August 19, 2012

Pastor Joe Wittwer

Follow the Leader!

Who is this man?


In his book The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning tells the following story:

Several years ago, Edward Farrell of Detroit took his two-week vacation to Ireland to celebrate his favorite uncle’s 80th birthday. On the morning of the great day, Ed and his uncle got up before dawn, dressed in silence, and went for a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney. Just as the sun rose, his uncle turned and stared straight at the rising sun. Ed stood beside him for 20 minutes with not a single word exchanged. Then his elderly uncle began to skip along the shoreline, a radiant smile on his face.

After catching up with him, Ed commented, “Uncle Seamus, you look very happy. Do you want to tell my why?”

“Yes, lad,” the old man said. “You see, the Father is fond of me. Ah, my Father is so very fond of me.”

Brennan Manning, The Wisdom of Tenderness (Harper San Francisco, 2002), pp. 25-26

The Father is fond of you too.  How much does He love you?  We’ll see today.

Introduction and offering:

    We are working our way through the gospel of Mark, and we are in Mark 11-12, and it’s Tuesday of the final week of Jesus’ life.  This section describes six conflicts Jesus has with the religious authorities, who have been looking for a way to kill Jesus since His throw-down in the temple on Monday.  We’ll look at three conflicts this week and three next.

    Let me remind you again to bring your Bibles—these are Bible studies and it will help you to see the verses in their context.  And I’m going to use the SOAP method again, which many of us use in our daily PBJ time.


  • Scripture: read the Bible.

  • Observation: what does it mean?  

  • Application: what does it mean to me?  

  • Prayer: pray it back to God.


The Big Idea: In a series of conflicts between Jesus and the religious leaders, it becomes clear that Jesus is the issue.  Who is this man?

Scripture: Mark 11:27-33    The first conflict:

Mark 11:27–33

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 from men? 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, ‘From men’….” (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.”



    It is Tuesday morning.  The day before, Jesus had gone postal in the temple: he had turned over the tables of the money-changers and those selling sacrificial animals and driven them out to restore the temple and make it “a place of prayer for all nations.”  

ILL: Let me ask you a question: If someone you didn’t know came to your home and started rearranging the furniture, what would ask them?  “Who said you could do that? Who do you think you are?  This is my house!”  

That’s exactly what the Jewish religious leaders asked Jesus. “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  Who do you think you are?  This is our house!

Mark names three groups: the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.  Together, these groups made up the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body—kind of like Congress and the Supreme Court rolled into one.  The Sanhedrin ran the temple industry, and profited handsomely. Jesus messed with their business and cost them money, and they were ticked.  So this delegation from the Sanhedrin asked him, “Who do you think you are, running around breaking tables, collecting your jar of hearts, and tearing our temple apart?”  

Who do you think you are?  That’s the big question.  What is the source of your authority?  This question put Jesus on the horns of a dilemma.  If he said that God gave him the authority, they would arrest him for blasphemy.  If he said that he did it on his own, they would arrest him for insurrection.  Either way, he was in trouble.

So he answered by asking them a question: “John’s baptism—was it from heaven or from men?  If you answer me, I’ll answer you.”  At first glance it may seem like Jesus was being evasive, just using a clever ploy to avoid answering a dangerous question.  But in fact, the answer to their question is found in the answer to Jesus’ question.  Jesus and John both received their authority from the same source: God.  And what they needed to know about Jesus was discovered at his baptism by John, when God spoke and said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  Mark 1:11.  A decision about John is a decision about Jesus.  If they answer Jesus’ question correctly—John’s authority came from heaven—they will know where Jesus’ authority came from, and who He really is: the beloved Son of God.

But they didn’t want to answer Jesus’ question because either answer, heaven or men, got them in trouble.  They had rejected John the Baptist and refused to believe his message or repent.  So if they said, “John’s authority came from heaven,” they knew that Jesus could say, “Then why didn’t you believe him?”  They would indict themselves.  On the other hand, if they said John’s authority came from men, they knew the crowds would turn on them because they considered John to be a prophet from God.  

So they chickened out and said, “We don’t know.”  They pled the Fifth.  “We refuse to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate us.”  It wasn’t that they didn’t know; the problem was that they were unwilling to know.  And so Jesus answered their unwillingness by saying, “I won’t answer your question.”  But of course, he really had.  By pointing them to John, Jesus pointed to John’s testimony about himself and what God had said at his baptism.  Jesus made an implicit claim to be the Son of God.

When he cleansed the temple, they said, “Who do you think you are?  This is our house!”  And Jesus answers, “I am the Son of God, and this is my Father’s house.”   

    Who is this man?  That’s the big question…then and now.  Jesus answers it implicitly in his response, and in the story that comes next.


Scripture: Mark 12:1-12     The second conflict

12:1 He then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 2 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

6 “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

7 “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

9 “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven’t you read this scripture: “ ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; 11 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

12 Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.


    It was a common practice in Israel in Jesus’ day for an owner to lease out his farm to tenants.  And these kinds of conflicts were common—tenants would refuse to pay the rent.  

ILL: This still happens today.  Laina’s sister and brother-in-law own a home that they rent out.  A few years ago, a renter went months without paying and ignored every notice or contact they made.  They finally got an eviction notice, and he even ignored that!  The police had to come and force him out, and he left piles of his stuff on the sidewalk in front of their house.  They finally had to pay to haul it to the dump, and never got the thousands of dollars owed in back-rent.  So it’s an old story, and one that still happens today.

But there is more to Jesus’ story than a simple tale of missed rent payments.  Jesus is drawing on well-known Old Testament imagery of Israel as God’s vineyard.  (Read from my Bible: Isaiah 5:1-6.)

Isaiah 5:7 The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

Everyone in Jesus’ audience knew this passage, and others like it that called Israel the Lord’s vineyard.  So they knew that Jesus was talking about them.  In fact, here are the players in the story.


  • Owner of the vineyard.        God.

  • Vineyard.                Israel.

  • The tenants.            Rulers of Israel.

  • The owner’s servants.         The prophets.

  • The owner’s son.            Jesus.

This is the story of the Old Testament.  God makes a covenant with His people.  They violate the covenant by rejecting God, worshiping idols, and practicing evil.  God sent the prophets to call the people back to the covenant, back into relationship with the God who loves them.  But they refused to listen, and instead persecuted and killed the prophets. God had planted Israel, His people, in the land, and trusted their leaders to help them love and follow the Lord.  Instead of a harvest of righteousness and love, all God got back was sin and rejection.

In this parable, Jesus summarized the whole history of Israel, and they knew it.  But then Jesus moves from the past to the present.  

Mark 12:6 “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

There are no more servants—no more prophets—to send.  The only one left is the owner’s son.  You might think, “Knowing what they had done to the servants, who in his right mind would send his son?”  Why would God ever send His Son into this vineyard?  Hold that thought.

    Upon seeing the son, the tenants assumed the owner must be dead, and if they killed the son, the vineyard would be theirs!  So they killed the son and threw him out of the vineyard.  

    But the owner wasn’t dead.  He came killed those tenants and gave the vineyard to others.  

    This story is a terrible indictment and a staggering claim.  Jesus indicts the leaders of Israel for rejecting God’s prophets and killing God’s son, and warns that they will be destroyed because of it.  And Jesus makes the staggering claim of being God’s Son, sent to call Israel back to God.  So the story implicitly answers the first question about authority: Jesus claims in story-form to be the Son of God. It is also a remarkable expression of God’s long-suffering and persistent love.  He just keeps trying when others would have given up.  But there is a limit to God’s patience.  When you reject the Son, you suffer God’s judgment.

    The third conflict: paying taxes to Caesar, v. 13-17.  I’m going to save this passage for a series I’m doing next month, called “Polarized”.  I am going to talk about 3 subjects that polarize people in our culture: religion, politics, and gay marriage.  We’ll see what the Bible says about these subjects, and how we should talk about them and most importantly, how we should treat each other, especially when we disagree.  So we’ll save this third conflict about paying taxes to Caesar for the week when we talk about politics.

Application: here are two important applications.

    1. What will you do with Jesus?  

    Who is this man?  This is the Big Question, then and now.  Earlier, Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?”  And the disciples had given him several answers.  Then Jesus asked, “But what about you?  Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Mark 8:29, Matthew 16:16

    Jesus always makes Himself the issue.  Who is this man?  


  • Who is this man who heals the sick, raises the dead, opens the eyes of the blind, and cleanses lepers?  

  • Who is this man who forgives sins?  Only God can forgive all our sins—who does He think He is?  

  • Who is this man who walks on water and calms storms and feeds crowds with a sack lunch?  

  • Who is this man who hangs out with sinners, and loves the outcasts, the marginalized, and the rejected?

  • Who is this man who teaches with authority—“You have heard it said, but I say to you…”?  The crowds listened with amazement: “We have never heard anyone speak like this.”

  • Who is this man who claimed to be the Son of God, who said “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father”?

  • Who is this man who challenged the religious establishment and said that the Jewish temple was no longer the way to God?  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life!” he said.

  • Who is this man who willingly embraced death on a cross, and forgave all those who put Him there?

  • Who is this man who three days later was raised from the dead, conquering death and appearing to many?  

Who is this man?  It is the single most important question you and I will ever answer.  Just like He did with His disciples, Jesus asks, “But what about you?  Who do you say I am?”  

    Will you, like Peter, say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and follow Him wherever He leads?

    Will you, like Thomas, say, “My Lord and my God,” and bow at His feet in humble surrender?  

    Or will you, like these religious leaders, say “I don’t know” and walk away?  

    Jesus makes Himself the issue. Friends, the real issue isn’t political.  The real issue before people isn’t gay marriage or abortion or the federal debt or whether Obama should be re-elected.  I’m not saying those aren’t important.  But those are not the real issue, the Big Deal.  Jesus is.  We desperately need to remember that.  When we make something other than Jesus the big issue, we end up hurting people and losing the plot.  Jesus is the issue.

ILL: Years ago, during the cold war, a well-known American preacher was preaching at a revival.  For 3 nights, he preached on the evils of communism.  After 3 nights of no one coming forward when the invitation was given, he asked a friend what was going on.  His friend said, “What do you expect them to do—come down and join the FBI?”  He was talking about the wrong issue.  Jesus is the issue!  Who is this man?

We can do the same thing, only now it’s not communism, but other issues.  But we’re not asking people to be for or against gay marriage in order to be saved—we’re asking you to follow Jesus!  We’re not asking you to be a Republican or a Democrat to be saved—we’re asking you to believe in Jesus.  

    When I talk with someone, I want to help that person answer the Big Question: What will you do with Jesus?  If we win arguments about political or moral issues without bringing people to Jesus, we have lost the battle.  Jesus is the issue: what will you do with Jesus?  That’s the question I want to ask you, and that’s the question I hope you’ll ask the people you meet.  Who is this man?  And what will you do with Him?

    If you are wrestling with this question, and aren’t ready to come to a conclusion, let me recommend two things.

    First, read the gospels, the first four books of the New Testament.  They are the story of Jesus, written by the people who knew Him and lived with Him.  If you are going to make a decision about Jesus, read the first-hand evidence.  Read the story, then answer the question: what will I do with Jesus?

    Second, I recommend John Ortburg’s new book, Who is this Man?  I am reading it right now, and it’s terrific, and I you will find it educational and inspirational.  It’s making me love Jesus even more!

    What will you do with Jesus?

    2. God’s long-suffering and persistent love.

    The story of the tenants illustrates God’s long-suffering and persistent love.  Israel broke their covenant with God; rather than rejecting them, God pursued them, sending prophet after prophet, wooing them back to himself.  In our Bible reading on Friday, we read this passage in Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 25:3 For twenty-three years…the word of the Lord has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened.

First, Jeremiah references his own repeated efforts—for 23 years, he spoke to them again and again.  Over and over.  Here’s an interesting thing about Jeremiah.  When God calls him in Jeremiah 1, the Lord tells him that the people will fight him.  They won’t listen.  Imagine God telling you to go speak to people and He adds, “Oh, by the way, they won’t listen to you; in fact, they’re going to hate you.”  I’d say, “Then why are you sending me?  What’s the point?”  The point is that God’s love doesn’t give up.  He keeps trying, even in the face of repeated rejection.  Jeremiah continues:

Jeremiah 25:4 And though the Lord has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention.

It wasn’t just Jeremiah; there were lots of other prophets who also spoke to Israel again and again.  Over and over.  This is God’s long-suffering and persistent love—a stubborn love that doesn’t give up on us, but keeps pursuing, keeps speaking, keeps wooing us back.  

ILL: Have you ever tried to love someone who just kept refusing your love?  

    A friend of mine told me that his family has rejected him—cut him out of all family gatherings.  He has called and texted, and they won’t respond.  What would you do if that were you?  Keep calling, keeping trying?  Or would you give up…or nuke them?

Martin Luther said, “If I were God and the world had treated me as it treated Him, I would kick the wretched thing to pieces.”

I love Martin Luther…but I’m glad Luther isn’t God.  I’m glad you aren’t God, too.  Or me.  Because our love, no matter how strong, is nothing like His.  

Prophet after prophet—beaten and killed.  Again and again—and God sends more.  And then…He sent His Son.  Why would God send His Son into such a deadly environment?  When they’ve rejected or killed every prophet, why send your son?  There’s only one possible answer: love.  God loves you more than you’ve ever dreamed.  His stubborn love will pursue you to your dying day.

ILL: Tedd Kidd was five years older than Janet, finished college before her, and started to work in a city hundreds of miles from her. They always seemed to be at different places in their lives. But they had been dating for seven years.

Every Valentine’s Day, Tedd proposed to her. Every Valentine’s Day, Janet would say, “No, not yet.”

Finally, when they were both living in Dallas, Texas, Tedd reached the end of his patience. He bought a ring, took Janet to a romantic restaurant, and was prepared to reinforce his proposal with the diamond. Another “No” would mean he had to get on with his life without her.

After dinner, it was time. Tedd summoned up his courage. But before he could ask, Janet handed him a box the size of a book. He opened the package and slowly peeled away the tissue paper. It was a cross-stitch Janet had made that simply said, “Yes.”

Yes: that is the word that God, in his tireless pursuit of you, longs to hear.

    The story of the tenants is an example of God’s persistent love.  But it also shows that God sets a limit.  He draws a line.  He tolerated the rejection of His prophets; He won’t tolerate rejection of His Son.  Jesus is God’s final appeal, the ultimate expression of His love.  To reject Jesus is like turning down the diamond at dinner—God has offered His best and you’ve said “no”.  

    Please, don’t do that.  Please say yes.