Mark 11:27-33 Questioning Authority

27 They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. 28 “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

29 Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”

31 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Questioning Authority

When someone leaves the line of gridlock traffic and suddenly uses the shoulder to drive around everyone, I think they are a jerk.  I don’t know if there is jealousy or a self-loathing timidity, but I think, “What gives them the right?”  Society can not function well if everyone steps up and takes special privileges and assumes that they are someone special.  I would not feel the same about an emergency vehicle using the shoulder to get around traffic to make their way to a car wreck.  I wouldn’t even be too upset at Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) using the lane.  I just get upset when someone doesn’t know their place.

The Pharisees would have felt the same way about Jesus.  He doesn’t know his place.  We tend to sympathize with Jesus because, of late, our culture in the west promotes anarchy.  It promotes every person as being answerable only to themselves and destines to realise their own dreams.  The reality that some people’s dreams are harmful to society and that other people’s dreams might be lunacy doesn’t make a good movie.  Not everyone is actually qualified to be a president or prime minister.  Not everyone should be a teacher, not everyone should be a nurse.  Not everyone should be a cleaner (cleaning is the only job I was fired from, and my wife has put my on notice concerning the dishes recently).  Not everyone is qualified to exercise authority everywhere.  We need qualified people in qualified positions.  So, hopefully you can see that the Pharisees have a point.  Their point is built on resentment, pride, and probably some racial prejudice toward a Galilean.  It has some credibility because Jesus seems like a self-appointed prophet who is unnecessarily stirring up trouble by indicating that the Jewish system of his day is corrupted by self-indulgence and sinful disdain of ‘outsiders’.

So, who do you think Jesus is?  Does he have the authority to step in and order your life?  Do you try and trap him into providing the answers that you want?  Is your submission to Jesus willful, because he has the authority, or is it reluctant?

I know that I am reluctant at times.  I know that when I submit to Jesus, I have to accept that in many areas I am wrong about my own life.  I am misguided about my own motives.  I don’t know myself as well as he knows me.  It is threatening to allow Jesus to rework me, because my pride rebels and also I fear blame and the lack of safety around people who will judge me for admitting incompetence.

It takes courage to be weak and surrender to Jesus.  However, Jesus himself provides that courage to those who ask him.  I am doing this right now as I type.  I don’t want to change.  I am strangely resistant.  I don’t want to accept that I am broken and that I am lacking.  However, I force myself to bend the knee, and after Christ removes yet another impediment to my maturity, I find that I am grateful.  That is just for an instant, and then I am aware of the next thing …


Dear Jesus, you use people to evaluate, assess, and critique me.  I am not perfect and these evaluations always show area for improvement.  I am uncomfortable with being different, but I am downright afraid of being wrong.  Yet I am wrong.  Emotionally it’s hard, but I need to embrace being wrong on so many things and you being right.  “So, you think you are better than me?” is a childish phrase that comes to mind.  It is evocative of all those times on the playground where children vie for social position and power.  So many of us are still children fighting for power and prestige.  Help me to release my desire to gain, to create a name for myself.  Help me to find contentment in you and submit to your authority and find the work that you have assigned for me to do.


  1. What had Jesus just done that upset the temple leaders?
  2. Why is it reasonable to question Jesus’ authority?
  3. Why does Jesus answer with a question?
  4. How do you question Jesus’ authority by your words or actions?
  5. How could Jesus’ authority be established in your life a little more today?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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