Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 12/17/1995
Luke 20:39 And some of the Scribes answered and said, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they did not have courage to question him an longer about anything. 41 And he said to them, “How is it that they say Christ is David’s son? 42 For David himself says in the book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand 43 until I make thine enemies a footstool for thy feet.”’ 44 David therefore calls him ‘Lord,’ so how is he his son?” 45 And while all the people were listening, he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and love respectful greetings in the marketplaces and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 47 who devour widows’ houses and for appearance’ sake offer long prayers. These will receive the greater condemnation.”
One week ago, we looked at the way the Lord answered a difficult (and impertinent) question: which of the seven brothers who died would be married to their wife in the next life? Today we see him asking an equally difficult, but highly pertinent, one: How can the messiah be both David’s son and David’s Lord? He does not answer the question because, if we understand the question, simply asking it is enough. If we can get people to ask the right questions, we have won half the battle already.
To understand this question, we must first ask the right questions about the question, and the first of those is, “To whom was the question addressed?” The “them” of vs. 41 is the “scribes” of vs. 39. You remember these guys. They had been trying to trap Jesus in several embarrassing questions, but he had turned the tables on them so many times that they had run out of questions and decided it was time for a strategic withdrawal. But though they had run out of questions, Jesus was not through with them yet. Now he turns and asks them a question. Note his grace in this. Though they do not deserve it, the scribes get one last chance to listen, to repent, to make their sarcastic praise of vs. 39, “Teacher, you have spoke well,” actually sincere and genuine—to find forgiveness and eternal life. But note also their response. There isn’t any. They are not concerned at all with the answer, with the truth. They are only concerned with how the discussion makes them look, and they have decided that any further conversation with Jesus can only be embarrassing to them. And so they get what they wanted most to avoid but what they were really asking for all along: the blast of vs. 46-47. Beware of the scribes! They are total hypocrites, only concerned with how they look (hence the long robes and the greetings) and not at all with truth or love (hence they devour widows’ houses—they were the first century equivalent of our televangelists.) Beware the scribes indeed!
But though embarrassment was the end the scribes had chosen, it was not the Lord’s purpose in the exchange. The aim of this wonderful Socratic question was to make them think, to get them to re-examine their inadequate assumptions, to take a fresh look at the interpretation of the Old Testament. It became an embarrassment precisely and only because they refused that opportunity. But we do not have to refuse it. The point of the question is not to deny that the messiah is the son of David (which Luke actually goes out of his way to establish), but to point out the one-sidedness of their understanding. There was more to it than was dreamt of in their philosophy! In other words, if the messiah were only the son of David, how could he also be the Son of the Father, the inheritor of the Vineyard, with authority to cleanse the Temple, etc.? For since the days of Saul there had been a strict separation of powers which kept the secular ruler from also performing the functions of the priesthood. The messiah God was actually sending was bigger than the one they were expecting, in other words. But now in dealing with Jesus’ question they would have the opportunity either to become open to that possibility or to reject it. And they made the expected choice, very tragically so.
Jesus’ question showed, negatively, the inadequacy of the scribes’ preconceived notions about the messiah. But positively, it leads us down the path to the very depths of Christology and reveals Jesus as both God and Man, one Person with two natures. That the messiah was to be Man was widely known. Of this there was no doubt. He would be the son of David. And so Jesus was, born of a virgin, tempted in every point like as we are, yet without sin. With this they had no problem—though some in our day do! I remember getting almost burned at the stake once for suggesting to teens in a high school Bible class that Jesus might have had zits when he was a teenager. Oh, no, we had better not let the humanity of our Lord become that real to us! Well, except for sin, he was in every way the son of David.
But he was also David’s Lord. Now, who was David? He was the king, the high king, the greatest king, the king to whom every subsequent king would be compared: they all either did or did not follow the Lord their God like their father David; if they followed, it was either with or without a full heart, like their father David. Now, where among men can we find a person with greater authority than David? Where among men can we find a person to whom David would need to bow, whom David could rightly call, “my Lord”? We cannot. There is only one authority in Israel higher than David, and that is Jahweh himself! “The Lord said to my Lord”—Jahweh said to Adonai—“sit at my right hand.” David’s son would be his Lord, enthroned with Jahweh. That is, David would have a son who would share the glory and sovereignty of Jahweh himself. This is never said of any mere Hebrew king, or of any (other) mortal man.
Though the implications are not spelled out here because the scribes refused to participate in the conversation, the question drives us to a destination which is nothing less than the fully worked out theology of the incarnation of our Lord: Son of David, David’s Lord, two natures in one Person, fully God and fully Man, the God-Man, God incarnate. He is David’s son and David’s Lord. David’s son is not hard to believe. David’s Lord takes some believing. But both at the same time? Yet that is the only adequate description possible for the Jesus we have seen in Luke’s Gospel. Yes, he is David’s son—but haven’t you noticed?—the Old Testament also calls him David’s Lord. Let us worship him as such.
III. THE PRACTICALITY OF THE QUESTION
There is a tendency in the church today to demand that sermons be “practical,” and this demand is urged in such a way as to imply that one cannot be both “practical” and “doctrinal” at the same time. I agree about the practicality, but I would just point out that the Bible writers seem to have a different notion of what is practical than we do. For them, nothing is more practical than doctrine! So, no, this morning we are not going to have some neat set of seven steps to a better marriage or more health and wealth. We are going to get far more practical than that. We are going to let you know whether it is right for you to worship, serve, live for, and die for Jesus or not—and if so, how.
That Jesus be understood as both David’s son and David’s Lord is absolutely essential to his fulfilling his role as our example. How can he be an example to us if he is not a man, a real man, a human being like us, tempted in all ways like as we are? Could an angel do it?
The Tree-ness of the tree they know—the meaning of Arboreal life, how from earth’s salty lap The solar beam uplifts it, all the holiness Enacted by leaves’ fall and rising sap; But never an angel knows the knife-edged severance Of sun from shadow where the trees begin, The blessed cool at ever pore caressing us— An angel has no skin. They see the Form of Air; but mortals breathing it Drink the whole summer down into the breast. The lavish pinks, the field new-mown, the ravishing Sea-smells, the wood-fire smoke that whispers, “Rest.” The tremor on the rippled pool of memory That from each smell in widening circle goes, The pleasure and the pang—can angels measure it? An angel has no nose. (C. S. Lewis, “On Being Human”)
No, to be relevant to us, our Example must be One who has lived our life. How if he is not a man? But how also if he is not sinless? For if he is a sinner like us he is no safe and perfect example for us to follow. And how then can he be sinless unless he is more than just another son of Adam? Christ must be both David’s son and David’s Lord if he is to serve as our perfect example. Those theologies which present Christ as a merely human example fail on their own terms. Unless he is much more than that, he cannot be even that. But neither can he be less. David’s son and David’s Lord.
That Jesus be understood as both David’s son and David’s Lord is absolutely essential to his fulfilling his role as the Mediator between us and God. Greek philosophy posited an infinite series of intermediary beings between the infinite purity of God and the finite impurity of Man. But this just reinforces the infinite and unbridgeable distance between us and leaves God unreachable. But Jesus touches the Father with his divine nature and touches us with his humanity. In his very person the estrangement between God and Man is bridged. So Paul rightly stresses to Timothy that there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. In Christ our humanity has been seated at the right hand of the Throne on high. There is no other way that finite human beings can be the sons and daughters and friends of God. David’s son and David’s Lord.
That Jesus be understood as both David’s son and David’s Lord is absolutely essential to his fulfilling his role as our Redeemer. How if he is not a man can he atone for the sins of mankind? And how if his life is not of infinite value—how, if he is not God—could his death atone for all the sins of all who believe on him? Only a man is eligible to die for human sin; only a sinless man is qualified to die for human sin; and only God is able to die for the sins of all men and come back from death to live forever as their Redeemer and Savior and Lord. Only the biblical Christology can support the biblical Soteriology; only the Person of Christ could do the work of Christ. It is absolutely essential: David’s son and David’s Lord.
If Jesus was not fully God and fully Man; if he was not David’s son and David’s Lord; then we are lost, without a Guide, separated from God, without salvation, and yet in our sins. But if he is David’s son and David’s Lord, then we can worship him, serve him, die for him, and live forever with him. That is the difference it makes.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was David’s son and David’s Lord. Since that is not the usual language we use for the staggering paradox of who He is, I hope we can use it to brush away some of the cobwebs and see Him once again for the mind-boggling thing He is. Yet, to look at the way most of us worship him and live for him, you would get the impression that he was rather boring. Listen! I would almost rather you disbelieved the truth about Christ than to be bored with it. For to be bored with it means you are not yet, or no longer, taking it seriously.
The Christian faith makes three affirmations. You can call them bone-chilling, you can call them blood-curdling, you can call them shocking. But to call them boring is to say that you are not paying attention to them. 1. A mother held a baby and it was her Creator. 2. The God of Love came to us in human form, and we were so threatened by it that we hung him on the gallows rather than let him upset the status quo. 3. The Man we killed walked out of his grave and is still alive and is coming again. You may not understand it; you may not comprehend it; you may not be able to explain it. But if you believe it, then you have got to be deeply moved and inexorably transformed by it. Let our worship of him and our service to him from now on reflect an awareness of these things! Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams