How many of you enjoy a good riddle? A well-known one is this: what loses its head in the morning but regains it again at night? A pillow. Perhaps when we read Luke 20 vs 41-44, it seems like Jesus is just asking some kind of riddle. How can the Messiah be David’s son but also be his Lord? How can the son of King also be the Lord a King? It would be easy to skim over this short section. As we work our way through Luke’s gospel, it should be obvious that the religious experts and leaders have been firing question after question at Jesus. Their motivation is to trap and discredit him. Jesus has answered their hardest questions, questions which they thought were unanswerable. Now Jesus asks his own question and they are unable to answer. He is going on the offensive here.
However, Jesus’ motivation is not to try and trap the teachers of the law. Rather, he is questioning their understanding of what the Bible really says about the long-promised Messiah. He is challenging us to deeply consider his own identity and work as the Messiah, and if we are able to answer his question, it ought to have a massive impact on how we live our lives day by day. Jesus’ question comes to us afresh this morning, and it is well worth chewing over it, especially at Christmas time, though it might not seem like it at first glance.
1. Jesus’ question
Remember that the teachers of the law were meant to be the experts of the Bible. They copied the Scriptures and taught the Scriptures and were meant to know them inside out. In spite of their great learning, they were unable to catch Jesus out by their questions. In fact, Jesus silenced them by his wise answers: ‘And no one dared to ask him any more questions.’ (Luke 20:40) Now Jesus asks them one question on a very well-known section of the Bible, and they are unable to answer. Can you imagine how embarrassed they must have felt? Rather than being humbled, I imagine they just grew more and more angry.
Jesus quotes from Psalm 110, the most quoted in the New Testament. It was recognised as being a Messianic Psalm, predicting that the Rescuer of Israel would be a descendant of King David. To be fair, the teachers of the law knew and believed that the Messiah would be a descendant of David and they were right about this. For example, in 2 Samuel 7, David expresses his desire to build a permanent house for the Lord – a temple. However, the Lord tells David through the prophet Nathan, that the opposite is going to happen; the Lord will build a house for David: The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:11-13)
All through the Old Testament, God repeats this great fact: the Messiah will be in the line of King David. ‘Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.’ (Isaiah 9:7)
So, from 2 Samuel 7 and Isaiah 9 and other places too, it was expected that the Messiah would be a descendant of David. But that was only part of the truth that the Bible taught about the Messiah. If that’s all you could say of the Messiah then your understanding of his identity would be incomplete and deficient. He was going to be so much more! As Jesus stands before these so-called experts asking his question, he is so much more than an ancestor of David.
Let’s turn to Psalm 110. What are the first words? ‘Of David. A Psalm.’ The Psalm’s title is part of the Bible, not an addition. This is important as it tells us that David himself is speaking in Psalm 110. In verse 1 it says that the Lord God is speaking to someone else, whom David also calls Lord, promising him a position of power and authority. In other words, David has 2 Lords in authority over him, even though one is his son, or descendant.
How could the great King David speak of his son as his Lord? This is a real conundrum, as how can David show such respect and submission if the person is his son? The teachers of the law have no idea how this can be the case. But we know. Jesus is the ‘son’ of David in the sense that he is his descendant. But Jesus is also David’s Lord, because he existed before King David and after David too. In other Words, the Messiah must be divine. The Messiah must be God.
Who is Jesus the Messiah? He is the eternal Son of God who made the universe. He is God. That’s why he is David’s Lord. He becomes David’s son in the stable in Bethlehem, the city of David, as he is born in the womb of the virgin Mary. He becomes a real human being.
Psalm 110 teaches us that what the Messiah will do goes far beyond what any human would be able to do. For example, Psalm 110:4 says that he will be an eternal priest in the order of Melchizedek. Psalm 110:1 says the Messiah has a place next to the throne of God in Heaven. Psalm 110:6 says the Messiah will exercise authority and judgement.
What’s the heart of the matter here? The teachers of the law miss the divinity of the Messiah, seeing him as only a human and political ruler. The reality is, he is truly human, but he is also truly God. Their Messiah is too small. Their understanding is totally incomplete.
2. Is our Jesus too small?
Essentially, the scribes are guilty of minimising and undervaluing the person of the Messiah. They see him as the Son of David, but not as the Lord of David, the King of Kings. Not only do they undervalue Jesus, but they overvalue themselves. They are greedy, and love the praise of men. They have an inflated view of their own importance. These things normally go together in our lives; when we undervalue Jesus, we tend to overvalue ourselves.
This passage is not just some strange and detached riddle for us to solve. It has huge practical teaching for us. Because aren’t we guilty of the very same thing the scribes do here? We often minimise the power and might and importance of Jesus in our thinking and in our worship and in our day-to-day living. At the same time, we are experts in overvaluing our own importance. Often, we care more what other people think about us than how God thinks of us.
Is our Jesus too small? Do you really believe that if we invite folks to the carol service, Jesus is able to work in them supernaturally and bring them to faith? Is he powerful enough for that? Is he powerful enough to deal with the things in our past and our present? The ‘real Jesus’ of the Bible is unlimited in his compassion for us and in his power over our lives, and he is mighty to save and mighty to change us as well.
Perhaps we limit the authority of Jesus in our lives. We keep him in a box which we take out on Sundays, but don’t really see how he has much bearing on how we do our work, or how we interact with family members. We might ignore what he says about forgiving others, or sharing our money with others, or bearing with one another, or carrying one another’s burdens. We’d rather keep other Christians at arms’ length. Is your Jesus too small? Can he help you with your mental health? What about with your addictions?
Many today don’t want anyone else telling them what to do. But is your understanding of Jesus too small? Don’t you realise he is the Creator of all things? He has the right to tell you how to live, and he does. He wants us to teach one another everything he has commanded, and not pick and choose which rules we like and which ones we don’t. His authority trumps the current views of culture.
3. Keeping Jesus full-sized
There is so much in Psalm 110 which Jesus quotes which should help us to be able to keep Jesus as full-sized as we can: ‘… sit at my right hand.’ The Lord’s right hand is a place or authority and power. None of the angels are at the Father’s right hand (Hebrews 1:13) but only the eternal Son of God. This is the place of honour beside the King. It is Jesus’ rightful place. In Acts 2:33 Peter is preaching on the day of Pentecost and also uses this Psalm, showing how it speaks of Jesus’ ascension into Heaven: ‘Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.’
Again, through Psalm 110, Jesus prophecies that one day all of his enemies will be crushed. That will happen on the Day of Christ’s Return, when his enemies will be his footstool. ‘For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.’ (1 Corinthians 15:25-26)
Just think about what’s going to happen in the future. Now, Jesus’ enemies ignore him and rebel against him and don’t acknowledge that he is the rightful king over them. But one day, though it will be too late for some, every knee will bow and every tongue shall confess that he is Lord.
You know, Jesus has already conquered the power of evil by rising from the dead, but that victory is hidden just now. It’s not obvious. It’s not in plain view. But when Jesus comes again, all evil will be swept away and a kingdom of goodness ushered in. Please, make sure you are on Jesus’ side now, before it is too late.
Sadly, in Jesus’ day, the people had a limited and earth-bound view of the Messiah. He was seen as a gifted human leader who would bring in a new political kingdom like David of old. But he is so much more. One reason I love singing carols so much is that so many of them paint a full-sized Jesus. They speak of both the wonder of his humanity and the wonder of his divinity too. And how we need both.
Jesus had to become a real human being in order to pay the price for human sin. He entered our world in order to become our Saviour. We need his humanity. It also means he knows exactly what it is like to be human, and to be tempted and to live in such a broken world. He understands. But Jesus also had to be divine. He had to be God. Only by God offering himself as a sacrifice could the payment be large enough to pay for the sins of the world, of all who would trust in him.
♫ Hark the herald: Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord; late in time behold him come, offspring of a virgin’s womb! Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with us to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.
♫ O Come all ye faithful: God of God, Light of light, he who was born from the virgin’s womb; very God, begotten, not created.
♫ Once in Royal David’s city: He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all; and his shelter was a stable and his cradle was a stall: with the poor and meek and lowly lived on earth our Saviour holy.