On Your Mark by Dr. George O. Wood
Little Lies Lead to Bigger Ones
Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism — was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men …’” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Mark 11:29-33, NIV)
Jesus could have answered directly the religious leaders’ question about the source of His authority. But He turned the tables on them, asking their opinion of John the Baptist as a condition for His own answer.
The Lord’s response shows us that we need not always answer criticism head on — that sometimes it’s best to answer a question with a question of our own.
That strategy is not as easy as it looks. Our temptation is to charge headlong into a defense when we are attacked. Jesus’ way of dealing with the question about His authority provides another example of His amazing wisdom. We see His wisdom on an earlier occasion when a woman caught in adultery was brought to Him and He replied, Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. (See John 8:1-7.)
Were the chief priests, teachers of the Law, and elders truly undecided about John the Baptist? I suspect not.
Had they believed John was from God they would have repented and embraced him and his message. Their dilemma was that they could not risk alienating the mass of people who had believed in John.
When these leaders told Jesus, “We don’t know,” they actually lied. They did “know” — and their conclusion was that John was not from God. You can never trust religious leaders who do not tell the truth. If responses are parsed and words are measured or calibrated by the temperament of the listeners, then leaders really have no moral authority to speak. Integrity is missing. This same problem occurs also in the political realm when leaders say anything to get elected.
The religious leaders allied against Jesus lied on this Tuesday in their dialog with Jesus, and they would tell bigger lies against Jesus later in the week when they brought Him before the Sanhedrin and Pilate.
Several years earlier in His ministry Jesus taught the principle that “to him who has will more be given, but to him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (See Mark 4:24,25.) We see that principle lived out in this exchange with Jesus and His opponents.
He had presented so many signs of His authority — His miracles, His teaching — but His enemies discarded the signs. On top of that, they were disingenuous regarding the identity of John the Baptist in not answering Jesus’ question honestly.
Thus, when they dissembled to Jesus, He refused to give them an answer to their question.
Our hearts are like butter or clay. Sun melts the butter and hardens the clay. Hearts that open to Jesus become even more open.
The opposite is also true. For three years the religious leaders consistently opposed Jesus, and in that process they became ever more hardened.
What will you choose to be — butter or clay?
A prayer of response
GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.
On Your Mark