The Unanswered Challenge: Mark 11:27-33

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As Mark continues to describe the events during the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, we discover another place where the religious leaders decide to challenge Jesus. However, unlike most other times the religious leaders bring a challenge Jesus’ way, this one ends in a way that these leaders did not expect.

Let’s read about what happened, and then take a few minutes to discover what we can learn from it.

Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 11, and we will read from the Contemporary English Version. Starting in verse 27, Mark tells us that:

27 Jesus and his disciples returned to Jerusalem. And as he was walking through the temple, the chief priests, the nation’s leaders, and the teachers of the Law of Moses came over to him. 28 They asked, “What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you this authority?”

Let’s pause reading here. Mark has framed this event as happening the day after Jesus clears the temple. In the immediate context of the timeline in Mark, this implies that the religious leaders’ challenge is directed primarily at Jesus’ clearing the temple courtyard.

However, in a broader context, Jesus has spent years teaching, healing, and preaching all around the region. Another angle for this question and challenge relates to Jesus’ broad ministry and who gave Him the authority to leave the life of a carpenter behind and step into the public eye like He did.

A third angle for this question relates to Jesus assembling 12 disciples. This was very abnormal in the first century. While discipleship was normal, most religious leaders who called disciples to follow them only called one or maybe two followers. Then Jesus comes along and He calls 12 of the least qualified people from the religious leaders’ perspective.

The original language might have hints at which of these angles the challenge being brought to Jesus is aimed at, but when looking at what happens and with the answer we know, the answer is the same regardless of the angle we understand the question.

Let’s continue reading and discover how Jesus responded. Continuing in verse 29, after He was asked the question:

29 Jesus answered, “I have just one question to ask you. If you answer it, I will tell you where I got the right to do these things. 30 Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?”

31 They thought it over and said to each other, “We can’t say that God gave John this right. Jesus will ask us why we didn’t believe John. 32 On the other hand, these people think that John was a prophet. So we can’t say that it was merely some human who gave John the right to baptize.”

They were afraid of the crowd 33 and told Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus replied, “Then I won’t tell you who gave me the right to do what I do.”

While I don’t know if these religious leaders talked loudly among themselves so that those present could hear them deliberate between the options, or if one of those in the group shared what was said with the gospel writers at a later date, it is interesting that Jesus gives basically the exact same challenge to back to the religious leaders. In Jesus’ counter question, we find the exact same dilemma being given back to the religious leaders that they gave to Jesus.

This question is a subtle trap because if Jesus answered that God gave Him the authority, they would then demand some type of proof, which would be subjective at best, and it would indicate that these religious leaders discounted or outright ignored all the signs around them already.

Instead, we see in Jesus’ counter question the perfect opportunity out of this challenge. The religious leaders’ fear of the crowd stops them from answering one way, and their fear of being judged by Jesus stops them from answering the other way. While I’m sure the religious leaders’ were not happy giving Jesus a “We don’t know” response, it is the only response that allows them to maintain their dignity in the face of the counter-challenge Jesus gave them.

Jesus could have responded to their challenge by simply saying that he had the same source of authority that John did, but while that would also sidestep the direct challenge while also being accurate, it would have allowed for an intentional misunderstanding and it would subtly misrepresent God. If someone in the crowd didn’t believe John was a prophet, then they would also be justified in believing Jesus wasn’t from God if Jesus had given this response.

From looking at this passage, the religious leaders have a greater fear that the crowd believed John had God’s authority, more than there being actual evidence the crowd actually believed this way. The religious leaders are scared to say the opposite because of something they suspected about the crowd, while nothing in the passage itself would suggest that the crowd present was as heavily weighted towards John being a prophet as they feared.

From Jesus’ perspective, the best way out of the religious leaders’ challenge is prompting the question itself to be withdrawn, and the way to do that is by asking a counter question that cannot be easily answered.

From this event, we discover that Jesus most likely had God as His source of authority. We can confirm this theory by simply looking at all the healing Jesus did, and all the miracles Jesus did over the previous years of His ministry. Without God’s approval and support, Jesus could have done nothing.

It is the same in our own lives. If we don’t have God’s approval or support, anything we try to do or build will simply not last. We might be really good at what we do and with what we build, but if God is not behind it, eternity will come and what we built will be left in the past as a distant memory.

This means that the best plan for moving forward is stepping into God’s will and into His plan for our lives. When we are working alongside God and doing what He wants us to do, then what we build and grow will last for eternity. When our focus is on pointing people to Jesus, then we are doing exactly what the Holy Spirit wants to do and we shouldn’t be surprised if the Holy Spirit enters our lives to help us achieve His goal!

Jesus’ entire ministry gave God the glory and it demonstrated God’s never-ending love for sinners. God loves you and me more than we can imagine, and Jesus came to take the punishment we deserve for breaking God’s law so we can be given the reward He deserved for living a sinless life. This is the gospel message and it is great news for everyone who decides to align their lives with God!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to align your plans and your will to His. Choose to lean on Jesus for everything you need in life and place your faith, your hope, your trust, and your belief in Him and His sacrifice on your behalf. Because of Jesus, we are assured of a new life with God that awaits us when He returns to bring us home to heaven!

While we are waiting for His return, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to purposefully grow closer to Him each day. Through personal prayer and study, we open our hearts to God and we let Him into our lives. When God is in our lives, He will lead and guide us along the path He created us to walk.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Mark – Episode 31: When some religious leaders challenge Jesus over where He gets His authority, discover in how Jesus responds a powerful truth about life and about where the hearts of these religious leaders were placed.

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