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‘BY WHAT AUTHORITY’ – Mark 11:27-33

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on October 16, 2016 under 2016 |

Message preached Sunday, October 16, 2016 from Mark 11:27-33

Theme: It’s only by submitting to the will of the Father that we truly embrace the authority of His Son.

This morning, we begin studying a fascinating section of Mark’s Gospel. It’s the story of Jesus’ various encounters with the religious leaders of Israel in the temple—all during the last few days before He went to the cross for us.

Mark’s story of Jesus’ ministry in the temple on this third day as Prophet and Teacher—the Tuesday of that last wee, if you’re keeping track—is the Gospel writer’s longest report of the activities of any single day in his Gospel. It shows us how our Lord was confronted by opposition from the religious leaders of the day; and confronted in ways and upon themes that are extremely import and relevant. And it is followed-up with His teaching of His people in the light of such challenges.

Their first confrontation with Jesus in the temple was on the subject of His authority—what kind of authority He had, and where He got it. That’s the passage we’ll be looking at this morning. The second confrontation was about politics—whether or not it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. The third confrontation was about theology—whether or not the resurrection of the dead was a hope that intelligent people can have. And finally, the fourth confrontation was about ethics—which of God’s commandments was the greatest commandment. Just think of it! Authority. Politics. Theology. Ethics. Aren’t these the kinds of important themes that people talk about and wrestle with today? And the identity of Jesus is just as controversial and as relevant to these various questions now as it was when He walked on this earth.

All of these questions were put to Jesus in the form of a challenge. They were all intended to somehow trap Him or discredit Him or test Him, and to elevate the authority of human reason and religion in His place. And in every case, He met the challenge with such confident wisdom that He silenced those who opposed Him and proved Himself to be all that He said He was. In studying Mark’s story of these confrontations, we not only learn about what a wise and wonderful Savior our Jesus is; but we also learn, through His example, how we should handle such questions today—as His faithful followers—when unbelieving people challenge our faith in Him in these same areas.

And so; let’s begin by considering the first of these confrontations in the temple—one that touches on the question of ultimate authority. In Mark 11:27-33, we read of what happened on the third day of Jesus’ entry into the temple just before going to the cross. Jesus was walking with His disciples on Tuesday morning; and Mark writes;

Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. And they said to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?” But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’”—they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. So they answered and said to Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things” (Mark 11:27-33).

I don’t know whether I’m saying a right thing here or not; but I kind of enjoy reading about it when someone tries to pick a fight with my Lord. I like it, because my Lord always wins.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; I believe there’s a very important spiritual principle involved in this story. It’s one that if we don’t properly understand, then we won’t properly understand Jesus and His own authority. It’s a principle that I believe most merely ‘religious’ people do not grasp—and thus completely misunderstand Jesus. It is, in fact, a principle that Jesus Himself taught.

You’ll find this principle expressed by our Lord in John 7. Jesus was becoming a very big topic with people at the time. Everyone had an opinion about Him. People were marveling at Him. They knew that He had not gone to the schools that the rabbis and scholars of the day had gone to; and yet, He would go to the temple and teach with such wisdom that everyone marveled at Him. “How does this Man know letters”, they would say—that is, how is it that He is so knowledgeable and skilled in handling the sacred writings, and the doctrines of Scripture, and the great themes of theology—“having never studied?” People who heard Him marveled and said, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” Where did He get this great authority with which He spoke?

This led Jesus to explain Himself to those who heard Him. He said; “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (John 7:16). He did not speak that which He had studied and developed on His own. Rather, He spoke truth that was given to Him by the heavenly Father to speak into this world. And because this is true, He spoke of how important it was that the hearts of those who heard Him first be in the right frame toward the heavenly Father. In verse 17; He said,

If anyone wills to do His [that is, the Father's] will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (John 7:17).

Can you see it? If someone wants to really know whether or not Jesus’ teaching is truly authoritative, then they must first have a heart that is inclined to do the will of the Father. If they are rightly submitted to the Father’s will as a first principle, then there will be no question in their hearts about the teaching of Jesus. They must say to the Father, as our Lord Himself said, “not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Only then will they know—without a doubt—that Jesus spoke truth from the Father. Only then will all that He said about Himself, and about the Father’s love for us through Him, be proven to their spirits to be fully authoritative.

Now; reverse that whole idea, and you’ll discover the real reason why it is that so many people today reject Jesus and His teaching. If deep in their hearts they are not really submitted to the Father’s will—if they have a fundamental, inward rebellion against His absolute authority as Creator God over them, and if they hold a hard-hearted attitude of unbelief toward Him and His commandments; if they, in effect, say in their hearts, “God, You may give commandments to me, but it’ll be me who decides whether or not I like them and will obey them”—then they cannot and will not welcome the teaching of Jesus as authoritative. Many people today put forth a lot of talk about loving and believing in God while they—at the same time—inwardly both reject Jesus and reject the clear, revealed commandments of the Father in the Bible. Jesus is letting us know that their boast of loving the Father is impossible. As He said elsewhere, “He who hates Me hates My Father also” (John 15:23).

We can state all of this, then, in the form of an inviolable spiritual principle: It’s only by submitting to the will of the Father—not just by doing a lot of talk about ‘loving’ the Father, but by actually believing in and submitting to the Father’s expressed will—that we truly embrace the authority of His Son.

That, I believe, is the great principle that is illustrated to us in this morning’s story from Mark’s 11:27-33.

* * * * * * * * * *

Let’s explore this passage about Jesus’ authority a little more closely; and let’s begin by noticing …


In verse 27, Mark tells us, “Then they”—that is, Jesus and His apostles—”came again to Jerusalem.” This, of course, was the day after He had cast the money-changers and those who sold merchandise out of the temple. Mark then tells us, “And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him.”

What do you suppose He was doing while He walked in the temple? The Gospel writer Luke, in his telling of the story, lets us know that He was teaching the people and preaching the gospel to them. It may be that this upset these religious leaders, because the gospel is essentially the message of who Jesus Himself is; and these leaders had rejected Him for who He claimed to be. And it may also be that it upset them because the people were coming and listening to Him—hearing Him teach about Himself. But I suspect that most of all—as He walked in the temple that that He had just cleansed of those things that didn’t belong in it—He was inspecting all things, and watching over all things, and making sure that the things He had cast out were not immediately brought back in to defile His Father’s house.

I don’t believe these leaders just happened upon Him as He walked along—suddenly having been made upset by something they saw. I believe they were looking for Him. I believe, in fact, that they had been plotting this confrontation against Him all through the previous night. It tell us in verse 18, after all, that as He cast the money-changers and merchants out of the temple, these leaders

heard it, and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people where astonished at His teaching (v. 18).

And by the way; I think there’s a lesson illustrated for us in this. Whenever we follow our Lord in seeking to bring about righteousness—whenever we set ourselves to ‘cleanse’ and ‘sanctify’ that which belongs to Him out of love for Him; whenever we set about to treat as holy that which our Father declares is holy—then we can usually expect opposition to rise up against it. Hardly anyone in our day seems to be upset very much over anyone trying to make fun of holy things. Rarely in our culture will leaders gather together to stop someone from speaking against or defiling that which is sacred in the sight of God. Do those things, and you’ll be largely left alone. It might even be defended and protected as your right. But if someone—out of sincere honor to Christ—seeks to establish righteousness, or to restore the honor of that which is holy in His sight, then the people who will not submit to God’s holy standards will most surely rise up to put a stop to it.

The apostle Paul wrote,

“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Let’s not be surprised when this happens. Such opposition even came upon our Lord—even from the religious leaders after He set about to purify His Father’s sacred house.

* * * * * * * * * *

So; these religious leaders—having made it their plan beforehand to do so—came to Him and confronted Him. They came to Him, before all the watching crowd, and asked Him two questions—questions that were designed to trap Him.

So; let’s next consider verse 28, where we find …


Mark tells us that these leaders—basically members of the Sanhedrin; the ruling body over the Jewish people—came to Him and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?” The “things” they were speaking of were, most likely, the acts He had performed in so thoroughly cleaning out the temple of that which they had allowed to happen in it. And in a way, you’ve really got to hand it to these leaders. They had crafted a couple of very clever questions. They were designed to embarrass our Lord in front of the people who were admiring Him.

Consider the first question: “By what authority are you doing these things?” Literally, they were asking by “what kind” of authority He was doing these things. Do you notice that they didn’t question that what He did was the right thing to do? They knew that they had done wrong in allowing such things to go on in the holy temple of God. Rather, they were trying to force Him into stating publicly the authority that He assumed to do this over their heads—asking, in fact, ‘what kind’ of authority.

And then, consider the second question: “And who gave You this authority to do these things?” They were wanting to trap Him into either saying, “I did it by My own authority” (so they could then accuse Him in front of the people of being a rebel against the established religious leadership, and thus persuade the people to back away from Him), or saying, “I received My authority from God the Father as the Messiah—God’s Son” (so that they could then accuse Him of blasphemy, and thus persuade the people that He ought to be put to death for committing a dreadful sin).

What clever people these hard-hearted leaders where! It reminds me of Jesus’ warning to His disciples elsewhere in His teaching;

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

Surely, dear brothers and sisters, we need to be very careful out in this world as we seek to submit to the authority of our Lord Jesus!

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; notice carefully what our Lord does. He doesn’t seek to doge the questions that were put to Him. He didn’t run from these questions, or ignore them, or lash out at the leaders in anger. Instead, He responded to their questions with a question of His own.

Notice, then …


Mark tells us that Jesus answered them and said to them, “I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things …” (v. 29).

May I just suggest to you, by the way, that there’s a great lesson to be learned in that?—something that we need to learn when we are seeking to defend our faith to friends, relatives or workmates that oppose it and speak against it? Sometimes, our hackles are raised at such times; and we lash out and say things we shouldn’t say. Or sometimes, we try to defend the faith to those who aren’t really interested in the reasons for it. In such cases, the best defense of the faith against those who oppose it is a wise, well-asked, strategic question that puts the onus back on them. They raised the question. Then let a well-stated question in response cause them to give the answer. That’s what our Lord does to these leaders who were opposing Him.

Jesus’ question to them wasn’t an evasion. It was a question that got right to the heart of the matter. It’s a single question that—once they answered—would in fact give them the answer to their own questions. Jesus asked them: “The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men? Answer me” (v. 30).

The “John” that Jesus is referring to is, of course, John the Baptist. And when Jesus speaks of John’s “baptism”, He was using a figure of speech for the whole of John’s ministry—his preaching and teaching ministry, his ministry of pointing to Jesus as the Messiah, and his work of baptizing people in preparation for Jesus’ coming. Early in his ministry, John said,

“I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose” (John 1:26-27).

Later, John saw Jesus coming to him; and John pointed Him out to all the people and declared, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John was a man sent from God whose public ministry of baptism was that of pointing to Jesus, and of testifying to the people that Jesus is the Son of God.

By the time Jesus had asked this question of those who questioned Him, John had been put to death. But all the people knew of John’s ministry and message. And so, even though this was just one question, what a question it was! “The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men?”

And by the way; I love the force with which Jesus asks it. There would be no evading His question. “Answer me”, He said.

* * * * * * * * * *

The question of our Lord came unexpectedly. He didn’t deny anything. He didn’t try to issue a counter-charge against them. He simply asked this all-important question. And it really turned the tables for these religious leaders. It put the onus on them.

And so, consider next …


I like to imagine that they held up a finger and said, “Please excuse us for just a minute”—and then quickly went off to a corner somewhere and formed a huddle. They hadn’t counted on being asked a question themselves in front of all the people like this’ and they had to plot their answer carefully.

Look at the fix they were now in, in front of all the people, with this whole matter of where the baptism of John originated. They reasoned among themselves and said in verse 31, “If we say, ‘From heaven, ‘ He will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’” And they most certainly didn’t! And they went on in verse 32 to say, “But if we say, ‘From men’”; well, they knew they couldn’t answer that way in front of the people! The people all considered John to truly be “indeed” a prophet from God! The people believed this so strongly in fact that, according to Luke, they feared that the people just might stone them to death if they tried to deny it!

And in asking this one, single, very strategic question, do you know what Jesus did? He forced them to come to terms with the real issue. The real issue was not Jesus’ authority. Rather, it was their attitude toward God’s authority over them! They were hard in their hearts toward the God who had so clearly sent John, and who—through his baptizing ministry—was calling them to repentance.

I think this becomes as clear as can be when you read of what Matthew, in his Gospel, tells us happened next. In Matthew 21:28-32, Jesus then told these religious leaders:

But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second son and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him” (Matthew 21:28-32).

That was the real problem; wasn’t it? They had hearts that were predisposed to reject God’s way for them. They would not repent and follow after God’s path of righteousness through the grace He was offering through Jesus Christ. Their hearts were hard against God—and that’s why it was impossible for them to even begin to grasp the authority of Jesus Christ.

* * * * * * * * * *

It’s very interesting to note the answer they came back to give. After consulting with one another, and realizing that there was no way out but the very repentance that they refused to give to God, they answered Jesus’ question by giving the answer in verse 33, “We don’t know.”

You can’t see this in the English translation; but their answer is truly a remarkable one. They used a particular tense of the Greek verb (the perfect tense), which suggests a completed action. They weren’t simply saying, “Boy; that’s a tough one. We ourselves are just not sure we know.” They basically turned it into a strong assertion and said, “We absolutely do not know.” That, of course, was a lie. But they did what people so often do even today when they know that there is no other option but to bow knee before God and believe on Him in repentance. They resorted to what I call ‘hard agnosticism’. They said that they do not know the answer; and that really, no one could possibly know the answer.

Jesus could see through that. And that’s when we see …


“He answered and said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things’” (v. 33).

His response to them was not just a mere refusal. He wasn’t saying, “Fine. Just because you won’t answer My question, then I’m not going to answer yours.” They—as a refuge for the guilt of their hard-hearted unbelief—claimed that they absolutely did not know nor could know. And Jesus was then responding to such a claim accordingly. For as He said elsewhere;

… whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him” (Matthew 13:12).

What a horrible thing this hardness of heart is in its sinful rebellion toward God! It actually results in closing one’s self up against God’s revealed will. So long as that happens, it is impossible to know Jesus rightly—or to rightly grasp the majesty of His authority.

* * * * * * * * * * *

And let me close by suggesting, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that this isn’t just a word for all those hard-hearted unbelievers out there in the world. This is a message that is also meant to be embraced by you and me.

We ourselves can harden our own hearts through some secret sin. We can know what God our Father wants us to do—clearly stated in His word; and yet begin to fall down the path of hardening our hearts to the authority of our Savior. The writer of Hebrews puts this way to us:

Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God, but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitful news of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end … (Hebrews 3:12-14).

May it be that we ourselves submit—with all our hearts—to the will of God as revealed in His holy word. Then—and only then—can we truly understand the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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