March 26, 2017
It’s great to be back with you this morning. Tana and I had a great time away, but we’re delighted to be back. I’m particularly thankful for Michael, who did a fantastic job the last three Sundays, preaching three great sermons on the Throne of God. I know this, because not only did I listen to them, but many of you have told me how deeply encouraged you were by those sermons. If you missed them, they’re on Podcast – just go to iTunes and type in Alliance Bible Fellowship Messages, and you’ll be able to catch up.
Some of you are old enough to remember the 1970 rock musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. It garnered international acclaim and appropriately, conservative criticism. It’s frankly blasphemous – the author of the musical’s lyrics, Tim Rice, is quoted as denying the deity of Jesus, but suggesting He was just the right man in the right place at the right time. Which makes no sense – if He wasn’t God in the flesh, then His death meant nothing – He was in fact the wrong man at the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless, the show has remained somewhat popular to the present day – a London theater put it on last year, to such acclaim they plan to do so again this year. But you don’t have to fly to London. In our own country, you can go watch it today at the Bristol Riverside Theater in Pennsylvania, where it will be performed through April 16 – that’s Easter, by the way. The musical’s title track, Jesus Christ Superstar, sung by Judas Iscariot, says the following:
Every time I look at you
I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did
Get so out of hand…
There you go. Jesus was a good man, but He let things get out of control – He never intended for His movement to be so viciously attacked. He never intended to die, so sings Judas. The song goes on…
Don’t you get me wrong
Only want to know
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Do you think you’re what they say you are?
Those, you see, are the questions many have. Who are you, Jesus? Do you really think you’re the Messiah – the Son of God? Who do you think you are? Those questions remain to the present day. They were the questions asked by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day – who do You think you are? And they weren’t asking nicely. The battle lines were drawn – and those lines still exist today. What authority does this Jesus have over my life?
We return this morning to our study of the Gospel of Mark. We have arrived at the last week of Jesus’ life – the Passion Week – which is the subject of the rock musical. I would point out we are basically two-thirds of the way through the book – which means, a third of this Gospel covers Jesus’ last week. In fact, a full third of the Gospel narratives – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – cover this last week. You see, that’s where the emphasis is – this was the reason for which He came – to give His life a ransom for many. Please notice – Jesus came to give His life – He didn’t let things get out of hand. He gave His life – they didn’t take it. They couldn’t – He was and is the God of the universe. And Jesus went to Jerusalem knowing what awaited, and He was the one who threw down the gauntlet.
Well, you remember several weeks ago – six months ago in the actual timetable – Jesus told His disciples they were going to Jerusalem where He would be handed over to the chief priests, scribes and elders to be mistreated and killed. But, He would rise again the third day. That was the first of three times He told them what awaited when He arrived in Jerusalem. Six months later, they arrive. Mark wants to make sure we know – he mentions Jerusalem four times in chapter 11.
Make no mistake about it, it was Jesus who threw down the gauntlet. Jesus is the One controlling these events. On Sunday, the first day of that final week, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey while His followers spread their cloaks and palm branches from nearby trees in His path. All the while, they were proclaiming, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!” This was a fulfillment of Zechariah 9 – the Messiah would come just this way. Who do you think you are, Jesus? He knew who He was.
The next day, Monday, His second and third symbolic actions. He cursed a fig tree and cursed or cleansed the Temple. He went to the court of the Gentiles, and began cleaning house, overturning merchant booths. He drove out all those who had made a mockery of the Temple and the Passover – He drove out those who were keeping people from the true worship of God. Why? “My Father’s house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a robbers’ den.” Judgment had come against the religious leadership – and Jesus brought it. By what authority? Who do you think you are? He knew who He was.
Day three, Tuesday, His third symbolic action. On the way to Jerusalem, Peter saw the fig tree, withered from the roots up. You see, the day before, it was in full leaf, advertising fruit – there is nourishment, there is food, there is rest. Come and get it. Jesus went, and found only leaves – no fruit. It was a case of false advertising. So, He acted out a parable – an object lesson, cursed the tree, and it withered. He killed it. Why? Because it was a great picture of the religious system of the day. The Temple and the religious system of the Pharisees looked good – it promised life, nourishment – meet with God here. But it only had leaves – meaning, while it looked good from a distance, there was no fruit, there was no life of God there. By cursing the fig tree, Jesus condemned their system, and promised something else – judgment is coming. But by whose authority? Who do you think You are, Jesus?
This morning, we are still in day three, Tuesday, as we arrive at our text. Mark 11:27-33.
It doesn’t look like much – how are you going to get a whole sermon out of that? The religious authorities of the day, understandably, show up and ask Jesus – by what authority are you doing these things – you can’t do this, who do you think you are? And the battle lines are drawn. By this confrontation, they fired the first shot of the verbal battles that will continue through chapter 12. Know that – Jesus will spar with the religious leaders – these first, and Pharisees and Herodians and Sadducees – everyone wanted a piece of the action. They opposed Him – all on that Tuesday. He will conclude this day with a private conversation with His disciples – a conversation we call the Olivet Discourse in chapter 13.
But till then, these religious leaders seek to trap Him, discredit Him, belittle Him. And one by one, they fail. Keep that in mind. They’re trying to catch Him, get rid of Him – they can’t. Not until He allows it. He came, you see, to give His life a ransom for many. That is who He is – The Son of Man who came to give His life for us. Let me give you the outline of this first verbal battle today:
- We’ll see The Religious Leaders’ First Attack (27-28)
- Then, we’ll see Jesus’ Defensive Response (29-30) which actually proves to be offensive, and quite effective.
- Because third, The Religious Leaders’ Dilemma (31-32)
- And fourth, Jesus’ Concluding Touché (33) But is Jesus just shutting them up, or is there something else here?
Let’s look at the opening salvo by the religious leaders and set the stage as we begin. Jesus and His disciples made their way to the Temple complex, probably to the court of the Gentiles. As Jesus was walking along, the authorities approached Him – the chief priests, the scribes and the elders. Does that sound familiar? It’s exactly who Jesus said would mistreat and kill Him six months ago. These three groups made up the Sanhedrin – the official ruling religious, and somewhat political body of the day. There were 71 of them, to include the high priest. It’s doubtful they were all there, but this was likely an official delegation sent by the Sanhedrin.
The term chief priests is not an official title. It’s not an office anyone held. Rather, the term was used generally to speak of the members of the priestly aristocracy. We don’t know if they were there that day, but this group of chief priests included Annas and Chaiphas, the high priests who ruled jointly at this time. It also included members of their families, as well as other elevated priests who served in important positions at the Temple. No doubt, given the nature of the question, the group also included the captain of the Temple guard – who was number two in charge behind the high priest and was responsible for Temple security. You see, Jesus had just made a mess the day before.
Along with the these chief priests came the scribes. The scribes were the experts in the Law of Moses, highly regarded by the people. Last were these elders. The elders were not priests – they were lay leaders, but included Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes – leaders who also served on the council called the Sanhedrin. So this is an official confrontation. They start with the big guns.
The point is this: these were the authorities of the day. They had the legal right and even the responsibility to ask Jesus the question – who do you think you are? “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?” You’re not one of us – we didn’t grant you the authority to do what you’re doing. That’s important – they were in charge, and Jesus was not one of them. There is a sense in which they’re saying, what credentials do you have? What school did you go to, what seminary did you attend, what degree have you earned, what diploma do you have posted on your wall, have you been ordained?
That’s important – they wanted to know the authority behind the things Jesus was doing – namely, teaching, healing, driving out demons, forgiving sins, raising the dead, and cleansing the Temple. Who do you think you are? You have to understand, then, no one acted on their own authority. You had to be backed – you had to have some authority behind you. Whose behind you, Jesus – what authority do you have?
They had an incredibly elaborate system of ordination. It used to be, before Jesus’ day, rabbinical candidates, those wanting to become rabbis or religious teachers, had to be ordained by a leading, respected rabbi under whose teaching they had served in kind of an apprenticeship. Then, once ordained, when you taught, you would quote your rabbi, giving you authority.
However, as you would expect, this system was open to incredible abuse. So, by the time Jesus came along, the system had been centralized with the Sanhedrin. While you may study under a traveling rabbi, your ordination, your recognition, your authority ultimately had to come from this council – without it, you were not recognized, no authority. And it really became a good ole’ boys club – it had nothing to do with recognizing those who had the anointing of God. Who has our stamp of approval.
Jesus had no such recognition. All along, His teaching and actions flew in the face of the prevailing authority and system of the day. Remember earlier, the people said, we’ve never heard anyone speak with such authority – because He spoke, not as the scribes, but He spoke with His own authority. He didn’t quote other rabbis. He would say things like this, “You have heard it said,…, but I say to you.” No one said that. Jesus came along, truly I say to you, and taught with His own authority – teachings, by the way, they didn’t like because it opposed their system. Who do you think you are, cleansing our Temple? Throwing out our money changers, our priest-approved sacrifices? On whose authority are you doing these things?
Of course, you understand, they didn’t really care whose authority He claimed to have. They knew it wasn’t theirs, they knew He was violating their system – they were only seeking to trap Him, accuse Him, oppose Him, discredit Him, and ultimately, do away with Him. Back in verse 18, right after He cleansed the Temple, two of these groups – the chief priests and the scribes began seeking how they might destroy Him. He threw the gauntlet when He rode into Jerusalem the way He did. He threw the gauntlet when He cleansed their Temple – actually, His Temple of their system. By the way, please notice, they tried to trap Him in the Temple, that is, in front of all the people. People are gathered around, listening, they’re trying to trap Him publicly – that’s important for the next point.
Which brings us to Jesus’ Defensive Response in verses 29-30. This was a classic rabbinic style of debate – answering questions with questions – hoping to arrive at a general consensus or agreement. This was standard procedure. Now, when I’ve looked at this story in the past, I’ve thought – wow, that was great – He answered their question with His own question, and got out of answering their question. He ambushed them. That’s not exactly true – I missed something very important. He did answer their question, with His question. Look at it with me.
When Jesus speaks of the baptism of John, it was a way of referring to John’s entire ministry. We’re not just talking about getting wet – we’re talking about everything that John said and did. You see, Jesus is asking – do you believe what John taught – did you accept His ministry, baptism and all, as from heaven, or from men? By the way, from heaven was a way of saying, from God.
The response of the religious leaders? They were in trouble, and they knew it. If we say, from heaven or from God, He’ll ask us, why then did you not believe him? Believe John about what? If we say from men – they don’t even finish the sentence with the dreaded consequences. Luke says, if we say from men, the people will stone us. They knew they’re in deep trouble – because the people saw him as a prophet. You see, it had been 400 years since the people of Israel had a prophet. John came dressed like a prophet; he spoke like a prophet – he called them to righteousness and repentance like a prophet – they had followed him in hordes. Thousands had come out to hear him, had turned from their sin in repentance, and were baptized. They had finally heard from God through one of His prophets. But, the religious leaders didn’t accept John – he hadn’t come through their system either. So now, they found themselves on the serious horns of a dilemma – and they knew it.
So, they simply responded – from God, from men? We don’t know. Remember – they’re in front of the people. They tried to discredit Jesus in front of the people – Jesus turned the table and discredited them. They were the religious leaders – they were supposed to know. We don’t know, to which Jesus said, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Notice, by answering this way, He is suggesting He had authority – He just didn’t tell them where He got it. So, He avoided their question, right? Wrong – He gave them the answer.
What was John’s whole ministry about? Who was John the Baptist? Mark 1 told us – John was the forerunner – the one appointed by God to prepare the way of the Messiah – to announce His coming. And he had – behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Behold, there is one coming after me, who was before me, the thongs of whose sandals I am unworthy to untie. In John 1, he says, “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” John had declared who Jesus was – he had declared by what authority Jesus had come. At His baptism, the voice of the Father was heard from heaven – this is My Beloved Son. You want to know, religious leaders, by what authority, by whose authority I’m doing these things? John told you – did you believe him? No, you didn’t, so I won’t waste my breath telling you what he already said. If we say John was from God, then we will be answering our own question – that Jesus also came from God. That’s whose authority is behind Him. And they didn’t care. They had their own system, their own truth. And so, they dismissed Jesus.
Far from avoiding their question, Jesus answers it so that the honest seeker of truth, unswayed by public opinion, will not fail to see who He is, while those who are only interested in trapping Him will continue to refuse to see the truth. Far from evading their question, He answered them. But when they refused to see the obvious, He refused to state the obvious.
You won’t believe John? You won’t believe My teaching? You won’t believe My miracles? Nor will I answer your question. You need to understand, there is a sense in which Jesus said this – you don’t believe the light of truth – there will be no more light for you. He turned the light of revelation off for them. They willfully rejected the truth they had already heard.
The held their hands over their eyes, they stopped up their ears. We’ve seen it all – we’ve heard it all – and we refuse to believe. And Jesus said, that’s it. I’m not going to answer your questions, I’m not going to reveal Myself to you anymore – you’ve received all your going to get. And from this point on, Jesus opposes them, rebukes them, exposes them for who and what they are. In just three days, He’ll stand before these same chief priests and scribes and elders – this time the whole Council – and He will remain silent. He won’t answer their questions and accusations then, either.
Well, for a time. Finally, in chapter 14, they will ask Him outright, Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One? Who do you think You are? And He will respond, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, coming with the clouds of heaven.” That will not go well for you. It will be judgment. No more revelation. I’m not going to walk on water for you, I’m not going to raise the dead for you. You’ve heard it, you’ve seen it, and you refuse to believe it. The light of revelation is off.
Folks, we can’t play games. Jesus has revealed Himself to us. You must decide. We can only plug our ears and close our eyes to truth for so long before Jesus says, no more for you. Some of you come week after week because it’s the thing to do. You hear sermons like this, and you tune me out – you plug your ears, you close your eyes. Hear me – you can only do that for so long. What more do you need to believe? Jesus, who do you think you are? He’s clearly answered. What will you do with the truth? The author of the book of Hebrews says it this way:
7 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE,
8 DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS,
9 WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED Me BY TESTING Me, AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS.
10 “THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID, ‘THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART; AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS’;
11 AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, ‘THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.’”
12 Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God.
13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end;
I plead with you to not harden your heart to truth. Who is Jesus? He is the Son of God. They had seen it all, heard it all, and denied it all. Don’t do that.
My simple call to you today is to believe the Gospel – that Jesus proved conclusively who He claimed to be. That answer to the questions, Jesus Christ, who are you? What have you sacrificed? Jesus Christ, Superstar, do you think you’re what they say you are? is yes. He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And He sacrificed His life for sins. Your sins, if you believe.