This is the second of two consecutive sermons where I have delivered the message in two states in the same morning. The audio from the service at Amherst Presbyterian Church is available here. The video that I sent to Berkeley Springs Presbyterian Church to use in worship this morning is opposite this. As usual, the sermon is about the Messiah. The Hebrew word Messiah and the Greek word Christ both mean the same thing and are used interchangeably. But since search engines don’t know to search for Messiah and Christ as synonymns we will say Messiah another three times: Messiah, Messiah, Messiah. This is the third of three efforts at testing Jesus. Since the Lectionary skips the second one this month, the introduction to this sermon brings in the main point of that second test too. In any case, I hope that this sermon about the Jewish Messiah whose name is Jesus is one that will drive you to deeper comtemplation of His grace.
The Jewish people expected that the Messiah would explain everything. They anticipated that He would answer all of their questions. And they had a lot of questions about religious matters. Shelby, who is of Jewish descent, likes to say that if you have three rabbis in a room then you will get four different interpretations and they will all tell you that they are right. Maybe that’s why there were so many different groups including the Samaritans, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Herodians, the Essenes, and the Zealots. In the Gospel of John, the Samaritan woman at the well said to Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things” (John 4:25). Then Jesus revealed to her that He is the Messiah. This was after they went back and forth regarding the central dispute between the Samaritans and the Jews. The Samaritans didn’t want to go down to Jerusalem to worship. They wanted to worship on their own mountain. She asked Jesus about this and He basically said that the Samaritans were wrong, the Jews were right, but that things were changing. The Sadducees also got big things wrong. They didn’t believe in the final resurrection, they didn’t believe in angels, and they apparently agreed with the Samaritans that only the Torah of Moses is authoritative. They too had a question for Jesus. Moses had regulated a longstanding practice of levirate marriage: if a husband died without children, then his brother would marry the widow. So the Sadducees imagined a scenario where a wife goes through seven husbands and never had any children and then she died. Then they asked Jesus, “In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her” (Matthew 22:28). But the Sadducees didn’t genuinely wonder whose wife she would be in the resurrection. They were trying to stump Jesus and show what they believed to be the absurdity of a final resurrection. Jesus’ answer shows that the Sadducees were wrong and the Pharisees were right. The Pharisees believed in angels and that there would be a final resurrection. These beliefs were popular at the time but no one had ever refuted the Sadducees so decisively. The Sadducees were speechless and the crowd was stunned because Jesus said, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:29-32). The Sadducees had tried to use the Torah of Moses to defeat Jesus in front of the people, but He demonstrated that they failed to understand it. So now the Pharisees see their opportunity. It was a last ditch effort to test Jesus and get another leg up on the Sadducees. So they sent one of their experts in the Torah of Moses to test Jesus. Listen to how Jesus passed the third test:
The Pharisees already knew the answer to their question about the great commandment in the Torah of Moses but they didn’t keep it or the second great commandment.
If Jesus had asked the lawyer which is the greatest commandment in the Torah of Moses and which is the second greatest commandment, then the lawyer would have given the same answer that Jesus did. In the parallel passage in Mark, Jesus answered the scribe who asked, “Which commandment is the most important of all?,” saying, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe replied, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that He is one, and there is no other besides Him. And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And in Jesus’ reply, He said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:28-34). So the scribe agreed with Jesus that these are the first and second greatest commandments in the Torah of Moses. In Luke, a lawyer tried to put Jesus to the test asking, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus asked him, “What is written in the Torah? How do you read it?” And the lawyer said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-27). This scribe or lawyer knew the right answer. The Pharisees knew the right answer. They called the great commandment the Shema. Shema is Hebrew for “Hear,” which is the first word in the passage that Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:4ff. And the Pharisees knew that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor. They understood that these two commandments together summarize the whole of their duty to God and other people in the Torah of Moses and the Prophets. (But while the Pharisees knew in their minds the first and second greatest commandments, they broke these same commandments in their minds.)
The Pharisees, one of whom our passage says asked Jesus this question to test Him, did not love God with their whole mind or love their neighbor in their mind. We saw last Sunday that the Pharisees had plotted how to entangle Jesus in His words (Matthew 22:15). So they sent their disciples and some Herodians to test Jesus. And Matthew tells us that Jesus was “aware of their malice” (Matthew 22:18). He knew what was on their minds. This is why Matthew’s abbreviated quote from the Shema ends with “and with all your mind” instead of adding “and with all your strength” as I quoted from Mark (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30). Jesus knew what they were thinking—they were testing Him. And Jesus exposed what they were thinking by asking, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is He?” (Matthew 22:42). Jesus was their neighbor but their thoughts weren’t loving toward Him. Jesus was their Messiah but their thoughts weren’t loving toward God. They tested God like their fathers did while wandering in the wilderness. They thought that the question about the greatest commandment was a clever gotcha question because the Shema says that the Lord is one and they understood that Jesus was claiming to be the Lord. They wanted to charge Jesus with blasphemy so that they could have Him killed. The Pharisees were pretending to be good when Jesus was the only completely authentic one around. That’s why last Sunday we heard Jesus calling their disciples “hypocrites” (Matthew 22:18). Jesus repeatedly calls the Pharisees hypocrites in the next chapter of Matthew where among other charges Jesus says to them, “So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28). (Jesus knew the Pharisees were actors who pretended to love God and their neighbor. Jesus knew that the Pharisees were breaking the first and second greatest commandments in their minds because Jesus knew their thoughts were full of hate toward Him. Therefore Jesus tested the Pharisees by essentially asking, “What do you think of me?” Jesus said, “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is He?”)
The commandment-breaking Pharisees needed a commandment-keeping Messiah, the son of God, who would take the curse they deserved.
The Pharisees needed a Messiah who is more than just the son of David—they needed a Messiah who would keep the first and second greatest commandments. When Jesus asked the Pharisees whose son the Messiah is, they said, “The son of David” (Matthew 22:42). David was a man after the Lord’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14), but David would later famously steal another man’s wife and then have him killed to cover it up. Even the Pharisees would have to agree that King David was far from perfect. However, Jesus perfectly fulfilled these commandments. Indeed, Jesus passed the Pharisee’s test because He not only knew the right answer but also because He actually kept those commandments. He loved God with all His heart, soul, and mind and He loved His neighbors enough to die for them. He was authentic. He was totally devoted to God from the inside out. He loved His bride the church as His own body and He did die for her. He fulfilled these commandments for His people and representing them, He died for their sins. (Yes, the Pharisees needed a Messiah who was more than just the son of David—they needed a Messiah who is the divine Son of God.)
Jesus is the Son of God who is able to save. Jesus is Lord, which is why He could die for the sins of His people. Jesus Christ is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. And all of the kings of the earth will be put under His feet in submission. The Pharisees’ answer was that the Messiah is the son of David. So Jesus quoted Psalm 110:1, a psalm of David, that says, “the Lord said to my Lord,” and then asked them how David’s son could be David’s Lord. Reflecting the three tests in Matthew 22 of the denarius, the woman with seven husbands, and now the great commandment: Jesus Christ is the very image of God, the groom of His church, and the Lord of David who loves His God and His people. Thus Jesus Christ showed the Pharisees and Sadducees that they did not know the Scriptures. He was the one who got a leg up on both the Sadducees and Pharisees. They were among the enemies of Christ that God would put under His feet. Indeed, the passage concludes, “No one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him any more questions” (22:46). Jesus had beaten them at their own game. (He was precisely the Messiah they needed. But what remained at this point to be seen was whether these Pharisees would renounce their father Satan and begin to follow Jesus. But enough about them. What about you? What do you think of the Messiah?)
We who follow the Messiah Jesus show how grateful we are to God for our salvation when we keep the first and second greatest commandments.
I’m not talking about being able to keep up the outward appearances of law keeping. Even the Pharisees and Sadducees were respectful enough to call Jesus, “Teacher.” Even they tried to flatter Jesus with words like, “We know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances” (Matthew 22:16). It is true: Jesus is not swayed by appearances. He knows your hearts and minds. And because Jesus is the Lord, the greatest commandment includes loving Jesus. That is, total devotion to love God with all of your heart, soul, and mind includes loving Jesus. The commandment itself isn’t about outward appearances and sacrifices. The commandment itself recognizes that genuine gratitude begins on the inside—the heart, soul, and mind. Indeed, gratitude is an attitude that believers have because of what God did for us. (God sent the Messiah Jesus to die for our sins. The Sadducees and Pharisees didn’t know the Scriptures and the power of God. Do you? What do you think of the Messiah?)
If you trust in Jesus for your salvation, then Jesus Christ has resurrected your innermost being by breathing into you His Spirit so that you would be able to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself. He seeks out those who will totally devote their bodies to God because they are being renewed in the image and likeness of God, those who will become wholly devoted to Him as their one and only husband, and those who will completely submit to Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But none of us are all the way there yet. He is still at work renewing us in the image of God. He is still at work purifying us as His virgin bride. He is still at work conquering our hearts and minds. He has made us want to love God and one another. He has made us able to love God and one another. And yet we still live in this old age where we sin. Nevertheless, whenever we do love God and our neighbor, it is the result of our heart’s gratitude for our salvation. All of the glory belongs to God and God alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.