“How Jesus Confronts Religious Deviants”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Mark 12.13-44
Mark 12. Dr. AJ Gordon was pastor of the Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston from 1869 until his death in 1895. That church, which is no longer in operation, was affluent and quite fashionable for its day. When he arrived to pastor the church, there were five areas that he sought to address. Keep in mind, this is 1869. He sought to address
unspiritual music (they hired unsaved opera singers to sing in the choir)
It was not a liberal church and it was not aligned with other churches of liberal teachings or doctrines. But it took 15 years to see his goals come to fruition. He was a close friend of AT Pierson. AT Pierson was a Presbyterian who was also friends with George Mueller and CH Spurgeon. In fact, Pierson eventually became the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London after CH Spurgeon. Pierson said of AJ Gordon that his life and ministry was one characterized by loyalty to his Savior and the imminent personal return of Christ. Pierson said that Gordon magnified the high calling of the preacher and gave supreme authority to the infallible Bible. He also demanded Pierson says… And I like this one… The total conformity of the church to a biblical pattern. And Pierson said that Gordon always operated with the understanding of the invisible presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Gordon took a self-righteous, ritualistic and worldly church and made it [quote] “one of the most spiritual and aggressive in America.” Why, what happened? Something happened in Gordon’s ministry and I would like to relate that at the end of the message this morning. But we know enough of his church to know that there must have been a clash between Gordon and the people in his church. And this problem continues today.
Of course, it didn’t start in Gordon’s day. History would bear out this same ritualistic heartless religion began soon after Adam and Eve. However, it is also in our text this morning where we will see how Jesus confronts religious deviants. But let’s catch everyone up to speed concerning where we are in Mark.
Last week, we began the second section of the last half of the book of Mark. Previous to last week, we spent several weeks in this section of Mark that focused on discipleship, the cost of discipleship, and the way of the cross. Jesus and the disciples were headed to Jerusalem with Jesus out in front leading the way to the crucifixion. And we have traveled with them all of this time.
And last week, we finally entered into Jerusalem to the Temple. And so now we are in the second to last section of the book of Mark from chapter 11 to the end of chapter 13. And we have begun the passion week of Christ, Jesus final week of his earthly ministry.
Mark structures these 3 chapters, chapters 11-13, around Jesus’ three journeys to the temple on three successive days. The triumphal entry is on Sunday, the first day of the passion week at the beginning of chapter 11. On Monday, beginning in Mark 11:12, Jesus curses the fig tree and pronounces judgment on the Temple. On Tuesday, which likely begins in Mark 11:27, Jesus is once again in the Temple and is in conflict with the religious leaders of the day.
And as we saw last time, in Mark 11:27-12:12, Jesus defends and explains his authority. He does so at the beginning of chapter 12 and in that parable of the vine growers, Jesus condemns the religious leaders of his day by explaining to them that they are indeed the ones who killed the prophets of old…that they are sons of their fathers and that they too would have killed the prophets and that they had they had a chance. They are a chip off the ole block.
And Jesus of course knows this because it will be them who will condemn Jesus to death and hand him over to the Roman authorities for execution. In that parable the vine growers, Jesus is pictured as the son of the vineyard owner who comes to the vineyard to collect from some of the produce of the land from those renting out the land from the owner. And instead of giving the son his rightful due, Mark 12:8-9 says that 8 “They took him, and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others.
And the religious leaders were astute as to the interpretation as it says in Mark 12:12 And they were seeking to seize Him, and yet they feared the people, for they understood that He spoke the parable against them.
So their animosity has escalated to a new height. The controversy between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day has always played a major role in the tension of the gospel of Mark.
But ever since Jesus headed straight for Jerusalem on the way of the cross, the potential clash between Jesus and the religious leaders has been at the forefront. The disciples did not want Jesus going to Jerusalem because they knew of the opposition there. And what will happen when Jesus and these religious leaders clash?
Well, we’ve seen somewhat of the confrontation and how Jesus accuses these religious leaders of having the same mindset of their forefathers who killed the prophets. And Jesus rightly predicts, now to their face, that these religious leaders would be the ones to execute him.
And they will execute him because of his claim of being the Son of God… of being God in flesh and, more specifically in the context, because of his divine pronouncement of judgment upon the Temple and his judgment upon those very religious leaders when it says there in Mark 12:9 that God will come and destroy them…, k these are fighting words!
But how can the religious leaders carry out their scheme? The people are amazed at Jesus’ teachings and are more than appreciative of his miracles of healing. How will the religious leaders gain control of the situation and be able to twist the public’s perception of Jesus to justify executing him? They must somehow sway public opinion against Him, so they decide to attempt trap him in order to generate animosity against Jesus.
And this is why we have the rest of chapter 12, from verse 13 to the end. So this is Tuesday of the Passion Week and Jesus has just pronounced judgment on the leaders of Israel. And what we have from chapter 12 verse 13 to the end of chapter 12 are two sets of three encounters, making a total of six separate encounters. In the first three encounters between Jesus and his enemies, Jesus is on the defense and answers 3 questions brought by religious leaders.
In the last three encounters, Jesus goes on the offensive and condemns his opposition. So unlike last week, this week this section in the book of Mark is put together quite simply. And it’s all set in the context of Jesus’ enemies’ attempt to sway public opinion about Him that Jesus’ enemies might have a better opportunity of executing him. And within this context, we have points of application that arise naturally from the text. But the major point is the title of the message which is how Jesus confronts religious deviants. And that’s ironic, given the attempt of Jesus’ enemies to confront him and trap him. So, the traps are set, but who’s gonna get caught? Let’s find out.
First, we have the religious hypocrites who get trapped. Jesus confronts the hypocritical Pharisees concerning the duty of a man toward government and God.
Here, in vv.12-17 we learn this: ….
Fulfill Your Duty to God and Government (12:13-17)
We will learn here to fulfill our duty to the government, in this passage, which means to pay your taxes, or give your money. And we will also learn here to fulfill our duty to God, which is to give ourselves. Give your money to the government but give yourselves to God.
Mark 12:13 Then they *sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him in order to trap Him in a statement.
The religious climate of the day was made up of Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes. These were the three major groups and they all made up what is called the Sanhedrin. And Jesus confronts each of these groups in our story this morning.
So the Sanhedrin in verse 13…the “they” there… the Sanhedrin have sent the Pharisees and now we learn of the Herodians, which were likely those Jews who were sympathetic and supporters of Herod’s Roman Dynasty. The Pharisees of course held all the right doctrines of Scripture, but they were hypocritical and self-righteous, attempting to earn their way to God. They also made their applications of Scripture just as authoritative as Scripture. The tithed, not only their money, but also their herbs. They gave scrupulous attention to the details of the law.
The Pharisees also sought to serve the people of today. And so it’s no wonder then that the legitimacy of taxes, especially overbearing taxes, would come up in the course of public debate. And the Pharisees wanted the people on their side and not on Jesus’ side and so they come to him and ask what they do in verse 14
Mark 12:14… “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? V.15…shall we pay or shall we not pay?”
The way they introduce their question is hypocritical. They flatter Jesus in front of the people in public. “Oh yes, Jesus, you are truthful and you don’t let anyone sway your opinion…. You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth…” And then you can hear the snickers of the Pharisees, thinking that they have trapped him. These statements are meant to flatter and they probably represent the general public opinion of Jesus…but then they ask a divisive question.
There question is, “Should we pay a poll tax to Caesar?” Now, to say that the poll tax was not appreciated would be an understatement. It would be because of this very poll tax that in A.D. 66 a revolt would rise up against Rome which will, interestingly enough, lead to the very judgment of the Temple that we investigated last week.
And the payment demanded by the poll tax was a denarius, or one day’s wage. This was just one kind of tax. There is also the land tax and customs system that that collected toll money and duty. And the Jews had their own taxes as well. One of them was the Temple tax. So the whole system was quite complex and, like taxes today, not a subject that brings exuberant joy to the hearts of the masses.
And so this is a divisive issue. And the question is meant to trap Jesus in his words to sway public opinion against him. To the question “is it lawful to pay the poll tax” if Jesus answers yes, that it is right to pay the poll tax, then Jesus’ enemies could discredit him before the people for being sympathetic with Rome. But if Jesus answers no, it is not right to pay this poll tax, then they could accuse Jesus of rebellion against Rome.
So either way that Jesus answers, they have trapped him. There is no appropriate response at least in the thinking of Jesus enemies. Either way, Jesus enemies are attempting to impale Him on the horns of a dilemma. No matter how he responds, either the people or the Roman government won’t like what he says.
Jesus responds at the end of verse 15 Mark 12:15 … “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.”
So Jesus requests the very coin that would satisfy the poll tax. Now, they happen to have one… verses 16-17 … Mark 12:16-17 16 They brought one. And He *said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” 17 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.
Just like in our day and age, the Romans put their rulers on their coinage. And on this coin was the stamp or likeness of Tiberius Caesar.
And it’s Jesus’ response in verse 17 that gives us principles of application. He has two statements there, and we will take the first one, and that is, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”
So Jesus is advocating the paying of the tax. It’s clear then that Jesus is not in favor of this future rebellion against Rome in A.D. 66 that will cause the Romans to respond by destroying the Temple. There ought not be an armed revolt against a nation because of taxation. That coin has the likeness of Caesar on it and Jesus uses the illustration to point out that that money really is the government’s money whenever the government requests it. The thing that is Caesar’s is the thing that has his image on it whenever he asks for it back! That is Caesar’s coin! That is the government’s money. Give to the government what it is requiring of you.
And here is a note of obvious application: Pay your taxes! Perhaps we are a week behind in our messages, given taxes were due this past Tuesday. However, if you have failed, you can still make it up. The government will gladly receive your money with interest! Jesus never advocates withholding your taxes no matter how unjust you think a tax to the government is.
And so Jesus escapes their trap, firstly here, by brilliantly arguing from the very coin that was required. It has Caesar’s picture on it; it is his, give it back to him if he requests it.
But secondly, we have Jesus’ statement here that we should render “to God the things that are God’s.” What does that have reference to? It refers to something quite similar to the things that are Caesar’s. What were those things that were Caesar’s? The coins with his likeness on them. So the likeness idea carries over. What is it that has God’s likeness on it just like a coin has Caesar’s likeness on it? And the answer to that question is what we studied on Thursday. It is you! This word for likeness in verse 16 is the same Greek word in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Septuagint, in Genesis 1:26 for the word “image.” This is the word for image in the teaching that we are made “in the image of God.” Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image”… That word image is the same word likeness in Mark 12 verse 16.
This past Thursday, in the clear providence of God, we studied together what it means to be made in the image of God. And we saw that we are made in God’s image in the sense that we embody, in a finite way, God’s infinite perfections. God has put his stamp, as it were, in us. And so because of the very fact that we are made in the image of God proves that we are owned by God. God owns us; we are his. And we know that because we are made in his image, just like a coin bears the image of the King. So Jesus is saying here that we should pay our taxes to the government, but give ourselves to God.
The image of the earthly king on that coin proves that we ought to give that coin to that king when he asks; so also the image of the heavenly King on our hearts proves that we must also give ourselves to God because he asks. “Give your money to the government but give yourselves to God.”
And the crowd and Jesus enemies were all amazed at Jesus’ teaching.
TRANS: So that was the self-righteous Pharisees’ attempt to trap Jesus in his words and Jesus brilliantly escapes their trap through use of an analogy. Well, who else wants some of this? The Pharisees and Herodians leave and the Sadducees are next in line at the temple in verse 18, where we have our second confrontation.
Believe in Bodily Resurrection (Mark 12:18-27)
Now, just a word about the Sadducees. A major difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. And of course that debate continues today. The Sadducees denied divine sovereignty and affirmed human responsibility while the Pharisees majored on divine sovereignty perhaps, it could be argued, to the neglect of human responsibility. The Sadducees rejected everything from the Old Testament except the books of Moses, from Genesis to Deuteronomy. That’ll be important when we get to how Jesus breaks free from the trap set by the Sadducees.
The Sadducees also believed that the spirit died when the body dies. That’s important in our text this morning: the Sadducees rejected belief in any afterlife or resurrection, as v. 18 describes. So the public debate is between afterlife and resurrection versus…no afterlife and no resurrection. The Pharisees affirmed both and the Sadducees denied both. And that is the reason that the Sadducees were sad, you see? They were sad-u-see because they denied the resurrection. Perhaps some of you will see that a little later.
Let’s read Mark 12:18-23 18 Some Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection) *came to Jesus, and began questioning Him, saying, 19 “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. 20 “There were seven brothers; and the first took a wife, and died leaving no children. 21 “The second one married her, and died leaving behind no children; and the third likewise; 22 and so all seven left no children. Last of all the woman died also. 23 “In the resurrection, when they rise again, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her.”
…by the way, we’re having an ask the pastor coming up on Sat. the 18th, I hope none of you have this kind of the spirit when you put a question in the box back there; that would just be so disappointing. If you do, prepare your mind for action! …Anyway…
Ok, v. 18, the Sadducees denied the resurrection, which is clear in the OT. Some passages are arguable, but resurrection is taught in Job 19:25-26; Isa 26:19; Ezekiel 37; Dan 12:2; Ps 16:10-11; 17:15. For example, Isaiah 26:19 Your dead will live; Their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy,
But notice, none of those passages I mentioned were from Moses, who alone is authoritative for the Sadducees. So, the Sadducees set up a trap for Jesus regarding the resurrection. They bring up what seems to them to them to be an absurdity in the understanding of the resurrection.
The Sadducees posing of the problem actually assumes the Pharisees’ assumptions about the afterlife and that is that the afterlife is merely an extension of life on earth, which includes whoever you’re married to.
Their reasoning then would look like this:
First, couples who were legitimately married on earth remain married in the resurrection.
Second, legitimate marriage to 7 partners is possible when a spouse dies.
Third, therefore one can be theoretically married to 7 others at the same time in the resurrection.
But that is absurd…
Therefore, the resurrection is absurd.
The Sadducees assume Jesus holds that first point, that couples who were legitimately married on earth remain married in the resurrection. That’s what makes this a challenging question in the minds of the Sadducees.
[one hand…] So in the minds of the Sadducees, Jesus would either have to argue that the first husband had rights to the woman in the resurrection or Jesus would have to concede the beliefs of the Sadducees, that there is no resurrection.
And because the Sadducees know that there are no arguments in the Old Testament regarding the first husband having the rights to marry the woman in the resurrection, that therefore, leaves one option, that Jesus would have to concede the Sadducee belief that there is no resurrection. So they too think that they’ve got Jesus impaled on the horns of a dilemma.
But Jesus does not accept the assumptions that the argument is based on. Jesus rejects the notion that the afterlife is merely an extension of this life. And because the afterlife is not an extension of this life, Jesus easily slips out of the trap.
Let’s read Mark 12:24-25 24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
The fact that Jesus pronounces them to be mistaken is incredible, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken….” The Scripture was their livelihood. That’s like me telling some of you that you are mistaken about your area of expertise.
And Jesus simply denies the institution of marriage in the resurrection. And for those happily married and those looking forward to marriage, this can be quite disturbing. But for those unhappily married…well…, you need counseling….but the fact is, that we cannot fathom the age to come any more than a baby in the womb can fathom the world we’re living in now, so don’t get too discouraged; trust the Lord on that one.
Now in verses 26-27 Jesus argues in favor of the afterlife, which the Sadducees did not. Jesus’ argument proves the afterlife is taught in Moses, in Exodus and this scores a point in favor of the debate over bodily resurrection. Let me show that to you…v.26….
Mark 12:26-27 26 “But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses [which alone the Sadducees hold as inspired…], 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’? 27 “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.”
The subject matter under discussion is the fact that the dead rise again. The issue is bodily resurrection. However, Jesus’ point here is not to give a full argument proving bodily resurrection from the books of Moses, but to address the debate in the context of the day. The two sides of the debate were either, on one hand, afterlife and bodily resurrection of the Pharisees or, on the other hand, no afterlife and no bodily resurrection of the Sadducees. If those are your two options, all one has to do is prove the reality of the afterlife and that scores a point for one side over the other.
And Jesus proves the reality of the afterlife from the books of Moses. And He does this by hinging his argument on a verb tense when he says from Exodus chapter 3, “I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Jesus’ statement here at least proves that during the time of Moses, well after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were dead, that the Lord is presently the God of these three men. And the Lord is nowhere spoken of as the God of dead and forever-gone people. The Lord is the God of the living. He is presently their God… And that can only be said because these three men still exist; the afterlife is real; God is presently their God because they presently exist.
And so this proves the reality of the afterlife; therefore, the pendulum of the debate over the resurrection also swung in favor of its existence due to Jesus proving one side of the 2-sided debate: that the books of Moses, in Ex. 3, prove the reality of the afterlife. Because Jesus proves the reality of the afterlife, therefore, in the eyes of the public, bodily resurrection scores a point, too, because the debate centered on both.
And this makes sense in context of this questioning of the Sadducees. The whole point of this section in Mark is the attempt of the religious leaders to sway public opinion against Jesus. The context is not one of formal debate and so Jesus’ purpose is merely to stem the tide of the shift of public opinion against him. And by effectively arguing against the Sadducees by affirming the reality of the afterlife from Moses, Jesus retains authority in the eyes of the public concerning the resurrection.
So, do you believe in bodily resurrection? The New Testament is full of the teaching on the bodily resurrection. Believers who die during the church age will be resurrected at the rapture of Christ, “when” Paul writes 1 Thess. 4, “the dead in Christ will rise first and then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
And thirdly and lastly this morning, we actually have a more positive example. Immediately after the Sadducees leave, a scribe steps forward…
Love God Supremely and Your Neighbor as Yourself (Mark 12:28-34)
Mark 12:28 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?”
And now Jesus responds with a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 about loving God and then in verse 31 he responds from Leviticus 19:18 about loving your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus responds now verse 29 … 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.”
When Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Jesus is teaching that out of every corner of your being should flow high regard for and sacrifice on behalf of God. To love God as it’s described here means this: out of every corner of your being should flow high regard for and sacrifice on behalf of God.
To “love” God it means to show high regard for and sacrifice on behalf of God. It’s not necessarily a warm fuzzy emotion that you have for God but more a high regard for and sacrifice on behalf of God. And to love God “with” something means here that it flows out of, for example, the heart. Your love for God should flow out of your heart.
And that you love God with “all” of your heart refers to its entirety. And the heart, soul mind and strength that is referred to here is not necessarily delineating the various aspects of our being, but is focusing on the entirety of us. So out of every corner of our being should flow high regard for and sacrifice on behalf of God. Whether it be your emotions or your intellect or the strength that you have… Out from all of you should flow this high regard and sacrifice for God.
In the second part of this commandment is to love others as yourself. Now you’ll want to appreciate the revolutionary achievement Jesus made in bringing these two commandments together for the first time. Never before has this been emphasized in the same sentence. Whereas in other societies honor and valor is the highest quality, but God declares that highly regarding him and sacrificing one’s self on behalf of him as well as dedicating oneself to others is the height of devotion to God.
Jesus’ answer pleases the scribe and the two are actually peaceful with one another. Mark 12:32-34 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.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.
The scribe confirms Jesus’ response and adds loving God and others is of greater importance than the offering of all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. In other words, loving God and others takes the highest precedence even over the most sacred of duties. Without love, everything else accomplished is nothing.
Without love of God, your job is pointless. You do not love God as your serving your family, your service is pointless. And Paul can even say in 1 Corinthians 13, that without love you yourself are nothing. Inculcating this love for God …this high regard and sacrifice on behalf of God… Inculcating this in your daily life with God is beyond important. And to the degree that every movement of your finger and every thought that you think is not given over to the purpose of dedication to God and love for others… To that degree, you are nothing. But to the degree that every movement and every thought is given over to the purpose of loving God and others to that degree you are given over to being something by the grace of God.
And interestingly whereas this scribe came to evaluate and question Jesus, Jesus turns the tables and pronounces the nearness of this man to the kingdom of God. Jesus says to the man now after he has answered intelligently, “you are not far from the kingdom of God.”
One comes to think now who is this who has this ability to pronounce somebody as being near or far from the kingdom of God? This man is not far because of his understanding of God’s requirements of him, but the man is still not in the kingdom of God. No amount of intellectual comprehension of the demands of God can merit entrance into his kingdom.
Jesus alone, in whose being is the very kingdom of God, …Jesus alone can place someone in the kingdom of God. Jesus alone has this authority to offer this pronouncement.
And beginning in verse 35, Jesus proves this authority by declaring His deity. And we will pick up in verse 35 next week in order to do that section justice. So Jesus has defended himself effectively against the intellectual onslaughts of his enemies and next week Jesus will go on the offensive.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Mark 12.13-44
And so this story is set in the context of opposition to Jesus and shows us how Jesus confronts religious deviants. Are the people to whom Jesus came faithful followers of the Old Covenant? Were the chief priests and the scribes and Pharisees who counted the commandments and scrupulously applied the law…are they really righteous in the sight of God? As the Lord came to his Temple he did not commend the religion that he saw, but confronted it.
And if this same Lord were to come today to this church, would he commend us? Really, what is God’s perspective of us? You might think that we have the best church in the area or you might think we’re more spiritual than other churches because pastor prays so long in church, or we read so much Bible, or pastor preaches so long…but really, are you going that way in your heart and you’re going to be self-righteous now? Your righteousness only comes from God.
And if the Lord came to this church, would we let him in? Would we let someone who talks like this play with our kids? What would Jesus think if he were sitting in these chairs this morning? And it’s this very thought that revolutionized the ministry of the man that I began the message this morning with, AJ Gordon. In his book entitled How Christ Came to the Church, AJ Gordon recounts a dream that he had. He writes in his book…
“It was Saturday night, when wearied from the work of preparing Sunday’s sermon, that I fell asleep and the dream came. [In his dream, he says,…]I was in the pulpit before a full congregation, just ready to begin my sermon, when a stranger entered and passed slowly up the left aisle of the church looking first to the one side and then the other as though silently asking with his eyes that someone would give him a seat. He had proceeded nearly half-way up the aisle when a gentleman stepped out and offered him a place in his pew, which was quietly accepted. …Everything in the scene [I] distinctly [remember]—the number of the pew […see, they rented out pews…he remembers ], the Christian man who offered its hospitality, the exact seat which was occupied. Only the countenance of the visitor could never be recalled.
That his face wore a peculiarly serious look, as one who had known some great sorrow, is clearly impressed on my mind. His bearing too was exceeding humble, his dress poor and plain, and from the beginning to the end of the service he gave the most respectful attention to the preacher. Immediately as I began my sermon my attention became riveted on this hearer. If I would avert my eyes from him for a moment they would instinctively return to him, so that he held my attention rather than I held his till the discourse was ended. To myself I said constantly, “Who can that stranger be?” and then I mentally resolved to find out by going to him and making his acquaintance as soon as the service should be over.
But after the benediction had been given the departing congregation filed into the aisles and before I could reach him the visitor had left…. The gentleman with whom he had sat remained behind however; and approaching him with great eagerness I asked: “Can you tell me who that stranger was who sat in your pew this morning?” In the most matter-of-course way he replied: “Why, do you not know that man? It was Jesus of Nazareth.”
With a sense of the keenest disappointment I said: “My dear sir, why did you let him go without introducing me to him? I was so desirous to speak with him.” And with the same nonchalant air the gentleman replied: “Oh, do not be troubled. He has been here today, and no doubt he will come again.” And now came an indescribable rush of emotion. … so the intense curiosity which had been going out toward the mysterious hearer now returned upon the preacher: and the Lord himself “whose I am and whom I serve” had been listening to me today. What was I saying?
Was I preaching on some popular theme in order to catch the ear of the public? Well, thank God it was of himself I was speaking. However imperfectly done, it was Christ and him crucified whom I was holding up this morning. But in what spirit did I preach? Was it “Christ crucified preached in a crucified style?” or did the preacher magnify himself while exalting Christ? So anxious and painful did these questionings become that I was about to ask the brother with whom he had sat if the Lord had said anything to him concerning the sermon, but [I refrained]. Then immediately other questions began with equal vehemence to crowd into the mind.
“What did he think of our sanctuary, its gothic arches, its stained windows, its costly and powerful organ? How was he impressed with the music and the order of the worship?” It did not seem at that moment as though I could ever again care of have the smallest curiosity as to what men might say of preaching, worship, or church, if I could only know that he had not been displeased, that he would not withhold his feet from coming again because he had been grieved at what he might have seen or heard.
You know, we speak of a “momentous occasion.” This, even though he was asleep, was recognized as such by this dreamer—a lifetime, yea an eternity of interest crowded into a single moment. [and it changed his ministry focus and revolutionized his church.]
“He has been here today, and no doubt he will come again”… “I awoke,” writes Gordon, “and it was a dream.” Yes, but more than a dream, a vision testifying that we are most awake toward God when we are most asleep toward the world. “A vision testifying that we are most awake toward God when we are most asleep toward the world.”
May God help us give ourselves to Him, await with confidence the coming bodily resurrection, and love God supremely as we wait on Him. And by God’s grace, if we have this in our hearts utmost desire, we can say as well… “He has been here today and no doubt He will come again.” Let’s stand and sing #384. Music written by Gordon.
The reality of their continued existence is proven by the existence of the God who associates Himself with them…I am the God of Abraham. ↑