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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Testing Jesus

Matthew 22:23-46 and parallel passages

Lesson audio

We begin the final public discourses of Jesus of Nazareth. It starts with a relatively unknown group, the Sadducees, testing him with a standard trick question.

Seven Brothers

Mat 22:23-33 NIV That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. (24) "Teacher," they said, "Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. (25) Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. (26) The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. (27) Finally, the woman died. (28) Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?" (29) Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. (30) At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. (31) But about the resurrection of the dead--have you not read what God said to you, (32) 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'[1]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." (33) When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.

Who are these Sadducees, anyway? Well, after what just happened to the Pharisees, we can conclude that they were smugly satisfied with being the “intellectuals” of their day, certain that their approach was right.

The did not believe in angels, spirits, or the immortality of the soul. They accepted only the first five books of the Old Testament, the rest being ignored. It was their claim that they were the intellectual descendants of Zadok, a priest of David’s time.[1]

In a very real sense they are parallel to the humanists of today. You die, that’s it – you entirely cease to exist. You are nothing but matter and energy – a higher form of a dog, so to speak. Sound familiar?

The argument

It’s important to remember that Christ is arguing with the intellectuals of his society. His answer leaves out some steps in his argument, and for modern Christians with no training in formal logic, it seems impossible that anyone would be persuaded by Christ’s words. But look at it this way:

  • If the Sadducees are right, then Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are gone. They have ceased to exist. They are now “nothing.”
  • But God told Moses, “I am the God of Abraham…” Certainly the three were long dead by this time. But yet God recognizes them.
  • How can God be the God of non-existent things? How could any god be the god of things that don’t exist?

The argument is new to them – and all Christ’s listeners see how it hits the Sadducees.

Why I believe in the resurrection to come

The point is sufficiently important that it needs review, so that we might understand how central this resurrection is to the teaching of Christ. There are three principle reasons that I believe it:

  • The first is the character of God. God is just; the resurrection will be the time when He dispenses justice. God is love; he will (as Job said) “long for the work of his hands.”
  • Next is the witness of the Scriptures. Implicitly and explicitly, in the Old Testament and New Testament, the Scriptures over and over again prophesy the resurrection of the dead.
  • Finally, there is within me the Holy Spirit. His results can be seen in my life; He therefore is real within me. He is the deposit, the down payment, the guarantee of the resurrection. His reality guarantees the resurrection.

Greatest Commandments

The testing of Christ continues; there is one rabbi left standing.

Mar 12:28-34 NIV One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" (29) "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.[5] (30) Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'[6] (31) The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[7]There is no commandment greater than these." (32) "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. (33) To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." (34) When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

(The reader will note that in various parallel accounts in our earlier studies this section usually comprises a complete lesson.)

The Pharisees were shut up; the Sadducees were silenced; now one rabbi comes forward with a question. Is he testing Jesus? Yes, but I think he does so in honesty. I picture him as being from some small town, in Jerusalem for the Passover. He’s heard of this Jesus, and wants to find out whether or not he is really so clever. Instead of the trick question, he comes with the honest question – the mark of the honest man.

Christ’s reply is still important today.

Love God

(Note: Matthews account omits “all your strength.” The passage Christ quotes, from the Septuagint, parallels this account. Matthew gives us the Hebrew version.)

We are given four pillars of this love:

  • With all your heart. The word in the Greek can be used to refer to the organ, but its metaphoric use is to refer to the will – not the emotions. A Greek speaker would assume that if your will is trained, your emotions have been trained to your will. This is a conscious decision, not the spur of the moment outburst.
  • With all your soul. With your very essence, as Aquinas might have put it. Whatever it is that makes you, you, God wants as His.
  • With all your mind. This is assumed to be a typographical error in current evangelical circles.[2] Somehow we have the idea that faith and reason are incompatible (or worse.) But here Christ tells us that your mind, too, must love God.
  • With all your strength. None of the above are half-way measures. Love God is the command; not “Love God feebly.”
Love your neighbor

How am I to love my neighbor? As I love myself. But how do I love myself? Quite easily and liberally, in my case. I’m the life of the party, always interesting in conversation, personally pious to the point of sainthood – and God’s reaction to that is to say, apply the same standard to everyone else. If you can be this lenient with yourself, do the same to them.

You see the point. It’s a matter of weights and measures, really. It doesn’t matter whether you use English or metric units, as long as your yardstick is honest. So when I meet my neighbor I am to apply the same standard to him as I do myself.

But it’s not just how I treat others; it’s also whether or not I’m willing to sacrifice for others. It’s a practical point; do you feed the hungry, visit the sick and so on? A theoretical love of your neighbor is like having a theoretical life boat in a raging sea.

Honest man’s reaction

You will find no more staunch advocate of attending the worship service than this author. It is something you should do, and do weekly. But let’s not kid ourselves. If this is not accompanied by the imitation of Christ, the worship is for you pointless and worthless. It’s not an either/or, it’s both.

Such a life of the imitation of Christ brings you closer to God. Indeed, it’s hard to see how it could not have that effect. If you complain that God seems dark and distant, perhaps it’s something missing in your life of service.

Ultimately, the honest man finds out that this brings you close to God. If you work on it enough, you may develop the only known instrument by which man can actually see God: the pure heart.


Mat 22:41-46 NIV While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, (42) "What do you think about the Christ[4]? Whose son is he?"

"The son of David," they replied. (43) He said to them, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'? For he says, (44) " 'The Lord said to my Lord:

"Sit at my right hand

until I put your enemies

under your feet." '[5] (45) If then David calls him 'Lord,' how can he be his son?" (46) No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

The Intellectual Problem

It’s difficult to see the problem here unless you get a little background:

  • David is considered the greatest king Israel and Judah ever had. He is the founder of the dynasty from which the Messiah would come. Moreover, in this culture a father is honored more than a son. So David would be seen as greater than Solomon, who would be greater than… You get the idea.
  • By that thought, David should be superior to the Christ. But yet here[3] David calls him “Lord.” How can this be?
  • There is only one resolution to this. The Christ must be the physical descendant of David, to be sure (and thus wholly human). But he must also be God (wholly divine), as David would call God, “Lord.” It is this challenge he presents to the thinkers of his day. Just who is this Jesus of Nazareth?

We may briefly conclude:

  • The disciple of Christ lives in the hope of the resurrection of the dead. By this he conquers those whose hope is in having no hope.
  • The disciple is known to the world by the love he shows. So it is that we tie the rather vague idea of the resurrection (we don’t have a lot of details, really) with the crisp, positive life of good works. Thus the world may see that they go together.
  • Such a life can only be lived within the power of Christ. He is Lord, and therefore all will turn out well – for those who love him.

[1] Zadok’s story is part of Absalom’s revolt, see here.

[2] “Check your brain at the door, ‘cause God wants your heart.”

[3] Psalm 110:1

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