What He Said Week 7

Study Seven: THE PARADOX OF JESUS

TAKING IT IN

 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah 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 with respect 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. These men will be punished most severely.”

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”     Mark 12:35-44

 

GETTING AT IT

A paradox is a seeming contradiction that is nonetheless true.  Two statements that seem to contradict each other are actually both true.  Here’s an example from Albert Einstein: “Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.”

There are many such paradoxes in Scripture.  Christian doctrine includes this paradox: there is but one God, yet that God exists in three persons.  Another example is that Christians are at the same time saints and sinners. One more: if one is damned eternally it is his own fault; and if he is saved eternally it is solely because of the grace of God.

The Bible presents paradoxes about the Christian life.  Jesus says that a person must lose his life to save it in Luke 9:24-25.  He teaches that the last shall be first and the first last in Matthew 20:16. St. Paul wrote that when he is weak he is strong in 2 Corinthians 12:10.

Human logic is inadequate to explain divine truth.  Through Isaiah (55:8) God said: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. . .  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Perhaps the most central paradox in Christianity is that Jesus is both true man and true God.  The Savior challenged the people in Jerusalem for the Passover with that paradox in Mark 12.  He followed that challenge with two more paradoxes, that the most visibly religious may be the least worthy and that the biggest gift may be the smallest amount of money.

DIGGING INTO IT

 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah 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.

Asking a question and making people think is usually more effective than just stating something.  Jesus used this approach often.  Every Jew understood that the Messiah was to be a descendant of David – David’s son.  2 Samuel 7:16 is a passage that led the people of Israel to anticipate a Messianic king who would occupy David’s throne. The politicizing of their Messianic hopes kept them from seeing the full picture of the Messiah that the Old Testament painted; and their self-righteous pride kept them from appreciating how much more they needed a deliverer from their sins than from the occupying forces of Rome. 

That Jesus is true man and true God is foretold in the verse from Psalm 110 that Jesus quoted.  (This verse is the most frequently referenced Old Testament passage in the New Testament.)  It foretells Jesus’ ascension to rule not merely a nation but the world.  (Conquerors demonstrated their victory by stepping on the neck of a vanquished king.)  Jesus had declared himself the Son of God multiple times; and it was for this that the Sanhedrin condemned him to death.  This time he does so by asking the paradoxical question, how can the Messiah be both David’s son and David’s Lord?  That the name LORD is used of both God the Father and God the Son in Psalm 110 is just one of many ways in which Scripture teaches what the Nicene Creed confesses, that Jesus is true God and one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Notice that Jesus mentions the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, also in verse 36.  In Romans 1:2-4 the apostle Paul makes the case clearly: “The gospel God promised beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Notice how Jesus testifies to the inspiration of Scripture when he names the Holy Spirit as the source of David’s words in Psalm 110.  Because the Bible is God’s Word, no passage is unimportant; and every passage is worth studying.  Jesus often revealed more in Old Testament prophecy than one might understand in an initial reading.

Notice also that just a few days before shouts of “crucify him,” Jesus still enjoyed popularity with the crowds.

 

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 with respect 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. These men will be punished most severely.”

This is not the first time that Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees.  Maybe he exposes some hypocrisy in us as well.  The desire for recognition, respect and privilege can make our “image” more important to us than our heart.  It’s easy to quote the proverb “Pride goes before a fall” and fail to apply it to ourselves.  The paradox here is that sometimes those who appear to be the most religious are in reality the least devout. Jesus points to long, florid prayers in public and eye-catching religious garb as examples of outward piety that can mask compassionless greed.  There have been enough stories in our time of the moral failing of priests and pastors to take Jesus’ warning to heart.  Making too much of religious leaders can set up both them and us for a fall. 

Once again, Jesus warns that there is greater accountability and guilt for those who claim to represent him as religious leaders but distort his truth and his moral will.

 

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”    

On the temple mount there were courtyards outside the temple, for the Gentiles, for women and for men.  Jesus was positioned to notice one or more of the 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles for offerings.  The paradox he points out is that the widow’s “mite” was a greater gift than the large offerings of the wealthy.  What is remarkable is that the widow trusted God enough to give to him the last money she had.

Jesus frequently used object lessons like this widow and her offering to teach his followers.  The lesson is that offerings are given freely, not out of compulsion, and quietly instead of with show.  The lesson is that the giver’s heart is more significant to God than the amount of the gift.  The lesson is that a gift to God is better measured as a proportion of one’s means than by how much is given.  The lesson is that a great gift is the response of a grateful faith, which trusts God’s promise to provide for our needs.  Jesus was not disparaging the large gifts of the wealthy.  God blesses some with the ability to provide magnanimous support for his work.  Jesus did not criticize extravagance.  In chapter 14 of Mark’s Gospel Jesus commended Mary of Bethany for anointing his feet with expensive perfume.

 

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

In John 7:24 Jesus said, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”  Are there people and situations that we may have misjudged?  In an era of social media and so-called “fake news,” it may be important to withhold judgment until facts are clear.  Keeping an open mind is conditioned by God’s truth, however.  We cannot be open-minded about what God calls sin or error.  Still, are there issues or acquaintances about which you need to be more open-minded?

 

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT

Here’s another paradox.  In 1 Corinthians 15:25-26, like Psalm 110, we’re told that the ascended Lord Jesus “must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  Ephesians 1:19-22 says that God “raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at this right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all authority, power and dominion. . . And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”  So, are all things “under his feet” now or is that still to come?  Or, paradoxically, how are both statements true?

The paradox addresses the reality that the ascended Lord Jesus controls our world, and yet evil continues to raise its ugly head.  How do we “walk by faith” within that paradox?

    

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT

Ask God to make you truly humble in your piety and your giving, confident that he knows what you don’t need others to notice.

 

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT

Be bold and trust God enough to give more generously.  Ask him to lay on your heart the ministries and charities to which you will direct your giving.

 

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY

Philippians 2:1-16 contains a summary of Jesus’ coming to earth to save us and ascending to heaven to intercede for us.  It reads like a creed or a hymn.  Based on Jesus’ humble willingness to take our place, St. Paul directs Christians to a life of selfless humility.  Based on the salvation we have because of Jesus, the apostle directs us to a life of purpose, living out and sharing God’s grace.


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