Many Christians are familiar with the Bereans. These were the people Paul preached to on his second missionary journey (Acts 17:11). They were commended by Luke, the writer of the Book of Acts, because they were willing to search the Scriptures to see if what Paul was saying was true or not. We often hear people encourage us to be Bereans. Many churches have this word in their names.
It occurred to me recently that we can find Bereans in strange places. In Mark 11–12, the Lord finds Himself surrounded by His enemies in the temple as they try to trip Him up by asking Him a number of questions. These enemies are made up of various religious leaders. One such group was the Pharisees. Some of the Pharisees were also scribes. The scribes were a powerful and influential group of men in Israel. They were considered experts in the Law of Moses.
In Mark 12:18-27, we are told that another group of leaders, the Sadducees, asked the Lord a question. Jesus answered that question. The Pharisees were waiting in the wings to ask the next question.
Matthew tells us that there was a group of Pharisees standing there, listening to the answer the Lord gave the Sadducees. Mark tells us what happened. It is an interesting story.
One of the Pharisees, who was also a scribe, stepped forward by himself. He separated himself from the group. He approached the Lord and told Him that He had answered well the question of the Sadducees. It is easy to picture the rest of the Pharisees, his buddies, saying to themselves, “What is he doing? We didn’t come to praise Jesus; we came to trap Him.”
But this man had literally heard the Word of God from the mouth of the Lord and was impressed and open to what this Enemy of his had said. He then proceeded to ask the Lord another question about what was the greatest commandment.
This is also amazing. This scribe was considered an expert in this area. He publicly asked Jesus for clarification and is genuinely interested in what He has to say because He had answered the Biblical question of the Sadducees in such a good and wise manner.
The answer that Jesus gives him is an attack on the very foundation of this scribe’s religious life. Jesus does not tell him that it is the oral law of the Pharisees by which this man lived that is the most important. Instead, it was to love God and his neighbor. In other words, outward observances meant nothing if the worshipper did not love God.
But this was a man who majored in outward observances. His response is almost startling. It certainly surprised the other Pharisees who had come with him that day to the temple to try and make Christ look like a fool. He agrees with the Lord and says that loving God and one’s neighbor is more important than all the sacrifices being done in the temple in which they were standing. Even those outward acts meant nothing without devotion to the Lord. He then adds, in front of his friends, that just as He had answered the Sadducees, Jesus once again answered a question well. This time, it was the question he had asked Him (v 32).
This is the only time in the NT in which a scribe is seen in a good light. It is the only place in the NT in which Jesus commends a scribe. He tells the man that he is not far from the kingdom of God.
What sets this man apart? He was a Berean. He was willing to listen to the Word of God, in this case, coming from Jesus Himself. The words challenged his traditions. He was willing to admit that Jesus’ words were wiser than what he had previously been taught in scribe school. He was even willing to step out on his own in front of his friends and say that they were all wrong. He praised the One they had come to attack.
In this section of Mark, the disciples are with the Lord. They are listening to the questions and answers. The answer the Lord gives in each instance is not just to thwart the questions of His enemies. They are for the benefit of the disciples as well. He is teaching them.
In this case, the lesson is clear. The disciples are to be like this wise scribe. This scribe was still an unbeliever, but he was a great example for them in at least one area. He showed the wisdom of being willing to listen to what Christ was saying, even when it attacked his deeply held beliefs. He was willing to change. He didn’t care what others thought. He sought the truth.
The disciples had many things they needed to change about what they believed. Jesus was challenging these beliefs. All believers are challenged by the word of God. There are literally thousands of possibilities. Suppose, for example, you have never heard about rewards in the kingdom of God. Or suppose you have been taught that such a concept is unbiblical. But then you are exposed to what the Bible says about the subject. How easy would it be to reject such teaching? It is new. It doesn’t seem fair. It would cause jealousy. My mommy told me we would all be equal.
In cases like that, we need to be like this man. A man who had come to confront the Lord. But when the Lord spoke the truth, he was willing to listen and even change his views. If a scribe can be a Berean, so can we.