A sermon preached on Mark 12:35-37 by Rev Richard Keith
When we come to verse 35 in Mark 12, Jesus has silenced his critics. They had peppered him with questions, one after another. But with his answers, Jesus has embarrassed them all and amazed the crowds. Each time, his foes underestimated him, and he rose to the challenge with wit and humour. By the end, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
They were finished with him. But Jesus wasn’t finished with them. He wasn’t going to stop because his enemies had. Because Jesus had one last question of his own. And with his question, Jesus showed that his opponents had only been skirting around the real issue. The arguments about authority and taxes and resurrection, were only symptoms of the real dispute. Even the question about the most important commandment didn’t get to the real heart of the matter. That’s why Jesus asked his own question. Not because Jesus wanted to have the last say, but because he wanted the most crucial issue at stake stated and acknowledged. The elephant in the room.
“How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ, the Messiah, is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared, “The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”” David himself calls him Lord. How can he be his son?”
And with that, Jesus dropped the mic. Q and A time was over.
Jesus’ question was about what the teachers of the law said. He was questioning the traditional interpretation about who the Christ would be and what he would do. He wasn’t saying that they were wrong, only that their understanding was inadequate. That it fell short of the full truth. For example, to say that Australia is a continent is true. But it doesn’t say enough to do justice to all that Australia really is.
Jesus’ question was about the Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah. The Christ was the king the Jews were waiting for. The one who would save them. The one who would bring them peace and blessing. The one who would fulfil God’s promises to his people.
At the heart of their expectations lay God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel chapter 7:
“Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me. Your throne will be established forever.”
God promised David a dynasty that would last forever. A royal house that would never end and be passed on to another.
However, the reality fell short of the promise. In 587 BC the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem, and burned down the temple, and dragged away the last king of Israel in chains and forced the people into exile. The great house of David fell like a majestic tree cut down and left like a stump.
In the 600 years between that catastrophe and the time of Jesus the people saw some glimmers of hope. Some of them returned from their exile. They rebuilt Jerusalem. They rebuilt their temple. They enjoyed brief periods of freedom and autonomy. But it still didn’t live up to all that God had promised. Compared to the eternal kingdom God had promised, these small blessings made them feel like an orphan boy who’d been given a new bike to ride. A new bike is nice, but he’d rather have his mum and dad. Not even the magnificent temple that Herod built for them, that Jesus was teaching in, not even its splendour could set them free from their misery. Herod himself was a foreigner. He hadn’t rescued them from their oppressors. Herod worked for them.
But the prophets had promised that from the stump of David a new branch would grow. A son of David. A king from David’s own line. He would cleanse the temple and reform its worship and restore the Lord to the heart of his people. He would be a warrior king like David his father. He would lead them into battle and bring the nations to their knees. He would not only give Israel back its freedom and autonomy. He would put Israel where they belonged, at the top of a new world order.
Whose son is the Christ? The teachers of the law said he is the son of David. Born of the line of David. Crowned as king because of the Lord’s promises to David. Sent to complete the mission of David to fight for Israel against her enemies. They weren’t wrong. But Jesus’ question implies that that’s not enough, that it doesn’t do justice, either to who the true Messiah is or to what he was sent to do. “How is it,” asked Jesus, “that they say the Christ is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared, “The Lord said to my Lord; “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” David calls him “Lord”. How then can he be his son?”
Did you see what Jesus did? Jesus’ question assumes that when the Bible calls a psalm “A psalm of David”, that it was actually written by David. Jesus’ question assumes that when the Bible authors write their words, they are speaking by God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus’ question assumes that whatever the teachers of the law or ministers or theologians are saying, it is far more important what the Bible says.
You know, there are some churches where Jesus would be laughed at for holding such old fashioned opinions. But everything Jesus says here hangs on the faithfulness and reliability of Holy Scripture. Not on scholarly opinions. Not on modern theories. But on the Bible as the Word of God. If Jesus believes the Bible, if it settles all life’s tricky problems, we should believe it too. And if you only come to church once a week or once a month for a spiritual pick me up, then that’s all you’ll get. You will find what you are looking for. But you will not grow in your love for God or in your personal walk with Christ, until you start reading every day the Bible Jesus read.
Jesus quoted Psalm 110. The Lord, wrote David, said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” It’s a song about the Messiah, God’s chosen and anointed king. In this song the Lord, the God of Israel, invites his Christ to sit down at his right hand. The king sits at the right hand of the great king, the king of kings and lord of lords.
The right hand is a position of power and authority. It is the place reserved for the king’s prime minister or maybe the king’s son, a man who isn’t king or not king yet but has to do all the king’s work so the king can sit back and enjoy the benefits of his rule. By placing him at his right hand side, the great king is saying to all his subjects, this man acts for me, this man speaks with my voice, this man’s job is to put my will into action. Treat him like you would treat me. The great king sits in the middle. He is the chairman of the board and the only member of the board. But at his right hand side is his chief executive officer. The one who implements his decisions and policies.
“Sit here,” the chairman says, “until I put your enemies under your feet.” The Lord says to his anointed king, “Your enemies are my enemies. You fight my battles and your victories are my victories. Your mission is mine, all your resources are mine, all your success belongs to me. Rest here while I work through you and enjoy the fruit of my work. Together we cannot lose. Victory is certain.”
The Jews of Jesus’ day and the teachers of their law thought their ambitions were so grand. They were waiting for the son of David who would take up David’s sword against their enemies so that David’s country would rule the world. But with Psalm 110 Jesus was reminding his hearers that the world is not enough. The Lord of heaven doesn’t want just to beat Israel’s enemies. He wants to crush his own, death and hell and Satan, all the powers of evil that control the destiny of his people. The Lord doesn’t want the world. He wants nothing less than the new creation, a whole new world. And to achieve that aim a Messiah who is a son of David is a nice start. But he needs to be more.
And that’s why David calls him Lord. The Lord said to my Lord. Speaking by the Holy Spirit, David sat in his palace made of wood and looked down the centuries to the one who would fulfil all God’s promises and knew that he would need to be more than just his son, holding his sword, fighting for his country. Because if he was only David’s son, then the best he could achieve would be David’s own temporary victories, and in the end, it would all come to nothing once again. To complete God’s final victory the Christ would need to be more.
Jesus said, “If David calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” The answer is, of course, that the Messiah is David’s son, but he is also more. He is anointed not just with oil, but with the Holy Spirit. His life is not just morally pure, but by his words and actions, he takes up the cause of the oppressed and brings them justice. He lives and walks, not in the way of war but in the way of peace. Teaching us to forgive our enemies and to take up our cross. He is not just powerful in word, but in deed as well, healing the sick, mending the broken, restoring the unclean, casting out demons, showing himself to be the Lord of nature, and Lord over sickness and suffering and death and all the powers of evil. He is a fighter, a warrior, but not against enemies of flesh and blood. For he came not to save Israel from the Romans, but both Israel and the Romans and all the nations, from the spiritual powers that enslave them all.
For the demons had come and possessed Israel’s heart as well. They had been diverted from their true mission to be a blessing to the world, and are instead sharpening their swords to rule the world. So the true Messiah fights, not with a sword, but with a cross of wood, he came not to take lives, but to give his life to save others, and his true victory will be seen when he is the first to rise from the dead and he is exalted at the Father’s right hand and death the final enemy, is trampled under his feet. So that Jesus Christ is Lord.
He is the son of David. But he is more. As the apostle Paul says, in Romans chapter 1,
“by his resurrection from the dead he is shown to be the son of God with power.”
This is the issue that was at the heart of Jesus’ conflict with his enemies. Who he was and what he came to do. And he confused them, not because he was less than what they were expecting, but because he was more. He wasn’t just David’s son, sent to do the same old thing, for the same old results that let them down last time. He came as the Son of God in the power of the Spirit to right every wrong, to root out all the sin in every heart, to fight for all nations, not just one, to bring down Satan and all his demons and to establish the kingdom of God.
And this is why Jesus still confuses people today. Not because he is less than what they want. But because he is more. People want him to be a good teacher. A teller of stories and of timeless wisdom. People want him to be a great man with a great heart and a noble spirit. If he must be a god, people want one that will help them fulfil their potential and then leave them alone.
But Jesus Christ is more. Jesus Christ is Lord. Lord of your family. Lord of your church. Lord of your private life. Lord of your public life. Lord of all your comings and goings. He is not content to sit at your right hand until he puts all your enemies under your feet. And he has come to set you free from all your secret sins, from all the lies you tell yourself, from all your petty jealousies and insecurities. He has come to cast out all your demons so that there is nothing left of you except you. Forgiven and redeemed. Right with God and with your neighbour. Holy and consecrated to his will. He is the Son of David. He is the Son of God.
And he is Lord. And to him, the world is not enough. All he wants is you, all of you, everyone one of you, every part of you. The Lord wants to recruit you for his battle. It’s not a battle against ISIS, but against the demons that possess them. It’s not a battle against our culture, but against the lies it believes. It’s a battle for the hearts and minds of a generation, fought in the power of the Spirit in the way of Jesus Christ. It’s a war with no human casualties against the demons that possess our town, our country, our world. The battle doesn’t need you, but it must start with you.
All of you. Everyone of you. Every part of you. Because Jesus Christ is Lord.