August 26, 2012

Pastor Joe Wittwer

Follow the Leader!

Part 10—Swing Thought


ILL: My grandson Zealand, now 5 and starting kindergarten next week, is one of the most exuberant, generous and loving kids I know.  He is also all boy—constant motion and noise.

    A couple weeks ago, I was watching Zealand and Stejer for a few hours and they were restless, so I suggested they help me wash my motorcycle.  Water and motorcycles—a sure thing for little boys.  So I gave them their own rags and spray bottles and we went to work.  At one point, I noticed Zealand spraying the hose up my exhaust pipes.  “I wonder what this will do?”  I’ve got clean exhaust now!

    Last year, when Zealand was four, he celebrated Mother’s Day for a week.  Every day he would announce to Amy, “I want to celebrate you today, Mommy!”  He wanted to give her something, and what would a mommy want more than…toys!  He saw that she didn’t have any, so he gave her most of his, including all his favorites, and didn’t want them back.  That is love for a four-year old.  Love your mom with all your heart and soul…and toys.

Today, we’re going to take a look at a story where Jesus talks about that kind of love.


    Who do you have a hard time loving?  



    This summer, we are working our way through the gospel of Mark.  If you brought a Bible, you’ll want to open it to Mark 12.  We are in the last week of Jesus’ life; it’s Tuesday; He will die on Friday.  On Tuesday, Jesus has a series of conflicts in the temple with the religious leaders of his day.  Last week we looked at the first three; today we look at the second set of three.

    We are using the SOAP method, which many of us use in our daily PBJ time.


  • Scripture: read the Bible.

  • Observation: what does it mean?  

  • Application: what does it mean to me?  

  • Prayer: pray it back to God.

I will read each story, then make observations about it; after doing that for all three stories, we’ll finish with one big idea for our application.

The Big Idea: Love God and love people…and follow Jesus!

Scripture: Mark 12:18-40


First story

Mark 12:18–27

18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”


    Last Sunday, we saw that Jesus was approached by a delegation from the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body made up of priests, elders and scribes.  Most of these belonged to one of two groups: the Sadducees or Pharisees.  These two groups were very different from each other.  The Sadducees accepted only the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) as the word of God.  The Pharisees accepted the whole Hebrew Bible (the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings—our OT), and the oral traditions.  The Sadducees rejected the ideas of angels, demons, and the afterlife (resurrection) because they could not find support for them in the Torah.  As my professor once said, “They didn’t believe in the resurrection, so they were sad-you-see.”  The Pharisees found support for all these in their Scripture.

    The Sadducees hoped to discredit Jesus by using an argument that made belief in the resurrection seem ridiculous or silly.  It was kind of a trick question, like “Can God make a rock He can’t lift?” or “Have you stopped beating your dog?”  The question basically was “if 7 brothers were married to the same woman one after another, whose wife would she be in the afterlife.”  (You can almost see them smirking, “See how silly it is to believe in life after death?”)  This question was based on an actual practice known as Levirite marriage, found in:

Deuteronomy 25:5–6 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. 6 The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.

The purpose of this was to carry on the family name and keep property in the family—two very important ancient values.  And, as you can imagine, if you were the younger brother, you were pretty concerned about who your older brother married!  You might “inherit” her!  

    Jesus doesn’t mess around; He simply says, “You’re wrong; you are in error.”  And He tells them why: “because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God.”  

    Then Jesus corrects their assumption that the next life would simply be a continuation of this life. The next life will be radically different.  

25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

This is very difficult on a couple levels.  

First, if you’re happily married like I am, it bugs you.  Laina and I can’t imagine living forever and not being married.  We want to be together as a married couple forever.  And what about sex?  Eternity with no sex? What’s up with that?  I’m just saying…

Second, if marriage doesn’t continue in the next life, what does?  Is there anything that carries over?  Will we know each other?  Recognize each other?

The Bible presents the next life as a mixture of a continuation of this life (only much better) and something altogether different.  We will recognize and know each other (if I know you here, how could I be dumber there?). Judging from Jesus’ resurrection, we will have resurrection bodies that will be recognizable by those who know us.  There will be rewards and assignments there related to things done here.  So there is some continuity from this life to the next.  But there is discontinuity as well, such as Jesus’ words here about marriage.  There will be “a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”  It will be a new order.  And it will be better than anything you can imagine.  So married couples, imagine this: you won’t be married as you are now, but it will be even better!

At funerals, people like to imagine the deceased up in heaven tracking a trophy elk (that’s not elk heaven) or doing something else they loved.  It’s the mistake of thinking that heaven is just a continuation of earth—just way better!  We all imagine heaven based on what we know—it’s understandable; it’s all we know.  I like to think heaven will be huge ski mountains steep and deep with no lift lines; awesome golf courses with no greens fees and no bogeys; fabulous motorcycle rides with no pollution, no crashes and no sore butts.  We imagine what we know, but it will be way better than that!

1 Corinthians 2:9 However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”.

No mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.  You can’t conceive it—it is better than anything you can imagine.

Ephesians 3:20–21 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Dream your biggest dream—it’s better!  So don’t let Jesus’ words here about marriage disappoint you.  You won’t be disappointed when you’re there!

    Jesus finishes by quoting from the Law of Moses—the only Bible the Sadducees accepted!  He quotes the story of God speaking to Moses at the burning bush, and identifying himself, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”—the patriarchs who had died 400 years ago.  But if He is their God, they must be alive (He didn’t say “I was their God” but “I am”).  They must still be alive, for He is the God of the living, not the dead. Jesus clearly indicated His belief in the afterlife and the resurrection.  And within a few days, He would back it up with His own resurrection from the dead!

Second story

Mark 12:28-34

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

    A teacher of the law notices the good answer Jesus gave and asks the next question.  Unlike the challenges that have come before, this is an honest question, and one that was widely debated at Jesus’ time.  The Jews had developed a detailed oral tradition that applied God’s law to every conceivable situation.  The law said, “Honor the Sabbath—rest, don’t work.”  So they had to define work, and they created thousands of tiny rules about what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath.  The inevitable backlash was that others asked how we could sum up God’s law in one or two statements.  This was his question.

    Jesus answers that the most important command is to love God with all you’ve got: all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  He is quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the most important verses in the Law of Moses.  

Deuteronomy 6:4–5 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

This is known as the Shema, which is the Hebrew verb, “Hear”—the first word, in “Hear O Israel…”.  This was recited every morning and evening by a pious Jew.  It is the scripture that was written and rolled up inside the phylacteries, little leather scripture boxes they wore on their foreheads in obedience to Deut 6:8.  And it is the verse written and rolled up inside the mezuzahs that are fixed on their doorframes in obedience to Deut 6:9.  It was everywhere!  This was their John 3:16—it was everywhere!  

    Jesus didn’t pick something obscure—He chose the most well-known verse in Judaism and said, “That’ the Big Deal.  That’s the most important command.  Love God with all you’ve got.”  

    But then Jesus did something more, something new.  The man asked for one command; Jesus gave Him two.  Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18, “love your neighbor as yourself.”  He added this to the first command and said that the two together sum up the entire law of God.

Matthew 22:40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus combines loving God and loving people.  In doing so, He summed up the Ten Commandments: the first four are about our relationship with God and the last six are about our relationships with people.  No one had united these two ideas into one quite like Jesus had.  It was a new thought: all that God wants of us can be summed up by loving God and loving people.

    The man who asked the question likes Jesus’ answer and commends Him for it, adding that loving God and loving people is “more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  He clearly gets it, and Jesus says, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”  Not far, but not in.  He understood the importance of loving God and loving people; what else did he need to actually get into the Kingdom of God?  He needed to follow Jesus.

Third story

Mark 12:35-40

35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’  37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

The large crowd listened to him with delight.

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”

    So far, Jesus has been the one questioned; now He asks the question.  He quotes from Psalm 110, a royal psalm that was sung at the coronation of a new king in Judah.  But by Jesus’ day, it had come to be understood as a psalm about the coming messiah, a descendant of David who would rescue Israel and make her great again.  The word “messiah” means “anointed one”; in the Greek it was “Christos”, from which we get “Christ.”  The Christ, the messiah would be “the son of David”—a descendant of David.  But in Psalm 110, David calls him “Lord”—the term Jews reserved for God—so how can the messiah be David’s son?  

    Jesus is challenging their ideas of the messiah, saying he is more than they think.  He is not only the son of David; He is the Son of God!  Once again, Jesus makes himself the issue. Who is this man? He is making an implicit claim to be more than they think He is; He is the Lord, the Son of God. (By the way, we got 50 copies of John Ortberg’s new book, Who is this Man?, and they are for sale at our Info Center.)  Who is this man and what will you do with Jesus—this is the Big Question before all of us.

    Jesus finished with a scathing indictment of religious people who use their religion to take advantage of others or advance themselves.  “Such men will be punished most severely.

    There are so many applications we could make from these stories, but I’m going to send you home with one—the Big One.  Can you guess what it is?

Application: love God and love people…and follow Jesus!

    Let’s read this together out loud.

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

I have always thought that if Jesus said something was the most important, then it is probably the most important thing.  And He said that the most important thing we can do is love God with all we’ve got and love our neighbor as ourselves.  This is the Big Deal—most important.  

    We’ve got to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength—in other words, with all we’ve got.  All of life is to be lived for God.  We work for God, we play for God, we think for God, we talk for God, we give for God and we spend for God—we bring our whole life, all that we are and all that we do, and we offer it to God in love.  

Colossians 3:23–24 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Whatever you do…do it for the Lord.  It is an act of love for God.  This is the most important thing you can do: live a God-first, God-focused, whole-life love for God.  

    I am amazed at how quickly we forget this.  We lose the story line so easily and make other things more important than loving God and loving people.  What are some things that easily and often become more important to us?


  • Money and things.  Think of the story of the rich young ruler that we read a couple months ago.  He wanted to love God, but something got in the way: his money.  When Jesus asked him to give it away and come follow Jesus, he went away sad.  He was sad—he wanted to do it, but just couldn’t let go of his stuff.  The money was too important.

  • Pleasure.  It could be sexual pleasure, food pleasure, recreational pleasure.  We are a nation that holds high the sacred rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  And boy do we pursue happiness! If God or people get in the way of my happiness, look out!  This is one of the leading reasons for divorce—“I’m just not happy anymore, and I have a right to be happy”—as though my happiness were the most important thing.  Jesus said it isn’t.  Loving God and loving people is.

  • Self.  This is really the big idol behind money and pleasure and lots of other things.  It’s all about me.  But Jesus said that we find our life by losing it.  When we love God with all we’ve got and love others, we find our deepest and truest self in community.

  • Issues.  It is so easy for us to become consumed with an issue and make it bigger than God and bigger than people.  In this election year, there are lots of issues—important issues—that have people fighting mad!  But Jesus didn’t die for issues; He died for people.  

    • This was a problem in the early church.  The first Christians disagreed about whether they should eat meat that had been offered to idols.  Paul wrote about this on at least two occasions.  What was the guiding principle he suggested?  Love.

Romans 14:15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.

Act in love.  Your brother is more important than the issue.  Don’t destroy your brother for whom Christ died.  He didn’t die for the issue; he died for people.

The issue may be important, and you should stand for what you believe, but it is never more important than loving God and loving people.     

So this is most important, and we need to live our lives accordingly.

    Another thing I love about this is that Jesus simplifies things for us.  Does anybody have too much to do?  What happens then?  You start forgetting things, missing things.  The Jews counted 613 laws in the Old Testament; 365 negative prohibitions (do not’s), and 248 positive commands (do this).  Imagine trying to keep track of 613 laws every day?  Crazy!

ILL: I have taken golf lessons before, and they always mess me up.  You know why?  Because the pro watches my swing, shakes his head and says, “Where do we start?  You’re a mess.”  Then he gives me about a dozen things to work on and remember.  Of course, I’m supposed to go to the range and practice until they become second nature, but I don’t have time to practice, so I just go play and try to remember all these things.  It’s a disaster—while I remember one, I forget five others.  Did you know that the best players usually have only one swing thought.  Mine is “kill it!”

Jesus takes 613 commands and gives us one swing thought: love.  Love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself.  Do this and you fulfill all God’s law.

    Jesus gave us one swing thought: love.  But it has two parts—kind of like the back swing and the down swing!  It’s two-in-one.  Love God and love people.  And the two are inseparable.  Jesus rescues us from mysticism by telling us we can’t love God without loving people.  And He rescues us from humanism by telling us that we can’t love people without loving God first.  The two are inseparable.  Later, John would write:

1 John 4:19–21 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

The two are inseparable.  Don’t say you love God if you hate your brother—it’s not true.  When you love God with all you’ve got, you will love people—because you will learn to love what God loves, and God loves people.

    Love God, love people…and follow Jesus.

    Jesus told the questioner, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”  Not far is not the same as being there. “Not far” is not “in”.  This man could have tried to love God and love people and never got in the Kingdom of God despite his best efforts.  Why?  Because the only way into the Kingdom of God is through the King.  You must come to Jesus.  The only way in is following Jesus.  There are many good people who try to love but never find the Kingdom of God.  

ILL: In fact, have you seen the atheist billboards that say you don’t need God to be good?  Maybe so, maybe no.  I think some people might be good some of the time without God.  I think many other people will never be good without God.

But here’s the thing: you can be really good, and still be “not far” from the Kingdom of God.  “Not far” is not “in”.   You may be the most loving person in the world, but if you refuse Jesus, you’ll never be any closer than “not far”.  

    Once again, Jesus makes Himself the issue.  What are going to do Jesus?