Friday, October 21, 2011

Matthew 22:34-46; Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 23, 2011;


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. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “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.” Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 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?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” (Matthew 22:34–46, ESV)

(From a Sermon by Rev. Nathan Dudley)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;

One way you know that you've won an argument is when your opponent has nothing left to say. When this happens you know that you've answered all their points and they can't respond to yours. When you are looking at stunned silence you can be reasonably sure that you've won.

That's what we are looking at in this text for today. Jesus has answered the pointed questions put to him. He has answered unexpectedly and removed himself from the danger his opponents sought for him. Last week we heard about the Pharisees who tried to trap Jesus in a question of Church / State relations. They wanted Jesus dead so they asked a question that they thought had no good answer for Jesus. But Jesus easily defeated the attempt and sent them scurrying for cover.

“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”” (Matthew 22:21b, ESV)

What we haven heard about it what happened after that and before what we are reading today. After the Pharisees failed the Sadducees tried their hand. The Pharisees and the Sadducees didn't agree on a lot of things, but they were of one accord when it came to Jesus. He had to be stopped. They tried to tangle with Jesus on the question of the resurrection of the dead. It was one of their primary concerns because they didn't believe in it. They lock horns with Jesus thinking they have an unbeatable argument.

“Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”” (Matthew 22:24–28, ESV)

This argument was based on the idea of how preposterous the afterlife would be for cases such as this. "Whose wife will she be?" "Who can tell?"

Jesus shows these learned men that they are ignorant. "There is no marriage in the resurrection." He says. You show how little you understand.

‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”” (Matthew 22:32, ESV)

"I am the God of Abraham" not "I was..." Jesus shows that God is the God of the living. He shows that God believes in the resurrection, even if they don't.

That's why the text today begins with

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together

These guys were now ready for another attempt to trap Jesus again. They know the scriptures. Exactly what Jesus accused the Sadducees of not knowing. Reading and studying is the life's work of the Pharisees. They bring the question that that occupies there study. "Which of God's commandments is the greatest?"

It's an important question for them. They were hardcore legalists. They argued the smallest details of every commandment given to Moses and added some 600 more. For them the argument on the ordering of the commandments was endless. Each commandment broken led to another and another. Was lying worse than murder? What if the lie led to someone's death? They thought that they had Jesus now, caught in an endless argument. They would have the upper hand because no matter what he said, they would be able to turn it back on them. Their problem is they didn't know the spirit of the law. God sums up the law in one word, love. When you love God, you love your neighbor. When you love your neighbor you don't kill him, or take his things, or say false things about him. When you love your neighbor you look to his interests beyond your own. Love fulfills the law.

They are about to learn that arguing with Jesus is a losing proposition. No matter how much you think you hedge your bets you will lose. He answers the commandment question easily. Jesus knows the spirit of God's law. He lives it. He is committed to love. He is it. He loves God with his whole heart and his whole soul and his whole mind and he loves his neighbor completely. That's what leads him to become human and die on the cross for human sin. We see what Jesus is talking about in how the commandments are organized. The first three commandments are about our relationship to God. The last seven are about our relationship with other people. If you keep the first, by loving God, you would keep all of the rest in loving the people that God loves. This is the answer to the Pharisees' question. Love God first, then love your neighbor.

It's not what they thought they'd hear. There is no counter argument. There are no chinks in the amour. Jesus answer is perfect. But Jesus doesn't let it stand at that. While they are still standing in their shock, he makes the killing blow.

saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”” (Matthew 22:42, ESV)

They answer quickly because they know the scriptures. The messiah is a descendent of David. They may be thinking they have gained the upper hand again. But Jesus drives the killing spike.

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?”” (Matthew 22:43–45, ESV)

That's a question they can't answer. It seems easy to us. We know who Jesus is. He is God, the second person of the Trinity. He is God in human flesh.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.

But the Pharisees don't understand this. In fact, they can't see that this is true. It defies what they think their religion is all about. They have nothing to say. They stand there in dumb silence.

Then St. Matthew says, "from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions." The whole world in fact stands in silence before Jesus. That's exactly the way it should be. In fact, it is one of the reasons God gives his law, to shut us up. In the face of the law's perfect demands we stand guilty. We would speak about the good things we do and hold them up to God, demanding that he consider us righteous because of them. He shuts us up with the declaration that good isn't good enough. Only perfect people can stand before a perfectly holy God. We offer excuses as if excuses erase the effects of or sin. Instead of loving God we place his precious gifts of Word and Sacrament and church low on our priority list. We worship only when it is convenient. We pray half heartedly for our neighbor, if at all. Instead of love for our neighbor we covet what he has, lust after his wife, secretly plot to take his money, and lie about him to get the upper hand. The law shows us our sin. We have no excuses. When it speaks clearly, as it does, we can only shut up. We do not love God. We do not love our neighbor. We love ourselves. In everything we think, do and say, we have ourselves in our hearts. This kind of self love is deadly sin. It deserves only God's anger. It deserves only God's punishment. When the law has done its work we can only stand in silence, guilty and accountable, just like the whole world.

The Pharisees and Sadducees who where silenced by Jesus weren't about to let it stand that way. They couldn't silence Jesus with their arguments so they chose another way to quite him. A few days later they stood around Jesus again, this time accusing him of crimes. This time Jesus is silent. They need to find something worthy of death so they ask a question that will nail shut the case against him.

And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so.”” (Matthew 26:63b–64a, ESV)

And the trial is over. Jesus says he is the same as God. They simply cannot believe that truth. Jesus is condemned worthy of death. The continue speaking. They accuse him before Pilate, calling for his death. But even the crucified Jesus doesn't stop them. They stood at the foot of the cross mocking him. And in all this it is Jesus who stays silent. He is keeping God's commandments. He is shows his perfect love for God. He submits to the Father's will, even to death on the cross. He shows his perfect love for all people. He was silent for us. Hanging on the cross he carries our guilt and punishment for us. And there on the cross we see the perfect picture of God's love. Love for God (vertical part of the cross) and love for all people (horizontal part of the cross). There is Jesus hanging in love for you and me. Keeping the law perfectly and perfectly sacrificing himself for us.

When Jesus cold body was placed in the tomb and the stone was rolled in front of the door, Jesus' enemies where sure they had heard the last from him. They didn't know the scriptures or the one true God. But just as he told his disciples Jesus rose again from death. So much for the Sadducees! Having risen Jesus now has lots to say. And he continues to speak through the church.

Jesus speaks to you and me. He speaks these words of God's perfect law. Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. In that speaking we see our inability to keep it. We stand in silence convicted. That is when he speaks his words of forgiveness. Peace. Be still. Do not fear. I forgive you all your sins. Receive the Holy Spirit. Take, eat this is my body, this is my blood. Go in peace. I am with you always.

Lord you have the words of eternal life. We say. And we say also... Amen. Let it be so. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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