Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rendering to Caesar, Rendering to God: Mark 12:13-17

Jesus Christ has a way of uniting people. In His band of twelve apostles, people are united together who would normally not have anything to do with each other. Consider Matthew, who had been employed as a tax-collector under the authority of the Roman government, and Simon the Zealot, who had identified himself with a radical sect of Jewish revolutionaries. These two men would have sooner killed one another than to be joined together. But because of Jesus Christ, they have become brothers. But Jesus does not only unite His friends. He unites His enemies as well. The Pharisees were staunch defenders of Jewish tradition and culture. The Herodians, on the other hand, supported Rome and were fully immersed in the culture of Greek and Roman ideals and practices. Each group stood for what the other group despised. The two groups had only one thing in common. They both hated Jesus Christ, and this was enough to bind them together in a common cause. In Mark 3:6, we read that they began early during His public ministry to conspire together as to how they might destroy Him. And in our text today, these two groups have been sent to Jesus by the Sanhedrin, that ruling body of religious leaders in Jerusalem, “in order to trap Him in a statement.” They have not come out of intellectual curiosity or to resolve a spiritual dilemma. They have come on a mission of malice. The Greek word translated “trap” in v13 was often used of catching an animal in a snare or hooking a fish. They seek to lure him in with their question in hopes of springing the snare on Him to discredit Him in the eyes of the people.

They begin with words of sweet but insincere flattery. They call Him “Teacher,” and indeed He is, but these men have no regard for His teachings. They say, “We know you are truthful.” He is, in fact, more than truthful; He claims in John 14:6 to be the embodiment of Truth. But they do not believe anything He says. They say, “You … defer to no one.” In other words, when Jesus speaks, He does not validate His sayings by citing the rabbis and the traditions, but speaks on His own authority. Again, this is true, but His authority is not recognized by these individuals. They say, “You are not partial to any.” Indeed, He is not like a modern politician who tells people what they want to hear so that they will like Him. As they say, He teaches “they way of God in truth.” These are truthful but empty words. They are not representative of what the Pharisees and the Herodians actually believe about Jesus. They seem to only say these things to endear themselves to Jesus. Their words are the sweet-smelling aroma of the bait that has been delicately balanced on the spring of the trap. It’s all a lead-in to their question: “Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay or shall we not pay?”

Now this question is loaded with political dynamite. The Roman Empire had consumed Palestine nearly a century before and had installed Herod the Great as a puppet-king over the region. When he died in 4 BC, his region was dived among his three sons. Herod Philip was given the north-eastern district; Herod Antipas was given the regions of Galilee and Peraea; and Herod Archelaus was given the area of Judea and Samaria. Archelaus was hated by the people. He “interfered with the priesthood, married against Jewish law, and oppressed the Samaritans and Jews through brutal treatment.[1] Finally, the outcry against Archelaus became so great that in 6AD, Augustus Caesar had him deposed and Judea came under the direct rule of Rome as a province. Whereas in the regions of Antipas and Philip, the taxes of the people went to Rome by way of the local government, in Judea, the taxes of the people went directly to the Emperor.

There were three taxes placed on the people: a land tax, amounting to a tenth of the grain and a fifth of the wine and fruit produced annually; an income tax, amounting to one percent of a man’s annual earnings; and a poll tax, or census tax, amounting to one denarius (an average day’s wage) for every man between the ages of 14-65 and every woman between 12-65. “It was the tax which everyone had to pay simply for the privilege of existing.”[2]This did not set well with the people of Judea, and one particularly zealous person named Judas of Galilee began a revolt, promising the people that God would bless them “if they resorted to all the violence they could muster.”[3] Though the Romans squashed this rebellion quickly, the hatred of paying Roman taxes never disappeared. Paying these taxes was a constant reminder that they were under the thumb of Rome.

What made this question about paying taxes such an explosive one was that there was no safe answer. If Jesus said that the tax should be paid, then He would lose favor in the eyes of the Jewish people, whose nationalistic zeal was well-represented here by the Pharisees. But if He should say that they should not pay the tax, then certainly He would be viewed as a dangerous revolutionary in the eyes of Rome, whose interests are here being guarded by the Herodians. So, when they said, “You are not partial to any,” they knew that any way He answered this question would show that He is either partial to the Jewish people or partial to the Romans. Either way, the trap would be sprung. He would be rejected or killed by Jews whose passions ran hot on this issue, or He would be put to death by the Romans for inciting a rebellion. It did not matter to the Pharisees, Herodians, or Sanhedrin which outcome was actualized. Eliminating Jesus was all that mattered to them.

Now, how will Jesus respond to the question. Would He dodge the question as modern politicians are fond of doing when faced with divisive questions? Perhaps He may say, “It’s above my pay-grade.” It would be perfectly understandable if He said, “I don’t have to answer that question, because you’re not really looking for an answer, you just want to trap Me.” In fact, He does say, “Why are you testing Me?” The word translated testing there is the same word used of Satan’s temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. He knew that they were not asking out of a genuine desire to know and do God’s will. Mark says that he knew their hypocrisy. The word hypocrisy comes from the Greek theater, where the hypocrite was an actor playing a part, wearing a mask. Jesus knew that their flattery and their question was an insincere ploy to lure Him into their snare. But Jesus didn’t dodge the question. He answered it in a most profound way. In fact, His answer left the people amazed, according to verse 17, because the answer He gave did not spring the trap. Yogi Berra purportedly said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Faced with two possible answers, each of which would land Him in deep weeds with one side or the other, Jesus “takes the fork” and affirms the dual responsibility individuals bear in regard to the ruling authorities of nations and the sovereign authority of God. There are at least two clear principles that surface in His words that concern us today in our role as dual citizens of the nation in which we live and the Kingdom of God to which we ultimately belong. It is to these principles we turn our attention now.

I. As citizens of an earthly nation, we have a responsibility to its governing authority.

Coins in ancient days were symbols of power. When a nation was conquered, one of the first acts of the new regime was to issue new currency. As long as the conquered nation used the coin of its overlord nation, they were under the power of that nation. The coin was considered to be the personal property of the King whose image was engraved upon it, giving him the authority to demand its return to him whenever and however he desired.

In Judea, the people used the coins of Rome. Jesus said, “Bring me a denarius to look at.” It is interesting that He did not have one of His own, but the inquisitors produced one for Him to examine. Jesus asked, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” The coins in circulation in those days bore the image of the reigning emperor Tiberius on the front side, with the words “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus.” On the reverse side was a depiction of a seated woman, believed by many to be his mother Livia, with the words Pontifex Maximus, meaning “High Priest.”

It isn’t hard to see why the Jewish people despised the poll-tax. It was a constant reminder that they were under Rome’s domination, and the tax they paid served to fund the Roman power they so despised. And the coin itself proclaimed blasphemy, attributing deity to the Emperor and establishing him as the High Priest of his empire. One scholar has referred to the coin as “a portable idol promulgating pagan ideology.”[4] Yet, they seemed to have no objection to using these coins for daily commerce, and accepting the benefits of Roman rule, such as good roads, stable infrastructure, and the enforcement of the Pax Romana, or “The Peace of Rome,” which kept the Empire safe. Roman rule had provided a stability in the world that was seldom seen before their domination, and has been seldom seen since. While they were not a free nation, they had privileges under Rome that they would not enjoy on their own. And these privileges did not come free.

Is it lawful, they asked, meaning, is it in keeping with Jewish law, to pay this tax? Jesus answers, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Since the coin bore the image of Tiberius, and since Rome had established themselves as the authority of the land and brought the privileges of the empire into being in the region, they should pay the tax. Besides, what God-fearing Jew would want to carry that idolatrous thing around in his pocket anyway? Let Caesar have it. To not pay the tax, in fact, would seem to be a violation of Jewish law, which prohibits stealing, the taking of something without payment. To take the privileges of the state without payment would appear to be a great violation of the Ten Commandments than paying the tax.

Contrary to our rugged American ideals, the Bible does not endorse revolution. In Romans 13:1, the Apostle Paul said, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.” He goes says in verse 2 of that chapter that “whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God.” And he goes on in verses 6 and 7 to speak of paying taxes, saying, “Render to all what is due them,” including taxes. Likewise, Peter says in 1 Peter 2:13-14, “Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” Now, we are inclined to say, “That’s all well and good, but what do we do when we don’t agree with the government?” I will remind you that the government of which these Apostles wrote, and of which the Lord Jesus speaks here, deified their emperor, outlawed Christianity, and put Christ, Paul and Peter, and countless other followers of Christ to death in brutal and torturous ways. Yet, they did not call upon the people of God to revolt and take up arms. To the contrary, they said, “Submit to them.”

In 2000, Donia and I were on a mission trip in Ukraine. During some down time one day, several of us were sitting around chatting, and one of the folks began to tell jokes about President Clinton. We all laughed and more jokes were told, and this went on for a few minutes. Little did we know that one of the Ukrainian Christians sitting nearby overheard every word that was being said, and she jumped to her feet and began to rebuke us in broken English about our conversation. She cited Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 and admonished us that we should respect our leaders even when we don’t agree with them, and then she asked us how many times we had prayed for our President, rather than telling jokes about his immorality. There was a very uncomfortable silence that came over the room. And the looks in every one of our eyes surely confessed that we were in the wrong.

We must render to the governing authorities what is due them, including respect, submission, and even taxes. None of us seem to mind having roads to drive on, a publicly provided water and sewer system, police, fire, and military protection. Many in our midst gladly accept the benefits of Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment, disability, and retirement income provided through Social Security. So, we have no right, and certainly no biblical justification to object to paying taxes. Accepting the privileges requires that we also accept the responsibilities. The government prints the money we use to buy the necessities and luxuries of life. And if we feel that the taxes are excessive, we even have a privilege that the people of Jesus’ day did not – we can elect new rulers whom we believe will govern more justly. But, if Caesar demands the tax, then the tax is to be paid. If it produces hardship, we can trust the faithful provision of God to overcome the hardship for us. And so the first principle we draw from the text here is this: as citizens of an earthly nation, we have a responsibility to its governing authority.

But Jesus didn’t stop there. Had He stopped there, He would have fallen into the trap set for Him by the Herodians and the Pharisees. He would have been discredited in the eyes of the Jewish people as being a puppet of Rome. But what He said next is of even greater importance. The second principle in the passage is this:

II. As human beings, our ultimate responsibility is to God

“Render … to God the things that are God’s.” How do we know what things are God’s? Well, how did we discover what things are Caesar’s? The coin belongs to Caesar because it bears Caesar’s image. What bears God’s image? I remind you of these words found in Genesis 1:26-27: Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Human beings bear the image of God, and therefore belong to God. For this reason, our ultimate responsibility in life is to Him. The Church Father Tertullian said some 1700 years ago, “Render unto Caesar, the image of Caesar, which is on the money, and unto God, the image of God, which is in man; so that thou givest unto Caesar money, unto God thine own self.”[5]

Every aspect of our lives falls under the ownership of God by virtue of our being made in His image. God is deserving of our love, our allegiance, our faith, our obedience, our praise and worship, our gratitude, and He has a right to Lordship over all that is ours. Unfortunately, when we use the word stewardship, we tend to automatically think of money. And money is a part of our lives, but Christian stewardship involves more than just our money. It involves every aspect of life. When we say that we are stewards, we mean that God is the owner and we are the managers. Everything we are and everything we have belongs to Him. He has given it to us to use for Him. And as we use our lives and the things of life He has entrusted to us for Him, we render it back unto Him to whom it is due. If Caesar wants his coins back, let him have them. But give to God the things which are rightfully His – namely our lives and all that our lives entail.

So we see from these two principles that our responsibility to God and our responsibility to the state are not mutually exclusive. We honor the state and submit to the state, not necessarily because the state is honorable or worthy, but because we have been commanded to by our Lord. And we honor God above all else, because He alone is worthy of our greatest allegiance. But the question arises, what do we do when the demands of state clash with the demands of God? We must confess that these occasions would be rare. Most of us have never been ordered by the government to do something that God has forbidden, or forbidden by the government from doing what God has commanded. But some perhaps have. Political correctness and religious pluralism are becoming part of the fabric of America, and the day may soon be coming when we can no longer speak out publicly for Christ and declare Him as the exclusive way of redemption for humanity. The day may be coming, and seems to be rapidly approaching, when the proclamation of biblical morality will be considered a hate-crime. Will we be silent because the government has ordered us to be? More severely, Christians at other times and places have been ordered by the government to renounce Christ as Lord and to worship the idols of the nation. This was the case in Rome, and has been so in other eras and lands as well. Does the Christian resort to idolatry in obedience to the government? Does the Christian abandon allegiance to Christ because the laws of the land command him to do so? By no means. When Jesus says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” He means to give him his due, but no more. The people of Jesus’ day were to pay the tax, but to reject Caesar’s blasphemous claim to be a god.

We read in the Old Testament how Daniel distinguished himself as a faithful servant of a pagan king in a foreign land, but when he was forbidden to pray to anyone except the king, what did Daniel do? The Bible says in Daniel 6:10 that he entered his house and prayed on his knees three times a day before an open window to his God, just as he had been doing all along. For this, he was cast into the den of lions, but he did not protest. He knew the laws of the land; he knew the consequences of violating those laws; but he knew the ways of God were more important. Similarly, in Daniel 3, when Nebuchadnezzar demanded that everyone worship the golden image he had erected, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego (who had been highly favored by the king) refused to do so. When the king confronted them about their refusal to bow to the image and threatened them with the punishment of the fiery furnace, they said, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." We find in Acts 4:18 that Peter and John were ordered by the ruling council in Jerusalem to speak no more in the name in the name of Jesus. They responded, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” And in the very next chapter, we find the apostles being questioned again about violating their gag-order, but again they responded in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” And the Bible says that even though they were threatened with death, “every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” So, there comes a point when the laws of man and the commands of God clash, and when they do, it is with God that our ultimate responsibility rests. But these are rare exceptions found in Scripture and history. Overwhelmingly, the biblical admonition to Christians is to submit to earthly authorities as a testimony to the presence of Christ in our lives.

And so we have these two great principles from the mouth of Jesus: render to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar; but render to God that which belongs to Him. You have been created in the image of God, but by nature and by practice, every human being has rebelled against the sovereign authority of God in sin. The image of God in humanity has been distorted by sin, but it has not been destroyed. As His image bearers, we owe Him our lives. And out of His love for us, He has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him. In the person of Jesus Christ, God has come to live for us, and to die for us, bearing our sins in His death on the cross. He died for you and He died for me, that we might return to God and render unto Him that which He is due. And the risen Lord Jesus stands today with arms outstretched to receive all who will come to Him by repentance and faith and surrender themselves to Him as Savior and Lord. Because of His shed blood, our sins can be forgiven and we can live a life that brings Him honor and glory – a life that will endure for eternity in His presence.

[1] “Archelaus” in Trent Butler ed., Holman Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Holman, 1991), 93.

[2] William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Mark [Rev. ed.] (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), 285.

[3] Barclay, 285.

[4] David Garland, NIV Application Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 462.

[5] Cited in Garland, 463.

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Electing a Messiah?

Steve Nichols was one of my professors at the Graduate School at Lancaster Bible College. During the semester I studied under him, his first book came out. Since then, I think he's published a book a week (not really, but he is prolific). He also contributes to the Ref21 blog, and serves up this very insightful post. I wholeheartedly agree with what he writes here: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2008/08/american-idol.php

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Death of the Father’s Beloved Son: Mark 12:1-12

Throughout human history, the telling of stories has always been a powerful medium to convey a message. Entire civilizations have disappeared, leaving only scant traces of their history, but their stories survive, handed down orally and in written form. The creative and imaginative streak within us loves a good story. When God reveals Himself to us in the pages of Scripture, He makes much use of stories. The Bible contains many different genres of literature, but a large percentage of the Bible contains stories. Most of those stories are historical narratives of actual events which took place. But then there are times when God’s spokesmen tell a story for the purpose of making a point. When the prophet Nathan confronted King David about his adultery with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of her husband Uriah, he told a story about a rich man who had stolen the only precious lamb of a poor neighbor. With rich verbal imagery, the prophet told of the poor man’s love for his lamb, and the callous act that the rich man committed against him. The story aroused anger in the King’s heart, and he exclaimed, “As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die.” And the prophet, having made his point clear through the story, said to the King, “You are the man!”

We call stories like these “Parables.” Some have defined them as earthly stories with spiritual meaning. No one ever employed parables with greater effectiveness than Jesus. The Gospels are full of these memorable sayings of the Lord, though relatively few occur in Mark. Mark’s gospel is characterized by rapidly moving action. So, when Mark slows the action down to incorporate a story like the one we have here, we understand that there is significant meaning attached to the story and we should pay special attention to it.

As Chapter 12 opens, the scene has not changed. We are still at the Temple where Jesus has been confronted by members of the Sanhedrin, Jerusalem’s ruling council, with a question of His authority. In that interaction, Jesus has turned the tables on the Sanhedrin and exposed them for their ignorance and their lack of true spiritual power. Chapter 11 concludes with Jesus saying that He will not tell them by what authority He has done the things that have aroused their ire. But then He begins to tell this story about a man who owns a vineyard. The vineyard has been rented out to tenant-farmers who are to nourish and cultivate the vineyard for the owner. They are accountable to the owner for the harvest. And when harvest time comes, the owner sends a servant to collect some of the harvest as a “rent-payment” from the vine-growers. After this servant is mistreated by the tenant-farmers, the owner sends another, and another, and each one is treated worse than the last. Verse five summarizes this: “And so with many others, beating some and killing others.” And then we come to the climax of the story: in verse 6, the owner of the vineyard has no more servants to send, and so he sends his beloved son into the vineyard. And the son is killed as well. This is really the crux of the story: the death of the father’s beloved son.

Now, why would Jesus tell this story here at this place and at this time? He tells it to answer the question about His authority. By what authority has He entered the Temple and upset the entire temple system without the Sanhedrin’s approval? He has come under the authority of His Father. He is the beloved Son who has come to set things aright on His Father’s behalf. You see, all those who heard this parable spoken who were familiar with the Scriptures would recognize the similarity between Jesus’ description of the vineyard and the parable of the vineyard found in Isaiah 5. Here in Mark 12, we read, “A man planted a vineyard and put a wall around it, and dug a vat under the wine press and built a tower.” In Isaiah 5, we read, “My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it and also hewed out a wine vat in it.” Later on, he speaks of the hedge and the wall that surrounded it. Yes, those who knew their Bibles recognized as Jesus described this vineyard that He was speaking of the same vineyard that Isaiah had spoken of in his parable.

A parable is not the same as an allegory. In an allegory, every detail has a corresponding significance and sign-value. In a parable, some details are superfluous, added just to enrich the story. But the main features of the parable will correspond symbolically with something in reality. And in Isaiah’s parable, the vineyard was a symbol of Israel, chosen by God, and nurtured and cultivated so that it would produce good fruit for Him. And so it is in Jesus’ parable. The vineyard is Israel, and the owner of the vineyard is God. The vine-growers in Jesus’ story are those who are accountable to God for the spiritual well-being of His people. The priests, the scribes and the elders have been entrusted with the task of teaching and leading God’s people. And they are accountable to God for the spiritual condition of the nation.

Those familiar with the Isaiah parable would recall what took place in the vineyard of God. Isaiah 5:2 says, “He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones.” The Hebrew word translated “worthless ones” there is the word beushim – it means literally “stinking things.” Old Testament scholar Alec Motyer translates it “stink fruit.” And in that case, when the owner has done all within his power to have a healthy productive vineyard, the growth of stink fruit must be the responsibility of the tenant vine-growers. They will give an answer to the owner of the vineyard for the stink-fruit that is being produced. And so it is that the religious leaders of Israel are accountable to God for the pitiful state of spiritual affairs that have prevailed in the nation over many generations.

Now, over the course of time, God had repeatedly sent His servants the prophets to report on the condition of the nation and to enforce this accountability, as if they had come to collect rent on the vineyard. One by one they came, one by one their message was rejected. Ultimately God sent His Son. The writer of Hebrews said it this way: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” And the Son is treated no better than those servants who came before Him. He is put to death.

This parable is all about the death of the father’s beloved son. To those who have ears to hear it, it is yet one more prediction of the coming death of the Lord Jesus. Lest they think that His death comes as a tragic accident or a surprise attack, He has announced it in advance on multiple occasions, as in Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34. The death of the Father’s beloved Son occurs in the doing of the Father’s work, it is brought about at the hands of the Father’s wayward workers, and it ultimately accomplishes the Father’s will. These are the realities of the death of the Son. The early band of Christ’s followers needed to understand this, and so do we. Unless we conceive of the death of Christ in this way, we will chalk it up to an unfortunate mistake, we will fail to grasp the depth of the love of God for us in the sending of His Son, and we will minimize the glory of our crucified and risen Savior.

I. The Death of the Son Occurs in the Doing of the Father’s Work

In the parable, the father has sent his beloved son into his own vineyard to collect what is rightfully his from the tenant-farmers. The son has come as the father’s representative, with the father’s authority, to the father’s property, to claim the father’s due.[1] Unlike the servants who have come before him, the son has a legal claim over the vineyard, as his father’s heir. But in doing the work of his father, he is put to death.

We’ve already said that the image of the vineyard in the parable of Jesus expands on the parable of Isaiah in which the vineyard was a picture of Israel. They are God’s people, chosen by Him to be His agents in the world. They were not chosen because God preferred them above all the other nations. They were not chosen because God desired them and them only. Rather they were chosen to be a light to the nations, that through them, God might send forth His word into all the earth and redeem all of humanity for Himself. In His call to Abraham in Genesis 12, God did not say that He would bless Abraham and his descendants alone, to the exclusion of all the other nations. Rather God said, “I will bless you and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing.” Then He said, “In you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.” This was the grand charter for the nation of Israel, to be a blessing in the world, and to bring other nations into the knowledge of God. We might say that Israel was chosen to be God’s missionaries in the world, to bear fruit for Him among the nations. But over the course of time, Israel failed to be this missionary nation. They took the blessings of God for granted and began to follow after the gods of the nations, maintaining only superficial allegiance to the one true and living God. They continued with the sacrifices and offerings and all of the external matters of religion, but their hearts were far from God and they failed to produce this fruit that God had called them to bear.

And so in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son. He did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill the Word of God that had been declared. He came to set matters aright, to settle accounts with the nation.

Jesus said in John 5, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing.” He went on to say, “the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.” Later in John 8, Jesus said, “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” Then in John 10, He said, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”

Just as the owner of the vineyard sent His beloved son, so God the Father sent His beloved Son into the world to do His work. At His baptism, the voice of the Father broke through the heavens declaring, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” On the Mount of Transfiguration, the voice came again stating, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” The Father’s beloved Son came on a mission of the Father, to do His work. And John said of Him in John 1:11, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” And in the course of doing His Father’s work, He was put to death.

II. The Death of the Son Is Brought About At the Hands of the Father’s Wicked Workers

The vine-growers in the story reflect a common practice found in the early part of the first-century in Judah. Secular and religious literature from the period depict the widespread practice of tenant-farming. On most farmlands, the tenants rented the land from the owner and planted crops for themselves. In a vineyard, however, the tenants cultivated the vines which had been established by the owner. Some vines could take up to five years to bear fruit, and during that time, they would require constant irrigation and care. But when harvest time came, the landowner would send his representative to collect a portion of the harvest as payment for the use of the land.

In the spiritual realm, God has delegated much of His work to be carried out by human agents. Like the tenant farmers, the priesthood of Israel has been entrusted with the responsibility of leading the nation to walk faithfully and fruitfully with God. They are accountable to God for the work that they do, and for what they fail to do. Throughout the history of the nation, whenever it has begun to drift from faithfulness to God, He has sent His servants the prophets to proclaim His truth to the people. Often, their messages contain indictments against the religious leaders of the nation who have either tolerated or encouraged the decline. Many were not received well by the leaders of the nation and many suffered at the hands of those who should have been working for the advance of God’s purposes. But at various times in Israel’s history, including in Jesus’ day, the priesthood was enjoying comfort and prosperity in the midst of the spiritual decline, and were threatened by the message of repentance that the prophets announced. So, in our parable, the servants who come on behalf of the vineyard owner to collect what is due threaten the prosperity and personal comforts of the tenants. They reject their accountability and punish the messenger. C. H. Dodd commented that they paid their rent in blows. They beat the first servant who came and sent him away empty-handed. The second one, they wounded in the head and treated shamefully. The third, they killed. More came, and more were beaten and killed.

In Matthew 23, Jesus addressed the scribes and Pharisees saying, “"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” They had beaten and killed the servants God had sent to them in the past, and they remained unchanged in Jesus’ day.

In one final act of patience and forbearance, God sent one final messenger: His beloved Son. And just as the workers in the parable began to plot the destruction of the son in verse 7, when Christ came and began to do the work of His Father, these wicked workers began to plot against Him. As early as the second chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we begin to see conflict brewing between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel. By the third chapter, the Pharisees and Herodians were conspiring to put Him to death. And beginning in Mark 8:31, Jesus began to teach His disciples that He would be put to death by the scribes, the elders and the chief priests. He knew of their plots against Him.

These individuals should have been concerned about the spiritual well-being of the nation and the things of God. They should have recognized and received the Son with gladness. The father in the parable sent his beloved son, saying, “They will respect my son.” Certainly God the Father knew what would take place when He sent His Son into the world, but He sent Him anyway out of His love for His people and His desire to redeem them. He sent the Son knowing that He would be put to death by the wicked workers who should have been about the Father’s business.

III. The Death of the Son Accomplishes The Father’s Will

The tenant farmers have devised a scheme and carried it out. In their thinking, eliminating the heir will make the whole vineyard their own. But they have forgotten one key thing. The father still owns the vineyard, and still has the authority to hold them accountable for their deeds. And so Jesus asks the rhetorical question: “What will the owner of the vineyard do?” He has endured the murder and mistreatment of one servant after another and now at last they have murdered his beloved son. Will he now transfer the deed to the vineyard over to these scoundrels? By no means. “He will come and destroy the vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.” And in so-doing, the death of the son is vindicated. His death is not the end of the story. His vindication is.

Of course, we know that the story is intended to foreshadow the soon-coming death of the Son of God. But His death will not be the end of the story. He will be vindicated by His Father. Jesus asks these religious leaders who are supposedly experts in the Scriptures, “Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone; this came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” This comes from Psalm 118, that great messianic psalm which the people took up to praise Jesus as He entered Jerusalem in the previous chapter. They praised Him with the words of Psalm 118:26, and now He confronts the members of the Sanhedrin with verses 22-23 of the same Psalm. These verses picture a stone being brought to the builders of the temple, a stone which the builders rejected as unfit for the temple, only to discover later that this rejected stone had become the cornerstone of the temple. The significance is easy to see. Jesus has come to the temple, and has been rejected by those who see themselves as the builders of the temple. But after they have Him put to death, they will find that He has become the foundation of a new temple God will build, made up of the living stones of those who come to Him by faith and repentance apart from temple rituals and priestly formalities.

Christ is the stone which the builders (the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders) rejected. But something marvelous in our eyes would happen very soon after! The rejected stone becomes the cornerstone as the crucified Christ rises triumphantly from the dead. And when that occurs, the wicked workers will find that their plot has failed, and all that authority that they held over the nation would be stripped away from them. Having failed to give the owner of the vineyard His due, their portion would be allotted to others, and they would be marked out for destruction. Thinking they had won a great victory in putting the beloved Son to death, they did not know that their wicked works played into the furtherance of the Father’s will. As Peter proclaimed on Pentecost in Acts 2:23-24, “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” The Son is vindicated, the rejected stone becomes the cornerstone, and this came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

The entire history of Israel has been characterized by rebellion against the God who set them apart for Himself and delivered them time and again. They killed the prophets from Abel to Zechariah. But this is just a microcosm of human history as a whole, which has been characterized from its earliest days by the persistent attempt to rid the universe of God. To many, He is nothing more than an absentee landlord, far off and unconcerned with the events of the world. And if humanity can dispense with God, or even put Him to death, then the way is paved for humanity to have complete and autonomous sovereignty over his own affairs; as it were, to become gods for themselves.[2] Ah, but be ye not deceived, the scriptures warn, for God is not mocked. His cause will be vindicated. Accounts will be settled and all things set aright. The death of His beloved Son has been vindicated, and the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever.

To some, Jesus is considered to be nothing more than a mystical religious figure who came onto the scene of history telling marvelous stories. Indeed, He often told parables, but as we can see with this one, this is not just a story. This is a message loaded with explosive theological significance. Those who should be working accountably under the Master’s Lordship have abused His servants, and ultimately killed His Son, but the Son will triumph in the end. And even those who heard it in that day understood completely what was meant by it. Like David, when confronted by the prophet Nathan’s parable, the religious leaders in Jerusalem understood that “He spoke the parable against them.” As Nathan pointed out David saying, “You are the man,” Jesus points the finger at the leaders and says, “You are the wicked workers of the vineyard.” But unlike David, they do not respond in repentance, but rather they sought to seize Him, thus proving themselves to be of the same nature as those in the parable. Ultimately their fear of losing face in the eyes of the people was greater than their fear of God, and they relented. But it was only momentary. They will return, and they will exercise their plot, and kill the Son. But in so doing, they only hasten His vindication and triumph.

The Father has sent His beloved Son into the world, and He has been murdered and vindicated in the resurrection. His death has become the sacrifice for the sins of man, and all who trust in Him will be saved. As Psalm 2:12 says, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”

[1] Edwards, 358.

[2] Edwards, 359.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Authority of Jesus: Mark 11:27-33

(There is no audio available for this message.)

Around the middle of the twentieth century, a paradigm shift occurred in the minds of humanity, the likes of which had not occurred in 500 years. Historians, philosophers, and sociologists often recognize three major paradigm shifts in the last 2,000 years. The first is called the “pre-modern” era, and lasted until around 1500 AD. During this time, knowledge was rooted in faith in God and the authority of His revelation in Scripture. Truth was understood to be that which was in harmony with faith in God and His word. However, when the Enlightenment period began, what is sometimes called “the modern era”, the emphasis was changed from faith in God to human reasoning. For the better part of 500 years, this was the way the bulk of humanity operated. It wasn’t that faith in God or the Bible was discarded, it was just that people began to question why the authority of God or the Bible should be assumed. There emerged in this period of history a view of two circles of truth. There was the circle of “religious truth” or “faith,” in which ideas that people believed without proof was contained. And then there was the circle of “real truth,” or we might call it “scientific truth”. In this circle was all the information that could be tested and proven by human reason or scientific investigation. Slowly, this circle came to be more important in the minds of humanity than the circle of religious truth or faith. Over the next 400 years or so, several great clashes between the two circles took place such as the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, and the Scopes Monkey Trial. But in the midst of the twentieth century, the dominance of human reason began to lose power as a new paradigm shift began to emerge. This new way of thinking has been referred to as “Postmodernism”. If the pre-modern period is characterized by one circle of truth, and the modern period by two circles of truth, then postmodernism is characterized by no circle of truth. The notion of truth has disappeared altogether, replaced by a stronger emphasis on feelings and relationships. Nothing is considered to be true in an absolute sense, but truth morphs into whatever helps me to feel better or whatever values bind my social network. Of course, little thought is given to the fact that postmodern ideology is self-defeating. When one claims that there is no absolute truth, they expect that statement to be understood as absolute truth, and therein the whole system falls apart. But with the rejection of absolute truth also came the rejection of authority. Since no idea can be said to be absolutely true in the postmodern system of thought, then no one can lay claim to any level of authority. As we enter the marketplace and present the claims of the Christian faith, we are met with either indifference or antagonism. The indifferent response we receive says, “I’m so glad that Christianity works for you. It doesn’t work for me. So, it isn’t true for me, but it can be true for you.” The antagonistic response says, “Who do you think you are to force your ideas on me?” And so we see that, although the times have radically changed since Jesus’ day, the issues we face as we serve Him in a lost world have not changed all that much.

In the last few passages we have seen how Jesus entered Jerusalem on the Sunday of His final week before the cross. On Monday, He entered the Temple and chased out the money changers and salesmen and upset the entire system of Temple-based religion. Now, it is Tuesday, and Jesus returns to the Temple. Mark tells us that He was walking in the Temple, and the other Gospels tell us He was teaching. And as Jesus is walking and teaching, He is confronted by the chief priests and the scribes and elders. As the passage unfolds we see that the entire episode revolves around the issue of authority, namely by what authority Jesus has said and done the things they have observed. In the study of this passage, we will discover three important realizations about the authority of Jesus that will help us to understand the conflict which was brewing around Him. But these realizations will also help us to understand the clash which often erupts in our own day when it comes to His authority and the authority of His Word.

I. Jesus’ authority is rejected by those whom it threatens (vv27-28)

The chief priests, the scribes and the elders are no randomly gathered group of inquisitors. These three groups made up the body known as the Sanhedrin, which was the Jewish executive, legislative, and judicial council: the equivalent of America’s president, congress, and Supreme Court, all rolled up into one body. The Sanhedrin consisted of seventy men plus the high priest, who was its presiding officer. The title “chief priests” refers to the present high priest, the former high priests, and the group of religious officials from which the high priests were chosen. Most of these were Sadducees, who are characterized by their support of Rome, their preference for the Greek culture, and their more liberal views of doctrine. The scribes consisted mostly of Pharisees, that prominent and powerful group of Jewish teachers who were considered to be experts in matters of religious doctrine and practice. The elders were the prominent leaders of nearby major towns. We should probably not assume that all 71 members of the Sanhedrin confronted Jesus in the Temple on that Tuesday, but it would be fair to understand this group as a chosen delegation sent by the Sanhedrin for the purpose of confronting Him.

In Matthew’s Gospel, we read that this encounter took place “while He was teaching.” It was a public engagement, and no doubt the delegation interrupted Him in the midst of His teaching to ask Him two very important questions: “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?” What are “these things” to which they refer? Very obviously, they were concerned primarily with the events of the last 24-48 hours. By what authority has Jesus entered the city accompanied by the praises of the people? Who has given Him the authority to run off the temple’s merchants? And on what grounds does He assume He can enter the temple grounds and begin teaching? They demand that He produce some credentials otherwise He will be condemned as a blasphemer, an anarchist, and a religious rebel.

Inherent in their questions is a key assumption. The Sanhedrin believes itself to be the ultimate authority in all matters of Israel, and they have not authorized Jesus to do these things. Therefore, He is either without authority, or else He must claim to have some higher authority, and in their minds, the latter is unthinkable. In their eyes, there is no higher authority. By His actions, Jesus has threatened their power, their prominence, and their prosperity. His teaching undermines theirs, His popularity exceeds theirs, and His purging the merchants from the temple has cut off their means of financial support. They are not interested in conversation, but condemnation, because their livelihood and their very claim to legitimately exist as a ruling council is under attack by the words and deeds of Jesus. So their goal in this confrontation is to expose Jesus as an infidel and a renegade and return the people’s confidence to themselves. When it comes to the position of ultimate authority, there is room for only one. Either the Sanhedrin is the ultimate authority, or else someone or something else is. And the Sanhedrin will hardly relinquish its claim, therefore they reject the authority of Jesus to do “these things.”

In our day, as we point to the authoritative claims of Jesus Christ, those claims are received by some as threats. We claim that that He is the unique incarnation of God, that His word is the only source of divine revelation, that He is the only way to salvation, and that He alone is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This threatens those who choose to believe otherwise. They believe in other deities, other scriptures, other paths of enlightenment, and other sources of ultimate authority. And the most tyrannical authority in all the world is the tyranny of self. The Christian worldview is a brunt attack on the fortress of self-authority. We claim that God has a standard of righteousness, which threatens those who believe they can decide right and wrong for themselves. We claim that all are sinners, threatening the pervasive notion that we are all OK and basically good people deep down. We claim that there is only one source of truth and one way to salvation, threatening the idea that every person can determine their own truth or invent their own spirituality. We claim that allegiance to Christ demands a denial of self and of lesser things, threatening the self-serving ideals that are common to man. And so it is no surprise that these authoritative claims are rejected. But the rejection of the claims of Christ does not disprove them. One does not reject the claims of Christ because he or she is intellectually superior, or because they have found a more factual system of belief. They often reject the claims of Christ because they are threatened by His authority and are not yet willing to relinquish their own. But their rejection does not make the claims untrue. They were true when Jesus spoke them, though they were rejected by those whom they threatened, and they continue to be true, threatening, and rejected today. We can know this with certainty because of our second realization concerning His authority. …

II. Jesus’ authority is attested by divine revelation (29-32)

Rather than getting into a prolonged debate with the religious leaders, or going to great lengths to defend Himself, Jesus responds to their two questions with one question of His own: “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?”

John the Baptist emerged onto the scene as a prophetic voice calling for people to repent. He was not trained in the rabbinical schools, and no impressive credentials to display. He was clothed in camel-hair, eating locusts and wild honey in the wilderness, and the people of Israel flocked out to hear him and to be baptized as a demonstration of their repentance from sin. His preaching broke 400 years of prophetic silence in Israel. Though he was not popular with Herod or with the religious establishment, the people rightly understood him to be a true prophet of God. The question of Jesus may seem at first glance to be unrelated to the issue of His own authority, but in fact it is crucial.

Like Jesus, John had not been authorized, commissioned, or ordained by the Sanhedrin. Rather than summoning the people to the Temple to undergo rituals and sacrifice to have their sins forgiven, John was offering forgiveness free of charge to all who would come to the river and demonstrate repentance of their sins and faith in the promise of God’s Word. Now Jesus asks the supposed religious authorities of Israel, “Who authorized John to do this?” Pious Jews sought to refrain from taking God’s name in vain, so they would often substitute the word “heaven” for the name of God. Jesus accommodates that custom in His question. Was John’s baptism from heaven, meaning was it authorized by God, or was it authorized by men?

Now the opposition found themselves in a real pickle. You can almost see them huddled together like a football team planning their next play, whispering among themselves, “Hmmm, how can we answer this one.” They knew that if they said John’s baptism was not of divine origin, they would have trouble on their hands. Luke’s Gospel tells us that they feared the people would stone them because everyone recognized John to be a real prophet of God. So that leaves them with the option of saying that John’s baptism was ordained by God. But this was equally problematic. If they said this, then they knew Jesus would say, “Then why did you not believe him?”

Now, what exactly had they not believed about John’s message? If you recall, a significant plank in John’s platform was his message that he was a forerunner, preparing the way for one who was to come after him who was greater than he. In Mark 1:7-8, John said, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” The fact that Jesus was this mightier One is made evident by the testimony of John concerning Him. When Jesus came to be baptized by John, we read in Matthew 3:14 that John said, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” In John 1:29-30, John pointed out Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” Of course John the Baptist was older than Jesus, but he recognized that Jesus was God incarnate, eternally preexistent, thus he said, “He existed before me.” But even more significant than John’s testimony of who Jesus was is God’s own testimony. When Jesus was baptized by John, in Mark 1:10-11 we read, “Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.’” In John 1:33-34, John the Baptist said, “He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, 'He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.' I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

Now, if the members of the Sanhedrin admit that “the one who sent John to baptize” was God, then they must accept his testimony as true. But if they do that, then they admit to Jesus being the Son of God, God incarnate, and the long-awaited Messiah. This then would answer the question of His authority – if John was baptizing under God’s authority, then Jesus was doing the things He did under God’s authority as well. So the question Jesus asks is essential to the issue of His authority.

There is a principle at work here in this question and counter-question. Man can only know truth about God if and when God chooses to reveal it. And God reveals Himself to people progressively. To those who respond in faith to the revelation they receive from Him, He gives more. To those who reject that previous revelation or remain indifferent to it, He withholds further revelation. At best, the Sanhedrin takes a course of indifference to the revelation given through John the Baptist, saying ultimately, “We do not know.” At worst, they have rejected the revelation given through John, and only waver on it because of fear of the people. Either way, they have disqualified themselves from receiving an answer to their question. If they will accept John’s testimony, then the question of Jesus’ authority becomes unnecessary. But since they have rejected it, or ignored it, He refuses to give them more information than they already have.

This is relevant for us today. We have a message to proclaim about a God who forgives sin and invites people to live forever in heaven. And we are proclaiming that message to a culture which does not believe in God, or at least doesn’t believe in this God, doesn’t believe in sin, and doesn’t believe in life after death. Contrast the preaching of Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2 with the preaching of Paul at Mars Hill in Acts 17. Peter was preaching to a Jewish audience who had accepted the revelation of the Old Testament. Therefore in his sermon, he built on what they knew to lead them to understand Christ as a fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament. But in Acts 17, Paul was preaching to secularized Gentiles who were immersed in various strains of philosophy. He makes no reference at all to the Old Testament, but begins with their own religious beliefs, creation, and morality. He builds on what they already know and accept and doesn’t speak to them about concepts they can’t understand. This is similar to what Jesus does with the religious leaders. Knowing that they have (for the most part) accepted the revelation of the Old Testament, He moves on to the revelation of John the Baptist. Since they won’t accept that revelation, there is no need to move further with them. They are condemned already because of their unbelief. So we too must find a common ground with those that we talk to about Christ.

It may be that those with whom we seek to share Christ have no knowledge of God, or the Bible, or right and wrong. But they know they exist, and they know that this world exists. So we start there. They have received the revelation of creation. So we ask them to move from there to recognizing a creator. Then we move to the issue of revelation, that the creator makes Himself known to the creation. Then we move from there to Christ in calculated steps, building at each stage on what the individual has accepted already. No matter how convincing our presentation may be, God will not reveal Himself beyond what they already accept to be true about Him. Jesus demonstrates this in this encounter with the members of the Sanhedrin. They want to know about His authority. He points them to divine revelation, for His authority is attested therein. But they have not received the revelation they have been given, so they can receive no more.

Now we move to the final realization about Christ’s authority from these verses. …

III. Jesus’ authority will triumph over all earthly powers (33)

The final verse in this chapter is filled with somewhat humorous irony. The most powerful entity in Israel has approached Jesus to interrogate Him about the issue of authority. Their aim was to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people. Yet, with a single and simple question, Jesus turns the tables on them. Was John’s baptism from heaven or from men? If anyone could possibly offer an answer to this question, certainly these men could be expected to do so. This group is supposedly a collection of experts on all things political and religious. Yet, without argument, without any propositional claim, without any line of personal defense, with a simple question, Jesus exposes their ignorance, their insecurity, and their spiritual powerlessness. They are forced to confess, “We do not know.” I wish we could see the looks on people’s faces who overheard this. I imagine they would be shocked to hear such a confession from these scholars. They are supposed to know it all! How can they not discern whether someone is operating under God’s authority or not? And since they admit that they cannot discern this about John, Jesus responds, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” And with that statement, Jesus demonstrates that they have no authority over Him. Rather, He has authority over them and does not owe them any answer.
There have been many throughout history who, like the Sanhedrin, have tried to place themselves in the seat of judgment over Christ. They try to evaluate Him according to their own standards, assuming that they have some authority to determine the validity of His words and works. But He does not submit to their authority. He does not jump through their hoops on command. And He doesn’t waste time proving to them the truths that will ultimately prevail on their own merits. He goes on about His work of teaching the multitudes and doing the works that the Father sent Him to do. The Sanhedrin is not appeased at this point. They will regroup and devise a more sinister plan to eliminate the Jesus threat by sending Him to the cross to die. But, even though they have the power to put Him to death, they still do not have authority over Him. He triumphs ultimately by His resurrection from the dead. Even in putting Him to death, they play right into His sovereign plans, illustrating yet again that He is the one with ultimate divine authority.

Governments, armies, philosophers and a host of other forces have tried to place themselves in authority over Christ, and time and time again, He triumphs over them. And we know that ultimately, the Word of God promises that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. You may be witnessing to someone who refuses to acknowledge the authority of Christ, and by their rejection of His claims they seek to elevate themselves in authority over Him and His Word. Some Christian people are well-trained in apologetics and can engage in lengthy disputes and debates and present convincing arguments for the truth of Christ’s claims. But, while we should all be growing in our faith and in knowledge so that we can better articulate the Christian message, we should not be intimidated by the wise-sounding arguments of those who reject Christ. After all, it is not the power of our intellectual arguments that will convert the lost sinner. That is a work of the Holy Spirit as He moves sovereignly upon the hearts of men. We speak truth into their lives, under the authority of Christ who has commissioned us to do so, and we leave the results to Him.

We rest in confidence that Christ will triumph over all earthly powers. The individual or group of individuals who refuse to submit to Christ’s authority may die in their rebellious state. But they will find themselves then face to face with Him, and without word or argument, they will bow before Him and confess that He is Lord. Only then it will be too late for them, and for eternity they will endure the misery and torment of hell, being plagued by their guilt of rejecting Him during the days of their lives, and their refusal to receive the gracious offer of salvation from God.

Could it be that you have resisted Christ’s authority in your own life? Could it be that the thought of submitting to His authority threatens the security of your own life, thinking that you live under your own autonomy? If so, you must realize that your resistance to His authority does not diminish it. You will acknowledge His ultimate Lordship now, or you will later, and then it may be too late. To not live under rightful authority is to live in rebellion, and the way to end rebellion is to surrender. So it may be that today you need to wave the white flag and finally allow Him to reign in your life as Lord. Christ died to save you, and conquered death for you in His resurrection. Why not today, this moment, acknowledge this by faith and yield your life to Him?