Theme Week: 1 God, 1 Messiah – Mark 12
Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 5 & 6
Psalms Reading: Psalm 79
In Mark 12 Jesus hinted at his identity as God’s son, starting in the parable of the tenants. For a listener to have recognized Jesus in the parable may have depended on recognizing the tenants as his opponents, the current leaders of the nation – but they recognized themselves in the parable. The parable is quite different from how Nehemiah 9 presented the history of the nation. The whole of the land is pictured as a vineyard, carefully prepared by God. The emphasis is on the great lengths God went to in His mercy despite the repeated failings of the tenants. Jesus’ parable focuses on the last stage of the story, the current leadership which betrayed the trust they had been given. No parable conveys the real life situation exactly, and the image in the parable of the tenants seeking to take the inheritance for themselves by killing the heir cannot be precise – the leaders were not going to acknowledge Jesus’ identity. But they did arrange his death out of a mix of reasons that included avoiding having their positions disrupted.
Jesus hinted at his identity again when he discussed Psalm 110:1, the Old Testament verse most often quoted in the New Testament. In the Hebrew the phrase “the Lord said to my Lord” uses God’s name (as revealed to Moses) and sets up a conversation between God and someone David (the psalmist) calls “my Lord”. Jesus asks the reasonable question why, since it was understood that the “Lord” in this text was David’s own descendant, that David would write of his descendant as his own “Lord”. The crowd may only have seen this as an interesting puzzle, but we can recognize he was showing that one of the sons of David was going to be something more significant than that one role could involve.
In various ways Jesus came “at the right time”, fulfilling prophecies and meeting needs, including by arriving when he would be rejected. If he was not rejected, the plan could not go forward as God intended. Yet Jesus was recognizable, in a number of ways. Even in this chapter he showed his insight more than once. He showed it when he declared that holding to the one God above all, and loving your neighbor, are the height of wisdom. Anyone who set out to follow those commands would see in Jesus a fellow servant of God. But those who valued something else were still able to turn against him.
The fact that idolatry was no longer accepted in Jewish society did not make the nation righteous, and it did not mean that the people all gained a clear grasp of God. “Idolater” may once have seemed like a good shorthand for describing a sinful character. Why, after all, would someone who did not wish to serve God choose to worship at His altar, when there were so many options to choose from? But with idolatry uncommon the “sinners” mingled with the “purer” of the flock. And sinners wished to masquerade as righteous. Some perhaps even tried to fool themselves. As Jeremiah once said, “the heart is more deceitful than all else” (17:9, NASB); God can understand all human hearts, but we can have difficulty understanding even our own. The sort of person who in the past might have knelt at a family idol of silver, while mocking his neighbor’s wooden idol, could easily fit in with some niches of Israel’s new religious elite. The scene described at the end of the chapter, with the wealthy dropping off tiny portions of their riches to great acclaim while a poor widow gave all she had, screams that the system needed reform. Yes, the donations might achieve some purpose in terms of charity or service work. But it seems like a system with fewer risks for the givers could be developed.
Lord, thank you for giving your son for me. Allow me to grow in love for you each day, and to grow in my understanding of love so that I can share it with others as well. You are a great God, and greatly to be praised. Your son, who allowed himself to die for me, is a remarkably trusting and loving man and I want to grow in my ability to be like him. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus’ name, amen.
- What do you think are some things that God wants people to understand about Him?
- Having created your list from the first question, based on whatever standards, now try to think about what practical benefits might exist for people to know those things. There may be cases where you trust God wants a thing known, because of scripture for example, but you aren’t actually sure why.
- What are characteristics you think are true of both God and His son, and what are some characteristics that are different between them? How about characteristics that are specific to only Jesus, and no one else?