Mark 12:28-34

(A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds)

January 31, 2013

 

One of my all-time favorite stories is about Bobby Bowden, the legendary football coach of Florida State University…Bowden and his wife, Ann, have six children...one day the entire family was sitting together in their church to hear a visiting preacher speak about the family...this preacher looked at the Bowden family all sitting together on a pew near the front of the church and said to Bobby, “Sir, I see you have six children.  Let me ask you a question. If I put a 40 foot I-beam here in front of the church and it was only one foot off the floor, would you get up on it and walk across for $20?...and Coach Bowden said, “Sure.”...then preacher said, “Let me ask you another question.  If I took that same I-beam and place it between two skyscrapers 50 stories in the air, then would you walk across it for $20?”...and Coach Bowden responded, “No way!”...and then preacher said, “Well, let me ask you a third question.  If I put that I-beam 50 stories in the air and on the other side I was holding one of your six children over the edge of the building and I said if you walked across the I-beam I would not drop the child, would you walk across it then?”...and Bowden thought for a moment then said, “Let me ask you a question. Which child are you holding?”

 

I thought of that story this week as I began to study the passage at which we are going to look tonight in our journey through Mark’s Gospel.  Even though Bowden certainly didn’t mean it that way, the implication of his answer was that some of his children were more important to him than others.  In that passage on which we are focusing tonight, someone put to Jesus a question that implied some of God’s laws are more important than others.

 

Tonight we are going to look at the last in a series of four questions put to Jesus by the religious leaders in Jerusalem.  These questions were asked of Him on Tuesday of the week of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  That was the day after Jesus had gone through the Court of Gentiles in the Temple over-turning the tables of the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals.  I shared with you several weeks ago that Warren Wiersbe in his commentary on Mark classifies this series of questions this way:

·         A question of authority (11:27-12:12) – They wanted to know why Jesus thought He had the authority to do the things He was doing and say the things He was saying.

·         A question of responsibility (12:13-17) – This question had to do with the issue of Jews paying taxes to the Romans.

·         A question of eternity (12:18-27) – This question had to do with the resurrection from the dead.

·         A question of priority (12:28-34) – This question had to do with which was the greatest commandment.  This is the question on which we will focus in this session.

Then, toward the end of chapter 12, Jesus turn the tables on the religious leaders asked a question about them (12:35-37).

           

Mark 12:28-34

 

Verse 28a introduces the questioner and what caused the question to be asked.

 

"one of the scribes" - Scribes were people with special training in the religious law of Judaism.  They were the ones to which the people looked to interpret the law and to apply it to everyday life. They were the legal experts.  The word Mark uses to describe this man is grammateus.  Matthew uses a different word that means lawyer.  This was a man who dissected the language of the law.

 

      Mark portrays this man in a much better light than he portrayed—

--the delegation from the Sanhedrin who asked the question about authority

  --or the Pharisees and Herodians who asked the tax question

    --or the Sadducees who asked the resurrection question 

Those people were clearly manipulative and deceptive, obviously trying to trap Jesus.  But, at least on the surface in Mark's account, this scribe seems more honest, sincerely desiring information. 

 

However, in reality, the question the scribe asked was also a trick question.  One of the favorite past-times of scribes was sitting around debating which law was greatest or most important.  Not any of the great legal minds of Israel had been able to come up with an acceptable answer.  And I suspect this scribe did not believe Jesus would be able to answer either.

 

“heard them arguing” – Refers to the preceding paragraph where Jesus and the Sadducees were discussing the resurrection from the dead.

“recognizing” – The Mark uses (eidon) carries the idea of paying careful attention.  He did not merely casually overhear what was being said.  He carefully followed every word.

“answered them well” – He liked what Jesus said because he was a Pharisee and would have vehemently disagreed with the Sadducees on just about every religious issue.

Verse 28b contains the question.  “What commandment is the foremost of all?”  The word translated “foremost” is protos from which our word protocol comes.  In effect, he was asking, “If you had to pick one commandment over all others, which comes first?  Which is most important?  Which takes precedent over all the others?”

 

Verses 29-31 contain Jesus’ response to the question.  The way the text reads, it appears that Jesus responded immediately.  He needed no time to think or ponder the question.  The answer was obvious to Him.  And in response to this question about which of the commandments was "foremost of all" or greatest, Jesus laid down a basic principle about the life to which God calls us.  And that principle was a direct challenge to the thinking of the scribe.  In effect what Jesus said is, “You need to understand that God does not call you to a life rules and regulations.  He calls you to a life of relationship – relationship with Him and relationship with people.  .

 

1.   The scribes, for the most part, belonged to the party of the Pharisees...they were really into laws, rules, and regulations... these religious lawyers had gone through the OT law--known as the Torah or the first five books of our OT--with a fine tooth comb...found in those books 613 specific laws to be obeyed...365 were negative in nature and 248 were positive in nature...and on those 613 laws had built an incredibly complex system of rules and regulations knows as the oral tradition...was full-time occupation just keep up with and attempt live by their myriad of rules...

2.   In responding the scribes' question about which of the 613 laws was the greatest, Jesus did not give the scribe any new information ...as matter of fact, pointed him to the part of the law with which he would have been most familiar...the statement in vv.29-30 about loving God with "all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" is taken from Deut.6:4-5...Jewish people in first century and today refer to this part of Scripture as the "shema"..."shema" is Hebrew word for "hear" which appears in the phrase "Hear, O Israel" at beginning of this statement...

·         This was the opening sentence spoken in every synagogue worship service...

·         It was repeated by pious Jews at beginning and ending of each day...

·         It was worn by devout Jews in a tiny leather box called a phylactery on their foreheads or wrists...

·         It was hung on their doors of their homes in a small round box called a mezuzah...

Jesus could not have picked a part of the law with which the scribe was more familiar...

3.   The second part of Jesus answer, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" taken from Leviticus 19:18 was also very familiar to the scribe...as matter of fact, Hillel, one of the great Jewish rabbi's studied by every student of the law, once said, "What you yourself hate, do not do to your neighbor; this is the whole Law -- the rest is commentary."

4.   Now, you might be wondering if all Jesus did was quote back to this scribe two OT passages with which he was already familiar, what is the significance of His answer?...what is so brilliant about that?...the significance is this is first time any teacher had linked these two teachings together...and doing that was brilliant because taken together they summarize the 10 commandments which is the foundation of all the law...

·         The statement about loving God summarizes commandments 1-4 which deal with our relationship with  God...(no other gods, no graven images, not take name in vain, remember Sabbath)

·         The statement about loving neighbor summarizes commandments 5-10 which deal with our relationship with people…(honor father/mother, not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, not bear false witness, not covet)

5.   And by putting these two passages together Jesus was making significant statement...saying love for God and love for people are inseparably tied together...if don't love God, can't really love others...and if don't love others, sure sign don't love God...

 

1.   Typical scribe in first century world would never have agreed with that...to the scribes, it wasn't relationships that were important...it was laws, rules, and regulations...in their thinking, those always came before people...Jesus was just the opposite ...He always placed people before laws...

·         In Mark 2 when Jesus was criticized by the religious legalists because his disciples did not keep their laws about the Sabbath, Jesus swept aside their laws by saying, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."

·         In John 8 when came bringing woman caught in act of adultery quoting law said should be stoned, Jesus disarmed them by saying, "Let the one among you without sin cast the first stone."

·         In Luke 10 told incredible story in which Jewish priest and priest's helper portrayed as villains because passed by an injured man and left him by side of road to die in their haste to get to temple to obey religious laws...

2.   The primary thrust of Jesus's teaching in this passage and elsewhere is quite clear...can't read gospels without seeing God is much more concerned about how we treat people...about our relationships...than He is about which laws and rules we obey...the New Testament knows nothing of religion that expounds principles but tramples on people...as followers of Jesus we are called to:

                        --love our neighbors...

                          --forgive those who have sinned against us...

                            --bear one another's burdens...

                              --care for those with special needs...

                                --share life changing news of the gospel...

And none of those things can be done in isolation from people.  Genuine Christianity must be lived out within context of human relationships, not in the realm of legalistically keeping laws, rules, and regulation.

3.   In book Before I Wake Paul Carlson tells interesting story about Lenin the Russian revolutionary...his wife had been keeping a around the clock vigil over her dying mother...finally, in exhaustion she begged Lenin to watch her mother for one night so she could get some rest...she went to sleep with Lenin writing at his desk... when she awakened the next morning he was still writing and her mother was dead...Lenin's wife angrily criticized him for his inattention and he responded, "You told me to awaken you if your mother needed you.  She died.  She didn't need you."...and Carlson points out Lenin was so wrapped up in the Bolshevik revolution he had lost his capacity for human compassion...

4.   That's a tragedy...and it's an even greater tragedy when it happens in the name of religion...and that is exactly what happens whenever we allow religious laws, rules, and regulations to become more important to us than people...Jesus indeed said it well...the essence of true religion is loving God and loving others...

 

Verses 32-34a indicate, that to his credit, this scribe recognized the truth of Jesus’ answer.  “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (v.34) could have a double meaning.  If he would but open his eyes, he would see that in Jesus the kingdom of God (the reign of God in the hearts of people) was at hand.  And the indication is that he was very near to understanding that.

 

Verse 34b marks a turning point in this chapter.  The religious authorities had asked their questions, and now it was Jesus’ turn to ask a question of them.

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