“They came again to Jerusalem. As He was walking in the temple complex, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came and asked Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? Who gave You this authority to do these things? ” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. Was John’s baptism from heaven or from men? Answer Me.” They began to argue among themselves: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him? ’ But if we say, ‘From men’ ” — they were afraid of the crowd, because everyone thought that John was a genuine prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:27-33 HCSB)
Questions, we all have them. Some we ask, because we really want to know the answer. Others, we keep to ourselves because we are afraid of the answer. As a Christian, there are some questions that I know won’t be answered this side of heaven. In a style a bit reminiscent of my three year old grandson, we all want to ask God: Why? If you’ve ever been around a toddler during their “why phase”, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Everything you say is followed by the incessant and endless question, “Why?” In many ways, you and I are just 3 year old spiritual toddlers in our “why phase” as we incessantly ask our heavenly Father, “Why?”
And just like the three year old, I’m not sure we ask our questions with a real desire to hear or know the truth. Often, we are just making noise to fill the void in our hearts and lives and voicing our doubts and fears. God may be answering, but we aren’t really listening for or to His response.
Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen how Jesus deals with His frustrations over and condemnation of the state of Temple worship and the leadership decisions that have enabled and empowered it. He curses a fig tree as a living parable and then demonstrates His contempt with the Temple and the Sanhedrin leadership as He drives out the merchants and turns over the tables of the money changers. While the disciples may have not fully understood the living parable, they could not fail to understand His actions and words in the Temple. “MY house is to be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you’ve made it a den of thieves and robbers.”
Then, like a contingent of three year olds, the Sanhedrin elite confront Jesus and ask Him, “Why? By what authority are You doing these things? Who gave You this authority?” They claim they want to know why He’s doing these things and who authorized Him to do them. But do they, really? This appears to be just a smoke screen of their real intentions. They want to expose Him and discredit Him so that they can break His influence over the people and, ultimately, STOP Him. This isn’t just about what He did and said the day before in the Temple. No, this is the culmination of all of those past months and years of their pent up frustrations with Jesus. They despised Him and were enraged with jealousy when they saw the influence He has on these people, their people.
Listen to their question, “by whose authority are You doing these things and who gave You this authority?” At its heart, this really just a question of authority – theirs and His. Just who do you think you are? Whose authority are you acting under and why do you refuse to submit to our authority?
Isn’t this really the core issue our culture has with Jesus? Just who do you think You are and why should I submit to your authority?
We really need to listen to the question the religious leaders ask Jesus and pay attention to its implications for our own lives and our churches. Just like these religious leaders, we often question Jesus’ authority over our lives and our choices. We work to establish ourselves in our world, our culture and our community and then question God’s authority when He interferes, circumvents them or demands changes to them. In a similar way, we work to establish our church in our community and in our culture and to build or strengthen the influence she wields over our culture and its members. What if, like these confident religious leaders, we are wrong about the priorities we’ve established and the direction we are leading?
We all tend to think that we are right and that we’re headed in the right direction, but so did they. They had established these practices because they benefited the Temple and made worship convenient and easier for the people but it obviously angered God. What they saw as necessary and convenient for worship was trampling on God’s salvation plan for the nations. What they considered meddlesome nonsense by a “hick preacher from the sticks” was God’s judgment on their religious oppression. And it is all wrapped up in their question: “By what AUTHORITY are you doing these things and who gave You this authority?”
By the way, I’m not just talking about the Temple leadership or modern church and religious stuff here. Has the church abused its power and used its influence wrongly? Absolutely! Unfortunately, some still do. And for that, we must be willing to confess our sin, repent and turn back to God in humble obedience. But this issue isn’t confined to the church. We question God’s authority over anything and everything, nowadays. I listen as I hear cultural, political and leaders calling for Christians to keep their faith private. Our culture doesn’t believe that Christian faith should be on public display. They don’t believe that it should influence our business decisions, our political choices, or be practiced in the public square.
You can keep your faith, just keep it to yourselves.
To be honest, we’ve brought much of this on ourselves. In the past, we cultivated a cultural Christian “faith” and worldview in which many people embraced a cultural moral standard and participated in public worship without ever submitting themselves to Jesus, the Lord of life. Now we have at least two generations of people where many have called themselves Christian but do not KNOW Jesus. They claimed to be Christian but Jesus never influenced their home, social, political or business lives. They went to church on Sunday, but lived with and like the devil the rest of the week. Now our culture is calling for ALL Christians to live like that and real followers of Jesus know that’s not possible.
So, Jesus doesn’t answer directly but uses a response that is familiar to them and used often by the Rabbis: Let me pose a question to you and if you answer my question then I’ll answer yours. So, He asks: “Was John’s baptism from heaven or from men?” They are trying to trap Jesus with words, but they don’t realize He is the very Word of God. So, they begin to argue among themselves as to how they should answer. They face a huge dilemma. If they admit John’s baptism was from God (or from heaven), then why didn’t they believe him. If John’s baptism is of God then why didn’t they hear, believe and heed his call to repentance. If they say John’s baptism was from man, then they face the wrath, disrespect and loss of influence with the people. Essentially, He has them backed into a corner with no way out.
When confronted with the truth you can come clean and repent or you can maintain your lie.
Their answer to the question about John really sets the stage for what they believe about Jesus. Was John the one who would come and prepare the way for the promised Messiah? Was his call to repentance genuine? Was it from God or not? To repent is to admit your sin and to make the choice to turn away from it – to turn away from your own way or path and to turn and follow God’s path. Let me state this very, very clearly: Everyone has the ability to find their way to God but only those who choose to follow Jesus will find Him. Jesus states emphatically: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 HCSB)
You see, Jesus’ question isn’t really about John, it is about whether these men believe God and His Word. “See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire — see, He is coming,” says the Lord of Hosts.” (Malachi 3:1 HCSB) These religious leaders were unwilling to see the truth about themselves and admit their spiritual blindness regarding Jesus. They despise Him because He reveals the truth about their sin. In doing so, they completely miss God’s promise, His forgiveness and His cleansing. So, they answer Him: “We don’t know.”
Let me get very direct with you, here. If you are unwilling to admit the sin in your life then you too will miss God’s promise, His forgiveness and His cleansing. If I ask the question, “What do you believe about Jesus, is He from God or from man? How would you answer? If He’s from God, then why won’t you believe Him, trust Him, follow Him? If He’s from man, then why are you reading my words? Why are you seeking answers?
It all comes down to that question of authority. Who has authority over your life? Does God or does man? These men were influenced in their decision by what they wanted and who they trusted to provide it. They talked a good game of believing in God, but they failed to live it out. They claimed to believe but refused to follow Him and His Word. Why? Because it would impact their status, their influence, their position and their power. They wanted and believed in these things more than they wanted and believed in what God had promised. If they turned and followed Jesus, everything they had built their life on would come crashing down. They would lose their status, their influence, their position and their power but they would gain life, eternal life.
The Apostle Paul faced this same choice, but He chose to let go of these things to follow Jesus. “But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:7-8 HCSB)
So, let me end by putting this question to you. Yes, the question about John but also the one about Jesus. Is this of God or is it of man? If it is of God, you can’t stop it and you wouldn’t want to. If it is of man, it won’t last and it shouldn’t. Right? Still not sure? Are you leaning towards, “I just don’t know.” If so, let me encourage you to go examine the evidence. Explore what scripture says about Jesus, talk to folks who really follow Him, spend time praying and seeking Him and decide for yourself whether He’s from God or just a man. “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 HCSB) If He’s from God, then follow Him. If not, that’s your choice. As for me and mine, we will serve the Lord.
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