|FOR THE LOVE OF GOD
Series: The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Thirty Eight
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
February 3, 2019
Please stand and allow me to read for us today’s passage - Mark 12:18-34.
And the Sadducees came to Him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked Him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves not child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman died. In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”
Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 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’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”
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”
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. 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.”
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.
Since January we’ve been looking Jesus’ final week of ministry leading up to the cross and His crucifixion and resurrection. Day one was Palm Sunday. Day two was Monday with Jesus purifying the Temple.
Tuesday began with Jesus and the disciples - in the morning - on their way from Bethany to Jerusalem - passing the withered fig tree - Jesus teaching about having faith in God - then arriving at the temple in Jerusalem.
So, regardless of which group is asking whatever the question is - the agenda is always the same. Discredit Jesus in front of the crowd so we can take Him out permanently. Take Jesus down and out.
Verse 18 records that - Tuesday afternoon - the Sadducees are group next. They come with a question that has to do with marriage and what happens after the resurrection. Which as much as we may be tempted to think that this question is about marriage and what happens after the resurrection this question isn’t about… marriage and what happens after the resurrection.
The purpose of the question is… to take Jesus down and out.
Mark helps us with that by telling us - in verse 18 - that the Sadducees “say that there is no resurrection.”
To get that we need some back-fill on the Sadducees.
Briefly - 4 things that are helpful for us to know about the Sadducees.
#1 - They’re into control. They controlled the Temple - ground zero in Israel. They did that by doing a delicate balancing act of religion and politics. Playing up to the Romans who kept the Sadducees around to keep the populace in line. And the Sadducees kept the populace in line by controlling the temple. It’s not the first time in history where religion is used to maintain political power.
#2 - The Sadducees were into Moses - specifically the first 5 books of the Bible - the Torah. Anything outside of those 5 books of Moses wasn’t something they were going to accept or live by. And of course, they had their own understanding and application of what Moses had written.
#3 - The Sadducees saw God as being remote - off in heaven someplace - and too holy to be involved in the day-to-day of people’s lives. Which came off as being pretty fatalistic. We people are pretty much on our own and whatever comes to us is are result of our own brilliance or stupidity. Mostly stupidity. Sickness, disease, poverty, misfortune.
#4 - They were vehemently skeptical of and pretty much rejected outright anything supernatural. Angels, demons, miracles - along with eternal life. In the Sadducees way of understanding Moses - there is no eternal life. There is no eternal punishment or reward. What goes around comes around and when you die… you’re dead.
So understandably - their question comes out of the book of Deuteronomy - Moses book #5 - and what has be labeled as “Levirate Marriage.” “Levirate” being Latin for “husband’s brother” or “brother-in-law.” (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)
The way the law reads: If a man dies without having any children - then his brother - the widow’s brother-in-law - the “levirate” is suppose to marry the widow and have children. The first child is then considered the child of the dead man.
So, Levirate Law was God’s way of preserving property and the name and honor of the deceased husband.
We’re together. Yes?
So the Sadducees - who are tracking with Moses - come with this question that deals with resurrection - that they don’t believe in - in order take Jesus down and out.
They use what is called a style of argumentation known as “reductio ad absurdum” which in Latin means “reduction to absurd.” The idea is to take as statement that seems plausible - Levirate Law - and expand it hyperbolically to such absurd extremes that what seemed plausible no longer seems practical or realistic or rational to believe in.
“We ranked all the engineers from best to worst. We plan to get rid of the bottom 10%. That includes you, Wally.”
“How’d it go?”
“We fired my hair.”
Seven brothers. No offspring. Finally the woman dies. In the resurrection, whose wife will she be?
And as tempting as it may be for us to think this question is about marriage and the resurrection… it’s not about marriage and the resurrection but about taking Jesus down and out. Make Jesus look as absurd as the question - as He’s fumbling around trying to come up with a rational sounding answer and Jesus - in comparison to the spiritual and intellectual giants that the Sadducees are - and Jesus comes off looking like some uneducated unsophisticated dweeb from Galilee never to be heard from again.
Referee photo) “We have a reductio ad absurdum penalty. Exaggerating
an argument beyond logical reason is out of bounds.”
Jesus’ response is not very PC. “You guys are wrong.” Meaning deceived. In error. In sin. You all have fallen away from the truth.
In verse 27 Jesus says, “You all are quite wrong.” Meaning it’s not just your conclusion that’s wrong. But every part of your argument and thought process leading up to your conclusion is wrong.
Not very PC.
Verse 24: “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?
Can you imagine? Telling the greatest theological minds of today - whoever they might be - as they’re standing right here and questioning your teaching: “You’re wrong because you’re ignorant of what Scripture teaches and the power of God.”
Jesus goes on to tell them why they’re wrong.
First: The Kingdom of God isn’t the same kind of existence we know now on this side of heaven. What comes next is not a duplication of what exists now. We’re not comparing apples to apples.
Example : Marriage. There’s no marriage in Heaven. We’re going to be like the angels. Angels that the Sadducees didn’t believe in.
Which is not about marriage but about relationship. What our relationships together and with God will be like in eternity.
David McKenna writes in his commentary on Mark: “Whereas persons will retain their identity and individuality in heaven, by the power of God, they will transcend the human ordinances that guided their relationships on earth. Marriage, the most sacred of these ordinances, prefigures the relationship of full communion which the resurrected will share with God and His angels. On earth, marriage sets necessary boundaries on human nature to sanctify sex, preserve the family, and seal the communion of couples by holy vows. Freed from that nature by the power of the resurrection, marriage, sex, and family relationships will be transcended by perfect communion with God.” (1)
Genesis to Revelation, God, uses marriage to illustrate His relationship with His people. His people’s relationship with Him. God speaks through His prophets and even uses His prophets as illustrations. “Hosea, go marry a prostitute” - is about spiritual adultery and God’s love for His people.
Paul - writing to the Ephesians about the relationship of wives and husbands in marriage - Paul writes, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” (Ephesians 5:32)
Then John, in Revelation, is given a vision of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:9). What is the realization and celebration in Heaven of the communion of relationship that marriage today is only an example of.
Jesus, on the night He was arrested, as Jesus was praying for us - Jesus prayed, “that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11)
Today we can only imagine that depth and intimacy of relationship and long for it and pray for it. Marriage can only illustrate it. But one day we will experience it together - with God - forever.
Relationship that is “like” the angels. But is way beyond even what they experience. The intimacy of relationship together and with God - that Jesus and the Father - and the Spirit - the triune Godhead - experience forever.
Second: Moses himself affirms that there is life after death. Resurrection that the Sadducees didn’t believe in.
Jesus quotes from Exodus - Moses book #2 - God introducing Himself to Moses at the burning bush - Exodus 3:6: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:6)
Notice that God does not introduce Himself as the Almighty Holy God of Creation but “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” All that is relational. God’s acquaintance with Moses is personal from the beginning.
Noticed that the verb is not “I was” but “I am.” God speaking of a present time and continuing relationship that God has with people that walked the planet and died 200 plus years before Moses.
Meaning that this relationship has been and is now and continues forever the moment we step through death into resurrected life.
The Sadducees were wrong about resurrection because they’d selected some Scriptures to follow and had a limited view of what God could do based on their perspective of God.
How many theological errors - way back when and today - can be traced to people selectively reading and applying God’s word? God only knows.
If any group or cult claiming to be “the church” that claims that because we go through some ceremony officiated by some special representative of their church in some special place that somehow that means that we are sealed in marriage for time and eternity - or simply that we are somehow married in eternity - that’s just wrong.
And it’s not just that they’re in error. But they’re teaching what is sin because it is doctrine contrary to the teaching of God’s word and specifically here - what Jesus Himself teaches.
No matter how much we may be tempted to think that this question is about marriage and what happens after the resurrection, this question isn’t about marriage and what happens after the resurrection.
Jesus re-frames the question - clarifying the ignorance and correcting the error of the Sadducees. Jesus’ answer isn’t about marriage and arguing fine points of their messed up doctrine. Jesus’ answer is focused on the depth and intimacy and amazing reality of relationship that God - Who loves us - that God offers us in Jesus Christ now and forever.
In verse 28 - Mark records that a scribe came up and began listening to this “discussion.” Apparently this Scribe was impressed with how Jesus answered the Sadducees. And so he comes to Jesus with a question.
At that time - the oral law of the Pharisees had 613 statutes divided into 365 prohibitions and 248 commandments that were classified into categories of “weighty” and “light” which were cross-classified as “ritual” or “ethical” laws. Which was all part of an ever-expanding layered complex of rabbinic interpretations and rulings about what it meant to live righteously before God.
Which was all well and good for the theologians. But for any of that to be of any practical good to the rest of us it had to be synthesized down - condensed into something understandable and doable in the real time of where and how we do life.
The Scribes were the scholars and theologians of the day. They focused on copying Scripture which gave them tons of time and opportunity to memorize Scripture and meditate on it and to provide interpretation.
So the question the scribe asks may have been sincere. Which would have been refreshing.
At the very least this scribe - seeing that Jesus had answered the Sadducees with skill and knowledge - at the very least it seems that this scribe may have been interested in Jesus’ opinion on all those laws and what the bottom line really was.
Question: “Which commandment is the most important of all”
Which is a command that’s used as the call to worship in a Jewish synagogue. It’s what’s in the Mezuzah - that little box thing on the doorpost of every Jewish home.
It is one of the greatest theological statements in Scripture - if not the greatest. It’s right up there with Peter’s declaration, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)
Theologians call this the “Shema.” Which is the first word in the sentence - “Hear” “shema.” “Sh’ma, Yisra’el, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad.”
“Hear, O Israel” is an impassioned plea. “O Israel… Hear!” Like a parent pleading for the heart and life of a child. Please hear me. Please understand this. This is so crucial to life that if you don’t get this your life is going to be a disaster. Hear - because if you don’t get this you don’t get God. You’re not going to understand who God is. You’ll miss the point of Scripture - of life itself - of God’s deep love for you.
“The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Grab the uniqueness of God - Jehovah.
Jehovah is the one absolute God. Not an abstract notion - not some kind of absolute idea or an absolute philosophy. He’s not some national god - like the gods of Egypt or like Baal. He’s not the Christian god or the god of Islam or the Jewish god.
It’s not like there’s a lot of names for god and we’re all like pilgrims on a spiritual journey wandering up a mountain looking for basically the same god who’s someplace on the summit. There is no polytheism or syncretism here.
Jehovah is the unique God. The one absolute living God. Period.
The point is that the one absolute God has revealed Himself to Israel as the one absolute God. He’s made Himself known in His deeds in Israel for the salvation of the whole world. As the one God, therefore, Israel is to love Jehovah, its God with all its heart, with all its soul, and with all its might.
Our heart comes first. The heart is our seat of emotions - love in particular. It’s that place deep within - the unconscious core of who we are that compels us to passion in our endeavors. Love God with all your heart. One cannot love God half-heartedly.
Our soul - in this context - our soul is the center of our personality - our self-conscious. The part of us that is self-aware and thinks. Loving God should capture and center the attention of our minds.
Our might is the strength of our body - physical action - obedience. Loving God isn’t just an intellectual exercise in religious theology and doctrine. Loving God with all our strength is how our lives are lived in the rubber meets the asphalt reality of life.
Loving God supremely is first - it is the spiritual principle from which flows everything else we do in our relationship with God. It is the core of our passionate response to the absolute living God.
Then seemingly, without even pausing to take a breath, Jesus goes on to quote Leviticus 19:18 - quoting Moses - Book #3: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Inseparably and integrally tied to our loving God is our loving others.
James: What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does no have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
Jesus: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
John: If anyone says, “I Love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20)
Inseparably and integrally tied to our loving God is our loving others. To love God supremely is to love others sacrificially. To love others sacrificially is to love God supremely.
Bottom line: There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Jesus’ answer is a reminder of what God spoke through Moses - of what is foundational to everything associated with Old Testament - Mosaic Law - and what God’s prophets had been saying for centuries. Keep these two commandments and everything else God requires will be taken care of.
This is what a forever relationship with God looks like in the real time of where and how we do life - even today.
As the church - living in the New Testament - these two commandments are at the bottom line core of what it means for “us” to follow Jesus in relationship with Him together - living and sharing the gospel in the places where we do life.
Two commands. Put simply. Love God supremely. Love others sacrificially.
Would you say those with me? “Love God supremely. Love others sacrificially.”
Verse 32: And the scribe said to Him [Jesus], “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that He [God] is one, and there is no other 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 oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
God speaking through the prophet Micah: Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:7,8)
God speaking through the prophet Hosea: For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)
Sacrifices and worship - keeping all the laws on the books - mean nothing apart from heart level loving obedience - loving God supremely - loving others sacrificially.
Verse 34: And when Jesus saw that he [the scribe] answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
You’ve crossed the porch - you’re on the doorstep of the entrance - the doorway to the kingdom - to what having a forever relationship with God - is all about.
And after that no one dared - no one had the boldness - the courage - to ask Him any more questions.
Jesus nailed it. They’re not going to trip Him up with any more tricky questions.
Processing all that...
Shameless plug for the Nickel Arcade. Reasonable entrance fee. All games cost 5 cents or multiples of 5 cents. Except for the free games in the back. Which are free. If you have questions - ask Jim.
A lot of those games give you tickets when you play them. Depending on how well you do with the game - win or epic fail - the machine kicks out tickets.
One of my favorites is “Deal Or No Deal” Mindless - but lots of potential tickets. Anybody else here play "Deal Or No Deal"?
Skee-Ball is another one. Anybody every play Skee-Ball? It’s like a mini bowling alley and mini golf combined - with a ramp and holes worth different points. Not so many tickets. But a little higher on the skill scale.
Several years ago we started collecting tickets. Eventually we had hundreds of tickets. Maybe a few thousand. The purpose of collecting tickets is to get… prizes.
5 tickets will get you a glow in the dark spider. 100 gets you a fuzzy hedge ball thing.
11,550 tickets and you can get this bird that will look great in the living room.
120,000 tickets and
you can have your own personal cloud.
That’s a lot of tickets. That’s a lot of nickels. That’s a lot of time and ticket counting for a pay off that for most of us - as we start thinking it through - whatever we’re walking out with seems to be worth a whole lot less than the investment in nickels and saving up tickets.
Let me be clear so I don’t get emails. The nickel arcade is fun. Because it just is. So, instead of watching the Super Bowl go hang out at the arcade. I’m all in with the arcade.
I recently read a book by Bob Goff where he compares collecting all those tickets to all the wonderful things we do for God and others - maybe with sincere motivations. But how we tend to keep track of how we’re serving or the good we’ve done for others. Like we’re collecting tickets. (2)
Point being that our relationship with God and others - loving God supremely and loving others sacrificially - can end up being like we’re saving up tickets. Or we’re checking to see if we’ve got more tickets than someone else or hoping people will notice how many tickets we’ve collected.
But the kingdom of God isn’t about burnt offerings and sacrifices - or how well - like the Sadducees - we argue the fine points or our doctrine - doing things for God that we can trade in later for some super blessing or own personal cloud in heaven. Our efforts at earning “prizes” that are infinitely less valuable than what God has already given us in Christ.
People who’ve crossed the threshold into the kingdom are too busy loving God and others to be wasting time and effort counting tickets.
People who’ve crossed the threshold into the kingdom - into a forever relationship with God - understand that God loves us supremely and that Jesus has loved us sacrificially. That the kingdom isn’t about collecting tickets. It’s about living by grace.
That it’s God by His grace - through Christ’s work on the cross - God by His grace inviting us - you - me - into a forever relationship with Him. The priceless “prize” that’s already ours in Christ - relationship with God forever.
That it’s God by His grace Who gives us the opportunity to love Him supremely and to love others sacrificially and to love others sacrificially and to love Him supremely.
Which is hugely exciting. Isn’t it? Infinitely priceless.
Experiencing God at work within you - me - and through - you - me - loving others and deepening our love for Him.
1. David L. McKenna, The Communicator’s Commentary, Mark (Waco, Texas, Word Books, 1982), page 249
2. Bob Goff, Everybody Always (Nashville, Tennessee, Nelson Books, 2018), pages 69-75
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.