In my study today, I came across Mark 12:1-17 and I was convicted. In this section of Scripture, we see Jesus in conversation with religious and civic leaders of the Jewish people. Those who are familiar with Jesus’s story know that there is a consistent effort on their part to catch Jesus in some kind of offense so that they might be able to dispose of Him as quickly as possible.
Just prior to chapter twelve, these religious elites questioned Jesus’s authority to do all that He did, ultimately in favoring the marginalized in the community and raising awareness of these elitists’ hypocrisy. Jesus returned their question with another question and asked them where John the Baptist’s authority came from. If they answered that it came from God, their opposition to him would have been condemning. However, if they said that it was from man, everyone in the community who believed John to be a prophet would have taken issue with them. Therefore, they could not answer.
I love this moment because Jesus, in His divine wisdom, remained steps ahead of these men and continued to turn the attention to their own hypocrisy. The fact was that Jesus’s authority came from heaven, just as John the Baptist’s did.
To illustrate both this truth and the wickedness of the religious leaders, Jesus tells a parable in Mark 12:1-12. In it, a man (symbolic of God) plants a vineyard (Israel) and allowed tenant farmers (religious elites) to manage His land. As he sent servants (the prophets) to collect the fruit of the vineyard, they were shamed, abused, and killed. Then, the man sent his son (Jesus) and they killed him as well, hoping to steal his inheritance away. He then quotes Psalm 118:22–23 in which it’s clear that He, Jesus Christ, was this stone, rejected by them – the builders, but then used by God as the cornerstone of the entire building (the Church).
He was not beating around the bush here but made clear that the religious elites were His concern. It was a major issue to Jesus, the cornerstone of the Church, that there were leaders who were more concerned with their own authority than the authority of God. He took issue with the fact that they might override His love for the marginalized and all that the prophets warned against.
But what about the godless? What about those in the world who disrespect our God? Well, it seems that Jesus isn’t too concerned with those who are not in relationship with Him. What comes after Mark 12:1-12? In 12:13-17 the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus by asking if they should pay taxes to Caesar. This was no ordinary tax, however. It was “a census tax imposed by Rome on all Jews that went directly into the emperor’s treasury,” according to Charles Ryrie. Ryrie asks sarcastically, “How could anyone who claimed to be Messiah sanction such a tax?” It would be completely counter to their national interest to do so! Especially when the Roman coins in circulation claimed that Caesar was “High Priest” and that “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, [was] Son of the Divine Augustus.” This claim to divinity enraged the Jews, and yet Jesus, the King of the Jews said that they should still “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (v. 17). In other words, Roman misuse of power was not a concern, even if blasphemous and disrespectful to God.
These accounts together show us in God’s eternal Word how Jesus practiced Paul’s later teaching from 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 in which he states “I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world. But actually, I wrote you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister and is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person.”
Scripture provides teachings of morality and spiritual growth that are explicitly for those in relationship to God. They are not rules for the unbelieving world to adopt without understanding their ultimate meaning which is to point us to the beauty and perfection of Christ. They are standards for His own people.
So, when Jesus balances harsh words concerning the Jewish nation with a relaxed perspective on Rome, even a king who incorrectly considers himself to be divine and equal with God, He is telling us that we, who are in relationship to Him and are a part of His Bride, should be the first to repent. We should be standing against sexual immorality in our own hearts rather than condemning those outside our churches who don’t understand God’s love. We should be standing against greediness and idolatry and the verbally abusive within religious circles. We should take issue with hatred and jealousy and outbursts of anger and selfish ambitions and dissensions and factions and envy and drunkenness and carousing (Galatians 5:19-21) by those who are testifying poorly to the character of God, even if we are included in that number.
In our churches, we should be characterized instead by the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). This is what is so beautiful about Jesus’s love for prostitutes, tax collectors, and the Gentiles. It is ultimately why we all who are not Jewish can be in relationship with this God of the Jews, His chosen people.
This entire study was convicting to me because it challenged me to be the first to repent. Rather than posing repentance to the unbelieving world who knows not this beautiful God that they should be repenting to, I should seek first to be softened to the love that God has for those I point fingers at. Rather than existing in a state of constant accusation of others’ sins (which is so incredibly easy to do, isn’t it? At least it is for me), I will instead do all I can to “Love the Lord [my] God with all [my] heart, with all [my] soul, and with all [my] mind” and to “love [my] neighbor as [myself]” because “all the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands” (Matthew 22:36-40). They are the foundation for all that we believe in. It’s an incredibly difficult task – to break this hardness in my own heart towards others (in my own power) – and yet I know that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Love you all,
Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff