Rev. Charles Lehmann + Trinity 18 + Matthew 22:34-46
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
In the church, we are always trying to speak when we should be listening. This is nothing new. When the Israelites were on their way out of Egypt and faced Pharaoh’s army on one side and the Red Sea on the other, they thought they were doomed. In their terror, they asked Moses why he had brought them out of Egypt so they could be killed in the wilderness. Moses’ reply couldn’t have been more pointed than it was. “The Lord Himself will fight for you. You need only to keep silent.”
God the Father has sent Jesus to the cross to suffer in our place. He has done all that is necessary for our salvation. After our fall into sin, God’s action to save us was immediate and unequivocal. He promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. In Christ this was accomplished once and for all. But how is it delivered? It is delivered with words. Simple, plain words are the means by which God gives out the salvation that He has won for us.
One pastor in the early church said, “Blessed is the pastor who remains silent.” He wasn’t talking about short sermons. He was talking about listening to the Word of God. A pastor is only as good as the words he speaks. The only time I do you any good is when I’m speaking God’s Word to you. It is through God’s Word that our sins are revealed to us. That is why Saint Paul writes, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”
But the Word of God is also where the comfort is. It is where the love of God is made known to you. It is the means by which God the Holy Spirit continues His work among us today.
But the Word of God can do nothing unless it is heard. That is the key to understanding today’s Gospel reading. You see, our Lord’s most fierce opponents were not the Romans. Until the Sanhedrin brought charges of insurrection against Jesus, Pilate probably didn’t even know that He existed.
Our Lord’s strongest opposition came from among His own people. His constant foes were the Israelites, but not just any Israelites. Our Lord’s enemies were the temple establishment and the seminary professors. Jesus’ opponents were the ones who had the most ready access to God’s Word. They were the ones who were most well prepared to recognize Jesus for who He was when He came to them.
But the Pharisees and the Sadducees were not willing to listen. They were not willing to close their one mouth so that their ears could receive what our Lord’s words had to give. Instead, they thought that they had something to say that Jesus should listen to. They didn’t think the hick boy from Nazareth had paid attention in confirmation class and they wanted to give Him some remedial lessons.
Just before today’s Gospel reading the Sadducees show up. They think they’ve come up with a theological dilemma that Jesus won’t ever be able to get out of. The Sadducees think of themselves as the most sophisticated theologians of the day. They are the temple elite. They run the show. They are up on the latest ideas. They know all about the pagan religious views of the Greeks and the Romans. They’ve read the philosophers. They know all the intellectual buzz. Because they’re so broadly read, the Sadducees have given up on some of the more silly biblical ideas like circumcision and the resurrection of the dead.
It’s on this last point that they decide to question Jesus. They tell a story of a woman who married seven brothers in turn. Each time one of the brothers died, she’d marry the next one. The Sadducees asked Jesus whose wife she would be in the resurrection. They thought the only reasonable answer was that there was no resurrection. They thought they’d trapped Jesus. They knew He believed in the resurrection of the dead, and that He’d have no way out of the question.
But He did have an answer. He had a simple, clear, and straightforward answer. He said that in heaven we are not married and we are not given in marriage. Then, using Exodus 3, Jesus proved that the Old Testament taught the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees had no reply. They were silenced.
This brings us to the first verse of today’s Gospel reading. “But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.” The Pharisees know that the Sadducees have failed in their efforts to put Jesus in His place.
They circle the wagons. They try to come up with their own question that will prove that Jesus’ isn’t the great teacher that His disciples think He is. The Pharisees are not as well read as the Sadducees. Instead of being worldly philosophers, the Pharisees are the Bible scholars. In particular they have studied the six hundred thirteen commands given in the books of Moses. They think they’ve figured out just how the commandments fit together and how you can keep all six hundred perfectly all of the time.
So that’s where they draw their question from. They ask Jesus the most challenging question they can think of. They ask, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
The Pharisees are using every trick in the book. They begin by calling Jesus by a title of respect: Rabbi. This is a term they would normally reserve for each other, but they do not call Jesus “Teacher” because they respect Him. They call Him by the title to throw Him off balance. They want to succeed where the Sadducees failed.
By asking Jesus to rank the commandments the Pharisees think that they are asking a question that cannot be answered. How can one of God’s commandments be ranked above another, and how would you pick one from the six hundred thirteen? But Jesus again answers the impossible question in a simple and clear way. He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus’ answer summarizes the whole law of God. Love is the fulfillment of the Law. First, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.” The second, Jesus says, is like it. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” One who loves God completely will also be one who has the love of God overflowing in their hearts. They will know that while God does not need our service, our neighbors do. They will see to it that the love that God has poured into them does the most good that it can possibly do.
The Pharisees know they’ve been beaten, but unlike the Sadducees, they don’t just give up. The circle the wagons a second time. They try to come up with another question. They hope that the new question will be able to accomplish what the first question couldn’t.
But Jesus doesn’t let them finish their huddle before He asks them a question of His own. He says, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They say, “The son of David.” Jesus replies, “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?” After Jesus gives this answer, the Pharisees give up. They know they are outclassed. They know this because Jesus has conclusively proven who He is on the basis of Scripture that they know.
Jesus is the son of David. He is the one whom David calls Lord. But Jesus hasn’t yet answered the last question that he asked, “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” The son of David can only be David’s Lord if He is God in human flesh. Jesus is revealing Himself to be the promised Messiah. He is the one whom God promised to David in 2nd Samuel 7 when He said through the prophet Nathan, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
When the Pharisees realize what Jesus is saying to them, they know that they have been arguing with God. Matthew tells us that they dared not ask Him any more questions. The reason for this was not that the Pharisees had come to believe and trust in Jesus for salvation. It was because they knew they couldn’t win.
If the Pharisees had believed the Scriptures that they had spent their lives studying, they would have recognized Jesus by His works. He had healed the sick, given sight to the blind, made the lame walk, and raised the dead. He had turned water into wine. He had taught the Word of God with authority. To anyone who had listened to what the Old Testament Scriptures said it was absolutely clear who Jesus was.
But the Pharisees, like us, were more interested in speaking than listening. They wanted to make sure that everyone knew how spiritual they were. They wanted to make sure that everyone recognized them as true teachers of Israel. They wanted everyone to acknowledge that they had true wisdom to share.
But as we have already said, true wisdom comes in listening to the Word of God. True wisdom comes when we set aside our reason and let God’s Word and His word alone determine what we say about Him.
We live in a world where it is very popular to be “spiritual but not religious.” It is popular for people in our world to do their very best to come up with what they think are very spiritual ideas that help them go about living their lives in the way that they want to. Having arrived at their conclusions they will then seek out the church that best fits what they’ve already decided they want to believe.
No good can come of this. No good can come from making up your own mind about who God is and what He is like and then seeking out the church that matches up. The only way to know that you are in the right church is to listen to what is taught. Is it what the Word of God says? Is the church you are in one which listens to the Word of God and joyfully confesses what it hears?
Blessed is the Christian who is silent. Blessed is the Christian who listens to the Word of God and believes it. Blessed are you. Blessed are all of you who come here each Sunday to hear the words of eternal life.
Jesus has taken all of your guilt to the cross. He listened with perfect attention to the words of His heavenly Father and spoke them to us. When His Father said that it was His will for Jesus to suffer and die on the cross to win salvation for you and for all the world, it was His joy to suffer all the pangs of hell. It was His pleasure because of His perfect love for you.
And so, blessed are you who trust this Jesus for your salvation. The same Jesus who silenced the Pharisees and Sadducees is also the Jesus who went to the cross, bearing your sins, so that in love He could fulfill the whole Law on your behalf. Because He has borne the full wrath of God, there is no longer any wrath left for you.
Rejoice, people loved by God. Your sins are forgiven and you are free.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.