Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. In our Gospel Reading for this morning, we find two distinct sections. In the first section, our Lord deals with a question of the law. In the second section, he deals with a question of the gospel. Both questions are taken seriously by our Lord. Both matters are important, but it becomes clear quite quickly that in our Lord’s mind the question of the law is important because it serves the question of the gospel. That is to say, the question about the great commandment points us to consideration about the Christ. As we consider this law/gospel dynamic today, let us consider the following two points:
1. The law convicts man of sin
2. The gospel shows us the one who is the God-man.
II. The Law Convicts Man of Sin
2. First, we consider how the law convicts man of sin. In many ways, the law which convicts man of sin seems to be built into the very nature of who we are. For example, have you ever heard one of these statements? You aren’t good enough. You don’t measure up. You’re a failure. Maybe someone has said something like this to you. Maybe you have told yourself this. One way or another, most of us have heard these words before—or at very least we have experience with failure, with not measuring up to the standard set for us. When that happens, we know it. When we let someone down, when we don’t follow through on our word, when we fail to accomplish something the way we know we can, we know it. We know that it’s not good enough. We know that we haven’t measured up. We know that we have failed. Now, when we fail in these ways, the common response from the well-meaning people around us who want us to think positively often goes something like this: You are good enough. You do measure up. You aren’t a failure. But for as much as this person cares about us, for as well-meaning as these words are, they’re wrong—and we know it. We aren’t good enough. We don’t measure up. We are a failure. Maybe it’s not all of the time, but it sure happens often enough for us to know the truth deep down inside. This is the so-called natural law at work convicting us of our sinful nature. God’s law is made for man. The law is the eternal will of God for creation. And so, by its very nature, God’s law is built into the fabric of creation—it’s built into the human conscience. No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to escape it.
3. My friends, simply put, The law convicts us of sin because we are guilty. This is why, when we give any amount of serious thought to our Lord’s words in the first section of our text, we recognize our guilt. Our Lord said, in answer to the question about the great commandment:
“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 the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
If not for that little word “all”, these commands wouldn’t be as bad. To “love the Lord your God with your heart and with your soul and with your mind” sounds doable. But to love him with it all . . . well, that’s an impossible standard, isn’t it? Rather than strive for this impossible standard, we would prefer to think positively about all the good that we do. We would rather dismiss the reality of our failure to live up to God’s impossibly high standard for us. After all, the standard is so high that I can’t possibly achieve it, so why even bother? It’s really God’s fault! He should have set a standard that I can achieve! And so, we walk away from the Scriptures and from our Lord’s commands feeling crushed, trying to shift the blame for what we know deep down inside is our own fault. The law says, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” No matter how much I try to avoid the reality of it, I am guilty. I don’t do this. I am not good enough. I don’t measure up. I am a failure. Thus, we see how the law convicts man of sin—it does so because I am guilty.
III. The Gospel Shows Us the One Who is the God-Man
4. Now, let us consider how the Gospel shows us the one who is the God-man. Notice how in the second section of our Gospel Reading our Lord wants to make very clear who he is—he is the God-man. The Pharisees get the second half of this right. They recognize that he is man—“The son of David” (Matthew 22:42), to use their words. This is important to recognize—Christ Jesus is a man. And as a man, he was subject to the law, just as we are. This is why he fulfilled his ritual obligations, he went to the temple, he paid his taxes, he loved God with all his heart, soul, and mind and his neighbor as himself. Our Lord Jesus was (and still remains) fully man in every sense of the word. And so, as man he was subjected to the law. As man, he obeyed the law perfectly, where we have failed. And as man, he suffered death as punishment for sin, though he himself was innocent. See, for you and I, the law convicts us of sin because we are guilty of breaking it. But for our Lord Jesus, the law convicted him of sin because he willingly took our sins upon himself, though he himself was innocent. And it is only because he is man that he was able to do this. God cannot suffer and die. But man can. This is why the incarnation of our Lord is such a beautiful mystery. God became a man for us so that he could suffer and die as our sinful failure to keep these two great commandments hung upon his outstretched arms on the cross. The Gospel shows us that our Lord Jesus was and is the man who suffered in our place.
5. But our Lord goes to great lengths in the second half of our Gospel Reading to communicate to the Pharisees that to confess the Christ as man isn’t enough. Christ is man, yes. That’s true, but it’s not the whole truth. In fact, one might argue that it’s the less important of the two truths about our Lord’s nature. Yes, he is man. But more importantly, our Lord Jesus is God. So, our Lord asks the Pharisees:
“If then David [in the Spirit] calls him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matthew 22:45 & 43).
And then come some of the most damning words in all of the Scriptures:
And no one was able to answer him a word (Matthew 22:46).
See, the answer to our Lord’s question to the Pharisees is standing right in front of them. How is it that the Christ could be both David’s son and David’s Lord? There’s only one way: if he was also God. And that he is. Jesus is God. And when he invites the Pharisees to confess him as such, they refuse. They remain silent and so miss out on the benefits of Christ’s atoning work for humanity. As man, Christ suffered in our place. But it’s also important that he is God. As God, his atoning work was counted worthy to atone for not just one other person, but for all humanity. Man can’t atone for all humanity, but God can. As God, he was able to suffer eternal punishment while on the cross for only three hours. Man can’t experience eternity in a matter of a few hours, but God can. As God, he overcame the power of death by rising again on Easter morning. Man can’t overcome the power of death and rise again, but God can. And so, we see that not only does our Lord Jesus suffer in our place as man. But as God, his sacrifice extends to all mankind, as does his resurrection. Not only does the Gospel show us that our Lord Jesus is the man who suffered in our place. The Gospel shows us that our Lord Jesus Christ is the God who grants salvation and life to all who believe in him. He is the God-man.
6. And so, my friends, we return to the ways in which the law convicts us of sin. We know that we are not good enough. We know that we haven’t measured up. We know that we have failed. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise. To do so is to ignore the blatant truth. But you also must remember this: Our Lord Jesus is good enough. He has measured up. He hasn’t failed. In fact, he has paid the debt for all our sins and failures, and he offers to us salvation and eternal life. You don’t have to be good enough because he is. You don’t have to measure up because he has. It’s okay for you to fail because he has succeeded. You worth is not measured by who you are and what you have achieved or failed to achieve. Your worth is measured in how much Christ loves you. And because your Lord loves you with all his heart, soul, and mind, you have been given a hope that one day this broken sinful mess in which we live will be restored to the perfection it was intended to be. One day you will be good enough and you will measure up and you will fail no more because Christ will make you whole again. But until that day, we do the best we can. We seek to love God and to love our neighbor with as much of our being as we are able. And whether we succeed or fail, we trust in our Lord Jesus. In the same way that all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two great commandments, so too do all of our lives hang on the one who hung on the cross for us. May God grant us the grace to forget our failures and to above all things find our worth in our Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.