Christ at the Core
It is interesting how life works.
As a high school and college student, I loved to dig deep into thinking about profound truths.
I remember lying awake in my bed for hours, staring at the ceiling as I pondered the great mysteries of life.
I used to go out and look at the stars, trying to get a sense of the depth of space.
I don’t do that much anymore. Do you?
Life gets busy. We have jobs, school, families, Netflix, and Facebook to keep us distracted.
Most days, we collapse into our beds and fall quickly to sleep, only to get up the next day and keep running.
I want to invite you this morning to focus in with me on an incredibly important question.
It is one that may make you uncomfortable, and when that discomfort hits, you’re going to be tempted to pull out your phone and check Snapchat or use the space in your bulletin to plan out your week.
Can I encourage you to resist that this morning?
I believe that what God has for us today from his word is so critical that we need to lean into the discomfort and allow him to shine his light into the corners of our hearts.
Here’s the question we want to answer today: What is the center point of your life?
At your core, at the very heart of who you are, what is your life based upon?
You’re in church, and if you’ve been around church for long, you know the right answer to that is “Jesus”. However, I’m not looking for the right answer; I’m looking for the honest one.
As we look this morning at a parable Jesus told, we are going to hear him make a case that he must be at the center of our lives.
If you are here this morning and still investigating Christianity, let me first say that I am glad you are here. I know you may not be ready to acknowledge these truths, but I want you to have a full understanding of what you are looking into.
Following Jesus, being a Christian, isn’t just a Sunday thing. It isn’t simply a part of what we do; it is the core reality of who we are.
Christ at the core means that he is both the most central element in our life and that he permeates every single aspect of who we are and what we do.
We are going to try to unpack that this morning as we look at Mark 12:1-12.
The parable Jesus tells here is one of the most direct and confrontational parables he tells.
Here, only days before his arrest and execution, Jesus is confronting the religious leaders of Israel.
In the verses just before this, they have once again challenged Jesus’ authority, and he has proven that he is in the right and they are in the wrong.
He is sent from God the Father, as God the Son, to be the Messiah that has been promised for thousands of years. The religious leaders, called Sadducees and Pharisees, are rejecting him.
The story he is about to tell highlights their ongoing rejection of God throughout their history, with their rejection of Jesus as the pinnacle.
As he does that, Jesus is demonstrating that he must be the center of our lives as well. He cannot be pushed aside.
Although we aren’t direct descendants of the Pharisees and Sadducees Jesus is condemning here, our human hearts are defective in the same way theirs were.
So, as we read this story, we are going to explain what it meant to those who heard it when Jesus first told it, and then we are going to draw three main principles for us from what we see.
Read it with me...
Strange story, right?
It made more sense to the first hearers than it does to us at first glance. Verse 12 makes it clear that they got the point.
We can see the central idea in verse 11, but it is going to take some more explanation to catch the nuances.
Let’s do that, then.
1) Realize what God has done.
1) Realize what God has done.
Start back in verse 1.
Remember, Jesus is telling a parable. In a parable, you are telling an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. It is impossible to say that every detail is symbolic of something, although this one has more and clearer symbolism than many.
The man planting and developing the vineyard represents God.
Here, the vineyard represents the nation of Israel.
As the man builds the vineyard, he takes great care to make sure it is given every advantage.
He puts a wall around the vineyard to keep wild animals and robbers out. He digs out a trench so they can collect the wine after it is pressed, and he builds a tower to overlook the fields, again watching over it to make sure no one breaks in to disturb the vineyard.
All this is a picture of what God has done for Israel throughout their history as a nation.
The nation was born when God gave a man named Abraham a son named Isaac. That family grew and grew into the nation of Israel.
God often protected and provided for them. When there was a famine in the land where they lived, God moved the family to Egypt in an incredible way, putting them geographically away from the rest of Egypt so they could grow larger and stronger.
When the Egyptians began to oppress the Israelites, God miraculously and powerfully delivered them, eventually bringing them back to the land they started in 400 years before.
Throughout the Old Testament, you see time and time again where God worked in truly miraculous ways to defend and protect his people.
However, as Jesus pointed out, God’s people rejected him.
All of this language is taken directly out of something God said through the prophet Isaiah:
I will sing about the one I love, a song about my loved one’s vineyard: The one I love had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He broke up the soil, cleared it of stones, and planted it with the finest vines. He built a tower in the middle of it and even dug out a winepress there. He expected it to yield good grapes, but it yielded worthless grapes. So now, residents of Jerusalem and men of Judah, please judge between me and my vineyard. What more could I have done for my vineyard than I did? Why, when I expected a yield of good grapes, did it yield worthless grapes?
Jesus took the picture from Isaiah and tweaked it some. Instead of focusing on the fruit the nation was supposed to bear, he focused on the farmers who were supposed to take care of it.
The religious leaders, who knew their Scriptures, would have immediately known what Jesus was referring to.
God’s special people, his vineyard, had every advantage in the world, and yet they rejected him, starting with the leaders.
He expected them to honor him for all he had done for them, and rightly so!
Instead, they continued to do their own thing time and time again.
Great, but we aren’t Israel, right?
Maybe you have a family genealogy, or you have done one of those DNA checks that tells you your heritage, and you don’t have any Jewish blood in you.
What, then does this have to do with you?
God has done more for you than you may realize.
Although you may not physically be a part of Israel, you have the opportunity to inherit the spiritual blessings they did.
You see, when God called Abraham to himself, God said that all the nations of the earth would be blessed by what God was going to do through Abraham’s family.
That promise was referring to Jesus. Jesus came not only to offer salvation to the Jews, but to offer salvation to every person in the entire world!
Listen again to a verse that may be familiar to you:
For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
God shows his love to every person in the world by extending the hope of salvation to them, without them doing anything to deserve it!
Just like Abraham didn’t deserve for God to make him into this incredible nation, we don’t deserve for God to save us, and yet he does!
It’s only reasonable to expect, then, that we should honor him with the way we live, isn’t it?
That’s what we see in the New Testament:
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.
Your salvation is not dependent on you in any way shape or form. God planted the vineyard, put the wall around it, dug the winepress, and put up the tower.
However, like Israel, the outcome of what God has done in your life should be an orientation around Jesus.
You should do what Jesus condemned the religious leaders for not doing:
Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones.
We see that more clearly as we work through the rest of the story.
Not only must we recognize what God has done, we must also...
2) Receive what God has said.
2) Receive what God has said.
Look at verses 2-5 again.
When you look at Israel’s history, you see that it didn’t take much to get them off track.
Within a matter of days of God miraculously delivering them from Egypt, the most powerful nation in the world at the time, they are griping that God led them into the desert to die.
Once God gives them the land he had promised them, they almost immediately begin to serve other gods.
Throughout their history, there is a constant ebb and flow of their relationship with God. They would get away from God, they would get in trouble, God would deliver them, they’d get excited, and then they would fall away again.
The cycle was a downward spiral. As time went on, the dark periods got worse and lasted longer.
During those times, God would send prophets to warn them.
Those are the servants who were beaten and rejected that Jesus is referring to in our parable.
Their job was to help God’s people see where they had fallen short, how they needed to come back, and what would happen if they didn’t.
The leaders of Israel rejected many of them and even put a number of them to death.
They refused to listen to what God was trying to tell them.
Don’t we do the same thing today?
God doesn’t send us prophets like he used to, but we have something even better: we have the words of the prophets written down for us!
If you live here in America, you likely have a Bible in your house. If you have a smartphone, you can download one so you have the word of God in your pocket at all times!
Why don’t we listen?
Let me suggest two main reasons. I am sure there are others, but here are two that stick out to me:
1) It takes too much work.
1) It takes too much work.
The Bible isn’t always easy to understand, and it isn’t always fun.
However, like any other discipline, the more time you spend in God’s Word, the more you start to understand about who God is, what he has done, who you are, and what you need to do.
I would be more than happy to sit down and help you find ways to dig into God’s word. I can point you to resources to help, encourage you on where to start, and all kinds of things. I can’t make it easy, but I can help you start developing that habit.
You find that as you spend time in God’s Word, he reshapes your mind and your heart and your life.
As we study what God has said, though, there is another reason we give it up...
2) We don’t like what we find.
2) We don’t like what we find.
You see, the Bible acts like a mirror.
As you read, you get a clearer picture of who you are.
Much of the time, that isn’t very pretty.
We figure out that our motives aren’t pure, that our actions don’t line up with who God is, and that we aren’t doing as well as we thought.
So, what do we do?
Unfortunately, we kill and reject the prophets whose voices show us our sin.
That may describe you this morning, by the way.
You think all that I have said is garbage. You are stronger than this, you don’t need the crutch of religion to find some meaning in life, and you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you how to live.
Can I beg with you, plead with you today not to reject what God is saying to your heart this morning?
If, as we described how God sent Jesus to show you his love and draw you back to himself, you felt your heart stirred, don’t let your pride push him away.
Even as believers in Christ, we still have days where we don’t like what we read in the Bible.
We have moments where our old habits and way of thinking come back with a vengeance, and it hurts to see that after all this time of knowing Jesus, we still are so far from who we are supposed to be.
Don’t reject what God is saying—Agree with him!
That’s the other option: receive what God says.
It may hurt, it may be hard, but it is right.
Our response to his word, then, leads to the third observation we make this morning...
3) Reorient everything around Christ.
3) Reorient everything around Christ.
When God speaks to your heart and shows you the sin there, you must ask God for the strength to put Christ at the center of that area and rely on his power.
That’s the position he rightly deserves!
Pick back up at verse 6-11.
One side point to draw from this: there was no question in Jesus’ mind as to whether or not he was the divine Son of God.
All of the other prophets were referred to as servants, but here, Jesus distinguishes himself as the son.
Although the religious leaders in Jesus’ day had already made up their minds about Jesus, they would settle it in a few days when they would take the Son of God, hand him over to the Romans, and demand that he be hung on a cross until he died.
They rejected Jesus, unwilling to listen to what he had to say.
The very person they rejected was the foundation of it all.
You see, Jesus is the cornerstone for our entire lives.
The cornerstone was the first stone you would set when building a building. If it was cut correctly and laid out in the right place, it provided the perfect starting point for your building. If it was out of square or put in the wrong place, the whole building would be wrong.
Jesus, although rejected by those who should have known better, became the perfect cornerstone.
He is the one upon whom we build the rest of our lives.
Jesus isn’t just someone we give a hat tip to on Sundays; he is the basis of everything.
Jesus is at the cornerstone of how I do the work God has assigned to me. He is the cornerstone that determines how I treat my wife and kids. He is the cornerstone that dictates how I use the resources he entrusts to me.
Does your life show that you have put Jesus at the center of everything?
What does your Facebook feed or your fake Instagram account show? Is Jesus the center of everything?
What about your bank statement or your Netflix queue or your browsing history?
How about your professors or your employers? Would the content and quality of work you turn in reflect that the God who created the universe is at the core of your life?
Look at it the other way: If you stopped professing faith in Jesus, what about your life would change?
If Jesus is the cornerstone, the answer should be, “Everything!”
If not, then what do you need to do?
Go back and remember what God has done, the great lengths he has gone through to save you.
Look in the mirror of his word, recognize that you aren’t where you are supposed to be, and cry out to him for help.
You didn’t start this walk with Christ on your own, and you aren’t going to finish it that way.
What would it look like if we made Jesus the cornerstone of our lives?
Think about who Jesus is and what he did.
We would be marked by lives that care more about who God is than what others think.
We would be marked by lives that sacrificially give our time, talents, and treasures to meet real, genuine needs.
Our homes would be marked by grace, forgiveness, hospitality, and warmth.
We would be concerned with the plight of the people the rest of the world overlooks.
We would work diligently, but not frantically, resting in the promise of God.
Although we would differ with a lot of what this man believed and taught, we could echo the prayer of the man we know as St. Patrick:
“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I stand, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.”
May that express our hearts this morning as we respond to him.