What are we to make of Jesus Christ?

When I was a child, I used to read the Daily Mail newspaper every day – well, the Peanuts cartoons, to be precise. I still remember when Lucy asked each of her friends whether she should have her ears pierced. The conversation went on for days. Schroeder was playing his piano. “Do you think I should have my ears pierced?” He replies, “I don’t mind, you pierced mine long ago.” She storms off. “Linus, Do you think I should have my ears pierced?” “I have a better idea…” he replies cheekily, “Why don’t you have your mouth boarded up?” Lucy wallops him. When he comes to, he reflects, “It was worth it!”

How do you cope with people who just don’t seem to like you? No matter how hard you try to be nice to them, they will always twist your words, they question your motives, they gossip about you, they try and discredit you, they seem to undermine you at every opportunity.  Maybe you work with them, maybe they live next door, or maybe you are related. How do you deal with them? Blank them out? Retaliate? Stoop to their level? Do you go on the defensive? How do you react?

As we approach Easter, in the first of our new teaching series, entitled The Passion of Jesus, we see how Jesus dealt with his enemies. We see his passion for them. When they ask what appear to be innocent questions, Jesus responds with a question of his own:

What do you think about the Messiah?” – “who is he?” (Matthew 22:41). Implicit in that question are two more, “Why did Jesus come?” and What is his claim on our lives?”

What are we to make of Jesus Christ? from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

You see, Jesus knew their eternal destiny depended on their  answer. And you know what? Ours does too. In fact, this is probably the most important question ever asked in human history. “What do you think about the Messiah?” It is the same question Jesus asked his friends in Matthew 16, “Who do you say I am?” As we begin to learn about the passion of Jesus, lets find the answer to that question this morning. Please turn with me to Matthew 22. Let us observe:

  1. The Context of the Question
  2. The Crux of the Question
  3. The Consequences of the Question

1. The Context of the Question

In Matthew 22:15-40 we meet three groups of critics who try to entrap Jesus. He is clearly a threat to their power and authority, and they want to bring him down. So,

1.1 The Herodians ask a Political Question

“Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
(Matthew 22:15-17)

The Herodians supported King Herod and his ‘Quisling’ government. They cooperated with the Roman authorities. The word “trap” in verse 15 is a hunting term and describes stalking a wild animal. “But Jesus, knowing their evil intent,” responds with a question of his own – about whose image appears on Roman coins. “Caesar’s” they cry. “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21). “When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.” (Matthew 22:22). The Herodians had asked a political question.

1.2 The Sadducees ask a Doctrinal Question:

The Sadducees were the wealthy aristocrats, and liberal too – they did not believe in the supernatural world of angels and demons, nor in the resurrection or the afterlife. Their religion focused entirely on the Law of Moses and on extreme Levitical purity.  They ask a hypothetical question:

“That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” (Matthew 22:23-27)

Jesus answers his liberal cynics with a stinging rebuke:

“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:29-32)

And Matthew tells us, “When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.” (Matthew 22:33).  The Herodians had asked a political question. The Sadducees had asked a doctrinal question. And then it was the turn of the Pharisees.

1.3 The Pharisees ask an Ethical Question:

“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-36)

Like the Sadducees, the Pharisees believed in the Law of Moses but they also accepted the oral traditions of the rabbis as equally inspired and authoritative. And like the Sadducees, their teaching was primarily about behaviour rather than theology. Doing things right was more important than doing the right things.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

His masterful answers confound his critics. The Herodians, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, are all shamed into silence.

The crowds are utterly amazed at his wisdom. They are astonished at his teaching. This is the context for the question Jesus is about to ask them all.

2. The Crux of the Question

“While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” (Matthew 22: 41-45)

Jesus begins with a basic question – Whose son will the Messiah be?” They answer correctly that the Messiah will be the “Son of David”. Clearly they did not believe Solomon fulfilled that role.

So Jesus digs deeper and asks them a further question. “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? (Matthew 12:43). King David was clearly speaking prophetically about the coronation of a future son. But David begins by saying, “Jehovah said to my Adonai.” If David was the patriarch of the Messiah, why in the world would he call him his “Adonai” – his Lord?

The implication was obvious. David was inspired by the Holy Spirit to prophesy that his descendent would be greater, superior, divine. The Pharisees knew the human DNA of the Messiah – he would be the Son of David – but they had neglected the Scriptures that also spoke of the Messiah’s divine DNA – the Lord of David.

So Jesus asks the further question, “If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” (Matthew 22: 45).         

You see, the Messiah would not only be the Son of David but also the Lord of David.
No wonder this Psalm is quoted so often in the New Testament. Jesus cites the psalm to confound his critics (Mark 12:36-37 and Luke 20:42-44). Peter quotes the psalm in Acts 2:34-36 and the author of Hebrews does so liberally in Hebrews 1:13; 5:6-10; 7:11-28). Like Psalm 22, Psalm 110 was rightly seen as prophetic. It predicts the coming of one who would be both the Son and Lord of David, human and divine. But as we have already seen in our series, Christ in all the Scriptures, this astounding claim is not unique. Every single book in the Hebrew Canon points to the person and work of Jesus. The Pharisees were therefore without excuse. And beside the numerous messianic types and prophecies, there were the awesome miracles which Jesus had performed. There was his profound wisdom and authoritative teaching.

As we see in the Christianity Explored course, the disciples of Jesus and the crowds ask repeatedly, “Who is this? “Who is this man?” “Could this be the Messiah?”  The gospels present convincing and irrefutable evidence of:

2.1 Jesus’ power and authority to teach (Mark 1:21-22)
2.2 Jesus’ power and authority over sickness (Mark 1:29-34)
2.3 Jesus’ power and authority over nature (Mark 4:35-41)
2.4 Jesus’ power and authority over death (Mark 5:21-24)
2.5 Jesus’ power and authority to forgive sin (Mark 2:1-12)

Jesus fulfils divine prophecy, he speaks with divine authority and he acts with divine power. Conclusive proof to answer the question. The context of the question. The crux of the question.

3. The Consequences of the Question

“No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.” (Matthew 22:46)

The Pharisees could not answer Jesus because they had already made up their minds. They ignored the clear fulfillment of prophecy, they closed their ears to his profound teaching and they attributed his awesome miracles to the work of Satan. They became indifferent to his compassion, they became hardened to his love, and blind to his message that could save them.

Then as now, Jesus divides the world into two – those who recognize him and those who deny him. What do you think about Jesus? Who is he? In his book, God in the Dock, C.S.Lewis has a chapter entitled What are we to make of Jesus Christ?. Let me conclude with his.

What are we to make of Jesus Christ?’… This problem is to reconcile two things. On the one hand you have got the almost generally admitted depth and sanity of His moral teaching…

The other phenomenon is the quite appalling nature of this Man’s theological remarks. You all know what I mean, and I want rather to stress the point that the appalling claim, which this Man seems to be making, is not merely made at one moment of His career. There is, of course, the one moment, which led to His execution. The moment at which the High Priest said to Him, ‘Who are you?’ ‘I am the Anointed, the Son of the uncreated God, and you shall see me appearing at the end of all history as the judge of the universe.’ … [on another occasion]  ‘before Abraham was, I am,’  And remember what the words ‘I am’ were in Hebrew. They were the name of God, which must not be spoken by any human being, the name which it was death to utter.

On the one side clear, definite moral teaching. On the other, claims which, if not true, are those of a megalomaniac, compared with whom Hitler was the most same and humble of men. There is no halfway house and there is no parallel in other religions…

The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question. In my opinion, the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion, which undermines the whole mind of man…We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects — Hatred — Terror — Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.”

“The question is, I suppose, whether any hypothesis covers the facts so well as the Christian hypothesis. That hypothesis is that God has come down into the created universe, down to manhood — and come up again, pulling it up with Him. The alternative hypothesis is not legend, nor exaggeration, nor the apparitions of a ghost. It is either lunacy or lies…‘What are we to make of Christ?’ There is no question of what we can make of Him; it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us.”

Next week we will learn more of the Passion of Jesus.

What are we to make of Jesus Christ?” Cited from God in the Dock by C.S. Lewis