Here Comes the Son ... of Man
A Sermon from Mark 10:42-45, Phil 2:5-11 & Daniel 7:13-14
My nickname growing up was Bug. Probably because I pestered my older brothers and sisters. I was the last of seven kids - an afterthought nine years after the last afterthought. So I grew up spoiled, or at least that's what my siblings tell me.
They said I bugged them about everything. I could ask more questions! Where are you going? What are you going to do? When are you coming back? Can I go with you? Why not? If you've got a baby brother or sister, I bet you can relate. They sure can be a pest at times, a bug.
Well, by the time I reached junior high I realized that Bug wasn't that flattering a nickname. I must have been a slow learner. So one year at camp I came up with what I thought was just the coolest name. Brooklyn. Call me Brooklyn. It's no use asking why, I don't know. But everyone else had a handle and I wanted one too. So I gave myself a new name. It didn't catch on.
What was your nickname growing up? Do you still use it? Was it one you gave yourself or did others pin it on you? To pave the way into God's Word this morning, let's play a game called "Guess the Person." I'll give you the nickname of someone famous and you can guess out loud who I'm referring to. Big hint here, they're all presidential-types.
Ready? First person is known as George "Doubya." (George W. Bush)
Next, Slick Willy. (President Bill Clinton)
How about Tricky Dick? (Richard Nixon)
This one was known by his initials, LBJ. (Lyndon Baines Johnson)
Or what about JFK? (John F. Kennedy)
And finally, if you like Ike, who do you like? (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
Had to go to the history books for that one. But it seems to me that throughout history, the public has often bestowed pet names - some not so flattering - on their leaders. Honest Abe is a compliment. Slick Willy isn't.
But it's interesting that, with the exception of Bill Clinton, each presidential candidate in our little game ran for office using their formal name: Richard M. Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower. I think back, though, to 1975 when the governor of Georgia, with a firm handshake and a warm smile, introduced himself to the nation. "Hello, I'm Jimmy Carter and I'm running for president."
Funny how you recall certain things, but I remember some political commentators at the time discussing the appropriateness of James Earl Carter calling himself Jimmy. Hmm, they thought. Isn't Jimmy a nickname?
And aren't nicknames what other people call you? You don't choose your own moniker, do you? Sounds presumptuous. Call me Brooklyn. What is that about? No wonder it fell flat, right? People don't easily latch on to titles they don't own or understand.
Imagine the reactions, then, when Jesus appeared on the scene proclaiming himself to be . . . the Son of Man! The Son of . . . Man. The Son of Man? What does that mean? People must have scratched their heads over that one. For it wasn't a popular title. No one in recent times had used it. And now Jesus lays claim to it. Confusing. At one point, some people even confront Jesus and ask, "Who is this 'Son of Man' you keep talking about?" They just didn't quite get what Jesus was trying to communicate by using such a phrase.
Nor did they warm up to this new name. If Jesus meant it as a handle for himself, it didn't take. Not once in the Gospels do people call him the Son of Man. Sir, Rabbi, Teacher, even Y'shua, Jesus. But Son of Man, no. It was his self-designation, and his alone. As far as nicknames went, it fell flat.
Ah, no matter, the people thought. We have a better one picked out, pre-set with political meaning and power. If Jesus insists on using the enigmatic Son of Man, that's fine. We'll use something better, a moniker that's clear and compelling. No misunderstandings here. We'll help jump start his campaign. People of Israel, get ready to cast your vote. Introducing our new candidate for Messiah - drum roll please - Jesus, the Son of David. Cheers and applause.
Yes, we can see it now. The Son of David. Now that is a title worth talking about. It describes exactly the type of man we want to lead our nation. We're talking Messiah now. Someone like King David of Old. A political ruler who will usher in the Kingdom of God and usher out those Roman aggressors. Don't you worry about your nickname, Jesus, we got it all figured out. You're the Son of David. You just remember that when the time comes to make your move.
Well, looking back on history, and knowing what we do about his life and ministry, it's easy to see that the popular conception of the Christ as a worldly monarch was just plain wrong. The Scripture is clear, Jesus refused to be type-cast as a political messiah. He even shied away from identifying himself as the Son of David. As Craig noted last Sunday, it was his least favorite nickname. Although he accepted it, Jesus never used the term in reference to himself.
Instead, he consistently applied the phrase, "Son of Man." Must have been his favorite nickname for he used it over 80 times. Why? Based on what we've already learned, he was very likely trying to distance himself from the politically-packed phrase, Son of David. But positively, what did he mean by this self-designation, Son of Man? We'll want to look at that question this morning.
As you know, our Advent series is titled, "Here Comes the Son." And we're considering Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of David and the Son of Man. When we very spiritually and pietistically determined who would preach on what topic (we drew lots) and I found out I was preaching on the Son of Man, I got to thinking, "I know very little about that subject."
It's not a topic one often contemplates, am I right? Nor does one typically associate this theme with advent. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard a sermon on the subject, Christmas or otherwise.
So this will be a first for me. Maybe a first for you, as well. A freshman encounter with Jesus, the Son of Man. Sorta like a blind date. We're a bit uncertain as to who it is we're going to meet. We sort of know who he's not - a military figure - but do we know who he really is?
Well, there's one sure way to find out. We have to open the scripture and meet him face to face. Like the woman in the bible who simply wanted to touch part of his coat, we need to work our way through the crowd and reach out to Jesus. Let's do that together this morning, shall we? To help us get closer to the Son of Man, let's start by asking/answering the three questions on the outline about that favorite nickname of his.
First of all, what does it mean? Where did it come from? What is it?
Second, why did Jesus use it? What was he trying to communicate?
And third, how does it impact us? Why does it matter? What does this ancient phrase mean for me at the turn of the millennium?
We can ask these questions of scripture because we've seen over and over again that its message is truthful, relevant, applicable and clear. That's something we discover as we spend time in God's word. The more we read it, the more we learn to trust the bible's take on spiritual things.
Now, I know that may yet be a stretch for some. There may be a number of us here who are, essentially, freshmen at religion. We're beginners and we're not sure what we believe about God, the universe and everything. I see that hand. And let me just say, if that's you, you're in good company. Because the people that Jesus seemed attracted to the most were those who were often struggling through "Spiritual Life 101" the most.
Now he met and loved all kinds of people - religious experts, wealthy aristocrats - but we often see Jesus gravitating toward those with hungry souls, people who acknowledged that they didn't have all the answers. Regular people like you and me. In fact, Jesus chose 12 run-of-the-mill men to become his closest friends. And yet these guys still grappled with spiritual issues.
Think about it. The disciples roomed and roamed with the Truth, capital T, month after month. They ate and drank with Jesus and yet they were, in many ways, religious freshmen, first timers in the way of the Spirit. And like us, they failed many a pop quiz.
We catch a glimpse of one such struggle in the 10th chapter of the book of Mark. (Mark 10:32, if you have your bibles.) Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and he knows he's going to die there. So he pulls the 12 aside and prepares them for what's ahead; he's teaching them about his death and resurrection.
But now look at verse 35. James and John, two of his best friends, approach Jesus on the sly and basically demand, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask." Can you imagine! Jesus just got finished saying, "The Son of Man will be betrayed, condemned to death, handed over to the Romans. He's going to be mocked, spit upon, flogged and killed. Three days later he will rise."
Yeah, yeah. "Jesus, we want you to do for us whatever we ask." Now is that a total disconnect or what? Now they're acting like clueless sophomores, don't you think? (I don't want to just pick on freshmen this morning!) Just goes to show you, you can be the best teacher in the history of the world, but if you're working with blockheads, it's gonna be a challenge.
But wait, it gets better. When the rest of the disciples found out about this audacious request, they almost blew a gasket. Why? Not because James and John are insensitive dolts, but because - and we know this from a similar story in the book of Luke - they were all arguing about who was the greatest among them. They were upset because they thought these two brothers were trying to pull rank on the rest of them.
They just didn't get it. And so Jesus sits them down again, like he does with us, like he does with me. And he patiently explains it one more time. Look at verse 42. (read through vs 44)
Now here's the ribbon that wraps the present. Verse 45, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Wow, what a verse. An extraordinary word to linger over and meditate upon these weeks before Christmas.
This morning we can start with the phrase Son of Man. What does Jesus mean when he uses this particular title? Well, on a very basic level, the phrase is simply another way of saying human being. It is used about 100 times in the OT as a synonym for man, humankind. Psalm 8:4 provides an example. (read vs 3&4) The two phrases "what is man" and "the son of man" are parallel in meaning with each other. That is, they're two different ways of saying the same thing.
The phrase is most popular, though, in the book of Ezekiel, where God addresses the prophet with "O son of man" around 90 times. It seems to be God's way of emphasizing Ezekiel's mortality, reminding him to stay humble in light of the astounding and wondrous heavenly revelations he's been privy to.
So one big take-home point derived from Jesus' use of this title is that he identifies himself with humanity. Jesus wants us to know that he is truly and fully human. Son of man, in 99% of the OT cases, simply means human being. That's what Christmas is all about - Jesus born as a real baby, a son of mankind. Now that wasn't too hard. No great mystery there. Son of man means man.
But it gets tricky when we try to tackle a possible exception, that one occasion where son of man takes on a mystifying uncertainty. That single occurrence is in Daniel 7:13&14. Allow me to set the stage a bit. Daniel chapter 7 contains a strange apocalyptic vision of the history and ultimate end of this world. In a vision at night, Daniel sees four great beasts come up out of the sea.
The sea, by the way, is symbolic of this fallen world, full of sin and fear and death. For the ancients, like George Clooney and crew in The Perfect Storm, the vast and wild ocean was seen as the enemy. That's why in the book of Revelation we read, "And behold there is no longer any sea." Doesn't mean there isn't going to be any water in the new heavens and earth, it means, symbolically, there will be no devil or death or dread in God's kingdom.
In Daniel's night vision he saw four great and grotesque beasts come out of the sea. And over the course of history these terrifying tyrants had their day. The scripture says they crushed and devoured and trampled under foot all that was upon the earth. And friends, what a picture of this world at the turn of the millennium. From our perspective, the tyrants are still having their way, am I right? We thought this was the dawning of the age of Aquarius. But with the fall of one dictator and mad man, there arises another.
And so it will go until God establishes his reign. God will have his day in court soon enough, and then we'll see true justice. We have yet to experience true peace and righteousness, but from heaven's perspective, it's a done deal. God wants to assure Daniel and his readers of this. The victory over evil is sure. And so God paints a picture of that future event. Here in Daniel 7:9-14, we have a snapshot of the apocalypse and the victory of the Ancient of Days. (read)
"I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven." Not a beast from the sea. Not even a man from the earth. But one like a son of man, coming from the heavens.
This one occurrence wraps a whole new layer of meaning around Jesus' use of the title, Son of Man. The portrait we have here in Daniel is a heavenly one. The connection between the son of man and the clouds of heaven points to a heavenly origin of the person in question. And so the phrase not only reveals to us the humanity of Jesus, it speaks of his divinity as well. He's a divine being, "being found in appearance as a man." (Phil. 2:8) The GodMan, the only one who can stand as an equal in the presence of the Ancient of Days.
No wonder people scratched their heads around Jesus. There was just enough uncertainty, 1% of mystery, in what, historically, was another way of saying human being. Which leads us to our second question, what was Jesus trying to communicate? Or, as it's posed on the outline, why did Jesus use it?
Short answer: To make an impact. He knows his audience and he's a master teacher. What will grab a person's attention quicker than an unexpected twist to a story or a surprise ending? The unanticipated often piques our interest; we want to find out more. So Jesus startles us with his nickname. What's it about? Why and how does he use it?
Had to cut and edit here, but I think we can boil the various reasons down to three. Jesus uses the title son of man as a personal pronoun, to predict his passion, and as a picture of his apocalyptic return. To cut and edit even further, we'll wait and look at this third expression in two weeks when we study Christ's second coming in "Here Comes the Son . . . Again!"
So briefly, Jesus' use of son of man as a personal pronoun. Often, he simply referred to himself in the third person for effect or to make an impression. It was a way to communicate his authority. Like Bob Dole, when he said, "Bob Dole this or Bob Dole that." Jesus wanted to jolt people a bit so they would hear and remember the message he proclaimed.
Like in Mark 2 when he healed the paralytic and said, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Whoa, that's blasphemy, for only God can forgive sins! Jesus knew what some of them were thinking, so he said, "In order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..." he looks at the man and tells him, "I say to you, get up, take your mat and go home." You can bet the crowd never forgot that one. The Son of Man had spoken.
A friend of mine here at church told me that it's easy for people to forget his name, but when he introduces himself as Bubba, that's a keeper. You see, Jesus' name in Hebrew is Joshua, very common. So his self-chosen nickname distinguished him from the crowd; a memorable and powerful way of saying, "I, this man, speaks."
But what really set the name apart was the way he connected it to his eventual suffering, death and resurrection. He used it to predict his passion. This is where people misunderstood him the most. They were expecting a triumphant messiah, a Son of David, not a suffering servant of God. When the time came for Jesus to make his move, as it were, he didn't put on a golden crown, he donned a crown of thorns.
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many." Even though the Son of Man will come with the clouds, in glory and power at the end of the age; even though the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins and heal the broken; even though the Son of Man was with God in the beginning and is himself God; even though all that is true, he decided that he would come, not to be served but to serve and give his life for us.
At the time the disciples didn't understand. A suffering servant king? It was such a different picture than what they saw sketched out in Daniel 7 and in other parts of scripture. So different, so stunning, in fact, that they had to see it for themselves to believe it. And they did. Soon after this lesson on service, the disciples were witness and party to his betrayal. They stood by in silence as he was condemned, handed over, mocked, spat upon, flogged and killed.
They did see it, God's suffering servant. And eventually they did believe, when the king arose. For this was also Christ's prediction. He would suffer and die, but in three days God would raise him from the dead. Their blinders fell off when Jesus appeared to them in person that first Easter morning. The Son of Man was revealed to be the very Son of God. And God was revealed to be a humble servant king.
Looking back on all that Jesus said and accomplished, the apostles did learn the lesson Jesus was trying to teach that day. To be a Christian doesn't mean you have to have advanced degrees in spirituality. When it comes to the school of religion, senior commencement is really more about having the desire to be a Christ follower. It's about choosing, day after day and by God's grace, to pattern our life after Jesus Christ, the true servant of God.
In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul quotes a song, a hymn that the early church probably sang. Although it doesn't use the phrase, it is a meditation on the Son of Man, "Who being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. . . . to the glory of God the Father."
To the Glory of God the Father!
Outline and Response
Encountering the "Son of Man"
A. What does it _______? (mean)
B. Why did Jesus _______? (use it)
C. How does it _______ us? (impact)
1. It's another way of saying ______. (human being)
2. It also points to a _______ origin. (heavenly)
B. Why? To make an _______. (impact) He uses it:
1. As a personal ________. (pronoun)
2. To _______ his passion. (predict)
3. As a ______ of his apocalyptic return (picture).
C. So what? We pattern our lives of service after Christ.
Do others see you as one who is like the Son of Man?
1. Path to true greatness. (Mk 10:43)
2. Helps us "stay the course." (Phil 2:5)
3. How else does following the Son of Man impact you?
Copyright 2000 by Lyndon Perry
Preached December 17, 2000
First Baptist Church, Wichita, KS