertical beam, but also a horizontal beam, the Lord Jesus, the Crucified One, demonstrates perfect love for us while we were still sinners, loving His neighbor as Himself.

Our Lord taught us that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, and Jesus lays down His life for the life of the world. He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, the One who does not just talk about the Law and pontificate on which part is greatest, but He who actually obeys the law and demonstrates, at the cross, how He has fulfilled both Law and Prophets in order to save us poor, miserable sinners – all through love.

This, dear friends, is why the Lord Jesus asks them a question they don’t expect: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” The Pharisees know that the Christ is the Son of David – for they know the Bible. But what they don’t know is that the Christ is this Jesus who is looking them in the eye and teaching them with His lips. They know the Bible but they do not know the Word.

For Jesus teaches them the sublime reality from Scripture that the Christ is to be a Man: a human descendant of David, but at the same time God: David’s Lord, David’s God.

And when Jesus asks them to spell out the implications of these passages of Scripture – the very Bible that the Pharisees claimed to know so well – they were dumbstruck. They had nothing to say: “And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him any more questions.”

Dear friends, let us never allow our faith to become a cold academic exercise, a way for us to earn earthly praise from others, a mechanical obedience to ritual. For we worship a God who took flesh, lived a perfect life, fulfilled the Law and the prophets, died for us sinners, and rose again for our justification and to the glory of the Father!

We worship a God who loves us, and who implores us to “go and do likewise.” And we can only “do likewise” if we know who it is that we confess as the Christ. Let us never be willing to be struck silent when asked: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” For we know our Creator, our Redeemer, the Lord and Giver of life, the One True God who loved us, loves us, and will love us unto all eternity. Let us always be willing to ask Him questions, not to “test Him,” but rather to know Him more deeply by His Word and to receive the forgiving love given to us as a gift in His Sacrament, in which the living God reveals Himself to be our loving Neighbor.

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments: