Sermon audio here.
Our Lord once told His disciples that one who teaches God’s Word is like a very wealthy person, who brings out of his treasure things that are both old and new.[i]
The Scriptures are like a mine fine, filled with gold and the most precious of gems. Though mining its riches is the secret to true wealth, we often spend our lives in the pursuit of worldly goods. And while the things of this world are very shiny, in the end, they turn out to be fool’s gold.
In today’s Holy Gospel, our Lord brings forth treasures, both old and new, in His conversation with the Pharisees. That he presents them with treasure is all the more remarkable since the Pharisees, as usual, came to Jesus deceitfully. So they test Him with the question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”[ii]
Now say what you will about the Pharisees; but they knew their Bible. It’s easy for us to be critical of them for how they twisted the Scriptures, but at least they cared enough about the Scriptures to twist them in the first place.
Their preoccupation with rules may have left them spiritually impoverished, but at least they knew that true wealth comes from spending time in God’s Word, not spending money. They sought treasure in the Scriptures, not in the shopping malls.
We tend to see the Pharisees as the “bad guys” in the Bible—and to be sure, there’s nothing praiseworthy about their scheming. But it’s only arrogance that allows us to regard them as the bad guys, since one common sin infects us all. As Walt Kelly wrote in his famous Pogo comic strip, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
The Pharisees’ question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” was a loaded one. This was something the scribes had been debating for hundreds of years. This question was more contentious than a Trump-Clinton election.
And yet, this question provided our Lord with the opportunity to bring out His first treasure, a treasure as old as life itself. He answers by saying,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”[iii]
Our Lord’s first treasure, then, is the Law, written on the heart of Adam and known to all his descendents since. The law’s requirements can be summed up in a single word: love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Granted, the sinful flesh has corrupted and twisted our love so that it is more self-serving than self-giving, but the answer remains encoded into our DNA by our Creator. This is why doing the right thing feels good and why we feel guilty when we do the wrong thing. God has written His law on our hearts.
Despite our inability to keep it, God’s Law remains a treasure. Think of the Law like fire.[iv] Fire is fundamentally good. We need fire for warmth, for cooking, and even to destroy things we don’t want. Controlled burns are very useful for farmers to improve the health of their field and are often used by the US Forest Service.
Our instinct is to think anything that hurts or burns is automatically bad, but when you need to get rid of something, there’s hardly a better method of disposal than incineration.
And that’s precisely the point of God’s Law: to incinerate false pride, to reveal the guilt of the guilty.[v] You are Christ’s vineyard,[vi] and while clearing out the weeds isn’t pleasant, He loves you too much to let sin remain and choke away your faith.[vii]
There’s no poison more lethal to the Old Adam than revealing his guilt. Our flesh wants to cover our guilt at all costs,[viii] but when we honestly assess ourselves in light of God’s Law, there is no escaping the verdict. You have not loved the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and so you have not loved your neighbor as yourself. Repent.
This is why it will not do for Jesus to only bring out this first treasure. The Law must first incinerate all pride and confront us with the reality that we are spiritually dead so that our Lord’s Gospel, His second and greater treasure, can give new life. He brings this treasure out with a question of His own: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?”[ix]
Notice how our Lord has shifted the discussion from the commandments to the Christ, from the Law to the Gospel, from the Old to the New. But as it turns out, this new, second treasure actually turns out to be older than life itself. To borrow from C.S. Lewis, if God’s Law is deep magic from the dawn of time, the Gospel is deeper magic from before the dawn of time. [x]
As St. Paul says, God, in His infinite mercy, has chosen you in Christ Jesus from before the foundation of the world.[xi] Christ tells us that on the Last Day, He will say to those who believe in Him, come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.[xii]
The oldness of our Lord’s New Testament can also be seen in the answer to our Lord’s question. The Christ is, as the Pharisees said, the Son of David. But that’s only half the answer.
He’s also David’s Lord and God. The Christ is the Son of Man, the son of Joseph and Mary. But He’s also the Son of God, of one substance with His Father. Jesus True God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also True Man, born of the Virgin Mary.[xiii]
He did what you could not do. And though you haven’t loved the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, He nevertheless drank the cup of the Father’s wrath, only to refill it with His own, precious blood.[xiv]
He has baptized you into His family, counting His faithfulness as your own, so that you, with David, Thomas, and all His saints from every generation might say to Him, “My Lord and my God.”[xv] By the blood of the cross, Jesus has opened to you the treasures of heaven, giving you true, eternal wealth by His self-giving love.[xvi]
Soli Deo Gloria
[ii] Matthew 22:36
[iii] Matthew 22:37–40
[iv] Cf. Jeremiah 23:29
[v] Romans 3:20; 5:20; Romans 7
[vi] Isaiah 5
[vii] Cf. Matthew 13
[viii] Cf. Genesis 3
[ix] Matthew 22:42
[x] The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
[xi] Ephesians 1:4
[xii] Matthew 25:34
[xv] Matthew 22:43–44, Psalm 110:1; John 20:28
[xvi] Hebrews 10:19; 1 Peter 1:3–4