We are looking at a section in Mark’s gospel where he, by the Holy Spirit, is showing the reasons why people reject Jesus. On the previous day Jesus entered Jerusalem and shut down the temple, calling judgment upon it for not being a house of prayer for the nations. Instead of being a house of prayer, the leaders had turned the temple into a den of robbers. The religious leaders do not take this lightly and their response shows us another reason why people reject Jesus.
Authority Challenged (11:27-30)
Jesus returns to Jerusalem the next day and Jesus proceeds to go to the temple again. As Jesus comes to the temple, the chief priests, scribes, and elders of the nation came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” They want to know who Jesus thinks he is going into the temple, closing it down, and declaring judgment against it. Who says you are right about what you are declaring? What authority to do you have to make such declarations and to close the temple complex?
But notice that Jesus does not answer their question. We need to consider why this would be the case and why there is wisdom in the response Jesus is giving. Jesus does not answer their question. Rather, Jesus asks these leaders a question.
Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” (Mark 11:29–30 ESV)
Jesus asks them about the authority of John. Why would Jesus ask these leaders a question about John and his teaching? Why would Jesus ask them about if John had divine authority? When we return to the beginning of this gospel we will remember that John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (1:4). The nation was to repent because judgment was coming. Further, accepting John’s ministry required accepting Jesus because John was pointing to Jesus as his successor (1:7-8). Therefore, to accept John’s authority was to accept two things: a coming judgment because John proclaimed repentance from the coming judgment and accepting Jesus as the Christ. What we see Jesus doing is challenging the sincerity of the scribes and chief priests’ question. Do they really want to know the authority of Jesus or do they just want Jesus to stop?
Dishonesty Revealed (11:31-33)
Notice now how the religious leaders refuse to answer. They are deciding how they should answer this question. If they say that John had divine authority, then their condemnation is clear. Why did they not listen to John and follow him? If they say that John did not have divine authority, then they are rejecting a messenger that all the people accepted to be a prophet from God. The people would have completely rejected these leaders if they answer that John was not sent from God. Luke’s gospel tells us that the people would have stoned them if they had said that (cf. Luke 20:6).
So what do the leaders do? They claim ignorance. They claim ignorance because they are dishonest. They are not going to honestly pursue the truth. They refuse to allow the truth of Jesus’ words to hit them in the heart as those words should. We can easily mock these religious leaders for being so dishonest in their approach and response to Jesus. The leaders started with a conclusion: Jesus is not from God. Therefore it did not matter what Jesus said or did. Nothing would change their conclusion. But it is very easy for us to do the same. We can refuse to allow God’s word to cause us to carefully reflect and cause us to consider our ways. We dance around issues and answers so that we can be right rather than being struck with the truth. Mark is showing that Jesus is being rejected because the leaders have dishonest hearts. They are not honestly seeking the truth. This is why Jesus answers them the way he does in verse 33.
And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:33 ESV)
Jesus is not being petty but is proving a point. It is a really important principle. It is not possible to discuss spiritual things with people who are being dishonest with themselves and with God. There is no reason to answer. If we are unwilling to honestly pursue the Lord and look into the perfect law of liberty, then there is nothing that we can discuss. Sincerity is critical. Now Jesus tells a parable to reflect this truth.
The Parable (12:1-9)
We noted in our last lesson that vineyards and fig trees were common symbolic representations for Israel. This is most notably seen in Isaiah 5 where Israel is described as beautiful vineyard built by God. The problem is that the Lord comes to find fruit in his beautiful vineyard, does not find any, requiring God to make waste of the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7). You will notice that Mark 12:1 parallels the picture of Isaiah.
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; (Isaiah 5:1–2 ESV)
“A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower…” (Mark 12:1 ESV)
The point I want us to understand is that when Jesus starts telling this parable, everyone who heard it would know that Jesus is telling a parable about Israel. The same imagery continues in Mark 12:2 where it was time for the owner to get fruit from the vineyard. So the owner of the vineyard sends a servant to get some of the fruit from his vineyard. This also relates to Mark 11:13 when Jesus was approaching Jerusalem and was looking to see if there was fruit on the fig tree.
But the tenants’ response to the servant is shocking. They beat the servant and send him away empty-handed. The owner sends another servant with the same result: beaten and treated shamefully. Another servant is sent and he is killed by the tenants. The owner continued to send servants with the result that some servants will killed and some were beaten. The picture here is about how God sent many prophets to Israel looking for fruitfulness from the nation only to have those prophets beaten, shamefully treated, and killed. No fruit and continual rejection is the repeated message. So what will the owner do? He does something surprising. The owner sends his son to the vineyard. If there is someone that these tenants would surely listen to and respect, it would be the son. Surely sending the son will cause remorse or shame for their past behavior. But look at the response of the tenants in verses 7-8.
But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. (Mark 12:7–8 ESV)
They think that they can kill the heir and seize the inheritance for themselves. The point is to show the absurdity and foolishness of the tenants for thinking of the kingdom as theirs rather than God’s. So they kill the son dishonorably, throwing him out of the vineyard. Now the simple question: what would the owner of this vineyard do? Obviously he will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. The message is simple. Judgment will come upon those who do this and the kingdom will be given to another people.
The Quotation (12:10-11)
To prove this truth, Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23. This is interesting because remember in the last lesson we saw the people on the road quoting Psalm 118:25-26 during Jesus’ triumphal entry (cf. Mark 11:9). The stone cast aside as inadequate by the builders is the most important stone in the building. What great irony! The builders will reject the stone. The reason a builder rejects a stone because they evaluate the stone as not fit to be used in the building. But the Lord is going to evaluate this rejected stone as perfect for being the cornerstone of the building. Despite his rejection and death, God will raise him to be the cornerstone of the new temple and it will amaze the world.
The Result (12:12)
Now what will be the response of the leaders who are challenging Jesus’ authority? What will they say? Will they fall down in repentance? Will they beg for mercy? Will they allow Jesus’ teaching hit their hearts? No, they now try to arrest Jesus but do not because they are afraid of the people. Why do they want to arrest Jesus? Because Jesus told something against them. Jesus said something that they did not like. Jesus exposed their sin and they did not like it. These leaders are dishonest and do not want to listen to words that would help them. They do not want to be told they are wrong. They do not want to be told to repent. They do not want to hear what the word of God is saying to their lives. They are not honestly seeking God’s will. They look like they are. They look like they are religious. They look like they love God. But they do not because they do not honestly hear the message.
Now we want to think that we would never do this kind of thing. We would never distort the scriptures. We would never be insincere. We would never deceive ourselves about our spiritual condition. God has sent his apostles and prophets to us who are presently enjoying the blessings of God’s kingdom and Christ’s rule. But you see that you can be in the kingdom and then still be cast out later for not listening to the Son and his servants. Consider if there are messages from God that we simply refuse to accept, that we refuse to bear fruit for God.
God says for children to obey their parents and for parents to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Are we doing that or are we not bearing fruit? God says for husbands to love their wives and give themselves up for their wives? Are we doing that or are we not bearing fruit? God says for wives to respect and submit to their husbands? Are we doing that or are we not bearing fruit? God says to be angry but do not sin? Are we doing that or are we not bearing fruit? God says do not let the sun go down on our anger? Do we listen to this or do we hold grudges and hold bitterness for what someone has done to us? God says to cut out anything in our lives that causes us to sin. Are we doing that or are we not bearing fruit? God says to put others ahead of ourselves and to not be conformed to the world. Are we doing that or are we not bearing fruit? God is looking for fruit. This is the point the apostle Paul made to the Romans Christians, telling the Gentiles that the expectations are the same for us.
For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Romans 11:21–22 ESV)
People reject Jesus because they are dishonest with themselves, with their sins, and with God. I beg each of us to be honest spiritually with ourselves and about our sins. We need to be honest about our pursuit of God. Are we bearing fruit? Are we showing that we are working in the Lord’s vineyard, bearing fruit, and growing and flourishing in our relationship with him? Or do we think that God is not the owner of this vineyard and will not do something about our lack of fruit? Draw closer to God to bear fruit. Pull the weeds out of your heart that is choking out time for devotion to God. Cut out the things in your life that are pulling you away from God. Press into the Lord through prayer. Press into the Lord through his word. Press into the Lord through worship. Press into the Lord with faithful brothers and sisters in Christ to encourage you and correct you on your journey. How can we help you be honest and grow in your walk with Jesus?