How well do you respond when you find yourself in the middle of what you consider to be a power struggle or a challenge to your authority? Power struggles can happen when complete strangers won’t let us park where we want, or coworkers won’t let us sit in a favored seat during a particular meeting, or when a child learns the meaning of the word “NO!” and uses it every time you try to get him or her to eat something healthy.
I can imagine that most power struggles occur over things that, in hindsight, are insignificant. But every now and then, power struggles are over important things. Mark 11:27-33 tells us about one of the power struggles that Christ experienced. This struggle occurred between him and temple personnel.
What happened to spark this confrontation between Christ and the temple personnel? After Christ triumphantly entered the city to a chorus of praise and worship from the common person, he went to the temple and proceeded to turn over the tables of the money changers. He did this as a way to confront them about their misuse of the temple and the misuse of the people that came to make sacrifices. In doing this, He temporarily stopped the money changers from conducting business as usual at the temple.
This act of disruption was unacceptable to everyone who benefited from the system that was in place within the temple. The chief priests, scribes, and elders were all beneficiaries of a prosperous system within temple life that took advantage of the common person.
The easiest way for them to handle the embarrassment that Christ had heaped on the temple leadership was to turn the tables on Him in front of the people that were impressed by His actions. They hoped to do this by making him look small and unimportant by asking Him a simple, yet loaded question. “By what authority do you come in here and do the things that you do?” The Terrell Carter translation would say, “Who died and made you the boss?”
Christ didn’t give them an answer. Instead, he responded with his own question. “By what authority did John the Baptist do what he did? Did his authority come from God, or did it come from man?”
In the eyes of the temple leaders, John the Baptizer was no better than Christ. John was just another itinerant preacher with bad taste in food and clothing. John’s preaching was a thorn in the side of the priests because he taught that people did not need to go to the temple and pay a fee to have their sins forgiven. Instead, John taught that forgiveness was based on repentance alone.
The problem the temple personnel faced in answering Christ was that they couldn’t speak out against John publicly. They couldn’t publicly deny or confirm John’s authority. That would be political and social suicide. If they said that John did what he did based on a divine assignment from God, then Christ would counter with “Why didn’t you all believe him?” which would make them look bad before the people. If they said that John was simply a man who did what he wanted to do, the people hearing the debate would be in an uproar because John held great credibility with them.
In order to save face, they refused to continue playing the game that they had started. “We don’t know where John got his authority.” Christ’s response to them was, “If you don’t know, I won’t tell you who gave me my authority.” Terrell Carter’s translation: Mind your business.
One thing is clear. This debate was about one thing. Who was going to be in charge? Who would be the big dog within the temple? Within the religious community of Israel and the political strata of Jerusalem, who would be in charge? Would they continue to run the temple and keep things at the status quo? Or, would they recognize the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy as he stood before their eyes?
Christ knew the answer to that question before they even said anything. No!!! They would not back down. Instead, they wanted to have Him arrested and persecuted, but they were afraid of what the people would think and do.
As I read through this biblical narrative, unfortunately, I can recognize the attitudes of the temple personnel as my own. They had gotten comfortable in their lives as leaders in the temple. They had a certain system set up and it worked in their favor. Their positions as leaders were originally appointments from God, but somehow they became political appointments. Instead of seeing their service in the temple as a faithful duty performed to God, they saw it as part of a wheel that needed continual greasing in order to keep their lifestyles going.
They lost sight of the big picture, of what God wanted for creation and what God was doing through Christ. Instead of working with Christ to bring about the fulfillment of God’s word, they fought to keep their piece of the pie intact. In doing so, they rejected the true purpose behind the temple. And, they rejected the true fulfillment of the sacrificial system that they worked so hard to protect.
Do you ever recognize this happening in your life? Your focus is on what you want, what you have achieved in life, and how hard you’ve worked to get where you are. You’ve sacrificed and played the game to achieve your position in life, and now you are somebody. And no one will change that. Not your boss, or your spouse, or your children, or a church council.
My prayer for all of us is that we recognize that all that we accomplish in life comes from the hand of God and can serve as a beacon to draw people to God. We have the privilege of sharing with anyone who will listen, the good news about being in relationship with God through Jesus. We have the privilege of telling anyone who will listen, the good news that God provides for us and protects us as we endeavor to see the Kingdom of Heaven fulfilled. We have the privilege of showing the world that the good things that occur in our lives don’t have to change us for the worst. Instead, they can serve as a testimony to God’s faithfulness.