Do Not Test the Lord, but Love Him and Others
In this section of Mark 12, Jesus is being tested, by representatives of the three types of Jewish religious leaders or teachers of the day – the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the scribes. Each of them had their own agenda when they brought a question to Jesus. Their intention was to trip Him up and cause Him to say something contradictory to scripture or against a law – to justify arresting and killing him. In the verse just prior to this (12:12) it states that “they sought to lay hands on Him but they feared the multitude…” What they really may have been fearing is a loss of their social and religious status and their political power. Brief research indicates that the Pharisees and Sadducees were considered religious authorities – with some opposing doctrines, often battling and contradicting each other. Scribes were more of a profession, often (but not always) part of the Pharisee sect, and their role was usually to write legal documents and properly interpret scripture. Although they had differing beliefs, one thing was the same – they all had become absorbed with their own importance and stature over any concern about the Jewish people.
Jesus (and John the Baptist before Him) had clearly been speaking against them and rebuking them – revealing their pride and hypocrisy. All of Matthew 23 is dedicated to Jesus’ warnings or “woes” to the Pharisees and Scribes – calling them “whitewashed tombs” in verse 27 – “outwardly beautiful” but dead on the inside. Their hypocrisy was being revealed by the Christ, and they were certainly feeling threatened. We can also feel threated when Jesus begins to reveal truth to us. It means changing our ways of thinking and living (selfishly), and our flesh wants to rebel. I sadly think of someone that I care deeply about who once told me, “I am not sure where my faith stands right now – but one thing I do know is that no one can tell me what I’m doing is wrong.” This person was living outside of what they knew that God would want for their lives, and the conviction ignited a spirit of rebellion rather than the repentance that can lead to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10).
The testing of Jesus by the Pharisees (Mk 12:13-17) was concerning whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. It is interesting that they started by acknowledging that Jesus was a man of integrity and taught the way of God in truth (v. 14). Jesus amazed them with His answer, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” This answer shows that we are to obey authority (Titus 3:1, Ro 13:1), while at the same time honoring God with our lives and giving Him what is His. So, yes you must pay your taxes and adhere to other laws of the government (even when you don’t fully agree), as long as these laws are not forcing you to go against God.
The questioning of Jesus by the Sadducees (v. 18-17) is interesting because it regards an issue of major doctrinal conflict between them and the Pharisees – resurrection, which Sadducees did not believe in. If they could get Jesus to slip up here and somehow contradict this teaching, then they might be proven right. Jesus explains that they are greatly mistaken (deceived) in their understanding and that God is the God of the living. In our flesh, we want to be right – but God’s Word is truth and should not be tested or manipulated to substantiate our own agendas. After all, Jesus told Satan himself that “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Mt 4:7) In fact, we need to do the opposite and seek justification in God’s Word and His Spirit within us, prayerfully making decisions in our lives that are led by Him. We must align with Him, not Him with us!
The third testing of Jesus (v. 18-34) is made by one of the scribes who, seeing that Jesus had answered well, asked, “Which is the first (most important) commandment of all?” This probably seemed to the scribe that it would be impossible to answer, but Jesus’ response is perfect, of course, and sums up the entirety of the law, which He came not to abolish, but to fulfill (Mt 5:17). Jesus stated, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And then Jesus added that the second is to “love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” This is what we are to give to God and not to Caesar! At that point the scribe recognized the incredibly powerful truth that Jesus had told - certainly these two commandments encompass all possible rules and laws of holiness and righteousness – to completely and with all that you have, love God and each other. The scribe acknowledged that Jesus was right, he even stated that these two commandments were more important than all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices (v. 33). The Messiah then told him that he was “not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared question Him (v. 34).
Unfortunately, we know that the pride and fear of the religious leaders persisted, and they began to come up with other strategies to eventually arrest and kill our Lord, Jesus. We also know that this was a fulfillment of many prophesies and of God’s plan – but now it is finished! Let’s not test Him and crucify Him again, but instead love Him with all of our being and love each other as ourselves – in order to live the abundant life that Christ came for us to have (John 10:10), now and into eternity.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you came to fulfill God’s law and plan, and that You – your Word and Spirit – are Truth! Help me never to test You in order to justify my own agenda, the thoughts and ways of my flesh. But instead help me to come to you and have Your Word and Spirit test me so that I walk in Your ways, which are perfect. Create in me a new heart, Lord, and renew a steadfast spirit within me! (Ps. 51:10)