Matthew 22:34-46 English Standard Version (ESV)
The Great Commandment
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Whose Son Is the Christ?
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question,42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
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 is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Matthew shares with us another confrontation that Jesus has with the religious authorities of his day, and this will open for us, next week, a tirade on this particular group of people; the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a religious group in Jesus day who were seen as the religious elite of their days. They were the guys who knew their bibles and did what was expected of them.
Society saw them as the good guys. But as we will see next week Jesus climbs into them as the worst. Their problem is effectively our problem, they were building righteousness on their own terms. They were trying to be their own saviours.
This group of people come to Jesus with a question.
1. The Pharisees’ Question
They ask Jesus; what is the greatest command. Now to understand this we need to understand what the Law is and how the debate had raged for hundreds of years before Jesus came. Added to this we must finally ask why the Pharisees had even asked Jesus this question.
So to start what is the Law. Well broadly it is the first 5 books of our Bible called in Hebrew the Torah. So, Genesis to Deuteronomy. Jewish Rabbis had identified and argued that there were 611 laws, others had argued that there 613 laws in the Law. Many teachers had attempted to distil the law into its essence. In fact, we see this attempt in the Scriptures. “David reduced those commandments to eleven. (Psalm 15) Isaiah reduced them to six. (Isaiah 33:15-16) Micah the prophet reduced them to three. (Micah 6:8) Isaiah again reduced them to two. (Isaiah 56:1) Amos reduced them to one. (Amos 5:4) Habakkuk further reduces to say, “But the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4).”.
In Jesus’ day this debate was raging; how can we distil the law into its essence. What does it mean to actually follow God? Each teacher would have his preference. So this is the debate that the Pharisees were throwing Jesus into. We must remember, however, that the Pharisees intention was not to get his honest contribution to the debate. They were trying to trap Jesus. They were testing Jesus. Why were the Pharisees testing Jesus? Well, they believed that he was a blasphemer and a law breaker. They were trying to expose that.
Jesus answers their question by quoting the most famous prayer of all of the Torah, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5);
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
This was a prayer that every devoted Jew would pray every day twice a day. But Jesus says the single greatest commandment is in fact a two part-er as he quotes Lev 19:18:
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
Jesus says everything; the whole Bible hangs, depends upon these two commandments. Love God, love people, that sounds easy, right? Well we will get into the implications of this later. But this is not as simple to do. We simply do not love each other or God. I’ll explain this later. In response to their question Jesus throws out a peculiar responding question…
2. Jesus’ Question
“What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?”, Jesus asks. What does this have to do with what the Pharisees question and why does this leave the crowd and the Pharisees silent to the point that no one is willing to ask him any more questions as we read in verse 45? Well, in Jesus’ question and then His answer of the Messiah being the son of David but also Lord (in Psalm 110), shows them that they do not know the plans of God, nor God at all.Because if they understood the scriptures they would perceive that God was incarnate before them.
They could not deny the scriptures, but they also could not accept Jesus’ claim. For the very reason we do not accept the claim of Christ today and it is the very reason we do not love God or people.
What do I mean by this? Well, let me first explain how we do not accept the claim of Christ today and then through application explain why we do not truly love God or people. The claim of Christ being the son of David and God is vital to the hope of Christianity and devastating to anyone who wishes to build their own righteousness. Because the message of the incarnation, the implications of God becoming man is that of rescue. Rescue from God himself. You see the general perception of humanity is that of personal innocence and blame of others. We have seen this horrifically in our country over this last week. Uprisings of people pointing the fingers at others and then violently seeking justice on their own terms. I am obviously talking about the Xenophobic attacks in our country recently. The comments of others over this attack have been even worse. Every one points the finger and claims innocence. No one takes personal responsibility for the evil we see in this world.
We don’t because to do so, honestly, would leave us without hope. We all do this! We all make the problems of our lives the direct result of the other. highlighting the evil in others while diminishing or even completely ignoring the evil within us. But the incarnation of God shows us that the crisis of humanity is that all of us need intervention.It should terrify us how quickly we jump to the judgment and condemnation of others while our own lives hypocritically reek with selfishness and the sickness of sin. To put it simply we don’t need relief from the evil imposed upon us by others, we need forgiveness of the evil we ourselves do.
And this leads me to;
3. Our application
I stated earlier that we don’t really love God or people. What do I mean by this? Well, our word for love betrays us here. We have sentimental feelings for God and others, but we do not actually love others or God. We don’t love because (at our core) we simply do not have the resources to love others and God truly.I’ll explain it using human examples:
We have a culture today obsessed with finding true love and “the one” not realising that that very ideal and hope is literally the opposite of love. You see finding the one, finding true love, who is it about? Is it actually because you want to serve and give yourself up for the sake of another, or is it because you want to be happy and fulfilled. The more honest among you would confess the latter. Most of our love is ego – it is about us. And this is not love, it is selfishness; literally the opposite of what love actually is about. This applies most clearly to the way we treat and relate to God. No-one seeks God as an end in himself, we come to God for ourselves. Some come because our lives are a mess and we hope that God will fix us. The more noble among us come to God to gain meaning and fulfilment. Some come because they want to be bless. But let us ask, together, who is our perusing of God about; Him or us?
Now, let us reflect a bit this evening. Who here would like to be at the receiving end of the kind of love I have described this evening? Who of you this evening want to find someone who is using you for their own happiness and fulfilment, you are an instrument to them? No-one yet this is how we relate to people and to God. We transcend this selfish love, somewhat, when it comes to real friendship. However, I could make a case that even here there is an aspect of selfishness even here. We are with our friends because of the way the treat us and how they make us feel etc.
I will say it again, we don’t love selflessly (which is the love that we all actually deeply crave) because we simply do not have the resources to love each other selflessly. None of us love those who are against us or hate us or are evil to us! We don’t have the resources to do that. And this is what Jesus is exposing here. We have reduced love to a zero sum game. I can give love as long as I am getting. And this is why the cross stands as a glorious, dismantling monument of how wrong we are about love.
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God’s love was at radical cost to himself, for those who not only could do nothing to return that love, but in fact hated him and despised him. God doesn’t love you because you are useful to him, he loves you because he chose to love you, in your mess in your misery, when you could offer him nothing back! And church, that is the resource of love we now have to pull on. You know why we love, because he first love us! This enables me to overflow with real, selfless, sacrificial love for others.
The thing that blows my mind about this; is as I love others with the same love that Christ loves me, the more I love them! This is literally the opposite of worldly love which is a tit for tat. I mean Christ loves me in spite of hating him. In spite of my sin. He loves me! I can chose to love others in spite of their hatred of me, in spite of their failings. The wonder is when I start to do that I actually love them more. Because they are not a means to an end of my own self-fulfilment. They are simply the object of love.
So, what is the greatest commandment? Well, love God and love people! But the radical self-denial that that demands is only possible when you come to that overflowing with the love that he first gave us!
The Bible Project - https://thebibleproject.com/podcast/purpose-law/