Not by Love, but Because of Love Through the Cross
Matthew 22:34-23:12 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing 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 foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: 42 “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet”’? 45 If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” 46 No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.
23 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
Today’s text once again will mess with some people’s idea about how Jesus felt about religion. Jesus says: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe.” Jesus acknowledged the position and the authority of the scribes and Pharisees and encouraged the people to do what they told them. Jesus Himself went to the temple. He observed all the Jewish holidays and feasts. Jesus problem was not with religion or even with religious people. In Matthew 16:6 Jesus says: “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” It is not the people Jesus has the problem with it’s the sin. In the case of the religious leaders the primary sins Jesus spoke against were self righteousness and hypocrisy. That’s why after encouraging people to be obedient to those in authority, He says: “but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.” It is not religion or religious people, but rather sin which Jesus is against.
In Matthew 21:28-32 Jesus tells a parable of two sons: “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.” What we do in response to God is more important than what we say. But for those who think that Jesus would prefer that people remained sinners rather than church goers they are mistaken. The first son would not have been justified in his actions if he had simply been honest and not been obedient to his father. It was his repentance, the changing of his mind and his actions which justified him. In the same way the tax collectors and prostitutes were justified for responding to John’s message of repentance and righteousness, not for their sin.
The beginning of today’s text says a lot about what Jesus really believed and taught. It says: One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing 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 foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Many people promote a doctrine which says love is all that matters. They essentially say that love replaced the law and righteousness. We need to understand the difference between that idea and what Jesus says. Jesus says that upon the commandments to love God and to love others everything else depends. He doesn’t say that nothing else matters. Jesus also says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. “ (Matthew 5:17-18) Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to do away with it. Love does not do away with the importance of righteousness. Jesus did not fulfill the law with love. He fulfilled the law because of love, through the cross. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) Love is the foundation. It is the reason Jesus died for our sins, but it is the cross, believing in Him and responding to Him which brings about salvation. That’s why in Matthew 5:19-20, after saying He came to fulfill the law, Jesus says: “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What we do still matters.
Today’s text ends with Jesus saying: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” It is not whether we are religious or not that matters. But rather it is whoever humbles himself, believing that Christ paid for their sins, not with love, but because of love, on the cross, and believing responds in repentance, changing what they do, they will be exalted with Christ.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit thank You for the cross, the demonstration of love. Thank You for loving everyone and paying the price for every sin. I humbly believe and ask that You, Holy Spirit would lead me to be obedient in all that I do. Amen.