By Simon ManchesterSunday 10 Dec 2017Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 16 minutes
We return to Mark’s gospel, the little journey which we’ve been on for quite a long time. And today we come to chapter 11:27. This is where Jesus is asked an aggressive question, and He answers by asking His own clever question. And the response comes back, “We won’t answer the question.” And He says, “Well, I won’t answer your question.”
This is the first of seven clashes or collisions or confrontations which Jesus has with His religious opponents in Mark 11 and 12. And I’ve called this morning “Facing the Heat,” and I hope that it will strengthen you as you are conscious of standing for Christ in a world which is hostile to Christ.
I remember talking to some pastors and their wives some years ago at a conference. I just made the passing comment that probably where you’re serving I said, “You’re regarded quite cruelly.” And one of the wives said, “They hate us.” I’ll always remember, it struck me. She and her husband, serving lovingly in a very important context and feeling the hatred of the people around.
Now, of course, you’ll be popular if you say what people want you to say. But if you speak the truth of Christ, which of course is our law and our business, and the most loving thing we can do, you will not always be popular.
I want to assure you that this passage is packed with significance for you, for today and every day. For example, it’s dealing with the question of authority.
Why is the world like it is? This passage goes a long way to answering that question.
Or think of religion, a very dangerous animal religion. This passage goes a long way to explaining religion.
Think of Jesus, who is receiving very prejudicial treatment for no good reason. This passage explains something of that.
Think of the fact that He is secure, and calm, and peaceful, and loving, and offering to people a brand-new start. This passage deals with all of these issues.
So, there are two questions, and there are two responses, and I want to look with you at the passage under those two headings, two questions and then two answers.
Mark 11:27-33, just seven verses, but it’s a wonderful window into the human heart and also into the divine heart. So, let’s think about the two questions. You see in chapter 11:27 we read “They,” that’s Jesus and the disciples, “arrived again in Jerusalem.” They had gone into Jerusalem, remember Jesus on the donkey? And then they had left Jerusalem because they went out and came to a fig tree.
You remember Jesus cursed the fig tree because the fig tree being cursed was going to be a lesson, a shocking demonstration to the disciples that the religious world of Jerusalem was dead, dead to the roots. And Jesus exhibited or demonstrated this with the cursing of the fig tree.
Now they’re back in Jerusalem, and they’re walking in the temple. The temple is meant to be a place of truth and expectation for the Messiah. But actually, the temple has become a place of error, evil and hostility to the Messiah. And one of the proofs of this is that a group from the Jewish Council come up to Jesus, there are some chief priests, there are some elders, there’s teachers of the law, those of the three groups of the Jewish Council. This is a delegation.
They come up to Jesus, and they have this question, “Where did you get your authority to do what you’re doing? Who told you-you could do what you’re doing?” That’s their question.
I want you to stop and just exercise your mind for a minute because this question is a pregnant question. For example, it’s quite apparent that the people of Jesus’ day recognised that He had great authority. They did not see Him as people today think. He’s harmless; He’s expendable. They regarded Jesus as a very threatening, powerful person, as we should today.
He had very great authority, Jesus, and it’s undeniable because even the enemies come up and agree, “You’ve got great authority, but where has it come from?”
We know that when Jesus spoke, He spoke with great authority and the crowds were amazed. We know that when Jesus forgave sins, He did this with great authority and the enemies of Jesus were angry about it.
I’m not sure how many of you have experienced those moments where God’s authority or unction fell on His word and the word came with great power. I wonder if you have experienced that because a lot of what we experience at the moment in the church is frail, forgettable, empty, moderately entertaining. But when the power of God, what used to be called the unction of God, falls on the word of God, it’s quite remarkable.
I’ve been reading the account of England before and after John Wesley and it just astonishes me to read that when John Wesley, who was a little man would walk into an English village and the crowds would gather, some to listen and some to attack him and they’d be there with their fruit to pelt it and rocks to throw at him. And some of them would led off wild animals in the midst of the meeting just to create complete chaos.
Then you read that John Wesley would begin to speak, wiping the fruit off his face and wiping the blood off his cheek. And he’d begin to speak, and the people who were listening, began to listen more carefully, and they would drop what they were planning to throw, and they would stand there in great hushed silence, under the conviction of the word of God. And many of these men who’d come to attack would stand there with tears running down their faces, as they repented of their sins, the power of God that fell on the word of God.
Just imagine when the son of God came into the world and began to speak, the one who made the world with His words and now addresses the world with His word and changes the world with His word must have been a remarkable authority. It’s not yelling; it’s not ranting, it’s not games playing, it’s the authority of God.
Jesus acted with great authority as well.
- He would cause a demon to leave a person
- He would cause a disease to leave a person
- He would cause a storm to go still
- He would announce that the Sabbath was going to be free of all the rules and something which He would dictate incredible authority.
So, when they asked the question, they’re proudly thinking especially of Him clearing the temple. And they’re coming to Him. And they’re probably saying to Him, “Who gave you authority to clear the temple?” But they’re also proudly saying to Him, “We’re trying to trap you into saying something blasphemous”. So, He had great authority. He exhibited great authority. And thirdly, Jesus threatened their authority, and that’s why they were so angry.
This is the key to the hostility, that Jesus is not submitting to them. He’s not cooperating. He’s not applauding them. He’s not giving them permission to do whatever they want.
He’s expecting them to honour Him and submit to Him. And so, there is a clash of authorities, and that’s why they’re so angry. And friends, I don’t think you’ll really understand the world that we’re in or the problems of the world. You won’t even understand the human heart unless you understand that there is a great resistance and rejection of the authority of Jesus in the world. The one who has the authority and therefore runs the world and will be seen to have the authority is hated for his authority. That’s why the world is as it is. And you know this from your own heart because if there’s a clash between what Jesus wants and what you want, well, you’ve got a blocked goal, haven’t you? And you get angry, and you get frustrated, and you get bitter.
A few decades ago, the leaders of the world would publicly acknowledge the authority of God, even if privately they lived different lives. But publicly it was the right thing to do to acknowledge the authority of God. Now this authority of God is kind of off limits. And so, who’s going to fill the vacuum? Watch the news, and you’ll see who fills the vacuum.
The human race does a lousy job of trying to fill the vacuum of authority. I don’t think it’s too much to say that the number one issue in the world today is who has ultimate authority. Because if God is non-existent or if He’s completely silent and He’s saying nothing, well do what you like. But if He is real and if He is clear, then you must listen, and you must heed Him.
Jesus has great authority. He shows great authority. He threatens their authority, and He especially threatens religious authority. These people who’ve come to Jesus are religious, and religious people can often be the most hostile because they’ve got a system and the whole of eternity hangs on their system. And this system which they bring to Jesus in Mark:11, has just come out of their own human imagination. It’s not come from the word of God. And so, when Jesus threatens their agenda, it becomes very dangerous and heated. Just as we see religions today that are either non-Christian or fake Christian are very dangerous, very dangerous indeed.
Where true Christianity operates, it should be only dangerous to idolatry, and the great healer of relationships. So, that’s what their question is, “Who gave you this authority?” And behind it is a great deal of resistance to Jesus’ authority and Jesus knows their question is hostile. And one of the reasons we know that He knows it’s hostile is because He doesn’t answer the question. He asks a question. And He says in verse 29, “I’ve got a question for you. The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or was it from earth? Who is behind the work of John the Baptist?”
Now, this is a very interesting question because Jesus is sifting their motives by asking this question. If they are close to John, they don’t want to think about John, well, they will be close to Jesus. If they’re open to John, then they might be open to Jesus. So, what Jesus does is He takes them back to John the Baptist, and this reduces the tension on Himself and of course everybody who He was talking to had heard of John the Baptist. They’d probably been out to listen to John the Baptist. Maybe they’d even been baptised by John the Baptist. And the question Jesus asks is, “Why was he so effective? Why was he so powerful? Who authorised John the Baptist?”
You notice that Jesus is here not talking about His own baptism by John which was, of course, a very significant moment recorded in Mark:1, where the heavens opened, and the spirit came down, and God announced, “This is my Son”. Jesus is not talking about that. He’s not even saying, “Well, how do you think I fed the crowd of 5000?” He’s simply saying to these opponents, “Let’s go to square one and think about John. Work John out, and you’ll get Jesus worked out. Work Jesus out, and you’ll get everything worked out”. Well, He knows their motives are wrong, and you know what it’s like when somebody’s motives are working against you, and they’re very resistant to whatever you’re saying, and all your arguments are going nowhere.
Not too many weeks ago, I was visiting an elderly couple sort of linked to the church. But they don’t come to the church, and it was a very sweet time, sitting there having a cup of tea and talking, and I’d gone there especially to find out what they believed. And I began to raise the subject of faith in Christianity, and I could feel the hostility. And even though this was a very sweet and refined couple, and quite elderly, I couldn’t quite work out why there was this opposition. And then suddenly in the conversation, he blurted out, “We’re not going down the line of this sinner talk.” And I suddenly realised that here were a couple of people who did not want to talk about sin or being a sinner. And therefore, of course, there was no interest in a Savior. But behind the conversation, you see, was this motive. We’re not going to talk sin.
There’s a new biography just being produced on this, Charles Darwin and it’s written by a man called A.N. Wilson, who’s an Englishman used to be a very hostile to Christianity man, and he now seems to have come back to Christian faith, and he’s written a very interesting biography about Charles Darwin, which is going to create quite a bit of controversy because he’s not as enthusiastic about Darwin as many people are. In fact, the book is called “Victorian Mythmaker” which is gonna stir up a lot of interest. But in the biography, A.N. Wilson says, “You know Charles Darwin was not as keen to remove Christianity as many of his followers.” And one of his followers, Thomas Huxley, who was known as “Darwin’s Bulldog,” was specially keen to get rid of Christianity. And the biographer tells us why. He says, “Huxley had one simple device for discussion. If you objected to Darwin’s theory, you were a religious bigot.” Sound familiar?
Control the conversation with name-calling because then, of course, there’s no interest in truth, it’s just a question of control. John Calvin, even further back, says, “A man may pretend to want answers, but if they conflict with his desires, he will shut the gate.”
So Jesus is testing their motives and the other thing Jesus is doing, believe it or not, by asking the question, is He’s very kind to them. He’s actually very kind to them because if they answer the question about John, they’re well on their way to working out who Jesus is, and they’re well on their way to working out what He’s come to do, and therefore they’re well on their way to benefiting by receiving new life.
I find this absolutely amazing that when Jesus is being attacked, He responds with a gracious offer. He gives them an opportunity to seek and find. John Bunyan Pilgrim’s Progress famously said that “Even at the very gates of heaven, there is a little road that’s heading off to hell which a person might still take.”
And Jesus is saying, “Even at the gates of hell, there’s a little road that leads off to heaven, and you can still take it.”
So, their question to Him is a trap, but His question to them is a key. And of all the things that Jesus might have said to humble them or to terrify them, it is amazing that He says something to offer to them a brand-new life. So, those are the two questions, one is very hostile, one is kind, and if you want to understand the world that we live in, I think that’s a microcosm of the world. There is tremendous hostility from the world towards the authority of Christ. And there is tremendous desire from Jesus to reveal the authority and the love of God.
I was reading of a lady in England recently who sat on a bench in a park. And there was a button on the bench that you could push to hear a recorded voice of a little history moment. And she pushed the button and out came the voice of her grandmother who she’d not heard for 15 years. And apparently somebody had found this tape of her grandmother talking about her childhood and sent to the historical society, and they had built it into the park bench on which this girl, the granddaughter, eventually sat. Now, how do you think you will get the answers to your questions? Do you think they will come through some freakish voice out of the blue? The answer, of course, is that you’ll get the answers to your questions by opening your Bible and reading it, perhaps briefly, but regularly and humbly and joyfully. And the more you do that, the more you’ll have the answers to your questions.
The group come back, the delegation with their answer, and then Jesus comes back with His answer. The first answer in this section of Mark:11 from the delegation reveals the human heart, “We don’t want to answer the question.” And the second comes from the divine heart of Jesus. Well, then there’s no point in me answering your question either.
So, the first answer, how are these people, these religious people going to answer Jesus’ question about the authority of John? We read in verse 31, they discussed it. It’s a word in the original, which means to debate in a very evasive way. And this is what they say as they talk together, they say, you know, “If we say John’s authority was from heaven, well we should be taking Christ seriously.” But if we say that “John’s authority was from earth, the crowd is gonna kill us. And we don’t want to acknowledge Christ. That’s losing control. And we don’t want to face an angry crowd, that’s to lose face.” So you see what they do in verse 33. They do what so many do, that is, they play the agnostic card. They say, “We don’t know.” Or as a well-known man on television is prone to say when asked about Christianity, “The jury is out.” I see him every now and again in the street, and I wanna say to him, “Your jury ‘s been out for years, when are you gonna make a decision?”
But they play the agnostic card. It’s very embarrassing, isn’t it? Because this is a highly intelligent group of men. And the question is really a very simple question, “We don’t know.” And it’s a very humiliating question because they obviously don’t have the integrity to pursue the truth, nor do they have the courage to deny the truth. I wonder whether you know people like this? I’m sure you do. They’re not willing to follow the evidence to Christ, but they’re not willing to deny the evidence of Christ. They just want to sit in between on a kind of an imaginary fence. And what is even more difficult in the world in which we live is that it’s very easy to ignore Christ when times are prosperous, and you can solve most of your problems. And also, there is no crowd around to be afraid of in this city, is there? There’s no church to be afraid of. There’s no society to be afraid of. But I want you to know that it is a pretend security. It’s just a temporary security. You can only sit on the fence, the imaginary fence for so long. It doesn’t settle the question of the evidence, and it doesn’t settle the question of time. Mortality.
Bishop Ryle says in his book on holiness, “If your treasure is all here in this world, your present course cannot last. Your grey hair, your age, your sickness, your infirmities, your death, all this is in front of you and it must be met. What will you do when you meet it?”
So you see how foolish these men are, they come back to Jesus, and it’s the same with so many today, they think that by putting off a decision about Jesus, they can put off meeting Jesus, that’s impossible. Jesus doesn’t say, “If I come back,” He says, “When I come back.” He doesn’t say, “If I judge the world,” He says, “When I judge the world.” It’s inevitable. And those people who throw themselves into anything to distract them from having to think about eternal things, of all people most to be pitied.
So the first answer there you see is, “We don’t know.” And Jesus comes back, as we know, in the last verse 33, how’s He going to answer them? They’ve said, “We don’t know,” literally, of course, “We won’t say.” And Jesus says, “And I won’t answer either.” It’s not that he can’t answer the question, He could answer it in one word, but what would be the point? He’s dealing here with closed people. Their mouths are shut, they don’t want any spiritual food. I hope this will be a good warning to anybody who’s listening right now, and you’re closed to the evidence of Jesus. Well, there’s no hope for you if you’re closed. Have some integrity and be open. I hope also this is a good warning to anybody who’s quite picky or selective about the Christian faith. You know, I’ll take the palatable bits and I’ll leave the challenging bits.
Jesus has all authority. He welcomes the genuine seeker, but you don’t get to bargain with Him because He has all authority. But when you come to the one who has all authority, you’ll find that He has all mercy, and all grace, and all kindness, and all love for you.
Let me say to you this morning that this final comment of Jesus in chapter 11:33 is a very loving sentence. And the reason is and I find this very moving, is because you can see that Jesus is not panicking. He’s not overwhelming them with authority. He’s not terrifying them as He would be perfectly capable of doing. But He doesn’t feel the need to prove His authority. He can answer calmly, “Why can He do this?” And the answer my friends is that He has all authority. He’s able to wait and trust. He’s not threatened by the powerful rivals who’ve come to Him. He’s not worried that there are exciting events that are taking place which are going to eclipse Him, which we know will all be over very quickly and soon forgotten. He’s not panicked by impressive celebrities who say that Jesus is finished, or dismiss Him or forget Him. Why does He not panic? Why is He not threatened? Why is He not worried by these things? Because He has all authority. He has all authority. He sits on the throne. All people are like grass or the flowers of the field; they’re all gonna perish. He holds all authority. And one of the great proofs that He has all authority is that He is able and willing to lay it down, which He does when He’s crucified on the cross. And on the cross, He pays our penalty, for our hostility to Him. And He provides His pardon for our hostility to Him. So, everything is under His control. He’s got the authority, He’s also got the grace. And if you belong to Him you are in the safest hands in the world, in the universe. Amen.