Week Five of 40 Days through Mark’s Good News
Mark 11:27–12:12—By whose authority?
27 By this time they had arrived in Jerusalem again. As Jesus was walking through the Temple area, the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders came up to him. They demanded, 28 “By whose authority did you drive out the merchants from the Temple? Who gave you such authority?” 29 “I’ll tell who gave me authority to do these things if you answer one question,” Jesus replied. 30 “Did John’s baptism 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 him. 32 But do we dare say it was merely human?” For they were afraid that the people would start a riot, since everyone thought that John was a prophet. 33 So they finally replied, “We don’t know.” And Jesus responded, “Then I won’t answer your question either.” 12:1 Then Jesus began telling them stories: “A man planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. 2 At grape-picking time he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop. 3 But the farmers grabbed the servant, beat him up, and sent him back empty-handed. 4 “The owner then sent another servant, but they beat him over the head and treated him shamefully. 5 The next servant he sent was killed. Others who were sent were either beaten or killed, 6 until there was only one left—his son whom he loved dearly. The owner finally sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’ 7 “But the farmers said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 8 So they grabbed him and murdered him and threw his body out of the vineyard. 9 “What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do?” Jesus asked. “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill them all and lease the vineyard to others. 10 Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures?
‘The stone rejected by the builders
has now become the cornerstone.
11 This is the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous to see.’ ”
12 The Jewish leaders wanted to arrest him for using this illustration because they realized he was pointing at them—they were the wicked farmers in his story. But they were afraid to touch him because of the crowds. So they left him and went away.
Points of Interest:
- ‘Who gave you such authority?’—The leaders are accusing Jesus of vigilantism. They are certain that they are the proper authorities, and they know that they haven’t given him permission to do what he did. From their perspective, they’ve caught him in a rash, improper act; and with this problem they are intending to let him know that they now have him in their power. Instead, Jesus ends up presenting them with a puzzle that demonstrates just how limited their authority really is.
- ‘We don’t know.’—The leaders think that they are being evasive; they are avoiding giving a direct answer to Jesus’ question. Ironically, their answer is profoundly true. While they claim that they don’t know, it seems that they think that they really do know that John’s baptism is only human. If that is the case, they are mistaken and therefore, in point of fact, do not know.
- But their profession that they don’t know is true on an even deeper level than that. The leaders don’t know because they don’t really even try to figure it out. They have not really addressed the question in terms of truth, but only in terms of consequences. Their answer is a political answer, formulated to cause the least public relations damage. They do not know the source of John’s baptism because they have not bothered to even try to find out. They do not know because they operate in a system that ignores genuine seeking of answers. They never even really consider looking for the truth of the matter.
- ‘Then I won’t answer your question either’—Jesus calls it like it is. They claim that they don’t know, but Jesus lets them know that he knows that they are instead refusing to answer. He refuses to respond to their question in return for a couple of reasons:
- He doesn’t feel the need to interact with people who are playing a public relations game rather than genuinely relating to him.
- He has already given them what they need to answer their own question, but they have refused to engage. His answer to their question is essentially, ‘My authority comes from the same place as John’s baptism.’ John’s baptism of Jesus was Jesus’ coronation ceremony, at which the Father’s voice validated Jesus’ ministry. If they knew where John’s baptism came from, they would know Jesus’ authority. But their refusal to consider Jesus’ question cuts them off from the answer to their own.
- ‘he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop’—The tenants probably feel like the owner’s desire to have a share is greedy and unjust: ‘We did all of the harvesting. Why should he get a share?’ But they forget that the land belongs to him, and that he has actually put a lot of work into it to make it a good vineyard: he built the wall, the tower, and the winepress; and he did the planting. They were lucky to get the chance to work in such a vineyard. The owner certainly deserves his share.
- ‘Surely they will respect my son’—This is an amazing little story! First of all, it’s another answer to their question about his authority. Jesus actually uses the story to turn the leaders’ question around on them. The Vineyard is either the temple or the people of God, and the fruit is worship and prayer (like in the example of the fig tree). Jesus is, of course, the son; and his authority comes from the Father, the owner of the Vineyard, by whom he was sent. The leaders are represented by the tenants, and it is they, not Jesus, who have usurped someone else’s authority. Like the tenants, the leaders have begun to act like owners of something for which they are only caretakers. The temple and its offerings belong to God, but the leaders have been taking the profit for themselves. They are the ones who have acted without authority. John the Baptist and other prophets have come in the past to get them to turn around, but they’ve ignored and abused them. With this story, Jesus predicts that they will do the same to him, killing him. He also predicts that they will not enjoy the benefits of their scheme for long. Soon, charge of God’s people will be given to others.
- ‘Let’s kill him and get the estate’—The tenants start out just wanting to hold back a little fruit; murder was not on their mind. But as they harden their hearts, insistent on not listening to the messages, they move by slow degrees from holding back fruit, through beating and abuse, to murder and even murder of the owner’s son.
- ‘they were afraid to touch him because of the crowds’—The leaders begin this passage by questioning Jesus’ authority and presenting themselves as the legitimate authority, but their actions demonstrate their own lack of authority. Jesus offers two potential sources of authority: heaven and mere humans. Throughout this passage, by basing their decision on fears of the crowd, the leaders demonstrate that the basis of their authority is human, and that it is a weak authority at that—they pretend to be authorities, but they are controlled by the crowds.
Taking it Home:
- For you: Just like the temple, every once in a while our hearts need to have a clearing out of the other things that have come in and crowded out prayer and worship. Like the vineyard owner in the story, God sends us messages and promptings by his Spirit when this needs to happen. Has God been sending you messages of ways you need to clean your heart? How have you responded to these promptings? Ask God to give you a soft heart to these promptings. The story of the vineyard shows just how much God wants us to be in good relationship to him, and just how far we can get from him when we refuse to listen to him.
- For your 6: The leaders are too afraid of the consequences to interact with Jesus genuinely. In attempts to maintain their own power and dignity, they seal themselves off from truly considering Jesus’ words. This refusal will have a disastrous effect on their future. Pray that God would protect your 6 from this fear of consequences. Pray that the Holy Spirit would give them the boldness and trust to interact with Jesus’ genuinely. Pray that attempts to maintain their own power or dignity would not keep them from honestly seeking Jesus.
- For our church: The leaders in this passage have begun to think of themselves as the owners of something that actually belonged to God. Pray that God would preserve us from the same error, that our hearts would always recognize God’s good provision for us, and that we would always give him his due worship.