(This is an excerpt from a recent sermon covering Mark 11:1-12:12, you can click here to find the audio)
The authority of Jesus included not only the ability to do something, but the freedom and the right to act. Divine authority – when Jesus acts, the kingdom of God is revealed. The leaders of the day would not be happy about this authority. From their perspective, if Jesus was not given authority by the Sanhedrin, the ruling body made up of the Pharisees, elders and scribes, then he had no authority at all. The only greater authority he could possibly claim was that of God himself… which is probably why they asked.
Two chapters back, after the transfiguration, if you recall, Jesus used the nature of John the Baptizer’s ministry to teach a lesson about his own ministry… in essence he asked, if the spirt of Elijah, the ministry of John the Baptizer, is more than people anticipated, isnt’ it possible that the ministry of the Messiah runs deeper than imagined? Here he takes the same approach to answering the questions of the leaders. At a glance, you might think Jesus asked a random question in order to confuse the leaders and dodge the issue. But if you look a little closer, you’ll see that he actually answered the question in a way that silenced his opposition. Jesus had a gift for proclaiming reality without opening the door for dispute. The leaders had no choice but to chew on the truth.
John had no authority from the Sanhedrin to offer a baptism of repentance. The only way his baptism had ANY meaning is if it was commissioned by God himself. John’s authority was handed down by the Creator of the universe. No human formality set him in the Jordan river to prepare the nation. Just as he did with the disciples after the transfiguration, Jesus is highlighting John’s ministry to explain his own. If you misunderstood John’s authority to baptize, then you will certainly misunderstand my authority as well. After all, John said After me comes he who is mightier, (JESUS) the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
Jesus, with perfect subtlety, was claiming divine authority.
His answer revealed the state of the leaders’ hearts. They were most concerned with preservation and politics, not the matters of the kingdom of God. Had they been looking for the kingdom, they would have repented under John’s ministry. Had they been looking for the kingdom, they would be bowing before Jesus rather than questioning him. Their eyes were fixed on the brick and mortar, the system over which they believed they had control. They missed the blessing.
Jesus then taught them in a parable. Remember, our job with parable is not to read but to listen, to boil down, to gather the sense and take hold of the big contrast rather than obsess over the details. (Obviously, in a written format, this is difficult!?! But it is immensely helpful if you have help, or if you are in the context of a worship service!)
Psalm 80 says the LORD brought a vine out of Egypt and planted it. Vineyard imagery is commonly used to represent Israel. Notice the judgment of this parable is not upon the nation, but upon her leaders… so-called caretakers who would kill to secure their autonomy. As Jesus cast judgment on the temple the day before, the leaders were anxious to destroy him. But it is they who will be destroyed. The vineyard will be given to others. The New Testament is clear that Israel’s vine would be trimmed, natural branches cut back so that others could be grafted in – the Gentiles. That includes me. Yes, the natural branches would eventually be grafted back in as well – but for now things would appear to be different – a fulfillment of God’s promise to save from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone? Israel believed this prophecy to be about her. But here Jesus takes this promise upon himself as well. He is the cornerstone. The rejected cornerstone. He is unwelcome among the caretakers. Cast down & murdered.
This is another quote from Psalm 118 –the very same song of the people as Jesus arrived on a donkey’s colt in Part 1. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Even the rejection… is the Lord’s doing. The rejection… is marvelous. Necessary. The psalm goes on to say, this is the day the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad. Hosanna! Save us! Glad because of what the rejection would accomplish, setting sinners free.
The leaders were dumbfounded and silent because they knew Jesus was casting judgment – first on the temple, now on them. Only the cornerstone remains.