And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:27-33 ESV)
The conversation between Jesus and the religious leaders is not unlike many in our day. We see it time and again: Jesus could not have been God; he was merely a “good teacher.” But when challenged, most opponents can do little more than shrug in frustration and say, “I don’t know.”
Jesus would not allow the priests and scribes this luxury.
They had seen the signs He’d performed. They’d heard His powerful teaching. They’d witnessed Him tossing the moneychangers out of the Temple… And they wanted to know: on whose authority was He doing these things? Jesus was not a priest nor a recognized authority on the Scriptures according to their standards. He was the son of a carpenter from an unimportant town in an inconsequential province.
And yet, somehow, He was turning the world upside down.
And so they spoke up. “By what authority do you do these things?” they asked, with that barely concealed frustration you see when someone’s desperately trying to keep their cool. But Jesus knew their hearts better than even they did. He knew they weren’t sincere and so he backed them into a corner. If they answered His question, He’d answer theirs.
“Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” Immediately, they saw the trap they’d walked in to. If they said John’s ministry was from God, Jesus would rebuke them for not believing his words. If they said it was from man, the crowd would lynch them, for they knew he was a prophet.
So they answered, “I don’t know.”
And so their ignorance and lack of sincerity stood revealed for all to see. But Jesus had no time for such things. He would not entertain their ignorance. They could not challenge what they did not know. They could not take away what was not theirs to give. And, they would learn, they could not even take His life unless He first gave it.
Father, we live in a time when so many challenge the authority of Jesus. They question Him, they reinterpret Him, they deny Him… Even in our own lives, we struggle to acknowledge His authority and submit to Him. Help us not to question Him out of ignorance or out of a lack of sincerity. Help us to honour and obey Him in all things, for our good and your glory. Amen.