Imagine with me this scenario: you come into a church with a Pastor who is not devoted to God. On the outside he appears to be; he legalistically follows the commandments of scripture, he always appears to be deep in prayer, and always has his bible with him. But on the inside he is only devoted to himself, he keeps back the fruit of his church for himself, he doesn’t give any of it to God. God tries to reach out to him through various people who are truly devoted to God, but each time this pastor rejects them and kicks them out of his church. In Jesus’ day the religious leadership of Israel was like this, for hundreds of years they had rejected their God’s prophets, and had worked for their own gain and glory. It is into this religious climate that Jesus’ ministry happened, and it was these leaders that Jesus addressed in his teachings recorded in Mark 12:
1 And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. 2 When the season came, he sent a servantto the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard.9 What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.
Paying Taxes to Caesar
13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” 15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.
The Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection
18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”
24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”
The Great Commandment
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important 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 and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 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 oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Whose Son Is the Christ?
35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.
Beware of the Scribes
38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
The Widow’s Offering
41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” [NASB]
The events of Mark 12 take place shortly after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. At this time the Jewish understanding of the Messiah was that of a coming political saviour, one who would overthrow the Roman rule of Judea. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey and was greeted with shouts of Hosanna the crowd was expecting him to save them from the Romans. During the events of Mark 11 Jesus cleanses the temple and leaves Jerusalem for the neighbouring town of Bethany. Jesus had returned to the temple in the morning and was quickly confronted by a group of Chief Priests, Elders, and scribes. They questioned Jesus as too where his authority came from. After responding to their question Jesus presented them with the parable that we read in the opening verses of Mark 12. Jesus’ teaching in chapter 12 is mainly aimed at rebuking the religious leadership and possibly to rid the crowds of the idea that He was a political saviour. The majority of Chapter 12 is addressed to various factions of the Jewish religious leadership.
The religious leadership at this time were swamped in their own traditions and teachings, they had lost sight of true devotion to God. In the parable of the vine-growers Jesus gives an antitype for what true devotion to God looks like. The leadership of Israel were bad stewards of the position God had given them, and they continually rejected those He sent to them and in the end they would even kill His son.
There is so much in this chapter that could be shared, but while I prepared for this sermon I felt that the Spirit wanted me to share on what true devotion looks like.
What does true devotion to God look like?
In this passage we get a small glimpse of true devotion to God, in his responses to the religious leadership and his teaching to the crowds Jesus teaches that they were to give their all to God, that they were to love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, and that true devotion was more than pretending to be pious, but caring for social justice.
True Devotion to God means giving our all to him.
In verse 13-17 Jesus is confronted by some Pharisees and Herodians sent by the religious leadership to trap Him in His words. They devised a clever trap to set for Him. They ask Him: “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”
They believed that this was the perfect trap for Jesus, if Jesus answers that it is not lawful then they could bring charges of inciting rebellion against Him. If He answered that it was good to pay the taxes then they believed He would be compromising devotion to God. If He answered either way they would have reason to arrest Him or discredit Him.
Jesus saw the Hypocrisy in their words and called them out on it. He knew they were trying to test Him and was able to avoid the trap they had set for him.
When He asked them for a denarius they responded by giving Him a silver denarius that would have born the image of Tiberius Caesar. Because the coin was Caesar’s, it bore his image, Jesus told them “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” They were to pay the taxes to Caesar, but they were to also give to God that which was His. As humans we all bear the image of God. Like the denarius that bore the image of Caesar, and therefore was his property, the religious leaders bore the image of God and therefore were His possession. They were to give their full devotion and all worship to Him whose image they bore.
True devotion to God means giving all we are to God, and giving Him all the worship that He deserves.
What does true devotion to God look like? It means giving our lives to Him, but it also means more.
True devotion to God also means loving Him with all of our being, and loving our neighbour as ourselves.
In verses 28-34 Jesus has a friendly discussion with a scribe. The Scribe inquires as to which commandment was the most important. Traditionally the scribes spoke of 613 individual commandments from the Mosaic Law. There were 365 negative ones and 248 positive ones. The Scribes viewed some commandments as weightier than others, but they viewed them all as binding.
This scribe may have been trying to trap Jesus in his words, like the Pharisees and Herodians, but whatever his initial intent was; this discussion was a positive one. Jesus responds to the question by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5, a passage known to the Jews as the shema. To Jews this scripture was the very basis of their faith. A devote Jew would recite it twice a day and would have it written on a scroll in a box attached to their doorpost.
It reads “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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.” This is an unequivocal statement of Monotheism and of devotion to God. Loving God with all our soul, heart, mind, and strength encompasses the entirety of our being. We are to love God with everything we have.
Jesus also tells the Scribe that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Not only are we to love God with everything we have, we are to love our fellow man. There is no other commandment greater than these. These two commands are even greater than burnt offerings and sacrifices.
True devotion to God means loving Him with all of our being; with our mind, with our soul, our heart, and our strength.
What does true devotion to God look like? It means giving our lives to God, it means loving Him with all our being and loving our neighbour as ourselves, and it means more.
True devotion to God is not pretending to be pious, but includes social justice.
In verses 38-40 Jesus gives a final teaching to the crowds in the temple. This time it is not a response to a question but a warning about the scribes. Jesus tells the crowd to “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
These scribes walked around pretending to be righteous, doing as much as they could to get noticed and garner attention, but they neglected social justice. They took advantage of the widows, the very people that the Law told them to take care of.
Because of their actions they would bring upon themselves greater judgement.
True devotion to God is not pretending to look holy, not trying to gain attention, but to take care of those in need.
What does true devotion to God look like? True devotion to God means giving our lives fully to God, it means loving Him with the entirety of our being, loving our neighbours as ourselves, and it means not pretending to look holy, not doing good things to gain attention, but to care for those in need and to do good things because they are right.
True devotion to God is a lifelong pursuit. We will spend our entire lives drawing closer to Him, and surrendering to him. Mark 12 gives us only a snapshot of what true devotion is and of what it isn’t. What does true devotion to God look like? Devotion to God is a commitment of the deepest kind. While working on this sermon I read a story, an example of commitment:
“John Audubon, [a] well-known naturalist and artist, practiced great self-mastery in order to learn more about birds. Counting his physical comforts as nothing, he would rise at midnight night after night and go into the swamps to study certain nighthawks. He would crouch motionless in the dark and fog, hoping to discover just one more additional fact about a single species. During one summer, Audubon repeatedly visited the bayous near New Orleans to observe a shy water bird. He would stand almost to his neck in the stagnant waters, scarcely breathing, while poisonous water-moccasin snakes swam past his face. It was not comfortable or pleasant, but he beamed with enthusiasm and is reported to have said, ‘But what of that? I have the picture of the birds.’ He endured all these things just for a picture of a bird! If a man could be so disciplined for a temporal and physical reward, how much more committed should the child of God be for the imperishable prize before him?”