By Simon ManchesterSunday 21 Jan 2018Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 12 minutes
We’re continuing our journey through Mark’s gospel. I think we have discovered that the gospel, like all of scripture, is so full, so rich, so pregnant, so treasured, that there are lots for us to explore and enjoy, and profit from.
Today we look at Mark 12:35-37. And up until now, Jesus has been in the temple, and he’s been answering hostile questions coming at him, thick and fast. And here, he asks a question; it’s a very thoughtful question. However, it seems a very strange question, obscure, insignificant, religious, and you may be tempted to just read these three verses and just move onto something else. But what Jesus is asking is about the Messiah, being David’s son.
Now, before we work out exactly what Jesus asks, in his question, and what it means, I want you to notice that he asked questions. We need to say this, again and again, Jesus asked questions. He wasn’t just on the receiving end. He didn’t see himself in the dark as the defendant, having to prop up Christianity. He saw himself as the light of the world. Sometimes he’d ask a question for information, like who’s head is on the coin?
Sometimes he’d ask a question to establish authority like what does the scripture say? Sometimes he would ask a question like today to get people to think maybe for the first time. And we also I think should be asking questions respectfully of people who are not believers. Sometimes we need to say to a person quite respectfully has anybody ever shown you the data or the grounds or the evidence for Jesus or his life or death or resurrection. We might want to ask somebody whether they’ve ever done any homework on the Christian faith or whether they just completely avoided the subject.
A Simple Question
Jesus says, “Why do the teachers of the Jewish law say that the Messiah is the son of David? Why do the teachers of the Jewish law say that the Messiah is the son of David?” Now, who does Jesus ask the question of?
Mark doesn’t tell us, but he’s in the temple. We assume the crowds are around him because at the end it says, “The people were listening with delight.” And we assume the religious leaders are there as well because they’ve been doing all the question asking and Matthew tells us the question was asked of the Pharisees.
So, you can picture Jesus in the temple. He’s got religious leaders, he’s got ordinary people, and he says in a loud voice, “Why do the teachers of the Jewish law say the Messiah is the son of David?” A fairly simple question, you can imagine a Sunday school kid, putting his hand up or her hand, and say, “Because of the Bible.”
They thought the Messiah would come from David because of the Bible. That’s right. This famous Christmas verse from Isaiah chapter 9 says, “To us, a child is born, to us, a son is given.” And a little bit further on it says, “And he will reign on David’s throne.” So no wonder the people of Israel were looking forward to another David.
Listen to these prophets who came after David;
- Jeremiah Ch 23, “I’ll raise up from David, a king.”
- Jeremiah Ch 33, “I will make a righteous branch from David’s line.”
- Ezekiel Ch 37, “David will be king and shepherd.”
Remember, David the first has died. The prophet says, “David, another David will be king and shepherd.”
It doesn’t seem a very difficult question to answer. Why do the teachers of the Jewish law say that the Messiah will have a son of David, answer, “Bible.”
But friends, you need to know that the teachers of the law in Jesus’ day interpreted son of David in very political terms, very reductionist terms, someone who would be like David, a king, who would sit on a throne and win battles for Israel. In other words, they domesticated the Messiah to a political figure, someone who would serve their own interests.
That explains why Jesus goes on in verse 36 to ask another question, and it goes like this, “Tell me why David called the Messiah his lord? Why would David who’s expecting a descendant down the track call his descendant his lord?” That’s what Jesus is asking. David might have said, you know, everybody, one day I’m going to have a boy well down the track. Great, great, great, great, great, great grandson. I’m going to have a boy; my boy will come. But he doesn’t.
He says, “My lord will rule,” and he says it in a very worshipful way. So, this is the sort of question that Jesus is asking, and I think this is the sort of question which in the right context could engage the mind of a non-Christian. And it’s certainly the sort of question which should engage your mind this morning.
Let me put it into a few different forms so that you can get it, this is what it means.
- How could King David see the Messiah as above him in heaven and below him in history?
- How could King David see the Messiah as before him lord, probably his maker and after him, descendant at the same time?
- How could Kind David call the Messiah his lord, his superior and his son in Jewish terms, inferior?
Jesus is not playing a trick. He’s not playing a game.
Remember at the very beginning, he was asked where he got his authority from, and he’s turning around at the end of the conversations and he’s saying to his critics and to all who are listening, “I have authority beyond your wildest dreams. And I have authority beyond this world.”
He turns their attention to a Psalm of David, Psalm 110. The person who wrote Psalm 110 was David. We’re told that in the little inscription at the top of the Psalm which is inspired. And we’re also told by Jesus that Psalm 110 was written by David with the help of the Holy Spirit. And you may be interested to know that Psalm 110 is the most quoted Old Testament text in the New Testament. It’s a really important part of the Old Testament. The significance of the quote and Jesus could have pulled a thousand quotes out of the Old Testament is that David knew the Messiah was the lord already and would take his seat on the throne of heaven, at God’s right hand.
David, back in the Old Testament, 1,000 B.C. could see the Messiah the Christ was infinitely greater than him and was not to be domesticated. Someone already greater than him, the Lord, who would soon be seated on the throne, not in Jerusalem, but in heaven, that’s what David is thinking. And so David has the ability to look up to this great Messiah and down to the descendant, Messiah who would come from his line, whereas the critics of Jesus day can only look down on Jesus. David is in a different category. He understands what these religious leaders do not understand, so that’s the first thing. It’s a simple question.
A Searching Question
I wonder if you can see the issue so far. Is the Messiah the son of David? Yes. Is that enough? No, it’s inadequate.
The Messiah is infinitely more than the son or descendant of David. Especially he’s infinitely more than just some political king who comes and rules for a few years on the throne of Jerusalem.
Jesus is using this simple question to absolutely explode the brains of the people around him. It’s like a key that’s unlocked something massive.
I remember when I was becoming a Christian many, many years ago, and I remember being in the process of becoming a Christian. It seemed to me that I was going through a little door into a massive new world. As though I was swapping a tiny little life for a huge life. It seemed as if the light of the universe, and the life of God, was beaming into my tiny little brain.
That’s what Jesus is doing. He’s unlocking this massive, massive reality.
I wonder whether we should remember this question every now and again. I wonder whether sometimes when we’re struggling to know what to say to a friend who’s just resistant and disinterested. I wonder whether we should find ourselves sometimes saying, “Have you ever heard of David, David, and Goliath?”
Here’s a question for you, did David think of the Messiah as before him or after? Above him or below? Lord or descendant?
Wrap that around your brain. And for those of you who are believers, most of you here listening to this morning, as you’re driving home today you might just say to yourself. This question that Jesus asks which I was ready to forget about is unlocking something so big and important. It puts my tiny little world and my tiny little plans and my problems into very great perspective. It’s a wonderful question. Because David grasps the status of the Messiah and the seat that he would be on at God’s right hand.
If a person mentally reduces Jesus, into somebody little, forgettable, or even dead, they’re not as bright as David. And one of the greatest possible mistakes I think is to look into the world for the explanation of the world.
Listen to this little quote of a man called Lord Sacks, Chief Rabbi in the United Kingdom. He’s written on the need to recognise God outside to understand the world that you belong to. And this is what Lord Sacks says, “Civilisations rise in full, where is meaning to be found? Abraham saw that God who gives meaning to life lay outside the universe. The transcendental God who stands outside the universe and creates it shows that life has meaning beyond myth and science.”
In other words, if you want to find out what this world is all about, you have to go outside the world. And, of course, we don’t, therefore, believe in the little Gods of the world, the little fictitious Gods of the world that have been invented by people, like Bal, or Zeus, or Brahman, or Shiva, because they belong to little teams in the world, allocated bits of the world.
You may have heard the argument of the atheists who say, “Christians don’t believe in lots of Gods.” And that’s true; we don’t believe in Zeus, we don’t believe in Shiva, we don’t believe in Bal. And the atheists say, “Well, we’ve just gotten one further. We’ve got one more God, we don’t believe in, and that’s the God of the Bible.”
But the Gods we don’t believe in, are local Gods, allocated portions of creation. The God we do believe in is outside and made the whole creation, which, of course, logically makes sense.
Richard Dawkins has said, “That Christians believe without evidence and then rejoice that there is no evidence. And therefore,” says Dawkins, “Should not be listened to.”
John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford says, “There is not a shred of evidence that believers believe without evidence, and therefore Dawkins should not be listened to.” That’s right. John Lennox’ definition is so true. He says, “Atheism seems to have a studied refusal to consider evidence that doesn’t lead to atheistic conclusions.” That’s exactly what I find, and you do as well.
The believer is prepared to look at the evidence against Christ. The believer is prepared to look at the evidence for Christ. The unbeliever is so often only prepared to look at the evidence against. And so David, you see who is a figure of history and wrote this Psalm in about 1,000 B.C. long before the Messiah turned up in the world recognised that there was one who is above him and beneath him, who was before him and was after him. And Jesus teaches these unbelievers that David could see what they do not see. Now, my friends, when did the Messiah take his seat? When did the Messiah take the throne?
The answer comes in the New Testament, on the day of Pentecost where Peter stands up. And in Acts chapter 2, he says, “David didn’t rise to that throne of heaven but let all Israel know that God has made Jesus Lord and Messiah.” And when Jesus died and rose, and took his seat, in the heavenly right-hand side of God, that’s where this Psalm was fulfilled.
I want to just finish this morning by saying to you, why is this challenging and why is this comforting? It is very challenging. I’ll tell you why it’s challenging because it’s in the interest of our sin and it’s in the interest of the world, and it’s in the interest of the devil to keep reducing Jesus.
There’s a certain time in my life where I would like to just put Jesus on a shelf and get on with something else. And the world is like this, and the devil is, of course, he’s keen for this.
Once you reduce Jesus mentally to suit yourself, once you decide that Jesus is either silent or he’s your servant to cooperate, or he’s dead and gone, then you can get on with your plans.
It’s so obvious, isn’t it? This is the way the world and evil moves to reduce Jesus to its own satisfaction. In other words, if you look away from the facts of Jesus and you re-invent him, then you can pretend that all is in your power. But you’ll notice that when you remove the authority of Jesus, another authority takes the place of Jesus. And you’ll notice if you live long enough, that the authorities that take the place of Jesus are more burdensome, less freeing, more emptying, less feeling than Jesus.
And when the church becomes weak on the Bible, it doesn’t know what the Bible says. And therefore, is open to the onslaught of the world, the church also becomes very small Jesus. And one of the greatest dangers in the church is people who are big on themselves and little on Jesus. We’re all capable of this. We need to keep going back to the reality of what the Bible says about him.
You know this tendency, and the trend is to reduce Jesus so that he just becomes like a large Paracetamol and all. His job is just to relieve the ache, that’s his job.
But of course, the question that he asks here in Mark chapter 12 opens up a massive greatness. So, that’s the challenge. We need to keep going back to what we are faced with. And then the comforting aspect of this chapter is that the curtain is pulled back on somebody who controls all the things that we’re afraid of.
You’ll notice in verse 36 that Jesus has been on the throne for 2,000 years. And you notice in verse 36, and I hope you’ll meditate on this.
I hope you all notice in verse 46, quoting Psalm 110, “All enemies are going to end up under his feet. As surely as Jesus has been seated, the enemies of Jesus will be defeated. The process has begun. And the things that you worry about and the things that threaten you and the things that grieve you, and the things that really oppress you are all going to be placed under his feet, evil, the devil, and the last enemy, which is death.”
They’re all going to become his footstool. It’s a long time since I read the “Wizard of Oz”, but I was reminded in a page this week that when Dorothy was on her journey with her little dog, Toto, they came to a particular point on the journey where they were face-to-face with a screen. And behind the screen were the most terrifying voices. And the dog Toto accidentally grabbed the corner of the screen and pulled it away. And there was a little thin old man making the noises.
This lovely section of the Bible, this lovely Psalm that is being quoted pulls the curtain away and says, “Do you realise that somebody has taken his seat on the throne? And is going to steadily and surely bring under his feet every enemy. The process has begun.” No wonder the people listening, verse 37, “Listen to Jesus with delight.” And I hope you will also take the light, from the great truths of this section.
Let’s pray. Our gracious God, we thank you for this small portion of your word, which opens up to our mind a very great, the massive, the huge, the authority, the grace of the Lord Jesus. We thank you that we have lived in the day where he is seated on the throne. We thank you for the promise that the enemies are being brought to his footstool. We ask that you would help us to live in the joy of this, the truth of this, the importance of this, and the hope. And we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.