Sermon for Trinity 18
Deuteronomy 10:12-21 + 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 + Matthew 22:34-46
Today’s Gospel is very simply divided into two questions: What does God require of you? And what does God give to you? The first question is Law. The second question is Gospel.
The answer to the first question, what does God require of you?, is love. The Pharisees tested Jesus and asked, Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? What would he say? Keep the Sabbath Day? Well, they had done that, better than Jesus, in their minds. You shall not murder? Check. Say your prayers? Check. Give the required tithe to God? Check, and then some. “What does God require of us, Jesus? Tell us, and we’ll show you what good and righteous people we are. Then go away and leave us alone. We’re perfectly capable of pleasing God without you.”
But Jesus’ answer went beyond superficial obedience. You shall love – not just “God” in general, not just any old “god” – You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul and mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. True obedience to God’s Law always begins in the heart, with love and devotion, love that is pure and untainted by selfishness, love that seeks the good of another at the expense of self. True obedience to God’s Law always puts God first, your neighbor second, and yourself – well, God never commanded you to love yourself or to serve yourself. Love is what God requires of you—love for God and love for your neighbor. The Ten Commandments are God’s own summary of what love looks like in practice.
How does a person love God? By fearing Him. By trusting in Him. By accepting whatever good things or bad things He sends. By keeping His name holy and hearing and learning His Word, gladly, eagerly, above all things. By suffering whatever He wills and by obeying whatever He commands, not because you have to, but because you love to, because you love what He commands and would gladly set aside everything and everyone in your life, even your life itself, in order to have God, in order to serve God, with all your heart, soul and mind.
How does a person love his neighbor as himself? By honoring the authorities in your home, in your government and in your church. By caring for your neighbor’s body and respecting your neighbor’s marriage. By protecting your neighbor’s property and guarding your neighbor’s good name.
The opposite of love is obvious: selfishness, hatred, envy, discord, dishonor, disobedience. The cold shoulder. The scowling “hello.” It’s pulling people aside, “Do you know what so-and-so did? Can you believe it? My neighbor is so mean! I can’t stand my neighbor! I want to get rid of my neighbor. No, I will not talk to him. No, I will not be nice to her. I could never love her! I could never love him!”
And yet, what does God require of you? Love. I stand condemned by God’s Law. So do you.
So did the Pharisees in our Gospel. So does everyone. The greatest commandment is love. But who does it? Who has it? Who shows it? Out of our hearts comes every form of evil imaginable. If keeping God’s law were just a matter of saying your prayers, going to church, giving to charity and not murdering anybody, then we could all do that. But if keeping God’s law is a matter of living our entire lives in heartfelt love and devotion to God and our neighbor, then we must perish.
But knowing that the Law of love leaves us hopeless and desperate, Jesus asks another question and points us in another direction. He points us away from the question, “What does God require of you?” and points instead to the question, “What does God give to you?” He holds up the Law to us and when we see the cold, hard truth—that we have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, that we cannot help ourselves, that we stand condemned by the Law of love, Jesus shows us Himself, the Savior, the Christ, and summons us to Himself so that He may give us His own record of love and law-keeping and save us from sin, death and hell.
“What do you think about the Christ?” Jesus asked the Pharisees. “Whose son is he?” That’s easy, thought the Pharisees. They said to him, “The son of David.” Everyone in Israel knew that God had promised to David a thousand years before Christ that his son – his descendent – would sit on his throne and reign forever. Everyone knew that the Christ was to be the son of David.
But the Pharisees had trouble with Jesus’ next question. “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 this verse from Psalm 110 to the Pharisees, and it seems like they had never even considered this before. David is writing the Psalm. David is inspired by the Holy Spirit. David is writing about his son, the Christ. And David calls his son, “My Lord.” How can he call his son his Lord?
The Pharisees couldn’t answer Jesus’ question. They were stumped, and so embarrassed that they didn’t dare to test Jesus ever again. The time for “study” and “discussion of God’s Word” was over, because they couldn’t answer Jesus’ words. Instead, they would just call for his crucifixion.
Now, for us who have learned the Christian faith, the answer to Jesus’ question is easy: According to the flesh, the Christ is the son of David, from the house and line of David, born of David’s distant daughter Mary, and legally the son of David’s distant son Joseph. But by his miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit, the Christ is the Son of God – the very Son of God who was with God the Father in the beginning, God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father, by whom all things were made. On the night of Jesus’ birth, the angel announced the mystery: Today, in the city of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ – the Lord!
God requires love from you. Thus says the Law. But all who live under the Law live under a curse: Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law. Why did the Christ come as the son of David? To be born under the Law, to live under the Law, and to die under the Law, to become a curse for us. Why did the Christ come as David’s Lord, the Son of God? To keep the Law perfectly, to pay for the sins of all men, and to earn the righteousness that counts before God, the righteousness of God’s Son who is also the Son of Man, and therefore, a valid Substitute for you and for me and for all men.
His is the righteousness that counts before God. His law-keeping. His obedience. His love. What does God give? He gives His Son to you as a gift. He gives the goodness of His Son to cover your badness. He gives the righteousness of His Son to cover all your unrighteousness. God’s promise to sinners like you and me is that He will count the love of Jesus as if it were your own. He will consider righteous, not the person who keeps the Law, but the person who believes in Christ – the son of David, the Son of God – for righteousness and forgiveness and eternal life.
And so God calls all men to repentance, because all you have in yourself is sin and unrighteousness. But as you look around for a helper, for a Savior, see! He then calls you to faith in His Son, your Mediator, your Justifier, to trust in his righteousness, his obedience, his death on the cross for you. You have been justified through faith in Christ, and now you have peace with God. You have had your sins washed away in Holy Baptism, and now you have full access to God and his grace and mercy and love. You continue to receive God’s forgiveness and life and salvation in his Gospel and in his Sacraments. What you receive there is Christ himself, God’s gift to you, and through him, a gracious Father in heaven.
Instead of pointing you to what you do, Christ points you to himself. Instead of requiring that you worship God by giving God something, God wants to be worshiped through faith so that we receive from Him those things He promises and offers.
You who believe in Christ Jesus are no longer judged under the Law, but under the grace of Jesus Christ, in whom you believe. And now, it’s you, the saints of God, and not the Pharisees, who are truly enabled and inspired to love the Lord your God, and to love your neighbor as yourself. It is you, the saints of God, you who are saved by the Gospel, who have been recreated to conform to the likeness of Jesus, to fear, love and trust in God above all things, and to serve your neighbor in love—not because your neighbor loves you, but because God loves you; not because of what you’ll get out of it, but because of what God has already given you: His love, His presence, His strength, and His forgiveness, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.