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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Mark Batterson » Mark Batterson - Jesus: Flip the Coin

Mark Batterson - Jesus: Flip the Coin

Mark Batterson - Jesus, Flip the Coin

A young man was working in the grocery store in the produce section when a woman walked in and asked, get this, for half a head of lettuce. He wasn't sure what to do so he said, "Lemme go talk to my manager". Went and found his manager and said, "There's this crazy old lady who wants half a head of lettuce". And the second he said it, he noticed that she had followed him and heard what he just said, so he said, "And this nice young woman would like the other half". The manager complimented his quick wit, said, "Where are you from"? He said, "I'm from Altoona, the land of great hockey players and ugly women". Manager said, "My wife is from Altoona".

Young man said, "Really? What hockey team does she play for"? If you laughed at that, if you found that funny, it's a function of the medial ventral prefrontal cortex. It's the part of the brain that allows us to find things funny, that allows us to juxtapose two things, two thoughts, and laugh. Newsflash. Humor is part of the imago Dei. Those who laugh at themselves the most I think are the holiest, healthiest, happiest people on the planet. And when Jesus said, "Love God with all of your mind," I think that includes the medial ventral prefrontal cortex. I think humor, like everything else, is a stewardship issue. But I say all of that to say this. The ability to see two sides, this ability to appreciate paradox, this ability to juxtapose two different ideas, this ability to understand double entendre is a unique metacognitive capacity that God has given to us as humankind.

And so here's the big idea this weekend. If you're taking notes you can jot it down or snap a picture, and I'll say it two ways. True wisdom has two sides. Truth is found in the tension of opposites. Welcome to National Community Church, in person, online, real time, on demand. So glad you're here. We are in a series on Mark's Gospel. And if you're in person, did you get one of these? Guess what, you got a nickel, and you got a nickel and you got, and you got a nickel. Grab that nickel and do me a favor and flip it. That is the title of the message. Flip the coin. Ready or not, here we go. Jesus is on the Temple Mount and he says, "I am the stone the builders rejected. I am the cornerstone".

What Jesus is saying is, "I am the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. I am Messiah. I am Alpha and Omega. I am the way, the truth, and the life. I am the Rock of Ages. I am the Ancient of Days. I am who I am". And we talked about that last week. This is when and where and why the tide turns in Mark's Gospel. Well, what do you mean? Well, Jesus' popularity with people is off the chart, but this ticks off the religious leaders. Why? Because he doesn't check their boxes. Jesus doesn't play their games, and he's not afraid of speaking truth to power. So they're trying to shut him up and shut him down.

And that's where we pick up the story, Mark 12, verse 12. The religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus, which, I mean, face value is hilarious if it weren't so unfortunate, right? Like for which miracle, for showing mercy to who, for what kind of love showing to... Like they wanna arrest Jesus, but they were afraid of the crowd. Later they sent some Pharisees and Herodians to catch him in his words. They said, "Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You are impartial and don't play favorites. You teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? Should we or should we not"? Cowards, every last one of them. They pay Jesus these incredible compliments, which are absolutely true and totally disingenuous. They are trolling Jesus with a trick question. But I love what Jesus does. He asks for a denarius, and I'll show you what it looks like.

Now, it was a silver coin worth about a day's wages. It was in circulation for like 500 years in the Roman Empire, which meant lots of different Caesar's graced the cover, best guess during this time period minted in Antioch, probably had Caesar Tiberius on one side and Caesar Augustus on the other. And I love what Jesus does. Take note. He answers a question with a question. This is brilliant, with a British accent. Mark 12, "Whose image is this? And whose inscription? Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God". I can't help myself. This reminds me of a deep thought by Jack Handy. He said, "Whenever someone asks me to define love, I think for a minute. Then I spin around, pin the guy's arm behind his back. Now who's asking the questions"?

Jesus answers a question with a question. Now in the gospels, Jesus is asked 187 questions. He only answers three questions directly. Maybe, just maybe it's not our job to have an answer to every question. Jesus is asked 187 questions, but he asks 307 questions. So Jesus asked more questions than he answered. Go thou and do likewise. According to Rolf Smith, children ask on average 125 questions per day. Adults ask six. So somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose 119 questions a day. I would suggest that part of becoming like Christ is becoming like a child and part of becoming like a child is asking more questions. Newsflash. You do not have to have an answer for every question.

In fact, you can't answer every question. Life is full of mystery and scripture is full of paradox. God doesn't fit within the four dimensions of spacetime, much less the logical constraints of your left brain. A Greek Orthodox theologian said it this way. "God is not so much the object of knowledge as he is the cause of wonder". I mean, I've shared this so many times, but my theological starting point is Isaiah 55. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts," declares the Lord. So God likens the difference between our thoughts and his thoughts to the expanse of space.

Last time I checked, the co-moving distance from one side of the universe to the other was 93 billion light years. In other words, your best thought on your best day is 93 billion light years short of how good and how great God really is. So a little bit of critical realism, a little bit of intellectual humility perhaps is in order. Can I get a amen right there? Our story, one storyline of scripture in general, and this is really important, and Mark's Gospel in particular, I think I've mentioned this three or four times, God is always writing a bigger story. God is always writing a better story. But if you wanna understand the bigger story, you have to ask bigger questions. If you want to be part of a better story, you have to ask better questions. And so that's a lot of what this weekend is about. Here is my take on this denarius dialogue.

When Jesus asked them whose image is on the coin, the answer is obvious. The image is that of Caesar, but I think it's a double entendre. The coin may be made in Caesar's image, but Caesar is made in God's image. The coin may belong to Rome, but Rome and everything else belongs to God. Do you see what Jesus is doing here? Abraham Kuyper said, "There is not one square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ who is sovereign over all does not cry, mine". The metanarrative of Mark's Gospel, in my opinion, is Jesus asserting authority over everything. He asserts his authority over sin by forgiving 70 times seven. He asserts his authority over sickness by healing broken bodies and broken minds. He asserts his authority over evil spirits by casting them out. He asserts his authority over storms by stopping them in their tracks. He asserts his authority over the water by walking on it. He asserts his authority over death by his resurrection.

In this instance, don't miss this, Jesus is asserting his authority over Caesar, over the Roman Empire, over money and markets, over everything financial and political. Don't miss what's really happening here. Seriously, you're gonna bring me a denarius, try to trick me with that and get me into small thinking. By the way, it was the size of a thumbnail and Jesus is like, "No, no, no, no. Let's ask some bigger questions. Let's ask some better questions". Can I push the offering envelope right here? It's not the tithe that belongs to God. All of it does. I breathe borrowed breath. I live on borrowed time. I spend borrowed money. It's not about us giving God 10%. It's more about, God said, "Why don't you keep 90%. Oh, and then by the way, I'll do more with 90% than you can do with 100%".

If you believe that, maybe another amen right there. Jesus answers a question with a question. So what I wanna do this weekend is not just understand the nuance of what's happening in the story. I wanna learn from the example that Jesus sets. I don't wanna just do what he did. I wanna think how he thought. I wanna engage issues and engage people and ask questions the way that Jesus did. Now, if you're taking notes, here's kind of the second thought. Jesus theologizes what the Pharisees politicize. Now, the subplot of the story is paying taxes to Caesar, and that's a hot button issue in the first century Judea. This is the ancient equivalent of asking someone, are you pro-life or pro-choice?

This is the ancient equivalent of asking someone their opinion on same-sex marriage. The question is more tense, more nuanced, and more parsed than the political debate. The political polarization and racial tension in first century Judea was no less than it is now. There were five sects of Judaism, and I'll put these on the screen. The Essenes were mystics and monastics. They were homesteaders. They lived off the land. They lived off the grid. Their claim to fame is the Dead Sea Scrolls that were discovered in the caves of Qumran. And they don't play much of a role in the gospels unless you believe like many scholars that John the Baptist, because of where he lived and what he ate and how he dressed, was either an Essene himself or influenced by them.

A second sect were the Zealots. They were revolutionaries who wanted to overthrow Roman rule by any means possible. Little bit of backstory here. In four BC, so right around the time Jesus was born, there was an uprising against Rome. Jewish Zealots overthrew a Roman armory in Sepphoris. Rome retaliated by burning the city to the ground and crucifying 2,000 Jewish people on Roman crosses. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, four miles west of Sepphoris. So it's safe to say anybody who grew up in that region of Galilee, this is part of their collective consciousness, including Jesus.

Now the third sect were Pharisees, who play a pretty major role in the gospels. The Pharisees were separatists. They wanted nothing to do with Rome. And so parts of Jesus' teaching were so offensive to them, like, go the extra mile for a Roman soldier. No, no, no, no, no, no. And they were purists who practiced the law to the letter of the law. So healing on the Sabbath, no. And that's why there's so much conflict.

A fourth sect were the Herodians, who played politics. They were in league with Rome trying to curry favor with the powers that be. And then there were the Sadducees. They were the who's who of Israel, the financial and social elite. They had power, they had privilege, and so they wanted to maintain the status quo, okay, which brings us back to the $64,000 question. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? I mean, you see what's happening here. If Jesus says yes, he offends one side of the aisle. If Jesus says no, he offends the other side of the aisle. By the way, I've learned even as a preacher that no matter what I say, it's never enough and it's always too much. Guess what. Jesus is an equal opportunity offender.

Can I ask a really honest question? What makes us think we can follow Jesus without ever offending anyone ever? I mean, what makes us think we can become like Jesus without being betrayed by Judas, tempted by the enemy, canceled by some Pharisees, mocked by the mob, and maybe crucified by Roman soldiers? Take a deep breath. The Pharisees are politicizing a hot button issue. They're doing it to cause division. They're making the classic mistake. They're filtering their theology through their political ideology, which is idolatry. I would advocate the exact opposite. It's so critical when winds of doctrine are blowing that we are grounded in God's Word. The final authority in matters of faith in doctrine is not a political party or a Supreme Court decision or popular opinion or a pastor's point of view. I'm gonna make this quick, but I wanna pop it up on the screen, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

Four things influence our faith and doctrine. One is personal experience, and one of our desires, we wanna help you find faith with your fingerprint on it. That said, I am a data point of one and so are you. Two is reason, which is a gift from God. But I would also say in the same breath that faith is not logical or illogical. It's theological. It adds God to the equation. Three is tradition. We don't believe what we believe in a vacuum. There are 2,000 years of church history. And so I'd like to think of NCC as being innovative, right? There are ways of doing church no one's thought of yet, and listen, we're kind of unorthodox in practice, right? But we're actually orthodox in theology. We're in alignment with a long tradition of church history.

And then last but not least is scripture, but this is our epistemological starting point. When everything is said and done, scripture is the final authority in matters of faith and doctrine. All of that to say this. If being on the right side of scripture puts me on the wrong side of culture, so be it. Like if I have to choose between biblical correctness and political correctness, I will choose BC over PC seven days a week and twice on Sunday. Now in a cancel culture that is always baiting and trolling and shaming, here's a reality check. You can please all of the people some of the time, some of the people all the time, but you cannot please all the people all the time. If you are afraid of offending people, you will inevitably offend God. If you fear God, which is the beginning of wisdom, you will invariably offend people.

My advice, don't live for the applause of people. It's short-lived and it's shortsighted. Live for the applause of nail-scarred hands. How are we doing? One of the things that deeply concerns me about this cultural moment when and where we are is our lack of civility, our inability to agree to disagree agreeably. Common grace and common sense are all too uncommon. And that's where I would point us to our common humanity. We have a theology of dignity, all of us. And that includes people who don't look like you, think like you, or vote like you are created in the image of God. I have no option other than to treat them as such. So there always has been and there always will be fault lines between church and culture. It's a mistake to think that compromising our theological distinctives will somehow heal the rift.

"The church has its greatest relevance to the world," said Timothy Gombis, "when it is most unlike the world in all its corrupted forms". And in the same breath I would say biblical tolerance is giving others the same measure of free will that God gave us. A person convinced against their will is of the same opinion still. The answer is not compromise. The answer is courage and compassion. The answer is grace and truth. And this is where truth is the tension of opposites. Jesus was full of grace and truth. Grace means I'll love you no matter what. Truth means I'll be honest with you no matter what. You know what it reminds me of? Table salt. Himalayan pink salt. We'll just get fancy for a second. It's sodium and chloride. Sodium by itself is dangerous and flammable and highly unstable metal. Chloride is a poisonous gas. Combine them with butter on corn on the cob, and it's so good, right? Woo!

I would suggest that grace without truth is compassion without conviction, and truth without grace is conviction without compassion. And the last time I checked, people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. And so somehow... Grace without truth is weak sauce. Truth without grace is hot sauce. Grace and truth is our secret sauce, and there's a lot of tension there. But that's the example that Jesus sets. And so, let's keep going. We have four principles of peacemaking at NCC. You'll find these in your message notes on the NCC app. One, listen well. Two, ask anything. Three, disagree freely. Four, love regardless. There will always be things we disagree on even within the church on lots of points of doctrine. That's why in the preamble to our core beliefs, we cite a German theologian who said something 500 years ago.

"In the essentials. Unity. In the non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity". Lots of people deconstructing their faith these days for lots of reasons. I think for some it's church hurt, which grieves my heart. I think for some it's like I don't know how to juxtapose what I'm learning in scripture and what I'm learning in the science class. And you could fill in the blank with so many different things. Whatever the reason, I think all of us deconstruct and reconstruct to some degree. Like, I mean, I don't... My belief system is so different than it was five or 10, where when I was five years old and put my faith in Jesus. Like you continue to grow up and you continue to connect dots, and by the way, some things you were sure of now you're not so sure of. And other things that I don't know are court. Like, it's a process, but I think it's how we reconstruct that's critical.

And so what we believe is not not complicated, but I wanna remind us that the first creed of the early church was three words. Jesus is Lord, which sounds simple, but it was a coup d'etat against Rome. And it goes back to the denarius that I showed you. At the peak of his power, Caesar Augustus declared himself pontifex maximus, or chief priest of Rome. He reinstituted animal sacrifice to the Roman gods. He renovated 82 Roman temples. And it was upon his death in AD 14 when Jesus was a teenager that Caesar was declared the son of God. The inscription on Roman coins read, "Caesar is Lord". Do you see what Jesus does? Let's take that coin back out. I love it. Why don't we just flip that coin? Newsflash. Caesar is not Lord. The kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.

If you were placing bets in the first century AD on who would have the greatest impact, Caesar or Jesus, on what would last the longest, the Roman Empire or this thing called Christianity, you would bet the farm on Rome. 2,000 years later, Caesar is a salad and 2 billion people profess to follow the person of Jesus. How does that happen? Well, maybe, just maybe the tomb is empty. Maybe, just maybe Jesus is who he said he was. All right, one final thought. This is number three. Jesus flips the script by flipping the coin. Now dig, dig deep today. I know we're going in a lot of directions and there's just, we're engaging emotions and thoughts and the whole nine yards. But this is the world we live in and so we have gotta be on point with these things.

In psychology there is a phenomenon called binocular rivalry. When incongruent images are presented to the right eye and left eye, instead of fusing those images, we tend to alternate between them. Why? Because the brain tends to be binary. We have a hard time seeing two things at the same time, which is illustrated by an optical illusion that I bet you've seen a time or two or 10. We'll put it up on the screen. Now, question. How many of you see a young woman? How many of you see an old woman? That optical illusion dates back to 1888. But in 2018 there was a followup study that adds an interesting insight. If you are 18 to 30 years old, you'll tend to see a young woman. If you're over 30, and I promise you, I'm not calling that old, not these days, but if you're over 30, you will tend to see an old woman.

Now, all of that to say this. We don't see the world as it is. We see the world as we are. We see the world through our history and our personality. We see the world through our ideology and our ethnicity. We see the world through our theology. There's no way around this. I was gonna show you the codex of cognitive bias, but it's just, there's too many. There are hundreds of cognitive biases that make it difficult for us to see. And that brings us back to the big idea. True wisdom has two sides. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and retain the ability to function". Remember John nine, Jesus encounters a man born blind, and the disciples compartmentalize by asking a very binary question. "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind"? Because in their binary brains it has to be A or B.

But Jesus introduces C. What has happened is so that the work of God might be put on display in his life, and we are right back to this idea. We get stuck in these little questions. We narrow frame things, to cite Dan and Chip Heath. Brilliant book, "Decisive". It's this idea of framing our decisions too narrowly. C. S. Lewis said our frame of reference isn't big enough so we asked nonsense questions like, "How many hours in a mile? Is yellow square or round"? Lewis said, "Half the questions we ask, half our metaphysical and theological questions are like that". Our frame of reference isn't large enough to accommodate mystery or paradox or miracles. And I think what Jesus is doing here is like, "No, no, no, come on. You're missing the forest through the trees. I'm writing a bigger story. I'm writing a better story. It's bigger than Caesar. It's bigger than the Roman Empire. It's bigger than sin or sickness or death".

So give me three minutes. This is gonna sound really metaphysical, but I wanna connect the dots between reality and duality. And then I want us to leave today with just a little bit of tension in our spirits, 'cause if we have all the answers, he who thinks he knows does not yet know as he ought to know, 2 Corinthians 8:2, the more you know, the more you know how much you don't know. So like back up a step or two. I want us to see this, okay? This is so beautiful and I'm seeing things I haven't seen before in scripture, which is just so exciting to me, so when I get excited, I talk fast and get animated. In the beginning God says, "Let there be light".

And we read it theologically, which is fine. This is our cosmological constant, right? That we do believe in an intelligent designer. You are not an accident. You are a divine appointment. You're here for such a time as this, for such a place as this. But I wanna translate it scientifically. "Let there be life. Let there be electromagnetic radiation with varying wavelengths traveling at 186,282 miles per second". This is what God is saying. "Let there be radio waves, microwaves, and x-rays. Let there be photosynthesis and fiber optics. Let there be laser surgery, satellite communication, and suntans. Oh, and let there be rainbows after rainstorms". And that's the tip of the iceberg. But here's my point. When you turn the kaleidoscope and when you flip the coin, I'll ask the question this way. Is light a wave or a particle? According to quantum mechanics, yes. Then God says, "Let us, us, make man in our, our, image".

Notice the plurality of divinity. We believe in one God, three persons. Well, Mark, which is it? Yes. Then God says, "Male and female". This is not a social construct. This is divine design. This is duality written into our double helix DNA. XX, XY. All of this duality as a part of reality, and we could just keep going today. You're breathing in oxygen, breathing out carbon dioxide. Trees are doing the opposite, right? And there's this symbiosis, this synthesis of this ecosystem that we live in that is absolutely unbelievable. And then we get to Mark 12:29, and I will close with this. The most important commandment is this.

So it's almost like, and there's another, by the way, there's another trick question by the Sadducees. And their frame of reference is too small again, by the way. It's about like somebody married like seven times and then who are they gonna be married to in heaven? And Jesus is like, you totally missed the point because it's an alternate reality when we cross the spacetime continuum and enter this dimension called heaven. Your frame of reference is too small. But then his ability to take 613 law, the the mitzvah of the Pharisees, and turn it into one great commandment.

This is simplicity on the far side of complexity, Oliver Wendell Holmes. And Jesus says, "The most important commandment is this. Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind and with all of your strength. The second is this. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these". Do you see it? Tell me you see the duality. Just as duality is written into light, just as duality is written into our double helix DNA, just as duality is written into our sexuality, duality is written into the great commandment. Because here's the thing that's hilarious that we read.

Is it one or two commandments? Because Jesus calls it one. And then he says the second command is it, like, I don't understand this. You have to flip the coin. The vertical dimension, love God, heart, soul, mind and strength. Horizontal dimension, love your neighbor as yourself. Guess what. You can't do one without doing the other. You cannot fulfill one without fulfilling the other. And so Jesus is paradox with the capital P. Jesus is duality with a capital D. He's grace and truth, Son of Man, Son of God, Lamb of God, Lion of the tribe of Judah. He is all of those things. But there's one more duality and it's right in here in the human heart. Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, "The line dividing good and evil runs through every human heart". So here's the duality.

I am a sinner in need of saving, but God made him who had no sin to become sin for us so that I might become the righteousness of God. So I say, thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. In Jesus' name, amen.

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