Trinity 18 Sermon, 2016
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Between husband and wife, friends, and family, we often develop our own secret language. We say things, we ask questions, and we don’t really want a response to what we say, we want a response to what we haven’t said.
For example, if I ask my wife the question, “What’s for dinner?” I’m really asking, “What are you fixing for dinner?”
Or if I say, “What movie do you want to watch?” what I mean is, “Here’s a movie I want to watch, tell me you want to watch it, too.”
Those scenarios, relatively speaking, are harmless.
But there is, very similar to those, a logical fallacy that can get you in trouble. You’ve heard of loaded questions, right?
One stereotypical example of a loaded question is: “Have you stopped beating your wife?” If you say No, you’ve just admitted to beating your wife. If you say Yes, you’ve just admitted to beating your wife.
The best way to answer a loaded question is to attack the assumption it makes.
In theology, one loaded question I’ve run into a few times is, “Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it?” It’s a loaded question, a terrible question, because it assumes God can and will defeat Himself. Either answer pits God against Himself and is therefore wrong and shouldn’t be asked.
In the Gospel lesson today, the Pharisees ask a kind of loaded question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36).
They want Jesus to pit the Word of God against itself.
It’s as if they say, “Tell us which commandments matter and which don’t,” as if some of God’s Word is relevant for us today and some isn’t.
They want to trap Jesus in the Word. To get Him to say something against God.
So consider how He answers:
“He said to them, ‘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’” (Matthew 22:37-40).
For the sake of thoroughness, Paul says roughly the same thing in Romans: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10).
It’s important to see the context going on around Jesus when He says this.
Jesus, True God, God in the flesh, is in their midst, teaching His Law to those who ask Him about it.
And they want to kill Him.
But Jesus is also True Man, their brother, their neighbor, and they test Him, they try to trap Him, because they hate Him and want to publicly shame Him.
The great and first commandment is to love God, and to love God is nothing more than to believe in God as He is.
To have faith.
To confess the Holy Trinity: God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It’s not enough to believe in a higher power, it’s not enough to “just believe,” it’s not enough, even, to believe in “God,” because we have to ask the question, “What do you mean by ‘God’?”
The Pharisees believed in God, but they didn’t think Jesus was God. There are people today who claim Christianity, who’ll tell you that they believe in God, but they don’t worship Jesus. You may come across the point of view that says Jesus is the Son of God but not God.
This is why we go to church. This is why we confess the Creed. Moments ago, when you confessed the Nicene Creed, did you notice the words about Jesus, “being of one substance with the Father”? The Greek word for that is homoousious. It means the same substance, the same divine stuff.
This is why we go to church. This is why we’re baptized as Jesus commands: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
This is why our prayers so often conclude with what’s called a Trinitarian termination, something like: through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
Faith requires an object. You don’t just believe. You believe in—you fear, love, and trust in something.
To love the Lord your God with all your heart is to believe and confess God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To be that specific. And to accept nothing else.
Jesus tells the Pharisees that the greatest commandment is to love God, to love God’s Son, that love fulfills the Law. And they can’t stand that. They can’t stand the idea of loving someone else, even God in the flesh, before they love themselves.
So Jesus gives them the great and second commandment: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
To love your neighbor as yourself is a simple thing. Do good to your neighbor. Don’t gossip. Don’t steal. Don’t entice his friends to hate him behind his back. Don’t crucify Him under false charges. Look at the person who sins against you and see yourself. Serve them, for Christ’s sake, as you desire to be served.
The Law is a simple thing. Believe in God. Serve your neighbor.
And the Law is an utterly terrifying thing, because if you don’t believe in God (perfectly), if you don’t love and serve your neighbor (gladly, without complaint, perfectly) then you’ll burn forever. That’s as simple and as terrifying as the Law must be.
Now there are three ways to hear the Law. One, to disagree. God’s wrong. You’re not a sinner. You’re actually a pretty good person, on your way to being righteous. Two, to agree, and, in arrogance, to think things are fine. God’s right. You were a sinner. But now you’re a pretty good person, on your way to being righteous.
For those, there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The third way to hear the Law is this: agree that the Law is good and right. That you should and must believe in God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That you should and must do good to your neighbor. That you ought to be perfect. But that you are not able to be perfect. “Wretched man that I am! Who will [save] me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24).
Only when you hear the Law that way are you prepared to receive the Gospel. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).
Today, perfect comfort is found in Jesus’ question to the Pharisees and His explanation: “’What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’”
This is a loaded question, but it’s wonderful. Jesus traps them.
“They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ [And Jesus] 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” (Matthew 22:42-46).
What was a mystery for the Pharisees is, for us, today, the Gospel for the forgiveness of our sins.
The Christ, the son of David, is the Lord of all.
That is, the Lord of all, the Christ, the eternal Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, being of one substance with His Father, the Word became flesh and was born a son of David.
This isn’t a surprise. In Matthew chapter one, an angel of the Lord calls Joseph a “son of David.” In Luke chapter one, the angel tells Mary, “the Lord God will give [your son, Jesus] the throne of his father David” (cf. Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:32; Psalm 132:11). Jesus, by His mother and His guardian is a son of David. True Man. Our brother and neighbor.
Faithful to His Father with all His heart, soul, and mind, He was perfect in love toward us. He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but humbled Himself by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (cf. Philippians 2:6-7).
He endured the shame of the cross, our shame and sin, and died as the perfect payment in our place.
I know it’s not Christmas, but the Christmas hymn “We Three Kings” addresses the incarnation of Christ perfectly when it says, “Glorious now, behold Him arise, King, and God, and Sacrifice.”
That’s Jesus. That’s David’s Lord. That’s David’s son. That’s our Lord and God.
When you don’t believe and confess God as you ought. When you don’t love your neighbor as yourself. When you gossip, and lie, and lust, flee for refuge to God’s infinite mercy, flee for refuge to the eternal Son of God who became man and loves His neighbor perfectly.
Your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.
Then, teach others to do the same.
Confess your God at home, at school, at work, at dinner, and in the car. Whenever you’re required to defend the faith, defend it!
Defend the faith doesn’t mean “Yell until they kick you out of Walmart.” Defend the faith means don’t be ashamed of the Gospel: “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Jesus says: “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).
Love your neighbor. Do good to him. Help and be of service to him.
As God loves you, love your neighbor.
See yourself and everyone else as one whom God loves and forgives for Christ’s sake.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!