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MARK 11:27-12:12
Series:  The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Thirty Six

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
January 20, 2019

If you would stand with me as we come before God’s word together.  Our passage this morning is a little bit longer so let me read God’s word for us starting at Mark 11:27.


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.”


And He began to speak to them in parables.  “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. 


When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.  And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully.  And he sent another, and him they killed.  And so with many others:  some they beat, and some they killed.


He had still one other, a beloved son.  Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’


But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’  And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard.


What will the owner of the vineyard do?  He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.  Have you not read this Scripture:  The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?


And they were seeking to arrest Him but feared the people, for they perceived that He had told the parable against them.  So they left Him and went away.


Verse 27 picks up where we left off last Sunday as we’ve been studying together Jesus’ final week of ministry leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection.  


Do you ever have weeks that seem so full that it seems like that week has been a lifetime?  This week is that kind of week.  All of Jesus’ ministry comes down to this one week.


Day one of this final week was Palm Sunday - Jesus entering into Jerusalem and asserting His claim to be the promised Messiah.


Day two - Monday - was Jesus cleaning out the temple.  Jesus calling out the spiritual leaders of Israel for their hypocrisy and failure as spiritual leaders.


Day Three - Tuesday - began with Jesus and the disciples traveling to Jerusalem - passing the withered fig tree - and Jesus teaching about having faith in God.


Verse 27 is the continuation of Tuesday.  Jesus and the disciples have arrived in Jerusalem and Jesus is walking through the outer courts of the temple complex.  Probably teaching as He walks.


In that setting - Mark records - that the chief priests, scribes, and elders came up to Jesus and asked Him two questions about His authority to do and teach what Jesus was doing and teaching.


Let’s be clear on who these people are.


The chief priests included the High Priest and other priests who either had been the high priest or were hoping to be the high priest.


Most of them were Sadducees.  Meaning they were spiritual - kind of.  But they were more interested in politics and their connections with Rome.  And, they were the group that controlled the temple complex.


The Scribes were mostly Pharisees who were the ones who studied and interpreted and taught the law of Moses and held everybody rigidly accountable to their standard of righteousness.


The elders - originally were the leaders of the tribes of Israel.  Later - elder meant the leaders of the village.  And here in first century Jerusalem they were seen as the prominent leaders of the community.


These three groups we’re coming from three different places - spiritually and politically - and they were constantly in conflict with each other.


All three groups were components of the Sanhedrin.


The Sanhedrin was kind of like the US Supreme Court and the US Congress and the Vatican all rolled into one.  Next to Rome - the Sanhedrin was the highest governing body in Israel.  It was the final authority on matters religious and on what might effect Israel’s relationship with Rome.   

Meaning that nothing happened politically or religiously in Israel that didn’t require the Sanhedrin’s stamp of approval.  And these three groups had been following Jesus’ ministry up in the Galilee and beyond with growing interest and concern.


So as this week is unfolding - as Jesus has now entered Jerusalem - that group of spiritual and political leaders are deeply concerned.


They’d recognized Who Jesus claimed to be as He’s riding into Jerusalem.  They recognized His Old Testament quotes - His teaching about Himself.  As Jesus cleared out the temple they’d clearly heard Jesus calling them out for their failure as the spiritual leaders of the nation and for their own sins.


So while the politics of the Sanhedrin was intense - brutal - an ongoing struggle for power and authority between these three groups - the one thing they all agreed on was that they all hated Jesus.  Jesus has to go.  Because Jesus threatened their precariously constructed world of power and authority.


Jesus is walking through courts of the Temple that were used by rabbis to teach and debate various interpretations of Scripture and by the Sanhedrin to pass judgement on religious and political matters.  So in those courts it was appropriate - not unusual - for them to ask Jesus the questions they asked.  Even though their motivation is self-preserving and messed up - their questions are legit enough to pass in that place before that crowd - coming off as appropriate for discussion and debate - and not somehow anti-Jesus.


So they’d conspired together and came up with these two questions which they believed would back Jesus into a corner where there was no way out except for Jesus to discredit and destroy Himself with His answers. 


Question One:  “By what authority are you doing these things?”


Question Two:  “Who gave You this authority to do them?”


“These things” meaning what you’re doing and teaching.  What and Who is your authority for that?


“What” is a question of how - by what right did Jesus had the right to do what Jesus is doing?  “Who” is a question of who gave you the right to do what you’re doing?


The Hebrew educational system of that time had three levels of instruction.  Level one was called Bet Zephyr - which was for boys and girls ages 5 to 12.


At the age of 12 girls automatically went home and learned from their mothers how to be a good wife and to get married.  Boys who graduated at the top of their class went on to level two - called “Bet Midrash.”  Boys who didn’t make the cut went home to work with their fathers in the family business.


We’re know that Jesus worked with His father Joseph in the family business.  Meaning that Jesus probably never went on to level 2.


Level 3 was called “Bet Talmud” and was all about being a disciple.

A boy that had graduated - top of the class - from level 2 would ask a rabbi if he could follow the rabbi around and learn from that rabbi what that rabbi did each day and how that rabbi interpreted Scripture.


So that if the rabbi approved then the boy would become a disciple of the rabbi until age 30.  At the age of 30 the disciple would receive a blessing from the rabbi and then go off to make his own disciples.


If Jesus answers the questions then He admits that they have authority to ask the question   admission that He owed them answers.  That they had authority over Him.


Jesus - Who at the age of 30 - comes from the little village of Nazareth - up in the backwater of the Galilee - shows up teaching and making disciples and gathering crowds - healing and exorcising and forgiving sins - and now He enters into Jerusalem and the Temple challenging them.


What or Who gives you the authority to do these things?


If Jesus admits He has no credentials he’ll be outed - embarrassed - before the crowd.  If Jesus considers Himself to be His own authority - then He’s acting in rebellion against the spiritual and political leadership of Israel and Rome.  Worse - if Jesus claims Himself as His own authority then He’s guilty of blasphemy because He’s acted and claimed things for Himself that only God has right to claim for Himself.  And who will want to follow Him then?


How will Jesus answer?  And the crowd is watching and listening.


Instead of answering directly - taking the bait - Jesus exercises His privilege under the rules of rabbinic debate and counters with His own question.  And He makes His opponents and offer they can’t refuse. 


“Answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.” 


Question:  Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?


Simple question.  What John was doing and teaching - was John’s authority from God or from man?


Simple question;  Simple answer.  Only two choices.  Unless you’re the Sanhedrin with the crowd watching and listening.


If John’s ministry is from heaven - ordained by God - then why did they oppose it?  Why did they assent to John’s execution?  And if John’s ministry is God ordained then they must agree with what John taught.  Meaning Jesus is the Messiah.


If John’s ministry is human - if John’s ministry was some kind of grass roots movement then they’re standing in opposition to popular opinion.  Because the crowd really bought into what John taught.  Which for the Sanhedrin - dishing someone who’s trending better than you are - is not a way to win public support.


Jesus just boxes them in.  We can almost see their brains spinning and smoke coming out of their ears.  Stress empowered by fear.  Either they’re going to affirm Jesus as Messiah or they’re going to alienate the crowd that will then probably turn against them and turn to Jesus. 

How pathetic they must have looked to the crowd.  How sad - heart breaking - that the highest religious leadership of God’s chosen people punts - and comes up with
“We don’t know.”


More to the point:  “We’re afraid to tell you.”


Jesus answers:  Then I won’t answer you.  If you’re incapable of recognizing the source of John’s authority then you’re incapable of recognizing the source of My authority.  Same source.  God.  Yes?


Chapter 12 - verse 1 brings us to Jesus’ Parable of the Tenants.


The parable is familiar.  Yes?  So, we need to make extra sure we’re not skimming through it and possibly missing what God may have for us this morning.


A parable is a... story that’s designed to illustrate a truth using familiar images or experiences in order to open up to us what is less familiar.


One reason why this passage is familiar to us is because the images are pretty common to what goes around us and so they stick in our minds.  Same would have been true of those listening to Jesus.


But unlike the parables that Jesus has told up to this point - where the meaning wasn’t immediately understood or He had to explain it later to His disciples and those who were serious about following Him - the crowd and the Sanhedrin, here, immediately got what Jesus was getting at.

Let’s be clear.  The owner of the vineyard is Who?  God.  The vineyard is who?  Israel.  The tenant farmers are who?  The Sanhedrin - the rulers of Israel.  The servants are…  prophets of God including John the Baptist.  The Son - the heir - is… Jesus.


Let’s walk through the parable.


It was pretty common in those days - as it is around here today - land owners would contract with tenants to farm their land for a share of the profits.  Which requires a degree of trust.  The owner trusts the tenant to manage his property, produce crops, and share the profits as if all that belonged to the tenant.  The tenant trusts the owner to give him responsibility for the operation of the vineyard and to pay him his percentage of the profits.


There’s a contract - written or spoken or hand shaked on - a contract based on trust.  Faith that each party is going to do what each party says they’ll do.


In Jesus’ parable the owner plants the vineyard, takes pain to protect it from intruders, constructs a place to crush the grapes and collect the juice - does whatever is possible to give the tenants every advantage to harvest and prepare good juice.  God setting up Israel on the land.  Doing what the land owner contracted to do.


Verse 2 - “when the season came.”  “Season” translating a Greek word meaning a defined specific moment in time.  According to Mosaic Law - after planting a vineyard - an owner had to wait three full years before harvesting grapes.  (Leviticus 19:23-25)

When the time was ripe [pun intended] the owner - God - sends a servant to pick up his share of the profits.  The owner expecting the tenants to faithfully fulfill their part of the contract.


Instead the tenants send the servant back empty handed.  Round two - another servant is sent.  This one is beat up and shamed and sent back empty handed.  Round three - this servant is killed - possibly Jesus is referring to John the Baptist and what these leaders allowed to happen to Him.  And so on.  Some servants are killed.  Some are beat up.  Bottom line - the servants are rejected and the owner gets no profit.


Revolts by tenant farmers were not unusual.  Trust was violated.  The results were not good.


What is unusual here - which would have stood out to those listening to Jesus - what is unusual is the patience of the land owner - God.  Sending servant after servant.  Giving the tenants opportunity after opportunity to repent and to respond by producing the profit - the fruit that was rightfully expected by the owner.


Finally the owner sends his one - only - beloved son - with the full authority of the owner.  The hope of the owner is that the tenants will show the son the same respect they rightfully should given to the father.  That they would repent and restore the trust that was in the original contract. 

The way Jesus unfolds the parable - when the tenants see the son - an assumption is made by the tenants that the owner is dead.  That’s why the son has come in place of the owner.  The owner is dead and the son has come to claim what is rightfully his.


According to tenant law back then - if the owner dies and no heir remains to claim the land - then the tenants themselves receive the inheritance.


So the tenants seize the son - kill the son - and throw the son out of the vineyard.  Which is Jesus speaking prophetically of what these spiritual leaders will do to Jesus.


At that point Jesus asks the crowd a question.  “How do you think the owner will respond?”  “If you were the owner, how would you respond?”


Obvious answer:  The owner will come and destroy the tenants.  Take ‘em out.  “Destroy” in Greek is a word that has spiritual - eternal - meaning.  Literally - the owner will damn the tenants to Hell.  The consequence of rejecting THE Son - Jesus.


And the owner will give the vineyard to others.


A lot of really good commentators have suggested this may be Jesus speaking prophetically of the Church.  Maybe us.  Israel is removed for a time and God’s salvation is offered to the Jews and Gentiles. 

Some have suggested it has to do with Titus destroying Jerusalem in 70 AD and the nation and land being given over to the Gentiles until May 14, 1948.


Either way it happened and it wasn’t good for the tenants.  The spiritual leaders of Israel - the Sanhedrin - are gone and others take their place.


With the truth of the parable chewing on the consciences of the chief priests and scribes and elders - Jesus drives His point home by quoting Psalm 118:  Have you not read this Scripture?


Which of course they had.  And now they’re living it.


The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?


The Psalm tells of one of the stones that had been pre-cut and brought to the building site for Solomon’s Temple and rejected.  “Rejected” meaning that it was thought of as worthless.  The stone was rejected by the workers as not what was needed for the building. 


But those who’d rejected it didn’t realize that it was perfectly cut and prepared to be the most important stone in the whole structure.  The cornerstone which - by position - becomes the one stone by which every other stone is measured and set and held together. 

In the immediate context of Psalm 118 the rejected stone is Israel - despised by the pagan nations.  But after returning from the exile God restores Israel to her rightful place as a nation.  As the Psalm says, it is marvelous to see God at work.


The same is true of Jesus.  Who is despised and is rejected by these leaders - and yet is essential - foundational.  Jesus - despised and rejected is essential for our access to God.  Jesus crucified and restored - risen - the means of our salvation and the cornerstone of the Church - is beyond marvelous to our eyes.


Verse 12 tells us that the religious leaders got the point of Jesus’ parable.  But they feared what the crowd would do if they arrested Him then and there.  So they left Him alone and went away.


Processing all that…


Take Away Number One:  Ignoring truth doesn’t make it go away.


The religious leaders refused to answer Jesus’ question about John the Baptist.  They didn’t want to agree or admit the truth of what Jesus was telling them.  They we’re living by fear.  Fear of what they’d loose if they actually agreed with Jesus.  Fear of what they’d loose if they didn’t. 


If we refuse to acknowledge the truth of Who Jesus is and what He taught and how God tells us that we need to respond to Him - if we try to ignore that or respond to that on our own terms and not God’s - that doesn’t make that truth go away.


James writes:  “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”  (James 1:23,24)


God’s truth is like a mirror.  It brings us face to face with who we really are.


A man looks intently - carefully observing every detail - intently looking at his natural face in a mirror.  Literally, the Greek says that he’s looking intently at “the face of his birth.”  Who we are in the buff - in our birthday suit.  Failure to respond can’t be blamed on our lack of understanding.  Its all there in glorious detail.


If the mirror is telling us we’re a 5’8” chubby person - and we’re thinking were a 6’11” hunk of muscle - who’s fooling who?


God’s word tells us what kind of person we are in no uncertain terms.  Sometimes we don’t want to hear what the mirror says.  But James writes - we’re delusional if we think that our lives are going to change by us ignoring the reality of what’s going on in our hearts.


There’s a challenge in that for us.  To seek out God’s truth and to respond to God’s truth.  Whatever God may be speaking to you or me through His word.  To embrace that truth.  Even if it rocks our precariously constructed world.


Take Away Number Two:  When you don’t fear God you have everything to fear.  When you do fear God you have nothing to fear. 

Isn’t that great?  I wish I’d come up with it.  Actually that’s Oswald Chambers and others quoting him quoting God.


There’s a truth here that we need to be clear on.


If our authority - if the way we’re doing life is about us and not God - if our authority is us we’re always going to be living in fear.


The Sanhedrin thought in terms of man centered power and how to influence others by their use of that power and how to maintain their power and position and they were fearful of anything or anyone that might threaten that.  Standing on their own authority they’re living crippled and bound by their fear.


Which is always a precarious position to be in.  As much as we might be trying to keep our position on the top of the pile there is always someone below us trying to pull us down. 


And we know our inadequacies.  And we know that as much as we’re trying to hold it all together and give the image of strength and adequacy, we aren’t.


And ultimately we know that - if we’re living for ourselves - our greatest and deepest fear comes because we know we’re inadequate before God - to live as God has created and called us to live.  


There is no security in self.  Only fear.


But if our authority is from God then we need fear nothing.

When John baptized Jesus - God speaks from heaven: 
“This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased.”  (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22).


When Jesus is transfigured before Peter, John, and James - God speaks:  “This is My beloved Son; with Whom I am well pleased; My Chosen One; listen to Him.”  (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35)


Jesus’ authority is declared by God.  There is no higher diploma or credential.


God gives authority to us which is revealed and declared in the truth of God’s word - the Bible.  True authority comes from being aligned with God - God’s truth - in Christ.  Not from crowds and public opinion polls.


In Christ - as those trusting in Him as our Savior - we stand in His authority with nothing to fear.  There is contentment in that.  And boldness and confidence and peace and joy and energy and on and on - for eternity. 


That’s the astounding reality of what it means to live life as a child of God - an heir of His kingdom - and to serve Him according to His purpose for His glory.


When we live life - as a follower of Jesus - standing on the truth of God’s word - we need fear nothing.


Last take away:  Is our choice.  Accept the invitation.


Mark records that at the beginning of His ministry “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the gospel.’”  (Mark 1:14,15)


At hand meaning now is the time.  To repent is to turn from.  To turn from our sin and living life by our own authority.  To believe is to turn to.  To embrace the truth of Who Jesus is and trust Him as our Savior. 


Jesus the Son - coming into Jerusalem - in that final week - is God coming to His people and inviting them into His kingdom.


Jesus told the parable to put the religious leadership on notice.  Israel had beaten and killed the prophets and now the Son had come.  And judgment was coming.  God’s patience had come to an end. 


With 100% certainty we know that every one of those religious leaders died and as they face God they’re being reintroduced to the truth they’d chosen to ignore.


The parable that Jesus told - He also told to identify Himself as the Son.  To identify Himself as the Messiah for those who were sincerely seeking after God Who is gracious and merciful.  And Jesus is challenging the crowd to think about their own response to God. 


Which is an invitation for us.  To live by faith and not fear.  To live trusting in what Jesus has come and offers to us.




Series references:

Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).

Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2:  Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®  (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.