By What Authority?

A daily devotion for January 22nd

Read the Scripture: Mark 11:27-12:27
Mark 11:27-12:27

27They 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?"

29Jesus replied, "I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30John's baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!"

31They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?' 32But if we say, 'From men'...." (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

33So they answered Jesus, "We don't know."
Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."

1He 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. 2At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5He 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.' 8So 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. 10Haven't you read this scripture:
" 'The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;
11the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes'?"

12Then 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.

13Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14They came to him and said, "Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15Should we pay or shouldn't we?"

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. "Why are you trying to trap me?" he asked. "Bring me a denarius and let me look at it." 16They brought the coin, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"
"Caesar's," they replied.

17Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."
And they were amazed at him.

18Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19"Teacher," they said, "Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. 20Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?"

24Jesus replied, "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? 27He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!"

New International Version

Then Jesus said to them, Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's (Mark 12:17).

I remember reading some time ago of a brilliant young lawyer who had been raised a pagan and had no use for Christianity. Someone had given him the New Testament, and he was reading it through. When he came to this account in Mark, he read this question with great interest, for he himself had recently been involved with just such a dilemma. When the full impact of Jesus' actions hit this man, he was utterly astonished. He dropped the Bible and said to himself, That's the most amazing wisdom! For our Lord did not try to answer the question directly. In that wonderful way He had, He called for a coin—He had to borrow one, for He had none of His own—and held it up. Whose picture is on this coin? He asked. They said, Caesar's. He said, All right, then, it must be Caesar's money. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. But God has His stamp upon you, so render to God the things that are God's.

He shows us that human authority is not only limited in duration; it is limited in its scope. It deals with only a part of people. The secular government is ordained by God. The apostle Paul tells us that plainly, and Peter says the same thing: Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right (1 Peter 2:13-14). Peter acknowledges that God is behind secular government—even bad government. For the king that Peter referred to was none other than Nero, wretched moral degenerate that he was. Yet Peter says to honor the king as the supreme authority.

But human government, Jesus says, has only limited control over people. It has certain powers over its citizens' bodies and minds. It can regulate our conduct to some degree and has the right to influence and regulate our attitudes and actions and what we say and how we say it. But there is one area in human life over which secular power has no control, and that is the human spirit. Secular power cannot legislate who we worship, who governs our conscience, and who constitutes the ultimate authority of life. Give to Caesar what is Caesar's. Certain things do properly belong to Caesar; give them to him. But other things about you belong only to God, so give those to God.

The Russian author Solzhenytsin stands as an example of the wrong that is done by secular might when it tries to govern and control the worship of people. Almost single-handedly, he has defied one of the mightiest powers of earth and revealed the viciousness and the exploitation that always results when secular might seeks to invade that proscribed area of human existence, the human spirit. Jesus is saying that the ultimate issues of life belong to God, not to people, and human authority is therefore limited in its scope.

Father, thank You for this One who helps me to see things rightly, who puts things in proper perspective and makes me understand who I am, and what I am, and to whom I am responsible.

Life Application: To what extent do we need to avow and submit to human government? What are its limitations? What is the ultimate authority to which Christ's disciples are responsible?

We hope you were blessed by this daily devotion.

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