You’d think that Jesus’ opponents would’ve realized by now that he just won’t step into their traps. After all, they’ve been trying to derail him for over three years. Apparently a few of them were slow learners.

Maybe it’s a last-ditch effort by a few arrogant priests who actually thought they could beat God in a debate. Whatever their motivation, they stepped into an argument that ended, predictably, with their slinking away with defeat in their eyes. It’s interesting, though—they actually asked an excellent question. Here’s the story:

And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 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.” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things” (Mark 11:27-33).

These men represented the leading religious executive, legislative, and judicial council. They were the ruling elite, and they weren’t keen on up-and-comers stealing their influence. Notice that Jesus didn’t question the legitimacy of what they asked. By backing them into a corner they couldn’t escape, his point was clear: His authority came from God, and it superseded whatever power these men had usurped over the years.

By what authority are you doing these things? they asked. That’s actually a question everyone ought to consider. Most people like doing their own thing. It starts in childhood with the Don’t-Tell-Me-What-To-Do attitude. It continues in adulthood with only slight modifications. I’m my own boss. Who are you to think you can tell me what to do?

This entrepreneurial spirit sometimes works well in the marketplace, but it’s a disaster spiritually. When we look at our world’s religious landscape, we see confusion . . . so many ideas that seem to flow from people who want to do it their way. But following Jesus isn’t doing it our way. It’s not organizing our churches according to the latest market survey, or devising worship to be like the booming megachurch across town.

Can it be fixed? The answer may sound like a gross oversimplification, but it’s true nonetheless. What we must do is go back to Jesus as our model, our authority. It’s not about you or me or this church or that church. It’s not about what draws the biggest crowds or baptizes the most folks. It’s about remembering that Jesus is God, and we do it his way.

When he ascended back to heaven, he gave authority to his apostles, who were inspired by God to give us the will of God in Scripture. Maybe it sounds too simple, but it seems like sometimes we forget the basics. Our answer to the authority question ought to be, We do this in the authority of Jesus Christ as revealed in his word, the Bible.

That’s the only thing that’ll get more of us on the same page. —Chuck