I have found that one of the most annoying aspects of teaching in any situation, are the “what ifs” that get brought up. Children are notorious for bringing up “what if” scenarios. These “what if” scenarios usually come up when discussing the commandments of God. I’ll be having a discussion on how God says lying is a sin, and the inevitable question arrises, “Well, what if you have to lie to save a person’s life?”
Or, I’ll be having a discussion about stealing, and the question will be asked, “What if your family is starving?” And for almost every situation, there is a “what if” that goes along with it.
I think we bring up these “what if” scenarios, for one of two reasons. First, we are evaluating the validity of the statement being asked. “What if” scenarios help us explore the possible application of what we’re being presented with. If the statement is valid, then it should work in multiply situations. Once we arrive at the conclusion that the statement has truth to it, we move into the second reason for using “what if’s”. Where we use “what if” scenarios to see where the boundaries of the true statement end. We ask “what ifs” so we know how far we’re able to push the statement until it no longer becomes valid. In the examples I gave before, we all agree that lying and stealing are bad, “but”, we ask, “is there a point where they no longer are bad?”
It’s these type of “what if” scenarios, and more specifically this second reason for the scenarios, that we are going to find as we jump back into the book of Mark today. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in Mark chapter 12, starting in verse 13.
As we open our Bibles to Mark 12:13, let’s bring ourselves up to speed where we find ourselves in the text.
It’s about Monday on the last week of Jesus’ mortal life on earth. In the next several days, Jesus will be betrayed, beaten, executed, and rise from the dead. All of this, Jesus had told his disciples on several occasions.
On this particular Monday, Jesus has already managed to get the religious leaders angry. Jesus did this when he told a parable the was explicitly against these religious leaders. And we’re told that it is because Jesus spoke against them, that they looked for a way to arrest Jesus. So it’s in this climate of hostility toward Jesus, that we come to our text.
As we get into the text, we’re going to focus on the three questions presented to Jesus, then on Jesus’ final response, and what seems to be the application from it all.
Let’s read the three question one right after another.
The first question starts in verse 13.
13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
Let’s drop down to verse 18 and the second question.
18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
Finally in verse 28 is the third question.
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Each of these questions deal with God’s word. The first about the coin is a question about worship of other gods. The Romans believed the Emperor to be a god. So, the “what if” scenario is simple: if the command of God is to not worship any other gods, and the person on this coin is considered a god to his people, then should we stop paying taxes? In this way the people wouldn’t be inadvertently worshiping other gods.
Now there is a dubious reason for this question as well, which has to do with catching Jesus in a situation that would look bad on him. If he says don’t pay taxes, then he’ll be in trouble with the Romans, but if he says pay the taxes, well, who really wants to hear that?
Of course Jesus sees through this question and replies with, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
It’s a simple answer, with profound implications. Where the religious leaders were trying a “what if” scenario, Jesus gave them a hard lesson in application. If you use the currency, then you should have no problem paying the taxes with it. But if you use anything of God’s then you should have no problem giving it back what God deserves as well.
The second question about the resurrection and marriage, is another “what if” scenario. What if we have a woman that gets married sever times, who’s wife is she in heaven? This is based on the Hebrew tradition of a kinsmen redeemer. Basically what would happen in the Hebrew society, is that the older brother would be married off first. Since men gained the inheritance from their parents, and therefore provided for their families, if a man were to die before he had an heir, his family would not be provided, and his linage would end. Enter the kinsman redeemer. The closest family member would then marry the deceased man’s wife, so that an heir would be produced.
A little convoluted, but it was a mechanism in the society to provide security for widows, and a linage for the deceased.
This question came out of a belief from this particular group of religious leaders that didn’t believe that people were raised to new life. Jesus again gives his answer, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven…27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”
Jesus recognized that the religious leader’s question wasn’t even a good ‘“what if” scenario, because the very premise was wrong.
Out of the three questions that were asked, it is only the third question who’s speaker isn’t coming at Jesus in a adversarial way. The third question is actually a question that had been repeated throughout Jewish history, of which commands of God, hold the most moral weight? See, the rabbinical tradition held that out of the roughly 600 commands given by God, there were ones that had greater moral and applicable weight to them. Jesus responds by combining two ideas from the books of Moses. First was the Shema, which is the Jewish confession of faith from Deuteronomy 6:4, “‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” And an expanded understanding of loving a neighbor from Leviticus 19:18, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
This what if scenario was simple “what if” we took the whole of God’s commands and put them into one. And Jesus said, that’s easy, love God and love people.
With all of these “what if” scenarios, Jesus was very straight forward with his answers, and we can dissect what he said to a great degree. But as I read through this section of Mark’s Gospel, it seems to me that Jesus sees a deeper problem here. And so, even though we get Jesus’ answers to the questions that are presented to him, it is in verses 35-40 that we get Jesus’ answer to the heart of the matter. Let’s pick it up in verse 35.
35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:
“‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight.
38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
Jesus presents his own question, and we are given no answer. Why? Well, we get the answer to why there is no answer. The answer is, there is no real depth to the religious leaders. They have these questions that are to trick, or to confirm their beliefs, or to answer long debated thoughts, but none of them seek the truth of God. None of the religious leaders crave the God who is vast beyond all measure. Their “what if” scenarios, seek their own status, but not the depths of God.
Jesus brings up a seemly contradictory statement from David, trying to get the people to discover the identity of who he is. But they cannot, because they desire more of the “what ifs”, than the very word of God standing before them.
This is why Jesus tells the people to watch out for these religious leaders. Because their not out for God, their out for themselves. And really, isn’t this the point of “what ifs”? They’re so we can skirt the system. So we can find the loops holes. It’s an us focus.
Which we have a tendency to do with God. I know I’ve brought up “what if” scenarios with God, because I wanted a way to justify my situation.
I can tell this lie, because it doesn’t have an impact on others. I can look at this picture, because it’s a fake. I can desire that, because God wants me to be prosperous. And the more “what if” scenarios I can come up with, the more ways I can manipulate the word of God to make myself feel better. It’s what we see in the “what if” scenarios presented here, and it’s what we can see in our own lives as well.
Yet, through Jesus’ words directed at the religious leaders, we can see that God wants us to get rid of the “what ifs” in our lives, and trust his word.
The question then is how? How do we get rid of the “what ifs” and trust God more? Following all of these questions is a simple situation. Let’s look at this situation in verse 41.
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Listen to these words again, “They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
We have a wealth of “what ifs”, but what we need is a poverty. We need to let the “what ifs” of a immature faith fall to the way side, and put in all that we have into the trust of God. Instead of seconding guessing him, trying to find a loophole, we believe and do what he says.
I wonder if this widow asked her own “what ifs” of her last cents, “What if I can’t eat? “What if I can’t pay for my house? What if…what if…what if?” We don’t know if she asked these “what ifs” or not. What we do know is she puts her trust into God, and let’s the “what ifs” fall.
Though we started and ended with passages on money, I’m not asking you to give money, I’m asking you to trust Jesus. To trust him with your finances. To trust him with your family. To trust him with your past, present, and future. Let the “what ifs” that surround your mind, fall, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you into where he wants to take you.
As I read through this section of Scripture, the verse from Psalm 51 echoed in my mind, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise (Psalm 51:16-17).”
This week my challenge for you is to look at three areas of your life. Financial, Relational, and Scriptural. These three areas that come from the three question that were asked from the religious leaders. The taxes, the marriages, and the commands. Financial, Relational and Scriptural. Write down the “what ifs” you have in each, and then spend time in prayer. Praying that those “what ifs” would fall away, and all that would be left is trust.
May you trust in Jesus, who has done everything for you, so that your trust in him can be solidified. Amen.