April 26, 2020

The Rejection of the Authority of Jesus – Mark 11:27-12:12

Passage: Mark 11:27-12:12

Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark. If you can grab a Bible, we are going to be looking at Mark 11:27-12:12, this morning.

If you didn’t know that our household was big into hockey before I tell this story, you are about to find out, now. This past week, Liam and I watched Alexander Ovechkin and Wayne Gretzky play in an online NHL 20 matchup. This wasn’t a real hockey game; this was simply two hockey players playing against each other on a video game.

Now, in all fairness they were raising money for their respective charities, so it wasn’t like it was a complete waste. But they were making a big deal about this game, because Ovechkin is catching up to Gretzky’s all-time goal-scoring record, so they wanted to see who is the greatest of all time by playing this video game.

And what they did is they live-streamed the whole thing, so that viewers like us could tune in and watch them play. And Liam and I really got into it. We were cheering when a team scored and nervous about who was going to win. And it was actually a lot of fun for us, even though nothing about the game was real.

But the one downside was that these guys were mic’d up, which meant that we could hear everything they said. And throughout the game, Ovechkin would keep saying, “Jesus.” And at one point, Liam asked why he kept saying that. So, Helena and I explained to him that not everyone respects the name of Jesus, because they don’t know Him. And Liam, in his childlike faith, said, “Everyone knows Jesus.” And you know, there is truth to that statement.

I believe that most people know about Jesus—they might know something He said or the kinds of things He did—but they don’t actually know Jesus. It’s essentially what this sermon series in Mark has been about. You see, it’s easy for us to know about Jesus, and all of the miracles He performed and the things He said, but do we actually know Jesus? That’s the question. And what makes the difference between knowing Jesus and simply knowing about Jesus is whether or not we have submitted to His authority.

This is exactly what lies before us in our passage of Scripture, this morning. Jesus is once again going to enter into the temple in Jerusalem, and His authority is going to be challenged by the Jewish leaders. And this morning, we are going to be challenged as to whether or not we have submitted to the authority of Jesus.

I’m just going to read our passage for us, and then we will dive in. Mark 11, beginning in verse 27: “And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?’ 29 Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.’ 31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” 32 But shall we say, “From man”?’ —they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’

“1 And he began to speak to them in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. 2 When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 7 But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” 8 And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?”’ 12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.”

Last week, we looked at Jesus clearing out the temple. The Jewish leaders had made the temple, which was supposed to be a place of prayer for the nations, a den of robbers, where there were now sketchy dealings being done in the temple to support temple operations. And as Jesus comes across a fig tree that had the appearance of bearing fruit, but with nothing but leaves on it, He likens that fig tree to the Jewish leaders, who had the appearance of godliness, but who did not have the fruit of the Spirit.

It’s at this point that we would expect Jesus to go into hiding, as the Jewish leaders would have been watching for Him. But He doesn’t. Instead, Jesus goes right back into the city of Jerusalem and into the temple. And when He gets there, there is an immediate confrontation with the chief priests and the scribes and the elders, who ask Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”

Now, notice that the Jewish leaders don’t question whether or not Jesus has authority. They knew full well that Jesus has some kind of authority to be able to say what He says and do what He does.

We initially encountered the authority of Jesus, back in Mark 1, when Jesus was teaching in the synagogue and the crowd was astonished, because Jesus taught “as one who had authority.” Later, we saw Jesus casting demons out of people, which means Jesus has authority over the demonic forces. We saw that Jesus has the authority to heal, but then, in Mark 2, we saw that Jesus also “has authority on earth to forgive sins.” In Mark 3, we saw that Jesus has authority over Satan himself when He talks about binding the “strong man.” In Mark 4, we saw that Jesus has authority over the natural forces when He calms a storm.

Over and over again, Jesus is showing that He has all authority and that all things are in subjection to Him. And what must have been quite disconcerting for the Jewish leaders is that, in every single incident, Jesus is saying or doing things that only God can say or do. Such authority can only come from God, and yet, Jesus seems to possess such authority.

And so, they ask, “Who gave you this authority?” They wanted Jesus to attribute His authority to God, so that they could charge Him with blasphemy. But what does Jesus do? He answers their question with a question: “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?”

Now, we might find this question rather odd. What does the baptism of John have to do with the authority of Jesus? But it’s actually at the baptism of Jesus by John that we see from where the authority of Jesus comes.

If you turn back to Mark 1, Jesus comes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. And in verse 10, it says that when Jesus came up out of the water, “immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”

Now, the Jewish leaders could discredit the baptism of Jesus, by saying that John’s baptism was simply “from man,” just something that John invented, but then they would have been in trouble with the thousands of people who came to John to be baptized, believing him to be a prophet. And the Jewish leaders wanted the crowds on their side, if they were going to get rid of this Jesus. But on the other hand, if the Jewish leaders said that John’s baptism was “from heaven,” then Jesus would want to know why they didn’t believe in him.

Jesus has really put them in a no-win situation. There is no way for them to come away from this conversation with their dignity intact. But the three groups of religious leaders come together to discuss the implications of this question. And they decide that there is only one way that they can answer this question, and that is to tell Jesus, “We do not know.”

And we know that that is an absolute lie. Of course, they know from where John’s baptism came. They just don’t want to admit it, because it will either mean obedience to the authority of Jesus, or opposition with the majority of the people. The truth is staring them directly in the face; they simply refuse to see it.

It was like what I shared a couple of weeks ago on Easter Sunday about the temple guards who came to the Jewish leaders with the report that Jesus had risen from the dead. The Jewish leaders wanted to cover it up, not because they didn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, but precisely because He had risen from the dead, and they didn’t want it to be true.

The Jewish leaders here are confronted with the authority of Jesus. They know exactly from where it comes, but they refuse to acknowledge it. They had divine confirmation of His authority at His baptism, but they disregard it. They know about Jesus and all the things pointing to His divinity, but they don’t want it to be true, because that would mean an entire upheaval of their way of life.

And so, they say, “We do not know.” It’s a complete lie, but it’s all that they can muster up, so as to not bend the knee to King Jesus. So, Jesus responds, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Jesus is unwilling to commit Himself to those who will not commit to Him.

But then, Jesus tells a parable, the parable of the tenants. It’s a story of a landowner who leases a vineyard to tenant farmers to work in his absence. And at harvest season, he sends a servant to collect his produce. He was the landowner, after all, and was entitled to a portion of the harvest.

But as one commentator put it, the tenants “pay their rent in blows.” It says that they took the servant “and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.” Other servants are sent, receiving the same or worse treatment. “Some they beat, and some they killed.” As a last resort the landowner sends his son. Surely, his son will command respect.

One commentator notes, “In sending the servants the owner appealed to the integrity of the tenants; in sending his son he appeals to the right of law, for the son was the only person, save himself, who possessed legal claim over the vineyard…. And the son differs from the slaves in several important respects: they are many, he is unique; they are hirelings, perhaps even themselves property, he is the heir; they are forerunners, he is the last and final word of the father. Above all, the son is ‘beloved.’”

The son would go with the father’s authority to the father’s property to claim the father’s due. If the tenants reject the authority of the son, then they are rejecting the authority of the father—the landowner himself.

Sure enough, no longer content with the landowner’s produce, the tenants now go after the whole property. They think to themselves, “If we kill the son, then we will become the heirs, and the property will be ours.” So, they killed the son and threw him out of the vineyard. At this point, the landowner intervenes decisively, destroying the tenants and then leasing the property to others more deserving.

What are we to make of this parable? How does this fit in with what is going on in this moment? Turn over to Isaiah 5. There is a deeper meaning behind this story, and it is found in the words of God, in Isaiah 5:1-6. It says, “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.”

It sounds very much like the parable Jesus told. We see from this passage in Isaiah, how God deals with the people of Israel like a vineyard. He gives them good laws and brings them into a good land and leases His vineyard to good tenants, the Jewish leaders, who were supposed to look after the vineyard, so that it would yield a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.

God had given them everything they needed to be fruitful, but the Jewish leaders had failed in their assignment. So, God sent the prophets to them. Hebrews 1:1 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.”

But just like the servants in the parable, the Jewish leaders mistreated the prophets of God. Nehemiah 9:26 says, “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies.”

Jeremiah 20:2 tells us that Jeremiah was beaten and put in stocks. Tradition tells us that Isaiah was sawn in two. 2 Chronicles 24:21 says that they stoned Zechariah to death in the court of the temple. And most recently, John the Baptist had been beheaded. Jesus Himself laments the actions of the Jewish leaders, in Matthew 23:37, saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”

The Jewish leaders had defiantly rebelled against God—the rightful owner of the vineyard. They took the good things of God and made them ultimate things, thus making them bad things. They took what was God’s and said it was theirs.

At last, God the Father would send His beloved Son with His authority to claim what was rightfully His. God Himself became flesh and dwelt among them, but was not believed. John 1:11 says that “he came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”

If the Jewish leaders reject the Son of God, then they are rejecting the One who sent Him—God the Father Himself. But they do worse than that. The Jewish leaders would take the Son of God, and they would kill him, so that they could have the vineyard for themselves.

And it’s here where we see, what Romans 11:22 calls, “the kindness and the severity of God.”

We see the kindness of God towards His people, in sending them the prophets and eventually His only Son. We cannot comprehend such love. I feel like if I were the landowner, I would have intervened much sooner. But God is gracious and longsuffering, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance,” according to 2 Peter 3:9.

But we also see the severity of God expressed in verse 9: “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.” We like to talk about the kindness of God, but we don’t like to talk about the severity of God. And yet, we must. Acts 4:12 says that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” There is judgment coming for those who reject the Son of God. Salvation can only be found in Jesus.

To reinforce this point, Jesus quotes from Psalm 118:22-23, which says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”

We know that this is the Lord’s doing. We know that this is the plan of God from before the foundation of the world. We know that His ways are perfect. We know that He is a good Father. But how is the rejection of Jesus, the only Son of God, marvelous in our eyes? Because the Son of God was killed on our behalf.

You see, we are no different than the wicked tenants in this parable. We are no different from the Jewish leaders. Romans 8:7 says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.” There is no part of our natural selves that desires to submit to the authority of God. We are at war with God from the moment we are conceived.

What we need is a change of heart. We can have all the facts before us. We can know that we are wrong. But unless the Spirit of God transforms our heart, we will not submit to the authority of God.

This was the case for the Jewish leaders. They knew that Jesus told the parable against them. They knew that they and their forefathers were the tenants, who were supposed to give God His due. They knew that their forefathers had shamefully treated the servants of God, beating some and killing some. They knew that they themselves were planning the greatest act of rebellion, where they were about to kill the beloved Son of God. They knew all of this, and yet, they would not repent. They needed the Spirit of God to transform their heart.

What we are seeing here is an issue with authority. And it’s not just an issue for the Jewish leaders; this is something that every human being has wrestled with, since Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. The first man and first woman were told, “Eat of this fruit and you will become like God, knowing good and evil.” They figured that meant they would no longer have a standard to live up to. They figured that meant they would no longer be accountable to anyone. They figured that meant they would be “the master of their fate and captain of their soul.”

And yet, we still wrestle with authority, don’t we? If I can be completely honest, when Deena Hinshaw announced this week that there would be no mass gatherings allowed over the summer, I found it very difficult to submit to her authority. I’m tired of this isolation. Maybe you felt the same way. Maybe you find it difficult when a political party gets voted into power that you didn’t vote for and don’t like. Maybe you find it difficult to do what your boss at work tells you to do. Maybe you wrestled with some of the decisions of your parents growing up.

All of these instances simply reveal to us that we don’t have all authority and that we have an issue with those in authority. But there is One who does have all authority and in whom we can take comfort, knowing that all things are ultimately in His hands. In Matthew 28:18, just before He is about to ascend to heaven, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

I listened to a podcast by pastor John Piper, this past week, where he talked about the scope of the authority of Jesus. Here is the authority of Jesus:

“All authority over Satan and all demons and all angels, good and evil.
Authority over the natural universe: natural objects and laws and forces, like stars and galaxies and planets and meteorites.
Authority over all weather systems: winds and rains and lightning and thunder and hurricanes and tornadoes and monsoons and typhoons and cyclones, and all their effects like tidal waves and floods and fires.
All authority over molecular and atomic reality: atoms, electrons, protons, neutrons, subatomic particles, quantum physics, DNA, chromosomal reality.
All plants, all animals. Doesn’t matter what size: whales, redwoods, giant squid, and giant oaks. All fish, all wild beasts, he has authority over.
All invisible animals: bacteria and viruses and parasites and germs of every kind—he has authority over.
He has authority over all the parts and functions of the human body. Every beat of your heart, every movement of the diaphragm, every little jump across a million synapses in your brain—Jesus has all authority over all those physiological phenomena in your body.
He has all authority over nations and governments and congresses and legislatures and kings and premiers and courts.
He has all authority over armies and weapons and bombs and terrorists.
All authority over industry and business and finance and currency.
All authority over entertainment and amusement and leisure and media.
All authority over education and research and science and discovery.
All authority over crime and violence and all families and all neighborhoods.
And he has authority over his body, the church.
And he has authority over every soul in the universe and every moment and every second of every life lived, now or previously or forever and ever, anywhere in the universe.”

Jesus has all authority. He has died. He has risen from the dead. He has triumphed over sin and death. The question is not whether or not Jesus has all authority. He does. The question is whether we will submit to His authority, or whether we will reject His authority.

Philippians 2:9-11 says that “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” We might reject the authority of Jesus, but there is not a square inch in all of Creation that Christ does not have rightful claim. Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth. How will we respond to His authority?

The reality is that we are all naturally rebels against the authority of our Creator God. We want to be our own god. We want to be our own authority. We have taken the good things of God and made them ultimate things, thus making them bad things. We have rebelliously taken what was God’s and made it ours.

But Romans 5:8 says that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The Son of God stood in our place. Where we rebelled against God and sought autonomy for ourselves, thus incurring the judgment of God against us in our state of rebellion, Jesus stood in our place, willingly giving Himself over to death, taking the judgment of God that was coming our way upon Himself, so that we could be saved. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ.

There are many who will reject this good news. There are many who will not respect the name of Jesus or submit to His authority. There are many who will know all the facts about Jesus, but who don’t actually know Jesus. And my hope is that we will see and believe and give our lives to the One who was rejected and killed, so that we could be saved.

John 3:16-18 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

It seems like, during this time, Christ is stripping everything away, so that what is left is trust in Him. It’s as though He is asking us, “Am I King over your finances? Am I King over your health? Am I King over your job? Am I King over your family? Am I King over how you spend your time? Am I King over your life?”

I have definitely been wrestling all week with preaching this sermon. This is not a passage of Scripture I like very much, right now, because it’s exposing all kinds of insecurities in me. Jesus says, “Whoever does not believe is condemned already.” We need to take a hard look at our lives to see if we believe, because if Christ is not King over every area of our lives, then He is not King at all.

What authority does Christ have? He has all authority in heaven and on earth. And until we trust Him with every aspect of our lives, until we have submitted to the authority of Jesus, then we really will not know Jesus. Let’s pray…

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