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Deal with a Trap Question (St. Matthew 22.34-46)

Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

“Dealing with a Trap Question”
Seminarian Andrew Keller, Vicar

St. Matthew 22.34-46

20 October 2019


+ In the Name of Jesus +

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees, who were the experts in the Old Testament and the Law of Moses. They numbered 613 laws in the Torah, and zealously tried to keep them, in fear that if they did not, God would once again turn from them, and the temple would be destroyed. They truly thought they could obey the law. Jesus was a problem for them. While they were secure in their piety, He called on them to humble themselves. When they sought to bring charges of breaking the Sabbath, He called Himself the Lord of the Sabbath. While Jesus sought to help others, they plotted in secret against Him.

Jesus responds, not with one law, but the summary of both tables of the Law. Our children in catechesis can answer that the First table, which contains the first three Commandments, is summarized, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The Second table, Commandments four through ten, is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Only God shall you worship, no others. Do not misuse His name, nor despise His Word. Honor those whom God has put in authority over you. Do not hurt or harm your neighbor. Do not have sexual relations with people besides your spouse. Do not steal from, lie to, or covet against your neighbor. What do these prohibitions teach us? They teach us to love God with all our heart, soul and might, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The heart of the sinner rebels against this. The sin of Adam and Eve was desiring to put themselves in the place of God and to know as he did. They disobeyed his command not to eat, and they perished. Our hearts also seek to put ourselves ahead of God. We, like the Pharisees, are too proud to hear the words of Jesus and repent. We question His authority. We look for ways to trap others in their transgressions while not seeing our own. We look at our neighbor in jealousy and greed. Selfishness is intertwined even in the works we see as good. Ultimately, we do not love the Lord and we do not love our neighbor. We cannot uphold the Law perfectly. The Law shows us our depravity. It demands perfection from us. It crushes us.

Jesus broke the trap of His enemies, and turned the tables on the Pharisees by asking them a question. The Gospel reads, “Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, ‘What do you think of 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?’” David was the gold standard of Jerusalem and the Lord showed His favor to him. God promised David in 2 Samuel 7, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” Yet, many thought this promise was forsaken. Israel didn’t have a king in the line of David, let alone independence to rule themselves. The thought was that the Messiah would be the king to establish the rule forever, but where was he to be found?

Jesus quoted David to show Himself to be the fulfillment of the Psalm and indeed all Scripture. The Christ was at hand, but instead of restoring the kingdom of David, he brought the kingdom of the heavens. Jesus was the Lord that David was prophesying about in the Spirit. The Christ is not just a man; He is God incarnate. He is the very Lord who gave the tablets to Moses at Mt. Sinai. He is the one who would come through David’s line, to sit upon the throne forever. The Son of David and David’s Lord are one in the God-man Jesus. He was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried for us. He is also risen and ascended for us. He preached his victory in hell over His enemies, who are put under His feet. He has crushed Satan’s head. What his forefather, David, could not have done, Jesus did for all people.

Our Lord is not like David. He is not like any earthly king. Each king had his own failure. They turned from the Lord, did evil in His sight, and chased after foreign gods. They fell into the traps of their enemies. This king is a unique one. Rather than lead us toward foreign gods, Jesus reconciles us with the true God. Rather than doing evil in the sight of God, He obeyed His Father unto death. He did not sit on His throne, wearing a royal robe and crown, with a scepter in His hand. He hung upon a cross, naked and thorns upon His head, and nails in His hands. Yet this coronation, at His crucifixion, proclaimed victory over sin, death and the devil. Moreover, He rose again and ascended, and reigns at the right hand of the Father.

If, then, Jesus has established His reign, why do we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come?” Martin Luther’s explanations in the catechism are helpful. They say, “The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.” How does God’s kingdom come? “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” The kingdom of God is not a place; it was ushered in by the incarnation, public ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The kingdom still comes to us here and now by His Spirit though the Word. He has given you pastors to preach the Law in its sternness and the Gospel in its sweetness. He gives you His own body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Unlike the Pharisees and the kings of old, who despised the Word of God, we are able to believe His Word through the Spirit. We are able to live godly lives instead of rebelling against Him. We are not like the Pharisees, who cannot speak before Him. We proclaim Christ as the almighty King.

Finally, the Lord Jesus’ reign will be brought into its fullness when He restores all things and returns in glory. He will come again in His glory to judge the living and the dead. Though you have not loved the Lord with all your heart, or loved your neighbors as yourself, God has declared you righteous because of Christ, that you might inherit the kingdom of heaven. Rather than being an enemy of God, placed under His feet, you will reign with Him at His right hand forever. In Jesus’ Name.

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