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Trinity 18 – Matthew 22:34-46

by pastorjuhl ~ October 5th, 2012

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

Behind every question lurks an agenda. The person asking a question may or may not know the answer. However, the person asking a question has a motive behind the question.

In the case of today’s Gospel, the Pharisees have the motive to make Jesus look like a fool asking Him which is the greatest commandment in the Law? The egg ends up on their faces because the questions they ask have an answer they should know, but have a momentary lapse of reason in not knowing the answer. They should have known better, especially after hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees. The Pharisees and Sadducees do not like each other, but for now they become an unholy alliance in order to take down the Man Whom they believe is their greatest threat to power.

The Sadducees’ question is asked just before today’s Gospel reading begins. They ask Jesus about a woman who married all seven brothers in one family. The clincher to their question is this: In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.

What you need to know about the Sadducees is they deny a physical resurrection of the body. The question is a trap. They want to show that Jesus actually believes in a physical resurrection of the dead. Jesus bats down their question like you would bat down a lazy housefly in the middle of summer. He says to them, You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: “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. Game, set, and match, Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead!

Before this question, the Pharisees ask a question about whether or not one should pay taxes to Caesar. God willing, we will tackle that question five weeks from now. So that brings us to today’s Gospel, where the Pharisees get another chance to make a fool of themselves, and Jesus gets a chance to put the icing on the cake of silliness that the Pharisees and Sadducees are mixing and baking.

The Pharisees question again is, Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? It is up for debate whether the Pharisees actually knew the answer to the question. You could say that the Pharisees knew the answer, but wanted to hear Jesus say something that would incriminate Himself. You could also say that the Pharisees honestly did not know the answer to the question, expecting Jesus to answer it with the Truth. Then again, the Pharisees might deny the Truth in place of a new and improved Truth…the fact that keeping Pharisaical ceremonies imposed upon the people actually saves from sin and death.

Whatever might be the answer the Pharisees are seeking, their agenda is phony. They want to bring down this Teacher by any means necessary. His teaching is inconvenient to their novel teaching. They want to be rid of the Son of God by accusing Him of blasphemy. There is one big problem to their plan. Jesus is not the One speaking blasphemy. The Pharisees are the blasphemous ones. They ask a Law question and expect false doctrine. They receive a Law answer, one they cannot keep in the way God expects.

Jesus quotes the Law as they learned it…or should have learned it. You shall 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. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. Nothing is said here about doing particular ceremonies put in place by men in order to appease the wrath of God. The summary of the Law is love, something the Pharisees and the Sadducees do not show our blessed Lord.

Love is something we do not show our blessed Lord. We say we love God, but our actions, thoughts, and works show otherwise. We look for every loophole possible in the Law. There are no loopholes in God’s perfect and holy Law. There is only command: Love God and your neighbor. There is only one punishment for not keeping the Law: temporal and eternal death.

Jesus points the Pharisees from a Law question to a Gospel question. What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He? This should be a slam-dunk, no-brainer question as the one they asked just before. The thing about this question is that it is a loaded question, one with an agenda, just like the Pharisees’ earlier questions and the Sadducees question too. Unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, who seek to trap Jesus with their loaded questions, Jesus seeks to bring the Pharisees to repentance and faith by asking What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?

Before Jesus gives the answer, let’s let His question stew for a moment among us. Our Lord’s question is an excellent “entry-level” question to ask of those inquiring about the Christian faith. His question is also an excellent question to ask other Christians.

In His book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis made what is called his “Trilemma.” Professor Lewis writes,

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to…. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

When Jesus quotes King David in Psalm 110: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet, David and Jesus could be liars. Saying so would destroy the foundation of faith, the Word of God as inspired by the Holy Spirit. Both could be lunatics. Saying so would make the Christian faith a mental disorder, as some atheists and anti-theists have declared any belief in any deity to be a mental illness. Both David and Jesus Christ could also be right. Saying so would make David to be a prophet and Jesus to be the fulfillment of this prophecy.

Jesus asks them the question, If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son? The answer of the Pharisees to our Lord’s question shows them to be liars and lunatics, for they deny the divinity of the Lord Christ. They say David’s Son is not David’s Lord. David’s Son is merely David’s son to the Pharisees. If they would answer otherwise, it is the end of their authority among the Jews.

The only answer they can give is silence. No one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. From this moment on, the Pharisees and Sadducees did their dirty work behind closed doors.

The dirty work conspired behind closed doors is to rid the world of Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews. Their dirty work, though they refused to believe it, brought about the salvation of the world. The answer to C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma is the ancient confession of the Christian faith: Jesus is Lord. Only Jesus can fulfill the Law in our place. Only He loves God and His neighbor as Himself. He loves both in our place, as our substitute, as the innocent Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. Only Jesus can sit at the right hand of God the Father, rising from the dead and reigning with our Father in heaven as victorious Lord of all. Only Jesus goes before us as the Forerunner, the Firstborn from the Dead.

Only Jesus gives His Gifts to His Church: Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, Holy Absolution, and Holy Gospel. In these Gifts, we see and believe that Jesus alone is the fulfillment of the Law. He is our “yes” and “amen” for forgiveness and eternity.

Jesus’ agenda is repentance and forgiveness. Compared to the Pharisees and Sadducees, whose agenda is power and earthly might, Jesus’ agenda alone saves. Jesus alone has made His enemies, and our enemies, His footstool. No wonder we can say with the Psalmist, I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” The agenda of this house is absolution from sin, salvation from death, and eternal life with Almighty God. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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

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