April 30, 2017
One of the most difficult concepts to grasp in the Christian faith is the person of Jesus Christ. Who was this man? The answer has been vigorously debated for 2,000 years, both outside and inside the church. The problem is, much of the time, the answers may be partially right, but in the end, incomplete.
For example, outside, most everyone agrees He was an extraordinary individual – we reckon time by His life – the calendar itself is divided into BC and AD by the advent of this man. But, is that it? Was He just a man – granted, a man who by His very life, turned the world upside down? A man whose moral character has become a source of inspiration, indeed a role model for people to follow for centuries?
Was He just a man who got swept away in His own revolutionary ideas – ideas that cost His life and the lives of many of His disciples; ideas which His followers continue to propagate, even today? So significant was this man’s life that His name has become the object of prayer for millions, and a source of profanity for millions more. You don’t hear people yelling “Buddha” or “Mohammed” in fits of profane rage.
I suggested most everyone agrees He was extraordinary, but not all. In 2014, the Washington Post published an article by atheist Raphael Lataster entitled, Did Historical Jesus Really Exist? The Evidence Just Doesn’t Add Up. Interestingly, the author’s main argument is there are no reliable sources as to His existence – well, other than the abundant writings of the NT, which he conveniently dismisses as religious propaganda. He writes, “The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith.” By the way, Lataster is also the of author of the book, There Was No Jesus, There Is No God. So some outside the church, incredibly and conveniently, even deny His existence.
But again, back to the question, Who was Jesus? Just an extraordinary man, or is that an incomplete answer? Even inside the church, answers have varied. In 1985, a group of about 30 scholars of the Westar Institute joined in a concerted effort to answer the question. For almost 20 years, over 200 scholars joined in the search, convening semi-annually with the primary objective to separate the Jesus of history from the Jesus of myth. The group started by evaluating those red-letter words of Jesus in the Bible, and then His actions – particularly, the miracles recorded in the gospels.
After papers were presented and debated, the scholars would vote using colored beads – from black to red, with various shades of gray and pink in-between. Black meant, Jesus didn’t say it, or it didn’t happen. Red meant He said it, or it happened. You’ll be interested to know the results, called the Jesus Seminar, eliminated over 80% of the words and actions of Jesus in the gospels. If only we’d known – we could have spent 20% of the time and been done with Mark by now. This group maintained a distinction must be made between the “Christ of Faith” and the “Jesus of History.”
Who was Jesus? German theologian, humanitarian and scientist Albert Schweitzer joined in the discussion with a book published in 1906 entitled, The Quest for the Historical Jesus. In its opening words, Schweitzer says, “…the greatest achievement of German theology is the critical investigation of the life of Jesus.” In Schweitzer’s estimation, German theology sought to uncover the true Jesus from the Jesus of the gospels – because of course, there is a difference. Think about it – this same Germany which recovered the Gospel in the 1500s sought to destroy it 300 years later.
That is the question – Who was Jesus? Church councils were called for centuries after the life of Jesus to deal with the question. You see, through time, heresies arose as to the person of Christ.
In 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea met to deal with, among other things, the Arian controversy. A man named Arias was teaching Jesus was not God – He was of a different essence than the Father. Arias was rightly condemned as a heretic, and the essential and equal deity of Jesus was affirmed.
In the Council of Constantinople in 381, about 50 years later, Apollinarianism was the issue. Apollianarias taught that Jesus had a human body and a human soul, but not a human mind – instead, He had a divine mind – the mind of God. Of course, the problem is that gives us a Jesus who wasn’t fully human. And so the teaching was rightly condemned.
Again, 50 years later, the Council of Ephesus in 431 condemned Nestorianism. This is a little more confusing. Nestorius taught that Jesus was born a man, and the spirit of Christ was then joined to Him. That means Jesus was two persons – human and divine. Two persons, the early church decided, was a problem, and they rightly condemned Nestorius.
The councils went on and on, dealing with different assaults on the person of Jesus – all condemned. But understand, all those heresies were attempts to answer the question, who was Jesus? The answer forms the very basis of the Christian faith. It’s an important question – Jesus Himself asked it, a couple of different times. First, in Mark 8, He asked His disciples – who do people say that I am? The disciples answered, some say you’re John the Baptist risen from the dead, some say you’re Elijah, others say you’re Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Jesus looked them square in the eye and said, “Who do you say that I am?” That’s the question. Without flinching, Peter got it right – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The next time Jesus asked the question, He asked it, not of His followers, but of His enemies. It’s in our text this morning found in Mark 12:35-37. Read it with me.
What about the Christ – who is He? Is He just the Son of David, or is that an incomplete answer? We find ourselves in the last week of Jesus’ life – His passion week. On Tuesday of that week, where we’ve been for several weeks, Jesus battled religious and political leaders. See them as fighters in a ring, WWF if you’d like, after all, it’s been a tag team fight. The battle lines were drawn back in chapter 11. The chief priests, scribes and elders approached Him that Tuesday morning, indignant asking, who do you think you are? That’s the question everyone has. By what authority are you doing the things you’re doing? Things like cleansing our Temple, teaching and healing – who are you? The line was drawn in the proverbial sand.
Jesus met the challenge. In classic rabbinic style, He answered their question with a question – I’ll tell you by what authority if you answer a question for Me – John’s baptism, from men, or from heaven? These guys knew they were in trouble, so they refused to answer. But they weren’t done with their attacks. Tag, I’m out, you’re in. Next came the Pharisees and Herodians with a tax question. Then came the Sadducees asking a question about the resurrection. Finally, a scribe came, asking about His understanding of the Mosaic Law. One by one, Jesus effectively parried their attacks and counter attacked. Their questions, designed to discredit Him, were actually doing just the opposite – all who heard Him were amazed at His answers. His opponents were silenced.
Which brings us to our present text. Now it’s Jesus’ turn to ask a question – it’s not readily apparent, but He asks the question. Let me break the text down for you:
- First, we’ll look at The Question in verse 35.
- Then, we’ll look at The Quotation in verse 36, an OT verse which demonstrates their answer may not be complete.
- Third, we’ll look at The Conundrum in verse 37, which actually answers the question.
Let’s start with the question in verse 35. While the crowd is still gathered, to include these now defeated, infuriated foes – after He’s answered their questions, after they’d been unable to trap Him, Jesus said, now it’s my turn. Now we shouldn’t see this as just a tit for tat battle of words – like Jesus was saying, okay, you couldn’t get Me, let’s see if I can get you. Jesus isn’t just trying to say, gotcha. He asks them a question, the question, to try to bring them to a fuller understanding of who the Messiah was, and as a result, a fuller understanding of who He was. Incidentally, while they weren’t able to trap Him with their questions, it is His question – this question – they use against Him later.
The question? How is it that the scribes – remember, the experts in the OT – how is it they say the Christ is the Son of David? Now, at this point, Jesus isn’t obviously asking about Himself – He simply turns their to attention to the Christ. It’s a theological question. Every good Jew was looking for the Messiah. They had a particular picture in mind, so Jesus asks, whose son will He be? Is it true Messiah will be the Son of David? Now, know the question behind the question is, is that all Christ is? The Son of David, or is there more?
It’s a pretty simple question, on the surface. Every well-informed Jew knew the answer – the scribes were convinced they were right, He is the son of David. Which is true – I want you to understand, they got that right, but it was also incomplete. You see, it was commonly and rightly held the Messiah to come would be a descendent of David. That answer comes right from the pages of Scripture. Way back in II Samuel 7, God promised King David one of his descendents would sit on his throne, forever – everyone understood that spoke of the Messiah. The Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Micah had all reiterated the truth – the Messianic Kingdom would be established by a root of David.
So, as the Jews looked for Messiah, the simple question for them was – is He a descendent of David? The answer could be found easily enough. Until 70 AD, the Jews kept meticulous genealogical records at the Temple. Anyone claiming to be the Messiah would have to pass that test. Which is exactly why Matthew begins his gospel with Jesus’ genealogy, because Matthew is going to prove that Jesus is the King of the Jews. That means He had to be a descendent of David, and He was. Jesus met the initial requirement – He was of the line of David.
But, so were thousands of others. David had many descendants who could legitimately trace their ancestry to him. Just being a descendent of David obviously didn’t make you the Messiah. You see, they had certain expectations for the Messiah. They had cast His mold in militaristic and political ways – Messiah would come and sit on David’s throne just like David did – He would throw off Roman oppression, He would expand Israel’s borders, He would bring a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity, He would return Israel to the glory days of David’s kingdom. He would set up the kingdom. Whose son will he be? That’s easy – He’ll be the Son of David, and for them, that meant a very specific thing.
Which is why they were so indignant a couple of days before when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey – the crowds went crazy, “Hosanna. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Blessed is the coming of our father David. Hosanna in the Highest.” By that, they were saying, this is not just any son of David – this is the Son of David.
But there was a problem – Jesus didn’t come riding on a big horse with a big cape with a scarlet M emblazoned on His chest. He didn’t come with a huge army and political aspirations. He came riding in on the colt of a donkey, with peasants and Galileans and sinners and broken people of society as His army. And He didn’t seem interested in Rome – He wasn’t at all interested in cleaning out the Romans – He was more interested in cleaning out the Temple. This was not the Messiah they wanted – so they were indignant the people gave Him that title on Sunday. Oh, by the way – we also remember a blind beggar named Bartimaeus had proclaimed that title in Jericho some days or weeks before this.
So clearly, Jesus was the Son of David. But is that it? Jesus is going to say, that title is not enough. It is too little for Me – it’s not great enough. It’s inadequate – I am indeed the Son of David, but I’m a whole lot more. In other words, they were expecting a Messiah – a certain kind of Messiah – the Son of David – a man, a political, military figure, and nothing more. Their answer was only partly right – incomplete.
Which leads to our second point, Jesus’ more complete answer in this OT quotation in verse 36. Read that with me again – and don’t miss the case Jesus is making. Read.
What’s that mean? If the Christ is the son of David, I’ve got another question for you. And He takes them right to Psalm 110. A couple of important things you should know about Psalm 110. First, He reminds them that David, who authored this Psalm, spoke or wrote by the Holy Spirit – that is, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Remember, He had just battled the Sadducees a moment ago who didn’t accept the divine authority of the Psalms or most of the OT for that matter. But here, Jesus affirms the inspiration of Scripture. We remember the words of II Peter 1:20-21, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Further, Paul said in II Timothy 3, “All Scripture is inspired by God” and is therefore authoritative, inerrant and trustworthy.
Secondly, this Psalm was almost universally seen as a Messianic Psalm. The guys there that day would have understood immediately Jesus was quoting a Psalm that spoke of the coming Messiah. And the writers of the New Testament understood that as well. This is the single most quoted passage in the New Testament – Jesus uses it, Paul uses it, Peter uses, the author of Hebrews uses it. There are at least 33 New Testament quotes or allusions to Psalm 110. So, everyone understood, and rightly so, this was talking about the Messiah.
Now, what the scribes, and in fact, the Jews, focused on was the line, “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies beneath your feet.” Do you see that? There’s the military Messiah. Back then, when you conquered someone, defeated them in battle – as a sign of your victory, you would place your feet on the neck of the vanquished foe. So, they thought the Messiah would come in, defeat the Romans, and the Messiah would place his feet on the neck of the hated Romans – they could hardly wait.
But, what they missed was the first part of the Psalm, which leads us to our third point. You see, there’s a conundrum here – and it was to this part Jesus calls our attention. If the Messiah is the Son of David, a descendent of David, and He is, then how does David call Him, Lord? How does a father call a son lord? Verse 1 of Psalm 110 says, “The LORD [that is, Yahweh] said to my Lord, [that is, Adonai] sit at my right hand….” Stop right there.
Typically, when your translation has the word LORD spelled with all caps, than the original Hebrew is Yahweh. If it’s Lord, with only the first letter capitalized, it’s the Hebrew word Adonai. If you look at the NAS, it has both words spelled with all caps – it shouldn’t be – the original Hebrew in Psalm 110 was Yahweh said to my Adonai, sit at my right hand. Originally, this was called a royal Psalm – quoted at the coronation of a new king. The King – Yahweh, God Himself, would say to my lord – the new the king, the earthly king – sit symbolically at My right hand. But again, by this time, this was clearly seen as a Messianic Psalm.
The point is, David said Yahweh God, said to my Lord, who is the Messiah, sit at my right hand. David says, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God said to my (that is, David’s Lord), sit at my right hand. The right hand of a monarch was considered a place of honor, dignity, even equality. David is here saying, the Messiah is my Lord, that is, He is greater than me, and the Father says to the Messiah – sit at my right hand – take a place of dignity, honor, even equality with Me. Very clearly, David that Messiah is something greater.
Which means, who is Jesus? A whole lot more than just the son of David. And suddenly, we remember a major theme of the Gospel of Mark. He began his gospel with a title, The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We remember when He was baptized and at the transfiguration, the voice of the Father was heard from heaven to say, This is My beloved Son. And we’ll get to the end of the book, at the crucifixion when the centurion will say, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” That’s the point that Jesus is making. Who’s son is the Messiah? Who’s son am I? I am God’s Son.
Paul expresses the idea in Philippians 2, 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men [the son of David]. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him [at His right hand], and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord [do you see that – God said to my Lord, sit at my right hand], to the glory of God the Father.”
What’s the point, Jesus? The Christ is more than just the son of David. Sure, He is that. Check the genealogical records, right here in the Temple. The Messiah better meet that qualification. But He’s not just the son of David – He’s something much more. He’s not just a man, He’s much more – He is Adonai, He is the Lord; He is God in the flesh. The answer to the question – who is the Christ, who is Jesus, is this: Jesus is both God and man – two natures wrapped up in one person. The word became flesh and lived for awhile among us – and we beheld His glory – the glory as of the only begotten of David? No – the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Apostle Paul took this truth, somewhat veiled in Psalm 110, somewhat hidden in Mark 12, and spoke it clearly in Romans 1:
1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures,
3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh,
4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
Do you see it? Jesus was born a descendant of David – He met the criteria everyone was looking for. But, by His resurrection from the dead, He proved He was much more – He was declared to be the Son of God. It’s not that Jesus became the Son of God at the resurrection – He proved He was the Son of God when He rose from the dead. And at the resurrection, the Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand. Receive back the glory you had with Me before the world began.
The answer to the million dollar question – the final answer is this: Jesus is a descendent of David – that’s important, but it’s an incomplete answer. Jesus was and is also the Son of God. And He is seated, right now, at the right hand of God in a position of honor and authority and dignity and power and equality with God – as God is bringing every enemy under His control – placing them under His feet.
It is not enough this morning to see Jesus as a man who turned the world upside down, although He did that. It is not enough to see Him as an inspiration, as a great role model, although He is that. It is not enough to see Him as a man who split the calendar in two, although it is Anno Domini 2017 – in the year of our Lord 2017. It is not even enough to see Him as the Messiah – the Son of David. You must see Him as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
In his book on the Gospel of Mark, Pastor Tim Keller says in this section where Jesus cleanses the Temple, curses the fig tree, and does battle with religious leaders, Keller writes of Jesus, “Either you’ll have to kill him or you’ll have to crown him. The one thing you can’t do is just say, ‘What an interesting guy.’”
As we close this morning, let me ask you – is this just theology? Okay, so we’ve spent the morning in a lecture affirming the deity of Jesus Christ. Is that it? You better believe it is. Because it is the bedrock of our faith. If Jesus was just the Son of David, we’re in big trouble. But He was and is much more. He is currently seated at the right hand of God as your advocate, interceding for you. And God is in the process of placing every enemy under His feet – every force of evil, every sin, every sickness, every result of the curse. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. It is because of who He is that we are here this morning – and we worship the Son of David and the Son of God. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.