October 15, 2017 A+D
St. Matthew 22:34-46
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Pharisees were shocked that Jesus had received the praise of men on Palm Sunday as though He were God. Their question about the greatest command is issued in the Temple sometime between Palm Sunday and Holy Wednesday.
The question is a set up. He offended their religion. They expect Him to answer much as He does. They think that they will then be able to point out that He is a blasphemer because He allowed people to treat Him as God and there is only one God.
He, of course, is two moves ahead of them. He answers their objection with questions before they can even protest. “What do you think of the Christ? You know there is only one God. But who is the Christ? Is He not God? Do you think He is only a man? Whose son is He?”
They say: “He is David’s Son.”
“Yes, of course. He is David’s Son.” Says Jesus. “The Messiah must be a man to be the Man of Sorrows. He must be a Man to fulfill the Law and then to suffer the Law’s punishments. But David calls Him ‘Lord.’ This is because the Messiah, true God and true Man, is the Lord whom we should love with our whole, heart, soul, and strength.”
After this, they stop asking questions. No one can accuse Jesus of sin. No one can dispute His miracles. No one can argue with His teaching or find a place where He is inconsistent with Moses, the Prophets, or the Psalms. He has shown Himself to be God and Man, the Christ, the long-awaited Redemption of Israel who has come in the Name of the Lord.
That doesn’t mean they’re going to believe in Him. They harden their hearts. They are like children sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling so they don’t hear what they don’t want to hear. They say to themselves: “You think you are the Son of God? Let’s do an experiment and see how the Son of God bleeds.” Remember: this is holy week. They are days away from killing Him.
And we hear them fulfill this jab. As He is crucified, they say: “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matthew 27:40, ESV) and again: “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:43, ESV)
These statements might be the worst blasphemies in the long, torrid history of sin. For if Jesus is the Son of God He can’t come down from the cross nor can the Father deliver Him. To pit these two things against each other – the Divinity of Christ and His mercy – is to completely misunderstand both. The Pharisees are simply pagans, with a religion that is no different in substance than the Greeks who worship Zeus.
They are a warning for us. Let us not be like them. Let us instead repent and ask for the Spirit to open our hearts to His Word that we would not invent our own religion but would worship Him in spirit and truth. Rather than being children throwing tantrums let us be children lost in the grocery store in a panic calling for their fathers. Let us learn to pray and to listen.
It is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer these terrible things. He does so for the life of the world. This is an act of purest love, not of man loving God with his whole heart, soul, and mind, though the Son of David is a Man and He does love the Father and the Spirit with His whole heart, soul, and mind and He does lay down His life in obedience, but the death of Jesus is primarily an act of God loving humanity. He loves us with His whole Father, Son, and Spirit. This how God loves the world. This is how He loves Pharisees even while they mock and blaspheme Him: He dies for them. He takes on their sin and punishment. He is driven into Hell’s fires with their guilt upon Him so that they would be spared. His Blood is offered for their door posts that the angel of death would pass over. He is wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace is upon Him. By His stripes we are healed. This is how God loves and redeems the world. This is the answer to the prayer: Hosanna. The Sacrifice is bound to the altar in love and we confess that Good Friday above all other days is the Day the Lord has made and in which we rejoice.
The Father will deliver the Son after it is finished and humanity is delivered. He will raise Him from the dead and vindicate Him – but not before the Centurion does it by his confession.
“When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54, ESV)
The centurion saw what the Pharisees refused to see. Let us be like him! Let us rejoice and ask the Spirit to kindle and sustain this faith in us, to keep our Baptisms before us, to feed us with the risen Body and Blood of Jesus, to speak to us in His Word, that we might ever confess that Jesus is the Son of God who has loved us to the end, that we might have the faith of the centurion and recognize Jesus as the Son of God.
The greatest commandment is ‘You shall love Jesus, the Lord your God, with all of your heart, soul, and mind,” and the second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor, who is loved by Jesus and for whom Jesus died, as yourself, as Jesus loves him.” And above those commandments stands the first word: “I am the Lord your God, the Son of David, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who laid down His life and took it up again to free you from sin. I am your God and you are my people and I am not letting go.”
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.