Monday, October 24, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 22:34-46, for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, "Who Fulfills Love's Duty?"

Sermon Outline:

1. “Question everything”—worldly motto: t-shirts, bumper stickers, script of TV sitcom. Healthy philosophy to live by? Suspicion of authority, media, ivory towers, sources of knowledge. Not all questions are of the same stripe. Skepticism? Distract? Avoid an issue? Trip up, entangle, embarrass? To learn?

2. Questions for Jesus, finally dared ask Him no more. But here, a really profound question: which is the great commandment in the Law? Hoped to catch Him. Jesus gives a straightforward answer, nonetheless one which astonished the Jews for its wisdom. Always brought things back to the central point, not getting side-tracked by distractions or evasions.

3. Question was not asked as a question about salvation, per se, but really a question of duty. The commandments were a question of our duty to God.

4. Answer leaves out nothing and includes everything. Brilliant! “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.”

5. How do we react to Jesus’ summary of the law? Relief that Jesus reduced the 10 commandments to 2, so there’s less to keep? The Jewish Rabbis counted 613 commandments in all the Scriptures. So was Jesus making the law easier? Lowering the bar so we can all jump the hurdle?

6. Summary of the law is simple, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Jesus’ simplification of the law doesn’t mean we’re closer to being able to keep it. Elevates the law to its full height. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind. There is no corner of our heart, soul, or mind that should be kept from loving Him. No reserve or reluctance, no hesitation to love Him. God wants our full and undivided love. This summary of the first and great command embraces the first 3 of the 10 commandments: You shall have no other gods before me, you shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, and Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. His answer included everything to do with our duty to God.

7. What would loving God with all your heart look like? Willingly do everything God commands out of sheer love and honor, with no reluctance or compulsion. Endure discipline for good, accept blessing and hardship and still love God regardless. Whatever my state in life, rich, poor, healthy, sick, to love God without reserve or condition. Do you?

8. What about to love God with all your soul? Such a person would give their inmost spirit and life wholly to God in joyful love and service. To count God as more precious than our own soul. Remember “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?” To even be willing to lay down our life for our friends, which Jesus taught was the greatest love. A person who loved God with all their soul could pray: “My life is in your hands,” or even “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

9. What does it mean to love God with all your mind? To know that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7). Not to let worldly human wisdom crowd out God’s truth from our mind, or put trust in man’s partial, minute, and limited knowledge, over God’s divine perspective and Word. Surrender ourselves to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind.” Knowing God’s ways are higher than our ways, and to love and praise them even when we don’t understand. To consciously and with full agreement love and believe in God.

10. What about to love our neighbor as ourselves? Jesus’ second commandment embraces all the rest of the 10 commandments. Duty to our neighbor, is also duty to God. Honor your father and mother, you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness (lie) against your neighbor, you shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Jesus’ answer didn’t leave out all the details of the law, but showed instead that love and duty to God undergirds all of the commandments.

11. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:18-21)

12. Loving our neighbor as our self is harder than it might first seem on the surface. Can’t say we love God if we don’t love our brother. But love originates from God, not us: We love because He first loved us. Jesus is the only true path to find the love that we need to love our brother, our neighbor, and even our enemy, as Jesus commands. Not just the easy ones, but the hard to love ones. Closest to us can often hurt us the most. This love comes first from God, and is the only thing powerful enough to change our hearts to love others.

13. If we could just keep those two laws Jesus summarized, we would do no wrong. However, this is impossible for us. Sad reality. Problem is not with the law, but with our carrying it out. We simply can’t obey it to the perfection that He requires. Not with all our heart, soul, and mind. The question for Jesus, “which is the great commandment—what’s my duty to God?” leaves us failing on all counts. We can’t argue with the rightness, the goodness, the nobleness of the commandment. In our hearts we all recognized it is true, praiseworthy, admirable. Yet we can’t do it.

14. So who fulfills love’s duty? Jesus says all the Law and Prophets depend, or literally “hang” on these two commandments. That is, all the Bible, that is as much as was written till that point—the OT, depends on Love. Love is the linchpin, the framework, the undergirding, on which everything hangs. This essential quality of God.

15. The answer lies in Jesus’ final climactic question—the question He turned back on them that they could not answer a word to, and after which they dared ask Him no more questions—trick questions or otherwise. Not to humiliate or trip them up, but to put them on the spot, and open their eyes to who He was. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he? How is it that David can call Him Lord, if He is his son?”

16. They now grasped the full goodness and greatness of God’s law, but it left them utterly guilty before God. It is good and right for us to recognize our guilt in the same way. But Jesus loved those Pharisees and Sadducees, and He loves us. Doesn’t want us left in the condemnation of our sins. Pointed them to Himself, the Christ. Know who He was—yes, the son of David—ancestor and rightful heir to King David’s throne—but far more—the Son of God. Greater than David, greater than an earthly king. A messiah or savior that was more than a mere man—also the Son of God. He was the one who could and did fulfill love’s duty. He alone loved God with all His heart, soul, and mind, and who truly loved His neighbor as Himself. He alone obeyed the full extent of God’s law and fulfilled every duty before Him. He alone was the truest and purest expression of God’s love in the world, one who loved God with all His heart—unconditionally through good or evil, blessing or suffering; Who loved God with all His soul—giving His life for His friends, and praying at His death “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Who loved God with all His mind, which is the beginning of all wisdom. Delighting in the truth of God’s Word and commandments rather than the wisdom of men. He is love, the fulfilling of all the commandments. He is the promised one, the fulfilling of all the prophets. The law and the prophets could all hang on Him. All our failed duty toward God was fulfilled in Him. We’re not saved through the keeping of the law—but through Jesus who kept it for us. Jesus is our Lord, our Savior, the author and perfecter of our faith, who fulfilled all love’s duty for us and for God. He is the one who is alive and working in us so that we might follow in His love and begin to also love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves. And when we begin to do so, we are loving, because He first loved us and gave Himself up for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1. When is a question a good question? Is skepticism always harmful? What are types of questions that are bad? What should the goal of a good question be?

2. What does it mean to say that the question about the commandments were a question of duty? What directions does our “duty” take us in the two commandments Jesus gives? What was the brilliance of Jesus’ answer? Why is love unafraid of, or willingly accept duty? How does that contrast to obedience based on fear? 1 John 4:18

3. Did Jesus’ simplification or summary of the commandments make them easier or harder? Describe what it means to love God with all your heart. Soul. Mind. Exodus 20:1-11; Job 2:9-10; Luke 23:45; Matt. 16:24-27; Prov. 1:7; Rom. 12:1-2

4. What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? Matt. 5:44-46; 10:37; 1 John 4:20-21. When is it especially difficult to love our neighbor as ourselves? Where do we find the capacity for such love? 1 John 4:10, 19

5. How do all the Law and Prophets (the Old Testament) hang or depend on these two commandments? What would happen if love was removed? How is Jesus’ death on the cross the fulfillment of all the Law and Prophets? These two great commands? Spend time reflecting on how Jesus specifically loved God with all His heart, soul, and mind, and loved His neighbor as Himself.

6. Why did Jesus’ last question for the Pharisees and Sadducees, turn them back to Him for the final deliverance from the guilt of our failed duty to God? What truth about Jesus were they unwilling to see or admit? What made Jesus greater than David or any other earthly king, and what made Him the solution for our dilemma before God?

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