By What Authority? (Mark 11:27-33)

Mark-11-1
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By What Authority?
Sunday, December 10th, 2023
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA

Mark 11:27-33

27 And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, 28 And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things? 29 And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me. 31 And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? 32 But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. 33 And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.

Prayer

Father, we thank you for giving to Christ all authority in heaven and on earth. We thank you Lord Jesus for commissioning the apostles to proclaim your death and resurrection to all creation. We thank you also for the faithful transmission of that message to us living in 2023, the Year of Our Lord’s Everlasting Dominion. We ask now for your Holy Spirit to descend upon us and give us fresh faith and courage, for we ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Introduction

It is Tuesday of Passion Week in Mark’s Gospel.

  • On Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding upon a donkey.
  • On Monday, Jesus cursed a fig tree and enacted judgment on the temple.
  • And now here on Tuesday, Jesus again comes to Jerusalem, but this time is confronted by “the chief priests, scribes, and elders.”
  • The charge against Jesus is that he has no jurisdiction in the temple. The Jewish authorities want to know by what authority Jesus is teaching and healing and rearranging things. They want to see his “license and registration please.” “By what authority do you do these things?” They ask.
  • And what follows in this brief interchange is Jesus exposing the Jewish leadership for the frauds they are. Jesus knows they are hypocrites and blind guides, who are seeking to murder him, and therefore as the king who is wiser and greater than Solomon, Jesus brings the true proverb to pass that “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and he who rolls a stone will have it roll back on him.”
    • The question that the Jews are using to trap Jesus to discount his authority, will end up rolling back on them and discounting their authority.
    • What wicked men employ for the destruction of our Lord, will become the instrument of their own destruction. This is the wisdom and justice of God, so let us watch as our Master go to work against the corruption in His House.

Outline of the Text

Our text divides neatly into four sections.

  • In verses 27-28, the Jewish leaders ask Jesus by what authority he does what he does.
  • In verses 29-30, Jesus responds with a counter-question.
  • In verses 31-33a, the Jewish leaders deliberate and give no answer.
  • In verse 33b, Jesus likewise refuses to answer.

This passage is a kind of Q&A session between two adversaries. On one hand we have Jesus, prophet, messiah, populist, and God, and on the other hand we have the Jewish elite and aristocracy. And the scene that plays out here in the public square, is a scene that will be replayed a few days later, but in private, when Jesus is secretly captured, tried, and condemned in the middle of the night. So this scene anticipates the charges that will lead to Christ’s crucifixion. “Who are you and by what authority do you come?” So let us expound our text.

Verses 27-28

27 And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, 28 And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?

  • This reference to the “chief priests, scribes, and elders” should remind us of what Jesus predicted back Mark 8:31, where it says, “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
    • So this is the beginning of that rejection that Jesus foretold. Who were these three groups?
      • The chief priests were the highest ecclesiastical/church authority.
      • The scribes were the highest legal authority being experts in the law.
      • And the elders are the highest non-priestly authorities.
      • Together these groups composed the high council in Jerusalem, which is sometimes called the Sanhedrin.
      • So these are the heads of the most influential families in Jerusalem.
      • A modern equivalent would be something like if all three branches of our civil government got together (the president, the supreme court, and congress), and also all the highest religious leaders, the bishops, the denominational heads, the CEO’s of the big publishing houses, and together they sent a delegation to Jesus and asked him, “who do you think you are?”
      • That is what the high council in Jerusalem functioned like. As far as they are concerned, with the exception of Caesar, they are the highest authority in Jerusalem.
  • So they are in the temple (likely in the outer court), and it is Jesus and his disciples one on side, and this Jerusalem council on the other. And undoubtedly a large crowd gathers to see this showdown.
  • They ask Jesus, “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?”
  • Now before we see how Jesus answers. Think about how Jesus could have answered.
    • Jesus is God, and He could have just said right then and there, I am God. I am the Creator. I am the Word made flesh. I am that I AM.
      • But Jesus chooses not to do this.
    • He could have also said, I am Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, and if you look up my family lineage, I am the promised son of David who would be born in Bethlehem. I am the Messiah from the tribe of Judah you all have been waiting for.
      • But again, Jesus chooses not to say this either.
  • Why is that?
    • Think about why Jesus came in the first place. He came to offer his life as a sacrifice for sinners. Jesus says in John 10:17-18,“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”
    • So in this great conflict between good and evil, between Jesus and Jerusalem, there is this deep irony that both sides want Jesus dead; just for very different reasons.
      • Jesus wants to die to save the world. And the chief priests want him dead because he is a threat to their power.
    • But despite this apparent unity of purpose, the time has not yet come for Jesus to offer up his life. Before he lays it down of his own accord, at his own will, he comes to give these authorities another chance to repent. And should they refuse, he will expose them for the wicked shepherds and frauds that they are.
      • In a very real sense, Jesus has come as a judge, to gather evidence, to hear testimony, and to see with his own eyes how the chief priests, scribes, and elders are doing. Are they obeying God’s law? Are they doing justice and mercy? Are they teaching true doctrine?
      • Jesus is kind of like the owner of a company, who dresses up as a customer to see how the supervisors and management are treating those they are called to serve.
      • As God, Jesus is the owner of the Temple (it’s his house). As God, Jesus is the authority from which the chief priests, scribes, and elders, derive their authority.
      • And when we get to chapter 12, immediately following this scene, Jesus will give them the parable of the vineyard owner, which essentially makes this same point.
      • God is the owner of the vineyard, and these leaders are the wicked tenants who murder the owner’s son.
      • Jesus is like that undercover boss who goes to see how management is doing. And behold, they are all going to get fired.
  • So they want to know where Jesus authority comes from, and Jesus answers with a counter-question.

Verses 29-30

29 And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me.

  • This is one of those great trick questions that makes you marvel at Christ’s wisdom. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:19, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness.” He beats them at their own game.
  • In a certain respect, by posing this counter-question, Jesus is indirectly giving them the answer to theirs.
  • Where did Jesus’ authority come from?
    • Well humanly speaking, who ordained Jesus to the ministry? John the Baptist. Jesus’ baptism by John, at 30 years of age, was his ordination ceremony, after which his public ministry began.
    • Moreover, who was John the Baptist? He was the son of Zacharias the priest. John was of priestly lineage, just like the chief priests were. He was the miracle son of Zacharias and Elizabeth, who was filled with the Holy Spirit, even from the womb (Luke 1:15).
    • And so John the Baptist had all the right credentials for a priest and prophet. Remember it was in the temple, where Zacharias had ministered 33 years earlier, that an angel appeared to him to announce John’s heavenly calling.
    • But despite all these signs and wonders, it says in Luke 7:30, “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.”
  • So apart from Jesus’ divine authority as being the very person of the Word, the eternal Son of God, he also hadthis publicly known ordination from a publicly recognized prophet who was descended from the priestly line.
  • And so in a certain sense, Jesus counter-question is a statement that his authority (humanly speaking) comes from John. And so what you think about John’s authority, is what you should think about Christ’s. If John’s authority was from heaven, so also is Christ’s.
  • So how do these chief priests, scribes, and elders answer?

Verses 31-33a

31 And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? 32 But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. 33 And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell.

  • This Jerusalem council recognizes that if they say that John’s authority was from heaven, they condemn themselves as having rejected God’s authority. They would have to admit that they were wrong, which nobody ever wants to do.
  • And so they would like to say that John’s authority was from men. They would like to claim that John was a false prophet, or self-ordained, and discredit his whole ministry. And this they would do except that the masses believed John was a prophet and many had been baptized by him. If they say John’s authority was from men, or was false, they would be endangering their own lives.
    • For as the parallel passage in Luke 20:6 says, “But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”
  • So Jesus has cornered them. Either they acknowledge that John’s authority and therefore Jesus’ authority are heavenly, or if they say it was from men, the people will stone them. And therefore, they choose the best of their bad options, which is to plead ignorance. They tap out and concede the question saying, “we cannot tell.”
  • And then in 33b, it says…

Verse 33b

And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.

  • Jesus has just publicly humiliated the highest authorities in Jerusalem. They tried to double down on their rejection of Christ by questioning his authority, and Jesus makes them pay, now their authority is in question.
  • It is this showdown that precipitates and accelerates their desire to murder him. What do proud men fear the most? They fear losing their power, their reputation, their authority, they fear losing the basis of their pride. And with one question, Jesus has threatened all of that.
  • What was this council’s whole job after all? It was to judge and discern the will of God. And if they cannot do this, they show themselves to be disqualified and unfit for office.
    • The chief priests were in charge of maintaining God’s worship at the Temple.
    • The scribes were in charge of interpreting and applying God’s law.
    • And the elders were in charge of judging and enforcing God’s law.
    • And so if they are unable to discern that John was a true prophet (as he was), they show themselves to be false judges who have no real interest in the truth.
  • And so Jesus gives them just enough rope to hang themselves.
  • Well that is the exposition of our text. Let us make a few applications now from it.

Application #1

The longer you reject Christ’s authority, the more miserable your life becomes.

  • Take this Jerusalem council as a cautionary tale for what happens when you reject Christ as Lord.
  • These men were given countless opportunities to repent. They had heard John preach; they had heard Jesus teach. They were eyewitnesses of the invisible God coming in the flesh. And yet because they did not love the truth, they were blind to His arrival, so blind that they murdered him.
  • For many people, the obstacle to salvation is not a lack of data, it is not a lack of knowledge, instead it is their own unwillingness to admit they are wrong, that keeps them from heaven. Hell is locked from the inside, and it is the pride of man that prevents him from being truly happy.
  • Do you think the chief priests, scribes, and elders, were happy, joyful, contented men? Is anyone happy who has to constantly keep up appearances, and justify themselves to themselves, and spin lies and believe those lies to soothe their conscience? No. Living in sin is miserable, and one of the first signs of God’s grace in our lives, is that we recognize just how miserable we are without God.
  • Repentance happens when you are willing to say, “I am wrong. God is right. I am not the highest authority, Christ is, and I will submit myself to his judgment. Whatever he says, goes.”
  • The Jerusalem authorities were unwilling to undergo a temporary humiliation so that they might be eternally exalted with Christ. And when you refuse God’s will for your salvation, the harder it gets to repent, and the more blind and miserable you become.
  • The person is self-deceived who thinks he can sin now and repent later. Which is why the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2, “We then, as workers together with Christ also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
    • It is dangerous to presume upon the grace of God. For no man knows when his last day might be, or when God shall require of him his soul.
    • And therefore, “If today you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Lest you become like Esau of whom it says in Hebrews 12:17, that “when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.”
    • If you refuse to repent now, what makes you think you will choose any differently later? Esau rejected God’s blessing, he sold it to Jacob, and later when he wanted that blessing, his repentance was not genuine, but rather it was a worldly sorrow that leads to death. And we know this because the next thing Esau did was try to kill Jacob. Just as the Sanhedrin will try to kill Christ.
  • Remember that sin is a liar. Sin is a deceiver. Sin is not your friend. Sin promises life but leads to death. And the longer you persist in sin, and reject Christ’s authority, the more miserable you will become. So make confession. Come clean. Do not do as the scribes and Pharisees, and reject God’s will for your life.

Application #2

If Christ is Lord, then his authority has no bounds. And therefore, your submission to Him must be absolute.

  • The sin that many professing Christians commit, is that of thinking they can pick and choose which areas of their life they will surrender to God, and which areas will remain under their own authority. They live as if, “Jesus can be Lord of Sunday morning, but the rest of the week belongs to me.”
  • And what is this but the same sin as the Sanhedrin. They let Christ clear out some portion of the temple, but anything more and they’ll murder him.
  • If you are a temple, as the Bible says you are, then where is Christ not allowed to go?
  • If your life is a house, which rooms are “off limits” to Jesus?
    • Is there a closet or an attic that is too messy to let him into?
    • Is there a “man cave” where you keep your secret vices that no one knows about. No one except God.
  • Whatever you have deemed “off-limits,” wherever you are still holding on to your authority, Jesus has come to take over.
  • Why did Jesus suffer and die? Because he wants all of you.
  • Why does he call us to repent of our sins? Because he wants you to be truly happy and at peace with Him.
  • The absolute authority of Jesus Christ is the greatest news in the world. Because in Christ, perfect love and perfect goodness is married with perfect power. And that means, God’s authority in your life is unbreakably and infallibly good for you. There is no room that if you let Him into, that he will not renovate and cleanse and make better than before. It might be embarrassing to let him see what’s inside, but He is the one who already knows.
  • So drop the front. Stop lying. Don’t double down like the Pharisees did. Open the door, and let Christ in. Let him rule everywhere.
  • In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
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