They Claimed To Be Wise

They Claimed To Be Wise: Mark 12:38-40
Pastor John Nicholas
Sunday February 14, 2021

The previous passages dealt with the coming Messiah and His enthronement at the right hand of the father.  This was the use of the prophetic word of Psalm 110 that showed who Jesus is that He is the fulfillment of all the prophetic texts about the coming Messiah.  He would be the fulfillment of the proto-evangelion in Gen 3:15 that He would be the seed of the woman from the David line.  Not in the priestly line of the Levites. But in the lineage of Melchizedek, without beginning or end.

Psalm 110 (NASB)

The Lord Gives Dominion to the King.

A Psalm of David.

1 The Lord says to my Lord:

“Sit at My right hand

Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”

2 The Lord will stretch out Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,

“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”

3 Your people will volunteer freely on the day of Your power;

In holy splendor, from the womb of the dawn,

Your youth are to You as the dew.

4 The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,

“You are a priest forever

According to the order of Melchizedek.”

5 The Lord is at Your right hand;

He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.

6 He will judge among the nations,

He will fill them with corpses,

He will shatter the chief men over a broad country.

7 He will drink from the brook by the wayside;

Therefore He will lift up His head.

Genesis 3:15 (NASB)

15 And I will make enemies

Of you and the woman,

And of your offspring and her Descendant;

He shall bruise you on the head,

And you shall bruise Him on the heel.”

Therefore, all Christ-followers have a King, a Lord, that sits on the throne of God who intercedes for us.  One in whom we will not be lost.  But in whom we find life.

Now Jesus continues His teaching.  And this will be the last of His public teaching.  It continues from this son of David discourse, and it continues as a criticism of the scribes and Pharisees.


38 And in His teaching He was saying: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like personal greetings in the marketplaces,

Jesus has just challenged their teaching. Now he tells the disciples to beware, lookout for a certain type of teacher, a certain type of scribe, and a certain type of Pharisee.  But before we look into the bad, let’s talk about what they were to be.

After the exodus from slavery, the keepers and teachers of the Law, which we find in the first five books of the old testament (the Pentateuch), were the priests.  But as the Law became more valued, as the nation grew, a class of teachers, known as scribes, developed that studied the Law.  They studied the Law to apply it to everyday life.  We see Ezra as a priest/scribe.  Eventually, and we don’t know when exactly, they separate from the priestly line.  These scribes would also be known as Rabbis.  And the Law was their whole job.

Their training was long and arduous.  We know that as experts, they were expected to have large portions of the Old Testament memorized.  For example, they would have memorized all of the first five books.  We know that they were not supposed to receive payment for their services (see Exodus 23:8).  They were expected to know a trade, and we see this with Paul.   However, Hillel, known for his school, was known to say that to learn a trade would prevent one from becoming wise.  Gamaliel, Paul’s instructor, felt that it was necessary to follow a trade.  So, if you didn’t have a trade, you were hopefully wealthy.  And if you weren’t wealthy, or perhaps even if you were, you would receive funds and donations in other ways.  For example, there may be some benefits because of your position as a Rabbi, a teacher.  Because you were in an honored profession, you were invited to places and dinners, etc., because people wanted to be seen with you.  It brought up their stock.

These scribes are the ones who Jesus is singling out.  We should understand that there is a connection to the Pharisees at this point, as a whole, anyone associated with teaching the Law.  Jesus has inductively criticized their teaching, and now He is leaving nothing to chance.  He is pointing to their actions.  He is telling his disciples to look out, to beware of something.  And Jesus is doing it forcefully.

When we think about these teachers of the Law we should think about what or who they represented.  They were representatives of God.  They were not only the interpreters of the Law but the protectors of the Law.  And as God’s representatives, they are shepherding the people.   These men are to be guiding the people to honoring God and following God’s Law.  It was a great responsibility as His representatives to the nation.  Therefore, as a representative, the people would look to them to see God’s character.  And herein lies the rub.

Now he is looking at the actions of the scribes, the teachers.   They are the supposed shepherds of the nation of Israel.  He is critical of their actions that reflect their hearts.  Beware Jesus tells His disciples.  Look Out!  Be watchful.  Be careful of what they are doing. Don’t be like them, because what they represent, their character, is not My Father’s character (or Me).

We should always remember that we are after v. 8:15. That is the warning against the Pharisees, their teaching.  The leaven of the Pharisees ruins the whole lump.   And v. 11:18, where their plot to destroy Jesus is hatched.

And now, beware, lookout.  These men who guide and instruct the Jews are walking around in long flowing robes and are being greeted at the marketplace.  This does not sound like much, but that is the reason we need to get behind the issue.  What is the problem with long robes?  What is the problem with tassels? Is it because people may step on them and trip them?  Is it because they will get dirty?  Is it an issue with phylacteries?  Are they in the way of movement?  Or seeing?  And what’s wrong with someone saying hello to you?  What is the issue?  Why is Jesus warning them about these particular scribes with these specific behaviors?

Why are the disciples to be on the lookout for these men?  These scribes?


39 and seats of honor in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets,

What about this description?  They seek the best seats in the synagogue.  And a place of honor at the banquets.  What could be going on?  We know that the best seat at the synagogue was the seat of Moses.  In front of the ark.  Not the ark of the covenant because it is long gone.  But the ark that contained the scrolls.  It was a chest.  And a seat was there.  A seat facing the congregation that would attend the synagogue.  A place where those who represented God’s Law, who knew God’s Law, who taught God’s Law, where they would sit.  It was a place of honor and distinction.

And wouldn’t it be appropriate to have the seat of honor at banquets?  We just described what the scribes were.  How much work went into becoming a rabbi?  Following their teachers for years.  Learning everything that they could.  Copying everything that they did.  Learning from them so that they could be just like them.  Naturally, such a person would be deserving of a seat at the head table.  A seat next to the host.  A seat of first honor.  Above everyone else.  Number one (or at the very least number two) at the table.  And besides, if you were throwing a banquet, a feast, with the couches to recline on.  To gather those you liked around you.  And if you, the host, were important or wanted to look important, it was a big deal to have a rabbi with his students in attendance.  You were the big shot having the rabbis there.

And these rabbis, these teachers of the Law, weren’t to be paid.  So what is wrong with a free dinner.  And an ‘atta boy’?  Thanks for teaching us.  And recognizing how important we are.

Why are the disciples to be on the lookout for these men?  These scribes?

We are at the heart of the issue.

It is an issue of representation.  An issue of the heart.

These are the men who are teaching God’s Law.  The Law handed down at Mt. Sinai.  The Law given by God.  The Law was given by the God, who promised Abraham that descendants would be like the sand of the beaches.  The God who saved Israel out of slavery.  The God who stretched out His mighty hands and parted the Red Sea.  Whose ancestors walked across on dry land.  Between walls of water piled up like haystacks.  The Law of the God who closed the water over pharaoh and the Egyptian army.  The Law of the God who led them through the desert.  The Law of the God who promised and fulfilled those promises time and again.  The God whose Son will be exalted to the highest position at His right hand in just 50+ days.

They are teaching this God’s Law.  They are God’s representatives. They are stealing the honor that belongs only to Him and keeping it for themselves. They have worn their tallith, or prayer shawl, or perhaps their white robes out and about.  Pieces of clothing that draw attention.  Clothing that screams looks at me.  Look at who I am.  Look at how important I am.  Clothing that looks different than those around them so that they will be noticed.  Clothing that tells those around them that they are holy.  That they are pious.  That they know more, they see more, and they understand more.  That no ordinary person could possibly understand what they think about all day, their thoughts are so high-minded.   So beyond the average joe.  Clothing that says that they are better than everyone around them.

Going to the marketplace.  The area of daily commerce.  The busiest place in Jerusalem.  Everyone is there.  The vendors and the shoppers.  And here come the rabbis.  Robes and all.  Students in tow.  Great men seeking to be acknowledged for their greatness, their piety.  And the greetings.  Not just hello, how are you? But seeking to be noticed.  Seeking adulation.  Seeking praise.  Look at me.  Look at how much better I am.  How righteous I am.   Stealing the honor from God.

And at the synagogues.  Sitting in Moses’ seat.  In front of the chest, the ark that contains the Law of God.  The Law that the entirety of their life revolves around.  The Law that they study.  That they interpret but do not write.  That Law.  The Law that was written by the hand of God.  And they, mere men, are taking this honor.  They sit before it, in front of everyone. They are seeking out that particular place.  The best place.  The place where everyone can see them.  And there they are.  And they don’t even notice the hypocrisy.  They have sat in that seat before the Law of the Creator.  The Creator who condescends to us.  And they are elevating themselves and stealing the honor from God.

And at the banquets.  Gladly accepting the invitation.  Walking by even the parents who should be honored.  Taking that special seat.  The one right next to the host.  The seat where they could be seen.  Where everyone would notice.  Look at Rabbi so and so.  So righteous. So pious.  So holy.  He is so much more than we could ever be.  Look at the clothes.  Look how set apart he is.  He is the man.


40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers. These will receive all the more condemnation.”

And Jesus rains down the criticism.  In just a few short words.  And when he states that they devour widow’s houses, Jesus is condemning their avarice.  Their desire for reward.  Their love of money.  In their role to be shepherds and righteous judges, they were taking these homes for themselves, using their position to coerce those who were vulnerable to abuse to gift their homes to them.  Greed was their God masked in piety.  The supposed righteous ones were unrighteous.  Representatives of God stealing His honor.  Shepherds taking advantage of the sheep.

Just for show.  Praying at length.  Making them at great length to show how righteous and holy they were.  Showing those around how close they were to God.  And how far away everyone else was. They were not praying from a desire to please God and to know him.  But from a desire to leverage their position to the citizenry around them.  So that they could coerce, to gain favor, to be loved, to be seen, to be honored, and they were receiving that which God should have received.  They are making a show to steal from the poor and the oppressed.  They were stealing the honor from God and lining their pockets.

Let’s not forget that Jesus knew the heart of men.  He knew what dwelled there.  And He was righteously judging what he knows is happening.  Remember how they addressed Him in Mark 12:14.  He did not judge by appearances.  This is not speculation.  It is a warning not to be associated with them.  To flee from their influence and their false religion.

Look at the greater discourse of the condemnation in Matthew 23:13-32.  The Eight woes.  The warning against those who claim to be teachers but do it falsely.  They are condemned for:

  • Preventing people from finding the kingdom of heaven
  • For taking from the widows
  • For making their students, even more, a son of hell than they are
  • For making foolish oaths
  • For making outward action more critical than an inward change
  • For hiding their greed by false piety
  • For claiming to teach of the prophets but being the same as those who killed them

Matthew 23:13-32 (NASB)

Eight Woes

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut the kingdom of heaven in front of people; for you do not enter it yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’

17 You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold?

18 And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the offering that is on it is obligated.’

19 You blind men, which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering?

20 Therefore, the one who swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it.

21 And the one who swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells in it.

22 And the one who swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.

26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may also become clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.

28 So you too, outwardly appear righteous to people, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs for the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous,

30 and you say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’

31 So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.

32 Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers.

The result is that those who teach and teach falsely will be condemned greatly.  And one might say, “even though they act in this way, they still teach according to the Law.  Besides, God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick.” There is some truth here; however, they are supposed to be God’s representative.  Representing what God is like.  Not adulterating the message.  Not causing people to have a false idea about what God is like through their behavior.  And not causing them to stumble through their actions.

Claiming to be wise, they showed that they are fools.  They are playing a game with God’s wrath.  Hence Jesus’s warning to beware of them.  Don’t be associated with them.

This is the end of Jesus’ public ministry

And it ends with this warning

Why are they to be on the lookout?

Why have the disciples been warned?

It is a warning against hypocrisy

It is a warning against false religion

It is a warning against false teaching

Be always on guard against the evil influence of ones such as these

The ones that point to themselves

The ones that steal the honor from God

They are false witnesses

They lead people astray by their false teaching

Compare how they sought adulation, praise, honor, without truly knowing God to how Jesus was born in a humble state, as God Enfleshed, How He ate with sinners.  How they had no compassion for the people and how Jesus looked at the multitude and had compassion on them as sheep without a shepherd.

As these, who claimed to know God, were seeking the praise, the power, the gain.  Jesus on the other hand had come as the bronze serpent to be lifted up not in adulation but in ignominy. How Jesus was like the bronze serpent lifted.  The serpent represents sin and the bronze representing judgment.  This is the role that Jesus filled.

And in turn because of His shame and punishment we are seen as sons and daughters of the Most High God.

Think about the short sightedness of these scribes, these rabbis, these pharisees.

Knowing where the good food was but rooting around in the trash.  And taking others with them.

Certainly, James 3:1 speaks to this.  As teachers they will fall under greater judgment.

James 3:1 (NASB)

The Tongue Is a Fire

1 Do not become teachers in large numbers, my brothers, since you know that we who are teachers will incur a stricter judgment.

And think to Paul in his farewell to the church in Ephesus – Acts 20:19. How he warned that wolves would come into the flock and that they would rend and tear it apart.  That many of these wolves were from within the flock.

Acts 20:28-32 (NASB)

28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;

30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them.

31 Therefore, be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.

32 And now I entrust you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

We too should look to who is teaching and who is preaching.

As we have said here many times, do not listen to the preacher with an open mind but instead listen to the preacher with an open bible.  Is what he is saying true.

That is our guide and our foundation.

We look to the scripture that guides us and tells us about our lord and savior.

The scripture as the only way to know the truth

Therefore, when we look at passages such as this, as taught by our Lord, we know that it is true.

We take the warning about false teachers seriously.

We see them everywhere.

We can see their characteristics demonstrated here in Harrisburg

Teaching that says that abstaining from eating meat on Friday somehow gains favor of God

Teaching that says that someone who calls themselves a priest can claim that your sins are forgiven

Teaching that says money or certain mantras buy your way out of a purgatory that doesn’t exist

Teaching that says that Jesus needs your help to save you

Teaching that you must be able to speak gibberish to be saved

Teaching that says that baptism saves you

Teaching that says just raise a hand and you are saved

Teaching that focuses on our felt needs

Our health

Our wealth

Our happiness

Our wife

Our husband

Our children

Our families

A message that says don’t judge

A message that says Jesus is love only

A message that says Jesus came to save all

They are teaching a message that man is the apex

They are teaching a message that we are most important

And that is not a message that saves

That is a message that paves the road smooth and wide to hell

We then can see it in the health and welfare gospel that is so popular

The best life now gospel

And if this is your best life now, what comes next will be truly horrible.

We are never dying souls heading to a never-ending eternity

And it is beyond irresponsible if a pastor is not preaching that you must repent and be born again.

To leave people comfortable in their sin for the sake of popularity

For the sake of being liked

Is worthy of punishment to claim that one is preacher of the word yet not do it

And it scares me to even say these words because of condemnation for I am certainly not perfect and there are times that I have fallen prey to these sins.

We end up trading a relationship with God.  Our Creator.   For the trinkets of the world.  For mere dust.  Dust trading in dust that was returning to dust.

The only thing that you bring to your salvation is the sin that made it necessary

Jesus is the only way

The only truth

The only life

And if they are not preaching that they are liars

And we have friends and family members who are caught in this trap

Friends and family who have never know the truth that to be free in the Son is to be free indeed.

Point them to the truth of the gospel

Bury the gospel deep within your hearts so you can tell them

And do not be afraid to point out the false teachers out there

Think hard on these things.  Think hard on your own salvation.

Think rightly about what brought it about.

Think deeply of the cost and the joy that it brought our savior, Jesus Christ.

Pray, Observe, Apply.

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