Our Responsibility Under His Authority
Who’s in charge here?
In the summer of 1994, as a Korean Air jet plane was landing it skidded across a rain soaked runway and rammed a safety barricade. No sooner had the 160 passengers on board evacuated to safety, the plane exploded into flames. What was the cause of the accident? According to news reports, the pilot and the co-pilot had gotten into a fist fight over who was in charge of the landing controls.
Not knowing who’s in charge can be dangerous. This is true when landing an airplane, apparently, but it’s also true in our relationship with God.
As Christians, it’s important to remind ourselves and one another that we are not the authority and, the sooner we stop fighting with God for that supreme role, the sooner we can take care of responsibilities he’s actually entrusted to us.
That’s what Mark reminds us of in the passage we’re looking at here—that only when we recognize God’s role as the ultimate authority can we rightly understand and embrace our role as stewards.
Recognizing God’s authority
In the closing seven verses of chapter 11, Mark calls us to recognize the authority of the Lord. We’re told in verse 27 that, while walking in the temple courts, Jesus is approached by the whole crooked gang—the chief priests, teachers of the law, and the elders—representatives of the Sanhedrin, the supreme judicial council of Judaism. They were the religious watchdogs of the day.
They converge upon Jesus with a mission: To expose and discredit him with loaded questions (11:28).
“By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”
In the immediate context, they’re probably referring to the cleansing of the temple (vv. 12–19) or the triumphal entry (vv. 1–11), but I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume they have most of his earthly ministry in mind—his teachings, his exorcisms, and his claims to forgive sins. They want to hear him defend the nature and source of his authority.
If we didn’t know any better, we might assume these are legitimate questions.
If someone comes to your home and asks to search your house, you’d probably ask them by what authority are they making that request. If they respond “I’m just person,” you’ll slam the door. If they say, “I’ve been sent by the Police Department and here’s the warrant,” you better get out of their way.
The chief priests, teachers of the law, and the elders want to know by what authority Jesus has been doing and saying what he’s been doing and saying.
Jesus responds (v. 29): “I’ll answer your question if you answer mine. ‘John’s baptism—divine or human origin?’” Did John carry God’s authority or simply man’s opinion? Was he a prophet or a fraud?
Jesus has backed them into a corner. They want to claim John was “from men,” meaning all he taught was just human opinion, not God’s commands. But, if they do that, they’d lose popularity points with the public because most regarded John as a genuine, God-ordained prophet and, as Mark points out in verse 32, “they feared the people.”
On the other hand, if they said, “from heaven,” they would incriminate themselves for rejecting God’s messenger, God’s message, and God’s authority.
And if they said John was God’s messenger, they’d also have to affirm everything he taught, including:
And this was [John’s] message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (1:7–11).
So, even if they believed it, they couldn’t say that John’s baptism was from heaven because if they conceded that John’s ministry was from God they’d essentially be saying the same about Jesus’s.
And so, stuck between a rock and a hard place, the religious leaders are forced to plead ignorance: “We don’t know.” And, because the terms of his deal weren’t met, Jesus simply says, “Then I’m not going to tell you where I get my authority” (v. 33).
While Jesus is refusing to explicitly reveal the nature and source of his authority to the religious leaders, Mark’s audience knows exactly where he got it—he carried with him the power and authority of him who sent him.
As we’ve already read, John the Baptist knew he carried the authority of God. “Prepare the way for the Lord,” he declared in 1:3.
The demons knew the authority with which Jesus ministered. When confronted by Jesus they squealed, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (1:24)!
And the people knew that Jesus knew he carried God’s authority. After telling the paralytic in Mark 2 that his sin were forgiven, some teachers of the law thought to themselves, “What’s he saying? Who can forgive sins but God alone” (v. 7). Jesus, knowing their thoughts, responds by healing the man’s legs so that they “may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v. 10).
While on earth, Jesus wielded the power and authority of him by whom he was sent—the God of heaven and earth, who created all things, owns all things, and is in charge of all things. Immediately before his ascension to heaven, Jesus claimed, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18).
And as you sit and read this today, Jesus continues to have all authority.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come (Eph. 1:18–21).
And that present and future authority of Jesus is again highlighted by Paul in Philippians 2:9–10:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Standing in front of the religious leaders in Mark 11, Jesus possessed all the authority given him by the Creator of all things.
They rejected it. We, by God’s grace, will not.
We will recognize his authority, understand that he’s in charge, and strive to submit to him. In fact, that’s exactly what Paul says we should be doing:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies (1 Cor. 6:19–20).
Understanding our responsibility
Because God is the supreme authority, we are obligated, obliged, and should be overjoyed to give him everything that we are; our whole selves! But what might that look like? I think the parable Jesus tells in Mark 12:1–12 can give us some direction as it helps us understand the responsibility disciples have in response to that authority. God’s in charge. Now, what does he expect from us?
The parable involves a man who builds a beautiful vineyard. The man represents God and, in Scripture, the vineyard is commonly used as a picture of Israel. In fact, Isaiah 5 says exactly that: “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in” (v. 7).
The parable continues: The man rents his vineyard to a group of farmers who will work it for him. These tenant farmers represent the leaders of Israel. And the ones standing listening to Jesus, those who had just challenged his authority, understood this (v. 12). They knew exactly who Jesus was talking about.
So, God creates a beautiful vineyard and entrusts its care to others. At harvest time, when the owner expected to get a return on his investment, he sends servants to collect. These servants represent the prophets God sent to Israel over the centuries, most of whom were ignored, beaten, killed.
Finally, after he’s run out of servants to send, the owner of the vineyard in this parable sends his only son, the one he loves, whom he assumes they’ll respect as an extension of his ownership and authority. At this point of Mark’s gospel, there’s no mistaking who this represents (see 1:11; 9:7).
The farmers, perhaps assuming that since the son was coming it meant the father was dead, decide to kill him and take ownership of the vineyard for themselves. So they do and they dump the body over the wall outside the property.
Jesus concludes with a rhetorical question: What do you think the owner is going to do to those tenant farmers—those he entrusted with his precious vineyard?
He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others (12:9).
The consequences are extreme because to reject the authority of the Son is to reject the authority of the Owner.
Those who were entrusted with the man’s vineyard blew it. They were not faithful stewards. They did not understand the responsibility they had been given.
But you and I want to learn from their negative example, right? So, what does God expect from us in response to his authority? I think we can find a hint in verse 2.
At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard (12:2).
The expectation of the owner was that the people he entrusted his property to would work and produce fruit! They were to be productive stewards of what they had been given.
And so it is with us. You and I, as we submit to God’s authority, are to “work the land” and be fruitful. We’re to steward well what he has entrusted to us. That’s the responsibility of the people of God today.
What God owns be gives to us to steward, to use for the purposes he has called us to use them. He’s given us families, communities, finances, jobs, friends, education, freedom. The list could go on and on but all of these things we are to intentionally leverage for God’s glory.
One of the most obvious ways this plays out in our lives is in the area of spiritual gifts. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Rom. 12:6). These gifts are varied but certain.
If you are a Christian, you have been entrusted with a spiritually endowed ability for the building up of the body of Christ. It’s for service to your brothers and sister in Christ. God entrusts us with these gifts and expects productivity. He expects fruitfulness. He gives us opportunities to serve and we are to step into those opportunities knowing that he can and will gift us to be fruitful in those capacities.
So let’s continue to be fruitful, by the power of God for the glory of God. Let’s ask God to help us respond to his unrivalled authority by accepting our responsibility as stewards. May we serve him with joy, thanksgiving, and anticipation.
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