Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 11, 2012
 And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him,  and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”  Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.  Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”  And they discussed it with one another, saying, “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 really was a prophet.  So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
-- Mark 11:27-33, ESV
I grew up in the 70’s when bumper-stickers boomed. My friends and I even sold them to finance our senior trip. Sometimes you could see the entire back of cars covered with them. One of the most popular bumper-stickers in that time period read “Question Authority.”
Why would you want to question authority? The better question is, why not? We humans are rebels at heart and we don’t like authority or authoritative people. So we rebel against our parents, our school teachers, our pastors, even the legal authorities, while Pink Floyd plays “Another Brick in the Wall” in the background.
But not all rebellion or questioning of authority is childish or sinful. There is a conscientious questioning of authority. The Protestant Reformation was sparked by it. The United States of America was founded upon it. Great scientific and spiritual discoveries have been caused by it. Often the right thing to do is to question authority, just like the religious leaders did in Mark 11:27-33.
The religious rulers were right to question Jesus’ authority.
We boo and hiss when “the chief priests and the scribes” enter the picture, but remember that public opinion in Jesus’ day declared them to be the good guys. Religion was far and away the most important matter in Jewish culture and the leaders had the responsibility to lead. For three years Jesus had performed amazing miracles, preached radical sermons, and now He had come into Jerusalem during the most high and holy days of the year riding on a donkey like a king, claiming to be the long-awaited Messiah, cleansing the temple of its traditional trade, and claiming the authority of Almighty God. Questioning Jesus was the right and responsibility of the Jewish leaders on this day.
So, they questioned authority. They questioned Jesus as to the ultimate authority with which He did the things He did, over the past three days and over the past three years. It was a good and fair question, even though it was asked with dim and darkened hearts. I really don’t think they wanted to know the truthful answer. It would have meant surrendering or submitting their authority to Jesus, and their stiff necks and knees were incapable of bowing. Hearing their question, and knowing their hearts, Jesus answered their question with a question.
Jesus was right to question John the Baptist’s authority.
With infinite wisdom, Jesus tied the question of His authority to that of His forerunner, John the Baptist. “The baptism of John” is a reference to the entire message and ministry of John, and “heaven” was a well-known Jewish euphemism for God.
Without going into too much detail, let us summarize the message of John the Baptist. He preached repentance from sin and selfishness. He preached devotion to God and love for your fellow man. He preached that One with the ultimate authority of God was coming to earth. And when John saw Jesus by the Jordan River, he preached that Jesus is indeed “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (ref. John 1:29). Everything that John preached was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and everything that Jesus Christ fulfilled was written in Old Testament prophesy, a field in which these chief priests and scribes should have been experts. So, was John’s message and ministry from mere human invention; or, was it from the one true and living God?
Here is the precise point at which false religion fails. It cannot answer the great questions about God. False, pharisaical, legalistic, power-hungry religion is an outward shell made to make man look good and make God manageable. That’s why these false religious rulers could not answer the question. If they answered “from heaven,” then God would no longer be in their neat, little box, and they would have to follow Jesus. If they answered “from man,” then they would no longer look so good in front of the people and might lose their political power. They were you-know-what if they did, and you-know-what if they didn’t. So they just froze, like a deer in Joey Clampit’s motorcycle’s headlights.
Let us learn from these fools as we seek to find the logical and spiritual conclusion to this text. There is no time for indecision, no spot in the middle of the road, no neutrality when it comes to the great questions of God in Christ. As our Lord Himself said, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (ref. Matthew 12:30).
You are right to question God’s authority.
The great question of this text is, “Who is Jesus and should He have authority over my life?” The answer from God is, “I’m not going to tell you any more than I’ve already told you.” So, make up your mind!
Before you make up your mind, ask great questions of God. You’d be crazy not to. Believe me, God is big enough to take your questions and He is gracious enough to have already supplied the answers. But beware, for the questions you ask and the answers you choose will become the most important decisions of your life.
The first question believers should ask themselves and unbelievers is this: Is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the word of God merely good mythology or errant fiction? There are many outside and inside the church who would answer a resounding yes. If yes is your answer, stop here. Do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200, have a nice life without God and then go directly to, well, you know.
The next question: Is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the word of God merely good stories about good men, including the mere carpenter’s son from Nazareth? Again, there is a majority outside and inside the church who would answer in the affirmative. The Christian religion, removed from all divine claims, has sparked human wars and eased human suffering. Even is Jesus were only a human, humanity for the most part is better off because of Him. Love has been preached, hospitals have been built, schools have been started, and food has been delivered, even by professing Christians who do not believe Jesus Christ is Lord. Is the baptism, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus an exaggerated story of a fine man who lived a long time ago? If so, Jesus may help you have a better life, but this Jesus cannot grant you eternal life.
The ultimate question is this: Is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the word of God a myth, is it just from man, or is it the message of God. If it is from God, then what does this mean? Consider this answer from R.C. Sproul’s book, What Is Reformed Theology:
“The universe is no democracy. It is a monarchy. God himself has appointed his beloved Son as the preeminent King. Jesus does not rule by referendum, but by divine right. In the future every knee will bow before him, either willingly or unwillingly. Those who refuse to do so will have their knees broken with a rod of iron.”
In other words, if the gospel and the word of God are true, then Jesus Christ is Lord. If He is our Lord, He has ultimate, unquestionable authority in our lives. What He says to do we will do, where He says to go we will go, what He says to stop we will stop, what He says to give we will give, When He says to worship and pray we will worship and pray, when He says to preach and teach we will preach and teach, wherever He leads we will go!
So go ahead and question authority. We will all live with the answers we accept. We will live with them in this life, and the life to come
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org