Enjoying Jesus

Psalm 110:1 is the Old Testament verse the New Testament loves the most. 

Psalm 110:1-7; Mark 12:35-37


Comfort verses

I remember telling this congregation early in my ministry, “Please don’t say you ‘enjoyed’ the sermon. I don’t preach for entertainment.” Today’s text rebukes that perspective. The crowd that heard Jesus in the temple courts on Tuesday of Holy Week was “delighted” (Mark 12:37). The literal translation is that they “heard him gladly,” and that adverb can mean “pleasantly, agreeably, enjoyably.” They enjoyed Jesus that day.

I knew on Wednesday of this week that I hadn’t come up with anything to say in the sermon that you would enjoy. By Thursday morning, I was excited. If you’re going to enjoy the sermon today, I need you thinking with me, even arguing back a little (in your head, not necessarily out loud!). You’ll need your Bible to follow along. Let’s start with this question: What’s your favorite Bible verse? Turn to your neighbor and share that….

Thanks to the Internet, we know what Bible verses people look up most often. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s their favorite verse, but it’s what people go looking for. Most of them are what we might call “comfort verses” – biblical mashed potatoes and gravy. Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Isaiah 40:31, “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.” Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

One site broke down the Bible searches by country. Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good,” is most popular in the U.S. and about ten other countries. Thirty countries have Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you… plans to give you hope and a future.” A big surprise to me was the most popular verse in Afghanistan, Israel, France, and about seven other countries. I wouldn’t have been able to quote this verse – Zechariah 14:9. Look it up!

None of the sites I found listed the Old Testament verse most commonly quoted or alluded to in the New Testament. Do you know what it is? It’s the one Jesus quoted on Tuesday of Holy Week in the temple courts that delighted the crowd. That was the first occasion Psalm 110:1 was used in the New Testament. Others picked up on the significance. It’s as if all the apostles and leaders of the early church were intrigued by this text. That one verse caused them to enjoy Jesus more than any other.

Through Jewish eyes

Before we get to the Jesus perspective on Psalm 110, I want to look at the Jewish perspective. I acknowledge my limitations in doing so. I do have one commentary on Psalms by a twentieth century Jewish scholar named Cohen,[1] and I also have Christian commentaries that do what I’m doing – take their best guess at a Jewish perspective.

Title – “A Psalm of David.” This raises the first question, both for Jews and Christians. “Of David” can mean “concerning David” and could be a song about David. Some Jews think it’s about Simon Maccabee, others Abraham, and others Messiah. Jesus seems to assume that his Jewish contemporaries agree that this psalm is written by David.

1 – The psalm begins, “The LORD says to my Lord,” and that’s where the intrigue begins. The first “Lord” is clearly God (all caps in most English Bibles) – Yahweh. But the second Lord – who is that? The Hebrew is Adonai, and it doesn’t necessarily refer to God. Most often it means “master, king, boss” – clearly someone superior. If this is King David, the greatest of all Israelite kings, singing, “Yahweh says to my lord,” who’s superior to David? This is why many Jews say an anonymous writer wrote this psalm about David as a worship song in his honor. Let’s go with that theory for a moment.

What Yahweh says is, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool.” To sit at the right hand is to share authority and power – sort of like a “chief of staff.” We use the phrase, “my right hand man.” David shares God’s authority since he is the king.

2-3 – God assures David he will have victory, and that the people will gladly serve in his army. This is indeed how David’s career played out.

4 – “The LORD has sworn, and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever after the manner of Melchizedek.” This is a fascinating verse, because it makes David stand out among all the Israelite rulers. No one else in Israel or the surrounding nations is both a king and a priest. Melchizedek was the priest-king who met Abraham after his victory and received a tithe from Abraham (Genesis 14:17-20). This verse is the only other reference to Melchizedek in the Old Testament.

5-6 – “The Lord at your right hand crushes kings… will judge nations.” Who is this at the right hand of the one on the right hand?  Or maybe this Adonai is Yahweh, because he crushes kings in the decisive battle. God then judges among the nations and fills the arena with corpses, shattering heads in a wide area.

7 – “He will drink from a brook along the way.” If it was God judging nations in the previous verse, who is this? The pronoun has changed reference. Maybe the “he” is now David again who has pursued the routed foe and stops to refresh himself at the brook before continuing on in final triumph, holding his head high.

If you are confused, you are tracking with me. This is not enjoyable, especially through Jewish eyes. Let me hasten to add there are many passages in the Bible that are perplexing through Christian eyes as well, even texts in the New Testament. We see through a glass darkly, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13.

What delighted the crowd on Tuesday of Holy Week is that Jesus pointed out the perplexity of biblical scholars who usually seemed very confident of their interpretation.

Through Jesus’ eyes

We’ve come to Tuesday of Holy Week. On Sunday, Jesus entered the city in paradox, with crowds cheering him on as the Son of David… but he was riding a donkey, a symbol of gentleness and peace. As he entered the temple, instead of rallying the people to a political or military cause as their Messiah, he created chaos by overturning the money changers’ tables and scattering people and cattle and birds. Most people on Sunday loved him; the keepers of the religious system hated him.

Monday was a quieter day, spent mostly with his disciples. He taught them a lesson about faith and prayer, using the acted parable of a fruitless fig tree that he had cursed and caused to wither. That was last week’s sermon.

Tuesday is his last public appearance until he is brought before the crowds Friday morning and they shout, “Crucify him!” It’s a busy day. He spends a good bit of Tuesday in the temple courts. Sometimes he takes the initiative, as with a parable about an absent landowner. The man rents his vineyard to farmers, sending servants back to check on the vineyard. Numerous messengers are abused, even killed. Finally, the vineyard owner sends his own son. He is killed because the tenants believe they can now seize the property. The religious leaders knew he told that parable about them.

Their problem was that Jesus was still popular. They needed to dilute public opinion about him. They tried to trap him with questions about paying taxes and about the resurrection, to split the crowd. Each time his answers instead shut them down.

In today’s text, Jesus again took the initiative. He starts with two accepted beliefs in his time. (1) The Messiah is a “son of David” (meaning descendant). (2) David wrote Psalm 110 about the Messiah-King who at the end of the age would sit at the place of highest honor at God’s right hand, win the decisive battles, act as priest, and reign.

With that common understanding, Jesus engages the crowd. “How can David, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declare, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet”’? David calls someone else “lord.” How can that be? How can someone be a ‘son’ and a ‘lord’ at the same time?”

The crowd enjoyed that. Why? It was witty, it was wise, and it was winsome. Matthew records that from that moment on, the religious leaders stopped trying to win arguments with Jesus. They had asked him a series of questions and he gave the perfect answer. He asked them one and they had nothing to say. The large crowd enjoyed it.

But they didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as the early Christian church.

Seated at God’s right hand

Psalm 110:1 is quoted or alluded to more often than any other Old Testament text. New Testament writers never quote Joshua 1:9, Psalm 23:1, Isaiah 40:31, Jeremiah 29:11, Zephaniah 3:17, or even Zechariah 14:9. They love Psalm 110, especially verses 1 and 4. Why? Because, as Pastor Paul noted this week, this is “high Christology.” If what Jesus was saying is, “This is about me,” then it is the clearest reference to his authority and glory.

Let me show you a few of the 37 times the New Testament connects Psalm 110:1 with Jesus. I’ll start with two direct quotations.

On the Day of Pentecost, when Peter was preaching the first Christian sermon, he said of Jesus,

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:32-36).

Peter took what Jesus said on that Tuesday of Holy Week and turned it into a sermon on the resurrection and ascension of Jesus – and more importantly, his identity. Who is this Jesus you crucified? He is both Lord and Christ.

The writer of Hebrews says Jesus is greater than the angels because “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?’” (Hebrews 1:13). Those are the direct references to Psalm 110:1.

That’s where I was stuck on Wednesday. I had read that this was the most popular verse for New Testament writers, but I only found it quoted five times – one each in Matthew, Mark, and Luke describing the same conversation on Tuesday of Holy Week, then one each in Acts 2 and Hebrews 1. Where are the rest?

Verse 4 of Psalm 110 is developed significantly in the book of Hebrews, especially chapter 7. The writer sees Melchizedek as a type of Christ – someone or something that looks a lot like Jesus long before Jesus. Melchizedek appears and disappears in the story of Abraham, just like Jesus descended from heaven and ascended back to heaven. He’s a priest and a king, just like Jesus. He’s a “priest forever” meaning we don’t need any other priests any more. That’s a wonderful sermon for a different day.

But it’s not Melchizedek or even “the LORD said to my Lord” that gets the New Testament writers most excited most often. It’s another part of verse 1 that expands and deepens into a wonderful, practical, enjoyable image in the New Testament that, as far as I know, is unique to Christian theology. You’re going to enjoy it!

Tuesday of Holy Week wasn’t the last time that week Jesus would refer to Psalm 110:1. Early Friday morning Jesus would be hauled before the Sanhedrin and asked, “Are you the Christ?” He answered, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61-62). Most of that response is a quote from Daniel 7:13, but the phrase “at the right hand” of the Mighty One is directly borrowed from Psalm 110:1. On Tuesday of Holy Week, it seemed like he was pointing out a biblical curiosity. On Friday, he made the connection clear – “This One who will be ‘at the right hand’ of God – I am he.” This doubled the prosecution’s case for Jesus being a blasphemer. Between Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 they knew he was claiming to be not only Messiah but one with God. In their mind, they had him.

What gets New Testament believers excited is who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing right now. Do you think about that much? He’s sitting at the right hand of God. Don’t get too caught up in the literal vision of that. Does God the Father even have a “right hand”? Instead, enjoy this. Here is a sampling of other references in the New Testament (emphasis added).

  • Peter, facing down the Sanhedrin when he had been told not to speak of Jesus publicly: “God exalted Jesus to his own right hand as Prince and Savior” (Acts 5:31).
  • Stephen, dying under a hailstorm of stones: “Look! I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).
  • Paul, writing about the fact that no one can condemn the believer: “Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).
  • The writer of Hebrews, in his introduction: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3).
  • Later in Hebrews, after making the connection to Melchizedek: “Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 8:1).
  • Peter, writing about baptism that “saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3:21-22). This is how we enjoy Jesus. It’s how the early church enjoyed Jesus.

Comfort theology

In theological terms what we’re talking about is called the “session” of Jesus. “Session” in old English means “seated.” What does the session of Jesus mean to you? Here are three important implications of Jesus’ session for you.

It is finished. Sitting represents the completion of the task. The New Testament writers are far more thrilled that Jesus has done everything necessary to accomplish our salvation than that he answers our prayers or helps us with our problems. He certainly does that, but it’s not the most enjoyable aspect. There is no sin he’s still trying to figure out what to do with. He’s made his once-for-all sacrifice, and he sat down because he doesn’t need to do anything else to make you perfect in God’s eyes. That means that whatever difficulty we face in this life, this life is not the end of the story.

One of us rules. From David’s “until I make your enemies your footstool” to Paul’s “far above all rule and authority,” the biblical focus of Jesus’ session is that he is master of everything everywhere. What great comfort for us! The main difference between the Old Testament and New Testament view of God’s providence is that the One who rules all things is the One who took on flesh and blood. Remember that Jesus’ incarnation was a permanent change. It’s not correct to say Jesus was fully man and fully God. Jesus is fully man and fully God. He is still one of us, and he is Lord.

He’s got our back. Paul says Jesus is interceding for us. He’s pleading our case. He prays for us. He’s looking out for us. This past week I was sitting with someone whose husband is battling cancer. She said, “I don’t know how to pray.” I said, “You don’t have to. Jesus is doing that for you.” Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus, sitting at the right hand of the Father, turns our longings into prayers in keeping with the Father’s will.

When I think about who Jesus is – Lord of all, and what he’s doing right now – sitting at the right hand of the Father, it is the deepest kind of comfort for my soul. I hope you enjoyed him today. Amen.

[1] The Psalms, A. Cohen.

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