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What God Wants More Than Anything Else

By Greg Hollifield
Mark 12

One of my college professors had a twisted sense of humor. On exam days after distributing test questions and giving us a moment to look them over, he would leave the room. Just before closing the door, with a twinkle in his eye he would quip, "When you're finished, you may pass out quietly."

I never liked tests as a student. Pursuing a career as a professor, I can't say I like them much better now. Contrary to what we believed as students, most teachers don't. Tests are two-way mirrors. They reflect how well the student learned and provide a window into how well the instructor taught. Test questions are like boomerangs. They come back to be dealt with by those who threw them out.

When we come to Mark 12, we find Jesus being tested. The class is trying to stick it to their Teacher. On edge because of a parable He recently shared (Mark 12:1-2), they begin posing questions.

First, the Pharisees and Herodians, unlikely study partners otherwise, get together and raise a question about paying tribute to Caesar. The Pharisees liked Caesar about as much Cuban-Americans would like for Fidel Castro to be Governor of Florida. The Herodians felt just the opposite. As much as the two parties disagreed on politics, they agreed in their animosity toward Jesus.

If the Lord had risen to the bait and denounced paying Caesar's tribute, the Herodians would have accused Him before Rome. Going the other way, He would have incurred the taxpayers' wrath. He would have also raised the eyebrows of pious Jews who believed the coins used to pay the tribute, coins that bore Caesar's image, were an abomination. Instead, Jesus answered with those immortal words, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

Then, the Sadducees came. They didn't believe in resurrection and so laid-out a test case about a widow and her seven late husbands. Whose wife could she possibly be in the world to come if there was a resurrection? The whole proposition seemed preposterous, but Jesus answered.

His answer proved so wise, so incisive, that a certain scribe seeing how He silenced His critics felt compelled to speak up. Listen to Mark's record of the dialogue that followed. (Read Mark 12:28-34.)

Scribes started out as human Xerox machines, scrupulously copying the Old Testament. Copy any document often enough and you become something of an authority on it. The scribes eventually earned recognition as Old Testament scholars. Whenever a group of scribes got together, I imagine they talked about the same stuff as us: sports, hobbies, their families, and work. You can almost hear them debating the same kinds of doctrinal stuff that keeps seminary students occupied over lunch in the cafeteria.

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