Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder
October 23, 2011 Pentecost XIX
Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Psalm 1, I Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46
From the Book of Deuteronomy:
And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great and terrible deeds which Moses wrought in the sight of all Israel.
From the First Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians:
So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, to test Him.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Throughout Jesus’ life and ministry He was tempted and questioned. Sometimes the questions were sincere and other times there was evil intent. But part of Jesus’ mission was to help mankind understand God and His expectations. Quite often Jesus would talk in parables or stories to help people understand. When Jesus answered peoples’ questions, they were astounded, especially the religious leaders, of Jesus’ wisdom and understanding of the scriptures.
How fortunate the people of Jesus’ day were, that they were able to talk to Jesus directly and get an immediate answer. Today we pray to God for guidance, direction and answers to questions that we feel important. What is hard for us to accept is that God always answers our questions or prayers, but we don’t always know or hear the answer. The answer might be yes or no or not yet. He might answer us by speaking directly to us; He might answer us through a friend; or He might answer us when we meditate on His Holy Word.
Last week’s gospel reading had a Sadducee ask Jesus a question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax.” And they brought him a coin. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This silenced them and they went away. Even the crowds were astonished and amazed at His answer.
There was another question that day by the Sadducees about the resurrection. Jesus answered that God was not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:32).
The Pharisees probably enjoyed the embarrassment of the Sadducees, their enemy. One of the Pharisees admired Jesus’ answer and showed respect for the Lord and asked a question of his own: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” We have every reason to believe that he asked the question in sincerity and with a humble attitude.
This was not a new question, for the scribes had been debating it for centuries. They had documented 613 commandments in the Law, 248 positive and 365 negative. No person could ever hope to know and fully obey all of these commandments. So, to make it easier, the experts divided the commandments into “heavy” (important) and “light” (unimportant). A person could major on the “heavy commandments” and not worry about the trivial ones.
The fallacy behind this approach is obvious: You need only break one law, heavy or light, to be guilty before God. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).
Jesus quoted the “Shema” (Deut. 6:4), a statement of faith that was recited daily by every orthodox Jew. (The word Shema comes from the Hebrew word which means “to hear.” The confession of faith begins with, “Hear, O Israel.”) The greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are and have – heart, soul, mind, strength, possessions, and service. To love God is not to “have good feelings about Him,” for true love involves the will as well as the heart. Where there is love, there will be service and obedience.
But love for God cannot be divorced from love for one’s neighbor; so Jesus also quoted Leviticus 19:18 and put it on the same level as the Shema. All the Law and the Prophets hang on both of these commandments. We might add that the teachings of the Epistles in the New Testament agree with this statement. If a man really loves God, he must also love his brother and his neighbor (1 John 3:10-18; 4:7-21).
If we have a right relationship with God, we will have no problems with His commandments. Love is the basis for obedience. In fact, all of the Law is summed up in love (Rom. 13:8-10). If we love God, we will love our neighbor; and if we love our neighbor, we will not do anything to harm him.
But Jesus had a deeper meaning to convey in this marvelous answer. The Jews were afraid of idolatry. When Jesus claimed to be God, they opposed Him because they could not believe it was right to worship a creature. Jesus received worship and did not rebuke those who honored Him. Was this idolatry? No, because He is God! But if the Law commands us to love God and our neighbor, then it would not be wrong for the Jews to love Jesus. Instead, they were plotting to kill Him. He had said one day, “If God were your Father, you would love Me (John 8:42). They accepted the authority of the Law, yet they refused to obey it in their lives.
The scribe who had asked the original question seemed to be an honest and sincere man. Not all of the Pharisees were hypocrites. He publicly agreed with Jesus (Mark 12:32-33). This must have given his fellow Pharisees a fright. Jesus discerned that the man’s heart was sincere, and He commended him for his intelligence and honesty.
Jesus had now answered three difficult questions. He had dealt with the relationship between religion and government, between this life and the next life, and between God and our neighbors. These are fundamental relationships, and we cannot ignore our Lord’s teachings.
What better way to show our love for our neighbor than to share with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just as God uses people to bring the Gospel to the lost, so He uses people to nurture the babes in Christ and help lead them to maturity. The church at Thessalonica was born through the faithful preaching of the apostle Paul and his helpers, and the church was nurtured through the faithful pasturing that Paul and his friends gave to the infant church. This helped them stand strong in the midst of persecution.
The message of the Gospel is a treasure God has entrusted to us. We must not bury it; we must invest it so that it will multiply and produce “spiritual dividends” to God’s glory. Some Christians think that the church’s only responsibility is to protect the Gospel from those who would change it (Gal. 1:6-9). But we must also share the Gospel; otherwise, we are protecting it in vain. We sometimes spend a lot of time and energy worrying about how we are going to pay the bills and maintaining this building, and forget about what’s really important: Loving God and neighbor.
Paul and Silas had been beaten and humiliated at Philippi; yet they came to Thessalonica and preached. Most of us would have given up at the first sign of trouble, but Paul was courageous – he was not a quitter. He preached a “holy boldness” that was born of a love and dedication to God. Like the other Apostles before him, Paul boldly proclaimed the Good News (Acts 4:13, 29, 31).
There were times when Moses complained to God because his work was difficult and more than once he was ready to quit; but in spite of these very human weaknesses, Moses was a faithful servant.
Moses was faithful to walk with God, and he spoke to God as a man speaks to his friend (Ex. 33:11; Num. 12:7-8). The secret of his life wasn’t his own abilities – he claimed he had none – or even his education in Egypt (Acts 7:22), but his humble walk with the Lord. He spent time with God, he listened to God’s Word, he loved God and he followed God’s orders.
Another exemplary thing about Moses was his devotion to his people. On two occasions, God offered to wipe out the Jewish people and begin a new nation with Moses, and Moses rejected the offer each time (Ex. 32:9-14; Num. 14:10-25). Moses was a true shepherd who was willing to lay down his life for his sheep (Ex. 32:30-35). “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
There was a question that Jesus asked of His enemies. He did not phrase it the same way when He asked His disciples. “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15) These men who had been arguing with Him were not sympathetic with His cause, nor were they honest in their assessment of His credentials. Jesus had to take an indirect approach with His enemies. He made this sound like another theological question, when in reality it was the most important personal question they would ever face.
“Whose Son is the Messiah?” He asked them. As trained experts in the Law, they knew the answer: “He is the Son of David.” Once they had given this answer, Jesus asked a second question, this time quoting from Psalm 110:1 – “The Lord [Jehovah] said unto my Lord, “Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.’”
Every orthodox Jewish scholar interpreted this to refer to the Messiah. Only the Messiah could sit at the right hand of Jehovah God. Jesus believed in the inspiration and accuracy of the Old Testament Scriptures, for He said that David spoke these words “in the Spirit” (Matt. 22:43). Nobody dared to question the accuracy or the authority of the text.
“If the Messiah is David’s Son,” Jesus asked, “then how could Messiah also be David’s Lord?” There is only one answer to this question. As God, Messiah is David’s Lord; as man, He is David’s Son. He is both “the root and the offspring of David” (Rev. 22:16). Psalm 110:1 teaches the deity and the humanity of Messiah. He is David’s Lord and He is David’s Son.
When He was ministering on earth, Jesus often accepted the messianic title “Son of David” (Matt. 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31). The rulers had heard the multitudes proclaim Him as “Son of David” when He rode into Jerusalem. The fact that He accepted this title is evidence that Jesus knew Himself to be the Messiah, the Son of God. As God, He was David’s Lord; but as man, He was David’s Son, for He was born into the family of David (Matt. 1:1, 20).
The scholars in that day were confused about the Messiah. They saw two pictures of Messiah in the Old Testament and could not reconcile them. One picture showed a Suffering Servant, the other a conquering and reigning Monarch. Were there two Messiah’s? How could God’s servant suffer and die?
If the people had listened to what Jesus said, they would have learned that there was only one Messiah, but that He would be both human and divine. He would suffer and die as a sacrifice for sins. He would then rise from the dead in triumph, and one day return to defeat His enemies. However, these religious leaders had their own ideas, and they did not want to change. If they had accepted His teaching, then they would also have to accept Him as the Messiah; and this they were unwilling to do.
The result of this day of dialogue was silence on the part of His enemies. They dared not ask Jesus any more questions, not because they had believed the truth, but because they were afraid to face the truth. “For they did not have courage to question Him any longer about anything” (Luke 20:40). But neither did they have courage to face the truth and act on it.
Making a decision about Jesus Christ is a matter of life or death. It will determine where you spend eternity. The evidence is there for all to examine. We can examine it defensively and miss the truth. Or we can examine it honestly and humbly, and discover the truth, believe, and be saved. The religious leaders were so blinded by tradition, position, and selfish pride that they could not – and would not – see the truth and receive it.
Dare we not make the same mistake today!
Let us pray:
O Lord, most merciful and gracious God, who art the strength of all who put their trust in thee. Help us to realize the answers to our questions, but realizing the most important answer is belief in your Son, Jesus Christ. May we love you with all our heart, mind, and soul. And may we love our neighbor too. Give us the courage to proclaim your saving grace which has been made possible in the broken body and blood of your only begotten Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name we live and pray.