Becoming Spiritual Decathletes: Part 3

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Pastor Mark Mikels – July 13, 2008


“Becoming Spiritual Decathletes”

(“Connecting With Christ” Series – Part 42)

Mark 11:27-12:44

Intro … “Becoming Spiritual Decathletes” … that’s the theme that I
have chosen for our final weeks in the Gospel of Mark.

During these weeks, which cover the final 8 days of Jesus’ earthly life
(and the final 6 chapters of Mark’s account of His life) we will see
Jesus engaging in ten incredibly challenging tasks – a virtual
Decathlon of Spiritual Activity!

Now the particular thrust of this brief “series within a series” is
that in his participation in these challenging tasks, Jesus was not
only demonstrating his own prowess but he was establishing a pattern of
performance that all who would follow him.

This Decathlon is laid out before all who have joined his team – thus
the theme of these weeks is not “watching a spiritual decathlete” or
“enjoying a spiritual decathlete” or even “cheering on a spiritual
decathlete” but “becoming a spiritual decathlete”!

It’s with a sense of deep personal involvement that we say in the
presence of the watching heavenly hosts … “Let the Games – let these
Games, let the Games in which I am personally participating – Begin!”

Last week we began our Spiritual Decathlon with Event #1-Temple

We saw last week that Temple Cleansing commences with careful
examination and continues with a period of contemplation and culminates
with actions of purification … it’s an event that keeps God’s temples
on earth fit for His Sacred Use. (Text available).

Temple Cleansing is an arduous task and one that could fully occupy any
believer’s attention. But, for those who would follow Christ as
spiritual decathletes, it’s only the first of the ten incredible
challenges he undertook during the final eight days of his earthly

Today we come to Event #2 … a most mentally and emotionally draining
event … the event that I have labeled “Question Handling”.

It grows out of Today’s Key Reality …

Today’s Key Reality…

“Any serious follower of Jesus will be CALLED into

QUESTION just as JESUS Himself was.

The reporting of this event begins at the 27^th verse of chapter 11 and
continues all the way through chapter 12.

Perhaps it would help if we were to picture Jesus standing behind a
podium with a slew of microphones and T.V. cameras pointed in his
direction. It’s a hostile environment – not one of the questioners is
sympathetic to his cause – in fact, it’s a set-up all the way.

The questions have been carefully worded to challenge and to expose
him. He is on the spot and he must choose the words of his answers as
carefully as his questioners have chosen theirs.

Now, to change our mental picture back to that of the Decathlon itself,
this event is no sprint – this is the mile run … four laps of ever
increasing intensity. To stay ahead of the pack and finish strong will
require not only strength but mental and emotional staying power.

And so as the gun sounds and the race begins we see Jesus

first of all …


“By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked.

“And who gave you authority to do this?”

Mark 11:28

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the
temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the
elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?”
they asked. “And who gave you authority

to do this?” (Mark 11:27-28)

What things? – Things like …

“Riding into the city as their long-awaited King”

“Driving the merchants and the money-changers out of the temple”

“Healing the sick and raising the dead and forgiving sins”

“Teaching without relying on the wisdom of the elders”

“Directly challenging the highly respected Pharisees”

Who do you think you are? What gives you the right to do what you do?

What gives you the right to tell me what to do?

Now keep in mind that those questions didn’t die at Jesus’ press
conference … They have been asked about him and of his followers ever

Now also keep in mind that those questions will never come up unless
you are doing something that strikes against the norm, something that
(to use today’s terminology) is not “politically correct”, something
that shows that you recognize some “higher authority” than “public

You see, the “public” has always had a “high opinion” of itself. The
“public” has always felt that it knows best and is most in tune with
what “ought to be”. It did in Jesus’ day and it does even more so in
our day.

In our day, the “public” has been granted “constitutional status” …

Though these words of President Lincoln were eloquently spoken and have
been faithfully repeated over the years and even warm the hearts of
those who say them, it’s a direct slap in God’s face to say that any
nation is a nation “of the people, by the people and for the people”.

But that’s our country’s official position. And so, in this country
anyone who walks out of step with “the people” is walking directly into
the line of fire.

This seems like as good a time as any for me to comment on a situation
that might well put all of us in that line of fire – that might stick
the microphone (as it were) in front of any one of us.

We here in California are regularly given opportunity to establish
“what the people think” with regard to any number of issues. This fall
we will be given the opportunity to establish “the people’s position”
relative to the term “marriage”.

Marriage is a God-ordained, God-established, legally recognized,
socially approved union of a man and a woman. To use the term to
include other kinds of human relationship is an offence to God Himself
and to any who concern themselves with His Will and His Ways. In
countries where the term has been so used, the marriage rate has fallen
to nearly zero.

In addition to use the term to legitimize a relationship that God
Himself expressly forbids in His Word is incredibly offensive.

There should not be a single California Christian of voting age who
does not take the opportunity this Fall to help determine the “people’s
opinion” with regard to this issue.

And I trust that the “people’s position” will in fact be the
“Biblically supported one”. But only time will tell which way the
“public” will go.

But keep in mind that the question will come as you/we express
ourselves on this topic …

What gives you the right to do what you do?

What gives you the right to “tell me what I can or can’t do”?

Our ultimate answer is “God Himself gives me that right and
responsibility even”.

Our most immediate answer is “the Constitutions of this nation and
state give me that right to participate in determining social policy”.

Handling the Question of Authority … Now that’s a daunting challenge
in and of itself; but it’s only the first lap of this mile run.

The Second Lap of this mile run involves …


“Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Mark 12:13-17

Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch
him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are
a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no
attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance
with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we
pay or shouldn’t we?”

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he
asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the
coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God
what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.

It’s like Jesus said … It looks like this is Caesar’s money – He made
it; he put his own image on it. You should be happy that he allows you
to keep any of it – after all, it would appear to be his!

Note how Jesus then slipped in the corollary principle – “and give to
God what is God’s”.

He could have said … “Look at yourself – Whose image is stamped on
you? Is it not God’s? Did he not make you – does he not sustain you –
does he not own you? You should be happy that he allows you freedom to
determine the course of your life at all. Give to him what rightfully
belongs to Him – which, of course, is everything.

It’s interesting that this discussion should follow right after the one
we just had.

The Authority under which we live and function determines the
responsibility we assume as we function. Because we live under the
authority of God, we live responsibly in the society of men.

Listen to the way the Apostle Paul expressed it in Romans 13:1-7

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is
no authority except that which God has established. The authorities
that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels
against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and
those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no
terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.

Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what
is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you
good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword
for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment
on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the
authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because
of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants,
who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him:
If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then
respect; if honor, then honor.

Living responsibly – handling the question of responsibility – is a
challenging task all by itself …

Paying what we owe: parents are owed honor; our employer is owed
respect and our best effort … the government is owed our taxes and
our prayers. God is, of course, owed our ultimate allegiance.

Two laps done … and two more to go. Let’s take a deep breath and
press on.

Lap number three of this four lap challenge sees Jesus …


“Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him …”

Mark 12:18-27

Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with
a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s
brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the
widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers.
The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second
one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the
same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last
of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be,
since the seven were married to her?”

Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the
Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither
marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
Now about the dead rising–have you not read in the book of Moses, in
the account of the bush, how God said to him, `I am the God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ ? He is not the God of the
dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

Hard to believe that there were materialists in Jesus’ day but there
were. These Sadducees believed that death ended all. They had a running
battle with the Pharisees over this point of doctrine.

They came with their hypothetical story to show just how ridiculous the
belief in a tangible resurrection of the body would be.

How ironic that they came to ask a question about heaven of one who had
just come from there! Of course heaven exists – of course the
resurrection of the body is a reality. Jesus himself would demonstrate
that fact in a matter of days!

Today we, of course, still face the questions of the materialists …
the death ends all people – the secularists and the existentialists –
the philosophies of despair. For them we answer their despair with the
Good News of the Gospel. God has provided eternal life through Christ
His Son.

However, the more dangerous threat today is from the spiritualists who
believe that heaven is provided for everyone and that no one need fear
death because life on the other side is pleasant for all.

These people need to hear the “Bad News of the Gospel” … that death
comes to all men and after death comes judgment and that men in and of
themselves will not be found worthy of heaven but will spend their
eternity in Hell – a place of continual torment.

That Bad News must precede the Good News about the Provision that God
has made for us through the Death of Christ.

Handling the question of eternity is a challenging task in our day and

And now on to the final lap – and as the bell rings announcing the
final circuit to be run, we see Jesus …


“One of the teachers of the law came and … asked him,

“Of all the Commandments, which is the most important?”

What is the primary thing that I have built my life around? What is the
one thing from which everything else I do flows? What is the thing in
light of which I interpret everything else? Is there such a thing?

This is the question that, more than any of the three previous ones,
gets to the heart of the issue. In fact given the response of one
particular “teacher of the law” Jesus said, “You are not far from the
Kingdom of God” … You are right on target.

Here’s how their extended conversation went …

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing
that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him,

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: `Hear, O Israel,
the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your
heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your
strength.’ The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There
is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that
God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your
heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to
love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt
offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are
not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him
any more questions.

(illustration: Mark: 12:41-44) If anyone had asked her what she was
doing – she would probably have said – “I’m loving God”. She had a
handle on the question of “priority”.

How easy it is for any of us to mess up in handling this question!

In fact our answers to the first three questions that we have dealt
with today can cause us to slip up on this one.

How easy it would be to say … the most important thing in my life is
to place myself under the authority of God and his Word and live my
life consistent with His Teachings. Can lead to a critical legalism.

How easy to say … the most important thing in my life is to live
responsibly … in my home, on my job, within my community – to be seen
as a good and wholesome person. Can lead to a works-based

How easy to say … the most important thing in my life is to be sure
that I am heaven bound. Can lead to a self-centered consumerism.

Jesus said that the most important thing – the thing that interestingly
will catapult us into those other three things is – “simply” love God.

Love God completely and exclusively.

Love Him with all of your heart (your emotional being – worship), with
all of your soul (your spiritual being – communion), (with all of your
mind (your intellectual being- understanding) and with all of your
strength (your physical being – deeds of service).

Love like that will literally bind us to God Himself!

Love like that will result in us handling all these other questions in
God -Pleasing and Productive ways.

Love like that will actually cause these other questions to be raised.

Final Thot … People only ASK the questions that our lives GENERATE!