Preached by Terrell Carter on 3/24/13
Intro: One day, a bus driver was driving along his usual route. He didn’t encounter any problems for the first few stops. A few people got on, a few got off, and things generally went well. At one stop, however, a big hulk of a man got on. He was all of 6’ 8″ tall, built like a wrestler, and his arms seemed to hang down to the ground. He glared at the driver and told him, “Big John doesn’t pay!” Then he sat down at the back of the bus. The driver was a small man, all of 5’ 3″ tall, thin, and very meek, so he didn’t argue with Big John. But he wasn’t happy about what had just happened.
The next day, the same thing happened. Big John got on again, made a big show, refused to pay, and sat down. It happened the next day, and again the day after that. The bus driver began to lose sleep over the way Big John was taking advantage of him.
Finally, the driver could stand it no longer. He decided he had to do something about Big John. He signed up for body building classes so he could get bigger and stronger. He took a class on finding his self-esteem and a class on how to be assertive. By the end of the summer, the bus driver had become quite strong, assertive, and he felt very good about himself.
The next Monday, Big John entered the bus and again declared, “Big John doesn’t pay!” Enraged, the driver stood up, glared back at Big John, and bellowed, “And why not?!” With a surprised look on his face, Big John replied, “Big John has a bus pass.”
How well do you respond when you find yourself in the middle of what you consider to be a power struggle? How well do you respond when you think your authority is being challenged? To some of us, this question may seem odd because you do not consider yourself to be an authoritative person. You don’t have any type of power. You don’t hold any important position in society or within a social group. Actually, you may be thinking that your life experience is that other people hold authority over you.
The story is told of a ship sailing during war time on a dark night. Off in the distance, the Captain saw a light and it became obvious that the oncoming vessel was on a collision course with his vessel. He commanded his signaler to flash a message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south.” The reply came back from the ship coming towards him: “Alter your course 10 degrees north.” The captain then signaled “Alter your course 10 degrees south. I am a Commander.” The reply came back “Alter your course 10 degrees north. I am a seaman third-class.” By this time the ship’s captain was getting furious. So he signaled: “Alter your course 10 degrees south. I command a battleship.” The reply came back almost instantly: “Alter your course 10 degrees north. I am standing in a lighthouse.”
In some aspect, we all hold some type of power in our lives. We all have authority over someone or some group in our lives. At work, you may not have a fancy title, and you may be on the bottom rung of the organizational ladder, but you still may control the keys to the kingdom of the office. If anyone wants to get any real work done, they have to go through you. You control credit cards, passwords, phone numbers, and the most important piece of equipment in any office environment; The thermostat.
Even children wield a certain amount of power. If you are the oldest sibling, you hold what seems like the ultimate authority; the power to make your younger sibling do exactly what you want them to. From cleaning your room, keeping secrets, and sharing their lunch, big brothers/sisters have power over the younger ones. But, even the youngest child has a secret weapon that gives them power. It’s the ability to snitch. “I’m telling” is a phrase that has brought many big brothers to their knees in tears.
We all, no matter our lot in life, get to boss around someone. Whether it’s our little brothers and sisters, our children, our coworkers, or just the cashier at McDonalds.
But, with that power comes power struggles. We all have had arguments that ended with “it’s my way or the highway.” They happen with complete strangers who won’t let us park where we want. They happen with our coworkers about where we will sit during a particular meeting, or what color we want presentation folders to be. They happen at school while we’re trying to pick whose going to be shirts and whose going to be skins in basketball. They happen with our child who has learned the meaning of the word “NO!” and uses it every time you try to get him or her to eat something good for them. It happens with friends and family members. These power struggles usually occur over things that, in hindsight, are insignificant.
But sometimes, every now and then, our power struggles are over important things.
Today’s passage from Mark 11:27-33 tells us about one of those times of significance. It tells us about the second day of the last week of Christ’s life, and a power struggle that was occurring between Christ and the temple personnel.
At this point in time, Christ had already made the triumphant entry into the city. People laid down palm leaves and proclaimed Him as a man of God.
Before we get too far into the story, let’s get a bead on the players in the story. The story takes place in the temple, the place where sacrifices were made and God’s word from the Old Testament was expounded. In the temple you had temple leaders, which included The Sanhedrin, chief priests, and scribes. These were the religious and political leaders of Israel.
At the temple, you also have the moneychangers. These were merchants who made change for people in order to buy sacrifices to be offered as part of their religious service. These moneychangers charged ridiculous prices to make change. There are also people that come to the temple to make sacrifice, but they end up watching this interaction occur between Christ and temple personnel.
We round out our cast with Christ, who during this last week of His life is in for a roller coaster ride of action. It seems like no matter where He has gone, drama was bound to follow Him. And the last person is John the Baptist, who had already been beheaded. These are all people who we have read or heard about before.
What happened to spark this confrontation between Christ and the temple personnel? On the first day of Christ’s last week, He triumphantly enters the city to a chorus of praise and worship from the common person, He goes to the temple and proceeds to turn over the tables of the moneychangers. He didn’t waste much time before He disrupted the daily routine of not just the moneychangers, but that of the chief priests, scribes, and elders. He confronted them about their misuse of the temple and the misuse of the people that came to make sacrifices. He effectively stopped the moneychangers from conducting business as usual at the temple.
Christ, the upstart itinerant preacher with a ragtag team of disciples, the rebel without a legitimate cause, the political novice, the unpedigreed carpenter, the country bumpkin. He had the nerve to lay the smack down on the established temple life. He was positioning Himself as a hero to the people, but an enemy to the religious and political elite. An enemy to those who were in power. There was no way that the temple personnel would let Him flex His muscle like that without experiencing some type of repercussion.
The easiest way to handle the embarrassment that Christ had heaped on them was to turn the tables on Him in front of the people that were impressed by His actions. They would do this by making Him look small and unimportant in front of the community. They would put Him on front-street by asking Him a simple, yet loaded question. “By what authority do you come in here and do the things that you do?” “What right do you have to come in here to wreck havoc on us?” “What right do you have to come in and cause confusion?” And from the Terrell Carter translation of the Bible, “Who died and made you the boss of us?”
How dare you come in here and violate what we have established? How dare you embarrass us? How dare you stop the flow of money? How dare you challenge our power and authority? How dare you embarrass us in front of all these people?
In the midst of their discussion, I think that it’s interesting that they never questioned Christ’s theology. Their issue with Christ was not His spiritual authority or His theological stance on Hebrew scripture. Their problem was with the audacity that He exhibited by bucking the religious, sacrificial, and financial system that they had in place.
You see, the chief priests, scribes and elders were all the beneficiaries of a prosperous system within the temple. The chief priests, scribes, and elders were at the top of the social and political food chain. And if you throw into the mix the fact that Herod the Governor began to hand pick and appoint priests to serve in the temple, you can tell that political and monetary privileges and favor were at stake in all of this.
“Who died and made you the boss?” Christ doesn’t give them an answer. Instead, He responds with His own question. “I’ll play your game if you play mine.” Christ asks them what seems like an unrelated question. “By what authority did John the Baptist do what he did? Did his authority come from God, or did it come from man?”
In the eyes of the temple leaders, John the baptizer was no better than Christ. John was just another itinerant preacher with bad taste in food and clothing. John’s preaching was a thorn in the side of the priests because he taught that people did not need to go to the temple and pay a fee to have their sins forgiven. Instead, John taught that forgiveness was based on repentance alone. But the priests couldn’t speak out against John publicly.
They couldn’t publicly deny or confirm John’s authority. That would be public and social suicide. If they said that John did what he did based on a divine assignment from God, then Christ would counter with “Why didn’t you all believe him?” which would make them look bad before the people. If they said that John was simply a man who did what he wanted to do, the people hearing the debate would be in an uproar because John held street credibility with them.
But, I think there is another underlying issue, as well. John understood that he was simply God’s messenger. He knew that his job was to proclaim the coming of Messiah. To pave the way for the Savior. And who did John say was Messiah? Who did John say was the Savior in the flesh? Jesus. John believed this so much that he willingly conceded his power/influence/authority among the people to Christ.
If the temple leaders acknowledged anything positive about John or his authority, they would by default be acknowledging John’s testimony about Christ.
In order to save face, they refused to continue playing the game that they had started. “We don’t know where John got his authority.” Christ’s response to them was, “If you don’t know, I won’t tell you who gave me my authority.” Terrell Carter’s translation: Mind your business.
One thing is clear. This debate was about one thing. Who was going to be in charge? Who would be the big dog within the temple? Within the religious community of Israel? Within the political strata of Jerusalem? Would they continue to run the temple and keep things at the status quo? Or, would they recognize the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy as He stood before their eyes? Christ knew the answer to that question before they even said anything. No!!! They would not back down.
In response to their defiant attitudes, Christ tells them a parable, which we find in Mark 12:1-12. In the parable, Christ relates the story of a landowner who owned a vineyard. He took great care to put everything in that vineyard that would make it possible to grow the best fruit for harvesting. Instead of tending the land himself, he rented it out and hired a group of people to work the land for him while he left the country.
When harvest time came around, he sent an employee back to the vineyard to harvest some of the fruit that had been grown. Instead of honoring the land owner’s request sent by his representative, the hired help beat up the representative and ran him out of town. The owner sent another person to harvest the fruit, and the same thing happened to him. More servants were sent, and they were either beaten or killed. Those who were renting the land were determined not to give up anything. Finally, the landowner sent his own son to harvest his portion of the land. Unfortunately, the son never returned to the father. He was killed by the group.
Christ asked a question after He told them parable. “What do you think happened next?” The priests agreed that the landowner would have those people killed for their dastardly deeds and then bring someone else in to finish working the land. Christ said, “Right. And you have also read the scripture that says that the stone that the builders threw away is now the most important stone in the whole building.”
This parable was clearly directed at them, and they knew it. Christ was comparing them to former generations that rejected God’s prophets. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and even John the Baptist. They rejected/ignored them, and had them persecuted and killed. God sent His prophets to feed and cultivate His children, but instead, they were disposed of by the likes of false leaders and teachers, like the Pharisees and Sadducees. They also understood that Christ was comparing Himself to the son in the parable. He was equating Himself as the true representative of God the Father.
The question that they had to answer after this debate was would they acknowledge Christ’s authority. No!!! Instead, they wanted to have Him arrested and persecuted, but they were afraid of what the people would think and do.
After reading this passage, I have to ask myself the question, Do I see myself in any of this? Can you see yourself in any of this? Can we see ourselves in any of this? Unfortunately, I think the answer is yes.
I can recognize the attitudes of the temple personnel as my own. They had gotten comfortable in their lives as leaders in the temple. They had a certain system set up and it worked in their favor. They were the rock stars of Jerusalem. They were the “it” crowd. Their positions as priests and leaders were originally appointments from God. Somehow they became political appointments. Instead of seeing their service in the temple as a faithful duty performed to God, they saw it as part of a wheel that needed continual greasing in order to keep their lifestyles going.
They lost sight of the big picture, of what God was doing in history. They lost sight of what God was doing in the world. They lost sight of what God promised to do in and among God’s people. What God was doing for all mankind. Instead, they fought to keep their piece of the pie intact. In doing so, they rejected the true purpose behind the temple. And, they rejected the true fulfillment of the sacrificial system that they worked so hard to protect. They rejected Christ. They refused to recognize Christ’s position of authority and their own lack of authority. They saw themselves as being in charge and they would not give that up.
Do you find that happening in your life? Your focus is on what you want and what you have achieved in life. You have worked hard to get where you are. You’ve sacrificed and played the game to achieve your position in life, and now you are somebody. And no one will change that. You are a part of God’s family, but you’re happy being on the fringes.
What do I mean by that statement? You’ve put your trust in God for the salvation of your soul, but that’s about the only thing you feel comfortable turning over to Him. You still control everything else. God wants you to turn it all over to Him. To let Him be the boss.
Let’s look at it in an even more different light. Who is in control here at WGBC? Maybe you have carved out a niche for ourselves here at WGBC. Maybe you have positioned yourselves in places within the church where we are comfortable and respected, and we even wield a certain amount of influence. The question that we have to answer is what are we doing with it? If the chief priests were asked the same question, they would have answered that they believed that they were doing God’s will. Is your service here at WGBC just another feather in your cap? Is it a way for you to assert your authority over others? Is it a way for us to simply receive recognition from others? Or do we recognize it as a divine assignment from God?
The church is not here for our personal motives. It exists to recognize the fulfillment of God’s plan for mankind in the person of Jesus the Christ. The church is here to invite the people in the court of the gentiles. The church is here to invite strangers, foreigners, outsiders, people in the street, and the people in the community, to come to experience the presence of God, the love of the body, and partake in the benefits of the sacrifice that was made on their behalf.
My prayer for all of us is this: that when we are presented with the idea that God wants to exert an active influence over our lives, that we would not resist, but concede, and see the power of God work mighty things on our behalf. As individuals and as a church.
Well, Terrell, this is not a typical Palm Sunday sermon. You didn’t spend any time telling us about how Christ entered the city triumphantly. You didn’t talk about the people laying down the palm leaves before Him as He rode the donkey in. You didn’t talk about how the people in the crowd celebrated this great teacher who was visiting them.
I think all of that is an important part of the Easter story. But I also think that it’s important to see what happened after the palms were laid down. I think it’s important to see what happened after the cheering stopped. I think it’s important to see what happened after the crowd dispersed. I think that it’s important to see what happened after Christ entered into the city and got to work doing the work of God’s kingdom.
What did Christ do to show the works of the kingdom of God? Christ confronted evil. Christ confronted sin. He loved those who society said didn’t deserve love. He loved the outcast. He protected those who couldn’t protect themselves. He cleared the way for people to have their relationships with God restored and strengthened.
I think that story is just as important as the story of Christ entering the city.
Will you pray with me?