Interrogation Scene 1
Good morning, everybody. I want to begin today in an odd way, by attempting to encourage myself. And the way I’m going to try to encourage myself is to see if any of you share my weakness. So, welcome. Glad you’re here. I hope you have the same weakness as I do, because if you do, I will feel better about me.
Do multiple questions in a row bother you? I think of this with my kids. I’m trying to teach them something good, and I’m trying to give them information, and I ask them a question, and I ask them a question, and I ask them a question — all for good reasons.
Or maybe this is in the world of spouses. When I asked that question about annoying questions in a row, I saw a couple spouses of both genders kind of do the … at each other. In our marriages when we’re trying to figure out something, do we ask too many questions in a row?
Hopefully in those two scenarios, they’re all good and kind questions. But what if multiple questions in a row are dishonest or even feel manipulative? How do you react then? What about loaded questions? You know those questions that come at you that you have no way to answer well.
A couple of years ago, some families, really good friends of ours, we used to go to this rock quarry up in North Carolina where you can jump off rocks into 25 feet of water — anywhere from 6 feet to 20 feet. I was at about 15-18 feet, and I dove head first, climbed up the ladder, got back to the top, and this woman looked at me and said, “How do you dive so gracefully?” Now think that question through for a second. At first, I started to put the emphasis on the “How do YOU? Hey, big fatty, how did YOU do that? It was a loaded question.
What about accuquestions? Have you ever received one of those — the accusation in question form? What were you thinking? Why do you always do that? Those aren’t real questions. People are using a question to tell you you’re not thinking, and you always do that. So, how many of those questions, the loaded, dishonest, manipulative accuquestions can you take before you respond in a less than holy way? Me, maybe one on a good day.
Today, we find Jesus in such a scenario. He’s in a pressure cooker of questions. Leaders are hurling questions at Jesus, trying to trip up and trap Jesus in his own words. But it doesn’t work. Jesus has a methodology to get out of it. Jesus escapes traps focusing on God. Jesus escapes traps focusing on God. We’re going to observe Jesus escaping traps this week and next week, and we’re going to use the same outline both weeks. We’re going to see the situation — what’s going on? We’re going to see Jesus’ response — what does Jesus do? And then we’re going to see Jesus focus on God — what matters about God?
As I studied this week and for next week, that pattern of him focusing on God came up, and my assumption is, if that’s what Jesus did in that moment, he wanted his listeners, the disciples and the religious to hear this teaching on God. And so, by extension, I think the point we need to move towards is, what did Jesus teach about God? So, this week, let’s see the situation first. For us to understand the situation that we’re in, in our passage that Ben just read, we have to remember one event that happened right before this. And I want you to see it. What I’m going to show you might make some of you feel uncomfortable. Hang on for about a minute and 26 seconds. Enjoy the discomfort, and then we’ll talk about it. This happened right before our passage today.
And today, Jesus returns to the temple. Now, some of you may not like the way that actor portrayed Jesus, and that’s okay. But we know from the Scriptures he did make a whip, he did drive out animals, he did flip over tables, he did correct temple authorities. And it’s hard for me to believe he did that like Mr. Rogers. Jesus created a scene. He created a ridiculously awkward social event. Jesus’ actions would have been the talk of Jerusalem. So, imagine what people did when they saw Jesus and his misfit followers come back into the temple. Had some of those merchants set up again and started operating? Were there people by their tables with their sacrifices kicking pigeon cages back underneath tables? Imagine the religious leaders seeing him coming back in there again. You already hate this guy. You’re seeking to destroy him. You think he’s stealing your power. You absolutely hate the fact that the people are following him. And now this guy comes back in after he messed up the temple all over again. He comes back for a return visit? Imagine stepping into that tension, because that’s where we are.
What Ben read to you, this moment in the temple, is not casual. The interaction between the religious leaders and Jesus is not conversational. Jesus is like a student in the principal’s office. He’s the child in front of the parents. He’s the witness on the witness stand. The religious leaders are coming at Jesus with every type of dishonest question trying to trap him.
So, who are these leaders? Who’s coming at him? They’re known collectively as the Sanhedrin. And there’s a lot of historical data we could work through here, going all the way back to a guy named Ezra. And some of you might remember that name, Ezra, from our study in Nehemiah last year. But for today, what we need to know is this: the Sanhedrin is made up of priest’s families, local wealthy men, and the scribes. Now, the scribes are the written law of Moses experts. This group as a whole attained a lot of power under Rome. And we could think of them, and I’m going to call them, the Jewish Supreme Court. That Supreme Court is actually going to preside over the trial of Jesus and then later Jesus’ friends, John, Peter, and Paul.
So, when Jesus comes back to the temple, the Jewish Supreme Court steps forward to greet him with their first loaded question. And they ask Jesus this:
“By what authority are you doing these things or who gave you [the] authority to do them?”
Immediately we know the context of this moment is, who has authority? Who’s in charge? Now there’s a long list of “things” that they could be referencing there that Jesus did — not observing Sabbath, not observing the Pharisee’s example, saying that he would forgive sins, calling himself the Lord of the Sabbath, and last but not least, cleansing the temple just a few days before.
The Sanhedrin is saying with this loaded question: Jesus, you’re a poor tradesman from Nazareth, you have no right to be doing what you’re doing. So, where are you getting the authority to do it? Who do you think you are? The question at stake here is Jesus’ authority. By asking the question, they’re clearly saying, we don’t honor you as authority. We’re the authority. So, you tell us what’s going on.
So the situation is: Return to the temple and Jesus’s authority is challenged.
Now, let’s see how Jesus responds. Jesus responds in two ways. First, he answers their question with his own question, and then he tells a parable. First, Jesus answers their question with his own question, which I personally find hilarious, because nobody likes that. Nobody, when you ask a question, likes the question in return. But this is what Jesus does:
“I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”
So, our first observation here about Jesus is, he is clearly not worried, scared, or concerned about the Sanhedrin. Actually, he takes over. Guys, let me tell you how this is going to go. You answer my question first and then I’ll answer yours. Jesus wants their opinion on John the Baptist’s baptism. And this might feel a little weird, but hang in with me and see if we can figure out why he asks this question, because it’s super important.
Who was in charge of that baptism? Who presided over the Baptist’s baptism? Was it heaven, God, or was it man? Yes, it was! Look at that — out of the mouth of babes. I love that so much. That just made my day. If you’re online, and you didn’t hear, we had a young one in our audience say God was in charge. So, I’m going to pray and we’re done.
With this question, I really think Jesus is messing with the Sanhedrin a little bit. He’s giving them a taste of their own medicine. He’s giving them a loaded question that he knows they can’t answer. Mark records this for us by letting us over overhear what the Sanhedrin does. They go into a huddle to figure out what they’re going to do. And here’s what we hear:
“And they discussed it with one another saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will say, “Why then did you not believe him?”‘” Why then did you not believe John the Baptist?
So, if the Sanhedrin verifies that John the Baptist’s baptism was heaven-sourced, they’re assuming Jesus is going to say, “Well then you should have believed him. You should have believed his message about repentance and believe in me.” Because that was John the Baptist’s message. The Sanhedrin continues their discussion.
“But shall we say, ‘From man?’ — they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John was really a prophet.”
So, the Sanhedrin is stuck. Jesus got them. If they say heaven, then they’re forced into saying that they should have believed in Jesus. If they say man, the people are going to be furious, and that’s bad for business. So, the Sanhedrin does this.
“So they answer Jesus, ‘We do not know.’”
Classic evasion technique, the oldest trick in the book, the good old “I don’t know.” Every person in this room has answered a question, “I don’t know,” at one point or another. And I personally think the vast majority of people in this room have answered a question with “I don’t know” when you really do know the answer, you just don’t want to say it. That’s the Sanhedrin. That’s what they’re doing right now. We don’t want to admit what’s going on, so we’re going to pull out. I don’t know.
So, let’s pause the story for one second, because I want to do something. I want to ask Jesus a question. If Jesus was here, I want to ask a question. I want to ask him, “Why didn’t you just tell them where your authority was from?” He does that in other places, especially in the Book of John. Over and over, Jesus says, “My authority is from God. I only do what the Father tells me to do.” But here he doesn’t. In this interaction, he doesn’t immediately answer. Why not?
Well, I believe that Jesus is genuinely providing an opportunity for the Sanhedrin to see what’s going on, for them to see their blindness, for them to see him. And the way he does that is through a lesser to greater argument. And here’s what I mean by lesser to greater. You could come up to me and say, “Ryan, if you can’t run one mile, you can’t run a marathon.” If I can’t do the lesser thing (1 mile), I certainly can’t get up into the 20s. Jesus is saying here in the story, if the Sanhedrin can’t acknowledge John the Baptist’s baptism from heaven, they’re certainly not going to call Jesus God and Messiah, because John clearly taught that Jesus was greater than he was. John said, “I shouldn’t even be allowed to buckle that guy’s sandals.” John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Look, behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the entire world.” So if you believe John, you have to believe in Jesus.
And Jesus, I think, is genuinely looking at the Sanhedrin saying, “See. Believe. Trust.” But they don’t. They refuse. And because they refuse to acknowledge John, they won’t acknowledge Jesus, Jesus feels no compulsion to answer their question. And he doesn’t. He never answers the authority question in the text. He just moves on to his next response, which is he tells a parable. I want to reread this whole parable for us, Mark 12:1-9.
“And he began to speak to them [Jesus to the Sanhedrin] in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for a winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And [the tenants] took [the servant] and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again [the owner] sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And [the owner] sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. [The owner] still had one other, a beloved son. Finally [the owner] sent [the son] to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.’”
Now, to most of us, it may feel like Jesus is telling some crazy story about a vineyard out of nowhere. And that’s okay if you feel that. For his original readers, I think many of them would have caught on to some clues in his story, and this is why.
Israel… Remember, we’re in the temple. The religious leaders of Israel are there. Israel is described as a vineyard more than once in the Old Testament, even with images of wine vats and fences and presses. So, Jesus’ listeners would have quickly deduced what Jesus was talking about.
See, God is the one who created the vineyard, Israel. He created that vineyard to display his love to the entire world, but that Israel seemed to always rebel against God. So, God kept sending messengers to them over and over and over so that they would listen. But they ignored his messenger, sometimes even to the point of violence. And now, at the end of that grand story, the owner of the vineyard, God, who created Israel, is going to actually send his Son as the final messenger to his people to change. And they don’t care about the Son’s identity either; they’re going to kill him too. And then Jesus describes the owner’s response to that. If these tenants abuse his messengers and murder the son, what will the owner do?
“He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
One can never question the directness of Jesus. Standing in the temple, in front of the Jewish Supreme Court, he says God is the authority, and he is your judge, and he is coming. That’s Jesus’ response.
Now let’s see Jesus focus on God. That last statement about the owner of the vineyard transitions into Jesus focusing on God. What does Jesus want us to see about God in this moment? He tells this whole long parable. What does he want us to see? What did he want the Sanhedrin to understand? Remember, Jesus’ authority is being challenged. And in this moment, Jesus focuses on the full character of God. In response to his authority being challenged, Jesus focuses on the full character of God. Jesus in this parable wants us to see all of God, not just the parts that we choose. In embracing the authority of God, we accept all of him or we reject all of him. There isn’t a middle ground.
So, what do we see about God in this parable? What do we learn about the full character of God? First, God creatively gifted the vineyard. The vineyard, Israel, God’s people, are his. He made the tenants. This is the grand story of the Bible, God making a vineyard, God making a people, God making a nation to display his love. It’s God’s creation. It’s God’s idea. We’re not writing our own story. We’re in the middle of his.
We also see in this parable that God persistently loves the wicked tenants. He persistently loves the wicked tenants. He keeps sending messengers despite their rejection. Did you see that one little phrase in there? “And so with many others…” Beaten, killed, treated shamefully. And with many others, he kept sending a message to them. God doesn’t give up on his people, even when they are rejecting him.
We see that God personally sacrifices for the tenants. God sent his Son. God doesn’t hold back from his people. God sent his most prized possession. In sending the Son, he sends himself right into the middle of the mess.
And then finally, and perhaps the most difficult part to hear, is that God eventually destroys the tenants. So, I think this is the hard part that we don’t even like to talk about in church, let alone in culture in general. God, creator and gifter of the vineyard, who persistently loves and sacrificially pursues his people? Yes.
But I want us to see, this parable shows us that God’s persistent love is complemented by his accurate justice. God’s persistent love is complemented by his accurate justice. Not contrasted, complemented. God will destroy the tenants who kill his son. Destroy is really rough to keep saying. And I’m sure it’s really hard to hear.
In Mark, we get an image of this “destroy” multiple times. The demons actually look at Jesus at one point and say, “Hey, we know who you are. Are you here to destroy us?” There’s another story where a demon possessed man keeps being thrown into the fire because the demon inside him wants to destroy him. Twice we’re told that the Sanhedrin is conspiring to destroy Jesus.
So, why is Jesus making such a scary statement about God? I think because Jesus wants the Sanhedrin and the people who are listening to see accurately. They need to see themselves. They need to see themselves in the story. They’re not the messengers. They’re not the owner. They’re the tenants. They’re the ones who are rejecting God’s message. They have to see their history. These people in front of Jesus are not the first to ignore God’s message. They need to see this part of God’s character, that God’s persistent love is complemented by his accurate justice. They have to see God’s response. God will destroy those who kill his Son and will give the vineyard to all those who take refuge in him. God is going to take this message of creating Israel and spread it to all nations, which has been his plan through the very beginning of the story. You can see it all over the New Testament. God made a people to bless all nations. And as they reject him, God is saying, “I am giving away this nation I created for you to everybody.”
I want us to hear some words that describe God fully just like this, and I’m going to borrow words from an Old Testament prophet whose name is Nahum. That’s right, we’re going to give Nahum a shout out today in our service. Nahum doesn’t get a lot of attention. Nahum and Obadiah are among the least-searched books on the Internet. So, we’re going to let Nahum inform us about this God that we follow. This is Nahum 1:2-8.
“The LORD [and that word LORD there in all caps, when it’s used like that, that’s God’s name. So, this is personal. This isn’t a title. Yahweh.] The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he drives up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither; the bloom of Lebanon withers. The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him; the world and all who dwell in it. Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.”
Church, that is the God we follow here. That is the God we love and rightly fear. Jesus’ incarnation did not neuter the character of God, rendering him into a gray-bearded grandpa who loves everything and doesn’t care about what people do. God loves his tenants. God loves his vineyard, God loves his messengers. God loves his Son. And God will not allow the rejection and abuse of his messengers and the rejection and murder of his Son to pass by and pretend like nothing happened.
We may not like the way that feels or sounds. But I think if we consider how we really feel about the world, we actually understand love complementing justice. Because all you have to do is hear a story about a child who is hurt wrongly, and everybody wants justice. You hear some stories that I’ve heard about children who’ve been wronged, and you have no response of a desire for justice for that? You’re just like, “Let’s just love that. Let’s just love there.” No, love is complemented by justice.
Rejecting the Son is rejecting the Father, and Jesus issues a clear warning that that rejection yields disastrous results. This is all about authority. Who do you believe is in charge? Who is the authority? In the story, the tenants rejected the authority of the son. The Sanhedrin rejects the authority of Jesus, who is literally the sent Son, the Lamb of God. The Sanhedrin is going to kill Jesus. And this warning about God’s return and destruction stands.
But Jesus says more. He actually says God’s going to work through the rejection of his Son. God’s going to send his Son. The Son is going to be rejected. And yet still through this last messenger, God’s going to work through the rejection of his Son. This is Jesus.
Mark 12:10-11, “Have you not read this Scripture …”
Pause. Now, don’t be afraid to read Scripture, seeing things that are ironic or funny. Who’s Jesus talking to? Sanhedrin, which is made up of religious leaders. And Jesus says, “Do you read your Bible? Have you not read this scripture? Are you guys blind?”
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?”
Of course, they know this passage. This passage, Psalm 118, greets visitors coming back to Jerusalem for Passover every year. They knew it. They could quote it. They just didn’t get it, and they didn’t see Jesus in it. And Jesus kind of slams the parable that he tells and Psalm 118 together so that the images start to line up. The vineyard tenants become the builders who reject the authority of Jesus. They reject the stone. They’re going to kill the son from the parable and get rid of him. They’re going to throw him out of the vineyard. Do you even see the disrespect in the rejection? They don’t even bury him or hide him. They just chuck him out of the vineyard.
But God, this God that Jesus describes whose love is complemented by justice, is going to take what they reject, the Son, the stone, and he’s going to make that rejection indespensable. That rejection moment is indispensable. You have to have it. And it’s going to be marvelous when he does it.
I grew up in Pennsylvania until I was about 12 or 13. Pennsylvania is called the Keystone State. There are lots of stories as to why that’s true — its placement north to south. There were three important documents written in Pennsylvania. There’s the Steelers. But I grew up knowing it as the Keystone. There are a lot of rock arches in Pennsylvania that go over railroad tracks. That middle stone at the top that is shaped like this, that’s the keystone. Alright?
Think Psalm 118, cornerstone, think that. You pull that one out of that arch, what happens? It’s over. Cornerstone in Psalm 118, for those of you who are in construction, can also mean the foundation stone you lay first that makes everything level and at the correct angle. So, when Jesus is saying, “That’s me and you reject me,” God steps in and says, “Yes, when you pull that apart, I’m actually going to put it back. It’s going to be indispensable, and it’s going to be beautiful when I do it.” Jesus is looking at these people saying, “You’re actually going to kill me, and you’re going to think that you’ve won. But God is going to take what you reject, and he’s going to make my sacrifice indespensable. He’s going to make it the cornerstone of the faith of every human throughout all of human history. And when he does that, it is going to be wonderful.”
The Sanhedrin hears that parable. They were seeking to destroy him, and they leave in fear. And for me, I once again see a little bit of humor. It might just be me, but the text actually says they perceived he told the story about them, and they left. Can’t you see those guys talking? One of them looking at the other eight of the Sanhedrin going, “Now, I don’t know this for sure, but I think he told that story about us. What in the world?”
So, what do we do with this focus of Jesus on God? God’s persistent love is complemented by his accurate justice. What do we do with it right now? What do we do with this authority question? We ask it to ourselves. Who’s your authority? And what have you done with the authority that Jesus expresses, that God expresses? What can you do with it? Well, there are about three responses that I see.
One, you can respond like the Sanhedrin. You can reject it. You can look at this story of who God is and who Jesus is, and you can go, “No, I reject that authority.” I’m up here, and I think one of the callings God has given me today is to look at all of you and say, please don’t do that. Because the warning in here is telling you that that yields disastrous results. Don’t reject it.
Actually, recognize it. That’s the second response. Recognize this authority of Jesus, of who he actually is, who God is. And I may not understand this whole crazy story that this guy is telling from Mark, but there’s something about my experience, me understanding my own brokenness that I actually need somebody to step in and fix the problem between me and God. And that is the authority of Jesus. And like it says in Nahum, I’m actually just going to step into the reality of Jesus, and I’m going to take refuge in him. Jesus is going to be, as my son said when he was about 8 years old, “He’s my forcefield.” I’m going to take refuge in him so that I can really live. And you could do that for the first time today. You could recognize him today. And if that’s some of what’s going on in you, come talk to me or somebody around you today. We’d love to talk to you more. Those of us who have recognized this fact already, we need to recognize Jesus’s authority again. And it should produce in us wonder and worship — that Jesus was rejected so that I’m not rejected, that Jesus endured disastrous results so that I don’t have to.
A final response is, you could research. You’re here, you’re wondering about the claims of Jesus, the authority of Jesus, the authority of God, the Bible, Christianity, all of that. You have really big questions. I just want to say to you, God’s really great at dealing with really big questions. And so, if that’s you, I just invite you to stay and keep hanging out with us through the Book of Mark. And as weird as this will sound, even if you really don’t believe in God or Jesus, would you wrestle with him about it? “Okay, show me who you are. I’m at least open to research this whole Jesus, God, faith, Christian tradition as my hope. I’m willing to do that.” Talk to him about it.
This is Jesus’ first interrogation. We’re going to look at more next week. This is only the first one that happens in the temple. And Jesus wants us all to see the full character of God. Jesus wants us and is asking us, like he did the Sanhedrin, who’s the authority? Brothers and sisters, we can reject, recognize, or research. So, I invite you to embrace and take refuge in the authority of Jesus, the Son of God.
Let’s pray. Father, I pray that you would, through your Spirit, communicate this text to the hearts of the people that are here, the hearts of the people that are listening online. That you would communicate your heart for them better than my words did. That you would open eyes, soften hearts, create wonder and worship about this person, Jesus. I pray this in your name, amen.