Kingdoms Will Fall: The Idols of Control and Autonomy
Updated: Feb 23, 2020
Our Student Ministry has been walking through Mark on Sundays for a little over a year. We're a bit over halfway through now (eep! we got a ways to go before May), and I've been learning so much through teaching our middle school girls! We recently wrapped up chapter 11, and the story of Jesus's authority being challenged by the Pharisees in verses 27 – 33 struck a chord with me.
Mark 11:27-33 says, "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, 28 and they said to him, "By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?" 29 Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me." 31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?' 32 But shall we say, 'From man'?"—They were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33 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."
At the beginning of this passage, the Pharisees have cornered Jesus once again and are questioning his authority. Jesus has just cleansed the temple in Mark 11:15-19 and has busted one of the Sanhedrin's plans for greed and power. The Pharisees are angry and have been looking for a way to destroy him. They know Jesus holds authoritative power – they've seen him cast out demons and heal thousands. Their questioning was not motivated by a willingness to know who he is, but a plan to trap, embarrass, and discredit Christ.
After the religious leaders question Jesus, he responds by turning the tables on them. He says in verse 28, "I will ask you one question; answer me, and will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me." Jesus can see the motives behind why the Pharisees are asking him this question, and he chooses not to answer them directly. He instead forces them to think. This puts the Pharisees in a predicament. As they huddle together, they talk amongst themselves about how to handle Christ's question. John the Baptist's ministry was believed by all to be given to him by God; He was popular with the people. They knew that if they discredited John's ministry, then they would lose the respect of the Jewish people. But if they agreed that John's ministry was God-ordained and that he was making way for the Messiah, then they would lose their high ranking status and control in the religious world. The issue did not lie in the fact that they hadn't been presented with clear evidence – the Old Testament prophecies are clear. Their ignorance in refusing to examine the evidence of Christ's Messianic fulfillment shows their actual problem: their hard hearts.
The same is true for us today. The real problem isn't that we need more external evidence; it's our internal state that is dead in sin. The idols of our heart are the real issue. We love our lives and the sins that we have nurtured since birth. We would rather coddle our idols of greed, lust, control, and pride than to be rescued by the True Passover Lamb. The Pharisees believed that if they strived harder and kept the law better, then they could justify and save themselves. If we are honest, we all probably thought that, too, before God saved us. Our salvation was done on our own terms. Our righteousness was found in a man-made castle and a self-ruled kingdom that would only bring one thing – death. But when God saves us and makes our dead hearts into ones of flesh, our foundation of salvation is built into the True Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. Galatians 2:16 says, "..yet we know that a person is not justified[b] by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified." Praise the Lord that our salvation rests in the finished work of Christ and not in our struggling works! But this freedom comes at a price.
Mark 11:32 displays what is at the core of the Pharisee's problem: their fear of man. "..they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet." The religious leaders were terrified of how the crowd would react, so they respond with, "We don't know." They show here that they would rather live a lie motivated by fear, then trusting in Jesus for their salvation. They know that accepting Christ as the Messiah would cause their personal kingdoms to crumble. They would lose a life of position and power with the Jewish people. The loss would be significant, and they refuse to pay that price.
We, too, are like the Pharisees. We live life gripped by the fear of man, paralyzed by the thought of the world seeing us as outcasts. All we want is to feel a part and to fit in. But becoming a follower of Christ means laying down our own personal lordship and trusting in the good and sovereign authority of Jesus. We must forsake our autonomy and give over the keys to our self-governed kingdom that we have worked so long to build. But this looks foolish to the world. Our Western Culture is geared towards hustling and being self-made. We fear that placing our trust in something other than ourselves will leave us socially, financially, or relationally condemned. The Gospel requires us to be honest with ourselves. When we are faced with the reality of who Jesus truly is, we, in turn, see the truth about ourselves. We are destitute, lost, and quite frankly, dead. No amount of moralistic scrubbing is going to make a corpse look alive. We need new life breathed into our sin-stained souls.
So here is a question for us all to consider, especially if you haven't trusted in Christ for your salvation and submitted your life to His authority: What is holding you back? For most of us, it isn't the lack of clarity or evidence of who Christ is. Could it be the fear of giving up the throne in your own life? Or maybe you fear man more than God? Be honest with yourself today. God, in his kindness, has made a way for sinners to be ransomed, and it isn't in self-justification. It's in trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God." Romans 5:1-2