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Accusation and Defense


The chapter of the Scripture we are examining today contains at least two of the more quoted sections: the Widow’s mite (“small coin” in this version) and “Render unto Caesar”. What is often missed is that these stories are set in the same day of Jesus’ ministry. There is a consistent thread running through this chapter: wholehearted devotion to Christ.


And He began to speak to them in parables: "A man PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT, AND DUG A VAT UNDER THE WINE PRESS AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. "At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order to receive some of the produce of the vineyard from the vine-growers. "They took him, and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. "Again he sent them another slave, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. "And he sent another, and that one they killed; and so with many others, beating some and killing others. "He had one more to send, a beloved son; he sent him last of all to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' "But those vine-growers said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!' "They took him, and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. "What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others. "Have you not even read this Scripture: 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES'?" And they were seeking to seize Him, and yet they feared the people, for they understood that He spoke the parable against them. And so they left Him and went away.

(Mark 12:1-12 NASB)

In this parable Christ presents his accusation against the Jewish nation. The indictment includes three points:

  • The very existence of Israel is a gift from God. He is the one who spoke with Abraham. There were many others he could have picked. He could have dealt with another nation; nothing requires that Moses lead them to the promised land. But God had decided to do this – and so he gave them the gift. It is the gift of being the people of God. It comes with its own God given territory. By implication, Christ is saying that they misused this gift – a complaint made frequently by God in the Old Testament.
  • The Jews have rejected the prophets. Over and over we see this in the Old Testament. To become a prophet was to cancel your life insurance and health insurance. Despite the miraculous signs and the call to repentance, the prophets were, by and large, a beaten and rejected lot. That’s one heck of a reception for those sent by God to the people of God. The closest modern parallel I can give you might be this: Suppose your pastor began to speak on the sin of divorce. After worship one Sunday, a group of divorced members of the church meet him in the parking lot and “pound a little sense in to him.” If you can see the ingratitude and defiance, you understand the charge against the Jews.
  • The nation will now kill its Messiah, the Son of God. Here Jesus explicitly tells them that they will kill the Son of God, the Messiah. This, of course, is the ultimate ingratitude. The consequences of this to the Jewish nation will be severe and long lasting.

Ultimately, as Jesus here foretells, will come the Last Judgment. What will God say then? It will be the final word. But at this moment the Jews rise to present their defenses to the charges made.

The Defense

If you will, there are three defenses presented. Two are rejected; the third, adopted.

Defense of the Pharisees

It is well to review who the Pharisees are – at least in our terminology. They are the right-wing fundamentalists of their day. They are highly legalistic. Here is their counterattack:

Then they *sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him in order to trap Him in a statement. They *came and *said to Him, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? "Shall we pay or shall we not pay?" But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, "Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at." They brought one. And He *said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" And they said to Him, "Caesar's." And Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were amazed at Him.

(Mark 12:13-17 NASB)

It is tempting to launch into a discussion of church and state here. (You can find that on the web site in the life of Christ series). But first, see the style of the defense – so you can recognize it in your own life.

  • Seeking partial obedience. Somewhere in the dim recesses of the conscience these men know that they are not up to what God has called them to be. The therefore must substitute partial obedience for whole-hearted devotion. To do this, they must have an excuse for the obedience which is omitted. The Roman government supplies this to them. They now have an excuse.
  • Hypocritical praise. Their praise for Jesus is not an oversight or accident. If you are going to substitute partial obedience for the whole, then the keeper of the whole obedience must somehow be snared into joining you. A modern parallel is the man who walks out of the church saying, “Great sermon, pastor!” while thinking of all the good reasons he can ignore the warning that sermon brought.
  • Scriptural distortion. Here is a key attitude. I know the answer, now I need to go find the Scripture to support it. This takes the Word of God and turns it into a collection of excuses.
Defense of the Sadducees

The Sadducees are the left wing, politically correct thinkers of their day. Their defense is interesting in that it is the intellectual puzzle of the piece. They view themselves as (obviously) much more intelligent than those right wing fundamentalist types. To prove it, they trot out one of their intellectual puzzles in an air of smug certainty. If the Pharisees are holier-than-thou, the Sadducees are more intellectual-than-thou.

Some Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection) *came to Jesus, and began questioning Him, saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that IF A MAN'S BROTHER DIES and leaves behind a wife AND LEAVES NO CHILD, HIS BROTHER SHOULD MARRY THE WIFE AND RAISE UP CHILDREN TO HIS BROTHER. "There were seven brothers; and the first took a wife, and died leaving no children. "The second one married her, and died leaving behind no children; and the third likewise; and so all seven left no children. Last of all the woman died also. "In the resurrection, when they rise again, which one's wife will she be? For all seven had married her." Jesus said to them, "Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God? "For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. "But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, and the God of Jacob'? "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken."

(Mark 12:18-27 NASB)

Jesus trims this argument nicely. He tells us what’s wrong with this defense as well:

  • They deny the power of God. This is the first and most crucial error. Those in our time who “re-interpret” the Bible start with the assumption that the miraculous must be a “later legend.” God goes from omnipotent to nice guy (who can be safely ignored).
  • They deny the authority of the Scriptures. Again, a common error. In our time the “Minimalists” start with the assumption that the Scriptures must be wrong (since they contain within miracles) and then say, “What evidence do you have?” They might remember that the Bible was gathered together so that we might have one convenient place in which to find all the evidence. The evidence so carefully gathered and protected is now a convenient container for the trash.
  • They substitute man’s opinions for God’s word. It is blasphemy. Blasphemy – “taking the Lord’s name in vain” – is not so much idle obscenity as it is statements like this: “A kind and loving God would surely not disapprove of my divorce, especially when my girlfriend makes me so happy. God wants me to be happy, after all, and as long as I’m doing this for love, it will be approved by God, I’m sure.”
The honest man

It is a mistake to assume that all the Jewish scholars here were blasphemers or hypocrites. Meet an honest man:

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; 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.' "The second is this, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these." The scribe said to Him, "Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; 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." When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.

(Mark 12:28-34 NASB)

See the honest man’s reaction to this accusation. There is no defense; there is only the question: “What would God have me do?” This man understands that God’s plan must be simple enough for the simpleton but wise enough for the greatest of minds. That can only be if there is a “bottom line” where intellectual strength and simple heart can meet.

Christ gives him, in simple words quoted from the Old Testament, his answer. It comes down to this:

  • Love God first. Without this, where will you get the strength to carry out any other commandment?
  • Then love your neighbor as yourself. If not carried into practical application, your love of God is a delusion.

What God Wants

That last man was “not far from the kingdom.” Jesus now proceeds to give him and the disciples three lessons in just what God wants.

Believe in Jesus

Sometimes we miss this one. God wants us to put our trust in Jesus, the Christ. This is the pragmatic form of loving God:

And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, "How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? "David himself said in the Holy Spirit, 'THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET."' "David himself calls Him 'Lord'; so in what sense is He his son?" And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.

(Mark 12:35-37 NASB)

It’s Jesus turn to pose the intellectual parable. In it we can see just how we are to love God in the person of his son Jesus.

  • Love him as Messiah (Christ). We see here the idea of the one who came to redeem. He came that we might have our sins forgiven; for that we owe him our love.
  • Love him as the fulfillment of prophecy – even prophecy yet to come. Our love for him should be based upon fact. The facts are scattered throughout the Old Testament; they are the prophecies he fulfilled when he came – or will fulfill when he returns. Honor God in this.
  • Love him as Lord. So many of us are willing to have a Savior; we might even acknowledge him as the fulfillment of 1500 years of prophecy. But until you love him as lord you have not really known the man.
Beware of the legalists

Christ next gives us fair warning: his church is going to have trouble from within, the legalists:

In His teaching He was saying: "Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows' houses, and for appearance's sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation." And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums.

(Mark 12:38-41 NASB)


How do you tell the difference between someone who is devoted to God and a hypocrite? Jesus gives you three tests:

  • Recognize the love of praise. It’s a mistake to assume that hypocrites are always after the money. There are few who can turn their hypocrisy into profit, but many who can swell up like a sponge under a waterfall of praise.
  • Recognize the greed. Here’s the killer question: what would you do to become rich? These men were appointed custodians over a man’s estate – and would turn his widow out of the house to sell it for a profit.
  • Beware – these men will be punished severely. In this, Christ warns us about becoming such as these.

Jesus concludes his lesson with an illustration – right before their eyes.

A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on."

(Mark 12:42-44 NASB)

Here at last Christ gives us the positive example. Please note that this is an act of devotion. The act of devotion has two aspects:

  • First, an act of devotion seems to the world to be completely excessive. This woman gave all she had. Note that she had two coins. She could have placed only one in the offering. Most of us would not have objected if she passed the containers for offering without putting in anything.
  • Next, it must be something that the world would say has little to no value. The coins she sticks in would, in our day, be worth (for example) a quarter.

If you can see the world’s view of giving to excess and producing little or no value to it, then you see the point of devotion. God will take that devotion and multiply it.

This is the thread that runs through the entire chapter. Jesus challenges them with the memory of the prophets, rejected by a half – hearted Israel. The Pharisees want to substitute a fussy legalism; the Sadducees want to substitute man’s good intentions.

God rejects both: he is seeking worshipers who will worship him in Spirit and in truth. Those who are devoted to him – no matter how small their resources – are those he will recognize as being his own on Judgment Day.

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