18th Sunday after Trinity + Matthew 22:34-46

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christ has silenced the Sadducees. The Sadducees denied the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. They were Jews that liked the Greek way of thinking a bit too much, which thought that body caused too many problem and it was the soul that lived on. So they tried to show Jesus the foolishness of the resurrection by pitting it against Mosaic Law. They put forward this scenario: A man marries a woman but dies before they have a child. By Mosaic Law, the man’s brother was to step in and produce an heir who would carry on his deceased brother’s name in Israel. Except that brother died. What if there were seven brothers? What if none of them produced a child? In the resurrection, whose wife would this woman be? Jesus responds by saying they know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. First He corrects their thinking about the resurrection. “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). Marriage is for this life, not the life of the world to come. Then He shows them just how poorly they know the Scriptures. The Sadducees held only to the books of Moses, so Christ uses those books to show them the very resurrection which they deny. “Have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:31-32).  Thus Christ silenced the Sadducees, deniers of the resurrection, with the Word of God.

Then the Pharisees tee up. One of them asks Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” He wants to get at the root of the Law and see what how Jesus reads it. Jesus replies that the first great commandment is “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” “and the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The entire law and the prophets are summarized by these two commandments. They wanted Jesus to parse the Law down into a manageable bit, prioritizing part of it while minimizing the rest. This was more than just a question about students of the Law. This was a question of one’s salvation. The Pharisees believed that man was justified by doing works of the Law, so when the lawyer asks, “What is the great commandment?” he’s asking what the Law really requires a man to do in order to be saved. Jesus’ answer silences his desire to justify himself by works of the Law. First, you must love God with everything you’ve got all the time. There’s no room for loving the things of this world more than God, or for loving self more than God. Second, love your neighbor the same way you love yourself. But this is impossible because of the sinful nature. No man can fulfill the Law because man loves himself more than God and more than his neighbor. Thus Christ silenced the Pharisees, self-righteous in their own sight, with the Word of God.

Then Christ goes on the offensive and asks the Pharisees, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” The Sadducees misunderstand the Law because they deny the resurrection. The Pharisees misunderstand the Law because they want to use it to make themselves righteous in God’s sight. But Christ is interested in something else entirely. He questions them about the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. Whose son is He? “The Son of David,” they reply. They’re right. The Messiah would come from the line of David. “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord’ saying: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, ‘sit at my right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool?’ If David then calls Him, ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” He’s hit upon an inconsistency, it seems. David cannot call his son ‘Lord,’ because David is greater than his son. Yet the Scriptures teach that David’s son will be his Lord. “And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore.” Christ silences the questions and rebukes of the unbelieving with the Word of God, the very Word which the Sadducees and Pharisees thought they understood. In reality, they failed understand the Word and the power of God.

As it was in then so it is now. Instead of Sadducees and Pharisees, Christ’s church contents with politicians who misread the Scriptures to push their personal agenda and false preachers who pervert the Word of truth for the sake of increasing their wealth of reputation among men. Politicians cherry pick Scripture passages to show that God celebrates homosexual unions and condemns Caesar’s ability to secure his country’s borders and bear the sword for the punishment of evildoers. The Law of God is ignored entirely and replaced with today’s great commandment of “tolerate and celebrate” whatever people desire to do. False preachers and churches continue to water down the Scripture’s teaching that the Triune God is the true God and salvation is only received by faith in the Only-begotten Son of God who became flesh for our sake. They try to use the very Scriptures which teach the Trinity and the Incarnation of God the Son to teach the opposite; that there is truth in all religions and that God has ways of working in men’s hearts which is unknown to us so we’re not to judge whether or not a person, or church, is saved, regardless of what they believe and teach. The Gospel is removed entirely in so many places, while in others it’s greatly concealed by false doctrines, so that Christ, David’s Son and David’s Lord, true man and true God, is lost.

Something that strikes me about this episode from the gospels is how it all ended. These exchanges took place during Holy Week in Jerusalem. Christ silenced the Sadducees and the Pharisees’ false doctrines by teaching them the Word rightly, but they reject Him all the more for it. Their hatred and rejection boils over and they succeed in killing Him. We could ask, “What good did Jesus accomplish by preaching to such hardened and recalcitrant men? It only got Him persecution, rejection and death.” But He does it anyway. He does it as a witness against them, as the prophet Isaiah wrote, “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in a way that is not good, According to their own thoughts” (Isaiah 65:2). But there were also those who would hear Christ and believe. They would hear the great commandment of love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and be crushed by the realization that they cannot love God like that all the time, if ever at all. They would have heard of the incarnation, that David’s son according to the flesh is also David’s Lord, God Himself, who would die to atone for the sins of His father David and the sins of all mankind, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Those who heard and believed would be few, “because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:14). Jesus would gladly suffer rejection and persecution for the sake of the elect, even as His teaching will be a witness against the Sadducees and Pharisees on the Last Day before the judgment seat of God.

As it goes for the head so it goes for the body. Christ’s church must continually defend the truth of God’s word against the Sadducean skeptics who deny the resurrection and the Christian hope on the one side. On the other we must content with the Pharisaical hordes who want to turn God’s Law into their own personal whims and make it a ladder to heaven. Still on another front we have the false Christians who deny that David’s Son is David’s Lord and flay Christ’s divinity from His flesh. Most will reject the true preaching of the Law and the preaching of the pure gospel. To those, the Church stretches out its hands all day to a rebellious people, her only fruit being rejection and persecution. But to those who hear the Law and repent of their sins, to those who hear the Gospel of the death of God’s son to atone for our many and grievous sins, to them the Church’s confession is the sweet aroma of life and a forgiven conscience before God. That’s why we’re here. To hear the Word of God purely preached, so that His Word may silence His foes and fill our believing hearts with joy and our lips with praise of His glory. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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