Let us pray: Dear Savior, more times than we can count we have questioned your love and tested Your commitment to us. But, every time You have been patient and long-suffering, slow to anger and rich in love. Lord, we humbly thank You for treating us in such a kind manner and ask that You never withdraw such kindness from us. Yes, empower us to be faithful to You by always clinging to Your cross. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR PATIENT LORD AND SAVIOR!
TEXT: Matthew 22: 34-46
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Three strikes and you’re out! That doesn’t just apply to baseball, or the Red Sox. That approach has also been adopted by many states in dealing with habitual criminals. After the third offense, they are locked up for life without a chance of parole. It may sound harsh, but it also serves to protect the innocent.
What’s your personal criteria for dealing with nasty people who have used and abused you? As Christians we are told to forgive 7 times seventy, or to always hold out hope for hard-hearted people. But, we are also told that to protect our faith and our sanity, sometimes we need to “mark and avoid” recalcitrant sinners. In fact, such “tough love” is really the last resort, the last chance of trying to reach a scornful person’s heart and to change it by God’s grace. However, this is all easier said than done. We’re not perfect at it. We make knee-jerk mistakes. And so, we daily plead the mercy of Christ and pray for Him to turn the heart’s of our enemies, even if we find ourselves unable to reach them.
God’s Church on earth is comprised of sinners like you and me who live imperfect lives of holiness and who are direct beneficiaries of His loving forgiveness. Hopefully that truth will keep us both humble and active as we seek to reach others with His love. With that in mind, today I want to welcome you to:
THE LAST CHANCE CHURCH
Last week we heard how the grossly immoral Herodians and the hypocritical Sadduccess combined forces to try to trip Jesus up by testing Him. They failed miserably as He turned the tables on them. The Puritanical Pharisees were waiting and watching this encounter. They, too, hated Christ and the rave reviews He was receiving from the populace. And so, now they take their own shot at Him. One expert in the Law decided to test Jesus in order to make Him look bad. He came with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Now, by using that term “Law” this fellow did not mean only the 10 commandments. No, the rabbinical teachers had added their pious opinions unto God’s truth, much like the Roman Catholic church does today. In fact, they had a list of 613 commandments to follow—248 positive precepts in accordance with their idea of the numbered parts of the human body, and 365 negative precepts corresponding to the days of the year. Which one was the most important, the greatest, was a burning question to them. And by posing this question to Christ, they had hopes of making Him look bad while at the same time demonstrating their own superiority. No matter which one Jesus picked, they could then accuse Him of overlooking or ignoring the rest.
But, what does Christ do? He answers them from the Bible, the Old Testament, alone. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And then He adds: “And love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets (code word for the Old Testament) hang on these two commandments.”
Obviously Jesus is correct. You all know that. You were taught those truths when you were confirmed. For if our relationship with God, God first we’ll call it, is not cemented into our psyche, all our other relationships will be out of whack. And if we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves, how can we expect God to love us since we’re His neighbors, as it were?
Note well that the Greek word for love used here is agape love. That is, unselfish, self-sacrificing love. It is love without conditions. Have you kept those two commandments? Has your love always been perfect and untainted by any hint of selfishness on your part? Has everything you’ve ever said or done been only for the glory of God and to assist others? No, no, and no! And yet, God has given you and me a second, third, 100th, and 1000th chance, hasn’t He? That’s why we can call Pinewood a church of the last chance. For in Christ, God’s love for us is boundless. It really is perfect. It really is self-sacrificing. Jesus’ death on the cross is our proof of that. In Him all our sins really are forgiven. Also, note that in John 3: 16 when Jesus states: “For God so loved the world” agape is used. Likewise in I Corinthians 13, the “love” chapter of the Bible, agape is used. So, when an inspired St. Paul writes: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails.” When Paul writes those words, they really describe Jesus’ perfect love for us and His perfect keeping of these 2 commandments for us. And they should serve as a positive reminder that His Church is our last chance, our only chance at being saved.
Jesus is God’s eternal Son. The Pharisees did not accept that truth. Likewise, they rejected the idea that the Christ, the Messiah, was anything more than some descendant of King David who would come and save them from political obscurity. They didn’t believe that the Messiah was a Spiritual King and not just a political one. Jesus knew this, as well. And so He seeks to give them one last chance. During Holy Week, just a few days before they would literally call for His head, He holds Godly truth out to them. He reveals His divine nature to them, His claim to the Messiahship, through the words of David himself in Psalm 110.
“How is it then, that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him (the Messiah) ‘Lord’? For he says, “The Lord (God the Father) said to my Lord (Christ): ‘Sit at my right hand (God’s kingdom of power and glory) until I put your enemies under your feet.”—Which would happen in a few short days when Jesus died and then was raised to life over the ultimate enemy: death. “If then David calls him ‘Lord’ how can he be his son?’ No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
After convicting them of their own sin by turning their test around on them, what does Jesus do? He gives them a last chance. He holds out salvation to them through His upcoming blood and righteousness. He pointedly reveals Himself to be David’s Lord, their Savior. He tests them, as it were, and they are found lacking. Their pride and love of self has darkened their understanding. And as we know from the Bible, they were lost. My friends, don’t let that happen to you. Humble yourself before the Lord, put your pride in your pocket, and embrace His love. Focus on it. Live it. Believe it. And take comfort today that in this world of very few last chances, God has led you today to His last chance church. Amen