Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What do you think about this scribe? The other day I was talking to someone about this passage, and the person said to me, “Isn’t this a little strange?” Most of the time, when Jesus encounters Pharisees, or Sadducees, or scribes, it’s usually because they’re trying to trap Jesus, catch Him in something He’s saying, trying to kill Him. This is one of the very, very few times where Jesus seems to have a positive interaction with a scribe. He sees that the scribe answers Him wisely. He agrees with Jesus on Jesus’ answer to the question about the greatest commandment.
So what do they agree on? Four things come out of their conversation. First, that God is one. This is from Deuteronomy 6, which we heard earlier. This is the “creed” of Israel: Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. Not only is there only one God, but that God is one. And the greatest commandment is to love that God from all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength. And the love of that God flows into love for the neighbors God has given us. And the scribe adds one more thing: that love of God and neighbor—the keeping of the Ten Commandments, essentially—is greater, more significant, more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
This agrees with the prophets, through whom God condemns the sacrifices offered by the people. Why? Why is love greater than those sacrifices? Well, it would be easy sometimes to offer sacrifices without really thinking about it, without really focusing on what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. But love requires thought, and heart, and strength, and all we are. You literally can’t love God or other people without focusing on what you’re doing. So actual love toward God in believing and receiving what He has promised; and actual, concrete works of love toward our neighbor are more important than any and all sacrifices.
And then Jesus says to the scribe: You are not far from the kingdom of God. Think about that for a minute. Jesus and the scribe have just agreed. When Jesus answers the scribe’s question, the scribe says, “Beautiful! You have answered with the truth.” And Jesus sees that the scribe answers wisely. So, then, where is the gap between the scribe and the kingdom of God? He is “not far” from the kingdom, but where and what is the distance between where the scribe is and where the kingdom of God is?
Well, Jesus answers the question in sort of a round-about way. There are three sections here in chapter 12—two of which we just heard—that revolve around scribes. A scribe asks Jesus a question; Jesus asks a question about what the scribes say; and then, right after this, Jesus tells His listeners to beware the scribes, who love to be the most important, the most greeted, the center of attention, and the holiest. They understand the Scriptures because they have copied them. If you copied the Scriptures by hand, you’d know them pretty well, too!
So Jesus asks about these experts’ interpretation of the Messiah. So they say that the Messiah will be the son of David, huh? How is that, when David himself calls the Messiah “Lord”? Apparently, everyone understood this verse—Psalm 110:1—to refer to the Messiah. It’s a little hard to tell in English, but an Israelite would hear it this way: Yahweh said to Adonai, sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet. Adonai is the Hebrew word for “Lord,” and Yahweh is the Name of God that gets translated also as LORD. But Jesus’ question has to do with calling the Messiah Adonai, Lord. Why would David call his descendant Adonai? I guarantee you, I’m not calling either of my sons “Lord”! The descendant should honor the ancestor, not the other way around! But David honors his descendant with the title Lord, as the Messiah who sits at the right hand of the one God.
It is because David’s Son is also David’s Lord. The Son of Mary, the descendant of David, is Mary’s Lord. The Messiah is not just an associate of the one, true God; He is that God. The one God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the Son of God is also the Son of David, and David’s Lord. He is the one sent by the Father to bring the kingdom of God to the earth, who will ascend into heaven and sit at the right hand of the Father, exalted in His flesh as the divine Son of David. And so Bartimaeus cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And that scribe stands mere feet from the Lord of that Kingdom. Not only that, but he has all the pieces: the love of God and people, the sacrifices, the unity of the one God. This One, David’s Son and David’s Lord is the only one who loves God with everything He has, everything He says, everything He does, everything He suffers. And He does that for your sake and mine, His enemies whom He treats as neighbors in love. And He will be the single sacrifice greater than all the other sacrifices, because He is the fulfillment of them all. As Hebrews reminds us, those sacrifices had to be offered over and over, again and again, year after year. But this Sacrifice, and this Blood, does not need to be offered again and again, because once is enough: enough for that scribe, enough for you, and enough for me.
You can search the Scriptures and look for life there; true life is true love for the God who made you and for those others whom He has made as well. You can search there for life, but you will not, finally, find it, because those Scriptures—including the greatest commandments—testify to the Son of David. Life is found in Him, with Him in His kingdom. And as long as those commandments and those sacrifices and those titles have nothing to do with Jesus, then the distance remains between us and the Kingdom of God.
But the one David calls Lord has now become our Lord. The devil is not our lord; our flesh is not our lord; the world is not our lord. Jesus has become our Lord, gathering us under His rule and reign, so that we will belong to Him and live under Him in His Kingdom. His blood purifies us from the dead works of the law that end nowhere, to serve the living God with love that flows from and to Jesus. His love for His Father and for us is the blood that is shed to begin the eternal and final forgiveness of sins, for us and for the whole world. That is the blood you drink: His very life and love. And being purified, we love our neighbors. And as He speaks to us, as we hear the words of Him who is our loving Lord, we hear Him gladly. We should not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it, because it is the very voice of our Lord! To despise preaching and His Word is to despise Him and the Word by which He purifies us. No, we hear our Lord gladly as He speaks to us, feeds us, strengthens us, and keeps us.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/2/18