Mark chapter 12 verse 13...
Mark 12:13 And they sent to Jesus some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk.
The “they” are the chief priests. If you were here last week, you heard the confrontation between Jesus and the chief priests. They were upset that Jesus had disrupted their temple... during the Passover. They wanted to know who he thought he was turning over tables and scattering pigeons; “What right do you have?”
Jesus told them what right he had...
--He was the one authorized by the same one who sent John the Baptizer.
--He was the owner’s son sent to collect the rent.
--He was the rejected cornerstone who became the temple.
As you might guess, this, offended the chief priests. So, they came up with Plan B. Plan A, the straight forward approach, did not work. So, Plan B: “Let’s send the Pharisees and the Herodians to trap him. The Pharisees are good debaters. The Pharisees will trip Jesus up!”
Let’s see how the Pharisees did with Plan B.
Plan B: The Pharisees
Mark 12:14 And the Pharisees 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?"
This is a great question. I’m sure the Pharisees snickered amongst themselves as they plotted Plan B.
The question is not only a religious question. It is a political question and a financial question all rolled up in a nasty package.
--Financially, it is hard because, not only did all the people pay a temple tax, and local taxes and now on top of all that the peasants had to come up with more money for the Romans. This was not based upon a percentage of how much you made... but a straight Tribute coin. Everyone hated the tax and the Romans.
--It was a political question. The Passover was a celebration of freedom. It was 4th of July the birth of a nation. This tax was a slap in the face for all Jews because it said, “You are not free. You belong to us. You exist at our pleasure. Pay your taxes and shut up.” Where Rome ruled, Rome taxed, and Rome was hated for it. It was a charged political question.
--But the tax was, most importantly, a religious question. There was no separation of church and state. No one for the next 1500 years had that thought. This tribute tax was a theological question.
The coin is of Caesar Tiberius. Around the head it says, in Latin: Augustus Tiberius, son of the divine Augustus! Each coin claimed that Tiberius was the Son of God! On the other side, it says: Pontifex Maximus; High Priest! Son of a god; high priest! The Romans could not have been more offensive to the Jews! A devout Jew would not touch this blasphemous coin.
Mark’s readers know Jesus to be the true king, the son of God, standing there in the temple ruled by the Jewish chief priest, the irony could hardly be sharper.
Everyone in the crowd around Jesus that day in the temple is invested in the answer. They hated the Romans... The hated to pay the tax. They hated the brutality of the Romans. They were offended at the blasphemous coin!
This is the beauty Plan B... If Jesus said... “No, don’t pay this Roman tax... the Romans would kill him. If he said, “Yes, pay the tribute tax”. The people might riot.
How does Jesus get out of this one?
Mark 12:15-17 But, knowing the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, Jesus said to them, "Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it." And they brought one. And he said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said to him, "Caesar's." 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.
Let’s be careful here as we analyze Jesus’ answer. I don’t think Jesus is laying down a timeless ethical truth that says always pay your taxes. We often pop this out of the historical context as a verse that simple says pay your taxes. There is much more going on. If Jesus had said, “Pay the tax, and go to church.” the people would not have marveled. They most liked would have lynched Jesus.
Jesus does not have one of these coins, intentionally... so he asks for one. Here is what I think Jesus is saying...
“Okay, give back to Caesar these blasphemous pieces of metal he owns. But know this, you are to render to God all the things which belong to God; YHWH is the only God; only YHWH is worshipped. Tiberius is not the son of a god.” Jesus is mostly saying; these coins are insignificant compared to the devotion we should be giving to God! His answer is not rebellion against Rome, nor is it a command for us to pay our taxes. It is that Rome is insignificant compared to rendering your heart to God.
“Wait, did Jesus say pay the tax or not... it is a bit hard to say.” Jesus dodged the question.
“Rats! Plan B didn’t work. So, the chief priests come up with Plan C.
Plan C: The Sadducees
Mark 12:18-23 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, "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. There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife."
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. The Sadducees saw belief in the resurrection as politically dangerous. Martyrs who believe in glorious resurrections are willing to die to fight Rome. The Sadducees did not want to fight Rome. So, they came up with this elaborate argument based upon the Mosaic Law which said that younger brothers must keep the family line going by marrying their brother’s widows. The wanted to disprove the resurrection.
It was not as good a question as the Tribute Tax question... but it is still politically tricky.
Mark 12:24-27 Jesus said to them, "Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 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'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong."
Let’s be careful here as well. When you die you do not become an angel. Nor, did Jesus, or anyone there, believe you went to heaven when you died. Jesus simply say... In the resurrection there is not going to be marriage. This answered their trick question.
But watch Jesus’ comeback argument...If you cease to exist altogether, never to be raised again, like the Sadducees taught, then what did God mean when he said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” God is not the God of those who do not exist... but those who will be raised again.
They were quite wrong. Plan C failed, as well... Plan D?
Plan D: A Scribe
Mark 12:28 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?"
The questions are getting easier... What is the essential commandment? What leads to all other commandments?
Mark 12:29-31 Jesus answered, "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.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
Jesus answers with the Shema. Devote Jews repeated this every morning...
Deuteronomy 6:3-9 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
The heart of following God is heart. The first command is fulfilled through the second... by loving your neighbor as yourself you love God. This love of God and love of each other is more important than all the sacrifices offered in the temple surrounding them!
Not only did Plan D not work, the scribe gets it.
Mark 12:32-34 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. 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." And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
We catch a glimpse of the point of this sermon. This scribe was not arrogant, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, he was humble enough to listen to Jesus! This guy is close to the kingdom because he understands what Jesus is teaching.
Plans A, B, C, and D all failed to trap Jesus... so...
Mark 12:34 And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Jesus was too slick to be trapped by politically charged arguments.
Now Jesus has a question of his own...
Mark 12:35-37 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, "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.
The scribes taught that the Messiah was a descendant of David. Everyone agreed on that point. But Jesus asks, why did David, in Psalm 110, call the Messiah the Lord who sits on the right hand of God? Is the Messiah greater than David? None of the scribes or anyone else has an answer.
Jesus raises the curtain, just a bit, so we can catch a glimpse of the reality in who Jesus is. Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David. Jesus is David’s son. But he is also David’s Lord who will soon be sitting at the right hand of YWHW! Jesus gives us a sneak peek at what is to happen, soon. The chief priests did not see this glimpse of Jesus because of their arrogance,
But the great throng heard him gladly... Let’s be the great throng... Let’s be gladly...
Jesus wraps up these questions with a conclusion that may shock us.
Mark 12:38-44 And in his teaching Jesus said, "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. They will receive the greater condemnation." And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 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. 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."
Here is the point... of this sermon. There is arrogance. There is humility. The chief priests and Pharisees and Sadducees came with their arrogant questions to trap Jesus. Their Plans were aimed at discrediting Jesus. There was no thought in their minds that they might be wrong. Or what they might learn. Or Jesus might be the Messiah. It was the arrogance of sitting in places of Honor, while devouring widows. It was the arrogance of large donations of money for the show! It was the arrogance of knowing they were right, even in the presence of David’s Lord.
--In contrast to that arrogance, we have a lone scribe who came and learned. He was not far from the kingdom.
--In contrast to their arrogance, we have a lone widow giving 2 cents out of her humility.
That is the point. It is a point we need.
Arrogance misses the kingdom. Humility is close to the kingdom.
I’m not sure there could be any more relevant indictment for us, today; in our society.
--We hold onto our arguments with all the passion of the Pharisees.
--We point fingers of condemnation with the best of the chief priests.
--We dispute anyone who slightly disagrees with us with the best of the scribes.
--We don’t listen any more than the Sadducees, but just type in all caps.
--We believe we are right with the same conviction as those who challenged Jesus that day in the temple.
But, Jesus points to a poor widow giving out of her poverty as who we should model.
Arrogance misses the kingdom. Humility is close to the kingdom.
October 1, 2017
Los Alamos Church of Christ