“When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-36).
This man doesn’t necessarily have Scripture in mind as the answer to his question. Though well trained in the Torah—the words, commands, and promises of God—he would also be well trained in the various, man-made traditions which can be good or bad, beneficial or harmful, precise or imprecise—but always subject to the Word of God.
In Judaism, there are commandments requiring hand washing, which may not be a surprise, but upon waking, you are to wash your hands and say a prayer that thanks God for allowing you to wake up, which isn’t a bad idea.
But—the Modeh Ani prayer is one that’s prayed while washing your hands and before you’ve walked the length of four cubits, about six feet.
So unless your sink is less than six feet from your pillow, you need to set out a bowl of water the night before.
When you wake up, you must wash your hands and say a prayer. You can’t walk more than six feet before doing so. And you can’t just splash some water, you have to be careful to do it the right way. You can’t dip your fingers in first or the water becomes unclean.
And you can’t touch anything beforehand: eyes, nose, mouth, clothing, food—nothing.
Just water—and your fingers can’t go first.
If you follow this commandment, even if you wake up in the middle of the night, you still have to get up and wash your hands.
Some allow you to skip the hand washing if you know you’ll fall back asleep—but not everyone is so lenient.
If you read about things like this, inevitably you’ll come across a comment about how much clearer the Law is now that a person has read this article or book.
That’s what it is to live under the Law, without the Gospel. To think that you are doing salvation. To think that somehow, even in the smallest way, salvation depends on you.
In today’s Gospel lesson, the lawyer could have expected this type of discussion—which of the man-made commandments are greatest?—but Jesus responds with the Word of God.
He’s very clear: “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.” (Matthew 22:37-40).
He doesn’t respond with trivial minutia.
He responds with the very words God gave to Moses to teach the people.
Here’s a contemporary Christian example. I’ve heard this question many times: “What’s the most important thing in the life of a Christian?” Or it might be asked this way: “What does God really want me to do with my life?”
A common answer is: “Most important is having a personal relationship with Jesus.”
But that’s actually a very imprecise way of speaking.
For one, everyone, believer or not, already has an extremely personal relationship with Jesus: He created the world you live in, with you in mind, He knit you together in your mother’s womb, He became flesh like yours, He was lifted up, hands and feet nailed to the Cross, for all the world to see.
He “was [put to death] for our trespasses and He was raised for our justification” (cf. Romans 4:25).
Everyone has that relationship with Jesus.
So the difference between believer and the unbeliever isn’t having a personal relationship with Jesus or not but faith that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things.
Faith that is active in love toward God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and neighbor.
Faith that is the gift of God.
Faith that comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.
That’s God’s will for your life—salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ alone—and then—love, to God and neighbor.
The phrase “personal relationship” is how some men have chosen to speak, but those aren’t the words God has revealed.
We’re more comfortable, we’re more familiar with fads and bumper sticker theology than we are with the sound words of Jesus.
It should not be!
You put God to the test when you do not hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Even when God’s Word contradicts you, or your family, or what you really, really like, you should still hear and learn it, believe it, rejoice in it, and do it.
But in further response to the lawyer’s test, Jesus asks a question. He says: “‘What do you think about 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?’ And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22:42-46).
Jesus’ question doesn’t force us to deal with the minutia of man-made laws.
He quotes a psalm and so requires us to know and hear the Word of God.
He asks probably the most important question: Who is the Christ?
And if He’s David’s son, less than David in a way, how could He also be David’s Lord, and thus, greater than David? This seems to contradict.
The Pharisees don’t have an answer, because when they read the Word of God they see themselves, not Jesus.
But on the road to Emmaus, thus says the Lord through St. Luke, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39).
Jesus is the wonderful mystery the Scriptures reveal.
Jesus is God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is worshiped and glorified. And Jesus is true man, born of the Virgin, descended from David.
He is the Christ—David’s Lord and David’s son.
But the quoted psalm speaks to so much more than Jesus’ lineage and divinity.
“The Lord, said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’” (cf. Matthew 22:44; Psalm 110:1).
Prior to the incarnation, Jesus has no flesh. But He still exists. We see types of Him throughout the Old Testament: He’s the animal slaughtered for Adam and Eve’s clothing; He’s the ram that God provided in Isaac’s place; He’s the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement and the goat given to slaughter.
Jesus is the Word spoken at creation and the fourth man in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
King Nebuchadnezzar says that the fourth man’s appearance is “like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25).
He was closer than he knew.
Prior to His incarnation, Jesus wasn’t humbled in human form. He sat at God’s right hand until the proper time, when His Father put His enemies under His feet.
Jesus became flesh like yours and was lifted up, His hands and feet nailed to the Cross for all the world to see, and, with all the world, literally under His feet, He died for them.
For you—and all at enmity with God.
But that verse from Psalm 110 speaks even more.
“When Christ…offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (Hebrews 10:12-13).
Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended into Heaven. And there He sits at the right hand of His Father until the time comes again to judge all flesh.
Then, His enemies will be put under His feet like dust, while His friends are placed at His side.
All of that from one Psalm—from one verse.
From one question Jesus asked one lawyer.
But He asked—so that we would know:
Faith clings to God who justifies the ungodly (cf. Romans 4:5), who saves those who were His enemies.
That’s how we love our neighbors, even our enemies. To be Christ-like doesn’t mean to be popular, or liked, or safe, or even nice.
To be Christ-like means to be good.
To put even those who hate you under your care and provision, as Christ put you under His feet as He received into His flesh the due penalty for our sin.
Love, pray, and serve your neighbor and your enemies: those you love and those who hate and persecute you.
Faith clings to Christ who lays down his life for His friends and dies for the ungodly—desiring to save them all.
That faith, then, serves the neighbor—whoever he is.
This is God’s will for your life:
Salvation by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ alone.
And love—to God and neighbor.
In other words: ”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And—love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Matthew 22:37, 39).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 18 Sermon, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt