A man and woman find themselves standing at the pearly gates. Saint Peter, to his surprise, finds the couple very disappointed to be getting into heaven. You see, they were on their way to get married and instead of arriving at their wedding, they ended up at the entrance of heaven. The bride is quite upset and she tearfully asks Saint Peter, “Could you find us a pastor, so we can get married?” “I’m sorry”, says Peter, “But there is no marriage in heaven, it is just not done”. At this, the bride melts into a pool of tears, she is inconsolable. Finally, Peter cannot take it anymore and tells the bride, “Ok, ok, ok. I think this is a big mistake, but I will do my best to find a pastor and see if we can arrange a wedding.” At this the bride calms down and the couple enter the heaven through the pearly gates.
Three months go by and the couple hasn’t heard anything from Saint Peter. So they walk back to the pearly gates to see if Peter forgot about them. “No, I haven’t forgot about you, I am still looking. I will get this done, don’t come back, I’ll get a hold of you. I thing like this just takes some time here in heaven.” Assured by Peter’s promise the couple go back into heaven.
Six months go by, then nine, then finally eighteen months – the couple is not happy. Finally, they receive a call – Peter has found a Pastor. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?”, Peter asks. “Yes, we are so ready”, squeal the couple. All goes well at the wedding and the couple enter heaven as the first, and only, married couple in heaven.
A few months later the married couple appear again at the pearly gates. Both are quite disgruntled. “You were right”, steamed the wife, “there is no marriage in heaven!” “We want a divorce!”, spits the husband. At this Saint Peter doubles over with laughter. He can hardly catch his breath “What is so funny?”, exclaims the bride, “This is serious.”
“You bet it is serious”, says Peter “If you think it took me a long time to find a pastor in heaven, how long do you think it is going to take to find a lawyer?”
Our passage today from the book of Mark is shocking. It screams out at us to stop and consider it very, very carefully for or lives. See, the truth is, we can live in blissful ignorance. We can go through our life as Christians ignorant of the fact that everything we do is rejected by God – and be perfectly happy about it. Here we have the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees living their lives exactly in this manner. They all attempt to live their lives as good Hebrews, but they all fall short. Their hypocrisy is revealed not only in their questions, but also in failure to be biblically logical.
What was their downfall? Verse 24, ….”because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God”. First, we need to know our Scripture, we need to know our bible, and second, and without this the first is useless, second, we need to believe the Scripture is powerful. That means it molds us, it changes us to it’s understanding of life, rather than us finding items that reinforce our belief system. Don’t dismiss what I just said. We ALL have grown up, have been educated and have lived our lives out in a pagan culture. ALL of us are influenced by pagan ideas and even stronger than those pagan ideas, we are influenced by our desire to continue living in our sin. As we look at these men question Jesus, hear what Jesus is saying, for He is speaking to us when He is speaking to them.
Now, there are three distinct sections to this passage dealing with three different subjects, but they all tie together in that men are not being biblically logical in their approach to Scripture. We can do the same thing. Influenced by our pagan culture and a willingness to justify our sin, we can be illogical when looking at Scripture.
Here in the first section, the Pharisees and Herodians come to Jesus with a question they believe is a catch 22 question – no matter how Jesus answers, He will be wrong. We are familiar with the Pharisees, but who were the Herodians? The Herodians were a political party who fiercely supported the Herodian dynasty and their policies. The Pharisees and Herodians were usually at odds with one another, so it is very surprising to see that they are working together to trap Jesus. But you know the old saying: Enemy of my enemy, my friend. Both are not pleased with the teachings of Jesus and so both come together to discredit Him.
Verse 14 is nothing but fluff. Don’t believe a word of it. It is simply an attempt to make the impression that their question is legitimate – but Jesus wasn’t buying it. Their questions, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”, in verse 14/15 is a trap. If Jesus speaks against paying taxes, He is a revolutionary speaking out against the government, and He can be reported to the civil authorities – If Jesus speaks for paying taxes, He shows that He supports a pagan religion and He loses all credibility in His support of the true God.
The people in Palestine were paying both religious and secular taxes. There were three taxes levied by the Romans. The one in question here is the poll tax. Each person was required to give the equivalent of one denarius annually. The denarius was considered to be the daily wage of the average worker. The poll tax was an extremely unpopular tax. It was so unpopular that about 25 years earlier there had been an out and out revolt over the poll tax. In fact, during this revolt, the Zealot party was born. The Zealots were a highly nationalistic political party that desired nothing less than Israel’s full independence. Understand, the poll tax is a highly emotional issue for the people, as taxes usually are. A wrong answer might incite a wave of anger from those listening to Jesus. The Pharisees and Herodians, have set Jesus up. They step back, ready to see the fireworks happen.
Jesus asks for a coin, specifically, a denarius. On this coin, the denarius of Tiberius, there was portrayed the emperor as the son of the god Augustus and the goddess Livia. The coin bore the abbreviated inscription, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus” and on the other side, “Pontifex Maximus” This portrait and the inscription were rooted in the imperial cult which claimed Caesar was divine. To many, paying a tax with a coin clearly connected to the cult of the emperor was absolute sacrilege.
The question I have is: If paying a tax with such a coin was such a sacrilege, wouldn’t possessing such a coin also be a sacrilege? Wouldn’t just having a denarius prove their hypocrisy?
Jesus answer defies their logic. In His answer, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” He easily moves past their dilemma. To Jesus their dilemma isn’t a dilemma at all, is it? The question sets up a situation where there is a lose lose outcome. No matter what is decided the answer must be the lesser of two evils, but in reality this is not true; In reality, in this “moral dilemma” set before Jesus, we find it is not a moral choice at all, it is simply a justification for what we do not want to do. In short, we don’t choose between the lesser of two evils. Anytime you find yourself choosing between two evils, step back and asses the situation – Is the question before you in reality a moral dilemma, or is it just something you do not want to do? God promises us that He will not place us in such situations.
1Cor. 10:13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
As Christians we are often challenged with questions, usually hypothetical, that seem to have no answer, or no good answer. The classic question from the scholastic period is this: Could God make an object that is too heavy for God to lift? The question, like the questions we see in our Scripture today seems like a catch 22. If God makes an object that is too heavy to lift, then He is not all powerful – And – if God cannot make an object that is too heavy for God to lift, then He is not all powerful. So either way you answer, God is a weak God. This question may seem unanswerable, but it is not, the problem is solved not by an answer, but by the question itself. The question asked is the wrong question. It assumes that God takes on human attributes, and He does not, God is Spirit, and human attributes do not apply to Him. The question is the problem, it assumes that fiction is reality. The question does not deal with reality, or the issue at hand. Here we see this with the question asked by the Sadducees.
The others having failed we see starting in verse 18, the Sadducees now try to trap Jesus with their “superior” logic. These men were considered specialists in biblical interpretation. Understand that the topic that they are addressing, the resurrection, was a hot topic that had been debated extensively between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Sadducees usually had the upper hand in the debate over the Pharisees. So they approach Jesus with confidence. The Sadducees took their stance on the resurrection from the Pentateuch - the first five books of the bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. In fact, they took all their stances from the Pentateuch, because they believed that only the words contained in the Pentateuch were the inspired Word of God and therefore had authority. The rest of the Hebrew bible (which we call the Old Testament) was not the inspired word of God and therefore had no authority. With this in mind, they claimed that there was no resurrection, because according to their study, and their logic, there was no mention of the resurrection in the Pentateuch, therefore there was no resurrection.
The Pharisees on the other hand, believed, along with Jesus, that the entire Hebrews Scripture was inspired (what we call the Old Testament). The resurrection is found in this part of the bible, therefore there was a resurrection.
The intention of the Sadducees is to mock the resurrection, and destroy Jesus in what they see as an indefensible position. Like the Pharisees and Herodians, the Sadducees throw out their question expecting a large display of fireworks.
Their question is a direct reference to Deut. 25:5 “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.” THAT would make you extra careful which family you marry into, wouldn’t it ladies? “Will you marry me my love?” “Let, me see your brothers before I answer that proposal”.
Their question is a manufactured question. Fiction. It has no place in reality. A question like this either does not deal with reality or places the issue in a context that really does not answer the issue at hand. As Christians we have these type of questions thrown at us all the time: “If Jesus was gay would you still follow him?” But Jesus wasn’t gay, so how is the question relevant? Or how about, “If God is love and He cares for us, then why would he allow children to die? A loving God couldn’t allow children to die”, Just because a something happens doesn’t mean it was the will of God. Again the question is not relevant. Manufactured questions are built to destroy, and difficult to defend against because they don’t deal with reality.
At Ohio State University, Ravi Zaccharias did an open forum on a radio talk show. The host was an atheist. From the start, the callers were antagonistic.
Ravi said, "I could feel the tension as soon as the lines lit up. One angry woman caller said, “All you people have is an agenda you’re trying to promote.”
Referring to abortion, she said, “You want to take away our rights and invade our private lives.”
Abortion had not even been brought up.
“Just a minute,” I replied, “we didn’t even raise the subject.”
“Ok,” she said, “what is your position on abortion then?”
I said, “Can I ask you a question? On every university campus I visit, somebody stands up and says that God is an evil God to allow all this evil into our world. This person typically says, ‘A plane crashes: 30 people die, and 20 people live. What kind of God would arbitrarily choose some to live and some to die?’”
I continued, “But when we play God and determine whether a child within a mother’s womb should live, we argue for that as a moral right. So when human beings are given the privilege of playing God, it’s called a moral right. When God plays God, we call it an immoral act. Can you justify this for me?”
That was the end of the conversation.
Hypothetical questions tend to deal with fiction and generally do not address real issues.
Here, the question builds a ridiculous situation where a woman marries seven brothers and they wonder who will she be married to in heaven. The question that comes to my mind is: How hard was this woman to live with? She knocks off seven men in a row - boom, boom, boom. She’s like a black widow. If there was an eight brother, he was certainly shaking in his boots.
Jesus’ response hits them hard, remember, they are supposed to be the experts on biblical interpretation, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? Ouch! See the text they are referring to (Deut. 25:5) only deals with marriage, which is not germane to the point at hand, the resurrection. In other words they apply a Scripture that deals with one subject (marriage) to a subject unrelated to the Scripture (The resurrection).
They are in error in two ways, but their most significant error is a denial of the power of the Word of God. First, they misapply a scripture, you cannot apply a scripture to an unrelated subject. Second, in their refusal to believe in the resurrection they could not see the resurrection when it was staring them right in the face. The Sadducees believed that at death one would simply stop existing – poof. They held this belief and then looked at the Scripture. Big mistake. We are to do just the opposite, we are to let the bible speak to us and change us – We are not to search for a reinforcement of our lifestyle.
Verse 25. Earthly relationships will not continue in the same manner as they do here on earth. In fact, I expect a great reversal with as Jesus puts it to us, those who are first here on earth may in many cases find themselves in last place and those who are thought of as least here on earth may in many cases find themselves to be first of all. Look, we do not become angels when we die. Jesus says, not that we will become angels, but we will be like them – He is referring to relationships as parallel with the first part of His sentence which is about relationships – marriage. The bible doesn’t give us much detail about what we will be like in heaven, but life will be very different from here on earth. Jesus refers to angels in the context of marriage for angels do not procreate, in fact their purpose is to worship and serve God, which is an indication of what we will be doing in heaven before the throne of God.
Jesus cites Exodus 3:6 to parallel their argument. This verse is found in the Pentateuch which the Sadducees thought was authoritative. Jesus calls it the book of Moses because Moses wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the bible. So Jesus quotes Exodus “‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’”? This verse is undeniably in the present tense, not the past tense - 27 “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”. I bet they did not see that coming.
Here is where their logic and their interpretation breaks down: If God took on the task of protecting the patriarchs when they were alive, what good was it if he could not protect them from death – meaning extinction in the minds of the Sadducees. This is absurd and biblically illogical. It is inconceivable that God would provide some protection during life and leave the last word to death – this would be a breach of promise. In other words, what is the point of a relationship with God if in the end we all end up – poof – nothing?
The fact is, everyone will be raised from the dead. Some will be raised to life, other will be raised to torment. We see this in Dan 12:2, John 5:28-29, Rev 20:4-15. John 5:28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
What is the bottom line here. What plagued the men’s lives who questions Jesus can plague our lives too. We see who they are in 2 Timothy 3:5, “having a form of godliness but denying its power…” These men all have a form of godliness, they are religious, somewhat know the Scripture - but they deny the power of the Scripture. How? They pick and choose what they desire to apply to their lives. They use the bible to reinforce their beliefs rather than letting the bible change their beliefs and therefore cannot see the power in the bible. See the word of God does not change them, for they are not looking to change.
If we head down that road, we will also end up with a form of godliness, but have lives without power.