Entrapment of the King: Jesus & the Law | Matthew 22:34-46
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 22:34–22:46
Please grab your Bibles, and if you don’t have one, you’re welcome to grab a paperback copy in the back. While I lay out a little introduction, I invite you to turn to our text today which is found in Matthew 22:34 and following. If you haven’t opened a Bible before, Matthew is the 1st book of the New Testament, which begins around the last 3rd of your Bible.
So as your turning to Matthew 22, I have a question for you. What is the most vile, heinous, deplorable, disgusting sin you can think of? Hold on to that warm and fuzzy thought. I bet I have something even worse in mind than what you’re thinking. And while you’re doing that little thought experiment, think back to your grade school days and remember what the Golden Rule is. We’re going to see today that there’s a rule much more golden.
To set the stage for what we’re about to read in our text today, Jesus is dealing with the third of three attempts by various religious leaders to get him out of the picture. They’ve grown increasingly infuriated by the following he’s commanding with His compassion, miracles, acts of healing and powerful teaching. They view him as a threat to their political power and so they’re trying to entrap him in his words, and thus discredit and vilify him, but they’re not having any success. Like a ninja master or Neo from the Matrix, he’s deftly maneuvered out of each attack and as we’ll see today, he’ll turn the tables and use his opponents own words to defeat them.
These 3 attacks from the religious leaders are like 3 concentric circles of a target, moving from items of less importance to greater importance. The Pharisees first asked about how faithful Jews should relate to the government. Then the Saducees asked about matters pertaining to family-life and spouses. Today the Pharisees inadvertently lead us to the center of those 3 circles, really the center of all life – How are we to relate to the Supreme Lawgiver, to God? What is His greatest commandment that we must obey?
 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.  And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  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.  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.”
 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question,  saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”  He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
 “‘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 is he his son?”  And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:34-46 ESV)
Greatest Commandment –Love God
The religious leaders in Jesus day, in having studied the five books of the law, identified 613 commandments. 613! These were divided up into 365 commandments stated in the negative – don’t commit adultery; don’t steal, for example – and 248 commandments stated in the positive – honor your father and mother, remember the Sabbath.
Again, these aren’t commandments they’d created themselves. They are God-given commandments found in Scripture. And these scribes and Pharisees would spend hours creating groupings of commandments based on their perceived weight. In their view, there were heavy commandments and light commandments, as though some were of less importance need not be followed. That’s the sense you get when the rich young ruler asks Jesus in Matthew 19:16, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him…If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”  He said to him, “Which ones? Surely not all 613! Which are the weighty ones?”
It’s against this backdrop that the Pharisees, hearing that Jesus handily defeated the Sadducees, step into the ring again to try and trap him. An expert in the law steps out of the group of his peers and asks Jesus, “of these 613, which one is the great or greatest commandment. Where do you land on this?”
Given that Jesus chose to hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes, maybe they were expecting him to choose a more obscure, less well-known “lighter” commandment. But no, Jesus doesn’t hesitate. He couldn’t be more orthodox in his response and quotes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
This Shema is one of the oldest Jewish prayers and was one that they would recite twice daily – morning and night. Indeed, as Jesus told us in Matthew 5:17, he hasn’t come to abolish [the Law or the Prophets] but to fulfill them.
Church, Jesus’ answer should trouble us in a lot of ways for how man-centered we are. When I asked you a few moments ago to think of the most despicable sin you possibly could, what came to mind? Maybe something grisly you heard on the news? A rape or a murder. Maybe the appalling acts that we hear about Isis or Boko Haram commiting. And those things obviously are wicked. I don’t for a moment want to downplay how demonic and wicked those things are.
But you and I have a problem. We’re bent toward viewing human kind as the center of existence and we shove God out to the margins. Do you see that? If the Greatest Commandment is that we love God with every fiber of our being, with all our heart and soul and mind, then the greatest, most vile sin is all the ways we fail to live up to that commandment. All the ways we belittle God and treat him as insignificant and barely give him a passing thought.
For further proof of how self-focused we are by nature, consider the golden rule. In the introduction, when I asked you to think about what it was, I’m sure that none of you had difficulty. We’re taught as children what it is – that we’re to treat others the way we want to be treated. To love our neighbors as ourselves.
But that’s the second greatest commandment, so it strikes me as a little bit odd that we call that the Golden rule. I think Michael Phelps or any other amazing Olympic athlete who rightfully won first place in their competition would be more than a little peeved if, as they’re standing on the awards platform and watch as the gold medal gets handed to the guy one step down who came in second. Right?
But that’s my point – in our human nature we think we’re the center of everything. We don’t say that in words so much but we do say it by how we live our lives. We’re NOT GOD. Our culture wants to take God off his throne and at the same time, elevate man. How often have you heard in the media “well, what’s God anyway? I think we’re all divine in some way, we all have the divine spark inside of us. Let’s just celebrate and love that inner light and divinity in each other.” Rubbish! We’re to love him with the totality of our being and to simply love each other as we love ourselves.
It is so fitting and right on so many levels that these 2 commandments are ordered this way. The “golden rule”, the 2nd commandment makes no sense whatsoever, none, nada, if the 1st and greatest commandment isn’t in fact just that, the GREATEST, THE truly Golden rule.
If a Creator-God worthy of uncompromised worship doesn’t exist, then you and I are just a random collection of atoms and molecules bouncing around the universe. If he doesn’t exist, you don’t bear His image, I don’t bear His image, so there’s no image to regard and protect. Life wouldn’t be sacred.
Nor would there even be a law-giver, so I could treat you and you could treat me however you wanted without concern for justice. Without God, there’s no foundation to ground morality on. Without God, hearing the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, we’d all be completely justified in responding, “Says who!?”
But If God does exist as God, then by definition he’s perfect in every way imaginable and therefore completely worthy of commanding such devotion and worship. For God to be the embodiment of all perfection, love, power, beauty, wisdom but NOT to command our love and worship would mean he wasn’t God. It’d be an impossibility – a contradiction of terms. It’d mean he’d be lacking in some way – not having complete knowledge about just how glorious he is, or worse still, not being fully loving enough to share that glory and splendor with us by commanding our love and affection. Does that make sense?
We hear the word command and have all these negative connotations that go with that. We think, “either I obey God and live a miserable life, OR I pursue pleasure and forsake God’s commands.” Church, it’s a false choice. Don’t miss this! It doesn’t have to be either or. Your joy and deep satisfaction and God and the Father’s glory are NOT mutually exclusive. In fact, just the opposite, they’re inextricably linked!! God isn’t after your begrudging obedience – because at the end of the day that’s not obedience. He wants what’s best for us. He’s after our joy and our delight and he knows that our deepest and richest fulfillment is ultimately and only found in Him. John 15:10-11 reads:
 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
He commands this kind of obedience not only because He’s after our JOY, but also because love isn’t a feeling that comes and goes. We don’t just act lovingly when we feel like it. Love is an intentional act of the will. It’s a choice. It’s a decision we make. So he doesn’t just ask or suggest that we love Him. He commands it! But it isn’t DUTY alone. Love begets love. Catch that? Love leads to love. The decision to love will lead to the feelings of love. When we focus our wills to do what we OUGHT, gradually (sometimes suddenly) our affections get retrained. What started only as a sober decision grows into a deep delight.
EXAMPLE: Caleb and Ethan learning to do chores – begrudging at first
So we’re commanded to love God with our whole being. HOW DO WE DO THAT then? There are dozens of ways to go about that, and we’ll talk about one of those in a moment, but there’s an essential one that I want to commend to you – KNOW HIM. Love Him by growing in your knowledge of Him. We take time to get to know those whom we love.
EXAMPLE: Loving mom - Mothers day and time with mom.
We grow in knowing him by spending time with him as we read His autobiography and then talking with Him about it. Yes, I’m talking about reading your Bibles and praying. Don’t read the Bible for the sake of knowing the words, per se, but for knowing the One whom the word speaks about. The bible is not the 4th member of the trinity, but it is, God’s autobiography of sorts.
But there’s another HUGE way to love God. Let’s go back to today’s text, starting in verse 39:
 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Again, Jesus is quoting from the first five books of the Law, specifically Leviticus 19:18, which reads, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
Jesus was asked for 1 commandment but he gives 2 because they’re so intertwined. We need this 2nd commandment to help make the 1st commandment doable and tangible. Even though God is omnipresent, He’s everywhere, we can’t see Him. Quite frankly, it’s easy for us, without having a deep, genuine love for the triune God, to read and memorize a lot of Scripture, know a lot of theology, go to lots of religious services and so on…to have all the appearances of a deep relationship. The Pharisees were experts at this.
Does this mean reading Scripture or praying or theology are the problem. Of course not. It means our hearts are the problem. They’re fickle and duplicitous and we need a litmus test, we need a mirror to reveal how genuine or how insincere our love for the Creator really is.
I think one of the primary reasons Jesus commands us to not forsake gathering together is to keep our egos in check. If we spend enough time around people we eventually come face to face with our brokenness – with how selfish, petty, and easily offended we are. We can’t hide it forever. Hear what 1 John 4:8, 20 has to say about how closely linked these 2 commands are:
“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
And in 4:20 we read,
“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.
Ouch! There’s no room cheap, lip-service piety. All throughout Scripture, God has utter disdain for those who claim to love Him and yet despise their neighbors. For good reason church! When we claim to be Christians, to be Christ-followers and yet have hard hearts toward those around us, we’re not just inconsistent and hypocritical. We’re not just lying about a love we supposedly have. We’re speaking lies about God Himself and what He’s like! We bring shame on His name and turn people away from wanting to follow him.
Again, these commandments are intertwined. If we lack love and compassion for those around us whom we can see, we need to go back to our Source and get right with God. We can’t manufacture that love on our own. This 2nd commandment drives us back to the 1st. The scriptures are clear – the only reason we have any capacity for loving others is because he first loved us.
I want to underscore what I said earlier. We don’t wait for the feelings of love before we take loving action. There’s a duty here, an obligation that simply doesn’t leave room for feelings to take the lead. Hear 3 passages again from 1 John
• 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
• 4:11: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another
• 4:21: And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
So there’s an ‘oughtness’ to our faith that we just have to face and embrace. We need the oughts. If we solely relied on feelings, 2/3rds of the good things we do wouldn’t get done.
EXAMPLE: Reluctant Foster Parent
So yes, these are 2 huge, weighty commands – love God with all that you are and love your fellow human beings as yourself, but don’t miss the beautiful simplicity here either. He’s taken 613 do’s and don’ts and boiled them all down into 2 succinct commands. Hopefully this is something that Chris, Randy and I are helping you learn and live out through our church – that faithful, Christ exalting living isn’t about abiding by an extensive list of do’s and don’ts, but rather of learning more and more throughout the day to be asking, “Holy Spirit, in this moment, how can I love you and love others, even my enemies, or even just those who annoy me? How can I find satisfaction in You and not my idols?
Identity of Messiah
Jesus has now publicly defeated his opponents, the religious leaders but he’s not done. He turns the tables and goes from defense to offense – he becomes the questioner and leaves them dumbfounded in their ignorance. He asks them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”
The way they answer this question is so revealing. Remember that “Christ” is a title not the last name of Jesus. It’s the greek version of the Hebrew word Messiah, both of which mean anointed one. God had been promising Israel through the prophets for hundreds of years that he would send a messiah who would deliver Israel and restore her to the glory and prominence she had during the reign of King David. It was commonly understood, based on prophecies like those found in 2 Samuel 7 (and Isa. 9:7; 11:1; Pss. 2; 89; 132; Jer. 23:5), that the Messiah was going to be a descendant of King David.
So Jesus isn’t talking directly about himself, rather he’s broadly speaking about the concept of the Messiah. “So this messiah, this deliverer of Israel. What are his origins? What’s his lineage?” They come back with the equivalent of a Sunday School answer, “Son of David” and start chest bumping each other, thinking they’ve successfully gone toe-to-toe with Jesus. Except Jesus isn’t done.
Quoting from psalm 110, which is a psalm that speaks about the future Messiah, Jesus says, “wait a minute, if the messiah is going to be the son of david, then why did he, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, refer to the Messiah in reverential terms?” Jesus is pointing out that fathers and grandfathers don’t confer greater honor on their offspring. Right?
EXAMPLE: sir/m’am or asking permission with children
And just like that, they’re silenced. It’s not that the Pharisees were wrong, they just weren’t entirely right. Their understanding was lacking. Jesus, the Christ, WAS the son, the great-great-great….grandson of David. Go back to Jesus’ geneolgy in Matt 1:6 and you’ll see David listed there. He was the Son of David, but he wasn’t ONLY the son of David. He’s also the Son of God. Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, is utterly unique from every other human being who has walked this earth in that he has 2 natures. He’s truly God and Truly man. He is both, at the same time, divine and human.
It boggles our mind to grasp this, but Paul makes the reality of these 2 natures very clear in his greeting in Romans 1:1-4
 Paul… set apart for the gospel of God,  which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,  concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh  and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
So Christ is both Divine and Human in nature. But the Pharisees weren’t expecting God to BE their Messiah, but only for God to SEND them a messiah, an earthly, human messiah who would vanquish Israel’s foes and bring back the golden age of dominance, peace and prosperity she once enjoyed under King David. They couldn’t rightly conceive of who their savior would be because they didn’t accurately assess what they needed salvation from – namely, their sinfulness – all the ways they’d disregarded, dishonored and dismissed God and had repeatedly broken his covenants with them. All the ways that they had failed to love Him with all that they are. In their eyes they had a human problem, external oppression - not internal transgression, so it seemed only right that they needed a human solution – mighty military leader.
I believe God’s word is asking each of us this morning – what are you facing in life? What do you need deliverance from? What seems to be your greatest foe? Is it a challenged marriage? An unruly child? An unsatisfying job? Feeling overworked and stressed out? Can’t make ends meet? Lonliness?
Step back for a moment and ask yourself? What are the origins of your savior? Where is your salvation going to come from? Who’s son is your savior? Is he Jack Daniel’s son? Is He Netflix’s son? Is Divorce his dad? Is pornography his parent. Is more money his mother? What are the origins of your savior?
What I’m getting at is maybe what we think our greatest need is, our greatest problem, the thing we need deliverance from, maybe it really isn’t our main problem. Church, your greatest need and my greatest need this morning is repenting of the ways that we’ve half-heartedly, at best, loved our Redeemer-King. And with that relationship amiss, everything else feels jacked up. Ask God to search your heart this morning and see if that thing you thought was your biggest problem is actually just a symptom or a fruit of not rightly ordering your life to love God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind and strength.
Gospel Good News
I’ve heaped a lot of “oughtness” on you this morning -- well really, Jesus has --a lot of obligation regarding how we ought to live our lives as followers of Christ. It’s so easy to forget the cross and what was accomplished on Calvary, so I want to take a moment to just bask in the glory of our Messiah. If these commands seem burdensome then we’ve lost sight of the gospel. If we’re in Christ, do we remember the hell that we’ve been saved from in both this life and the next? More than that, do we remember that we were once enemies of God and justly deserving of His ferocious wrath, but that we’ve been delivered from that wrath and brought into his family through the cross of Christ?
Carly and I read the book Unbroken a few years ago and finally got around to watching it at home the other night. It follows the life of Luis Zamperini, a WWII bombardier pilot shot down in the Pacific. He’s adrift at sea for 47 days only to be picked up by the Japanese and tortured for over 2 years.
In the movie, they show a scene where he and the 2 guys he was shot down with are in the raft. They’ve been there for weeks. They’re parched, sun stroked, they’ve been strafed by Japanese planes, menaced by sharks and now they’re in a raging storm. And Luis cries out to God, to a God he doesn’t yet believe in, “God, if you save me, I’ll serve you forever.” Luis knew he needed salvation from his circumstances at that moment and considered it exceedingly worthwhile to exchange certain death for a life of loving service. Those of us how are in Christ would do well to remember the just wrath we’ve been mercifully delivered from and let that be part of our motivation for obeying God’s commands to love Him and others.
But Christ and His cross are more than an example to follow and be inspired by, though they are that. Every other religion tells you what you need to DO to get right with God. The gospel is the good news of what Christ has already DONE and continues to DO in us. Before we attempt to live out these two commands, we should pause and consider how Christ has already fulfilled them perfectly for us.
You might be saying to yourself, “but Nate, the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole being,” and I say exactly. God loves God. God is for God. Church that is one of the most important realities for us to wrap our hearts and minds around. God is for Himself and His fame and His glory. With his earthly life all the way through his death, Jesus, the Son of David and Son of God perfectly loved the Father and fulfilled that command completely. And in loving the Father perfectly by making His glory known to us through the cross, He has, at same time, loved us well by bringing us into His family.
We might fail, we will fail in loving God so radically and loving each other sacrificially, but we’re not condemned and will never be condemned if we’re in Christ. And that is good news. So let’s strive for obedience knowing that we’re approved.
We love Him because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19
More in Rejection of the King | Matthew Part IV
June 14, 2015The Woes from the King Part 3: Forsaken City | Empty Temple - Matthew 23:37 - 24:2
June 7, 2015The Woes from the King Part 2: Seven Charges - One Verdict | Matthew 23:13-36
May 31, 2015The Woes from the King Part 1: Unbearable Preachers | Matthew 23:1-12