Mark 12:35-44

(A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds)

February 7, 2013

 

Something of significance happened in the world of sports this past week, and I’m not talking about the Super Bowl.  The baseball team of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), obviously not known as a great sports school, ended an amazing losing streak.  According to a story on foxsports.com, after losing an incredible 228 consecutive games over a ten year period, this past week the Caltech baseball team finally won a game! [foxsports.com]

 

When I read that I could not help but think of the religious leaders in Jerusalem who in Mark 11 and 12 were trying to ask Jesus a question He could not answer.  While they weren’t 0 for 228, they were 0 for 4, and that was enough for them.  After failing to trip Jesus up with questions about authority, paying taxes, the resurrection, and the greatest commandment, they had had enough.  Mark 12:34b says “And after that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.”  So Jesus goes from being on defense to being on offense and issues a scathing denunciation of the religious leaders who had been questioning Him.

 

While there are a number of ways to approach this passage, the big thing I see in these verses is a clear contrast between two ways to approach life.  The religious leaders are examples of those who approach life in a spirit of arrogant pride and the widow who quietly placed her two small coins in the Temple treasury is an example of those who approach life in a spirit of quiet humility.

 

The Arrogance of the Religious Leaders (12:35-40)

 

Their arrogance was expressed in two specific ways:

 

1.      The way they approached the Scripture (verses 35-37)

 

Verse 35 - "How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?"  Matthew’s account of this event makes it clear Jesus addressed that question directly to the scribes of the Pharisees…we saw in the previous session that the scribes were the legal experts of Israel...prided themselves on their knowledge of the OT, especially the five books of law...claimed be authorities in biblical interpretation...on surface, taken at face value this was elementary question any scribe could easily answer..."Why do you say the Christ, the Messiah will be the son of David?"...any child who had spent any time in a Jewish synagogue could have answered that question...there are a number of OT scriptures to which they could turn to show why the Messiah would be a descendant of David...for example, could have pointed to --

·         Isaiah 9:7 where Isaiah said the coming Messiah would "reign on David's throne..."

·         Jeremiah 23:5 where Jeremiah quoted God as saying, "I will raise up to David a righteous Branch..." 

·         2 Samuel 7:12 where God promised David, "I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom."

Everyone knew the verses which taught the Messiah would be David's descendant...

 

But want you to notice that Jesus didn't give them time to quote any of those verses... purpose in asking was not to get verbal response but to reveal their arrogance in how they approached the Scripture…using the very Scripture in which they claimed to be experts, Jesus pointed out in Psalm 110 David said, "The Lord [Yahweh/God] said to my Lord [the Messiah], sit at my right hand..."...then Jesus asked the scribes in v.37, "David himself calls Him 'Lord'; and so in what sense is He his son?"...in other words, "How is it possible for the Messiah to be both David's son and David's Lord at the same time?"...and they had no answer to that question...

 

Jesus asked that question to demonstrate that the scribes, the experts in the Scripture, were grossly mishandling the Scripture...they had taken their understanding of the Messiah and forced it on Scripture...they desired for the Messiah to be a political and military leader like David...so, they interpreted the Scripture in that light...they left no room in their interpretation of Scripture that the Messiah would be supernatural, spiritual Messiah who would come to establish not the earthly kingdom of Israel but the kingdom of God in the hearts of people...

 

And because of their preconceived ideas which they insisted on forcing on Scripture, they completely missed the obvious meaning of passages such as the one Jesus quoted from Psalm 110...they didn't see that though the Messiah would be from the line of David, He would have to be a divine, supernatural Messiah to fulfill the Scriptural requirements/ teachings about the Messiah...

 

Now, what is the application of that to our lives today?

·         First, should learn from this that it is quite possible that those who think they know the most about the Bible and who think they understand it the best may actually know the least and may be the most limited in their understanding.  We must never presume that any of us have the final word in biblical interpretation.  And we must never confuse our interpretation of Scripture with Scripture itself.  The moment we begin to do anything other than read the text of the Bible, the moment we begin to comment on it, explain it, apply it to life we enter the realm of the uncertain.  Not saying we shouldn't attempt interpret, explain, and apply Bible to life... nor am saying the Bible itself is not certain/true/dependable/ trustworthy...but want you understand our interpretation of the Bible is always subject to question...and passage should remind us that sometimes those who think they know the most about the Scripture may actually know the least...

·         Second, must be careful not to read Scripture just seeking re-enforcement for our favorite beliefs and ideas...we must not attempt to shape Scripture to conform to our thinking...must allow Scripture to shape our thinking to conform to the will of God...

2.      The way they thought about themselves (verses 38-40)

 

The picture Jesus paints of the scribes in vv.38-40 is anything but flattering...notice some of the things He said about them...

 

·         "like to walk around in long robes" - Scribes wore white linen robes with a tasseled fringe at the lower hem...these robes were a symbol of their great learning and their devotion to the OT law...one writer described them as "power dressers par excellence!  They were ecclesiastical swans regally gliding amongst the common mudhens of humanity." [Hughes, p.122]...wearing those robes in public every day would be like a college professor today wearing  academic regalia --cap, gown, hood, and cape-- wherever he/she went... 

 

·         "like respectful greetings in the market places" - When were out in public liked people to address them by titles of honor such as "master" or "father"...Jeremias, a well-known authority on NT customs, said that people were required to rise in respect whenever a scribe passed by...only tradesmen busy at their work were exempt from this requirement...the scribes loved this kind of public recognition...

 

·         "like ... the chief seats at synagogues" - In synagogues scribes were given special seats in the front which faced the congregation...most of them would never think of sitting among the common people...

 

·         "like ... the places of honor at banquets" - When the wealthy gave a banquet, scribes were considered necessary ornaments for the occasion...would be given places of honor at the right and left of the host...

 

·         "for appearance's sake offer long prayers" - Desired to impress people with their spirituality...

 

Do you get the picture?  While probably not true of every single scribe, as a group they had a proud, arrogant, and pompous attitude...as a result of that attitude, two things occurred...

1)      They were totally insensitive and uncaring toward others...Jesus leveled a terrible accusation toward them ...said they "devoured widows' houses"...a reference to the practice of scribes using their influence and position as religious leaders to sponge off of devout, but gullible people...targeted the most vulnerable people, such as widows who had no-one to advise or look after them... the very people who should have been the objects of their compassion were being exploited by them...not unlike religious hucksters of our day who through the mail and other media dupe unsuspecting people into sending money to them... 

2)      They incurred the wrath of Jesus...Mark gives us only a brief summary of what Jesus said to scribes that day ...if want more complete account read Matthew 23... no doubt Jesus' eyes flashed with anger as He spoke...His words came in abrupt, rapid fire staccato fashion...6 times he called them hypocrites...5 times he said they were blind...called them snakes...made it abundantly clear they would not escape the judgment of God...

 

Over and over again the Bible warns us against a prideful, arrogant spirit...

·         Proverbs 16:5 - "Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; assuredly, he will not be unpunished."

·         Proverbs 16:18 - "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling." 

·         Proverbs 21:4 - "Haughty eyes and a proud heart ... is sin."

·         Isaiah 12:2 - "For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty..."

 

And that list could go on and on...and reason an arrogant prideful spirit is so dangerous is because it makes us insensitive people and it places us in danger of incurring the wrath of God...in contrast to the spirit of the scribes Jesus points to…

 

The Quiet Humility of a Widow (12:41-43)

 

The contrast between the scribes prancing around in their fancy robes and basking in the glow of being acknowledged by the people and poor widow described in vv.41-44 could not have been greater...she wasn't there to be seen...she wasn't there to win the praise of people...suspect no-one, including the disciples, paid much attention to her except for Jesus...

 

She quietly slipped in, gave her offering of two small coins which was all she had, and slipped out again...and the key thing for us to see in that is the result of her attitude of quiet humility were just the opposite of the result of the scribes' attitude of prideful arrogance...

·         Instead of incurring the wrath of Jesus as did the scribes, she incurred His praise...said in vv.43-44 that of all the people who gave that day, this poor woman gave the most significant gift in the eyes of God...He lifted her up as a positive example for people for generations to come... 

·         Instead of being a taker, a user or exploiter of people, she became a giver, a helper, a servant...while she no doubt had many needs of her own, she looked beyond her needs to the needs of others and gave what she had...her attitude of quiet humility made her a servant...

 

CONCLUSION

Twice on the pages of the NT, once in James 4:6 and again in I Peter 5:5, you will find a statement which is a paraphrase of one of the Proverbs...the statement is:  "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

 

Mark 12:35-44 is a perfect illustration of that truth...Jesus condemned the scribes who were characterized by prideful arrogance...Jesus exalted the woman who was characterized by quiet humility...

 

Each day we must choose between the way of pride and the way of humility…the way of being self-centered and the way of being others centered…living our way or living God's way...and as make that choice, would do well remember one way is opposed by God and the other way is blessed by God...

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