Sermon for Trinity 18

christ-pantocratorThere are different types of questions.

There are honest, sincere questions. We see such a question from the Blessed Virgin Mary when the angel announces that she will bear the savior. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” She doesn’t doubt, or mistrust, she just honestly does not understand. The angel answers her. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”

There are questions that come from doubt. Zechariah as he sacrificed in the temple, was told that he and Elizabeth would have a son. He asks, “How shall I know this, for I am an old man.”

Mary’s question “How can this be?” is actually a good one – after all, there are certain rules about how babies come to be, and she was simply not eligible to be a mother at that point.

For Zechariah, he doesn’t even ask how it could be – he asks, How shall I know this? How can I know you tell the truth. It is an honest question. But it arises from doubt, not sincere faith. The angel stands in front of him, and he asks for proof. That’s doubt. But at least it’s honest doubt.

Either question is better than the trap that they try and set for Jesus in today’s Gospel. The question that starts out sounding honest, but then, no matter how you answer, SNAP! you are caught.

That’s what the Pharisees have for Jesus. “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” They want him to say something that they can argue with. This think that, no matter what he chooses, they can trap him. Are you saying that this other law is not important? It’s the moral dilemma of the philosopher. Whatever you answer, he says, “But what about in this case? How can ignore this extreme and unlikely situation?” The goal is to try and get you to say that, well, God’s law maybe does have to be broken sometime. Maybe we do have to choose the lesser of two evils. Maybe we do have to sin. If your family is starving, do you steal a loaf of bread?

No. But what about this or that? Thou shalt not steal. If your neighbor is selfish enough that he will let you die while he has more than enough, that is his sin against the fifth commandment. But we don’t keep the fifth commandment by breaking the seventh. Moral dilemmas are designed to tug at the heart strings, but worse, they are designed to make you think that God’s law is not absolute. That, in this world of sin, you just sometimes have no choice but to sin. But God does not present you with situations where, no matter what you do, you must break his law. That’s post-modern philosophy at work. The voice of Satan. Did God really say?

Jesus doesn’t bite. “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He compresses the Law down to 2 statements. The first table of the Law he summarizes with “Love the Lord your God…” That’s already in Deuteronomy 6. Jesus isn’t making it up.

And the second “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s in Leviticus 19. It’s a summary of the second table of the Law. Of course, as the only Son of God, Jesus has the two tables of the Law down. He knows them. He was the one that gave them to Moses. He knows that the point of the law is not the law itself. The point of the law is love of God, and love of neighbor. Because that is what God created us to be. He created us to give glory to him, and to show love to our neighbor.

If you have a drill, but no saw, and you try and use the drill bit to cut a board, it’s slow going. It can be dangerous, depending how you do it. Drills weren’t designed to cut boards. You can try. But it wasn’t designed for that use, the end product will not be very good, and you could end up visiting the emergency room. Tools were made for a specific purpose. They are good for that thing. Outside of that thing for which they were made, they can be very bad. At least they will do the job poorly.

So, it’s entirely possible for people to reject their creator, make gods in their own image, and then selfishly ignore the needs of their neighbor, and instead just live to make themselves greater. But that’s not how God designed us to be. And lives lived like that are not happy lives. They are petty, greedy, power-hungry, proud lives that, in the big scheme, accomplish nothing, because there is no love shown to others. There may be huge monuments built to you. Foundations and buildings, and people the world over talking about how wonderful you are. But without love for your fellow man, it’s nothing so much as noise. That’s what you have. The noise of vain people cheering on other vain people. As Solomon said, “Vanity of vanities all is vanity.” The world seeks after wealth, and all that mammon offers. But never is content, though gold should fill its coffers.

The constant running after pleasure, after your heart’s desires, it gets you nothing in the end if you do not show love for others. Because God didn’t create you to selfishly serve yourself. And you can’t really find happiness that way. You can rent it for a time, like the prodigal son. But it always ends badly. And such thoughtless living is never a means to fulfillment. People today try to create their own reality, decide what they want to be, and then go after it, as if that in some way offers them any real peace. Instead, God calls us to serve our neighbor in our lives. To show love to those around us. It’s what he made us to be and do. And those who are happiest, who are most content in life are those who live according to God’s plan as set out in the Ten Commandments. That’s not just pastor preaching the Law because of course he does. They’ve done studies. Those who go off and, as it’s described in the Prodigal Son, “Waste his property with riotous living” are not nearly as happy. Even though they may be thrifty, they may not squander money. It may be their dignity, their honor, their virtue that they treat cheaply. Their time and effort – serving themselves instead of others. It may be many things. Our sinful hearts produce idols like a giant factory. But those who live outside of God’s Law are not as happy as those who – at least try – to live according to the Ten Commandments – to love the Lord their God, to love their neighbor as themselves.

So the answer must just be to try hard. If we do that, we are happy, we live a content life, and God is pleased with our efforts.

The problem is that’s another idol – pride. It isn’t about you. The question of the scribes and Pharisees to Jesus shows that they think it’s about what they do. It isn’t. Jesus turns it back on them – whose Son is the Messiah? Because if you don’t acknowledge God, you haven’t even made it to the first commandment without sinning. You aren’t going to get through the other nine.

Of course, we know that even if we try, we fail. We can’t live according to God’s command. The world is just filled with sinners who – well they sin. That’s what we do. And it not only makes for difficulty in our lives, it makes us worthy of punishment both now and forever.

That’s why Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Because we couldn’t do it on our own. We need Jesus to help because we are lost and condemned persons.

That’s what Jesus talks about in the second part – when he asks the Pharisees a question – how is David, who is the ancestor – the Father – of Jesus also subject to Jesus as his servant? The answer of course is that Jesus is more than just true man – born of the Virgin Mary. He is also true God, begotten of His father from eternity. He is the Son of God, very god of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

That’s who Jesus is. Both son and Lord. He is the one to save you. He does it not with gold or silver, not with fancy speeches or political power. He does it with his holy precious blood, and with his innocent suffering and death. That’s why he was there getting tested by the leaders of the people in the first place – because he died for their sin, too. Just as surely as he died for your sin. You need to the Christ right, because he’s the one who is the way to the Father.

It isn’t about what you can do, and it never was. It’s not you doing for God. It’s him doing for you. He is the one who must be God and Lord.

David calls him Lord. What does it mean to have a Lord? Luther says,

But what is it to become Lord? It is this, that He has redeemed me from sin, from the devil, from death, and all evil. For before I had no Lord nor King, but was captive under the power of the devil, condemned to death, enmeshed in sin and blindness.

28] For when we had been created by God the Father, and had received from Him all manner of good, the devil came and led us into disobedience, sin, death, and all evil, so that we fell under His wrath and displeasure and were doomed to eternal damnation, as we had merited and deserved. 29] There was no counsel, help, or comfort until this only and eternal Son of God in His unfathomable goodness had compassion upon our misery and wretchedness, and came from heaven to help us. 30] Those tyrants and jailers, then, are all expelled now, and in their place has come Jesus Christ, Lord of life, righteousness, every blessing, and salvation, and has delivered us poor lost men from the jaws of hell, has won us, made us free, and brought us again into the favor and grace of the Father, and has taken us as His own property under His shelter and protection, that He may govern us by His righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness.

31] Let this, then, be the sum of this article that the little word Lord signifies simply as much as Redeemer, i.e., He who has brought us from Satan to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and who preserves us in the same.

That’s what it means to have Jesus Christ as Lord and God. It means that you are saved from your sins, rescued from death hell and the devil, and now are given eternal salvation. For Jesus sake, and in his name. Amen.

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