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Sermon September 16, 2018

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1366

September 16, 2018 Mark 12:28-34

Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


The Brilliance of Jesus”



  • Setting a Trap - Mark 12.13-27


Jesus was a threat to the religious leaders of His time. There are numerous times when the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into saying something or doing something wrong. Mark 12 includes attempts to trap Jesus. The first, beginning at verse 13, was a question about paying taxes to Caesar. The narrator tells us that Jesus knows what they are up to and it is an attempt to trick Jesus into giving an answer that could give the Pharisees a reason to effectively oppose Jesus. Should we pay taxes? Jesus asks them for a coin and turns the tables on them by asking them a question. Whose likeness is on the coin? Caesar’s. It seems obvious when Jesus responds to them, render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Just brilliant!

The second attempt, beginning at verse 18, raises a question about being married on earth and in heaven. It is quite a set up. “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.” Jesus jumps on the opportunity to demonstrate how little they know about the Bible and nothing either about the power of God. Jesus’ answer strikes directly at the weakness of the Sadducees who did not believe in resurrection. Those who are resurrected are not given to marriage. Jesus silences this group as well with his brilliant answer to their scenario seeking to trap Jesus.

Both attempts to trap Jesus fail miserably. It is like any investigation today that seeks to trap people into saying something wrong, something for which they could be arrested or simply to destroy their lives. I’ll let you ponder what investigations might fit that pattern. Jesus cannot be touched by either religious leaders, Pharisees or Sadducees.

The next person to approach Jesus is a scribe. He looks after the Law and seeks to protect it and care for it for the sake of Jewish life and faith. It is not clear if the scribe is on the same mission as those who went before him trying to trap Jesus. In fact, the text says he was impressed with Jesus’ responses, so I’m going to assume he was just curious about how Jesus would respond to his question about the commandments.


“Which commandment is the most important of all?”



  • Searching the Scriptures


Jesus has the wisdom and the biblical knowledge to address every question posed to him. The apostle Paul addresses Jesus’ brilliance when he writes in Colossians 2:1-3 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Jesus truly knows it all!


When Jesus addresses the scribe’s question he draws from two areas of the Torah, Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19.18. We might not think it all that inspiring that he draws from Deuteronomy because that is a cornerstone text for Israel. But I think of a text from Leviticus, and when any of us think of a text from Leviticus, we have trouble thinking of any that would be singled out, especially like that of Deuteronomy 6. But Jesus tied these two passages together as if they were made from each other and as if they were side by side in the Bible.


“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And 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.” The first is from Deuteronomy 6 and the second from Leviticus 19.


Thanks to Jesus’ response, the commands to love God and to love neighbor are the most prominent commands of the Christian life. We have probably read or heard these two commands as much as any other part of the Bible. They are crucial to the substance of the Christian character and action. Jesus summed up for us how we are able to keep all the commandments of God in two simple texts. Matthew even adds to the story that the all the law and the prophets depend on these two commands.




  • Nailed It!


The scribe responds to Jesus in what I like to think is a surprised realization that Jesus nailed it like no one before Him. Jesus nailed it with the Pharisees, nailed it with the Sadducees, and he nailed it with the scribe.


You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other 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 oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Mk 12:32-33


Imagine the scribe coming to realize that love of God and neighbor is more than all the offerings and sacrifices one could offer God. Love is the ultimate offering. Love is the supreme sacrifice.



  • How Much Farther to the Kingdom?


The scribe answers Jesus wisely and Jesus responds saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” The scribe gets it. He knew Jesus was right. He knew the right thing to say and the right thing to do in loving God and neighbor, but there is more to it than just knowing the right answers.

John 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” It is not enough to know the right answers, one must believe. Trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Lots of people know the right thing to say and many even know the Bible, but only those who put their faith in Christ will inherit the kingdom of God. It is good to know the right answers, to know the Scriptures, but it is nothing compared to knowing God in a personal relationship in faith and grace.



  • The Truth Will... Shut Them Up


The narrative ends with silence, And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

The truth will set you free, but here the truth will shut them up! Jesus took His brilliance to the religious leaders of the day and left them speechless. It reminds me of 1 Peter 2:15 “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” Jesus put to silence the ignorance of foolish people by proclaiming the brilliance of truth and the brilliance of wisdom and knowledge. Dallas Willard has written this about Jesus,


He is not just nice, he is brilliant. He is the smartest man who ever lived. He is now supervising the entire course of world history (Rev. 1:5) while simultaneously preparing the rest of the universe for our future role in it (John 14:2). He always has the best information on everything and certainly also on the things that matter most in human life.” Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 95.



Jesus is the most brilliant man who ever lived and who lives today! I think that one of the reasons Jesus’ answer stopped them from asking any more questions is because they realized that Jesus was brilliant. This is why we should study Jesus and His word and His life and wisdom. He can lead us in all things of life and especially the things that matter most. This is why we are called on to know Jesus as our Lord. He knows all the answers, all the truth, all the things we need to know. We begin to see that our most important command is to love God with all we are and the second command is like it, to love our neighbor. We also gain great ability to discern truth from falsehood, to immediately see the difference between the way of God and the way of the world. We see the way of genuine love and the way of counterfeit love.


I also think about the fact that the people Jesus dealt with were at least trying to deal in truth. They were unlike many we may run across in the world today who do not care about the Bible or truth. That’s not to say that we should not give them the truth, only to say that they may not go silent. We are called to learn from the brilliance of Jesus and share the truth and wisdom and knowledge of God just as Jesus did. The great thing is that by the power of the Holy Spirit we can respond to the skeptics and inquirers and those even out to trap us. Paul says that we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). We have access to the same wisdom and knowledge as Jesus. That’s an amazing thought. We must rely on God’s Spirit to lead us and give us the wisdom, patience, knowledge, gentleness, and grace to respond to the world in ways that will either lead them to Christ or bring them to silence. May God lead us in the way of Jesus Christ, even in the way of brilliance. Amen.