September 22, 2019
Prayer for Illumination:
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Speak to us today. Help us now to hear and obey your Word. Spirit, illumine our hearts so that your Word takes root in our hearts. In Christ, amen.
And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” 31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” 
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
About a month ago, there was a conflict over the field. Many of you are aware I am the soccer coach for Murphy Middle School. Space for the various teams to practice is at a premium. There is not a lot of usable space around the middle and high school. As a result I had worked out a deal with the high school coach that before school started we could use the soccer practice field Wednesdays from 5:30-7:30.
One Wednesday we were on the field going over some defensive tactics when a man walked up to us. At first I thought he was one of the parents coming over to ask a question. When he was about fifteen yards away he began shouting, asking who we were. When I stated that I was the middle school soccer coach, he asked who gave me the authority to practice on the field. The man was with the pee-wee football league and thought that the authority to determine who used the field lay with them and not the school who own the property.
The Sanhedrin is incredibly upset with Jesus. The Sanhedrin is the council that is in charge of the temple and the religious life in Israel. They are made up of the chief priests, scribes, and elders totaling 70 men. They had been upset with Jesus for some time. They were upset with him over how he said he had the authority to forgive sins Mark 2:5; how he accepted sinners and tax collectors as a disciple Mark 2:13; how he redefined the Sabbath 2:28; how he challenged the oral tradition Mark 7:1-13; and most recently how he challenged the chief priests and scribes over their dead religion Mark 11:12-20. All of those things upset them. And they wanted to know who gave Jesus the authority to do those things.
As we examine this passage, we’ll note three things; first, the dangers of an unconverted ministry, secondly a hostility to Jesus’ authority, and thirdly the dishonesty in which unconverted persons answer Jesus.
The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry
Mark tells us that “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”
They are a delegation sent from the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin resembles a presbytery. It’s composed of priests who are like the pastors; scribes who are like professors; the elders who are like the ruling elders of the people. And they’ve sent this delegation of priests, scribes, and elders to examine Jesus. They want to know who gave him the right to do the things he has been doing. They want to know who gave him the right to say what he has been saying.
The reason that they have sent a delegation to examine Jesus is because they are unconverted. As we looked at it last week, they were not concerned with true religion. They had exchanged true religion for false religion. They were not concerned with God and his glory; they were not concerned with his Word. They were unconverted persons in ministry. As a result, those who were supposed to prepare the people for the coming Christ couldn’t. Their job was to teach the Scriptures and prepare the people for God’s coming Christ. Because they were unconverted, they were unable to do their job in teaching the people.
There is a danger in unconverted ministers. The primary job of a minister is to prepare the people of God by teaching them his Word and helping them to grow in holiness. Paul says in his letter to Titus that pastors are to hold firm to the good news as found in Scripture, know sound doctrine, and to teach sound doctrine (Titus 1:9, 2:1).
John Calvin, the great 16th century Reformer, said this about the job of the pastor. He wrote that pastors are: to proclaim the gospel and to administer the sacraments… they have been set over the church not to have a sinecure but, by the doctrine of Christ to instruct the people to true godliness, to administer the sacred mysteries and to keep and exercise upright discipline.
Our Book of Order says this: Pastors shall preach and expound the Word, to be God’s prophet to the people and to be the people’s priest before God. Pastors shall lead the people in worship, celebrate the sacraments, and oversee the education, nurture, and mission of the church.
That is what pastors are supposed to do. Our calling is to proclaim the Word of God to the people of God.
When ministers are unconverted, they are unable to perform that duty. Unconverted ministers do not teach God’s Word to God’s people. There’s a passage in Ezekiel that wonderfully depicts this. In Ezekiel 34:1-10, God judges the shepherds of Israel. These were supposed to be the pastors. They were supposed to feed them God’s Word and help them grow in holiness. But they were unconverted. They were unable to teach God’s people God’s Word.
Maybe some of you were at presbytery meetings and saw the effects an unconverted ministry has on a denomination. One of my mentors told me about the PC(USA) presbytery meeting that convinced him he could no longer continue in the PC(USA). He was at a meeting and they began praying to mother goddess and the universal womb. He was seeing that most of the ministers were unconverted.
When ministers are not converted, they fail to teach God’s people God’s Word. They might do good things in the community, like organizing food drives or service projects. Those are good things. Those are things we should be doing. But that is not what our calling is to; that is not our primary calling. A minister’s calling is to proclaim God’s Word to God’s people. Our calling is to point people to Jesus and show how in him all of God’s promises are yes and amen. And when ministers are unconverted they are unable to do that.
So pray for us. Pray for us as ministers that our love for the gospel and sharing it with others would never waver. Pray for the Presbytery of the Southeast. In a few weeks we have a presbytery meeting. We have a candidate coming under care at this meeting. Pray that this candidate is converted; that he is a man after God’s heart and concerned with God’s glory above all else. Pray that those of us who are already in ministry that we never forget our first love and constantly proclaim his gospel to those he has entrusted to us. Pray for a converted pastorate.
More than that, pray that ruling elders stay engaged in the work of the presbytery. I recognize that it is not always easy or fun for ruling elders to partake in the work of presbytery. You need to take at least a day off of work every quarter. But historically speaking, ruling elders tend to be more orthodox than teaching elders. Ruling elders tend to be the ones in presbytery who are concerned with true and living religion and not just philosophical speculation. When a denomination is run by the pastors, that denomination will go liberal. Pastors will be come in who are unconverted. That is why we need ruling elders to stay engaged in the business of the presbytery.
Pray for us as a presbytery that the candidates coming under care and the pastors are converted and passionate about sharing. Pray that ruling elders stay engaged in the work of the presbytery.
Hostility to Jesus
The Sanhedrin is unconverted. And because they are unconverted, they’re hostile to Jesus, his teaching and his authority.
[T]hey said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 29
Jesus has been performing miracles. He has given sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, he has caused the lame to walk, and he has raised the dead. They cannot deny those things. They cannot argue with what he has done.
But because they are unconverted, they are hostile to what he has been teaching. They are hostile to how he has been calling people to true religion. Unconverted persons are always hostile to what Jesus says.
The Sanhedrin is incredibly hostile to Jesus, his teaching, and his authority. Their hostility leads them to killing Jesus. In five days from this moment in Mark, the Sanhedrin will show their hostility to Jesus by convening a court where they make false accusations against him and his teaching. The testimonies will contradict each other but that won’t matter. All that matters is they want Jesus to die because they are so hostile to who he is, what he is saying, and his authority. In their hostility they will hand him over to Roman authorities who will beat him raw and then crucify him.
Just as people were hostile to Jesus 2,000 years ago, people are hostile to Jesus today. It is common to hear people say they like Jesus’ ethical teachings. People will say that they like what Jesus says about not judging and forgiving others. But when Jesus says things like sex is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman, they are hostile to that.
I was talking with someone this past week who said that they liked when Jesus said God is love. He said that since God is love, God accepts him for who he is, and doesn’t judge him for the things he does. I responded that God is love and while he loves his people where they are, his love refuses to let them remain where they are. I said that God calls his people to repent of their sins and live lives that reflect our love for him.
He said that he thought believes God loves people no matter how they act or what they do. When I said that Jesus’ preaching could be summed in calling people to repent of their sins and believe in the good the news, he got a little hostile. He started arguing that wasn’t the god he wanted to believe in. He was hostile to Jesus and Jesus’ teaching.
People will be hostile when Jesus says that he is the way, the truth, and the life; that no one comes to the Father except through him. They will be hostile to the exclusivity of Jesus’ claim to be the only true faith. They will question his authority to determine salvation.
A few years ago, New York City’s then-mayor declared that public schools could no longer be used by evangelical Christians. He didn’t say that religious groups couldn’t rent space to use for worship. Muslims could rent space from the schools to use for their worship. The law was targeted against Christians, specifically evangelical Christians. Why? Because this world is hostile to Jesus. This world is hostile to his authority.
The Dishonesty of Their Question
Now let’s not make the mistake of thinking that it’s hostile to ask questions about Jesus, about his teaching, or about his authority. It’s not. There are those who ask those questions with honesty. I’ll be honest with you, one of the things I love is when someone comes to me and asks me to help them understand Scripture better. I love those questions. I love when someone comes to me and says, “Pastor, you said this the other day. Can you show me where that is in the Bible?” I love those questions. Every pastor loves those questions.
There are those who ask honest questions. God is working in their hearts and minds and they truly want to know about Jesus; they want to know about his teaching; they want to know about his authority. So they ask questions. Honest questions.
But that’s not the delegation from the Sanhedrin is not asking this question with honesty. And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”
The Sanhedrin truly does not believe that John’s baptism is from heaven. They know John did miraculous things. They know John was an amazing teacher. But they didn’t believe his baptism was from heaven. Looking around, they knew they couldn’t say that. They knew that the people loved John and considered him to be a prophet because he was. And if they answered truthfully that they believed John’s baptism was from man, the crowd would turn on them. So they say, “We do not know”. They answer dishonestly.
Let us be aware that when we engage non-believers, they will be dishonest about things. They will ask questions in dishonesty, hoping to trip someone up so they can’t answer any more. They will give dishonest answers when asked direct questions.
You might ask someone why they don’t attend worship and they might respond by saying, “Churches are full of hypocrites”. You and I know we are sinners and we come here so that we can be a museum of holiness. We know that because we are sinners we come to worship because it is a hospital for sinners and hypocrites. This is the place where we are given the medicine for the disease of our sinfulness. But when they answer with “churches are full of hypocrites”, they are answering dishonestly about the fact that they don’t want to be confronted with the fact that they are sinners who need the medicine of the gospel.
Most of you know that before I was called here, I was working as a barista at Starbucks. It was wonderful, I got to drink coffee every day and take home a pound of coffee every week. For someone who drinks as much coffee as I do that is wonderful.
Many of my coworkers were not Christians, they were unconverted. Occasionally there would be an opportunity for me to share the good news with them. And when those opportunities arose, I would take them. Let me tell you, most of those conversations involved dishonest responses from my coworkers. Sometimes they knew they were being dishonest. Other times they didn’t recognize the dishonesty in their statements.
One time I was talking with a coworker who believed in karma. She believed that if you did good things, good things would happen to you. And if there is a god that god would weigh your good deeds and your bad deeds and if you had more good deeds you would be in a good place. I asked her if she really thought she did more good than bad things. She responded with yes. Then I asked her about how she had lied earlier in her shift when she came in late; I asked if that was a bad deed. She hemmed and hawed for a moment before saying that it wasn’t as bad as murder. She was being dishonest with herself about her own standard for right and wrong.
Then she tried to change the subject. She tried to change the subject to miracles; she asked if I actually believed Jesus performed miracles. She wanted to change the subject because she didn’t want to deal honestly with her sin.
The Sanhedrin has answered dishonestly with Jesus. And Jesus responds by saying, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things”. He doesn’t play their game. He knows they have no intention of answering honestly when he speaks to them so he refuses to play their game.
When we’re sharing the good news and someone is trying to dishonestly change the subject and try to say, “You really believe that?” don’t play the game. Do what you can to keep the conversation on the authority of Jesus. Do what you can to keep the conversation on the topic of what God’s word says about us; that it says we are sinners in need of savior. Keep the conversation on the topic that God’s word says about Jesus and his authority; that he has the authority to redeem those in sin and that anyone who believes in him will be saved out of their sin. Keep the conversation on that.
Jesus has the authority to speak into our lives about whether or not our religion is true. There will be those who hold to false religion in the ministry. And there is a danger in unconverted ministers. They fail to do their primary job, teach God’s people God’s Word. Unconverted persons are hostile to Jesus. They are hostile to who he is and his authority to speak into our lives. And they will be dishonest about their hostility to Jesus.
 EPC Book of Government 9. A. 2