We are in a section of Mark’s gospel where he is revealing the reasons why these religious people are rejecting Jesus. In the last paragraph we saw their dishonesty and we will continue to see their dishonesty in the following accounts as they deal with Jesus. But Mark is going to show us more reasons why people refuse to follow Jesus. At the end of section we will be given a picture of what God does desire and how we are to come to Jesus.
Blinded By Hypocrisy (12:13-17)
Notice how the account begins in Mark 12:13. The chief priests, scribes, and elders send some of the Pharisees and Herodians to trap Jesus in his words. There is nothing more honest than having a conversation with someone who is trying to trap you in what you are saying. We are already learning that these people are not honestly listening or listening to learn the truth. They are only listening to see if they can catch Jesus in saying something wrong.
You have probably experienced someone doing this to you. Being a teacher of the scriptures, I have had this happen to me many times. I have done gospel meetings where those in leadership were simply listening to see if they can figure out what I am saying that is wrong. I have had many occasions where people have visited here with the same point. It is a really terrible way to approach listening to the scriptures: try to figure out what a person is going to say wrong. Do not listen for the message. Just trying to figure out what the person is saying that is wrong. This reveals the dishonest heart. Their ears are only bent to listening for a trap, not learning from the truth.
So they have ulterior motives. But listen to what they say to Jesus in verse 14. We think you are great. You are true and not swayed by externals or show favoritism. You truly teach the way of God. You do not change your message for different people. They express flattery and false piety. We know from the prior verse that they are dishonest and hypocritical. They do not think Jesus is great. They are just trying to lower Jesus’ guard so that they can trap him in his words. They do not believe anything that they are saying to Jesus. They are not going to give Jesus a chance to teach them anything. They are just here to criticize and trap Jesus.
So they ask their question to trap Jesus. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” (12:14). It is a question that seemingly does not have a right answer. If he says to pay taxes, then it looks like he is supporter of Rome and would cause him to lose popularity. If he says to not pay taxes, then he is violating the law of the Roman Empire. Jesus knows exactly what they are doing. Jesus is not caught off guard but recognizes their hypocrisy. This attitude toward Jesus and toward his message is simply hypocrisy. So Jesus asks for a denarius. The denarius was a coin that had the image of the emperor on it, in the same way as our coins have our recognized leaders’ images on them. So Jesus asks them whose image is on the coin. The answer is that it is Caesar’s image on the coin. Now listen to Jesus’ answer in verse 17.
Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. (Mark 12:17 ESV)
Now the implications for this teaching are staggering. The image on the coin was of Caesar. Therefore the coin belongs to him. Give to him what he asks. In short, we pay our taxes and we obey the laws of the land. But the part that is staggering is the second part of Jesus’ answer and sets the direction for what Jesus wants. Jesus said to give to God the things that are God’s.
What belongs to God? Now your natural answer is probably that everything belongs to God. This answer is correct. Everything does belong to God. We are to give everything to the Lord. But the statement is even bigger than this. Who belongs to God? You do. Who made you? God did. What image were you made in? You were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). God has rights over us. Oh, how we disagree and resist this truth as humans! We want to think and will say that no one has power over us! God has power over you because he made you in his image. This is the powerful message of the first two chapters of Genesis. God made you and he made you in his image. Therefore, God has rights over you. You belong to him. You were not made by your spouse for your spouse. You were not made by your children for your children. You were made by God for God. Now I want you to hold this point in your mind as we look at the next two points and I will remind you of this as we go along.
Blinded By Ignorance (12:18-27)
Now the Sadducees come to Jesus in verse 18. This is another religious group who do not like what Jesus is teaching. They are unique because in their belief system as they do not believe that there is a resurrection. They have constructing a winning argument to prove it. According to the Law of Moses, if a man’s brother died and left a wife without a child, the man must take in the widow and raise offspring for her so that she will be cared for. In those days your children were your social security, IRA, and retirement plan. So this provision was given by God to make sure that everyone was cared for in their older age. So now the Sadducees tell their story where this happens seven times. “In the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” You see that they have constructed this story because no one can answer this and therefore they think they have proven that there is not a resurrection.
Look at verse 24. Jesus says that they are wrong because they do not know the scriptures or the power of God. Now think about this charge. These religious leaders absolutely knew the scriptures. They were able to quote the scriptures. In fact, in their illustration they used the scriptures as the set up to their point. They were teachers and were influential people in Judaism. Yet somehow they did not know the scriptures or the power of God. There is a way to know the scriptures and yet not know the scriptures. There is a way to know of the power of God but not know the power of God.
Do we understand the power of God? How many dumb doctrines have been presented simply because there is an underestimation of God’s power? But rather than simply observing the silliness that some may have about God, I would like for us to consider our own lives. Do we really know God? Do we really understand the power of God available in our lives? In particular I would like for us to consider the power of God to transform our lives. I am amazed at how many places there are in the scriptures that describe the transforming that God does in our lives. Isaiah 55 speaks twice of how God can change lives. Isaiah speaks about David and asks the reader to think about how radically God was able to change his life. God has great power to change our lives and change who we are. It is amazing how God is able to transform selfish, self-centered sinners to become holy, God-centered people who bear the image of God. God can dramatically change your life. I cannot begin to express how much God has changed my life. God can change your life too. God uses trials and difficulties, good times and bad times, to accomplish his will for you. But sometimes what we do is fail to know the power of God. We do not know the word of God and the power of God and what that means for our lives.
Religious people fail to truly accept and receive Jesus because they simply do not understand what God is doing. They do not know the scriptures or the power of God. What do we believe is impossible for God to do? What do we believe is impossible for God to do in our lives? Who can God not transform? What circumstances can God not change? We must not be like these Sadducees who put God in a box and tell God what he cannot do. So hold this idea in your mind with the previous point. We are made in the image of God and belong to him. We need to know God and his power, never underestimating what God can do.
How To Come To Jesus (12:28-34)
In verse 28 one of the scribes comes to Jesus. Seeing a scribe is coming to Jesus leads us to assume the worst about his motives. The scribes have been one of the groups trying to destroy Jesus. Seeing Jesus disputing with the Sadducees, this scribe asks a question. “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (12:28)
Jesus answers by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5. There is one Lord and we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Further, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, which comes from Leviticus 19. The rest of God’s laws all hang on these two ideas because everything we do is a love for God and a love for others. But listen to the response of the scribe in verses 32-33. The scribe understands that loving God and loving others is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. Listen to what Jesus says in verse 34. “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
I want you to think about what the scribe says that Jesus validates. Loving God and loving others is everything. It is not about offering millions of burnt offerings and sacrifices. God has always desired our hearts. This command is the basis for life with God. This is what God wants us to see. When we are not blinded or controlled by pride, dishonesty, or hypocrisy we have a chance to truly see Jesus. This scribe was moving closer to Jesus because he understood the character of God.
Why do people reject Jesus? Because they do not want to give him their whole lives. We have been made in the image of God. We belong to him. He made us and we are to give ourselves to him. Further, we will understand the heart of God when we truly come to know him and his power. God has the power to change your life and make you whole and complete. What does God desire of you? How does Jesus want you to come to him? Come to him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is much more than going to church or performing some acts of worship. God’s ownership and authority over all things and peoples demands the utmost love from the disciple.