Guest Pastor Roger James, of the International Lutheran Council, preached this sermon on the eighteenth Sunday after Trinity 10/3/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11:00am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity18 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
The most exhilarating and at the same time the saddest words in our Gospel reading are the very last verse:
And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. verse 46
Many times the Gospel of Matthew recounts the ongoing battle that went on between Jesus and his opponents, the Sadducees and, especially, as in our text, the Pharisees. These enemies have come at him over and over again, trying to entrap him into saying something that would condemn him before the authorities or before the people. For example, the question whether the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus stumps them by saying “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Just before our present text the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, tried to twist Jesus up in an unsolvable case study: the woman who was the childless wife of seven different husbands. Whose wife would she be in the resurrection? To which Jesus said that there is no marriage in resurrection and that the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob is the God of the living, not the dead, so Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must still be among the living, thus proving the resurrection. Thus, Jesus silenced the Sadducees, as our text says in the very beginning.
So now the Pharisees give it another shot. In order test him—literally the word is tempt him, indicating that the questioner was again trying somehow to trap Jesus—in order to test him one of them asks which is the greatest commandment. Jesus says, “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.” Then Jesus gives a bonus answer, the second greatest is like the first, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These two are the greatest commandments. On them hang all the Law and Prophets.
Having successfully answered their question, Jesus then goes on the attack and asks them two questions. The first is an easy one. Every pious Jew would be able to answer it. “The Christ—the Messiah, the anticipated Savior King—whose son is he?” “David’s,” they answer confidently. But then Jesus poses his second and crushing question: “If he is David’s son, then how could David speak of him in Psalm 110, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand.”’” This might be a little hard for us to untangle initially. But here is what Jesus is getting at: David, the psalmist, is the one speaking these words, “The Lord said to my (David’s) Lord.” The first Lord refers to God. The second Lord refers to the expected Messiah. The crux is that David calls the anticipated Messiah or Christ, “my Lord,” and that simply stands contrary to the accepted Jewish way of thinking. The father is greater than the son, but here Father David is calling his Messiah son Lord. How can that be?
The Pharisees, like the Sadducees, are silenced. They have no answer. But we have the answer, for we know that the Christ is both the Son of David, born of the virgin Mary, a descendant of David, and the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Messiah is truly the Godman, so even though he is descended according to the flesh from Father David through Mary, he, as God, is eternally equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees are unwilling or unable to grasp this.
So, there is something delicious in those closing words when Jesus silences the opposition Pharisees, “And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” Jesus eradicates his enemies’ arguments and schemes.
But there is also something very, very sad here. It says, “…nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” It is sad that no one said, “Jesus, Teacher, what do you think? How CAN the Christ be both David’s son and his Lord?” It is sad that they were not turned in repentance away from their opposition to Jesus who had proved himself time and again. It is sad that they did not humble themselves to ask him questions, not to test him, but to learn from him. They were content in their stubborn ignorance, and their complacent stubborn ignorance would lead them right to hell. They did not want that Nazarene Jesus giving them lessons. They were the elite intelligentsia. He was nobody. We don’t need his word.
You can think of this as a Third Commandment sin. Remember the catechism meaning to the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”? “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise teaching and his word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Of course, the word despise here does not only mean hate. You can despise another person as much or more by ignoring them than by actively hating them. You despise them by considering them to be not of the slightest consequence. So to despise the Word of God includes ignoring it, not taking time for it, not really wanting to bother to listen to the little man dressed in white robes and colorful ponchos, the one who stands here in the stead and by the command of Jesus. This is a damning sin because this commandment hangs on the Greatest Commandment about loving the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. When you ignore or tune out God’s Word, you are despising the Lord your God. Imagine saying to your husband or wife or mother or father—or anyone for that matter, “You know I really find you uninteresting and unintelligent, and I do not particularly want to hear what you have to say.” How damning is it, do you suppose, to say the same to God?
So, the Pharisees, instead of looking to Jesus to speak the word to them, to reveal the mystery by which he stumped them, they despise him and avoid him, and consequently they miss the Messiah, the Savior King—they miss their God who could rescue them from their shameful sin. They could learn, as you have learned, that Jesus is both David’s Son and David’s Lord, that he is true man born of the Virgin and very God of very God at the same time. They could learn that even though they had broken both the Greatest and the Second Greatest Commandments, for they did not love their neighbor Jesus—the could learn from Jesus that he actually was the Messiah who would pay the debt of their sin for them and rescue them from damnation.
You see, we believe in what our theologians call the active obedience of Christ, which teaches that Jesus kept kept all the commandments perfectly: the greatest commandment to love God and the second greatest to love his neighbor. The man Jesus did in fact love the Lord His God with all his heart and soul and mind, and God counts that perfect obedience to us as our own obedience. And Jesus did indeed perfectly love his neighbor as himself, again Jesus’ obedience being credited to us and our account. That’s the active obedience of Christ. The Son of God makes us his neighbors by becoming a man like us, and they he loves us, his neighbors by perfectly fulfilling God’s law
and crediting it to us who have broken that law.
Finally, ponder a moment just how perfectly Jesus did indeed love his neighbors, even though his neighbors despised and ignored him and his word. Jesus died for his neighbor, for those Pharisees and Sadducees, for you. Just ponder that for a moment. Jesus, the Son of God, loves his neighbor as he loves himself. Is that not astounding? Jesus Son of God and Son of Man loves you as he loves himself! Could we almost dare to say that he loves you more than he loves himself, at least that is what seems to be the case, since he gives himself up to suffering and death on the cross precisely so that you can have forgiveness and eternal life in hope and joy. God loves you as much or more than he loves himself.
Ponder this same truth now also when you step forward: Jesus loves to such an extent that he even gives you this Sacrament for your spiritual nourishment and strengthening. He is not ashamed or embarrassed that his true body and his true blood are placed upon your lips and taken into your own mouths so that you may have a share in his holy and eternal life. So much Jesus loves you. Thanks be to God!
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.