It's good to be back with you tonight again, and we're turning to Mark's gospel chapter 11. If you weren't here this morning, it was the first instalment of the series that I hope to do, God willing, each week, indeed each morning and evening both, on the last week of the life of our Lord Jesus, the last week of His ministry here on earth. So tonight we're looking again at chapter 11, just the latter verses, and then the whole of chapter 12. Now, I know it might have been longer than some of you are used to this morning, I'm sorry about that, but that's about as long as I'm used to preaching - so hopefully the Lord is speaking and doing a work, and I do trust that the Lord is moving in your heart, and I believe He will if you are open to God.
Before we start let's pray again, and just ask the Lord's help. It's vital that we have God with us in what we're doing. I know that might seem redundant when we're in church, we would expect God to be there - but we saw this morning in the temple that He wasn't there, and that's why the Lord Jesus came in and cleansed it. He caused a lot of fuss, but the fact of the matter was that God didn't own a lot of what was going on in His name. It's the same today, there's no doubt about it in my mind and my heart. We so often are so guilty of being religious, going through the ritual, and maybe not meeting God. We want to meet God here, don't we? So let's open our hearts, all of us, just now open our hearts and say: 'Lord, what do You have to say to me? What do You have to say to me? Whatever You have to say, give me the strength and courage to do Your will'. So let us pray.
Father, Abba Father, we thank You in the name of our Lord Jesus for the record of the life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of our Lord Jesus. We thank You, Lord, that we have this book in our hand - and we are so guilty, Father, of abusing the privilege that we have. Lord, we are so responsible for being partakers of the life of Jesus, knowing what He did, knowing what He said, knowing how He lived, knowing what He commanded us, knowing what He expects of us, knowing what He promises us. Yet, Lord, it is a mirror, because when we look into it we see ourselves falling far short of what is expected. Yet, Lord, we don't want to be unnecessarily negative - because, though we confess our guilt, and though we confess our sins, we thank You that this life that has been given to us in Christ, everything that we need is in Him and there is no reason for us to be on a back foot, there is no reason for us to be living beneath the promises and the blessings that He purchased for us with His own shed blood. So, Lord, we pray that tonight, as we look into Your word, we will not just be going away feeling: 'Oh, I don't measure up', but we will be invigorated and excited about what we can be and what we can know. Lord, I pray for those here who maybe aren't Christians, maybe have never believed on the Lord Jesus, maybe asking many questions. I pray tonight, not so much that their questions would be answered because none of us have all our questions answered, but Lord that they would encounter the living Christ, that they would realise that Christ is the answer that they need to the questions, perhaps, that they are not asking. So, Father, we pray, we need the Holy Spirit. I can do nothing without Jesus' power in the Holy Spirit, and so I pray now, and we all pray, for the Holy Spirit to come into our midst in a very definite and even, indeed, manifest way and minister to us now. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
Now the portion of Scripture we're starting with tonight, we're not going to read an initial reading, we're starting at verse 27 of chapter 11 of Mark's gospel. We've probably now entered Tuesday in the last week of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw this morning that Sunday, the first day of the week, the Lord Jesus rode into Jerusalem as the King of the Jews, the Triumphal Entry we know it as. Then we moved on to Monday and we saw this cursing of the fig tree, and then we saw the Lord Jesus enter into the temple, and He cleanses it, turns the tables up and He speaks here in verse 17 about the house of God is meant to be a house of prayer, but they have made it a den of thieves. Now, naturally, that caused a rumpus and a fuss - indeed an outrage - among the Jewish religious leaders. Their natural reaction was: 'Who does He think He is?'. You see, they were the guys in charge, if you like, of what went on religiously in Judaism, and particularly what went on in the precincts of the temple. He is coming in and He is assuming authority to go in and upend the tables, and to lambast them for what they're doing: buying and selling, and trading and making money in the name of God.
But worse than just being outraged, Jesus Christ was a threat to them. He was a threat to their little powerbase and so, as far as they were concerned, He must be dealt with. Serious stuff. In verse 18 we saw this, immediately after the cleansing of the temple, the scribes and the chief priests 'sought how they might destroy Him' - it's not watering it down, is it! They want to destroy Him, 'for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching'. You see, the reverence that they once knew was now being transferred in a far greater extent over to the person of Christ, and they were jealous. But I want you to know something that is incredible, astounding: this provocation by Jesus of the religious authorities was deliberate. I hope that has sunk in. His provocation of the religious authorities was deliberate, and Jesus was in complete control of what He was doing. It wasn't simply the case that He was sharing a few truths that were slightly controversial, and He knew deep down that He might offend some - He was actively going out of His way to offend. He was in control of the situation.
Now that answers a great question that theologians, philosophers, historians have debated for years: the question of 'Why was Jesus crucified?'. Some will say it was murder, He was murdered. The Jews, we see, the Jewish hierarchy wanted to destroy Him. Of course the Romans, they didn't want insurrection and rebellion and any civil unrest in this little conclave of their empire, and so they wanted to sort Him out ultimately. So this was a religious and a political murder. Others say, 'No, it was more than that, it was martyrdom'. Jesus was founding a religion and 'a good cause', if you like, and so He was dying as a martyr. Others will look at it from a legal point of view, and they will say: 'This was a miscarriage of justice', and we might look at some of the trials as we go through this last week of our Lord Jesus Christ - and there's no doubt about it, that this was the greatest miscarriage of justice that has ever been. Others will say that this was just a tragic mistake, Jesus was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I have to say to you a resounding emphatic 'No' to all those explanations of why Jesus was crucified. The reason why Jesus was crucified was divine motivation, divine motivation. The apostle put it like this when he preached at Pentecost, speaking to Jews: 'This Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan of God and His foreknowledge'. He turned to them and said: 'You crucified and killed Him by the hands of lawless men'. There we see, incidentally - and I'm not going to digress to this - but the balance between the sovereign plan of God and responsibility of men. This last week of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, as indeed all of His life was, was preordained of God. He was God's Eternal Son sent into the world to be our Saviour, and He was going to die - that is why He came! Yet there is still responsibility on the behalf of those who crucified Him.
Now this was Mark's theme, as we saw this morning, that's why he dedicates six chapters at the end of his gospel - a disproportionate amount in comparison to the life of the Lord Jesus and what went on, to dedicate six chapters to one week. We saw that Mark is the gospel of the cross, how he dwells here - but also in Mark we see that the Lord Jesus continually tried to get this into the minds of the disciples, that this was the reason why He came.
Let me show you this, if you turn back to chapter 8 of Mark, verse 31: 'And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly'. Look at the reaction of the disciples to this: 'Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, 'Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men''. The disciples had a great problem in getting this point, that Jesus had come - according to the determinate counsel of God - to go and die on the cross for men's sins, to be buried, and to rise again. Turn to chapter 9 verse 31, verse 30: 'Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it. For He taught His disciples and said to them, 'The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day'. But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him'. Just before the chapter that we're looking at tonight in chapter 10, He reminds them again, verse 33: 'Behold', they are on their way to Jerusalem, He's explaining why they're going there, 'we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again'. So He has all the instigators mentioned there: the Jewish hierarchy, the chief priests and the scribes; and the Gentiles, the Romans. He's being even more specific about why they're going to Jerusalem, that this is the grand finale, the great crescendo of His life and ministry on Earth: to go to the cross and bleed and die - this is the reason that He came into this world! This is the reason He was crucified: to die for me.
So it wasn't murder only, although it was an act of murder. It was martyrdom, it wasn't only a miscarriage of justice, and it certainly was no mistake. It was divine motivation that led Jesus Christ to the cross for me! I love to be able to say that tonight: for me. Can you say that? I mean, do you understand this great plan of the ages: that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life - for me! You see, it is personal. There are so many people, and they go to places of worship, and they're called Christian places of worship, and they can identify with this story in a sort of nebulous way - but they cannot make it personal because they have never been born-again, they have never trusted Christ as their personal Saviour and personal Lord. Why was Jesus crucified? For me. Say it: 'For me'. I love the old hymn, and one verse goes like this:
'Was it the nails, dear Saviour,
That held Thee to the tree?
Nay, 'twas Thine everlasting love,
Thy love for me, for me'.
Why was Jesus crucified? For love of me, for love of you. Now think about this: He is in Jerusalem at the Passover season to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. He is there to die. Incidentally, the last Passover that Jesus attended in Jerusalem was at the beginning of His ministry, when He cleansed the Temple the first time - and I mentioned that this morning, I think incorrectly, I said you could read about it in John 12, it's John 2 you can read about it. At the beginning of His three and a half years of ministry He cleansed the temple, and He was at the Passover season then - but He did not attend the intervening three Passovers in His ministry. You ask: 'Why was that?'. Simply because of the animosity of the Jewish rulers. He knew if He went into Jerusalem for the Passover they would get Him. He was waiting for His hour, God's ordained and appointed moment when He would go today. Now His hour has come, and I want you to see this again: He is provoking them, in fact He is inviting them to take Him and crucify Him according to the sovereign plan and determination of God. Isn't it wonderful?
Here in chapter 11 and the end verses in chapter 12, the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious ruling body, questions Him. They scrutinise Him. The motivation is clear from verse 13 of chapter 12: 'They sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words'. They wanted to trap Him. Now, incidentally, at Passover every Jewish family, according to Exodus chapter 12, chose a lamb to be sacrificed. They chose the lamb on the tenth day of the month, and they were instructed by Moses to carefully examine the lamb until the fourteenth day of the month in order to make sure it was a lamb without blemish and without spot, a lamb without defects. Now during the last week of the ministry of our Lord Jesus, God's Lamb was being examined in various ways that we will look at over these next weeks - but He passed every single test! As Isaiah 53 tells us, neither was deceit or guile found in His mouth. They tried to trap Him in his words, but they couldn't!
Here the Sanhedrin questions Him: 'What right have You to assume the role of authority, to cleanse the temple? What right have You to make Yourself the Messiah of God's people? We alone have the authority to do these things and claim these things!'. So let's look at these questions, and there are four that come from the Sanhedrin, and then there is a fifth question in this passage that actually comes from the Lord Jesus. So let's look at question one, and it's a question of authority - verse 27 of chapter 11: 'Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. And they said to Him', here's question number one, ''By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?'. But Jesus answered and said to them, 'I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John; was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me'. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, 'If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?'. But if we say, 'From men''; they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. So they answered and said to Jesus, 'We do not know'. And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things''.
Now don't you just marvel at the masterful wisdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in exposing their wicked, unbelieving hearts? You see, the leaders had not been honest with John the Baptist, and now they're not being honest with the Lord Jesus Christ in their questioning. You see what's happening here: John had come as a prophet, and the people recognised that. So Jesus turns the tables on them, and says: 'Right, if you want to know where My authority comes from, where did John's authority come from?'. They were afraid to say that it was only the authority of men, because the people recognised John as a prophet of God; and they were afraid to say his authority was from heaven, because they were the very ones - just as they are doing now to Jesus - who opposed the ministry of John the Baptist! So the Lord had them in a corner, and they said: 'We don't know'. Jesus said: 'Neither do I tell you where My authority comes from'.
Now there is a principle here that all of you need to come to terms with. It's a very simple principle, and the sooner in the Christian life you get a grip of this the better. It's this: obedience is the instrument of revelation. Obedience is the instrument of revelation. In other words, when we obey God, God teaches us more. Let me show you this from John 7 verse 17, if you care to turn to it, John 7 verse 17 - when we obey the word of God, God teaches us more. John 7:17, we saw how important the will is in the Christian life: 'If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority'. So what the Lord Jesus was saying to these folk was: 'Look, if you want to know where My authority comes from, if you want to know whether My doctrine is true, obey God's will. If you obey God's will, He will give you revelation, He will show you the truth'. The problem is, the converse of this is: if we disobey God, or if we fail to obey in some manner where He is telling us to do something and we are stalling and stopping and we're not doing it, God will close the door on revelation - He will cease showing us any more.
Have you ever learned this in the Christian life? Sometimes we wonder why we are at a standstill, and it may well be because at some point in our life God told us to do a thing, and we said either 'No', or we became passive and decided 'Well, I'll not do either thing - I'll not go against Him, but I'll not go with Him'. God says: 'Right, that's okay, until you learn that lesson, and until you take that step of obedience, I'm not going to show you anything else'. Is that why some of you are where you are tonight? I'm not telling you this to condemn you, I'm wanting to help you, and wanting you to learn how to go on. Obedience is the instrument of revelation. If you want to know more you have to obey! It's a bit like a glowworm. I'm led to believe that a glowworm shines ever only enough light for the next step - and, incidentally, it's not until he takes the next step that he gets light showing where he is to go further. Do you understand?
Another principle comes out of this and, indeed, this event - and that is: when we start to question Christ, His ways and His word, revelation ceases - when we start to question God. Now when I speak of questioning God, we've all got questions. I'm not speaking about just asking questions to understand, I'm talking about coming from a negative position of doubting questions, doubting God, doubting Christ and His word. Now the fig tree this morning, and I don't have time to go over it if you weren't with us, but it taught, didn't it, regarding the nation of Israel that were to be a witness for God and His glory to all the other Gentile nations of the world, that when they failed in their responsibility and did not bear fruit but only took up space, a curse came upon them - isn't that right? You see, the curse came to a crescendo in the life of the Lord Jesus when they rejected Him as Messiah - and that's why we see what is happening in this last week of our Lord Jesus Christ. They had questioned Christ, here they are doing it; and they were questioning the word of God. So a curse came upon them - sure, all we need to do is go back to the book of beginnings to find out this. Even before there was sin in our world, in the Garden the serpent suddenly came to Eve and said: 'Has God really said that when you eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that you will die? Has He really said?'. He was casting doubt on God's word.
Now this is vitally important. It's serious, really serious, to cast doubt on God's word. Sometimes as Christians we get ourselves into a state - and whether it's because we're being bombarded by a secular and godless society, through the media in particular, and if you're just saturated constantly in the media this is going to happen to you - you start to imbibe the worldview, you start to be pushed into the world's mould, and sometimes you start to question the Scriptures in a way that the world does. But you've got to understand - I'm not saying that you don't have understanding, we're to find out as much information as possible, we're not to leave our brain at the door - but we've got to understand its got more to do than with just intellect, much more. This is a supernatural thing, it's a spiritual thing, and it involves faith. Whenever we start falling into the trap of casting doubt on the word of God, something terrible happens: a curse or a standstill.
Some of you may have heard of 'Biblical higher criticism' - have you heard of it? That's not what happens around the dinner table, by the way, after the preacher has given his sermon - sometimes there's a lot of criticism goes on then! Biblical higher criticism was really a movement that questioned the authenticity of the history as the Bible presented it. You know, 'Was there a crossing of the Red Sea?', and 'Did Moses help the Pharaoh in Egypt?, and all these things - and you see it on your news, usually around Christmas and Easter time they're questioning things to try and cause doubt in the minds of Christians. Now Biblical higher criticism had its rise in Germany - and, incidentally, Germany was the land of the Reformation, which was the rediscovery of Biblical truths. Yet, from about the mid 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century, various scholars of the original documents - copies of course - of the Scriptures, started to critique them and pick holes in them in Germany. I was listening to a sermon of Derek Prince's not that long ago, and he pointed out this very fact: that from the same nation of Germany, a nation so blessed in the word of God, came two of the most evil monsters that the human race has ever known - Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler. Now, I can't say this was that, but there are consequences even for present-day nations, even for our United Kingdom. Whenever we cast doubt on the word of God, whenever society starts to suppress the knowledge of God, there are consequences. There are going to be consequences for the UK, for the way it's behaving, for the way the government is behaving and popular society.
Let me show you this in case you're not convinced, Romans chapter 1 please, verse 18. Paul was writing to the Roman church, and I believe he had the Roman Empire in view here: 'For the wrath of God', verse 18 of chapter 1, 'the wrath of God', His anger, 'is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness'. 'Suppress' simply means 'to hold down', that's what we're talking about here. When a society holds down or suppresses the truth, or tries to cast doubt on the truth, or water down the truth, God is angry! Verse 19: 'Because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them', God has given us all enough to believe, 'For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made', creation, 'even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse' - everyone in the world has no excuse for not believing in God, because of the witness of the creation. Verse 21: 'Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man; and birds and fourfooted animals and creeping things' - that's why people worship graven images. Now here's the consequence: 'Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge' - this is their sin, they don't want to retain God in their knowledge - 'God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evilmindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them'.
Now, what you have there is a society who suppresses truth and the knowledge of God, and there is a progressive decline in that society that is coming from God directly. Now you see the decline in our society: it is coming as a direct result of God withdrawing His gracious influence upon us. Here are the signs outlined for us in Romans chapter 1: first there will be idolatry, they will worship the creature rather than the Creator; then there will be rampant immorality, cite 1960s and following; and then there will be an enshrining of homosexuality, here we are. Men's and women's minds are becoming perverted that, even if they don't engage in these things, they take pleasure in those who do and even make laws allowing it to go on. But can I say to you tonight, if you're not a Christian, what can be applied to a nation here can be applied personally. If you suppress the knowledge of God in your life, if you hold down what God is trying to do in your life and try to keep it back and under wraps, and pour cold water every time you hear God speak to you, you're running the risk of - just like this nation - being given up, given up and given over to what you're choosing. That's a serious thing. You see, we all have this sort of silly idea that, you know, 'I'll get right with God when it suits me' - no, you'll not! Or, 'I'll get through the door when it's ajar, just before I pop my clogs' - no, you'll not! No you'll not!
'Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near' - do you see if you suppress the truth, and the knowledge of the truth, there are consequences. There were for the Jews rejecting God's Son. In His replies to their questions on authority, it's very interesting, He gives a parable, a story. He reveals in this story who He is, and consequently who they were rejecting, and yet they would not accept the truth. Verse 1 of chapter 12: 'Then He began to speak to them in parables: 'A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it', Mark chapter 12, 'He dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now at vintagetime he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers. And they took him and beat him and sent him away emptyhanded. Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some. Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, 'They will respect my son'. But those vinedressers said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours'. So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard. Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others''.
He is the Beloved Son, the only Son of the Father, sent by the Father. These Pharisees and religious leaders are the vinedressers, and they're protecting their own position in the establishment. Then Jesus goes on in verses 10 and 11 to quote Psalm 118, and to describe how He is, Jesus, 'The stone which the builders rejected', and He's going to 'become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing, And it is marvelous in their eyes'. Now, let me press fast forward for a moment, past the death, the resurrection, the ascension of our Lord Jesus, and past the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to an incident in the Acts of the Apostles - if you turn with me to chapter 4. Peter and John were going up to the temple to pray, and they healed a lame man, and they were arrested for healing this lame man because doing anything in the name of Jesus had been banned. So, because of this, they were questioned by the Sanhedrin - does that sound familiar? In Acts chapter 4 we begin the reading and verse 7, they are standing before this Jewish ruling council, the same group: 'And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, 'By what power'', or authority, ''or by what name have you done this?'. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, 'Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone''. Can you imagine being one of these men!? Hearing the same words that were spoken by the very lips of Christ repeated, and knowing that it has been fulfilled and Jesus has risen, and He's ascended, and these scaredy-custard disciples are now bold men of God turning the world upside down and performing healings in the name of Jesus of Nazareth - and hearing these broad fishermen telling them the same words: 'The stone that you rejected has become the chief cornerstone'.
More than that, verse 12, look at it: 'Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby must be saved'. You see, they were rejecting Christ and they were rejecting life. They were trying to hurt Christ, and all they were doing was hurting themselves. Now, my friend, if you're running away from Jesus, that's all you're doing. You're hurting yourself, like Paul on the road to Damascus - Jesus said to him: 'Why do you keep kicking against the goads, the pricks?', like an animal is goaded along the road by a sharp instrument, the Spirit was goading Paul towards Jesus but he was kicking out. If you kick against a sharp instrument you're going to get hurt yourself, and when you kick out against the conviction of the Holy Spirit in your life, and God's revelation in your life, you're only going to hurt yourself. Thank God Paul was converted, but these Jewish people were not because they hardened their hearts more - and what did we say? Obedience is the instrument of revelation. If you won't obey, God will close the shutters and you'll get no more light! Now, if you're here tonight and you're not converted, that's every reason for you to be this very night here in this meeting.
We've got to move on. A question about authority, and then there's a question about taxes, verses 13 to 17 of chapter 12. Second question: 'Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians' - now this is very interesting, because the Pharisees and the Herodians were enemies of one another. The Pharisees were the strict sect of the Jews following the Torah Scriptures. The Herodians were very liberal, and they supported Herod who was, of course, in cahoots with the Roman rulers. So these two poles apart groups are now united to oppose Christ - interesting how enemies can come together against God! But this was a subtle ploy, you see they were asking a question about taxes to the Roman government - and no matter how Jesus answered, it wouldn't please either one of these two parties, the Herodians or the Pharisees. They start off by flattery in verse 14, the Pharisees and the Herodians come to catch Him in His words: 'When they had come, they said to Him, 'Teacher, we know that You are true', that was a lie, 'and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth' - and here's the sting - 'Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?'.
You see, Satan is quite happy using flattery to get his own ends - and can I tell you: he'll use anything to get his own ends. He'll use church, he'll use Christian things to get his own ends. For him the ends justify the means, and this question is given: 'Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?'. 'Oh, we've got Him again', that's what they think, they're trying to catch Him in His words, that's their motivation in verse 13. I'm not going to go into the ins and outs of this, save to say that this is a question about responsibility. You see, they knew that there had to be responsibility to pay taxes, but they knew that they were paying taxes to the Roman power, the Gentile, unclean power. Let's just pause there for a moment, because there is a responsibility there for us as well - and if you want to know all about it read Romans chapter 13. Sometimes, over the last 40 years of problems in our province, I wonder how many times Romans 13 was preached on down through those years because it tells us that the powers that be are ordained of God. We are to obey them as far as they do not force us to transgress our confession of Christ in an ungodly way.
I wonder are you observing this principle? It's found in the answer that Jesus gave in verse 15: 'Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?'. But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, 'Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it'. So they brought it. And He said to them, 'Whose image and inscription is this?' They said to Him, 'Caesar's'. And Jesus answered and said to them' - wonder, wonder and marvel at His wisdom - ''Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's'. And they marveled at Him'. What He was really saying is: 'You guys aren't rendering to God what you should render to Him'. But can I ask you: are you rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar's? Let me be blunt: are you paying your taxes, or does the pen have a little slip when you're filling in the form? It's serious. We're told in the word of God to walk circumspectly, do you know what that means? Walk carefully before God and before men. I don't know whether you've ever heard of W.P. Nicholson, the great evangelist, and there was a revival through his ministry here in our land. He was taking a crusade, I think in Belfast, and he went to a tailor and was getting fitted, I think, for a suit. He asked the tailor would he come along to the mission, and the tailor says: 'I wouldn't be seen dead near your mission'. He was a bit taken aback, and he said: 'Why ever is that?', he says 'Because there are umpteen of the people flocking there every night, and they owe me money!'. Do you know what Nicholson did that night? Before he preached, he said: 'I was at the tailor's today, and he happened to tell me that some of you owe him money', and he says, 'He gave me all your names', and he says, 'If you haven't paid by this time tomorrow evening I'm going to read the list out' - and every bill was paid! Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.
Well, that's the principle, but look at His masterful answer - and even His enemies marvelled at Him. At the end of verse 17 when he said 'Render to Caesar...', 'And they marvelled at Him'. Listen unsaved friend here tonight, you can admire Jesus and at the self-same time reject Him! There's very few people would say a bad word about Jesus - I mean, really, when they examined His character and what He did in His life and ministry, most people, even other religions of the world, sort of revere Him in some shape or form. Yet they reject Him, they're still questioning Him, trying to get Him to fall.
A question of authority, a question of taxes, the third question is a question of resurrection. Verse 18: 'Then some Sadducees' - by the way, this is the only place in Mark's gospel that he mentions the Sadducees. Just to fill you in a wee bit about the Sadducees, they only believed in the Torah - that's the first five books of the Bible - they only believed in the writings of Moses and none of the rest of the Old Testament. They also did not believe in the soul, they did not believe in life after death, they didn't believe in a resurrection of the body, they didn't believe in judgement to come, neither did they believe in angels or demons. I learned at Religious Studies in school, that's why the Sadducees were sad, you see - did you learn that? Now this is a question of eternity - the Sadducees, 'who say there is no resurrection', verse 18, 'came to Him; and they asked Him, saying: 'Teacher, Moses wrote to us'', there they're emphasising Moses and his writings, ''that if a man's brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother' - that's called a Levirate marriage. ''Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife; and dying, he left no offspring. And the second took her, and he died; nor did he leave any offspring. And the third likewise. So the seven had her and left no offspring. Last of all the woman died also''. Here's the question: 'Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife'.
Now, I'm not going to go into the details of this story - in fact, I actually did it the last time I was here in one of the question evenings, so if you want to get that recording you may do so - but here's the point: the Sadducees thought they were clever, asking this question of the Lord Jesus. But Jesus shows them that all they're doing is showing their ignorance - look at verse 24: 'Jesus answered and said to them, 'Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God?''. They were ignorant of two things: first, the power of God; and second, the Scriptures. What does He mean by the ignorance of the power of God? Verse 25: 'For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven'. In other words, Jesus and God, they are going to change life in the future - even our bodies are going to be changed, and we're not going to live life exactly the same way as we live down here. But they were ignorant of the power of God, they didn't believe in the resurrection - are you ignorant of the power of God? Are you all intellectual about faith, and you're not prepared to open up to the supernatural and allow God into your life to prove Himself to you? That's where these guys were.
But they were also ignorant of the scriptures, and incidentally: isn't it interesting who Jesus quotes to them in verse 26. 'But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage' - you should know that, Sadducees! - 'How God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken''. Powerful, isn't it? What He was saying to them is: 'Listen, you're questioning Me about whose wife this woman will be of the seven husbands she married, but you're not asking the important question: God is not the God of the dead, but of the living' - that means there is life after death, there is life for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and there will be life for you when you die... where will you be? That was the question. Jesus says: 'You're ignorant! You think you're clever, you think you're clever asking these questions' - is that you tonight? Do you think you're clever? Maybe you're trying to destroy the faith of other young Christians. You're not clever, you're a fool! I say that kindly to you, because - as Jesus said in Matthew 12 - if God would require your soul of you tonight, and He said it to a man: 'You fool, for tonight your soul will be required from you, and then whose will those things be that you have provided?'. Where will you be in eternity? Where will you be? That's the question! Is it not?
Then there's a fourth question, the question of the most important commandment in verse 28. 'Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together', this is all going on in the temple, I'd love to have been a fly on the wall! 'Perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, 'Which is the first commandment of all?'', or the greatest, foremost. 'Jesus answered him, 'The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one'' - that's the Shema from Deuteronomy chapter 6, all Jews quote it - ''And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength'. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'. There is no other commandment greater than these''.
Now, we haven't time to look at this, but these two commands are the sum total of the whole law of God - both our duty Godward and manward. Even if you look at the Ten Commandments you will see that both these commands sum the whole thing up - but this is a question of priority of love. They want to know which is the greatest commandment, and Jesus is turning it on them and saying: 'This is the greatest: do you love, truly love, God'. Now I have to say to you tonight: it is utterly impossible for any man or woman just in the simple strength of their human flesh to love God the way it says here, with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their mind, and with all strength; and to love their neighbour as themselves. That's why we live in this messed up world, because men can't do it - they try to do it, that's called religion, but they can't do it. The only way you can do this is by grace, a free gift, through faith, that's what you accept the gift with, when the Holy Spirit comes into your life when you're born-again as a Christian, and the Lord God of heaven starts to live out the life of Jesus in you - that's the only way that can be done, through the law of the Spirit in the New Covenant, no other way.
Verse 32, this is the man's reaction: 'So the scribe said to Him, 'Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices''. Now mark this, verse 34: 'Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, 'You are not far from the kingdom of God'' - you're not far from the kingdom of God. Can I tell you something: this man would remain near, but outside the kingdom of God, unless he ceases questioning and starts believing Christ - and that will be the same for you. You might be near to coming to Jesus, 'Oh, but I just have to get this little question, or that little question, or the other little question answered before I come'. I know you have to have legitimate questions, and you have to understand the Gospel before you believe, but you will never understand everything - you will never! Once you get one question answered, the devil will very readily give you another one to keep you going for another couple of months - and on, and on, and on, ad infinitum until you fall into hell! You will forever remain maybe near, but outside the kingdom until you - is this a word for someone here tonight? - until you stop questioning Christ and start believing Him!
Boy did that silence them! Look at the last statement in verse 34: 'But after that no one dared question Him'. Don't you love Him! Ah, but there's one more question - this time Jesus is asking it. He turns the tables on them. They've asked Him a question about authority, about taxes, about resurrection, about the most important commandment - and now He asks them a question in verses 35 and 36: 'Then Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, 'How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: 'The LORD said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool'. Therefore David himself calls Him 'Lord'; how is He then his Son?'. And the common people heard Him gladly'.
Let me just explain that. David, in the prophetic Psalm, there it is in Psalm 110 that He's quoting, He says: 'The LORD said to my Lord', and 'my Lord' there is speaking of the coming Messiah, and yet Messiah is known as the Son of David - He has to be in the lineage and line of David. So Jesus is saying: 'How does he call Him Lord? How does David call Him Lord if He is his son?'. It's a bit complicated, but the only way David's son could be David's Lord is if He's God. The only way David's son could be his Lord is if He's God, and He is. But this is the point of Jesus saying this: it's a question of identity - that's what Jesus' question is, a question of identity. He says, 'You're looking to get answers to all these foolish questions' - He knows they're trying to trip Him up, but He's trying to waken them up. These were guys who spend every day debating and questioning one another in the minutiae of the Old Testament law, every jot and tittle of Hebrew. He says, 'You're asking all these questions, but the most important question is: 'What do you think of Christ?'. David said He was Lord, and all your political questions about taxes; all your hypothetical questions about a woman married so many times and whose wife will she be; they are nothing compared to the most important question: 'Is Jesus your Lord?'' - that's what Jesus was saying. Like David, is Jesus your Lord? Is He? All the questions, oh, you can ask them, and it's your right - but what about the big one: is He your Lord, and do you love Him through the power of the Holy Spirit in your life?
Well, I love that phrase at the end of verse 37: 'the common people heard Him gladly'. That's not just a throwaway remark, the humble poor believed, the ordinary people. These highbrow - remember the Tefal ad, the boys with the big heads? - that's what they were like, religiously speaking: highbrow intellects, religious upper-class - they just questioned. But the humble poor believed! The common people, that's what Jesus said: 'I thank You, Father', Matthew 11, 'that You have not revealed these things to the wise and prudent, but You have revealed them to babes'. Matthew 18: 'Except you become like a little child and be converted, you will never enter the kingdom'. Isn't it wonderful? The reason why the humble poor believed was: they hadn't got the pride to overcome, they hadn't got the massive intellects and the position in their life that they were guarding, like the vinedressers. They hadn't to protect anything, they had nothing going for them and they needed a Saviour! So they didn't question Him, they believed in Him.
Let's close by looking at the soul that God values, in contrast to the pharisaic hypocrites. Verse 41 - and I think this is what this means in the context, it's a contrast with what has gone before with this questioning religious crowd. 'Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury', in the same Temple, 'And many who were rich put in much' - probably the Pharisees, and made a big show of it too. 'Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood'' - that's the one God values: the simple soul that believes and gives all they have to Jesus.
I must question you: what is your answer to Him? Will you question Him, or will you believe Him? Let us pray.
Now I hate, well, you would gather that I hate rushing, but I hate rushing at the end of meetings - especially when there is a sense of the presence of God, and an awareness that God has been speaking. I don't know who He's been speaking to, maybe believers who needed to hear that obedience is the instrument of revelation. You're at a standstill and you want to go on, but you can't, and God's not going to let you until you do that thing that He asked you to do that you haven't done, or you stop doing that thing that He asked you to stop doing that you haven't stopped doing. Maybe there is an unbeliever, a great intellect, or just an inquisitive person curious to know every angle and every answer to every question - well, you aren't going to have it, for nobody has all the answers only God. So, when are you going to humble yourself and believe, and see God work in your life? Maybe even tonight, would you say: 'Lord, I'm stopping all the questions and I'm stepping out in faith. I believe You, reveal Yourself to me' - and I believe He'll do it, I do believe He'll do it if you mean it.
Father, we thank You for this time. Lord, we don't grow tired of beholding the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We just love gazing on Him, what He says and what He does, and how He says and does it. We praise Him, He is wonderful! We love Him more and more every time we get a glimpse of Him! How He answered these men, and yet Father, He's answering us in many of the foibles and failures that we have in these areas. Lord, we pray that You'll help us all to be obedient. We pray that any who are struggling and have not yet come to complete faith in Christ, that tonight they will cry out: 'I believe, help my unbelief' - and tonight they will settle the matter. It's not a leap into the dark, Lord, but a leap into the light - it's still a leap, but it's into the light and into the truth. It will be confirmed for them, we believe, Lord, when they come - and we pray that You will be quick to receive them and confirm it to them. We thank You for this evening, we thank You for this day, and we thank You for the refreshments provided for us now, and we pray that You will bless our time and our journey home. In Jesus' precious name, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered in Ards Evangelical Church, Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the fiftieth recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "Question Time" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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