Was Jesus Confused About His Authority?
“Why does God not do miracles today?” was the question posed to me by one of my fellow college students. He was skeptical of Christianity and of the authority of the Bible because Jesus came and did miracles long before scientist in white, lab coats holding smartphones could analyses the data. He doubted that Jesus was God because Jesus came before his authority and power could be tested by our modern scientific minds. And his problem was made even more acute by the fact that he disagreed with the Bible’s sexual ethic. In short, he wanted to know why in the world an ancient Guru had the right to condemn him as a sinner. He wanted Jesus to prove his authority and his divinity.
He is not alone. In Mark 11:27-33, the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees (the three main political and religious parties of Jesus’ day) approach Jesus and ask directly ask him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” (vs28b). They are referring back to Jesus’ cleansing of the temple which included the violent turning over of tables and stoppage of commercial traffic (Mark 11:15-19). They wanted to know why Jesus thought he had the right to condemn the Chief Priests, the Scribes, and the Pharisees’ religious practices. To put there question in the common vernacular, “Who does Jesus thinks he is?”
Instead of directly answering their question, Jesus asks the Jewish leaders a question.
“I will ask you one question: answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism from John from heaven or from man” (vs.29b-30)?
When Jesus pivots the question with his own question, he is not being cute or evasive. He is rather follow a standard rabbinic teaching method of answering questions through asking your own question that would have the same answer as they questioned posed to you.
Jesus knows the answer. He knows that he does what he does by the authority of the Father. In John 6:38 Jesus clearly states, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Jesus is the son of God. He is fully God and is doing the will of God the father. He clearly knows the authority by which he does what he does. And he has told the crowds as much before. Undoubtedly the Jewish leaders know his claims. They are trying to trip Jesus up. They want him to claim that he is the God, that he cleansed the temple by the power of God. If Jesus identifies his actions with God, then the Jewish leaders can accuse Jesus of heresy and convince the crowds that Jesus must die for his sin of claiming to be God.
Jesus knows the scheme of the Jewish leaders. And instead of answering their question, he asks them a question that will undoubtedly force the Jewish Leaders to proclaim the answer that Jesus would give. He is forcing them to proclaim that Jesus is God: “Jesus does these things by the power of God the Father.”
The Jewish leaders our trapped. They do not want to confess Jesus to be God. But they also fear that they may lose all hope of swaying the people against Jesus as John the Baptist was popular with the masses.
The text says,
“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 was really a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”
Jesus has put the men between and rock and a hard place. They must decide if they will believe John, the Scriptures and worship Christ or if they will continue to reject Jesus.
The Jewish leaders did not want to confess Jesus as Lord so they refused to recognize that words of John the Baptist. They ignored the words of heaven because they hated Jesus.
My friend and countless of other men and women refuse to believe the Word of God because they refuse to submit to Jesus. Their questions do not proceed from a lack of knowledge. The Pharisees, the scribes, and Chief Priest knew who Jesus was. They knew he had raised Lazarus from the dead, cast out demons, healed the sick, and commanded the wind and the waves. They knew who Jesus was and they hated him. They hated him because he exposed their sin. The light hates darkness. And the Jewish leaders hated Jesus because he was light exposing their dark deeds. He was the son of God calling moral and self-righteous people to faith. The Jewish leaders hated Jesus.
They refused to admit that John was from God because John ultimately pointed to Jesus. To believe John would be to believe that Jesus is the Lord of the universe, the Messiah who is worthy of worship. The Jewish could not do this. So the proclaimed ignorance. The proclaimed that they did not know by what power John did things. Today men and women reject the Bible, the gospel because it points to Jesus.
We must not hate the messengers and the message of God because they point to Jesus. When people reject the authority and the message of the prophets of God, they are rejecting God. They are rejecting both the messenger and the content of the message. They demand more miracles because they hate Jesus. No miracle would convince them. They are desperate to deny the Word of God because they have already denied the Son of God. They reject God’s power and his Word because they want to be their own God.
And sadly when we run away from God, we do not find peace and joy. After rejecting God, the Jewish leaders next concern is the people around them. They are consumed with public opinion. And actually deny their true identity to keep the masses happy. “They were afraid of the people.” If we are not beholden to God, we will be driven by others. We will seek to please other human beings and find our measure in the masses. And instead of finding peace, we find confusions and lies. When we deny God, we do not gain personal autonomy. We gain the fear of man. Instead seeking God’s favor, we seek the favor of our parents, neighbors, professors and friends. We crave their approval of our investment strategy; we long for them to notice our new dress; we want them to praise us for earning the next degree. We embrace a form of slavery where every thought is second guessed and reevaluated by every stray facial expression and loose word we encounter. This is not life; it is slavery. Embrace Jesus as Lord; he alone is worry of worship.
When we counter such hostility to our God and his Word, we must not retreat because Jesus is worth proclaiming. Though not popular, Jesus is God and we should proclaim him to be God. We should proclaim his power. He has the right to legislate our morality because he created the world. He is the God of the universe. He reigns. He performed miracles that hundreds and thousands of people saw.
Jesus answers the Jewish leader’s question with their own answer. They refuse to comment on John’s authority and so Jewish refuses to respond to their question. He is responding in kind. Jesus knows why he does what he does. He obeys the will of the Father. The Jewish leaders knew it too.
Knowledge was not lacking. Faith was lacking. While I readily admit Christendom benefits from a robust apologetics, I also believe apologetics will save no man, woman, or child. People do not believe because they lack scientific facts. They fail to believe because they do not love God. The hate the Bible and stumble over facts because they have rejected God. They do not reject God because they stumble over the facts. A lack of faith keeps people from recognizing and admitting that Jesus has divine authority. Only Christ can provide true saving faith. Only Jesus can turn our hearts from hatred to love. And he does.
Do you recognize Jesus’ authority?