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Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
“The Lawyer Who Never Loses”
St. Matthew 22.34-46
30 September 2018
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
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 a great commandment in the Law?”
A lawyer of the Pharisees asks Jesus a question to put Him on trial.
If your eyes have been on the news this week, we’ve seen a lot of lawyers hard at work this week, putting Judge Kavanaugh on trial to be an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as his accuser. I cannot bind your conscience on how you must feel about elevating Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. But it’s been an ugly business, and I’m not sure how much lower things can get in our political system right now.
This ugly business stems from this, this really boils down to the fight in our culture today for the free, unfettered access to the sexual revolution that rules all things. The dirty politics and everything else are mere symptoms of that underlying idea that men and women can break the sixth commandment without apparent consequences, and if there is a pregnancy that results, the child created can be wiped away by the abortion doctor. Any threat to that, real or perceived, including a potential judge of a supreme court who may or may not rule against the legal precedent allowing abortion, is going to be fought with a mighty rage. So, if you want to see our politics cleaned up, it will not happen until hearts and souls in our culture are turned back to the word of God concerning sexual morality specifically, and to godly virtues like decency, modesty, love, and respect for others in general. We will continue to see all sides try and test each other to the extreme until that happens. That might be a long wait.
Which returns us back to the Gospel from Matthew 22. The Pharisees and their lawyer, who have also lost their moorings in matters of decency and respect, have decided to have a little show trial, to try and test and tempt Jesus. Jesus is a threat to them and their system of works righteousness and their power as the religious elite of Israel – they clearly want to catch Jesus in some sort of theological heresy or blasphemy. They want to kill Jesus.
But they know God’s Word. From Deuteronomy 17.6, we read:
On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.
Seems pretty poignant doesn’t it when you read that passage in light of Jesus and His story! Jesus is of course the one they want to die. The Pharisees and religious elites of Israel have predetermined that they want to kill Him. Unlike people today and in recent history, they at least want to cross the t’s and dot the I’s of the Scripture – they’ll hear Jesus give a “wrong answer” and easily have their two or three witnesses against Him.
Yet, Jesus, who of course gave the injunction of Deuteronomy 17 to His people through Moses, has done an interesting thing. He has actually revised and extended the scope of this rule – for not only putting someone to death for a crime, but now outwards to cover any kind of accusation. Hear the words of Jesus our Lord from Matthew chapter 18:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mt. 18.15-18; ESV)
Jesus does the same thing with the Ten Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount, when He calls us not just to outwardly obey the commandments such as “Do not murder” or “Do not commit adultery” – Jesus tells us that God demands inward compliance as well – “Do not hate your brother” “Do not lust after another in your heart”. God has the right to expect more. Outward and inward keeping of the law.
So is there “a great commandment in the Law,” Jesus?
Jesus is a better lawyer than the man questioning Him. Better than Perry Mason on old time television, Jesus never loses a case, ever. He gave the commandments, He gave us the legal requirements of what the Law demands. He is God in the flesh. “You shall love the Lord your God with the whole of your heart, and with the whole of your life and soul, and with the whole of your mind and understanding. This is the great and first commandment,” says Jesus.
But the Law does not end there. “And a second is like it…” The Lord is not just concerned about service to Himself. God told the children of Israel in our first reading this morning from Deuteronomy,
The Lord set His heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day… [the Lord] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing… Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven. (Dt. 10.12-21)
So even as the Lord has been gracious, full of love, merciful to His people, and as He desires to be merciful and loving towards all people, so too are we to be merciful and loving towards our neighbors:
A second is like it, says Jesus, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
The lawyer who interrogated Jesus had no answer. There is only conviction here. Love God. Love the neighbor. This is what God in heaven expects and demands. No one can disagree. No one also can keep that law perfectly. Jesus has won the case: “No one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him any more questions.”
It doesn’t quite work out like that in these days, does it? There are no more “Perry Mason” perfect endings, where the case is always solved, no more endings like Jesus’ little trial here where everyone’s mouth remains shut. The craziness in Washington is only going onward and building upon itself. The problems we have under the Law of God never seem to go away either – we keep breaking that Law, and keep struggling with temptation to break that Law, and struggle with impure hearts and consciences seared by the past and scared for the future, because we have an inquisitive little lawyer named Satan – whose name means “accuser” – who is always accusing us about the demands of the Law and our failures of it, and always putting us on trial, even accusing us before God in heaven.
But there has been a way given to quiet the tongue of that accuser. You have the best lawyer money can never buy, and like we witnessed before with the Pharisees who accused Him, this good and righteous lawyer wins every case, ends every argument, quells every accusation. For the Lord Jesus Christ stands before His Heavenly Father and argues before Him and before our accuser that we are to be judged “not guilty” on account of His own most holy and precious blood, which He shed on the cross for us. And this argument wins every time, hands down, it wins, because He was raised from the dead on the third day, the Father deemed His Son’s sacrifice for sin sufficient. The resurrection is the public declaration of that verdict.
And also better than any earthly lawyer, Jesus never charges a fee. His service to you is free. He gives to each of you His innocence, His holiness, His righteousness, His salvation from your every sin and shame and trial and tribulation. He brings you this innocence and blessedness freely, not in a courtroom, but in this sanctuary, this refuge, this place of rest – here God gives you saving faith and forgiveness of sins in the preaching of the Gospel, the washing of Holy Baptism, the meal of His saving body and cleansing blood at this altar. For Jesus’ sake, you stand before God and man and even Satan himself with a clean heart and a clear conscience, for you have been washed clean and declared righteous by God Himself. And no accuser can answer a word to that, no one can dare question it.
Rejoice and give thanks. Jesus is your advocate, defender, and Savior. He never loses. Not one shall be snatched out of His hand. God grant us all the grace to never forget it, now and eternally.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +