Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
At the heart of the relationship between the OT people of Israel and God was the Law. And right up until around 400 BC, the study of the Law and the job of teaching it to the people was the task of the priests of Israel. But two things happened around that time: The priests became more interested in Greek culture than the law and there arose a whole class of scholars who devoted themselves to the fulltime study of the Law. And these men were the scribes. So it was now the scribes and not the priests who defended the law and taught it to the people. There were scribal schools where you could send your sons to study the law. And they would be taught the law according to the particular method of interpreting the law of the Rabbi who founded the school. And when you had a legal problem, you would go to the scribes and they would make a ruling on the law.
So as is plain from the second part of our text, to be a Scribe was to hold a very prestigious position in the Jewish community.
• You got to wear a UNIFORM, if you like, that identified you as a Scribe. It was a long white shawl that reached all the way down to the ground. And this made you easily recognizable as a scribe. Someone has described the scribes as “ecclesiastical swans regally gliding among the common mudhens of humanity.”
• The scribes even taught the people that the Law demanded them to HONOUR the scribes more than they honoured their parents. As they reasoned it, you only knew to honour your parents because the Law taught that. And you only knew this because the scribes taught you. So it stood to reason that you must honour the scribes more than your parents.
• And if you were a scribe, on a good day, people would recognize you and greet you by name in the marketplace. Perhaps because your teaching at Sabbath synagogue had been so clever or memorable in some way, or because you had made a clever judgment on a tricky law question that someone had brought you, a person walking along would say, Good afternoon, Rabbi Joseph. And oh that felt so good.
• And it was even better if you were on your way to a dinner party hosted by some notable in the community, because they wanted others to see that they had Rabbi Joseph sitting next to them at the head of the table. For then you had really made it.
Well, according to the law of God, the priests were not allowed to charge for their law work. And this principle had carried over to the scribes. So some of the Scribes lived off inheritances and others were supported by their families. But others of them had to have a trade, in addition to their work as scribes, which gave them money to live off. And perhaps the most well-known example of this to you and me will be the APOSTLE PAUL. For before he became a follower of Jesus, he was a Scribe who learned under Rabbi Gamaliel. And maybe you boys and girls remember what Paul’s trade was? He was a tent-maker. But what is clear from v40, however, and the reference to ‘devouring widow’s houses,’ is that even though the Scribes were not supposed to charge for the work they did, they had come up with methods by which they received fees or recompense for the work they did.
So that is a little bit of background on the scribes. And of course, last Sunday, in vv28-34, we met an UNUSUAL Scribe. As we saw, he really was interested in what Jesus taught. And at the end of their conversation, Jesus described him as “not far from the kingdom of God.”
But today we meet your more typical Scribes. For these ones are NOT EVEN CLOSE to the kingdom of God! And as we listen in to the things Jesus says, we will learn wonderful things about Jesus and sobering things about the Scribes. And in the process, we will learn much about ourselves.
For here in these two short episodes that both feature the Scribes, we will see that
THE BIBLE ONLY TRULY SHAPES THE LIVES OF THOSE WHO LOVE HIM WHOM THE BIBLE REVEALS.
And we shall see this as we consider the two parts of this passage: Jesus’ SHORT SERMON and then Jesus’ WORD OF WARNING.
So first of all, Jesus’ short sermon as we hear it in vv35-37.
1. Throughout this day in the temple area, Jesus has endured the questioning of the Jewish leaders who, as we have been told, have tried to test Him and trap Him. But each time He has answered wisely and plainly. And so, as we see in v34, no more questions for Jesus! Instead, Jesus now has a question for the Scribes. And again, note that this is THE LAST INTERACTION of this sort that Jesus has with the Scribes. This is the conversation that He wants to be ringing in their ears as the events of the next few days and His crucifixion and resurrection unfold.
2. So Jesus begins His question: “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?”
A. Now ‘CHRIST’ is a Greek term that means ‘anointed one.’ Its Hebrew equivalent was Messiah. The Jews had always spoken of the one that the OT promised would come as the Messiah. But because Greek was the language of the day, they referred to Him now as the Christ.
B. And it was understood from the promises and prophecies of the OT that the Christ would be a son of David. Many of you will know that DAVID was Israel’s greatest king. And David himself received a promise, which is recorded in 2 Samuel 7, that one of his sons would rule over God’s kingdom, eternally. And that same promise is found in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, for example. So the Scribes correctly understood these promises and prophecies to teach that a male human being, born in the line of David, was to be the Christ.
C. But while that was good, the problem was that there they stopped. King David had defeated Israel’s enemies and extended her borders so the Christ who is the son of David will do this with the Romans and extend Israel’s borders even further; it will be glorious! Fullstop! It was a human and earth-bound understanding of the Christ.
i. Let me illustrate this from Israel’s history. Around about 165 BC, the nation of Israel was under the control of the Greek SELEUCID Empire. Antiochus Epiphanes was the ruler of the Seleucids. And he wanted the Jews to be Greeks also in their religion. So he banned temple sacrifices and Sabbaths and feast days. Circumcision was made illegal. And even a idol of Zeus was set up in the Jerusalem temple. You can well imagine then that many Jews were furious and outraged at this sacrilege. So a particular Jewish priest named MATTHIAS MACCABEE, and his five sons, began going to Jewish towns and calling on the people to return to the law of Moses and to rebel against the Seleucids. And in the end, the Maccabeans and their rebel army defeated the Seleucids. They then returned to Jerusalem and cleansed the temple. And you can imagine the celebrations in Jerusalem when this happened! Well, the sons of Matthias kind of took turns as commander of the army as first one then the other died. And eventually, in 140 BC, the last one, Simon, was recognized as King. And you can see that these events sounded like the fulfilling of prophecies like Psalm 110 – Israel’s king, a son of David, overthrows Israel’s enemies. But, there was one massive problem. When I first told you about old man Matthias Maccabee, I told you what his occupation was. Do you remember it? He was a (?) priest. And to be a priest you had to be of the tribe of (?) Levi. But David was of the tribe of Judah. The Christ had to be of the tribe of Judah. None of the Maccabees then, despite all they had done, could be the promised Christ. Well, now the Romans were ruling over Israel. And the king of the Jews was Herod and his sons, and Herod wasn’t even fully Jewish, let alone from Judah. So the scribes were waiting for a son of David to seize the throne and defeat the Romans!
3. Well, to show the scribes that their vision of the Christ was lacking, Jesus pointed them to a very well-known and much loved passage of Scripture – PSALM 110. Taken with the other passages we mentioned, the scribes recognized that this Psalm was another prophecy of the Christ.
A. And having said what we just said about the scribes’ understanding of who Christ would be and what he would do, you can see why this was a FAVOURITE PASSAGE OF THE JEWS! This is what we read earlier, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! … he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.” Stirring stuff, isn’t it. So sure, the Roman soldiers could prance around in their armour feeling all invincible, but you knew that soon this son of David would come and smash them!! It was right there in Psalm 110!
B. But in their haste to believe this, they were ignoring a very plain implication of VERSE 1 of the Psalm. And this is what Jesus points out to them.
i. And note that Jesus here teaches the INSPIRATION of Scripture in v36 as He speaks of David declaring “in the Holy Spirit.” Jesus believed that what David wrote down in the Psalm was ‘breathed’ into his mind by the Holy Spirit. And the same is true of all Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” So human authors wrote the words that you read but the Holy Spirit gave them every word they wrote.
a. And that means that that book you have in front of you is unlike any other book there is because it is the very word of God!
ii. But what did David write in the Holy Spirit? What had the scribes missed? What is the point Jesus was making here?
a. Well, where is David in this verse? He is the first “my.” “The Lord said to MY Lord.” What we have here, if we try and diagram it, is one Lord saying to David’s Lord, “Sit at my right hand…” And David’s Lord is the one who will have all His enemies put under His feet by the first Lord.
b. And the first “Lord” in the verse translates the Hebrew name, Yahweh, while the second Lord translates the Hebrew name, Adonai. And both are divine titles of God. Psalm 8 begins like this, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name.” In Hebrew its “O Yahweh, our Adonai.” Both titles are being used to address the one God of Israel.
c. But its different here in Psalm 110:1, isn’t it. Yahweh is saying to David’s Adonai, “Sit at my right hand.” And this cannot be God talking to Himself. That would be nonsensical. One divine being is speaking to another divine being, calling Him to sit at His right hand and promising to put all His enemies under His feet.
d. So Jesus says in v37, “David himself calls Him Lord [or Adonai]. So how is He his son?” Do you understand Jesus’ question? We know that the Christ has to be a human descendant of David. But David calls Him his Lord – Adonai. David recognizes his son as greater than David – divine even! How can this be? How can a son of David also be David’s Lord?
4. Well, the parallel passage in Matthew’s Gospel tells us that none of the scribes could give Jesus an answer. Perhaps you have heard the expression – A STUNNED MULLET? It is an expression we Kiwis have borrowed from our Aussie cousins. A mullet is a fish. And when you catch it and render it unconscious, its eyes kind of stare at you like the fish just cannot believe what has just happened. So to be a stunned mullet is to be in a state of complete bewilderment. Well, these Scribes; these law experts, who loved Psalm 110 as a prophecy of the Christ had always read right past v1 to enjoy the bits about David’s son smashing his enemies, etc. But while they see that Jesus has asked an excellent question, they are stunned mullets who simply have no answer.
5. But what about you? CAN YOU ANSWER JESUS’ QUESTION? I am sure you can! I am sure even you boys and girls will know this! How can the Christ be human and divine? How can Jesus be a son of David and God?
A. Well, Jesus’ mother was (?) Mary. And Mary, we are told in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, was a descendant of David. So because Jesus was born of Mary, He really was a human and He really was a son of David. And this was well known. No one would have disputed that Jesus was a son of David. To get into the temple you had to prove your genealogy. And we have the genealogy of Jesus recorded in Matthew 1. He was of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David.
B. But Jesus is not just a son of David. He was conceived in Mary by (?) the Holy Spirit. And so, Jesus’ really is divine and He really is a Son of God.
C. So Psalm 110:1 points forward to a time to come when Yahweh (God) will say to David’s Lord, Jesus, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”
D. And this question and its implications is AS CLOSE AS JESUS GETS to declaring Himself to be the son of God during His public ministry. He cannot plainly state that yet because it will only make sense in the light of His death and resurrection. But once He is revealed as the crucified and risen one, the implications of His Psalm 110 question will be plain. Jesus is the son of David and the son of God!
6. And the Psalm 110 promise about enemies being put under Christ’s feet is not a promise about some little regional battle over the Romans around A.D. 30. It is much much more! It is about God conquering all the ideas and persons and spiritual forces who are opposed to Jesus’ rule as world history continues until the final day when Jesus returns to bring in the new heavens and the new earth where He will reign supreme!
A. That’s why we read HEBREWS 10:12-13 earlier in the service: “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet.”
i. The Jesus who asked this question of the scribes sits now in heaven, at God’s right hand, because God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow. That’s PHILIPPIANS 2:10-11.
ii. And COLOSSIANS 1:19-20 tells us this of Jesus, “For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven.”
iii. And that, congregation, is a much grander fulfillment of Psalm 110 than the limited and earthly idea of the scribes! That is a Christ worth believing in!
So one observation and one question in relation to what we have just said before we move on to our much shorter second point.
1. So firstly, the OBSERVATION: How is it that you and me, even as boys and girls, can know this about the Christ when the scribes did not? How can we know that the Christ was both son of David and son of God, and that He will rule over the new heavens and the new earth, eternally?
A. Well, we have the NT where these things are made very plain, as we have seen. We have the Gospels where we read about the virgin birth. We have this passage that we have read today. We have the Epistles I referred to where these doctrines and truths are explained and explored. And this is a great privilege and a blessing. Is it a privilege and blessing that you thank the Lord for in your prayers?
2. But this leads us on to the QUESTION. In the parallel account of this conversation in Matthew’s Gospel, we read that Jesus began by asking the scribes this question, “What do you think about the Christ?”
A. And there were many scribes who heard what Jesus said here, and who saw what happened to Him over the next few days and who heard the preaching of the Apostles in the days afterward. And if you look through the Book of Acts, you will see that the Apostles often preached about Jesus using this same Psalm! THE question the scribes needed to answer then was “What do you think about the Christ? Or, “Who is Jesus?” And some chose to believe that He was the promised Christ who was son of David and son of God; human and divine – Saviour and Lord. Hallelujah! But many of them simply refused to believe. They would not have this Jesus to rule over them.
B. How about you? You have heard today who Jesus is. He has made sacrifice for sins. He sits now at the right hand of God. And He will return to earth to judge all men and women and children. And you either bow your knee before King Jesus now, as your Saviour and Lord, or you will bow your knee before King Jesus then as your Judge. Which is it for you? “What do you think about the Christ?”
And your answer to that question is so important because of what we read in our second and much briefer point as we consider Jesus’ WORDS OF WARNING in vv38-40.
1. Our theme for this sermon is that The Bible only truly shapes the lives of those who love Him Whom the Bible reveals.
A. And we have a negative example of this in the scribes before us. And not much more needs to be said about them because we did this at the beginning of the sermon. Earlier in the sermon I called them stunned mullets because of their reaction to Jesus’ question. But here they are pictured as STRUTTING PEACOCKS.
i. And you boys and girls will have seen peacocks with their incredibly beautiful feathers raised, prancing around to impress the peahens? The peacock isn’t that much of a bird really, but because of the feathers he wears he comes across as quite magnificent.
ii. Well, that is an excellent image of these scribes. They wore flash clothes and they sat right up the front at synagogue facing the congregation and they could pray incredibly long and flowery prayers, etc. But in reality they were strutting peacocks. Oh how they loved the law. Their view of the law was that if you did what it said, you were blessed by God and if you broke the law, you would be cursed by God. So life was better if you kept the law. But that meant that the life you lived before God was dragged down to the level of law. It was just a life of rules and regulations.
B. And you and I both know that legalism, or a life of rules and regulations, breeds CASUISTRY. And casuistry is when people twist laws to suit themselves or they do what they have to do only when others are watching or they use one law to get out of keeping another one or they come up with excuses as to why they don’t need to keep the law or they do the absolute minimum they need to do to keep their conscience quiet.
i. So as we see here in VERSE 40, it was illegal for the scribes to make money from law work but obviously they had invented a ‘legal’ way to get money out of widows for the law work they did for the widows. Elsewhere we are told that they taught the people that if you didn’t want to support your parents when they were needy, you just needed to make a vow that your money was dedicated to God, even if you never handed it over to the priests at the temple. According to them, this was all ‘legal.’
ii. And this is a problem common to every member of the human race. Indeed, you would think that every human being is born having undertaken PHD LEVEL studies in casuistry because we are all experts at dealing with laws in this way from our youngest days, right?
a. If it is our turn to do the dishes and there is any possible way to get out of it, we will find that way.
b. We know we have to pay our taxes but we know that there are ways, not to evade taxes but to avoid taxes (wording is everything!) that are ‘legal.’
c. And we are not even immune from behaving like this in the church. Why are we here, today? Why do we go to the Bible studies? Why do we give offerings? What is my motivation to preach? Why are some of us wearing a tie? Why do we read the Bible with the family after dinner? Could there be an element of strutting peacock disease in us also?
1) And of course, while there is at least something beautiful about a real strutting peacock, what we are talking about here is hypocrisy and there is nothing beautiful about hypocrisy at all. It is pure evil.
2. So, what is the solution? Is it more law? It is not, is it. Listen again to our sermon theme: The Bible only truly shapes the lives of those who love Him Whom the Bible reveals. The solution to hypocrisy is not the law but the Lord Jesus Christ.
A. When we looked last week at the most important commandment, from vv28-34, was Jesus ultimately teaching the scribe that he had to try harder to love God with all his heart, soul, and mind, and his neighbour as himself? No. He wanted the scribe to look to Him as the great commandment keeper and the one who died to pay the price for his commandment breaking. For if the scribe came to know and love Jesus for who He was and what He had done, then the commandment to love God and neighbour would become his delight.
B. And in this passage, Jesus is not pointing the Scribes to the law but to Himself as the fulfilment of the law and the prophets. The only thing that will break down the hypocrisy of these scribes is coming to know Jesus as Saviour and Lord. For then their motivation for obedience would be their love for Lord Jesus Christ and gratitude for salvation.
C. And so it is with you: When you come to know and believe that Jesus is the Saviour you need; when you come to know that you have escaped the condemnation you deserve, because of Jesus, and that you will receive the heaven that you do not deserve, because of Jesus, that is when the law in the Bible truly begins to shape your life.
So what I want to do is to finish with one practical example in the life of the church to see ‘how the rubber hits the road,’ so to speak. And the one we will use is PRAYER MEETINGS.
• And we will work on the assumption that prayer meetings are good and necessary for the congregation of the Lord’s people. If you are not convinced of that, come and see me after and we can discuss that.
• We will also take for granted the fact that not everyone can attend every prayer meeting, for various legitimate reasons. OK?
But we have a prayer meeting once every two months on the Friday before the Lord’s Supper celebration. Usually about 10-20 people attend. And we are a congregation of about 150.
1. Now, let’s start with THOSE WHO USUALLY DO ATTEND. We are not holding them up as the perfect examples of Christianity to make the rest of us feel guilty. As we have seen, it is possible that they are strutting peacocks who are there for the wrong reasons. Only they and the Father really know why they are there.
2. But what about those of us WHO ARE NOT REGULARLY THERE? Are we busy people? Absolutely! But you and I both know that there are many things that will get us out of our homes, even on a Friday evening, even after a busy week, because we like doing them or we think they are important. We might be at a rugby game or a play or a movie or a concert or at a social occasion or even a church activity of the sort that ‘spins our wheels.’ The truth is that we simply do not like or see prayer meetings as important.
3. Now, just my mentioning this topic will potentially cause a few more people to come along to the prayer meetings. Their consciences have been pricked and they know they really ought to be there, so they will make more of an effort. And the elders could make this a focus of their home visits. And we could set up a system whereby we start holding each other accountable for attendance at prayer meetings – in the week before, I remind you and you remind me that the prayer meeting is on and in the week after I ask you and you ask me why I was not there?
4. And there is every likelihood that we would soon have a larger turn out at the prayer meetings.
5. But there is also every danger that we would just be a room full of ‘strutting peacocks’ because we are there for the wrong reasons.
6. Listen again to our SERMON THEME: The Bible only truly shapes the lives of those who love Him Whom the Bible reveals. When you read your Bible and you come to know and love the Lord Jesus; and when you hear Jesus teach His people to pray, “OUR Father in heaven … Give US this day OUR Daily bread … and lead US not into temptation…”, in other words that there is praying-together aspect of prayer because we are the family of God through Christ, and you become convinced that God truly answers prayer; that if we do not ask we will not receive, that is when you will go to prayer meetings for the right vertical reason and for the right horizontal reasons. And if the Spirit of God brings us together to pray for those reasons, watch out world!
7. Now, for the sake of being thorough, don’t misunderstand the word of warning that Jesus delivers here as suggesting that we only do things if we have 100% pure motives and are completely free of hypocrisy. We are COMMANDED to pray and to attend worship and to read the Bible and pray as families and in private, etc. These things are our Christian DUTY. But such is the grace of God that He can turn what we do out of duty into our delight! Not always. Sometimes you will do what you do out of duty and it will not feel like a delight. But that does not exempt you from your duty. But the only thing that will make something feel less and less like a duty and more and more like a delight is love for the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the sum of His short sermon and His Word of warning. The Bible teaches us that Jesus is the Saviour we need. If you know that and if you love Him, then the Bible will truly shape your life. Thus says the Lord. Amen.