November 1, 2010 David Balzer

Mark 12: Word Games with Jesus

There’s a weird movie called “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. It’s a bit of a cult classic.


It’s about two high school students, Bill and Ted, who’re just about to fail. Unless they pass their history exam. Which is an aural report. Ted’s dad is threatening to send him to military school if he does fail. And so the boys are running scared.


For reasons which are a bit complicated. A dude from the future called Rufus appears to take them back through history. They end up collecting a weird assortment of famous historical figures to use for their report.


Who better than “Billy the Kid” to talk about the American Wild West? Who better than Socrates to talk about Ancient Greece? Or Napolean, or Genghis Khan, to discuss war and conquest? Or Beethoven to talk about music?


And, to cut a long story short, after a series of adventures, they collect all their historical heroes, present their report, and pass their exam.


The thinking goes something like this. “If you want to find out about something – why not go to the source. Don’t “beat around the bush” asking so-called experts, or authorities, or reading books. Get it straight from the horse’s mouth”.


And when it comes to questions about God, life and death, and the Universe. Who better to teach you about that stuff. Than Jesus? The Master Teacher.


But he’s MORE than that. He’s the one who’s been with God FOR ETERNITY. Who knows God FROM THE INSIDE. He was there when God made the Universe.


Well, today we’ve got that chance. We’re standing with the crowd in the temple. We’re eavesdropping in on Jesus’ teaching. As people ask Jesus questions about God, and life, and death.


And they’re four of life’s BIGGEST questions.

Q1: Who should we serve?

Q2: What is God like?

Q3: What does God demand?

Q4: Who is God’s King?


If you like, we’re on our OWN excellent adventure. A journey back through time. And we get to hear it from the expert. So listen up.


Q1: Who should we serve?

Let’s look at the first question. Who should we serve? It’s a pretty important question. “Who should I listen to? Who’s rules determine the way I live? Who’s side should I be on?” There’s probably no more IMPORTANT, or fundamental, question. Who should we serve?


And it comes from the Pharisees and the Herodians. Verse 13. But they’re only trying to TRICK him.


In fact, they’ve been out to get Jesus RIGHT FROM THE START. But it’s what Jesus did THE DAY BEFORE that really got them hot under the collar.


Back in Ch 11, Jesus comes into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, with all the people cheering. Like a ticker tape parade. And that makes the HERODIANS nervous. Because they’re the politicians. And they’ve got the cushy jobs with the Romans. And they don’t want any upstart rocking the boat. So Jesus gets the HERODIANS offisde.


But then Jesus goes into the temple. And chucks out all the money changers. And that’s the home turf of the Pharisees. And so he’s got them off-side too.


So, here in Ch 12, they’re BOTH gunning for Jesus. Here’s their question. “Who should we serve?” Who deserves our allegiance? Look at verse 14.

(Mark 12:14-15 NIV)  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? {15} Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”


It was a tricky question. Either way, he was in trouble. If Jesus said “No. Don’t pay taxes”. They’d have an excuse to arrest him for treason against the Romans.


But if he said, “Yes, pay taxes!” He was flying in the face of public opinion. Because the Jews hated EVERY COIN that went into Caesar’s coffers.


But look at what Jesus answers. The end of verse 15. He sees right through their trap.

(Mark 12:15-17 NIV)  … “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” {16} They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. {17} 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.


His point is that if Caesar owns the coins. And Caesar builds the roads. And Caesar keeps the peace. Then his citizens have a responsibility, under God, to support him. “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”


But that’s not ALL Jesus says. “Give to God what belongs to God.” God deserves our ULTIMATE loyalty. He deserves our worship. It’s his kingdom we are REALLY part of.


And it’s the same for us today. We’re citizens of Australia. We have a responsibility to pay taxes, and to vote, and to obey the rules of the land. And, I believe, to fight for our country if that’s what the government decides.


Or on a smaller scale. As an employee, you’ve got a responsibility to work hard. I’ve heard of Christians who waste the boss’s time talking to people over a cup of coffee. They argue that it’s okay because they’re witnessing. And that’s more important than working.


Or perhaps you justify doing things at work because it’s for church. “Oh, I’m only doing a few photocopies”. “Oh, it’s only a few folders, or white board markers. After all, I’m doing it for God”.


But that’s not what Jesus is saying. Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Work hard while you’re clocked on. If evangelising your friends is SO IMPORTANT to you – do it when you’re NOT at work. Or during your lunch break. If church business is SO IMPORTANT/ pay for the photocopying yourself.


But that’s only ONE SIDE of what Jesus is saying. We’re not JUST Australians. Or employees. We’re citizens of GOD’S kingdom. That’s our true identity. That’s WHO WE ARE. Servants of GOD.


Being “Australian”, or being an employee, is just our COVER. It’s what you do PART-TIME, so you can be a Christian FULL-TIME. It’s what you do FOR THIS LIFETIME, so you can be a Christian for ETERNITY.


That’s Q1. Who should we serve? God AND the government. And give to EACH what belongs to Each.


Q2: What is God like? (Sadducees)

And question 2 builds on q1. If we’re to serve God. Then the next question would be “What’s he LIKE?”


And that’s the question that comes from the Sadducees. Another group of the Jewish leaders. They made up most of the temple priests. And THEY’RE after Jesus too. After all, he’s made a real mess of their temple.


And what’s important about them was that they DIDN’T BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION. No life after death. And so they’ve got a different question for Jesus. Different question. But same approach. They’re trying to trap him. Look at v18.

(Mark 12:18-19 NIV)  Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. {19} “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.


They’re quoting a law about a guy marrying his brother’s widow. Helping to keep the family name going when a brother dies. To provide children.


And then they describe a complicated hypothetical. Seven brothers all end up marrying the same widow. First one dies, so the second marries the widow. Then the second dies, and a third marries her. And so on. Eventually they ALL die. Including the poor old widow. Whose wife is she? That’s their question.


The point they’re trying to make is that if there really WAS an afterlife. What a ridiculous situation it would be! Seven husbands for one wife. Therefore, so goes their argument, there must be no afterlife. No resurrection.


But Jesus says they’ve got it completely wrong. Verse 24. Not only do they not know the Scriptures. But they don’t even know GOD!


You see, this is a much bigger question than just about husbands, wives, and the afterlife. Or even about understanding the Scriptures.


For Jesus, it’s a question about WHO GOD IS. It’s all about WHAT GOD’S LIKE.


Is he a temporary, finite, limited God? A God you can put into a box, and measure, and understand, and control? Or is he far bigger than that?


And look at what Jesus says in v26.

(Mark 12:26-27 NIV)  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’? {27} He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”


It’s not the most obvious verse you’d pick to prove the resurrection. But I think that’s because Jesus is actually answering the BIGGER question. “What is God like?”


Resurrection is REAL because God is the God of the LIVING. HE is eternal, and unchanging, and infinite. And so it’s the nature of things that WE are also eternal.


This is how his argument goes. God’s talking to Moses. And it’s 400 years after Jacob’s died. But God says that he’s STILL Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s God. And since that’s MEANINGLESS if they no longer exist, then they must still be alive. In other words – resurrection is real.


Resurrection is real. We will live forever because the GOD WHO SAVES US is ALSO eternal and living.


And that affects the way we think about life NOW. It gives PERSPECTIVE to this world.


The good things that we LONG for. Aren’t going to last very long. They’re hardly worth worrying about. Getting right with the eternal God is MUCH more important than possessions, or money, or human relationships.


And it affects the way we think about BAD things, too. THEY’RE not going to last long EITHER. Sickness, and pain, and loneliness, and rejection. Depression. Frustrations. They’ll be gone quicker than you can click your fingers.


Compared to an eternity lived with the eternal, living God.


Q3: What does God demand? (Scribes)

Well, that’s the second lesson we’ve learned from the teacher. Who should we serve? What is that God like?


Next we move onto lesson number three. And once again, it builds on the last question. We know what God is LIKE. But what does he DEMAND of us? What are his EXPECTATIONS for how we should live?


The Pharisees and the Herodians have had a swing. And struck out. Same with the Sadducees. Next up to the plate is one of the Scribes. A teacher of the law. The legal expert. The federal court judge. Verse 28.

(Mark 12:28 NIV)  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?”


Of all the things God expects from us, what’s the number one? The Big Kahuna! The Mount Everest!


And for once, Jesus answers the way they’d expect. Verse 29. He quotes Deut 6. It’s what every good Jew prayed three times a day.

Deut*a# hw`hy+ Wnyh@ýa$ hw`hy+ la@r*c=y] um^v=

(Mark 12:29-30 NIV)  ” ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.


That’s what God’s like. And then he continues. What God EXPECTS. “{30} Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’


Every part of your being is to be devoted to God. To love him. No leftover bits. No “Sundays, but not Saturday nights”. No “hands, but not my wallet”. No “PUBLIC faith, but not what I do behind closed doors.”


No ifs. No buts, no excuses. Everything. God deserves nothing less.


But then Jesus adds another. (The teacher of the law gets a good deal. Two for the price of one). Verse 31.

(Mark 12:31 NIV)  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”


It’s the Golden Rule. It’s funny how the World seems to sum up Christianity this way. Do good to others. They forget that this is only the SECOND most important command.


Anything God wants us to do can be summed up by one of these two commands. “Love God. Love your neighbour as yourself.”


Are they what guide YOU each day? Do you base your plans for the day on “What will show my complete love for God? How can I love my neighbour?”


Or do you say “How can I make MYSELF feel better today? What can I do for ME? What will help me avoid pain, and maximise pleasure?”


Learn lesson 3 from the master teacher. What does God demand? To love him more than ANYTHING. And to love OTHERS as much as we love ourselves.


And the teacher agrees with Jesus. And he comes out with a remarkable statement. Right in the middle of the temple. Verse 32. “You’ve spoken well teacher. To love God, and to love your neighbour as yourself is MORE IMPORTANT THAN ALL BURNT OFFERINGS AND SACRIFICES.”


This guy’s just said what Jesus has been saying all along. It’s what Jesus said was wrong with the temple. All burnt offerings and sacrifices, but no love for God and neighbour. No justice or holiness. No prayer.


And Jesus says that he’s not FAR from the kingdom. He’s on the right track. But he’s not there yet. To get there, he needs to know the answer to question 4. Who is God’s king? Jesus has given him three out of four. But only 100% counts.


Q4: Who is God’s King?

And question 4 is one of Jesus’ OWN questions. The OTHER teachers have had a go, and failed. Now it’s Jesus’ turn.


And his question is the missing piece of the puzzle. You can get the first three questions right, and still miss out. People need to understand who JESUS HIMSELF is.


The Jews agreed that God was going to send a king. A Messiah. A Saviour. But what was he going to be like? The teachers expected a son of David. A normal human person descended from David’s HUMAN line.


And, in a sense, they’re right. But they’re not COMPLETELY right. Because Jesus says, in v 36, how can King David call his own son “My Lord”? He’s quoting Psalm 110. And David’s talking about his descendant who would come after him. And he calls him “My Lord”. But the ancestor is supposed to be GREATER than the offspring.


And so Jesus’ point is “There must be more to this King. This son of David. Than meets the eye.”


And from our position, we know that it’s because Jesus is GOD’S son, as well as David’s son. Fully God and fully man. He’s God become man.


The only one who can bridge the gap between mankind and God/ is someone who is BOTH God and man. The PERFECT man who dies in place of the sinful.


And it’s only by understanding and accepting this. That we can actually make it into the kingdom. Become one of God’s children.


Question 4 is the key. We only understand WHO GOD IS when we understand Jesus. And we only understand what God WOULD HAVE US DO, when we understand Jesus, and are in the right relationship with him. And we are only able to DO those things God delights in, when Jesus lives with us through his Spirit.


Four questions. Four BIG questions. And four answers from the Master teacher.


Let’s pray that God would give us the desire and the strength to put these things into our practice


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