"The Greatest Question of All"
(Delivered Sunday, June 15, 2008 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
We've been studying together from the most significant "question and answer" session in history. It had to do with the events that occurred in the Jewish temple, just a few days before our Lord Jesus Christ went to the cross for us.
While teaching in the temple, He was confronted by the Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes—the religious leaders of the people. They pressed Him with questions that were designed to trap Him and discredit Him before the people. But Jesus answered each question with great wisdom; and He exposed the hard-hearted unbelief of His opponents in the process. In the end, all they succeeded in doing was discrediting themselves.
And just when it would have seemed to be over—just when it seemed that it would have been best to get away before they made even greater fools of themselves—it's then that we find our Lord asking them a question.
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Before we read that question, let me ask you a question. What do you suppose might be the most significant question that anyone could answer?
I suggest to you that the greatest question you could ask would have to be one that deals with the greatest theme ever proposed. And there is no greater theme in all the universe than the one that is made by the gospel. This great theme is introduced to us in the first few words of the Gospel of John. John 1:1-5 says,
And from this affirmation about the eternal Word of God, the greatest of all themes is found in verse 14; where it says,
The Gospel of John presents Jesus Christ to us as this divine Person; and the greatest proposition ever made is this: that the second Person of the divine Godhead, who is the Son of the Father, has become "flesh" and walked among men; that He has revealed Himself to men as "full of grace and truth", and has so communed with men as to enable them to report to the world that they beheld His glory "as of the only begotten of the Father".
What a great thing to propose to the world!—that the Son of God, in a point of time, has become a man like us; that He has lived in the midst of sinful humanity; and that He has revealed the grace of His Father toward those who believe on Him! Can there be a greater thing to consider than that? If it is a proposition that is true, then great hope has been introduced into this dark and fallen world! If it true, then people such as you and me—broken and wounded as we are by sin—can be forgiven, washed clean, and restored to a relationship with the One who made us for Himself! If it is true, then there really isn't anything else that matters by comparison!
And if that great theme is true, then the greatest question that can possibly be asked—the one question that most reveals what is in the human heart, and that most determines one's eternal destiny—would have to be this: "What do you think about Jesus Christ?"
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Earlier in his Gospel, Matthew lets us know that Jesus Himself had asked this same 'great question' once before. He was walking along with His disciples; and then suddenly turned to them and asked, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" (Matthew 16:13).
The disciples answered by saying what it was that they heard other people say about Him. Some said, for example, that He was John the Baptist risen from the dead. Others said that He was Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets of old. But Jesus asked them the greatest of all questions—the question that each man and woman must answer: "But who do you say that I am?" The great question is never really about what other people have to say about Jesus. It's always personal; “What do you say about Jesus! Having heard the claims that are made about Him, what conclusion have you come to about Him?”
Peter, speaking for them all, said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). And Jesus commended this as the correct answer: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (v. 17).
And now, as we come to our passage this morning, we find that Jesus asks this 'great question' again—this time, of His opponents. They sought to ask challenging questions of Him. And when it is all over, He asks them the most challenging question of all—the question that would most exposed their unbelief: "What do you think about the Christ?"
In Matthew 22:41-46, we read these words;
What a question! Do you see how He expands it? "What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” He didn't just ask their opinion in a general way. He got specific! And specifying the question in that way put those Pharisees on the horns of a dilemma. If they speak what the Scriptures say about the Messiah, then they rightly say that He is the flesh-and-blood, human offspring of the great King David. But if they think of Him only as nothing more than a man, they can't explain what David, in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then went on to say about Him. If they wouldn't go on to say more about Him, then they wouldn't be able to explain what they already said about Him.
And Jesus' question—preserved or us in this morning's passage—forces us to do the same today as it did them. It forces us to come to the crossroads of a decision about what we believe about Him. It makes us answer the question specifically: "What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?”
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Let's take a closer look at . . .
1. THE QUESTION FROM OUR LORD (vv. 41-42).
Matthew tells us, "While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 'What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?'" (v. 41).
Now; to understand this question, you have to put yourself, as it were, in the 'sandals' of the ones who heard it. We, today, are used to immediately thinking of Jesus when we speak of "the Christ". And we're right to do so, because that's who He is. But when Jesus asks the Pharisees and scribes about "the Christ", they understood Him to be asking about the great expectation of the Messiah, promised in the Old Testament Scriptures.
When they heard Him speak of “the Christ” (which is the Greek word for the Messiah—the Anointed One), they would have understood Him in terms of the specific promises of Scripture. They would have understood Him to be asking about the promised "Seed" of the woman; the One that God had promised would one day come from Eve, and bruise the head of the serpent with His heel (Genesis 3:15). They would have understood Him to be asking about the promised blessing spoken to Abraham; when God told Abraham, "[I]n you [that is, from the offspring of your own body; from One born out of the Jewish people] all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). They would have understood Him to be asking about the promised "Prophet" that Moses spoke of when he said, "The LORD your God will raise up a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear" (Deuteronomy 18:15). They would have understood Him to be speaking of the “Child” the prophet Isaiah spoke of—the One on whose shoulders the government would rest (Isaiah 8:6). This is who they would have understood Jesus' question to be in reference to: "What did they think about the Christ—the Messiah?"
And you have to also put yourself in the 'sandals' of these Pharisees in order to know that the second half of His question, "Whose Son is He?", was not a strange one at all. All of those who heard His question would have immediately given an answer that was obvious to them: He is King David's Son. They would have thought back to David—the greatest king in their history; the king against whom all other kings of Israel were measured—and would have remembered the great promise that God had made to him:
So; when Jesus asked this greatest of all questions—"What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?”—they would have naturally understood Him to be speaking of the Messiah; and would have naturally given the answer they gave—“The Son of David.”
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And do you notice that Jesus didn't debate that answer? It was the right answer (as far as it goes); because, strictly in terms of His earthly lineage, that's what Jesus was: the biological offspring of King David. The very first verse of Matthew's Gospel introduces it as “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).
But then, Jesus goes on to show that that answer alone was only half-correct. A half-correct answer to the most important question of all is not an answer that will lead to salvation.
Notice, then, how our Lord goes on to present . . .
2. THE CHALLENGE OF KING DAVID'S OWN TESTIMONY (vv. 43-44).
Jesus goes on to ask, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord' . . .?” (v. 43).
Jesus quotes from the first verse of Psalm 110—a psalm that all of the Jewish leaders that He was speaking to would recognize as referring to the Messiah. It reads, “The LORD said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool” (Psalm 110:1).
Turn to Psalm 110. It's a very important psalm. Did you know that it's the most quoted psalm in the New Testament? And whenever the New Testament quotes it, it is always made to refer to Jesus.1 It was written by King David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In it, David looks ahead and expresses worship toward God for the promise of the Messiah that would one day be born from him.
Look at the first verse. Do you notice that the first word “LORD” is in all-capital letters in your Bible? This is the translators' way of letting you know that, in the Hebrew, this is the most sacred name of God in all the Hebrew Scriptures—Yahweh. It's a word that speaks of the covenant name of the almighty God of Israel. And do you notice that the second word “Lord” is not in all-capital letters? This is the translators way of letting you know that this second "Lord" is a different word than the first. This second word is Adonai—the Hebrew word for “Lord” or “Master”.
Now; all those Pharisees and scribes understood—and rightly so—that David here speaks of the Messiah. But Jesus then asks the Pharisees this perplexing question: If King David is here speaking of his promised Offspring—whom we all rightly know to be the Messiah—then how is it that he also, in prayer before Yahweh, calls his own Son Adonai? How is it that, in the Spirit, David refers to his promised Son as his “Lord”? Who ever heard of such a thing? Everyone recognizes that a father is always to be honored as the superior of his son. And everyone recognizes the great King David as the greatest of all the earthly kings of God's covenant people. So how can it be that, in the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, King David calls his own messianic Son “Lord”?
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Jesus was presenting His opponents with a puzzle. But it wasn't intended to trap them and confuse them—as they had been trying to do to Him. Rather, it was intended to force these men to let go of their preconceived notions about what the Messiah ought to be; and to come to the conclusion about Jesus that the Holy Scriptures—and Jesus' own works—required that they come to.
This leads us, then, to . . .
3. THE CONCLUSION THAT WE MUST COME TO ABOUT JESUS (vv. 45-46).
You see; these religious leaders expected a strictly human Messiah. They expected someone to arise from the lineage of King David; and to, like David, be a mighty, conquering king in their own day. They expected a conquering Messiah—but a Messiah that was only a mere man.
But Jesus—though fully human—had been presenting Himself to them as more than a mere man. We've seen this throughout our study of Matthew's Gospel. He had healed the blind and the lame. He had cleansed the lepers, and had cast out demons. He had demonstrated that He had authority to commanded the wind and the waves of the sea. He had raised the dead. He had fed the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and a few small fish. He had taught and spoken to the people as no man had ever taught and spoken before. He had been proving to them—over the three and a half years of His earthly ministry—that He was more than mere man alone.
On a different occasion, Jesus argued with the Jewish leaders and told them that "the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me." And on yet another occasion, He told them, "The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me" (10:25). They even said that He was blaspheming because He said that He was the Son of God; and He replied by saying, "If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him" (10:37-38).
And now, in our passage this morning, Jesus forces them to the conclusion about the Messiah that—in their unbelief—they simply would not accept. "If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He his Son?" (v. 45). If the Messiah is the human descendant of King David—as all agree—then how could David say such a thing about Him? How could David call Him "Lord"?
Look carefully at what these words of David—spoken under the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit—would demand that they believe about the Messiah! They would, for example, require that the Messiah was a pre-existent Person. David spoke at a time long before the Messiah was born into the human family; but he also shows us that God the Father spoke to the Messiah as if He existed even then! "The LORD said to my Lord . . .", said David. And didn't the Lord Jesus once testify to the Jewish leaders who opposed Him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM" (John 8:58)?
These words would also require that the Messiah be understood as a divine Person;. Here, we see God speaking to another Person in a way that He spoke to no mere man; "Sit at My right hand . . ." To sit at the right hand of a mighty ruler was to sit in the position of greatest possible honor and exaltation, and to share in that king's glory. God would never speak in this way to a mere created being; because, elsewhere in Scripture, God says that He will not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11). But before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed, "And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (John 17:5).
And finally—and what must have been particularly disturbing to those who were right then opposing Jesus—these words also require that the Messiah be recognized as God's appointed Judge. In them, God says to David's Son, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool." And again, didn't Jesus once say of Himself, "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats" (Matthew 25:31-32)?
Well; if we take David's words to be the words given him by the Holy Spirit, and if we look at the works that Jesus performed and hear the words that He spoke, then we are forced to a conclusion. The only way that David could speak to his own human Offspring and call Him "Lord" would be if his Offspring was more than a mere man! He would have to be both human and divine. He would have to be the God-Man; the Son of God, sent to this earth be be born into the human family to be our Savior.
And in just a few days from the time that our Lord was having this debate with the religious leaders, it would be proven it to be so. He would be proven to be, as Paul the apostle said in the very first few words of the Book of Romans, "born of of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:3-4).
Matthew writes that, after Jesus finished asking His question, "no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare to question Him anymore" (v. 46). They found that they could not answer Him. All that they could do was put Him to death.
And they did. And then, He rose from the dead.
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The great question that the Lord Jesus asked of those unbelieving religious rulers back then is still the greatest question of all today: "What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?" It's a question that puts each of us on the crossroads of a decision. What will we do with Him? What conclusion will we come to about Him? And the only conclusion that the testimony of the Scriptures allows us to come to is that He is both fully God and fully man; with both natures together—unmixed and unmingled—in one Person.
And what should we do with this? Let me suggest that, in proper response, we should first worship and adore Him. What a wonder He is! He is the eternal Son of God; the second Person of the triune Godhead; the very King of Heaven! And yet, in loving obedience to the Father, and in mercy to us in our sins, He set His heavenly glory aside for a season, was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, and was born into the human family. He didn't at any time cease to be the holy Son of God; but rather humbled Himself, forever took the nature of true humanity to Himself, tasted death in our place on the cursed cross, and rose from the dead in power and glory.2 He did this for us! How we should love Him in return!
Another proper way to respond would be to believe on Him. The testimony that Jesus has both a fully human nature and a fully divine nature in His one, single person is not a trivial detail of faith. You and I cannot be saved unless that is true, and unless we put our faith in it! You see; we are sinners—fallen because of the sin of Adam, and guilty because of our own personal sins. And unless the Son of God had truly taken full humanity to Himself, He could not rescue us from our sins. And if it were a mere man that had volunteered to take our sins upon himself and die in our place on a cursed cross, being a man only, he couldn't do us any good. As a member of the human race—cursed by the sin of Adam as much as the rest of us—he'd have his own sins to pay for. The only way that we can be saved is by the righteous, sinless Son of God taking full humanity to His Person and dying as a sinless substitute in our place. He who knew no sin must become 'sin' for us as one of us; or else we cannot become 'righteous' before God by faith in Him3. But praise God; He has! And the only right response on our part is to believe on Him as both fully human and fully divine; and trust that His righteous sacrifice on the cross is the payment for our sins.
And one more thing; we should also respond by hoping in Him. Because the Son of God took full humanity to His own Person forever, and because He partook of death for sins in our place as one of us, and because He rose from the dead in glory as the the great Conqueror over death on our behalf, then we can be assured that we will rise in glory with Him. The Son of God didn't become one of us and die for us, only then to leave us in the condition that He found us. Rather, He condescended to come down to where we are, in order to raise us up to where He is—so that where He now is, we who trust in Him will one day be also!4 The promise of the Bible is that, if we have been united to the likeness of His death, we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection5
The testimony of the Bible is that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God who—without ever ceasing to be God—took full humanity to Himself, became one of us, and died on the cross in our place. Have you placed your trust in Him as "the Christ, the Son of the living God?" Have you responded to Him accordingly? Do you express your love and worship for Him? Do you declare Him to be the One you trust in for salvation before God? Do you affirm Him to be your hope for future glory?
What do you say about Christ?
1See Acts 2:33-35; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 5:6-10; 7:17; 8:1 and 10:12-13.
2See Philippians 2:5-11.
3See 2 Corinthians 5:21.
4See John 14:3.
5See Romans 6:5.
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