Jesus Messiah, Our Lord

Jesus Messiah, Our Lord

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I don’t know who said it first but it’s a saying that certainly applies to this morning’s passage. As we saw last week, though the Pharisees and Herodians didn’t get along, nonetheless they joined forces to try and trap Jesus. Yet both groups ended up leaving amazed at the way in which he responded to their question about paying taxes. Next in the passage immediately following and before our own, the Sadducees tried their hand at tripping Jesus up by asking him about marriage at the time of the resurrection—even though they themselves didn’t believe in the resurrection. And they, too, were astonished at Jesus’ teaching. And though the Pharisees did believe in the resurrection and didn’t get along with the Sadducees, they nonetheless were aware of Jesus’ interaction with them as indicated in verse 34 of our passage: “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.” The Pharisees were nothing if not determined. Having failed to trap Jesus upon joining forces with the Herodians; having seen the Sadducees similarly silenced by Jesus; the Pharisees nonetheless had not given up in their attempt to entangle Jesus.[1]

So one of these “expert[s] in the law” tested Jesus with the question stated in verse 36: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Though as the passage indicates, the intent here is to test Jesus, it’s also possible that he’s being asked this question because there were rabbis who would discuss and seek to distinguish between “light” as opposed to “weighty” commandments in Scripture.[2] This kind of intellectual exercise brings to mind philosophers asking whether it’s possible for God to create a rock too heavy for him to lift. And given how many commands are contained in Scripture, my, oh my, how many choices there would be even if one were to limit oneself to the “top 10”![3] Would Jesus go with “Keep the Sabbath”? or maybe “Honor your father and mother”? How about “You shall not murder”? Perhaps “You shall not commit adultery”? or “You shall not steal”? But no, though these are all important commandments from God, Jesus for a change actually responded to their question directly. And he did so by providing the command that addresses the most important relationship any person could ever have—that of our relationship with the God who made us. This, no doubt, is why he identified this command from the book of Deuteronomy as being of greatest import. It occurs immediately after the shema, the foundational confession of Jewish belief: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”[4] The very next verse states Jesus’ response to the Pharisees, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”[5] As we saw last week, because we belong to God; because he made us in his image; because he made us for himself; because he made us, body and soul (or spirit), so that we could have a relationship with him, we are called to love him—with all our heart; with all our soul; with all our mind—that is, with everything that is in us, with all our being. And Jesus underscored the importance of his answer by noting again in verse 38, “This is the first and greatest commandment.”

But then Jesus went on to augment his answer beyond what the Pharisees’ had asked. So we read in verse 39, “And the second [greatest commandment] is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”[6] And with this, Jesus was no doubt hitting a little too close to home for many of the religious leaders who regularly challenged him professed love for God’s Word. Yet though they were expert teachers in the Scriptures, they too often were lacking in love for others. Law without grace can be brutal. Theses Pharisees were more interested in discussing which laws were weighty and which laws were light than they were in living out these laws as God had intended; which is to say, than they were in actually loving God and loving others as God intended. Yet, again, the God who made us in his image, having made us in his image, made us this way so we would, first and foremost love him and second that we would express love towards each other for all humans—all of us, male and female, young and old, rich and poor, healthy and suffering, happy and sad—are God’s image-bearers, equally made in his image and therefore equally made to love him—and equally made to love and care for one another.

This second commandment Jesus also took from the Scriptures. In the opening verse of the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus the LORD tells Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.’” The remainder of the chapter goes on to delineate key behaviors the LORD expects of us, many of which are also noted in the Ten Commandments.[7] The specific commandment quoted by Jesus comes from verse 18 of that chapter. After stating, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people,” we read, “but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” For God’s image-bearers, holiness means that we are to love as God loves—that we are to love him with all that is in us and we are to love one another as we love ourselves. We don’t need to be told to love ourselves, do we? We know the things we want; we know the ways in which we want others to treat us—with kindness, and generosity, and gentleness, and patience, and compassion to name a few. Then so should we act towards others.

But Jesus amplified his reply to the Pharisees with one more point in in verse 40: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” How so? How is it that all of not only the Law but also the Prophets hang on these two commandments? Well, think about it. God gave his law that we might know how we should live. For the most detrimental consequence of the Fall is that humans now choose to live according to their ways rather than God’s ways. And, unfortunately, our way tends to be limited to loving ourselves. We can be so focused upon loving ourselves, in seeking those things we think will satisfy or make us happy, that we neglect loving God and our neighbor. So God in his mercy provided his law that we might know how he created us to live. And when God’s people didn’t obey the law he had provided, he sent his prophets to his image-bearers that they might repent; that they might turn from their destructive ways and return to the God who made and loved them that they might love him in turn and live with one another in ways that reflect that divine love.

Now having answered the Pharisees’ challenge, Jesus challenged them in turn by asking, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” The Pharisees’ answer, “The son of David,” was partially right for indeed it was foretold that Messiah would come from the line of David. But Jesus pressed them by forcing these practiced and trained Scripture debaters to think more deeply about a specific passage from those very Scriptures. Starting in verse 43 Jesus asks:

“How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, ‘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 can he be his son?”

The expectation among Jewish believers was that the Messiah foretold in the Scriptures would be a royal descendant, a political leader from David’s line who would deliver God’s people, the children of Abraham, from their oppressor—perhaps even, in their day, from the Roman Empire with its heavy taxation. In this sense this human leader would be David’s son. He would be the political heir of Israel’s greatest king and ruler.

Yet Jesus—whose Greek title “Christ” (by the way) is synonymous with the Hebrew title “Messiah” and both of which mean “Anointed One”—challenged this commonly held understanding. For if the Messiah was to be a merely human political ruler from the line of David—and, for the record, Jesus did descend from the line of David[8]—then why would David “speaking by the Spirit” call him “my Lord”? This was unusual indeed for common Jewish familial practice indicated that a son could call his father “my lord,” but never that a father would call his son “my lord.” So we take Jesus’ point: why would David who was speaking prophetically on God’s behalf, by God’s Spirit—refer to his son, his descendant, as “Lord” unless this son were also God? In other words though this descendant would be fully human, David recognized that this son would not be merely human but would also be his lord.

The specific passage that records this prophecy. Psalm 110, is the passage most quoted in the New Testament and would have been recognized as being a Messianic psalm by the Pharisees. And Jesus is pointing out how in its opening verse we have a picture of God speaking to God. “The Lord,” David says, “said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’” What Jesus intimated here was that David’s “my Lord” was none other than the Christ, the Messiah, God’s Anointed who had entered human history in the person of Jesus himself. And in this brief exchange with the Pharisees, he has presented a portrait of Triune God for David, speaking by the Spirit, prophesies that the “The Lord,” God the Father, said to “my Lord,” God the Son, “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”

In a nutshell, we have here the message of the Gospel, of triune God’s promise to one day overcome all the enemies that sought to ruin his good work of creation. And the truth of Jesus’ identity as God’s promised Messiah, fully human but also fully God, became even more evident once he had died, risen from death, and ascended to heaven. This is so much the case that now not only do we confess Christ’s session, his rule as God in his seat of power, each week when we recite in the Apostles’ Creed, “And he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,”[9] but the reason we confess this is because his ascension to heaven revealed him to be not only an earthly King but also God, our eternal King, who is even this morning ruling over heaven and earth at the right hand of the Father until the triune God’s work of redemption is complete and all evil is destroyed once and for all. So in posing his question to the Pharisees Jesus understood that a thousand years before he, the Christ, the Messiah, came to earth in human form, David, by means of God’s Spirit, had prophesied his Messiah Jesus’ victory over all evil by means of his death on the cross.

The apostle Peter, a disciple in Jesus’ innermost circle, similarly proclaimed the truth of David’s prophecy from this psalm. Listen to this snippet from a sermon Peter preached to his Jewish brethren at Pentecost after Christ Jesus had died, risen from death, and ascended into heaven:[10]

29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ 36 Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

The work that our merciful and gracious Triune God has done to redeem us—to rescue us—to deliver us not from merely political or human enemies but from enemies who, were they to succeed, would be capable of keeping us from the fellowship with God and each other for which we were created, which God ever intended for us—should lead us to rejoice and thank and praise him now and forevermore. For:

By Christ’s resurrection and ascension to heaven, our enemy Satan, who lured our first parents to sin, has been conquered;

By Christ’s resurrection and ascension to heaven, our enemy sin, which since the time of the Fall has lured us away from God, has been conquered.

And by Christ’s resurrection and ascension to heaven, our enemy death, the inescapable result of sin,[11] has been conquered;

This is why Paul states “17 if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins….” And then he adds, “20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”[12] And so Paul proclaims the final result of our Triune God’s work of salvation: One day: “24 …the end will come, when [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he ‘has put everything under his feet.’”[13]

Sisters and brothers, if even death, that fearsome enemy, has been conquered and will one day be destroyed once and for all, then surely you and I have cause to persevere and continue fighting the good fight. For whatever suffering we may have ever undergone—whatever suffering we may be undergoing this morning— whatever suffering we may undergo in the future, we can be confident that such suffering will one day end because God in Christ has conquered it. Because of what Christ did at the cross, one day not only death but all of the effects of the Fall will be overturned and undone once and for.

So if we struggle with temptation, and even if we have yielded to it, we can rest assured that for this Christ died and by his death and resurrection and ascension he has sanctified us—he has set us aside for himself, declared us to be holy and clean by means of his obedience and sacrifice, and so has called us to turn from our sin and seek to be holy, to walk as he walked, to live as he lived, proclaiming to others the truth of who he is and extending his kindness and compassion and mercy to all who cross our path.

And if we struggle with believing in God, or if Satan, that ancient serpent,[14] causes us to question God’s goodness or his Word as he did our first parents, Adam and Eve;[15] if we so become the target of his attacks, we can rest assured that though he is powerful, he is a defeated foe. As Peter exhorts us, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”[16] So though our enemy, the devil, may seek to harm us with his lies; though he may seek to harm us by condemning and inflicting illness upon us and taking away our earthly possessions and destroying the things that bring us comfort and joy this side of heaven as he did to Job, we, like Job, can know that our Redeemer lives.[17] As Paul also reminds us,[18] “If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

Brothers and sisters, do you believe that God is for us? Because he is. And if the God who made us in his image; if the God who made us for himself; if the God who came to earth to rescue us from our enemies—and to rescue us from ourselves—lived and suffered and died and rose from death and ascended to heaven and is now ruling at God’s right hand interceding for us, praying for us, advocating for us, what more do we need to love and live for him? What more do we need to love and care for each other and this world in which he’s placed us as he intends for us?

What a timely reminder this passage is as we remember our theological roots this Reformation Sunday, this 500th anniversary of the birth of the Protestant branch of Christianity, for in this passage we see the “5 Solas” of our faith that Martin Luther and other Reformers celebrated. Let us never forget

that in Scripture alone—Sola Scriptura—do we find the answers to life’s most important questions;

that it is by faith alone—Sola Fide—that we are called to live this side of heaven and that one day that faith will be sight;

that it is through the gift of God’s grace alone—Sola Gratia—that we can now boldly come before our kind and heavenly Father’s throne;

that it is in Christ alone—Solus Christus—because of his eternal love for us; because of his sacrifice for us; because he has sent us his Holy Spirit that we might never be separated from his love, that we are able to know and love him and love and care for each other as he intended;

and finally, that all of this is for the glory of God alone—Soli Deo Gloria—but for his making us in his image, we would never have known life; and but for his redeeming us by his love, we could never know and experience victory over the devil, death, and sin.

And so I want to close by reading the rest of what Paul had to say in the passage from Romans 8. After stating, “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” Paul goes on to exhort:

35 Who [then] shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…. 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[19]

And all of God’s people said—“Amen!”

Let us pray.

[1] Parallel accounts may be found in Mark 12:28–37: 28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. 35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ 37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight. Luke doesn’t address the exchange with the Pharisees but does include the matter Jesus poses regarding whose son the Messiah is: Luke 20:41–44: 41 Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? 42 David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand 43 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ 44 David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

[2] Crossway ESV Study Bible note to Matthew 5:19 (“Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”) which notes how in this verse Jesus insisted that all of God’s commandments needed to be held and also provides the example of tithing garden produce for light and idolatry, murder, etc. for “heavy.” In this context it also references Matthew 23:23: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

[3] The examples that follow are all taken from the Ten Commandments listed in Exodus 20.

[4] Deuteronomy 6:4.

[5] Deuteronomy 6:5: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

[6] Cf. James 2:8: If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.

[7] Compare with Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.

[8] Matthew 1:1: This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:; Luke 3:23, 31: 23 Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli,… 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David,….

[9] This is recited and included in the Apostles’ Creed for good reason. It’s difficult to over-estimate the importance of Christ’s session at the Father’s right hand for the New Testament. In addition to passages noted within this sermon, see: Acts 7:55–56: 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”; Ephesians 1:17–23: 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.; Colossian 3:1: Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.; Hebrews 1:3: The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.; Hebrews 8:1: Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.; Hebrews 10:12: 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.; Hebrews 12:1–3: 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.; I Peter 3:19–22: 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.; Revelation 3:21: To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.

[10] Acts 2:29–37.

[11] James 1:13–15: 13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

[12] I Corinthians 15:17, 20a.

[13] I Corinthians 15:24–27.

[14] Revelation 12:9: The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him; Revelation 20:2: He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.

[15] The serpent encouraged Eve to question God’s word in asking: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). He encouraged her to question both God’s Word and goodness in contradicting what Eve had been told concerning the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit: “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

[16] I Peter 5:8–9.

[17] Job 19:25.

[18] Romans 8:31b–34.

[19] Romans 8:31b–35, 37–39.

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