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The Two Great Questions Facing Humanity (St. Matthew 22.34-46)

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

“The Two Great Questions Facing Humanity”
Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus  

St. Matthew 22.34-46

03 October 2021

         

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

“The Two Great Questions Facing Humanity” come from this reading. The first one was posed by the Pharisees after Jesus had silence the Sadducees about the nature of the resurrection. The Pharisees, always most concerned about every detail in the Law and to which they had added some 613 more laws, asked Jesus:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

Jesus summarized it by saying that one must love the Lord God with absolutely everything in a person, and then he added the corollary, that one must then love his neighbor as himself. All divine Law rests on these two commandments. Then Jesus asked these religious leaders:

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”

Everything is reduced to these two questions, the one about the Law and the other about the Christ. Everything that is important in this world hinges on one’s answers.

Mankind needs to hear this Law of God, this First Commandment. We are to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” Luther teaches in the Small Catechism. It’s very simple, is it not? When the rich young man asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus answered simply, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” [Matt. 19.17]

Keep the commandments in thought, word, and deed. How serious is God about keeping the commandment? Very clearly Jesus warns, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak . . “ [Matt. 12.36] One’s thoughts are sin even if people do not regard them as such [Matt. 5.28].

Unfortunately, most people don’t take God’s warnings seriously. They believe that God grades on the curve, so to speak. Luther complained about the preachers who coddled their hearers:

“Even if you do not keep the commandments to love God and your neighbor—yes, even if you are an adulterer—that does not hurt you; if only you believe, then you will be saved.”

Luther responds:

No, dear man, that will not work, and you will not possess the kingdom of heaven. It must happen that you keep the commandments and love God and your neighbor.” [Luther’s Works, AE 79.173].

Our Lutheran Confessions use a Latin term countless times: Lex semper accusat—”The Law always accuses.” The Law demands and will not allow for even the smallest failure. If I do not do the Law as God demands I am damned. God agrees with this and confirms it. The Law offers no advice other than this: You must keep it perfectly if you want to be saved by it.

The history of the world shows that man does not take God’s threats seriously even though this evidence is presented daily as every man, woman, and child in this world dies. If one could keep the Law as God demands there would be no death.

In Luther’s day people thought that they were keeping the Law God by going into monasteries and convents. They adopted a self-styled godliness. In other words, they set up their own ideas about good works. They interpreted the commands to love God and the neighbor wrongly. They forgot what Christian faith and love really are. Luther complains: “Is it serving God when you crawl into a corner where you help and bring solace to no one? What need does our Lord God have of the service you perform in a corner?” [Luther’s Works, AE. 53]

The Law tells us what we are, what we owe God, and what will happen if we continue to hold on to the insane idea that we can make up for what is lacking. If you look at a serial killer and think that he has more to make up than you who have never done such things, you are dead wrong. It doesn’t matter how numerous your sins are, you still haven’t kept that chief commandment to love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. In short, it is impossible for any of us to meet the standard because of the sin of our first parents. We are all infected with a 100% fatal disease that we cannot cure no matter how much we try. Luther said of his days in the monastery that it was “the time of blindness,” “the bath of anguish.” [Luther’s Works AE, 79.177]

The Law was given to expose our sin, our sins, our inner decay of body and soul. But that is not God’s last word to our world. Our Lord asks that second great question of every one:

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”

His listeners were quick to answer, “The son of David.” They believed that David would have a descendant who would fix things, but only in an earthly way. Jesus called the religious leaders “blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” [Matt. 23.24]

Then Jesus posed the question that ended the discussion:

“If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” [Matt. 22.45]

Clearly the religious leaders rejected God’s remedy for sin and so they could not please God with their works. They could not boast about anything because all their attempts to keep the Law were failures. The prophets had long foretold that the Christ was coming who would restore mankind to the Father by forgiving their sins. Jesus came to fulfill the whole will and Law of God on behalf of the whole world. Luther summarizes so beautifully. Jesus loved the Father perfectly and obeyed when mankind did not. He took the enormity of the world’s sins onto himself and made an atonement by his own precious blood. Thus, Jesus alone fulfilled the Law for our advantage and brought God’s grace to humanity. Thus, we stand protected by the innocent blood of Christ. He has paid the full penalty for the sin of the world by his death. God forgives everything for his sake, not for the sake of our deeds or merit.

David ruled only in an earthly way. He did not redeem anyone, but King David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ, the God/Man has! And he will rule forever! The Apostle Paul begins his Letter to the Romans this way:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ . . .[Romans 1.1-5]

On Pentecost our risen Lord sent his Holy Spirit so that we may begin to keep his Commandment as he wants. Daily we fail. Yet, we return to our Lord in repentance, trusting that he has shouldered all our burdens and sins and has made an end of them. We live in our Baptism. What is more, he feeds us with the medicine of immortality, his body and blood, to assure us of that forgiveness he has earned. A beginning has been made which will be completed in our resurrection from the dead on the day our Lord returns in glory. On that day faith will cease and we will see God face to face because there will be no more sin in us and no more forgiveness will be necessary.

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

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