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LSB Proper 25A Sermon – Matthew 22:34-46

November 24, 2014

October 26, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And one of [the Pharisees], a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test Him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

For a final time, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees. A lawyer asks Jesus: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” It would seem to be a difficult question to answer. The lawyer wants it to be so. His question is asked to push Jesus, an action that Matthew again notes: “And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him.” This expert in the Law of the Old Testament wants Jesus to identify just one of the hundreds of commands that the LORD gave His people and say that one is the most important.

But how could that be determined? How can someone look at all the words that God had spoken and say that one is more important than the other? Wouldn’t that mean that Jesus considers some of the LORD’s Holy Scriptures to be more valuable than others? But how would that agree with what the Psalmist says about the LORD and His Word? “All Your commandments are true…. Every one of Your righteous rules endures forever…. Seven times a day I praise You for Your righteous rules.”

This lawyer who interrogates Jesus wholeheartedly agrees with David. He has made his living studying and knowing each and every divine command. Not only that, he is an expert in every rule and legal opinion that the Pharisees had developed to explain and enforce the canons of the Old Testament. This man knows the Law and wants Jesus to make a statement about it, a statement which would denigrate and desecrate the LORD’s holy word.

This lawyer who questions Jesus is much different from another teacher who asked Jesus about the LORD’s commandments. Earlier in His ministry, Jesus encountered someone who wanted to know the way to eternal life. He had asked Jesus about the commandments, even stating that he had kept all of them from youth. He had sought eternal life by such actions. The man was misguided; he had not actually fulfilled all that the LORD demanded. But he did have his mind set set on a good purpose. But this lawyer in the Temple who confronts Jesus has only malice in his heart.

And yet, Jesus answers this lawyer in a way that shows him the path to life. For there are certain parts of Scripture that truly are more important than others, the ones that speak about the salvation that the LORD promises and brings, as well as the Covenant that He makes with His people. So Jesus answers the lawyer’s question. What is the greatest commandment? Jesus says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” But it is a divine commandment that Jesus’ interrogator has failed to keep.

The man who seeks to trap Jesus and bring Him down truly does not love the LORD at all. For who is his target? The very Son of God, divinity enfleshed in perfect humanity, the LORD present in an accessible manner for humanity to see. Jesus is that “Son of David” and “David’s Lord” which the Psalter spoke of. Standing in front of that man is the LORD Himself, but the man gives Him no show of respect, reverence, or worship. No, by his action of trying to test Jesus, this man shows how he hates the LORD his God with all his heart, soul, and mind. The lawyer stands convicted by the very Law and LORD that he claims to love.

But you are not exempt from this judgment. It might very well be true that you do not hate the LORD this morning in this room, but hatred of Him does enter your heart, soul, and mind. It happens when you become angry or upset with the LORD for many things in your life: your plans that never seem to come true, the family and society He has given you, the diseases and afflictions that beset you, even the gift of life which He has breathed into you.

And when you’re not consumed with that type hating the LORD, there’s also the busyness of finding other gods to be objects of your love and devotion: wealth, status, popularity, and so on. Rather than having your hearts, souls, and minds devoted to the LORD, contemplating His goodness, they tend to wander off, placing other things ahead of Him and His will. It can be as simple as ignoring His words and gifts which He provides to us when you gather to worship. Or when you decide to trust your own abilities and wisdom more than the LORD’s grace and goodness. Or when you consider devotion to someone or some organization the most important aspect of your life and you transgress the LORD’s commands to maintain that relationship.

These are but a few of the myriad ways that are failures to obey that first and great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Each day, you are tempted to violate this Law, and so often you do. But Jesus doesn’t stop with that first and great commandment, as if that first command were easy to keep. Jesus says: “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And He adds the statement: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Those further words from the LORD explain the ways how His two commandments are kept.

These two commandments uttered by the LORD confront you. They point the finger of judgment, identifying you as individuals who have failed to meet their requirements. They stand as a mirror that reveals how hideously ugly humans are, each one stained and marred by sin and unrighteousness. Repent, then, and admit you have not only broken the first and greatest command, but each and every one that follows it.

But after humbling yourself before the LORD and admitting your guilt, look up. Lift up your eyes and hearts and behold the other thing that these two great commandments point to. The LORD’s Law does not simply point its accusing fingers at us. No, it also points towards the One who has not only spoken the commandments, but also perfectly obeyed them. The commandments expose your inabilities and guilt. But they also display the perfection and innocence of Jesus.

Jesus’ life was truly nothing but a living obedience of every command that the LORD had spoken.  For in Jesus, you find the One who did love the LORD with all His heart, soul, and mind. Everywhere in His life, you see and hear Jesus telling the people what true love of the LORD is and how it is shown. And His life truly demonstrated what “Love your neighbor as yourself” fully entails.

Jesus’ life is a shining example of love of neighbor, an example that can never be surpassed. Like the Good Samaritan in His parable, Jesus looked upon you, helpless and beaten down by your sin, and restored you to a new life. For you who were cursed by the demands of the Law, Jesus became a curse, hanging dead on a tree, so that you might enjoy divine blessing. This isn’t “seeking vengeance or bearing a grudge against the sons of your people” as the LORD’s Law forbade. No, Jesus acts in perfect love of His neighbor: laying down His life for you who were dead in sin, so that you would live and have life abundantly. Every flaw and mark against you is removed by the righteousness of Jesus.

But your Lord Jesus does not leave you as idle people. The life that He grants to you by His perfect obedience of all the commands changes you. You are made holy, set apart, just like the LORD designated the Israelites as His own people. You have the gospel of God proclaimed to you like the Thessalonians received from Paul. You have been instructed in the way of life that the LORD has established. The apostle spoke what this looked like in Thessalonika: “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”

That type of instruction and guidance is given to all of Jesus’ disciples. But what does it mean “to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory”? It is to abide by the two great commandments that He has issued to you: “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.” The life of the Christian is firmly rooted in the holiness that Jesus has given to you when He made you His people. It is to be governed by the great statement that is made to you: “Be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” That holiness is imparted to you through Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Meal. Through these means, you have hearts, souls, and minds changed so that they can truly love God. Through these gifts, you are again forgiven for each time that you have violated the two great commandments of God.  And you are strengthened by the LORD’s holy things to lead a life of imitation. The life of the Christian is a life of imitation, of following the pattern and example of Jesus’ life in the face of all temptations to do otherwise. Being reconciled to God your Father through the atoning work of Jesus and then being called to belief and empowered by His Holy Spirit, you now follow the example set before you.

All the teachings of the Church, from the first speaking of the LORD’s Law to Moses, the testimony of the Prophets, and the writings of the Apostles, hinge on those two great commandments: “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.” Your Lord Jesus has fulfilled both of these commandments: obeying His Father’s will and giving Himself up for you. While you were rebellious, “David’s Son” has been obedient. “David’s Lord” has actually been your servant, seeking out your welfare. This has accomplished your salvation. All the Law and the Prophets testified about His doing so for you. And now that you are His people, the LORD’s Words direct your life. Jesus leads you all to live as He did, motivated by the salvation He has won for you and trusting in the forgiveness He freely brings for your failings.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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