He Changes Everything: “Word Games” – Mark 12

A few years ago, a new museum at the Natzweiler Memorial Site in the Alsace region of France was dedicated to the heroes of the French resistance for their valiant efforts to defeat the Nazis and liberate Europe. By the time of the Allied invasion of Europe in the Summer of 1944, there were perhaps nine resistance networks fighting as guerrillas armies against the German occupation of France. Crucial to the effort was the radio. Broadcasts, including those sent by Charles de Gaulle from the BBC in England, offered CODES that informed and aided the guerillas. The codes were painstakingly developed and spread, changing regularly to keep the German occupiers and Vichy sympathizers off balance. The words often made little sense in the broadcast, but they communicated clearly to those who had the code. Funny as it sounds, not everyone wanted to hear the words of the liberators when they were under occupation. Some preferred the darker forces of occupation – afraid to lose the benefits they illegally obtained through offering favors to dark agents.


Did you ever have a conversation with someone that seemed to speak in code? I am not talking about the “secret spy ring and decoder set” that we got from a Crackerjack box in our childhood; I am referring to the person who constantly has a subtext to everything they are saying. It is frustrating to many of us when we are working with people who use language to communicate filth below an innocent conversation – but the fact is that we all live with CODE everyday. The web operates on a code. Television signals and radio signals are translated code. Our very bodies are reproduced DNA code material on display. Today, we understand as those in occupied France long ago, that code is essential. Words matter. Communication is the necessary forerunner of transformation. Fortunately, God is a communicator. He wants to share Himself with us – His Word says so. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to hear God’s Word – or respond as we should.

Here is a day from the life of Jesus that serves to illustrate that principle. Our story picked up on the visit to the Temple from our last study in Mark 11:27-33. That passage reminded us that Jesus “was walking in the temple” when “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him” (11:27). They challenged Jesus’ authority to have cleared the tables earlier in the week (11:28) and were embarrassed when Jesus forced them into an impossible situation with a question about John the Baptizer (Mark 11:29-33).  Jesus  confounded them, and then refused to help them with an answer to their query.

Some are Antagonized by His Word (12:1-12)

As He continued, Jesus told a story to the crowd about the guilt of men who lead the nation of Israel (12:1-12). The chief priests, scribes and elders were still before Him, though they were no doubt upset that He publicly embarrassed them. Jesus’ words must have seemed like taunting to them! He said:

Mark 12:1 And He began to speak to them in parables: “A man PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT, AND DUG A VAT UNDER THE WINE PRESS AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. 2 “At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order to receive some of the produce of the vineyard from the vine-growers. 3 “They took him, and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 “Again he sent them another slave, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. 5 “And he sent another, and that one they killed; and so with many others, beating some and killing others. 6 “He had one more to send, a beloved son; he sent him last of all to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 “But those vine-growers said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!’ 8 “They took him, and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others. 10 “Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; 11 THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’?

Look more closely at what Jesus told the Temple crowd:

Ownership established: First, the owner of the vineyard did a work to responsibly build a property. He planted vines, erected terraces, and built a wine press and watchtower. He owned the property and developed it, so it was now possible to rent it out (Gr. exedeto: out, to let) and leave it in the hands of other men while he attended to other business (12:1). Surely the Elders would have recalled the words of Jeremiah concerning the Temple:

Jeremiah 12:7 God says: “I have forsaken My house,  I have abandoned My inheritance;  I have given the beloved of My soul  Into the hand of her enemies….10 “Many shepherds have ruined My vineyard,  They have trampled down My field;  They have made My pleasant field a desolate wilderness.” The words of Jesus in the Temple stung – but the point was clear: God did much to separate, cultivate and plan for the people of Israel – and they had not become what He intended.

Payment refused: The payment for the use of the vineyard was to be paid by allowing the owner benefits from the harvest (12:2), but the renters refused the rights of the owner (12:3), even becoming violent toward the servants of the owner, sent to collect the goods for payment (12:3b-5). Soon the son of the owner was sent and they reasoned among themselves that killing the son and dumping his body would free them to take the land for themselves (12:6-8). The renters wanted the benefits of another’s property, but didn’t want to offer just payment! Jesus was, no doubt, letting the men knew that He was aware of their desire to eliminate Him – an uncomfortable admission. The very next verse reveals: 12 And they were seeking to seize Him, and yet they feared the people, for they understood that He spoke the parable against them. And so they left Him and went away.

Judgment Initiated: The focus of the story is found in 12:9 in the phrase: “What will the owner of the vineyard do?” The primary point Jesus was making in the story was about the OWNER’S REACTION to their trickery and insubordinate behavior. The judgment that Jesus promised was three-fold: He was going to COME, He was going to DESTROY the wicked rebellious and he would REPLACE them with other workers (12:9) – a later group of elders of the Jewish people that would be prepared to bow their stubborn neck. Zechariah promises that one day (Zechariah 12:10) “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” John later identified that one other than Jesus Himself at the time and place of His piercing (in John 19:37).

Essentially, their ANTAGONISM over the Words opened the door for an indictment on four specific infractions: squandering God’s gifts to them,  rejecting messengers instead of following His directions, violence against the messengers of their land owner, and finally murder of the owner’s son. They squandered God’s special provision given to His people – and squandering always leads to something bad. Judgment comes when we squander God’s gifts. We dare not forget that what God gives, He desires accounted. Time, talent and treasure all His to give, and our to use well.

Some people really are ANTAGONIZED by the Word of God…

Boy Suspended for Bringing Bible To School Files Suit

March 31, 2011 by Jonathon M. Seidl

A San Diego-area teen suspended for bringing his Bible to school and talking about his faith has filed a lawsuit against the school district, the superintendent, an assistant principal, and a teacher. In January 2010, 16-year-old Kenneth Dominguez was suspended for two days from Gateway East High School for violating a teacher’s order not to bring his Bible to school and not to discuss his faith with others. Dominguez’s Bible was even confiscated by that teacher, who said Dominguez’s actions violated “separation of church and state:” “He didn’t give any sermons or yell or scream… just sharing his faith with other students. That was it,” Brad Dacus, Dominguez’s attorney, told KGTV, adding that we don’t live in communist China. Even the ACLU is calling the case a “clear” free-speech violation….”

Lawsuit claims students not allowed to carry Bibles

23 May 2000 by Harvey Rice (for the Houston Chronicle)

WILLIS – “School officials were silent Tuesday about a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of three pupils, accusing the Willis school district of refusing to allow children to carry or read the Bible. The lawsuit, filed in Houston, alleges that a teacher at Lynn Lucas Middle School pulled two sisters from class after discovering that they were carrying Bibles and threatened to have them picked up by child-welfare authorities. Another teacher told a pupil he was not allowed to read the Bible during free reading time and forced him to put it away, the lawsuit alleges. The boy also was required to remove a Ten Commandments book cover from another book, the lawsuit states. School district officials did not respond to requests for comment. Mathew Staver, a lawyer whose Liberty Counsel legal defense organization filed the lawsuit Friday on behalf of the three pupils and their parents, said the district was served with the lawsuit Monday. Liberty Counsel is based in Orlando, Fla….”

My point is not to validate either case, I don’t have the facts sufficient to do so. What I do know is this: The Bible is becoming more and more offensive. Not everyone is open to seeing the “Good Book” as all that Good anymore. Some people are ANTAGONIZED by the Word – it that makes them agitated.

Some People are Surprised by His Word (Mark 12:13-17)

The Pharisees and “Herodians”, in a forced alliance from the council, were called on to launch into Jesus. They already decided He wasn’t healthy for Israel, because they came with a trap already set. They brought a question carefully devised to discredit or imperil Jesus before the Romans and the crowds.

Mark 12:13 Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him in order to trap Him in a statement. 14 They came and said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? 15 “Shall we pay or shall we not pay?” But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.” 16 They brought one. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” 17 And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him.

Jesus was presented with a taxation question. Look at the men’s approach to Jesus: We know you are truthful. We know you “defer” to no one – an impartial teacher. We know you teach the way of God in truth. REALLY? Was that truly their belief? Not at all. People who plant a snare with their heart, set the trap with lying and flattering lips. They betray their guilt by feeling the need to hide behind false compliments. Beware of those who tell you how good you are before they ask you a question!

Jesus was asked about the “poll-tax” (Gr. knsos, a word from which we get CENSUS) was literally, ‘the current coin of tribute,’ which was paid strictly in Roman currency – never local minted money (12:14). Look at His reply! “Why are you TESTING Me?” The crowd smiled as Jesus spoke out what everyone but the dullards in the crowd had already figured out. “Looking for trouble boys? You are going to need to be a bit more slick than that!

Now watch Jesus untangle their twisted hearts with a simple statement. “Whose coin is it? If you look at the image, you will know who owns it!” They saw Tiberius Caesar’s face and knew that Jesus was not telling them to withhold the tax. At the same time, the end of His answer was much more powerful and troubling! What belongs to God? What bears HIS image? If you think for a moment, it will become clearer…Man does….We do! WE belong to God. If we give ourselves to Him, the coins don’t become such a big problem. Rome’s power fades when our love for God eclipses our love for the coin.

During President Clinton’s run for the White House, a staffer hung the declaration of a statement that characterized the campaign. The motto: “It’s the economy STUPID!” Perhaps the church should put a saying on our wall….” It’s the Lord STUPID….but that would not sound nice!

Some of us are like the two men that decided to split everything three ways, giving the Lord His due. They drew a circle on the ground. They decided that whatever fell inside the circle would belong to one of them. Whatever fell outside the circle would belong to the other of them. Whatever stayed up in the air and did not land was God’s

Look at the end of the passage in Mark 12:17. It closes with “And they were amazed at Him.” The term AMAZED (exothumadzo was from thaúma, “a wonder, marvel”) – they were literally “outwardly dumbstruck”.  The passage doesn’t say the CROWD was dumbstruck. The context argues the questioners were! Some people are AMAZED at the Word – but that doesn’t make them believers.

Some People are Mistaken about His Word (Mark 12:18-27)

Now off the bench come the Sadducees, attempting to divide the audience by posing a complicated sounding question to see if they could get Jesus to lose popular support.

Mark 12:18 Some Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection) came to Jesus, and began questioning Him, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that IF A MAN’S BROTHER DIES and leaves behind a wife AND LEAVES NO CHILD, HIS BROTHER SHOULD MARRY THE WIFE AND RAISE UP CHILDREN TO HIS BROTHER. 20 “There were seven brothers; and the first took a wife, and died leaving no children. 21 “The second one married her, and died leaving behind no children; and the third likewise; 22 and so all seven left no children. Last of all the woman died also. 23 “In the resurrection, when they rise again, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her.” 24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 “But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, and the God of Jacob’? 27 “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.”

Pastor Clark Tanner wrote: “Faulty religion is a strong prison and a deceptive one. The walls are invisible making them feel they are free but they are blind and deaf and ignorant and unable even to ask the right questions. — I was once part of a church that seemed to have a great deal of good going for it. It was founded about 10 years before I came there, by a group of men who had all attended the same prestigious Baptist seminary but wanted to start an independent church. They were sincere and dedicated men, but early in their association they had decided on a certain point of doctrine that was based on a skewed understanding of one passage of scripture, and it became a main point of focus for them … I do not know how many others were hurt by this stubborn exclusivity among this church’s leaders but I do know that much potential for service and glory to God was lost to that assembly as a result.” (sermon central illustrations). I especially noted the part where he said “it became a main point of focus for them.” That was true of the Sadducean party for sure.

Don’t leave the story until you note that Jesus’ argument was based on the accuracy of the Word of the Torah. The seed God spread on Israel’s ground was not the problem – the soil was the problem (cp. Mt. 13). Jesus simply told them “YOU ARE MISTAKEN!” Some people are MISTAKE about the Word – and their confusion keeps them from the truth.

Some People Reaching out toward His Word (Mark 12:28-32)

Mark 12:28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; 30AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ 31 “The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; 33 AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.

The most promising story of the whole chapter is the one about the scribe above. This man was CLOSE to understanding the Word as God intended it. The man answered correctly, and intelligent and accurate answer. I always find it funny when we sound smart simply because we are mimicking the Word of God! The Psalmist exclaimed: (119:100) “I understand more than the aged,  Because I have observed Your precepts.” Some people are REACHING TOWARD the Word – but that isn’t enough to get them to believe yet.

Some People are ENTERTAINED by His Word (Mark 12:35-37)

Mark 12:35 And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 “David himself said in the Holy Spirit, ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET.”’ 37 “David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; so in what sense is He his son?” And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.

Sitting on the sidelines of the theological debates between Jesus and the theologians of the Temple was ENTERTAINING! The crowd enjoyed watching the sparring – especially when it cost them nothing in commitment, surrender or attitude! Some people ENJOY hearing the Word – but that doesn’t make them followers.

Some People Like Imitating the Sound of His Word (Mark 12:38-40)

Mark 12:38 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, 39 and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.” 

Men of great prayers, the scribes Jesus referred to could quote the Word and include it in long and lofty prayers. Sadly, the prayers weren’t addressing God – they were to impress men. Some people CAN QUOTE the Word – but that doesn’t make them godly.

Not everyone responds correctly to the truth when it is given to them. The right response is NOT to QUOTE it, NOT to ENJOY it, NOT to REACH TOWARD it, NOT to be CONFUSED by it, ANTAGONIZED or AMAZED by it. The right response it to be CHANGED by it – that is where surrender comes in.

The playlet entitled ‘The Long Silence’ offers a compelling case for our surrender:

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame, but with belligerence. ‘Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?’ snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. ‘We endured terror … beatings … torture … death!” In another group an African-American boy lowered his collar. ‘What about this?’ he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. ‘Lynched … for no crime but being black!’ In another crowd, a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes. ‘Why should I suffer’ she murmured, ‘It wasn’t my fault.’ Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in his world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said. So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, an African-American, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the center of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever. Before God could be qualified to be their judge, he must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth – as a man!

‘Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured. At last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.’

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled. And when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No-one uttered another word. No-one moved. For suddenly all knew that God had already served his sentence. (Pastor Steven Chapman, Sermon Central illustrations)