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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Christ's enemies confront him on his authority as a prophet of God
Text:Mark 11:27-32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2011 Book of Praise

Hymn 5
Hymn 81:3,4
Hymn 81:7
Psalm 69:1-4
Hymn 46
Psalm 108:1,2,5

Reading:  Deuteronomy 18:14-22
Text:  Mark 11:27-32
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,

Imagine this workplace scenario.  You’re working somewhere with a bunch of other people.  There are the lowly workers.  You’re one of them.  There are the managers and they’re in charge.  There is a clear pecking order, at least on paper.  But then there’s your co-worker who seems to have missed the memo about who’s in charge.  He started at the company around the same time as you.  He is about the same age.  He has the same qualifications.  He has the same job title and position.  But somehow he thinks that he is in charge.  He knows how to do the job best.  He tells you and everyone what to do and acts as if he’s a manager.  He reprimands you when you don’t listen to him.  He acts as if he has a position of authority, when the reality is different.  When the company Christmas party comes, this guy is the one who wonders why no one wants to sit at his table.  Some of us can probably relate to that scenario. 

People who think that they’re authorities when they’re not irritate other people.  You’ll find yourself wondering, “Who gave that guy the right to boss me around?  Who does he think he is?”  When there are clear lines of authority, this can be frustrating. 

Questions of authority are important.  They’re important in the workplace and they’re important everywhere in our lives.  Who’s in charge?  Who has the right to tell us what to believe, what to do, what to think, how to live?

For Christians that gets answered first of all in our confession of Christ as Lord.  Jesus is the Lord of our lives.  That means he has the authority and the right to direct every aspect of our lives.  He is our Lord, that means he is our master, our owner.  He owns us and because he owns us, he has every right to lead us and teach us.  And we have the responsibility and calling to follow him – with no backtalk, no grumbling, no complaining.

In our text, we see the Jewish religious leaders challenging this authority of our Saviour.  They thought they were the ones in charge.  They thought they had the only authority in Jerusalem and especially at the temple.  Anyone who would come and do things like Jesus was doing would have to get their stamp of approval first.  But Christ seems to have missed the memo.  He seems to think that he has the right to come and do whatever he pleases in the temple.  He acts like a prophet with authority directly from God.  That riles up these leaders.  That brings them to confront him here in our text.  We’ll see here how Christ’s enemies confront him on his authority as a prophet of God.  We’ll consider:

1.      A question with an agenda

2.      A counter-question with a rebuke

Let’s first of all survey what Christ has been doing at the temple in Jerusalem.  He had arrived a couple of days earlier.  He came to suffer and die and in a couple of days further that’s exactly what would happen.  The day after his arrival, he cleaned up his Father’s house.  He was the faithful Son who cared about what was going on at his Father’s house, at the temple.  The Jewish religious leaders had allowed the temple to become a shopping mall.  They allowed it to become a place where the sheep were being fleeced.  Money changers and dove sellers were making big profits on the backs of pilgrims.  Christ came like a prophet and took action.  He violently overturned the tables and benches of the business men and chased them out.  Not only did he school them with his actions, he also did so with his words.  He confronted them with their sin and exposed their rebellion against God.  They had made the temple into a den of robbers.  These actions and these words provoked the chief priests and the teachers of the law to anger.  They began looking for a way to kill him.     

All that happened on Monday.  Now it’s Tuesday.  After spending the night in Bethany, he’s come back to Jerusalem and back to the temple.  And what is he doing there?  Mark doesn’t say it explicitly, but from the parallels in Matthew and Luke we find out that he was teaching again.  He was exercising his prophetic office.  As a prophet, he was instructing the people of God.  Once again, keep in mind the time of year.  This was the Tuesday before Passover.  Jews from all over the place were gathering in Jerusalem for the feast.  Some of them had never been to Jerusalem before.  Many of them were from outside of Judea and so had never heard Jesus’ preaching and teaching.  Christ was reaching some of them for the first time.  At the temple he had access to crowds of people who had never heard him before.  Then of course there were also his disciples.  They were with him too and he was also continuing to teach them. 

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Jewish religious leaders had been scheming.  There were backroom discussions on what to do about the Jesus problem.  What was the problem?  He was acting like a prophet and they hadn’t cleared him.  Not only that, but he was confronting them and embarrassing them in front of the crowds.  That whole temple clearing episode was a scandal.  Who did Jesus think he was to come and do that and humiliate them? 

Notice in our text in verse 27 that there are three groups mentioned by Mark.  There are the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.  Taken together these men made up the Sanhedrin.  The Sanhedrin was the religious court of Israel.  They were the highest Jewish authority.  They were the gatekeepers for the temple.  Nobody was above the Sanhedrin, except maybe the Romans.  And the Romans shouldn’t have been above them, at least in their view.  When verse 18 says that the Jewish leaders were looking for a way to kill Jesus, that’s saying that the Sanhedrin was having discussions.  And what we see in our text is an outcome of those discussions. 

The Sanhedrin realized that this all came down to the question of authority.  Who gave Jesus the right to act as a prophet?  In the background of this was what the law (the Torah) said about prophets.  Moses said there would be true prophets and false prophets.  A false prophet would be one who takes authority for himself.  He would say and do things that God had not commanded.  The false prophet must be put to death.  So if it could be shown that Jesus was a false prophet, a prophet with his authority from among men, then Jesus would deserve death. 

So they had to figure out a way to give Jesus rope to hang himself.  They would just ask him the direct question as to where his authority comes from.  Whatever he answered, he would be cornered.  If he claimed to be a prophet sent from God, they would point out that he had not been vetted by the Sanhedrin.  He did not have their approval, so obviously he could not have God’s approval.  But if he admitted that his authority was from among men, well, then he was admitting that he was a false prophet along the lines of Deuteronomy 18.  He would be in trouble no matter what he answered.  Either way, they would have the grounds they needed to make a capital case against Jesus. 

So they brought him their “question.”  Of course, you recognize by now that this was not a genuine question.  They weren’t seriously looking for information about Jesus.  They had their own conclusion already and now they were just looking for evidence to use against him.  Their question had a point, it had an agenda.  That agenda had everything to do with the death of Jesus. 

The central theme of Mark’s gospel is the identity of Jesus.  We’ve seen that time and time again.  And it is really at the heart of this passage too.  Who do people think Jesus is?  The Sanhedrin has reached their verdict.  He’s an impostor prophet.  He’s a phony and a rebel.   He has no right being in the temple and actually he has no right even living on this earth.  The only thing he deserves is stoning.  He has a right to be buried under a pile of rocks. 

The question in our text is:  what authority does Jesus have in the temple of God?  What right does he have over the temple?  The Jewish religious leaders had the wrong answer.  We have the right answer in Scripture.  He is a prophet sent from God.  His authority is from heaven.  He is the Son of God and the temple is his Father’s house.  He is not like that co-worker who has no business telling us what to do. 

Today the temple in Jerusalem is gone.  The temple curtain was torn at Jesus’ death and the temple complex was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.  But now there is still a temple of God.  The New Testament speaks of the temple in several different ways.  I’ll mention three.  Christ calls himself the temple.  And of course, he has authority over himself and over his own body.  We easily grant that. 

The next way that the Bible speaks about the New Testament temple is often missed.  In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul says that the church is the temple of God.  Peter says the same thing in 1 Peter 2 when he says that we are being built into a spiritual house.  What does that mean?  Well it’s connected with being a holy priesthood and offering spiritual sacrifices.  A spiritual house is Peter’s way of saying that the church is the temple of God.  Who is the authority in this temple?  Who has rights over it?  Christ himself.  He is the only head of the church.  Practically speaking, that means Christ’s Word in Scripture determines what the church believes and how the church lives.  Christ has authority over us collectively.  This is why the Catechism says that he is our chief prophet and teacher.  This is fairly easy for us to grant too. 

The third way that the Bible speaks about the New Testament temple is the one most easily remembered by people, but it also presents the greatest challenge.  In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul says that individual Christians are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Our bodies are a place where the holy God lives.  The Spirit of Christ is in us.  How did this come to be?  Through the gospel.  Christ lived and died for us, to make us his own possession.  He paid for our sins with his precious blood.  He transferred us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.  The gospel announces that we are now children of our heavenly Father all because of Christ.  That’s the good news.  And so we belong to him.  He is our Lord.  He is the authority in our temple.  He is the only one with rights over us.  He is the prophet who can come and authoritatively tell us what needs to be done.  He can and he does come and tell us where things still need to be cleaned up in our temple.  He does that through his Word, both his written Word and his Word as it’s preached by his servants.  He does that work of cleaning too, he does it by the power of his Spirit in us.  The important thing for us to realize, loved ones, is that these bodies are not ours.  Our lives are not our own.  Everything is Christ’s, we belong to Christ, and realizing that makes us love him, makes us want to please him, makes us open to hearing his will and then also doing it.

Christ’s rights should not be in question among us.  But they were among the Jewish religious leaders on that Tuesday at the temple.  Now look at how Christ responds in verses 29 and 30.  He knows the strategies available in the rabbinic rhetorical toolbox.  It was common for rabbis to ask each other questions and then respond with their own questions.  That’s the approach our chief prophet takes here.  He says, “You asked me a question.  I know what you’re up to.  I know where you’re going with this.  So let me put a question to you too.  You answer my question and then I’ll answer yours.”  It wasn’t unusual and it showed that Christ knew what was going through their heads.  He anticipated their thoughts.

His counter-question had to do with John the Baptist.  He asks about the baptism of John.  His baptism stands for his entire ministry.  It represents what John was all about.  John baptized many people in the Jordan River as they came to him and confessed their sins.  He preached a baptism of repentance.  What was that all about?  Remember that baptism was nothing new among the people of Israel.  They had a thing called baptism before John and before Jesus.  When a Gentile wanted to join the people of Israel, he had to be baptized.  It was a ceremonial washing and it represented his being made clean.  After baptism he was no longer a dirty Gentile, but a clean proselyte Jew.  So baptism itself was nothing new.  What was new is that Jews were being baptized by John.  That’s where the connection was with confession of sin and repentance.  The Jews baptized by John were admitting that they were dirty and in need of cleansing.  Getting baptized by John meant humbling yourself.  Getting rid of your pride and saying that you needed to be washed and saved from your sins.  In this way, John was preparing the way for our Lord Jesus. 

Now with that in mind, look at Christ’s counter-question in verse 30.  He says, “John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or from men?  Tell me!”  Like Jesus, John was a prophet.  He was the last of the Old Testament prophets.  Did he have authority from heaven, which is to say, from God?  Or did John appoint himself as a prophet?  What right did John have to come among the people of Israel and tell them that they were dirty and in need of washing?    

The delegates from the Sanhedrin didn’t have a quick and ready answer.  They had to retreat and discuss it.  They realized that Christ had them cornered.  They were on the horns of a dilemma.  On the one hand, if they said that John was a prophet with authority from God, they would be confronted with their failure to believe him.  Christ would say, “Why didn’t you get baptized by John?  Why didn’t you humble yourself and acknowledge that you’re dirty with your sins and in need of washing?  And John was preparing the way for me.  He preached about me.  Why don’t you believe him and follow me?”  And besides, they already had their answer.  They were convinced that John was a renegade and a rebel.  They were glad that John had lost his head at the hands of Herod.  But they couldn’t say what they really thought, because they were afraid.  They couldn’t say that John had sucked everything out of his thumb, because they’d cause a riot among the people.  In verse 32, there’s a rhetorical device used in the Greek.  When the leaders speak, they don’t finish the sentence, “If we say, ‘From men....’”  The conclusion is unspoken by them.  The conclusion is that the people will go nuts and they’ll lose their credibility among them.  There would be consequences to putting John down publicly and they weren’t willing to do that.  Their conclusion is unspoken, but Mark provides it for us.  They were afraid to speak the truth because they knew that everyone believed that John was a prophet sent from God.  The Sanhedrin was out of step with the widely held opinion of the hoi polloi, of the crowds.  So they were stuck.  They couldn’t acknowledge that John was a prophet and they couldn’t deny it. 

So what did they do?  They answered Jesus with a lie.  These men were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation.  They were supposed to be men of integrity.  People should have been able to look up to them.  But here, because they’re afraid of the consequences, they tell an outright lie in response to Jesus’ question.  “We do not know.”  Yes, you do know.  You just won’t say, because you want to save your hide and keep the peace.  Here they show the truth of what Jesus says about them in John 8.  They belong to their father, the devil, the father of lies.

Christ could have just walked away from them at that point.  But he leaves them with a rebuke at the end of verse 33.  He says, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”  What he’s saying is, “You may think that I don’t have a right to be here in the temple or even on this earth, but you don’t have a right to an answer from me.  You won’t acknowledge the truth about John and you won’t acknowledge the truth about me either.  I’m going to leave you with your lies and self-deception.”  And self-deception is exactly what’s going on here.  Think of John 3 where Nicodemus meets with Jesus.  Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin.  What were the first words from Nicodemus that night?  “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God...”  They knew!  They knew where his authority came from, but still they wanted to kill him and get him out of the way.  This is what had been done with true prophets of God through the centuries before Jesus too.  Self-deception and denial led to persecution and death. 

This all comes down to what is real and what is true.  It comes down to the disconnect between the knowledge of what is real and the life lived in view of that knowledge.  The dissonance between the truth and the lie is in all our lives.   But think on this:  Christ is the truth of God.  As his prophet, he is the great truth-teller.  He has delivered us from lies and their bondage.  He has paid for all our lies with his sacrifice on the cross.  All of his truth-telling obedience is imputed to us.  In God’s sight we are truth-lovers, truth-doers, and truth-tellers too.  And yet, the struggle with our sinful nature is still there.  That sinful nature lingers and it lies.  It creates a tension in our lives between what we know in our hearts is real and the way we think, speak, and act.  We know that Christ is our chief prophet.  We know that his Word is true.  We know that he is the Lord and master of every iota of our being.  We know all of that.  And yet how we live reveals self-deception at times.  We sometimes want to pretend that Christ is not real.  We want to play like the heathens do and think that we only have to answer to ourselves.  We imagine like John Lennon that there is no heaven above nor hell beneath.  It’s just me and my life.      

Loved ones, this morning our Saviour rebukes our self-deception too.  He rebukes us for our inconsistencies and the lies we tell ourselves.  He warns us that if we unrepentantly live like that, he will leave us to our lies and self-deception.  But he also invites us and calls to us to embrace the truth.  He calls out to us to acknowledge again that he is both the chief prophet and Lord of our lives.  He calls to us, to you brother, to you sister, to confess him both with your words and your life.  He has the rights over you.  You’re his – your baptism reminds you of that.  There Christ said:  “You are mine, body and soul.  Everything about you belongs to me.  I put my claim on you.”  Loved ones, recognize the claim of your Saviour on your life and live accordingly.  Why?  Because it’s a good thing to belong to him.  Belonging to the father of lies seems fun, but that too ultimately turns out to be a lie.  Belonging to Christ, being his temple, is a true blessing.  There’s peace of mind, knowing that you’re reconciled to God through him.  There’s joy, knowing that you’re living the way you were created to.  There’s hope, knowing that you have a glorious inheritance waiting on the new heavens and new earth.  Recognizing those blessings fills us with love and makes us thankful people.  It makes us eager to please our Lord and master and live for him.

So let me ask you:  who has the authority in your life?  Who do you recognize as having the rights to determine your life’s direction?  Let’s again have the Word of God orient us to the reality.  The reality is that Christ is Lord.  He has the authority.  He reigns over every aspect of our existence.  He teaches us with his authoritative Word.  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  AMEN. 


Our Lord in heaven, seated at the Father’s right hand,

We acknowledge you as our only Lord and Master.  You bought us with your precious blood to be your own possession.  We are your temple and through your Spirit you live in us.  O Lord, we recognize you as the one with authority and the right over our lives.  You are our chief prophet and teacher.  You have the right to teach us and lead us.  We want to submit to you.  We want to follow you every day of our lives and in every aspect.  Please help us with your Spirit to do that.  We pray that more and more you would help us to put self-deception to death in our lives.  Help us to live in the light of your truth, to see the real reality. 

O God, our Father, continue to guide us with your Word and Spirit.  Shape our lives, mould our lives, deepen our love for you.    




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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