The Pharisees approach Jesus insincerely. They want to catch him in his words and kill him, and they don’t care a bit about learning something from him. But he who has an ear, let him hear, because though they ask their question insincerely, it remains a good question and Jesus gives it a glorious answer. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And Jesus said, “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 a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
With these two commandments Jesus summarizes the whole Law of God. And how beautifully and succinctly he does it, quoting his own commands from the Old Testament with words few, yet ripe. We have enough to learn about the law from these words alone that we couldn’t exhaust them in a hundred thousand lifetimes.
And yet the Law of God is simple enough: love. “Love is the fulfilling of the Law,” as it says in Romans 13. God tells us to love him and love our neighbor, and we love God and neighbor in different ways. We are to love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. With all our heart: This means we are to delight in God as our highest good and desire him above all things. We are to feel and speak as the bride does in the Song of Solomon, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,” and so long as that is the case then all is well, and we have everything we could ever want, all our longings are satisfied, and we have the fullest contentment.
The heart of one who loves the Lord belongs to the Lord alone, not to the world. The world entices us and wants us to regard its power and wealth and honor as priceless. But no. He who loves the Lord looks at the world’s power and wealth and honor as dung and feels revulsion at them. If he loves anything in the world, he loves it for the sake of God alone, and if he delights in anything in the world, he delights in it only because of the God who made it. He who loves the Lord looks to the Lord for everything: to him he prays, from him he seeks all things needful. He says with the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25). His heart belong wholly to the Lord.
And we are to love the Lord with all our soul and all our mind: This means we are to love what God loves and hate what God hates. We are to be of one mind with God. Thus we are to love the Word of the Lord, by which he teaches us his mind. Our request should be that of the psalmist, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation” (Ps. 25:4). He who loves the Lord with his soul and mind has a will that is harmonious with God’s will. When that man loses something of earth, he counts it as no loss at all, but as gain. And even if he doesn’t understand how it is a gain, he nevertheless loves the Lord with his soul and mind and knows that the Lord has visited him with good and not harm. He says, “Amen” to every Word and work of God. His soul and mind belong wholly to the Lord.
That is the first and great commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And a second is like it, like it because it calls for love, yet not exactly the same, because that love shows itself differently, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” God doesn’t have to teach us how to love ourselves. We naturally know what that means. We don’t love ourselves merely in word, but in deed and in truth. We don’t love ourselves half-heartedly or sometimes, but whole-heartedly and always. We seek good for ourselves and not evil, increase, not decrease, health, strength, happiness, and all other such things as make bodily life pleasant. And we are to love our neighbor in the same way, in the way we love ourselves: not in word only, not half-heartedly, not just sometimes, but with our actions, with complete sincerity, and at all times, seeking our neighbor’s good in all things. If we desire it for ourselves, we desire it for our neighbor as well: health, prosperity, happiness, and forgiveness. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves.
This is a true explanation of those two commandments on which all the Law and the Prophets depend. But the Pharisees had no such understanding. They looked at the Law of God quite superficially. They supposed they had fulfilled the commandments, but in mere outward show and according to the bare words. They looked like they had no other gods. There were no statues of Canaanite or Greek or Roman gods in their homes. They looked like they used God’s name rightly as they showed off their lengthy prayers, which were no prayers at all, but empty boasts. They looked like they held God’s Word as holy; they went to synagogue and memorized portions of the Old Testament, and yet they had utter disdain for the Word of God.
Much the same could be said about their love for their neighbor. Perhaps they had refrained from slandering their parents, from committing murder and adultery and theft. Yet Jesus says of them, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Mt. 15:7-9). Their heart was not in it. They had no love of God and no love for their neighbor. They were not willing to accept the Law of God in its perfection and holiness, because then they couldn’t fulfill it themselves. They would have to admit, “We are sinners, utter sinners! We have not fulfilled the Law of God, but at every ‘Thou shalt’ our conscience is pricked as the Holy Spirit testifies, ‘But thou hast not!’”
Then the Pharisees would be speaking honestly. Then the Pharisees would confess what our mouths ought to confess when faced with God’s Law. We confess that God’s Law is good and high and holy. We long to fulfill it. And we must confess, “I have not fulfilled God’s Law, but have fallen completely and catastrophically short. I am wretched and weak and corrupt, and nothing good dwells in me. O God! Do not consume me in your anger! Be gracious to me, for I am languishing. Save me according to your steadfast love and for your name’s sake. Your love and name alone can I plead, for I know that I deserve destruction, and nothing in me can merit anything with you. So save me because of who you are. Save me because you are merciful and forgiving. Your Law is good and right, and it rightly condemns me. But save, O Lord!”
“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” Jesus’ enemies had been asking him questions and trying to trap him in his words all day. Now Jesus asks them a question, “‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’” They’re not wrong, but they stop short. Certainly the Christ was descended from David according to the flesh. But Jesus’ enemies didn’t think the Christ needed to be anything more than that: a human heir of David who would reestablish the throne of Israel. They wanted a political savior. And their false doctrine about the Christ was directly related to their false doctrine about the Law of God. If fulfilling the Law of God were as possible as the Pharisees thought, then they could fulfill it by themselves. They could be righteous before God by themselves. They didn’t need a Savior from sin. They had that all figured out. They just needed an earthly savior to free them from the Romans. “What do you think about the Christ?” “We think he’s going to be a mere human king,” the Pharisees answer.
Yet David, speaking by the Holy Spirit calls the Christ who was to descend from him “Lord.” Why would David call the Christ “Lord” if the Christ is David’s son? It’s not custom for a father to speak thus of his son; rather, the son is the one who refers to his father with high titles of respect. “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” The Pharisees couldn’t answer the question. They were theologically bankrupt.
But you’re not. Why does David call the Christ his Lord? Because though the Christ was David’s son according to the flesh, he “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead,” as it says in Romans 1. The Christ is man, yes, but he is also God. That’s why David calls the Christ “Lord,” because the Christ is David’s God. And therefore the Christ is no mere political savior who preaches his Law, leaves it to us to fulfill it, and merely occupies himself with establishing an earthly kingdom. If that’s the savior we received, then let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die eternally in hell. But if the Christ is God in the flesh, then he’s a much greater Savior than that. We cry out to the Lord, “I am unrighteous! I have not fulfilled the Law! Save me!” And we have a Lord who answers, “But I am righteous, and I have fulfilled the Law, and thus I have saved you. In the face of your sins, you can boast, ‘God’s blood was shed to blot out these sins.’ In the face of your failures, you can claim, ‘What in me is lacking God’s fulness has filled.’ So fear not,” Christ says, “I am no mere human king. I am the Lord of life and death, the Master of devil and hell, the Commander of mercy and forgiveness. In me you find your salvation.”
The Pharisees approached Jesus insincerely, didn’t love God, didn’t love their neighbor, and were utterly confused about the Gospel of the Christ. All of this must be the opposite for you. You understand the Gospel of the Christ. You approach Jesus sincerely, being honest about yourself and seeking grace from him. And this changes how you think of the Law of God as well. The Gospel is not given so that we do not have to fulfill the Law. Rather the Gospel is given so that we can begin to fulfill the Law, never claiming a righteousness from ourselves, always finding our righteousness in Christ; but this is what the Gospel does. The Holy Spirit dwells in you and you begin to fulfill the Law of God, never enough to merit eternal life, never enough to merit anything from God. But nevertheless, it is pleasing to your Father in heaven that you learn to walk in his commandments.
Therefore, we don’t think of God’s Law and some evil gremlin with a pitchfork that’s trying to drive us into hell, were it not for the intervention of Christ. Rather, we think of God’s Law as we think of God himself: as a loving father who instructs us in what is right and seeks our good and keeps peace. We hear Jesus say, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and we say, “Yes, God alone shall have my heart. Earth has no pleasure I would share; yea, heaven itself were void and bare, if Thou, Lord, wert not near me. Oh how I love your Law! It is my meditation all the day. The world is nothing to me and my God is everything. I find in him the highest good.” We hear Jesus say, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and we say, “Yes, my neighbor is as precious to you as I am; you shed your blood for us both. And therefore my neighbor is as precious to me as my own life. I will seek his good as fervently as I would seek my own.”
Is the sinful flesh still present? Yes, but what of it? It’s drowning and dying in the baptismal font. Meanwhile, a new man emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. That new man, the new creation in Christ, loves God’s Law, loves God, loves neighbor. You are not what you were formerly. Christ has come, the son of David and the Son of God, the Lord not just of bodies, but of hearts and souls and minds. He has redeemed you. He gives you delight in his Law. And he will at the last fulfill the two greatest desires of all Christians: that you see him face to face, and that you walk in his Law perfectly forever and ever. God grant it to us all for Christ’s sake. Amen.