Government, Religion, and Jesus – Mark 12:13-34 – Pastor Eric
What is the difference between following religion and following Jesus?
March 15th, 2020 will be a Sunday that we will never forget. It is a Sunday that will go down in history the church facility was closed and went to an online service, yet the church has never been closed. The church has risen up to meet the demands, challenges, and struggles of this pandemic. Within this year, not only have we seen our own challenges, but we have seen many challenges in our country, our government, and the church at large. The challenges of racial injustice, nationalism, and conflicts between the government and the church. This past year has been a year of suffering leaving people wondering how does the government, religion, and the church fit in all this chaos.
In the final week of Jesus’ life and ministry, Jesus is found dealing with these very same issues, but He does so with grace and power. Jesus answers His critics and addresses this key question, what is the difference between following religion and following Jesus? It is imperative to see the glaring difference between following religion and following Jesus. There is a cosmic separation between following religious philosophies, ideologies, and practices compared to following Jesus Christ.
(1) Following religion is about human authority, but following Jesus is about honoring God’s authority. Religion is about man’s control. Jesus is about His control. Religion seeks to control people even government, where Jesus seeks to honor government. (Mark 12:13-17)
In each of these scenes, it is imperative to understand who Jesus is dealing with. First, the Pharisees were a Jewish sect, who were the administers of the temple. They were highly devoted to the traditional and written law. The Pharisees join forces with the Herodians, which is ironic, because they were usually adversaries. The Herodians were a loosely organized group, who desired political and economic influence for the Herodian family. So, both the Pharisees and the Herodians desire control and influence, and they join together to combat against Jesus, who they perceive to be a threat.
They try to entrap Jesus with what they believe is a trick question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” This is tricky, because if Jesus answers, “Yes,” then He alienates the Jews and the Pharisees, and He seems pro-Roman. And if Jesus answers, “No,” then He alienates the Romans, and He seems anti-government. He will be seen as an enemy of Caesar.
Jesus’ answer is ingenious, because He entraps them for their very possession of a denarius and He reveals their own hypocrisy. They both possess and confess to following Caesar with his money. Jesus simply says, “Let Caesar have his idols!” Caesar can bear his own image and have his own money. But one owes God what is God’s, His image, and His name and His honor, for God has complete control over any earthly authority and power.
We, Christians, are to be exemplary earthly citizens, because we are heavenly citizens, who represent the exemplary King of the Kings. We have the heavenly responsibility to be the representatives of Christ on this earth and in this country.
Let us then continue to submit to our government, whether you are on the right or the left of the political aisle. Let us continue to respect government by paying our taxes. Let us continue to love our fellow neighbors by wearing a mask or social distancing. Let us continue to honor God above all else in worship whether in-person or at home.
(2) Following religion is about earthly power, but following Jesus is about eternal power. Religion is man’s power. Jesus is all about His supernatural and resurrection power. Religion seeks to obtain power and status through earthly means, whereas Jesus already has all the power in the world. (Mark 12:18-27)
The Pharisees and Herodians make a political power play, but the Sadducees make a religious power play. Their concern is deeply theological rather than political. This is true because the Sadducees were a wealthy and priestly line of religious leaders, and they held tightly only to the Pentateuch. They embrace human responsibility and religious human effort. Thus, they reject any notion of the resurrection.
They, too, try to trap Jesus by bringing up a hypothetical scenario from the Law of Moses. The Law required for a brother in-law to care for his brother’s widowed wife. This was an important provision in the Law during that culture, because a widow would be helpless without the care of her extended family. But in this case, the Sadducees were using this law as a way to prove Jesus was wrong.
Jesus teaches them that marriage is an earthly institution with great value, but it won’t be a heavenly institution. Jesus’ answer settles their objection, because Scripture talks about a resurrection without marriage. This resurrection power is so great that God will offer a whole new world of relationship between husband and wife, man and woman, brother and sister. In Heaven, there will be a completely different familial relationship between God’s people. This makes Jesus Christ the living hope beyond death for only He can save us, not religion.
Religion is hopeless human effort, but Jesus Christ is our only present and eternal hope. As we all face disease and death, never put your faith in man’s power. Put your faith in God’s resurrection power. He is the everlasting hope that shields and carries us through every day in shelter in place. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
(3) Following religion is about legalism but following Jesus is about love. There is an enormous difference between religion and Jesus. Religion emphasizes rules and regulations. Jesus emphasizes a loving relationship. (Mark 12:28-34)
The final person to approach Jesus is no longer on the attack, but he is a teachable scribe of the law. As a scribe, he was probably a theological scholar. He seeks Jesus and asks Him a fundamental question about the Law by saying, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
Jesus answers by quoting the greatest commandment of all (Deut. 6:5). Now, every good Jewish person would know this verse extremely well, because it was repeatedly daily. This was the dedication that every faithful Jew had to the Law, but it had become a tradition and a legalistic ritual rather than a loving praise to God.
Jesus strikes at the heart of religion for it is about following a bunch of laws, rules and regulations. Religion looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the inward heart. Jesus demands an eternal love relationship with us. To love God with all that you are!!!
Then, Jesus connects the heart to the hands and feet of a person. Out of a love for God, outpours a love for your neighbor. Out of this overwhelming satisfaction in Jesus we radically and selflessly love others. Out of our love for Jesus, He empowers us to serve those around us.
This commandment ties all things together from what Jesus had previously said. So that, when we love God, then God helps us honor government. When we love God, then He will empower us to forgive those who have offended us, He will strengthen us to do justice for the marginalized, and He will motivate us to care for the hurting. When we love God, He will redeem us for an eternity. When we love God, then He will satisfy our heart’s greatest desires.
In stark contrast to the religious leaders, there is a poor widow, who has no status, no earthly authority, no power, and no wealth. She possesses nothing in the world’s eyes, but she had everything that mattered, a whole heart in love with God. She becomes the perfect example of loving God with your entire being and soul. (Mark 12:41-44)
As you look at this storyline, the question for all of us is, who are you in these verses? Who do you identify with? Which person are you? Are you like the Pharisees seeking your own control? Is your heart full of self-righteousness? Are you like the Herodians, power hungry? Is your heart full of self-interest? Are you like the scribe? Is your heart full of tradition and legalism?
One of the greatest temptations the church faces today is slipping away from Jesus into religion. This is so dangerous, because it is far easier to be religious than right with God. Satan does everything in his power to make the church more religious than righteous.
The widow was right with God, are you like this humble lady? Will you give God your everything: all of your heart, all of your life, all of your future, all of your control, all of your family? Come before Jesus with all your heart, all of your love. If not, then ask for His forgiveness, and let the grace of God and the mercy of God overwhelm you and overcome your sin.
So, when you are compelled by the love of Christ, and when the world looks at the church, looks at us, it won’t be confused anymore, but have a greater desire to know this Jesus, this everlasting love. Then, the world will see that following religion leads to emptiness, but following Jesus leads to everything our hearts have ever needed and wanted.
Praise Singing: Holy Holy Holy, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Heart of Worship, How Deep the Father’s Love, I Love You Lord, Doxology