Let’s try a little thought experiment. Imagine for a moment that a very wealthy man gave you ten million dollars. Just gave it to you out of the kindness and generosity of His heart. There were some strings attached of what you should and shouldn’t do, but they were all doable, nothing too hard and you benefited from all of them. Now let’s imagine that you take that ten million and start using it against the man who gave it to you. You take out ads in the paper slandering him, you hire a lawyer to bring false charges against him. You hire an arsonist to burn down his mansion. You hire a contract killer to kill his kids. In other words, you actively think up terrible ways to hurt this man. You are as mean and hateful as you can be. After all of this and much worse, you then learn that this man’s response to all of this is that he is thinking of ways that he can offer you one hundred million dollars if you just say you are sorry. This is a quick, weak attempt on my part to create a kind of analogy for what happened at the beginning of time. God gave Adam and Eve a beautiful paradise to live in with everything they could need. And if they could think of something missing they would only have to ask. There were a couple of strings but they were not hard. After all they already had all they needed, the two trees should not have been that big a temptation. But nevertheless, Adam plunged the entire human race into sin, misery and death by his sin. Adam willfully rebelled against the will of God. Adam, the creature, exerted his own will against the Creator. His sin was disbelief, pride, self-centeredness, an attempt to be like God. Given who God was and what God had already done, what Adam did was the most irrational, insane thing ever conceived by mankind. In the midst of this eternal hell deserving insanity the holy, righteous, just judge of all the universe saw our sin and misery and determined according the eternal counsel of His own will to give us an even greater gift than He had already done. The Belgic Confession article 17 is built on the first verse in the Bible that announces this promised gift of grace, this gift of salvation and life.
If I was going to change the title of this sermon I would be tempted to call it, “Seven Brothers for One Bride.” But “Biblical Ignorance in High Places” fits quite well. Mark 12:18 To understand our text we need some background on these men called Sadducees. I mentioned last week that the ruling supreme court of Israel was called the Sanhedrin. It was made up of the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the scribes, and was ruled over by the high priest. There was no love lost between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. But like the Herodians before, enemies are joined in a common cause. The darkness hates the light where ever it’s found. The Sadducees were the minority group, the smallest in number, but they were also the wealthiest and most powerful sect. They were the aristocracy, they held the highest positions. They ran the temple and controlled the priests from the high priest on down. In fact when the temple was destroyed in 70AD the Sadducees disappeared. That was their jurisdiction, their place of power and authority. When it went away so did they. They were also in the minority with regard to what they believed. The religion of the people was what the Pharisees believed. The Sadducees were the powerful liberals of their day. They considered only the first five books of Moses to be the authoritative Scripture. They rejected the Prophets and the Writings, meaning everything after Deuteronomy. Since they found no references in the first five books to angels or resurrection they denied both of those doctrines. No angels, no demons, no life after death, no supernatural. The word “denying” pretty well summed them up. They were the modernists, the liberals.
Some wise old wag once said we should never discuss politics or religion in polite company. Well I am about to discuss politics and religion and do it in polite company. But I am in good company because Jesus discussed both. Actually He was forced into by some religious and political fanatics. The “they” in verse 13 is most likely the Sanhedrin, the supreme ruling body in Israel, made up of the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes and presided over by the chief priest. Each authority in Israel would put Jesus to a test. The Pharisees in cahoots with the Herodians tested Jesus on taxes. Next the Sadducees will test Jesus on the resurrection and marriage. Then the scribes will test Him concerning Scriptural interpretation and the greatest commandment. Their goal was to trip up Jesus and catch Him in a trap that would give them some justification to bring charges against Him. Jesus’ goal was to give them no such opportunity so that they would be left with the last resort which was to charge Him illegally and unjustly. The Pharisees were superstitious religious fundamentalist who cared only about outward appearances and external rituals. They had the forms of godliness without any of the power. The Herodians were compromised Jews who had fallen in league with the politicians. They were sympathizers of Herod, worldly minded men who feared man more then they feared God. How could bitter enemies be united? Because they saw Jesus as a serious threat to their power and authority. They hated each other but they hated the Gospel more. So it was and so it has always been. A common enemy leads them to make common cause with each other.
As we return to the Belgic Confession this evening, we pick up at a natural break in the confession. We started with the doctrine about God (Articles 1-13). Then we studied the doctrine about man, his creation and fall (Articles 14-15). Now we turn to the Doctrine of Christ (Articles 16-21). After Adam’s terrible sin God revealed Himself as a Redeemer who had already chosen for His Son a multitude to be saved by His grace. In Article 17 we will see where God first revealed His redemptive grace and declared His promise to crush Satan. Article 18 tells us how that promise was fulfilled at the incarnation. Article 19 explains how at the incarnation Jesus became both God and man. Article 20 shows how Jesus is God’s means of redemption and how in Article 21 He fully satisfied God’s wrath for our sins by His atonement in His blood. It all starts with God, with His will, His purpose, His plan which He initiates and carries out.
This morning we are accomplishing two things at once, we are finishing our summer series on parables and we are restarting our series on the Gospel of Mark. In Mark’s Gospel we are in the final week of Jesus’ life. He has made His Palm Sunday triumphal entry into Jerusalem where He was confronted and questioned by the religious leaders. Jesus answered them in part with this parable. The Parable. This parable wasn’t hard to figure out. In fact, even the hardhearted and hardheaded Jewish leaders figured out it was about them. Jesus tells Israel’s story in the form of a parable. The landowner is God. The vineyard is Israel. The winepress and tower are God’s His provision and protection. The tenants are the Jewish leaders who are supposed to care for the Israel. The servants are the long line of prophets and Jesus is the owner’s son. The tenants are about to be removed from the vineyard for their rejection of the servants and the Son, and the vineyard will be given to others. This parable reveals four truths about God and His relationship with us.
“That’s not fair.” How many times do parents hear that battle cry? “Susie’s piece is bigger than mine.” “Johnny got to play on the Xbox longer than me.” “Why does he get to sit in the best seat?” “She got ten M&Ms and I only got nine.” It’s exasperating. Parents love it when the kids are old enough that you can tell one to cut and the other gets to choose first. It’s a great way to find out how good a doctor your child will grow up to be when he divides the cake with the precision of a neurosurgeon. But fairness in life isn’t often that easy to achieve. A divorced mom has to juggle two jobs and kids in a small apartment, while her ex bums around and doesn’t help financially. A baby is born with downs syndrome. A husband dies a month after retirement. A young girl is abused and is left dealing with emotional scars. One person deals with setbacks and failures, while another succeeds and has it easy. Some people are richer, skinner, taller, smarter, better looking, life’s just not fair. Parents tell that to their kids all the time, but it starts to ring a bit hollow when it’s not cake we are talking about but real life. And when life isn’t fair it can start to breed envy, jealousy, bitterness, anger, depression and a host of other diseases of the soul.