St. Matthew records that, when tempted by satan, Jesus says: “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7; Deut. 6:16).
He’s quoting Deuteronomy chapter six when He says that.
The Pharisees don’t realize—or maybe they do—that they’re putting the Lord their God to the test by pitting the Word of God against itself.
That’s what the lawyer’s doing when he asks his question, saying: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36).
It says he did this to test Jesus, but tempt is the better translation, since this lawyer wants Jesus to fail.
Tests are from God, and He wants you to be faithful.
Temptations are from satan, and He wants you to sin.
The Pharisees try to entangle Jesus in His words (cf. Matthew 22:15). They try to trap Him.
Like the talking heads on today’s television, they want the soundbite. The spin. The “gotcha” moment.
It’s as if the Pharisees are thinking, “Maybe we can get him to say what we want him to say.”
And so they put Him to the test.
It’s easy for us to side with Jesus against the Pharisees, of course it is, but to be honest, we’re not that far from the Pharisees, from time to time.
We want God to say what we want Him to say.
And when God answers our prayers in a way we don’t like—when He says no—we don’t think He means it.
God wants me to be happy.
God’s “No” makes me unhappy.
Therefore—there must be something wrong with God.
It’s not faith but doubt—not faith but fear—that draws that conclusion.
So how does Jesus respond?
He said to him, “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’s quoting Deuteronomy chapter six, again.
The Pharisees tempt Jesus—just as satan did—putting God to the test.
They are of their father, the devil, which is why, in the verses after today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus refers to the Pharisees as children of hell (cf. Matthew 23:15).
Because they do as satan did.
Then, “while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’” (Matthew 22:41-42a).
That’s a straightforward question with a straightforward answer, and they know it. “They said to him, ‘The son of David’” (Matthew 22:42b), and they’re right.
But while the question and answer is straightforward, the implications of the answer—for the Pharisees—are not—and that leaves a bitter taste the children of hell can’t stomach.
Jesus says 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?” (Matthew 22:43-45).
Those are the first words of Psalm one-hundred ten, a psalm of David, where David—in the inerrant inspiration of God—says that the Lord, Yahweh, said to David’s Lord, the Christ, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” (cf. Psalm 110:1).
If the Christ is David’s Lord—Jesus wants to know—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 22:46), because you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, and you don’t put the Lord your God to the test.
Now, I’m convinced that the Pharisees could’ve answered but that they didn’t want to deal with the implications of the answer.
The only way for David’s son to be also David’s Lord is for the Lord to become flesh and dwell among us.
David’s Lord, True God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages—to use the words of the Athanasian Creed.
And David’s son, True Man, born from the substance of His mother in this age.
David’s son and David’s Lord. If you’re familiar with 2 Samuel chapter seven, it’s all there.
But if the Pharisees bring that up, they’d have to submit to Jesus, because—as St. Matthew tells it—Jesus has been called the Son of David by other people exactly seven times, eight if you include His genealogy.
The Pharisees have the Word of God.
They know it.
But they allow neither their heart nor their soul nor their mind to submit to it.
The Pharisees—and us, too, sometimes—won’t believe what God says because it’s difficult to understand or it would mean changing the way we do things on Sunday mornings—as though what God says has to be easy or nice to be true.
They know the Word—but they don’t believe it.
They’re cut to the heart and cannot answer or ask anything else.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow—discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (cf. Hebrews 4:12).
The Pharisees try to trap Jesus in His words about the Word, and they are, themselves, trapped.
Because Jesus responds perfectly: Love fulfills the Law.
The Word of God is not a contradiction.
The First Commandment includes all the others.
How is it you love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind?
Love your neighbor—who was created in God’s image just like you—Love your neighbor as yourself.
That’s how St. Paul has it: “The one who loves another fulfills the law. For the commandments…are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (cf. Romans 13:8-10).
But while Jesus’ response to the lawyer’s question is perfect, if that’s all He says, if that’s all we know, He’s only a preacher and teacher of the Law—and we’re lost.
If Jesus doesn’t have more to say, we’re left with the commandment: “Love God perfectly. And your neighbor as yourself.”
And as perfect as that law is—we all fall short.
God’s not wrong.
There’s nothing wrong with the Law.
There’s something wrong with us.
In the first Psalm it says “Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night” (cf. Psalm 1:1-2).
We know that’s not always us.
And we know it should be.
So what happens next?
We could—with the Pharisees—put God to the test and pit the Word of God against itself.
We can say it doesn’t mean this or that.
We could refuse to preach the Law, which would make everyone more comfortable. Or we could refrain from saying things like, “Stop breaking the law,” that would make us popular with the talking heads.
We could—with the Pharisees—exert our reason over and against Scripture, saying things like:
God wants me to be happy.
God’s “No” makes me unhappy.
Therefore—God doesn’t really say “No.”
That’s the response of doubt and fear but not of faith.
The faithful response is to hear and believe what Jesus says to the Pharisees when they gather together.
“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42).
He’s David’s son, of course, and David’s Lord.
But why does Jesus ask?
If it’s only to trap them and us—He’s no different.
Rather—Jesus wants you to wonder and to see how God has chosen to love us.
Lord of all, seeming servant of none, God took on flesh, a servant’s form, to love and die for all.
He is of His Father, who loves us.
And so He loves us Himself and loved us to the end.
As often as we eat the bread, as often as we drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
As often as we receive Him, as often as we call on Him, as often as we remember His great love for us—all the more—He receives us, calls us by name, and remembers His promises.
The Pharisees put the Lord to the test.
They rejected the Word of God.
Of their father the devil, they are children of hell (cf. Matthew 23:15).
But not you.
You believe the Lord and wait on Him in fear and patient faith.
You are children of your Heavenly Father who never leaves you nor forsakes you.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 18 Sermon, 2021
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt