October 23, 2011
Emmanuel Lutheran Church—Dwight, IL
October 19, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church–New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Non sequitur is a Latin term that means, “it does not follow.” In literature, a non sequitur is a device used for surprise and, most often, humor. This device was brilliantly used in the old Monty Python sketches. After a little bit of humor, one of the Monty Python players would show up on camera and say, “And now for something completely different.” And that’s precisely what they’d give you. The humor was in how abruptly they’d change and how absurd the new setting was. You’d go from a man sitting in a cage at a typewriter to two men dressed in fatigues slapping each other with fish while dancing a jig.
When you hear today’s Gospel read, you’d almost except to hear John Cleese’s voice interrupt between verses 40 and 41 and say, “And now for something completely different.” Jesus shifts gears so abruptly, you can hardly imagine the Pharisees not giving a little chuckle. The Pharisees start us off at the greatest of God’s commandments, then Jesus turns it into a short dissertation on the person of Christ.
At first glance, it’s hard to understand Jesus’ non sequitur, but after peeling away a few layers, you see that these two—God’s commandments and the person of Christ—have everything to do with each other. God’s commandments are what they are because Christ is who He is. And if you understand who Christ is, then you will understand not only how to keep the Law, but also how it has been kept and fulfilled for you.
The Greatest Commandments of God Rest on God’s Incarnation
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was always being challenged by one faction or another. None could argue with Him, none could prove from the Scriptures that He was deceiving them. They were so set in their own opinions that they would not listen to His Word, but instead grew resentful and despised Him.
“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 (vv 34-35). The Pharisees, you see, had it all figured out. They had the Law, they knew how to be Good Christian People. It wasn’t their own ideas, their own opinions that needed to be tested, but Jesus.
The Gospel never tests; it only gives. Testing is a function of the Law. And so the test proposed by this Pharisee was, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (v 36). The Pharisees may have spent great swaths of time discussing this very question, and it’s quite likely they each had their own opinions. Whatever Jesus would answer would be wrong in someone’s eyes.
And that makes Jesus’ answer all the more amazing. He doesn’t pick a commandment, but instead summarizes them. “And 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 first and great commandment’” (vv 37-38).
Before the Law was written on the scrolls of the Jews or on the tablets of stone in the wilderness, the Law of God was written on our hearts. The Law of God is the Law of love. Love the Lord your God.
But this isn’t the kind of Law that appeases our sinful hearts. We would rather a Law that we could hold over others, statutes from God that we can tell our neighbors, “See! I told you so.” We would rather a Law that inflates our own egos and gives us honor and admiration among men. But the Law of love calls us to humility, calls us to examine ourselves. And when we do, we find that we have loved God with only parts of our heart, or only a part of our souls, or part of our minds. The rest is dedicated to myself
There is a reason why this is the first and great commandment. The reason why we shall love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, and minds, is because God became man.
After the Jews put their question to Jesus to test Him, Jesus gives them something to ponder. “’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?’” (vv 41-45).
If you’re like me, you’re probably a bit turned around by Jesus’ question. The Pharisees also were confounded. “And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions” (v 46).
The key to answering this question is to confess Jesus Christ to be both God and man. The Pharisees were willing to let the Christ be the Son of David, that is, a gifted and spiritual man, but they could not bring themselves to believe that the Christ was also God Himself, in the flesh.
This is why the first and great commandment is to love the Lord your God, because God became man. There is no other creature in all of creation that God chose to unite with—not mountains, not cattle, not even angels. God chose to unite Himself to man.
And He did so precisely to redeem mankind. Even though He knew that His fellow men would put Him to the test, speak ill of Him behind His back, reject His Word and ultimately run Him out of town to be hung up on a cross, He still did it. What wondrous love is this? that God would descend from His lofty throne to humble Himself in the flesh of a baby boy, would place Himself at the mercy of cruel men, would suffer and die for you. This is why there is no greater command than to love God, for God first loved you.
But Jesus doesn’t leave the Pharisees with only one great commandment. “And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (vv 39-40). At this Word, the whole of the Law is summarized in two sentences: love God; love your fellow man. And the second great commandment is built upon the same foundation as the first. Love your fellow man, for God became man.
By His holy incarnation, our Lord raised up our fallen human nature. It wasn’t as though the Son of God transformed from God to creature, but He assumed our humanity—as we confess in the Athanasian Creed—into His divinity. Not even angels can claim that.
Christ redeemed mankind by His innocent suffering and death, but He was not finished when He lie in the grave. He rose again and forty days later He ascended into heaven, where He now sits at God’s right hand. His enemies of sin, death, and the devil are under His feet—they are defeated. And because they are under His feet, they are under yours.
When you love your neighbor as yourself, you are, in fact, fulfilling the first and great commandment to love God—because God became man. The Law of God isn’t simply an ethical checklist for an orderly society. The Law is what it is because Christ is who He is. He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age…Although His is God and man, He is not two but one Christ.
This is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith that has existed from the foundation of the Church, that was built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets. That God became man fulfills both of the two great commandments, which are the summary of the whole Law. Christ has done it all, and because He has done it all, the Law is no longer a requirement for you to fulfill, but rather a description of what Christ has done for you, and what faith in Him produces.
So if you want to keep the great commandments, if you want to obey God’s Law, the way to do so is to have faith. Believe that Jesus Christ is both God and man, that He is your redeemer, that He has loved you with a love that drove Him to the cross, that He has defeated your enemies and raised you with Him at God’s right hand.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard