How do we respond to those who hate God and teach that belief in him is only for people with weak minds? They call Christians stupid for believing in the most obvious of all forensic evidence, that what exists demands an intelligent creator. King David challenged that kind of thinking by writing lyrics about morally deficient fools who say in their hearts that there is no God (Psalm 14:1). Some Christians seem to encourage the idea that believers are brainless by fostering a blind acceptance of their beliefs as if intellectualism and worship are incompatible. But that contradicts what Jesus taught us (Mark 12:28-34) to love love God with our minds, from a Greek word meaning thorough reasoning, using our intellect. Belief in God is not for simple fools, but for those who love him with their minds.
The great neglected commands are to love God and neighbor (Mark 12:28-34). Do we love God if we don’t accept his weekly invitation? Let’s not forsake the assembling together as the manner of some is. Do we love God if we ignore him in daily prayer? Pray without ceasing. Do we love God if he gets only a few dollars in the offering plate? Where our treasure is that’s where our hearts are. Do we love God if we fail to support those faulty human beings that he has placed in office? Esteem them highly in love for their work’s sake. Do we love God if we fail to show interest in his opinions on things as revealed in the Holy Scriptures? Study the Scriptures because they testify about Jesus, the way to eternal life. Do we love God?
One of life’s great secrets is learning to love God (Mark 12:28-34). Who is God? He is the great spirit, personal, living in eternity and unchanging. He is good, holy, righteous, loving, just, faithful, benevolent, gracious, merciful and persistent. God is also very near at every moment, yet at the same time high above us in every respect. He is one God, but also Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a mystery which we call the Trinity, that is beyond our human understanding. God is also creator of everything and continues as provider of all things. His rulership is loving and he provides through prayer, as we ask, yet always what is best, making special provision through miracles. Knowing about him makes more sense to obey the greatest commandment: to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Boycotting one particular company is naive when there is evil on all sides. All companies sin to some degree. One of the evils of corporate business is greed. “Corporate pork is a truly bipartisan dish” as both sides of politics are guilty of favoritism via tax perks, trade protection and government subsidies. Businesses build protective moats around their corporate castles, not to benefit the consumer, but to favor themselves. Microsoft has been sued by governments and Apple tried to force us to buy its inferior map application. Big businesses only give lip service to a free market while they try to monopolize markets and bully competitors. Most lobbying in Washington is to protect existing businesses and not to promote a truly free and open market. Righteous corporations use a business model of love of God and neighbor (Mark 12:28-34).
Venice is a case study in greed. Once an affluent, open economy, the rich destroyed it through greed. Venice lost its wealth. America was formed to escape the restrictive social classes of Europe, but now ours are more restrictive than theirs. The poor and middle class cannot afford the educational costs that guarantee top jobs. The wealthy claim that too many people are dependent upon the government for help, when they have been dependent upon government for unfair tax breaks and government bailouts. Just like in Venice, today’s wealthy are destroying the system and the freedom that gave them their riches. More and more of us work as poorly paid serfs to the greedy. National salvation is found in Jesus and his command to love. Righteous capitalism uses as a business model love of God and neighbor (Mark 12:28-34).
I am disgusted. New Windows 8 applications are filled with nuisance advertising. Monetizing is the new business model. It’s software with built-in spam. But Microsoft is not alone. We can’t even watch Youtube videos or Internet news stories without wading through mandatory time-wasting advertisements. Selfish business models are making life miserable, but we can’t legislate love can we? Well, God did. He mandated that we love him and our neighbor. Unrighteous capitalism is driven by greed and causes destruction from within as our tragic human history proves. Righteous capitalism builds a nation. It uses as a business model love of God and love of neighbor (Mark 12:28-34). Windows 8 is only the latest example of a selfish business model. There is no human law legislating love, but there is a higher law which does. God commands that we love.
What is the first commandment, not the first of the Ten Commandments, but the first? Perhaps the most important prayer in any Jewish prayer book is the Sh’ma Yisrael. It comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The beginning of that prayer was quoted by Jesus in Mark 12:28-34 as the first commandment. “Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai echad.” “Hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is one.” It contains the most basic theology about God, that he is one, not two Gods, not three Gods, not a pantheon but one God. The Trinitarian formula in Matthew 28:19 confirms this in the single name of the three in perfect unity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not three Gods, but one God. It is not necessary to understand what humans cannot, but we are commanded to love God.
Jesus healed the blind (Mark 10:46-52). Can he also heal the blindness caused by self-flattery (Psalm 36:2) or foolishness (Proverbs 22:3; 27:12)? In the longest Psalm praising the law, David prayed that God would open his eyes to see the wonderful things there (Psalm 119:17-24). Paul also praised the law as holy, just and good (Romans 7) and declared that the fault was not with the law but our human inability to keep it. Therefore that perfect law could not make us right with God, but faith in Jesus Christ does (Galatians 2:16). Yet, some who have seen the truth have chosen spiritual blindness (John 9:35-41). Such blindness of heart would alienate us from the life of God (Ephesians 4:18). A famous hymn is a prayer for God to “Open my Eyes.”
Mark 10:46-52) or, “Pity me!” The crowd rebuked him and told him to shut up. The needy have little political weight then or now. The largest political contributors are the rich. We are a plutocracy, not a true democracy. Like the crowd, we do not want to hear from the destitute. We do not want to hear from Jesus about helping them. Should we show pity or be hardhearted like the crowd in this story? Mercy means God granting even to the unworthy favor, healing, benefits, opportunities and particularly salvation in Christ. Do we feel sympathy with the misery of others? A remarkable thing about Jesus is that instead of judging people for their plight, he was overcome with compassion. Are we?
A blind man came to Jesus saying, I want to see (Mark 10:46-52). He is referred to as Tim’s son and he knew he was blind. Many times we are blind but don’t even know it because we have never asked Jesus the same request, I want to see. Martin Luther risked his life for incredible changes in the Protestant Reformation. What most of us do not know is that he preached his last sermon to only five people and in the end came to see reality as he angrily declared it a failed reformation. Germans declared Nazism a failure. Russians declared Communism a failure. Human efforts all fail. Only God’s way succeeds. We get so blinded by human efforts that we cannot see God’s way clearly. Let us make the same request to Jesus. I want to see.
When Jesus returns he will replace all human government with God’s. Many rich entrepreneurs will not be happy about it. Human government is symbolized in the book of Revelation by the ancient city of Babylon. Its system is pictured as a mixture of the public and private sectors. Merchants and shippers in the private sector are pictured as mourning over the fall of the Babylonian public sector. They had grown rich through immoral human government. Revelation pictures that government's sins as piled up to heaven (Revelation 18). It is a form of government that enslaves the people. It is a style of leadership that Jesus described in Mark 10:35-45, tyrannical and authoritarian. That is why the cross is such a victory for the poor and oppressed. Jesus showed us sacrificial leadership, the kind exhibited by the government of God.
When Israel was given freedom from slavery, God also gave them judges as leaders. These men and women were generals in wartime and court justices in peacetime. But Israel rejected God’s style of government and demanded a human form of government like other nations (1 Samuel 8). Samuel gave them a warning from God about what human government would look like. The administration would engage in conscription for national service, grabbing up large parcels of land for federal use, enact a ten percent tax and the people would be in slavery to the government that they had chosen. Jesus warned his own disciples that human leadership had not changed (Mark 10:35-45) and that can also be said of human governments today. Our taxes are far more than that ten percent and we have all become slaves to burdensome regulations.
This election is no different than most for those who love God. We wonder if heavenly values will be represented by worldly leaders. This brings up a very important question for all Christians. Can we find a godly politician? Even two of Jesus’ first disciples, James and John, seemed to confuse positions of power with “lording it over” others and flaunting “authority” (Mark 10:35-45). Jesus clearly pointed out what makes for great leadership, self-sacrificial service. Can we find politicians who will give their lives as a ransom for all? Can we find politicians who will give up their pensions, health benefits, their millions, their oppressive authority over us and throwing their weight around with excessively burdensome legislation? If so, then we may have indeed found a truly godly politician. If you find such a person, please let everyone know.
Since long before the days of the robber barons, success in business has been defined by those who have taken the most no matter the means. The name robber baron began in Germany where for a thousand years feudal lords and bishops blocked traffic on the Rhine River and charged a passage fee, sometimes appropriating the whole cargo. In the USA, wealthy and unethical industrialists have been dubbed with the same pejorative title. Yet those who know the Gospel are not fooled by such claims to greatness. How can a man claim to be a business success when to make his millions he has walked all over others, destroyed businesses and taken people’s jobs? Since the first disciples wanted position (Mark 10:35-45) this worldly thinking has also infected the church. Jesus defined greatness not by position but by giving.
Jesus did not invite everyone to become his disciple. He turned down a man who had been demon possessed (Mark 5:18-20). He told one man that he had nowhere to lay his head. Others made excuses about burying a parent or saying goodbye to family (Luke 9:57-62). Then there was the man who he asked to liquidate his wealth (Mark 10:17-31). Why did he ask this man to sell everything but not Peter, who owned at least one house (Matthew 8:14)? Perhaps we see the difference in the fact that Peter still had a mother-in-law to look after, whereas the rich man may not have had any immediate family. The obvious answer is that Jesus did not require everyone to peddle their assets and give the proceeds to the poor. However, the principle of giving remains.
Was Jesus a hypocrite when he told a rich man to sell everything and give it to the poor (Mark 10:17-31)? No, that is exactly what he did. As Lord of the universe, he was God with us, he had lived in the opulence of heaven since past eternity. There is no wealthier place in the universe than heaven. A trillionaire on earth would be a penniless pauper in comparison to the wealth of heaven. Jesus gave up his divine privileges (Philippians 2:6-8) to save the world. Though he was rich, he became poor (2 Corinthians 8:9). Why? So that we may become rich. The rich man went away grieving over his great wealth. Those who have devoted their wealth to giving have discovered one of the great secrets of the universe, giving is happier than getting.
Is hell a rich man’s future? Many passages of the Bible like the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16) point to hell as the future for selfish people. However, Mark 10:17-31 gives considerable hope for the wealthy. Heaven is a much more difficult choice for the wealthy. It is as hard a choice as threading a camel through a needle’s eye. It seems impossible, but the same path to salvation lies before them as for the rest of us. All things are possible with God. Many millionaires do not live a selfish and opulent life style. They live as ordinary neighbors and use their wealth to bless others. That’s exactly what Jesus did. He came from the wealthiest corner of the entire universe, heaven and lived like a pauper on earth to bless the whole world.
Can a wealthy person gain eternal life? Looking at Mark 10:17-31 we might think that it is impossible. It is as difficult as threading a camel through the eye of a needle. Money is deceptive. It makes us think we are better than homeless beggars when we may be worse off. It deceives us that we are being blessed by God when we may not be. It makes us think we are successful when we may be abject moral failures. Many wealthy have already begun doing what Jesus’ advised. Opra Winfrey, George Soros, Bill Gates, J. K. Rowling, T. Boone Pickens, George Kaiser and many other billionaires plan to give it all away except for a small inheritance. At least they are making a start. By world standards we are all wealthy. Jesus still makes heaven possible for us.
Can we be addicted to wealth? Let’s look at Jesus’ personal advice to a wealthy man who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life, or as we say colloquially, to get into heaven. Jesus’ blunt answer was to liquidate his wealth and redistribute it to the poor (Mark 10:17-31). It is a very unpopular idea in today’s political climate, but that was his answer. What can Christians in a capitalist country learn from this? Most of us are addicted to something. Sex, television, gossip, rock and roll, fatty foods and sugar are popular addictions. Modern addiction research suggests that learning self-control over our lives works in most cases. However, certain cases of addiction are out of control and, just like a severe alcoholic, sometimes only abstinence works. Is this the case for many addicted to their wealth?
Redistribution of wealth is a hot button topic in today’s politics, because people equate it with communism. Yet there is a form of redistribution of wealth in the Bible that has nothing to do with socialism. In the Old Testament debts were forgiven every 50 years and people could get their land back. There was no path to accumulate large land holdings and slowly squeeze out the family farmer. Taxing the rich is also a hot topic in today’s world and there are arguments for and against. In Mark 10:17-31 Jesus gave another solution for at least one man who had accumulated more than a normal share: sell everything and give it to the poor. Jesus did not tell every rich person to do this. He did tell one. How few of us are willing to do just that!
Mark 10:2-16 we read of one person forsaking a spouse and setting the other free. That’s how it sounds in Greek. The divorcing spouse has repudiated the sacred marriage vows and so the other is released. That is remarkably similar to how Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 7:15. If an unbeliever departs the marriage, the believing spouse is no longer bound to the marriage, but is set free. This is the exact opposite of the idea that some teach, of a spouse being held in bondage for life because of the actions of the other marriage partner. Jesus described divorce as permitted by Moses, a convenience, as a wrong action. However, contrary to the teachings of bondage espoused by some segments of the Christian community, there is only one unforgivable sin and divorce is not it.
Mark 10:2-16 means to leave one’s station. It was also used in the military, meaning to defect. In Deuteronomy 24:1 a man was permitted to divorce his wife if she displeased him, or because he found something wrong with her. It sounds frivolous, like many modern divorces. Jesus calls Christians to a greater level of faithfulness than under the Old Covenant. Divorce ought not to occur unless like ancient Israel, a spouse has been immoral. We could argue that abuse, addiction and a life of crime are all forms of adultery. In our hardheartedness we have perverted God’s original design. On all modern questions of marriage, Jesus brings us back to the basics. In the beginning, God created them male and female, and what God has joined together, let no one separate.
Jeremiah 3 God spoke of Israel and Judah as being like unfaithful wives. He divorced Israel and yet pled for her to return to him. In Mark 10:2-16 Jesus gave one legitimate cause for divorce, immorality. Israel’s immorality was her unfaithfulness to God, pictured as her husband. Divorce is one of the most painful of life’s experiences. Nobody hates it more than those who have lived through it. Perhaps that is why Jesus said that God hates divorce, because he has experienced it personally. Divorce ruins our health, finances, families and society. It is so destructively painful. Faithfulness in all relationships is a rare and wonderful treasure.