Friday, March 24, 2017

When Priorities Are Challenged



I will be sharing a study I wrote of the final six chapters of Mark as we approach Easter.


"When Priorities Are Challenged"
Mark 11-12
 
How have your priorities changed over the years?

As Christians, we know that our first priority should be our relationship with God.  Jesus highlighted this in His teaching on the greatest commandment which is part of our larger study today. Even though we know that God is our number one priority, the demands on our time and energy from other sources such as a demanding job, boss or family seem to take first place.  Often we find ourselves at the end of the week with little energy for study, worship and fellowship with our family of faith. 

When you examine your life where does God fit in with your priorities?  

It has taken Mark 10 chapters to cover 33 years and it will take him 6 chapters to cover one week.  This shows the profound effect the Passion of our Lord had on Peter and Mark. 

The miraculous birth of Jesus as awesome as it was, or the feeding of the multitude with just a few loaves and fishes, or the healing of the blind man, the raising of a young girl from her death bed, or the deaf and dumb man being healed; none of these miracles as tremendous as they were would atone for our sin.  It would take the shed blood of Jesus to satisfy the demands of the law.

 Hebrews  9:22 (New King James Version)

22 And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.
 
Source
The Holy Week begins with the triumphant entry of Jesus into the Holy City.  By the time Jesus gets to Jerusalem His entourage must have grown.  He stops at the edge of town and instructs two of His disciples to go into the city and tells them where they will find a donkey.  They are to untie him and if anyone asks what they are doing to say to them "the Lord has need of it".   Mark lets us know it happens as Jesus had predicted and the disciples were asked what they were doing and they supplied the answer as Jesus had instructed. 

After they return with the donkey the disciples use their cloaks as a saddle blanket and Jesus rides into the city amid the shouts of "Hosanna!" (Which means in this context, “save now.”) Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’  10 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”

This was the fulfilling of another Old Testament prophecy found in Zechariah 9:9:
 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
      Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
      Behold, your King is coming to you;
      He is just and having salvation,
      Lowly and riding on a donkey,
      A colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The colt they brought had never been ridden upon. That was fitting, for an animal to be used for a sacred purpose must never have been used for any other purpose. 

The whole picture is of a people who misunderstood.

How had they misunderstood?

They were thinking of kingship in the terms of conquest in which they had thought of it for so long.

Do you think the 12 disciples might have been involved in the shouting of praises to the King along with the people?

One hundred fifty years before, Simon Maccabaeus entered Jerusalem amid shouts of praise and music after defeating the Seleucid Empire. It was a conqueror's welcome such as this that the people sought to give to Jesus, but they never dreamed of the kind of conqueror He had come to be.  When one looks at Jewish history the pattern is repeated over and over. If they were not fighting those who ruled over them they were fighting among themselves. 

After entering the city Jesus surveys the temple and then departs back to Bethany.  One can only imagine the gaze of Jesus as he takes in the hostile stares from the scribes and Pharisees and the commercialization of the temple.  The next day He would address that problem.

The next morning as Jesus departs from Bethany Mark tells that Jesus was hungry and includes an event that is seemingly so out of character for Jesus.  Many have tried to decipher what Jesus is teaching with the fig tree.  And I must admit, it is a passage that had troubled me.

Through the years, overly critical minds have found reasons to reject the account of Jesus' cursing of the fig tree. Some theologians have thought Jesus acted in a capricious way, cursing a tree because it had no fruit even though it was not the season for fruit. 

After reading several commentaries the gist of their understanding is Jesus is enacting a living parable.  The fig tree had every evidence of fruit yet was fruitless.
In this region the fig tree would sprout early, small figs simultaneously with the leaves and are ripe in May or June.  The larger figs would be gathered later in August.  But since it was Passover time, it would logically be around April, so the early figs were not ripe and the later figs had not appeared; therefore it “was not the season for figs.” V.13
Evidently, Jesus noticed this tree because it was in full foliage, and could therefore be expected to have fruit, but it had nothing but leaves.  It promised much but provided nothing.

The fig tree was a standard symbol for Israel, as numerous Old Testament passages attest. (Jer. 8:13, Hosea 9:10, 16, Joel 1:7 and Micah 7:1-6).  The fact that this particular fig tree had luxuriant foliage, but bore no fruit portrayed exactly what Jesus had seen in Jerusalem the previous day.  In this living parable Jesus is showing that the outward form of religion and worship was evident but it produced no fruit therefore it was barren.

Mark gives another of his characteristic personal notations in verse 14 – “And his disciples heard it,” or “His disciples were listening.”

The same Jesus who had shown such compassion to the multitudes, the one who had helped and healed, is now pronouncing a curse on a fig tree.  Do you think they had any idea of the significance of what had happened?

One other note of interest here is the fact that with the exception of such multiple miracles recorded throughout Mark and the greatest miracle of all, Christ’s rising from the dead, the Gospel of Mark records 18 miracles, and the blasting of the fig tree is the last.

V.15 - They came to Jerusalem and entered the temple.  Jesus immediately begins to drive out the money changers and those who sold doves. . (John 2:13-25 tells of an earlier cleansing of the Temple.)  Both of these groups, the money changers and those sold doves, were making a profit. The temple tax could only be paid with a shekel.  Those who did not have the required currency could exchange their money but they paid a heavy penalty.  The dove sellers made a profit because the priests were in on the money making scheme and would find the poor people who brought their own doves for a sacrifice "unclean" thereby forcing them to buy "clean" ones from the dove sellers. 

V. 16“And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.”   

Also the Court of Gentiles had become a short cut from one part of town to the other and people were carrying burdens even though the Mishnah contained an ordinance aimed at curbing traffic by forbidding anyone to enter the Temple Mount carrying his staff or sandal or wallet, or to use it as a short cut.

This is an excellent example of the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees – they had strained at every knat to entrap Jesus and yet were not only allowing but participating in the breaking of every law regarding keeping the Temple site holy.

And, the Lord saw this for what it was: a monstrous desecration of holy ground and He begins to clean house.  Those who want to see Jesus only with qualities of lamb-like gentleness and meekness- which he did indeed possess – must also see the magnificence and the ferocity of a lion.  Our Savior is also Judge.  The Scriptures speak of the "wrath of the Lamb." (Rev. 6:16)

Jesus quotes Isa. 56:7 "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations".    

The main purpose for the Court of the Gentiles was to be a place where the Gentiles could come for prayer and meditation in seeking God.  But as it was, it was impossible to concentrate on anything, much less to pray and worship.

"But you have made it a den of robbers".   Jesus has just come through the Robbers Roost that existed between Jericho and Jerusalem where people were often robbed and in the process beaten or killed.  He likened the Court of Gentiles in the same way.  A place where one is robbed and taken advantage of. 

V. 18“And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.”

No wonder the chief priests who were getting rich off of the people began to seek how to destroy Him.  They were also afraid because of His popularity with the people.  Jesus does not stay in Jerusalem but returned to Bethany at night.  The next morning the disciples noticed the fig tree withered from the roots up. 

Mark is letting us know it was dead.  No trimming off the dead branches and it produces new growth. It not only will not bear fruit it will not even bear a leaf.  Just as the tree was rotten clean through and through the nation of Israel was rotten clean through and through.

In cursing the fig tree and cleansing the temple Jesus performed two symbolic and prophetic acts, with one meaning.  He was predicting the downfall of unfruitful Israel and from its ashes would come an everlasting kingdom that would gather both Jews and Gentiles.

Jesus now turns the withered fig tree into a teaching moment on prayer. 

V.22-26   So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.
25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

This is a powerful teaching on prayer and the role forgiveness has in relation to our sins being forgiven. 

V. 27-33 Jesus shows back up at the temple.  This is the third day and the scribes and Pharisees have decided they had better try and get a handle on things so they decided to confront Jesus with who is in charge around here.
Source
Jesus challenges their question with a question of His own.  In essence, you answer my question and I will answer yours.

Jesus' Question - "Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men?  Answer Me."

Mark tells of their dilemma.
 31 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘From men’”—they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. 33 So they answered and said to Jesus, “We do not know.”

Jesus counters with His answer "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

But Jesus does tell them a parable.

A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. 2 Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers. 3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. 5 And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some. 6 Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those vinedressers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard.
9 “Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not even read this Scripture:       ‘The stone which the builders rejected
      Has become the chief cornerstone.
      11 This was the LORD’s doing,
      And it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

Some of Jesus' parables may have been hard to understand but to the scribes and Pharisees this was pretty plain.

12 And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away.

This parable shows the love of the Father.  Though this story is told as a parable it was exactly what God had done.  In various ways He had sent His servants to call the nation of Israel to account and they were indeed scorned, wounded, and rejected.    

Most of us would have reacted the first time the tenants rejected the men sent by the owner.  The Father had demonstrated His patience and love throughout the Old Testament.  This was the history of Israel, a history of opportunities neglected, privileges abused, and a great trust betrayed.  Jesus knows that He too will be rejected and killed just as the owner's son was killed.

V.9 Speaks of the tenants being destroyed……

Who is Jesus speaking of?

Who will the vineyard be given to?

What about today?  God's love is still coming even to those who have cast His messenger aside.  In fact, the Son is coming to them right now, persistent in His love for them. 

V. 13-27
Jesus now has two encounters with the religious leaders trying to entrap Him.  The first were two groups who normally despise one another banding together in their mutual hatred of Jesus because Jesus threatened their personal agenda.  We see these two groups banding together for the first time in Capernaum after Jesus had healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath.

With both the religious and the political elements being represented they were sure to trap Jesus when He responded to their question.

V.14 The Pharisees’ spokesman said 4 things in a mocking flattery.

 What were they?
1. True
2. Do not care about anyone’s opinion
3. Not swayed by appearances (high or low position in life)
4. Teach the way of God

In essence, what they say is “You are a teacher on whom people can depend, you faithfully declare the will of God for doctrine and life. You speak your own mind without trying to cater to any person’s likes and dislikes. You do not allow yourself to be swayed by rich or poor, learned or unlearned, master or slave.”

Quite a flattering introduction to a question they hoped would trap him into declaring something that would put him in trouble with either the political faction or religious faction.

The question “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not- Should we pay them or not?”
Their question came after a honeyed introduction seemly asking for direction in deciding what to do in a difficult matter of ethics, but their real intention was the destruction of Jesus. 

Jesus saw through this hypocrisy, and said why do you test me?”

Jesus then asks for a denarius, which amounted to a day’s wages, saying that He wanted to look at it, thereby directing their attention to the coin.
Source
The coin has on one side the bust of the reigning Caesar who was Tiberius Caesar Augustus.

On the other side Caesar is shown seated on a throne. He is wearing a diadem and is clothed as a high priest.   The sticking point to the Jews, besides paying a poll tax, is the graven image the coin represented.  Caesar is to be worshiped as a god. 
Jesus neatly side steps the trap

How does He answer them?
  Render or give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s”. 

He is saying they should pay the poll tax which paid for the government’s services since they enjoy the benefit of the tax.  But to God alone worship should be given.
Mark lets us know after the Pharisees and Herodians failed, the Sadducees try their hand.

What was their question?

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection so they concocted an impossible dilemma showing how ridiculous the belief about the resurrection was.  They allude to the Levirate law of marriage as outlined in Deut. 25. 5, 6. - giving the example of a man’s brothers marrying the widow.  Jesus counters their false assumption that there would be a resumption of marriage after the resurrection. 

They deceived themselves in two ways Jesus said.

1. They did not know the scriptures because nowhere in scripture does it speak of a continuation of marriage after the resurrection and

2. They did not recognize the power of God to raise the dead. 

V. 25  Jesus answers their false assumption by declaring  in the resurrection there will be no marriage or will anyone be given in marriage but are like angels in heaven. 

Although the Sadducees ridicule a wonderful truth accepted and taught by Jesus, namely, that of the resurrection of the dead, He does not refuse to impart needed instruction to them on this very subject;

V. 26,27 But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.

The very scriptures they prize so highly in keeping are in actuality unknown to them.  Jesus is telling them exactly where it is found “in the burning bush passage”. 

V.27b. Jesus tells them bluntly You are therefore greatly mistaken.”  Or you blunder.  When a person departs from the Scriptures he is bound to blunder, to be badly mistaken, to wander. 

The Pharisees must have gloated over the fact that Jesus had put down the Sadducees for their disbelief in the resurrection, a position the Pharisees supported.  But they were not too pleased the crowd was amazed or astonished at Jesus’ teaching.  So once again they cook up a plan to entrap Jesus in order to discredit Him.

V28  During the debate with the Sadducees  a scribe comes up and seeing Jesus answers them well poses a question to Jesus.  In a parallel passage found in Matt. 22:34,35 Matthew indicates Jesus is once again tested by the Pharisees.
The question posed by this scribe, this expert in the knowledge of the whole body of Jewish religious literature – God’s written law and its oral interpretation and application-, could be expected of him.  The rabbis, devoted to hairsplitting legalism, carried on lengthy debates about the commandments, arguing whether a particular one was great or small, heavy or light.  It was natural therefore, that they debated the question, “Which of the 613 commandments, 248 of them positive, and 365 of them negative is the foremost commandment.” 

Among the Jews two contrary tendencies were at work.  One was to analyze the law, dividing it into ever so many hairsplitting ramifications.  Another tendency was the very opposite, namely, to synthesize, that is, to express the summary of the law in one brief sentence. 

In a sense this latter attempt was excellent.  Religion is, after all, a matter of selecting the right priorities.  If that is not done, it easily degenerates into majoring on minors.   

Jesus covers this in Matt. 23:23
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

Churches have been admonished to “Keep the main thing, the main thing”. 
Jesus teaches this by saying the whole moral-spiritual law, can be summed up in one word; love.

“The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. 30 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

This love must first be directed toward God.  This quote, from Deu. 6:4, is called the Shema which is a transliteration of the word “Hear” the first word. 

It is readily understood that the Shema was and is the very foundation of monotheism.  Not only that, but it stresses the fact that this one and only God wants to be loved!  He want to be loved with our total being.  This encompasses the heart, the hub of the wheel of man’s existence, the mainspring of all his thoughts, words, and deeds.  The soul, the word used in the original has a variety of meanings but probably means here the seat of man’s emotional activity; the mind is not only the seat and center of our purely intellectual life but also of our dispositions and attitudes.  With all your strength conveys the idea of using these heart, soul and mind to the full.  Note the fourfold “all”.  The point is that God’s wholehearted love must not be answered in a halfhearted manner. 

 As He is an “all in all” God” He wants our “all in all” love”. 

This love must be directed not only toward God but also toward man.  The second commandment resembles the first in this respect; both require love.  This love for our neighbor flows forth from love toward God.  God loves the world therefore we are to love also.

Jesus gives us a measuring rod for the love we are to have for our neighbor “as you love yourself”.  

Jesus brings his answer to a climax by declaring, “There is no other command greater than these.”    

One can almost hear the excitement in the scribe’s voice as he recites back to Jesus the lesson he has just been given. 

Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

What do you think the scribe meant by “is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices”.

V.34  
 Much has been speculated as to the disposition of this scribe.  Had he been favorably inclined toward the Lord from the very beginning of the present incident, and perhaps even earlier?  Or had he been hostile before and had his unfavorable attitude melted in the presence of Jesus and because of the way Jesus answered his question.  Jesus in turn encourages the scribe by declaring “, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”   
It will be interesting to see if in glory we meet this scribe who had answered wisely. 
But after that no one dared question Him.  Jesus had completely crushed the opposition, and in the process of doing this had even succeeded in encouraging a member of a largely hostile group closer to his own side. 

We are challenged day after day to “keep the main thing the main thing”: To love the Lord and our fellowman.  How that translates out in your life is between you and God.  Jesus reminded the disciples when Peter said……

“See, we have left all and followed You.” 

29 So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife
or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

There are three remaining studies in the gospel of Mark.  The next lesson Jesus will prepare his followers for the future, not only the crucifixion but the years of persecution that would follow.

The last lesson will deal with the crucifixion and the resurrection.

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