Accurate, but Inadequate (Mark 12:35–37)

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Doug Van Meter - 19 Apr 2020

Accurate, but Inadequate (Mark 12:35–37)

Many of us have a lot of accurate information about Jesus Christ, the gospel, and theology. We are up to date on theological controversies and biblical facts. But, despite such accuracy, our knowledge is often inadequate.

Scripture References: Mark 12:35-37

From Series: "Mark Exposition"

An exposition of the Gospel of Mark by Doug Van Meter.

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It is entirely possible to have correct but inadequate information. The results can be inconsequential. For example, you get an address for your new friend. She might give you the name of the complex of flats but fail to tell you which of the 124 units is hers.

But the results can also be seriously consequential. For example, your doctor might tell you that you need an MRI. You might call your medical aid to see if it is covered by your policy. The consultant might tell you that it is. You might have the procedure done at a particular private hospital, confident in your insurance coverage, and later receive a bill for R10,000. You might then phone your medical aid to sort it out, only to be told that the procedure is covered, but only at specific hospitals, and that your choice was not on the list of approved facilities. The original information you received was accurate (the MRI is covered) but it was not adequate (it is only covered at a certain hospitals).

But an even more serious real-life example of accurate but inadequate information lies in the text before, where we read of accurate yet inadequate ideas concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ.

My main burden in this study is that many of us have a lot of accurate information about Jesus Christ, the gospel, theology, theological controversies, and biblical facts but, despite such accuracy, our knowledge is often inadequate. It does not take us far enough in the Christian life. We miss the point all too often with the consequence that what we expect from Jesus and the gospel is not what we receive. Our expectations are disappointed and we become disillusioned and/or distracted. Some end up recrucifying Jesus crucifying the Son of God and holding him up to contempt (Hebrews 6:6). In other words, some turn away completely from the offer of the gospel of Christ.

In the text before us, Jesus was teaching the crowds in the temple concerning this very danger. He pointed out that what they had been taught about Messiah was accurate but inadequate. This is a dangerous place to be. I will apply this more fully later, but at the outset I want to have us thinking in this direction.

In these troublesome days, our knowledge of God, of Jesus Christ, of the gospel, and of what we expect from the gospel is being put to the test. Like those in the days of Jesus, and like those later in the early new covenant church, we are being confronted with a test of whether our knowledge is merely accurate or whether it is accurately adequate.

This is not a merely an academic concern but a matter of eternal importance; it is a matter of spiritual life and spiritual death. For the Christian, inadequate knowledge of Jesus and his gospel leads to frustration and fruitlessness arising from faithlessness.

May God equip us from this text to have both an accurate and an adequate understanding of Jesus Christ and his gospel. It will make a profound difference in what we expect and how we live.

The Expectation of the Scribes

First, we see the expectation of the scribes: “And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, ‘How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?’” (v. 35).

The temple in Jerusalem is a focal point in this section of Mark (11:11ff). Having examined what was taking place at the temple (11:11), Jesus would return to it at least three different times. He would then return each night to Bethany, presumably to the house of Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus (11:1, 11–12, 20, 27; cf. John 12:1).

In this last time in the temple, Jesus had been confronted by different Jewish leaders who tried “to trap him in his talk” (12:13). They asked him three questions: one political, one theological, and one religious.

In at least two of these situations, the antagonists thought they were asking him unanswerable questions. Yet he answered them in such a way that they were not able to answer him. Therefore, realising the futility of trying to catch Jesus with trick questions, “no one dared to ask him any more questions.” But now Jesus would ask them a question. It was a question that, sadly, they could not answer. But it was one that every true Christian can answer. This scene highlights the need for both accuracy and adequacy when it comes to our knowledge of Jesus and his gospel.

The Right Place

Ben Witherington notes that, with this question, “Jesus comes closer to revealing his identity in public here than in any of the earlier chapters of Mark, and it is not incidental that he does so in the temple, which is to say in the place where people come to encounter their God and his truth and redemption.”

Wrong Point

Though “the great throng” (v. 37) were in the direct view of the Lord Jesus, the scribes were his main purview. That is, Jesus was teaching the crowds but also rebuking and exposing the scribes for their ignorance of God’s truth. How tragic, for everyone.

The Blind Leading the Blind

“The scribes” were the teachers of the law. They had a long and even noble history. Ezra, for example, was a scribe, and consider what was said of him:

Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him…. For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

(Ezra 7:6, 10)

But sadly, over the centuries, the scribes largely lost the plot. They failed to adhere to proper biblical theology and therefore missed whom the word of God was pointing to. They therefore missed the point of the temple.

The scribes are mentioned 21 times in Mark and never in a positive way. They were among the chief antagonists who plotted Jesus’ destruction (8:31; 10:33; 14:33; etc.). What drove them in their evil pursuit was an inadequate understanding of the purpose of Messiah, coupled with an inadequate understanding of the identity of Jesus. Jesus’ question makes this clear.

Jesus asked what, at first, appears to be a rather disconcerting question. He might seem to be denying the accuracy of a scriptural teaching, while also denying that he was the one whom the crowd had so recently declared him to be: the Son of David (10:46–52; 11:9–10). He seems to have been denying his genealogy (Matthew 1:1, 20). What do we make of this questioning of the scribal teaching? Were they wrong?

As indicated, the purpose of Jesus’ question was to highlight the inadequacy of the scribal understanding of Messiah’s identity. As Grogan puts it, “It is quite impossible that he was questioning the Davidic lineage of the Messiah…. Rather he was denying that this is all there is to be said about him, for he is much more. That he is the Son of David is, in other words, a true but inadequate statement.”

The scribes had correctly taught that Messiah (Christ) is the son of David. This was derived, correctly, from passages such as 2 Sam 7:9–17; 22:51; Psalm 89:1–4; Isaiah 9:6–7; 11:1–10; Jeremiah 23:5–6; 33:19–26; Ezekiel 34:23–24; see Zechariah 12:10). On more than one occasion, the epithet “Son of David” was applied to Jesus by Jewish people (Mark 10:47–48; Matthew 9:27, 12, 23; 15:22; 20:30, 31; 21:9, 15; 22:42; John 7:40–42). The genealogy of Jesus includes this designation (Matt 1:1, 20; see Luke 3:31).

So yes, Messiah (Jesus!) was the son of David. Genealogically, Messiah was the offspring of David. Jesus was not denying this. However, he was much more than merely a descendant of David. He was Lord. And this is what the next verses make clear.

But back to the setting of this question: the temple.

When reading the Gospels, it is helpful to keep in mind that Jesus was both the true Israel (see Matthew 2:13–15) and the true Temple (see John 2:22–23). The temple, as we will see in chapter 13, was central to Israel’s worship because it was the place where God’s people met with God. This is why Jesus was so passionate about his “Father’s house” (see John 2:17; Luke 2:49).

In sum, Jesus is God’s meeting place (John 14:6, 9). Jesus is where holy God meets sinful men and reconciles them to himself. He does this by the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Tragically, those entrusted with God’s truth about the temple had an inadequate view of its purpose; they had an inadequate understanding of to what and whom it pointed. And therefore they had an inadequate view of the one who fulfilled what it pointed to. The results were devastating.

Application

It’s possible to be in the right place and yet miss the point. You can go to a school building a lot without actually attending any of the classes and learning anything. This is the situation before us: The religious leaders were often at the right place (the temple) but missed what it was intended to communicate.

This scene took place in the right place: the temple. Those who came to worship God, and those responsible to instruct these worshippers, had an inadequate understanding of acceptable worship. They missed the fact that acceptable worship can only be offered in God’s Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Many today have a similar experience. They might be in church yet not a Christian. They might be raised in a godly home and yet not submit to the gospel. They might be orthodox without a correct practice. You might be reading this message and yet be far, in your heart, from Jesus Christ.

The Exposition of the Scriptures

Jesus next turned to the exposition of Scripture: “David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared” (v. 36a). To answer the first question properly, Jesus asked a second one. In doing so, he provided both an accurate and adequate view of Messiah. He cleared up the dark by simply expounding the Scripture. This is what we all need.

God’s Inspired Word

We won’t spend a lot of time here, but it is an essential point. The Scriptures are all sufficient to provide us both with accurate as well as with adequate revelation for all we need for life and godliness. If we want to experience the fullness of the gospel, we need faithful, comprehensive exposition and explanation of the Scriptures.

One reason for people missing the point is because those leading them are missing it as well. Beware to whom you listen. Perhaps James had this in mind when he wrote, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (3:1).

Notice that Jesus affirmed the doctrine of divine inspiration (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:20–21). In quoting Psalm 110:1, Jesus said, “David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared.” In other words, Jesus affirmed the accuracy of what the Old Testament taught. It is truth we need to know and believe. Sadly, it would seem that the scribes did not. And, neither did the majority of those whom they taught.

The Exaltation of the Saviour

Next, we see the exaltation of the Saviour:

David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,

Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.’
David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?”

(Mark 12:36–37)

Jesus made the point that Messiah was David’s “Lord.” David, the author Psalm 110, acknowledged this. In other words, David accurately acknowledged that his son was also his Lord. This was both accurate and adequate knowledge. It is the kind of knowledge we all need.

Jesus concluded with a conundrum: “So how is he [Messiah] his [David’s] son?” Good question! And how one answers is the difference between eternal life and eternal death.

Psalm 110 is the most quoted Old Testament text in the New Testament. It is therefore extremely significant. It celebrates Messiah’s ascension to the throne of God. Upon his ascension to Yahweh’s right hand, Adonai is given dominion, a kingdom (Daniel 7:13–14; see Acts 1:9–11). He reigns there until all of Adonai’s enemies are put under his feet. This is an important truth, but not the emphasis at this point.

Of course, Jesus was not questioning that Messiah was David’s son. Rather he was helping his hearers to see that, though the scribes were correct to point out this genealogical truth, they had not gone far enough. In other words, the scribal conception, at best, was a super-human, super-David who would come to rule God’s people including defeating the enemies of God’s people. They were not entirely wrong about this. Instead, “It was the narrowness of the teaching that Jesus was criticizing” (English).

That is, their teaching was accurate but inadequate. And when it comes to the identity of Jesus and our response to this, there is an eternal difference between accurate knowledge and adequate knowledge.

Your Saviour is Too Small

The inadequate understanding of the scribes fuelled their wrongheaded expectations of why Messiah would come and what Messiah would do. And because the teachers, the shepherds of God’s people, were wrong, those they led were being misled. We have seen this all the way through Mark.

As we have seen repeatedly, Jesus was reluctant for the multitudes to be informed that he was Messiah, not because it was inaccurate, but because their understanding was inadequate. In a real sense, their conception, and therefore their expectation of Messiah, was much too small.

Though they were accurately taught that God would send Messiah, sadly, they were inaccurately taught about what he would come to do. Their conception of Messiah as Deliverer was woefully inadequate. The scribes presented a Saviour that was far too small.

Like them, many today listen to the inadequate Saviour presented by so-called prosperity preachers. As someone said recently, the problem with the prosperity gospel is not that it offers too much but that it offers too little. It does not offer the Savour who will deliver us from our biggest problem: sin and the wrath of God.

Many prosperity preachers proclaim some accurate truth about Jesus (many, by the way, do not!) but, at the same time, their proclamation was inadequate. Yes, they might proclaim that Jesus is Saviour and Lord but they do not proclaim adequately why this is most important to us (see Acts 2:36–37). And those who listen to them end up missing the powerful message and ministry of Jesus Christ.

The Jewish people in the first century had been taught to expect a Maccabean kind of deliverer: a militaristic king who would deliver them from this world’s tyrannical rulers. Their expectations were in terms of military might restoring them to national and international prominence. Their expectations were geopolitical rather than universal-spiritual. They looked for an earthly kingdom like all other earthly kingdoms but where they were the centrepiece. They looked for a ruler who would give to them what they wanted rather than what they needed. They looked for a ruler and a kingdom where their welfare was central rather than a ruler and a kingdom where God’s worship was central.

Messiah indeed would come and establish a kingdom. He would come to restore Israel. He would come and make the world revolve around Israel. Messiah would come to defeat a great powerful enemy. But he would do so in a way that they were not expecting. He would do so in a way that they, sadly, were not prepared for. And this was because the leaders of Israel were clueless. Again accuracy is one thing, while adequacy is something else.

The Equipping of the Saints

The text concludes: “And the great throng heard him gladly” (v. 37b). No doubt the scribes did not.

There seems to be a note of corporate relief that the crowd was given, not only accurate, but adequate, information. Having been misled by the scribes for so long, the people were glad to hear the full story.

This is the nature of the gospel. It doesn’t necessarily make our life easy but the full gospel, that is, the true—accurate and adequate—gospel of Jesus Christ is compellingly freeing. It frees us from sentimental and, in the end, disappointing results. It frees us from a superficial relationship with God to enjoy a deepening and meaningful relationship with him. It frees us from cheap grace to deep and rich grace. It frees us from a truncated gospel that provides no power for holy living to a transforming gospel that provides God’s strength to overcome sin. It frees us from an imposter Jesus to the true Jesus.

Just as Jesus sought to equip his hearers for the days ahead, I want to do likewise here. I want to apply what we have learn. And I trust you will hear and live it out gladly.

Accurate but Inadequate

Let me provide some practical examples of what it might look like to have accurate but inadequate information.

You might be accurate about creation without repentance and faith in Creator. You might be accurate about the love of God without belief in wrath of God. You might acknowledge Jesus at Christmas and Easter but ignoring him the rest of the year. You might be accurate about the birth and death of Jesus without his resurrection. You might be accurate about his resurrection with inadequate view of his ascension. You might be accurate about his first advent while ignoring his second advent. You might be accurate about the sovereignty of God but reject your responsibility. You might be accurate about your responsibility but rejecting God’s sovereignty. You might be accurate that Jesus gives abundant life but wrong about what that is (see John 10:10; 17:3).

Several chapters earlier, Jesus asked the disciples a most important question: “Who do you say that I am?” (8:29). Peter, speaking for the disciples answered correctly, “You are the Christ” (8:30). Matthew’s account is fuller, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16). There is no more important question. We need both an accurate and adequate answer.

Our conception of the identity of Jesus makes all the difference as to how we live in this world and whether we are prepared for the next world. What about you? Is your knowledge of Jesus Christ merely accurate or is it also adequate? Do you know him as the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Saviour of the world? Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as yourSaviour?

Perhaps I can put it this way: Do you know Jesus accurately as the baby in the manger and as God’s Son crucified and risen? Do you know Jesus accurately as the baby in the manger, the God-Man dying upon the cross, the God-Man risen from the dead, the King who is reigning, and as the Judge who will return one day? If we know him adequately as King, we will find much help for these days we face. “Jesus shall reign wher’er the sun, doth his successive journeys run. His kingdom stretch from shore to shore. Till moons shall wax and wane no more” (Isaac Watts).

Do you know him as adequate to make you acceptable before holy God for time and for eternity? Do you know Jesus accurately and adequately as the one who is all sufficient for all that you need for life and godliness? Do you see how vital it is that we have accurate and adequate knowledge of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ?

In Times Like These

This matter of understanding and knowing Jesus adequately is always relevant, but perhaps particularly in these days.

To some degree, many of us suffer from the infection of the prosperity gospel. Of course, we are not deceived by the garishness of a Kenneth Copeland or Prophet Joshua or Pastor Chris. We see right through their diabolical and destructive nonsense. But there is a more subtle form that I think we have embraced.

Many of us tend to view the Christian life as a comfortable lifestyle, even a middle class comfortable existence. If so, we are having a somewhat rude awakening. And that is good for us. In other words, like the scribes, our Saviour has been inadequately way too small. He has been a nice-to-have rather than a must-have. Jesus has been a supplement but not our necessity. We are being confronted with his lordship. And this is good for us. We are being brought to confess that, in the end, all we have is Christ. And that is enough.

Who’s to Blame?

In the historical situation, it’s pretty clear that the scribes were to blame. They were among those included in Jesus’ denunciation earlier when he said that, having observed the spiritual condition of Israel, they were like sheep without a shepherd: harassed and vulnerable. In Matthew, an entire chapter is devoted to the denunciation of Israel’s shepherds (chapter 23).

Those who were to lead the flock to the green pastures of God’s promises misled them to a spiritual wasteland. The shepherds failed in their responsibility and the flock would pay dearly for it. The same applies in our day.

There are many purported “scribes” who have inadequate views of Jesus and therefore so do those they lead. One thinks of the obvious hypocrites such as Kenneth Copeland with his false prophecies and diabolical teachings. Copeland and his ilk present Jesus as merely the son of David—a messiah whose only concern is to alleviate us of temporal problems such as poverty, physical problems, and, of course, plagues. He simply asks those whom he ministers to put their money where his mouth is!

The Copelands are obviously perverse. For someone with an ounce of common sense and a modicum of biblical knowledge, his views are clearly inadequate. But it requires more discernment to detect inadequate conclusions about Jesus among those more sophisticated in their error.

I am speaking about those who see Jesus as a Che Guevara or a baptised Gandhi: those who teach that Jesus was primarily concerned about righting society’s wrongs. A lot of Jesus’ teaching addressed justice. He was troubled by how people treated some of the most vulnerable in society: the poor, the plagued, the blind and other wise disadvantage, women in general, widows in particular, children, etc. Much of his healing ministry addressed their particular needs. And it’s clear from his teaching that he expected his disciples to follow his example. Many passages in the New Testament epistles also address this (e.g. James 1:26). However, this is not primarily why Jesus came; it was not the primary focus of his mission. Any “son of David” can address social needs; only the Lord can meet a deeper need. Be careful to whom you listen.

Inadequate Awareness

The major reason for inadequate views of Jesus is an inadequate realisation of our problem. When we realise the need for God to forgive us, we will not be satisfied with any so-called messiah who does not fit the job description.

Closer to Home

In some ways, those examples have been easy ‘targets.’ But let’s look closer to home. What about ‘scribes’ in our ‘camp’?

It is all too easy to be a Reformed, conservative evangelical, and to be accurate about so many things, yet miss the point of Jesus Christ. Let me be blunt: It’s easier to be accurate about many points of theology, soteriology, ecclesiology, missiology, pneumatology, and even Christology than to cultivate a heart of devotion to Jesus. Accurate doctrine without adequate devotion is a travesty. It is deceptively dangerous and irreverently disloyal to our Saviour.

There is far too much of this. It is displayed in social media infighting and in theologians who need to be set apart to the “cage stage.” But these aside, we need to face the fact that many of us in our conservative and accurate churches can develop wrong expectations of what Jesus will bring to our congregations both corporately and individually.

Since Jesus will build his church (accurate), we expect numerical success (inadequate). Since we are preaching the truth, and since this pleases Jesus (accurate), we expect the church to be trouble free (inadequate). (Just read the New Testament!) Since we teach right doctrine, and since we adhere to right doctrine (accurate), we expect that automatically we will know God (inadequate). Since we practice church discipline, have a biblical ecclesiology, expound the Scriptures (accurate), we should not expect any major problems—we expect complete harmony (inadequate).  Since we pray, and do so fervently (accurate), we expect that the economy will come right, that COVID-19 will go away, and all will be well (inadequate).

I don’t say these things to discourage you from accuracy. I say this to help us to see that we need a full-orbed view of Scripture. And this is the responsibility of those entrusted with teaching the word of God. We need the biblical outlook of Daniel’s three friends, whose theology was accurate (“Our God is able”) and adequate (“But if not, we will not serve your gods”) (Daniel 3:16–18).

What’s required for an accuracy that is also adequate? Don’t have itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3), and hold your leaders accountable to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). There is a very important pastoral consideration here: the need for what we might call exegetical (expositional) precision.

Those who handle God’s word must be so careful not to play fast-and-loose with Scripture. It is a serious thing to mishandle God’s word. Flippant treatment of the text of Scripture coupled with a flippant tongue is a dangerous combination (James 3:1–5). As we’ve seen, Jesus taught the inspiration of the Scriptures, which means that we should tread carefully and pay careful attention to the words of God; that is, the Bible.

But what if we don’t? If we continue to live with inadequate views of Jesus, regardless of how accurate we might be about certain aspects of his life and ministry, we will be in for a rude awakening.

For many, perhaps this rude awakening is happening now. Perhaps the Jesus you thought you knew is proving inadequate for the challenge you face. Is your Jesus able to give you peace in this storm? Is your Jesus able to give you true and therefore lasting hope when all else looks hopeless? Is your Jesus adequate to give you joy when all around you seems to be dissolving?

For the non-Christian, this will take place on Judgement Day when it will be too late to repent. And therefore I ask, is your Jesus able to deliver you from your biggest problem: sin and separation from God?

These are seriously important questions. Are your answers adequate? Only if the one you are trusting is. Trust the Jesus of the Scriptures, and do so today.

AMEN