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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Christ exposes the teachers of the law
Text:Mark 12:35-40 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 5
Psalm 130
Psalm 110:1-2
Psalm 37:1,2,6
Psalm 93

Reading:  Malachi 3
Text:  Mark 12:35-40
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Sometimes you’ll hear people say that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship.  What they mean is that the Christian faith is not about outward things and appearances, but about a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  This is certainly true.  However, we do need some caution in how we express that because the Bible does also speak about religion and it speaks about it in a positive way.  Think of James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  Religion is not the problem.  Being religious is not an issue.  Christianity is both a religion and a relationship.  What we should see as being problematic is what we’ll call religiosity, giving the appearance of godliness while something else lurks under the surface.  You could also call that superficiality.  You might also call it hypocrisy. 

It’s a challenge in every age.  In the days of the Reformation, there were those who became Reformed because that’s what everyone else was doing.  That was what you did if you lived in that town or city.  They gave the appearance of being Christians, they may even have professed faith in Christ, but it was all for show.  And are things different today?  That’s a dangerous and uncomfortable question to ask.  And rather than look around at everyone else, it’s a question we need to ask and answer for ourselves personally.  Do I simply give the appearance of being a Christian or do I genuinely rest and trust in Christ alone?  Do I have a real relationship of fellowship with God through Christ?  If so, where is that relationship going?  Is it growing or am I backsliding? 

Our text this morning challenges us to ask these sorts of questions.  We see these teachers of the law in our text and it’s easy for us to look at them in an adversarial way.  What I mean is that we see ourselves pitted against them.  We think, “Wow, I’m sure glad I’m not like those teachers of the law that Jesus warned against.”  It’s Jesus and us on one side and the teachers of the law on the other.  We’re on the right side and they’re on the wrong side.  But let’s slow down and really examine ourselves.  Are we really that much different than the teachers of the law?  Let’s have God’s Word shine the light on our lives this morning.  We’re going to see how Christ exposes the teachers of the law.  Along the way, he also calls us to reflect on our own beliefs and practices.  We’ll consider how Christ exposes those teachers:

1.      For their failure to recognize him as the Son and Lord of David

2.      For their failure to recognize their hypocrisy

Our Saviour is continuing to teach in the temple here in the days right before his suffering and death on the cross.  He is in David’s royal city, in the temple.  The Son of God is at the house of God and he is giving instruction.  Over the last few weeks we’ve seen how he answered the questions of the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees.  He more than adequately rebuffed their attempts to get him to incriminate himself.  They tried to do that with leading questions, questions with a point or an agenda. 

Now Christ comes with his own question.  He has a question for and about these law experts.  They’re supposed to be people who know the Bible.  They’re thoroughly versed in the Old Testament, even having large parts of it memorized.  They’re the theologians.  They get some things right.  The teachers of the law recognized the Christ is the Son of David.  They knew from Scripture that God promised that the Messiah would come from the line of Judah, from the line of David.  He would be a royal figure.  There was God’s covenant promise to David in 2 Samuel 7.  There was the prophecy in Micah 5 of a ruler being born in Bethlehem, David’s hometown.  It was a relatively simple matter to conclude that the Messiah would be a descendant of David. 

Do you remember how the wise men came to Jerusalem looking for the king of the Jews?  Do you remember how Herod called together the teachers of the law so he could figure out where this king would be born?  It didn’t take them a lot of effort to come with the answer from Micah 5.  They knew that David’s town would be the place to look because this Messianic king was supposed to be from the line of David.  So the teachers of the law had this right all along.  They had this point of theology down pat. 

So, Jesus says, let’s take this a step further.  Let’s talk about what David himself said.  Christ is going to refer here to Psalm 110:1.  He says that David said this, that he wrote Psalm 110.  If you look at Psalm 110, there is a title over that Psalm that says, “Of David.”  There are scholars who dispute this.  We don’t need to get into the details.  Jesus says that David wrote it.  That’s enough to settle the question for people who simply believe what the Bible says.     

Furthermore, Christ says that David said it “by the Holy Spirit.”  When we talk about inspiration, we often think of other passages like 2 Timothy 3:16.  But here our Saviour himself tells us that Psalm 110 was inspired by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit led David as he wrote so that the words of Psalm 110 are inspired words.  They are the infallible and inerrant Word of God.  This was not just David writing, but God himself communicating through David. 

Psalm 110:1, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”  Now it’s not my intention here to have a sermon on Psalm 110.  But we can note that this is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament.  It’s consistently spoken of as a Messianic psalm, a psalm that speaks prophetically of Jesus Christ.  Christians understood it to be speaking of the one who had already come.  Jews understood it to be speaking of one who was yet to come.  Everyone got that it was Messianic.  It was speaking of Yahweh’s anointed who would completely conquer his enemies by God’s power. 

Then Christ notes that David calls the Messiah ‘Lord.’  He uses a title of honour – a title that can even have divine overtones.  How can David call him ‘Lord’ and have him as his son or descendant?  How can David be showing this kind of deference for his junior relative? 

Christ himself doesn’t answer the question.  He leaves it hanging.  This is intentional.  The question is there to make a point.  The point is that the teachers of the law have gotten their theology only partly right.  And because they’re only partly right, they’ve failed in the application of their theology.

Here’s the thing:  they knew that the Messiah would be the Son of David.  But they failed to recognize that he would be more.  He is not merely the Son of David.  He is also David’s Lord, his master.  How is that possible?  Because he is not only a human being in the line of David, but also the Son of God.  The Messiah is human and divine.  This they have failed to recognize.  Their theology only gets half-marks. 

This is partly why they have so much difficulty with Jesus.  He takes on divine prerogatives.  He comes to the temple like he owns the place and that upsets the teachers of the law.  In chapter 11, he cleared the temple.  He spoke with authority.  Earlier in Mark, he forgave sins.  He’s done all these things which only God can do.  In their minds, Jesus cannot be the Messiah because he blasphemes in claiming to be the Son of God.  But according to Scripture, he must be the Messiah because he does all these things.  Their vision of what the Messiah would look like was unbiblical and that’s why Christ gets under their skin, that’s why they so badly want to kill him. 

The real key issue for this gospel is the identity of Jesus.  Who is he?  That’s why the book of Mark starts off by saying, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  Throughout the book the question keeps getting put out there:  who is this?  The answer always has to come back to God’s revelation in Scripture. 

Loved ones, what does that mean for us?  Is it possible for us to get Jesus’ identity wrong?  I think we know the answer to that question.  Of course it is.  We’re just as prone to theological error as the teachers of the law in our text.  It’s just as easy for us to have a truncated view of Christ that misses out on vitally important parts of his person or work. 

For instance, we can minimize his humanity, forgetting that he has a true human nature and true human existence even right now at the right hand of God.  In the Christmas season, there is a tendency for people to romanticize about the manger and a perfect super-baby who never cries.  By going in these directions, we miss out on the comfort of having a Saviour who truly understands our trials and the challenges we face. 

Another aspect is the fact that Jesus is not just the Saviour of our souls, but that he also is genuinely interested in what happens with our bodies.  Redemption is about the whole human person, not just the spiritual component.  When we just focus on the soul, that gives us a short-sighted view of our salvation, and it also gives us a short-sighted view of how God wants us to relate to the world around us.    We end up neglecting the pursuit of justice, for instance.  Or as another example we end up not caring about the eradication of all kinds of awful diseases in the world. 

One more illustration.  That has to do with the Lordship of Christ.  He is David’s Lord and he is also our Lord.  He is to be recognized as Lord of everything in our lives.  This is a foundational principle of a Christian worldview.  It was Abraham Kuyper who said, “There is not a square inch of human existence, where Christ, who is sovereign Lord of all, does not say, ‘Mine!’”  Christ claims it all for himself and we are called to recognize his claims.  We can’t compartmentalize our lives, a little compartment for Jesus, a little compartment for me.  A little compartment for my entertainment choices, a little compartment for how I behave at work or school, and so on.  God’s Word says:  get rid of the compartment idea in your mind.  Every square inch of our lives falls under the Lordship of Jesus.  We’re called to recognize that and live in the light of it.  He is David’s Lord and he is your Lord too. 

Getting Jesus’ identity wrong has consequences.  It did for the teachers of the law and it will for us too.  So it’s important that we give careful attention to the Scriptures, to the total teaching of what the Bible says about our Saviour.  We have to be good students of the Word of God who get our theology correct, but then also apply that theology correctly to our lives.

It’s possible to hear all that and nod our heads and maybe even enjoy listening to it.  Look at the end of verse 37 and you see a group of people doing exactly that.  The large crowd at the temple gladly heard Jesus.  Why?  Mark doesn’t tell us.  It could be that some of them enjoyed hearing Jesus school the teachers of the law.  Perhaps others were genuinely benefitting from his teaching.  But keep in mind one thing.  There was someone else in Mark who enjoyed hearing a prophet teach.  That was back in Mark 6.  It was King Herod.  He liked to listen to John the Baptist.  But did that enjoyment produce any fruit in his life?  Well, you know what happened to John the Baptist at the hands of Herod.  And you know what’s going to happen to Jesus at the hands of the Jews in Jerusalem a short way down the road.  Enjoying a sermon is not necessarily the same thing as actually benefitting from it and allowing it to do its work in our lives.

Our Saviour continued to teach.  From the parallel in Luke we learn that at this point he turned especially to his disciples.  He wanted to warn them about the teachers of the law.  He wanted to expose them for their hypocrisy.  They claim to be followers of God’s Word, but the reality is something quite different.  They claim one sort of ethic, but their lives reveal a quite different ethic at work in their hearts. 

It was revealed in how they dressed.  The teachers of the law wore flowing robes.  In his parallel, Matthew expands on that.  He speaks of the phylacteries that the teachers wore.  These were boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on the head and arms.  Jesus says in Matthew that they made these wide – they wanted them to be noticed.  But then he also speaks of their robes and the tassels on these robes.  Now the law of God required that Israelites wear tassels on their robes, knotted wool strings on the four corners.  They were to remind the Jews of the law of God.  Even Jesus himself wore these tassels.  When the woman with the flow of blood touched him, she touched one of the tassels on his garment.  The problem is not the tassels themselves.  The problem here is the way they’re worn.  The teachers of the law made them long and obvious.  To be seen as super-godly, you had to have super-tassels.  Your robes had to be super-special and super-obvious.  This was all about the show of religiosity. 

The ethic at work in their hearts was also revealed in how they wanted to be addressed. The new 2011 NIV says in verse 38 that these teachers of the law wanted to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces.  The words “with respect” are not in the Greek text, but that is the idea.  The teachers of the law wanted people to say things like, “Greetings, Most Highly Exalted and Especially Revered Teacher of the Law!”  In their pride, they wanted people to acknowledge them and their high position. 

Then when it came to gathering for worship at the synagogue, there were special seats that the teachers of the law treasured.  The seat right at the front where everyone could see them.  They would be ushered in proud as peacocks to the very front, to the seat of honour.  There in the front, all eyes would be fixed on them.  They could have the treasured opportunity to impress the little people.

Then Jesus takes them outside of the synagogue and shows them a banquet.  A dinner party is taking place and there we see the teachers of the law again.  They expect to have the best spots there too, the place at the center of attention.  They want to be noticed there too.  After all, they are the highly respected teachers of the law.  They take themselves very seriously and they want others to take them seriously too.

But one thing they don’t take seriously is social justice.  The poor get the short end of the stick.  And the poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable of those days were the widows.  When Scripture speaks of widows it doesn’t just mean someone whose husband had died.  A true widow in Scripture was a woman with no family at all to protect her.  Her husband had died, but she would also have no sons to look out for her interests.  There were different ways that the teachers of the law could bully and abuse widows.  They could charge excessive legal fees.  They could take their houses as pledges for debts that couldn’t be paid.  They could exploit their hospitality and trust.  The list goes on.  Undoubtedly, when Jesus said this he had some specific instances in mind and his first listeners probably recognized exactly what he was talking about.  They knew that this was going on.  The teachers of the law claim to teach the law, but they neglected the weighty matters of the law, matters such as justice.  Their Bibles didn’t seem to have passages such as what we read earlier from Malachi 3. 

Finally, Jesus mentions their prayers.  Well, these men know how to pray.  They can pray and pray and pray.  Why do they do it?  For a show.  To put on appearances.  In their thinking, the real sign of a godly person is someone who can pray for a long time. 

All of these things taken together reveal a deep-seated ugliness in the spirituality of the teachers of the law.  They were ostentatious – all about exhibiting their so-called godliness.  They were exploitative – they took advantage of other people, especially the vulnerable.  They were hypocritical, claiming to be on the side of the law when in reality their hearts were far from God.  They were filled with pride.  Oh sure, they knew the Old Testament.  They’d heard what Proverbs 3:34 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  But their kind of pride was okay.  They had a good pride.  They rationalized away the teaching of the Word of God.  One commentator put it well.  He said they were “self-intoxicated.”  The teachers of the law were drunk on themselves.  Self-centered and untrustworthy.  Christ leaves no doubt as to what God’s view of these people is. 

How easy it is for us to read this and shake our heads.  “Oh, you awful teachers of the law!  Your hypocrisy and pride are so terrible!”  Is that why the Holy Spirit has given us these words of Scripture?  Is that why he thought it fitting to record the words of our Saviour here?  So that we could look down our noses at these men?  No.  Instead, he wants us to examine our own lives and see where we are on the same track as these teachers of the law.  Some questions that we need to ask of ourselves:  am I more concerned about how I appear before other people than I am about how I appear before God?  Do I make a god of the opinions of others?  Have I made people big and God small?  Am I concerned about getting respected by others?  Is that what drives me?  Do I want to be acknowledged and praised?  Am I willing to even take advantage of others to advance my own interests and get the praise I crave?  Do I make a show of my spirituality?  Those are important questions that our text forces us to ask of ourselves.  And if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that the answers are not what they should be.  What do we do with that then? 

Look at the end of verse 40 and what it says there.  Jesus says that such people will be punished most severely.  God has no patience for unrepentant hypocrites and self-aggrandizers.  God will have no mercy on those who claimed to be godly and Christian, but yet just did it for a show and never really turned from their evil ways.  His perfect and holy justice will be poured out on all who are pridefully intoxicated with themselves like the teachers of the law were.  There is this warning in our text to those who are content to stay in these sins, to live in these sins, to make this their way of life.  That warning comes to us too, loved ones.  Unrepentant prideful people and hypocrites will receive the most severe judgment from the hand of God, especially when they know better because they know the Bible. 

But we can’t leave it at that.  More needs to be said.  These words are not merely to warn us about the coming judgment, but to call us again to turn from our sins of self-intoxication and turn to Christ.  When Christ exposes sin, he does it with a redemptive purpose.  He does it so that we will turn to him and live.  Brothers and sisters, again we need to look to Christ. 

When we fix our eyes on him, what do we see?  See him in Scripture as David’s Lord.  See him in Scripture revealed as the one who humbled himself, the Son of God taking on human flesh.  He became one of us to save us from the coming wrath.  He didn’t demand greetings in the marketplaces or the best seat in the synagogue.  When it came to banquets, there he was humbly eating with the tax collectors and prostitutes.  Did our Saviour devour the houses of widows?  No, instead he raised a widow’s son and gave her a hope.  He not only faithfully taught the law of God, he also obeyed it.  For who?  For you.  In your place.  Trust him, trust that he did it for you.  Before the face of God, his purity of heart and actions covers all your hypocrisy and insincerity.  His obsessive devotion to the will of God blankets all your self-intoxication.  What a Saviour we have!  His great love for us goes further because he goes to the cross and pays for every wicked thing we have done.  All our evil desires, all our evil actions, all our self-aggrandizing demonstrations of how Christian we are – all of it is drowned in the blood of Jesus.  He was punished most severely so that we would be God’s children.  What a comfort it is to believe this!  Brothers and sisters, hold on to this Saviour with everything in your strength.

And as we continue looking to him in faith, let’s also continuing praying for his grace that we can put our remaining sin and weakness to death.  The struggle must continue.  Having been shown such great love, we can’t just walk away and leave things the way they are.  The fight against hypocrisy and pride in our lives has to continue – it has to, it must because we are united to Jesus and we have his Spirit in our hearts.  Pray, loved ones, pray that he would continue his work in you.  And make every effort to be godly, truly godly.  Chase after things like humility and justice for the oppressed.

The world around us is almost entirely about show.  It’s all about how you look on the outside.  The world doesn’t care too much about what goes on in your heart.  But God does.  His Word to us this morning reveals that he wants our hearts.  In our hearts, he wants us to see, know, and love Jesus as revealed in the Bible.  He wants that love to issue forth in the fruit of obedient godliness.  May he help us in all of that with the Holy Spirit.  AMEN. 


Our Father in heaven,

We again stand convicted by your Word.  We are so easily prone to fail in seeing who Jesus is.  We are so easily deceived into self-aggrandizing and self-intoxication.  By nature we are prideful and want people to notice us and praise us.  Father, we again repent of this.  We turn our backs on our sin and we turn to you in humility and faith. We turn to our Saviour Jesus Christ. We trust in everything he has done for us, from his perfect life to the blood shed on the cross.  Father, please help us to continue looking in faith to Jesus.  Please help us with your Spirit to see the sin in our lives, to hate it, and to fight it.  We pray that we may do serious combat with our hypocrisy and our pride.  Father, we want to do this because we love you.  We want to be your obedient children because you first loved us and sent your Son for us.  We want to please you and thank you.  Please show us your mercy and help us. 


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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