HAVE FAITH IN GOD!                                     Mark 11:12-12:10

 

This passage deals with the authority clash between the pharisees and Jesus. It reaches its climax in Mark 12:9-12 where Jesus, in quoting Ps.118:22-23 (Mark 12:10-12), accuses them of rejecting Him, the Messiah and announces their destruction by God (Mark 12,9).

After Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem he observes certain things in the temple (11:11) that must have mispleased him, for the next day he enters Jerusalem anew, this time expelling those doing business in the temple, upsetting their tables and chasing out the animals sold by them (11:15-17). While approaching Jerusalem this second time, he curses a fig tree for not bearing fruit, which seems hilarious at first sight, since no fig tree would naturally bear fruit at that particular season of the year. At the end of that second day trip to Jerusalem the scribes seriously considered destroying him, fearing his growing popularity among the people (11:18-19). The next morning Jesus embarks on a third day visit to Jerusalem. Again they pass by the fig tree which he had cursed on the morning of the day before. Upon Peter's exclamation: "...Look! The fig tree you cursed is withered!" Jesus answers: "Have faith in God. For I assure you, whoever says to this mountain 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea' and ... believes...he shall have whatever he says." This is reminiscent of Zech.4:6b-7: "...Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! And he shall bring forth the capstone with shouts of 'Grace, grace to it!'" Eventually Jesus arrives in Jerusalem this third time and finds himself being cornered by the religious authorities in the temple: "By what authority are You doing these things?" (11:27-28). Jesus, in countering with an apparantly evasive question, brings home to them the fact that his authority is from God, just as John the Baptist's preaching was of divine inspiration (11:29-33). Before they can escape, he explains in even clearer fashion the reality of things regarding their claim to authority and refusing the Messiah and subsequent judgment by God, by telling them the parable of the wicked vinedressers (12:1-8).

In this parable God is shown as a man planting a vineyard complete with hedge, vine producing assets and tower, leasing it to vinedressers and going abroad. At the time of the harvest he sends a servant that he might obtain from the vinedressers a share of the crop. Great and humanly unlogical patience becomes visible in his sending servants for the same purpose again and again, instead of punishing the vinedressers rightaway, after they had molested the first servant. The subsequent servants are treated even worse, and finally he sends his son. Upon seeing the son, the wicked vinedressers utter the same words, Josephs brothers uttered when they plotted to sell Joseph to Egypt: "This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours." The seeming complacency of the owner and constructor of the vineyard inhabited by them had led them to think that they can do whatever they want, the owner would not undertake anything further. Not having anybody left to be sent, he would surely let themselves be owners in the end. The parable ends with the seeming victory of the vinedressers and the killing of the owner's son by them. Then, in 12:9, Jesus puts forth a rhetorical question: "...what will the owner... do?" What do YOU think, the owner will do? Do you also think, that God is too far away in order to send punishment? Do you think as these vinedressers thought? Do you try to suppress the idea of a God that can become involved now and here for the sake of your own becoming little gods instead of Him? Or do you long for justice to finally prevail and for God rendering the vinedressers the punishment they deserve, bringing swift destruction upon them? By these questions Jesus splits the audience into two parties: those finding themselves in the position of the vinedressers that had usurped God's authority and those accepting God's authority. Then Jesus pronounces the prophetic judgment upon the false Israel: "He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others"

To drive home this point even more vividly, he adds a quote from Ps.118:22-23:

"The stone which the builders rejected had become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing and it is marvellous in our eyes"

This passage had originally been written to encourage the Jewish nation. The stone rejected by the builders becoming the head of the corner (i.e. the foundation stone) was them, the house of Israel, that had been rejected and despised by the surrounding nations and yet was chosen by God as His chosen people through which he would glorify Himself. Later this passage is quoted by Isaiah in Isaiah 28 in a less "positive" manner:

"Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scornful men, who rule this people who are in Jerusalem, because you have said, 'We have made a covenant with death, and with sheol we are in agreement. When the overflowing scourge passes through, it will not come to us, for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood we have hidden ourselves.' Therefore thus says the Lord God: 'Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; whoever believes will not act hastily.(LXX according to 1 Peter 2:6:"...and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.") Also I will make justice the measuring line, and righteousness the plummet; the hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters will overflow the hiding place. Your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with sheol will not stand; when the overflowing scourge passes through, then you will be trampled down by it. As often as it goes out it will take you; for morning by morning it will pass over, and by day and by night; it will be a terror just to understand the report.' For the bed is too short for a man to stretch out on, and the covering so narrow that he cannot wrap himself in it. For the Lord will rise up as at Mount Perazim, He will be angry as in the valley of Gibeon - that He may do His work, His awesome work, and bring to pass His act, His unusual act. Now therefore, do not be mockers, lest your bonds be made strong;..." (Isa.28:14-22b).

So when Jesus quotes Ps.118:22-23, He is not the first to quote it against Israel. To be more precise, a distinction is made between the remnant of Israel and the majority-Israel that despised the remnant and the Messiah. The passage is quoted again in Acts 4:11-12, where Peter bluntly points out that the jewish authorities (that now persecuted the apostles) have been the builders that rejected the stone by having Jesus crucified and that there is no salvation but in this Jesus.

 

One could think of three possible reasons to refuse that cornerstone:

 

First, the builders refused the stone because the introduction of that cornerstone would have necessitated a rejection of their own "building", of their own religious ways. We reject the stone, because it is a HINDRANCE, a STUMBLING BLOCK, a ROCK OF OFFENSE (1.Peter 2:8 quoting Isaiah 8:14) on our ways. We stumble, being disobedient to God's ways, to His word (1.Peter 2:9). Our love for our own building, with which we seemingly manage to protect us from God and the world, is too big. We will not give it up just in order to accept that stone. We are not prepared to start all over again in building up our construction, because a little screw has to be introduced at the buttom. We prefer to improvise and hope that our building will stand even without that vital screw. We do not ask: "What is right, what is true?" but rather "What is easy for us, what is safe for us in terms of being accepted by other religious or non-religious people?" We prefer the broad way and reject the narrow one. We prefer relying on men rather than on God. Note that the jewish religious leaders were governed by fear of men. They fear the crowd that listens to Jesus. They fear the Romans. Also they spread fear among others, which becomes evident upon looking up passages in John's Gospel where words like "fear" or "feared" occur. We also are suspicious about that stone, because it is so DIFFERENT. True christians will always experience being suspected by their fellow-men because of their being different. And all genuinely spiritual renovations find themselves being confronted with suspicion and refusal from both men of the world and church folk.

The construction of which temple do you participate in? Do you have faith in God or in yourself?

 

Secondly, we reject the stone because it is not only a hindrance, but also a very dangerous stone. It questions our religious authority. Our monopolysing God is being aimed at. Therefore we do not like this stone to intrude into our religious affairs. We prefer to have things continue according to our own programmes and agendas. Yet the threat that stone imposes on us remains lurking in the dark. The scribes knew that Jesus aimed at them in telling the parable of the wicked vinedressers. They knew that if Jesus really was the true Messiah, their days were counted sooner or later. Luke adds to his recording of the same incident the following verse (Lk.20:18, also similar in Mt.22:44): "Whoever falls on that stone will be broken, but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder." Not a nice little stone with ornaments hewn out according to our bigotic religious tastes, but rather a hot and fiery meteor with rough and cutting edges. We prefer a stone that behaves nice and remains immobile there where we have laid it, a seemingly fitting cornerstone that is yet a false one, one that fits our ideas rather than the ideas of God.

The passage from Ps.118 is now to be used for and against our churches: Either the leaven leaves or the light of the candlestick is going to be tossed over and the glory of the Lord leaves. Our building policy has to be biased according to the ideas of God or else we will merely build another synagogue that kicks out people like Peter and Paul instead of building a tangible representation of the "spiritual house" based on the "living stone" (1.Peter 2:4-5). God deals with us in exactly the very same way he dealt with Israel in Isaiah's and Jesus' times; he does not simply say, look, here you have your temple, here you have your church, and now behave as nice pious people. Instead he first questions and destroys our own religious ways and then builds something completely different in our lives. Jesus said to his disciples concerning the temple in Jerusalem: You see this temple? Not a single stone will remain upon another. I will destroy it and re-build it in three days.

God knows that we need security and protection, he also made a fence or hedge around his vineyard so the vinedressers could live in peace (Mark 12:1). God wants to protect us and give us a feeling of security. But he violently rejects our taking refuge in our own religious system built up upon lies and mere human tradition (Isaiah 28:15).

There is no place for social climbers in the temple of God. There is no place for people who want to exercise illicit authority over others. We have to accept God's authority or else we will fail in the end, even if we may enjoy a seeming victory for a time.

 

Thirdly, we reject God's stone, because we do not BELIEVE in God and His ways. When God says in Zechariah 4:6 "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit", we nod our heads and think: "No way. We will use our POWER and our MIGHT to achieve our goals. Afterwards we will say that the Spirit of God led us." Dear christian, how long will you continue to please yourself in the petty little achievements your little ecclesiastical power does indeed achieve, in the successes in the realm of human relationships of isolating people, forming clans, working with intrigues? Are these really goals worth fighting for? Look what God has to offer instead: By His spirit mountains can be moved. Who are you, o great mountain of seemingly unexplorable heights and lenghts of human ranks and files, of deplorable spiritual states in churches and countries, of seeming impossibilities of improvement? Before the LIVING STONE you shall become a plain, you shall be lifted up and tossed into the sea. (Zech.4,7; Mk.11:23). Who are you, arrogant leaders of Jerusalem, that now noone dares to criticise? The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it (Mt.21:43). In Daniel 2:33-35 the stone is described as tossing over world empires and filling the earth instead of these human empires. By the spirit of God this will take place, not by our power and might. "This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes." (Mk 12:11). It was not OUR doing, it was the LORD'S doing. It is marvellous in the eyes of those having the spirit of God, to those having a demonic religious spirit, it is not marvellous at all. In fact to them Jesus is like poison, they cannot stand His ways, even if they produce an outward show of allegiance to Him.

 

The living stone becomes a stumbling stone for us, because we do not live by FAITH, but by the works of the LAW (against which the true law of God ultimately stands). In Romans 9:31-33 Paul says:

"... but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: Behold I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame."

They were not obedient to Isaiah's preaching, they were not obedient to John the Baptist's preaching, they were not obedient to Christ. They slew one servant of the vineyard-owner after the other. Therefore they did not produce any fruit.

 

If we prefer our own ways over against those of God, we will not produce fruit. We may be producing some sort of pious behaviour that will keep unbelievers from becoming interested in Christianity. We may be producing works of human interpretations of the law, works of human interpretations of originally good Christian traditions turning into mere bigotry in our hands. But if we walk by faith in the spirit of God, we will produce fruits the production of which is humanly impossible. We will be like a fig-tree producing figs in a twinkle of an eye in SPRING. We will move mountains and tread on snakes and scorpions. And, finally, we will become LIVING STONES ourselves, being built into the true temple of God (1.Peter 2:4-5). Is this wonderful in YOUR eyes, or do you sense a temptation of mocking about all this in your inner being (Isa.28:22)? God will surely come and destroy the works of the "builders", of human government and human religion. Is this wonderful in YOUR eyes, or do you have to fear for a share in these human power systems? May God bless us to make the right choice for our lives.

 

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