Sunday, August 19, 2018

“I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb” - Mark 12:13-17

“I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb”
Mark 12:13-17
       As I read this account this week I couldn’t help but think of the political diversity among these first, hand-picked disciples of Jesus. How would they have reacted to this scene? At one end of the spectrum you had Matthew, a tax collector, who would have been considered a Roman sympathizer and traitor by many first century Jews, and at the other end was Simon the Zealot, who was committed to oppose Rome in every way possible, even to the point of armed resistance (at least up to the time when he was called by Jesus!). Nothing would have piqued their sensibilities more than taxes! At the time of Jesus, there was a head tax, one denarius that was paid by each person in Roman territories, essentially for the “privilege” of being a Roman subject. 25 years earlier there had been a revolt, led by Judas the Galilean [JG], when the tax was instituted over the Jews, JG had called the people to revolt, to refuse to pay the tax. He went in and cleansed the Temple, casting out any gentiles even from the outer court, calling for the initiation of the Kingdom of God… Let’s throw off the yoke of Rome and bring in the Kingdom of God! Only God can be the King of the Jews! JG was eventually arrested and put to death. Now put that in perspective with respect to the ministry of another Galilean, an itinerant preacher, Jesus of Nazareth.  
       Jesus too had come preaching the Kingdom of God: “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,  15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel…’ (1:14,15). Most Jews in the first century would not have “spiritualized” that message. They would have understood that an earthly kingdom was about to be established, a theocracy, the Kingdom of God on earth: The Way Life Should Be! He was announcing the dawn of the Messianic age for which the nation had so long waited. He continued preaching that message for three years, doing the kinds of miracles the prophets had said the Messiah would do. Preaching to the poor, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind. And now, just a couple of days before this scene, He had gone in and cleansed the Temple. JG had proven not to be the messiah, but this Jesus had now done two out of the three things that Judas did: kingdom preaching and cleansing the Temple. What about the tax that had been the last straw 25 years earlier and had pushed JG to revolt? These leaders were now attempting to force Jesus to take a position regarding the “poll tax” that would either brand him as a traitor (to the pharisees) or as a rebel by the authorities (and the Herodians, who were comfortable with the status quo).
The Maine* Idea: Believers are called to respect government authority, but our ultimate allegiance is to God, Him alone do we worship.
The Context: The final week, a series of conflicts with the leaders had begun. The Triumphal Entry and the Cleansing of the Temple had solidified the resistance against Jesus by the leaders. The chapter will continue with several more scenes, with the leaders trying to force Jesus into a position that would either provide a basis for the condemning Him, or something to force the authorities to do so.
I. A Cunningly Laid Trap (13,14). The most recent presidential election brought out some strong feelings from people – whether or not they liked the result. One of the strangest things, it seems to me, was the declaration by some, before the inauguration had even happened, that they were part of the resistance – that they were going to do all they could to block judicial nominees no matter who they were, and to do all they could do to “undo” the election. Their minds were made up, and it seems, any hope of working together was out the window. That was essentially the view of the religious leaders of the Jews in the time of Jesus, not with respect to Rome, they were actually divided about that, but with respect to Jesus. This Galilean carpenter could not be the messiah! Not-My-King bumper stickers were on all of their cars (well, they would have been if they had cars!). Their minds were set. Even these leaders from opposite sides of the political spectrum, the Pharisees and the Herodians, could agree that Jesus had to go.
13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk.  14 And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?" 
      An unholy alliance with malicious intent (13). This is not the first time in Mark’s gospel that we saw the Pharisees and the Herodians come together in their opposition to Jesus.  Back in Mark 2, Jesus had just been confronting the Pharisees about their traditions, and then we see the following scene in the beginning of chapter three,
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand.  2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.  3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, "Come here."  4 And he said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent.  5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.  6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Rather than responding to the revelation of His power and mercy in the healing, the Pharisees “held counsel” with the Herodians… This would have been more shocking than seeing the Tea Party and Bernie Sanders suddenly working together to get something done!  But what were they discussing?  …how to destroy Him.” Now, a couple of years later, they are again working to accomplish that same goal. These unlikely allies were sent (apostello, “sent with a mission”) for what purpose? “to trap Him in His talk…” A vivid word, used to describe “trapping” an animal or “catching” a fish. These leaders had been “hunting” for three years, and they felt like they finally had their prey cornered!
     Insincere compliments intended to disarm (14a). First, look how these leaders bait their trap, and set the stage for their questions: "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…Ironically, what they said was actually true. Jesus only taught the truth and was not influenced by the opinions of others! Did these leaders actually believe that? Obviously not! They had rejected Him and His message, and seemingly, they thought they could “disarm” Him with their flattery. For most of us, flattery feels good, I think because we like to imagine that the flatterer really believes what they are saying about us! Jesus knew their hearts, and their motives. He was the last person who would ever be taken in by such flattery!
     A carefully worded inquiry (14b). Notice how the question is framed. The second part, “Should we pay it or not?” essentially is demanding a “yes” or “no” answer. They were probably thinking, “We’ve really got him this time!” If He says we should pay this tax to Rome, He couldn’t possibly be the Messiah, the One who would deliver us from oppression and set up God’s kingdom on earth! If He says don’t pay the tax, well then, our “good friends” the Herodians will inform the proper authorities, and we’ll let the Romans take care of our problem!
        And so, these leaders had cunningly laid their trap. They thought they had Him cornered.  Do any of you play chess? They believed that “check-mate” was only a move or two away. Until, again, He completely disarms them with His response!  Believers are called to respect government authority (as far as we are able), but our ultimate allegiance is to God, Him alone do we worship.
II. A Divinely Inspired Answer (15-17)
15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it."  16 And they brought one. And he said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said to him, "Caesar's."  17 Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they marveled at him.
       Jesus, again, knew their hearts and intentions (15a). “But, knowing their hypocrisy…” He was the last person on earth who would be taken in by their flattery. He knew their hearts and intentions. “Hypocrisy” came from the idea of an actor, wearing a mask, playing a part. His omniscience should have shaken them. How could He know the things that He knows? He was no mere man!
      Jesus’ first question reveals to his “stalkers” that He knew what they are doing, and He was not taking their bait: “Why put me to the test?” The verb “to test” [peirazo] can also have the idea “to try, to tempt.” It appears only four times in Mark, here, in chapters 8 and 10 when the Pharisees came with the intent of catching Him in His words, and for first time, it was used in chapter 1, when Jesus was “tempted” by the devil in the wilderness. I think Mark wants us to make that connection – this is part of a spiritual battle, these leaders are unwittingly tools in the hands of Satan, seeking to destroy the Son of God! But Jesus is in control, and He already had the perfect counter-measure to their trap: “Bring me a denarius.
      The “King without a quarter” asks for a coin (15b). Notice that Jesus asks for a coin in order to make His point. The implication is that He didn’t have one! And notice that He asks for a specific coin, a denarius. This was a small coin, maybe the size of a quarter, worth a day’s pay for a soldier or an average laborer. He didn’t have a coin, but one of those leaders readily produced one. This is part of the problem the leaders had with Jesus. They imagined a Messiah with the prestige of David and the wealth of Solomon. Not a poor, traveling preacher from Galilee. He didn’t even have a coin, a single day’s wages? He said that “the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay His head”? He couldn’t be Messiah! Or was His kingdom different, not of this world…
      The image (icon) and inscription – The image on the coin was that of Tiberius Caesar. The inscription said, “Tiberius, son of the divine Augustus, High Priest.” Essentially, Tiberius was calling himself Son of God and High Priest. Someone else has those titles, it seems to me! We should give Caesar his coin, but only God deserves our worship!
       Give Caesar his due… The principle of respecting government authorities, and paying taxes, is taught in more detail elsewhere by both Paul and Peter. Paul is talking about how we live in the light of the Gospel in Romans 13:1-7,
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,  4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.  5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience.  6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.  7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed...
That is pretty clear! As a counter-point, he had also said, a chapter earlier in 12:1, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God, which is your reasonable service of worship…” Likewise, Peter wrote of respecting authorities in I Peter 2:13-17,  
13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,  14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.  15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
In that context Peter puts it into perspective by saying we are pilgrims and exiles in this fallen world, our citizenship is in a still future kingdom. God has us here on assignment and our respect for authorities is one aspect of our witness to the world. So, we pay our taxes and we pray for those in authority. We honor the delegated authority of government as far as we are able, as long as it does not conflict with the absolute authority of God. Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. We pay our taxes, we honor, in a proper sense, those in authority. But worship is reserved for the One True God.
      Give to God what is His: Our ultimate allegiance and worship: “…and render to God what is God’s…” The Roman denarius had the image of Caesar on it. Give is back to Him when we are taxed. They can ask for it and we should give it. The inscription, calling Caesar Son of God and High Priest, is asking from believers what we cannot give.  Our coins are minted by men, they have the “stamp” that reflects their authority, we can give those back in taxes. We are created in the image of God, and Him alone can we worship. We read in the Creation account…
26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."  27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… (Gen 1:26-27).
Caesar’s image is on your coin, so pay your taxes! God’s image is on you, you owe Him your life, your obedience, your worship. Dr. John Stott, wrote:
“We bear the royal stamp of God upon us, we are His kingdom’s royal coin. Jesus looks to us and asks, ‘Who’s image is this? Who made this life? Who owns it? Who gives value to it?’ Our Creator, of course. And Jesus challenges us, ‘This life is not yours. It was provided for you to use. But, it really belongs to someone else. So, give it back!’”
What is God saying to me in this passage? Believers are called to respect govern-ment authority, but our ultimate allegiance is to God, Him alone do we worship.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? To whom do you pledge allegiance? We should respect and give proper honor to those in authority, as far as we are able. They are where they are because God, for His purposes, has allowed it. He raises up kings, and He takes them down. Think about some of the ways that God used the Roman government. They built a system of roads throughout much of southern Europe and western Asia. The Roman occupation controlled lawlessness and brought about the so-call Pax Romana. Ultimately, those roads and that law and order allowed the Gospel to spread rapidly throughout the mid-east, north Africa, and Europe.  When those same authorities arrested Christians and threatened them with death if they did not call Caesar “god,” thousands died, refusing to deny their Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.  Yes, in those rare situations where the delegated authority of “Caesar” conflicts with the absolute authority of God, we must agree with Peter and John in Acts 4:19-20,  “…Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,  20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” There is One who is truly God, who is our High Priest, our King and our Creator. He deserves our willing, whole-hearted, obedience. In those situations, we pledge allegiance to the Lamb – and Him alone do we worship.  AMEN.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Faithful Farmers in God’s Vineyard - Mark 12:1-12

Faithful Farmers in God’s Vineyard
Mark 12:1-12
       Sharecroppers were families who lived on and farmed land that didn’t belong to them. They plowed the owner’s land, planted the owner’s seeds, and picked the owner’s harvest. In return for their hard work, they kept some of the food they produced and gave the rest to the landowner.  In a sense, each one of us is a sharecropper for the Lord. We don’t own anything; we just manage a part of God’s creation. But sometimes we make the same mistake the tenants in this parable made. We start imagining we own the vineyard! Truth: God owns it all!
 Context: The passion week, confrontation in Jerusalem with the Jewish leaders.
Literary and Conceptual Background: The parable Jesus tells draws on Isa 5:1-7.
Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.  2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.  3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.  4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? [Like the fruitless fig tree!]  5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.  6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.  7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!
Introduction: Every human is responsible for their response to the Son (John 3:35,36). Every Christian is responsible for their stewardship of the message (I Cor 4:1,2).  Yes, Jesus is talking to and about the spiritually blind leaders of Israel. They were the ones who were leading the rejection of the Messiah, rather than embracing Him as the Hope of the nation. But remember that we too are responsible for our response to Him, and we too are responsible for our stewardship of what God has entrusted to us. Remember Paul’s warning,  
19 Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in."  20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.  21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. (Romans 11:19-21).
As we read this passage, lets see the stubbornness of the leaders, and also be warned about guarding our own hearts! Jesus is Lord. Believe Him, follow Him!
The Maine* Idea: God requires us to be faithful with the message and the mission He has entrusted to us, those who hear are responsible for their response to the message.
I. The Master has entrusted the ministry to those He calls (12:1).
And he began to speak to them in parables. "A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country...” 
       Jesus told parables both to illumine truth and to expose unbelief. This scene shows that understanding the sense of the words Jesus spoke, getting the meaning of the story, was not to say that it was necessarily received with faith. The parables clearly called for a response. In this case the leaders perceived that He [Jesus] spoke this parable against them, but they did not receive it with repentance and faith. Remember when Nathan told David the parable of the rich man who took the poor man’s beloved lamb, and prepared it for his guests’ dinner? David burned with anger against the man, but he didn’t understand that He was the man – at least not until Nathan told him! The difference was, that David was convicted, and by God’s grace, he came to repentance and faith. He received the message of the parable. These leaders don’t need anyone to interpret the parable for them. It may be that their familiarity of Isaiah 5 helped them to put the pieces together.  But they were determined in their rejection of Jesus, they would not repent, they would not believe.
       We have been entrusted with the truth. As we share the message, some will believe. Still, today, not all will receive the message of His grace. For our part, God requires us to be faithful with the message and the mission He has entrusted to us. Those who hear are responsible for their response to the message.
II. Israel’s leaders repeatedly rejected the messengers sent by God (2-5).
2 When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.  3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed.
      The history of Israel was marked by rejection of prophets and deliverers sent by God. Both Matthew and Luke report the emotional cry of Jesus as He approached the city on this final pilgrimage,
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Mt 23:37; cf. Lk 13:34).
As I read this, I thought of Stephen’s final speech before his persecutors. He made the same point that the nation had repeated rejected the deliverers and prophets God had sent to them, including Moses himself. We read in Acts 7:35-39,
35 "This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, 'Who made you a ruler and a judge?'- this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.  36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.  37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, 'God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.'  38 This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.  39 Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt…
The leaders could not escape their own history, they could not deny the repeated exposure of the hardness of heart of their ancestors. You can almost see the crowd nodding in agreement as Stephen indicts the fathers for their unbelief… until he turns the tables and says, “You are just like your fathers!” Then their anger boils over, and they stone him. Jesus tells this parable, and the leaders, familiar with the language of Isaiah, knowing their own history, understand. The nation had rejected prophets and judges sent in times past by God. Yet they could not accept this this was the climax of that pattern!  In times past God spoke to the fathers through the prophets… in these last days, he spoke in the Son (Heb 1:1).
       Why then are we surprised when people resist the Gospel message? It is nothing new! Still, God requires us to be faithful with the message and the mission He has entrusted to us, those who hear are responsible for their response to the message.
III. Jesus prophesies the rejection and murder of the Son (6-8).
6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.'  7 But those tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.'  8 And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard .
       The leaders who were challenging Jesus were the core of His audience as He  told this story.  They were already plotting to kill Him. Did it cross their minds, “Wait a minute, how does this guy know what we are thinking? How does He know our plans?” They “perceived that He told this parable against them” but they did not deal with what Jesus’ omniscience revealed about His person! Their blindness to the truth is exposed by their unwillingness to believe.
       How could the rulers have been so blind, so hardened against even acknowledging the possibility that Jesus might be the One for whom the nation had so long waited? Psalm 2 opens describing the stubborn resistance of humans to the authority and sovereignty of God. We read in Psalm 2:1-6,  
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed, saying,  3 "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us."  4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.  5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,  6"As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill."
Before we are too hard on the leaders, let’s remember that the psalmist is describing both the people and the “nations,” i.e., the gentiles, resisting the reign of God and His anointed. That continues to be the attitude of humanity today. Fallen humans are not neutral. They are at enmity with God. R.C. Sproul said,
When the Son of God walked the earth, from the time of His birth until the time of His execution, there was never a moment when His life was safe among human beings. Our fallen nature is such that we are not simply indifferent to God, we hate God. God is our mortal enemy, and fallen humans will stop at nothing in their attempts to throw off the sovereignty of their Creator. We should not believe that the world is truly indifferent to God, as it professes to be. If God Himself came to earth today, and people were given power to destroy Him, He would surely be put to death…
Could it be? Are human hearts that hardened against God? Think about what happened with Jesus! Humans are not neutral, open to reason, searching for truth. They stubbornly resist the idea that another has authority over them.  God requires us to be faithful with the message and the mission He has entrusted to us, those who hear are responsible for their response to the message.

IV. He graciously warns the leaders of judgement if they persist in their rejection (9-11).
 9 What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.  10 Have you not read this Scripture: "' The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;  11 this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?" 
       If the actions of the tenants in this parable illustrate the resistance to the rule of God described in the beginning of Psalm 2, the judgement brought by the father in the parable describes the second part of the psalm. We read in Psalm 2:5-11,   
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 "As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill."  7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.  9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."  10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.  11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling…
Jesus first asks His hearers a question, “What will the owner of the vineyard do?” The leaders know the imagery from Isaiah. They perceive that He is speaking this parable against them. In asking the question He is inviting them to consider their actions, and to re-consider their plans. Remember Gamaliel, when the Sanhedrin is taking counsel together against the disciples he warned,
38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail;  39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" (Acts 5:38-39).
Do you really want to risk opposing the Master of the vineyard? But even as He asked the question, He already knew the hearts of the leaders. Yet, still, He shows his patience, giving opportunity for repentance. What will the Master do?
       Without hesitation Jesus offers another line of evidence, quoting from Psalm 118. This psalm was quoted a few days earlier by the crowd as Jesus entered the city: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9f.; cf. Ps 118:25,26).  Now, from just a few verses earlier in the psalm, Jesus switches from the metaphor of a vineyard, to that of a building, as He quotes from Psalm 118:22,23, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Still, the eyes of the leaders are not opened, seeing they do not see, hearing they do not hear. Do you ever feel that way when you seek to share the Gospel message? Don’t be discouraged.  God requires us to be faithful with the message and the mission He has entrusted to us, those who hear are responsible for their response to the message.
V. The leaders understand, but do not repent and believe (12).
And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.
       In the preceding dialog about “authority” the fear of the people put the murderous intentions of the leaders on hold, and it happens again here. They get the point of Jesus’ parable, and they understand that He is casting them as among the wicked tenants. Ironically, they are ready to carry out the same evil against the Son as predicted in the parable!  Their evil intentions expose them as wicked tenants. Rather than repenting and seeking the truth about Him, they want to do away with Him. For the moment, they are afraid of the people, and leave.
      There are those who have never heard the gospel message presented in a way they could understand. And so, we can be encouraged, that as we faithfully share the message some will receive it with joy, and turn to Christ in repentance and faith. These leaders understood what Jesus was saying. And yet rather than receiving Him, they reject Him, and even conspire together to kill Him. This shows us the depravity of unregenerate humans. It exposes the stubborn unwillingness of unbelievers to come to the Lord on His terms. Don’t take it personally when the message is not received! It is not you they are rejecting. For our part…
What is God saying to me in this passage? God requires us to be faithful with the message and the mission He has entrusted to us, those who hear are responsible for their response to the message.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? One theme in this story is the grace and patience of God. As God patiently dealt with Israel in times past, despite their stiff necks and hard hearts, so He is long-suffering, patient, toward us. Toward believers, leading, convicting, chastening, molding us. He is patient too toward the world, giving men time to hear the message and repent. One unbeliever stood up in a meeting challenged God, if He was real, to strike him dead in the next ten seconds. When nothing happened, he scoffed, “How can you believe in God now?” Another man spoke up, “Do you think you could exhaust the patience of God in only 10 seconds?” While it is still day, share the Gospel!
       God is the Creator and the owner of the universe. He created the first man and placed him in the garden with a mandate to exercise dominion. He called on Adam to be a steward of what had been entrusted to him. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he was calling for his readers to embrace that same perspective. We read in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” It seems to me that implies faithfully guarding the truth, protecting it from error and false teaching. It also speaks to faithfully sharing the truth, as we have been called to do. God has strategically placed each of us where we are, and has sovereignly placed a group of people around us. It is His message and His mission. We are stewards. We have been entrusted by the Master with a message and a mission. May we be found faithful!   AMEN.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Who will be King? (or, “You’re not the boss of me!”) - Mark 11:27-33

Who will be King? (or, “You’re not the boss of me!”)
Mark 11:27-33
Introduction: Growing up in a family with seven children we had a fair amount “constructive disagreements” between the children at different times… (OK, we fought a lot!).  Whenever there was some misunderstanding about the “pecking order” the immediate reply would come: “You’re not the boss of me!” Since the Fall, that has really been the cry of sinful humans to holy God: “You’re not the boss of me!” One preacher said, “Sin is like a tiny drop of protoplasm, floating on a little speck of dust in space, shaking its fist at the God who created a hundred million galaxies.” The famous last line of the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley says, “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Henley reflects the pervasive desire of unregenerate humans to affirm their supposed autonomy and to resist the rule of God.  We struggle with the idea that we owe another our allegiance, and our obedience.
       I am convinced that that is the greatest obstacle to people putting their trust in Christ. They recoil from the idea that He is Lord, and that He has authority of us. Rather than seeking to know God as He is, as He has revealed himself to be, people try to deny Him, or to redefine Him in their own terms. The God who is, has spoken. His Word is truth. Have you heard His voice?
       Jesus said in the great commission, “All authority is given unto me in heaven and on earth…” (Mt 28:18). The refusal to trust Jesus and confess Him as Lord reveals the hardness of the hearts of these leaders, and of all unregenerate humans. They resist His authority, they refuse to honestly look at the evidence, and they fear men more than they fear God. The evidence demands a verdict. And Jesus is not on trial. We are. Will we take Him at His Word?  Will we submit ourselves to Him?
The Maine* Idea: Jesus is Lord, which means every decision we make must be subsumed under the authority of Christ.
I. The authority of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel (1:22, etc.). As Mark has presented his account of the story of Jesus, the Messiah, he has been pushing the reader to recognize that Jesus was not a mere man. Who then is Jesus?  He wasn’t just another in a long line of prophets, or even simply a great and influential teacher of moral truths. Mark begins the gospel affirming that Jesus is nothing less than the very Son of God (1:1).  His authority, as it comes center stage in this passage, is properly recognized from rightly understanding His identity. I hope that you have spent some time reading this gospel over the last year and a half and through that reading have deepened your appreciation and understanding of His identity. If He is who He claimed to be, then what? That is the issue that comes into focus in this passage. Let’s review a few verses we’ve seen that shine a light on aspects of His person, demonstrating His authority.
     Authority in His teaching (1:22, 27). Early in this gospel, as Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum, we read that “…they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes…” (1:22). Typically, the scribes evoked earlier teachers and rabbi’s, much like a researcher today might have footnotes in his paper or a speaker might credit a writer or a preacher from an earlier generation. Not so with Jesus. He spoke with authority, affirmed the truth of God directly. This astonished the crowds, it was different than teaching they had earlier received.
      Authority over sickness and death (1:30,31,34,41,42, etc.). We’ve looked at the miracles that Jesus did in this gospel. Giving sight to the blind, opening deaf ears, healing paralytics, even raising the dead (cf. Matt 11:4,5; John 3:2)! He did the kinds of things that only someone empowered by God could do, the kinds of things that the prophets had predicted would be done by the Messiah.
      Authority over demons (1:24,25; 3:15; 6:7). Jesus had demonstrated absolute power and authority in encounters with demons – they were banished by His words and those they oppressed were set free. Remember when He liberated the Gadarene demoniac from the Legion, and the herd of pigs rushed down over a precipice into the sea? The people of the region urged Him to leave! They didn’t want to risk shaking up their lives like that – better that He depart from their region! God will shake up your life, are you ready?
      Authority over the wind and sea (4:37-41; 6:45-52). In the ancient world, those who lived near the water, or from it derived their livelihood, learned to respect the sea. One of the stories this week in VBS was Paul being shipwrecked on his way to Rome as a prisoner. Even the experienced sailors in that story in Acts 27 at one point despaired in the face of the storm and lost hope. Mark shows Jesus with authority commanding the wind and the waves. Even the disciples asked, “Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey Him?” A second scene was even more shocking as Jesus seemed to dismiss the laws of physics when He walked to the disciples in the midst of a storm on the surface of the water. They were terrified! Things like that didn’t happen! Who has such authority? Who can essentially re-write the laws of nature like that?
       Authority to forgive sins (2:7-11). Perhaps most striking, and to the leaders most offensive, was Jesus pronouncing the forgiveness of sins. They asked in 2:7, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Who indeed! The leaders were rightly seeing the direction that Jesus’ ministry was pointing – they were simply unwilling to accept the implications.  Was it their comfort with the status quo or the fact that Jesus simply didn’t fit their views of the messiah? One thing was clear: they had already decided He would not be their king!
       Mark has been presenting the case for the absolute authority of Christ. The resistance to Him that we see, especially in the leaders, exposes their unbelieving hearts. They had already decided that Jesus was not, could not be, the messiah.  They were blind to the truth. What about you? If we recognize who He is, we will see that He is Lord. That means we owe Him our obedience, every decision we make must be submitted to His authority.
II. The leaders challenged the authority of Christ (11:27-28). “By what authority are you doing these things? This was no honest, searching questioning! This was not like Nicodemus in John 3 who seems to be searching. At least he admitted, “We know that you are a teacher sent by God because no one could do the signs that you are doing except God be with Him.” These leaders in Mark 11 make no such admission. Their minds were made up, and they hoped to trap Jesus with His own words, and so to have a basis for condemning Him. This scene introduces as series of confrontations with the leaders this passion week which will ultimately reach a climax in the Cross.
27 And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him,  28 and they said to him, "By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?" 
       Remember the context, Jesus had entered the city like a Messianic figure, a King, as prophesied by Zechariah (9:9). The crowds had hailed his coming in messianic terms, and, for the first time, He had refused to silence them! In fact, the time for such affirmation had come. If the people were quiet the stones themselves would cry out! His time was at hand, and even in guiding the story to this point He has been showing that He is in control, that He has all authority.
        Jesus entered the city as prophesied, and the next day had entered the Temple and cast out the money changers. The Temple should have been a place of prayer, the center of worship; and instead it had become a place of commerce. The “business” of the feast was well established in the early part of the first century. He not only upset their business, but taught at that time, in the temple courts, with authority.  Now a day has passed and they entered the city for the third time that week. The leaders were waiting, these actions could not go unanswered.  The people, and especially the leaders, had to respond.
        The leaders challenged His authority to do and say the things He was saying and doing. These leaders probably included members of the Sanhedrin, the “supreme court” so-to-speak of Judaism. This rebuke of the status quo during one of the Pilgrim Feasts was outrageous from their perspective. Who did this guy think He was?  He had no training at the feet of a respected rabbi (he didn’t even go to a seminary!). And so, they challenge Him with a direct, two-part question: “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you the authority to do them?” To claim to be directly authorized by God would have been a basis for a charge of blasphemy. They were the Supreme Council after all! Later, in the midst of His “trial,” they will literally say, “We will not have this man to be our king!” Who do you say that He is?  Do you realize that you are really not in charge, that you are not the master of your soul? Are you willing to admit that He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? He is Lord, which means every decision we make must be subsumed under His authority.
III. The leaders’ hearts are exposed by their response to Christ (29-33). Jesus’ works and words demonstrated His identity. The evidence was clear. The refusal of the leaders to believe exposed their hard, unrepentant hearts.
29 Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.  30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me."  31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?'  32 But shall we say, 'From man'?"- they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet.  33 So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
        Jesus did not answer directly but asked a question to expose the hearts of the leaders. This was a typical approach to rabbinic teaching and debate. Of course, Jesus knew the hearts of the leaders. They were not seeking the truth, they thought they had Jesus cornered with their question. If He answered as they were sure He would – that His authority came from God – they would have Him trapped… or so they thought. They were essentially asking, “Who do you think you are?” Jesus turns their “plan” on its head with His question. Ironically, He both demonstrates His authority by trapping them with His counter-question, and in the process, He exposes their unbelief.  The overarching irony in the gospel accounts is that the rejection of Jesus by the leaders in fact confirms His identity and fulfills the Scriptures. He is the Stone the builders rejected, the righteous sufferer of the Psalms, the suffering servant of Isaiah. The leaders are asking Jesus, “Who do you think you are?” The real question was what Jesus was asking the leaders, “Who do you think that I am?” That is one of the key questions that every human must answer! What will you do with Jesus? Who do you say that He is?
       Even in stumping them with His question, He shows that He is in control – He is Lord!  He would soon affirm His deity before the leaders, but on His terms and at His time. He was in control. He was guiding the story in precise fulfill-ment of the plan of God. The leaders likely thought they had Jesus cornered with their question, and suddenly, a reversal, they were on the defensive!
       The leaders were stuck. They had watched John from a distance and knew that the people respected him, considering him a prophet.  Perhaps they had heard that John had baptized Jesus and identified Him as the Promised One. If they said that John was sent by God, then Jesus would ask why they hadn’t embraced him and his message. If they said that He was from man, they would anger the people, who widely regarded Him as a prophet. Rather than speaking honestly, expressing their conclusions or beliefs about John, they shift into “self-defense mode.” “We do not know…
      First of all, notice that the leaders are more concerned about the reaction of the people than they are about seeking the truth. This comes out in the entire so-called “trial” of Jesus. The entire motivation is to get Jesus to make a messianic claim, which they can then turn into a basis for condemning Him. Their minds were made up. Despite Jesus’ teaching and the confirming evidence of the signs he had done, they would not be confused by the facts.
       I think one of the great obstacles to faith is exactly this: Do I believe that I can be the master of my fate, the captain of my soul, or do I recognize that I was dead spiritually, separated from God, unable to understand the things of the Spirit of God, by nature a child of wrath—deserving nothing but judgement? Do I see that it is not what I can do, but rather what He has done for me? We have to see our desperate need, our total inability, crying out to Him for mercy! Like the man in Jesus, parable, “God be merciful to me a sinner! I need to surrender my heart to Him, recognizing my only hope is in Christ alone.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Jesus is Lord, which means every decision we make must be subsumed under the authority of Christ.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Have you recognized the One who came to reconcile us to God? Are you willing to follow Him? Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…” His life, death, and resurrection had unfolded exactly as God had planned in eternity past, and as He had revealed in the Scriptures. If Jesus is who He claimed to be, then the song writer was correct: “Trust and obey, there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey!” Have you recognized your need, that by birth and by choice you are a sinner? God is holy. He is of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity. And so, as the Bible tells us, “He will be no means leave the guilty unpunished…” and, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” What hope is there then for any of us? Jesus, the Lamb of God, lived a perfect sinless life, and came to die as our substitute. He bore our sins in His body on the tree… Such grace!
       The song I earlier referred to, “Trust and Obey,” has two aspects to it. Trust in Jesus, the Son of God, trusting in what He did for us in His death and resurrection, as our only hope of salvation. So, we turn from sin, and turn to Him. He gives us a new heart, and we can live a new life, with the help of the Spirit convicting and guiding us, we choose to follow Him.
       We’ve seen in Mark, Jesus give authority to his disciples as he sent them out on a mission to preach and heal and cast out demons. It is good for us to remember that in the Great Commission Jesus said, “All authority is given to Me in heaven and on earth… therefore go and make disciples…” That call applied to the disciples, but it is also the mission that He has entrusted to the church. That includes us. Does He have authority over us? He has all authority. If you know Him, you too have a part in His mission, you have been sent! Will you embrace your part in His mission? It starts right where He has placed you, with your friends, relatives, and neighbors. You are His ambassadors!  AMEN.