2015 08 02 pm Mark 11:27-12:17 Authority and Allegiance

The Jewish leaders come to Jesus with two questions about authority. His answers and the parable reveal their unbelief, and they challenge us to consider our response to Jesus.

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
It has been a while now since we were last in Mark together. So some review is necessary because the passage before us is very much a continuation of the passage we last looked at 11:12-26. It is a record of Jesus cleansing the temple with two episodes involving a fig tree on either side.
And we considered this under the theme: The Activity of Jesus Heralds a Cosmic Shift in the Way of Salvation. We saw that that episode began a series of events that all take place in or near the temple, which reveal that the time of the temple and God’s particular relationship with the Jews is soon to end as the Lord turns His saving attention to the Gentiles.
Well, this theme continues in the passage before us today. Once again, the events take place in the temple, as you see from v27. And authority or Who Jesus is is at the centre of His interactions with the Jewish leaders.

Well, in terms of our approach to this passage, those of you who have been here right through the sermon series on Mark’s Gospel might remember that way back in chapter 2 we noted that many commentators describe chapter 2:1-3:6 as the first CONtroversy SECTION and ch’s 11-12 as the second CONtroversy section.
They both record a series of controversies between Jesus and the leaders of the Jews. In ch. 2, Jesus has a series of 5 run-ins with the Jewish leaders – He did something, like a healing, for instance, and they questioned or criticized Him about it, and then He responded with words or deeds.
And right at the end of those 5 CONtroversies, in 3:6, we read, “The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy Him.” And you will note from v13 of our text that it is that same group – the Pharisees and Herodians – who are questioning Jesus. And 3:6 and what we read here in v13 helps us understand the motive for their questions here; They aren’t genuinely interested in Jesus’ answers. They have already made up their minds about Who Jesus is and what they want to do with Him. Their questions are designed to trap Him so that they have an excuse to kill Him.
And as we turn our thoughts to THE DETAIL of these two CONtroversies, we see that the first one is about Jesus’ authority, from vv27-33, and the second is about paying taxes to Caesar, from vv13-17. And they both follow a very precise pattern that we shall note in a moment.
But what Mark has done is to separate these two encounters with the PARABLE of vv1-12. And the parable gives us a kind of history of salvation perspective on what is going on here. So the parable is central to understanding these two CONtroversies.

So today we will simply look at these two CONtroversies and then turn our attention to the parable. And we shall see in this section that JESUS REVEALS THAT JUDGMENT IS COMING FOR THE FAILING RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES OF THE DAY. And so, each one of us, then, will have to consider our response to Jesus. Are we those who submit to His authority? And is this seen in our obedience?

I. So first of all, then, the CONTROVERSIES.
A. I mentioned a moment ago that there is a strikingly similar PATTERN in these two controversies: Jesus is approached by the Jewish leaders.
They then challenge Him with a question about authority.
Jesus replies with a counter-question that challenges them to reveal their
They respond.
And then Jesus responds to their original question.
Do you see that pattern? Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Mark has worked hard to show us how these two episodes are very much connected in terms of what is going on here.

B. So let’s begin with the first CONtroversy – the AUTHORITY question
1. We learn from Matthew and Luke’s parallel records of this episode that Jesus is busy teaching the people in the temple. And the Jewish leaders – the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders – come to Jesus and question Him about His authority to do these things.
a. Now, “THESE THINGS” refers to His cleansing of the temple the day before but also to Him teaching the people today.
(1). You see, there were, at that time, teachers known as HAGGADISTS. They were popular teachers or legend tellers that were pretty much free to say whatever they liked. But to teach with authority – to say this is what the Scriptures mean and this is what you should believe and do – well, that required official authority. You needed to hold an office.
(a). I have been in the US recently. And I could have stood in Times Square, New York and told the crowds how beautiful NZ is. No problem – take it or leave it. But if I was telling them that they could fly to NZ for free and stay in anyone’s house and drive without a license, well, people would want to know what authority I had to say such things.
(2). So to teach as Jesus was doing meant you had to be an official teacher of the law or an elder or a chief priest. You needed to cite your Rabbinic influence – Rabbi Hillel says this or Rabbi Shmuel states this.
(3). So this question is an accusation that Jesus has no business teaching as He does because he does not have the office.
b. But note this aspect of their question also: They ask, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” Do you remember what these same Jewish leaders said about Jesus back in 3:22? After witnessing Him heal the sick and cast out demons, they said, “”He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”” So we already know where they think Jesus’ authority comes from; as far as they are concerned Jesus’ authority is from the devil.
c. These men, who are OT experts, remembering that the OT points its readers to the coming Messiah, refuse to recognize Jesus as the Promised One and instead accuse Him of being of the devil. How wicked!

2. Well, Jesus replies with A COUNTER-QUESTION that challenges them to reveal their loyalties. He is not avoiding their question. But He is in charge here. He knows their wicked hearts. He again gives them an opportunity to repent and believe in Him that ought not be difficult to answer and that leads the way to acknowledging Who Jesus is. So He asks them whether John the Baptist’s baptism was from heaven or men?
a. Right back at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, he spoke of John preparing the way for Messiah. He quoted Isaiah but the words quoted come also from the prophet Malachi: God’s messenger “will prepare the way before me.” And just listen to the very next words in Malachi, “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple.” So John came and did his work and has since been martyred. And now, here is Jesus. And where is this conversation taking place? In the temple! Jesus is revealing Himself, by His own authority, to be the Promised One. And He is inviting the Jewish leaders to acknowledge Him.

3. But instead we see the leaders’ cowardly equivocation. And to EQUIVOCATE means to avoid committing yourself one way or the other.
a. During the 1950’s, A US politician was running for office and while people were voting for a candidate, they also had to vote on whether or not alcohol could be sold in their county. So this politician was asked for his position on the matter; was he wet (alcohol may be sold)? Or dry (alcohol may not be sold)? And he was asked this in relation to whiskey. And he replied, “If by whiskey you mean the water of life that cheers men’s souls, that smooths out the tensions of the day, that gives gentle perspective to one’s view of life, then put my name on the list of the fervent wets. But if by whiskey you mean the devil’s brew that rends families, destroys careers and ruins one’s ability to work, then count me in the ranks of the dries.” He equivocated. He refused to commit himself one way or the other. And in actual fact, his answer led to the coining of a phrase that is still used in American politics, which is to give an If-by-whiskey speech. And sadly, if you listen to politicians anywhere, including here in NZ, you will soon hear that that is very often how they answer a direct question – they equivocate.
b. Well, that’s what the Jewish leaders do here. They know where acknowledging John’s baptism as from heaven leads – Jesus is the Messiah. But they know also that acknowledging John’s baptism as just his own idea will upset the people who believed John was sent of God. So, as cowards, they equivocate.

4. And because they refuse to answer Jesus with a simple heaven or man, He refuses to plainly tell them where His authority comes from. Now, He continues on with the parable, which we shall discuss in a few minutes. And in that parable He actually answers their question. He proclaims Himself the Son of God. And if you look at 12:12 you see that the Jewish leaders knew exactly what He was saying. But they would not have this Jesus to rule over them. And so, these men, whose office and calling it was to lead the people to Messiah, are revealed to be men of unbelief and prejudice because they will not yield allegiance to Jesus.

C. Well, that brings us next to the ‘Pay tax’ question of vv13-17.
1. Jesus is again approached by the Jewish leaders. And this time we are told it is the Pharisees and Herodians. And these are POLITICAL parties. These men may well be elders or teachers of the law or the chief priests we met in the first encounter, but this time, because of the nature of their question, they are presented according to their politics, not their office.

2. And they preface their question with what amounts to EMPTY FLATTERY. “Teacher, we know…etc” Now, they are not praising Jesus’ virtue. They are trying, in front of the people, to put Jesus into a box that He cannot escape from. They are trying to force Him to answer this question because they think that whatever way He answers it He is in trouble, as we see from v13. And make no mistake, this is not a debating contest; they want a reason to have Jesus killed and with this question they are convinced that they have it. Finally, with this scheme, they will surely have the ammo with which to be rid of Jesus!
a. But as we sometimes see in the Gospels, their words actually reveal the truth about Jesus. Do you remember what Jesus said about Himself in John 14:6? “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus is true; Jesus does not care about anyone’s opinion and is not swayed by appearances; He does truly teach the way of God.
3. So they ask Him IF IT IS LAWFUL TO PAY TAXES TO CAESAR. YES OR NO? And this was a hugely controversial question at that time. The Herodians, as their name suggests, were loyal to Herod and Rome and were happy to pay the tax. The Pharisees were not at all happy to pay the tax but did so, begrudgingly. But there were also Zealots at that time who refused to pay the tax and did things like protest and even blowing up tax stations, etc. By and large though, the Jews disliked paying this tax. So this was a key issue. And if Jesus said pay the tax, the people would be unhappy with Him, and if he said don’t pay the tax, the authorities would be unhappy with Him, seeing Him as a rebel.

4. Well, once again, Jesus replies with a counter-question designed to reveal their loyalties. He asks them for a coin, which they bring, and then to state whose likeness and inscription is on the coin. Now, I plan to return to this encounter again so we can spend some more time on the important implications of what Jesus says here about taxes and God. So I will leave the details about the tax and the image on the coin, etc, to that time.

5. But they answer, correctly, “Caesar’s.”

6. So Jesus says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And we can paraphrase Him in this way, This coin has Caesar’s image on it; it belongs to Caesar. Use it to pay Caesar’s taxes. But you were made in the image of God. God owns you. He has a supreme claim on your life. Your life, your freedom, your possessions, your obedience, your office, your career, your time, your being single or married, your affections, your abilities, your allegiance – all this you are to render to God. And what is God’s chief or number 1 commandment? Now, I know if I ask you boys and girls, you will tell me Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength – the greatest commandment, or You shall have no other God’s before me – the first commandment. But the one I am thinking of is found in 1 John 3:23, “And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ.” That is the chief commandment. Without that, you will not love God or keep from idolatry.

7. But while these Jewish leaders marvel at Him – appreciating His clever response, if you will – they are again revealed to be men of unbelief and prejudice who will not yield allegiance to Jesus. The leaders of God’s covenant people have rejected the God of the covenant and He who is the very centre of the covenant – Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

II. So this brings us, secondly and lastly, to the PARABLE.
A. And let me quickly EXPLAIN the meaning of the parable before we consider its implications.
1. We read earlier from ISAIAH 5, which speaks of Israel as the Vineyard of the Lord. So Jesus is using an image here that was familiar and easily understandable to the Jewish leaders. In fact, the vineyard was a national symbol of Israel. Boys and girls, as New Zealanders, we instantly recognize Kiwis and Korus and Silver ferns as national symbols. That’s all part of the debate about our flag at the moment, isn’t it. Well, because of Isaiah 5, a vineyard was a national symbol of Israel. In fact, there was in the temple a huge richly carved grapevine on the door into the Holy place. It was about 35m tall! Herod, the builder of the temple, had it put there, originally, but rich Jews kept adding to it. It was made of gold and the bunches of grapes were jewels. So Jesus is not being cryptic here – this is an obvious and simple image.
2. So the man who planted the vineyard represents God. The tenants whom He leases it to are the Jewish leaders. They are to cultivate the grapes – the Jews. So He sends a servant – an OT prophet – who seeks the fruit of repentance and obedience. But they beat him. So he sends another who they strike on the head. The violence increases. So He sends another, whom they kill. And others they beat and kill also.
a. And you will find accounts of what Jesus is describing as you read about Samuel and Elijah and Amos and Jeremiah and Micaiah and Zechariah, etc. The Jewish leaders ignore them, beat them, or kill them.
3. So now God has sent Jesus, His Son. Surely they will respect Him! But if you know the rest of Mark’s Gospel, you know what these Jewish leaders will do with Him. He will be taken outside Jerusalem and crucified.
4. So in v8 comes the warning. Jesus warns these leaders what will happen. God will come and destroy them and give the vineyard to others. And do you know what happened in A.D. 70? Jerusalem was utterly destroyed. The temple was smashed to dust. Josephus, a Jewish historian of the time, claims that 1.1 million people died in the siege.
5. But note also the rest of v8 – “He will give the vineyard to others.” Just before Jesus ascended to heaven, He gathers His disciples and gives them what we call the Great Commission. He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” And here we are, you and me, 2000 years later, not Jews but Gentiles, in far off New Zealand!

B. So having limited Himself in ch. 4 to speak to outsiders only in parables, that is what Jesus has done here. But as we have noted, this is not a cryptic or hard to understand parable. The Jewish leaders understood it very well, as we are told in 12. But again, they will not have this Jesus to rule over them. Their prejudice and unbelief is once again exposed.

C. And congregation, make no mistake, this was an in-your-face confrontation. Baseball illustration – coach and umpire arguing. I have spoken before of Jesus controlling the temperature of His relationship with the Jewish leaders. Well boys and girls, you may rightly imagine them beet-red and with steam coming out their ears, right now. They are furious with Jesus. Their hatred of Him is at boiling point! But their fear of the people, as we see in v12, still keeps a lid on the kettle, so to speak.

Well, three brief points then, by way of conclusion, as we consider what all this means for us today – And the three points are: PATIENCE, SEVERITY, and TRIUMPH.
I. Firstly, note how PATIENT God was with the tenants. What Jesus describes in the parable covers approx. 900 years, which is the period of time that God sent prophet after prophet after prophet to warn His people to repent and obey. It took 900 years for God to say, Enough, My people; my patience is at an end.
A. And this should not surprise us. When God revealed Himself to Moses, as described in Ex. 34, He said, “I am slow to anger.” Psalm 103 speaks of God the same way and says, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” The Apostle Paul described Himself, remembering that He was once a hater of Jesus and a persecutor of the church, as an example of the “perfect patience” of Jesus Christ. God is a patient God!
B. And I am sure that if I was to ask each of you if God has been patient with your sins and your weaknesses and your repeated stumblings, you would quickly reply, O yes! Unbelievably patient. Right? How many times have you asked for forgiveness for that same sin? And each time, He forgives. Each time, He says, because of the blood of Christ, I remember that sin no more. I have cast it away as far as East is from West. Hallelujah?
C. But brothers and sisters, young people and boys and girls, the Jewish leaders had only the Law, and only the ceremonies that pointed forward to Jesus. You have the Gospel. You have Jesus made plain in the completed Bible. You have much, much more than they did.
1. And in the Book of Hebrews, pointing to the Jews as an example, we read these words of warning, “Therefore, while the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it … Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”
2. Don’t presume on God’s patience. Don’t take God’s patience for granted. Jesus stands before you today demanding your allegiance and your obedience. He is telling you, now, I am the Son of God. Bow before me. Believe in me for the forgiveness of your sins. Give me your complete allegiance.

D. Because if you do not, note the SEVERITY of the parable from v9 – “He will destroy the tenants.”
1. I mentioned a few moments ago what happened in A.D. 70; a devastating and total destruction of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, because they rejected Jesus.
2. Well, that day is nothing compared to the Day that is to come at the end of time. One day, Jesus shall return to earth Judgement Day. Revelation speaks of Him on that Day with these words: “He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” To those who have refused to recognize His authority and to give Him their allegiance, He will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And you have heard the truth about Jesus. If you refuse to believe in Him, this severe Judgment will be yours.

E. But we end with the note of TRIUMPH in vv9-11. As we said earlier, Jesus here signals a change in the focus of God’s salvation plan from the Jews to the Gentiles. The combined energies of all the Jewish leaders have Him in their sights. They will not stop until He is dead. But Jesus points them to Psalm 118:22-23: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Most likely in relation to the building of the temple, the builders at one time rejected a stone as not suitable. But later on, that very stone became a crucial stone in the construction of the temple. Jesus is the cornerstone or the foundation-stone of the spiritual temple, which is the church, that God is building. He is, borrowing the image from Daniel 2, the rolling stone that is becoming a great mountain that will fill the whole earth. So yes, He will soon be rejected by the Jews. But that is the gateway to His exaltation by God and Gospel age of the Gentiles. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of Lords.

So, these Jewish leaders have just had a lesson in salvation history. They have been reminded of God’s patience, the severity of His judgment, and His certain triumph in Christ. Their response? Well, we see it in v12, “They were seeking to arrest Him.” They choose judgment. What about you? Will you be ‘crushed’ by Jesus as your Saviour now or ‘crushed’ with His judgment then? Will you give your allegiance to Jesus now or feel the full weight of His authority then?
How Good it is to know and believe that He who is the King of kings and Lord of lords is your Saviour. Amen!