Reading of Mark 11:27–12:12
In July 1925 in Dayton, TN, there was held what some called “The Trial of the Century.” It’s also been called “The Scopes Trial” and “The Monkey Trial.”
Dayton, about halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville, at that time was a town of around 1700 people.
TN law had just made it illegal to teach evolution in public schools. The ACLU reacted immediately. They sought a person to offer themselves as a lawbreaker of this law. John T. Scopes, a 24-year old science teacher, volunteered to be the defendant. He was charged and faced the possible fine of $100.
Immediately it was clear the facts of the case weren’t the issue. Both sides decided to make a point of the trial. The state chose William Jennings Bryan to prosecute Scopes. By that point he been a 3-time presidential candidate and Secretary of State to Woodrom Wilson. He was advocate against Darwinism and The ACLU chose Clarence Darrow, by then a famous defense attorney, to represent Scopes.
William Jennings Bryan was made out to be an anti-science fundamentalist. As Darrow told him when Bryan took the stand: “You insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does not believe in your fool religion.”
He bombarded Bryan with questions about the miracles of the Bible. Bryan at one point told him, when Darrow was pressing him about a fish swallowing a man:
Many in the national press made Bryan out to be an anti-science backwoods bigot. He was called some terrible names.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956) at the time was writing for The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore’s largest newspaper. He coined the Scopes trial “The Monkey Trial” and also coined the phrase, “The Bible Belt.”
But he was no friend of the Christians in Dayton, TN. He referred to them as “ignoramuses,” “hillbillies,” spoke of Bryan’s “peculiar imbecilities” and “nonsense” and referred to him as a “buffoon.” All because he believed the Bible in all its details was fully inspired.
William Jennings Bryan was opposed to evolution, but his opposition wasn’t really about the six days of creation in Genesis 1. He was opposed to the way evolution was becoming an entire worldview for many people. Rejecting the Bible’s view of man wasn’t just a scientific issue. It had moral consequences.
He believed the ravages of WWI could be directly connected to evolutionary science and ideas broadly called Social Darwinism.
When you believe man is no longer a special creature made by a Creator and that survival of the fittest is the rule of a society, you get genocide and world wars.
After WWI Bryan became adament in opposing evolution and Social Darwinism.
The Scopes Trial was a small way he could fight that battle on a national stage.
Bryan would win the trial with John T. Scopes, Scopes fined $100 (reduced to $50 on appeal), but in a strange providence 5 days after the trial Bryan died.
What was true of the Scopes trial is true of the trial we’ll read about this morning—it was a trial between two worldviews where the two parties are fighting to win the audience as much as they are each other.
Also like our passage in that the guy on trial wasn’t on trial at all. It was a culture on trial. And how that culture would allow the Bible to speak.
Our series in Mark: “Introducing…Jesus.” Jesus on Trial will reveal Jesus.
Jesus on Trial. But as always happens in the gospels, when Jesus’ accusers try and put him on trial, it always gets reversed. In the end, it’s Jesus’ accusers who are on trial.
Time and place are important. Mark gives us the place. Jesus is “in the temple” (11:27). Each of these four conversations is placed in the temple. The Jewish leaders vs. Jesus. No more fitting location for this street fight.
See how much the narrative slows down. Day-by-day account Sun to Wed. From sunset Thursday night till Jesus’ burial right before sunset it’s hour-by-hour.
In each scene we’ll learn something about what it means to follow Christ in a world that rejects him: (1) The Source, (2) The Cost, (3) The Allegiance, (4) The Power.
Scene 1. Day after the cleansing of the temple.
11:27 – “The chief priests and the scribes and the elders” – Who are they?
11:28 – “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”
But here was Jesus, freely teaching and acting. Apparently unconcerned about them.
So, yes, they had questions about his authority.
Jesus answered their question with a question—common rabbinic device.
11:30 – Jesus’ question about John the Baptist.
It’s easy to look at Jesus’ question and think, “That’s clever.” What the Jewish leaders do in their questioning is clever. Jesus is giving something in an entirely different category. It’s perfect. Aristotle and Shakespeare can give clever and even brilliant at times. That’s not what Jesus is giving us. It’s perfect. It’s divine.
Now it’s not Jesus on trial but these “chief priests…scribes…elders.”
Being right about John the Baptist wasn’t just a clever debate trick.
To resist John the Baptist was to resist the Lord.
They tried to trap Jesus, but he had trapped them.
11:31–32 – Their calculating minds. Would have said “from man” but they were cowards. They feared the people. So…
11:33 – “We do not know.” Their answer was more honest than they realized.
But by this point in Mark’s gospel, we know.
To be in the presence of Jesus is to be in the presence of a superior intellect and in the presence of one with a complete knowledge of human hearts.
The Takeaway: To follow Christ is to be attacked about THE SOURCE of our religion.
Scene 2. It’s the same group Jesus is talking to.
Now Jesus calls them out. More direct—but still “in parables” (12:1).
12:1 – A man with a vineyard. At the start Jesus calls him simply “a man.” He’s a man of some wealth, since he’s got land with a vineyard. Rents it out to tenants, who are to give him a share.
This was a common arrangement in Galilee at this time. A landowner would lease his land and expect a share of the crops. Usually it would take 4 years or so to get a return on a new vineyard.
A reason Jesus spoke of a vineyard and not a wheat field. In Isaiah 5:1–7 the prophet tells the story of God as the gardener planting a vineyard. It bears no fruit. So the Lord promises to destroy his vineyard.
Jesus pulls from that same image of God’s people as the vineyard. The tenants in the story were called to take care of the vineyard—just like the Jewish leaders were called to take care of the vineyard, God’s people.
Jesus repurposes the metaphor. Now it’s about the tenants.
Did they prove faithful caretakers of the vineyard, God’s people?
12:3–5 – No. For the same reason as before—they rejected the prophets sent by God.
12:6 – Finally his “beloved son.” “They will respect my son.”
“Beloved son” is powerful language. It is used four times in the OT. Three of these in the same passage, the passage about Abraham sacrificing Isaac. In the Greek OT Isaac is three times called “your beloved son.”
These Jews couldn’t hear Jesus’ reference and not think of Isaac. Not only were the tenants rejecting God’s ambassadors, they were killing one of the patriarchs.
At least, that’s where their mind would go.
12:7 – Kill the son and “the inheritance will be ours.”
At that time, if a landowner died and had no heir, his property went to the first person to claim it. In Jesus’ story these tenants thought maybe the landowner had died and this was the heir. Kill him and it’s ours.
But the inheritance of the land has another meaning in Israel. God promised a land to Abraham (Gen 12:1–3). A land and a people.
Who were the ones to receive that inheritance? These Sanhedrin Jews thought they could reject John the Baptist and reject Jesus and ultimately kill Jesus and still receive God’s promised inheritance.
12:8 – In the story the tenants kill the son outside the vineyard. Just like Jesus is killed outside the walls of Jerusalem.
As the story concludes a lot happens.
12:9 – Now the terminology changes. Now the owner is not simply “a man” like 12:1. Now he is “the Lord of the vineyard.” Look out!
Jesus asks, “What will he do?” Vivid description of judgment.
12:10–11 – Fulfills Ps 118:22–23. Cornerstone is “head of the corner,” not entirely clear. France: The details of Hebrew architecture might be a little unclear, but the point is not: “The one rejected has become the most important of all.”
The Takeaway: Jesus reminds us here about THE COST of following Christ.
Scene 3 is still on that Tuesday but it’s a different group of accusers. Read Mark 12:13–17.
12:13 – “Some of the Pharisees and Herodians.”
Pharisees – concerned with obedience to the law and added a massive amount of oral tradition on top of God’s law. Taught that people were obligated to obey both God’s law and this oral tradition.
Herodians – a little mystery but the assumption is Jewish leaders who were especially concerned about protecting Herod and his family dynasty.
Pharisees were more religious, the Herodians were more political.
They united around their hatred of Jesus—but they also unite around the question they ask. It’s a political question with huge religious implications.
Their motives: “to trap him in his talk” (or more literally, “to catch him in a word”).
12:14 – Baiting the trap, lulling the prey. But they’re saying something profound of Jesus. In very literal terms, “you do not look into the face of men.” When you talk you don’t take your cues from the expressions on faces. You just speak the truth.
All part of the build up to their question—12:14.
Why this question? What’s the deal?
But NOT paying the tax was an act of rebellion against the Roman government.
That’s why they ask the question in a YES or NO way.
To them it’s a perfect trap with no way out.
Jesus isn’t fooled and doesn’t hesitate—Their question is clever. His answer is perfect.
12:15 – Responds immediately – Rebuke + request.
A more subtle jab: Jesus & followers don’t have a denarius, accusers do!
12:16 – “Likeness and inscription” (“Likeness” = Grk eikōn, from which “icon”)
12:17 – “Render [i.e., give] to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Subtle play on words:
As we’ve learned a lot over the last couple years—we sometimes put things in a simple YES or NO way. But Jesus says, it’s simple but it’s not YES or NO.
12:17 – The audience knows what Jesus just did here is amazing. They’re “utterly amazed” (BDAG) or “very much amazed” (L&N). Not just amazed but utterly amazed.
The Takeaway: Jesus reminds us here that following Christ is to make him THE ALLEGIANCE above all allegiances.
Scene 4. Same Tuesday but a new group of accusers. Read Mark 12:18–27.
12:18 – “Sadducees.”
12:19–23 – Sound very pious as they discuss what Moses wrote.
They think they’re clever and speak of the law of levirate marriage (Deut 25:5–10). If a man dies his brother is to take the widow as his wife. In a culture where clans and tribes were so critical, it was unacceptable to have a family line simply end. Jews were the first to practice this, but other religions and cultures have done it as well.
Sadducees didn’t care about levirate marriage. They’re simply wanting to “test” Jesus.
Bring up a far-fetched scenario:
They create an absurd situation to mock the whole idea of a resurrection.
This is Clarence Darrow all over again. Not asking a serious question but wanting to mock “your fool religion.”
Jesus doesn’t waste time. Right off the bat he begins his rebuke and dismantling of them.
12:24 – Crushing rebuke – “You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”
12:25 – Quick explanation – Important that this here is new revelation. The OT didn’t give this to Jesus. Jesus knew this because he was God.
12:26–27 – An unexpected insight from a famous OT text – Exod 3:6.
Don’t miss the power of the moment, though. Jesus is asking a group of people who pride themselves on living only by the Pentateuch, the 5 books of Moses. He’s asking if they had not read a verse from Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush.
Like asking a trained NT scholar, “Have you not read John 3:16, For God so loved…” In terms of a personal humiliation, it would be hard to create a greater one for these Sadducees.
12:27 – “You are quite wrong” – “badly mistaken,” NIV, NET, CSB; “greatly mistaken,” NKJV; “you have made a serious error,” NLT.
The Takeaway: Jesus reminds us that following Christ is experiencing THE POWER of God.
These leaders tried to put Jesus on trial. In the end, they were the ones on trial.
The passage reminds us what it is to follow Christ:
It’s true just like in Dayton, TN, there will be many like Henry Louis Mencken who brand us imbeciles, anti-science fundamentalists, or buffoons.
But to follow Christ is better.
 Transcripts obtained http://moses.law.umn.edu/darrow/documents/Scopes%206th%20&%207th%20days.pdf.
 For dating see Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor, The Final Days of Jesus (Crossway, 2014).
 R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC, 463.
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