Faith in the Authority of Christ

Posted: June 1, 2014 in Mark

Mark 11:20-33, “Faith in the Authority of Christ”

Superhero movies have been all the rage for the last several years.  It seems that every summer, there is a new round of movies that erupts from the pages of old comic books.  We cheer as the bad guys get trounced and the good guys win, but sometimes we tend to forget that many times the “good guys” are also law-breakers.  When the heroes act outside of the authority given to them, then technically they are vigilantes & not very good at all.  After all, a society has to have a certain order, or else everything falls into chaos.  For random people to assume certain authority to themselves, apart from any legal basis is to assure that society will break down.  That’s the reason our country has a constitution that lays out the very specific roles each branch of government has, and what each branch is allowed to do & forbidden from doing. 

It’s the question of authority that is view at the end of Mark 11.  Jesus had cursed the fig tree, and apparently He had the authority to do it, because it withered.  Jesus had cleansed the temple, but the Jewish leadership wasn’t ready to recognize Jesus’ authority, even though it ought to have been self-evident.

How do we respond to the authority of Christ?  Do we recognize Jesus’ authority for what it is, having faith in Him?  If so, this ought to change the way we pray – and it ought to affect the way we obey.  We pray with faith, not because we have authority, but because Jesus does.  We humbly obey what Jesus has said in His word, because He is God & we’re not.

Mark 11:20–33

  • The discovery of the tree

20 Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.”

  • The first thing we notice here is the timeframe: “in the morning.”  This is now Tuesday, the third day of the week leading up to Passover, and Jesus’ crucifixion.  Jesus had arrived at Jerusalem on Sunday to great exuberance among the people, as they proclaimed Him to be the Messiah, and they seemed to expect the immediate overthrow of the Romans and the introduction of the Kingdom of Israel.  Instead, what happened is that Jesus went into the temple, inspected the corruption there, and left the city quietly.  No doubt, the seeds for the crowd’s disappointment in Jesus & their quick turning on Him were set that very day.  On the next day, Jesus set out for the city again, saw a particular fig tree that had an appearance of having fruit (during a time in which it should not have had any), and when He found that it was barren, He cursed it in full view & hearing of His disciples.  Although it’s doubtful that His disciples realized it at the time, Jesus’ condemnation of the fig tree was symbolic of His condemnation of Israel.  The nation had appeared to be fruitful, but it wasn’t – it had been false and hypocritical in its supposed faith, and God wants nothing to do with fruitless faith.  Jesus continued into the city, went straight to the temple, and proceeded to confront some of this fruitlessness firsthand.  The temple courtyard had been degraded to something little more than a flea market, and the rightful King of Israel would exercise His right to reformation.  He drove out the money changers & those who put stumbling blocks in the way of people who would worship God (both Jews and Gentiles), and left the city quietly for a 2nd time.  Apparently, Jesus went back to the same home in which He had been staying in Bethany (likely the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha), and now started back into the city for the third time in three days.
    • Every time Jesus entered the city, He entered with purpose.  He had a plan in motion, and He was following it through to the letter.
    • Everything Jesus does is with purpose.  That was true regarding His earthly ministry, and that’s true regarding the way He works with us individually, as well.  There is nothing that Jesus does in your life that Jesus does randomly.  He has a purpose for all things.  He sees the end from the beginning, and He knows exactly what He wants to accomplish.
  • Jesus and the disciples obviously took the same route from Bethany back to Jerusalem again, because they come across the same tree that they had previously encountered.  (Perhaps just outside of Bethphage, “house of unripe/young figs”.)  Seeing the tree that Jesus had cursed, the disciples (specifically Peter) were amazed.  The fig tree had “withered” – it was so far gone that it had actually “dried up from the roots.”  The previous day, it was in leaf & had the appearance of being so healthy that it might actually bear fruit (which it did not).  Now, the tree was just as barren in appearance as it had been in reality.  The words of Jesus had an immediate and far-reaching effect upon the tree.  It wasn’t just limp, or somewhat wilted; it was completely dead and dry.  Even if the tree had been uprooted from the ground, it would have taken many days for the wood to dry out naturally.  Yet this tree had the appearance of being long-dead, even though it had only been cursed barely 24 hours earlier.
    • There is power in the word of God!
  • The response of the disciples?  Amazement.  Peter could hardly believe his eyes.  He called his Teacher over to show Jesus the things he saw.  (Which is somewhat cute…it’s not as if Jesus didn’t know.  Yet, we do the same thing in prayer, don’t we? J)
    • Question: was it right for Peter to be amazed?  Yes!  Granted, there was no reason that Peter needed to be surprised.  Of course a tree would wither if it was cursed by the Son of God.  The surprising thing would have been finding the tree the next day looking absolutely the same as the day before.  Yet the work of the word of God ought to always amaze us.  We ought never lose the wonder and awe that comes when we see God work.
  • The side-lesson of the tree: effectual prayer

22 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God.

  • The main point of cursing the fig tree was to demonstrate God’s condemnation of the nation of Israel.  The Jews had appeared to be fruitful worshippers, but they were so lost in their corruption and had departed so far from the true worship of God that they rejected the Son of God as their Messiah & true King when He was standing right in front of them.  They had been given God’s word & promise, and yet when given the opportunity to receive the Son of God, they turned away.  They didn’t want Jesus as their King, and thus the King of the Jews would be given to the Gentiles over the next age as the Church became the true people of God.
  • That all said, there were still other applications to be learned from the event with the fig tree.  Peter (and likely all of the disciples) were amazed at the rapid withering of the tree in response to Jesus’ word, and Jesus needed His disciples to know that what happened did not necessarily have to be unique to Him.  He had spoken of faith and prayer in the past, and now the disciples could see it at work with their own eyes.  So for a brief time, Jesus uses the fig tree as a teachable moment for something a little different – though still related.  After all, Jesus had the authority to curse the fig tree – and we as His disciples have access to that same authority when we come before the Heavenly Father in prayer.
  • Before Jesus gets too far with His teaching, He gives them the most important part: “Have faith in God.”  This is the key to everything else that follows.  Often, when people read about mountains being moved & cast into the sea, the teaching immediately becomes one of the power of faith.  For example, “If you just believe hard enough – if you have enough faith – if you believe hard enough & banish doubt from your heart…then you will see mountains move when you say the word.  Just say ‘Move’ & that mountain will move, because you believe!”  All of that sounds nice, but the problem is that it has nothing to do with what Jesus was actually teaching.  The entire focus there is upon “us” and “our” faith.  That kind of “faith” is faith in the individual, or faith in faith itself.  That may be common teaching, but that is not Biblical teaching.  Jesus specifically sets the focus where it ought to be with His opening statement: “Have faith in God.”  We ARE to have faith.  Faith most definitely matters.  But WHAT/WHO we have faith in is absolutely crucial.  And Jesus says that we are to have faith in GOD.
    • Question: which God?  The word in Greek is the generic word for “God,” though it is the same word that Jesus always used when speaking of the true God.  But can we just each have our own ideas of “God” and have a general faith in whatever god we choose?  Of course not.  That doesn’t even make logical sense.  If you want to learn how to make BBQ brisket, you can’t decide to randomly pick up any kind of meat from the meat counter, throw it in the smoker & have brisket pop out.  You can’t decide to use chicken or pork – you can’t even decide to choose any random cut of beef.  If you want BBQ brisket, you’ve got to choose the true cut of brisket…period.  On an infinitely more important scale, the same principle applies with God.  If you want to see prayer answered, you can’t decide to choose for yourself which version of god in which to place your faith.  You can’t make up the god for yourself, or even choose from a list of religions & claim that they are all the same.  No, you’ve got to choose the right God – the real God.  Real faith in the real God is what will make all the difference in the world.
  • Notice that this is a command from Jesus.  When He says “have faith in God,” Jesus is speaking in the imperative – He is telling the disciples something that they must DO.  Faith in Christ Jesus for salvation is of course a gift (Eph 2:8-9), and faith for the miraculous can often be a supernatural spiritual gift (1 Cor 12:9) – but faith in all circumstances is also a choice.  Faith is made available to an individual by God, but it is the individual who chooses to use that faith & walk by faith.
    • Are you choosing to walk by faith?  Are you choosing to believe God for what He has promised?
  • What does God-centered, faith-filled prayer look like?  It looks like mountains being moved.  See vs. 23…

23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

  • So is Jesus really talking about literal mountains being moved?  Not likely.  The analogy of mountains being as obstacles was apparently common among rabbis of the day.  Jesus certainly was not telling His disciples to give it a go at the time & command the Mount of Olives to literally jump up and be thrown into the Dead Sea.  Jesus is using extreme language to make a point (hyperbole).  That said, when speaking of the power of God (which all of this is couched in), there is nothing beyond the realm of possibility.  No doubt the Red Sea would have appeared to have been as great an obstacle as the Mount of Olives.  Any Hebrew looking out on the Red Sea on one side & the rapidly approaching Egyptian army on the other would have thought himself to be in an impossible situation.  “Tell the sea to part?  You’ve got to be kidding – that’s impossible!”  Moses knew better.  Moses knew that anything was possible with God.  If God willed that the sea would part at the command of Moses, then that sea would most definitely part.  All Moses needed to do was to have faith in the will and word of God.  And that is exactly what happened.  Exodus 14:16, "(16) But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea." Exodus 14:21–22, "(21) Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. (22) So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left." []  God spoke – Moses believed – Moses acted upon his belief – the impossible became possible.
  • That’s the same pattern that Jesus teaches to His disciples.  Again, with the first principle that the disciples were to have faith in God, at that point they could pray – believe – and then act as if the result is already accomplished, because the impossible has become possible.  The disciples couldn’t decide on their own to randomly walk up to the mountain & tell it to go jump in a lake; they first had to have faith in God.  If they truly had faith in the real God as God, then they would not be asserting their own will over the will of God.  They would be asking for the will of God to be done (just as Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…).  As they submit themselves to God’s will, then they could pray in believing faith that God’s will would most certainly be accomplished.  And if Almighty God wanted the Mount of Olives to jump, it’s going to jump! 
  • How then does that apply to us?  In the same way.  We are (1) to have faith in God as God, (2) believe what God has said and revealed about His will, (3) pray in accordance with the revealed word of God, (4) act in accordance to that belief as if it has already been done.  Notice in vs. 24 about receiving, that Jesus does not use the future tense.  NKJV, “believe that you receive them…”  NASB, “believe that you have received them…”  Some manuscripts use the present tense; others use the imperfect (past) tense.  Either way, the faith that Jesus teaches us to have is a faith that believes that God is already working. He’s either doing it, or has already done it – but it is assured, no matter what.  THAT’s the kind of faith that pleases God.  That’s the kind of faith that is does like Moses & stretches out our hand, already confident of what the end result will be, before it ever happens.  That’s the kind of faith that has complete trust in the authority of God & not in man.  If we were trusting in our faith, then there is no way we could know that the work was being done – it would always be a “wait & see,” no matter how much faith we thought we had.  The proof would always be in the pudding (so to speak).  Yet when our faith is in God & His word, then we don’t need to doubt in the slightest.  God said it, and that’s enough…the work is already done.
    • Think of it in terms of salvation.  The greatest miracle anyone could ever experience is that of receiving forgiveness and eternal life by the grace of God.  (It’s the greatest miracle, and it’s also a miracle available to anyone & everyone in the entire world!)  How do we receive it?  (1) We have faith in God.  We trust that if God wants to forgive, He has the power and authority to forgive whomever He chooses – even people like us.  (2) We believe what God has said in the Bible, and what He has revealed about Jesus Christ.  We believe God at His word that Jesus is His Son who died for us at the cross & rose again from the grave.  (3) We pray for forgiveness, in accordance with God’s word.  We do not pray for forgiveness based off of any thought in ourselves, but only upon what God Himself has revealed.  (4) We act in accordance with that belief, because the work has been done.  The result is assured.  We need not doubt our salvation at that point, because God has said it & what God has said is enough.  Romans 10:9–10, "(9) that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (10) For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." []  What is that promise, if not the instruction of Jesus in action?  There is no greater mountain to be moved than that of death, and yet by true faith in the true God, we can have the absolute assurance of our salvation!
  • Objection: “That’s great in regards to salvation & eternity – but what about the more practical needs of today?  What about the times I’ve prayed in faith for healing, but the healing has never come?  What about the times I’ve trusted God for a job, but the job never materialized?  Or my loved one still died – or I still experienced suffering, etc.?  What about all those times I truly believed, and thought I was believing the revealed promises of God & I still never saw my prayers answered?”  Those are real questions – those are honest issues.  Many people have gotten angry with God because they prayed for something that they truly believed God would give, but they were disappointed when God didn’t give it.  Sometimes they’ve asked for really good things – even noble things – but they still were disappointed.  What about them?  Did Jesus lie?  Did He over-generalize?  No.  As much as it sometimes hurts us to realize, sometimes what WE want is not what GOD wants.  Remember the key to all of this back in vs. 22: “Have faith in God.”  We have to trust that God knows what is best.  Remember that the Bible never promises that a Christian will be free from suffering – in fact, it promises us the opposite.  Jesus specifically told us that we would have tribulation in this world, and the NT promises the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ.  The Bible never promises that we would be free from sickness, pain, or even prison.  The Bible never promises that every loved one will come to faith in Christ, nor that any of us will be able to escape death.  We cannot hold God accountable for a promise that He never made.  When we pray, we pray in faith – but we pray with the faith that what GOD has said, GOD will do.  Sometimes God delivers us out from our trials; sometimes God delivers us through the midst of them.  We can always trust God to act, but we have to trust that God will act according to HIS perfect will; not our own.

25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.

  • Not only is faith essential to answered prayer; so is forgiveness.  Someone cannot expect a God in which they do not believe to answer their prayer; they need to first have faith in God, thereby submitting themselves to His will.  Likewise, someone cannot expect God to answer their prayer if they are actively disobedient to God – and an unwillingness to forgive is nothing less than disobedience.  In the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus taught of a man who had been forgiven by his king for an unfathomable amount, yet when this same man had the opportunity to forgive someone else, he refused.  Instead, he demanded that the other person be thrown into prison and forced to pay his debt.  How did the king respond?  Matthew 18:32–34, "(32) Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. (33) Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ (34) And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him." [] Had the servant been previously commanded to forgive those who owed him debts?  Not anywhere that is shown in the parable.  Yet it is plain that the king believed that the servant’s refusal to forgive was outright wickedness, fully deserving of the harshest punishment.  It’s interesting that if you do a search of the OT, you won’t find a specific command in the law stating, “Thou must forgiveth thy neighbor,” but there’s no doubt how God views unforgiveness: as sin.  We ARE commanded to love our neighbor, and forgiveness is simply a part of love.  To nurse grudges is to act unlovingly towards one another, and thus is sin.  And simply put, those in ongoing sin have no reasonable expectation for God to hear or act according to their prayers.
  • So what to do about it?  Forgive!  As soon as you realize you harbor unforgiveness in your heart, then extend forgiveness.  As soon as you realize that someone owes you a moral debt, then release them of it.  The whole idea for this word translated “forgive” is “to release – to let go.”  Whatever we’re holding on to – be it an insult that the person has hurled at us, or some other offense that they’ve caused us – let it go and be rid of it.  The other person doesn’t even need to be present.  More than likely, they’ve already forgotten about the incident anyway.  The only person we’re hurting with our grudge is ourselves.  The best thing for us to do is release our hurt to the Lord, allowing Him to bring the healing to our hearts that only He can bring.
  • When do we do it?  Immediately!  “Whenever you stand praying…”  The emphasis here is not the posture someone takes in prayer, whether they stand, sit, or kneel; it’s the time that it happens.  Whenever it is that we go to God in prayer, and we’re worshipping Him or asking a request of Him (or whatever) – if at that point, something pops into our mind that shows that we have not forgiven someone else, the time to address it is immediately.  We’re not to finish making our prayer request, asking for blessing or provision or whatever; we’re to forgive that person who has wronged us. (And if we’re having trouble doing that, then we can always ask the Lord for help.  That’s the one thing He WANTS us to do at that moment!)
    • BTW – the corollary to this is true as well.  If we’ve come before the Lord in worship & prayer, and at that time we realize that WE are the ones who have hurt someone else & that we are the ones in need of forgiveness, then we’re told to drop what we’re doing and go be reconciled to our brother. (Mt 5:23-24)  Whether or not they forgive us is between them and the Lord, but we need to ensure we have done all that we can do to live in peace with one another.
  • Why is this so important?  Apparently the forgiveness we experience from God is linked to our forgiveness of one another.  Jesus clearly puts a condition of some kind on the forgiveness we might receive from God the Father, based on the forgiveness we have extended to others.  If vs. 25 wasn’t enough, Jesus expands the thought in vs. 26…

26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

  • Depending on your Bible translation, this verse might be in brackets, or it might not be included in your Bible at all.  The majority of NT manuscripts do include this verse, though the oldest manuscripts do not.  That said, there is no doubt that Jesus did utter these words.  After teaching the model prayer, Jesus explained the importance of forgiving one another’s debts… Matthew 6:14–15, "(14) “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (15) But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." []  Even if Mark 11:26 is questionable, Matthew 6:15 is not.  At some point when speaking about forgiveness, Jesus taught the possibility of our forgiveness being withheld from God when we withhold forgiveness of others.
  • This is a tough teaching, to be sure!  After all, the Bible is absolutely clear that we are saved by grace through faith & not of works (Eph 2:8-9), and that we can only be justified through faith, apart from works (Rom 5:1).  The Bible says that the only “work” that we do is to believe upon the Son, whom God has sent (Jn 6:29), and many other like-minded things.  Yet here, Jesus would seem to teach that forgiveness is a “work” that must be done in order for us to be forgiven. It would seem that Jesus is saying that our forgiveness hinges on the forgiveness that we’ve first extended towards others…that until we forgive others, we will never experience the forgiveness of God the Father.  No doubt, there is indeed a condition on our forgiveness from God…a condition that we might not always be too comfortable with.  But we dare not ignore the words of Jesus, or try to explain them away too quickly.  He gives a stern warning here, for good reason: unforgiveness on the part of a believer is sin.  We ourselves have been forgiveness infinitely much; we have absolutely no right to withhold forgiveness from someone else – no matter how bad they may have sinned against us.
    • Yet is Jesus saying that we are not saved unless we forgive others?  That we cannot be truly born-again until we first forgive one another?  Worse yet – is Jesus saying that our salvation is in question if we discover that we’ve been harboring unforgiveness towards someone else?  No.  Thankfully, a thousand times no!  Our salvation is never predicated upon our works – and no question that forgiveness is sometimes difficult work.  Although we sometimes use the terms interchangeably, “forgiveness” and “salvation” are not the same thing.  We receive the forgiveness of God the moment that we are saved, but saved people can still sin.  Born-again Christians – saved people – the saints of God sin every single day.  Does a Christian lose his/her salvation when he/she holds a grudge?  No.  But can that Christian’s relationship with God be hampered by holding a grudge?  Yes.  Our lack of forgiveness of others can get in the way of our own relationship with the Lord.  We can ask for forgiveness for our own ongoing sin, and never receive the cleansing of our conscience that we desire as long as we’re holding tightly onto the sins of someone else against us.  That grudge becomes a stumbling block between us and God, and it absolutely must be dealt with.
  • That was all the side-lesson…a teachable moment Jesus had with the disciples due to what happened with the fig tree.  Jesus as the Son of God had the authority to speak as God and see immediate results.  But Jesus as the perfect Man also gives us the example of how to pray in faith, based upon the authority of God – and that is what He taught to the disciples.
  • The real lesson of the tree: Jesus’ heavenly authority.

27 Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. 28 And they said to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?”

  • Three days – three times coming to Jerusalem – three times entering the temple.  At this point, there ought to be no doubt that part of Jesus’ purpose in coming was to address the Jews’ false doctrines of God and their false worship of God.  Jesus had come on the first day to inspect the corruption in the temple.  He came on the second day to cleanse the corruption.  He comes back the third day to inspect the results – to ensure that what He had done the previous day remained.  Jesus’ simple presence in the temple emphasizes His authority there.  Those who may have been tempted to set up shop again would have seen Jesus roaming around & they would have thought twice about doing so.
  • This time, Jesus wasn’t the only authority figure walking in the temple; the Sanhedrin council was present as well & they approached Jesus.  “The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders” would have all had official responsibilities in the temple, though the King of Israel outranked them all.  The King had the right to bring reform to the temple, but the problem was that the Jewish leadership did not recognize Jesus as the king.  They thought He was assuming authority that He did not have.  So they approach Jesus (He did not approach them), and basically ask Him who the blazes He thought He was.  Technically, they ask two questions:
    • Jesus’ kind of authority: “By what authority are You doing these things?”  They wanted to know what His legal basis was to cleanse the temple.  They were the ones who had the authority to say what could & could not take place within the temple grounds; what gave Jesus the right to come in and do their job?  A vigilante might be acting against criminals, but he has no legal authority to do so & is breaking the law himself.  That’s basically the accusation against Jesus.
    • Jesus’ source of authority: “Who gave You this authority to do these things?”  If Jesus did indeed have a valid authority to supersede the priests and cleanse the temple, then they wanted to know where this authority came from.  After all, no one had sent them a memo informing them of a change in their job structure.  Even if they viewed Jesus as a prophet, few prophets did anything in the temple – and the ones who did came from priestly lines themselves.  Jesus was not a Levite, and He certainly was not a priest of the line of Levi & Aaron – who told Jesus He could do these things?
    • These might seem to be valid questions, but they all skirt the real issue: Jesus was right in what He did.  The priests, scribes, and elders had all sinned by allowing the corruption to come into the temple – and they had especially sinned by endorsing it for so long.  What they’re trying to do here is shift the blame.  They had been exposed as crooks, but if they could show that Jesus was somehow out-of-line, then that would throw His whole reputation into question.  The Jewish leadership could not afford to have the people listening to Jesus’ teachings against them, and this was part of their attempt to change the subject.

29 But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: 30 The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me.”

  • Jesus answered their question with a question of His own.  He easily understood what the Sanhedrin was attempting to do, and He wasn’t going to let them do it.  The issue was one of Jesus’ self-evident authority as the Messiah.  The King of Israel had the right to cleanse the temple, because this King of Israel is the Son of God.  His authority came directly from heaven, because He had been sent by God.  The Messiah did not answer to the priests, scribes, and elders; they were the ones who needed to answer to Him!
    • Too often, people get this wrong.  In our sin, we want God to answer to us.  We want God to give us His reasoning why He does certain things, and if we don’t approve of what God has done, then we think we have the right to declare that God was wrong or unjust.  The battle-cry of the modern atheist is to assert that the God of the Bible is evil, and thus the world is only right to reject Him.  That is the same logical error of the Sanhedrin.  God is not on trial before us, with mankind as the judge over Him.  We have no authority over Almighty God; He has all authority over us.  God is God & we’re not.
    • Even with that in mind, we cannot accuse God of evil.  His goodness is like His authority: self-evident.  Nothing would even exist, apart from the goodness of God.  We would have no ability to reject God if God was not truly good.  The heavens declare His glory – the Bible reveals His character – and Jesus proves the truth of it all through His death and resurrection.  We have every reason to accept the authority of God, and it’s something we must do if we are to recognize God as God.
  • How does Jesus redirect them back to the issue at hand?  He gives them a question about John the Baptist.  Remember that John was the forerunner of Jesus, and that John openly proclaimed that he was preparing the way for the coming Messiah.  John knew that Jesus is the Messiah, and at the very least had proclaimed it to his own disciples, if not the entire people.  The Jewish leadership had easily recognized the authority of John’s ministry (his “baptism”) – they had even sent people to him asking John if he himself was the Messiah (Jn 1:19).  So Jesus gives the Jewish leadership a dilemma: where was the source of John’s authority?  Was it given by God, or had it been given to him by men?

31 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘From men’ ”—they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed.

  • The very fact that they had to huddle up for a time-out is a bad sign.  They knew they couldn’t answer the question honestly, so they had to take time to come up with some sort of response.  Jesus had them trapped.  The priests, scribes, and elders did not like the message of John.  John had preached the need for repentance, both among the Jews and the Gentiles who came out to him.  He called the Jews a brood of vipers, and told them that they could not count on heaven simply by being born of Abraham, because God could raise up children of Abraham from the rocks (Lk 3:7-9).  Obviously the Jewish leadership never took John’s message to heart because they never repented.  The corruption that Jesus cleansed from the temple on the previous day was ample proof of that! 
  • At the same time, the priests knew they couldn’t try to discredit John by saying he received his authority from men.  It would imply that John either assumed his own authority, or that some other person with real authority gave it to him – which none had.  John had appeared on his own out in the wilderness, and there was no governing Jewish authority over him.  Yet for the priests to take this position was to risk the wrath of the people.  They had easily recognized John for the prophet of God he was, and they risked losing their own authority among the people if they came out against John’s authority.
  • In all of their dickering back & forth, the Sanhedrin demonstrates that they feared men more than they feared God.  All they cared about was their political power, and they would take whatever position they needed to take in order to hang on to it.

33 So they answered and said to Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

  • They refused to answer Jesus, and Jesus refused to answer them.  Technically, Jesus had already given them an indirect answer when He asked the question about John.  As the forerunner of the Messiah, John’s authority originated the same place as Jesus’ authority: heaven.  Jesus’ authority was self-evident from His works, miracles, and teachings.  There ought to have been no doubt who Jesus was; the only reason for the question from the priests was because Jesus had acted against them.  Still, Jesus refused to directly answer their question – and He never had to.  The Messiah did not answer to them; they were supposed to answer to the Messiah.  They were rebelling against their rightful King, and thus they were rebelling against God Himself – something that Jesus is going to point out to them in the parable of the wicked vinedressers (Mk 12).

Conclusion:
Jesus had the authority to cleanse the temple, because He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  He had every right to come in and purify what ought to have been a place of worship, and the leadership had no right to reject Him – although that is exactly what they chose to do.  And here is the amazing thing: the same power and authority that Jesus exercised in the temple is the power and authority that every single believer in Christ has access to in prayer.  When we go to God in prayer through Christ, we do not come on our own; we come through Jesus.  Our prayers are not answered because we have authority, but because Jesus has it…and that is more than enough!  He is God, and we have faith in Him.

When we pray, we pray with faith & we pray with forgiveness.  We pray believing that God is God, and that God is always good to His word.  What God has said, God will do – and that is something that we can trust before we ever see the result.  We act based upon His word because His word is enough.

We also pray with clean hearts, having forgiven those who have sinned against us.  If we have faith in Jesus as Lord, then we have been forgiven much & we have no right to withhold forgiveness from others.  Grudge-filled prayers are not heard by God.  Release the person from their debt, and then pray with faith, knowing that God will take care of all things according to His will.

It’s all about trusting the God who has all authority.  Jesus has the right to cleanse the Jewish temple (and the temple of our hearts), and He has the right to answer prayer.  Do we trust Him to do it according to His will & power?

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