Jesus in the Crosshairs

Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

October 15, 2017

Matthew 22:34–46

They had Jesus in the crosshairs. Without realizing it they were carrying out Psalm 2, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed.” As Matthew records it in the chapters leading up to our Gospel reading, wave after wave of Jewish religious leaders set their sights on Jesus to entrap Him. The chief priests, the scribes, the Sadducees, and now the Pharisees. As if looking into the scope and centering Jesus in the crosshairs, they sought to bring Him down.

In our Gospel reading today the approach was to get Jesus to pit one commandment against all the others and so reduce all the others to second-class commandments. In this way they would claim victory over Jesus for not imparting to the entire Law of God equally important status. Teacher, one of them said, Which is the greatest commandment in the Law? You can almost hear the glee trying to squeak out as he asks the question, knowing that he has set the trap and that Jesus has no choice but to answer the question or else be ridiculed as one who is not a true teacher of the Word of God, let alone the Son of God as He had claimed to be.

They had Jesus in the crosshairs and their mouths were nearly salivating with victory. Much in the same way, having been demeaned by Joseph’s dreams of glory over them and their father’s excessive fondness of their brother, the sons of Jacob had Joseph in the crosshairs. They were going to get rid of him once and for all. By divine intervention they sold him into slavery rather than killing him which had been their intent. And thus began a remarkable turn of events where through various trials and divine intervention the Lord raised up Joseph to a position of glory and wealth as second only to Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt. Eventually Joseph’s father, brothers, and extended family made their way down to Egypt to live and escape the devastating famine that had scourged the land.

But as the years went by and a new Pharaoh rose to power the Israelites were driven into slavery and for four hundred years they groaned under the heavy load they bore. When God raised up a prophet and deliverer in the person of Moses they were brought miraculously through the Red Sea and into the desert so that they could make their way to the land the Lord promised them. On Mount Sinai the Lord proclaimed His great glory and grace to His people: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’”

With power and glory and grace He saved them. He delivered them from their cruel condition and now gave them more grace, what we commonly call the First Commandment, You shall have no other gods. This is the great and first commandment, or, as it is stated in Deuteronomy 6: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is what Jesus quotes when He answers the Pharisee’s question. You shall have no other gods is nothing else than loving the Lord God with your whole being, trusting in Him alone for everything good.

In this sense you ought to set your sights on Him alone, place Him in the crosshairs of your vision. If you move the scope away from the Triune God, to other things such as money or your job or even your family, then you do not love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. What you have is other gods. What you put your trust in are gods other than the only God.

As Matthew records it, there is no response from the Pharisees. They’re gathered there, assessing Jesus’ response and before they have a chance to dispute His answer or come up with a better plan Jesus asks them a question. What do you think about the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ? Whose son is he? Knowing the Scriptures, they say, The Son of David. Now Jesus sets them up, quoting the very Scriptures they know so well, “Then how is it, that David, speaking in the Holy Spirit, says in Psalm 110, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’” Jesus asks them, If David calls Him Lord, how is He his son?

I like to think that it is with dry humor and irony that Matthew says that no one was able to answer Him a word and from that day on no one dared to ask Him anymore questions. The religious leaders had had Jesus in the crosshairs, but they were the ones who got shot down. They knew they were defeated. So they retreated and set up the final showdown where there would be no questions, no traps, no foolproof plans. They would now come at Him with force and arrest Him, convincing Pilate to condemn Him to death. There they would find their victory and finally be able to pull the trigger with Jesus dead in the center.

The great irony of all of this is that as those religious leaders who hated Jesus and had Him in the crosshairs were actually unsuccessful. In fact Jesus did not succumb to their distorted action of killing Him but rather willingly gave Himself over as sacrifice for their sins and those of the whole world. Jesus in fact had them in the crosshairs. Not to gun them down but to save them. To die on the very cross on which He was condemned for their sin and guilt. They would have none of it but that didn’t prevent Jesus from keeping His laser-like focus on them to forgive them.

If Jesus teaches that the great and first commandment is to love God with your whole being He then teaches that this is only possible through Himself, God’s own answer to the First Commandment. Who has loved God with all his heart, soul, and mind? Christ alone, the Son of David, the Christ, the Lord of all. He alone lived life in perfect and willing trust in God His Father. In all He did He set His sights on His Father. He had His Heavenly Father in the crosshairs, knowing and trusting that everything His Father did for Him and brought upon Him was out of perfect, eternal love—including delivering Him over to the cross to endure the eternal holy wrath upon sinners. Jesus was in fact the Son of David and David’s Lord, the very Messiah promised to suffer for the sin of the world.

On the cross Jesus placed the whole world in the center of the scope He was looking through, saying, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. It is only in this forgiveness Jesus prayed for on the cross that we are able to keep and cherish the great and first commandment of having no other gods, loving Him with our whole heart, soul, and mind; seeing everything we have and who are—our money, our time, our talents—as offered to Him in complete trust.

It’s worth noting that when Jesus answered the Pharisees’ question He then gave them something more. A second commandment, which is like the First, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, quoting from Leviticus 19. The Pharisees had been trying to trap Jesus into placing one commandment over the others and thus in effect diminishing the others. Jesus shows how on these two commandments depend all the Law and Prophets, the entire Scriptures. Jesus’ focus was so set on God the Father that He saw clearly that the only way to love the Lord your God with your whole being is to love Him in such a way where you love also your neighbor as yourself.

Is this something you can do? Is it something you have done? Is it something you try to do and keep falling short of? Jesus alone has loved others in such a pure way that He has placed them before Himself, ultimately giving His life on their behalf. Because He has done so, you can in fact live in such a way. How are you able to do this? Because, as the apostle Paul says in the Epistle reading, of “the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.” Where this grace was given you was in your Baptism. You don’t have the inclination in yourself to love others as you ought, especially when they wrong you. But in Baptism you are given new eyes in which you see God clearly, the Father who has given you His Son that you may see others clearly, as those the Lord loves with all His being. Loving the Lord your God with all your being naturally flows into loving others unconditionally, placing them in the crosshairs that you may focus on them and the love and forgiveness they need, not your own selfish desires.

This laser-like focus is brought out most clearly at the Table of the Lord, where, as Paul says in 1Corinthians 11, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” What better love can you show toward your brother or sister in Christ than to join with them in proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes? How can you love your fellow saints in the Lord more than to confess here at the altar of the Lord the truth of the Lord that He comes here in this bread and wine with His body and blood for forgiveness of sins? What greater gift can we give to the world than, as we pray in the Post-Communion Collect, that He would strengthen us through this salutary gift in faith toward Him and fervent love toward one another?

There is nothing more or greater that we can give to each other and to the world than the one thing that all of Scripture has in its crosshairs: Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This is so because there is nothing greater or of first importance that God has given us than having no other gods. There is nothing more blessed than having set His sights upon us and the whole world than the Father giving us His Son, the Savior of the world and the object of our eternal praise and thanksgiving. Amen.