Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem certainly was making waves. There was something strategic about his actions. Arriving on a donkey in line with prophetic promises of God’s anointed king arriving in such a manner, he had then gone into the Temple courtyard and caused disruption, pronouncing judgement. This was a declaration of intent. Jesus was taking charge of the situation. He would have known that there were plots against him but showed no sign of fear and that no doubt unsettled his opponents who were also seeing his popularity among the crowds. So, they came to challenge his authority.
Read Mark 11:27-33
Challenged with a question about where he drew his authority from, Jesus responded with a question of his own. He asked the Pharisees where John’s authority came from. His opponents are stumped. They don’t want to admit it was from God because that will show up their own failure to listen to John but to deny God’s authority would mean that the crowds would turn against them all the more. So they stay silent and Jesus says “If you are unable to answer this question, then I won’t answer yours.”
Often, Jesus’ engagement with the Pharisees is presented as them setting out traps for him and him deftly avoiding them by refusing to be drawn into an answer but that is to fundamentally misread Jesus. He was more than willing to answer directly and he knew that the week would end in his arrest and execution anyway. He also knew that there was resurrection to come. So, Jesus’ refusal to answer here is not about him avoiding a trap. He has been unashamedly insisting that he came with his Father’s authority.
No, I think the point here is that the Pharisees knew full well where his authority came from but they were caught in the same trap as they were with John. To acknowledge Christ’s obvious authority from his Father would be to admit their own hard hearts. To deny his authority would to stir up the people against them.
Jesus wants them to recognise his authority properly for the right reasons and his silence here serves to condemn for their silence on a matter when they knew the truth. On a side point, far too often people remain silent on matters of truth and justice for the wrong reasons.
On another occasion, Jesus called on his followers not to be ashamed of him or deny him. To deny him here is to bring the judgement in heaven of him denying us.
Today, too often, we shrink back from proclaiming Christ’s authority because the crowds may turn against us. To acknowledge Christ’s full authority and the truth of all of his Word is to risk opposition. Will we be like the Pharisees and shrink back then? Or will we show our trust in christ by being faithful to him and declaring his authority?