Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 4 2013 - Mark 11:27-12:17 – By what authority…?

The Temple authorities did not take kindly to Jesus driving the traders out of the Temple. They challenged him with the question, "By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you authority to do this?" (Mark 11:28). Jesus does not give them a direct answer, but asks them in return by what authority John had baptised the crowds who had come to him, was it from heaven or from men? The authorities are caught in their own trap. If they say that John was sent from God they must then accept the authority of the one for whom John had prepared the way. If they say that John had no authority they fear that they will lose all credibility with the people. So they answer, "We do not know."

Jesus has challenged them to think again about the issue of authority. They are used to the hierarchy of formal authority structures and the decisions which flow from the endless deliberation of their councils. By his question, Jesus suggests that these are mere human constructs. True, Jesus may not fit into their hierarchy of power but neither did John. His authority came directly from God; it was prophetic authority – and the people recognised it. Jesus wanted the Jewish leaders to see that his authority also was not from men; it could neither be given to him by them, nor could they strip him of his authority. His authority came from the one who had declared, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

But the Jewish authorities will not even consider such a possibility. It would amount to a denial, or at least a denigration, of their own authority. Their answer was therefore determined by pure pragmatism; it was governed by the calculation of what would follow if they gave a particular response. They did not seem concerned to weigh up the truth of the matter and to answer and act in accordance with the truth. They were concerned simply to protect their own world.

How can these people have been so blind and foolish? The things that Jesus did and the things that he said bore clear witness to who he was, to the authority he possessed and to the one who gave him that authority. But they seem incapable of seeing it.

But are there times when we also act pragmatically, seeking to preserve ourselves, our position and our comforts rather than responding to the truth and the demands of God? It's always easier to see the faults and stratagems of others than it is to know ourselves. Are there times when we are quick to reject the ministry of someone because they are not part of our group and don’t fit in with the way we do things? Do we reject what they say and the things they do without considering whether God may be at work through them? Are there times when we are driven into a corner by a determination to defend ourselves from all criticism? At such times, we are acting like the Jewish leaders and turning a blind eye to the truth.

Heavenly Father, keep me from the conceit of thinking that I am the guardian and arbiter of the truth. Open my eyes to see what you are doing in this world through the Spirit of the risen Saviour. Open my eyes to see the evidence of your grace at work and open my heart to rejoice that you are not bound by human constructs or limited by our petty organisations and committees. Lord Jesus, come to this temple and overturn all my self-serving prejudices and productions. Drive out all that cannot cohabit with your holy presence. Help me to know and rejoice in the generous truth that is found in you and to enjoy the freedom that comes from living in the light of that truth.

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Peter Misselbrook