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A Follower’s Authority - Mark 11:27-12:44

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On November 27th 2002, Resolution 1441 was passed in the United Nations. This resolution called for immediate and complete disarmament of certain Iraqi weapons, including any nuclear, chemical, biological, and bacteriological weapons and any long-range missiles. When Saddam Hussein failed to disarm, U.N. inspectors were sent in to locate these illegal weapons. It wasn’t long before a cat and mouse game began; Hussein refused to cough up the illegal weapons. As the world looked on in nervous anticipation, we asked “Who is really in charge?”

On March 19th 2003, after months of attempted negotiations and scores of unsuccessful inspections, a “decapitation attempt” was made on Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. Following this initial surprise bombing of several government buildings, the world looked on to see if Hussein and his sons had indeed been removed. The answer, however, was unclear. Iraqi television quickly began broadcasting images of Hussein and his sons, but their authenticity was disputed. Again, we asked “Who is really in charge?”

In the personal battles of your life today you may be asking “Who is really in charge?” So many today are experiencing pain and discouragement that could never have been anticipated. A sick loved one, a car accident, a pink slip appearing in our work mailbox. Is life merely a series of coincidences or disconnected letdowns? Or is there a Sovereign God of the universe that maintains His authority—even on our worst day?

Jesus Claims . . .
Authority over Jewish Leadership (11:27 – 12:12)106

11:27 They came again to Jerusalem. While Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the experts in the law and the elders came up to him107 11:28 and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Or who gave you this authority to do these things?” 11:29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question. Answer me and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: 11:30 John’s baptism—was it from heaven or from men? Answer me.” 11:31 They discussed with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 11:32 But if we say, ‘From men—’” (they feared the crowd, for they all considered John to be truly a prophet). 11:33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

12:1 Then he began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a pit for its winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went on a journey. 12:2 At harvest time he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his portion of the crop. 12:3 But those tenants seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 12:4 So he sent another slave to them again. This one they struck on the head and treated outrageously. 12:5 He sent another, and that one they killed. This happened to many others, some of whom were beaten, others killed. 12:6 He had one left, his one dear son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 12:7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and the inheritance will be ours!’ 12:8 So they seized him, killed him, and threw his body out of the vineyard. 12:9 What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 12:10 Have you not read this scripture:

‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

12:11 This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”108

12:12 Now they wanted to arrest him (but they feared the crowd), because they realized that he told this parable against them. So they left him and went away.

On January 15th, 2003, The Wall Street Journal ran an article on thermostats. According to the article, some companies have instructed their HVAC technicians to install dummy thermostats in an effort to minimize employee complaints. Employees are thereby given the illusion of control, and complaints have grown to a minimum as a result. The rumor is that the next investigation will look into the “close door” buttons in elevators that never seem to function.

In the same way that these employees possessed the illusion of control, this passage will expose the “illusion” of many in the first century that they possessed ultimate authority. If the previous lesson was a declaration of judgment, this is a demonstration of judgment by the one who has authority to judge. Four times in this passage the word ἐξουσία (“authority”) appears. There are those who seem to be in authority, and God who is in fact in authority.

These three groups mentioned together—the chief priests, the experts in the law, and the elders—make up the Sanhedrin. It is the legislative Jewish body—the highest Jewish authority. They ask where Jesus received authority to act with such boldness in cleansing the temple (this same Sanhedrin will sentence Him to death this very week). After saying that He would not answer their inquiry, Jesus proceeds to answer them in the form of a parable. Chapter twelve, then, is an unhelpful chapter break.

In this parable, the vineyard is Israel, the owner is God, the tenant farmers are the Jewish leaders, the servants are the prophets that are sprinkled throughout Israel’s history that the leadership has always rejected (see also Acts 7:51-53), and the only son is of course Jesus (literally, “beloved son”; see Mark 1:11). Here we have a veiled prediction that Jesus would be killed by the religious leadership of His day. Jesus’ authority comes from His Father who sent Him just as the son in the parable received his authority from his father. Thus Jesus was claiming higher authority than those in the Sanhedrin, who were mere renters in the unfolding plan of God. The claim of any one man to have authority greater than the Sanhedrin would have shocked a first century Jew.

Authority over Rome (12:13-17)

12:13 Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to trap him with his own words. 12:14 When they came they said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and do not court anyone’s favor, because you show no partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” 12:15 But he saw through their hypocrisy and said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 12:16 So they brought one, and he said to them, “Whose likeness109 is this, and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” 12:17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

The Pharisees opposed Roman rule while the Herodians supported the Roman appointed Herodian Dynasty. The Pharisees despised paying taxes; the Herodians were in favor of it. These two groups rarely agreed with one another and seldom associated together. What brings them together here is not a common bond, but a common enemy.

These two groups approached Jesus with a denarius to test Him. The denarius contained Caesar’s inscription. It was probably that of Tiberius Caesar (a.d. 14-37). If so, the coin would have read “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus.”110 Furthermore, Caesar’s image was on the coin, so Jesus instructs His listeners to give back to Caesar what rightly belongs to him. In the same way, we should give back to God what rightly belongs to Him—we the bearers of His image. Jesus used the coin to distinguish between Caesar and God in a culture that drew no such distinction. In doing so, He clearly demonstrates that God’s authority is higher than that of Caesar.111

In Jesus’ day there were two prominent views on authority: Either the religious leadership (especially the Sanhedrin) was in authority or the Romans (especially Caesar). Jesus dismisses each of these possibilities. While these entities certainly give the appearance of authority (the “illusion of control”), God alone possesses the rights and privileges as the one in control.

Jesus outsmarted these religious leaders, but He also out-authorized them.

Authority over the Law (12:18-40)

12:18 Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) also came to him and asked, 12:19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us: ‘if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, that man must marry the widow and have children for his brother.’ 12:20 There were seven brothers. The first one married, and when he died he had no children. 12:21 The second married her and died without any children, and likewise the third. 12:22 None of the seven had children. Finally, the woman died too. 12:23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For all seven had married her.” 12:24 Jesus said to them, “Aren’t you deceived for this reason, because you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God? 12:25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.112 12:26 Now as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 12:27 He is not the God of the dead but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

12:28 Now one of the experts in the law came and heard them debating. When he saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 12:29 Jesus answered, “The most important is: ‘Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 12:31 The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 12:32 The expert in the law said to him, “That is true, Teacher; you are right to say that he is one, and there is no one else besides him. 12:33 And to love him with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 12:34 When Jesus saw that he had answered thoughtfully, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Then no one dared any longer to question him.

12:35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he said, “How is it that the experts in the law say that the Christ is David’s son? 12:36 David himself, by the Holy Spirit, said,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,

“Sit at my right hand,

until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

12:37 If David himself calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.

12:38 In his teaching Jesus also said, “Watch out for the experts in the law. They like walking around in long robes and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, 12:39 and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 12:40 They devour widows’ property and as a show make long prayers. These men will receive a more severe punishment.”

The Sadducees were just as hostile to the Pharisees as the Herodians were, yet they too unite with the Pharisees to bring down a common enemy. They were a small but influential group that would cease to exist following the destruction of the temple in a.d. 70.

The Sadducees accepted only the Book of Moses—the first five books in the Old Testament—as authoritative. They did not believe in life after death, as they found no evidence for it in the Pentateuch. Jesus affirms a future resurrection by affirming from the Book of Moses the doctrine of life after death. God is (present tense) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Although these were all dead when this was spoken, Jesus suggests that they lived on. Thus, Jesus proves that His understanding of the Law is superior to that of the Sadducees.

Likewise, Jesus demonstrates His superiority over the expert in the law by assessing verbally the thoughtfulness of his comments on the Law. After Jesus answers Him well, the expert attempts to assume a superior role by positively assessing Jesus’ answer. However, Jesus reassumes authority with the last word when He tells the expert that he is not far from the kingdom of God.

Jesus then begins an excursus on a difficult passage to remove any doubt that He is the Master of the Scriptures. The Christ is going to come from the line of David. If so, the Messiah is the son of David and could rightly be called his son. A son could refer to his father as lord, but never a father to a son. But David realized that this descendent would be superior to himself, and so calls Him Lord. Thus, Jesus is greater than a typical Israelite king, and even greater than the great king, David. The only answer that can be given is that David’s son is also David’s Lord. This hints at the dual nature of Jesus, the human and divine.

Authority over Our Lives (12:41-44)

12:41 Then he sat down opposite the offering box, and watched the crowd putting coins into it. Many rich people were throwing in large amounts. 12:42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth less than a penny. 12:43 He called his disciples and said to them, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others. 12:44 For they all gave out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had.”

In contrast to the presumptuous authority of certain pompous religious leaders, Jesus commends the action of a sacrificial woman who recognizes that God is really in control. This woman has only two small copper coins—the least valuable coins in circulation during the time of Jesus. Their total value measured about 1/64th that of a denarius (a day’s wage). If this is all she had, then she was poor indeed. What could compel this impoverished woman to courageously yield all she had to live on? She must have been leaning entirely on the care of a Sovereign God. If you were to ask her that day, “Who’s in charge?”—she would not have spoken of the reigning Jewish leadership or the security of the always-stable Roman Empire. She would have spoken of her God.

Having claimed authority over competing rulers, Jesus points out a woman who lives her life under the authority of God. She exhibits at least these traits:

  • Humble—contrasted with those who threw in large amounts of money to make much noise, this woman is unashamed to come and put hers in.
  • Sacrificial—she gave out of her poverty all she had.
  • Fearless—she was trusting in something other than money for her survival.

What would it look like if the Lord Jesus were your authority in life? You would love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You will love Him and trust Him with everything you have and everything you are—like this poor woman does.

Meditation Verse

We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: meditate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 12:30:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

106 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.

107 Notice the many categories of religious leadership that appear in this lesson’s passage: Chief priest, expert in the law, elder, Pharisee, Herodian, Sadducee.

108 Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 about the rejection of the stone which became the cornerstone. Thus, Jesus switched from the image of the son and tenants to the stone and builders.

109 “Likeness” is literally εἰκων, image.

110 Roughly equivalent to the slogan on U.S. currency, “In God We Trust.”

111 The Roman Empire proved to be a six-hundred year dynasty—perhaps the greatest world power in history.

112 Those in heaven are like angels in heaven, in that they do not marry or procreate. We do not become angels when we die—a common misconception. By mentioning the angels, Jesus was correcting another Sadducee miscalculation: They denied the existence of angels.