Alfred Place Baptist Church

11:27-33 By What Authority?

Mark 11:27-33. “They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. ‘And who gave you authority to do this?’ Jesus replied, ‘I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!’ They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will ask, “Then why didn’t you believe him?” But if we say, “From men . . .”‘ (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet). So they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’ Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things'”

The man behind the desk asked for our passports and boarding cards. He wouldn’t allow us to go any further until he’d examined them. We obeyed him; we had no choice in the matter. The next man asked us to put our belongings onto a conveyer belt so they could be X-rayed, and my money was put into a plastic dish. We submitted to that too. Then we were told to walk through metal detectors. We did as we were told. We were frisked by another man and woman; “Raise your arms from your sides;” we submitted to it. Another person took away my wife’s little sewing scissors. We bade it farewell with annoyance and frustration. All those people directing us had authority to act in that way, though they wore the slightest of uniforms – short sleeved shirts and blouses. They wore little name badges and identification tags, but we were well aware that all the power of the law lay behind their instructions. To argue with them and refuse to obey would have been foolhardy. They were people of authority. When my wife and I stood before them we were people ‘under orders.’

Almost sixty years ago Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was invited to go to Ontario, Canada to address the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. He spoke to them three times on the subject of ‘authority.’ He said these words to his audience by way of introduction, “If I understand the modern religious situation at all this whole question of authority is one of the most important problems confronting us. As such it demands our careful study. There is no doubt that things are as they are in the Christian Church throughout the world today because we have lost our authority. We are faced by the fact that the masses of the people are outside the Church. They are there, I suggest, because the Church has in one way or another lost its authority. As a result, the people have ceased to listen or to pay any attention to its message. A great search for what has been lost characterizes many of the Church’s activities at this time. I believe that this fact is true of all sections of the Church, including the evangelical section which . . . in common with others has been trying to produce a spurious, artificial substitute” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Authority,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, p.7). This section of Scripture before us is about authority. Let us begin here:

1. IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST WE MEET A MAN WITH AUTHORITY.

We have reached the final week in the life of our Lord and he has shown his authority over the sacred institution of the Jerusalem temple by going there and closing it down, driving out those who bought and sold the animals, overturning the tables of the moneychangers and prohibiting men bringing in fresh supplies of wood and water and clothes. While he is there things grind to a halt. What a display of the authority of Christ just a few days before Golgotha, but this has characterised his entire public ministry.

Modern Christology insists that we must start any examination of Christ ‘from below’ with the gentle Jesus, who is meek and mild, the man of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, encountering him in his humanness and progressing from that to apprehending his deity. But then we immediately come up against one awkward fact, that the New Testament writers, almost unanimously, present us with a Christ of absolute authority. The Scripture begins from the side of his deity, not from that of his humanity. It has good reason to do so. These writers were looking at Christ in the light of his resurrection. The majority of the authors of the books of the New Testament were written by men who had spent weeks with the risen Jesus. So the New Testament is written from God to man.

Take John’s gospel, for example, and notice it begins with a sustained emphasis on the deity of Christ – though the writer never once loses sight of Jesus’ human nature. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn.1:1). Everything here is from above. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, Christ was already in existence. In the opening twenty words of the gospel we are introduced to a figure of extraordinary authority. Then you see that the writer to the Hebrews follows the same pattern. While he emphasises the human nature of Christ, Jesus’ real experience of suffering, his strong cryings and tears, and his death, none of those things is given priority. What is said first is that when God spoke through Christ he spoke through a Son. This Son was the heir of all things and the creator of everything. He was the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of his person. He was greater than all the angels. Whatever he says about the earthly life of Jesus he says against the background of the Christ of divine authority.

Paul is no different. For him Jesus Christ is a being whose origin lay before time and beyond this world. At Paul’s conversion his introduction to the grandeur of Christ was not gradual. On the Damascus Road itself Paul had seen the risen Christ and the vision had blinded and disabled him. God revealed Jesus to him as his Son, and that conviction of the Saviour’s divine authority was forever afterwards his starting-point when he referred to him. Then, when you read this gospel of Mark there is no change of perspective. It starts, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” That is the writer’s claim, his reason why all the world should read these 16 chapters and pay heed to them, because they are about a figure of supreme authority. The opening verses introduce to us the immense figure of John the Baptist, but John himself says, “After me will come one more powerful than I” (Mk. 1:7). Then Jesus himself appears on the stage of human history. He is baptised, and visibly anointed with the Holy Spirit; he is attested as God’s Son by the Voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mk.1:11). We are not dealing here with hints and veiled suggestions and clues to a later fuller revelation which tell us that this Jesus is actually the Son of God. From the very beginning we are presented with God the Son and all the authority that that gives him. At the commencement of his ministry he didn’t say, “Oh . . . just call me Jesus.” There was no coy modesty at all; he immediately referred to himself as the Son of Man, conscious of the glorious figure who bore that title in the book of Daniel. He also refers to himself as the Son of God – never a son of God. He makes the most astonishing claims (let me share some notes from a sermon of Principal MacLeod):

i] Jesus makes the claim that he is going to judge the world. He does so at the climax of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7. One day all the world is going to stand before him and he will assign to each person his destiny. We have to bear in mind that he stood before them in all the frailty and vulnerability of his own flesh and blood. There was nothing distinctive in his outward appearance. In Paul’s words, “He was found in fashion as a man.” He looked utterly human, and only human. They knew his roots and antecedents. They knew something of his development biographically. Then he stands there and says that one day he is going to judge the world. He will sit on God’s throne and will arbitrate for all mankind. He will decide the destiny of every single human being. In other words, if we start with that single claim we are facing a self-conscious authority of staggering proportions. There is nothing ordinary about a man who claims that one day he is going to judge the world. He isn’t talking about ruling Palestine, or driving the Roman army into the Med. and setting up his own empire in its place. He is stating very calmly that one day he will evaluate the life of every human being. He will judge even the angels themselves. What authority is this!

ii] Jesus claims that the criterion by which he will judge everyone is how they were related to him. He will say, “I never knew you.” They will claim that in his name they have cast out demons and in his name did many mighty works, but he will say, “I never knew you.” He is saying that the decisive thing in a man’s eternal destiny is whether he was known by Christ. Or again he says, “If a man is ashamed of me then I shall be ashamed of him on the day of judgment.” It depends again on our whole relationship with Christ. Some of you know the great humanitarian parable of the sheep and the goats. The commendation of those who fed the hungry and clothed the naked is this, “You did it to one of the least of these my brethren, and so you did it to me.” There is this Christ, this man in all his human frailty apparently, a man of meekness, poor in spirit, humble, and yet he is saying to the world that the decisive issue in a person’s destiny is his attitude to Jesus Christ. How do you relate to the Lord? What do you think of the Saviour? How do you deal with his people? He is the judge, and the standard of judgment is our relationship with himself. What a figure of authority!

iii] Jesus claims preexistence; “Before Abraham was I am.” There he stands, a man of distinct age. He has matured from infancy, through childhood, adolescence and manhood. He is visibly aging under the pressures and strains of his public ministry, so that he seems to be approaching fifty years of age when in fact he is only thirty. He then says to them, “Before Abraham was I am!” “I go back beyond Abraham.” He doesn’t even say that before Abraham was he was, but he says “Before Abraham was I am.” I have this so-called simple Jesus; this so-called ‘child of his time.’ I find him saying historically, “Before Abraham was I am.” I find him alluding deliberately to the great words of Exodus when Jehovah says to Moses, “Tell them I Am has sent you.” He is the God whose name is I AM. Jesus says, “I go right back. I go back before Abraham. I go right into eternity. I belong to another world entirely.” What authority has this figure! It is the authority of the judge of the world. It is the authority of the preexistent Christ. But more than that:

iv] Jesus claims to be absolute God; “I and my Father are one.” I am Jehovah. I am the Lord. I am the Son of God. I am the eternal Son of Man. It doesn’t matter where you probe the synoptic gospels or search through John’s gospel, the only Christ you’ll find is a divine Christ of absolute authority. The Messiah you meet is one who makes the most astonishing and awe-inspiring claims, that he is one with God, that he is Jehovah, that he is utter and absolute deity. We’ve noted that John’s gospel begins with the statement, “. . . the Word was God,” and that gospel ends with Thomas on his knees before Christ saying, “My Lord and my God.” We are being confronted with our Lord’s own assertion of his deity. The child in the manger, the infant of Mary in all his frailty, and humanness and apparent ordinariness is yet making this extraordinary claim. In many ways the challenge of God’s gospel is the challenge of the authority of Jesus Christ, his claim to be God, to be the one who made the universe, to uphold the universe, to judge it and consummate it. That is the Lord’s claim. His authority over you as the one who made you, the one who is your Lord, and the one who is your God.

I am not confronting you today with some emotional challenge, but I am confronting you with basically an intellectual challenge, the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t know how you feel, but my challenge has nothing to do with the way you feel. It is the challenge that the authority of Christ brings to you. Here is a man who claimed that one day he will be your judge. He claimed preexistence; he claimed to be absolute God. I am saying to you that you must bow to his authority not if you feel something at this moment. You must bow the knee to him if what he says is true. That may be quite independent of how you feel. You may feel that he is God. You may feel no fear. You may feel no warmth. The issue is the authority of Christ. Is what he claims true? If it is truth then it is truth of momentous consequences. If it is truth and we reject him then we go to hell. If it is truth and we accept his authority over us then he becomes our Saviour.

We are standing today in the middle of the New Testament and we can see all its streams flowing around us, the Synoptic Gospels, John’s Gospel, Paul’s epistles. Wherever I probe I meet the authority of a colossal Christ; I find a divine Christ. I find what men must describe at last as a “megalomaniac Christ” if what he says isn’t true. I am asking you if you have reflected on the challenge of Christ’s authority. Have you pondered the possibility that what he claims is true, the possibility that Christ is God? There is never going to be a more important question facing you in your life. You have every right in a purely academic respect to examine it and reject it, but you have no right simply to pass it by. That is one thing you cannot do with Christ. It is one thing that no man who ever met him was able to do with Christ. There were some who followed him. There were some who shouted, “Crucify!” Nobody at all could ignore him because he made such in-your-face claims about his relation with you. He’s your God. He’s your final judge. Your eternity hangs on your relationship to himself.

I am asking you what do you think of the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am insisting that if his claims are true then you must bow the knee to him; you must submit your intellect; you must fall before him in wonder, love and praise. But you protest that you don’t feel anything. I’m not talking about feelings. I’m telling you a great fact of history that Christ said, “God and I are one.” That is objective reality. Either that is the authority of a simpleton maniac, or it is the authority of the living God. If they are God’s words then you must bow the knee, and submit to the authority of Christ because the Christian faith is true. It seems that often men and women are looking for other reasons than that for becoming Christians. To us there is just one great reason for being a Christian and that is because it is true, and the moment it is true it has the right to the allegiance of every human being. That is the authority of Christ.

I could speak to you and tell you that the gospel will give you comfort; it can make you feel good; it can help your marriage; it can meet felt needs. All of that might be true, but other religions and psychologies are offering the same. Let’s go back a step and consider the authority of Christ; it is true that when Jesus spoke the winds and waves obeyed him; it is true that the tomb was empty; it is true that Christ arose; it is true that he is God. I am urging your submission in the name of the authority and objective reality of that. Christ claimed to be in the beginning with God, and if that is true then it transforms all my life. It both commands and deserves my allegiance. Some days you will feel religious. Some days you will feel prayerful. Other days you will feel tortured by doubts, but the case for Christianity does not fluctuate as our feelings do. It rests on the authority of the person and work of Christ, and it is to that solid rock I would direct all of you. That is the place on which I want you to stand, on Jesus, the man with authority.

2. UNBELIEVERS ARE ANNOYED WITH JESUS’ AUTHORITY.

The very following day, right after Jesus had brought the proceedings of the temple to a close, he went back there again! What courage and self-confidence. He walked right in to the very place where he had turned over the tables of the moneychangers and had stopped the people carrying the temple paraphernalia. Can you imagine these men muttering to one another, “Look! Jesus of Nazareth is back”? How wary they’d have been. Had there developed a more subdued atmosphere in the courts of the temple in the aftermath of the explosive holy anger of the Messiah? What courage Christ had to return. The actions of the previous day had not been some emotional spasm. Jesus again patrolled his Father’s house, looking at everything, but this time they were ready for him. Soon he was confronted with the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders. These three groups were a delegation from the Sanhedrin, Israel’s supreme court, and they came right up to him. The Sanhedrin consisted of 71 members who ran religious affairs in the land. This is the only instance in Mark’s gospel of the Sanhedrin approaching the Lord. There were three parties in the Sanhedrin; the chief priests were the senior temple priests, the men who had been most disrupted by the activities of Jesus the previous day. The teachers of the law were the leading Pharisaic scholars and there would be sections of the temple courts where they would teach and answer questions. You remember our Lord as a boy of twelve going to that part of the temple and talking with the teachers of the law. The elders were the lay aristocracy in the land, the men of substance and old wealth in Israel. So here was the religious establishment of the day; the Lord Christ was facing the people whose cherished institutions he had begun to dismantle. He was pronouncing an end to all their structures and activities. The temple was the hub that held Israel together. Without it there would be no holy city, priests and elders and kings, and the start of this has been set in motion by the Lord. It has all run its course. God was about to make all things new.

For three years this delegation had been hearing about – or had seen for themselves – the life and activities of Jesus of Nazareth. They would have known of the blind seeing and the deaf hearing; the crippled beggar has been leaping for joy; the leper cleansed; a child possessed by an evil spirit had been delivered; hundreds of cases like that. The dead had been raised; thousands of hungry men had been fed from five loaves and two fishes; the teaching of Jesus had filled the land. People were repeating to one another his aphorisms and parables. This is what the women talked about at the well, and the elders as they sat at the gates of the cities. There had never been a phenomenon like this – ever. People had been amazed at his authority; that is one of the themes of Mark’s gospel. Many are saying that he must be the promised Prophet, the Messiah. The land was buzzing with discussion about Jesus of Nazareth, and now he has arrived at Jerusalem after a long and much publicised journey there. The city has been waiting for him and they have given him a ticker-tape welcome, but his first action has been this total disruption of the temple in his righteous indignation, and back he’s come the next day.

Our Lord is soon surrounded by this antagonistic Jewish leadership; they were regarded by the people of the land as the fountainhead of religious knowledge, and yet when they met Jesus in the temple they didn’t say, “Make us your disciples! Give us new life! Show us the glory of God! Teach us the truth!” These are their words: “‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. ‘And who gave you authority to do this?’ (v.28). Remember that early on in his ministry they challenged him. What made him think he had authority to forgive sins? Only God could forgive sins. Here again it’s the bureaucrat’s question. “What right do you have to act as you’ve been acting?” Such men ask, “Who gave you permission to do the things you’ve been doing?” It’s the posture of the little man who’s finally got some rank and he wants everyone to know: “Who told you that you could do that here?” This is his patch, and you have to get his approval. It is a danger even in the evangelical church when there has been some spontaneous outreach or evangelism with the young people and there’s some officer who speaks up and wants to know if they had permission to do it. It’s all about controlling people. Maybe it’s a minister and he is asked to give inspirational messages overseas and someone wants to know, “Who’s given him permission to go there and speak to those pastors?” Or it’s the denomination that wants to control every pulpit so that it’s a moderate pulpit, its priority is to keep the money flowing in to the denomination’s organisations. “Is the man ‘accredited’ by us? Is he ‘recognised’ so that his name is on a list in an office somewhere? Did he train in one of ‘our’ theological colleges?” Here are men who neglect preaching the gospel themselves but they find fault with those who do – those ‘fundamentalists.’

There was no joy in a single one of the 71 men of the Sanhedrin at what was being done by the Saviour. Christ has been displaying his power over creation, over man, over the devil, over sickness and over death itself. He’s made Galilee a new and happy place, thousands of lives have changed, but these petty-minded men wanted to know one thing, “Who gave you authority to do what you’ve been doing?” The whole religious system was rotten to the core, with its religious activities and veneer of piety and aura of sacred tradition in this building that had to be maintained however corrupt it was. “Who gave you the right to come into our temple and overturn the tables and disrupt things as you did?” But the system was beyond reformation. It was time for Jehovah to do something totally new.

3. THE LORD CHALLENGES OUR OWN BELIEFS.

Our Lord gave no direct answer, rather he asked them a question in turn. He was not being elusive. In less than a week he would stand before the Sanhedrin and when they’d ask him straight questions he would give them direct answers; “‘Are you then the Son of God?’ He replied, ‘you are right in saying I am'” (Luke 22:70). When they further probed him, “‘Are you the Christ the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus, ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven'” (Mk. 14:61&62). He revealed his identity unashamedly at that time before the chief priests and Sanhedrin. The veil was taken away, but the courts of the temple was not the time nor the place to speak of these things. There was still much to do before his trial. He had to preach to his disciples about the end of the world in Mark 13. He had to preach to the crowds the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents. He had to warn them with reference to the sheep and the goats being divided at the last judgment. He had to take his disciples to the upper room and deliver to them that great discourse as it is recorded in John chapters 13 through 16. He had to wash the feet of his disciples. He had to instigate the Lord’s Supper. He had to pray in the Garden. It was not the time now to provoke his enemies to arrest him. It was time to make them think. So he asked them in turn one question; “Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!” (v.29).

“John the Baptist!” they thought, and inwardly groaned. God had raised John up from a priestly line and suddenly launched him into the world of Israel, preaching the need for repentance and baptism. Thousands went out to the desert place near the river Jordan to hear him and confess their sins. When John saw Pharisees in the congregation he was merciless about their religiosity. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Produce fruit in your own lives in keeping with repentance. Don’t you think it’s all right with you because you have Abraham as your father. It’s no big deal that your parents were Jews. Out of these stones God is able raise up Jewish children to Abraham. Judgment is coming nearer and nearer. The axe is laid at the root of the trees. Without godly fruit you’ll be cut down . . .” Preaching like that awakened Israel and the people knew that the gift of prophecy, withheld for centuries, had been restored.

John the Baptist didn’t go near the temple. He didn’t mention the rituals of the temple or paying the temple tax. He demanded the sacrifice of a broken heart and the giving of oneself wholly to the Lord. What is more, it was when John had baptized him that Jesus himself had been anointed with the Spirit. A voice from heaven had also spoken on that occasion confirming the Saviour’s status, God’s own Son. John further identified Jesus as the promised one, for whom Israel had waited more than two thousand years; Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John also said that Jesus was the lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. John and Jesus were sent by the same God. Jesus spoke in the highest possible terms of John, that there was no one under the old covenant greater than him. Jesus wouldn’t allow anyone to drive a wedge between himself and John. They stood together in solidarity, the servants of God. Jesus believed the whole message of John. He knew that God had sent John. So here is the question again, “John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or from men?” Was John self-appointed? Or did God send him? “Tell me! Answer me!” Jesus says. You have to answer him.

This is the question confronting you today. “John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or from men?” In other words, did God send John to be the forerunner who prepared the way for Jesus? You see the immense implications of that? Do you see why I’m insisting that you answer? The question confronting you is this: is Jesus Christ from man or from heaven. Is the New Testament from heaven or from men? Was all that happened 2000 years ago in Israel from men only? Then it has no more authority over my life than the life of any other religious figure. We are no defender of faiths. Mankind’s religions have been some of its greatest crimes. The world is full of religions; we don’t believe they are all from heaven, but we read the life of Christ, we look at his teaching, we consider the extraordinary things he did, we think of his kindness and holiness and loving nature, we read of his resurrection from the dead, we think of the effects of his teaching on the centuries of world history and the people we most admire past and present, and we conclude that Jesus Christ is from heaven. He can’t be from hell, not Jesus. He can’t be on the run from a mental institution – he’s not crazy. He is from heaven. God has so loved the world that he has given his only-begotten Son.

4. MEN ARE COWARDLY WHEN CHALLENGED BY THE LORD.

“They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will ask, “Then why didn’t you believe him?” But if we say, “From men” . . .’ (they feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’ Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.'” (vv. 31-33). We can understand the thinking of the world because we were once there ourselves, and we are surrounded by institutions which have no absolute standards and tell lies as readily as these Jews. You see their dilemma? They don’t want to lose influence, and that is the most important thing in their lives, to hold on to the power they have. So if they replied to Jesus that John’s baptism was from heaven they would be confirming Jesus in his position, and they would be acknowledging themselves as defiant unbelievers for not going to the river Jordan and being baptised for their sins. So they couldn’t say, “We certainly believe that John was sent from heaven.” But neither could they say that John was a deluded and self-appointed speaker, that he was a wild man who ‘dressed funny and ate funny’ because he’d spent too much time in the heat of the desert. He had a touch of the sun and represented no one but himself. That would have discredited them in the eyes of the crowds who esteemed John as a prophet and considered him to be a martyr who had died out of faithfulness to his divine calling. So this group didn’t want to alienate the people . . . but neither did they want to endorse John and Jesus.

What could they do? They told a lie. They said, “We don’t know.” Of course they knew. They believed that John was a mere man, that God hadn’t sent him. That is what they really believed, but they wouldn’t say those words because they feared man. They didn’t fear Jehovah but they were afraid of the frowns of men. That’s why they weren’t believers; they didn’t want to lose face; they were cowards, and liars. People modestly parade their considered noble reasons for not becoming Christians. “They’d like to believe,” some of them say to us. No, they wouldn’t. They are liars. They wouldn’t at all like to believe because then they’d have to change, and they love themselves and their sins too much to change. It would cost them too much to become disciples – just like these Jews. “We are not persuaded,” they say, but when did they put themselves in a position where they’d be open to persuasion? When did they read through a single one of the New Testament gospels with an inquiring spirit, searching and asking if this could be true? They won’t allow themselves to be persuaded. They won’t go to church; they wont attend evangelical meetings at the university; when we start moving the conversation in a religious direction they move it another direction. “Back off!” they are saying. They wont allow themselves to be persuaded. One man pretends that he “cannot understand” the doctrines of the gospel. Has he tried? On his knees with an open Bible? Another man tells us that he has really tried to serve God but he can make no progress. You serve God by entrusting yourself to his Son. Another says that he has been put off by the conduct of Christians. What of the conduct of Jesus? Isn’t that the crucial reason for following him? Another has “no time.” Plenty of time for sport and TV. Miserable equivocations all of them, as worthless as the lie the Chief Priest told Jesus, “We don’t know if John cane from heaven or not.”

Here is the Lord Jesus Christ; in the New Testament we are told both what he said, and what he did. He is utterly magnificent, winsome in his bearing, a man of integrity and grace and wisdom. Is he God’s Son? “We don’t know,” you say. “The jury’s out,” you say. Well, what more knowledge do you want? Would you want mind-blowing truth? You have the Sermon on the Mount. Would you want someone raised from the dead? Someone has been raised from the dead. Would you want millions of people following him who seek to be as godly and consistent and loving a people as he is? You have that too. What more do you want until those “We don’t knows” become “We knows”? What would persuade you to let go of your sin and follow Christ? Aren’t you just like these Jews, secretly afraid of the impact of your conversion on your parents and your children and your spouse and your friends and the people in the office? Loving your influence and power too much to give it up. You don’t want to lose popularity. You don’t want to be considered a fanatic. That’s the reason but you won’t say it. You tell lies because you’re a coward. Liars are incapable of recognising Jesus’ authority. Coming to Jesus is coming to the light. I am saying to you to live according to the light you have, to follow what your conscience tells you, to act on the knowledge you have, and it won’t be long before you’ve come to the truth. Don’t be bought by men’s smiles or frightened by men’s frowns. Don’t deal dishonestly with your own soul.

Notice here when Jesus hears the chief priests’ equivocal answer he doesn’t say, “I don’t know either. Nobody knows. We’re all stuck in the same canoe without a paddle.” Rather he says, “Then, I am not going to tell you by what authority I do what I do.” Do you see the implications of that? The Lord of glory doesn’t have to answer any of your questions. He is not under interrogation, you are. Why should Jesus tell you anything? “Tell me why my loved one died . . . tell me if I’m elect . . . tell me how long I’ve got to live . . . speak with an audible voice from heaven now once and for all . . . tell me what heaven is exactly like . . . rend the heaven now and show me yourself and then I’ll believe.” “No, I won’t,” says Jesus. You have forfeited the right to truth and knowledge by the sin of your father Adam and your own sins. You have no right to hear of the love of Jesus, no right to be invited to come to him for rest, no right to be offered the forgiveness of sins, no right to heaven. If the Lord gives you a crumb from his table that’s more than you deserve. All you deserve is for God to deal fairly and justly with you, and that will certainly mean hell. Yet in his mercy God sent his only begotten Son. He lived this rich and blameless life. He preached his heart out. He shed his blood and atoned for our sins. He rose from the dead, and when we meet together he comes here and has personal dealings with us, Sunday after Sunday.

He offers to become our Saviour and to go with us through life and then take us to heaven when we die. We deserved to hear none of this good news. Yet he patiently tells us of his grace week after week. How loving he is! Every important question we can ask he’s answered already for the total satisfaction of millions. Who am I? What is my chief end in life? Who is my neighbour? How may I know God? What must I do to be saved? How can I see God? What happens when we die? These are the biggest questions and to them God has given ample lucid answers in Scripture. What are you doing with those answers? Why ask more questions when you are not acting in the light of the answers you have? Do what he says, and ask him to help you, day by day, until you have peace with God through Jesus Christ. Then in the Christian life you will learn to handle the unanswerable questions we all have, even the holiest saint. You’ll understand what Ruth Bell Graham once wrote in this little verse;

“I lay my ‘Why’s’ before your throne,
In worship kneeling,
My heart too numb for any thought,
Beyond all feeling,
But worshipping, can see that I,
In knowing you, don’t need a ‘Why’ “.

3rd October 2004 GEOFF THOMAS