Sermon Details




They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. ‘And who gave you authority to do this?’  Mark 11:27-28 (NIV)

We pick up the story in the Gospel of Mark as Jesus and the disciples arrive again in Jerusalem. Its Tuesday of Holy week and they go straight to the temple. Mark records for us some challenges and questions that were posed to Jesus there, and the answers that He gave.

It is significant that these questions were raised in the temple.  God’s Son comes to God’s house. But instead of being welcomed with love, He is confronted with hostility and rejection. Instead of being the center of worship, He becomes the focal point of debate in God’s house. This tells us a great deal about ourselves and about the world we live in.

Tragically, this has been the case too often in the history of the church. As Jesus Christ looks into your heart, what does He find today? Does He find in your heart adoration, worship, thanksgiving and praise? Or would He find in your heart a long list of questions, struggles and complaints with regard to His authority in your life?

An Official Question About Authority

By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you authority to do this? (v27)

This question was asked by the “Chief priests, teachers of the law and the elders” (v27). This was an official delegation from the Sanhedrin, who had authority over all that went on in the temple. The chief priests and elders were the senior leaders. And the scribes, or teachers of the law, were the legal experts. Today we might say “They brought in the lawyers.”

These men were demanding some answers from Jesus: “By what authority did you clear the money changers from the temple yesterday? What right did you have to do this, and who gave you this authority?”

The answer is that Jesus did this by his own divine authority as the Son of God. As God’s Son, he had supreme authority over God’s house as he does over all God’s world. Think of the gospel story as a whole. Jesus gave evidence of his authority over nature—the wind and the waves, over demons, over every kind of sickness, and even over death itself. But these men did not accept that, as millions would not accept it today.

Here’s the first thing that we learn about ourselves. We are rebels who resist God’s authority. By nature, we resist God’s truth and reject God’s Son. Our natural choice is to be our own god, to choose our own religion, our own homes, and to run our own lives. We are rebels by nature.

This question and answer session gives us a wonderful glimpse of Jesus interacting with people who are hostile to the gospel. There is much for us to learn about evangelism from the way that our Lord handles these conversations.

Don’t be intimidated: Take the initiative

 Jesus replied, ‘I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’ (v29)

Jesus does not answer their question directly. You don’t have to give a direct answer to every question that you are asked, especially with someone who is antagonistic. Jesus’ pattern was to speak openly to people whose hearts were open, and indirectly to people whose hearts were closed.

Jesus told these hostile men a parable about an owner who rented out a vineyard to some tenants. He went away and over a period of time sent a number of messengers, who were beaten and killed by the tenants. Finally, the owner of the vineyard sent his son, but the tenants killed him too. Then Jesus asked “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (v9).

Jesus moves the discussion from a theoretical question about His authority to a personal question about how these men are responding to God’s Son. He takes the initiative and puts the spotlight back on them and their responsibility before God. He shows the consequences of rejecting the son God has sent into the world. And His message got through, because Mark says “They looked for a way to arrest Him because they knew He had spoken the parable against them” (v12).

A Political Question About Money

Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we? (v15)

 The Pharisees and Herodians asked this question, Mark tells us, because they were trying to “catch Jesus in His words” (v13). They begin by flattering Jesus: “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth…”  (v14).

These men sound as if they are genuine seekers after truth, but Jesus sees right through them: “Jesus knew their hypocrisy” (v15). They talk as if they are followers of Jesus, but the reality is that they do not do what he says. That’s hypocrisy.

The second thing we learn about ourselves is that by nature we are hypocrites who avoid God’s commands. It’s in our nature to talk a better game than we actually play. We sound more spiritual than we really are, while we hold ourselves back from true devotion to Jesus Christ.

Don’t be distracted: Stay focused

Jesus said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’ (v17)

There’s an insight for us here with regard to evangelism. The Pharisees and Herodians tried to get Jesus involved in the great political issue of their day: How should God’s people respond to the Roman occupation?  But notice how He resisted their invitation.

If Jesus had taken a position on this issue, it could only compromise His mission. By aligning himself with people in one side he would have alienated the people on the other side from the message of the Gospel. Jesus refuses to be distracted from the work of the gospel by taking sides in the political hot potato of the day. He stays absolutely focused on His mission.

That’s an important example for the church. It is a good thing for Christians to get involved in political life. Many members of our congregation are politically active. We are engaged in political parties, committees and campaigns. I thank God for that. It is a good thing for us to do as Christian citizens, but it is not the business of the church.

The mission of Jesus was not to reform an old community but to build a new community. His strategy is not to change the laws of the land, but to change the hearts of His people. So, when the Pharisees wanted to talk about how to respond to the Roman occupation, Jesus refused to go there. He brought the conversation right back to the issue of how we should respond to God: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

A Theological Question About Resurrection

 At the resurrection whose wife will she be? (v23)

The Sadducees asked this question, Mark tells us, because they did not believe in the resurrection (v18). So they developed their own parable about a woman who had seven husbands: “Who would she belong to in the resurrection?” According to their logic, the whole idea of the resurrection was absurd. Even the idea of resurrected bodies was laughable and ridiculous to them.

There is a great deal of cynicism in this question. And Jesus traces the problem of cynicism to its root: “You do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (v24). Here is a third dimension of our fallen condition: By nature we are cynics who disregard God’s power.

Don’t be ashamed: Be confident

Jesus replied, ‘Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?’ (v24)

Some people are very cynical. They will try to embarrass you by suggesting that the gospel is ridiculous. They will look at you like you are an intellectual lightweight or a fool and say: “How could you possibly believe that God created everything?” Here’s a good question to ask: “Tell me what you believe about God’s power.”

A person who knows God’s power will have no difficulty believing the miraculous. And that is at the very center of Christian faith—the creation, God becoming man in Jesus Christ, the resurrection, the new birth—not just a human change, but a divine change making us new creations, a new heaven and new earth. It all flows from God’s power.

That is what we believe. We believe these things because we find them in the Scriptures. And we believe them because we know the power of God. So, here’s a third insight for evangelism: When a person is cynical, don’t be ashamed. Be confident. Remember that cynicism grows when a person does not know the Scriptures or the power of God. Once you know the power of God everything changes. What once seemed ridiculous now seems wonderfully plausible.

A Genuine Question About Love

Of all the commandments, which is most important? (v28)

This question came from a teacher of the law who had been impressed by the teaching of Jesus (v28). His question has a different tone than the others, which are hostile and marked by cynicism, antagonism, and hypocrisy.

This man wants to know about living a life that is pleasing to God:  “What is the most important commandment?” He agrees with Jesus’ answer, and Jesus recognized that he had spoken ‘wisely.’ Notice the astonishing words of Jesus in this same verse: “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’” (v34).

This teacher of the law must have stepped back and said “What? Not far? What do you mean, Not far?” He is committed to loving God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. He is devoted to loving His neighbor as himself. And Jesus says “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” What more do you need to do to get in?

It’s like saying that the New England Patriots are “not far from being a good team.” What do you mean? They are the best in the country. Nobody has been able to beat them all season![1] Jesus said “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But ‘not far’ means he’s not in.

The fourth thing we learn about the human condition is that we are strangers outside of God’s kingdom. Living a life of love might get you near, but it will not get you in.

Don’t get confused: Keep it clear

You are not far from the kingdom of God. (v34)

Some people that you will talk to live genuinely good lives. They come to church, pray and read the Bible. They agree with what you say. They may even commend your ministry. They are so sincere that you might be in danger of forgetting that they are really lost.

Being a good, loving person won’t save you or anybody else. So, when a person says to you, “I really try to love God and love other people,” that may mean they are near the kingdom. It does not mean that they are in the kingdom. Don’t get confused. Here’s a fourth insight for evangelism: Keep the gospel clear. It is a terrible thing to be close to God’s kingdom but not in it!

 Worshipping Jesus In A Hostile World

 The crowds are listening to Jesus with delight, but there is a huge chasm between Jesus and his questioners. There is absolutely no meeting of the minds between them. The conflict is obvious. The cross is inevitable. The world is rejecting Jesus and Jesus is rejecting the world. And the crowds of people in the temple who are listening to Jesus and His questioners will have to choose.

When it comes to authority and law, truth and the kingdom of God, Jesus and His questioners are opposed to one another. These are irreconcilably different positions. The crowds will have to take sides. You have to choose between Jesus and the world. This is still the same today.

 What does it mean for us to take our stand with Jesus Christ? What does it look like? We’ve gained four insights for evangelism and we’ve seen four faces of our fallen condition. Let’s discover four marks of genuine conversion. What does it mean to become a true Christian today?

End your rebellion against God

Becoming a true Christian means that you recognize His authority over the world and over your life—past, present and future. It means determining “I will not spend the rest of my life in one long argument with God.” There are folks who profess to be Christians who are never finished talking about their disappointment with God, their anger with God, or their questions for God. They never move beyond these things.

Don’t spend your entire life fighting God with your questions and complaints. Instead determine in your heart “I will bow, because on the last day I don’t want to be standing with the rebels, the hypocrites and the cynics. I want to be standing with Jesus as a worshipper, and to know that I’ve lived my life for Him.” End your rebellion against God. Give up your fight against Him. Submit to His rule and authority in your life.

Offer yourself to God unconditionally

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (v17)

Well, what is God’s? The coin bears Caesar’s image. You bear the image of God. When Jesus says, “Give to God what is God’s,” He is reminding us that God lays claim to the totality of our lives, because we are made in His image.

Christians sometimes try to define what we should give to God. And some of the answers are very helpful. Depending on who you talk to, you will hear answers like: “Read the Bible and pray for 20 minutes each day. Give ten percent of your income. Be in a small group. Or get involved in a ministry.”

Being specific can be helpful. But the problem with reducing what we offer God to a list of bullet points is that you lose sight of the fact that God lays claim to the totality of your life—your life, your talent, your time, and your money. All things come from Him.  All things belong to Him. All things are for Him. We are stewards. “Give to… God what belongs to God” (v17).

Trust God’s sovereign power in all things

You do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. (v24)

If you come to the Bible with a materialistic (or naturalistic?) world view, it will make no sense at all. If you want to understand the Bible, you have to read it in the light of God’s sovereign power—the birth of Christ, the miracles, the resurrection, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the new birth, the coming of Christ, and the promise of a new heavens and new earth. These are all manifestations of the power of God.

Becoming a true Christian involves discovering the truth of the Bible and discovering the power of God. One of the great blessings of being a Christian is that you can know that the God who raises the dead is for you, with you, and, by the working of His Spirit, in you. When you come to know the power of God you will look at your life differently.

When you look back on your life before you were a Christian, you will see that God was planning good things for you, even before you knew Him. When you look at your life now, you will see that He is with you, even though you do not see Him. And you can look forward with confidence, because, if your life is in the hand of His sovereign power, then your future is absolutely secure. A Christian is a person who’s learning to trust God’s sovereign power in all things.

How are we to love God?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (v30)

We are to love God with our heart and soul. This involves our feelings and our affections. And we are to love God with our minds. If you love God, then you will care about his truth—passionately. Loving God will show itself in a growing love for truth in your life. David says repeatedly in the Psalms “O, how I love your law.” And he didn’t even have the New Testament! He loved God’s truth.

As you evaluate the conflicting ideas of this world, you will choose thoughts that exalt God and you will reject ideas that diminish Him. A true Christian will be jealous and vigorous for God’s truth. You will choose what makes Him appear more, and you will reject what makes Him appear less.

To love God with all your strength means that you deploy your strength to engage in the work that God is doing in the world. We often talk about God’s strength being given to us, but here Jesus speaks about our strength being devoted to Him. How is your strength being deployed for the advance of the gospel? ‘Your strength’ means everything that God has given to you. This is one of the ways we express our love to Him.

The challenge before our church is to effectively deploy the full strength of this body for the advance of the gospel. This is God’s work in the world. And that is how we show that we love Him.

How are we to love our neighbor?

Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (v31)

 Notice the consistency and the contrast. The consistency is that we are called to love. The contrast is that we are to love in a different way and to a different degree. We are to love God above ourselves, unconditionally, with every power at our disposal—mind, heart, soul, and strength. We cannot love God too much.

Then Jesus says we are to love our neighbor “as ourselves.” Is it possible to love ourselves too much? Yes, it is. We’ve all said about someone at some time or another “It’s pretty obvious that he loves himself, or that she has a high opinion of herself.”

Is it possible to love ourselves too little?  Yes, it is. You know what it’s like when a person isn’t taking care of himself properly. He’s missing too many meals, not sleeping, not washing, and you say “He’s just not looking after himself.” You are concerned because this person loves himself too little.

Some of us need to love ourselves more. Others need to love ourselves less. Knowing the difference is a matter of wisdom, and this is an area where we can help each other. If another person who cares for you says “You need to take better care of yourself.” Listen to them. Or if another Christian says “You are thinking about yourself too much here.” Listen to them.

Let’s help one another gain wisdom is this matter so that we do not err, either by loving ourselves too much or too little. Loving yourself needs to be regulated and it is the same with loving your neighbor.

If you love your neighbor too much, you might make an idol of another person. You might make yourself a slave to another person, or allow yourself to become a door mat. But if you love your neighbor too little, you might become insensitive to a person God has placed next to you, not caring for them or looking out for them as you should.

We need to exercise great wisdom in this matter of our relationships with the people God has placed around us. Love God with all your heart soul mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Bishop Ryle says:

The marvelous wisdom of this distinction is clear and plain. We may easily err in our affections towards others, either by thinking too little or too much of them. We therefore need the rule to love them as ourselves, neither more nor less. We cannot err in our affections towards God in the matter of excess. He is worthy of all that we can give. Therefore we are to love him with all our heart.[2]

And this is the marvelous grace of God. His grace takes us rebels and makes us His friends. His grace takes us hypocrites and turns us into true followers. The grace of God takes us cynics and makes us believers in His Word and His power. Grace takes us outsiders and brings us into the kingdom of His love. That’s why Christ went to the cross. And that’s what He offers to you in the gospel.



[1] The New England Patriots lost in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants on the evening of this message (February 3, 2008). The score was 17-14. Prior to this game, the Patriots were undefeated with a record of 17 wins and 0 losses.

[2] J. C Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark’s Gospel, p.262.



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