✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
One thing I’ve discovered through the years is that most people, even unchurched people, don’t usually mind discussing questions about God and morality. Even those who never have time for divine service will often still have time to express their opinions on this or that religious topic. But that’s where the problem often is: what we end up doing is simply to make God an object of discussion and debate. Folks talk about theology the same way they discuss politics or the economy or sports: creation vs. evolution, the presidential race, gay marriage, Lutheranism vs. Roman Catholicism, police shootings, racial protests and riots, Islam and refugees, what’s wrong with the Packers offense–these are all just things to talk about and take sides on. Spiritually speaking the problem is this: when the things of God become simply a topic to discuss and debate like anything else, that can actually become a way of keeping the Lord at arms length–religion’s an idea out there that we can safely control and manage. It then becomes about concepts rather than about a person: the God we live under and are accountable to, Who desires that we live in communion with Him, the Redeemer who is our very life.
And one of the easiest ways to talk religion without actually having come to terms with the living God is to debate morality, to discuss the Law–which, of course, is fine and good. But as we see in today’s Gospel, for the Pharisees it had become a bit of a game and a litmus test. Jesus had just silenced the elite Sadducees, who were sort of the liberals of the day. The conservative Pharisees liked that. Now, they thought, let’s see if Jesus passes the test and can fit properly into our group. With their question, they wanted to be able to categorize Jesus and put Him into one of their boxes, so that they could handle Him and manage Him.
“Teacher,” they asked, “which is the great commandment in the law?” It was a question intended to bring Jesus down to their level. Notice how Jesus was supposed to pick just one commandment. If Jesus answered the right way, the way that agreed with their group’s thinking and shared their priorities, then He would simply be one of them. But if not, then they could debate Jesus’ answer as if they were His equals and dismiss Him, all the while reducing the living voice of God’s Law to a matter of ethical points. Either way, they were using the Law in a lawless way, as a way of exalting themselves rather than humbling themselves before God. Beware of trying to argue moral questions simply for the sake of being right or winning a debate or justifying yourself. That’s not why God gave the Law. The Law is always meant to lead us to repentance and to Christ.
Our Lord’s wisdom would not play the Pharisees’ game or submit to their litmus test. He did not choose a single commandment. Instead, He summarized them all. He cut through their vain request and exposed the foolishness of pitting God’s Word against itself. Love is the fulfillment of the law. So Jesus answers in two parts. First, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” That’s not something you can reduce down to a bunch of do’s and don’ts. For that Law commands you to love God with every fiber of your being, all that you are, all that you own, with nothing held back from Him. He wants the entire devotion of your heart; all of your love, your allegiance to be with Him alone.
And Jesus doesn’t stop there, in case someone thinks that loving God means leaving ordinary life and your fellow man. He goes on, “And the second (great commandment) is like (the first): ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” These two go side by side, hand in hand. The love of God and the love of the neighbor are inseparable. You cannot claim to love God if you don’t love your neighbor. For God seeks to be loved in your neighbor. The Lord Jesus–who took up our nature and truly shares in our humanity–is present therefore in all those around us, particularly those in need, to receive our acts of kindness and self-giving. As the proverb says, “He who gives to the poor lends to the Lord.” That’s why Jesus says that the commands are alike: Because God is served both in love for Him and in love for the neighbor. This love is limitless in how it is to be expressed and shown.
That is where the living voice of the Law nails us and condemns us for falling short. It exposes our lovelessness. It exposes our self-satisfying motivations when we do engage in loving works. It brings nothing but judgment and death.
Repent, therefore, and turn to Christ. For Jesus here gets us back on the track that leads to salvation and life. The Pharisees had asked a Law question, but now Jesus asks a Gospel question, not one that focuses on us, but one that focuses on who He is. Jesus gets us away from moral concepts and religious debates and gets us to meditate instead on personhood of the Messiah Redeemer. Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose Son is He?” They said to Him, “The Son of David.” And that was correct. God had promised King David in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be one of His descendants.
Jesus then asks them this question, “How then does David in the Spirit call the Messiah ‘Lord’ in one of the Psalms?” You see, under ordinary circumstances in Jewish culture it would be the son who refers to the father as lord or master, not the other way around. And yet here David, the father and the great ancestor of the Christ, refers to his descendant as Lord. Jesus asks them, “Why is that?” Just as the Pharisees had tried to trap Jesus into a debate with a Law question, Jesus here tries to “trap” them into thinking about the truth about the Gospel with this question, to get them to see the saving reality of who He is.
The Jews had been conceiving of the Messiah as being a combination of a great prophet and a powerful political leader, but always in the end only a man. But Jesus here leads us to see that while He is truly human, He is more than just a man. David calls Him lord and master because Jesus, his literal descendant, is also truly and fully God. The Son of David is the everlasting Son of God.
Here, then, is where the good news is for us. Jesus, thankfully, does not come in a way that fits into our mental categories and according to the expectations of whatever groups we align ourselves with. He isn’t a liberal or a conservative. His ways are infinitely higher and better. He comes not in the way of fallen man but in the way of His perfect self-giving humanity. Jesus is the only man in whom God’s love is perfectly embodied. Jesus kept the Law perfectly for us and in our place. He loved His heavenly Father with all His heart, with all His soul, and with all His mind, devoting Himself entirely to doing His Father’s will. And Jesus loved His neighbor as Himself. He gave Himself completely to those around Him, healing them, helping them, teaching them saving truth. In the end He gave His life away, laying it down for us on the cross. There is no greater love than that a man lay down His life for His friends; and you are His friends whom He died for. Through that perfect act of love and self-giving, Jesus won for you the full forgiveness of your sins.
Jesus said that on these two commandments of love hang all the Law and the prophets. Jesus, who is love in the flesh, hangs on the cross for you to fulfill the Law of love perfectly. Baptized into Him, the Law’s condemnation is taken away from you, as Romans 8 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” You are free, released, forgiven, right with God in Christ. His self-sacrifice has rescued you from judgment and has brought you everlasting life. For Jesus has made your enemies to be His enemies–sin and death and the devil–and by rising from the grave He has made them His footstool. The grave is conquered; sin is taken away; Satan’s head is crushed. All of this that you now know by faith you will see with your own eyes at Jesus’ return–when He who is at God’s right hand is revealed in all His glory, and all things that are under His feet will be put under your feet with Him.
Therefore, brothers and sisters of Christ, remember that theology is not just something we talk about, it is the God, the Redeemer we come face to face with, and whom we confess, the Jesus who is our life and who desires that we share in His life and have fellowship with Him forever. He is present here now–not as a concept but as pure love in the flesh, giving you His true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Here is living theology, where the love of God and love of the neighbor all come together in Christ, love’s flesh and blood. You are sanctified and cleansed in Christ Jesus. You are saints before God as the epistle said–not because of the Law and what you have done, but because of the Gospel and what Jesus has done. Continue, therefore, to believe in Him and cling to Him, eagerly waiting for His return. For He will confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; He will do it.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠