From the outset of Jesus’ ministry the religious leaders hated Him; in His home town of Nazareth in Luke 4 an angry mob of people tried to take him to the brow of a hill and throw Him off. Much of Jesus’ teaching was amazing, men heard words that were never heard before, and coupled with a great ministry of healing they sent great multitudes out to see Him. However, Jesus called for an all out commitment to Him and so the tide of popular opinion began to turn against Him.
Chapter 12 of Mark’s gospel begins with the words, “And He began to speak to them in parables.” Parables were a means of teaching used by our Lord and only Him during His earthly ministry to hide the truth from those who would not believe, but privately He revealed the truth to His true followers. Mark recorded Jesus’ teaching on parables in his 4th chapter,
“As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN." (4:10-12)
It is difficult for sinners to grasp the notion that God is sovereign over the salvation of men and at the same time that men are morally responsible before Him. However, that is the teaching of the scriptures throughout. Jesus gives the gift of eternal life to some and not to others, some will spend eternity in the presence of Christ their Lord and Savior, and others will experience the punishment that we all deserve. Salvation is an act of grace, which means it cannot be earned and it is never deserved. God is sovereign in Justice and in love!
Jesus spent the final week before His death in much conflict with the religious leaders; He spoke the parable of the vineyard about them, and the people knew it. Jesus did not do what was expected of Him. The people expected Him to conquer the Romans but instead He attacked their religious leaders, and right in the place where they were the most honored – the temple. They came to Him and tried to catch Him in His words. How ironic is that? The One who spoke the universe into existence with His words was being questioned in an attempt to condemn Him by what He said. They questioned Him about paying taxes to Caesar, but of course He baffled them with His answer, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
It is amazing that some religious leaders do not believe in any resurrection; and such was the case with the Sadducees of Jesus’ day. They tried to catch Him in His words by asking Him about a woman who married many brothers because each one died, and they wanted to know which one would be married to her after the resurrection. Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and chided them about their ignorance of marriage after the resurrection, and even more importantly about the resurrection itself. He said to them,
“’I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken." (12:26, 27)
Jesus with a single quote destroyed their belief concerning His own person by declaring Himself to be the I AM that I AM who first appeared to Moses by that name and then to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He also declared that the separation of the body from the soul that we refer to as death is not the end of the soul’s life at all, but Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were living though they were “dead.” What great hope it is to hear the teachings of Christ for some, but at the same time a very fearful warning to others. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were in mortal and verbal combat with the Lord of glory, the creator of heaven and earth, and the One who will judge all with perfect knowledge and fierce anger. For this reason God has called all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel.
Finally, an expert in the law heard Jesus’ wise answers and questioned Him about the greatest commandment. The lawyer finally told Jesus that He was right, to which Jesus responded that he was not far from the kingdom of God. It is one thing, however, to be close to the kingdom of God and yet another to be in it. Oh, sometimes we can be so close to the truth and yet so far from it.
Jesus was not done confronting the religious leaders, and since they would no longer ask Him questions, “Then no one dared any longer to question him.” (12:34), He asked the lawyer a question of His own concerning the Messiah. He said to them, and how is it that being David’s Son He should be referred to by David as Lord? Then came the great indictment by Jesus on the religious establishment,
“In His teaching He was saying: "Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation." (12:38-40)
In Mark’s gospel only the statement of verses 38-40 is written, but in Matthew many more statements are given that Jesus spoke regarding the religious leaders. Mark focused on the hypocrisy of their clothing, which was meant to symbolize their supposed dedication to God, their love of attention by men for their “spirituality”, their place of honor among the people, their phony long prayers, and all was done while abusing poor widows. Jesus said of them they would receiver greater condemnation. Jesus did not praise men for merely being religious, but actually condemned them for being hypocrites.
Mark concludes chapter 12 by pointing out to His disciples a poor widow who took her last cent, which was all she had to live on, and put it in the temple treasury. In the next chapter Jesus speaks of the coming judgment upon the temple and the whole religious system that was corrupt in His eyes. He chased all the people out of the temple because they made His Father’s house of prayer into a corrupt place of dishonest gain. The temple sacrifices that were meant to point to His own upcoming sacrificial death for the sins of men were used to make money. The religious leaders led the parade, so to speak, for all the corruption and greed that took place in God’s house, and by so doing those false prophets of dead works sent men on a path to hell, which was labeled heaven.
Jesus made a point of the widow because she gave her money to a corrupt system of worship, and by so doing placed all her trust in those that by their words would send her wretched soul to hell. If you have to ask, how can a poor widow have a wretched soul, you ere and do not know the scriptures. There is no person on earth, regardless of their living situation that is not sinful and worthy of God’s condemnation and punishment. People need to place their faith in Christ for salvation and to not trust false prophets who proclaim themselves and not Christ. Many times the proclamation of false prophets sound Christian but in reality they preach a salvation by human achievement and not divine accomplishment.
The tide may have come upon Jesus like a tidal wave, men may have rejected Him as the long awaited Messiah and Lord of the universe, but in the end it is Jesus who condemns those who reject Him, and when the tidal wave of His judgment comes upon wicked men there will be no holding it back.