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Mark XXI: From Heaven or From Man? - Mark 11:27-12:12

The day after Jesus condemned the temple for being a den of robbers, the chief priests and scribes and elders demand an explanation. Who does Jesus think He is, upsetting things in God’s temple? And like a good rabbi, Jesus answers a question with a question of His own, asking them to give their evaluation of His predecessor John the Baptist’s ministry. Both John and Jesus were temple outsiders who called huge crowds to repent and believe the gospel, demonstrating that spiritual authority doesn’t come from the temple, but from God.

But the priests don’t look for the right answer; they look for a safe answer. Because they won’t listen to John and repent, and because they can’t throw John under the bus for fear of the crowd, they go with option C, which is equally damning: They don’t know. They claim to represent God, but they can’t tell if He was at work or not. And so Jesus refuses to cast His pearls before such swine. If they can’t recognize when heaven comes to earth, more words from Jesus won’t help them.

After coming through this attack on His authority, Jesus uses a biting parable to undermine the authority of the priests and scribes and elders. On the surface, the Parable of the Tenants is about the injustice of stealing property and violently resisting any attempts to reclaim it. Everyone sees the wickedness of the tenants, and everyone feels the increasing horror as theft leads to violence and violence leads to death.

But looking deeper, we quickly see why this parable makes the Jewish leaders so angry that they seek to arrest Jesus. Jesus’ message comes through loud and clear: the religious leaders claimed authority over the temple for themselves, when they were meant to be stewards of what really belonged to God. When God sent servants to collect the harvest of justice and righteousness, they plotted murder instead. The Jewish leaders are not righteous men protecting God’s temple from a crazy revolutionary from Galilee; they are greedy rebels refusing to surrender the temple to the beloved Son of God.

By stumping the Sanhedrin with a dilemma about John the Baptist and then slamming them with an allegorical picture of their wickedness, Jesus provides a subtle but significant answer to their question: Jesus’ authority comes from heaven, while the Jewish leaders are simply in it for themselves.

For us today, this passage is full of instruction and warnings. The question that Jesus asks about John is an important one for someone who is familiar with Jesus, but still holds Him at arms’ length. This question gets right to the heart of the matter: Did God send Jesus on heaven’s behalf? Or was Jesus simply a concerned citizen? If Jesus was just a man, then you need to evaluate Him. If Jesus came down from heaven, then you need to bow before Him.

Also, this passage contains a warning for religious leaders. Right now, the headlines are full of stories about the horrific scandals rocking the Roman Catholic church. God is calling the tenants of that portion of His vineyard to account, and it is terrible. But before we get too proud that we aren’t Catholics, we simply turn the page and find similar stories from Protestant megachurch pastors all the way down to ministers in tiny little Reformed denominations. So while some church structures are more faithful than others, we see that sin begins in the human heart, and it all starts when a religious leader, a tenant who has received delegated authority to minister to the Church, wields that authority as if the Church belonged to him instead of to Jesus. But religious leaders don’t rule the Church. Jesus rules the Church, and her leaders must be ready to yield to Him.

And personally, you may acknowledge with your lips that Christ’s authority came from heaven; but do you submit to it, or do you treat it as mere human advice? In the last few sections of Mark, Jesus has challenged us to be servants, to be generous, and to forgive others. If Jesus is a man, then these things are optional. Live this way if you agree and if you are able. But if Jesus is from heaven, then you need to bow in humble obedience before your Lord.

Hear the good news: Jesus’ authority comes from heaven, because Jesus Himself comes from heaven. And what heaven requires of you, Jesus does for you. Jesus came to serve you by ransoming you from your sins. Jesus came as a generous giver, freely offering you all the riches of heaven. Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save the world by dying on the cross to make forgiveness possible. So when religious leaders and religious people misuse authority, you need to know that Jesus isn’t like that. Jesus has been given authority from heaven, and He uses that authority to save you. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Posted on Wednesday, August 22, 2018 by CJ Bowen