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Ipoh Garden Baptist Church, English Section, 16December2007

A Question of Authority.

Mark 11: 27 - 33

Introduction

There is a short and seemingly insignificant verse written in the book of Zechariah which subsequently materialised as a very significant event in the lives of the people of Jerusalem, witnessed by the disciples themselves.  This verse is Zechariah 9:9 -

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion,
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem.
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, a foal of a donkey"

Ps 118:25-26 : "O Lord, save! (Hosanna! -  a familiar expression used by the Jews in prayer) Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!"  Both  Matthew and  John, when writing the gospels, recognised that what was written in Zechariah 9:9 eventually took place on the day the Lord Jesus rode a donkey into the streets of Jerusalem for the last time in his ministry on earth. 

 Earlier in this chapter 11 of Mark's gospel, we read that the Lord spent the first evening in Bethany, the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus whom the Lord raised from the dead.  This place was about two miles SE of Jerusalem and should not be confused with another Bethany (also called Bethabara) mentioned in John 1:28 as a city located across the Jordan River where John the Baptist was doing his work. The name Bethany means "house of unripe figs". It is particularly meaningful in this chapter of Mark because we read that the next day as the Lord Jesus and his disciples were returning from Bethany to Jerusalem, they came across across a fruitless fig tree which  Jesus cursed by saying, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again!" and which eventually withered.

Another significant thing which the Lord Jesus did was to drive out the people who were buying and selling from the temple courts. He even overturned their tables and chairs.  After clearing the temple courts, he taught them from Isaiah 56: 7 "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations"  The chief priests and the rabbis were alarmed by all this.  The crowds were amazed by Jesus' actions and words. If something is not done soon, the priests will lose the support and loyalty of all the people of Jerusalem. So they plotted to kill him. They, the teachers of the Law of God, the priests who stand before the God in the temple lead people to worship God and to offer sacrifices to him, they wanted to resort to murder. Apparently their God could not help them out of their crisis. Perhaps their God was not available. Perhaps, like the the fool in Psalm 14:1, they were saying quietly in their hearts, "There is no God".

And so when the Lord and his disciples returned to Jerusalem, they were confronted by the high priests, scribes and the elders, in the very same temple courts from which the Lord has chased out all the merchants and their customers earlier. The enemies demanded an explanation . . .


1) The Stature of their Position

The chief priests, the scribes (teachers of the law) and the elders.  In the NT "scribes and Pharisees" would often be mentioned together, e.g. in one of Lord Jesus' public speeches to the multitudes during his final week in Jerusalem, recorded in Matthew 23, the Lord openly rebuked the scribes and Pharisees at least eight times with the words "Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees . . ."  The Pharisees belonged to one of the most important and influential religious and political parties of Judaism. There were more Pharisees than Sadducees. The ancient historian Josephus estimated that more than 6,000 Pharisees existed in Jesus' time.

The  Pharisees were well known for their strict adherence to the OT law and to numerous additional traditions such as belief in angels and in the resurrection of the body.  As such, they  were offended when the Lord rejected their man-made traditions and were appalled by the Lord's claim of being the Son of God and also when he pronounced forgiveness of sins to people who came to him for healing. The Lord Jesus had certainly antagonised a group of very influential people who held very high position in the community of Jerusalem.

Consequently, they formed an alliance with their traditional opponents, the Sadducees and the Herodians, and plotted to destroy the Lord Jesus.  It was under such a threatening set of circumstances that the Lord Jesus faced the chief priests, the scribes and the elders that day: for among them were people who wanted to trap him with his own words, and expose him as a heretic, perhaps some kind of cult leader, and hopefully to bring a charge against him in court. 

So, when they asked the Lord, "By what authority are you doing these things?",  they were demanding an answer on the basis of their high authority and position. It was like school-master who asks a student, "Who gave you permission to come into my office?".  It was a "show-cause" letter, and the Lord Jesus had to explain why action should not be taken against him for his alleged false teachings.

2) The Nature of their Question

In John 12:37 - 41 "Although Jesus had performed so many miraculous signs before them, they still refused to believe in him, so that the word of Isaiah the prophet would be fulfilled. He said, “Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Quotation from Isaiah 53:1)  For this reason they could not believe, because again Isaiah said,  “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and understand with their heart, and turn to me, and I would heal them.” (in Isaiah 6:10)  John added his comments in verse 11, saying, "Isaiah said these things because he saw Christ’s glory, and spoke about him."

-  to evaluate / analyse critically:  critical evaluation is an essential ingredient of being learned.  Even today, post-graduates students in universities are expected to demonstrate an ability to analyse, evaluate and criticise the research findings of other people.
-  the learned person will not be satisfied with what is obvious / apparent, but, instead, search for hidden / latent factors and underlying causes. It is what you don't see that matters most.
-  Thus, like learned people, the chief priests and scribes and elders, were not easily impressed by what they saw, but rather what they have "yet to see".

3) The Picture of their Contradiction

The Lord Jesus pointed out their failure to see their self-contradiction:

Conclusion

(1)   These people of high position were ignorant of two things:

Subsequently, in John 12:  44 - 50
"But Jesus shouted out, “The one who believes in me does not believe in me, but in the one who sent me, and the one who sees me sees the one who sent me. I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not obey them, I do not judge him. For I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not accept my words has a judge; the word I have spoken will judge him at the last day.  For I have not spoken from my own authority, but the Father himself who sent me has commanded me what I should say and what I should speak.  And I know that his commandment is eternal life. Thus the things I say, I say just as the Father has told me"


(2)  From these we learn for ourselves today, to avoid living the contradictory life of the scribes and Pharisees, who talk profess to believe only in things that are "from God", while their very position and authority in Jerusalem depended virtually on the praise and support of mere men. Let us ask ourselves, "Is our life a contradiction?" Do we teach in the name of God but do things in the weakness of man? . . .