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The Question of Authority

Mark 11:27-33

27 And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders,

28 And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?

29 And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.

30 The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me.

31 And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him?

32 But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed.

33 And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.


I believe that the crucial issue of our day is the question of authority. Who, if anybody, has a right to tell us what to do? How to live? What is right and what is wrong?

If we are facing a moral dilemma, where can we turn to find an answer? Are there any absolutes in our world today? Is there anything about which we can say, “This is absolutely right and absolutely wrong, for all people, of all times and of all cultures”?

There was a time when almost anybody in America could have answered those questions for us. Americans by and large believed in God, and they believed that God is the foundation of all morality, of all right and wrong, and that God has spoken to us through his word (which could be summarized in the minds of most people in the ten commandments). Americans believed that God’s word is the absolute authority. They believed that what the Bible taught is always right, and what the Bible taught to be wrong is always wrong. They believed that if people wanted absolute authority for their lives they could find it in God, and in his word.

That truth was preached in the pulpits. It was taught in our homes. It was undergirded by our whole educational system, and it was essentially believed by almost everybody. Even if men, women, boys, and girls did not live up to the ten commandments or live under the authority of God, they at least recognized that it was there, and they believed it even though they may not have heeded it. 

Things have changed a whole lot in America today. In our age the prevailing philosophy is that of humanism. Humanism places man at the center of all of life. Humanists say that man is the ultimate authority; he is the supreme being on the earth and whatever he believes and whatever he determines to be right is ultimately right. 

Humanism has four basic foundations. First of all, it is founded on atheism; there is no God according to the humanist.

Second, it is founded on evolution—since there is no God, man was not created—he just happened. From that beginning (however he may have come about), he has evolved into whatever he is today. No God, no creation.

Now if there is no God, if there was no creation, if man just happened, and if he has evolved into whatever he is today, then there is no such thing as an absolute right and wrong. There is no absolute for all of men and for all of time. Right and wrong depend upon the choices and the opinions of people, and everyone decides on his own; everyone chooses for himself; there is no ultimate authority outside of man. If there is no God, if there was no creation, and if man simply evolved, then there is no authority and no absolutes apart from man himself. This means that man himself becomes the absolute, that man becomes God, and that man is the supreme being in the universe. 

This philosophy of humanism is the prevalent philosophy in America today. This thinking is the thinking behind much of the media that you see. This thinking is behind much of our educational system today. This thinking undergirds much of our lawmaking process in America today. Bit by bit, as we watch and read the media, as we attend our schools, and as we are handed down laws from Washington (or from Austin), behind all of that is the subtle idea that right and wrong are ultimately determined by whatever man thinks.

So the motto of our age goes something like this: “You only go around once, so grab for all the gusto you can. If it feels good, do it. Everybody ought to do his own thing.”

The result of that kind of thinking—that there is no God, that man is the supreme being in the universe and whatever he decides is right, and that man is the ultimate authority—is the sexual permissiveness that is so prevalent in America today: trial marriages, abortion on demand, homosexuality as an optional lifestyle, inflammatory sex education, and an abundance of pornography. It all results from our belief, our conviction, our idea that there is no ultimate authority.

I was talking with a lady in another city a few weeks ago. Her daughter had just begun living with a man. They were not married, and had no real intentions of getting married. When she learned of it, she flew to California to talk with her daughter because she had not been brought up to live like that. She had not been taught like that. When she began to talk with her daughter about what she believed to be an immoral relationship (and what I believe to be an immoral relationship, and what the Bible teaches to be an immoral relationship), she simply said to her mother, “Mother, I just don’t believe that way.” Anybody who has been around in the world today knows that that kind of thinking is everywhere: “I just don’t believe that way.” It’s as if to say, “If you want to believe that way, that’s okay, but if I don’t want to believe that way, it’s okay. It really doesn’t matter.”

Countless scenarios like this one is why I am telling you that I believe the crucial issue in America (and in our lives) today is the issue of authority. Who really has the right to determine what is right? Where can we go to find ultimate answers to guide us in moral decisions? How can we know what is the right way to live and what is the wrong way to live?

I am persuaded that ultimately and finally, authority resides in God. Unless we find our authority in God and through Jesus Christ his Son, we are destined to sail a sea without a compass, we are destined to live our lives without any sense of direction, and we will founder in a moral and a spiritual sea. The question of authority has always been a crucial one. It was raised even in the life and the ministry of Jesus.

In the passage that was read a few moments ago, from the book of Mark, chapter 11, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the chief rulers of the land of Israel came to Jesus and said to him, “By what authority do you do these things? And who gave you the authority to do these things?” 

The occasion for those questions was Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. The Temple was the house of worship. It was the most sacred place of God in the whole world. The religious authorities of Israel had been given the responsibility of preserving the house of God and of keeping it as a place of prayer—a place of worship. But they had allowed the holy place to become a marketplace. Booths had been set up inside the Temple for the selling of animals that would be used in sacrifices. It started out as just a convenience to the worshippers. But after a while it became a system of graft; it was corrupted and the priest would only approve of those animals that had been bought from stalls that were inside the Temple grounds. The animals bought there had a higher price tag than those purchased on the outside had. So graft and corruption had come into the whole sacrificial system. What made things worse was it taking place inside the house of God. Worshippers would come from foreign countries. They would go inside to try to buy an animal to sacrifice, and the price was so high that they would begin to bargain to haggle over it. There was such noise and ruckus inside the Temple that people couldn’t pray if they wanted to. 

Seeing all of this, Jesus took matters into his own hands and he turned over the moneychangers’ tables. He drove those who were selling sacrifices out of the Temple. When Jesus assumed authority—the right to clean house—the religious leaders who up until that time thought that was their authority and their right came to him and asked, “Who told you that you could do this? Where did you get the right to tell us what to do? Who gave you the right to control the Temple?” 

Their questions were essentially the same questions that we need to ask today: Where does authority reside? Who has the right to determine what is right and what is wrong?

Jesus could have told them straightforwardly, “I got my authority from God.” Ultimately and finally, all authority comes from him. You know that right and wrong and all morality is grounded in God. If there is no God then there is no such thing as right and wrong.

But if there is a God, then ultimately and finally, what he says is eternally right or is eternally wrong, for God is the ultimate authority in all of life. 

Jesus could have simply said, “I got my authority from God! That’s why I can tell you what to do and how to run this Temple.” But he didn’t do that. He rather answered their question by asking another question. He asked, “Let me ask you this. John the Baptist—where did he get his authority to baptize?” 

(John the Baptist was the prophet of God who came out of the wilderness preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” He was preparing the world and getting it ready for the coming of the Messiah. He was telling people to be baptized as a symbol of their sincerity in preparation for the coming king. The people recognized John as a prophet from God, that he was sent from God himself.) 

Jesus waited for their answer, and he was implying that he got his authority from the same place as John. If they could recognize where John got his authority, then they could recognize where Jesus got his. But if they did not recognize the authority of John, they wouldn’t recognize the authority of Jesus. So he said, “Tell me about John,” and that really put these leaders in a tight spot. For if they said, “John got his authority from God,” then Jesus would have said, “Why didn’t you follow him? Why didn’t you repent? Why didn’t you go to John and let him baptize you?” So they couldn’t say, “John got his authority from God.”

But on the other hand, they couldn’t say, “John got his authority from man.” If they said that John got his authority from man, they would have been saying, “John was an imposter. John pretended to be a prophet. He really wasn’t.” All the people believed in John. They were convinced that John was from God, so they would have turned against the religious leaders. So the religious leaders were caught on the horns of a dilemma and they couldn’t say either way. They couldn’t say, “John got his authority from God” or “John got his authority from man,” so they just shrugged their shoulders and said, “We don’t know where John got his authority.”

Jesus replied, “Well, if you are so blind that you can’t see where John got his authority, then you wouldn’t see where I got mine if I told you. If you are not going to answer me, then I am not going to answer you.” Then he said, “Let me tell you a story.” 

In the very next chapter of Mark, Jesus tells the story of a man who buys a vineyard. The man begins to make it ready for production. He builds a fence around it and brings in all of the equipment necessary to make the vineyard productive—to produce good grapes. Then he leases it out to several tenant farmers and goes on a vacation. In the passing of time the crops are planted, cultivated, and tended, and it is time for the crops to come in. 

There in that day and time—and even in this country just a few years ago—tenant farming was not at all unusual. A man would rent out a piece of land for a portion of the harvest. If he didn’t pay rent he would just pay a portion of the crop. Maybe he would farm it on half or on a third. The man who owned the land would get half or a third of the produce, depending on the agreement that came from the vineyard. 

It came time for the crop to be in and the master didn’t receive his payment, so he sent a servant to collect. When those tenant farmers saw that servant, they beat him up and sent him back to his master. The master sent another servant, and this time they stoned that servant. He went back to tell his master what and happened, and a third servant was sent. This time they killed him, and finally the master said, “I will send my son and surely they will reverence him.” He sent his only son to collect the rent. When his son arrived they said, “Look, here is the heir. We will kill him and the whole farm will be ours!” And they killed him.

Now Jesus asked the religious leaders the question, “What therefore shall the Lord of the vineyard do?” He will come and destroy the husbandman and tenant farmers, and will rent out or give the vineyard to others. If they do not recognize and reverence the owner’s son, if they do not see that he has the authority of his father, and if they will not respect him and reverence him, then there is no hope for them; there is nothing left but that the judgment of God should come upon them.

What Jesus is saying to us is simply this: if we do not recognize that his authority is from the Father, that he is sent from God, and that he has a right to control things and to rule over us, and if we will not recognize that right and reverence the Son as our authority, then there is nothing left for us—nothing but the judgment of God and the rejection of God upon us.

Do you know what the ultimate sin in life is? It is the failure to reverence Jesus as the Son of God. It is the failure to recognize that he is God’s official representative. It’s the unwillingness to recognize that he has authority over us—authority that comes from God to us, through him. The greatest sin that any man could commit is not the sin of lying, it is not the sin of adultery, and it is not the sin of drunkenness. All of those are but the result of basic sin, which is a failure to recognize and to respond to the authority of Jesus Christ over us.

The authority of Jesus in our lives is the crucial issue of life. It is crucial to three things: our preservation, our proclamation, and our salvation.

1. The authority of Jesus is crucial to our preservation.

It is the vital issue of life. It is crucial first of all to our preservation as a nation. Do you know that it is a historical fact that there has never ever been a nation that abolished all of its absolutes and lived? It is a historical fact that when a nation abandons absolutes, it soon dies. It is as simple as this: without the authority of Jesus, there is no foundation for life. There is no foundation for decency and order in society. You simply cannot have fruits without roots. If we want the fruit of law and order, if we want the fruit of honesty and integrity, and if we want the fruit of truth and justice, then we must have the roots of authority, and all authority ultimately resides in God.

If there is no God, there is no authority; if there is no authority, there is no orderly society. Crucial to the very existence of our nation is the fact that we believe that Jesus Christ is the God-ordained authority for your life and for mine. Right is right and wrong is wrong because God said so. It is because God said so and it will forever and eternally be so regardless of what you think or what society does.

If we do not accept the authority of God, then we must accept the authority of man. We can make every individual his own authority. We can say everybody chooses for himself. The dark ages of Israel’s history was in the period of the Judges when “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). That’s about what we have come to in America today. Everybody chooses for himself. You do what you want to do, and I’ll do what I want to do. Right is what you and I think, and nobody else can tell us what to do. If the individual is not the majority, then society as a whole has to be the authority. That is to say that the majority rules. When all of society thinks that something is okay, then it becomes okay.

A few years ago, the use of marijuana was illegal in our country. It became so prevalent that we could no longer enforce the laws and so it has become legal and thus it has become okay in the minds of a lot of people. Whatever the majority thinks, and whatever the majority wants to do becomes right. If you don’t accept the authority of the individual, or the authority of the majority, then the only thing left is the authority of a dictator. The dictator is one person or an elite group of people who rule over and control the rest, and they determine what is right and what is wrong. That’s what happens in Russia and in China today.

There is the elite ruling the majority, and they determine what is right. They determine what is wrong. And they impose their views and their morality on the rest of society. You really have only two choices: either God is the ultimate authority or man is. If it is man, it can be a society, or it can be an individual, a dictator. If it is God, then it is God as he expresses himself to us in and through his Son Jesus Christ. If we want to survive as a people and as a nation, and if we want to have an orderly society, then we must recognize and reverence Jesus Christ as the Son of God. We must know that he has a right to tell us what to do and how to live. 

2. The authority of Jesus is crucial to our proclamation.

Not only is recognizing his authority crucial for our preservation, it is crucial to our proclamation. It was this Son of God who said, “All authority is given unto me. I want you to go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” Do you recognize Jesus as the Son of God? Are you willing to reverence him as the one sent from God? If so, listen to his last orders: “I want you to go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” This has not become optional to you and to me; it is an obligation imposed upon us because we recognize Jesus Christ as the authority in our lives. Our preservation depends upon recognizing his authority. Our proclamation is imperative because he is the one who has a right to tell us what to do. But more than that, our very salvation depends upon it.

3. The authority of Jesus is crucial to our salvation.

Crucial to the matter of authority is our very relationship to God. Friends, you cannot be saved unless you recognize and reverence Jesus Christ as the Son of God and seek to follow his authority. The cheap kind of Christianity that says all a person has to do is to strut down the aisle, shake the preacher’s hand, get dipped in the baptistery, and then go merrily on his way is not in the Bible. The Bible teaches us that when a person becomes a Christian, they submit to the lordship and the authority of Jesus Christ in their lives. Jesus becomes your Savior as you recognize him as Lord. You don’t just come to Jesus and get your sins forgiven and then live like you want to. You come to Jesus as the Son of God, and you submit to him as the Lord of your life. You reverence him as your authority. You seek to live your life under that authority.

Let me ask you today: Are you seeking to live under the authority of Jesus Christ? Have you recognized him as the one sent from God? Have you reverenced him as the one who has the right to call you into account for your very life—including all of your actions?

I say it again, for it is the truth of this scripture that the ultimate sin is the failure to reverence Jesus Christ as the Son of God. It is the failure to recognize and to submit to him as the authority over us. When we see him and know him, and reverence him for who he is, he becomes Lord of our lives as well as our Savior.

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Today's Devotional

Major on the Basics

Knute Rockne was one of the greatest football coaches ever. In his 13 years at Notre Dame, his teams won 105 games, lost 12, and tied 5. He never had a secret practice. In fact, he sometimes put up a sign for visitors that said, “Secret practice. Come and bring your notebooks.”

On one occasion when an Army scout missed a train connection and didn’t get to the Notre Dame game he was to cover, Rockne obligingly sent him the plays he planned to use against the West Point men. He explained his actions by saying, “It isn’t the play that wins; it’s the execution.”

All great coaches agree: champions are made by majoring on the fundamentals – blocking and tackling. They execute well. Teams seldom win by trick plays or gimmicks.  

The same is true of life. Tricks and gimmicks will seldom get you to the top in any endeavor and can never keep you there. Major on the basics in all of life – work hard, honor God, be honest, kind and helpful to others, and go to church regularly.

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