One More Try

Text: Matthew 22:34-46
Date: Pentecost XIX + Proper 25 + 10/23/11

The chief priests and elders of the people and the parties of the Pharisees and Sadducees all quizzed Jesus and tried to catch him in His talk. In this last week of His earthly life, after one last attempt to test His orthodoxy, Jesus reached out to his opponents one last time. He gave it One More Try to bring them to repentance and faith; repentance of sin and faith IN HIM. The result of His final effort is stated by Matthew, “No one was able to answer [Jesus] a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” Case closed. From here on Jesus would speak His final words of warning, His grief over the rejection of Jerusalem, His last words of instruction for His disciples, then His betrayal, arrest, denial and trial, and finally His death by crucifixion. All this suggests that there is coming a time for each person when it will be too late; too late for repentance and faith, too late for salvation. So is it important to receive Jesus as Savior now, today, before it is too late.

To receive Jesus as Savior is, in part, to answer correctly the final question He put before the Pharisees that day. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” When the Pharisees responded, “The son of David,” they revealed their right but limited knowledge of the Scriptures. What they just couldn’t bring themselves to say, much less believe or confess, however, was the answer to Jesus’ final question, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls [his son] Lord?” “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

You know the history of salvation. The primeval promise was given to Adam and Eve immediately following the fall into sin. “The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). After the description of the population of the earth, its slavery to sin and God’s wrath against sin, the promise of a Savior came to a man named Abram in Genesis 12 with the words, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3).

The progression of the lineage of the promised Savior, the Messiah, the Christ passed through the generations. St. Matthew began his Gospel tracing the genealogy beginning with Abraham. “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah, etc.” Though there were more, Matthew chooses to list fourteen generations from Abraham to David, another fourteen from David to the Babylonian captivity, and another fourteen from then to the Christ; three groups of fourteen signifying to the Jewish mind perfect completion and fulfillment of God’s original promise.

The Christ was to be born “of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4). Surely the child born of Mary of Nazareth is He. Surely this can be called David’s “son” or offspring. But the question is, now, how, in Psalm 110, can David also call this his son “Lord”? It is because of the great surprise of God. It was not surprising but according to natural human procreation and the promise that Jesus was born of Mary of the house and lineage of David. All His relatives were of the house and lineage of David. Jesus received His humanity, His human nature and existence as the human descendent from Abraham to David to Mary. But then came the surprise. For Mary’s husband Joseph was not His human father. Jesus only had a human mother. For, as the angel said to Mary, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Jesus is the son of Abraham, the son of David, the son of Mary according to the flesh, “and declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness” (Rom 1:4). The surprise is that this son of David according to the flesh is also David’s God and Lord according to His divine nature as the Son of God. For God has said of Him alone, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you” (Psalm 2:7; Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5) and, both at His baptism in the Jordan River and His transfiguration on the holy mountain, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17; 17:5). So do we sing of the two natures of the Christ in the hymn, “Beautiful Savior, King of creation, Son of God and Son of Man!” (LSB 537).

Now, how could the Pharisees know this? After all it was His claim to be the Son of God that was the basis of the charge of blasphemy for which He was crucified. Surely His disciples knew of His Divine nature by the witness of His mother and by His own testimony. Surely many had heard and believed this man’s miraculous beginnings. But unless you are told by the eyewitnesses and it is revealed to you in such major prophesies as Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name” God! Immanuel! God with us!—how could you know, much less believe? Even His human name, though very popularly used, means “savior.” Jesus of Nazareth would be the only One who would actually live up to His name.

And so we come to your faith, your faith in Jesus as both your brother and your Savior from sin and death. We, too, can become confused, distracted or tempted away from saving faith. Therefore we need this same warning and invitation.

Like us the Pharisees, Sadducees and religious rulers of the people had God’s Word in the Old Testament scriptures. All the prophesies were there and they could read the words. But, as Jesus pointed out with Psalm 110, they did not understand or believe what the scriptures say. Faith does not follow only intellectual understanding. It is the other way around. Understanding follows faith and then not always, for faith simply responds and clings to God’s Word of promise. Faith believes what God’s Word says because God says it even though many times it is beyond understanding.

A person is saved, redeemed, restored, forgiven of all sins by faith in God’s promise alone. This faith expresses itself according to “the greatest commandment” the Pharisees had asked about of Jesus, namely, “You shall love the Lord your God…and your neighbor as yourself.” But what if that love of God or neighbor seems to be lacking? Many would conclude that this means true, saving faith is no longer there. Not necessarily so! It is then that we must remember also that true faith is not the product of our own actions, understanding or will, but solely the gift of God. Our love or holy living will always be partial, incomplete and affected by sin as long as we spend our days in this sinful world. But in Christ our salvation is sure and assured because of God’s own declaration over us solely for the sake of faith in His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

There is a wonderful noonday prayer describing the Lord’s constant reaching out with the invitation of salvation. While His arms are wide open to all we notice that they are also nailed in that gesture upon the cross. The cross! There is God’s powerful, eternal invitation to all.

Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, at this hour You hung upon the cross, stretching out Your loving arms to embrace the world in Your death. Grant that all people of the earth may look to You and see their salvation; for Your mercy’s sake we pray. Amen [LSB 296]