But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And 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.” Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said 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?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Two questions asked by two different people. Both questions are important. Get both answers wrong and you distort the Christian faith into another false religion of morals and niceties. Get one out of two answers wrong and you still distort Scripture to your peril. Answer both correctly and you distinguish and understand God’s Law and God’s Gospel.
These questions are not child’s play. Which is the great commandment in the Law? It would be easy for Jesus to answer the way He does in Matthew chapter 23. Jesus pronounces multiple woes over the scribes and Pharisees. Both groups miss the forest for the trees. Jesus’ opportunity to get His shots in comes later. For now, He focuses on the great commandment: love.
Our Lord’s answer to the Pharisees’ question is love. 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.
That last sentence condemns the Pharisees. They once taught God’s people the Law and the Prophets in order to keep them connected to God’s promise of the Messiah. Over time, the focus had shifted from Messiah to dos and don’ts. Do eat certain foods. Don’t have anything to do with Gentiles. Wash your hands, utensils, plates, and cups a certain way. 613 dos and don’ts were taught. Messiah faded into the background. Soon it seemed as if Messiah equaled 613 dos and don’ts. The institution of being a Jew got in the way of what it meant to be a Jew: to live in the certain hope of the Second Adam Who comes to make all things new.
The Pharisees taught love, but it was a love of self. They taught a love of an institution rather than the love of God. The words of Moses in today’s Old Testament reading are directed to the Pharisees as much as to you and to me: Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
You are a sojourner. Here you have no continuing city. You look to God as the Giver of every good earthly and spiritual thing. God gives you the ability to be shrewd when it comes to your money and possessions. Yet your love for both God and neighbor falls short of God’s expectation. You try to repair your circumcised heart with stitches of self-preservation and self-righteousness. You love the institution of Christianity, but could do without actually living the Christian faith in your vocations. Your love for both God and neighbor is at your convenience. You bribe God. You demand partiality, especially when it benefits your needs.
So what do you think about the Christ? Is He your divine enabler who comes to make sure you do as you’re told? Does He come to point the finger at all “those” people who don’t do as you do? Or, worse yet, is He not Who He says He is?
The Pharisees get our Lord’s question half-right. He is the son of David. But if He is only the son of David, what does that say about His divine nature? The son of David alone has a human nature. So there’s the half-right portion of their answer. Jesus certainly has a human nature. But what about His divine nature? Jesus gives glimpses of His divinity in the signs and wonders He performs. He is able to examine the hearts of those whom He comes into contact. So how do you handle Psalm 110:1, the verse Jesus quotes to the Pharisees, if you don’t believe Jesus is both God’s Son and David’s son?
That’s the question I ask every Jehovah’s Witness I meet. They have to deny our Lord’s divine nature to be consistent with their teaching. They fall into the ancient heresy of saying that the Uncreated cannot become the Created. God is not able to become man. So they punt the question and say that Jesus is the archangel Michael before His conception and after His crucifixion.
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? If you miss the correct answer to this question, then you destroy the Christian faith. The Pharisees answer the question with silence. They don’t, or won’t, answer the question. In fact, from that day no one dared to ask Him any more questions. It is better for the Pharisees to remain silent rather than incriminate themselves and confess the Truth. Confessing the Truth means to put an end to their institutional lie.
Hear, O Pharisees. Hear, O sinner. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. Return to the Lord your God. Return to Him and believe that He is both David’s son and David’s Lord. Believe that Jesus Christ is true man, born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried for you. He is a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. He weeps. He hungers. He thirsts.
Believe also that Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity. He redeems you from the fiery pit of hell with His blood as the all-sufficient price of your salvation. His righteousness covers you through water and the Word in your baptism. He rises from the dead, lives, and reigns for all eternity for you. No man is able to make the payment for sin that Jesus makes on your behalf. No man rises from the dead triumphant over death, sin, and the devil except the God-man Jesus Christ. No mortal man sets His enemies, your enemies, under His feet, under your feet, as a footstool.
Jesus Christ does this for you. He is both David’s son and David’s Lord. He alone is able to love as the Father expects you to love. Jesus applies His love for God and for neighbor to you in His vicarious satisfaction for sin. His Holy Spirit connects you to the gifts of forgiveness and life that deliver the benefits of Christ’s satisfaction for your sin, especially the Lord’s Supper, where His Body and Blood is for you under bread and wine.
The result of answering both questions is clear. In Jesus Christ, you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.