I had the privilege today of leading a Bible study on the Gospel of Mark chapters 11 and 12. It has been eye opening to study through the Gospel of Mark, learning how Jesus Christ ministered while on this earth. If you have not been following the previous lessons, you can check them out here:
- Jesus: Experiencing His Life and Ministry
- Jesus the Rescuing Teacher
- The unpardonable sin
- The parable of the sower and the seed
- Failing Faith needs a Faithful Friend
- Jesus serves individuals
- Discipleship according to Jesus
- Genuine faith honors Scripture over Religious Traditions
- The teachings of Pharisees vs. The teachings of Jesus Christ
- Encountering the life changing power of Jesus Christ
The previous lesson, a lesson that I have not yet put into article form, is about those who have not connected with God through Jesus Christ, those who have connected with God through Jesus Christ, and then how to connect with God through Jesus Christ.
I. Superficial faith
The teaching begins with superficial faith being confronted. Mark 11 begins with the Triumphal Entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. The people come out to welcome Jesus as their Messiah. They even quote from the Old Testament to back up their belief. Jesus is not impressed because He knows that the people’s “faith” is superficial. The expected Jesus to come and establish the physical kingdom of God on the earth and overthrow the Roman government. Jesus came to establish the spiritual kingdom of God. When the people realized that Jesus was not going to do what they wanted, they turned on Him and not 5 days later, they are crying for His death. They are focused on the physical and not on the spiritual. They are not celebrating Jesus for who He is; they are celebrating what they believe He can do for them. In verses 12-14:
12 On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry.
13 Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.
14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening.
Jesus uses the fruitless fig tree to demonstrate superficial faith. God had spent 2,000 years investing into the children of Israel and they were to be His light to the world. The problem was, they never produced the fruit that He wanted to produce in them because of their superficial faith. People do not plant fruit trees to grow big and strong and have lots of leaves. People plant fruit trees because in the end, they want the fruit that the tree produces. If a beautiful tree with nice lush leaves never actually produces any fruit, the tree is useless to the one who invests time, effort, and energy into its growth. The crowds of Israel demonstrate their lack of fruit 5 days after welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem by then crying “crucify Him, crucify Him”. This was not a new phenomenon in the generation of Jesus’ days. This is the way people always have been and always will be. There are many people in many churches today who are exactly like this. As long as their expectations are met by Christ, they bless Him with their presence and give lip service to Him. Once He does not do what they want, they turn on Him. Could you be one of those people?
More evidence of superficial faith is demonstrated when Jesus enters the Temple in verses 15-18.
15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves;
16 and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple.
17 And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS ‘? But you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”
18 The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching.
The leaders in the Temple were using their position and authority to rob the people blind. Their job was to facilitate worship and help the common man connect with God. Instead of helping people connect with God, they were driving the people further away from God and robbing them blind while they were doing it. This was all done under the guise of “faith”. The leaders did not trust in the Lord. They trusted in material wealth. They used their superficial faith to take advantage of others. Not only were they not connected with God, they kept the common people from connecting with God. This superficial faith was passed on to the masses. How many spiritual leaders do we see doing the exact same thing today?
In verses 27-33, we see the rest of the religious leaders revealing what they trusted in based on the question that they asked Jesus.
27 They came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him,
28 and began saying to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?”
29 And Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question, and you answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things.
30 “Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me.”
31 They began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’
32 “But shall we say, ‘From men ‘?”-they were afraid of the people, for everyone considered John to have been a real prophet.
33 Answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
The chief priests, scribes, and elders all wanted power and authority. They wanted to know Jesus’ secret so that they could tap into that same resource. The people loved Jesus because He really did teach people how to connect with God. The religious leaders thought that there must be some secret to get people to respect power and authority. The religious leaders did not trust in the Lord. They did not want to trust in the Lord. They trusted in their power and authority. They should have fallen at Jesus’ feet, confessing their sins and repenting. But, if they were to do that, they were afraid that it would impact their power and authority. Their faith was superficial and they taught the common people to have superficial faith. Jesus confronts all of this superficiality. For the most part, the people did not repent. They could have repented and should have repented but, they were satisfied with their superficiality. Based on what we have discovered in this section, do you have superficial faith? Do you “worship” God hoping that He will meet your expectations? Do you worship material possessions under the guise of faith? Do you desire power and authority over a genuine relationship with God? What do your actions testify about your faith?
II. Parable and Examples
Mark 12 is a continuation of the teachings in Mark 11. Jesus begins the chapter with a parable to turn a mirror on the people and let them see who they really are and that their faith is shallow and superficial. The parable did its job. When Jesus finished the parable, the people knew that the parable was about them. They were amazed at His teaching yet we do not see any indication in the text that they confessed their sin of superficial faith and repented.
After the parable, some of the other religious leaders come to Jesus to ask Him questions. They do not come to Jesus to learn. They were not asking questions to gain insight about the kingdom of heaven. They were asking questions to try and manipulate Jesus into making a mistake so that they could trap Him and use His answers against Him. The Pharisees had joined forces with their sworn enemy, the Herodians to try and trap Jesus. The Pharisees were involved in the politics of the day and they were like the extreme right of conservative, religious politics. The Herodians were the extreme left of secular politics. The Pharisees are another example of superficial faith in action. They were not using their faith in the Lord to serve and help the people. The used the people to serve their own purposes, to attain power and authority. Jesus answered their question in such a way to stump both sides and come out victorious. The Pharisees had yet another chance to encounter Jesus, God in flesh, and repent but they would not do it.
After the Pharisees and Herodians left with their proverbial tail between their legs, the Sadducees came to Jesus with an absurd question. These people were so caught up in the spiritual that their lives and teachings were not practical for daily life to the common man. They did not believe in the resurrection yet, they use the Word of God to ask a question that involved the resurrection. Jesus answers them correctly. They also have a chance to repent after their encounter with God in the flesh, yet, they do not repent. In they were to repent, then they might jeopardize their power, authority, and influence within society. They chose to trust in their authority instead of trusting in God.
There are many leaders in the church today who fall into this same trap. It is hard to admit when we are wrong because we are afraid of what might happen to our positions of power and authority in the church. I have watched it happen over and over again throughout my 18 years in the Gospel ministry. There are times when we will make mistakes and when confronted, we need to be humble enough to admit it, confess, repent, and allow the Lord to forgive us and set us back on the right path. The disciples did this over and over again throughout Jesus’ three year ministry to them. Are you more like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day or more like the disciples? Is it hard for you to admit that you have done wrong? Are you slow to confess and repent because you are afraid of what “the people” may think of you?
III. Genuine Faith
Let’s finish off this article on a positive note. Jesus describes genuine faith in these two chapters of Mark. The first example is found in Mark 11, in verse 19-26. Jesus makes the connection between faith and forgiveness. Genuine faith leads a person to forgive others. The crowds had a chance to forgive Jesus when He did not meet their expectations. They chose to punish Him for not meeting their expectations. The religious had a chance to forgive Jesus when He confronted them for their superficial faith. They chose not to forgive Him. Instead, they wanted Him punished. How do you respond when people let you down? Do you seek to forgive them? Or, do you seek to make them pay for not meeting your expectations? How did you respond the last time your pastor did not live up to your expectations? Did you go after him by gossiping about him to others? Or, did you forgive him and seek to help him in accomplishing the great calling that the Lord has placed on his life?
In Mark 12, we see another example of a man coming to Jesus and wanting to know what the Greatest Commandment in the Bible is. Jesus responded with:
29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD;
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.”
32 The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly * stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE 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 HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
In essence, this passage means to love (serve) the Lord with all of your:
- Heart – vigor, passion, emotions, strength, abilities, capabilities (use your life to serve God)
- Soul – the very breath that you have, your life, your will
- Strength – the ability to act
- Mind – reasoning skills, understanding
How are you going to do these things practically? By serving the people around you. When you connect with God, the outflow of that connection is a love for people and a desire to serve them. This is genuine faith. Superficial faith gives lip service to God but serve self rather than others. Genuine faith loves/serves God by loving and serving the people within a sphere of influence and beyond.
So my dear friend, based on all that we have seen, is your faith genuine or superficial? Do you trust in the physical things around you or in the Lord? Do you seek to serve yourself or others as you live out your daily life? Have you connected with God and now live your life to help others connect with God? Only you can answer those things. God will reveal the faith that you have if you will ask Him sincerely to do so. May the Lord help all of us live our genuine faith and turn our backs on superficial faith!