Jesus makes it quite clear that the Pharisees are children of hell. Those are His exact words in Matthew chapter twenty-three when He says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15). And do you think we should follow the example of the children of hell? Of course not.
And yet, Jesus also says that the Pharisees should be obeyed in certain things. Also from chapter twenty-three, Jesus says, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3).
The Lutheran Confessions say the same thing in the Augsburg Confession, Article VIII, on What the Church Is: “Strictly speaking, the Church is the congregation of saints and true believers. However, because many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled within them in this life, it is lawful to use Sacraments instituted by evil men, according to the saying of Christ, ‘The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat.’ Both the Sacraments and Word are effective because of Christ’s institution and command, even if they are administered by evil men” (AC VIII.1-2).
There’s a more important point to make with what Jesus says in today’s Gospel lesson, but the context of what Jesus says includes this point about Pharisees and pastors. You need to know that if a pastor becomes a public scandal or if a pastor, later in life, denies the faith he taught you—that doesn’t invalidate what God did and said through him. Again, the Word and Sacraments are efficacious because of Christ’s institution and command. They’re not efficacious because of the pastor or even the pastor’s faith.
Consider, in the Roman Catholic Church, and even in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and in every denomination, the many victims of sexual assault by priests, pastors, and teachers. The Roman Catholic Church makes the news everywhere, but this past Thursday an LCMS pastor in Wisconsin was charged with child enticement. The fifty-three-year-old man thought he was texting a fifteen-year-old boy.
I bring this up because doubt is a tool of the devil used to pry you away from the Word and promises of God. If your teacher is found not to know the subject he teaches, you will doubt your education. If your mechanic can’t change the oil in his car or a flat tire, you will rethink where you take your car for service. So, when a pastor scandalizes children and it becomes known, you may very well doubt all that he’s done and said as pastor.
You need to know—just as Jesus called the Pharisees sons of hell and yet commanded that you do and observe what they tell you—even when a pastor becomes a public scandal, what God accomplishes using whatever instrument is used is good. St. Paul writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
But just as it is God who gives growth—it’s also God who prunes. And what Jesus says in the context of the Gospel lesson is severe pruning.
In the Parable of the Wedding Feast, Jesus concludes: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Those who reject the invitation to the feast—which is to all—are cast into the outer darkness. The many are called. All are. But few are chosen. Few rejoice at the invitation to believe in the Son of David.
Next, the Pharisees set a trap for Jesus, asking whether it’s lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. Jesus says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). They wanted Jesus to love God and hate the emperor, but Jesus speaks a greater truth: pay to the one you owe whatever is owed. And—God made all things. So, render to God that which is God’s.
Then, when the Sadducees—who deny the resurrection—ask about the resurrection, mocking it, Jesus minces no words, saying, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).
Then, today, “when the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] 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 [Jesus] 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’” (Matthew 22:34-40).
The Holy Spirit utilizes the Law to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment, that’s what Jesus says. Historically, Lutherans have observed that the Law, utilized by the Holy Spirit, has three faithful uses—as a curb, a mirror, and a guide. When you hear Jesus say, “Many are called, but few are chosen,” and “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s…” and “You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” and “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…soul…and mind…[and] your neighbor as yourself…”
When you hear Jesus say that, you might fear God in terror. This is the curb that limits evil with the threat of punishment.
When you hear Jesus say that, you might remember your own pride and greed and sloth and lust. The theological mirror of God’s Law shows us our sin. No one likes that.
And when you hear Jesus say those things, you might actually rejoice in the Law of God, having been brought through unbelief to repentance and faith and now love of God and neighbor.
To that end, then, take heed of Jesus’ warning. Clothe yourself in the wedding garment given to you at your Baptism, the righteousness of Christ. Redner to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and rejoice in the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation for all who believe in Jesus.
Jesus says all that He does desiring to bring us through fear and terror, through repentance, and into a living faith in the living God that actively seeks to obey His Word.
The large mistake in many a Lutheran sermon today, is for the pastor to imagine that he’s preaching to all unbelievers—to preach and teach as thought the hearer is not capable of loving God or neighbor.
Sermons that fall into this category proclaim the Law and repentance, desiring for you to despair of self and trust in Jesus—who did keep the Law for you and in your place—who lived perfectly for you—died perfectly for you—and was raised just as you will be raised.
All of this is true!
But do you notice how Jesus—and, indeed, all of Scripture—has more to say than “You’re a sinner, but Jesus. Amen!”?
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) has an infinite number of concrete applications. Whenever you cry foul, recognizing that someone has treated you just as shamefully as you have treated them, there are two reactions: stubborn and arrogant pride—or—humble and contrite faith.
When your politician is accused of sexual misconduct—blue dress in hand—do you defend him as unconditionally as you do your neighbor’s politician when he’s accused of whatever it is today by whoever it is today?
This world has fallen such that the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12), or, as Jesus says it today, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” this world has fallen such that we expect malice and gossip—because we’ll do exactly that when it’s our turn.
“Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).
The rest of what Jesus says in today’s Gospel lesson is vital, if we’re to be saved.
The Christ must be the Son of David. Must. Thus said the Lord to David by Nathan: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body…and I will establish his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son” (2 Samuel 7:12-14). The Pharisees knew this. They answer Jesus’ question correctly—but they don’t understand it.
Jesus says to them, “’What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David’” (Matthew 22:42).
You are to love God and neighbor perfectly—but not because by doing so you can merit salvation. This world is fallen such that the son of David’s death, alone, could not save us. But if the son of David—the Son of David—if the Son of David is also David’s Lord—if Jesus is not only truly man but also truly God—then when He dies for you, it is God and man in one person who dies for you, and then your sins are forgiven, the wrath of God is, indeed, appeased, and peace with God once more is made, Alleluia!
“’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” (Matthew 22:45)? Because God became flesh and dwelt among us, desiring to save His people from their sins and teach us the way of everlasting life.
Jesus—our brother, our God, our Lord, our Christ—teaches all of us who are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone—He teaches all of us the Law so we actually would and do keep it.
And to make sure I’m not misunderstood—this, again, is the distinction between Christians and non-Christians. If I were preaching to unbelievers, I couldn’t exhort you to good works, because “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
But you are Christians. Unlike the Pharisees, you heed the warnings of the Christ, and you rejoice in Jesus—David’s son and David’s Lord.
Jesus speaks to those who try to trap Him to shame their arrogant pride. He wants them to repent and be saved—or else be thrown into the outer darkness.
And Jesus speaks to those who know they cannot save themselves—to you and me—that we would rely on Him for salvation and then—actually do what He teaches.
Love God. Love your neighbor.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 18 Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt