Sunday, March 11, 2018

Six warnings of the gospel, Mark 13

Six warnings of the gospel, Mark 13

The passage before us today is without a doubt the most difficult of all of Mark’s gospel.  There have been more books written and arguments presented on various possible interpretations than we could possibly address in a month of Sundays.  I wrestled with how to present this passage for study today.  I thought that I would try to introduce it and put off the bulk of exegesis until next week.  I also thought about skipping it altogether this week.  But somewhere along the way the Lord seemed to direct my thoughts to a particular theme that I am going to try to reveal today.  

And what I really see the Lord doing here is presenting a series of warnings.  He is warning of persecution, of tribulation and of coming judgment.  And His warnings are specifically to the disciples, but also to everyone who will read these warnings later.   Notice in vs37, “what I say to you I say to all, or as the RSV says, I say to everyone, be on the alert!”  So this is a warning for us as well. In fact, it may be even more apropos today than it was then.  

This passage is known as the Olivet Discourse in theological circles. And that title and the scholarly debates that has enveloped this passage for centuries lends itself to a certain detached intellectualism where people talk about hermeneutics and eschatology.  But the fact is that this is a vital warning that Jesus is giving to the disciples and thus to the church that is as urgent now as it was then.

There are 6 warnings that Christ gives.  And I want to read them to you so that you get a sense of the urgency that the Lord was seeking to convey.  Vs5, And Jesus began to say to them, "See to it that no one misleads, or better, deceives you. Vs.9, But be on your guard… Vs23, "But take heed; vs33, "Take heed, keep on the alert. Vs35, "Therefore, be on the alert, Vs 37, 'Be on the alert!’”

Now I read you those so you might get a sense of the theme of the discourse.  It is a series of warnings to the disciples and to the church who would follow, that there are going to be perilous times  ahead.  That’s why I read to you the whole passage initially.  Taken as a whole, it is a somber message; multiple warnings of trials and tribulations and judgment that lies in store for the world and for those that are Christ’s disciples. 1Peter 4:17  “For the time [has come] for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if [it begins] with us first, what will [be] the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

As we look at this more thoroughly, we note that his discourse is brought on by the disciples comments as they have left the temple and have started to ascend the Mt of Olives with Jesus, presumably to spend the night out in the open as they were wont to do each evening.  And perhaps as they stopped on the path to catch their breath, they look out across the ravine where the Kidron brook flowed they see the wall of the temple before them with the buildings of the temple reflecting the setting sun.  It was by all accounts one of the most beautiful buildings in the world at that time.  Herod had embellished the temple which was constructed of huge white marble stones, some as big as 45 feet long, and he had overlaid much of the buildings with plates of gold.  So as the sun was setting, it undoubtedly was reflecting off the white gleaming marble and the gold plating.  It was certainly a tremendous sight.  There used to be a saying among the rabbis, that if you had not seen Herod’s temple, as it was called, you had not seen a beautiful building.

And the disciples were obviously in great admiration of it.  These were poor fishermen from Galilee, for the most part, and so this was a tremendous sight.  Notice how they speak of the temple to Jesus; "Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”  The disciples are merely repeating what was a very typical perspective for most Jews.  They all thought of the temple as the house of the Lord. They believed God dwelled in the midst of it, in the Holy of Holies.  It was the center of religious life.  David wrote many songs extolling the virtues of worshipping God in the temple.  And so for the disciples, as for most Jews, worshipping God and worshipping in the temple were synonymous.  In fact, you could say that in their minds to love the Lord was to love the temple.  

But the Lord’s actions over the last few days should have revealed that He was not pleased with the temple, neither the priests who oversaw  it, nor the way in which commerce was being conducted in it, and neither the self righteous external religious exercises that were being conducted in it.  However, the disciples reflect what many people think concerning the church even today.  They associate a beautiful building with church.  They associate rituals and ceremonies with holiness.  They associate even great crowds and pageantry and music and festivals with worshipping the Lord.  They look at the external church and think that somehow God is in it.  

But God’s attitude towards the church is not focused on the externals, especially not upon the buildings or the beautiful adornments or rituals or ceremonies or pageantry.  Go is concerned with the heart.  As God told Samuel in regards to him choosing a king, “man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”  God looks through the externals and sees the heart of the people.
From God’s perspective, the love of the church is to be a love of Him.  The church as His body is to be a reflection of Him.  It is His house.  Remember the context here is still within the Passion week, when just a day earlier Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.  It is the pure, unadulterated love of a bride for her husband.  It is the love of Jonathan for David which David said was better than the love of a woman.  

I hate to even repeat what perverse things liberals have said concerning the love between Jonathan and David.  Let me just say what it is.  It is a picture of the way a man should love the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a noble love, a love that is willing to lay down one’s life for his friend.  It is greater than romantic love.  It is greater, more noble than romantic love.  It cannot even be compared to erotic love.  It is the love of a warrior for his king and country, that drives him to lay down his life in service.  It’s the kind of love that Uriah exhibited, when David called him from the battle field to come give him a report, in hope that Uriah would visit his wife and he could be thought of as the father of Bathsheba’s unborn child.  But Uriah, you will remember, refused to go to see his wife and rather slept on the porch of David’s palace.  His answer as to why he did not visit his wife was because his men were on the battlefront fighting, how could he go sleep in comfort with his wife.  That’s the kind of love that surpasses the love of a woman.  That’s the kind of love we are to have for the church and for the Lord of the church. Oh that the church might have some Jonathan’s today who would give up their kingdom in order to serve the Lord.  Oh that the church might have a few Uriah’s today, that would give up even the love of their family for the sake of God’s church.

 I want to say also that this title Lord is something we need to think of more seriously.  We say Lord Jesus without thinking of what that means.  If we are truly Christians, then Jesus must not be only our Savior, but also our Lord.  Lord means Sovereign.  Master, ruler, supreme ruler, owner, the one to whom all honor and homage is due.  He is the Governor of our lives.  He gave us life, and liberty, and an eternal inheritance.  He is the source of all life and all blessings.  How can we not give Him His due as our Lord?  And if He is our Lord, then we must serve Him with all our being; all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength.  Nothing less than all of me is acceptable service.  No holding back.

Phl 2:9 says,  “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”   So Jesus is Lord, and He is also Lord of the temple and Lord of the church.  And as Lord He has the authority and right to examine what is His and to do with it what He wills.  

Matthew records Jesus as saying just previously to the Olivet Discourse as He looked over the temple and all the religious proceedings, according to Matthew 23:38  "Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!”  And immediately afterwards the disciples then start speaking of how beautiful the temple and the buildings were. 

So the Lord responds with an even more dramatic statement; “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”  We know from history that this astounding prophecy was fulfilled less than 40 years later when Titus and His soldiers broke through the walls of Jerusalem and ransacked the city and the temple and set fire to the temple so that the gold melted and ran down into the cracks between the stones, so that the soldiers pried apart the stones in order to get the gold.  Historians tell us that 1.1 million Jews were massacred in that incident, and consequently the religious and political life of the Jews ceased to exist as they were scattered across the Middle East and into Europe.

Now the disciples are understandably concerned upon hearing this prophecy.  It must have sounded impossible, but yet they struggled to believe Jesus and understand Him.  So they come to Him privately and ask Him, ““Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?”  There are really two questions that they are asking.  When will these things happen, and what are going to be the signs of the end of the age. Matthew’s version makes the question clearer, Matt. 24:3 "Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"

As I said at the beginning, Jesus is going to use this as an opportunity to give the disciples and us some insight into the future events, but at the same time serve a series of warnings to His followers to be on their guard, to be on the alert.  It almost sounds as if there is a military campaign against a fierce enemy.  And they must keep their guard up lest they be overwhelmed.  And perhaps that is exactly what is at stake.  In fact, nothing less than spiritual shipwreck is at stake.  Peter similarly warned the church later in 1Peter 5:8 “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Paul often related the church to a military unit. 2Tim. 2:3-4 “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.”

Now let’s notice these 6 warnings in order and speak briefly of each as we have the time.  I believe that the best understanding of these prophecies is to realize that some were fulfilled within the discples lifetime at the destruction of the temple and some that are yet to be fulifiled completely, but which will be at the second coming of Christ.  There is a dual application to most of them, pertaining to the end of the age of the Israelites and also pertaining to the end of the church age. Perhaps we may visit some of this later, but for now I just want to give you an overview of what Jesus is warning the church of.  And that is what I think Jesus Himself is doing.  He is giving an overview.  This is not a detailed timeline of the end times.  It is an overview, highlights of the time after He leaves the church, so that we might be forewarned.  

First warning, vs5 , “See to it that no one misleads you. Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many.”  This is a common warning in scripture.  It is a warning against false teachers and false religion.  Paul later on tells the Ephesian elders, in Acts 20:28-31 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.  "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;  and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.  "Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.

I think this warning covers more than just false Christs, but also those who would preach a Christ which is not the Christ of the gospel.  It is a deceitful doctrine, a doctrine of demons.  Meant to lead people astray into false doctrine that produces shipwreck and keeps people from true Christianity.  It is superficial Christianity that is external but not internal. That’s why the Lord says don’t be deceived.  

Another false flag Jesus identifies is wars and rumors of wars.  He says that is not a sign of the end.  In fact, that’s just the beginning.  The times of tribulation that the church will suffer and the whole world will suffer will be marked by many wars, many nations rising against nations, kingdoms against kingdom, earthquakes and famines and so forth will be the norm after Christ is ascended into heaven.  People today are constantly grasping onto every new conflict or catastrophe and using it to point that it must be the last days.  Jesus says that is just the beginning of the age, not the end.  Those sort of things will be the normal for the new age when Christ has gone away.

The second warning is in vs9,  "But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them.  "The gospel must first be preached to all the nations.” Now we know that this was fulfilled during the lives of the apostles.  Paul said by the time he wrote Romans which was before the destruction of Jerusalem that already the gospel had been taken to the whole world.  Of course, he was thinking of the known world.  But nevertheless, a certain measure was fulfilled then, and today we are seeing the full extent of that prophecy fulfilled.  I think that you could say that with internet and television the gospel has reached virtually every part of the world today.  

So there is a warning and a mandate.  Note that the gospel must be preached. It is our duty, it is our service to God.  It is the battle we have been called to wage for the kingdom. The enemy will only be defeated by the word of God as it is proclaimed throughout the world.  But the warning is that we will suffer for doing so, even as the disciples suffered.  Virtually all the apostles lost their life eventually in service of the gospel.  The same sacrifice is expected of us if necessary, but whether we live or die, we must preach the gospel.  We need to understand that the Lord is returning, and men are dying.  We need to preach, as one pastor put it, as dying men to dying men.  The world is dying in their sins.  Without the Lord, without the gospel, people are destined for hell.  We must have a vision for the lost, even if it means that we sacrifice our lives and comfort in the process.  That is how we are to love our neighbor, by telling them the truth of the gospel.  It’s our mandate.  Our mission.

Jesus goes on to describe the opposition and persecution against His followers.  Even family members will turn on you.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that your family will often be the source of some of the most vicious attacks against you as a Christian.  Jesus says that in some cases they will even turn you over to be killed.  Children will rise up against their own parents.  [2Ti 3:1-5 NASB] 1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.”  Sounds exactly like our culture today.

Vs13 "You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”  I don’t think that Jesus is talking about conversion here, but he is talking about the end of one’s life.  Persevere until the end.  Endure until the end.  Fight the good fight.  Finish the course.  Paul said in [2Ti 4:7-8 NASB] 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”  Such is our hope if we finish well.  

These next verses I think clearly refer to the destruction of the temple. Vs 14 "But when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 15 "The one who is on the housetop must not go down, or go in to get anything out of his house; 16 and the one who is in the field must not turn back to get his coat. 17 "But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 18 "But pray that it may not happen in the winter.

The situation was when Jerusalem was surrounded by the Roman armies, the people did what was normal for that time, they went for refuge to the walled cities.  In that case they went to Jerusalem as the Romans came in closer.  Jesus said do not go into the city, but instead flee to the mountains.  History tells us that 1.1 million Jews died in Jerusalem when Titus sacked the city.  But it is believed that many of Jesus’s followers escaped by fleeing into the mountains. 

Now a lot of dispensationalists make hay with the mention of the abomination of desolation.  It is a probably a reference to the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes who offered swine blood on a pagan altar in the temple 200 years before Christ in fulfillment of Daniels prophecy.  And Jesus meant that as a foreshadowing of the Roman legions with their banners depicting Caesar encircling Jerusalem.  In fact, in Luke’s synoptic account in Luke 21, he makes it clear that the encroaching Roman armies are the abomination of desolation here spoken of. Luke 21:20  "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.” There may yet be a future fulfillment of that prophecy though in regards to Israel today.  Today I think you may certainly say that Israel is encircled with enemy armies.  Perhaps the end of the age is much closer than we might think.  

Once again, Jesus warns of false Christs and false prophets who will arise, so that if possible they would lead astray even the elect.  As I mentioned earlier, Paul said those would come immediately upon his departure.  John, and Peter and Jude also spoke of false prophets already in place.  John said that many anti Christs were already in the world. So we know that was fulfilled, and yet we know that in the end of times such false teachers will increase even more.  Notice how today there are entire denominations that are known for their signs and wonders and consequently are deceiving many people.

Vs24-29 sound to many as if He is speaking of His second coming.  And perhaps in one respect He is.  But I think it is also accurate, and perhaps more accurate to see this section as apocalyptic language which depicts a coming judgment.  If you look at prophetic language of the Old Testament, particularly in regards to God’s judgment upon the pagan nations, you will hear almost the exact same phrases being used. The events depicted in Mark are similar to those used to foretell God’s judgment of other nations such as Babylon - Isa 13:9-10, Egypt - Isa 19:1. Edom Isaiah 34:4,5; Nineveh - Nah 1:3-5, Israel - Am 8:9 or Judah - Jer 4:5-6,23-28.  The prophets often foretold God’s coming in judgment upon such nations by using figures of speech denoting worldwide, cataclysmic destruction, even though it was a local or national event.  And perhaps it was done so to foreshadow God’s final judgment upon the world at the end of the age.  And I would add that the reason for God’s warning, and the reason even for the ensuing judgment and wrath is to bring about repentance.  Even in judgment God is working to bring repentance.
But notice that Jesus puts a contemporary ending on this section by saying this generation will not pass away until all these things come to pass.  Many theologians have tried to define generation to mean race or people in order to show that this judgment is still in the future.  But we know for certain that it was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in one generation (40 years).  The point though I want to emphasize though is that the Lord has the right to pronounce judgment upon His temple, and He has the right to pronounce judgment upon His world, and even His church as we saw in the letters to the seven churches.  And the certainty is that the Lord is going to return in judgment for the world, and deliverance for His bride. James 5:8-9 “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.  Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”

The last three warnings are all found in the last section, from vs33 to 37.  And I have to cut this message short due to time.  But suffice it to say that Jesus illustrates very well the mission for the church today in His statement about the man who went away on a journey.  He is speaking metaphorically of course about Himself, who has ascended into heaven to the Father’s right hand.  In the meantime, He has given to us, His servants the responsibility of guarding His house and maintaining His kingdom until He returns.  And foremost in His statement, He instructs us to stay alert. 

“Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the [fn]master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’”

Yet once again I think that there is an allusion to the immediate situation for the disciples and a future allusion for us today.  For the disicples, it would be but 2 days before they would be told in the garden to watch and pray that they may not fall into temptation.  And yet Jesus found them asleep on two occasions.  And consequently they deserted Him in HIs betrayal. I think it’s no accident that Jesus mentions a rooster crowing, reminiscent of the denial by Peter when the cock crowed as he denied Christ three times.  They were so focused on the future that they forgot the present application to be on their guard.

And I think the application is just as appropriate for the church today.  I think the church is asleep when we are supposed to be on duty.  We need to be about the Lord’s business.  We need to be praying and watching and guarding against temptation.  But instead I’m afraid we are lulled to sleep by ear tickling preachers who are preaching a here and now prosperity doctrine so that we are so concerned with the world that we are too preoccupied to be any use for the kingdom.  I don’t claim to know all the ways that you may be deceived by the devil, or distracted by the devil, but I do know that the Lord is coming quickly.  And He is coming this time in judgment.  We need to make sure that we are found by Him to be faithful.  He is Lord.  We are His servants.  

[2Pe 3:3-4, 7, 10-15 NASB] 3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." ... 7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. ... 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation;  

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Lord of the gospel, Mark 12:35-44

One of the titles of God that we are looking at today is the title of Lord.  I think that the true sense of that word is somewhat lost on our culture today.  It would be better understood in a feudal system, where one who was considered Lord of the Manor owned the land, printed money and was served by the people of the land.  Over time, the title extended to various types of nobility, such as a Lord of Parliament, or someone called Lord who held an office of authority. The other historical use of the word was, of course to denote divinity.  Caesars used to claim the title of Lord, and would make their people offer incense once a year and they were forced to proclaim when making the offering that Caesar is Lord. So there were many different possible meanings of the title Lord, ranging from master or owner, to nobility, to that of divinity.

And one of the things that makes it even more confusing to 21st century Christians is that the title of Lord was used in a variety of applications in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments.  One of my favorite references of this title is found in 1 Peter 3:6, and one which I have tried to remind my wife of, but to little avail, and that is that Peter said that Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.   Now obviously, that is not something that is commonly done in our culture, nor in my house either, for that matter.  

But to understand the full significance of this title, we need to consider it in the context of this passage which covers the Passion Week.  You will remember that in chapter 11 Jesus had come into the city of Jerusalem riding on a donkey, and the crowds were calling out ““Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!”  So they were saying that He was coming as the Son of David, which was understood to be a title of the Messiah.  

Then later on, Jesus came into the temple and drove out the money changers and the vendors and stopped the commercial enterprise of the priests who were taking advantage of the people.  And Mark tells us that the scribes and Pharisees and high priests came and asked Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?”  

Jesus avoided a direct answer to that question by asking them a question concerning John the Baptist’s authority.  But He gave an illustration in a parable of the vine growers, which is a very similar setting to that of a feudal system, in order to illustrate that Israel was the vine, and He was the owner of the vineyard’s Son whom they would plot to kill.  So by illustration He claimed authority of Lord by virtue of the fact that He was the Son of God. 

Now that infuriated them, so they conjure up three questions to try to entrap Him in something that He might say, so that they might put Him to death.  When He brilliantly answered them all they are rendered speechless.  They don’t know how to respond to His wisdom.  So now, in response to their silence, Jesus asks them a question which speaks once again as to His authority which they had called into question.

And He does so by building upon the cries of the multitude who hailed Him as the Son of David, which was understood to be referring to the coming Messiah.  So in chapter 12 vs 35, Jesus poses the question, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?
David himself said in the Holy Spirit, ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET.”’ David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; so in what sense is He his son?”

As an important aside, notice that Jesus says Psalm 110 is authored by David.  That is not given to us anywhere else, but we know that David was the author because of this answer.  And then also notice that Jesus establishes the inspiration of scripture in saying that David was moved by the Holy Spirit to make this prophecy concerning the Messiah. Peter would later build on that statement saying in 2Peter 1:21 “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

Now what was commonly understood by the Jews was that the Messiah would be of the lineage of David, and that He would restore the throne in Jerusalem and Israel would once again be a great nation, receiving the full blessings of God through the reign of the Messiah.  They see this reign as a purely physical, temporal reign.  The Sadducees, remember, didn’t believe in the resurrection so they were only concerned about the present.  And they were also the party of the high priests.  So they thought they would be the administrators of the kingdom under the Messiah.

So the multitudes had shouted the refrain that Jesus was the Son of David as they ushered Jesus into Jerusalem only three days earlier.  And both the multitudes and the scribes and high priests understood this saying to be the concerning the fact that the Messiah would come from the line of David and restore the throne and restore the dominance of Israel as a nation.  

But in Jesus’s answer, He seems to be bringing that doctrine into question saying, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?”  It is clear that Jesus is speaking of Himself as the Christ.  They wanted to show that He could not be the Messiah, but He is taking the approach that the children in the streets calling out “Hosanna to the Son of David” were speaking of Him appropriately.  By the way, Messiah is the Hebrew term for the Greek word Christ.  So Jesus is in a roundabout way confirming what the multitudes have said about Him, but He brings into question this idea that the Messiah is the son of David.  He wants to show that the Messiah is more than just the son of David.

And He does so by quoting from Psalm 110.  Now in the our Bibles it is presented as a quotation from the Greek Septuagint translation.  That was the Greek translation of the Old Testament which was in use at that time.  But in the original Hebrew language, there is more distinction in the Psalm.  And that distinction comes in the usage of the word Lord. In the Hebrew text, the name Jehovah, or Yahweh, was considered so sacred by the scribes as the personal name of God that it could not be spoken, or even written.  So in order to accommodate that idea, they used a tetragrammaton to signify the word Jehovah, which was the word LORD, which was substituted for Jehovah. 

There is another word for Lord in the Old Testament, and that is the word Adonai.  Both words, Yahweh and Adonai  were names denoting God. The first  being His personal name and the other being His title.  In the New Testament, the word for Lord is the Greek word kyrious. And in our Bibles which are translated from the Greek, to show the difference between Adonai, and Jehovah, Adonai is presented as Lord, and Jehovah is presented in all caps, as LORD. 

Jesus is quoting from the Septuagint translation, which is the Greek translation then in use, and it uses small letters for both Lords.  In the Hebrew, however, it would read as, “Jehovah said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I put your enemies beneath your feet.”

The point that Jesus is making is that though the Messiah was to be a son of David, David by inspiration of God calls the Messiah his Lord. So the question Jesus asks is how can David call the Messiah his Lord if He is his son?  The answer of course is that the Messiah was not only the Son of Man, but the Son of God. This is known in theological terms as the hypostatic union of Christ. He was fully God and fully man.  He was born of the Spirit and born of a virgin.  He was of the lineage of David and yet He is the Son of God.  

What the Lord Jesus wants to illustrate to these unbelieving religious leaders is that the authority He has to cleanse the temple is because it is His Father’s house.  The authority that He has to heal or forgive sins, or to teach the truth concerning the kingdom of God, is because He is the Son of God.  He is One with God, and so His authority is from God. Therefore, the son of David is not only Messiah, but He is Lord God.  

Now we can only imagine how infuriated this made the scribes and high priests.  But Mark records the crowd as enjoying listening to Him.  I doubt most of them understood all that He was saying, but they understood it to be a rebuke of the religious leaders and so they enjoyed seeing them corrected to some extent.  But notice that Mark uses the same turn of  phrase to describe their enjoyment as he used in the passage concerning Herod used to enjoy listening to John the Baptist.  Yet Herod eventually put John to death, and in a few days some of this very crowd would call for the death of Christ as well.  So the fact that the crowd enjoyed listening to Him does not equate with them believing in Him unto salvation.  

Now there is an important connection to an earlier passage that we must make sure we see here.  In vs 28, a lawyer had asked Jesus what was the foremost commandment.  And Jesus answered with the Shema, “HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.”  What the Lord is now saying is, "The Lord our God is one Lord: And you shall worship the Lord with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and I am not only David's son, I am David's Lord." The Lord that we are to worship with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind, is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. 

He is our Sovereign, He is our Master, the owner and provider of every good thing. He is the Creator.  John says in the first chapter of his gospel that nothing was made without Him that was made.  He is God incarnate, God in the flesh.  The Word that was in the beginning with God, who made all that was made, became flesh and dwelt among us.  

Isaiah in the Old Testament should have informed the Jews that the Messiah would be much more than just  human  royalty.  Speaking clearly of the Messiah, Isaiah 9:6 says, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”  Isaiah makes it clear that He is a son of David, and will sit on the throne forevermore, but also that He is very God.

So the church is to be the Lord’s vineyard, and we are to be His servants.  Salvation comes not only in faith in Jesus as a person, but in faith and trust in Jesus as Lord.  As our Sovereign Savior, we bow to Him and yield to Him our lives in service for the glory of God and to His kingdom. Jesus' identity is the central issue of spiritual life. What is Jesus to you? Is he Lord? The whole issue of how to enter the kingdom and how to live in the kingdom of God hangs at that point: Is Jesus your Lord?

Is He Lord of your life? Is He the one who governs your life? His lordship is the key to our life in Christ. That is why all through Paul's epistles you find many practical exhortations which are linked always with "as unto the Lord": "Wives, be subject unto your husbands as unto the Lord," (Ephesians 5:22). "Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church," (Ephesians 5:25). "Children obey your parents in the Lord," (Ephesians 6:1). "Stop stealing for the Lord's sake," (Ephesians 4:28). "Masters be kind to your employees for the Lord's sake," (Ephesians 6:5-9). In every aspect of life Jesus Christ must be Lord of your life.

Mark concludes this account with a contrast that indicates how Jesus' lordship will manifest itself. The true expression of a heart submitted to the lordship of Jesus is demonstrated in a contrast between a pompous, proud, religious scribes and a humble, poor, and godly widow. The scribes loved to be seen and admired for their positions and their adherence to certain rituals and ceremonies which they thought made them appear holy and righteous.  The widow, on the other hand, presents a picture of someone who loves the Lord with all their heart. And as we learned concerning David, in our study in 1 Samuel, God judges the hearts, not in outward appearances.

Let’s first consider these scribes.  Jesus lists six things that show their hearts are evil. First He says beware of the scribes because they like to walk around in long robes.  You want to put that into a contemporary context, beware of religious leaders who like to dress up in some religious outfit that they think gives them some sort of official look.  I would add, beware of pointy hats.

Next, He says beware of those who love respectful greetings in the market places.  They love the fawning attention that their positions render them and the titles and so forth that people use when addressing them.  To tell you the truth, I don’t even relish being called “pastor.”  I understand that people are trying to show respect, but I would just as soon be called Roy.  Paul was called simply Paul, and that’s good enough for me.

Third, He says beware of those who like the chief seats in the synagogue.  That is the seats up on the podium facing the congregation. They were the chief seats.  That sort of thing was also done with the parishioners in the early churches in the middle ages.  The rich gave money to support the priest and the church and so they would have the side benches up front with their names inscribed upon them.  And the order of the congregation would follow suit with the wealthiest up front and the poorer people in the rear.  

Fourth, they love the place of honor at banquets. It’s more of the same, using their positions to an advantage, their religion to garner respect and public admiration.  

Fifth, Jesus says they devour widow’s houses.  They took advantage of poor widows by robbing whatever resources may have been left to their estate.  This is the most egregious of all their abuses as far as I’m concerned.  And this is what I see as the sin of a lot of television preachers today.  Paul speaks of those in 2Tim. 3:6 “For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses.”  I see these false teachers on TV as entering into widow’s houses and leading them astray and taking advantage of them, devouring their financial resources as well as devouring them spiritually.  

And then number six, Jesus says beware of those who pray long prayers.  He says that they do not pray to be heard of God, but they do so for appearance sake.  They love to be seen as holy, to be knowledgeable.  So they pray to be heard of men in offering long, laborious prayers.  Beware of praying to be heard of men.  God doesn’t answer those prayers, and furthermore, He is opposed to them.  

So what is the synopsis of those religious hypocrites?  They love to perform their religious ceremonies to be seen of men and to win their approval.  They superficially give praise to the Lord, they superficially love the Lord.  But the Lord sees their hearts and consequently does not regard their service as acceptable.  They have their reward here on earth.  People call them holy, righteous and look up to them, and approve of them.  They have their reward on earth.  But they have not earned any reward in the Kingdom of God.  

Note now the contrast in the last 3 verses as we see Jesus recognize the heart of the widow.  Jesus was seated near the treasury in the temple.  And what they did was they had 13 trumpet shaped repositories made which hung on the walls of the temple in this area.  And the people would file into this area to give their offerings to the Lord.  Mark says that the rich people were dropping large amounts into the coffers.  I read somewhere that the way these were constructed, and the type of coins that were being given as a offering, meant that there was a corresponding loud clatter when a large amount of coins were dropped in.  To make it even more ostentatious, Jesus said elsewhere that some even had actual trumpet players announce their coming into the temple to make an offering to make sure everyone noticed them giving. 

But irregardless, when a rich person came in to give, it probably sounded a lot like hitting triple sevens on the one armed bandit in the casino.  A cascading sound of coins flowing into the trumpet shaped urn which would resonate throughout the temple and draw approving glances from the people in attendance.  

Then Mark says that a poor widow came in and dropped two small coins into the treasury, which amounted to a cent.  Now there is a lot of commentary on exactly how much she gave, but the best sources I can find say that what she gave was probably equivalent to about a dollar in today’s currency.  And it was in the form of two small, thin coins.  To drop such slight coins in the trumpet vase would have barely made a discernible noise.  

But though her offering made little noise and drew little attention by the crowd, or possibly even disdain by the crowd, yet it made a great impact on Jesus. He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

Here again we see revealed the divine nature of Christ, in knowing not only what she put in the offering, but also in knowing what she had left to live on.  But there is another lesson here that must be seen.  And it is not a lesson on tithing.  I said the other week that I avoid talking about tithing or giving offerings as much as possible.  Paul said  giving must be not out of compulsion, that God loves a cheerful giver.  I know a lot of preachers have used this text to preach about money.  I’m not going to do that.  You are smart people, you can read into that if you want yourselves.  

What I believe the real point of this is, is that this widow gave the Lord her all.  She didn’t hold anything back for herself.  There were two coins, she could have said I will give the Lord one and I will use the other for myself.  But instead, she gave everything to the Lord.  This woman loved the Lord with all her heart, with all her soul, and with all her strength.  She didn’t hold anything back. She recognized that all that she had was the Lord’s, and so she gave all that she had to the Lord.  She fulfilled the foremost commandment.

And I think that is the point of this whole passage.  If you believe in Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, then you must believe that He also is Lord.  And if He is Lord, then He demands your life, your heart, your all.  He isn’t interested in pretentious, pretend Christianity that parades it’s supposed virtues to be seen of men.  But He demands your all.  That is how we are saved, ladies and gentlemen.  We surrender all. He is Lord of all.  He is worthy of all that we have and all that we can give.  We can never repay all that He has done.  The least we can do is give Him our complete devotion. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Three tests of the gospel, Mark 12:13-34

When I was in school, I used to hate tests.  Usually, that was because I had either forgotten to study for it, or I was too preoccupied with sports or other activities to study for it.  So consequently, when the teacher would say, “now put away everything off your desk and take out a pencil and a blank sheet of paper for your test,” I would get this horrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, and look around in a panic at my classmates all calmly putting away their books,  in hopes that somehow this was all some great misunderstanding.  

But teachers give tests in school not usually to cause extreme heart palpitations in their students, but rather to gage their knowledge and understanding.  And likewise, students ask questions of their teachers in order that they might gain knowledge and understanding. 

However, as we look at the passage before us today, we see three sets of people who ask questions of the Lord Jesus in order to test Him, but not so that they might gain understanding or knowledge, but so that they can trap Him in something that He said in order to use it against Him.  Their ultimate goal is to put Him to death, so they are looking for some sort of justification in order to do that.  

What’s also interesting is that Jesus has managed in three short years of teaching to invoke such hatred against Him, that His enemies, who were also enemies of one another, have unified in their common cause to have Him killed, and so they set aside their differences to try to accomplish their common goal.

We see that particularly in the first incident in which the Pharisees team up with the Herodians to try to test Him, or trick Him into making a statement they can use against Him.  All of you are probably aware of who the Pharisees were; strict, sanctimonious religious teachers who prided themselves on keeping the law.  The Herodians though are less  known; they were Hellenists, lovers of Greek culture, people who were about as wordy as you could be and still be a Jew.  These folks normally could not stand one another.  But they come together in their common hatred of Jesus and what He represented.  There is an ancient saying which predates Christ by some 400 years which states “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  That is especially true in the case of the enemies of Christ.  In a minute we will look at another group here which is the Sadducees, and they and the Pharisees were like Democrats and Republicans.  So there is a bipartisan effort here to eliminate Jesus and the gospel He is teaching. 

Now in true political style, they come to Jesus with lofty titles and sly flattery in order to try to disarm Him in hopes of tripping Him up. They start off with calling Him Teacher, and yet they themselves claimed to be teachers.  Jesus called the Pharisees the blind leading the blind. They fawningly say “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth.”  

Wow, that’s laying it on heavy isn’t it?  Especially when we know that they were plotting to kill Him at that very moment.  If they really believed what they were saying, then they would have recognized that He who isn’t partial to anyone, but tells the truth regardless, would not be fooled by crass flattery.  So all of that simply tells us that their question was not sincere.  As Mark said in vs 12, they were buttering Jesus up “in order to trap Him in a statement.”

So the test they proposed to Him was “is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” Now to understand the full significance of this question, you need to understand a couple of things.  First, a poll tax was the annual capitation tax, or per capita tax on every adult in Judea, and it was imposed by the Romans upon the Jews.  

The other important thing to consider is that the Jews were in a constant state of rebellion over this tax, because they hated the Roman oppression, and furthermore, the devoutly patriotic Jews considered it a sacrilege to give the Emperor honor, because he claimed to be deity. So some of the most fastidious considered it an affront to God. 

So the question put to Jesus was very clever.  If He said that you should pay the tax, then He risked alienating many devout, patriotic Jews.  And if He said that you should not pay the tax, then He was possibly guilty of sedition against Rome.  So they thought that they had Him, no matter which way He answered the question.

But notice the response of Jesus.  Remember, God sees the heart; vs 15, But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.”  A denarius was the common coin of Rome.  It was equal to a laborer’s wage for a day’s work. And it was also the amount due for the poll tax.

They give Jesus a denarius and He asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

I am told that such a denarius has been found, and that on the obverse is a picture of the head of Tiberius, and on the reverse he is shown sitting on a throne.  But the really interesting thing is the inscription, which reads; Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Highest Priest. 

Yet in spite of this blasphemous inscription, Jesus acknowledges that this was Roman currency, and as the governing authority, it was issued by them, and as the governing authority it was due certain taxes for the blessings such government provided.  Rome had achieved a measure of peace that the world had scarcely seen before.  They had built roads and bridges and waterworks.  They gave protection and liberty so that the people were able to live their lives in relative peace and prosperity.  And for all that government provides, Jesus said you should render to Caesar that which is due to Caesar.  Jesus is saying government has a right to exert taxes for the services it renders to it’s citizens.

For us that translates to pay your taxes.  Give what is due to the government for it’s services.  Paul makes this principle clear in Romans 13:1-2 saying, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”  In other words, give the government it’s due, and if you do not, you will receive condemnation not only by the government, but also from God.

There is another principle though that Jesus makes which should be given equal attention.  And that is “render unto God the things which are God’s.”  What is due to God?  Well, as we will see in a few verses later, our duty to God is to love Him above all, with all our being. Jesus said elsewhere that if you love Me you will keep My commandments. So we owe God our obedience.  He is the origin of our life.  So we are to render unto Him our very life.  Considering all that He has done for us, how can we not give Him our all? So God has priority over government, but government has authority over us, as an extension of God’s authority.

Now there is much more we could say about that, but we have to move quickly as there is a lot yet to cover.  So let’s look at the next test, the next question employed this time by the Sadducees to try to trap Him.  Now who were the Sadducees?  Mark tells us the defining characteristic of the Sadducees in vs18, they said there was no resurrection.  So how ironic and hypocritical then is their question posed about the resurrection.  But additionally, it should be noted that the Sadducees did not believe in angels, they only believed in the inspiration of the Pentateuch, that is the first 5 books of the OT written by Moses, and also that they were the party of the high priest.  The high priests were selected from this party.  Considering that Jesus had just the day before entered the temple which was the high priest’s domain and cleaned out the merchants and disrupted the money making scheme they were running there, there is no doubt that these guys were gunning for Jesus and hoping to catch Him in saying something that could be used against Him and at the very least they are trying to make Him lose favor among the people by sounding ridiculous.

Well, we’ve read the fictitious scenario that these guys have concocted concerning a woman who had seven husbands.  I won’t take the time to reread it.  But it was obviously a fictional situation which was designed to make the doctrine of the resurrection sound absurd.  And here is the deal; the kingdom of God which Jesus was preaching was founded on the doctrine of the resurrection.  They wanted a temporal kingdom of God, a physical, immediate kingdom in which they had the chief positions and which benefited them in this life.  Jesus was preaching a spiritual kingdom which has it’s origin and culmination primarily in heaven, and so therefore is dependent upon the resurrection for it’s fulfillment.  So in asking this absurd question they were trying to undermine the credibility of His gospel. 

We have the same thing happen today in attacks from liberals on the gospel.  They will try to show the absurdity of hell and the judgment to come. “God is really going to burn billions of people for eternity?”  They will try to show the absurdity of heaven.  “Who wants to live forever and ever with these right wing hypocrites anyway?  What are you going to do, sing hymns for millions of years?”  They try to show the absurdity of faith in God as Creator in contrast to the intellectualism of science.  

But the answer Jesus gives the Sadducees contains the answer to the naysayers down through the ages. vs24,  “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God?”  It’s amazing to me that those who would deny the supernatural in regards to God will accept so many other ludicrous ideas.  They would rather believe in space aliens than in a divine creator.  They would rather believe in things like evolution which took billions and billions of years rather than believe in a literal creation.  They would rather believe in the improbability that out of chaos could come a universe so precise and ordered that it follows exact mathematical equations.

Jesus says there are two areas in which you are mistaken and therefore without understanding.  First is that you don’t understand the scriptures.  In the case of the Sadducees, they said they believed the Pentateuch, but they didn’t really know the scriptures in the Pentateuch which clearly taught that there was life after death.  The problem with the Sadducees is very similar to the problem with many critics today; they focus on scriptures that they like, that fit their agenda, but disregard those that they don’t like.  

Secondly Jesus says that they don’t understand the power of God.  If they truly understood the power of God, then the  doctrine of the resurrection should not have been that difficult to accept.  Certainly the God who made all life and everything in the universe by the word of His mouth could raise the dead.  The secret to understanding and knowledge is studying the scriptures.  It’s not through some vision, it’s not through some ecstatic experience, it’s through studying the scriptures.  That is how we come to know God and how we are able to worship God in spirit and in truth.  God is revealed in scripture.

Jesus then tells them the truth about the resurrection and marriage.  vs 25, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” First note that in heaven there will not be the need for marriage, because there will be no need for procreation.  We will live forever.  Secondly, marriage on earth is a picture of our relationship as the church with Jesus Christ.  In the resurrection, our fidelity is to Christ.  He is our bride groom and we are His bride.

I also want to point out that Jesus is declaring that there will be a resurrection.  Many churches don’t really talk about our resurrection from the dead.  The common doctrine that a lot of people are being taught is that when you die you go to heaven.  The Bible however speaks of the dead being raised at the resurrection.  And then after the resurrection the Lord will institute a new heaven and a new earth.  Jesus spoke of the dead in the story of Lazarus and the rich man as being in the bowels of the earth in Hades.  Lazarus was in Abraham’s bosom, a Jewish way of speaking of Paradise, and the rich man was in torment, that is in the flames of hell.  And Jesus said between the two there was a great gulf which no one could cross. Now a lot of people want to dismiss all of that, because they don’t understand it, or it doesn’t fit their template.  But that is what Jesus told us in Luke 16.  

At the resurrection then those that are in Paradise will be resurrected with a new body. 1Thess. 4:16 “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”  Some have construed that to mean that our old physical bodies will be lifted from the graves.  That may not be necessarily true.  Consider what Paul said concerning the resurrection and this heavenly body in 1Cor. 15:36-44, 50, “That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies;  and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.  All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another.  There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.  So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body;  it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. ...  Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”  

Notice Paul said, it is sown, that is it dies and is put in the ground as a natural body, but it is raised a spiritual body.  So then what Paul says is that what is put in the ground is natural, but what comes out of the ground is spiritual.  What manner of beings are in Paradise?  They are spirits, and they will be raised with spiritual bodies.  And if you really want to start speculating what that looks like, then I will tell you that a oak seed doesn’t look anything like an oak tree.  What will we look like?  Consider what John says in 1John 3:2 “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”  In our eternal bodies we will be like Christ. That’s good enough for me.

Then Jesus turns to the scriptures to refute the Sadducees, and He picks a scripture from the Pentateuch.  He quotes from Exodus 3 in the passage about the burning bush.  Vs26, “But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.”

What Jesus is saying is that God speaks of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as being still alive.  The point is that they are alive awaiting the resurrection.  In fact, going back to the story Jesus told in Luke 16, He said  Lazarus was in Paradise being comforted by Abraham.  Abraham had a dialogue with the rich man.  So Abraham was obviously very much alive.  At the transfiguration, Jesus appeared with Moses and Elijah, and they were talking about the things to come.  They were alive and cognizant and able to have a conversation about what was going on in the world at that time.  Jesus said in John 11:26  “and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”  This is the hope of the Christian, ladies and gentlemen.  This is how we face the future without fear.  We will never die.  At death we will be alive in spirit with those who have gone on before us.  We will be with the Lord forever.  And furthermore, at the last trumpet we will be resurrected from the dead with a new body, a glorified, spiritual body that is far beyond what we can imagine, but it will be like the Lord’s body.  That’s a tremendous hope.

Well, there is yet one more test.  This time it’s a lawyer who comes to test Jesus.  Mark doesn’t make it clear that this was a set up as well, but Matthew does.  The question asked by this lawyer is which of the commandments or laws was the foremost? Not the first, but the foremost in importance. Now there were much more than 10 commandments.  The scribes and lawyers had determined that there were no less than 613 commandments, 248 of them positive, and 365 negative.  One for every day, it would seem.  The Pharisees seemed to focus on the negative.  Jesus, however, is going to give the positive.

Furthermore, in this exercise, there is a sense in which the entire law is being boiled down to it’s essence, synthesized, or summarized into one brief sentence.  I wonder if you could very easily condense the gospel into one sentence.  It’s not that easy.  But Jesus does so readily, once again quoting from scripture.  He quotes from Deut. 6:4, 5, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’

In the original Hebrew, the first word “hear” is from the original Shema.  Today in Jewish synagogues, it is still called the Shema, and is recited at the beginning of their service. But what Jesus is teaching is that the whole law can be summed up with one word; love. The duty of man is to love God supremely above all things with all his being.  The elements of this love is broken down into somewhat overlapping dimensions.  The heart is a dimension of the soul, the mainspring of all thoughts, words and deeds.  The soul encompasses the mind, will and emotions.  The mind speaks of the intellect, another dimension of the soul.  And strength I believe emphasizes the will of man.  They are overlapping, as I said.  I think that they all are various dimensions of what might be rightly called the heart or the soul; which encompasses the mind, emotions, and will. 

And I like that because it shows that we don’t just love God emotionally, but also intellectually.  And we don’t just love God with a dry intellectualism, but also emotionally.  And that we don’t just love God with our intellectually, but with our will, which produces action and strength.  I think further understanding comes from the fourfold use of the word “all.”  Four times Jesus says “all.”  God’s wholehearted love for us must not be answered in half hearted love from us. But we love Him above all, and with all our being.  We love Him above all other love, even the love of family, even the love of ourselves.  We put Him first above all things.

Secondly, Jesus said that this love not only must be directed towards God first, but that the second most important commandment is that we must love our neighbor as ourselves.  Once again Jesus quotes scripture, this time from Lev. 19:18  “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.”

The second commandment resembles the first in this respect; they both require love.  In the case of the second, it is love towards those who bear the image of God.  When Jesus held up the denarius and asked whose image was there, He said “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”  So by similar application, when we look at our fellow man, we need to see that he bears the likeness of God, man was made in the image of God. Gen 1:26 “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”  Gen 1:27, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” 

How do you love mankind who was made in God’s image?  As you would love yourself.  That is the measure by which you measure to another.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Luke 6:31)

And who is my neighbor?  According to Jesus’s parable in Luke 10:30, it is anyone who God places in your path for sympathy and help.  Furthermore, in Matthew 5:43 Jesus even includes our enemies as those we should love.

Well, hearing this answer, the lawyer is so impressed by the wisdom of Christ that he cannot help but offer his praise, saying in vs32, ”Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM;  AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE'S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  His enthusiasm indicates that Jesus has just made one of His enemies into a possible disciple. And Jesus recognizing that says in return, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Listen, what an answer to those today who would offer the sacrifices of praise and worship and not the sacrifice of obedience.   What an answer to those who would offer lip service, but will not surrender their lives in service to the Lord.  In our study of the life of David, we heard Samuel emphasize a similar point to Saul that this lawyer made to the Lord.  Samuel says in 1Samuel 15:22, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.”  

Love towards God cannot truly exist without obedience towards the Lord.  There was just one more step needed by this lawyer to go from being not far from the kingdom of God to being in the kingdom of God.  And that was believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  Jesus said in John 6:40  "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”  

In John 11:25-26 Jesus said to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,  and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

I would close today in asking you the same question.  Have you believed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came into the world to offer the complete sacrifice for your sins?  And are you willing to obey Him and give your life to live for Him as your Lord and Savior?  If you will but believe in Him and surrender your life to Him, He will give you life, He will supervise your resurrection and you will never die but live eternally with Him in glory.  I pray that you have surrendered to Jesus today and will learn to love Him with all your heart and soul.