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For this week’s bulletin, click here: oct 7, 2012

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, 44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord:     “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies     under your feet.”’

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

— St. Matthew 22,34-46

Politics aren’t everybody’s favorite topic, but maybe you tuned in to the debate the other night all the same. Regardless of which man you were rooting for to win, you have to admit that debating takes a lot of skill. You have to have a lot of facts at your fingertips. You have to think quickly and be ready to answer your opponent. For my part, I learned to debate by arguing with my brother and sister. We didn’t fight so much as discuss things in detail. I remember back now and I see how that taught me to look at someone else’s argument and have a good response. Of course, brothers and sisters can do things to each other that presidential candidates can’t do on national TV – although it would make the debates more fun to watch if they did.

The question that starts off our Gospel is one that Jesus fielded a number of times: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” This question would have been less straightforward to the Jews than it looks to us, because the Pharisees had come up with 613 other commandments that weren’t in the Bible, but that people were still supposed to follow. This was too much to keep straight all at once, so the Pharisees often grouped them – these commandments deal with dietary restrictions, these with sacrifices, and so on. Some Jews preferred some of the commandments over others. Therefore this question is one that would probably set off a good discussion among those who are listening.

Jesus cuts right through all their dithering and their debating back and forth. He goes straight for the jugular: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Here Jesus deals with a tendency we’ve all seen. People want to make religion, or the things of God, or understanding the Bible, so complicated. They want to pretend that it’s hopelessly complex and beyond most people’s understanding, and therefore you’re free to pick and choose what you want to believe and do; or you might as well say, “Forget about it,” and set the whole thing aside. Neither is true. There are parts of the Bible that are hard to understand, it’s true, and some things we never will understand this side of heaven. There’s also a difference between mysteries that are above our ability to understand, and thinking that what God says is hopelessly complicated and almost impossible to understand. Usually God’s Word is pretty straightforward. Sometimes that’s why people have a problem with it. Love God and love your neighbor – it’s not that complicated.

Of course, the important things are always simple, and the simple things are always hard. If you’re going to love God with all your heart, that means that no little corner of your heart can be reserved for anything or anyone else – least of all your pet sins that you indulge in and don’t really feel guilty about anymore. If you’re going to love God with all your soul, that means that no little corner of your will is ever reserved for yourself. There’s no room to tell yourself, “I know what You say about abusing alcohol, Lord — or about the way I talk to my parents or my spouse, or about using God’s gift of sex outside of marriage, or about harboring dirty thoughts in my mind – but Lord, that doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to do it anyway.” If you’re going to love God with all your mind, then no part of you can wish that your faith didn’t look so foolish in the eyes of the world, or that you had better things to defend yourself with than, “This is what the Lord says.” No part of you can wish that the church that has God’s Word would be more outwardly prosperous or successful or well-liked, even at the expense of the truth.

Jesus says that all the Law and the Prophets – the entire Old Testament, and we could very well say all of Scripture – hangs on these two commands. If you fail to keep either of these commandments perfectly, all of it comes crashing to the ground. Yet plainly this is impossible. Who of us can do what’s demanded of us here? Many times we struggle with mere outward obedience – how are we ever going to get to the level of loving God with everything we’ve got?

The Pharisees were still digesting Jesus’ answer and mulling it over when He decided to ask them a question. They had gathered together to oppose the Lord and His Anointed One, as Psalm 2 describes, and while they’re still gathered together, Jesus turns the tables on them. Now He’s going to ask them a question, like God did to JobhHeH in Job chapter 38, and again in chapter 40 – “Brace yourself like a man! I will question you, and you will answer Me” – so Jesus says, “Now I’ve got a question for you.” Now the momentum shifts. The Pharisees don’t realize it, but they’re about to be put on the spot and their unbelief drawn out and exposed before everybody listening.

This question Jesus asks is one that all of us have to answer, but Jesus makes it pretty simple at first. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” The Pharisees answer promptly, because any Jewish child could have answered this: “The Son of David.” This was not a secret, nor was it hidden in the Scriptures. The Jews knew who the Messiah would be descended from. They had no problem answering this, because it was taught in many places in the Old Testament: Jeremiah 23:5, Micah 5:2, Ezekiel 34:23-24, as well as Psalm 132:11, Psalm 78:70-72, and Psalm 89:19-37, as well as of course Psalm 110, which Jesus will quote in a moment – and that’s just a partial list. When King Herod asks the Jewish leaders where the Messiah will be born, they answer, “In Bethlehem in Judea,” and then cite Micah 5:2 to back them up. It was not a secret to the Jews that the Messiah would be descended from David. But none of the Pharisees were prepared for where Jesus took the conversation next.

“How is then that David, speaking by the Spirit, call 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?” Jesus quotes from Psalm 110 in order to teach the Pharisees about Himself. The Holy Spirit told David to write down Psalm 110, and in that psalm, David says that the Lord, God the Father, said to his Lord. David’s Lord was greater than he was, and since he was the King of Israel and nobody was greater than him, this has to be speaking about God. “My Lord” in the quote from Psalm 110 is referring to God, yet the first “Lord” mentioned is also God. So here we have two separate and distinct persons, yet they’re both God, and one of them is the son of David, or He’s descended physically from David. He’s related to David in some way. Also this second Lord that’s mentioned, “my Lord,” will one day rule over all things, but He wasn’t ruling over them yet. He will be king not only over a nation for a lifetime, but over all creation for all time, and that would come after the Lord had exalted Him and had Him sit at His right hand. If you put all those things together – of the same nature as God but still a separate person from God, descended from David, rules over all things, seated at God’s right hand – who do you get? You get Jesus. The answer to Jesus’ question was staring the Pharisees in the face! It was the one they were talking with, but none of them could answer His question because they didn’t believe that Jesus is true God. Their unbelief kept them in the dark about who Jesus really was.

If Jesus’ question seems too subtle or hard for you to follow, that’s understandable. It was subtle. Jesus was talking with the teachers of Israel, the most highly educated men of His day, who should have been expected to get this. If you’re still not quite sure how Jesus can be David’s Son and David’s Lord at the same time, focus on this instead: think about Jesus has all things under His feet. That means that all the enemies of the gospel will one day be judged and overthrown, and all the lies the devil has told will be shown to be lies. Jesus will triumph and those who never trusted in Him will be cut off. But instead of leaving the idea of the enemies of the gospel as something abstract, let’s talk about something specific, something we’re confronted with every day – homosexuality.

Why do we single out homosexuality for mention? Because of how Paul describes it in Romans 1:26-27. First he describes the sin itself: “…God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” God allowed them to act in this way as a judgment on them.

Why were they being judged? If you look at verses 21-25, right before those I just read, Paul tells us why, especially in verse 21: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Those who engage in a homosexual lifestyle or condone it are thinking futilely and their understanding is darkened, according to Paul. If you’ve ever tried to talk about homosexuality with someone who supports it you know that’s true. They are that way because their hearts have turned away from God. They have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve created things rather than the Creator. All sin turns the sinner away from God, but Paul singles out homosexuality when he describes it in that way, and his warning is very applicable nowadays. That’s why homosexuality and same-sex marriage are important to oppose and point out as sin: because it’s not about “love” as they claim, and it’s not their own business and nobody else’s. It’s a sign of a deeper spiritual problem, much more critical and dangerous. Scripture is very clear: those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God, Paul says in I Corinthians 6.

At the same time, homosexuality is not the unforgivable sin. It is not the worst sin. In I Corinthians 6 Paul mentions homosexuality, but significantly it’s in a list of sins that heterosexual people also commit, and he warns that God’s judgment applies to them all. The only sin is unbelief, and all other sins flow out of that like a backed-up sewer. Jesus’ forgiveness is for all who turn to Him trusting that He will forgive them. Just after that verse I mentioned in I Corinthians 6, Paul says, “That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were cleansed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” That’s also why it’s important to oppose homosexuality and same-sex marriage: because if we do not give homosexuals the legislation they want that will officially condone their sin, it might force them to re-evaluate the life they live and perhaps some of them will repent and be saved.

Homosexuals, just like anybody else living in unrepentant sin, make themselves enemies of Christ, and as such they will be put under His feet. It’s better and more loving that they hear that message from us first, before they are judged by Christ at the end of time. They will have no ability to appeal His judgment then. That’s why Christians should vote Yes to keep marriage as one man and one woman in our state’s constitution. We have greater concerns on this issue – concerns about people’s souls.

Regardless of the outcome of the marriage amendment, regardless of which party and which candidates win in the elections this fall, Jesus still is Lord. He still is God, and He still rules over all things. Death and hell and Satan are still under His feet, and He still has promised to save us and take us to be with Him in heaven. Remember that Jesus is Lord and be glad, because there’s no debating that. Amen.