Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sermon for 10/23/11: Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

What Matters Most

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

If someone were to ask you what matters most concerning the Christian faith, what would your response be? Would it be the Golden Rule? Would it be the Ten Commandments? Would it be the virgin birth of Jesus? Would it be the miracles of Jesus? His teachings? His mercy? When someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, Jesus told him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And then He added, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The whole Law of God hangs on these two things: loving God above all things and loving your neighbor as yourself. But is that the central teaching of the Christian faith?

If it is, you’re in deep trouble. If that’s the center of the Christian faith, the foundation upon which everything else rests, then you must ask yourself the question: How am I doing with that? Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? Is the Triune God the One you look to for every good thing and seek refuge from in all distress? Do you trust the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with your whole being? And if you think you can honestly answer those questions by saying “yes”, ask yourself when the last time was that you had an impure thought or an evil impulse or even said something that was cruel or hurtful. For sinners it is all too easy to spend time and energy on things that seem much more interesting than God’s Word. And what about your neighbor? Can you honestly say that you love your neighbor as much as you love yourself? Do you grow frustrated with yourself as quickly as you do with the moron in the car that cut you off? Do you lavish on your neighbor the same kind of luxury to which you treat yourself? Do you even offer him the loan of your lousy second-hand golf clubs? And even if you do, do you do it for your neighbor? Or do you do it so you can feel good or so you can receive their gratitude? Love God, and love your neighbor. It sounds so simple. Jesus says that all of Scripture hangs on these two things. That is the religion of works, the religion of the Law. If that is the most important aspect of the Christian faith, then you must ask yourself, “Have I done enough? Am I worthy? Have I earned my salvation?”

All the Law and the prophets hang on those two things. But thanks be to God, Jesus is not saying there that everything depends on the Law or on our obedience to it. Look at what he says. “All the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” So what is the Law? Who are the prophets? And what does Jesus mean by that? The Law and the prophets are what constitute the Old Testament. And what is the Old Testament about? Look at the third chapter of Genesis. Man falls into sin. He cannot live in perfect obedience to the religion of the Law. So the Father promises to Adam and Eve a Savior, One who will crush the head of the satanic serpent. And the rest of the Old Testament points forward to that One, the One who will win the victory over the sin and death which are the price for our inability to perfectly obey the Law. In other words, when Jesus says, “All the Law and the prophets,” Jesus is talking about Himself.

Jesus is the sum of the Law and the prophets, the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets. “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” It’s oddly appropriate that Jesus should use that word “hang”, because that is precisely what Jesus, the sum of the Law and the prophets, does. He hangs on the cross. He hangs on that cross, bearing the punishment we deserve for our lack of obedience to the Law and the prophets. He hangs on the cross as the perfect obedience to those two commandments. In perfect love for His heavenly Father, Jesus hangs on the cross, obediently bearing our sins according to His Father’s will. In perfect love for you, His neighbor, He dies the death your sins deserve, keeping the commandments which you in your sin could not keep. He’s hanging on cross for you, hanging in perfect obedience, hanging in perfect love.

The Pharisees and teachers of the Law have it all wrong. They want to make the Commandments the main thing. They believe the Messiah should give them more Law. They believe He should be a new Moses. But more Law can only increase the burden; it cannot take away the burden of sin. So Jesus goes on to tell them about what truly matters: Himself. He is the Son of David. But He is more than that, He is the one promised to Adam and Eve. He is the one for whom Abraham and Isaac and Jacob waited. He is the one for whom Moses longed. He is the one for whom David prayed. Jesus is both David’s Son and David’s Lord. He is the son of Mary, a direct descendent of King David. But He is also the Son of God, begotten from the Father before all eternity. Only one who is both can save you. Only One who is true God can be perfectly obedient to the Law and the prophets. But only One who is true man like us can die, paying the wages of sin. And only One who is both true God and true man can die that death on behalf of all of mankind.

So what is the most important thing, what matters most in the Christian faith, is this: Jesus, true God and true Man, loves the Lord your God with all His heart, with all His soul, and with all His mind; and Jesus, true God and true Man, loves your neighbor as He loves Himself. This is what matters most, because your salvation hangs on His love. Your salvation does not depend on your diet. It does not depend on your clothing. It does not depend on your obedience to the Law. Your salvation is this: Jesus Christ has died bearing your sins, and He has risen to raise you up with Him. This is the center, the foundation, the cornerstone of your faith and life. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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