I want to talk to you today about the authority of Jesus. Jesus has complete authority over our lives. However, everything we say and don’t say and everything we do and don’t do and everything we believe and don’t believe is a reflection of our willingness to submit to His authority.
You may accept His authority and joyfully embrace it or you may ignore His authority and deny it, but no one can escape the Lord’s authority. Listen to Philippians 2:9, “God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…” (NLT).
Today, we are going to take a look at an encounter between Jesus and some religious leaders regarding the Lord’s authority. From this encounter we will learn some important truths about Jesus’ authority over our lives and discover some reasons why people reject that authority. This should help you to see why you reject His authority at times and why those in your life (like your spouse, children, grandchildren, and friends) resist or ignore the Lord’s authority.
Mark 11:27-33 says,
Again they entered Jerusalem. As Jesus was walking through the Temple area, the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders came up to him. 28 They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?” 29 “I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things if you answer one question,” Jesus replied. 30 “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human? Answer me!” 31 They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask why we didn’t believe John. 32 But do we dare say it was merely human?” For they were afraid of what the people would do, because everyone believed that John was a prophet. 33 So they finally replied, “We don’t know.” And Jesus responded, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.” (NLT)
We are going to frame today’s lesson around four things:
- The authority of Jesus established
- The authority of Jesus challenged
- The authority of Jesus rejected
- The authority of Jesus accepted
The Authority of Jesus Established
Let’s begin with establishing the authority of Jesus. How did Jesus demonstrate the authority of God throughout His life? Did Jesus give us any evidence that He had divine authority? Yes, He did. Let me give you some examples.
- Jesus had authority over nature. In Mark 4 Jesus and His disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee. Jesus laid down to take a nap. Suddenly, a fierce storm came out of nowhere. The boat began to fill with water. The disciples woke up Jesus in a panic. Jesus stood and spoke to the storm saying, “Silence! Be still!” and suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm (Mark 4:35-41). Not only could Jesus control nature, He also had the power to supersede the laws of nature. In Mark 6 Jesus walks on water defying the laws of gravity.
- Jesus had authority over evil spirits. In Mark 5 Jesus is approached by a man possessed by an evil spirit who was deadly. When Jesus confronted the man the evil spirit spoke and said there was a Legion of evil spirits in the man. Jesus spoke to the evil spirits and said, “Come out of the man!” The evil spirits obeyed and came out of the man (Mark 5:1-20).
- Jesus had authority over illness and diseases. In Mark 5 Jesus heals a woman who had “suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding” (Mark 5:25). In Mark 1 we are told that “Jesus healed many people who were sick with various diseases” (Mark 1:34).
- Jesus had authority over death. Again, in Mark 5, Jairus’ daughter had died. Jesus went to the little girl and raised her back to life (Mark 5:35-43).
- Jesus had authority over sin. In Mark 2, Jesus was in a disciple’s home. The place was packed out. Four men brought a paralyzed man to Jesus. They could not get through the crowds, so they tore a hole in the roof and lowered the paralyzed man down to Jesus. To demonstrate He had the power to forgive sin, Jesus also healed the man. The man’s sins were forgiven and the man walked home (Mark 2:1-13).
- Jesus had authority over circumstances. He could change any situation. In Mark 6 we are told about how Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and fed about 20,000 people with them (Mark 6:30-44).
- Jesus had authority in His teaching. In Mark 1 we are told “the people were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority” (Mark 1:22).
Jesus demonstrated His authority over and over and over again. Now before the most authoritative group (the Sanhedrin) in one of the most authoritative places (the Temple) Jesus was going to force some people to make a decision about what they believed about His authority. At some point in your life, you will be confronted with the authority of Jesus and you will have to make a personal decision about His authority, just these religious rulers.
The Authority of Jesus Challenged
Now we come to the authority of Jesus being challenged. Even though it was clear that Jesus had divine power and He had demonstrated over and over again that His authority came from God and that His miraculous acts revealed Him as God in the flesh there were some who would challenge Jesus’ authority to do and say what He had done and said. This brings us to Mark 11:27 where we are told, Again they entered Jerusalem. As Jesus was walking through the Temple area, the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders came up to him.
During the last week of Jesus’ life He would enter Jerusalem and do something and teach something significant. He would repeat this pattern several days in a row. So Mark says, Again they entered Jerusalem. This time Jesus was walking through the Temple area. Jesus is inside the Temple Complex which is about the size of 10 football fields. When Luke tells us about this event he gives us some insight on what Jesus was doing. Luke tells us that “Jesus was teaching the people and preaching the Good News in the Temple” (Luke 20:1, NLT).
Before the religious leaders interrupt Jesus, let’s soak this moment in. Jesus knows He is about to be crucified. He knows He is about to be abandoned, rejected, humiliated, and mocked. He knows He is about to be betrayed and His disciples will flee. Literally, Jesus knows He only has days left, but He decides to spend the majority of the time “teaching the people and preaching the Good News.” This is a significant statement by Jesus. By His actions, Jesus is placing supreme value on the importance of teaching God’s Word and telling others about the gospel. Once you begin thinking that the teaching of God’s Word is not that important and sharing the gospel of God with others is not that significant that’s when you know the devil has enticed you away from a kingdom mindset.
One of the characteristics of a healthy believer and church is their commitment to God’s Word and God’s gospel. After the resurrection of Jesus the early church, the first believers were dedicated to this task of teaching and preaching God’s Word. In Acts 5:42 we are told, “And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: ‘Jesus is the Messiah’” (NLT; see also Acts 15:35).
- For us today, this commitment to the teaching and preaching of God’s Word can be seen in pastors who are faithful to teach the Word, Life Group leaders who are faithful to prepare a lesson or discussion around God’s Word, and children’s leaders who teach Bible story after Bible story helping the kids see the meaning and application.
- This dedication to the teaching and preaching of God’s Word is seen when you, as an individual and us as a church family, support church planters who are committed to starting new churches who are faithful to God’s Word and missionaries who share the gospel with others and make disciples of all nations.
- I believe this commitment to the teaching and preaching of God’s Word is also seen in you when you make studying God’s Word a personal priority, when you faithfully attend and support a Bible teaching church.
By His actions, Jesus was placing a high value on the teaching and preaching of God’s truth and by our actions we can do the same.
Back to Jesus. Jesus was teaching and preaching God’s Word in the Temple area when the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders came up to him. Here we have three different groups also known as chief priests, scribes, and elders (see NASB). Together, they make up the Sanhedrin.
- The leading priests are those who were in charge of the temple. They made sure that everything was done the way it was supposed to be done in the temple. They oversaw the activities of the temple sacrifices and other religious activities.
- The scribes or the teachers of religious law oversaw the copying and instruction of God’s Word (the Old Testament). They devoted themselves to preserving and copying the scriptures for future generations. They were also experts in knowing the Old Testament and teaching it.
- The elders were those who represented the various tribes of Israel. They acted as religious judges. They would help people settle disputes and conflicts by giving advice and making judgements regarding the situation. Ultimately, they became very powerful because they were often wealthy and well respected.
These three groups (leading priests, teachers of religious law, and elders) made up the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was a powerful group at the time. They had significant influence both religiously and politically. One of their responsibilities as the Sanhedrin was to investigate anyone who claimed to be sent by God; and that included Jesus (see Deut. 18:15-22). But there is a problem, the Sanhedrin had already decided they wanted Jesus dead and had already “began planning how to kill him” (Mark 11:18).[i] This is the group that Jesus predicted would conspire to kill him (Mark 8:31). When they approached Jesus they were not trying to seek the truth; they were looking for evidence to use to destroy Him. They had already closed their mind on Jesus.
Now keep in mind, that yesterday Jesus came into the Temple and overturned chairs and tables, stop them from buying and selling, and announced that the house of God had now become a den of thieves rather than a house of worship and prayer. During the night these three groups got together and talked about what Jesus had done and said and decided to confront if He appeared at the Temple once again. The next day they find Jesus walking around in the Temple area teaching and preaching and they approached Jesus. This brings us to verse 28 where Mark tells us, They demanded of Jesus, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”
Let’s be fair. Because of their position and responsibilities in connection with the Temple they do have a right to approach Jesus and confront Him about what He did yesterday and why He is teaching and preaching what He is. What they don’t understand is that everything in the Temple points to Jesus. The sacrifices, the curtains, the altars, the incense, and down to the details of what the priests are wearing are all illustrations and object lessons that point to Jesus. The Temple belongs to God. In reality, Jesus owns the Temple and the Temple is all about Jesus. They don’t see it that way.
Jesus comes in rearranges the furniture, cleans out the clutter, realigns the purpose, and starts using the Temple for what it was designed for. The Sanhedrin did not like this. They did not respond well to Jesus’ authority. I think we are a lot like the Sanhedrin, we don’t understand that we are the temple of God and He has authority over us whether we acknowledge it or not. When Jesus comes into your life and starts rearranging your furniture, cleaning out the clutter, and realigning the purpose of your life we will rebel against Him and say, “By what authority are you doing all these things? This is my life and I am going to live it the way I want? And no one is going to tell me what to do! Who do you think you are, Jesus!?”
There is another side to this. Some of us are going to be like the Sanhedrin and rebel against Jesus and confront Jesus about trying to rearrange our lives, but there are some of you who will experience what Jesus is experiencing. When you follow Jesus, you are going to run into resistance. There are going to be people inspired by their sinful nature and the kingdom of darkness who will confront you and say, “By what authority are doing and saying all these things? Who gave you the right to say there is only one way to heaven and all the other ways are wrong? Who gave you the authority to say that this action is a sin and that behavior is a sin?” Well, your humble and loving answer is going to be, “Well, God’s Word gives me that authority. I’m only telling you what God says.” When you follow Jesus, you are going to be confronted just like He was.
Back to Jesus, again. The Sanhedrin asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”[ii] That is a question that Jesus could have asked them, but Jesus is a genius because in verse 29 He says, “I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things if you answer one question.” Three observations worth considering:
- Observation 1: Just as Jesus’ answer to the Sanhedrin is determined by the Sanhedrin’s response to Him; Jesus’ response to you will be determined by your response to Him. If you have been coming to this church for any length of time then you have heard the gospel. You know that God’s Word teaches that Jesus is Lord, that He died for your sins, and resurrected so that you could have life and some day will come again. When Jesus returns, His response to you will be determined by your response to Him. He will give you the freedom to answer Him the way you want, but you will have to give Him the freedom to respond to you the way He wants.
- Observation 2: Jesus was not being evasive. He isn’t dodging a question. His counter question was a typical practice of rabbis and religious leaders when teaching, especially in the context of debate (see Mark 10:2-3). He wanted them to think deeper. Jesus knew that His question would reveal the motives behind their question. He wanted them to be confronted with their own sin and selfishness. Sometimes Jesus will not answer your question directly because He wants you to think deeper about Him and your response to Him.
- Observation 3: Jesus knew that their decision about John would determine their decision about Him. Jesus had endorsed John being sent from God. John had endorsed Jesus as being sent from God. Ultimately, what they believed about One would be transferred to the other.
Many people are just like the Sanhedrin. If they struggle believing something about God then they are going to struggle believing something else about Him.
- For example, if someone does not believe in the existence of God then they are not going to believe that Jesus is God in the flesh.
- There are some who believe the Bible was written by a bunch of male chauvinists so they reject the whole Bible, including Jesus.
- There are some who believe the Bible lies about creation which causes them to believe the Bible is lying about salvation.
For the Sanhedrin, what they believed about John the Baptist would determine what they believed about Jesus. That’s how the devil works. If he can get you to not believe this one thing over here then He can get you to not believe this other thing about Jesus.
The question Jesus asked is in verse 30 is, “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human? Answer me!” This takes us to the authority of Jesus being rejected.
The Authority of Jesus Rejected
Once Jesus asked the question Mark tells us in verse 31, They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask why we didn’t believe John. 32 But do we dare say it was merely human?” For they were afraid of what the people would do, because everyone believed that John was a prophet. 33 So they finally replied, “We don’t know.” And Jesus responded, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.”
These religious leaders went off to the side and had a conversation about Jesus’ question, they talked it over. They discussed the various ways they could answer it. They decided there were really only three options.
- First, they could say that John the Baptist was from heaven. To say that John the Baptist was from heaven, that meant John was from God. God had sent Him to do and say all the things he did and say. His message of repentance and baptism which bypassed the Temple and all its sacrifices would be correct. His statements about Jesus being the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world would be true. For the Sanhedrin to validate John’s message that would mean that they would have to validate Jesus’ message. John said Jesus was the Messiah and if they agreed that John was sent by God from heaven then they would have to agree with John’s message about Jesus.
Because they rejected this answer, it reveals they were not seeking truth. Everything John did and said pointed to Jesus being the Messiah, Savior, and Lord they had been waiting for. Everything Jesus said and did proved that He was the Messiah, Savior, and Lord. He had demonstrated who He was by His acts of divine authority over circumstances, nature, demons, sickness, death and sin. With all the evidence laid before them they not only rejected that Jesus was the Messiah, they had already made their mind up a long time ago that Jesus was from the devil (Matthew 12:22-32). In reality, the Sanhedrin were not searching for truth regarding Jesus. The prophecies in the Old Testament, the miracles, and Jesus’ teaching all provided evidence of who He was and where His authority came from.
- Secondly, they could say that John the Baptist was merely human. To say that John was merely human is to say that he was not from God, just from men. The message of repentance was John’s idea and his message came from himself and not from God. What John had to say about Jesus, repentance, and the kingdom of God was not true, it was made up. From the Sanhedrin’s perspective that created a dilemma. The people (the crowds, the multitudes) believed that John was a prophet. Internally the Sanhedrin was more concerned about making people happy, rather than pleasing God. They didn’t want the people to rebel against them because they were afraid of what the people would do. According to Luke, their concern about the people was so great they said, “the people will stone us because they are convinced John was a prophet” (Luke 20:6, NLT).
They rejected this option because of fear, fear of what the people would say and do. The fear of others hindered their movement toward Jesus. They were afraid of losing power and position and prestige. This makes me think of precious people who reject Jesus or hesitate to follow Jesus because of their fear of what faith in Christ might cost them socially, relationally, or financially.
- Third, they could say, we don’t know. This was their reply. By saying this they admitted they could not tell the difference between what is from God, from man, or from Satan (Mark 3:20-21). By saying, we don’t know, they were lying. In their own mind, they were convinced that Jesus was not the Messiah, coming King, or any kind of Lord. To say, we don’t know, was to hide what they really believed.
When they told Jesus, We don’t know,[iii] then Jesus responded, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.” Because they would not fulfill their end of the bargain by answering Jesus’ question, He would not answer theirs. What would have been the point in telling them? They had already made up their minds. They were determined to not believe any evidence placed before them and they were too afraid of the people to say what they really believed. In Jesus’ perfect wisdom, He did not seek to enlighten them anymore. What else could He tell them or what new miracle would it take for them to see who He truly was. Sadly, Jesus left them to the consequences of their own decision.
The Authority of Jesus Accepted
This brings us to the authority of Jesus accepted. At least I hope so. Some of you have already acknowledged the authority of Jesus and who He is, some of you have not. If you believe that Jesus really existed and that He did the miracles that are recorded in God’s Word then you are in position to be born again, saved, and forgiven of your sins. Before Jesus saves you, you must believe that Jesus has the authority to do so.
Let me give you a few statements from the Bible about Jesus’ authority.
- After the resurrection of Jesus, Jesus said, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:18-19, NLT).
- Later Peter would say, “Now Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honor next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority” (1 Peter 3:22, NLT).
- In Ephesians 1, Paul wrote, “God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ – everything in heaven and on earth” (Ephesians 1:9-10, NLT).
At some point in the future, everything and everyone will acknowledge and submit to the authority of Christ. I want to encourage you to do that today!
[i] Jesus had three major groups plotting to kill Him: the Pharisees and Herodians (Mark 3:6) and the Sanhedrin (Mark 11:18).
[ii] Their question is an echo of Mark 2:7, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
[iii] In the end, they said the only thing they could say without commitment: we don’t know. They were like the Laodiceans in Revelations 3:16 – lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, playing it safe. Jesus knew their hearts, so he refused to answer their question.