O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Commands and Promises
"Commands and Promises"
Based on Matthew 22:34-46
October 23, 2011
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Fellow baptized saints, have you ever wondered how the pastor writes the sermon each week? How does he know what to say? What does he do in order to determine what God is saying? Well, we are going to try a little experiment today, something that may require your involvement. We are going to write today's sermon together. That's right, this morning you are going to help me write the sermon. But we need to know where to begin. First, we will learn the basics of Biblical interpretation, and then we will apply it to our Gospel reading. Hopefully, through this exercise, we will become equipped to read the Bible with this understanding, and our two-year Bible reading program will come to life, even through those deadly boring portions of the Old Testament. Let's take a look.
To start: there are two key principles in understanding what the Bible is saying, the first of which is this: Everything in the Bible has to do with Jesus Christ! Now, I know what you are thinking, pastor, you are crazy, how does a talking donkey, or the rite of circumcision, or the walls of Jericho falling down have anything to do with Jesus? But don't take my word for it. Jesus is the one who has revealed this to us. He says of the Old Testament, "These are the Scriptures that testify about Me." And again, "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms." St. Peter later preached, "All the prophets testify about Him." From the creation account, right through the apocalypse, the purpose of the Biblical writings is to witness to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Ok, it all has to do with Jesus Christ, well that should help us understand some of the more difficult portions of the Bible. What about the second key principle?
The second key principle in understanding what the Bible is saying, is to properly distinguish whether God is speaking a Command or a Promise. We know this is a little harder to do, because we see St. Paul encouraging the pastor Timothy in his efforts. He says, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed, who properly divides the word of truth." Who divides the word of truth into commands and promises. Law and Gospel. Judgment and Grace. What is God saying here, is He giving us a command, or is He making us a promise?
Alright everyone, stay with me here. We're going to learn about these Commands and Promises, this Law and Gospel and then we are going to apply everything we have learned to our text and write a mini sermon together.
Let's start with the Law, the good command of God. The Law reveals the holy will of God. For example: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." The Law commands you to do something like have good thoughts, and speak good words and make good actions. We hear the word 'love' in the Law, but the action is required of you. You must 'love.' And this is why it is so important for us to distinguish it from God's promises. For when you hear God's Law spoken, you feel like you are trapped. It accuses you. Guilt presses down upon you. It can be terrifying, for the Law has no power to save you, only condemn and punish you for breaking it. For we do not love God with all that we are. Our hearts are distant from Him for most, if not all of the day. And Jesus says this is the most important commandment to keep! No, though we need to hear it, the Law is not comforting to hear because it shows us that we are lost, and that we need to turn from our lawlessness before it is too late. But this is the chief reason our loving God speaks His Law to us in the first place, that we may see our need for salvation and despair of our attempts to save ourselves. God speaks His Law to bring down the proud and the self-righteous, to take away the false security we have in the good we think we have done. Thanks be to God, that He does not let us blunder into destruction, but shows us the dangerous situation we are in.
Then there is the Gospel, the sweet promises of God. The Gospel is the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. For example: "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." The Gospel proclaims the grace of God. Again, we hear the word 'love', but this time God is the one doing the 'loving.' God loves you. There isn't a hint of the Law in the Gospel. Not an ounce of what you must do. It is God's promise to save you despite your failures. It is His way of overcoming our sin with His grace, by His death on the cross. However, God's promises go beyond Christ's death on the cross, they include everything that God has promised to do. As St. Paul says, "All of the promises of God find their "Yes" in Christ." By the message of the Gospel, God gives you forgiveness, faith, life and salvation.
When you hear the Gospel, you feel like you have been set free. You feel relieved, because you know that God has eliminated your debt for free. It is like an enormous sigh a huge release. You feel like you are finally able to rest. For God speaks peace to you. He has declared you are right with Him, because His Son died in your place. God speaks His Gospel for the burdened and the brokenhearted and the weary and all those that long to make things right, those that realize they have broken His Law. Christ has fulfilled the Law for you, and He gives you His righteousness for free! Thanks be to God, that He has not left us in our sin, but has taken it upon Himself, and given us His perfection in its place.
Ok, I guess its time to write today's sermon. It's time to put what we've learned into action. It all has to do with Christ, and properly distinguish between God's commands and God's promises. Let's take a look at our text. Thankfully, it is nicely broken up into two parts: First, the Pharisees ask Jesus about the Law, and Second, Jesus asks the Pharisees about the Christ.
Ok, where in the text do we see God speak His commands? You got it, in the first part when the Pharisees ask Jesus which is the greatest commandment in the Law. We already heard it, "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." Does He mean all the time? Surely, it can only be when it suits me. No, God's Law for us today is that He should be above all things. His Word should be above our reason. His commands should be above the commands of the world. Service to Him should come before serving ourselves, or our families, or our friends. You knew it was coming, this command to love crushes us. For we are our own worst enemy, we need a Savior who will rescue us from the death our lack of love deserves.
But what about the Gospel? Where do we find the good news? God doesn't seem to promise anything in our text? Here we have to refer to our first principle in understanding the Bible everything has to do with Jesus Christ, something that the Pharisees seem to have a big problem with.
The Pharisees are stumped by Jesus' questions about the Christ, because they don't understand who He is. They don't know how David could possibly call his son, Lord. But all of us, who know that this verse is speaking about Jesus Christ, can answer this question.
The Son of God came down from His eternal heaven and was born as a baby in the line of King David. The Lord Almighty is a great, great, great, grandson of King David. So David, in the Spirit, saw a vision that Christ would be exalted to the right hand of the Father. David was given the promise that the Christ would defeat all of the enemies that plague us, and would ascend into heaven to open it for us all. This is why he says, "The Lord said to my Lord, (that is, the Father said to the Son), Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet."
The sweet, sweet Gospel promises become very clear when we read the Bible the way Jesus tells us to. In fact, this promise that Christ would defeat all our of enemies, is the only hope we have after having heard God speak His Law in the first half of the text. Our Savior has rescued us from our enemies, from sin, death and the power of the devil, and has taken the punishment we deserve. But this was not His end, He rose from the dead and ascended to His rightful place at the right hand of the Father, so that we would be certain heaven is again open to us. David took comfort in it, and Christ had not even come yet. We take comfort in it, because Christ has already done it. And now we wait for Him to do the same for us, to put all of our enemies under our feet when He calls us back to life in the resurrection of the dead, and ushers us into the life to come.
Well, good job everyone. We properly distinguished between Law and Gospel. We found Christ at the heart of the Gospel in the Bible, and we wrote ourselves a pretty good sermon. We ought to thank the Holy Spirit for enlightening us with these gifts from God's Word. And as we go from here, may we always be humbled when God speaks a command to us, and may we hunger for the good news of His Gospel promises, knowing that His grace drips from the Words of life found in the Bible, and relying on nothing more than Jesus blood and righteousness. In His Holy name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr