Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries


Who do you listen to?  audio

Mark 11:27-12:27

By What Authority 11:27-33

The story is told of a ship’s captain during the war, who was sailing along on a dark night and saw a light on a collision course. So he got his signaller to flash a message: “Alter your course 10 degrees west.” The reply came back “Alter your course 10 degrees east.” The captain then signalled “Alter your course 10 degrees west. I am a Commander.” The reply came back “Alter your course 10 degrees east.  I am a seaman third-class.”

By this time the ship’s captain was getting furious. So he signalled: “Alter your course 10 degrees west. I am a battleship.” The reply came back almost instantly: “Alter your course 10 degrees east. I am a lighthouse.”

That story addresses the issue of our passage today. That is the issue of authority. Where does authority come from? Sometimes it comes from your rank or status, as the commander in that story obviously assumed. But sometimes it comes from something innate like the immovable nature of a lighthouse set above a cliff. So where do you look to for authority for your life? That’s not an easy question to ask in this day and age. Life has changed so radically in the last 50 years that what was taken for granted 50 years ago can no longer be assumed. Truth is all relative, we’re told. Alternative facts are the go. Authority comes in various shapes and forms.

In politics, we see elected leaders who wield their authority as power; who use twitter because they don’t trust the traditional media; who, even when large sections of the electorate show their dissatisfaction, continue to confuse leadership with autocratic rule. Or in our case we see elected leaders who are forced to follow the wishes of one particular faction in their party, even if it undermines their authority.

So we’re led to ask, is their authority authentic?

Well, that was the very question the Pharisees and Elders and the Chief Priests, all the leaders of Israel, put to Jesus. Jesus had not only been outspoken about the social inequities of his time, he’d gone the next step of physical protest. He’d come into the temple and cleared it of money changers and merchants. And now they wanted to know by what authority he did such a thing.

For us the question might be, do I, do we, have any authority for insisting that the moral and social rules that God has given us should be followed? Where do we look to for authority for our lives?

Well, the answer to that question, I think, is very close to the answer that Jesus gives here and we’ll see a further example of that next week.
Mind you, the answer isn’t all that straightforward is it? He doesn’t just come out and say, “God told me to do it.” “I’m on a mission from God.” No, he’s aware that they’re trying to trap him. If he says “God sent me” then they’ve got all the evidence they need for a charge of blasphemy. No, rather than give them a direct answer, he instead gives them an answer that allows them, in fact forces them, to answer the question for themselves. He says “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” Now why ask that particular question? What does John’s baptism have to do with Jesus authority?

Well, you may remember the quote from Isaiah that Mark reminds us of in ch1: “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” John came to prepare the way for the Lord; that is, for the coming Messiah. So if he was sent by God, what does that say about the one who followed him? Well, those with eyes to see and ears to hear will answer he must be the Messiah, God’s anointed one. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s probably not a chicken.

But that isn’t all. What happened at Jesus baptism? As he was coming up from the water he saw the Spirit descending on him like a dove and a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus is also pointing them back to the start of his ministry to remind them of what he’s been doing. The teaching and healing miracles, the casting out of demons point to an inherent authority that Jesus bears. Only someone who comes from God could do what he’s been doing. Why can’t they see it?

At that point Mark recounts a series of Parables that Jesus tells that reflect on this question of authority

The Tenants in the Vineyard 12:1-12

“A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower.” At this point bells would have been ringing loudly in his hearers’ heads. Is 5 starts with an almost identical opening as it tells of the failure of Israel to bear the fruit of righteousness.  This is a very pointed parable. The owner of the vineyard has left them in charge and they’ve decided they like being in charge and don’t want the owner to interfere; especially not to take some of their profits, even if they do owe them to him.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had developed a great set of rules for living. They’d set themselves up as the authority for daily living. Every aspect of life was subject to their set or rules and regulations. So they didn’t want someone like Jesus coming along and upsetting the apple cart.

But here Jesus points out that the lord of the vineyard is still the lord even if the tenants don’t want to know. If they decide to kill the son, which Jesus is clearly foretelling will happen, the lord of the vineyard will come and carry out his judgement on them in no uncertain terms. Their alternative facts won’t count for anything before the true authority of the owner.

Now we mustn’t miss the fact that what Jesus is describing here is the condition of every human being. The vineyard is a picture not just of Israel, but of the whole world. All of us have been put on this earth as tenants in God’s vineyard. And what’s our response? We don’t want to be tenants, paying rent. We want to be the owners. And it’s always been the case. When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden and given the task of tending it, what happened? They decided it would be good to be like God, knowing the difference between good and evil. And human beings have been doing the same thing ever since.

You know, a hundred years ago humanist philosophers were predicting a golden age, where God would be irrelevant, when poverty, disease and war would all be done away with. Human advances in education, science, medicine and sociology would solve all our problems for us. Well, 100 years later we look around our world and see incurable diseases still rife, wars happening with an increasing regularity, relationships breaking down at an alarming rate and we wonder how could things have got so bad? What’s gone wrong in God’s vineyard?

The answer is clear: People still want to run the vineyard themselves, rather than follow God’s direction.

This is the root source of the ecological problems in our world. Here is why millions are starving while a small number waste the world’s food resources; why climate change continues unabated. Here’s why the socialist dreams of the communist bloc failed to materialise. Here’s why 40% of marriages end in divorce. Why? Because none of us want to follow someone else’s agenda. We want to be the owners not the tenants.

Did you notice, by the way, as you listened to this story, the insane insolence of the tenants? This is a rebellion that’s doomed to failure. Yet they, and we, seem to think they can get away with it. How can we do that? I guess it’s because we humans have a limitless ability to ignore what we don’t want to know; in this case, that God is still in control. An absent lord is still the lord. Even if we don’t see God clearly at work, he is, watching over us and expecting us to do the right thing.

The Pharisees response to this parable might have been an acknowledgement of their failing, but no, it’s to react against Jesus. If they hadn’t been afraid of the crowd they would have arrested him on the spot. Instead they set out to trap him.

God or Emperor 12:13-17

They come to him and ask him a trick question. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? A simple question, but if he says ‘Yes’ they’ll accuse him of betraying the Jews, giving in to the occupying forces. If he says ‘No’ they’ll accuse him of being a dissident, opposed to the Rule of Rome.

But he wisely puts the question another way: “Whose head is this, and whose title?” The coins they use bear the Emperor’s image and title so, pay him what he’s owed.
But then he turns the question around entirely. They’re correct if they think that the Emperor isn’t the only authority we need to worry about. God is a greater authority. We should be giving to God the things that are God's. What sorts of things are they? Worship? Obedience? Time? Service to others? Giving of our material goods, our money, to God’s work? Perhaps in the context of paying taxes to the government that should have been the first thing I mentioned. What proportion of your pre-tax income are you giving to God?

The point, of course, is that we should give homage to the one who deserves it. As in the previous parable we need to acknowledge that everything we have belongs to God and we’re merely the tenants in his vineyard. So pay him his dues.

A Marriage made in Heaven? 12:18-27

Finally they try another angle. This time it’s the Sadducees who come to trap him with a question. The Sadducees were the priestly group, the ones who organised and ran Temple worship. And they didn’t believe in resurrection. They thought that our life of worship here on earth was sufficient.

So their trick question is as much a defence of their beliefs against those of the Pharisees as it was a trap for Jesus.

They ask “Moses taught that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. So what happens if a widow ends up marrying all seven brothers, one after the other? If they’re raised to heaven whose wife will she be?”

Jesus answer is cutting: “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? … God is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.” They’ve failed to take the Scriptures as authoritative. In fact he seems to be saying that they’ve ignored the Scriptures. At least they haven’t studied them.

Here’s another lesson for us. How well do you know the Scriptures? Do you study them? Are you part of a small group Bible study? Do you have someone you read the Bible with? Are you as familiar with the Old Testament as you are with the New?

Jesus is saying that the only place to look for this sort of information is the Scriptures. God’s word is the only authority we need for knowing how to live in this world.
God’s word is where we’ll find the way of salvation. The extension to what Jesus says to the Sadducees is that God is the God of the living and will raise those who die in Christ to eternal life.

As I said at the start, where do we look to for authority for our lives? Is it to Jesus? Is it to God’s word?

Are you someone who isn’t sure about the authority of Jesus over your life? If you are then make sure you’re willing to listen and learn from what Jesus said. Don’t close your mind because you’re afraid of the truth. Rather seek out the truth. Ask God to open your mind so you’ll know whether Jesus speaks with authority or not.

Are you someone who wants to convince others of the truth of the Gospel? Then make sure you know the story of the Bible, the story of salvation, well enough to tell it to others. And pray that God will open their minds to see the truth about Jesus.

And let’s remember that God remains God even if we’re sometimes unaware of his presence around us. So we need to continue to look to him for guidance and instruction and to give him his dues.

Contact Details

Phone: 0422187127