By J.R. Miller
Matthew 22:15-22; 34-46
The Pharisees, on those last days in the temple, were in continual and bitter controversy with Jesus. They sought to trouble Him, to ensnare or entangle Him in His conversation. We may be glad, however, for the questions they asked, because they drew from Him great utterances which are of priceless value to us.
First, they took counsel together and prepared a question which they thought would entrap Him whichever way He answered it. They began by praising His sincerity and truthfulness, as if to flatter Him. Then they asked, "Is it lawful to pay taxes unto Caesar, or not?" They thought He could not possibly avoid being ensnared. If He would answer Yes, He would be denounced as lacking in Jewish patriotism. If He should answer No, He would be denounced as disloyal to Rome. But He was not ensnared by their question. He knows men's thoughts. He knew their hypocrisy and falseness, and easily baffled them. His answer lays down a great principle. "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." The use of the coinage of Caesar by the people, was an admission of his rule. But there was something higher than that. God was over all, and no duty to Him must be neglected. They must be good citizens of Rome--but there was a higher citizenship, and they must also be good citizens of heaven.
The Sadducees came next with their question about the resurrection. They did not believe in the resurrection nor in the existence of spirits, and they thought their question would completely puzzle Him. "In the resurrection... whose wife shall she be of the seven? For they all were married to her." They thought to make the doctrine of resurrection ridiculous. The answer was wonderfully wise. They were thinking only of the earthly life--but in the immortal life all will be different. In the resurrection there will be no marriage. Christ does not mean that the love which binds husband and wife together and grows into such sacredness and beauty in true marriage, shall perish in death and have no existence in the resurrection life. Love never dies--it is immortal. It is only the incidents of birth, death and marriage that have no existence beyond the grave.
Then a lawyer had a question to ask Jesus, "testing Him," the record says. "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" The question was a theological one that was discussed much among Jewish teachers, who were proverbially fond of splitting hairs. However, it is an important question for us, too. It is well for us to know which are the first things in life.
Jesus answered promptly, "You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart." God comes first. Nothing else in all the universe can be put before Him in true living. The first words of the Bible are, "In the beginning God." God was at the beginning, before anything--a grain of sand, the tiniest flower, the smallest thing--was created. There was nothing before God. There is nothing which God did not create. But He is also at the beginning of everything of good and beauty. The same is true in every true heart. We cannot get a blessing, until we have God first. Not God first in order, merely--but God first in love, in the place of confidence and trust. He must have the chief place--we must love Him with all our being. It is idle to think of any other religious act or effort, until we have begun to love God. This is the beginning of all true religion. Not to love God--is not to have taken the first step in a true and holy life.
Then something else follows. "And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love for our neighbor is second, in two ways. It must be second in place and in degree. God must be loved supremely. To love any being or anything more than God--is idolatry. It will not do to preach a religion of humanitarianism and not to have first "You shall love the Lord your God." Love to a man is second also, in the sense that it must spring out of love for God. There must be a first before there can be a second. There can be no love for our neighbor, if there is not first love for God. "We love, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19), We love our neighbor, because God loves us, and we love God and because this love warms our heart toward others. But when we truly love God--we will love our brother also.
There has been altogether too little stress put by the Christian Church in the past on this commandment of love to our neighbor. A careful study of the teachings of Christ, will show that He Himself insisted continually on love as the very proof and test of Christian life. We cannot get God's forgiveness, until we forgive our fellow men. We are to love our enemies, if we would be the children of our Father. By this shall all men know that we are Christ's disciples, because we love one another (see John 13:35). The epistles, too, are full of teachings concerning the duty of love. Paul's wonderful thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians shows how essential love is, and then shows us the way we must live--if we are indeed Christ's. John also makes it plain to us that if we love God we will love our brother also. The claim that we love God cannot be true--if it appears that we do not love our brother. "If a man says, I love God, and hates his brother--he is a liar; for he who loves not his brother whom he hat seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?"
Jesus asked the Pharisees a question, too. "What do you think of Christ?" It was not an easy question to answer. They had very mistaken ideas about their Messiah. Many stumbled at the Messiahship of Jesus, because it was not what they were expecting. Even Christ's own disciples did not understand the matter. The Jews were looking for a king who would reign on David's throne--an earthly monarch, a worldly conqueror. The Pharisees said the Messiah was to be David's son. Jesus then asked them another hard question. "How then does David in Spirit, calls him Lord?" But they had not thought about the particular Scripture to which Jesus referred. If they had, they would have had different ideas of the character and reign of their Messiah.
Jesus then asked them again, "If David then calls Him Lord, how is He his son?" No wonder that no one was able to answer Him a word after hearing this question. The question was simply unanswerable on any theory that made the Messiah an earthly monarch. It is unanswerable also on any conception of the character of Jesus which considers Him as no more than a man. If David called the Messiah his Lord, the Messiah must be Divine, the Son of God. We may worship Him, therefore, and give Him the supreme place in all our lives.
It is thus, indeed, that Christ offers Himself to us in the Scriptures. He claims the supreme individual love of His followers. He who loves father or mother more than Him--is not worthy of Him. He claims the place of absolute Master in the life of every man who would be His. We must obey implicitly, unquestioningly, wholly. We cannot take Christ merely as Savior, trusting in Him as our Redeemer, without at the same time taking Him as Lord, as Master, and obeying Him. What David did in calling the Messiah his Lord, is what everyone who accepts Him must do. Paul put his whole creed in a single sentence when he said of Christ; "Whose I am, and whom I serve" (Acts 27:23). The confession of Thomas should be the confession of everyone who receives Christ and believes in Him, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).