Jesus said, “And the Second is like it…”
᛭ INI ᛭
The Pharisees were after Jesus. They gathered around Him in order to “entrap Him in a Word.” We’re told that in Matthew 22:15. In our text today, “One of them, a lawyer” stands up to spring the trap. He asked Jesus, “tempting Him,” putting Him to the test, “Which is the great commandment in the Law?”
This is just playing games with God’s Law. The lawyer is trying to be lord over the Law. He uses it to his own devices, and he’s using it to try and trap Jesus. It doesn’t really work, obviously. You can’t trap Jesus. You can only catch Him if He suffers Himself to be caught.
We play law games, too. We act as if we’re lord of the Law, that we can wield it however we want. We’re only pretending, though. We pretend to be lord of the law, its master, its ruler. Jesus cuts through false opinion when when He says, “And the Second is like it…”
We play law games, too. We act as if we’re lord of the Law, that we can wield it however we want. Part of this trap has to do with how we Lutherans teach how God’s Law functions. We teach that God’s Law has three Uses, or Functions, or maybe even Offices. That it works as a Curb, as a Mirror, or as a Guide. What that means is that God’s Word of Law works in three ways when it encounters a sinner. It will curb their evil, their sin. It will reveal their evil, their sin. Or, for the sinner who is also a saint by faith in Jesus Christ, it will function as a guide, to reveal what is God-pleasing and curb was is not God-pleasing . The Law game begins when we think we can control which use of the Law is at work. The Law is the Law. It simply says what it says. **“You shall not steal,”** for example. The civil government punishes thieves, based on this commandment being written on our hearts. The commandment reveals that our short-changing or over-charging our neighbor is stealing. We’re guided to see that helping our neighbor in need is God-pleasing and not helping is not God-pleasing. Now, that’s just one of our legal games, where we pretend to be lord of the law, its master, its ruler. The other one Jesus cuts through is the one He reveals when He says, **“And the Second is like it...”**
(2. We are not the Lord of the Law.)
First, what does Jesus mean by “the second is like it”? Well, Jesus says that “the great and first commandment” is to love God “with all your heart, soul, and mind.” So, when He says, “the second is like it,” He means that the Second is also “great and first.” That commandment is “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Now, what does it mean that both commandments are “great and first”? It means you can’t pit them against each other. You can’t do away with either. You can’t get rid of “love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” You also can’t get rid of “love your neighbor as yourself.” You can’t do away with any single commandment of God, you can’t pit any single one against another one. As James says, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” But this is exactly what we do!
We pit God’s Law against each other so that we can justify ourselves, make ourselves not guilty before God. Or perhaps we might do it for those we love. All this playing around with God’s Law makes us hypocrites. It’s His Law to us, His demands for us. It’s not our little play thing. It’s not a toy. How do we do this?
Well, we either pit “love for God” against “love for neighbor” or “love for neighbor” against “love for God.” Unrighteousness abounds with this! But before I get to that, I’ve got to clarify one more thing. Loving God with all that you are isn’t what you get to decide about it. It’s what He Himself describes in Commandments 1–3. In the same way, loving your neighbor isn’t what you think it is. God Himself demands what that looks like in Commandments 4–10. This really shows us that we don’t do either, it’s just lies and double-standards.
Unrighteousness abounds! Our relationship with God makes up for the bad relationships with others. Or our good relationship with others makes up for our relationship with God. We treat the people in our lives terribly but comfort ourselves, well, at least some of us, by saying, “At least I’m good with God.” How? Do you “pray, always go to church, or read your Bible”? (God actually commands these things!) But maybe you shrug that off. Usually with a “Yeah, I know.” Your inaction proves you don’t know and don’t actually care about your relationship with God. Besides the fact that we usually comfort ourselves with the delusion that we’re “nice people,” or at least “nice enough,” “nicer than others.”
The Law’s a trap from which you can’t escape. The Lord says, “the second is like” the first. They are equal and unrelenting. This isn’t a game. God commands you: no other Gods, pray, use your time to hear sermons and the Bible; honor authorities; don’t be anger or murder; don’t do things with someone that are only for once you’re married to that person; don’t steal but use your stuff to bless others; don’t gossip; don’t desire things or people. And you cannot magnify one commandment against the others.
All this proves you are not lord at all, and certainly not Lord of the Law. The Lord of the Law is not the one to whom it is given, but the Lord of the Law is the One who gave that Law. And that’s Jesus.
(1. Jesus springs the Law trap on Himself, even though He is the Lord of the Law.)
Jesus really is the Lord of the Law. He’s the One who gave it on Sinai, and we know that from what David says in Psalm 110. That was our Psalm for last week in the Congregation at Prayer. It’s also the Psalm Jesus quotes in Matthew 22. In Psalm 110, David confesses that his Son, the future Christ, is actually his Lord. Princes are not lords over their fathers. The king rules over his sons. Not so with Jesus. Jesus is David’s Lord, His God. “Lord and God” are synonymous. As Thomas confesses of Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus is the eternal God who appeared at Sinai. He gave the Law. But at various times He appeared to the Prophets to tell them of His future coming, when He would come to redeem His people from their sins. He would come to be David’s Lord, your Lord, the Lord of the World. He would come to be your Redeemer.
Jesus does this not by being Lord over the Law, even though He is. He did this by being Servant under the Law. Or to put it another way. Jesus springs the Law trap on Himself, even though He is the Lord of the Law. Jesus reveals that when He says, “On these two commandments hangs all the Law and the Prophets.”
All the Law and the Prophets point forward to Jesus, they preach Him. This is why we still read the Old Testament! It preaches Jesus. Moses through Malachi preach Jesus—either our need for Him or promises about Him.
Jesus comes to hang. He hangs on the tree. The Law strings Jesus up. He hangs upon it. He hangs for each and every time we break the Law, and for each time we play our Law games, too. He hangs on “love God,” hangs on “love your neighbor” for all the times you don’t. He is the opposite of a hypocrite! For his own benefit a hypocrite falsely makes himself more righteous by his fake good deeds that are just a veneer over his bad deeds. (Lipstick on a pig.) Jesus, on the other hand, only for your benefit, when you don’t deserve it all, becomes your unrighteousness, your evil, your sin, so that you would be righteous before God not based on anything you have done, but only by faith, receiving what He’s done for you.
Not only is pitting God’s commandments against each other evil, it’s unnecessary! As Paul says, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5) “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” (Gal 3) “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Rom 3)
You aren’t Lord of the Law to make it fit to your needs. The Law condemns you. You can’t pit your relationship with God against your failures in your relationships with other people. You can’t pit your few good relationships to make up for your bad ones, and you can’t certainly can’t use the good to make up for how you fail God, how you let Jesus down. That is unrighteousness. And the prize for winning the Law Game is hell.
Jesus is the Lord of the Law. If you want to keep living like you’re lord, He will give you the prize you’re due: hell. But the truth of the matter is that He is Lord of the Law and He was condemned by it for you all so that He could save you, redeem you, forgive you.
JESUS IS THE LORD WHO REDEEMS YOU FROM HIS LAW.
JESUS IS THE LORD WHO REDEEMS YOU FROM HIS LAW.
Jesus is trying to trap you that way, to hold you in arms. To take “your heart, soul, and mind” captive for Himself. That’s what the 2nd Article of the Creed is all about—His death and resurrection. It’s also why He delivers His Word and Gifts to you in many ways. His Baptism. His Bible. His Gospel Sermons. His Supper of His body and blood. All these things deliver His redemption, His forgiveness. So that you would redeemed and forgiven from His Law and from your sins against it.