This week we’re looking at a portion of scripture that describes some of the events leading up to the suffering of Christ (Mark 12:13-27). Here, we get a picture of the kingdom of God advancing through a series of seemingly ordinary conversations with an extraordinary purpose. Let’s watch as Jesus willingly and boldly enters in and engages the people with truth and love.
The first conversation we are looking at is about a political question posed by some Pharisees and Herodians. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them or should we not?” But Jesus recognizes their hypocrisy and wasn’t about to bite the bait. Instead, he very intentionally calls for a denarius and asks “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, Caesar’s.” And listen to Jesus’ response, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus is entirely unshaken and unthreatened by the political climate of the day. It is so easy to get caught up in the yuck (very technical, I know) of politics right now. We should care about what is happening in our government and understand the events of our day. We should involve ourselves in the hard stuff and not hide under a rock. More importantly, though, we should know Jesus and where he stands. As Christians we also can be unshaken and unthreatened because our hope does not rest in the government, economy or world but our hope is in the only One who can save. Jesus understood that a government, no matter how good, in and of itself could not turn back the sin that had entered the world and caused rebellion, deterioration and injustice. He knew there was only one plan to make things right again and he was it. So when asked the question about submitting to Roman tax policy, the answer was yes, pay the tax. Not because Jesus was for the tax or endorsed Rome’s rule but He was deeply acquainted with the One who had ultimate control and was willing to submit to lesser things in order to have the final victory. The plan of salvation didn’t include a government takeover, it included a submission unlike anything the world has ever seen and through that submission the Kingdom of God arrived, broke the power of death and is steadily advancing. Jesus lived in this tension of continually speaking truth, using his voice for the weak, and calling His followers to a holy standard of living all while patiently letting the world events of the day play out. It was an “in the world but not of the world” approach to life. Reading through these New Testament stories can encourage and strengthen our hearts to humbly participate in today’s events in a unique way, confident and wise in our dealings with the issues of our day but also understanding that it is not our job to fight every single battle.
Next come some Sadducees with a religious question. The Sadducees rejected belief in the resurrection and they ask this sort of theatrical question about marriage in the resurrection. (Mark 12:18-27) I love how Jesus responds to these guys. “Jesus said, “your way off base, and here’s why: One, you don’t know your Bibles; two, you don’t know how God works…” Bam! Did we just see a Jesus mic drop? At this point in the conversation the Sadducees are quiet. It seems to me that Jesus has just shut. it. down. “You don’t know your Bible and you don’t know how God works.” Ouch. The Sadducees enjoyed a high social status BECAUSE of their priestly responsibilities. These people were part of the group that was responsible for ministering to God’s people and they didn’t know their Bibles and they didn’t know God’s ways? I know these words were written for a very specific time and place and I would never want to take this sacred text and try to make it into something it was never meant to be but human nature in history does repeat itself. This story reminds me of what my husband and I have learned to call blind spots or fault lines. These are areas of our lives that are off base, dangerous or just plain sinful. The danger lies in the fact that we often don’t see these blind spots and we finally recognize it only because of either the terrible fruit it is producing in our life or a trusted friend confronts us about it. The Sadducees had a glaring blind spot in who they thought God was and how He works in the world. I became a Christian during college when I was 19. During that season, it felt like God’s truth was changing me daily. It was easy to see what needed to change in me as a newbie Christian. It has been 16 years since then and identifying wrong attitudes and behaviors that do not align with God’s purpose for my life and His mission in this world have in some ways become more difficult. I think it’s because I get so set in my ways that I become rigid and think I have God all figured out. But the reality is that I will spend the rest of my earthly days learning of the mysterious beauty and holiness of God. It takes a heart that cries out with the Psalmist “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” It takes a heart that is willing to have my preconceived notions challenged by God’s truth. The Sadducees thought they knew God best but clearly they were mistaken. Friends, we are not above that kind of delusion. I cannot think of a more heart breaking mistake then to arrive at the end of this journey and realize that I spent so many years thinking I knew God but actually did not know Him at all. God desires to be known by His people. He has given us His Word, His Holy Spirit, a community of others who bear His name, prayer, nature, and countless other ways God makes himself known to His creation. But will we pay attention? Will we for one second take the focus off of ourselves, our needs, our wants and worries and try to find more of God? He is willing, but are we?
I love these two conversations right next to each other. One political and one religious. To me, it says Jesus is in it all. There is nothing Christ is not involved with. It all bears the sacredness of his touch. In his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson reminds us that “God meets us in the ordinary and extraordinary occurrences that make up the stuff of our daily lives. It never seemed to have occurred to our biblical ancestors that they could deal better with God by escaping from history, “getting away from it all” as we say. History is the medium in which God works salvation, just as a paint and canvas is the medium in which Rembrandt made works of art. We cannot get closer to God by distancing ourselves from the mess of history.” This is where we find Jesus. God, in the flesh, had come down and involved himself in this messy history, in these ordinary conversations, with ordinary people but with an extraordinary purpose of changing the world. So, you see, we can also enter into the history being made today by participating in politics and religion, we can study theology and economics, we press into community and let our faith develop convictions on foreign policy. And we can have truthful and prayerful conversations with people about these very things. And in all of these places we will meet God. For those who have eyes to see, we will see Him working and we are invited to participate in that work. But we do it not out of selfish ambition or worldly thinking but with humble hearts and a healthy understanding of God and we go about our ordinary lives seeking to make an extraordinary difference in what the history books will be saying about our generation. Let us not view politics and religion as an end in themselves, but rather a means to a glorious end that is actually not an ending at all, but rather the beginning of a new kind of Kingdom.