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The Question of Authority

Date: Feb. 2, 2020

Author: Bob Henkins

Mark 11:27-33

Key Verse: Mark 11:28

"By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you authority to do this?"

When I started preparing for this message, I came across some articles that made me think about the age-old love hate relationship between science and philosophy as well as theology. The debate between science and philosophy, has gone back hundreds of years. Eventually I stumbled across an introduction to a philosophy class which said something like this: In our world today, claims that are made in the name of scientific knowledge enjoy extraordinary authority with respect to the natural world in which we live. Imagine if a meteor crashed to the ground, immediately we’d turn to various teams of material scientists, engineers, physicists, chemists, and probably a myriad of other members from the scientific community in order to examine what happened.

Whether it’s examining a meteor, or finding a cure for the Coronavirus, or exploring Mars for signs of life, we invariably appeal to the judgments of the people who are recognized as the scientists who study these types of things. And its right we should. However, within our culture today, if something is labeled as “scientific” it’s immediately given credibility and it’s expected that any RATIONAL person MUST accept it, otherwise you’re considered uneducated and looked down upon. However, philosophers ask the question, “Why does science have the cognitive authority it has in our world?” They reflect on this problem calling it, “the question of authority.” And it’s known that, many in the scientific community, are significantly less likely to believe in God and some prominent scientists like Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins have been famously aggressive against belief in God. And yet over time, these groups have influenced and learned from one another thus propagating this love hate relationship.

Now, while we don’t reject science, in fact many of us here are engineers and love science, however we also believe in God, who put the laws of the universe into motion and upholds them.  But often Christians or people of religious faith are ridiculed and looked down upon. We do not reject the authority of science and facts, but at the same time we do not reject the authority of God. Isaac Newton once said, “He who thinks half-heartedly will not believe in God; but he who really thinks HAS to believe in God.” Science does not have to be incompatible with faith.

Now why am I bringing all this up? It’s because authority happens to be the topic of our passage today where the religious leaders confront Jesus and question his authority. And it seems to me that the battle between philosophy, science and theology involves authority in some way, shape, or form. Everyone wants to be the one with authority, but given its nature is that possible? What is authority, who has it and how do we gain authority?

This passage occurs on the heels of Jesus cursing the fig tree, which is ironic because in this passage, the religious leaders confront Jesus and question his authority. If they had only opened their eyes and looked at the fig tree the answer would be obvious for only God has the authority to control nature.

We learned last week that after cursing the fig tree and clearing the temple, Jesus went back to Bethany to spend the night. Our passage this morning takes place in the temple courts as Jesus and his disciples went back to Jerusalem. Verse 27 tells us what happened the next day, take a look, “They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him.” To give you a sense of the layout, several courts surrounded the main temple buildings, including the court of the women, court of the men, and the court of the Gentiles, where Jesus had previously overturned all the tables. Jesus was using the temple as a classroom so that he could teach anyone that wanted to know the truth when suddenly a huge group of religious leaders came storming at him.  

They were known as the Sanhedrin, a group of 72 men which consisted of three subgroups called the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders. They handled the political, religious, and judicial functions of their nation. They were kind of like the Jewish executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The chief priests, (how could there be more than one CHIEF priest?) This included the current ruling high priest Caiaphas as well as the former ruling high priest; Annas who happened to be his father in law. Often the high priest position belonged to a family line. Then there were the teachers of the law: which consisted of the Sadducees and Pharisees who were often at odds with one another but joined forces to get rid of Jesus. And lastly there were the elders; a group of older men who were representatives of the major tribes and families of Israel who were lay leaders that had high authority over the nation.

I find it interesting that Jesus had predicted earlier in chapter 8 (v31) that these three groups of religious leaders would turn on Him, he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes…” For quite a while the religious leaders wanted to get rid of Jesus. Simply put Jesus irritated them. There were many reasons for this such as the people were inspired by Jesus’ teaching more than theirs. (They said Jesus taught as one who had authority unlike them. Mk 1:22,27) Also Jesus didn’t cower before them or bow down to them and give them the respect they craved. Quite the contrary, Jesus entered their home base (Jerusalem) and challenged them publicly. Outside of Jerusalem, the religious leaders cared, but it didn’t really affect them much, but Jerusalem was THEIR HOME, AND NO ONE MESSES WITH THEM IN THEIR HOUSE. Since clearing the temple, the religious leader’s hatred of Jesus intensified because he disrupted their business during the busiest time of the year. Imagine what would happen if someone caused a huge disruption during the Christmas shopping season and caused the companies a lot of money. What do you think the stores would do to that person?

As a result, they were looking for a way to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people or maybe raise suspicion of him as a threat to the authority of Rome. This idea was nothing new, they’ve wanted to kill him since chapter 3. In chapter 3, Jesus challenged their authority and healed on the Sabbath (Mk 3:6) and then in last week’s passage (11:18) Jesus challenged their authority about selling in the temple. They really didn’t like their authority challenged.

Since Jesus is in their home base, now they have the opportunity, they can control the settings better than in rural Israel. They were in charge, they had the resources, more people, money, soldiers and they had connections to Rome. In the end, they would arrest Jesus while he was away from the crowds and in the dead of night hold an illegal trial and condemn him to death.

So how did they handle the situation now? Take a look at verse 28. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”” “Officially, the Sanhedrin wondered how could Jesus perform what appeared to be an official act if he didn’t actually possess any official status in the temple? So, they came out in full force and confronted him.

Their question is both blunt and bold: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority to do them?” (How sad is it that they don’t want the truth taught in the temple?) Their question reveals that the ultimate issue in life is authority. They want to know: What are you doing? and “Who gave you the right to do it?” Their bottom line was, “Who do you think you are?” And in one sense, they had a legitimate question. As teachers of the law it was part of their job. But in reality, they felt threatened by everything Jesus was doing and teaching.

This reminds me of a story I heard about two elderly church going women who were sitting in the front row listening to a fiery preacher. When the preacher condemned the sin of stealing, they shouted out, “AMEN, BROTHER!” When he preached against the sin of lust, they yelled, “PREACH IT, REVEREND.” And when He condemned the sin of lying, they jumped up and screamed, “RIGHT ON, BROTHER! TELL IT LIKE IT IS…AMEN!” But when the preacher condemned the sin of gossip, the two got very quiet, and one turned to the other and said, “Looks like he’s stopped preaching and now he’s poking around in other people’s business.” The elderly women were ok with the preacher condemning things they didn’t do/like, but when he preached about the things they did/liked then they got angry and upset.

Jesus was certainly poking around the religious leader’s business. In verse 28, the word “this” refers to what Jesus did the day before when He tore up the temple by disbursing the moneychangers, knocking over the tables of those selling pigeons and preventing people from using the temple as a short cut. It also refers to His preaching and His teaching and is no doubt linked to Palm Sunday when the people were giving Him hosannas as the Son of David. (They must have been jealous of him)

They asked the same question to John the Baptist and Jesus early in his ministry. The ironic part is if they only had eyes to see what he did to the fig tree, they would know. The people of Israel could see where Jesus got his authority. They said, unlike the religious leaders, Jesus taught as one who had authority. (Mk 1:22,27) Even a Gentile, a Roman Centurion, could see Jesus’ authority. He told Jesus, “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”” (Mt 8:9) Not only that, Jesus openly taught many times where he got his authority, he said, “10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”” (Mk 2) Also, Jesus gave out authority, for example, he gave his disciples authority to heal and to drive out demons (Mk 6:7). The word “authority” means, to have power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior. The power or right, usually because of rank or office, to issue commands and to punish for violations: to have authority over subordinates. (like the president's authority)

It was Jesus’ self-evident authority that left a mark on people as he taught with authority. (Mk 1:22) Rabbis would often quote other rabbis when they taught to give them authority. But Jesus didn’t need to quote anyone. He taught as if he had been there. Seventy-five times in the gospels, Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you…”

Did you notice that the religious leaders never asked why Jesus cleared the temple? It’s because they knew they were guilty of taking advantage of the people. All this merchandising prevented them from living out their mission to take the good news to the gentiles. They’re basically asking Jesus for His credentials and for the source of His authority. It’s noteworthy that this same group asks Peter and John a strikingly similar question in the temple after a beggar is healed in Acts 4:7: “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

I love how Jesus quickly demonstrates His authority by not answering their question. Just as he turned the tables over the day before, now He turns the tables on them in verse 29. “Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”” Did you catch that two times Jesus says, “Answer me”? This itself is a demonstration of his authority because He’s demanding, sharp and direct, an answer from them. Also Jesus is demonstrating the truth of Proverbs 26:4: “Do not answer a fool according to His folly.” Jesus is not evading or ignoring their question but is rather revealing what is really in their heart.

At this point Jesus puts them between a rock and hard place. This is also called the “horns of a dilemma,” because those who are caught in this situation are in danger of being impaled by one or the other horns of a charging bull. No matter how they answered the question they were going to get stuck by one of the horns. They didn’t see a good answer to His question in verses 31-32, “They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)”

The word, discuss means, to debate, calculate, to deliberate, and to reckon through. No matter how they answer they would be in trouble. To say John is from heaven is to believe him but to say he is from men is to betray the people. In Luke 20:6 we read that they were “afraid of getting stoned.” They’re more concerned with what people think than with what the truth is.

Since John pointed people to Christ, if they affirmed John, they’d have to accept Jesus. Recall what John said about Jesus in John 1:29: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” If they discounted John, they could face condemnation. John MacArthur writes, “It’s a package deal. You can’t take John without Jesus. And you can’t throw away Jesus without throwing away John.”

Instead of answering, they give up in verse 33: “So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” The religious leaders immediately recognized their dilemma. They didn’t believe that John was a prophet from God, but they didn’t dare say so publicly because of the high esteem in which John was held. Nor in the present situation could they admit that John’s baptism was from heaven because Jesus would rebuke them for not repenting and being baptized as a sign of their repentance. The only way out, even though it wasn’t a good one, was to confess their inability to answer. BUT WHAT THEY DIDN’T REALIZE WAS BY DOING THAT THEY DISQUALIFIED THEMSELVES FROM BEING RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES. Their answer makes them seem unofficial and uncertain. In reality, it’s not that they didn’t know the answer; (they knew) it’s just that they didn’t have the courage to put the answer into words. THEY DIDN’T WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T WANT TO LIVE UNDER HIS AUTHORTY. AND THATS THE ROOT OF THEIR PROBLEM. THEY DIDN’T WANT TO HUMBLE THEMSELVES BEFORE JESUS AND SUBMIT TO HIS AUTHORITY. BUT WE CANNOT DENY THIS FACT, THOSE WHO ACCEPT JESUS MUST LIVE UNDER HIS AUTHORITY.

At this point, Jesus is done talking to them and that’s a terrible spot to be in, to have Jesus no longer answering you. Because they don’t honestly answer His question, Jesus is not going to answer their question. They don’t really want to know, so Jesus doesn’t engage them any longer. If you refuse to believe the teachings of Jesus, there’s a point when no further teachings will be given for God’s grace has its limits.

The religious leaders thought they were the ones in charge, with authority, but they failed to recognize Jesus as the Son of God and respect HIS authority. They felt that if they acknowledged Jesus’ authority, they would lose theirs. Basically, it comes down to our pride. The pride of man says, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” As a result, the scientists think they’re right and everyone else is wrong, while philosophers think they’re right and everyone else is wrong, but the Bible says, you’re all wrong only God is right. This absolute makes people uncomfortable, thus we don’t absolutes because we don’t like feeling constrained. But somethings have absolutes.

What does Jesus’ authority say about him, and what that mean to us?

This passage is linked to the previous two that we’ve done in the last two weeks.  In the triumphal entry we saw Jesus as king.  When Jesus cursed the fig tree and cleared the temple, we saw him as king.  And in this passage, his kingship is implied as we see that his authority comes from God. All authority in heaven has been given to Jesus (Mt 28:18) by his father God, who entrusted everything to Jesus, because he loved him. John 3:35 tells us this.  Jesus has divine authority, as well as royal authority.

So, what does his authority mean to us?  First Jesus has power over our enemies and can protect and save us from them (1 Cor 15:27, he put all enemies under his feet and sits at the right hand of God). Secondly, Jesus has authority to give us eternal life (John 17:2), and thirdly, we should obey his commands and live under his authority. And what are Jesus’ commands, that we should love God, and love our neighbor, just as Jesus taught on prayer, to believe in God and to forgive each other. It’s also interesting how Jesus was given that authority, Php 2:8-10 tells us that he humbled himself and died for us, therefore God exalted him to the highest place.  This is in stark contrast to the religious leaders, who disobeyed God, took advantage and abused the people.  Jesus is the authority who obeyed God, loved us and gave his life to save us.

Jesus is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, and he comes to give those that are thirsty water without cost from the spring of the water of life. (Rev 21:6) As I said before, all who accept Jesus, must live under his authority, but under that authority we will have eternal life.

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