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September 19, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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Continuing through the Gospel of Mark, our study today takes us through Mark 11:27–12:17. In this guide, we discuss a series of confrontations and conversations between Jesus and different Jewish leaders, exploring Jesus’ authority and our response to it.
Watch as Calvary Christian Academy Discipleship Director Steve Mayo invites us into a deeper conversation around the topic of authority!
Below, you’ll find some key discussion point questions to reflect on and consider on your own, in your small group, with your family, or in your circle of friends, as well as some action points for the week and a look ahead.
Memory Verse of the Week: Mark 12:10–11 (NIV)“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Icebreaker: Share about a leader, mentor, or authority figure you admire.
Getting the Conversation Going: Just a few verses prior to today’s passage, Jesus ruffled some feathers by overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple. Why? Because people were being taken advantage of, and Jesus wouldn’t stand for such abuse upon those who sought to be closer to God. So now, the Jewish leaders came to publicly challenging Jesus on His authority to say and do what He’d been doing. If they could coax Him into confessing that He lacked authority, He would have lost all credibility with the people. And because they assumed He didn’t have this authority, not recognizing He was the Son of God and their long-awaited Messiah (Savior), they believed they had Him trapped.
But they didn’t . . .
Mark 11:28 (NIV)“By what authority are you doing these things? . . . And who gave you authority to do this?”
Jesus responds to their question with a question of His own, and with this He sets the scene that will reveal they are the ones who lack authority, not Him. He frames this scene around the influence and work of John the Baptist by asking them about the source of his authority. Was it given to him by God or was it simply man-based?
After giving it some thought, they quickly realize they’ve been painted into the proverbial corner! They play out the potential answers to the two possible scenarios: One has them at fault for not listening to someone authorized by God, while the other has them falling out of favor with the Jewish people. They were in a pickle. So, in their desperation, they devise a strategy to shake loose Jesus’ question by saying, “We do not know.”
“We do not know.” That’s the best response they could come up with on an important spiritual issue! This is what Jesus was driving at all along, because it exposed their lack of true authority, which was the real issue. The application is simply this: Jesus has all authority and the sooner and more fully we understand this, the better!
Sadly, just like in Jesus’ day, His authority is still being questioned today.
Discussion Question 1: Why was/is it hard for people to accept and submit to the authority of Jesus?
The Ultimate Authority of Jesus: After showing their lack of authority, Jesus actually shows us a much bigger problem: their rejection of God’s authority. To do this, He shares a parable intended to reveal their guilt before God. Through this parable, Jesus points back to what they had done and points ahead to what they would do to Him. And true to the nature of parables, they didn’t receive what was being said, as was evidenced when they just left and went away. They rejected Him and His message. But here’s the thing: As Charles Spurgeon explained, “The Son was the final messenger. There would be no other. Either they would accept the message of the Son or face certain judgment. If you do not hear the well-beloved Son of God, you have refused your last hope. He is God’s ultimatum. Nothing remains when Christ is refused. No one else can be sent; heaven itself contains no further messenger. If Christ be rejected, hope is rejected.”
Discussion Question 2: Think about a time when you were tempted to reject God’s truth and His authority in your life. What was the cause? What was the result?
Mark 12:17b (NIV)“And they were amazed at him . . .”
Taxation and Devotion: In the final section of today’s passage, we see the Jewish leaders ask Jesus about taxation. In reality, they were trying to either 1) find cause to accuse Him of insurrection against the Roman Empire or 2) get the people to turn on Him by making it seem like Jesus was a Roman sympathizer against the Jews.
You see, for almost 30 years, the Jews were forced to pay three different taxes. Some refused to pay the tax, while most everyone else paid it begrudgingly or in fear of their oppressors. This was the world they lived in. But Jesus’ answer shocked them!
Jesus requests a denarius and asks them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” (Mark 12:16 NIV). The answer was the face of Tiberius, the reigning Roman Emperor, with the inscription “Pontifex Maximus,” which declared him the high priest of the Roman Empire.
Mark 12:17a (NIV)“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s . . .”
All the Jews used these coins for their everyday living and purchases. So in essence, Jesus was saying if they recognize Caesar’s civil authority enough to use the coins, they must also pay him the taxes he asks for.
For the child of God, there’s no room for civil disobedience apart from being decreed to personally do something unbiblical—like Nebuchadnezzar’s decree to bow down before the golden image or Darius’ decree to pray to no one but him for 30 days. Aside from being commanded to personally do something that goes against the Word, we’re commanded “to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient” (Titus 3:1 NIV) and to be “subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1 NIV). Regardless of political opinion, this is the way of Jesus who, knowing He’d be sent to His death by the same governing body that this coin represented, still instructed people to walk in civil obedience because the authorities are established by God.
Jesus’ last words here are, “Give . . . to God what is God’s.” The coin belonged to Caesar and his kingdom because his image was stamped on it, but our lives belong to God and His kingdom because His image is stamped on us. And thus, as His children who belong fully and solely to Him, we must give to God our everything—our lives, heart, mind, soul, strength, love, devotion, will, and plans.
Discussion Question 3: What does Jesus’ response to the religious leaders tell us about how we are expected to live today?
Discussion Question 4: How can we “give to God what is God’s”? What does it look like for Jesus to have full authority over your life?
This Week: Do some soul searching and self examination. Consider whether or not there are areas where you’ve rejected Jesus’ authority. This could be unrepentant sin, compromising biblical truth to cater to culture, or your attitude and actions toward ruling authorities. If there are areas that need to be surrendered to Jesus, spend time in prayer and ask Him to help you!
In our next study, we’ll continue working our way through the Gospel of Mark and discuss Mark 12:18–44 as the questions and confrontations between Jesus and the religious leaders continue. Discover what Jesus has to say about the power of God, the greatest commandment to live by, true generosity, and hypocrisy as we learn from Jesus how to handle ourselves when others to try to trap us, and how we can live free and help others do the same!
Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.