The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
“It’s all about Jesus,” or as one of my seminary professors used to say (and I still say): “All theology is Christology.” All true knowledge about God is knowledge and wisdom of Christ. You can’t properly know God if you don’t properly know Christ. It’s all about Jesus. It’s ALWAYS been all about Jesus, from the moment God Himself promised His messianic redemption in the Garden of Eden, promising that His Messiah will crush the head of the serpent, right up to today and into all eternity. It’s ALL about Jesus. It’s all about faith alone in God’s Gospel promise of grace alone; that Gospel promise of grace that took on flesh and died and rose again for us and our sins. Faith alone; grace alone; Christ alone.
This is what makes the Pharisees’ question to Jesus so absurd. These guys are focused on all the wrong things. They’re focused only on their ethics and morals. “Teacher, which law is the greatest law?” Keep in mind: This question didn’t even have anything to do with the Ten Commandments. This question was only concerned with their own 613 rabbinic laws out of the Talmud. “Teacher, which one of these rules/laws is the greatest? Which one can you absolutely not break? If you could only keep one, which one would it be?” They weren’t curious. They weren’t stumped. They were only setting Jesus up with a “Sophie’s Choice” kind of question because they wanted to trap Him. Whatever He said would be wrong, which was the whole plan.
Of course, we know how Jesus responds. He doesn’t light them up and rebuke them for their obvious false doctrine and damning pride. He doesn’t ignore them. Instead, He answers them. But…He answers them by re-directing them to God’s holy Word. He doesn’t even direct them to one of the Ten Commandments, as if one were better or more holy than the other nine. Rather, He directs them to the Word of the Lord in Deuteronomy: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. This is the great command of the Lord. The second great command is just like it. Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s it. All of Scripture—the Law and the Prophets—all hang on this: Love God and love your neighbor. God’s instruction—Torah—in a nutshell.
But then Jesus takes it even further. This is the key to understanding the whole text. He doesn’t change the subject (which many people wrongly believe). Rather, He narrows the subject down. Like a magnifying glass in the sun, He brings the broad topic of loving God and loving the neighbor into pin-point focus on the promised Christ. “What do you say about the Christ?” All true theology is Christology. This is important. It was important for the Pharisees to understand, and it’s important for us to understand.
Everything God reveals to us in Scripture, from genealogies to Levitical dietary commands to St. John’s apocalyptic Revelation, all points to and finds fulfillment in Christ. God’s Word regarding sin and salvation—your sin and salvation—isn’t going to make sense if you don’t understand it through the lens of Christ. You need to think about this and what this means. You can be the very best “Boy/Girl Scout” in your congregation. You can do all kinds of good things, and refrain from all the bad things. You can wear your ankle-length denim skirts and only drink sweet tea and never say anything worse than “bless your heart.” You can go way beyond tithing; you could give 100% of your income as offering. You can volunteer and work yourself ragged “for Jesus,”…but in the end you’ll still be a sinner who will only be saved through faith alone in God’s grace alone because of Christ alone. It’s all about Jesus…or is it?
I ask this question of all of us here today. I know it’s very easy to look down on the Pharisees and their blindness to their own sin and their blindness to God’s Gospel grace. It’s very easy to hammer them on their damning sense of works-righteousness/entitlement and their willful blindness eyes and deaf ears to God’s messianic promise in the flesh of Jesus. It’s easy to pick on these guys. What about us though? “It’s all about Jesus!” Is it? Some of you are singing the popular song by that same name in your head right now. Just because you sing the song doesn’t make it true.
This is going to sound strange, but when you get down to it, the Pharisees didn’t go far enough in their understanding of God and His Word/Promise. I know that sounds so moralistic and works-righteous, but it’s not. They looked at Scripture, but then they stopped at the part that dealt with the rules and morals and ethics. They didn’t go beyond that. That was their comfort level. They didn’t go deeper into God’s Law. They didn’t go near the part of God’s Law that revealed to them that they were miserable sinners who couldn’t save themselves; sinners who needed a Savior. They went only as far as they were comfortable, and they didn’t go any farther. It’s weird when you think about it. They didn’t want to look in the mirror of God’s Word, but they loved looking at themselves. They loved navel-gazing, but they didn’t like the rest of the corpse in that reflection.
What about us? Maybe a better question to ask is: What is Church? No, I’m not changing the subject. What is Church? Why does the Church exist? Careful, because the right/true answer may make you uncomfortable. The right and true answer, as revealed in the totality of Scripture and confessed by our faithful Lutheran forefathers under the threat of death: “The Church is where the Word of God is rightly taught and the Sacraments rightly administered.” In a nutshell, the Church is where Christ is present and at work. And why does the Church exist? Answer: So that Christ Himself can cleanse us of all guilt and give us His peace and nourish us with His life-giving Word and Sacrament. It really is all about Jesus. It’s not Jesus on the periphery. It’s not doing whatever our hearts desire or whatever gives us a warm-and-fuzzy feeling, and then tacking on Jesus’ name for validation. It really and truly is all about Him and His giving to us His means of grace.
This is why I want you to honestly examine the whole “it’s all about Jesus” confession that so many are so quick to regurgitate. Can it really be all about Jesus if Jesus is only on the periphery; a mere spectator? Is it really all about Jesus if the primary concern is on you and what you need to do or how you feel? Is it really all about Jesus if the focus is on the budget or the food pantry or the carpet color or the men’s breakfast? Is it really all about Jesus if the warm bed or the bank account or the golf course or the yardwork comes first? Is it really all about Jesus if we allow heretical denial of Christ and His means of grace because we don’t want to make our loved ones uncomfortable? We don’t want to hurt their feelings…but it’s all about Jesus.
Vocationally/baptismally, what do we proclaim? What is our message to the world? “Come with me! We have the best coffee and scones! We have the best Singles’ group! Come with me! Your kids will have the best time playing in our Red Sea ball pit! It’s all about Jesus!” What about…“Come with me! We don’t have all the gimmicks and programs and productions and distractions. Here is the Lord God, kneeling down from heaven to give you His victories over sin, death, and the grave. Come with me. Here is Christ Himself, baptizing you into His cruciform victory. Here is Christ Himself, in our very midst, feeding us with His Body and Blood.” Hmmm….there is a difference, isn’t there?
And that’s what I want you thinking about as you now prepare to go back out into the world your Lord calls you to be in, but not part of. In mission circles we speak of “centripetal” and “centrifugal” mission/evangelism. They go together. Think of centripetal like a whirlpool eddy. Everything swirls into a central point. Look to this font. Look to this altar. Look to this cross. Everything is focusing in on Christ and His all-redeeming death and resurrection. Everything is focusing in on Christ and His very-present gifts and means of grace. The mission of the Church is Christologically-centripetal. It all flows into Christ. It’s all about Christ. Mission is always leading to Christ’s pulpit, font, and altar.
At the same time, true and faithful mission is also centrifugal in nature, which means “outward-spinning.” (Think of a centrifuge that spins out the plasma from the blood.) Our mission and message spins out from the cross and out into the world. But notice…it’s not our message or our gimmicks or our deeds and goodies that are spun out in an attempt to make disciples of all nations. It is the Gospel reality of Christ crucified and His means of grace. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded.” It really is all about Jesus. Centripetally, we flow to Christ (Christ alone and His means of grace), and our faithful response is Christologically-centrifugal. Nourished and made alive in Christ, we spin out into the world around us, Christ at work through us; His Light shining through us to all those still dwelling in the darkness of sinful ignorance and unbelief. It’s all so very “alive.” Living/breathing Christ-centered faith in action. We flow from the cross and back to the cross; from the altar and back to the altar; from the font and back to the font. If this isn’t our mission, then it’s not all about Jesus.
What do you think about the Christ? Here He is…for you! May this cruciform Good News—this Christology; this Christ-centered reality—be at the center of all you say and do. May the reality of your very present and gracious Christ for you and your salvation be what you’re all about, in your coming in and going out, now and into all eternity. AMEN.
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