DEUTERONOMY 13:1 – 15:23 and MARK 12:28–44
Moses now gives warnings to false prophets who have the potential to lead God’s people astray. I am sure the reminders of Balaam and his ministry would be fresh on their mind. In the first two verses it speaks of a prophet who can do signs and wonders but do so while leading people away from the true God. Oftentimes it is not so blatant; there can be a subtlety that must be appreciated. A prophet does not come and say do not follow the Lord anymore and go on to say that there is another god or way you should consider. That would be too obvious. If one is diligent in the scriptures and fervent in their prayer and devotional life they will be able to discern. The reason why prophets like this will prevail is because deep down it is what the people want. If they do not take God seriously and allow the Word to dig deep into their heart they will fall prey to his wiles.
Jer 5:31 The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?
Walking closely with the Lord and observing His ways and commandments will be instrumental in helping to stay on track. This will enable us to discern and detect the source of a spirit that may be working in a prophet. In the last days there will be the false prophet who will be on the scene doing all kinds of lying signs and wonders (Rev 13). We know that Satan will be able to transform himself into an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). Will we be able to detect? One of the most prominent worldwide religions today exists due to the founder not challenging the angel that appeared to him. It was an evil spirit that inspired this founder to put into motion a religion that has a form of Christianity mixed with its unbiblical beliefs. Jesus, as the Son of man was able to detect and discern the various tactics of the enemy. The primary key for Him was His understanding of the living Word.
Isa 7:15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
Moses goes on to warn the people against those who may entice to go after other gods. He mentions that it may well come from family members (vs 6). The Lord spares no pity for the antics of such people. How would this relate today? It is often well intended advice and counsel that family members would give in seeking to keep one from fulfilling their call. When we first disclosed our plans to leave my employment and go to the Mission Field in 1992 my parents were naturally concerned. They acknowledged that what we looked to do was a good thing but they asked questions about retirement, future family etc. They were not malicious but very well intended yet it was a challenge to what God was speaking to us. They knew we were committed to going forward so they never raised the matter again.
What if we were not totally sure or maybe our loved ones would put excessive pressure on making such a decision? We have seen this happen on numerous occasions and sadly we have witnessed the tragedy that results when a call goes unanswered. If we are in a position of influence and we pray for a person as to what he or she should do we must always seek God’s view. He sees things so much differently than we do (Isa 55:8-9).
As Christian leaders we can be quick to make a decision without really bringing God into the equation. There can be times when decisions that best suits our churches and ministry are made that end up being contrary to the Lord’s will. Remember when all of Israel were considering the next king after Saul? No one regarded David, the lonely shepherd boy keeping sheep in the field. He did not have the look or external qualities that one looks for in a future king. God saw it differently; He saw the heart and expressed his choice accordingly.
Moses goes on to speak about those who draw men out of cities to serve other gods. These men of “Belial” could well represent those who knew God’s ways but abandoned them. It could refer to those who had no regard for God’s Law while giving themselves to serving idols. We have a strong clue in seeing the kind of sons that Eli the high priest had several hundred years later. (Hophni and Phineas) They were called men of Belial who abused their office while committing immorality and idolatry. The whole of chapter 13 is a warning to not be led astray or to be those who lead others astray.
In the last days we are going to see a clear distinction between the holy and the unclean (Rev 22:11). Think of two streams running closely together for a season. Think of these streams as being so close you could virtually put one foot in one stream while placing the other foot in the other stream. This can be likened to our Christian walk, liking to have it both ways. God is calling out a holy people. He did it in Exo 32:26 “Who is on the Lord’s side” and he is doing it again today.
Rev 22:11 He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.
In this chapter we see a demarcation between clean and unclean animals as to what can be eaten. The purpose is to make clear that God wants His people to be distinct from all others. He says in verse 2 that they were a “holy people”, that they were to be a peculiar and distinct people in all the earth. We have already seen that Israel had failed in being an example of holiness to themselves and other nations.
Once again, it is a message squarely pointing to us today. We are not made holy by the clean or unclean animals that we eat but we can seek to be like a Daniel. He made a decision and purposed in his heart to stand out, to be different, and be set apart for God (Dan 1:8). In doing this he was able to be used of God in extraordinary ways. His preparation allowed him to be the man who could tell a dream as well as interpret a dream (Dan 2). He did what no one else could do. The keys of his preparation are instructive for us. He refrained from worldly enticements so that he would not be hindered in his love and intimacy with God. He also sought the Lord in prayer and fasting (Dan 1:12-15). Will there be Daniel’s in these last days that will stand out at an appropriate hour? Will there be those who will be able to tell and interpret dreams when all others cannot?
These are but a few of the fruits of a separated life. Let’s consider a brief review on how holiness can be defined. It is first a separation from the world, the flesh and the devil. This is what Daniel did in refraining from the kings table. Secondly, it is a separation unto God. Daniel did both as seen in Daniel 1. At the time of creation, man was not created holy but was created in innocence. Holiness requires two things in particular. It requires a “choosing” to be holy. (“Be ye holy as I am holy” Lev 11:44, 1 Pet 1:15-16) It also requires a testing. (Gen 3:1-6) The message of holiness does not come easy; it requires a dying to self. It is a message that is challenged and oftentimes misunderstood. It was on the message of holiness that Dathan, Abiram and Korah took issue with Moses (Num 16:1-3). They equated themselves and all of Israel as being holy. They did this due to the high standards that were required and their “choosing” to not live by them. It is no different today. Moses draws many comparisons between that which is clean and unclean to drive home the point that they are a unique people. Peter picks up on this when he writes:
1Pe 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
The ministry of Jeremiah needs to be ours as well. It needs to be stated that holiness is achievable provided we seek in living a separated life. May we be those who flow in the holiness stream.
Jer 15:19 Therefore thus saith the LORD, If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before me: and if thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth: let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them.
In the discourses that Moses is giving to Israel he gives many keys that will help preserve them and allow them to prosper in the land of their inheritance. We have seen extensive exhortations regarding the keeping of the law and His ways. We discover another significant key in this chapter. It has to do with the Sabbath and Rest. It is a subject we need to appreciate due to the soon coming millennial reign of Christ. The 6000 years of man are coming to a climatic finish. There will be the marriage feast and the marriage of the Lamb just prior to the 2nd coming of Christ. When the period of Armageddon ends it will signal the commencing of the 1000 year millennial reign of Christ.
We see this beautifully illustrated during the times of Joseph. There were the 7 years of plenty. It was during this period when Joseph exercised wisdom in preparing for the 7 years of famine. It was the Lord who spoke to him what would take place through the dream that Pharaoh had. Joseph, like Daniel was hidden and obscure until a certain time when the leader had an impactful dream that needed interpreting. After the 7 years of plenty and having prepared for what was to come, Joseph was able to administer the needs of the kingdom as well as the needs to many neighbours. Joseph was a foreigner in a strange land yet was brought into the position of prime minister in Egypt. This is what God can do. As Joseph liberally gave to the people and nations he was blessed. This is the promise that God gives to those who lend, (without seeking return) to those in need. God will honor such a heart and ensure that their needs will be met while covering and protecting his own.
This instruction is given to those who have possessions and servants who work for them. What happens when you get to the 7th year? How would a person be able to maintain the status quo? The requirement of letting go of a person or letting go of possessions can be very costly. The Lord makes clear that He can be trusted and that we should learn to Rest in Him. It also helps us to better understand the blessing of giving tithes. It should never be looked upon as a requirement but rather a privilege. If we do so it will result in a blessing that cannot be contained. We do not give tithes for this purpose but it is one of the blessings that will come with it. A person was to also send out their servants with a liberal blessing. It is a beautiful picture of what the Lord has done for us. We are not worthy yet we have been given opportunity to rule and reign with Him in the millennium and beyond.
Do we live by this principle of Rest? It was from a position of Rest where the Lord received strength and direction from the Father. It was from a position of Rest where Elijah heard the still small voice of the Lord. What did that voice speak to Elijah? He was told that he would meet Elisha (1 Kgs 19:16) and anoint him. If Elijah did not step out of the hectic place of ministry he was involved in he may not have heard God’s leading voice. He may have not feasted on God’s divine substance that carried him for 40 days. It is in a position of Rest where we can be refreshed and revived. It can be a time when God can speak fresh direction. We must have ability to step outside of the overwhelming current of life and come away to experience the blessing of the Sabbath and rest. We may worry that we need to work that extra day or worry about how we will manage without a helper etc. This is where we need to trust God. He brings us into Rest so that He can work within us, while resting from our labours.
Deuteronomy 15 has several scenarios as to how to treat servants, the poor and to give tithes. The Lord states over and over that he will bless the people in all their works if they learn to appropriate this vital principle. Let us seek God to help us come into that position of Rest.
There are three particular accounts covered in this portion. All of them have to deal with the religious people of Jesus’s day. The 1st account is a parable involving a man who planted a vineyard and gave the responsibility to husbandmen. The problem arises when there is accountability required. This is oftentimes the case in many areas of life. The man who planted the vineyard sent servants to receive the fruits. These servants refer to the prophets of old who brought messages of accountability only to be rejected and abused by the masses. Finally, the time has come when the owner of the vineyard sends his own Son. In this account the man thought the son would be respected but in this case he was killed.
In Mark 11 we saw the Lord approaching the fig tree to partake of its fruits. There was no fruit so the tree was cursed. This parable is a variation of that account. The time came when the Lord was looking for fruit but found none. In this parable we see the primary motive of the husbandman being centered on the inheritance (vs 7). These men were tasked to be custodians on behalf of the owner. It was for the owner’s pleasure that they were employed. At the time of accountability there interest was their own, not the owners. The Lord here is taking direct aim at the religious leadership. As the time is drawing nearer to the Cross we find the Lord’s messages more direct and to the point. His messages cut to the heart where issues of the heart, motives and hypocrisies were revealed. The Lord was able to show the heart of people; in particular that of the religious leadership. They were self-serving, having no regard for the people they were called to represent. Here is a quick personal story to help illustrate.
There was a particular mission’s outreach that our home fellowship supported for a number of years. The Indian leader was trained in the USA based Bible School. After graduation he returned to his native place and was supported in his ministry work. The home base was informed that there were 52 pastors under this man’s leadership, along with their churches, a proposed Bible School as well as a leprosarium that was to be established in his community. The reports that would come from the field were encouraging, oftentimes filled with pictures and testimonies. The home base felt the time was right to send a representative to view the Indian work to assess and to see if there were areas where further help could be given. This person was initially well received but things began to quickly turn when the home base decided to place a representative in India on a permanent basis. Sad to say, the work was not really as fruitful as was projected. The home base sought to help and work through some of the issues with this native leader and associates but was rebuffed at every turn. There were constant threats given with the warning of potential violence. In short, this leader and those associated with him enjoyed the support but they did not want the accountability.
We are living in a time when accountability is being brought to the forefront. What if we fall short or come to realize we have not fulfilled the expectations of leadership or of the Lord Himself? I feel there is opportunity to acknowledge and repent and seek God’s mercies. In this parable there are 4 opportunities given. When we are called to account for a situation it can be very sobering when we find ourselves not measuring up to what was required. The owner in this parable demonstrates compassion and long-suffering. When we are called to account for something it requires a response. If we fall short we may respond by trying to make excuses. This is shifting blame.
This is what happened in the account given above. The leader would not accept responsibility for false reporting, even when confronted with proof. This leader was given several opportunities to come clean, to be able to acknowledge his wrong and to be restored. After the third time of being confronted with proof he admitted he was wrong and asked forgiveness. The home organization accepted forgiveness and laid down terms for his restoration while giving him opportunity to continue on in the work. Sad to say that within a few short months he once again began to place blame elsewhere and caused problems for the foreign representative that was now living there. The decision was ultimately made to dismiss this leader permanently. Though he pleaded in tears for one more chance the decision made was final. It was a situation I witnessed first-hand and it is one I will never forget. If we find ourselves not measuring up it is vital we seek the Lord for mercy and be willing to acknowledge wrong doing or weakness. God is merciful and ever there to assist provided our response is one of contrition. It can be a humbling experience but it is this time of weakness where we can be made strong by His grace.
The next two accounts are two groups, the Pharisees and Sadducees who try and trap Jesus in His doctrine (Mark 12:13-27). The reason for this is that they now fear Him and realize that He must be destroyed, one way or another. He is showcasing their hypocrisy and they now must find a way to undermine His credibility. This approach that was taken by the enemies of God is seen throughout scripture.
The enemies of Daniel sought to trap him by way of his dedicated prayer life. They were able to persuade the king to enact a law that they knew Daniel would break (Daniel 6). Interestingly, we came to discover during our time in India that our primary problem was not the anti-Christian forces that existed there but rather those who were among the “churched”. Yes, we experienced much opposition from some of the militant Hindu groups but many of our problems would have been minimized if the key church leaders were really kingdom minded. The questions these two groups raised to Jesus was not the primary issue. They were trying to undermine Him. The Pharisees tried to undermine by way of the government (Caesar) while the Sadducees tried undermining His doctrine. It is clear that the end game is near.
How will we respond when God seeks to bring us to account? Do you not think it is far better to have a work done in our lives now than to face the Lord in eternity with unresolved issues? Have you ever thought of what it would be like to know you can never go back to make it right? This is one of the primary blessings of the Atonement message. It allows God to bring us to accountability now so that we can stand before Him with those linen garments of righteousness. May we open our vineyard (our heart) and welcome the accountability work of the Holy Spirit to bring forth those fruits.
In verses 28-33 we see a scribe asking a question regarding which is the most important commandment. This account is also found in Math 22:36-40. Mark’s account however adds some comments from this scribe, who was a lawyer. He makes a statement that in doing these two commandments it is better than fulfilling all the burnt offerings. This was an astute observation on his part. He actually understood the New Testament reality of an Old Testament type. The Lord commended him and then went on to say that he was not far from the kingdom of God. What he said was contrary to what all the other scribes and Pharisees held onto. In order to discredit Jesus they constantly sought for ways to find violations in His teaching or manner of life. Did this man become a believer? Where there others who actually understood what Jesus was teaching but held onto tradition for the purpose of convenience? To be aligned with Jesus would be dangerous to such people. This statement from the scribe is quite insightful but did he believe; did he become a follower? This is a dilemma that will be faced by many in the last days. There will be those who know the Truth, knows what is right and wrong but will wilt and yield under pressure. The tenets of absolute laws are being eroded, making allowance for lawlessness to run rampant everywhere. Will we stand for Truth? Will we answer the call as to who is on the Lord’s side? There is a season when we can live in a “middle ground” kind of environment but what will happen when we are put into a positon to choose? These days are coming and we need to prepare for them now. This scribe’s insights intrigue me. He was close to the kingdom but what did he do?
The Lord asks the question as to who do men say the Christ is. In Mathew’s account, the scribes respond the “son of David” He then goes on to say as to how then could David call Him Lord (vs 35-37)? He is absolutely confounding the learned scribes and Pharisees. Mark makes the statement that the common people heard him gladly. It seems like they enjoyed seeing the “learned” men of the religious sects being exposed as hypocrites. This of course is only fuelling the anger and hatred of these men all the more against Jesus. He was shaming and exposing them while at the same time gaining popularity amongst the common people. If this was not enough Jesus continues on in exposing them by their open display of loving reputation, being recognized and taking advantage of widows houses (vs 38-40). This is all being done while they are making long prayers in the synagogue and showing themselves to be religious. The Lord is not holding back. One can only imagine what the scribes and Pharisees must have been thinking at about this time. “This man has got to go.” Then in His grand finale He points to a widow putting in two mites into the treasury. She is doing this in the midst of many others who are putting in much larger sums. He makes clear that her reward is greater because she is giving of what she had. What a perfect illustration to capstone this series of teachings that Jesus was bringing forth.
We can see that in the last week of Jesus earthy ministry before the cross that there was no holding back in his teaching. This resulted in a hastening of the Lord being brought to the cross. He knew His hour was at hand. What will it be like in the last days? It seems that even we in the church seek to be politically correct so as to not make too many waves. We know that we are to submit to authorities; even Jesus taught this way. When does one draw the line? When is it time for the church to stand up against the cultural tide of rot that is sweeping the earth? To do this means that we will be opposed and that we will be resented. Are we ready for this? The laws of many lands are being re-written by the day. The tide of lawlessness has been gaining momentum and nothing seems to be able to stop it. Politics is certainly not the answer. Yes, God can and does use people in elected office, they need to be prayed for but in the end it will be the church that will need to draw the line in the sand. Will we be able to be bold in that hour and stand for that which is right? It is a choice.