daily biblical sermons

The Old Testament proves the Jews wrong in thinking that the Messiah would only be a great King, a mere man
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Friday, Ninth Week of the Year, June 05, 2020
2 Timothy 3:10-17, Psalm 118, Mark 12:35-37


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, ‘How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet.” David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?’ And the great throng heard him gladly” (Mark 12:35-37).



Today Jesus himself brings up the topic of Christology, which asks the question, Who or what kind of a person is the Messiah? Jesus knows that the Jews believe that the Messiah would be the son of David and a great political/military king who would drive the Gentiles out of Israel, defeat the Roman Empire, and make Israel and the Jewish people the dominant force in the world. But they did not believe that he would be divine, the divine Son of God. Rather they believed that he would only be a great man, perhaps someone like Alexander the Great or another great king like David. So they called him the son of David both in the sense that David would be his ancestor, but also in the sense that he would be in the image and likeness of David, just as someone whom they called a “son of Satan” would be a wicked and evil person in the image and likeness of the devil (BibleRef).



But today Jesus wants to make the point, without developing it, that the Messiah is not simply a mere man like David. He makes this point from the Old Testament, which his Jewish audience accepts as inspired by the Holy Spirit. He asks them a question that they cannot answer based on their assumption that the Messiah (the Christ) would be nothing more than a great human being, not a divine person.



He asks them, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is to be the son of David? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord’” (Mark 12:35-36). David himself in this psalm does not refer to the coming Messiah as his son, a man like himself, but rather he says in Psalm 109:1 (110:1), “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet” (Mark 12:36). David would hardly call the future Messiah “my Lord” if he was to be a mere man and only a great King like David. So the coming Messiah must be something more than a mere man and a great King, for “David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?” (Mark 12:37).



This, of course, does not deny that Jesus was a descendant of King David, nor does it deny that he was the heir of the prophetic promises concerning this great son of David who would one day come to save his people. Everyone accepted that. But Jesus is making a new point by asking how do you explain the fact that David himself refers to the Messiah as his Lord. No one refers to a son or grandson or some future male descendant as his Lord, but simply as his son, unless this great descendant is more than a mere human being. This is the only explanation of why and how David could call his descendant his Lord.



So the point that Jesus is making, but without developing, is that the Christ, whom David is referring to in this psalm, is not merely a descendant of David and a great king, but is greater than a mere human being, for he preexisted the birth of Jesus as the eternal Son of the Father and was alive during the reign of King David, so that David in this psalm could refer to him as someone who was alive, whom God could speak to, and who was David’s Lord.



Furthermore, God would seat this great descendant of David at God’s right hand until God puts the Messiah’s enemies under the Messiah’s feet. What a magnificent position David sees his descendant occupying – he would sit at the right hand of God, and God puts the Messiah’s enemies beneath the Messiah’s feet.



Once Jesus had made this striking point from the Old Testament itself, St. Matthew tells us, “No one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did any one dare to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22:46). The scribes and Pharisees could not answer this question, because they did not believe that the Messiah would be divine, so they had no answer as to why David calls him his Lord and that God would have him sit at God’s right hand. Jesus has obviously defeated their mistaken view that the Messiah would only be a great King, a mere man, and nothing more.



“If the Messiah was to be only a secular prince, as they [the scribes and Pharisees] supposed, ruling the men of his own time, he never could have been called Lord by persons who died before he was born; far less would so mighty a king as David, who also was his progenitor, have called him Lord. Wherefore, since he rules over, not the vulgar dead only of former ages, but even over the kings from whom he was himself descended, and his kingdom comprehends the men of all countries and times, past, present, and to come, the doctors [the scribes and Pharisees], if they had thought accurately upon the subject, should have expected in their Messiah a king different from all other kings whatever. Besides, he is to sit at God’s right hand till his enemies are made the footstool of his feet; made thoroughly subject to him” (James MacKnight, 1721-1800 in Joseph Benson 1749-1821 on Matthew 22:41-45, emphasis in the text).



Jesus’ point is that if the Jews had reflected correctly on their Old Testament Scriptures they would not have formed the false idea that the Messiah would be a mere human being, but rather would have seen that he would be a divine person.



So Jesus has brought up the topic of Christology, which asks, Who is Christ, what kind of person is he, and especially what did he do? So we see that Christology is intimately connected with soteriology, the study of how Christ saves us.



Some think that Jesus only gave good example so that we would be inspired to follow it and that’s how he saved us. For example, he was a lowly and weak man who accepted his weakness and human limitations like the Suffering Servant of Isaiah chapter fifty-three and by doing so was raised from the dead and made triumphant. And so if we follow his good example in accepting our weak human condition and our limitations, in union with Christ, we too will be transformed, as Jesus was transformed, and so this is how Jesus saves us.



We are saved, according to this theory, by Christ’s good example. But this is hardly salvation. This is simply following a good example. But the traditional belief about Jesus is that he saved us by his action, not by our action in imitating his good example, whereby we basically save ourselves. This, of course, is totally repudiated by St. Paul as self-justification or works-righteousness, something which he totally rejects (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).



Furthermore, quoting the Suffering Servant hymn of Isaiah 53 is hardly a justification for this good example theory of accepting our human weakness together with Christ as the way of salvation, for the whole point of Isaiah 53 is not that the Servant accepted his weakness, but that the Servant died a vicarious death in our place to save us from dying in punishment for our sins. The Suffering Servant “was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Isaiah 53 does not teach salvation by following the example of the Servant’s accepting his lowliness and weakness. Rather, it teaches that Jesus was lowly and put to death to vicariously suffer our death sentence for our sins for us so that we could be forgiven and justified (declared righteous).



Why did he do this? He did it because “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). God punished our sins in Christ’s flesh on the cross (see Romans 8:3-4). “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Once our iniquity was laid upon the Servant, God punished it in him: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).



The result of his suffering vicariously our death sentence for our sins for us is that we are made whole by the bruises that he received: “Upon him was the chastisement that made us whole” (Isaiah 53:5). The result is that we are healed by what he suffered, because our sins were punished in his flesh on the cross so that God in all justice could acquit us of our sins, for God saw that our death sentence had already been served for us by Christ. “And with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).



We are not saved and healed by what Christ’s good example inspired us to do so that we basically save ourselves by imitating the good things that Christ did? No! We are saved by his stripes paying our debt of suffering that we owe God in punishment for our sins.



And how does this all come about in us? It comes about when we hear the gospel about this and put our trusting faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning death on the cross to make reparation for our sins. When we do so, God credits our personal account with his suffering and death as just punishment for our sins and so acquits and justifies us, declaring us righteous, and reckoning to us his own righteousness (Romans 4:5). Therefore we now shine with the righteousness of God himself, not with a mere man-made righteousness of law keeping.



This is the kind of righteousness that St. Paul wants, not a righteousness of following the moral and ceremonial law in doing good, but the righteousness of God that depends on faith. St. Paul says, I want to “be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9).



So how does Christ save us? Not by his good example that we follow so that we basically save ourselves, but rather, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). All this happens because God justly punished our sins in Christ’s flesh on the cross so that we would not have to suffer this punishment if we put our faith in him (Romans 8:3-4).


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