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Mark 11:27-12:44: Errors to Avoid Print E-mail
Sunday, 11 November 2007

We noted last week that Jesus has Ďthrown down the gauntletí against the religious leaders in Jerusalem.  His followers praised Him as the Son of David and the Messiah as He approached the city.  He threw out the moneychangers and the merchants from the temple and pronounced judgment through the cursing of the fig tree.  All of these actions are deliberate challenges to the religious elite in the city.  So, how will they respond?  What will they do to this man from Galilee who teaches and acts with such authority?

We find the answer to these questions in our text this morning.  Make no mistake about it, the religious leaders are not just going to sit by and keep quiet about Jesusí ministry.  No, they are going to take action and retaliate.  They have opposed His ministry from the beginning and they are not going to stop now.  In fact, they will not stop until they ultimately see Him crucified.  Yet, they are not sure at this point how to do that without offending the crowds who seem to appreciate and enjoy His teaching.  Thus, for now, they simply come to Him with questions and challenges.  Of course, Jesus is not fooled by their games.  He knows that they are out to destroy Him (see 10:33-34).  We can identify many of their errors by what they say and do in our text this morning, as well as by how Jesus responds to them.  I want us to consider five of their errors this morning and how we can avoid them in our own lives.

First, they do not recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God (11:27-12:12).

When they first approach Jesus after He has cleansed the temple, they immediately ask Him about what authority He has to do such a thing.  Look at 11:27-33.  To answer them, Jesus asks them if the baptism of John was from man or from God.  They do not want to answer either way because of what it will mean.  If they answer that Johnís baptism was from man, then they will risk the crowds turning on them.  If they answer that it was from God, then they will have to admit that Johnís ministry was from God.  So, they do not answer. 

Jesus then tells them that He will not answer their question.  It is important to note that Jesus is not just avoiding their question.  Rather, in a subtle way, He is telling them where His authority comes from, namely the same place that Johnís came from: God.  They were not willing to accept that Johnís ministry was from God, a ministry which pointed to the greater ministry of Jesus, and so they would not be willing to accept Jesusí explanation of His own authority.  They simply could not acknowledge that John and Jesus were faithful servants of God the Father.

After this initial encounter, Jesus then tells the parable of the tenants and the vineyard.  A man had a vineyard that he leased to tenants to upkeep.  Yet, when he sent for his rightful share of the profits, the tenants would not give them and beat the servant instead.  He sent more servants that they beat and killed as well.  Finally, he sent his own son.  In a final act of malice and rebellion, they killed the son and threw him out of the vineyard. 

Jesus follows the story with this question: What will the owner of the vineyard do?  He answers in verses 9-11.  Look at those with me.  The owner will destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.  The religious leaders know that Jesus is talking about them.  He is teaching the crowds of their rejection since they have consistently rejected the servants of God and now they are rejecting His Son.  Thus, the vineyard will be given to others.  Mark does not identify who these will be, but the New Testament authors recognize that it is the Church, all those who repent and believe in Jesus (1 Peter 2:1-10).

Second, they fear men (11:32, 12:12).

In both of these sections Mark tells us about another problem that the religious leaders had.  Look at 11:32 and 12:12).  The religious leaders feared men more than they feared God.  Likewise, their fear of men was blinding them to the Truth that stood before them.  They were so concerned with pleasing the crowds and defending their traditions that they just could not see that Jesus of Nazareth was none other than the Son of God.  They cannot even stand by their convictions enough to challenge Jesusí authority.  Thus, Jesus will not answer them.  He will not even recognize their challenge as vital because they are not willing to take a stand.  Although much could be said about the dangers of fearing men more than God, let me just give this warning from out text: the fear of man will blind you to the truth of God.  You cannot fear men and faithfully follow after Christ.  The religious leaders are clear examples of that error.

Third, they are hypocrites (12:13-17).

Following the parable, the religious leaders send some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk.  After some flattery (which is actually true), they ask Him if a person should pay taxes to Caesar.  The Ďtrapí in this question is that if Jesus says yes, then the Zealots will see Him as pro-Rome and if He says no, then the Roman authorities will have reason to oppose His ministry.  Thus, their question could be simplified: do you support Caesar or God?  Yet, as we have noted before, Jesus is not fooled by their flattery or their question.  Look at His response in 12:15-17.  With incredible eloquence, Jesus answers their question faithfully.  Granted, His answer could have offended those who vehemently opposed Rome, but it was reasonable to most.  In short, He is saying that oneís support of Caesar (or any other government) does not have to violate their devotion to God.  Later New Testament writers will elaborate more on this principle (see Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17).

Why does this question make them hypocrites?  They are not concerned with the answer to the question as much as they are with putting Jesus to the test.  Thus, their question may seem legitimate, but it is simply a ploy to get Jesus in trouble.  They want the crowds to believe that they are sincere in their following of Yahweh.  Yet, Jesus knows the truth.  He knows that there is more to the story than meets the eye (as He will teach in 12:38-40).  Jesus is not fooled by the Pharisees and the Herodians.  Neither is He fooled today by those who speak well of Him but ignore Him and His commands in the way that they live.  We are fools to think we can fool Him.

Fourth, they do not know the Scriptures or the power of God (12:18-27, 35-37).

In the next story, it is the Sadducees who come to question Jesus.  We do not know much about them, but they are a part of the religious elite and they believe that there is no resurrection and hold only to the first five books of the Old Testament.  Thus, they come to ask Jesus a question that will challenge the idea of a resurrection.  In the Law, if a man was married and died without having children, then his brother was to marry the wife and give her children which would carry on the brotherís name.  This is called Levirate marriage.  They ask Jesus about who the wife would belong to after the resurrection if she married seven different brothers who all died. 

Jesus answers their question in verses 24-27.  Look at those verses with me.  He tells them that their problem is that they know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.  Their failure to believe in the resurrection reveals both of these errors.  The question itself is absurd because in heaven they neither marry nor are given in marriage.  Likewise, by quoting from Exodus 3, Jesus shows that God is a God of the living, thus demonstrating the resurrection from a passage in the Pentateuch.  Their failure to know the Scriptures and believe in the power of God resulted in erroneous conclusions about God and the resurrection. 

Jesus will go on in verses 35-37 to challenge their understanding of the Messiah as Davidís son.  Here again, they show their inability to understand the text.  As believers, we cannot afford to make this error.  We cannot assume that we have Scripture figured out or that we do not need to continue in our study of the Word.  No, we must humbly acknowledge the power of God and ask Him to enable us to understand and apply His Word.  Anything less will surely lead to great errors.

Fifth, they lust after honor and wealth (12:38-40)

Before we look at Jesusí teaching on the greatest commandment, I want to consider His condemnation of them in verses 38-40.  Look at those verses with me.  The scribes, or the religious elite, are constantly looking to be honored in the public arena.  They wear the fancy clothes and they reserve the best seats and they expect people to notice them.  Not only that, but they pray long prayers for show and prey on the widows for their money.  Jesus is showing how their pride is getting the best of them.  Thus, He goes on to say that they will receive the greater condemnation, seemingly because they have been so unfaithful with all that they have been given. 

Well, it is obvious from our text that the religious leaders in Jerusalem are making numerous errors in their attempt to serve Yahweh.  So how do we avoid these errors?  Beyond what we have already said, let me point out two ways from the text that we can avoid these errors.  First, we begin by loving God with all that we are and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.  In 12:28-34, Mark tells us of Jesus being asked about the greatest commandment.  Jesus answers by telling the scribe that love for God is the first commandment and love for neighbor is the second.  The scribe agrees with Jesusí answer and is commended for his growing understanding.  If we look at the errors of the other scribes and leaders, we see that they could be avoided if we will truly love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and evidence that by our love for our neighbor.  Such love will guard us against their errors.

Second, we must humble ourselves before God and His Word.  Look at 12:41-44.  In contrast to the religious leaders who were full of pride, Mark tells us the story of the widowís offering.  They want to be recognized while she humbly gives all that she has to the Lord.  The contrast is glaring.  Instead of being full of pride and of ourselves, we should be humbling ourselves in the service of our God.  Once again we see that there is no place for pride in the Kingdom. 

Thus, through love of God and neighbor and through true humility, we can by Godís grace avoid the errors of the religious elite.  And when you think about these two characteristics of love and humility, do they not remind you of Jesus, who humbled Himself by taking on flesh and loved us so much that He willingly gave His life at Calvary.  As we strive to follow Him, may we do the same.  Amen

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 20 November 2007 )

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