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The Greatest Commandment

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

The Giving of the Ten Commandments

34When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And 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. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

      41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

44“‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’?  45If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. Matthew 22:34-46

With these words, Jesus sums up the entire Law of God.  Indeed, as noted elsewhere in the Bible, Love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10).  Love God and Love neighbor are the two tables of the Law.  This is what is taught in our confirmation classes.  The First Table, Love for God, has to do with Commandments 1-3, Having no other god before the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Not misusing God’s Name, and not despising the preached Word.  The Second Table, Love for Neighbor, has to do with Commandments 4-10, Honoring Father and Mother, Not murdering, not committing adultery, not stealing, not bearing false witness, and not coveting.

But by keeping these commandments of God, summed up with that word, Love, we are not saved.  So St. Paul writes, The law is not of faith, but ‘the man who does them shall live by them’ (Galatians 3:12).  He also says, As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:10-11).

To be saved by the law, you would have to be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).  Such you are not.  And neither am I.  By the law is not salvation, but condemnation.  By the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20).  Salvation must come another way.  It comes by way of Christ.  Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:13-14).  By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Law shows us our sin.  And just by those few words of our Lord from our text, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  And You shall love your neighbor as yourself, our Lord convicts us all, even the Pharisees to whom He was speaking (Matthew 22:37, 39).  If it was just a matter of outwardly doing what God says, that would be one thing.  This is what the Jews of Jesus’ day and the Sons of Israel thought.  They believed that just going through the motions of sacrifice and giving lip service that they were doing their good works to God.  It was as Isaiah the prophet writes, These people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men (Isaiah 29:13).

There is such a thing called ‘civil righteousness’, which all are able to do.  By civil righteousness, I mean the ability to follow the outward doings of human law, like keeping the ordinances, statutes, and laws of the local, state, and federal governments.  But by these we are not saved.  Doing them is a good thing and serves our own interests of not being punished for doing what the law requires, as well as serving society and keeping order.  But before God, just ‘doing the doing’ is not sufficient for eternal life.

To some extent, too, we are able to keep God’s law, at least the external side of side of it.  A number of years ago, surveys revealed that most people believed that they would be going to heaven because they’ve done just that, that is, kept the law outwardly; they haven’t murdered, they have stolen, and they haven’t committed adultery.  But by this way of thinking, they were greatly mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the nature of God’s law.  It is true that they might not have done those things outwardly, but it is not true that those people have done those things inwardly.

Not committing adultery also means having chaste and decent thoughts.  Not murdering also means not hating.  Not stealing also means not wanting something that is not yours.  When God says, Love your neighbor as yourself, He means love others as you would like to be loved.  This includes the heart, not only the show of love.  God even goes further and tells us to love our enemies.  He says, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).  It’s easier to love someone who loves you back.  But here, God would have us love even those who don’t love us.

By ourselves, this is impossible, but as we look to Christ, we see Him loving us, even as fear, love, and trust in Him above all things on our part be lacking because of our sinfulness.  But even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  It is of God who shows mercy, not because of any merit or worthiness in us, but because of who He is (Romans 9:16). Our God is a God a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth (Psalm 86:15).

Because our God is these things towards us, though we deserve them not, so His Word also takes root in our hearts, and thus we are so towards others, in Christ, even as St. John writes in his first epistle (letter), Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7-11)

Love others we begin to do because of God’s love towards us.  And though our love be imperfect, God’s love towards us is not.  In Christ, full forgiveness is ours.  He paid the penalty for all of our sinfulness.  No sin is left remaining against us on account of Christ.  Though we don’t love our neighbor, all who around us, even within our own family, as we should, on account of Christ, these sins are not held against us as we cling to God’s Son in faith.  This is not, however, reason to forsake God’s law.  We should not keep on sinning because we are forgiven.  Nor are we to continue in sin that grace may abound (Romans 6:1).

God’s Law, summed up by the Word, Love, is not an option, nor does the Gospel mean that God’s law can be set aside.  This might be the understanding of many within Christendom, but it is not God’s way.  Just because God is love doesn’t mean that He accepts sinful behavior.  Nor does it mean that tolerance is to be the watchword in the church towards couples living together before marriage, homosexuality, and the dumbing down of God’s doctrine for the sake of mission.  Our God is a God of love, but He is not a permissive God who lets anything and everything go.  This is not forgiveness.  Forgiveness has to do with Christ on the cross.  On Mt. Calvary is where God meeted out just punishment for the sin of the world.  By our works and according to our own inclinations we have God’s mercy not.  Only in Christ we do.

God’s Word still stands.  Being God’s people doesn’t mean that we do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want.  Being God’s people means that, baptized into the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we live according to His Word, not our own.  This we do by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  God’s purpose for our life doesn’t have to be figured out or searched out, as is the popular thing to do among many in Christendom.  God’s purpose for you is to be found in His Word.  Christ’s words of Loving God and loving neighbor are all encompassing.  There’s nothing left for us to figure out according to these words.  Here, Christ is crystal clear.  All the books in the world, as popular as they might be, add nothing to the summation of God’s law with the word Love.

By love, I do not mean that we get right with God by us doing.  God’s commands still stand.  His Word we are to keep regardless of what we think or feel.  But loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and loving our neighbors as ourselves won’t save us.  Only Christ does.  By Him are our sins not counted against us.  And thank God that this is the case.  If it wasn’t, all would lost and for naught.

To God, we have faith and are saved.  But while we live in the world, God would have us live in love towards Him in our hearts and by what we say and do.  He would also have us love our neighbors as ourselves, even our neighbors that we believe not to deserve it.  As God loves us, so also are we to love others. Loving God above all things has to do with loving His Christ, believing in Him alone for salvation, for there is salvation in none other (Acts 4:12).  Loving God also means keeping His Word, His doctrine, pure and undefiled.  Loving neighbor means not only letting the little things go that trouble us, but also speaking the truth in love.  Loving neighbor also means bearing one another’s burdens, looking out for the interests of others, giving respect to whom respect is due and giving honor to whom honor is due (Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4; Romans 13:7).

With love towards others, we live in the world.  But by our love, eternal life is not ours.  We confess our sins for this very reason, for we have not done as we ought.  But God’s love in Christ covers our lovelessness, and by Him, do we begin to love others, even as He loves us.  Amen.

The peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Mt22.34-46, Pentecost 19, 2011, Outline & Notes

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Christ Opens to Us the Scriptures

    13That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

      28So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.  [Luke 24:13-35 (ESV)]

Common in the post-resurrection accounts of our Lord is the fact that even His own disciples, those who were with Him during His ministry before His death, believed Him not.   Though they had His word, that very Word through which He revealed to them what would be, not only that Word of His death, but even that of His glorious resurrection, His followers didn’t believe it.  Time after time He told them of what was to come, but they didn’t understand.  And after third day, the words of the women declaring to the 11 that Jesus was alive seemed like an idle tale (Luke 24:11).

Thomas, called Didymus, was not there when the Lord first appeared to the others behind closed door for fear of the Jews.  In unbelief, he declared to the 10, Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger, into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe (John 20:25).  Like the others before him, the word others was not enough.

As of yet, they hadn’t put two and two together, that the words of Jesus spoken were as good as done.  Though everything else seemed contrary to what the Lord had said, Jesus was then dead three days, and sadness and sorrow filled the air, it was what the Lord had spoken that would surely come to pass.  Though Jesus truly did die, as He had said, so would He truly rise from the dead on the third day.  It would be no other way.  Otherwise, Jesus is not God and you are still in your sins.

This is not the case, for Jesus has risen, just as He said.  For you He died.  For you He rose, that sin no longer overcome, and that eternal death you not face, all your sin being put on Christ.  You bear that load no more.  Jesus, having taken all that was yours that was against God, has become your Savior.  Those things God knows not any longer, for they are far from Him, as far as the east is from the west, says the Psalmist (Psalm 103:12).  They can harm you none.  We stand completely reconciled and at peace with our God.

This is the joyous Easter message that permeates the Christian church loud and clear.  It cannot remain hidden.  Its sound cannot be muffled.  Though the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ fall on deaf ears, on hearing ears will the good news also fall.  There, the Word will be planted, sprout and grow, bearing fruit and producing, some thirty, some sixty, and some hundredfold (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23).

Where the Word is, there also Christ will be.  Where Christ is, there will also be faith.  That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name, God gives the Holy Scriptures (John 20:31).  He opens to you His Word and there reveals your Savior.  If He not do this, your eyes would remain closed and blind.

To unbelieving Thomas, Jesus appeared.  Our Lord Christ showed Himself to His disciple that Thomas’ disbelief turn to faith…then Thomas cried, My Lord and My God (John 20:28).  It is that you believe in Him that God has His word preached, that you hold fast to Christ, your Savior and your Redeemer.  Only in Him do you have eternal life and only through Him are your sins forgiven.

God in His grace and according to His abundant mercy, doesn’t leave you in the dark.  He sheds light, His true light, upon our darkened world, even upon you.  Though you be helpless, the Lord comes to your aid.  Though you be weak, God gives strength.  Though you be sad and sorrowful, God gives comfort and joy.

Like the two on the road to Emmaus, the Lord Jesus speaks to you His very Word that you believe and continue in the faith.  Those two disciples, not of the then 11, were down and out concerning the events of the Lord’s suffering and death.  They had hoped that Jesus of Nazareth would be the ONE to redeem Israel.  They had heard the news of the women who were at the tomb and came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive.  But they didn’t believe it.  They didn’t recognize the Lord Jesus for who He was.

It is also this way with us.  Jesus becomes obscured and His promises unrecognizable when we go by what we see and not by what our Lord Jesus says.  Like Peter who began to sin when He took His eyes off Jesus as he walked on water, so also our attention on Christ becomes distracted by that which befalls us.

Not everyone has strong faith in the midst of great trial and tribulation.  Though the Lord’s Word be present, it doesn’t always hit home.  God appears to be speaking in the distance, but not right here in front of us.  We can’t make sense of God’s promise on account of what we’re facing.

This is not because what God says is ineffective.  It is because we’re weakened by circumstance and have trouble seeing the radiance of God’s SON for the clouds blocking Him.  Not only this, but our eyes say something different than what God says in His Word.  Though the spirit be willing, our flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).

Imagine those two walking toward that village Emmaus.  Everything that they knew to be true to their experience testified against the Lord’s resurrection, everything except the Lord’s Word and work.  But in the midst of their sadness, they could not see the light.  They could not remember what was before because of what was then in the present.

The Lord Jesus walks with such as these.  Though the two didn’t recognize Him, Jesus didn’t turn from them in anger or bitterness.  Instead, He walked with them, even asking the reason for their sorrow.  Even though He already knew, He asks for their sake, that He point them to Himself.

We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 14:16).

The Lord made known to them that Christ’s suffering and death was foretold in the OT and that Christ was indeed the Messiah, the ONE who would redeem Israel. Indeed, He was, but not with corruptible things, like silver or gold…with His precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:18-19).

What the two had not yet understood was that it was through Jesus’ own death that He Himself would put sin to death and usher in new life by means of His resurrection.  Where sin has ceased, so has death.  There, the hope of life remains.  This is testified by the ONE who Himself rose from the dead and gives life to all who believe in Him.

The hearts burned within the two as they walked to Emmaus as Jesus spoke to them concerning Himself, beginning with Moses and the prophets.  Here, Jesus points the right way to interpret the Old Testament and all of Scripture, through Himself.

Earlier, Jesus had declared to the Jews, You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me (John 5:39).  Here, Jesus is not talking about the NT, for that had not yet been written.  It is the Old Testament to which He refers.

In another place, it is written concerning the Holy Scriptures, meaning the OT, that they are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15).  The reason this is so is because the OT is about Christ, as is the New Testament.  Jesus is the center.

Even if your mind be clouded, even if your eyes not see, even if what you know by this word’s standards would keep you from seeing the Lord’s Christ and believing His promises, the Lord doesn’t leave you alone in unbelief.  He gives you His very Word that you believe against what you see, contrary to what your eyes tell us, and according to what He Himself bestows through your ears and into your mouths.

Significant it is that on the road and talking with Jesus, the two didn’t recognize Him.  But as Jesus took bread and blessed it and broke and gave it to them, then their eyes were opened.

We have seen these words before.  In the upper room with the Lord’s disciples, on the night when He was betrayed, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it (Matthew 26:26).  In the feeding of the 5000 (Luke 9:16), then in the feeding of the 4000 (Matthew 15:36), Jesus did the same thing.  He took bread, blessed it, and broke it.

At that moment, they recognized Jesus for who He was.  It was Jesus, alive from the dead, just as the others had said.  In the breaking of the bread, there eyes were opened.  With them all along was the risen Lord, preaching His Word, giving comfort, and testifying to the truth of His salvation.  Then He vanished from their sight.

Right then and there, Jesus left them, believing.  His Word and the blessed bread, these were sufficient to bring about the recognition of Christ the Lord, to quicken faith, and to cast away any doubt.

The Lord continues to give you His Word and bestow upon you His grace, that you believe and remain believing in Him who died and rose again, and that you, with the two on the road to Emmaus, recognize Christ for who He is, your Savior from death and the giver of eternal life, indeed, the Messiah.

By means of His Word and then in the sacramental meal, the Lord Jesus strengthens the weak and gladdens the heart.  The Lord does not leave you alone.  Nor does He leave you in despair, sadness, sorrow, or doubt.  He continues to come to you that we hold fast to him, in life and in death.

Only, don’t ignore His Word or His promises, for doing so is a sure sign of unbelief.  Do not despair, but place your confidence in Christ.  Cast all your burdens upon Him, for He does care for you (Psalm 55:22).  Wait on Him and take heed to His Word.  Times of refreshing and joy are sure to come.  Amen.

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