Mark 11: 27 – 33 The authority of Jesus questioned

Mark 11: 27 – 33 The authority of Jesus questioned

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

Jesus replied, ‘I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!’

They discussed among themselves and said, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will ask, “Then why didn’t you believe him?” But if we say “Of human origin…” ’ (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

So they answered Jesus ‘We don’t know.’

Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’

*       *       *

When I first read this passage at school, it was explained as Jesus being particularly adroit in debate with the religious authorities of his day. Of course, that’s true – but there’s so much more!

The chief priests, teachers of the law and the elders asked Jesus two questions:

“ ‘By what authority are you doing these things,’ they asked. ‘And who gave you authority to do this?’ ”

Rabbis were trained by a process of discipleship. A promising student would seek to study with, and live with, a mature rabbi, and would model their life on their mentor’s. When they themselves reached maturity they would become a rabbi, and they would cite their mentor as their authority for teaching. (This is what Paul did when he addressed a hostile crowd in Jerusalem – see Acts 22: 1 – 3).

That is what the chief priests, teachers of the law and the elders meant by the first question.

The other question meant ‘Who gave you authority to drive traders from the temple courts?’

How could Jesus have answered? What was his authority? It was nothing less than the direct commission of God the Father. Suppose he had said that to the chief priests, teachers of the law and the elders? They would have considered the claim to be blasphemous. (Read what happens to Stephen in Acts 7: 55 – 58). They probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it straightaway because of the crowd, but they would certainly have seized him as soon as they could.

Instead of falling into their trap, Jesus turns the questions back on them:

Jesus replied, ‘I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!’

Confronted by this question, the chief priests, teachers of the law and the elders find no answer. They are afraid of Jesus’ criticism if they say John’s baptism was from heaven; they are afraid of a hostile crowd if they say it was of human origin.

So they answered Jesus ‘We don’t know.’

Which was a lie, because every man there would have held an opinion as to John’s ministry. Matthew tells us in his gospel:

“But when he [i.e. John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising…” (Matthew 3: 7)

John’s ministry was significant. The Pharisees and Sadducees had gone and checked it out. Probably most would have seen it as being of human origin, although some may have seen it as heavenly. John’s theology was probably very similar to that of the Pharisees with one big exception; he saw the systemic nature of human sin and pointed it out to those he baptised. “ ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked. John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none.’ ” And to tax collectors, he said, “ ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to.’ ” And to soldiers, “ ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.’ ” (Luke 3: 10 – 14, abbreviated)

The chief priests, teachers of the law and the elders could have answered honestly. If they had done so, whichever way they had answered would have given Jesus the opportunity to teach them about the truth. It’s not impossible that one or two of the chief priests subsequently repented as a result of Jesus’ question.

Jesus’ question was not so much a clever debating trick as another opportunity for his opponents to repent and follow him. He never stopped trying to win people for God’s kingdom. He never stops today.

What was the absolute barrier to repentance? Why, it was hypocrisy. The religious authorities had no wish to follow Jesus – it was too costly. They would lose wealth, status, and influence. And they hid their reluctance behind a lie.  

So they answered Jesus ‘We don’t know.’

May God grant we never do the same.

Prayer

Heavenly Father

I am often tempted to take the easy way out of serving Jesus. I am sorry that often I fail to resist. Please give me strength to serve at all times and under all circumstances.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

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