Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to Truly Love, Part 1

This is Part 1 of two messages on The Greatest Commandment. Part 2 will be uploaded the week of February 5.
If you want to start a discussion, ask someone what the greatest is. The subject doesn’t really matter. What is the greatest song? What is the greatest book? What was the greatest game (pick a sport)? What is the greatest TV show? Who was the greatest president? Who is the greatest artist? Etc.

Most any topic can be turned into a discussion of the greatest. And that discussion can get rather lively as opinions begin to be shared. In fact, when individuals begin to have these discussions, the greatest commandment is often forgotten. Why? Because emotion and passion get in the way of love.

That may sound strange because we think of love as an emotion and as an expression of passion. And, in a sense, love does represent each. But love is only one such expression of a person’s passion. Other expressions such as anger often make us forget that we do love, or that we are supposed to love, others – including those who are closest to us. Because love requires intentionality, other passions do not.

Think of it this way. Think about someone you love or have loved. Now think about a time when that person made you angry. In your moment of anger, or even at this moment as you reflect, did you have to think about getting angry. Probably not. It just happened. Did you have to think about loving them later – probably. Let me give you an example. Just after Christmas, my wife and I were preparing lunch for family. We had a misunderstanding during the process and I got very frustrated. Now, I could sense myself getting frustrated, but I didn’t stop and say, “You know, I think I should get frustrated right now. That would be the right thing to do.” No, it just happened. But later, in order to resolve the situation, we had to be intentional – we had to sit down and talk it out. That took intentionality.

The reality is that loving others is one of the hardest things we can choose to do. But it is a choice.

The reality is that while love is an action, and it is a choice, it is also a command of God. As Mark records this story, it is the final challenge to Jesus in the temple courtyard on the week He would die. But this challenge was different as we shall soon see.

The Trap:  A Contrived Plan

The last two weeks, I have talked about this master plan that was conceived by the religious leaders. Why did they need a plan? Well, a few minutes ago, I mentioned the idea of the word greatest – and Jesus was the greatest threat to their power and prestige. So the leaders schemed to confront Jesus and ultimately to defraud Him. They do so with four questions:
  • By whose authority do you do what you do?
  • Should we pay taxes to Caesar?
  • What happens at the resurrection related to God’s law about marriage?
  • What is the greatest commandment?

It is this final question which demands our focus this week. But the question here has a different tone to it, as does the response of the scribe towards Jesus after He responds. Because of this change in tone, many people believe that this encounter was not to trap Jesus – and perhaps it wasn’t. But I believe it was originally meant to be because Mark places it within the context of seven statements of conflict (this is number five).  I say originally, because I believe this man was open to the teachings of Christ which changed his demeanor as he witnessed the previous exchanges between Jesus and the other religious leaders.

The scribe comes having heard the encounter with the Pharisees. Mark records that he (Jesus) answered well. That is, Jesus answered correctly according to this scribe’s perspective. But the scribes were a part of the Sanhedrin (notice verse 18 and 27). The Sanhedrin was part of the group out to discredit Jesus, but not all Pharisees or scribes hated Jesus. For instance, we know Nicodemus went to Jesus to seek the truth and from that encounter, as recorded in John 3, we have the famed verse that “God so loved the world...”

In fact, that may be part of what endeared Jesus to this scribe. He outwitted the Sadducees which were theological opponents of the Pharisees. So this scribe comes, hears Jesus discredit his opponent and begins to have a change of heart. Therefore, this man asks his question, but not with the same overtones of destroying Jesus like the others had.

Let’s take a look.

A Constructive Pursuit

The question he asks Jesus is essentially how Jesus interprets Scripture. The previous groups have asked about His authority, His politics (taxes), and His theology (resurrection).

On a recent Sunday night, I talked specifically about the methods of rabbinic teaching. Rabbis often discussed the lighter and weightier laws. That is, which commandments are more important and should control the understandings of the other laws. The Torah contained 613 laws – 248 were positive and 365 were negative (prohibiting certain actions – such as “Do not lie”). It is clear this scribe considered Jesus a rabbi because he calls Jesus, “Teacher” in verse 32. Different rabbis had various views on which commandment was the most important, so the question presented was common – Of the 613 commandments, which is the greatest?

It is a good question really – what is most important? Essentially, the question could be stated like this: “If I only had to focus on one thing, what would it be?”

The Response: A Central Principle

Jesus answer is Love. Love God and love others.

Jesus command to love God comes from Deuteronomy 6. This statement was essentially a creed to the Jews. Deuteronomy 6.4 represented the first words a Jewish boy would be taught to say. It was the last words that would be said over a dying person – thus, this verse was literally a life-long verse. Each day, a faithful Jew would quote the verse every morning and every night.

And the words were not just said, they were written on a scroll and placed on the doorposts and gates. The scroll itself was called a mezuzah 
A mezuzah on the wall of a gate in modern day Jerusalem

as is the object which contains the scroll. Seeing the mezuzah was to serve as a reminder to always have this saying on your mind.

But Jesus statement here reveals that this is more than words to be said. It is about action. (In Deuteronomy 6.7 it says to teach them (which involves saying this) when you lie down and when you rise. One of the debates around Jesus’ time was about how long the sun should be up or down before saying these words! The people had completely lost sight of the action needed – just as we often do ourselves.)

So Jesus says our love for God should be with every part of our being. In Deuteronomy, the command includes heart, soul, and strength, but Jesus includes mind. Thus, our love should be with all of our heart (emotions), soul (spirit), mind (intelligence), and strength (will).

Click here for a few verses about what it means and/or why we should love God.

Jesus then continues – probably a surprise to everyone involved. He adds the element of loving our neighbor. The question was what is the greatest, but Jesus gives two answers and then combines the two into one concept. Notice the end of verse 31: “There is no other commandment (singular) greater than these (plural).”

The second commandment to love the neighbor is from Leviticus 19.18. In Leviticus, the context is about a person’s own people. But Jesus expands that concept, as He does so many, and includes all people. In Luke, when Jesus was asked this question earlier, the example He gave to clarify the idea of neighbor was given in the story of The Good Samaritan. The story showed that it was not just the Jews that are to be loved, but even the half-breed people of the world, and further-yet, the Gentiles. (It is helpful to remember that these encounters are taking place in the Court of the Gentiles within the temple complex.)

How can we love others? Only through Christ. The reality, as one commentator mentioned, is that our “love for God releases the love of God.”(1)

And that is why Jesus, on His last night with them gave them a new commandment – to love one another.
“34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13.34-35

The idea of one another is different from others. By others, Jesus means all people – anywhere and everywhere. By one another, He is talking specifically of His followers. Of course, if we are to love everyone, then it stands to reason that we should love those who believe in Jesus. But do we? How often do we hear of people leaving churches because of fighting, turmoil, and an overall lack of love. I am not suggesting that a loving church will not have disagreements, arguments, and even some fighting from time to time – but at the end of the day, we are family, and thus we are called, by our Lord – the Lord of the Church – to love one another.

The other gospels record Jesus teaching the need to love others throughout His ministry. Additionally, the New Testament letters speak of the need to love others – especially one another. (I will look further at this point in the post made during he week of February 5.)

The end of this passage is one that should both captivate our imaginations and convict us to search our hearts. Verse 32 shows the scribe agrees with Jesus’ answer. This is one reason many do not believe this encounter was meant as confrontational. But as I said earlier, I believe we have an open-minded scribe who may have been asked to confront Jesus, but who, after seeing Jesus’ response to others began to desire something else.

Notice Jesus commends the scribe as well. But not completely. “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” The man knows Scripture. He understands it well. But he still needs to believe!

And that is the crux for us as well. It doesn’t matter how much we love (heart), how much we care (soul), how much we know (mind), how much we serve (strength) if we don’t know Jesus.

Paul says it this way:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Cor 13.1-4

Paul concludes this chapter by saying that of faith, hope, and love – it is love that is the greatest.

Remember, that was the question before Jesus. What is the greatest commandment? For the Jew, the greatest consideration was that of the temple. In fact, the temple as everything to the Jews. (Again, it is imperative to remember that is where this series of exchanges is taking place.) But Jesus says love is everything to God.

And the question is how will we respond?

JOURNEY: This week’s JOURNEY letter is: YYou.

The teaching was not new then (read Micah 6.1-8, for example), but the people needed a new understanding. This teaching of Jesus is familiar to many in today’s world as well. The God, who is One, should unite us, not divide us. And yet, we do not love like we ought. Perhaps that is because we have forgotten how much God loves us. Perhaps sharing His love with others will serve as a reminder of what He has already done for us.

OPPORTUNITY: We are to express our love to God. We are to share His love with others.

REMEMBRANCE: Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Love: Write down a name. Pray about what God might have you do for that person.Then commit to do whatever He leads you to do during the month of February!

(1)  (Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 373). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"Scriptures About Loving God", A Closer Look, by Rick Sons

A non-inclusive list at commands to love God and or why we should.

Genesis 32:26
Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Exodus 33:18
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

Deuteronomy 6:5
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Deuteronomy 6:12
Then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Deuteronomy 10:12
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,

1 Chronicles 16:11
Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His face continually.

1 Chronicles 22:19
Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God. Begin to build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the sacred articles belonging to God into the temple that will be built for the Name of the LORD.

2 Chronicles 7:14
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Psalm 9:10
And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Psalm 37:3-5
Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.

Psalm 119:2-3
How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart. They also do no unrighteousness; they walk in His ways.

Psalm 119:47-48
I shall delight in your commandments, which I love. And I shall lift up my hands to Your commandments, Which I love; And I will meditate on Your statutes.

Proverbs 8:17
I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.

Proverbs 23:26
My son, give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways.

Jeremiah 2:32
Does a young woman forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number.

Jeremiah 29:13
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Amos 5:4
For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live;

Matthew 22:37
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Mark 12:29-34
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.” 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.

Luke 10:27
And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

John 3:16
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 14:21
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

John 14:23-24
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

Romans 8:28-29
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 12:2
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Hebrews 11:6
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

1 Corinthians 8:3
But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

Ephesians 1:4-5
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.

Colossians 1:16
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

Colossians 3:1-2
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

2 Timothy 3:2-5
For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

James 4:4
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

James 4:7-8
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded

2 Peter 2:21
For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.

1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 3:1
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

1 John 4:7-8
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:19
We love because he first loved us.

1 John 5:3-5
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Revelation 2:2-5
I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. You also possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My name and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.

Revelation 14:7
And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

“Follow Me”...An Opportunity to Truly Live

The topics addressed by the Bible are always relevant to each person, but sometimes moreso than others. And sometimes, the way a topic is taught or addressed can make it seem more or less relevant than at other times. For instance, if we consider last week’s post, we have a question about Jesus’ authority and His answer being to ask what His questioners think of John the baptizer. Then Jesus gives a parable about wicked tenants who beat, shame, or kill the landowner’s servants and then kill the son. In reading the passage, we may first perceive that the message is not for us. And yet, it is. In a nutshell, I would suggest we can find three key points from those verses.

  • It is about the authority of Jesus.
  • It is about understanding the significance of Jesus baptism and the transference of John’s ministry to Jesus.
  • It is about being good stewards of the ministry that God has given us (which was what John did).

So, maybe we missed some of that last week because of the way the Bible reads or the way I presented it. But this week, the questions posed to Jesus will hit each one of us straight between the eyes. In fact, within the last week or so, I have been asked both of these questions.
  • Should we pay taxes?
  • What happens when we die?

As I mentioned last week, this section of Scripture – Mark 11.27-12.40 involves seven different questions and controversies. Last week, we looked at the question of Jesus and the parable (the first two). This week we will look at the next two. It is important to understand the Jesus is being evaluated, and that is a critical thought – Jesus is being evaluated! I will say more about that in a few weeks, but for now, we just need to remember the events we are studying occur during the week before Passover.

So, how did we get to this point of the story? I would encourage you to quickly review last week’s post – particularly the section entitled The Trap: A Contrived Plan.

Last week, the trap was about the source of Jesus authority. This week, the traps shifts to a political question followed by a theological question. These two questions are presented by two different groups although they were all working together behind the scenes to destroy Jesus. It is important to know a little about these groups in order to help us understand the purpose of their particular questions.

A Conflicted Partnership

The Pharisees and Herodians would typify a list of groups who might be considered opposites. Imagine Republicans and Democrats working together or the fans of two sports rivals joining forces. The only way this could happen is if a common enemy threatened to disrupt each group independently and collectively. Such was the case with Jesus. These groups were no strangers to one another, in part, because they were quite opposed to one another. (See this post from 2016 for a short exposé on these two groups.) Mark 3.6 says that they two groups began to plot with one another how to destroy Jesus from that moment. What was the moment? Jesus healing a man’s withered hand – although the problem was that He did it on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees were interested in the observance of the Jewish law. The Herodians were interested in Herod regaining power from Rome. In either case, a messiah-like figure could be a threat to either side as history had already revealed. In fact, the question they posed was due to a tax that had been instituted over two decades earlier and had caused a revolt against Rome. Thus, Jesus answer is critical.
  • If Jesus answers not to pay, He will be arrested, in large part because of the earlier uprising.
  • If Jesus answers to pay, then His following would disband.

But make no mistake, the question was geared to get Him arrested and, ideally, killed.

A Challenging Problem

How many of you know that before you ask something difficult, you should butter people up? Well, ok, this isn’t necessary, but we do it, right? The practice is not new. Remember, this is a trap. Jesus has just pushed back hard at the Sanhedrin, and now this next group comes. Listen how they begin, as recorded in Mark 12.14: “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.”

That statement is entirely true, but their saying it is not because they believe it. If they believed Jesus truly represented God the Pharisees would be following Him, and would not have anything to do with the Herodians – and that is just a beginning of the hypocrisy. But again, the statement is true. Jesus will not be swayed by their opinion, by the appearances of the ruling Sanhedrin, the threats of the Pharisees, by the rule of Caesar, nor, as we will see next, the aristocracy of the Sadducees. What they said is truth, even if they do not mean it, which is why I can say with full assurance “All truth is God’s truth” regardless of its source.

Their question is about the lawfulness of paying the tax. Roman law required it. But the question was about Jewish law. The ESV uses the term “lawful.” The question is, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” A better understanding of this would be to say: “Are we permitted to pay taxes?”

The issue was not just about paying taxes; it was about the coin used to pay the taxes. The issue was not the amount; it was the 2nd Commandment which commands to not make a graven image. Most currency used by the Jews in that day were copper coins without any real markings. But the coin that was used for this poll tax was a denarius. Each emperor minted their own coin with their own image stamped onto it.

Denarius with Tiberius Caesar Inscribed
The front has the of Tiberius Caesar with an abbreviated inscription – Divi Aug filius  or “Son of the divine Augustus”

On the back was a picture of his mother Livia with the inscription – Ponti Maxim or “High Priest”

Thus, for the Jews to use this coin which ascribed deity to a man (the deceased Caesar Augustus), and made mockery of their true high priest – especially related to the temple – would be blasphemous. (As I have mentioned before in our study on Matthew 16, the emperor’s sons were often called “son of god.” That is why Peter’s statement at Caesarea Philippi (where Phillip was son of the dead god) about Jesus being Son of the living God is such a radical inclusion in Matthew’s account of the Great Confession.) If Jesus answers that the taxes should be paid, he would not only discredit Himself as blasphemous, but it would be treasonous as well, and thus He would be arrested, if not killed.

Jesus, aware of their scheme, asks not for a coin, but specifically for a denarius. Let us not overlook that Jesus was aware of this practice so He asked for the particular coin in question. But let us also not overlook that these groups who were supposedly opposed to the use of the coin were able to produce one quite easily – while on the temple grounds!

Upon receiving the coin, Jesus asks about the inscription and then gives His answer. His answer is not just an answer however. And notice Jesus answer does not specifically address their question!

The Response: A Comprehensive Pronouncement

Jesus says to give to Caesar what is his and give to God what is His. Notice this subtle change. They asked if it was ok to pay the taxes – are we permitted? But Jesus changes the verb and says give back what belongs to others. In the case of Caesar, the coin had his image, and the cultural understanding was that as long as the coin was in circulation, and the Caesar was alive, then it was his personal property. Thus Jesus says, if Caesar is asking for it, give it back to him.

But that brings us to the latter half of the statement. Because Jesus also says, give to God what is God’s. Many people interpret this in a way that says all money is God’s so we should give it to Him. But I don’t think that is what Jesus is saying. Remember, the Pharisees are a part of the group before Jesus in this moment. And the question from Jesus was about the image on the coin. So, to carry the thought to completion, Jesus talks about the image of God. Where is the image of God imprinted? Genesis 1.27 gives us the answer. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Coins may have the image of a ruler or perhaps someone great impressed upon it. But humans have the image of God impressed upon us. Just as Jesus instructed these individuals to give back what belonged to Caesar, He says we should give ourselves back to our Creator – the One to whom we belong. It is not that we are to pay God like we are some form of a tax, but we should willingly give ourselves to Him. That is, we should make ourselves available to Him, because He is God.

I will draw a few principles from this in the conclusion, but first, let us unpack the next encounter which followed immediately.

A Conservative Piety

The Sadducees were very theologically conservative. They disregarded the oral tradition that had been passed down and were skeptical of the writings beyond those of Moses. Thus, the Torah (that is, the writings of Moses – Genesis through Deuteronomy) was their guide. Because of this limited scope of Scripture, they did not believe in the resurrection, nor angels, nor a few other aspects that we consider normal today. We may find this strange, but the primary passages for resurrection are in Ezekiel 37 and Daniel 12 and if you discount the prophetic writings – especially those which happened in Babylon, then you can make a case for their position. (In truth, only four verses/passages really speak of resurrection in the Old Testament: Psalm 73.23; Isaiah 26:19; Ezekiel 37; Daniel 12:2. The OT speaks of the afterlife in terms of Sheol – largely existing in a joyless state, not resurrection.)

This conservative group comes immediately after Jesus shut down the attack of the Pharisees and Herodians. This group is usually at odds against the Pharisees (who did believe in angels, the resurrection, etc.), but here the goal of every group is to discredit Jesus. Thus, they come up with a preposterous example – one they likely had used to make Pharisees look like fools – to confront Jesus. Their concern is not political; it is entirely theological.

A Curious Puzzle

Basically, they want to play “What if?” in the theological realm. You have certainly heard others do this in vain, and have done yourself in earnestness. In vain, it sounds something like this: “Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it?” The answer to that question is: Why would He? God will only do what brings Him glory, so He has no reason to make such a rock.

But in earnestness the question is more along the lines of what happens next?  That is, what happens when we die? Will we know each other in eternity? Are we reunited with our family? Does our family watch over us after they die? I cannot get into all of that today. But I will say that our expectations of eternity are probably more removed from the truth than we can imagine. Specifically, I will say that while we might know one another, and better than we do now, our concept of family will have changed dramatically (as Christ has already revealed in Mark 3.35 and 10.30), and our focus will be on worshiping and serving God, not on one another. And the passage before us reveals just that.

The Sadducees story is about a lady whose husband died prior to having children. This was a real problem in Jewish culture. So, God designed a law that allowed for the family to continue. The law was known as a Levirate Marriage (see Deuteronomy 25.5-10). Basically, the brother of the deceased man would offer himself to the woman so she could bear a male child. In their story, not only has the husband died, but so had six of his brothers who were willing to sustain this widow. But the problem, according to the Sadducees, is that if there really is a resurrection (read that sarcastically to get their tone), whose wife will she really be?

The argument has many holes in a technical sense (e.g. only the first man was legally married to the woman). But Jesus doesn’t argue on man-made technicalities. He uses Scripture to refute their puzzle. However, Jesus cannot use just any Scripture because, again, the Sadducees only give credence to the books of Moses. So, Jesus uses the passage about the bush. You and I might say, “Remember in Exodus 3”; but remember, the chapters and verses came hundreds of years after Jesus, so in this day, the teachers referred to sections of Scripture by the topic.

So how does Jesus respond?

The Response: A Common Pitfall

Jesus basically says, “You are reading Scripture for what you want to see, rather than for the truth. You have developed an understanding and now you make Scripture agree with you rather than letting it guide, direct, and even correct your false interpretations. You think you understand, but you do not. You don’t know the Scriptures and you certainly don’t know God.” (The process of reading our ideas into Scripture is called eisegesis. To read what is there is exegesis.)

First, Jesus mentions that the people who rise are LIKE angels. Please note, that we do not become angels. In fact, 1 Corinthians 6 says that we, humans, judge the angels. God created angels before He created humans. Just as an elephant and a hippopotamus are different, so are humans and angels. Some similarities exist, but there are differences as well.

In this case, we become like angels because serving God is what is important. We have marriage on earth for the purposes of procreation. In heaven, we will not have a need to procreate, so we will not need marriage as we know it. And, as I have said several times before, those who are in eternity with God are the Church, which is called the Bride of Christ. So, the only marriage known in heaven is that between us (collectively) and Jesus.

Thus, Jesus begins to show that the Sadducees are wrong. All of us expect the future relatively predictable based upon our past. But when we do this, we are not allowing God to be Himself. As Jesus said, this group of people does not know the Scriptures, nor do they know the power of God – if God can raise people from the dead, then what can’t He do?

At this point, Jesus brings the focus to a particular passage, but not one that directly mentions resurrection. Rather, the passage is an example of its truth. When God spoke to Moses, He did not speak of being the God of people who had died, He spoke of the promise to those who were still living – though their life on earth had ceased. Certainly Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died hundreds of years prior to Moses encounter at the burning bush. But the promises God made Abraham were not yet fulfilled, and thus either Abraham must still be living in some way (i.e. resurrection) or God is a liar.

Thus, Jesus refutes this group’s challenge with the wisdom of God. And when we are challenged about the things of God, it is how we must learn to respond as well.

Five primary principles should be considered from the passages reviewed in this post.

1.  Being devoted to God means giving of ourselves.

2.  The reality is that God doesn’t want your money; He wants you.
If you give God money, you may still end up separated from Him for eternity.
If you give Him yourself, your money will surely follow – and more than you simply pay out of obligation.We can be devoted to God and be at peace with our country simultaneously.

3.  We can be devoted to God and be at peace with our country simultaneously.
Our obedience to a human government does not necessarily conflict with obligation to God.
Other passages on the subject are Rom 13:1–7; 1 Tim 2:1–3; Titus 3:1–2; 1 Pet 2:13–17.

4. We cannot project earthly understandings onto heavenly realities.
5. Eternity will change our understanding of marriage, but we will love, and be loved, in ways we cannot yet fathom.

This week’s JOURNEY letter is: YYou.

How will you respond to this passage? To God? To the authority of Jesus? Are you willing to truly seek what Jesus wants and give yourself to Him? Are you willing to live for Jesus a life that is true striving to please Him in all that you do?

The choice is up to you.

OPPORTUNITY:  Those who wish to live with God forever, must first choose to live for Him now.

REMEMBRANCE:  The power of God is far greater than the apparent wisdom of man.

Live:  The people in these stories were focused on finding loopholes or exceptions in the midst of truth. We often do the same asking the same kind of question asked by the serpent in the Garden: "Did God really say...?" We can choose to live apart from God’s will and questioning for our purposes to escape the truth or we can choose to live in God’s will and question to better understand the truth. How will you choose to live this week?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to Truly Learn

Leadership is one of the trickiest aspects of life. This is true for any good leader, but especially for those who are Christians and/or are in Christian leadership positions. The model Jesus gave for leadership was one of complete strength and confidence in His person and purpose, and yet it was vastly different from the worldly model of power and authoritarian rule. Certainly, Jesus had authority, but He exercised it through serving.

However, as we have seen countless times in this study so far, His authority was questioned – if not directly, then from afar. But the setting is now not “out there” in Galilee, it is front and center in Jerusalem. And, as we pick up the story today, the setting is in the temple grounds – specifically in the Court of the Gentiles.

Over the next four weeks, we are going to see seven different challenges or controversies – all which happen in the Court of the Gentiles, and I would argue, all which happen within the same day. We will review the first two today, two more next week, one on the 15th, and conclude the challenges followed by a story about the poor widow over the course of this month. Four of the first five controversies are instigated by others. The attempt is to trap Jesus and expose Him as a fraud. As such, I am going to position these first five by exploring the trap set for Jesus, the response of Jesus, and the lesson we can take from the situation.

The Trap: A Contrived Plan

Notice who approaches Jesus – the chief priests and the scribes and elders. The chief priests and scribes are a part of the Sanhedrin – the same group present when Jesus created quite the stir in the temple the previous day. Consider that the night before, just as Jesus and the disciples left the temple for the night, so too had the religious leaders. Remember verse 18 – they sought to destroy Jesus, but feared Him, because of the crowd.

That Monday night, Jesus’ disciples no doubt talked about what they saw Jesus do – most likely because they were amazed. But so did the religious leaders – most certainly because they were angry. So, the leaders schemed in order to confront Jesus and ultimately to defraud Him. They do so with four questions:
  • By whose authority do you do what you do?
  • Should we pay taxes to Caesar or give our offerings to God?
  • What happens at the resurrection related to God’s law about marriage?
  • What is the greatest commandment?

Four questions. Four traps. What is amazing is that Jesus doesn’t attempt to escape the trap, He confronts each trap, and destroys them in their own argument each time. Each time they were seeking to destroy the credibility of Jesus, but only end up destroying their own and thus, Mark 12.34 says that after these four questions “no one DARED to ask Him any more questions.”

What is important in this first question is that these leaders may not like what Jesus is doing, but the question is not about what He is doing, it is about the source of His authority. Jesus has been critiqued before. For instance, while He was in Galilee performing miracles, the leaders examined the evidence of the miracles and attributed Jesus work to demon possession (Mark 3.22). I think this is why the first question is directed at by “what authority?” The second question is directed at “whose authority?” Again, Jesus has been asked something similar before. In Mark 8.11, the Pharisees want a sign from heaven (from God) to prove Jesus is really acting under God’s authority.

But now in Jerusalem, the question wasn’t just a question – it was a loaded question. Their intent wasn’t to learn about Jesus real purpose and who authorized it. If so, they would have had to have answered His question as we shall soon see. Rather the reason for their question is really an underlying statement. Hear it this way: “You may have done some miracles when you were north in Galilee, but this is Jerusalem, and we are in control here. Who authorized you to do this? It certainly was not us!”

The Response: A Calculated Proposition

The religious leaders believe they have Jesus trapped. If Jesus provides the wrong answer, the crowd will see through His apparent façade. But Jesus doesn’t back down. Instead, He engages in traditional rabbinic debate by responding to their question with a question of His own. (See Mark 11.29)

So, like good politicians, they deliberated. But they realized that they were now trapped. Notice verse 32 – they knew what the polls said – the people loved John and were amazed at Jesus, so now if they answer wrong, it will give people a reason to turn from their leadership.

The problem was that they did not really believe John was sent by God. If they had, they should have shown stronger support for Him and listened to his message (Deuteronomy 18.18-19). But if John’s authority was merely human, they should have squashed what He was doing much earlier (Deuteronomy 18.20). Thus, the religious leaders chose not to answer at all. In doing so, they showed themselves not to be worthy of leadership at all. (It is important to remember that John was the son of a temple priest – Luke 1.5.)

By their not answering Jesus, Jesus does not have to answer them. Please note that Jesus was willing to answer their question. His approach was not evasive. First, as I said before, it was the standard operating procedure of the day among rabbis – answer a question with a question. Jesus did that, and the ball was back in their court. More importantly, I believe He absolutely wanted to answer the question because I believe Jesus was giving these leaders an opportunity to repent.

But, the leaders would not repent, and thus, Jesus told a parable to confront them with this truth.

The Lesson: A Condemning Parable

When Jesus began to tell this story, the leaders, and probably many of the people, would have recognized the passage from Isaiah 5 (verses 1-7). In Isaiah 5, the vineyard represents Israel and the allegory shares that Israel will be destroyed because it has not been fruitful (much like the fig tree from two weeks ago).  This parable starts the same, but this one has a different focus – the tenants.

First, note that the landowner made all of the preparations – planted a vineyard, put a fence around it (to keep out animals), built a watchtower, and then leased it to the tenants. This was a VERY common practice in Palestine in the first century. The people listening would have been nodding their heads in agreement with the details. What came next, however, would have been unthinkable.

The tenants (or stewards) harmed a servant of the landowner. The servant had been sent to collect fruit and/or profits. In Jesus’ day, one-fourth to one-half of the harvest was the appropriate fee, and somebody would have been sent to collect. The challenge for the tenants is that a good vineyard usually took three to four years to take shape, which would have made it difficult for the tenants to sustain themselves for the first few years. Regardless, it was the arrangement. However, in Jesus story the tenants rebel. Notice how they treat those sent by the landowner.
  • They beat the servant and send him away.
  • They struck the next one on the head and treated him with shame.
  • The next one was killed.
  • Others were sent and were beaten or killed.

By now, the crowd would have been appalled at these tenants. How dare they do this? And then Jesus introduces the son – a beloved son. When the people heard this, they would not have thought of Jesus, they would have thought of Isaac, the beloved son of Abraham. (Read Genesis 22 sometime and see how often the word “son” appears.)

But the tenants killed the son as well. Why? They thought the inheritance would be theirs (Mark 12.7). Perhaps they thought the owner himself was dead or would be too scared to come knowing the son was dead. However they reached their conclusion, they reasoned with the son out of the way, they would be in control.

Jesus then stops the parable to ask a question? How will the owner of the vineyard react?

Rather than allowing the audience to respond aloud, Jesus answers the question. The owner will not destroy the vineyard (as in Isaiah 5) for the vineyard hasn’t done anything wrong. Rather, the owner will destroy the tenants and give others the chance to manage. And Jesus has the authority from the Father to do exactly this – I will build My Church – as we know from having read the story.

Then, Jesus asked (tongue-in-cheek) if they (the Sanhedrin) had read this Scripture: Psalm 118.22-23. This was not just any Scripture, this was about the temple. Not only had they read it, they had it memorized. They taught it. They said it every time they came toward the temple during one of the holy feasts. But now, Jesus is saying, “That all may be true – you have read it, you do recite it, you do teach it, but you don’t understand it, because I am that cornerstone!”

And with that, the Sanhedrin realized the parable was about them. Specifically, it was about their leadership. The most recent rejection was John the baptizer, and now the son was before them. What would they do? How would they respond? Well, for the third time in 27 verses going back to 11.18, they reacted in fear. Again, Jesus offered them a change to come clean – to repent. But they were focused on saving their power, not empowering the Savior.

And so it often is with us. We often focus on preserving our place, our pride, or our possessions in a way that does not allow room for us to be confronted with the truth. As I have said numerous times, God is never concerned about our asking Him questions, but will we accept His answers? The Sanhedrin asked about the source of Jesus authority. He said He would answer if they would. Instead they tried to escape the situation, and therefore they were the ones exposed as the frauds.

The Sanhedrin’s answered that they did not know. But the truth is they were not willing to truly know. The truth is that they did not want to reveal their thoughts. But without being willing to make themselves vulnerable to the truth, they could not truly know Jesus. Again, Jesus stood waiting to answer their question, but they were unwilling to answer His because of how the people might respond.

Are we any different? We must be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with Jesus. We must realize we are not God before we can turn to the One True God. We must give up whatever control we think we have over our lives and submit to the Lord of all Creation. And we must not let Satan dupe us into giving him control of our life. Remember, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me.”

JOURNEY:  That is why the JOURNEY letter for today is:  J – Jesus.

If Jesus has all authority, then that means Satan has none.
If Jesus has all authority, then that means you and I have none.
Yet, Jesus offers to empower us with His authority if we will simple submit to His call to “Follow Me.”

OPPORTUNITY:  Be honest with yourself. Be honest with Jesus. And then you can recognize His authority for your life.

REMEMBRANCE:  Our remembering begins with His sacrifice – “Do this in remembrance of me.”


Learn Make this a year to learn about Jesus and the Bible like never before. We should never stop learning about Jesus. The religious leaders thought they knew all they could about God and His Word. But their arrogance forced them to miss God standing in their midst. Therefore, not only did they not submit to His authority, but as the parable shows, they usurped God’s authority and exercised their own.