Series Theme: Short meditations through Marks Gospel
This Page: CHAPTER 12
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Notes: These meditations are particularly short for easy digestion. To go to a chapter use the table above. To go to a verse use the contents on the left of each page which has been simplified by showing only every third meditation. Please go to nearest number and scroll up or down.
243. Controversial Vineyard
Mk 12:1 He then began to speak to them in parables: "A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey.
There is an art in being ale to bring unpalatable truth to people without upsetting them and in a way that the truth gradually filters through to them. Jesus was the master of that. Bearing in mind that thuis is the week before his death, a week in which he wishes a) to convey the truth and b) in such a way that it gradually builds up hostility in the authorities, we have here a classic example of this.
As he so often did he told a parable, a story with a specific point to it, a story related to everyday life but which had a meaning that conveyed spiritual realities. Now if you had been around Jesus any length of time and heard him telling parables you would have learnt that he was telling a story with a point to it, so as he started telling this simple story. his listeners might well have been thinking, what is he trying to say through this story, i.e. it is likely they would not be passively listening to it, but listening to discern the meaning.
As we noted above, it is a story that relates to everyday life. No doubt the people would have known of just such situations where landowners established a vineyard and then let it out to tenants. That was quite common in Judea at that time, so there is nothing strange about the story. In fact, so far at least, there is nothing about the story that would upset anyone. It is just a story about a landowner and his tenants.
Now when we move on in the story we will see some other aspects of it, but for the moment we simply note that Jesus is building a story which is perfectly acceptable so far and which would no doubt generate interest. Is he going to make a point about bad land owners or bad tenants perhaps? We all understand the story, but where is he going.
Now let's reiterate the point we made earlier: Jesus is gradually provoking the religious authorities – but his very presence in the Temple precincts, but turning out the market there, possibly by healing people there and no doubt by his teaching there. It is a gradual process that will come to climax later in the week.
But no doubt, some of those listening were teachers of the law, those who knew the contents of the Old Testament scrolls well. Could it be that as soon as Jesus starts telling this parable they remember that Isaiah had used the same analogy: “ My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.” (Isa 5:1-3) and it was very clear that Isaiah meant the vineyard to represent Israel . Ah! So what is Jesus saying?
244. Expected Harvest
Mk 12:2,3 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed.
The trouble in reading the Bible, for some of us who have been at it a long time, is that we grow so used to what we read that we fail to take in the significance of what we are reading. Remember, Jesus tells parables to make a point so he chooses the subject of the parable so that it is something his listeners will understand and also that it will convey truths to us, the listeners.
So, as we've already noted, this parable is about a man who creates a vineyard and then lets it out to tenants. We also briefly noted that some of his listeners might have remembered that Isaiah told a similar story and the point was that the vineyard was supposed to portray Israel . But note this: the thing used to portray Israel is a vineyard and a vineyard is supposed to grow grapes and those grapes are supposed to be there ready for harvesting after a certain period and at a certain time of the year. This is the crucial issue about the vineyard: it is supposed to produce grapes. If it doesn't, it's not a vineyard!!!!
Now here's the next big issue that comes through in these verses: the grapes become the rental for the vineyard and are due to be handed over in part at least to the owner of the vineyard. Now here's the thing: lack of fruit was the point that Isaiah had made and Israel should have been aware of that expectation of God, but Jesus is going to make a completely different point by his story.
The owner expected a share in the harvest and so sent servant to collect his share. Ah, this is something different! This is all about how the tenants deal with the owner's representatives, Whatever harvest there is, they are holding on to it and are refusing to hand it over. They are rebelling against the owner and rejecting the tenancy agreement (covenant?) that they have entered into. This is what this is all about! Will the religious authorities understand that?
But this isn't a one-off rejection. Jesus continues, “Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.” (v.4,5) Oh no, throughout Israel 's history they had rejected God's servants again and again. Stephen was to reiterate this same truth: “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?” (Acts 7:51:52). The challenge is becoming more obvious and it is growing. Watch this space!
245. Finally the Son
Mk 12:6-8 He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, `They will respect my son.' "But the tenants said to one another, `This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
It is often said by the ignorant that Jesus didn't declare himself to be the Son of God but the truth is that he did – many times – though in oblique ways that may have not been outright but were certainly there for the knowing.
We find this very thing in this parable now. It is a parable about Israel (the vineyard) and it is a parable about bad reactions of the tenants to the Owner (God) whereby they have so far rejected all of the Owner's servants (the prophets) and now the story continues to show the Owner sending his son. The anticipation of the Owner is that the tenants will respect him just because he is the son of the owner but the reality is that instead they plot to kill the Son so that they may take over the vineyard completely – and this they do!
Now there is a truth inbuilt into what we have just said that we mostly forget, that in fact Jesus was God's representative and clearly operated with His authority and in planning to kill Jesus, these religious authorities were in reality utterly rejecting God and His works, in favour of maintaining a man-controlled religion.
The more we think about this, the more it mushrooms, and it challenges us at the very heart of who we are. The challenge always comes, will I be the master of my destiny or will I let God? When it comes to church life, the challenge becomes will we let God lead and inspire us or will be perform a form of ‘service' that can continue whether He's there or not? When Jesus said to his disciples, “Follow me,” it was a call that required them to surrender all other ambitions to going wherever he said.
Not everyone could go along with that and those ones never became disciples of Jesus.
Today the Spirit calls and convicts and demands we face our sins and our failures and recognise our need of Jesus' salvation, and part of that demand is still to “Follow me,” which now means, let me lead you and bring salvation, forgiveness, cleansing and Sonship and then new purpose and direction into your life, to lead a holy and righteous life in accordance with my word and with the leading of my Spirit. If we feel that is too much and hold back, we may try and be nice people and we may attend church and perform as everyone else appears to perform, but we will NOT be a Christian, because a Christian is one who responds wholeheartedly to the call to “Follow me .”
Mk 12:9 What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.
Very often, I observe, critics of the Bible and particularly of God's actions, getting away with poor, un-thought-out criticisms without challenge. Again and again, I want to say, “You don't like what you see here, but what was the alternative.
The world isn't so picky about difficult decisions – and rightly so – and examples about. To end the last World War it was deemed expedient to drop two nuclear weapons on Japan killing thousands. Already our leaders had deemed it valid to carpet bomb Dresden killing anyone there. At such times we declare it is necessary to commit one evil to prevent a worse one.
When we move into the realm of health we applaud doctors to cutting out large parts of the body, or pasting it with radio waves or toxic chemicals to kill off the presence of cancer. We know it is drastic action but we realise it is necessary to stop something worse spreading.
A couple of years ago I studied in detail the great judgments of the Old Testament, reflecting on how a God of love could possibly do or command such things. The ultimate answer, I have come to see, is that whenever we such such action in the Old Testament, is is of the same sort of action that surgeons take when they act to remove cancer, which unless dealt with vigorously, will kill of the whole body.
In Jesus' parable that we are considering, we find the same thing. The owner has created a beautiful vineyard. He expects it to be fruitful and when it is, he expects to receive payment in the form of its fruit. When he sends a servant to collect the fruit he is beaten, and so is another and then another killed. Eventually he sends his own son and he is killed. What options are left to the owner? Justice demands that action be taken. Justice says that there has been breach of contract, violence to persons and now at least two murders. Sometimes O observe people sitting on an intellectual fence saying we should be caring and compassionate even of such people as these tenants. I also observe that these fence-sitters lose their complacency when a loved one is mugged, raped or murdered. At that point the reality of these crimes comes through. No, says Jesus, these tenants deserve the full weight of the Law brought against them and that means death and when that happens, then the owner will find other tenants to run his vineyard.
So far we have spoken of Israel as the vineyard but a more accurate description would be to say the Vineyard was the kingdom of God expressed through Israel . If Israel utterly reject it, hen the kingdom of God will be given to the Gentiles. That is what Jesus is saying.
Mk 12:10,11 Haven't you read this scripture: "`The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?"
There ar two thing to particularly note here. First is what this quote is and where it has come from and, second, how it fits in the context of the parable that Jesus has just told.
Jesus is quoting from Psalm 118, verses 22 and 23. in its original context it is unclear whether it meant a king of Israel who had been disdained by his enemies, or Israel as a nation who had been disdained by the rest of the world. The point being made though, was that this person or state had been rejected or disdained but has been made a significant part of what God is building. A capstone was the top stone of an arch that held the arch in position. The alternative rendering is a cornerstone and a corner stone was the stone set on the foundations from which all the other walls were located. In either case the stone that is mentioned is a very important or significant stone in the structure and although others have rejected or disdained this particular person or state, God hasn't. In fact, to the contrary, He uses this one in a most significant way to hold the world (?) together.
Now looking at such a quote, there is always the temptation to forget its present context. This quote that Jesus uses, comes at the end of the parable which has been all about a rejected son. So, we have a rejected son and a prophetically rejected stone. It is clear that Jesus is tying the two together.
Thus we find Jesus rounding off this parable with an addition to it, for it finished with the Owner's son being killed and the Owner acting in justice against the tenants. Now Jesus is adding to that using this quote from the psalms, as if to say, the tenants rejected the son and killed him, but actually God, the owner, makes the son a key player in His plans and purposes. So although the tenants rejected him, that's not the end of it because it's like God, the owner, goes on to say, I have made him the keystone or cornerstone of all my purposes and although you've killed him that is not the end of it.
Of course the reality, as it was worked out through the Cross. was not merely that Christ was killed but that his death took on immense significance because of who he was (the eternal Son of God) and as such his death became a sacrifice for sin and through it he redeemed all who would turn to him.
The Cross was thus not merely an act of bad men condemning an innocent man; it was the fulfilment of the plan of God to bring forgiveness of sins to the world. Hallelujah!
248. More Reaction
Mk 12:12 Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.
The tension has been building. The religious leaders had come and challenged Jesus over his authority to be there doing what he was doing. He had side-stepped their challenge and left them apparently powerless and looking foolish. Before they had time to do anything else, Jesus moved straight into teaching mode and, probably addressing the crowd, brought the parable we have been considering.
It is a subtle way of speaking the truth without it appearing a direct challenge, but the religious group understand quite clearly what Jesus is saying. This is a story against them. They are the tenants and they have rejected the prophets of God and they, up until this day, had been hard-hearted against the Owner of the vineyard, and of course, they are not in the very act of plotting to kill of Owner's Son!
From the moment Jesus had overturned the market in the Temple precincts we read, “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.” (Mk 11:18)
But they have a problem because Jesus is very popular as this verse shows. After he refused to declare his authority we again see, “They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.” (Mk 11:32). Now again, a third time in our present reading we find, “they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.” So it is Jesus' popularity and the crowds dislike of these religious leaders that stayed their hand against him. If they are to be stirred to rise against him to kill him, there is yet more to be done, more to come that will inflame them.
In considering this it is impossible to avoid thinking how bizarre all this is. This is the perfect Son of God who, for three years, has been bringing the goodness of God to the earth, healing the sick and raising the dead. If you had been on the end of his ministry you would not have had a bad thing to say about him, so how is it that the apparent representatives of God, the religious authorities at the heart of Judaism, located there in Jerusalem, presiding over the Temple activities, are against him, and in such a manner that they are actually planning to kill him.
The first point has to be that everything that appears religious, is not necessarily of God. The second point has to be that obviously it is easy to turn religion into an institution that then needs defending – and Jesus was a threat then – and now – to institutions!
Mk 12:13,14 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, "Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?
The Temple authorities have given up their attempts to challenge Jesus' authority and Jesus is left with his disciples and no doubt a crowd in the Temple precincts. Presumably he carries on teaching. Time passes but after a while some newcomers are seen on the edge of the crowd. Eventually they work their way to the front. They are a mixed religious-political bunch.
First there are the Pharisees, who are largely conservative or orthodox Jews, upholders of the Law and who find Jesus a threat. Wherever there is mention of them they are in conflict with Jesus because of their rigid, judgmental, dead orthodoxy that was threatened by the vibrant life that Jesus brought.
But they are now joined by the Herodians who tended to be from wealthy families and were supporters of the family of Herods who in turn were supporters of Rome which gave authority to Herod. They didn't want the status quo upset and so they feared Jesus would upset the Romans and thus their quiet life.
Yet note also that they were ‘sent' by the Temple authorities. Having failed themselves to remove Jesus, they speak with others who disliked him and persuaded them to see if they could get Jesus to say something worthy of arrest.
Observe their deceptive and leading words: "Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.” i.e. we know you don't care for the authorities, Roman or otherwise. In this they portray Jesus as a potential rebel leader; they assume this is what he is going to become. It's the way they thing and the way they assume he will think. This will also probably please the crowd as well because they didn't like the Romans either.
To call Jesus a man of integrity was pure hypocrisy because that's not what they thought of him. If they did think of him as that then they would hold him in high respect, but it is clear that they didn't! They've been sent to trap him! They think that in some way he will expose himself to the charge of treason against Rome by speaking against Rome , no doubt as we've already said, to go along with the crowd's public opinion of Rome . This is inviting trouble.
Mk 12:14,15 Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn't we?" But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. "Why are you trying to trap me?" he asked. "
Remember, it is probably Tuesday of the last week before Jesus' death and he is spending time in the Temple precincts teaching and being visible to the authorities. We need to hold on to the bigger picture that Jesus is there gently provoking the authorities with his presence bringing about a gradual rise in their opposition to him that has to culminate in their arresting him and killing him as the Passover Lamb. We need to see this to recognise the gradual increase in the tension between Jesus and the authorities – and those that they send to expose him.
We are now considering the Pharisees and Herodians who have come to challenge him. The Temple authorities had been first to attack him and the Sadducees will follow these men. It seems like each of the possible parties that would be threatened by Jesus line up to have a go at him.
These present two groups appear to try to get him to say something that will put him in a bad position as far as both the general crowd and the Roman authorities are concerned. They use the subject of paying taxes to Rome , knowing the Jewish crowd hated their Ro man oppressors and would therefore like Jesus as a rebel leader to say, “Let's stop paying these oppressors!”. They also know that if he says that he will be in trouble with the Romans.
They have come with soft, silky words that appeared to praise him but they know very well that they are trying to put him in a position that will bring his downfall, either with the crowd or with Rome . This is an attack that looks for nothing less than his downfall.
Now before we go on to look at Jesus' answer to their question, observe what else we are told. First, Jesus knew their hypocrisy. He knew exactly what was going on. Now he could have acted completely naively and just carried on but he doesn't; he slightly raises the temperature. Simple words that we not bother with but words that will make it clearly more of a conflict – and one which the crowd will become more and more aware of as well: “Why are you trying to trap me?”
That is the language of conflict and will put the Pharisees and Herodians on the defence. Very subtly by bringing the conflict more into the open, Jesus is indirectly challenging these subtle attackers and making it clear that he knows what they are up to – and letting the crowd see it as well. He doesn't need to spell it out more. It's obvious!
251. The Answer
Mk 12:15-17 But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. "Why are you trying to trap me?" he asked. "Bring me a denarius and let me look at it." They brought the coin, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." And they were amazed at him.
So, the question is still to be answered, should we pay taxes to Caesar and any potential answer looks like it will get Jesus in trouble, either with the crowd or with the Romans. The temperature of conflct has risne as Jesus has brought their motivation for questioning out into the open. The air is tense. What is he going to answer.
And then he does the most simplest of things, he asks for a visual aid, a coin. He clearly knows the answer but he wants it to be visually apparent so that from that he will make a declaration.
So someone produces a coin. OK, says Jesus, what's on this coin. Picture and references to Caesar, they reply. Right, no problem, replies Jesus; give to Caesar what is his and to God what is His.
The simplicity of it is silence-making. That, of course, is the truth and it is so simple. It's not a case of one or the other; as citizens of the country you pay your taxes, and as citizens of God's kingdom you bring your tithes and offerings.
Now no doubt the crowd might have preferred Jesus to speak against Rome but the truth is that Jesus hadn't come to overthrow Rome ; he had come to overthrow Sin. When he had first entered the city in triumph on Palm Sunday, he hadn't turned through the gateway on the road up to the Roman fortress garrison, he had turned on the road up to the Temple .
Again and again, we find that Jesus was not in the business of seeking to purposefully change society so, for example, he did nothing to change the position of slaves in a world where slavery was common. Jesus came to change men and women and he knew that when the times were right, those men and women would address the ills of society, but it would have to be at the right time. Thus centuries would pass before slavery was tackled, before hospitals and schools and unions would be established by Christians and society improved.
No, Jesus' focus was on bringing men and women back into a place of relationship with his Father, and then out of that all other things would follow.
What we find in this incident is what in Paul's language in 1 Corinthians would be described as a gift of wisdom – the knowledge of how to answer or act in a complex situation.
252. Attack – Phase 3
Mk 12:18.19 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. "Teacher," they said, "Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother.
Hold on to the order of things happening. Sunday Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem and viewed the Temple . Monday he returned and threw the market out of the Temple precincts. Tuesday he returned to the Temple precincts, presumably to teach and to heal. While there he is first approached by the Temple authorities who challenge his authority to be there. He deals with them and they retreat. A little while passes and he is approached by a group of Pharisees and Herodians who try to entice him to speak against Rome . He deals with them and presumably they retreat for their place is next taken by the Sadducees.
One Bible dictionary describes them as follows: “ A Jewish party that represented the wealthy and sophisticated classes. They were located largely in Jerusalem and made the temple and its administration their primary interest. Though they were small in number, in Jesus' time they exerted powerful political and religious influence.” They also didn't believe in the resurrection from the dead and most of their conflicts with Jesus seems to focus on this.
The main things we would note here before we start to consider their approach is the very fact that they were there! One can only assume that any attack on Jesus was a combined effort brought about by the sinful nature of men, egged on by Satan. Surely, we would think, these men must have realised that Jesus outclassed them or are their blinded by their own self-importance. Have they not seen or heard (or been told) how he has just seen off the Temple authorities and the Pharisees and Herodians? But when we get into our own little ‘special revelation' there is always the danger of becoming blinded by it to all other truth. Surely this is where the cults come unstuck? Surely this is where the crusading atheists clearly come unstuck, being unaware of the greater body of scholarly truth that is out there. Beware anyone who claims to have a ‘special revelation' (and I've come across a few) for they are likely to be blinded by it.
So this little group of self-important Sadducees come to Jesus with a story which, they hope, will trip Jesus up. Please understand Jesus has answers to every tricky question you have! It's just you who can't see the truth. They start by quoting Moses. Even Satan quoted Scripture in trying to pull Jesus down. Being able to quote Scripture can be helpful but it is not the path to truth for a closed mind!
253. Sneaky Story
Mk 12:20-23 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?"
So here we have the third confrontation with Jesus. Bear in mind the fact that the Sadducees didn't believe in the resurrection of the dead, which makes their story either somewhat hypocritical, or designed to show the folly, in their eyes at least, of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.
Remember they have appealed to the Law of Moses which declared, “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel . (Deut 25:5,6)
Very well, they say, in our story there is a family of seven brothers and the first one marries a woman and then he died. In accordance with the Law of Moses, the next son takes his family duty and marries the widow. Unfortunately this keep happening until all seven brothers have married the woman. Right, now, what happens at the resurrection when they are all together again and all brothers have been married to her? Who is she married to now?
The idea of the resurrection of the dead had not been very prominent in the Old Testament but in the inter-Testament period it had become largely accepted by the Jews who mostly simply viewed it as meaning coming back in the same body as you had now.
The Synoptic Gospels say little about it in Jesus teaching and it is left to John to report on Jesus speaking about raising up his followers (e.g. Jn 6:39,40,44,54) and at Lazarus's tomb we find, “Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (Jn 11:25 ,26) but his language there might give us a clue where he will go shortly with these Sadducees.
We need to hold onto and observe what is going on here again and again. There are people who think differently to Jesus for a variety of largely self-centred reasons and they insist on bringing out their differences in a way that they hope will discredit Jesus. I observe the same thing in the modern crusading atheists. There is little concern for the truth, only to substantiate their own viewpoint. Beware!
254. Double Error
Mk 12:24 Jesus replied, "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?
It seems, when you view the Christian world, there are three sorts of Christian. First of all – and I am referring to genuine born again Christians, for of course there are nominal Christians as well, who hold a form of religion but don't have any of the reality of it – there are those who become Christians and for one reason or another stay in their childlike state not growing in understanding of the word of God and of who they are and of God's purposes for them.
Then there is a much bigger group, I believe, who are good orthodox Christians who go to church, attend prayer meetings and Bible studies and even witness to their faith but they do not now the power of God. The Holy Spirit is just an academic third member of the Trinity but who is not encountered through revelation or powerful presence.
The final group are, I believe, a much smaller group, whose relationship with God is living and dynamic and they expect Him to move in their lives and activities as they are led by His Spirit and are open to Him moving through them to bless others through what the New Testament calls the gifts of the Spirit.
These Sadducees came from priestly families and were concerned for the Temple , and clearly were able to quote the Law but Jesus says they don't know the Scriptures. Not that is an indictment that could fall on many of us perhaps. We think we do and are even able to quote parts of it, but the truth may be that we don't have overall understanding of it, Jesus is going to show these Sadducees that there are clearly parts of Scripture that they haven't taken into account. That is a real challenge: do we read the whole Bible, do we seek to catch God's heart in all of it, or do we confine ourselves to easy-read parts of it?. If we don't want to fall under this accusation we need to be those who regularly read our Bible and read all of it!
But then comes the second part of their failure: their ‘faith' is limited to words, words on scrolls and words they use for their own purposes. Their ‘faith' and that of these other groups of well is power-less. That is why at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, we read how, in the synagogue when Jesus dealt with an evil spirit the people were amazed at his authority: “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching--and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." (Mk 1:27). This power and authority was missing in the various religious groups of that day, but we have to ask, are they missing in large parts of the Church today, so that much of today's church is also powerless?
255. Materialistic Thinking
Mk 12:25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
We commented previously that the Jewish perspective of that time on life after death was that people would return with their same bodies; it was much ‘life-as-usual' almost. Yet as I hear Christians occasionally talking about the same things I hear the same perspective. The book of Revelation's references to a ‘new heaven and a new earth' create a similar perspective to that which we know now and, who knows, the earth part might be similar, but the reality is that when we die, our material bodies end and decay.
Decay is what we all know will happen to our physical bodies, they are ‘perishable goods' if you like. The apostle Paul uses this language: “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable.” (1 Cor 15:42 ) The first thing to note, therefore, is that when we are ‘raised from the dead' whatever bodies we have will no longer be ‘perishable'.
Indeed, Paul goes on, “it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (v.43,44) So, we see next, our new bodies will not be material but spiritual, When it was sown (buried) it was powerless but when it is raised it is energized by God's power; when it was sown it was material, when it is raised it is spiritual, meaning spirit. Of course our minds struggle with this because until we experience it we cannot comprehend it.
Jesus makes the point to these Sadducees that when you rise from the dead physical relationships will not exist because such relationships depend in large measure on our physical bodies. So much of what we do to express love to our loved one in marriage is physical. Without a physical body relationships can still exist – and may be very much deeper perhaps – but they won't exist in a way that they used to that relied on the physical and material expressions of relationships.
When Jesus says our resurrected bodies will be like the angels, he means that they will be spirit-bodies: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Heb 1:14). We don't become angels as some people strangely think, but our bodies do become spirit bodies for us to continue living in the heavenly dimension. Such talk makes some people dismayed; they think it's going to be a lesser experience than we have now. Even though in our earthly form we cannot comprehend really what we have been saying, the experience is bound to be gloriously more wonderful than the present for that is the impression of the New Testament.
256. God of the Living
Mk 12:26,27 Now about the dead rising--have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, `I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!"
I have often said in these meditations that I am sure that frequently we read Scripture but don't take in the implications of what we read. Now I'm sure this is true in the light of Jesus references to this particular Old Testament incident.
Remember, the subject under question is that of life after death or resurrection from the dead. Now I put it like that because those two descriptions are basically the same but come with different emphasis. The Bible teaches there is life after death and that it comes because God raises us from the dead. When we die people observe our body stops moving and it is put in the ground where it decays (or is cremated). But that is not the end.
The Sadducees thought it was and Jesus challenges their knowledge of the Bible as they had it then, what we call the Old Testament. Look, he says, think about the story of Moses at the burning bush (Ex 3). When the Lord identifies himself in that all-important passage where He calls Himself “The I-AM” He also identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now identifying Himself as “I AM” He was saying, “I am the ever present One, the One who always is, the eternal God.”
But note in that the tense that He uses: “I am the God od Abraham,” not “I was Abraham's God.” He uses the present tense which Jesus, the Son of God, takes to mean that not only was God in the present, but so was Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, i.e. they each continued to exist in heaven, they were still alive and there with God.
Of course we may assume the same thing in respect of the incident on the Mount of Transfiguration (see Mk 9:2-4) where Moses and Elijah appeared in human form. In the same way that angels are so often given human form when they manifest in this dimension, so these two Old Testament prophets were given human form. We are left believing that they existed at that moment in heaven but came through into our material world for this special meeting with Jesus to confirm arrangements for what would happen in Jerusalem in that last week. The primary point is that they were alive and not dead.
Thus today we may be reassured that when we die physically, although our body ceases to work, the real us continues on in what Jesus and others referred to as eternal life, in God's presence in heaven. Yes, there is ongoing life after death on this earth and each one of us should be mindful of that.
257. Seeker or…
Mk 12:28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
We have been following the events, probably on the Tuesday of what we call Holy Week, the week before Jesus' death and resurrection, events taking place in the Temple precincts where Jesus has come with his disciples to teach (perhaps heal) and be on open display before the Temple authorities. We have seen him be confronted by them, then by the Pharisees and Herodians, and then by the Sadducees.
Now we find Jesus is approached by a ‘teacher of the law', or as other versions sometimes have it, a scribe. They were also referred to as lawyers as they worked within the Sanhedrin, the governing body of Judaism, determining or judging on the Law. They would have prided themselves on their knowledge of the Law. Now we aren't actually told if he was sent or simply in passing, he noticed what was going on and joined in. The latter seems probable from the text, for it simply says he came “and heard then debating.”
He hears what the Sadducees have been saying and Jesus' answer to them and he is pleased that Jesus has put them down, for he too would have believed in the resurrection of the dead which they had been denying. Mark simply records that, “ Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer,” he speaks out. That would appear to say that he recognizes that Jesus ‘knows his Bible' ad that he approves of that, but beyond that it doesn't make clear the motivation that gets this man to ask the question that he does. Is he a genuine seeker of knowledge and does he genuinely want Jesus' advice on a point of the Law, or is he simply another one who wants to show Jesus up in some way and get him to say something wrong?
In Matthew's account of this incident he refers to the man as “an expert in the law” and says he “tested him with this question,” (Mt 22:35) which would suggest a more adversarial approach, that puts him more in line with the other groups who had come against Jesus. The rabbis of the day counted 613 commandments in the Law and argued frequently about which were the most important.
Any specific answer to this question, settling on any particular command could, therefore, be potentially contentious, no doubt agreeing with some and disagreeing with others. If Jesus was not well versed in the Law he could be revealed as an ignorant upstart preacher who might possibly be accepted by the crowd but shown to the intelligentsia for what he was. If he appeared an intellectual with a long answer, he would be separated from the crowd. All difficult possibilities.
258. Law summarised
Mk 12:29-31 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: `Hear, O Israel , the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
So the expert in the Law has asked Jesus to choose one law tht stands out above all others. An impossibility, and so Jesus chooses two laws. The first he plucks out of Deuteronomy: “Hear, O Israel : The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4,5)
When you consider all other laws in respect of God, this one surely summarizes their intent – love God. The whole of God's activity throughout the Bible is to draw people back into a loving relationship with Him. Because He IS love (1 Jn 4:8) He both expresses love and looks for love in relationships. He doesn't want sterile, formal relationships; He looks for loving relationships that reflect His own love. Again John put it, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:19).
But a bit later John wrote, “Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 Jn 4:21) Because God is love, He loves all men and if we love Him then an expression or outworking of our love for Him, will be to love those He loves, i.e. it will have a spin-off that is on the horizontal plane, a horizontal relationship base – love for others.
This, presumably, is why Jesus pluck his second command out of Leviticus: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev 18:19) but simply quotes the latter end of the verse.
In quite an amazing way Jesus selects two verses from the Old Testament that encapsulates and summarizes ALL the other commands. Wherever you look in the Law of Moses you will find two sorts of verses: first those that are about relationship with the Lord and if you follow this one then you will follow all the others. The second sort of law is all about human relationships and how they were to be worked out among God's people and if you take the second command to love all others as yourself, then you will automatically do the things that the Law lays down in respect of others.
In these two verses that Jesus presents before us, we have a perfect summary of the Law because the whole of the Law was about relationships, relationship first with God and then with others. It may be worth noting in passing, that if we do not obey the first one we will never obey the second one. The motivation and empowering of the second one only flows out of the outworking of the first one.
259. Real or Ritual
Mk 12:32,33 Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
Wow! Whatever attitude or motivation this expert in the Law came with, he is now clearly moved by Jesus answer and appreciates it. More than that, he elevates Jesus from being some unknown nobody who has pushed himself into the limelight by calling him ‘teacher'. He himself is an expert in the Law and he appreciates that Jesus likewise is of the calibre in knowledge and understanding to qualify as a teacher of the Law. That is some acknowledgment.
He reiterates Jesus answer and in so doing he shows that he has fully heard and understood it. But then he adds a comment which separates him out from any of his day, He acknowledges that Jesus' answer “is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” One of Israel 's biggest problems throughout its history had been to resort to ritual to cover up lack of reality. Sacrifices and offerings had been instituted by the Lord to be expressions of the people either repentance (sacrifices) or love for God (offerings). They were intended to outworkings of the feelings that the people coming to the Temple had for God. Sadly, so often they were simply expressions of empty ritual with people coming because “we ought to and the Law tells us to”, not because they were moved to come by their experience of the Lord.
Even within the period of the Judges, the Lord had to rebuke Eli for allowing his sons to disdain the sacrificial system: “ Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel ?'” (Jud 2:29) Later Samuel was to chide Saul for his disobedience and his trying to bride God: “But Samuel replied: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ? To obey is better than sacrifice,” (1 Sam 15:22 ). As with sacrifices and offerings, so with fasting. Isaiah made it clear (Isa 58) that the Lord was not impressed with empty ritual but looked for obedience in his people. Indeed one might go as far as to say that love for the Lord expressed in obedience to whatever he says is THE most important issue in life. Prayer is not the all-important thing, nor Bible reading, nor going to church on a Sunday. No all of these things can become empty ritual and what the Lord desires all the time of for His word and His Spirit to energize love in us for Him. May it be so!
Mk 12:34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God ." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
This is an unusual and pleasant piece of Scripture for is it unusual to find Jesus not at odds with the religious community of which the experts of the Law were surely part, but the teacher of the law has praised Jesus and Jesus in return speaks positively of him. In acknowledging that immensely important issue of obedience rather than ritual, this man has shown that he has understanding more than most of his colleagues.
Indeed Jesus declares that this man is not far from the kingdom of God . While most of his colleagues were more concerned with following the minutely worked out details of the Law, this man had seen that it wasn't what you did but what you had in your heart for God that was the all important thing. The kingdom of God (as far as it is concerned with humanity) is all about the outworking of a loving relationship between the Father and his adopted children, those whose hearts have been won by Him. This man may yet have some way to go perhaps, but at least he has the very basic essential; sorted out in his mind – it is all about internal heart feelings for God rather than external activity try to win Him over.
But then we note Mark tells us that from that point, on that day at least, no one else dared ask him any more questions. Asking questions of God is not wrong; it is perfectly all right for little children to ask their loving Father to explain things. No, the questions that are wrong are the ones we have been observing recently that are negative questions designed, in the mind of the questioner at least, to show Jesus and God up in a bad light. The Temple authorities had come along and questioned Jesus as to what his authority was to be there. Well of course as the Son of God he had every authority, but he didn't state that. he simply countered with a question which they couldn't, or wouldn't answer, for fear of the crowds. Then the Pharisees and Herodians had come asking about paying taxes to the Romans. They weren't really interested in the question because they didn't want to upset the Romans themselves, but they did want Jesus to! He gave a balanced answer which silenced them. Then came the Sadducees carping about the resurrection from the dead, again looking to trip Jesus up. Finally this teacher of the law came to probe Jesus knowledge and had to acknowledge publicly that Jesus really knew that he was talking about. As Jesus had given good answers to all these protagonists, he had run out of opposition. Silence reigned!
261. Inadequate Teaching
Mk 12:32 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, "How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David?
Now this is strange, because Jesus has just complimented a teacher of the Law and one assumes that the man has now left, but Jesus now picks on the teachers of the Law and is really going to wade into them in a minute. Is it that he is saying, don't be misled by one good teacher because mostly they leave a great deal to be desired. Did he really want to focus on that particular group? Well, yes, because three times in these verses he names them so there is no mistaking his intent.
Note also that he continues teaching. That presumably is one of the main reasons that he is there, but remember that he is also there to act as a thorn in the side of the authorities so that eventually they will rise up and kill him. So part of his teaching is going to include the truth about those in the religious community and by that we mean all those who have recently come to attack him, For now he focuses it upon the teachers of the Law, the ones who prided themselves in understanding and imparting the Law of Moses.
Now, rather than attack them head on, he asks a question about their teaching and (warning!) it is probable that no one around him is going to fully realise the import of what he is saying. It will only become obvious later on.
The point of their teaching that he picks on, is their teaching about the Christ or Messiah (same meaning in different languages). They maintained that the Messiah was David's son, i.e. he would be a descendant of King David. Indeed that was well understood by the people: "All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?" ( Mt 12:23) meaning, could this be the expected Messiah? Matthew referred to David 17 times as against Luke 13, Mark 7 and John only once – “Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem , the town where David lived?" (Jn 7:42). So yes, that was the teaching and the teaching was correct but Jesus is going to show that it is inadequate or insufficient because, he will go on to show, the Messiah was prophesied to be something far more than JUST David's son.
Behind this we observe an attack that comes again and again when you are talking to people about Jesus. They (and the enemy) are quite happy to concede his was a great prophet (as Judaism and Islam does), even that he was a great teacher or a great miracle worker. That much they are willing to concede but the sticking point for them is that he is THE SON OF GOD. That is something else!
262. Messiah is Lord
Mk 12:36,37 David himself, speaking by 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.' How then can he be his son?" The large crowd listened to him with delight.
We concluded the previous meditation recognising that the teachers of the Law accepted that the Messiah was a descendant of King David's as spoken in the prophetic Scriptures, but that was all. Jesus wants us to take it beyond that and get the complete picture that is shown in the prophecies of the Old Testament.
To do that he point them, and us, to Psalm 110 verse 1 which is exactly what he quotes. We need to examine that verse. In it one person is saying to another person, sit at my right hand until the time when I have put all your enemies under your feet, i.e. until we have defeated all our enemies. This was accepted generally as one of the prophetic references to the coming Messiah but, says Jesus, the lesser being here – the one who is going to sit at the other's right hand (i.e. in a secondary place to the former being) – is referred to by david as “my Lord”. Now he wouldn't have used that expression if he thought that being was his son or even one of his descendants.
Oh no, Jesus is implying, David prophetically saw that the coming Messiah was not God in God's form, but was also something far more than just a man, one of his descendants. No, the coming Messiah is considered by David to be his Lord, one before whom he would bow. So no, he wasn't JUST the son of David, he was something much more. And at that point Jesus stops! He doesn't spell it out and say, “The Messiah is God's Son and that is who I am.” No, Jesus never did that. he always spoke about himself enigmatically, in ways that left people thinking and arriving at their own conclusions.
Again and again Jesus speaks in language that is is open to question, is open to thought. Yes, sometimes it was almost direct, for example, “Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. …For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (Jn 6:35,38) That was an interesting claim that needed thinking about, and there are many more like that in the Gospels. Jesus speaks for seekers who will think about what he says, not casual observers who will hear but not hear (understand) (e.g. Mt 13:13 ).
Finally note that as Jesus says these things, “the crowd listened to him with delight.” The crowd had been listening to all the encounters with the ‘religious establishment' and disliking those pompous individuals, delighted in the way that again and again Jesus discomforted them and, of course, as the crowd enjoyed it so it annoyed those groups.
263. Beware Pride
Mk 12:38,39 As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.
A wise young teacher of the Law has spoken with Jesus and gone with Jesus' commendation but Jesus didn't want to leave it there. He wasn't there to make them feel nice; he was there to confront them with the truth. God always confronts us with the truth. Sometimes, in His love and grace, He allows us to continue on in our own foolish way, but he waits for the right moment when He presents us with the truth and our pride falls and He convicts us of the truth.
The religious establishment of the day, of which the teachers of the Law were part, left much to be desired, and this week is to be the week when Jesus faces them with some truth. Now if their hearts were genuinely seeking after God, then they would have received his words and repented, but they aren't going to do that for their hearts have become hard and they are going to respond harshly to Jesus' words and they are going to kill him. Unwittingly they are going to sacrifice the Lamb of God.
So Jesus starts to speak the truth about the teachers of the law and he points out how they strut around in their find robes, how they are acclaimed publicly in the market place, how they are given the most important seats in the synagogue, and are given places of honour at banquets. All told, these men are seen! They are seen and they are honoured – which would be all right if they genuinely deserved it – but they revel in it and enjoy ‘looking good'.
In other words these men have got status from being knowledgeable about the Old Testament scrolls. Instead of being servants for the people, helping the people learn of God and of His ways, they delight in their position and lord it over others.
Now just speaking out like this about them is likely to have two responses. First, it will probably delight the crowd for the every day person recognises institutional religion when they see it – and they don't like it. Perhaps that is why the media so often mocks modern churchmen. So the crowd would be delighted by this sort of talking.
But then, second, there is the religious establishment themselves, whether they actually be teachers of the Law or even just Temple leaders, Pharisees, Sadducees or whoever. An attack on one of their kind is an attack on them. So when Jesus points out the pride and arrogance of this particular part of it, the rest will feel it and gradually the feelings of hostility against Jesus will mount.
Mk 12:38,40 As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of the law….They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely."
Again Jesus specifically names the teachers of the Law and points out their failures. If you didn't understand what was going on you might think, “Jesus, what are you doing? Are you trying to upset these people? I know you are speaking the truth, but surely sometimes it's wiser to keep quiet and not upset the apple cart!” But that is exactly what Jesus IS doing and he‘s using the truth to do it. It's not as if he is being slanderous. He's merely speaking what everyone knows to be truth. Previously we noted how he pointed out the way they strutted around being ‘big people' but now he's not so kind. Oh yes, Jesus knows what he is doing and he's gradually confronting the religious establishment and in so doing will provoke them to rise up against him at the end of the week.
Jesus' present accusation against this band of men is twofold. First it is about their taking advantage of the vulnerable and second of their religiosity. Let's examine them both.
First he says “they devour widow's houses”. What does he mean by that? We aren't told and so have to speculate. Possibly they pressurise widows who are now very vulnerable without their husband being there to stand up for the family, to give more to the Temple or local synagogue. Possibly they act for widows in settling the legalities of the estate in probate and in so doing so overcharge them that they have to give over their rights of their home to these unscrupulous men. Whatever is the truth, Jesus brings it right out into the open and no one says, “Oh no, that can't be true!” for they know it is. These men are exposed by Jesus.
But then there is their religious behaviour. On one hand, we've just seen, they act in an opportunistic unrighteous way in their dealings with the vulnerable in society, and on the other hand they are appearing to be deeply religious (we hesitate to say ‘spiritual') in the way by in public situations making long and loud prayers.
Over the years I have watched many young Christians over-awed by the loud and lengthy prayers of those saints who have been around a long time and know how to use words. Jesus is not impressed! An incident is about to occur that reveals Jesus' value assessment of different people and he is not impressed by the great and the glorious who revel in their role. Even more the warning should come to us to avoid any dubious behaviour in our lives if we purport to be spiritual people. Righteousness is a requirement.
265. (Giving (1)
Mk 12:41,42 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny
When Mark tells us that Jesus sat down we don't know whether he had just moved to this position or had been sitting here in his role as a teacher throughout the previous conversations. In the Temple precincts were number of large receptacles for people to put money in depending on the purpose of their gift. Sitting nearby Jesus was able to see just what was going on, who appeared to be putting how much in which receptacles. No doubt there were also Temple guards present, guarding over the receptacles to make sure thieves took none.
As he sat there, mark records that he saw rich people putting obvious large sums into these receptacles. They were obviously rich by the amounts they put in and no doubt by the clothes they wore. There was nothing wrong with this; it was good that these rich people did actually contribute to the Temple treasury. Giving openly in this manner meant that these people would be seen for who they were, but who of us doesn't like to be looked up to? However it also does give rise o pride which is probably why, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “ Be careful not to do your `acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them,” (Mt 6:1) and, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Mt 6:3,4)
So much for the rich, but then comes along a lady who is obviously poor. No doubt, again, her clothes and general demeanor would give her away and she came and simply dropped in two small coins worth very little. Now that took courage to come and actually give a small amount in the presence of all these other nice middle class or well off people who had plenty to give. To appear to be giving virtually nothing in public could be thoroughly demeaning and suggests that her motivation for giving was very strong. Jesus will comment on this shortly.
But how about us? How do we give? And does the way we give enhance our reputation? Remember, Jesus' teaching was for us to give in secret so that no one else knows how much we give. If you are a Bill Gates, then people know you are a philanthropist because when you give away massive amounts it's impossible to keep it quiet, but for most of us that is not true. True?
266. Giving (2)
Mk 12:43,44 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on."
There seems from the overall sense of this part of the chapter that there was a bit of a lull in the proceedings. Jesus had stopped teaching and opponents had stopped coming. It was in this lull that Jesus finds himself watching the people going into the receptacles for the temple treasury. The disciples seem to be scattered around, presumably just chatting in small groups or similarly just them to himself. He has seen something happening and he wants to use it as a visual aid to teaching his disciples something.
He draws there attention to the people who are coming and giving and presumably to the poor lady who is about to depart. Whether the others saw what she had put in or not is not clear but Jesus simply makes this amazing declaration about her: “this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” She is obviously poor and they know who Jesus is referring to. Perhaps some of them had actually witnessed her putting tow small coins in, which will make Jesus' statement all the more amazing. What does he mean?
He explains: “They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on." The start of that is just a general statement which is quite obvious. A lot of the other givers were giving out of their wealth and so, in one sense, it cost them very little. If you give a thousand pounds when you are a millionaire, you can afford that thousand and although to others it may be a big sum, to the millionaire it is just a drop in the ocean, it's just a thousandth of wh at at
they have, But if someone only had an income of a hundred pounds a week say, and gave away nine ty five pounds, although that ninety five is tiny in comparison to the thousand given by the rich man, it is ninety five per cent of their income, which is massive.
Then he makes a specific revelatory comment: her giving was (virtually?) all she had to live on and that means it was a massive giving. Yes, this is the reality of giving. It's not so much how much you give but actually what it costs you, what percentage it is, what value it really is to you. For many of us in the Church in the West today, even those of us who are over-spent, actually we could give a lot more. It's really all about priorities. Do we care more about us so all our spending is on our wants, even to get into debt, or do we seek to give away to bless others and bless God ?