Jesus and the Table (Mark 14:17-31)
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/745124--jesus-and-the-table
- What stood out to you most?
- How does God use evil to fulfill His purposes in this text? What does this teach us about God's sovereignty over evil? See Acts 4:28-29 and Romans 8:28 and Amos 3:6.
- Does this mean that God commits or condones evil? See James 1:13-14 and 1 John 1:5.
- If you were in Jesus' shoes and knew that all of your disciples were about to betray you, how would you feel towards them? What does Jesus feel towards His disciples?
- What would you say to someone who thinks that they are too sinful for God to accept them?
- What are the similarities between Exodus 24:7-11 and the Last Supper account in Mark? The differences?
- What do you think it means to "associate with the lowly" (Rom 12:16)?
And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. – Mark 14:17-31
In verses 17-21 we see Jesus prophesy that one of the twelve will betray Him (something we saw last week in 14:10-11, when Judas goes to the chief priests). In verses 22-25 we see Jesus celebrate the Last Supper with His disciples. Then in verses 26-31 we see Jesus and His disciples, after singing a hymn together, exit to the Mount of Olives where Jesus foretells that all of His disciples will abandon Him. Here we see God’s use of evil, God’s use of weakness, and God’s welcome at the table:
God’s Use of Evil
The scene opens during the celebration of the Passover meal (cf. Mark 14:1, 12). The Passover meal was the yearly celebration of God’s great act of deliverance in the Exodus. Israel had been held as slaves for hundreds of years to Egypt and God had promised to deliver them through the sending of many signs and wonders, that they may be freed. The Passover was a memorial feast to remind them of God’s deliverance, of sparing the Israelites through the sacrifice of a lamb, and of leading Israel out to Mt. Sinai where they were constituted as a nation. So the Passover was kind of like Israel’s Easter and Fourth of July all rolled into one.
If you remember, Mark’s gospel opened up with a citation from Isaiah 40, “A voice cries in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,” (Mark 1:3; Isa 40:3). In Isaiah this is linked with the wider promise that Isaiah makes of a new kind of Exodus that will take place in the last days. And Mark, in announcing Jesus, explains that Jesus has come to bring that about. But where the first Exodus sought to redeem Israel from physical bondage and slavery, Jesus has come to deliver His people from their spiritual bondage to sin and death. And just as the first Exodus was immediately preceded by the first celebration of the Passover meal, so too here do we see the new Exodus that Jesus is about to work be preceded by a Passover celebration. Only there’s one problem—there’s a traitor in their midst.
At some point in the meal, Jesus pauses from eating and somberly explains to the disciples: “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me,” Mark 14:18. One wonders what was immediately going through the minds of the disciples—What? One of us will betray you?? One wonders what was going through the mind of Judas—the thrill of panic, the fear, maybe remorse? Jesus explains that it is indeed one of the twelve, one sitting at the very table (Mark 14:20). Will the traitor in their midst ruin the great plan of salvation, the new Exodus that God has been planning since time immemorial? While we may be tempted to think that a traitor may indeed thwart God’s plans, Jesus actually understands Judas’ betrayal to be a fulfillment of God’s Word. “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born,” Mark 14:21.
Jesus understands that Judas’ act is—unbeknownst to him—actually fulfilling the eternal plan of God; it has been foretold “as it is written” in the Scriptures. The Old Testament had prophesied that Yahweh’s “suffering servant” would be crushed, bruised, and killed for the sins of the people (Isa 53). But Psalm 41, a psalm of David written hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth, seems to foretell the very act of betrayal. In the psalm David laments that his enemies have surrounded him and are hoping for his demise, but the psalm concludes with David being confident that Yahweh will “raise him up” and finally vindicate him before his enemies. But notice what verse 9 explains, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me,” (Ps 41:9).
We see something similar later in Jesus’ foretelling that all His disciples will abandon Him, “And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered,” Mark 14:27. Here Jesus cites Zechariah 13:7, that describes the shepherd of Yahweh being struck down, resulting in 2/3 of Israel perishing, but a small remnant being purified and saved. This could be, as Jesus is speaking, referencing to the coming destruction of Jerusalem Jesus spoke of earlier in Mark 13.
But, friend, I wonder if you see the truth that is undergirding these fulfillments. In pointing to the betrayal of Judas and the abandonment of the disciples as being fulfillments of Scripture, Jesus is teaching us that God is using evil things to fulfill His purposes, and thus in some way is in control of them.
Look at the book of Acts for a moment for a powerful example of this. Peter praying to the Father exclaims, “for truly in this city (Jerusalem) there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place,” Acts 4:27-28. Who is arrayed against Jesus here? Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles (probably referring to the Romans) and the people of Israel. All of these people, these crowds were following their heart, making their own decisions. Judas freely chose to betray Jesus. The disciples willingly abandoned Jesus and Peter chose to deny Jesus. All of them exercising their free will and doing wicked, wicked things with it. And yet, over, under, and through all of this freely chosen evil, whose hand and whose plan is working? God’s! Whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. There is no evil at work in God’s universe that is not somehow, mysteriously, being folded into God’s eternal purposes.
Friend, you need to know that for your life. There is nothing that has come into your life—big or small, good or bad—that has not been sovereignly orchestrated by our good Father, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” Romans 8:28.
I remember when I was a youth pastor I once helped lead a mission trip to the plains of Wyoming. One night, while around a campfire one of the other leaders on the trip shared her story of the terrible and dark kind of childhood she had, experiencing every kind of abuse one could experience. But, amazingly, this trauma and pain had led her to find her deepest comfort and rest in God and she now possessed a faith like on oak tree precisely because of the pain. While the story was encouraging, it brought to mind someone that I loved very dearly who had experienced similar stories of trauma and abuse. But this one had no happy ending, no bend in the river of suffering that revealed some new vista, some greater plan. This person that I knew hated God and despised Christianity because of her suffering, because of her abuse. She, at one point, had professed faith in Jesus, looking for healing and hope, but eventually turned away and found the Christian God even more impotent and distasteful than before.
I walked away from the campfire and stared up at the wide, Wyoming night sky. It looked like God had dumped a buck of marbles of light across a dark sheet. I was struck by the startling beauty of the stars, lights shining in the darkness, lights that would not be seen were the darkness not present. Pre-modern people believed that the firmament above was like a tempered dome and the stars were pinpricks of light from heaven that had punctured the solid firmament, literally displaying a foretaste of the beauty of heaven—beauty that could only be seen in contrast with the inky black of night.
And yet, I still felt angry. Why would God let this happen? Why use pain and suffering for such redemptive purposes in one life, but not in another? Why let the delicate flower of faith begin to grow, only to let it be trampled? And there under the silent night sky I received no new revelation from God, no voice, no angel from on high bringing a message. But something in me changed. What I intellectually knew to be true—God works all things together for good for those who love Him—was now being required to be applied in real life. A gun collector can keep many antique muskets hanging on his wall, but its another thing entirely to require him to go shoot one of them. When I couldn’t see how God would work everything together, when from my vantage point everything looked like a loss, would I still trust Him? Would the theology I professed to believe in actually be something I leaned on? By God’s grace, like a little kid who chooses to trust his dad, I decided that God both knew more than I did and was better than I was.
When we read these little comments about evil being used by God to bring about His work, this isn’t intended to be merely some mental exercise where we simply solve rational puzzles. These are intended to be providing foundation under our feet to give us footing when tidal waves of suffering wash over us, when your child says they want nothing to do with you or nothing to do with Christianity, when your spouse tells you they don’t want to be married to you anymore, when death bereaves you of those you love most dearly—when the providence of God seems to only hand you cold meals of baffling pain that seem to lack any point or greater meaning at all, what do you do?
You tell yourself: Just because I can’t make sense of this doesn’t make God’s promises any less true. If God can use the greatest evil in the world—the denial, betrayal, and murder of the Son of God—for the greatest good the world has ever known—salvation—then He is capable to take this suffering and use it for good.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust Him for His grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face
God’s Use of Weakness
After the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives His disciples more bad news, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee,” Mark 14:27-28. What follows is Peter’s famous proclamation of his bold and sincere belief that Jesus is wrong, “Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same,” Mark 14:29-31.
Every time Jesus has spoken about His death the disciples have always responded with self-assertion and conceit. This is actually the second time that Peter has rebuked Jesus, No Jesus, you’re wrong. The first time was back in Mark 8:31-33 when Jesus first announces He will die and Peter pulls Jesus aside to correct Him, No Jesus, you’re wrong—you won’t die. Here again, No Jesus, you’re wrong—I won’t deny you. Even if all the other disciples fall away, even if I have to die, I won’t deny you.
Of course, it will only take a matter of a few hours before Jesus’ prediction comes to pass. One by one, all of Jesus’ disciples will fade away at the sight of armed guards apprehending Jesus, and Peter—bold and brash Peter—will not only fall away, but will do far worse. Look ahead to the end of chapter fourteen:
“And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept,” – Mark 14:66-72
It can be easy to be overly critical of Peter—making this dramatic oath to stick by Jesus come Hell or highwater when, in just a few hours, he will be literally invoking a curse on himself to prove that he doesn’t even know who Jesus is—may I be damned to hell if I am lying about whether or not I know this man! But I wonder what you or I would do were we put in the same situation, a situation which surely no one in this room has faced. Who knows what kind of justifications were pulsing through Peter’s mind in those flash moments, the fear that gripped him as he saw Jesus being publicly beaten before his eyes. What’s amazing isn’t Peter’s denial—what’s amazing is the welcome Jesus still offers despite knowing disciple’s forthcoming denial. Notice what Jesus said, “You will all fall away… But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee,” Mark 14:27-28. You will all fall away, you will deny and abandon me, and I will die. But that won’t be the end. I will rise again, and when I do, I will go before you to Galilee and await you there.
Could you imagine being in the disciples’ shoes, listening to Jesus explain this to you? You are all going to fail, you are going to let me down, but don’t worry—I’ll still be there. Even further, the language of “I will go before you,” is language again taken from the Exodus story. After God frees His people from Egypt He promises to “go before them” in a pillar of cloud and fire, leading them to freedom and safety (Ex 13:21). The plan of redemption is not foiled by Judas’ betrayal or by the disciples’ weakness, the new Exodus will occur, and it will take place through the calamity of Christ’s death. But still, to our wayward and weighed down hearts, the welcome of Jesus here is astonishing.
Many people will at times attempt to keep God at an arm’s length because they think that If there is a God, if He knew the things I have done, He wouldn’t want anything to do with me, or they stay away from the Church because they think If these people knew who I really was, they would cast me out so fast. But what do we see here? Jesus sees His disciples weakness, He knows the cowardice that lies within them, He knows that when push comes to shove they are going to chose their own comfort over faithfulness to Christ, He knows that won’t stay strong…and yet, He still stays with them—He even uses them to be the foundation of His church! God welcomes weak people. Which brings us to our last point.
God’s Welcome at the Table
One commentator writes: “In placing the Last Supper between the betrayal and defection of the disciples Mark vividly conveys that "the many" for whom Jesus pours out his life include his own companions around the table. The sin that necessitates the sending of God's Son is not someone else's sin…but the sin…of his own disciples – of Peter and James, of you and me. The essential evil in the world and the essential atonement for the evil of the word are present at the table of the Lord's Supper – whenever it is celebrated.” - James Edwards (PNTC) on Mark 14:12-31
Who is seated at the table with Jesus? Who is sharing His last meal with Him? Traitors, deniers, defectors. Jesus has not gone out to find the Olympic Gold team of spiritual gurus and world-changers and ascetic monks to share His final hours with. He has surrounded Himself with men He loves, but men who love Him far less.
What does Jesus do at this meal? Like we examined last week, Jesus shares the Passover meal with them, remembering the Exodus story of old. But Jesus transports into this meal a new significance as He looks forward to the new Exodus that is about to occur. He explains that the bread and the cup are to now be celebrated as symbols of His own body and blood, a reminder of the price He paid to secure our redemption. But as He lifts the cup He cites a passage from (you guessed it!) Exodus, the passage we read earlier in our Scripture Reading, “This is my blood of the covenant,” Mark 14:24. Jesus is echoing the story of Moses and the seventy elders eating the covenant meal before the presence of God upon the mountain. Consider the similarities:
In Exodus there are twelve stones erected to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex 24:4). At the supper there are twelve disciples. In both there is a covenant formed between God and His people. In both blood is shed and applied to the individuals there to bind them to the covenant. In both there is a meal shared before the presence of God. Now, consider the differences:
There are many—the Exodus meal takes place after the act of deliverance, where at the Supper it precedes it; the covenant that Exodus ratifies is the Old Covenant, while Jesus is inaugurating the New Covenant. But what is most striking is who is present at the meal. In Exodus, aside from Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons, it is the seventy elders who are present at the meal. This is the seventy who have been chosen out of the whole multitude of Israel as being especially wise and righteous (Num 11:16). Further, at this point all of Israel is confidently asserting that they will all obey the covenant they are about to enter into (Ex 24:7). Who is at the Lord’s Supper? The weak. The betrayers. Are these people who will be wholly obedient, are these the specially righteous and wise? Not at all—they are those that will deny and abandon Jesus at His hour of greatest need. But friend, this is a picture of who is invited to the Lord’s Table. This isn’t a meal for the spectacular and impressive, this isn’t a meal for those who are specially wise and good—this meal is for any and all who will come in simple faith to Jesus, and trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins.
- Trust in God
- Accept God’s Welcome
- Welcome other Weak People
o Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. – Rom 12:16
Jesus and Worship (Mark 14:1-25)
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/741744--jesus-and-worship
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- Read through and answer these questions before you gather for your small group. What are you most prone to idolize?
- What were the four main types of idolatry that Tim Keller suggested in his book Counterfeit Gods? Can you see how what you may be prone to idolize could fit under these four headings? (Comfort, Power, Approval, Control).
- Why do you think Judas betrayed Jesus?
- Why were the disciples so angry with the woman who anointed Jesus? Why did Jesus believe what she did was "beautiful," even if it meant that the poor were not helped by the money from the sell of the perfume?
- In what way is Jesus different from all the other gods and idols in our life? See Mark 14:22-25.
- Case study: Read John 12:42-43. What do some of the "authorities" think of Jesus? What are they afraid of? According to John, what do these people really love most? So, if you were to try to help these people, what would need to change in these people to fully follow Jesus? How do you change what your heart loves? Answer: (1) see the lie the idol is making--it cannot deliver and will consume you if you fail it; (2) see what Jesus offers you in the gospel--He can deliver perfect forgiveness and acceptance and will welcome you into His family, even in the midst of your failure.
When you were a child, who did you look up to? It may have been a movie star, an older sibling or cousin, a friend, or musician. Whoever it was, whatever they did or said probably had an outsized influence on your life. Perhaps you started talking differently, wearing clothes you wouldn’t normally wear, or spending your time on new activities. While in middle school (the most painfully awkward of years) I remember wanting desperately to give off a certain kind of “vibe” in the way I dressed, the way I spoke, and the way I carried myself because I wanted so badly to be like the “cool kids.” I see this even now in my young boys, with my two-year-old parroting and mirroring whatever he sees his four-year-old brother do (which instills a terrifying sense of urgency with parenting our first-born. If we screw him up, he’s taking the other one with him!).
Why is this desire to model, image, and emulate others so second-nature to us? G.K. Beale, in his book We Become What We Worship, points to the fact that human beings are image-bearers. In Genesis (1:26-27) we are told that humans are made in the image of God, which describes certain capacities and inherent qualities we possess as humans, but also describes a fundamental shape to our psyche, our souls: we are meant to image. We are designed to reflect God, to worship Him, to adore Him, and then to be transformed into being more like Him through that worship (cf. 2 Cor 3:18). But after the Fall, human beings now no longer perfectly image God; in fact, we naturally come into the world worshipping all sorts of other things, as Romans tells us: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things,” Rom 1:22-23. Notice the inevitability of worship that is assumed in this passage. People do not simply stop worshipping God, they exchange their worship. Beale writes, “At the core of our beings we are imaging creatures. It is not possible to be neutral on this issue: we either reflect the Creator or something in creation,” (p. 16).
How do you know what you worship? Beale explains: “whatever your heart clings to or relies on for ultimate security,” (p. 17). And whatever that is controls you and shapes you. You become what you worship. You identify with what you idolize, or as Beale puts it, “You resemble what you revere, either to your ruin or restoration.” In Psalm 115, after the psalmist describes the idols who have hands, but cannot feel, eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, feet but cannot walk, he concludes: “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them,” Ps 115:8.
You see, we are not purely rational creatures—we can know something is wrong or even detrimental, and yet still do it. This is why that friend of yours keeps throwing herself back into that destructive relationship, even though she knows her boyfriend is cruel and manipulative. This is why the porn-addict or workaholic gives himself over to what he knows is destroying his soul and destroying his family but can’t seem to help himself from stopping. This is why the student who is consumed with anxiety about the unknown cannot stop fearing what could be, even though she knows that she shouldn’t worry about it.
We need more than rational answers, cool intellectual arguments. We need to go deeper. We need to identify what it is our hearts worship, what it is that we are clinging on to for our deepest security and trust. because we become what we worship. In our text today we will see several people make what seem to be irrational decisions, decisions that seem bizarre and costly, but through them we can discover what the people worship:
It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, 2 for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” 3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” 10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.
12 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 13 And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” 16 And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
17 And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” – Mark 14:1-25
In our text today we see two groups of people who are willing to pay a high price for what they worship, who are willing to make shocking and seemingly irrational decisions: one group is bent on sacrificing others for their worship, and the other is bent on sacrificing themselves for their worship.
What They Want
If you are not very religious or are unfamiliar with the story of Christianity the first few verses of our text might surprise you (Mark 14:1-2). The chief priests and scribes—that is the religious authorities of the day—are actively working to kill Jesus?! Shouldn’t these people be on Jesus’ team? It was these people’s jobs, quite literally, to be prepared for the arrival of the Messiah. They were to study the Bible, search out the prophesies that foretold of the coming Rescuer who would deliver Israel, and to teach Israel to prepare themselves, and yet when He arrives this is the reception they prepare for Him?
Even more alarming, here we find that one of Jesus’ own disciples is plotting to betray Him (Mark 14:10-11). Judas Iscariot has been travelling all over the Judean country side with Jesus for about three years now. He shared meals with Jesus, worked with Jesus, and was even sent out on miniature mission trips on behalf of Jesus (Mark 6:7-13). He was one of the twelve, one of Jesus’ friends. And yet, Judas—a name we now only associate with betrayal—is seeking an opportunity to hand over his friend to be executed like a common criminal.
Friends, we can say without exaggeration, that there has never been a person who has walked this earth more loving than Jesus Christ. You don’t even need to be a Christian to recognize that. You will be hard-pressed today to find anyone from any religious or irreligious persuasion who does not, in some way, admire Jesus, even admit that much of Jesus’ teaching is attractive and commendable. And yet, despite Jesus’ love, His commitment to truth, His own goodness and humility, this is how He is treated: betrayal, hatred, and murder.
Why Do They Want It
Why do the religious authorities and Judas want to destroy Jesus? In Tim Keller’s wonderful book Counterfeit Gods, he identifies four basic idols that humans are most prone to worship: comfort, power, approval, and control. Judas and the religious authorities serve as helpful possible examples of these.
As we have read the gospel of Mark we have found Jesus being unusually sharp in His criticisms of the religious authorities, accusing them of hypocrisy, vanity, greed, spiritual blindness, parochialism, and an abandonment of God’s commands for the traditions of men. Jesus exudes an authority that challenges their position or threatens to bring down the ire of Rome upon them (cf. Mark 1:22). The religious authorities have a great deal of power and control; they are used to people deferring to them and not crossing them.
With Judas, his betrayal could have come from His desire for approval. Perhaps he assumed that being a disciple of the Messiah would be like getting on the fast track to the inner circle of the social elite, catching the eyes of al of the most important of people and earning access into the most exlusive of groups. But, the exact opposite has happened. Jesus has offended and contradicted and turned away from the elites of the day and instead has chosen to associate primarily with the lowly. Like if an individual today thought by serving on the board of some non-profit organization they would be attending luxurious galas and earn lots of social cache, only to find out that instead they would be serving the homeless in a soup kitchen. This is not what I signed up for; I thought I would be earning more acceptance from those I like, but Jesus seems only interested with spending time with social rejects, with women, cripples, and Gentiles.
There also, however, could have been an element of comfort compelling Judas to betray Jesus. Life with Jesus was difficult. When Jesus sent the disciples out on their mission trip in Mark 6, He forbid them from taking any extra supplies with them so as to teach them to rely on God to provide (6:8-9). Further, Jesus compared following Him to dying on a cross, a humiliating and excruciating form of death (8:34-35). That’s what following Jesus is like? This life of austerity, self-denial, and hardship was not a call to comfort. Further, the gospels indicate to us that Judas seemed to have a particular weakness: money.
In Mark’s gospel, when the woman at Bethany anoints Jesus with the costly perfume we are simply told that “some disciples” complain about the prodigal waste of it, pointing to how the poor could have been helped by the sale of such a valuable item. But in John’s gospel, John identifies that it is Judas alone who complains: “But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it,” John 12:4-6. You can make your life comfortable with a little more money, right? Of course, money can also serve the other three false gods—it can be a gateway to more approval, more control, and more power. In Matthew’s gospel we are told that Judas is paid 30 pieces of silver to hand Jesus over to the authorities, which would have been about four months of wages; certainly a tempting offer.
We may balk at what the religious authorities and Judas have done in the death of Jesus, but if we are honest, we probably see more of ourselves in them than we would like to admit. How many times has our heart functionally desired to have power, comfort, approval, or control more than Jesus? So, you love Jesus but also love the approval of others? You may find yourself changing like a chameleon depending on who you are around and utterly depressed when you feel like the “right” people don’t accept you. Do you love your comfort? You may find yourself making a thousand little compromises and excuses on things you know aren’t right but feel good. Do you love control? Then you will be consumed with anxiety and fear of the unknown and resent the trust that faith requires of you. Do you love power? Then you will become ever more protective and touchier at the thought of losing it and will be willing to compromise your convictions for greater and greater access to power. And we can do all of these things, all the while claiming to worship Jesus. But Jesus will brook no rivals. He will not be content to play second fiddle to our true love, to our false gods. And the religious authorities and Judas are cautionary tales for where our little pet idols want to take us—they want to so grip our hearts and poison our minds with their lies that the call to obedience Jesus offers seems so terrifying and offensive that we would be willing to wholly forsake Him.
Like our story two weeks ago with the widow’s offering, here in our story the hero is an unnamed woman. While Jesus is reclining at table, “a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head,” Mark 14:3. Alabaster was a precious stone and “pure nard” was a perennial herb that came all the way from India—this is why Mark explains that it is “very costly.” In fact, we are told just a few verses later that the sum total of such an item was “300 hundred denarii” (14:5), which would have been about a years worth of wages for the average day-laborer. An item this valuable could have been this woman’s dowry for marriage. Nevertheless, she breaks the bottle—which wasn’t necessary, she could have simply poured the perfume out the same way it was poured in—but breaking the neck of the bottle demonstrates that she is wanting to offer the whole of the gift to Jesus, not holding anything back for herself. This is an extravagant gesture, so extravagant that it, as we have seen, draws the outrage of some disciples.
“There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her,” Mark 14:4-5. But Jesus will have none of that. “But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her,” Mark 14:6-9.
It is noteworthy the way time and time again Jesus stands up for and defends and honors women. We hear much today about the dangers of patriarchy and “toxic masculinity,” but Jesus lived in a day where women were quite literally treated as second-class citizens. Their testimony was not admissible in court. Aristotle, the reigning philosopher of the Greco-Roman world, taught that women were inferior to men, too controlled by emotions and therefore needed to be tamed much in the same way an animal needs to be tamed. But in the gospel of Mark, time and time again, Jesus’ most significant interactions come with women. Those who exemplify the most commendable models of faith, are women. And those who first witness His resurrection and are told to share the news, are women. Here, Jesus takes this isolated act of worship by this woman and promises that everyone in the whole world will hear of her faithfulness. Jesus honored women. Thus, any church or Christian or leader who dishonors or disrespects women, who treats them as second-class citizens will find themselves running contrary to our Lord.
While John singles out Judas as complaining, here in Mark it seems that Judas’ complaint is at least coupled with some other disciples as well. While Judas is singularly fueled by his own greed (300 hundred denarii wasted!), perhaps some other disciples join in by a kind of misplaced piety. Think of all the good we could have done for the poor with that kind of money! But Jesus waves these accusations away and defends the woman. What she has done is “beautiful” because she has unknowingly anointed Jesus’ body for His burial, which will take place shortly. Jesus’ claim here is shocking: You always have the poor, but you don’t always have me. As in, Jesus is saying that He is more important than care for the poor. How could that be? Particularly in light of Jesus’ own teaching on the need to care for the poor? Didn’t Jesus just teach us that love of neighbor is the second greatest command in all of the Bible (Mark 12:31)? Indeed, it is, but there is one command even greater than that, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” (Mark 12:30). Friends, Jesus is demonstrating that He is the God to whom our primary allegiance and love is first and foremost to be directed towards.
And that is exactly what this woman is doing. See, she has nothing to gain from this act. She gets no power, no control, no approval from others (she is scolded!), and certainly no comfort. In a sense, she has nothing to gain and her act even elicits criticisms. But she wordlessly and quietly performs this act of devotion singularly out of love for Jesus. It is His approval that matters alone to this woman. And you see, friends, that’s how you overcome the false gods, idols, the siren-songs of your heart that put you under their spell. You find the comfort, approval, control, and power of Jesus to matter more than your worldly comforts, approval, control, and power—to the degree that you can forsake them.
Her act of devotion comes with a price, but so does all worship. The price of Judas’ worship is the haunting pronouncement that Jesus makes, “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born,” Mark 14:21. All worship makes demands of us, all worship requires sacrifice. David Foster Wallace, the late novelist and atheist, in his famous graduation address This is Water, makes these surprisingly perceptive comments:
"In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you… Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out."
All worship demands something of you, requires sacrifice. And Jesus will make demands of you as well; He will ask you to sacrifice things by repenting of sins, by forgiving others, by surrendering control of your life to Him. But what sets Jesus apart from all of the other gods, all the other options of worship is His willingness to sacrifice for you. At the close of our text we see the famed Last Supper, where Jesus grabs a hunk of bread and says, “Take; this is my body,” Mark 14:22 and the cup and says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” Mark 14:24. What is Jesus showing us? As the bread is broken, shredded, and chewed, so will His body be; as the fruit of the vine is poured into the cup so will His blood be poured out. Why? Matthew makes it plain, “…for the forgiveness of sins,” Matt 26:28.
For the forgiveness of sins, sins like worshipping at the altar of the world’s approval, of your own comfort. Every object of worship requires sacrifices from you, but only One will sacrifice for you. It is in your failure and weakness, in your betrayal, in your paper-thin commitment, in your desperate craving for the approval of others, in the binds of your addictions that Jesus, in all His power and glory and might, swoops in—and pays the price for your sins, who welcomes you in. Now, if you will come to Jesus and follow Him, He will confront your sin. He will make exacting demands on your life and summon you to repent and submit to Him alone as your object of worship. But He will also forgive your sins and welcome you, broken though you are, into His family. And that is how you change. You let the beauty of the grace of God in the gospel melt your heart, the unmerited welcome of Jesus shift the tectonic plates of your heart till you see Him as truly better, sweeter, and more satisfying than anything else in life.
We are all more like Judas than we care to admit. But how do we become like the woman in the story? Fix your eyes on what Jesus has done for you in the sacrifice of Himself.
Jesus and the End (Mark 13)
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/738130--jesus-and-the-end
Sermon Discussion Questions
- What stood out to you most? What part of Mark 13 was most puzzling to you?
- Why was Jesus unimpressed by the Temple?
- Marc compared the "near" and "far" fulfillment of everything Jesus prophesied in Mark 13 to a mountain range. Can you explain what that meant?
- Read 1 Pet 4:7-11. What does this text command us to do when "the end of all things is at hand"?
- Marc concluded with saying that Mark 13 shows us we should be patient, discerning, enduring, and confident. Which of those was most helpful to you and why?
In the 1950’s, at the dawn of the Cold War with USSR, America worked diligently to create a missile detection system that would alert us of incoming Soviet attacks. An array of radars were stationed at likely places that missiles would pass over en route to the States. If an incoming missile was detected, the protocol was for an immediate launching of our own nuclear salvo (it had to be immediate, of course, because once Russia’s warheads dropped it would send America back to the stone age, leaving us no ability to retaliate), creating what is popularly known as “mutually assured destruction.”
In his book The Doomsday Machine, Daniel Ellsberg (himself an architect of our nuclear defense program and now an advocate for nuclear disarmament) tells the story of an early detection system set up in Alaska. One day, shortly after the radars were up and running, alarms began blaring, alerting the command that their worst fears were realized; a Russian missile had been detected and was flying to America. Technicians quickly pulled out the keys that had to be simultaneously turned to open the glass shield around an ominous button. Panicking, they radioed soldiers stationed at the radars themselves to confirm if they could see the inbound missiles. Every second was a gamble—if they waited too long to respond, their missile launching capacities may be incapacitated once the Russian warheads detonated; but if they fired, they would likely kill every living person in the USSR. They waited, fingers poised shakily over the button, weighing their duty to their country with the sheer magnitude of the consequence of pressing the button.
Well, since we are all here, not in the grips of a nuclear ice age or locked in WWIII with Mother Russia, obviously the commanding officers decided to wait. But what happened? As it turns out, the missile detection system, still very new and prone to malfunction, had taken a flock of Canadian geese flying overhead to be a nuclear warhead. And because the soldiers and commanding officers were willing to exercise discernment in interpreting the alarm signals—even in a moment of extreme pressure!—we are all still here. In our text today, we see Jesus give us the resources we need to exercise discernment, to interpret signs rightly, to know how to respond to great calamity. Turn with me now to Mark 13:
1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” Mark 13:1-37
The text begins with the disciples exclaiming to Jesus: ““Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” (Mark 13:1b). It is hard to overstate just how magnificent the temple complex was. Construction on this temple began just fifty years before Jesus by Herod the Great, and was actually still under construction during Jesus’ time (it was not completed till 63 AD), but it was nonetheless staggering in appearance. Herod’s temple was far larger than Solomon’s or the second temple built under Nehemiah and Ezra. You could fit 12 football fields in the temple complex alone. The entire exterior was either covered in a white-wash or plated with gold. Josephus, the Jewish historian from the first century, writes:
The exterior of the building wanted nothing that could astound either mind or eye. For, being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up than it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as from the solar rays. To approaching strangers it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of purest white. Some of the stones in the building were forty-five cubits in length, five in height and six in breadth. – Josephus
One commentator writes: “In the latter part of the twentieth century, a large stone on the second tier of the western foundation wall was discovered whose dimensions are approximately 42 feet long × 14 feet wide × 11 feet tall,” (Stein, BECNT). Everything about the temple, from its beauty, to its sheer size, to its solemnity made it appear to be totally permanent. But Jesus thought otherwise.
“Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down,” Mark 13:2.
Mark 13 begins with the innocuous comment: “And as he came out of the temple…” Mark 13:1a. It reminds us that the entire previous episode we have been studying has taken place within the temple: starting back in Mark 11, with Jesus’ triumphal entry and subsequent cursing of the temple, to the repeated debates and arguments with the temple authorities in Mark 12, right up to this moment. Towards the beginning of Mark 11 we saw Jesus cursing the fig tree as a sign of the judgment to come on the temple (11:12-22) and here at the end of Mark 13 we find a parable of a fig tree about the coming judgment on the temple (13:28-31), forming two brackets to tie this unit together as a whole.
Mark’s comment that Jesus is “coming out of the temple” could be a simple statement about Jesus leaving the temple grounds. Or it could be a prophetic act demonstrating that God’s presence has now departed from the temple (cf. Ezek 10). This seems more likely particularly because of the location Jesus walks to immediately afterwards: the Mount of Olives (Mark 13:3). This mountain was directly to the east of the city and gave those who sat on it a commanding view of all of Jerusalem, but especially the Temple. In the book of Zechariah, there was a prophecy of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and “on that day [The Lord’s} feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives,” (Zech 14:4). The Lord is not in the temple, in Jerusalem, but standing outside Jerusalem as its judgment comes. Jesus, before His incarnation, was the One in the temple. But now, He stands outside of it, standing over it on the Mount of Olives. The temple in Jerusalem is no longer the dwelling place of God, instead it has become a dwelling place of robbers and false religion (cf. Mark 11:17).
Alarmed by Jesus’ statements, the disciples ask Jesus: ““Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13:4). This is critical to rightly understand this whole chapter; the controlling question here is: when will the temple be destroyed, and how will we know ahead of time when that will be?
In verses 5-8 Jesus explains signs that do not mean the temple is about to be destroyed: wars, famines, and earthquakes. These problems are part and parcel of living in a fallen world; they are “birth pains” (cf. Rom 8:22). Jesus’ advice is: “do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet,” Mark 13:7.
In verses 9-13 Jesus gives more signs that do not necessarily mean the temple is about to be destroyed: persecution. Because Jesus Himself was persecuted and “no servant is greater than His master” Christians have always experienced persecution. Jesus wants His disciples to know that this is to be expected, but God will also provide strength and aid to them as they share the gospel to all nations.
But in verses 14-23 Jesus gives His disciples what they are looking for: a sign that the destruction of the temple is imminent, “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains,” (13:14). The “abomination of desolation” is a phrase taken from the book of Daniel (Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11) that describes a wicked ruler who brings an end to sacrifices in the temple, destroys Jerusalem, exalts himself above God, and desecrates the temple with “abominations.” The reason Mark includes that interesting comment (“Let the reader understand”) is because for most Jews, they assumed that this event had actually already happened. Nearly 190 years before Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse, a Seleucid general named Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who ruled over Palestine, brutally squashed a rebellion in Jerusalem by destroying much of Jerusalem, entering the temple, and stopping all sacrifices. He then set up an idol to Zeus in the temple, and allegedly offered up a pig for sacrifice (an unclean animal according to kosher laws). This event is recorded in the Jewish historical book 1 Maccabees (1 Macc 1:54, 59) and was understood by all Jews to be the “abomination of desolation” that Daniel spoke of.
So, Jesus is saying: when something like that happens again in Jerusalem, you need to get out of the city as fast as possible and flee to the mountains because a judgment is going to fall on Jerusalem that us unlike anything else it has experienced in its total brutality. And this is exactly what happened. Thirty years from Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, political tensions between Jerusalem and Rome had boiled over to a screaming fever pitch. More and more would-be Messiahs began to arise, more and more began to resort to acts of violence to throw off the Roman yoke, and more and more did Rome increase the burden of its yoke on the Jews’ necks. By 66 AD, the Zealots—an extreme fanatic movement of Jews—organized a rebellion against Rome. At the same time, however, a fierce civil war broke out between the different Jewish factions, with the Zealots eventually gaining ascendancy and taking forcible possession of the city. They instituted a reign of terror in the city, quickly executing anyone who questioned them, and set up their headquarters inside the temple. Driven far more by a hatred of Rome than a genuine love for Yahewh, they deposed the current high priest and set up their own high priest (Phanni) who knew nothing whatsoever was required of being a priest and was unqualified. They executed their political enemies in the temple square and permitted criminals to enter into the holy of holies, and thus desecrated the temple.
After this occurred, the church historian Eusebius details how the Christians who were residing in Jerusalem fled, remembering Jesus’ teaching, and so their lives were spared. In the Spring of 70 AD, the Roman general Titus during the Jewish celebration of Passover besieged the city. Rome, aggravated by the decades of growing hostility from the Jews, wanted to make an example out of this small nation and so crushed the with an absolute brutality. After months of waiting the people out till they were all near death due to famine, the Romans breached the walls and slaughtered nearly everyone in the city. They crucified thousands of Jews outside of the city and burnt the city to the ground before they plundered then destroyed the temple. Josephus, the Jewish historian was present when this happened and wrote that the dead were so numerous that ground could not be seen anywhere in the city, only corpses. The gravity of Jesus’ warning is thus fitting: “But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand,” (13:23).
But Jesus’ teaching seems to extend beyond just this moment in history. As we read Mark 13 we see that Jesus also is informing us of a greater event that looms larger than the destruction of the temple alone. He describes the climactic return of “the Son of Man.” He explains:
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” – Mark 13:24-27
What is described here is the climactic conclusion to history. The sun and moon darkening, the stars falling from heaven is a prophetic description of creation itself being unraveled, as if Genesis 1 is going in reverse (cf. Isa 13:10; 34:4; Ezek 32:7-8; Joel 2:10). The coming of the Son of Man riding the clouds is an image from Daniel 7:13-14 that describe the consummation of the Kingdom, where God the Father gives to this Son authority and power over every enemy, and then the Son shares His authority with God’s people (Dan 7:27). This is detailing something much more than just the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, but is looking to the second coming of Jesus where He will destroy all His enemies and usher in the New Heavens and New Earth. But, how are we to understand the relationship between the destruction of the temple and the final judgment?
Two things are happening here in Mark 13: (1) Jesus is understanding the destruction of the temple to serve as a paradigm through which to understand what the end time judgment will look like (Paul seems to understand this and points to an event similar to the abomination of desolation as being a precursor to the second coming in 2 Thess 2:3-4). (2) Jesus sees the destruction of the temple as something that opens the door to the final judgment and His second coming.
When you look at a mountain range from a distance, it looks like all of the mountains are standing right next to each other. But when you get close, you discover that one mountain may actually be a mile further behind the other mountain. From your vantage point, the space between the mountains looks non-existent. This is often what happens in prophecy in the Bible—the future is viewed as a single event and described as such, when in reality there may be large gaps of distance in time between the events. For Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem and His second coming are bound together—after the destruction of the temple the Son of Man comes. But, what we now know is that there has been an expanse of two thousand years and we still are awaiting the second coming. Surprisingly, Jesus Himself explains that He does not know the timing of the end: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” Mark 13:32. If you’re thinking: Wait, how can Jesus not know something? You might ask yourself: Why did Jesus need to sleep? He was a human being, and in His humanity there were certain things that He was simply ignorant of. In His deity, this is not true of course. If you are befuddled by that, then feel free to come ask me questions about it afterwards.
But this dual-lens view of the destruction of the temple (near) and the end judgment (far) is how we can understand Jesus’ statement that “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” Mark 13:29-30 (Note: the “these things” and “all these things” mirror the disciples question in vs. 3, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” Thus, the “things” being accomplished refer to the destruction of the temple). And Jesus says, once that happens, you know “He is near.” One commentator explains, “Both Jesus’s resurrection and Jerusalem’s destruction are end-time events that are completed only by the [second-coming] of the Son of Man. Like engagement and marriage, they are necessarily connected, even though a time period separates them. So for Mark the events of AD 70 and the [second-coming] are united and yet separated in time,” (Stein, BECNT).
This is why all of the New Testament authors understand anyone living on this side of the resurrection to be those living in “the last days” (Heb 1:1-2; 9:26; 1 Pet 1:20; 4:7; Acts 2:17; 1 Cor 7:31; 1 John 2:10). Thus, Jesus’ short parable of the master going away on his journey and who may return at any time is a picture of the eager expectation we need now to have. As Peter reminds us, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed,” (2 Pet 3:10). At any moment, the end may come. In light of that, Peter then asks us this question: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,” 2 Pet 3:11. Let’s briefly consider that now:
1. Patient. It might feel odd to think, “How can we be in the “last days” for two thousand years now?” Peter anticipates this problem: “knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”… But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance,” 2 Pet 3:3-4, 8-9.
2. Discerning. Much of Jesus’ exhortation to His disciples—and to us—in Mark 13 is to be careful about being misled. It is ironic that Jesus explicitly tells us here that “wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes” are not a sign of the end, and yet nearly every time war breaks out, Christians (American Christians particularly) think that it most certainly is a sign that the end is near. And when we get riled up into a fever of “doomsday prognosticating” we then will be more susceptible to false prophets and false messiahs who through signs and wonders, political analysis, end-times chart making, and biblical origami try to lead astray the elect. In 1988 a book came out called 88 Reasons why the Rapture will be in 1988, giving cooky half-baked explanations for why Jesus would return (one of them: in 1988 it would be the 212th anniversary of America and 100th session of congress, and water boils at 212 degrees and 100 degrees Celsius, and America was now at a boiling point). That, of course, sounds ridiculous now—but that book was a huge seller in America. We need to be very discerning. If we give ourselves over to "end-times" fervor, we will constantly be set up to be duped and swindled and have a strange kind of vanity that assumes that our moment or location in history is always fraught with the most supreme of importance. If we were Christians living in the 700's and heard that muslim armies had taken over Jerusalem and built a mosque on top of the Temple Mount, it would be tempting to think: This must be a sign that Jesus is returning soon. If we lived in medieval Europe in the 1200's and 1300's and saw the bubonic plague (Black Death) ravage our villages and cities, killing nearly a third of the population, leaving stacks of dead bodies piled up in our streets, wouldn't it be tempting to think: Surely, this must be a sign that the final Day is near! We should be slow to assume that we are at the doorstep of the end times, slow to be jumping to conclusions; we should be discerning.
3. Enduring. Jesus assumes that the posture we need to have is one of alert readiness: “Stay awake!” he charges us. You might be tempted to spiritually doze, but don’t! As we consider the length of time we are awaiting for Jesus’ return, our urgency might slip. Think of how sleepiness comes over you at a time where you need to stay awake: you know you shouldn't, but you feel warm, your eyelids are heavy, your head begins to nod, and it just sounds so nice to lay your head back and slip into the bliss of unconsciousness. And Jesus is hear clanging a loud bell and shouting: Don't! STAY AWAKE! To resist the temptation to become spiritually lackadaisical, to resist the lusts of the flesh and desires of the world that want to lull us into a slumber, we need endurance. But notice the particular way we are told to endure in verses 9-13? We should endure through persecution. Apparently, we should expect that as we seek to obey the Great Commission, to preach the gospel to the nations, it will result in persecution: “And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved,” Mark 13:13. Jesus simply assumes that His disciples are taking the gospel to any and everyone, even if it comes at the cost of our comfort and our own lives. But in our persecution, we have the comfort that the Holy Spirit Himself is with us, supplying everything we need (Mark 13:11) and that if we continue to endure to the end we "will be saved."
4. Confident. Interestingly, during the crucifixion of Jesus we see some of the elements of judgment that Jesus describes here. Mark explains that in Jesus’ final hours, "when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,” Mark 16:33. The sun stops shining. Matthew explains that at the moment Jesus dies, on top of the great darkness, there is a massive earthquake that splits rocks in two, that tombs open up and that dead saints come to life (Matt 27:51-53). And both Matthew and Mark explain that at the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil of the temple is torn in two (Mark 15:38). It’s like a miniature display of the destruction of the temple and the final judgment is happening in the death of Jesus. Why? Because that is exactly what is happening. The judgment day is coming, but it is coming into Jesus. The end times, earth-shattering, cataclysm of condemnation is rending creation--but the bullseye of this wrath is aimed at the man from Galilee hanging on a cross. The future has been pulled back into the past; the Final Day is happening today, in Jesus. Jesus is taking on the judgment that the sins of everyone who has put their faith in Him deserve, so that now for those who have trusted in Christ, there is no condemnation left (Rom 8:1). Our "Judgment Day" has already happened, two thousand years ago at Golgotha. And now when we die, we will receive the blessings and welcomes that Jesus' spectacular, law-fulfilling life had earned. And that is the kind of confidence we need to face down the persecutions of this world, to endure the temptations, to be discerning, and to be patient.
Jesus and the Widow (Mark 12:38-44)
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/734960--jesus-and-the-widow
Sermon Discussion Questions
- What stood out to you most?
- Do you know of anyone who has left the church because of accusations of hypocrisy? What should we say to such a person?
- Read Mark 12:38-40. What do the scribes love? What might this look like today? Are there ways you are tempted by this?
- How does the widow's offering point us to Jesus? (See 2 Cor 8:9)
- Read 2 Cor 8:1-15 and 2 Cor 9:1-15 together. What does this teach us about the Christian's responsibility to generosity?
Over the past few weeks many Christian leaders have been discussing a recent Gallup poll that has caused some stir in evangelicalism: church membership has declined in America to under 50% for the first time ever. Why has this happened? Could it be…
- The death of cultural Christianity? As America has become less favorable towards classic Christianity, people who had be inhabiting the church out of cultural expectations—rather than genuine belief—have begun to decline. (This is what I usually tend to believe is happening)
- Difficulty accepting the ethical teaching of Christianity, particularly around areas of sexuality and identity?
- Difficulty accepting the miraculous?
It could be a mixture of all of those—though fewer and fewer people are raising arguments against the spiritual and miraculous. Many people have presented different takes on this phenomena, but this week Dr. Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the SBC, wrote a perceptive article noting that he has found that more and more younger Christians are abandoning the church not because they find Christian teaching to be too restrictive or unbelievable, but they believe that the Church does not actually believe or practice what it teaches. Moore writes, “The presenting issue in this secularization is not scientism and hedonism but disillusionment and cynicism.” Young people aren’t becoming more secular, but think we are becoming more secular. Certainly, many of you here know of someone who has abandoned the church because they claim that they have seen hypocrisy and abuse taking place within the church.
What are we to think of such stories? In our text today we will find a woman who has been abused and taken advantage of by religious authorities, yet see her persist in a sincere devotion and costly faith, despite her suffering. And in and through her example we will see a model of our very Lord and Savior, who when abused and taken advantage of, continued to give of Himself to the highest and most ultimate degree.
And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” 41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” – Mark 12:38-44
Jesus begins by issuing this warning: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers,” Mark 12:38-40a. We have heard of the Scribes often in Mark’s gospel, with almost every encounter being negative (Mark 1:22; 2:6; 2:16; 3:22; 7:1; 7:5; 8:31; 9:14; 10:33; 11:18; 11:27; 12:35; 14:1; 14:43; 14:53; 15:1; 15:31). The Scribes, usually paired with the other Temple officials (chief priests, elders) or the Pharisees, as a whole believe that Jesus is a false Messiah, possibly under the influence of demons (cf. 3:22ff). They have been actively working to find a way to destroy Jesus, and are one of the main parties responsible for Jesus’ arrest and execution. The one exception to this has been the single scribe who just recently approached Jesus to ask about the greatest commandment (12:28-34). So, if we have read the gospels before we know that scribes are dangerous.
But, we must remind ourselves, that this warning may have sounded strange to Jesus’ original hearers. Scribes were respected Bible scholars. They were the ones responsible for copying the Hebrew Bible down with meticulous precision and teaching the Law to the people (cf. Mark 1:22). Were Jesus giving this warning today, it would sound like, “Beware of the seminary professors…beware of the learned Bible teachers…” Why should Jesus’ disciples watch out for those kinds of people? In the last story with the wise scribe, Jesus reminded us that the greatest command of God could be summarized in loving God with everything we have, our whole life, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. And who better to exemplify and model those commands than the experts and teachers of the Law, the scribes!
But in Jesus’ eyes, do the scribes love God? No. They love being recognized, they love the approval and status and respect they get from their station. They wore special robes that let everyone know who they were as they walked down the street. “When a scribe walked down the street or passed through a marketplace, everyone (with the exception of laborers) was expected to rise before him,” (Edwards, PNTC). They loved seats of honor in the synagogue and at dinners and they loved making ornate, long prayers for show.
Do they love their neighbor? No. They devour widow’s houses. The scribes should have been the ones teaching and enacting the care for widows. Alongside the fatherless and the sojourner, widows were most frequently set aside as a vulnerable class of individuals in the Old Testament that required special care, provision, and protections from being taken advantage of. Sins against widows incur God’s special anger (Ex 22:21-24; Deut 14:29; 24:17ff; 27:19; Isa 1:17; Jer 7:6-7; 22:3; Zech 7:10; Mal 3:5; Ps 146:9). The scribes, teachers of the Law, of course knew this! And yet, they prey on these vulnerable women, using their status and privilege in some way that leads to these already disadvantaged individuals becoming even further destitute, coaxing them out of what little financial security they had.
While we see a poor model in the scribes of how to interact with widows, we need not look far in the Bible to realize that we should care for widows today: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world,” James 1:27 (cf. 1 Tim 5:3-16). While the triumvirate of “widows, fatherless, and sojourner” in the Bible shows us that God commands us to care for whoever is most at risk in society to be taken advantage of, we need not work hard to think of how to apply this command. Here, in our church we have several widows who deserve our special attention and care. Let us not grow callous and cold like the scribes, who ignore the plain commands of our Lord.
What does the false religion of these scribes look like today? It’s hard not think of some smarmy televangelist, using their platform and appearance of godliness to dupe the impoverished into even further depths of poverty: Donate to our ministry and God will bless you! We should, rightly, beware of such people.
Yet, I doubt many of us in this room are tempted to be deceived by that. Where might we encounter this kind of show religion? We can find this anywhere we find someone who is more in love with themselves than God or neighbor, who use God simply as a way to achieve their ends:
- The teenager recording some good deed just to post it on social media to earn the approval of others.
- The husband who treats his wife and children with love and respect while at church, but explodes in anger as soon as they are home.
- The student who uses Bible verses to publicly defend their political tirades, but does not seek to apply any of those Bible verses to confronting their own sin.
Do you use your spirituality or knowledge of the Bible to impress other people? If you had the opportunity to care for someone or practice your faith, but knew that no one else would ever know about it, would you still be just as incentivized to do the good deed? Jesus elsewhere warns us:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matt 6:1-4
Beware—these scribes are a picture of where that sin wants to take you. Jesus warns of the consequence of this lifestyle: “They will receive the greater condemnation,” Mark 12:40b. Have you heard that all sin will be treated the same on the judgment day? It is true that any sin constitutes the breaking of God’s Law and thus earns us judgment (James 2:10-11). But here we see that there are some sins that earn a “greater condemnation” than others. Jesus seems to be particularly outraged by people who use their religious standing and position to abuse those who are under them.
After Jesus finishes teaching he then sits down in the temple court opposite of the treasury. In the temple court there were thirteen chests for various offerings that helped support and furnish the ministry of the temple. Since it was Passover week there was likely a large crowd drawn in to bring offerings and to worship. Jesus is simply sitting, observing what is going on. He notices that many wealthy people approach and offer large sums, “And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny,” Mark 12:42. While it was possible for women to own their own businesses and so support themselves (see Acts 16:14-15), it was still rare. So when a woman’s husband died she relied on her children or community to support her. If she had no children or her community turned from supporting her, she was left totally destitute. We don’t know the background of this woman other than the fact that she is a “poor widow.”
But, the fact that Mark has placed this story directly after Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes, who “devour widow’s houses,” seems to nod to the fact that this woman’s poverty has been brought about or exacerbated by the scribes’ rapacity and greed. A friend of mine describes this woman as a “carcass” picked over by the vultures and wolves of the temple. And yet, here she is at the temple, offering her two small coins to worship—knowing that those two small coins would likely go into the hands and care of those who have devoured her. The widow sees beyond those crooked leaders to the God whom she loves and her piety, devotion, and gratitude compel her to bring her offering nonetheless. What a model of love of God!
Friend, I wonder if you have been hurt by people in the church? I wonder if the hypocrisy and double-standards and compromise you have seen have given you pause on your participation in the church? And, in a way, it makes sense for someone to have hesitations about the church: the church is a total mess. We know that wolves have crept in and used their position and status to abuse, to exploit, and to get rich. This is one of the reasons why God gives shepherds (pastors) to churches, to protect the flock and chase away wolves (Acts 20:28-30). And Jesus leaves no doubt in our mind that wolves like these scribes will receive their final comeuppance at the judgment day, where they will receive a more severe punishment for their abuse. God does not take spiritual abuse lightly.
But even still, aside from intentional malicious wolf-like activity, the church still often fails to live up to its ideals. We have good intentions that we don’t follow through on; we are quick to devolve into factions, making minor issues major ones; we can be hypocritical, judgmental, and self-important. The church is a mess because we are a mess. But, to steal a line from Ray Ortlund, we are Jesus’ mess, and—wonder of wonders—He doesn’t think He is too good for us.
One of the things that should set the church apart from the world is not its preening and posturing to look better than everyone else, but our admission that we are totally broke without the help of Jesus. I knew one pastor who spoke with a successful businesswoman about Christianity, only to hear her say, “The church is a den of vipers—they are total hypocrites!” He pondered, and replied, “Yes, you’re right. But is it really any different outside the church?” Surprisingly, she was taken aback, “No…I guess it really isn’t.” After explaining the gospel to her, he boldly but gently offered, “There’s always room for one more to slither in.” The only people who can inhabit a church are sinful people because all people are sinners. We can gather together as a church, imperfectly and flawed and sinful though we are, and yet still truly and sincerely worship God and love one another. We don’t worship our leaders, or our institutions, or our ideas of what the community should be like: we worship the glorious and gracious God who is so kind and patient to deal with messy people like us.
The widow’s offering shows us that even in the worst cases of spiritual abuse, we can still come to God because it is Him, not His flawed servants, whom we are worshipping.
Jesus, upon seeing the widow’s offering, “called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box,” Mark 12:43. Now, strictly speaking, this woman did not put in more than anyone else. She put in the smallest possible amount. Why does Jesus say this? “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on,” Mark 12:44.
The wealthy people putting in large sums count little to Jesus because they are contributing out of their abundance. It is the extra that they scrape off the top; it does not affect their life in any way to give. But the widow’s offering? It is stunning because (1) it is given while the woman was in poverty, and (2) in her poverty she put in everything she had, all she had to live on. She could have thrown in just one copper coin, but she didn’t. She could have said, “I’m not in a good financial situation to be giving money away right now,” but she didn’t. She could have reasoned, “These crooked scribes have swindled me so I don’t need to give them a dime,” but she didn’t.
If you remember Jesus’ last conversation with a scribe where he explained that the most important commandment was: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” Mark 12:30. All (pas) is repeated over and over again. And here Jesus explains that this woman has put in everything, all she had (pas). Jesus is showing us a living, breathing example of someone who is obeying the greatest commandment and loving God with everything she has. The final phrase, “all she had to live on” could more literally be translated, “her whole life,” (bios). This shows us:
Little is much in the hands of God. Jesus points out that because of the woman’s heart, her devotion that has led her to contribute everything she had while in the midst of such extreme poverty, she has actually contributed more than anyone else. God doesn’t need sacrifices and offerings. He isn’t strapped for cash or talent. So the dollar amount of our offerings matters less than our hearts behind it. One thinks of the young boy who brought his few loaves and fish to Jesus, who multiplied them to feed thousands. Do you feel like you have little to offer God? Like you lack the gifts, the knowledge, the abilities, the finances, or the time that others have? I can only offer up weak prayers, I can only stutter out a few Bible verses, I don’t have much to offer God. Friend, be encouraged: God desires your heart, your devotion—He can take care of multiplying our loaves and fish.
Pursue serious generosity. Jesus did not care for the gifts of the wealthy because they gave out of abundance. In 2 Samuel, David is wanting to purchase a plot of land for an altar to God. When he speaks with the man who owns the land, he offers to give David the land and oxen to offer for the sacrifice for free. But David will not accept them, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing,” 2 Sam 24:24. If God doesn’t need our offerings, then why does He require them of us? Money is the key that opens up so many things that our hearts desire: comfort, approval, power, control. Money can seemingly buy you all of those things, and all of those things can become subtle replacements for our devotion and worship. Where we put our money reveals and exposes what we love most, and God wants to check our heart: What do you love most?
When we give out of our excess, that requires no reordering of our priorities, that requires no cost to us, that requires no trust in the Lord. You can still continue to proverbially worship at the altars of those other false gods.
In what ways are you being generous that costs you, that requires you to trust in God the way the widow was trusting in God to provide for what she needed to live on? Paul demonstrates for us what it looks like to be generous in such a way that you depend on God to provide what you need:
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. – 2 Cor 9:10-12
God will provide everything you need so that you may “be generous in every way.” So trust in God to provide what you need! This is what was produced in the churches of Macedonia that Paul describes to us:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints. – 2 Cor 8:1-4
The Macedonian church in “extreme poverty” were begging Paul that they could use what little finances they had to help support other struggling churches. Friend, if you are waiting till you are just a little bit better off before you start being generous, you will never be generous. Sometimes it is good to be the recipient of generosity. Sometimes we need to be on the receiving end and to simply and humbly accept help. But God has called us, wherever we are and with what we have, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all our strength—with everything (including our finances) we have.
If everyone else in our church followed your model in their tithes, in their financial support of missionaries and other local ministries, would our church be thriving, our missionaries, and our ministry partners be thriving? If everyone else in our church followed your model of hospitality, generosity, and benevolence, would our church be growing in fellowship, would the needs of our members be cared for, and would the poor be cared for?
How do you do this?
As we reflect on the hero of this story, the widow, we might be left thinking: how on earth does someone live like that? Well, as we consider the widow we see in her a model of the greater hero: Jesus. As Paul continues to teach in 2 Corinthians, he points the Corinthians to Jesus’ model of generosity: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich,” 2 Cor 8:9. We are told that the widow, in giving her offering, has thrown in “her whole life”—her whole bios.
Jesus likewise gives everything He has—but only He isn’t poor, He is infinitely wealthy. He is the King of the Universe, the almighty and eternal God who leaves His heavenly wealth, in order to come down and become impoverished. He takes on flesh, limits Himself by taking on a human nature, and lives a human life. And as He lives His life, His obedience to the Law and righteousness earn Him a heavenly reward, the blessings promised to those uphold the Law. But Jesus, having this wealth, further impoverishes Himself by going to the cross and taking our spiritual debts with Him, suffering the penalty our sins deserved through His death, and resurrecting three days later to demonstrate that our debts had been fully paid, fully satisfied, and death conquered. And now, anyone He who will turn to Christ and trust in Him can receive the wealth of Jesus’ righteousness credited to their account.
It is only when we see what Jesus has done for us, how deeply He has given for us, how painfully He sacrificed for us so that we could be forgiven and restored, that we find the power to be generous likewise.
So, friend, do you desire to grow in your generosity? Consider the abundant generosity you have been shown in Jesus Christ.
Have you been hurt by the church? Look to the gracious and kind God who is still worthy of your praise and devotion.
Have you been using your religion as a charade of your own self-righteousness? Drop the exhausting act and come and rest in grace and forgiveness offered in Jesus Christ.
Jesus and the Great Commandment (Mark 12:28-34)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What stood out to you most from the sermon?
- Why did Jesus answer with two commandments when asked to list just one?
- How can some commandments be more important than other commandments? (see vs. 33) Aren't all commandments equally important?
- "On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matt 22:40. What does this mean? (See section "centrality of these commands").
- How does the command to "love God and love neighbor" affect how we use our time? (See Eph 5:15-16)
- How are love of God and love of neighbor connected? (See 1 John 4:19-20) What would it look like today for someone to claim to love God, but not love their neighbor? To claim to love their neighbor, but not love God?
- Read Luke 10:25-37. Who is your neighbor? What did "love of neighbor" look like in this story? What does this teach us today?
- Close in prayer, reflecting on any area of your life where you feel like you have not been loving God most in. Confess these to one another and pray for each other.
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. – Mark 12:28-34
One of the scribes overhears Jesus’ response given to the Sadducees concerning the resurrection and is impressed with Jesus’ answer. He poses to Jesus a typical question of the day: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28). Rabbis of the day had counted a total of 613 commandments in the Old Testament and had spent time dividing the laws into “heavy” and “light” categories. Jesus seems to affirm this differentiation when he warns of relaxing even “one of the least of [the] commandments” (Matt 5:19) and rebukes the Pharisees for tithing out of their garden herbs while neglecting the “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness,” (Matt 23:23a).
This division of the law into these categories, however, wasn’t a way of saying some laws were unimportant or didn’t need to be obeyed. In fact, in Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees of paying attention to the lighter commandments and neglecting the weighty, He concludes: “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others,” (Matt 23:23b). One commentator notes, “..it is best to understand this question as an attempt to identify not which commandments are unimportant and need not be kept but rather which commandment is the most fundamental one from which all the other commandments arise,” ( Stein, BECNT). This is the Scribe’s question.
Jesus responds with the most well-known verse in the Old Testament, “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” Mark 12:29-30. This citation from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 was known as the Shema because the first word of the verse “Hear” in Hebrew is Shema. It was recited morning and evening by all pious Jews. Many famous rabbis had concluded that this was, indeed, the most important command in all of Torah. But Jesus goes beyond the questioner’s original intent and instead of sharing just one command He shares two: “The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these,” Mark 12:31 (citing Lev. 19:18).
Jesus is asked which is most important, but He gives two. He labels the first commandment as “1st” and the next as “2nd”, seeing that the second commandment is subordinate to the first. But then he concludes by stating that there “is no other commandment greater than these,” setting them both apart in their significance. These two commands are foundational to the whole of the Old Testament’s Law.
The Scribe responds, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices,” Mark 12:32-33. This response is surprising; all of the Scribes interactions with Jesus thus far have been negative (see Mark 3:22-30, 7:1ff), but this Scribe responds positively to Jesus, agreeing with Him. He agrees with Jesus’ estimation, and even adds that these two commands are more important than “all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
In the Old Testament it was God who had commanded burnt offerings and sacrifices—they were not unimportant. There are huge sections of the books of the Old Testament that give precise, painstaking details about burnt offerings and sacrifices. Without burnt offerings and sacrifices the entire system of temple worship was virtually rendered obsolete—it was through sacrifices and offerings at the temple that God was praised, worshiped and sins were forgiven. But the danger was that it was possible to participate in them without loving God and without loving neighbor. In fact there are several instance in the Old Testament where this happens. In the prophet Hosea, God explains, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,” Hos 6:6. Or in 1 Sam 15:22, ““Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” Participating in sacrifices and offerings to the Lord while our hearts are far from Him does nothing and God is not pleased. Further, making offerings to God while we fail to love our neighbor earns us similar displeasure from God, as Micah the prophet warns us:
“6 With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:6-8 (cf. Isa 1:10-17; Amos 5:18-24; Eccl 5:1; Prov 15:8).
What does God want from you? In the ancient world, what mattered most to the gods were sacrifices and offerings—it was through these offerings that the gods were appeased and satiated. In Hinduism today, food offerings are still presented to the gods to replenish their strength. But in the Bible we see that the God described here is very different; He does not command sacrifices and offerings because He needs them, like other gods do (see Ps 50:9-15). What God desires more than anything is obedience, is love.
The Scribe is a good student of the Bible and sees that love of God and neighbor outweigh everything else. And Jesus agrees. “And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God,” Mark 12:34. After this, no one dares ask Jesus any further questions.
This morning my wife was reading through the sermon text to prepare for the service today. As I was walking out she pointed something out that I simply hadn’t paid attention to: the scribe in his response to Jesus cites an additional Scripture to the ones Jesus cites. He weaves together 1 Sam 15:22 and Hos 6:6. It is after this that Jesus understands that the man answers “wisely.” Where does wisdom come from? God’s Word.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes; - Psalm 19:7-8
Friend, where do you look for wisdom in life? Do you want to be wise? Look to God’s Word, saturate your mind and your heart in God’s Word. Life is complicated. Politics, parentings, singleness, familial conflict, disappointment--how do you respond to all of these situations in all of their circumstantial complexity? If you read the Bible you will not find chapter and verse telling you who to marry, what job to take, or how to encourage your depressed child--but you will formed into a person of wisdom, and wisdom is what you need in life. So devote yourself to God's Word, surround yourself with God's Word, and let it shape and mold you into a wiser person.
What does this passage mean?
The centrality of these commands
Every command in the Bible could be summarized under the heading of either “love of God” or “love of neighbor.” In Matthew’s account of this story he concludes: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets,” Matt 22:40. The “Law and Prophets” was just another way of describing the Old Testament. So the ten commandments, the clean/unclean laws, the food laws, the teachings on sex and marriage, and every other command we come across in the Bible—they all are branches that shoot out of the trunk of “love God and love neighbor.” This is why Paul can say: “love is the fulfilling of the law,” Rom 13:10 and why Jesus can say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” John 14:15. This means underneath all of the commands runs these two commands: love God and love neighbor. When we are confronted with a command from God, how we respond to it reveals what you love.
Think of the issue of time management. A seemingly “small” command. Paul exhorts us: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil,” Eph 5:15-16 (cf. Col 4:5). Make the best use of the time. How do you use your time? At a time where our opportunities for entertainment, leisure, and distraction are legion, where the word ‘binge’ has become commonplace, what does God’s command to use our time well mean? Well, we understand that God has called us to many, many noble tasks: to work diligently at our vocation; to be fruitful and multiply and so raise our children in the discipline and instruction of our Lord; to share the gospel with the lost; to care for the widow, the orphan, and the poor; to help our fellow church members grow in their discipleship; to use the gifts God has given us for the good of the church; to pray without ceasing; to work for the good of our city; and to rest, relax, and enjoy the many good gifts God has given us in such a way that our hearts are warmed to the Lord. If we look at all of those commands and say: No thanks, I really need to catch up on my shows,or I can’t do that, Billy made the travelling team this year, or I’m sorry, but I must impress my boss so I have to use all my time to work, then we look at God and say: You are not important enough to be obeyed, I love these things more than you.
The connection of these commands
Why did Jesus present two commands when asked about just one? Jesus was asked which commandment—singular—was the most important. In a way, Jesus answers the question: the most important, the first, is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. But why does Jesus add the second? Why not just leave that off? Because we demonstrate our love of God through our love of neighbor. John explains: “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen,” 1 John 4:19-20.
It is impossible for us to love God and not love our neighbor, and we cannot love our neighbor with loving God, since loving God is the first and greatest commandment. This guards us against two errors: loving God without loving neighbor, or loving neighbor without loving God. Let me share two stories with you to illustrate this.
Once when I was younger I was speaking with a girl who was a Christian that I was hoping I could ask out. So, naturally I told her that I was a Christian too—I was not, but in my defense, I really thought I was. I just had no idea what that actually meant. Later in the day, while she was nearby, a friend of mine ran by and did something to me that I cannot even remember but found it extremely irritating and obnoxious, before sprinting away laughing. I exploded in anger and shouted a long, ugly string of profanities after him. The girl was shocked and looked at me: I thought you said you were a Christian? I was genuinely baffled by her response. “I am!” I responded, slightly offended. “Well, Christians definitely don’t talk like that.” I rolled my eyes and laughed at her.
(Unsurprisingly, she was no longer interested in a date).
What I had assumed—and what was so obviously wrong to the girl—was that being a Christian really required very little from you. It was just an interesting detail about your life, like your genealogy or your family traditions around the holidays, but it didn’t demand anything more than your tacit awareness and token rituals. It was merely a private, personal reality. But these commands say otherwise. The faith of the Bible is a faith that makes demands of you, and those demands extend outside of your personal, internal world. They dictate how you treat others. So much so that, as John as told us, if we claim that “we love God” but do not love our brothers, we are deceiving ourselves.
Years after becoming a Christian I worked as a server at a restaurant here in town. It became known that I was a Christian and had aspirations of becoming a pastor someday, so everyone knew I took my faith very seriously. One man (who insisted on calling me “Father Marc”) got into a lengthy discussion with me one day during a slow afternoon. In between wiping down tables he asked why Christians cared so much about sex and why we were not content with simply letting two people who loved each other to do whatever they pleased. We often hear the slogan today: “Love is love.” What that tautology and my co-worker were trying to communicate was that if two people love each other, then who cares if their expression of love looks different than traditional morality? I responded by trying to affirm that the Bible puts a very high premium on “love” and the Bible actually says that all of its ethical commands can be summarized by love. But, the Bible also defines “love” for us. To “love” someone is to be committed to their good, and what is “good”? The highest and must supreme good is God alone. So, if I try to define “love” in such a way that runs contrary to what God has commanded, then I am not actually loving. In Paul’s great chapter on love he explains, “love… does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth,” 1 Cor 13:6. So if our “love” tries to cut against the grain, if it does not flow out of and lead into a greater love for God, then it is not love. In other words, we cannot love our neighbor at the expense of loving God.
The culmination of the other commands
When the scribe points out that these two commandments are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices, Jesus responds: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” What did Jesus mean by that? If you remember, Jesus understands the kingdom of God to have come in His arrival. The Gospel of Mark opened with Jesus’ pronouncement: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,” Mark 1:15 The kingdom of God is what was lost in Eden, what the kingdom of David was a foretaste of, and what every Jew in the Old Testament up to Jesus’ day had been awaiting. In the Kingdom all of God’s promises would be fulfilled, God would restore His people, and overcome all of their enemies. Jesus teaches that the wait is over and the Kingdom is here. Of course, Mark has taught us that the arrival of the Kingdom has been surprising, not what anyone would expect, but nevertheless the Kingdom had come in the person of Jesus.
But why does Jesus tell the scribe that he is not far from the kingdom here, specifically after the scribe says that love of God and neighbor is more important than sacrifice? Further, why would there be so many places in the Old Testament that teach that sacrifices and offerings are less important than other commands? Because what the sacrifices and offerings pointed to had arrived in the person and work of Jesus. Under the old covenant, to have fellowship with God, for your sins to be forgiven, you went to the temple and offered sacrifice. But Jesus has come to usher in the new covenant, a new way to commune with God, a new way for sins to be forgiven. Under the new covenant, it is not a lamb or bull who is sacrificed, it is the Son of God Himself. Jesus’ blood is establishes the new covenant, and thus renders the old covenant and its obsolete.
So now, the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament connected to the Temple are exhausted and fulfilled through Christ, and the “lighter” matters of the law fade away.
God wants all of you. When we are told to love God with our “heart, soul, mind, and strength,” it is just a way to describe every nook and cranny of our lives. Our desires, our affections, our ideas, our thoughts, our will, our actions—there is not one square inch of our lives over which Jesus does not rightfully claim ‘Mine!”
But isn’t it interesting that we are commanded to love God—in other religions, what is the most important command? God doesn’t just want servile subjects—He desires a relationship with you. He desires your love. As a husband desires all of his wife’s heart, so too does our God desire all of us.
Jesus and Resurrection (Mark 12:18-27)
Unfortunately, there was a problem recording the audio of this sermon. It can be found here, but is of poor quality: https://qbc.org/sermons/728203--jesus-and-resurrection
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What was most helpful from the sermon?
- Read over Mark 12:18-27. Why did the Sadducees ask their question about the woman with seven husbands? What was Jesus' response?
- Why was Jesus so harsh with the Sadducees?
- Put yourself in the Sadducees shoes. If you had been living like there was no life after death, and then were convinced that you were wrong, what would you do?
- Why makes the Bible's teaching about life after death so severe? What makes it so gracious?
- Do you remember any of the evidences for the resurrection?
- Read Revelation 20:11-15. Who do you know who is currently living like this won't happen. Take time now to pray for them, pray that the Lord would give you an opportunity to share the gospel with them, pray that they would be converted.
Adoniram Judson was a precocious student. Born in 1788 in Malden, Massachusetts to an austere and strict Congregationalist minister, Adoniram could read an entire chapter of the Bible by the age of three. He mastered Greek and Latin by the age of ten, and attended Brown University at the age of 16, testing out of all the required classes for Freshman, starting as a Sophomore, and graduated valedictorian three years later. Though Adoniram was raised in a very strict religious home and was taught the Bible from a young age, once at college his intelligent mind was more attracted to the philosophical and logical bent of the small group of Deists present. Deism is the belief that rejected all revealed religion and only believed in a distant god who created the world and then abandoned it. One student in particular, Jacob Eames, became Adoniram’s best friend and guide to this new worldview, teaching him to use his mind to think for himself, exercise skepticism, and sluff off his father’s antiquated religion for a more enlightened perspective.
So, to his father’s horror, Adoniram became a pronounced Deist and decided to use his mind to achieve as much worldly pleasure as he could, and at 19 years old abandoned Christianity altogether. Living the life of the proverbial prodigal son, Adoniram travelled to New York City in hopes of achieving his dreams. However, in time, like the prodigal son, the dazzle and allure of the city began to dim, fade, and then sour. While travelling one night Adoniram came to a busy country inn looking for a room. He learned, unfortunately, that the only room available was one next to a room where a young man lay critically ill, perhaps even dying. Adoniram, exhausted and with no other options, took the room.
His biographer writes, “But though the night was still, he could not sleep. In the next room beyond the partition he could hear sounds, not very loud; footsteps coming and going; a board creaking; low voices; a groan or gasp. These did not disturb him unduly—not even the realization that a man might by dying. Death was commonplace in Adoniram’s New England…What disturbed him was the thought that the man in the next room might not be prepared for death. Was he, himself?...He wondered how he himself would face death. His father would welcome it as a door opening outward to immortal glory. So much his [faith] had done for him. But to Adoniram the son, the freethinker, the Deist, the infidel, lying huddled under the covers, death was an exit, not an entrance. It was a door to an empty out, to darkness darker than night, at best extinction, at worst to—what? On this matter his philosophy was silent.” (Anderson, To the Golden Shore, 42-43)
Today Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is worth celebrating for a number of reasons, but one of them is that it holds forth the promise that for Christians death is not “an exit” but a “door opening outward to immortal glory.” I wonder what your view of death is today, friend? Perhaps you are like Adoniram’s father, confident and at peace with what lays beyond the grave. Or maybe you are like young Adoniram huddled under the covers, clueless and terrified of what may come. Whoever you are, the resurrection of Jesus Christ offers you hope today.
Our church has been steadily working through the gospel of Mark and, in God’s providence, our text today deals with the issue of death and resurrection. And in our text, we see Jesus interacting with a group of people who shared views similar to the young Adoniram, confident that the traditional religious view of “life after death” to be wrong. Turn now to Mark 12:
And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”
24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.” – Mark 12:18-27
Mark opens this text by introducing us to a new group of people: the Sadducees. We are told that they “say that there is no resurrection.” The Sadducees were a group of priestly aristocrats. They differed greatly from the other group we hear of more commonly, the Pharisees. The Pharisees were far more conservative in their interpretation of the Bible, while the Sadducees denied a great deal. Sadducees rejected everything from the Old Testament except the first five books of Moses, denied any kind of life after death, and many more things. But Mark specifies that it is particularly the issue of resurrection they have come to discuss with Jesus. So they request Jesus to answer their carefully crafted question:
“Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother,” Mark 12:19.
The Sadducees are referencing the command of what was known as “levirate marriage” from Deut 25:5-10, where God commands single brothers of deceased men to marry the widow if they have no sons, so that the wife would be cared for and the family name would carry on. In their story, a very unlucky woman keeps burying her husbands and then eventually dies herself. “In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife,” Mark 12:23. The “resurrection” that they are referring to is the resurrection that all other Jews (besides the Sadducees) believed in, the final resurrection at the end of the age when God would raise everyone’s bodies from the dead, and then judge them.
The Sadducees, of course, are not asking this question out of a genuine desire to learn anything. They are asking the question in order to demonstrate that Jesus’ belief—and every other conservative Jew’s belief—in the resurrection and afterlife is ridiculous. Every Jew knew that marriage was designed to be between one man and one woman. So how, the Sadducees reasoned, could God command a man to marry his brother’s widow if it meant that in the resurrection something would persist that violated God’s design? This must mean that Moses did not believe that there was such a thing as an afterlife or a resurrection. That’s their reasoning.
Jesus response is unusually sharp: “Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” Mark 12:24. At the close of his explanation, Jesus will give another stinging rebuke: “You are quite wrong,” Mark 12:27. Why is Jesus so pointed with them? This was something we discussed a few weeks ago, but when we read the gospels we find that Jesus is usually the most stern with people who are arrogant. The Sadducees are not asking this question in good faith—they think the doctrine Jesus believes in is silly and laughable, so Jesus responds firmly and clearly. But let’s take a deeper look into Jesus’ response.
Jesus says the Sadducees are wrong for two reasons: (1) they do not know the Scriptures and (2) they do not know the power of God.
Of course, because the Sadducees only accept the first five books of Moses as authoritative, there is a great deal of Scripture that they do not know. The teaching of the resurrection and afterlife is taught most clearly and abundantly outside of the first five books of Moses and are found in the Prophets (Isa. 26:19; Ezek. 37:1–14) and Writings (Dan. 12:2; Pss. 16:9–11; 49:15; 73:23–26; Job 19:26). But, rather than point to these sources, Jesus decides to use an argument from a source that they do trust and find authoritative: Moses. Jesus cites one of the most famous and popular passages: Exodus 3:6, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?” Jesus concludes, “He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong,” Mark 12:27. God did not say, “I was the God of Abraham,” but “I am the God of Abraham.” As in, Abraham is still alive now. Therefore, there is an afterlife and there will be a resurrection.
The second reason they are wrong is that they “do not know the power of God,” by which Jesus means the power of the resurrection. The Sadducees assume that the resurrection life is going to be exactly the same as life is on earth, but Jesus corrects them: “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven,” Mark 12:25. One of the ways that life after death is different is that there will no longer be marriage. Jesus teaches that marriage is truly “till death do us part,” and after death marriage is no more—otherwise no one would ever be permitted to marry again if their spouse died.
In the Bible the purpose of marriage is to provide children (be fruitful and multiply), companionship, and to serve as a parable of God’s love for His people (Eph 5:22-33). After death, children will no longer be born, since death will no longer exist; companionship will be provided through our perfect union with God and our fellow saints; and the parable will no longer be needed because we will have the consummate reality directly in front of us.
While Mark has probably only recorded a summary of the whole interaction, what we find in the encounter are the Sadducees being left speechless. They have no response to Jesus’ rebuke. It isn’t as if they do not respond because Jesus was just so sweet and kind that they feel too flattered to respond—no, Jesus has just made them look like fools. The Sadducees were authoritative, priestly figures and considered themselves experts in the first five books of Moses, but Jesus just publicly used their own source of authority—Moses—to contradict and correct them. And it isn’t as if the issue they are debating is some abstract, unimportant argument that has no consequence on their life.
You see, if the Sadducees are wrong on there being life after death then that means they are wrong on one other issue as well: judgment. The traditional Jewish teaching—which the Sadducees had rejected—was that at the end of the age there would be a final resurrection where all people would be raised to life, and then judged by God. It is this scene that is described in one of the final chapters of the Bible:
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Rev 20:11-15
The wealthy, educated, aristocratic Sadducees had been living as if that kind of judgment simply did not exist. Paul summarizes their worldview well, “If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” 1 Cor 15:32. If there is no resurrection, if there is no life after death, let us eat and drink and be merry now—you only live once, so live it up!
How would you be living your life if you were certain that on the other side of death there was nothing but annihilation? And let’s say you live the majority of your life that way. What would it then be like for you to then realize that you were wrong, that there was life after death? And that the nature of the rest of your eternity was going to be determined by how you lived your life? It would be as if you were convinced that you had some terminal illness and were given only a few months left to live, so you decide to live as recklessly as you could for those next few months, taking out massive loans and saddling yourselves with debt to pursue whatever pleasure you want, only to then be told that you were misdiagnosed. You have many, many more years left to live, but now you will spend the rest of those years dealing with the consequences of what you did in this short time.
It was this possibility of life after death that assaulted the young Adoniram as he lay huddled under his covers. His biographer writes:
“As Adoniram lay in bed that night, agonizing over what would happen when he would die, he suddenly chided himself, These are nothing more than midnight fancies! “What a skin-deep thing this freethinking philosophy of Adoniram Judson, valedictorian, scholar, teacher, ambitious man, must be! What would the classmates at Brown say to these terrors of the night, who thought of him as bold in thought? Above all, what would Eames say—Eames the clearheaded, skeptical, witty, talented? He imagined Eames’s laughter, and felt shame.
When Adoniram woke the sun was streaming in the window. His apprehensions had vanished with the darkness. He could hardly believe he had given in to such weakness. He dressed quickly and ran downstairs, looking for the innkeeper…He found his host, asked for the bill, and – perhaps noticing the man somber-faced – asked casually whether or not the young man in the next room was better. “He is dead,” was the answer.
“Dead?” Adoniram was taken aback. For an instant, some of his fear of the night made itself felt once more. Adoniram stammered out the few conventional phrases common to humanity when death takes someone nearby, and asked the inevitable question: “Do you know who he was?”
“Oh yes. Young man from the college in Providence. Names Eames, Jacob Eames.” – (Anderson, To the Golden Shore, 43-44).
Jacob Eames, Adoniram’s dearest friend and guide to the philosophy that had led him to shed his childhood Christian faith, in a matter of spectacular providence, had died one room away from Adoniram that fateful night. Of course, if Eames was right, then his death was senseless, pointless, and empty. He was now swept off into the infinite nothingness, as a puff of smoke is lost into the infinity of air. The fact that he just so happened to die in the room next to Adoniram, in a random country inn, was ultimately meaningless, created by an impersonal machine of random chance. But what if, Judson thought, Eames was wrong? What if Eames now stood before the God he had denied? What if he was now left with the consequences of that denial? What would he do?
Friend, what would you do? What happens when we die? If you were to be judged, held accountable to how you have lived your life, would you measure up? Adoniram, panic stricken, knew that were a great reckoning to occur, his life would be find wanting. He urgently began to read his Bible to see if there was, in fact, good reasons to believe in the faith that his father held onto so tenaciously. In time, slowly, Adoniram’s skepticism gave way to belief, and one year later, Adoniram finally professed faith and found peace.
What was it that convinced Adoniram’s skeptical mind? What was it that brought relief to his terrified heart? The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We must remember that this hypothetical conversation about resurrection Jesus is having here with the Sadducees is taking place the Tuesday before Good Friday. In three days Jesus will be nailed to a cross, and then in three more days He will resurrect from the dead.
The resurrection is significant to our faith for a whole host of reasons, but one reason it is so significant is that it vindicates and verifies Jesus as God’s Son and proves that His work was effective. If Jesus simply died on the cross and never resurrected, He may have been a fantastic teacher of morality who taught that His death would be significant, but He would be lost in the halls of time or simply placed alongside other religious teachers and martyrs. But Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates that He was no mere religious teacher, and that His death on the cross was not an accident.
Reasons for the resurrection:
1. There could not have been a group of people more resistant to believing that a human being could be worshipped as God as the Jewish people. After Jesus’ resurrection, all of the early church, who were all Jewish, worshipped Him as God in the flesh.
2. Before the resurrection all of Jesus’ disciples had abandoned him and were left hiding, terrified of what may happen to them, and in despair because they believed that in the death of Jesus the whole movement had ended. After the resurrection the disciples become confident, zealous, and willing to risk their very lives. Eventually, every disciple will die for their belief in Jesus Christ—no one dies for something they have manufactured or lied about.
3. After His resurrection Jesus appears to hundreds of people in public places over the course of 40 days, not just to individuals in trance like visions.
4. The earliest manuscripts we have recording the resurrection are written so close to the event that were the stories fabricated the officials and public at large would have written them off as fantasies—but they were not.
5. The first witnesses to the resurrection are two women. Women’s testimony back then was not admissible in court, so if the resurrection story was a fiction created to look real, the authors of the story wouldn’t have included women as the first eyewitnesses, since that would have made Christianity look less believable according to contemporary standards.
What happened in Jesus’ death? Jesus’ death was a substitute. The Bible teaches that at the final day there will be a great judgment where we will be sifted and judged according to our works, and if we are found righteous, we will go to heaven, and if we are found unrighteous, we will go to hell. Now, if we were to think who belongs in heaven, we may be able to think of a handful of extraordinary persons who have lived remarkable lives. And when we think of who belongs in hell, we can think of a handful of terrible persons who have lived horrible lives. But where does that leave us? Who gets to draw the line?
The Bible’s answer is surprising because it is far more severe and far more gracious than we would anticipate. It is more severe because it tells us that the standard of righteousness is total and absolute perfection—perfect obedience to God in our actions, thoughts, and affections. Friend, if you think you can ride into Heaven on your ramshackle sled of stuttering, self-defined goodness, you will be sorely disappointed. What is so severe about this is that none of us, not even one has been able to meet this standard.
Well, actually, One Person did. Jesus, “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin,” Heb 4:15. Jesus never cratered to temptation, never thought an impure thought, never lost control of His temper or frittered His time and money on pointless things. He loved God wholly, followed Him devoutly, and cared for others deeply. Jesus was always willing to serve others, even when they were ungrateful and difficult, and even when it cost Him dearly.
But this brings us to how the Bible’s answer is far, far, far more gracious than we realize. Jesus’ death was not some mere accident, but Jesus taught that His death was a substitutionary death. If you could, imagine the acts of your life have been recorded on paper and then placed into a manila folder. Everything you have done is contained within. Imagine Jesus has a similar manila folder containing a record of His life. If you have trusted in, submitted to Jesus as your Lord, if you follow Him, those two folders get swapped. Your sins are handed over to Jesus, and His righteousness is given to you. At the cross, here is what we are told what happens: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross,” Col 2:13-14. As Jesus goes to the cross, he picks up your manila folder, your record of debt with all of its punishments it requires, and stands before the Father and says, “I am guilty, I’ll take the punishment” so that you, the guilty one can one day stand before the Father and say, “I am righteous, I’ll take the reward.”
This is far above and beyond what we would expect or anticipate, far more gracious than the assumption that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and be good enough to make it into heaven. The only people who are in heaven will be people who are righteous. The problem: no one is righteous. The solution: Jesus and His righteousness freely offered to sinful people like us.
Good Friday: Guilty, Vile and Helpless We
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” – John 1:29
What can we do with our guilt? Why do we all feel guilty?
In the 19th century, the Russian novelist Dostoevsky encapsulated a popular philosophy at the time concerning guilt and morality in his book Crime and Punishment. The main character of the book, Raskolnikov, while studying at university becomes convinced that traditional morality is simply a social construct and should be transcended by extraordinary persons who are brave enough to do so. Living in grinding poverty, he decides to apply his new theory and plans to murder an old, cruel, and wealthy woman so he can use her wealth for his education. He does not believe that ultimately there is anything wrong with murdering someone as vile as this woman per se, even if he initially is bothered emotionally with the act itself. So he murders the woman and takes her money. But rather than being free from guilt, Raskolnikov is eaten alive by his guilt, haunted by his guilt, wholly agonized by his guilt—despite believing he has no reason to feel guilt—to the degree that he becomes physically ill, nearly to the point of death, and only finds relief when he finally confesses his crime and accepts his punishment.
Guilt is what you experience when you fail to do what you ought to do, or do what you ought not do. The ought is critical for that definition. There is some standard that we know we should live by and we feel guilty when we fail to live by that standard. But if Raskolnikov is right, if we are free to make up our own standards then we, theoretically, should be free from guilt. We are often told today that no one can tell us what is right or wrong, but we must decide that for ourselves.
And yet, why do we all feel so guilty? While the guilt of murder is a rather dramatic example, guilt and regret nevertheless are familiar friends to us. This is true if we are religious or not. We feel guilty about things as mundane as our lack of exercise to things as significant as our failures in our marriages and secret addictions that are destroying us. The guilt that haunts us can be a low-grade hum that buzzes in the back of our mind, or a shouting, blaring guilt that leaves us wholly paralyzed. And all this happens while we are floating in a society that tells us that we are free to choose what is right and wrong for ourselves—and yet, unless we are psychopaths, we still feel guilt. We all do.
So, what are we to do with our guilt? Let me present three options that are the most common today, and then a surprising alternative.
Option 1: I’ve done nothing wrong
One option when feeling guilty is to just attempt to move the goal-post in your mind, to tell yourself: this wasn’t wrong; I’m not a bad person. We commonly hear this advice: you’re too hard on yourself, it wasn’t that bad, you’re a good person. But why does that almost never provide relief? I once spoke with a man who had been placed on hospice care, who knew his time was short. He was reflecting on serious mistakes that he had made in his past, ways he had hurt those closest to him. As he divulged what had happened and how anguished his conscience was, it was so apparent how wholly ineffective this kind of advice would be. He knew what he had done was really wrong and trying to give him the thin soup of “Hey, I’m sure it wasn’t that bad” would have done nothing to help this man.
You see, as much as our culture would love to believe that morality is merely something we get to mold into whatever we like it to be, our experience simply does not bear this out. When we come face to face with real wrongs, real evil—either in society or in ourselves—our notions of moral relativism evaporate into thin air. Think of the last time you felt angry while watching or reading the news; think of the last time you felt a deep, deep sense of shame and guilt. In those moments we know immediately and intuitively two things to be true: (1) there is a universal standard of “right” and “wrong”, and (2) all people—ourselves included—must obey it. And when we do not, we feel guilty. You can deny it, you can tell yourself that what you are doing is really okay, but you will never silence the murmurs of guilt.
If we accept the premise of that point, that there is a universal Law that all people are under, then that must mean that the Law is not created by us, but given to us by some kind of Law-Giver. Some would argue that morality is given to us by society or evolution, but this won’t work. We do not treat our moral judgments like they are just provincial evaluations that only represent our culture’s judgments. We treat them like they are True and have always been True. I had a professor at school who adopted a child from India who was in a very poor orphanage. There was a large pile of garbage behind the orphanage and the child, maybe two or three at the time, was trying to grab a chicken bone when a large crow began to fight him for it. The bird then attacked the boy and pecked out one of the boy’s eyes. The owners of the orphanage, fearful that this was an evil omen, decided to stop allowing the boy to come inside the orphanage and left him outside—by the time my professor was able to adopt the boy he was very sick and had nearly died (and luckily is now in good health and in a loving home). When we hear that, we do not say: Well, my set of morals doesn’t agree with that, but I only think that because of the society I live in, so who am I to judge? No, we say: “That IS wrong and has always been wrong.” Evolution or society do not give us a foundation for how things ought to be, they can only describe what is. But we intuitively respond with something more than just what is, we say “Things ought not be that way.” So, either all of our moral intuitions are wrong, or morality comes from somewhere else.
But this brings us back to the reality of a Law-Giver, the one who gives us the oughts of the cosmos. In other words, God.
Option 2: God doesn’t care
Thus we are brought to our second option of how to deal with guilt: God doesn’t care. Maybe we can admit that a God of some sorts has given us a universal standard of morality, but does God really care? Wouldn’t He be busy doing something far more important than keeping tabs on who you’re sleeping with or whether or not you told a lie? Plus, doesn’t God know that nobody is perfect? So, the thinking goes, if God doesn’t care about this, then maybe you shouldn’t either—so stop beating yourself up with all that guilt, there won’t be any judgment or punishment for you.
But of course, this line of reasoning only works if God doesn’t care about how we live…but what if He does? What if He cares a great deal? Wouldn’t the fact that a God who gives us a universal Law make us assume that He does, indeed, care? Wouldn’t the fact that we, ourselves, care very deeply about this not be a hint that the God who made us likewise cares? And if we, imperfect people though we are, care about this, how much more so would a perfect God care?
But all of this is still conjecture, of course. How are we to know what God is like? If there is a God who can give us a moral law, couldn’t this God also make Himself known to us? This is why traditional religion, religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam hold so seriously to their sacred texts like the Bible or Qur’an because in them the God makes Himself known—we are not simply supposing or guessing.
This is contrary to the more modern idea of how to find God. What is common today is to look inside ourselves to find God, to search through our feelings and to try and reach out and experience God on our own terms. This is popular in the affluent, liberal West today, and especially popular in America, encapsulated in memoirs like Eat, Pray, Love or lifestyle gurus like Oprah. But the funny thing is, of course, that when you talk with people who believe this, the God they describe to you sounds an awful lot like themselves—a God with the same values and preferences of affluent, liberal American people. And if that is what your God is like, how do you know that God isn’t just a figment of your own imagination, a Freudian projection intended to just help alleviate your guilt?
This is the benefit of having a God who reveals Himself outside of our internal feelings, through creation, and especially through written words. But as we read the texts of traditional religions we find something in common with them all: the God described in each one cares very seriously about how you live your life and teaches that your guilt is real, legitimate, and a precursor to a judgment. This isn’t because God is bad, but precisely because He is Good—or, to use the Bible’s word, Holy.
Option 3: I’ll make it right
Which brings us to our final option: I’ll make it right. If you have exhausted the first two options, you have been convinced that what you have done isn’t just some psychological hiccup, but there is an objective standard from God you have transgressed—what do you do? You work to make it right. You either try to go back and fix the problem, or you resolve to do enough good in your life to make up for the wrong.
In the classic novel by Robert Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the brilliant Dr. Jekyll realizes that he has a mixture of good and evil inside of him, and the evil desires are constantly hindering the good. So he creates a concoction that will give him the ability to separate his two natures, so that during the day he could be unalloyed good, while at night he would let his more base desires reign. To his surprise, however, the evil part of him—My. Hyde—is ten times more wicked than he anticipated. Hyde does horrifying, atrocious acts—killing, hurting, gratifying himself however he desires. When Dr. Jekyll finally realizes just how evil Mr. Hyde is—how evil he is—he vows never again to use the potion, and dedicates himself from then on to charity and good works to make up for what he has done.
This is the path the majority of people take—whether we are part of a formal religion or not. For religious people, this looks like becoming more devout in their religion and acts of goodwill towards others. For irreligious people, this looks like becoming more concerned about others and a general effort to be less selfless. This effort, whether religious or not, is the castle you fly to when you the arrows of guilt and condemnation over your failures begin to rain down —Yes, I know I did wrong…I know I’m guilty …but, I donate money, I pray, I go to church every Sunday, I help others, and I’m not like those people over there who are ruining their lives, ruining our society! And the more good we have done (and the lazier and more pathetic other people around us seem) the higher and thicker those castle walls become.
But the dilemma with this option, friends, is that it will lead into one of two places: pride or despair. You will either be hounded by despair and the question: have I done enough? Have I atoned for my guilt? How good must I be to balance the scales? Your castle walls turn out to be made of paper and do nothing to stop the shafts of condemnation from pinning you to the ground, and you sink into despair. Or, more tragically, you will become proud, complacent, and self-righteous: Look at how impressive my good works are, why aren’t other people as good as me?
In the novel, as Dr. Jekyll is sitting on a park bench reflecting on all the good he has done to balance out the crimes he committed as Mr. Hyde, he realizes just how superior he is to all the common people. We read: “But as I smiled, comparing myself with other men, comparing my active goodwill with the lazy cruelty of their neglect…at the very moment of that vain-glorious thought, a qualm came over me, a horrid nausea and the most dreadful shuddering…I looked down…I was once more Mr. Hyde.” Suddenly Dr. Jekyll involuntarily transforms into Mr. Hyde without the potion. He can no longer control the transformations. Overwhelmed by this, Dr. Jekyll eventually kills himself.
Why did this happen? Stevenson is offering an incisive critique for us: it is while Dr. Jekyll believes he is at the height of his morality, at the height of his pride, that he no longer needs a potion to transform into the most wicked version of himself. Or, to use the language of the Bible, “All our righteous deeds are as filthy rags,” Isa 64:6. Timothy Keller comments, “Like so many people, Jekyll knows he is a sinner, so he tries desperately to cover his sin with great piles of good works. Yet his efforts do not actually shrivel his pride and self-centeredness, they only aggravate it. They lead him to superiority, self-righteousness, pride and suddenly—look! Jekyll becomes Hyde, not in spite of his goodness, but because of his goodness.”
This is the dilemma of attempting to fix your guilt on your own. You are either are left in despair over your inability to fix the guilt in your life, or you become so enamored with your own goodness that you become vain, self-righteous, and cold. Despite doing good things, you fundamentally are still doing them out of selfishness, out of self-interest. And this is what sets Christianity apart from every other religious or irreligious option in dealing with our guilt.
The Surprising Alternative
When John the Baptist sees Jesus of Nazareth approach him while standing next to the river Jordan, he exclaims: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). This is an odd statement, of course. Jesus is a man, not a lamb. Further, “lambs…who take away sins” in the Jewish world did not have an enviable job. From the very beginning of the Bible we know that the consequences of sin is death (Gen 2:17), so for sins to be taken away there still must be a death (Heb 9:22). Thus, lambs who take away sins are lambs who are killed.
At the Passover, the Jewish celebration of the day that God delivered His people from Egypt, lambs were killed. The blood of the lamb was smeared on the doorframe of the homes of God’s people, the blood representing the extinguished life of the lamb (Lev 17:11). When the angel of death came, it would see the blood, and pass over the home—but if there was no blood, the angel would enter. Each Jewish home had to do this, or the life of their firstborn would be forfeit—the assumption being, that their lives were just as liable to judgment as the Egyptians were. Just because of their ethnicity or heritage as Israelites did not inherently make them exempt from judgment. Only the blood of the lamb turned away the judgment.
Thus, for John the Baptist to describe Jesus as: “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” is an alarming statement for Jesus—you’re going to die. It is even more shocking when we reflect on the fact that just a few verses earlier, at the beginning of John’s Gospel we are told who Jesus really is: He is God in the flesh, the second member of Trinity, God the Son (John 1:1-2, 14). If God were to come down in the flesh He would certainly be worthy of reverence, worship, praise, fear even—but to be a lamb to die for sins?
Later, Jesus teaches His followers that He did not come to be waited on and served like some royal dignitary, but to serve others and “to give his life as a ransom for many,” Matt 20:28—a ransom; a payment to free others. He taught them that He knew the authorities were plotting His death, but that He was actually choosing to lay down His life (John 10:18; Luke 24:7). John’s statements would not have alarmed Jesus; He knows the aim of His life will be to die. Even further, He deliberately chooses to provoke the authorities during the week-long celebration of Passover, and it is on the very day when the Passover lamb is killed that Jesus is betrayed and arrested (Mark 14:12). Jesus knows He is the lamb.
You see, there is more going on during the events of that fateful Friday than meets the eye. As Judas is betraying, the disciples abandoning, and the Pharisees scorning and condemning, God is working. As Pilate is crumbling to the clamoring crowds, as the Roman guards scourge Jesus’ back, force the thorns into his brow and pound the nails in, ransom is occuring. As the heavens darken, the earth quakes, and the Father turns His face away, a debt is being paid. A lamb who takes away sins is a lamb who is slain, slaughtered. As our crucified Messiah, our Lord, our God in the flesh, breathes His last and proclaims, “It is finished,” He reveals the spiritual reality that has been going on the whole time: our guilt has been taken away, and our sins atoned for—the work of salvation is finished. Jesus is the greater and final Passover lamb, the lamb who bears the sins of the people and dies in their place, takes their penalty. As Jesus perishes on the cross, He is absorbing into His body the sins, the guilt of His people and then taking the judgment and wrath those sins deserved from God the Father. The lamb dies instead of us.
Jesus is fulfilling what Isaiah foretold of when he wrote of the suffering servant: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities,” Isa 53:10-11. It was God’s plan all along to crush His Son, so that He would not crush us, but pay our debt, and make us righteous. The sinless Son bore our sins, so that sinful people could be made sons.
What does Christianity teach us about what we do with our guilt? (1) God is holy and righteous and He demands obedience to His holy Law—He really cares about how you live your life, (2) we all have really failed to live that way and our guilt is meant to warn our souls that something is terribly wrong and it must be made right before its too late, and gloriously (3) our holy and righteous God has sent His own perfect Son to be a substitute for us, to die in our place as a payment of our sins, so our guilt can be taken away and we can be made right with God, so that now when God looks at us He does not condemn us, but welcomes us in as His children.
Are you not a Christian here today? The offer of Jesus is available to you. You do not need to keep exhausting yourself on remedies that will never fix your guilty conscience, that will never cure your wound. You can keep running and working and trying to tell yourself that things are really okay—but you know, deep down, it will not be enough. It never will. But do not despair! Turn now to Jesus and trust in Him and His work on the cross to pay the debt that your sins have owed. If you want to know what it means to follow Jesus, please talk with the person who invited you here tonight.
Are you a Christian? Marvel at the transcendent, inexplicable grace of our God. We can understand the idea of earning our spot, paying God back; we can wrap our head around God creating a system where we atone for our sins through our acts of piety—but this? The God against whom we have sinned stepping down and dying so we, the guilty ones, can be forgiven? This transcends all bounds, this makes no sense, this leaves us only to fall at His feet with broken hearts and profound joy. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Rest---your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for. You don’t need to prove anything to God.
Obey—follow your Savior where He calls you.
Worship—what God is like our God? Sing to him, marvel at Him, adore Him.
Guilty, vile and helpless we
Spotless Lamb of God was He
Full atonement can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Jesus and Politics (Mark 12:13-17)
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/724254--jesus-and-politics
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- Do you like discussing politics? Would you describe yourself as "politically involved"? Why or why not?
- Why do you think our culture has become so obsessed with politics today?
- Why did Jesus label the Pharisees and Herodians "hypocrites" in vs. 15? What were they attempting to do in asking their question?
- Why didn't Jesus answer with a simple "yes" or "no"?
- Did Jesus support paying taxes to Rome?
- Should Christians obey the government, even if it does things we do not like? Read Romans 13:1-2. What does this verse tell us happens when we disobey governing authorities?
- So, if the government commands us to do something that God forbids, or forbids something that God commands, must we obey them? Read Acts 5:39.
- How are we to know when to obey and when to disobey the government?
- How should Christians respond to our current culture that wants to make politics supreme?
God and Politics: two of the most divisive and important topics. Of course, what we believe about God and what we believe about how society should be governed reveal a great deal about what we believe to be fundamentally true, good, and moral. But what is the relationship of the two? Should our views about God influence our politics? At times in the past the Church held more political power than any emperor on the planet—Pope Gregory VII once left emperor Henry IV standing outside his castle in the snow for three days before he was convinced that the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was genuinely penitent; at other times the church was an officially state-sponsored entity, such as the Lutheran church in Germany, the Reformed church in the Netherlands, or the Anglican church in England. But what about now?
While state churches still exist (the Queen of England is still technically the head of the Church of England), there is now what is commonly known as the “separation between church and state.” This is popularly understood to mean that religious perspectives should be kept separate from political the domain: religion is something to be kept in the privacy of our own homes and churches, but not to be brought into the public square. We might be surprised, however, to learn that it was not secular humanists who introduced the idea that gave rise to this, but Christians themselves—more specifically, Baptists. It was the work of American Baptists like John Leland who influenced James Madison in the writing of the Constitution to include what is now known as the “establishment clause,” which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Of course, you’ll notice that this actually says nothing in support of the common, popular idea of “the separation of church and state” where religion is hemmed in to only exist in the privacy of our hearts and homes. This simply states that the American government ought not create a state sponsored church and should never interfere in the free exercise of religion. However, many people today believe that Jesus Himself supported the idea of a “separation of church and state” as is popularly known by the very passage we will examine today: Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
What does this passage teach? How should Christians think about the role of government and how their faith should affect their responsibility to the government? The main aim of my sermon today is to show that human government is legitimate but limited. Let’s do this by looking at the question, the coin, and the conclusion.
13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” 15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar's.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they marveled at him. – Mark 12:13-17
A group of Pharisees and Herodians are sent by the temple authorities—whom Jesus had just criticized (Mark 12:1-12)—with the aim of trapping Jesus in His words (12:13). Pharisees and Herodians were strange bedfellows. They were two Jewish groups that differed greatly; the Pharisees were very conservative in their approach to the Scripture and practice, while the Herodians (following the example of Herod Agrippa) took a much more liberal approach. They also differed in their views on the nation of Rome who had invaded Israel and was domineering over the Jewish people, with the Pharisees strongly opposing the Romans, and the Herodians being much more favorable towards them. Yet the two groups are united together in their desire to destroy Jesus (cf. Mark 3:6).
“And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God.” (12:14a). The Pharisees and Herodians are attempting to butter Jesus up to get Him to answer their question about taxes. They don’t believe a word of what they are saying—if they did they would not be seeking to entrap Him! But, in a delicious moment of irony, everything that the Pharisees and Herodians are saying about Jesus is entirely true! And it is precisely because it is true, that Jesus is not “swayed by appearances”, that Jesus sees right through their ruse: “But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test?” (12:15a). They are guilty of “hypocrisy” because they are lying; they don’t believe what they are saying, but are just putting on a show with ulterior motives to destroy Jesus.
I wonder if you remember the story of Samuel going to anoint David to be the next King over Israel. God tells Samuel to go the house of Jesse and one of Jesse’s sons will be the next king over Israel. When Samuel sees Jesse’s first son, Eliab, he thinks, “Surely, this is the next King!”—he looked like a King—but God didn’t choose him. In fact, God didn’t choose any of the sons of Jesse that Samuel thought looked like a king, He chose the runt of the litter, the youngest son, David. God reminds Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart,” 1 Sam 16:7. When God looks at us, He looks into us and sees what lies there.
What a sobering word for us to reflect on. Friend, have you ever thought that because you could trick people with outward appearances you could get away with something? Perhaps at your job you may be able to give an appearance of a diligent employee, but really you are not. Perhaps you are able to manipulate your parents into thinking you have really obeyed, but you haven’t. Maybe you’ve given the impression that you are a faithful spouse, but you really aren’t. Friend, maybe you’ve even given the impression that you are a faithful Christian, but you really have no desire to follow God whatsoever. Friend, you may have everyone around you fooled, but Jesus isn’t fooled. He sees you. He sees your true motives. If you realize that your religion has just been an outward show that is devoid of all true faith, then friend, I invite you now: turn away from our sins, turn away from living a double-life, and actually trust in Jesus to forgive you and actually follow Jesus as your Lord. His death on the cross is a satisfying payment for all of your sins, even your sin of duplicity, look to Him and you will be saved. There is no more miserable and exhausting life than the life of someone pretending to be saved, but isn’t—you know enough about your sins and the holiness of God to make you sad, but you don’t know enough about your Savior to make you forgiven and happy. True joy, true satisfaction, true happiness is found in Jesus—not in charades of fake holiness.
The question that the Pharisees and Herodians are hoping to trip Jesus up in was a powder keg in Jesus’ day: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” (12:14b). The tax they are referring to here was a census tax that was enforced by Rome on Judea back in 6 AD, which led to a violent uprising by a man named “Judas the Galilean” whom we read about in the book of Acts, “… Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered,” Acts 5:37. Josephus records Judas the Galilean as criticizing his fellow country men as “cowards for consenting to pay tribute to the Romans and tolerating mortal masters, after having God for their lord.” As Acts records, Judas’ revolution is quickly crushed by Rome, but the paying of the tax continued to be an onerous reminder for Jews that they were still under the heel of Rome. The “zealots” were a minority extremist movement that followed Judas the Galilean’s example and believed violence was the only option—one of Jesus’ disciples is actually described as a zealot (Simon the Zealot, Mark 3:18).
The crowds and authorities realize that Jesus’ messianic ambitions are unmistakable now, and if a messiah is anything to the Jews of Jesus’ day, He is a political liberator from Roman oppression. The point of this question to Jesus is to force Jesus to reveal His hand: either He concedes that they must pay their taxes to Rome (and lose His popularity with the crowds) or He says that they do not need to pay their taxes (and thus sides with the extreme Zealots and would be quickly executed by the Romans). Whichever way Jesus answers, He loses.
Jesus responds by first criticizing the hypocrisy of the questioners, and then asks: “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one,” 12:15b-16a. A “denarius” was a coin that was worth one day’s wage for an average laborer, but it was a Roman coin. The Roman tax had to be paid with Roman coins, thus for Jesus to ask them for a coin—and them presenting one—is a clever act by Jesus that further reveals the questioners’ own hypocrisy; their position on the question is made clear: if they possess a denarius then they obviously have no problem with paying the Roman tax.
Jesus asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar's,” 12:16b. The denarius was imprinted with an image of Caesar on it with an inscription on it that stated that Caesar was the king, the divine son of God and high priest—something that would have been terribly blasphemous to devout Jews. What is ironic, of course, is that the one now holding this coin is the king of kings, the son of God, and thehigh priest. Jesus’ identity was one that was in direct contradiction with Caesar’s claims—this is why as soon as Pilate learns that Jesus is claiming to be the “Son of God” he becomes terrified and agrees to Jesus’ execution (John 19:7ff). In Rome there can only be one son of God, and that is Caesar.
So what does Jesus do? This could have been a golden moment for Him to confront the blasphemous claims of Caesar, to explain that He was the true Son of God, the King of Kings, the High Priest—not Caesar! But He doesn’t do that. What does He do?
Jesus responds: ““Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they marveled at him,” 12:17. The meaning of the statement is not immediately obvious. Is Jesus endorsing the view of the those who say we should pay our taxes? Or is He endorsing the view of the Zealots and saying our allegiance belongs to God, so we shouldn’t pay the tax? The crowds are left marveling at Jesus’ answer because His wisdom enables Him to deftly escape the trap laid for Him. I am reminded of Bilbo Baggin’s comment at his farewell birthday party to the large Hobbit community: “I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” The turns of phrase leave everyone thinking: Wait, what did he mean by that? What did Jesus mean by this now famous statement?
A note on nuance: Jesus was asked a “yes” or “no” question, but He does not respond with a “yes” or “no.” Why? Certainly there was an element of it to evade the trap laid for Him. But also because the answer was more complicated than just a “yes” or “no,” as we will see shortly—wisdom and nuance are needed. If Jesus simply said “yes, pay the tax,” some might have thought that He was supporting the Roman oppression. If He said “No, don’t pay the tax” some may have thought that Jesus was supporting violent revolt. And neither of those Jesus supported. In our day today there is almost zero-tolerance for nuance of any kind. Nuance is not the same thing as compromise. We must be careful of allowing the political storms of our day force us into extremes and the erasure of thoughtfulness.
Because the coin bears Caesar’s image it must belong to Caesar. One should pay to the emperor what is owed. The word for “likeness” to describe Caesar’s image is the same word used in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Thus, this illuminates the second half of Jesus’ saying: pay to God what is owed to Him. This coin has Caesar’s image on it, he owns it, so it should be paid to him, but you have God’s image imprinted on you, you are owned by Him, therefore render to God what you owe: your whole life. You may pay your taxes to Caesar, but everything in your life (including your act of obedience to the government) is to be done in obedience to God.
Some people have mistakenly assumed that this passage teaches Jesus creating a separation of church and state: there are the two spheres of secular government and sacred religion, and Jesus is showing that God is over one and Caesar is over the other. So, Christians should keep our religion within its limited domain and approach politics from a morally neutral standpoint. That is not what Jesus is teaching here.
Jesus is teaching that human government is legitimate and limited.
When Jesus teaches that we should pay to Caesar what is owed to him He is making it clear that He is not siding with the revolutionaries of His day (zealots). Government, even pagan government, is legitimate and should normally be obeyed. Paul picks up this teaching in the book of Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment…For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed,” Romans 13:1-2, 6-7 (see also 1 Tim 2:1-3; Titus 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13-17).
The Belgic Confession of 1561 states: “We believe that because of the depravity of the human race our good God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers…Moreover everyone, regardless of status, condition, or rank, must be subject to the government, and pay taxes, and hold its representatives in honor and respect, and obey them in all things that are not in conflict with God’s Word...”
It is helpful to remember that the governing authorities that Paul is speaking of here in Romans were not governing authorities that would have been favorable towards Christians, nor obviously worthy of respect by Christians. The Roman government was a brutal government that often put Christians to death and was typified by a kind of pagan worship and sexual perversion that would make our stomachs turn. In our submission to the governing authorities we are reminded that God Himself has placed those authorities over us: “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will,” Dan 4:32.
Jesus statement about Caesar, however, is qualified by His second statement: Give to God what belongs to God. What belongs to God? The kind of devotion Jesus will describe a few verses later: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind and with all your strength,” Mark 12:30. That kind of devotion and worship is dedicated to our Lord alone, and if the state ever demands that kind of loyalty, we are then duty bound to disobey them.
The Belgic Confession also states, “They should do this while completely refraining from every tendency toward exercising absolute authority, and while functioning in the sphere entrusted to them, with the means belonging to them.”
This is what Helmut James von Moltke, the German evangelical who lived in Nazi Germany and was actively working to prepare for a post-Hitler Germany. He did not, however, participate in the plot to assassinate Hitler because he believed that was an illegitimate option for a Christian to take. Nevertheless, he was eventually apprehended by the S.S. and put on trial. When he explained that rejected Nazism because of his Christian faith but believed he was still a faithful German citizen, the Nazi judge explained: “Graf Moltke, Christianity and we National Socialists (Nazis) have one thing in common and one thing only: we claim the whole man.” In other words, the judge saw that Moltke’s Christian faith and the Nazis were entirely antithetical to one another because both demanded total allegiance. When the State demands allegiance by commanding its citizens to participate in what God forbids then it has gone beyond its limited authority. So, when Roman emperors demanded that a pinch of incense be offered by all citizens to the shrine of Caesar as a tribute to his divine rule, Christians refused, and were slaughtered for it.
So, where does this leave us today?
We should remind ourselves that government is both legitimate and limited and ultimately is under our King, Jesus Christ. When you read the gospels it is amazing, in one sense, how little we hear about politics from Jesus, especially given the political climate of His day. Until Jesus is asked directly about this question, He says virtually nothing about Caesar. But Jesus spends a great deal of time talking about how we treat one another, how we worship, our lifestyles, our response to the weak and lowly, our character, etc. Jesus’ teaching focuses on the formation of your soul in light of His work and His kingdom. Couldn't you imagine someone approaching Jesus and scolding Him: Jesus, the political climate of our culture is so tense, is so fraught--you should use your platform as a popular teacher to motivate people politically! But Jesus seems almost uninterested in the political "hot button" issues of His day--they are, in the grand scheme of things, relatively unimportant.
And this should help relativize the importance of politics for us, friends. When we read the New Testament as a whole, we are repeatedly taught two things about government: (1) we should obey the governing authorities, and (2) we should expect to be persecuted by them. That’s it. No manifesto on political revolt. In a world that is constantly screaming about how nothing is more important than politics, Christians should be able to say: You know what, this isn't that important. What happens in our communities, in our families, and especially in our churches is far more important than what happens in DC.
On the other hand, when we read the gospels we realize that Jesus is making explicitly political statements all the time. Jesus teaches that He is the Messiah, the King of Israel, and permits others to describe Him this way (Mark 1:1; 1:14-15; 10:46-52; 11:1-10; 14:62; 15:2; 15:26; 15:39). And this King will brook no rivals, will not permit any tinpot dictator or silly president or governor share His dominion. He rules with a rod of iron and will judge the kings of the earth with perfect justice. And dear friends, that is our great political hope. Jesus has gone away, but will return and consummate His kingdom perfectly. We live here and now in light of that future reality.
And as we wait we are told that we are ambassadors of the kingdom, and His churches are embassies of the kingdom, snippets of the New Creation existing in this world that is fading away, the future pulled back into the present. So, we strive to live in such a way that reflects that future, heavenly Kingdom.
Which means we:
1. Obey the governing authorities, even if we do not like or agree with what they are doing. I cannot imagine a single Jew in Jesus’ day who liked paying a tax to Rome. But because we have a King who is ruling and reigning and we trust that He has set up the government over us that we have, then in our submission to the government we demonstrate our submission to our true King: Jesus.
2. We do not budge on our convictions, even when the State tells us to. When the government commands us to do something God forbids or forbids something God commands we are then required to disobey the governing authorities over us out of allegiance to King Jesus, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:39
3. We care less about politics than the world does. We take our cue from Jesus and shift our primary focus onto the ethics of the Kingdom, preaching the gospel, care for the weak, and awaiting the coming of our Savior. Politics matter far less than the world say they do.
4. We care more about politics than the world does—but for different reasons. We care about politics today because of our overcoming Savior and our certain knowledge that this world is not our home. We care about politics because we care about people, we care about their souls, and we want to see society flourish in such a way that makes the ministry of the gospel succeed. We do not care about politics in the same way the world does, who believe this world is our only shot at heaven and so tries to create an earthly utopia through political action. We know that is a fantasy. Heaven is our home—but while we are here, we want to model the glories and goodness of heaven in our own lives and strive to extend those benefits to as many as we can. Sometimes, that means that we should engage in political processes.
Jesus and the Vineyard (Mark 12:1-12)
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/720790--jesus-and-the-vineyard
Sermon Discussion Questions
- What was one thing that stood out to you most?
- What was the purpose of this parable? Why did Jesus tell it?
- Does God want you to be happy? What does God want for you? See Psalm 81
- Is God nice?
- Where does our desire for justice come from?
- How should we confront popular misconceptions about God? Are there any other popular misconceptions you can think of?
God wants me to be happy; God is nice
“We think little about the world. We think about the things that it imposes upon us. We must think about the workplace, about appointments we have made, people we will meet, and jobs that must get done. We must think about car maintenance and train schedules, neighbors and parents, life insurance and taxes, groceries and vacations, dangers and death…In a thousand ways, every day, we think about the world of which we are a part, the world we experience.
We do not, however, often think about the world at a deeper level. We no more wonder about it than we do about the sun or moon. We take it as a given, like the fact that Tuesday has followed Monday, May has always followed April, summer has always followed winter.
The world does not strike us as a particularly dangerous place here in the West. There are pockets of lawlessness, we know, streets that should not be walked at night…Yet the West in general and America in particular is to us a place of plenty, of opportunity, and of choices, not a place where we feel greatly endangered. We certainly do not think of it as a place where we can lose our souls. If such thoughts do cross our minds, we would be inclined to suppose that souls are lost by doing large and inhumane acts of evil, not by living in the realm of shallow and empty triviality where so much of our life is moored. We live not out in the depths of what is truly wrong, but on the surfaces where nothing is right or wrong and nothing really matters. Others, however, have not been quote so sanguine about this state of affairs.
Karl Marx had his own utopian agenda, of course, but he was remarkably prescient in seeing what was coming in our Western world where everything solid has melted into air. So, too, was Mahatma Ghandi. He feared the West as well. He thought that the Western acids that dissolve all beliefs and morality would be brought to India by the use of technology…What these outside eyes saw, however, is lost on us. They feared the West; we do not. We have no fear of it at all. It is, after all, the hand that feeds us with more affluence, more opportunities, more choices, more miracle drugs, more pleasurable distraction than any civilization has ever known. We are now so much a part of its workings, we are now so addicted to its largesse, that life is inconceivable without these blessings of our modernized world. But what does all of this do to us? That is what we do not think about. That is what we simply think is, as much a part of life as Chevrolets, Time magazine, movies, and pizza are and as unavoidable as the rising sun tomorrow.”
So writes David Wells at the beginning of his excellent book Above All Earthly Powers. Now, Wells was writing in 2005. We live in a different world today in many ways; technology has advanced at an alarming rate; social issues have shifted and political climates have soured so that our sense of security is less certain. Perhaps we do not feel the same sense of triviality and sleepiness Wells describes.
And yet, Wells’ perception about our unexamined acceptance of values and assumptions in America ought not be disregarded. We live in a time where the highest good is to be true to oneself, and the supreme evil is to be unauthentic, whereas past civilizations believed the “good” life to be the life lived in devotion to God and His design, and the great evil to be abandoning that design. One would think with this inward self-deification atheism would be on the rise. But that isn’t true. A 2019 Gallup poll shows that 87% of Americans today proclaim to believe in God. Amidst our therapeutic materialism and addiction to distraction, entertainment, and pleasure, Americans still are fundamentally a religious people. But what does living in this kind of culture do to us? I think that our culture gives us two popular misconceptions about God: God wants me to be happy; God is nice.
In our text today we find these popular misconceptions confronted and contradicted by Jesus’ telling of the parable of the vineyard. Our story today occurs in the climactic final week of Jesus’ earthly life. The day before this event Jesus cursed and cleansed the temple (Mark 11:15-19). The next day Jesus enters the temple again and is confronted by the temple authorities who demand Jesus to explain on whose authority He has done all these things. But Jesus answers their question with another question and when they refuse to give Jesus an answer He refuses to give them one. But Jesus doesn’t remain silent for long, and so we find ourselves at our text:
And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. 2 When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
11 this was the Lord's doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away. – Mark 12:1-12
Jesus employs that famous song of the vineyard from Isaiah 5, written nearly six hundred years before Jesus was on the earth. Isaiah’s song of the vineyard describes Yahweh as diligent owner of a vineyard who plants a choice vine, works to build a watchtower and a winepress and clear it of all stones, but when the harvest time comes rather than getting an excellent crop he finds wild, inedible grapes (Isa 5:1-2). Yahweh then asks the reader what must be done to the vineyard (Isa 5:3-4), before answering that its end is judgment (5:5-6). Yahweh concludes with explaining that the vineyard represents the people of Israel (5:7). God had chosen Israel and had worked to set them up for success: He redeemed them from Egypt, worked miracles, gave them a Law, made a covenant with them, and gave them their own land. But rather than producing the good fruit of righteousness and justice, Israel produced wickedness, idolatry, and injustice. The rest of chapter 5 details the numerous sins of Israel for which God is bringing the judgment upon them: greed, drunkenness, arrogance, and total reversal of God’s standards (5:8-30). God decrees this judgment:
“Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people…– Isaiah 5:24-25
The parallels between this story and Jesus’ parable are evident. However, there are a few notable differences. First, we have the introduction of the character of the “tenant.” Tenant farming was similar to what we know as share-cropping. A farmer would have a large plot of land and would lease portions of it out to tenants who would work the land and harvest the crop for the farmer in exchange for their own plot and a share of the harvest. In Jesus’ parable the tenants, however, are wicked. They refuse to give to the absent farmer his rightful share of the crop and are willing to murder anyone who tries to tell them otherwise. This behavior seems shocking to us today, but particularly in a shame-honor culture of the ancient near east, this kind of behavior would have been appalling. Thus, the judgment in Jesus’ parable doesn’t fall on the vineyard as a whole, but on these tenants.
Which brings us to the second innovation in Jesus’ parable: the servants. The servants are sent to remind the tenants of their obligation to the Master, but are met with mocking, harassment, and violence. “Servants” is the most popular title used to describe the prophets of the Old Testament (eg. Amos 3:7; Rev 10:7), which is who these servants are intended to represent. The prophets have a history of being routinely abused, ignored, and martyred by wicked rulers in Israel’s history. The prophets were intended to remind Israel of their obligation to their Lord, their covenant they made with God, when they had begun to wander off into sin and idolatry. However, their efforts, like the efforts of the servants in the parable, do not produce the fruit of repentance.
Which brings us to the final innovation: the beloved son. After every servant is either assaulted or killed in their mission, the Master finally sends His son, His beloved son, thinking: “They will respect my son.” But what do the wicked tenants do? They conspire together, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours,” (Mark 12:7). Perhaps the tenants had gone so long without seeing the Master that they had simply assumed that he had died and the son was now approaching to receive the land as his inheritance. Whatever their thoughts, they were “in for a penny, in for a pound” and decided to push their murderous plot to its final conclusion, “And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard,” (12:8). And Jesus, like Yahweh in Isaiah 5, asks His listeners, “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others,” (12:9). Jesus then concludes, “ Have you not read this Scripture: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” – Mark 12:10-11
Let’s turn now and consider how this parable confronts three popular misconceptions about God and utterly contradicts them.
God Wants Me to Be Happy
H.L. Mencken (inaccurately) described Puritanism as the “haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” There are countless stories of people who have shed the cocoon of their childhood faith because they have found something that they have always been taught was wrong, profane, and sinful, and have discovered that it has also brought them a great deal of happiness. This leads a small few to reject the existence of God, but for the majority of persons it leads them to simply change their idea of God. If this makes me so happy, why would God not want me to have it? It is taken as an axiomatic truth that God wants me to be happy. But here in our parable we find that God seems to require something else of His tenants that goes beyond their happiness.
In Isaiah 5 we discover that the “fruit” of the vineyard symbolized faithfulness and obedience to God’s commands. But instead of this, Yahweh finds them completely reversing His commands, calling “evil good and good evil” (5:20). The people of Israel are described as greedy perverters of justice, accepting bribes, building luxury mansions, and sinking into drunken stupor day after day, all the while laughing at the idea of God’s judgment. Why are the people of Israel devoting themselves to this lifestyle? Because they believe it will make them happy! “All men seek happiness,” writes the 17th century mathematician Blaise Pascal, “This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end…The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” But if the only thing God wanted was for these men to be happy, He would simply leave them alone. But God doesn’t leave them alone—He requires something from them more than happiness; He expects holiness; He expects obedience. Jesus, in teaching this parable, is showing us that God is not looking to put a rubber seal of approval on whatever we want. So our first question shouldn’t be: does this feel good or does this make me happy. But should be: is this what God wants? Does this align with His Law?
Does this mean, though, that God doesn’t care about our happiness? That kind of sterile, austere religion is what leads so many to an inaccurate picture of God: if THAT is the kind of God I have to believe in, then I don’t want to believe in that kind of God. Of course, what you want doesn’t determine what God is like, but more importantly God is not like Puritans that Mencken describes. In fact, as we read our Bibles we discover that God is devoted to our joy, our satisfaction, our happiness. Psalm 81 briefly describes what God has done to rescue His people and the purpose of His Law: “There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it,” (81:9-10). The purpose of God’s Law: to fill our mouths with what is good, to satisfy us. So, He tells us, don’t worship other gods! Don’t give yourselves up to idolatry—why? Because God is trying to hide joy and happiness and pleasure from you? No—the exact opposite! God has all the joy,He wants to bless us with it. But what do His people do?
11 “But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
13 Oh, that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
14 I would soon subdue their enemies
and turn my hand against their foes.
15 Those who hate the LORD would cringe toward him,
and their fate would last forever.
16 But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” – Ps 8:11-16
Have you heard the idea that if something feels so right, how could it be wrong? Friends, things can feel right and be very wrong all the time. Nobody gets into an affair because it feels wrong but they just feel obligated to do so. People have affairs because it feels right, but it is very, very wrong. There are fewer things that will more quickly destroy your life, your family's life, and other people's lives than an affair. And this is why God has forbidden it! God is not opposed to your joy; He is opposed to what kills joy. “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing,” Lewis, MC.
God is Nice
The second popular misconception about God is that He is really nice. God isn’t angry or judgmental or harsh. He is a kind of life coach who wants to spur us on like a cheerleader. Life is full of hard things that pull you down, full of discouragements, full of people telling you that you are not enough, that there is some standard you must live up to you, and God’s job is whisper to you that you are enough, you are perfect just the way you are. God certainly won’t judge you.
But Jesus’ parable tells us something very different. God is not only willing to confront us, correct us, point out our sins, but He is also ready to judge us. What happens to the tenants in the parable? They are destroyed. If you’re not a Christian here today I wonder if this idea seems offensive to you. But, if we were in a town where a man had committed serious evil, evil of the sort caliber that causes us to shudder, and let’s say that he had committed one of these heinous acts that led to the death of one of your friends or one of your relatives. Now, what would you do if after the man was apprehended the county sheriff, out of some misplaced desire to not be too judgmental, refused to punish the man but decided instead to simply let him go after having a stern talking with him. You would be outraged at that—and rightly so. We intuitively recognize that when evil is committed there must be justice. Evil must be corrected. Friends, if we can all agree on that, then what is it about God’s judgment that we find so offensive?
Likely, it is the fact that God may judge us and we haven’t done anything worthy of judgment! Or so we think. We all assume that we are basically good people. Likely, this is what Jesus’ original audience thought as well. Remember, the original audience were the religious leaders of the day. As they are listening to Jesus’ parable, they likely are identifying with the righteous servants in the parable, not the wicked tenants (cf. Matt 23:29-36). Why? Because they think they are good, upstanding, respectable people—religious people! The thought that God would judge them was unthinkable! And it probably is unthinkable just as to you as well. I wonder, as we were reading the parable, who did you identify with? Did you also assume that you were one of the “good guys”?
Justice requires a standard. For us to say that something is “wrong” requires a definition of “right.” What happens if we don’t have a standard? Justice is rendered totally useless and meaningless. You must have a standard for justice—but, where does that standard come from? Christianity teaches that the standard for justice is given to us by God, so it is above and over all cultures, all times, and people. And His standard is perfect obedience to His holy Law.
This is why God’s judgment seems so offensive to us—as we take seriously the Law that God has laid out for us we realize that we have rejected it, ignored it, even mocked it. And for that, the Bible tells us, God’s judgment is coming. But dear friend, don’t you see that without the judgment of God the gospel, the good news of Jesus makes no sense? In the parable we are told that the beloved son is killed by the hands of the wicked tenants. While this has an immediate application to the contemporary listeners—they are quite literally the individuals who will have Jesus be crucified—in another sense, we all are represented by the wicked tenants, we all bear responsibility for Jesus’ death. What do I mean by that?
The Bible teaches us that Jesus’ death was not an accident, it was not incidental, it was not the cutting short of God’s plan—rather it was the very reason for which Jesus came. Jesus taught that He came “to give his life as a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45. In other words, His death was a substitution. Here is what the prophet Isaiah teaches us:
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. – Isa 53:5-6
The gospel tells us that in Jesus’ death, the sins of all who trust and follow Jesus have fallen on Him. In the death of Jesus the righteous judgment of God falls on the beloved Son, rather than falling on wicked people like myself. So it was my sins that led Jesus to His death, it was my sins that brought on the judgment of God to fall on Jesus.
So, now, if you are in Christ, your judgment day has already passed. If you are not a Christian, you can flee from the judgment of God by running to God for forgiveness in Jesus. You do not have to go to Hell! You don’t have to die in your sins and face the judgment day. You can die in Jesus and the forgiveness that He offers. Friend, God is not nice; God is just, God is gracious. He is angry with your sin, but He is willing and ready to forgive.
If you are in Jesus, then now it is your responsibility to follow Him. Don’t walk any longer according to the sinful desires of your heart, stop believing the lie that something outside of God will make you happy. Follow His path and His design for your life.
If you remember rightly, Jesus taught us in Mark 4 that parables help illuminate truth to disciples of Jesus, but confuse and confound those who are resistant to Jesus. Jesus goes so far as to describe His parables as a form of judgment on His opponents because they further hinder their understanding (Mark 4:11-12). It is thus ironic that the first parable that the temple authorities understand is a parable describing their judgment.
Jesus and Arguing (Mark 11:27-12:37)
Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/717466--jesus-and-arguing
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What was most helpful from the sermon?
- What kind of "arguing" was Marc suggesting we become better at? (See Jude 3 or 1 Pet 3:15)
- Should Christians argue with others or avoid arguing? Read 2 Tim 2:24-26.
- What are the two equal and opposite errors Christians can fall into about arguing for the faith? Do you lean more one way towards an error?
- Skim Mark 11:27-12:37. Go around discuss how Jesus responds to his opponents in each section. How should we argue with others?
- Marc spoke of the "symmetry of Christian character." What did he mean by that?
- Of the final five recommendations (Be silent; Be bold; Be gentle; Be Biblical; Be wise), which do you need to grow in?
Do you like to argue? I want to do something a little unusual today. I want to provide an overview of a wide section of Jesus’ teaching in Mark, a section that centers on Jesus arguing with the chief priests, scribes, elders, Sadducees, and Pharisees. In the following weeks we will look at these interactions separately, but today I want to do a fly over of them all and think about what we learn from how Jesus argues with His opponents. My hope in this sermon is that you will walk away with a deeper appreciation of the wisdom of God displayed in Jesus, and be given practical help for you to be more capable of arguing like Jesus.
By “argue” I am not referring to the kind of typical disagreements you get in with your spouse or roommates. I am talking about how to, as Jude tells us, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” (Jude 3).
And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” 31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”…And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 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.”’ 37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly. – Mark 11:27-33; 12:35-37
Let me present a dilemma for you. Proverbs 26:4 states, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.” Proverbs 26:5, however, states, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” What are we to do with two verses that seemingly contradict each other, especially given the fact they are right next to each other? Only the most arrogant and asinine of readers would have to assume that the ancient compilers of the book of Proverbs were too stupid to notice the apparent contradiction between the two verses. No, the editor of the book of Proverbs obviously wanted these two proverbs to be placed right next to each other so that the reader would employ wisdom to find the harmony between the two.
One way to understand this is to say that the first proverb is warning us of answering a fool according to his folly, as in: do not answer a fool in the same manner of foolishness he is embodying, don’t “stoop down to his level” as we commonly refer to it, “lest you become like him yourself.” While the other proverb is emphasizing answer a fool in response to his folly, “lest he be wise in his own eyes.” In other words, don’t let fools walk around thinking they are really wise and smart because no one has ever proven them otherwise.
Another interpretation, however, of the dilemma is to understand that the two proverbs are telling us that there are times when answering a fool is unwise and other times when it is wise. It is up to you to discern when those moments are needed, when giving an answer to a question is “casting your pearls before swine” and when giving an answer is necessary. Charles Bridges, the 19th century Anglican theologian, writes, “But what may be at one time our duty to restrain, at another time and under different circumstances it may be no less our duty to do. Silence may sometimes be mistaken for defeat. Unanswered words may be deemed unanswerable. An answer may, therefore, be called for, not in folly, but to folly - "not in his foolish manner, but in the manner that his foolishness required.” In other words, there is a time to be silent and a time to speak. The Bible doesn’t present simplistic answers to complex questions. We are not told that every question must be answered, every accusation responded, or every debate be settled. We are also not told that the golden rule is to avoid all argument, avoid all confrontation. We need discernment for when to respond.
Not only that, we need discernment in how to respond. Consider the book of Titus, where we are told that one of the responsibilities of an elder is to teach “sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it,” (Tit 1:9). Paul then goes on to describe a particular group of false teachers in Titus’ church who “must be silenced” (1:11) and therefore Titus should “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (1:13; cf. 2:15). But then Paul also encourages Titus to teach the church to, “be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people,” (3:2). How on earth can you “silence” opponents and yet avoid quarreling? How do you “rebuke them sharply” yet “be gentle and…show perfect courtesy toward all”? It would seem that Paul assumes that different situations require different responses and what we need is the wisdom to discern what those situations are. And that is not always simple. One can understand James’ statement, “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man,” James 3:2.
Charles Bridges points us towards where this wisdom may be found: “Oh, for wisdom to govern the tongue, to discover the right time to speak and the right time to stay silent. How instructive is the pattern of our great Master! His silence and his answers were equally worthy of himself. The former always conveyed a dignified rebuke. The latter responded to the confusion of his contentious enemies. Will not a prayerful meditative study communicate to us a large measure of his divine wisdom?”
Our text that we are examining today gives us an opportunity of “prayerful meditative study” on the wisdom of our great Master.
My main aim in this sermon is for us to look at how Jesus debates with His opponents, and think critically about how this should inform us in our own efforts to “give an answer for the hope that we have” (1 Pet 3:15).
The Great Debate
Mark has put together his gospel thematically, centering blocks of his narrative around different themes and here we see Mark compile together a series of encounters of Jesus debating with religious leaders of His day. In each encounter Jesus employs different method of response, but in each one He stumps His opponents, leaving them unable to respond.
In the first encounter, Jesus responds to the question as to where His authority comes from by responding with a question about where John the Baptist’ authority came from. Jesus was not formally trained as a rabbi and therefore in their eyes He lacks the authority to teach and do what He has been doing; and yet, John the Baptist lacked formal training as well. So Jesus forces the chief priests, scribes, and elders to admit that John’s authority was illegitimate if they want to delegitimate Jesus’, which is something they are unwilling to do because “they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet,” Mark 11:32. So they refuse to answer Jesus’ question and thus Jesus refuses to answer theirs.
The next story is Jesus’ real response to the elders, chief priests, and scribes. He tells a parable of a vineyard and wicked tenants (patterned off of Isaiah 5). The master of the vineyard keeps sending servants to gather fruit from the tenants, only to have them abused, turned away, and even killed. Eventually the master sends his own beloved son to the vineyard, only to have the tenants kill him in hopes of stealing his inheritance. The parable ends with Jesus asking, “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others,” Mark 12:9. The chief priests, able for the first time to understand a parable of Jesus, understand that Jesus aimed this teaching against them (12:12).
The next story is the odd pairing of Pharisees and Herodians—normally enemies of each other—seeking to “trap” Jesus in his talk by asking him about paying taxes to Caesar. They hope to put Jesus “on the horns of the dilemma” by giving him a question that traps Jesus with whatever answer He gives (something Jesus just did to them back in 11:27-33). However, Jesus deftly evades the dilemma by giving an answer that leaves all of the listeners marveling at Jesus’ wisdom, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they marveled at him,’ 12:17.
The next story has a group of Sadducees (a religious group who didn’t believe in an afterlife or resurrection, cf. Acts 23:8) try to trap Jesus by telling a fanciful story of an unlucky widower whose husbands keep dying on her. After her seventh husband dies, and she also dies, whose wife will she be, they ask? The Sadducees, of course, don’t believe there is a resurrection; they are bringing up the story because they think it’s a clever “gotcha” that shows that the resurrection is untenable. Jesus, however, responds sharply: “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God”(12:24). Jesus then responds from the Bible before closing with, “You are quite wrong,” (12:27).
Finally, a scribe approaches Jesus and sees Jesus disputing with the Sadducees, “and seeing that he answered them well,” asks Jesus what commandment is the most important of all (12:28). Jesus cites Deut 6:4-5 and then Leviticus 19:18 and the scribe responds positively, affirming that Jesus is correct and that obedience matters more than all sacrifices (12:32-33). When Jesus sees the wisdom in this scribe, He responds, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.” (12:34).
It’s interesting to mark the trajectory of the debates in this chapter—it begins with Jesus refusing to answer a question, to a parable being understood for the first time (albeit, a negative parable), to two accounts of Jesus responding to questions, to this final account where Jesus responds clearly without any barbs, which evokes a wise response. Why does “no one dare” to ask Jesus anymore questions after this encounter? It is almost as if Mark is showing us that the longer one spends in dialogue with Jesus, the more wise one becomes, the more Jesus begins to make sense, and the closer one gets to the kingdom. The Pharisees realize this and so they stop sending in the troops to batter Jesus down: He is nearly converting them! (cf. John 7:32; 45-46).
If you’re not a Christian, one of the best possible things that you could do is spend time with Jesus through reading about Him, talking with other Christians about Him. The Bible describes the message of the gospel as something that appears foolish, but is actually a display of the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:22-24). As you spend more and more time around Jesus, you may find that slowly and imperceptibly that what once seemed childish or uninteresting begin to radiate with light. If you are wanting to share the gospel with a non-Christian, one of the best things you can do is to invite them to read a gospel with you or at the very least for you to talk about Jesus with them. I am a huge fan of apologetic arguments, philosophy, and things of that nature to be used in discussions with people; but nothing is a substitute for hearing from the Word of God, Jesus Christ, Himself.
But Jesus doesn’t stop; He then goes on the offensive. It is now Jesus’ turn to ask a question: ““How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 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?” And the great throng heard him gladly,” 12:35-37. Jesus presents a Biblical question about the identity of the Messiah as the son of David. Apparently, the common perception of the day was that the Messiah would be lesser in greatness to David, yet Jesus cites Psalm 110, a messianic psalm that describes the Messiah as David’s “Lord.” Matthew’s account tells us that after this, “And no one was able to answer him a word,” Matt 22:46. Jesus punctures the pretensions of the priests and Pharisees, exposing that they are not as all-knowing as they appear to be.
What does this show us?
Jesus the Wise.
Jesus is like a new Solomon here, dispensing wisdom, settling disputes, and silencing fools. As we read Solomon’s book of Proverbs we find Jesus in its pages: Jesus knows when to answer and when not to answer a fool according to his folly (Prov 26:4-5); Jesus knows that “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver,” (Prov 25:11). And He also knows that, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back,” Prov 29:11.
This shouldn’t surprise, of course, because this is simply what the Old Testament has taught us the Messiah would be like: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD,” Isaiah 11:1-2. Jesus is the embodiment of the wisdom of God, filled with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding. Here in these encounters and throughout the rest of the gospel we see Jesus cut to the heart of issues, refuse to engage in pointless debates, use silence, speak sharply, and speak gently. Jesus was a master of words because He was a master of wisdom. He knew when to speak, how to speak, and what to speak.
We should argue like Jesus.
A case for Christian arguments: There are two equal and opposite truths about arguments that the devils are happy with Christians believing. One is to assume that any form of argument is bad and should be avoided; the other is to assume that the only kind of “bad” argument out there is the one you lose. The first one points to passages like Romans 2:4, “…God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” The second points to passages like 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” One sounds like Mr. Rogers and the other sounds General Patton. And whichever one fits your temperament, you will likely gravitate towards it, and Satan will be happy with whichever you choose, a milquetoast waffler on questions of truth or a brazen Viking looking to slay another victim. What we need, in the place of these two imposters, are Christians who follow their Master, Jesus, in preserving truth and willing to fight for it, but not doing so at the expense of kindness, gentleness, or love.
The problem is that many Christians view their virtue as a grab bag of disparate elements when they should be seeing them as an organic whole. The 19th century American pastor and professor, William S. Plumer writes, “There is a [harmony] between all the graces of the Christian. His faith agrees with humility, and so is not presumptuous. His zeal is kind, gentle and benevolent, so it degenerates not into bigotry and rage. His penitence has hope in it and so it is free from despair. His fear has joy in it and so it does not bring distress. His joy has fear in it and so it does not pass into levity…There is symmetry...in the Christian character. It is not a jumble, it is not a contradiction, it is one." So, we should not tell ourselves that, Yes, I may be rather brazen and unkind, but I am zealous! and think that somehow the Lord is pleased with that. The graces of a Christian are symmetrical, harmonized and infused together as one.
We need Christians who give evidence of the symmetry of Christian character in their interactions with those they disagree with. We need this desperately because it is becoming increasingly more and more hostile to hold to basic Christian truths. While it has always been difficult for Christians to hold to their faith in a fallen world, there has been a recent innovation that has made our current moment particularly problematic and thus requires Christians to be particularly equipped in knowing how to defend their faith well. This problem is what C.S. Lewis called “Bulverism,” otherwise known as “the genetic fallacy.” Bulverism is the view that all truth claims are basically a by-product of our personal history, experience, and social location. In common day uses it sounds like, “You are only saying that because you are a man!...You only believe that because you are a Democrat!” and so on it goes. It is, according to Lewis, what lays at the foundation of all modern thought. It is the pernicious belief that there is ultimately no such thing as ultimate, objective reality, merely subjective experiences that differ from tribe to tribe, culture to culture. It is also a convenient way to avoid having to actually argue with anyone—if you can simply prove that the only reason they believe something is because of their gender or race, then you don’t need to bother with actually responding to the argument. Evidence, logic, rationality don’t matter—every claim is merely autobiographical.
In those world, in this kind of storm of subjectivism, more than ever we need Christians who can speak clearly, winsomely, boldly, and persuasively. Even if the world is awash in darkness, light still always shines. So, Christians, reflecting on Jesus, we should:
Be silent—don’t cast pearls before swine. When Jesus knew that His listeners were not actually interested in what He had to say, He remained quiet (cf. Luke 22:67-68). If it is obvious that someone isn’t interested in listening to the truth, shake the dust off your feet, and move on. Not every question must be answered.
Be bold—Jesus exemplified courage and a willingness to disagree. Are you able to tell someone, “I actually disagree with you”? Christians must be able to be willing to speak the truth, even if it appears that we are in the minority. Also, Jesus is particularly “sharp” towards those who appear to be inflated in their own ego. Jesus takes the Sadducees down a few pegs because of their cocky swagger. When Jesus meets religious arrogance in particular He does not hesitate to be pointed. Further, Jesus didn’t just react, but asked questions. He was not always passive, but went on the offense and sought to expose faulty foundations.
Be gentle—when the scribe asks Jesus a sincere question, Jesus doesn’t accuse him of “putting him to the test” or say, “You know neither the Scripture nor the power of God.” He answers plainly and clearly, then commends the scribe on his perceptive answer. Even when you are disagreeing with someone, are you able to commend them where they are right? Even though Jesus was willing to be pointed at times, that was not his modus operandi. If you were to look at the aggregate total of all of Jesus’ interactions in the gospels, they would be overwhelmingly marked by gentleness and respect with a few punctuations of zealous confrontation. Our lives should reflect that pattern.
Be Biblical—except for the first instance where Jesus refuses to answer the scribes, Jesus cites or alludes to the Bible every time. The Bible settles the matter. Man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Do not feel ashamed to appeal to God’s Word as your final and ultimate authority for what you believe. God’s Word brings life and is profitable for teaching, correction, reproof, and rebuke (2 Tim 3:16).
Be wise—in every instance, except for one, Jesus asks questions of his listeners. We should wisely employ the use of questions to draw our interlocuters into better discussion; we should ask people to define their terms, and should, like Jesus, occasionally use questions to make others defend their own worldview. Further, Jesus wisdom in debates was evident when He sensed that He was being painted into a corner. When a trap was laid for Jesus, He avoided it. We likewise should be cautious about forced into a false dichotomy or avoid particular circumstances if it appears that those we are discussing with may not have the best of intentions.