Series Theme: Short meditations through Marks Gospel
This Page: CHAPTER 11
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Notes: These meditations are particularly short for easy digestion. To go to a chapter use the table above. To go to a verse use the contents on the left of each page which has been simplified by showing only every third meditation. Please go to nearest number and scroll up or down.
Mk 11:1,2 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives , Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you.
It is sometimes said that not all Scripture carries the same weight or importance and when it comes to the Gospels, the pace isn't always the same either. We've been considering conversations carried out on the way to Jerusalem in recent meditations but now it moves from conversations to actions and the actions have significance.
They are coming to Jerusalem and a little way away is the village of Bethphage and beyond that the village of Bethany . They are going to stay in Bethany (v.11), presumably to stay with Mary, Martha and Lazarus (see Jn 11) but for the moment it would appear that Jesus sends two of his disciples to the village nearer to Jerusalem, Bethphage, and he tells them, “ as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, `Why are you doing this?' tell him, `The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.' " (v.2,3)
Now with is one of those incidents in which we are given only the bare bones and left to speculate for the rest. We don't know if Jesus has made prior arrangements with a donkey owner there in Bethphage when he's previously been in Jerusalem or how this came about but the fact of the matter is that when they went, they “found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, "What are you doing, untying that colt?" They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.” (v.4-6) Thus the procuring of the donkey went smoothly.
This appears the first time that Jesus entered Jerusalem in this way and, as we go along, we'll see that it has special prophetic significance and it is part of the process that Jesus sets out, in order to raise the anger of the Jewish authorities against him so that at the end of the coming week, they will kill him, just as he's told the disciples.
If we've never seen this before, we need to see that everything Jesus does now is with this aim in mind. The Synoptics don't talk about Lazarus, [probably because he was still alive when they wrote, but the raising of Lazarus that John records is the first step in stirring up the people for him and so, consequently, stirring up the authorities against him. His death as a sacrifice for the sins of the world is THE crucial task that he's come to perform (as well as revealing his Father's love) and everything that takes place now is working towards that event, “handed over … by God's set purpose and foreknowledge .” (Acts 2:23 ) and killed by the authorities.
Mk 11:7-9 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, "Hosanna”
This is pure theatre! What isn't explained in these and the following verses is that in Jewish teaching the coming Messiah, as indicated in the Old Testament, would come as a conquering king. Yes, he would also come as a humble servant but the people tended to forget that because that wasn't as easy to understand.
It was left to John to spell out what was happening here: “ Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel !" Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, "Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion ; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt." (Jn 12;13-16) Again it was only John who, reflecting back, realised the dynamics of what had been going on after the feeding of the five thousand: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15).
Remember what we said in the previous meditation, and hold on to it, that everything that Jesus is doing now is being done with the express intention of creating circumstances that would end up with him dying on the Cross as the Saviour of the word. The only ones with power in the Jewish nation were the religious authorities and the only one with authority to actually execute Jesus was the Roman Governor. Circumstances have got to be brought about that mean these two forces are forced to come together to bring about Jesus' death.
For the religious Jewish authorities Jesus has got to appear as a genuine threat to them. They ruled over the people and held their control through the Law and tradition. Anyone who threatened their position threatened Judaism.
Already the healing of Lazarus has sent rumours flowing and people are expecting great things of Jesus. It is coming up to the Passover, the celebration of that major deliverance of Israel out of Egypt . Will this be a time when there will be an uprising and Israel will be delivered out of the hands of the Romans?
So, to meet the prophetic expectation, Jesus sits on this donkey and is led into Jerusalem as the crowd throw palm branches down on the ground, as a matting – we would say a red carpet – to welcome their king. They shout, “Hosanna,” meaning “Lord save us!” Everything points to an uprising; the political temperature is rapidly rising.
231. The Temple ?
Mk 11:11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
If, as we have suggested previously, the crowd anticipated Jesus being their liberating king, it may have been a surprise when they entered through the gates into Jerusalem that Jesus turned the way he did, towards the Temple. The opposite way would have been to the Antonia Fortress the home of the Roman garrison, but Jesus obviously wasn't going to confront the Romans. No, this was not going to be a civil uprising. There is an alternate thought though. The Temple was the focal point of Judaism and so the crowd might have thought that Jesus was going up to the Temple to gather the faithful, perhaps make an inflammatory speech, and then move against the Romans.
If they had thought either of these two things, they were disappointed. This verse above is remarkably low key. Yes, Jesus goes up to the Temple and enters its precincts at least. Presumably some of the crowd are still with him and that would have made the Temple authorities nervous. Jesus simply goes in and looks around at everything. The word ‘everything' simply suggests it wasn't a quick, fleeting visit. No, Jesus came into the Temple and carefully observed all that was going on there – but he does nothing else!
Why? We aren't told. We are told that it was late in the day and whether that meant the numbers of people there were limited is not clear. The fact that he then leaves and makes his way to Bethany suggests that he has a pre-arranged agreement to go and stay there, presumably with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and maybe he was aware that it would take a while to walk there and it would be preferable to do it in the daylight.
Why in the daylight? Well, we have already said that Jesus' activity in the week is to stir up the authorities so that it will all come to a head at Passover – to portray the lamb being slain – but it is important that the whole thing is not triggered early, if it was, the anger of the priesthood and the other Temple authorities and leaders of Judaism, might not have reached such a peak as to require his death. No, there had to be a crescendo of anger that erupted and called for and ensured his death. Anything less might mean he got away with simply being beaten. The fact that he had now entered Jerusalem as a conquering king, would have acted as a threat to the Jewish authorities. Although fearful of the crowds, they might have sent out a party to arrest him under cover of darkness to take him and warn him and expel him from Jerusalem . That was NOT God's plan.
232. A Sign?
Mk 11:12-14 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.
Jesus did, and does, nothing by chance. He doesn't act on whim, and so when he does something, even though we may not understand it initially, he does do it for a purpose. In a similar sort of way, I have come to understand that whatever we see in the Old Testament, that involves God, comes from a God of love. Now we may not, in the fist instance, understand how certain acts can be acts of love, but the more we consider, the more we will understand. The Christian life isn't always about understanding, or if it is, that understanding may come much later – sometimes years later.
Not I say all this because in the verses above, and indeed the ones that immediately follow, we are not given any explanation as to why Jesus did what he did, and yet this action of Jesus seems unreasonable and indeed even spiteful. So what is the truth about it?
Well let's look first of all at what happened. You remember they had been to Jerusalem the day before and had stayed overnight a few miles away in the village of Bethany . Now they are making their way back to Jerusalem again. Everything that is going to happen in this week, we said, would be leading up to the crisis on Friday when Jesus will have so provoked the authorities that they will have risen up against him, arrested him, tried him and had him crucified. This is a critical week and so everything that happens in it is going to be very significant. We may not understand it, but it WILL be significant. That is our starting place for what happens here.
For some reason Jesus is hungry and they pass a fig tree. Now here's the tricky bit – it wasn't the time of years for figs and yet Jesus goes over to it to see if there are any figs on it – left from last season, perhaps? When he finds no figs on it, he curses it! Now that seems a bit unkind!
Well it would be if fig trees have feelings but they don't, so we are left asking, why did he do it? I believe the crucial words in the verses are, “And the disciples heard him say it.” Jesus did it infront of his disciples so that they would see and remember what happened and, in the course of time understand. A clue: a fig tree was a picture of the nation of Israel . If that is so, was Jesus saying in a prophetic picture, that he expected them to bear fruit, whatever the season? And us???
Mk 11:15,16 On reaching Jerusalem , Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.
So, for a second time Jesus comes back to Jerusalem and for a second time goes up to the Temple . This time we are not told about any accompanying crowds but no doubt he had his disciples with him plus various others who would have joined with them along the way. This time, Jesus doesn't just look around. Perhaps having had time to size up the situation and think and pray about it, he now knew what he had to do.
Now the Temple, you may remember had been built originally by Solomon (although now rebuilt at least twice) to be a place of central focus upon God, a place where people could come and bring their offerings, either when they sinned or when they were simply grateful to God. Both of those causes should have been heart response things, thing people they ought to do before the Lord as expressions or desires of their relationship with Him.
However it is quite clear from the Gospels that Israel at this time were in a poor spiritual state. Yes, people still came up to Jerusalem , ostensibly to meet with the Lord but the way they did was now prescribed by the Temple authorities. Whereas people had originally come with heart responses, bringing their own offerings from their flocks or herds, now it was more of a feeling that the Temple authorities required everyone to offer something regardless of heart intent. It was more that it was now expected of you. I wonder how much of modern Christianity is performance because of what is expected of us, rather than heart devotion?
What was more, the energise this expectation on visitors, the authorities had set up stalls whereby visitors could purchase doves, the least of the prescribed offerings from the Old Testament and, of course, if you didn't have the right money with you, there were those who could change money for you (no doubt for a small fee!). Thus worship had become a materialistic process, largely to benefit the Temple authorities who would make money out of the selling of doves and changing money (all of which they would take a commission from) and no longer did it have much to do with heart worship.
It was little wonder, therefore, that the Son of God burst into this ‘market place' in the Temple precincts and overturned the tables and cast out all the traders. The authorities would be upset - and guilty!
Mk 11:17 And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written: " `My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it `a den of robbers.'
Throughout the Old Testament there are many references to God's intention for Israel – that they be a light to the rest of the world, a light that reveals God to the world. Isaiah had prophesied, “ And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant-- these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.” (Isa 56:6,7) There it was: the focal point for foreigners seeking the Lord, would be the Temple where they would gather to pray.
God anticipated that other nations would see what was happening to Israel and would question and seek the Lord. Thus when they came to Jerusalem they would find the Temple and there, in awe, worship Him. That was what was supposed to happen. Really the only real time that was see very clearly in the Old Testament was when the Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon. Here response was, “Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel . Because of the LORD's eternal love for Israel , he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness." (1 Kings 10:9)
Unfortunately when you observe the history of Israel throughout the Old Testament it was rarely like that. In fact at the time of Jesus' coming they were at an all-time low under the dominion of the Roman Empire . When it came to the Temple itself, it was still there, a great building having been built by Herod the Great but there was a difference between the building and what went on inside it. In the precincts of the Temple – supposed to be a gathering place for quiet in preparation for entry to the Temple itself by the faithful, preparing to go in and pray (that was the theory!) – there were now the traders of doves and the money changers, and who knows what else permitted by the Temple authorities.
Was this an environment preparing the faithful for prayer? No it was not! The ‘mechanics' of getting ready to go in and bring an offering overrode all else. This was more like a street market than a place of preparation for prayer, a place to prepare to meet the Lord of Lords and King of Kings! In our endeavours to make church a warm and friendly environment, I wonder is sometimes we too are too concerned with the trappings – the look of the building, the choir, the service and so on? Not wanting to be heavy about it, do we prepare, I wonder, to quiet our hearts to meet the Lord of Lords and King of Kings?
235. Fearful Response
Mk 11:18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
Next time you get your hackles up when you are responding to what someone has said, stop and think why you are feeling like that? Defensiveness is a very common response and we express it so often through anger which is a cover up for fear. We become defensive when we feel our moral, ethical or social position is being challenged and we don't feel sufficiently secure in ourselves to handle it. If we felt completely reassured as to who we are, we wouldn't mind someone else coming up with contrary views. Our responses if such were the case might be, “Hmmm, I'll have to think about that some more,” or “Well I don't agree with your position and so we'll simply have to agree to disagree.” But instead of that calm rational approach, we become hostile in response.
Jesus has just challenged the use of the Temple precincts as a market and so when it comes to the ears of the religious leaders (who presumably weren't around when Jesus did it), their response is fear. Now what is fear and why should they feel fearful? Fear here is being afraid, either that we will be shown up badly, or our future may even be under threat. Clearly the former applies because they are ultimately responsible for what went on in the Temple precincts, for allowing it to become a market and so, yes, they are being shown up in a bad light.
But the latter thing may also be true. Is Jesus coming as a challenge to present-day Judaism's leadership? Is he preparing to oust the present religious authorities and establish something new? They could be feeling threatened at this level as well.
Yet there is another dimension to this because we are told they were fearful because the popular crowd were amazed at his teaching, presumably meaning amazed at the authority that come through what he said and did. This had been so right from the outset (see Mk 1:27 ) and thus he was popular with the ordinary people, and if that was so that also made him a challenge to the religious authorities who were not well thought of by the crowd. On all these levels Jesus comes as a threat to the authorities.
No the measure of their fear and the measure of their low spiritual state is seen in their response in this fear: they started looking around to plan how they could kill him. If that sounds extreme, it is a measure of the fear they had and also the sort of people that they were. Men of God don't go plotting to kill others, especially others who have be teaching clearly and performing miracles!
Mk 11:19-21 When evening came, they went out of the city. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!"
My wife says she is not good at noticing things around her but I believe it is true of most of us. We go through life and just don't notice things. When you go shopping can you remember what people you saw out in the street, what they were wearing, and so on? No, of course not, because we just take things for granted and so much of what we see is like background wallpaper.
Sometimes we don't notice things because our minds are full of things that have gone on recently and that would certainly be true of the disciples now. This has been a day of tension. They had come into Jerusalem yesterday to great fanfare but little outcome. This morning they came in again but without the fanfare and then Jesus had gone to the Temple and overturned the market it the precincts. That had caused a fuss but rather than back down he challenged them over the right use of the Temple . That in turn had left the temple authorities agitated and upset, so much so that they were talking among themselves how to get rid of this man. The temperature had certainly gone up in the city and the word of what Jesus had done would have spread throughout the town.
Oh yes, the disciples would certainly have their minds full of it all when it eventually came to the time when Jesus decided to return to Bethany for the night. No doubt the disciples sighed inwardly with relief, becasue they were getting out of the arena, so to speak, and they looked forward to getting back to the quiet and comfort of Mary and Martha's home. So they could have been excused if they had passed by this spot and failed to notice what had happened.
But Peter doesn't! Or rather they all saw what had happened but it was only Peter who connected it with what Jesus had said. How easy just to look and not see. Yes, it was a withered fig tree, but there were probably plenty of those around, and yet it was Peter who linked it with Jesus' words. Jesus had cursed this tree and now it is dead – twelve hours later, that's all, and it's now dead. The rest saw a dead fig tree but Peter saw the work of Jesus' words.
This was not just any dead fig tree; this was a tree that was dead because Jesus had cursed it. Now you may think I'm, making a meal of this but faith hears God speak and then sees the outworking in the world around us and knows it is the work of God. Are we those open and alert to the things God is doing around us TODAY?
237. Faith Teaching (1)
Mk 11:22-23 Have faith in God," Jesus answered. "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.
What is intriguing at this point is that Jesus does not explain why he cursed the fig tree. Luke records him earlier speaking in a parable of a fig tree and this action may just act as a reminder . “ Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, `For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil? (Lk 13:6,7) For three years Jesus had been coming to Jerusalem with little fruit. Perhaps cursing this tree was his way of saying, “Enough!”
Apart from Mark only Matthew records this incident but he too puts the emphasise on faith teaching. He does link it a bit better to the teaching: “ When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. "How did the fig tree wither so quickly?" they asked. Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." (Mt 21:20-22) i.e. the destruction of this fig tree is an example of the power of faith.
Both Matthew and Mark continue to use the example of praying for a mountain to be moved. If killing a fig tree was difficult, how much more moving a mountain, but if we address either of them in faith (having heard from God first) then we should expect results.
Jesus isn't advocating killing fig trees or moving mountains but he does use them both to illustrate the fact that when we are sure about what we pray for – however difficult it seems – we may be assured we will get it. It will happen.
Of course, as we have commented before on Jesus' earlier teaching about this, the key words are about having faith, not doubting and believing. Now we can only have this assurance when we have heard God speak and are sure that we have heard Him speak. It may be through His word in the Bible coming alive to us, or His word coming through preaching or prophecy that comes alive to us, or it may simply be by the witness of the Spirit within us, that we hear, but the issue is, have we heard? Faith comes by hearing the New Testament says, and so when we've heard the Lord, we can step out in such things. Perhaps what we need to learn to do most, is recognise and listen for His voice.
238. Faith Teaching (2)
Mk 11:24-25 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
There are two crucial issues in these verses. The first is about that which we have covered already but needs reiterating even as Jesus has done. I have to confess to feel particularly sensitive over this issue as one who has conducted prayer meetings many times over the years and who has arrived at a considered opinion that very often such meetings are purely performing something because we believe the Bible tells us to do so.
Having studied this in some detail, I note first of all that all the recorded prayer in the Bible flow out of a crisis situation – ALL of them. But I also note that in the Gospels Jesus expects us to pray as an expression of our relationship with him and with his Father – and he encourages is to keep on praying. However I find I can only keep on praying for the same thing is a) I am desperate or b) I am absolutely sure that what I am asking for is right, which brings us back to these verses above. First I would note in passing that they do not say don't pray if you don't have this conviction. These verses are all about getting results but little children often just chatter to their parents and I believe chattering to Father is a child-like thing to do and is not wrong.
However there is a difference between chattering to Father and pleading with Him for something which we are certain about. When we come to a place of certainty, I believe, it is because the Holy Spirit within us witnesses that this is the Father's will and He will do it as we keep on praying. If we are open to hear the Father, then I might suggest that when we pray we should either receive a conviction that this is right and it has been done, or somehow we are not yet praying the Father's will. These things need thinking about if we are to avoid meetings that just utter words with little or not expectation of outcome.
But then there is the second significant matter, of ensuring we hold a Christ-like heart towards others, a heart that forgives and desires their best always. We come as sinners, as failures, whenever we come to the Father, redeemed yes, but still in need of the work of Christ on the Cross. If we are to have access to the Father we need to come, to the best of our ability, with clean hands and a clean heart – or words of repentance. If we have not forgiven others and are not looking for their best, we are not in that place.
Mk 11:27-28 They arrived again in Jerusalem , and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. "By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you authority to do this?"
It is Tuesday morning and they are on their way back to Jerusalem and yet again make their way back to the Temple precincts where the faithful would be likely to gather and where visitors to Jerusalem would come. It was a good place to teach people and so Jesus comes here partly to do that and, we suspect, partly to be an ongoing thorn in the side of the religious authorities.
Presumably Jesus and his disciples had only just got there when they were confronted by the authorities because we read that Jesus was walking there. If he had been teaching he would have sat down. So it would seem that the authorities were looking out of him, realising that he had been making his practice to come there each day, and were ready to confront him.
They are the religious authorities. There were the chief priests who would preside over all that went on there, they were the teacherso f the Law, those whose role it was to expound and declare the Law of Moses, and they were the elders, senior people, possibly some members of the Sanhedrin even, the ruling body of Judaism. Yes, this was like turning up in Canterbury and teaching in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral and then being confronted by the Arch Bishop of Canterbury and a whole range of dignitaries from both the Cathedral and even from the local council, all there to uphold the dignity of the cathedral and the town.
So they come up to Jesus and confront him. There is no fear in them; they are the authorities! They ask by what authority he was doing “these things”. Mark doesn't explain what ‘these things” were but they may refer to the expelling of the market from the Temple precincts, they may refer to Jesus teaching the pilgrims or he may even have been healing people there as well. Whatever he has been doing their challenge is essentially, “Who said you could do this here?” and implied in that might be added, “for we certainly didn't!”
Before we move on to consider Jesus counter-challenge, may we simply note two different sorts of authority that appear in the Gospels. First of all there is the authority that is man-granted. The chief priests were the ones who decreed what went on in the Temple and its precincts. They claimed it on the basis of the Law of Moses. Then there was God-given authority seen in Jesus, authority to teach accompanied by signs and wonders and recognised by the people (Mk 1:27)
240. Counter- Challenge
Mk 11:29-30 Jesus replied, "I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John's baptism--was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!"
The temptation here is to go on to the answers that the religious authorities were struggling with, but if we do that we miss meditation on just what we have in this verse.
I find myself bemused by the way people can be sidetracked. Let me explain. The best example I find of this in the Bible is that of Saul and Goliath. “ Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, "….Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us …." On hearing the Philistine's words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.” (1 Sam 17:8-11) Why? Why did Israel go along with this? Why didn't Saul simply say, “Ten best archers step up and take him down, and then let's get on with this battle.” But instead they just stood there petrified. Lesson: Don't argue with the enemy!
But now we find Jesus doing the same thing with these silly religious leaders. They have come with the authority that is theirs as keepers of the temple and they could have arrested Jesus and carted him straight off - but they are silly, so they risk arguing with him in public. They ask for his authority and they know they haven't given him authority so as far as they are concerned he's an interloper who needs throwing out so why even offer space to argue. Haven't they learnt from previous occasions that Jesus always comes out of these times on top?
So they foolishly invite him to explain himself and it's at this point that Jesus uses the Goliath trick, to side-track them into another way of thinking. Look how Jesus starts out: “I will ask you one question….” What? Who do you think you are? We're the Temple authorities with power to throw you out. We're not getting into a question and answer session with you! Well that's how they could have responded but they don't.
In this they reveal that actually they are not men of authority. They may look like it but the truth is that they are unsure of themselves. They know of his reputation and they know that the crowds don't actually like them and these things make them wary, so they go along with Jesus when he refuses to give and answer until they answer his question.
When we are sure of who we are, we don't have to defend ourselves and argue with the enemy. In deliverance ministry never argue with demons – just command them to leave. Understand our authority!
241. Hard Place
Mk 11:31,32 They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, `From heaven,' he will ask, `Then why didn't you believe him?' But if we say, `From men' . . . ." (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)
The religious leaders, we noted previously, gave way in their insecurity to Jesus' prompting and so are now more concerned to answer his question than get and answer for theirs! Jesus knew exactly what he was asking them and would have known exactly the difficulty they would have faced. He has placed them in a hard place – and they let him!
Note the nature of their problem. Jesus has made them face their past. They cannot change their past, only try and explain it away, but that in itself presents problems. John the Baptist had come and, although accepted by the people, had been rejected by the religious authorities and so none of them had stood up for him when he had been arrested by Herod – in fact they were probably glad when Herod had arrested him! John, like Jesus, had shown up the religious authorities. They should have been the ones taking a spiritual ead in the country and calling the people back to God, but they had been more concerned with maintaining the status quo than risking upset by calling the people to repentance – which would have meant they would have had to repent as well!
However John had come calling the people to repentance and many of them had turned back to God, and that would have made these weak an ineffectual religious leaders feel uneasy. What do they do now. John had made them feel uncomfortable and they had been glad when he was removed.
Now they are challenged with the question: from where did John come from? Was his call for repentance from God or was it just a human thing? Now as we look on it as outsiders, we can see the fruit of John's ministry and see that many people turned back to God and so we can say with assurance (apart from knowing the earlier part of John's history) that he came from God and came with God's blessing, but the religious leaders appeared blind to such spiritual realities.
However they were also political people and political people know and understand people and they knew that the crowds had approved of John, especially those large numbers who had repented and been baptised by him. That had left them feeling good about God and so now if these religious leaders just attribute John's activities to human desires, they will find themselves publicly opposing popular public opinion and p9liticians don't like doing that. Tricky!
242. Limiting Revelation
Mk 11:33 So they answered Jesus, "We don't know." Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."
If you were new to the Gospels you might expect to find Jesus taking any and every opportunity to share as much spiritual understanding as possible, but it isn't like that. Jesus shares with seekers and holds back from those who are antagonistic. It is almost as if he knows that he will be wasting his time trying to convince those whose hearts are set against him. Thus he simply holds back.
The religious leaders have come to challenge him and he in turn challenges them. They accept the challenge instead of simply exerting their authority but after discussion realise that whatever they say they are going to show themselves up badly, so all they can do is reply, “We don't know.” That of course is not strictly the truth but they know that if they do speak the truth either they will have been opposing God or they will be saying things that go against popular public opinion. So they say the least possible.
In the face of this capitulation, Jesus simply replies, well, fine, and I won't tell you by what authority I am doing these things. Note in all this Jesus could have spoken out and said, “Well it's obvious isn't it? How can someone heal lots of people unless God is with him,” but he knows that they know that already and so it would just be a waste of words and he would be giving further opportunity for argument.
Someone once rang me up and said, “I want to cross swords with you on the matter of….” and then named some spiritual issue. I replied, “I don't want to cross swords with you. I believe….. (explained it briefly) but if you wish to believe differently to me, that's fine by me.” There are times when explaining things to people is the right things to do but when people have made up their minds and are just looking for an argument, then you are just wasting words if you join in.
Jesus knew that. Jesus knew that these religious authorities were so set in their ways that they were not open to anything else, especially when that something else showed them up in a bad light. So we find him shutting down the conversation and amazingly the weak authorities just took it. If they had been stronger they would have, then and there, shut Jesus down. Whether he could explain himself was neither here nor there. They were the ones who were supposed to be in authority but as we've noted previously, they had no real authority. They only had what people gave them. Jesus, by comparison, had the authority bequeathed to him by his Father and was thus able to speak with a strong confidence and act in a way that the power of God was released through him. THAT is authority.