Three Spiritual Evils
“And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me. And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:27-33)
In this passage of Scripture we see our Lord Jesus Christ walking in the temple with his disciples, teaching and preaching the gospel. As he walked back and forth through the house of God, a multitude gathered around and listened intently to his every word.
The event recorded here took place the day after our Lord cursed the barren fig tree and drove the money changers from the temple, two days after his entrance into Jerusalem.
In the crowd listening to our Savior’s doctrine were those chief priests, scribes, and elders who were determined to destroy the Master, his doctrine and his people.
Once more, they thought they had a perfect opportunity to discredit him. The Lord Jesus had come into Jerusalem accepting the praises of men as the Messiah, the Christ of God. He entered the house of God, drove out the money-changers, and set things in order as the Master of the house. On top of all that, he called the house of God his house. Thus declaring himself to be God! As he taught the gospel of God in the house of God, contrary to the accepted traditions and customs of the Jews, these great, respected, scholarly infidels, who were the religious leaders of the Jewish world, asked the Lord Jesus the source of his authority.
When the religious, spiritual leaders of a church, denomination, nation, or age do not know God, when spiritual leaders are really infidels, those who blindly follow their blind guides do so to the eternal peril of their souls, and to the eternal peril of all who are under their influence. Three spiritual evils stand out in these verses as glaring beacons to warn us.
The Evil of Spiritual Ignorance
You may think, “Pastor, how can you say that spiritual ignorance is an evil? Can a person be faulted for his ignorance in the things of God?” Yes, a person can and should be, indeed shall be, held accountable by God for that which he could have known and should have known had he simply walked in the light God gave him. Do you understand the implications of what I have just stated? — Not only will God Almighty hold people accountable at the day of judgment for everything they have heard and despised concerning the gospel of his dear Son, he will hold them accountable for everything they could have heard had they chosen to do so!
Any man who speaks to, teaches, leads and preaches to others in the name of God must have a firm, well grounded, God given assurance concerning the things of God. Leading, and instructing eternity bound men and women in the name of God puts a man under a tremendous weight of responsibility. Knowing what I do of God’s character, his Word, and the seriousness of this business, I would not dare speak or write another word, or continue another day in the work of the ministry, if I were not absolutely confident of both the call of God and the message God has sent me to declare.
I say to any man, old or young, who is just chomping at the bit to be a preacher, before you assume this work, “Be certain that you know God and the gospel of his grace. — Be certain that God has called you and sent you to the work. — Be certain that you have a message from God. — Be certain that you faithfully perform the work and faithfully proclaim God’s message.” Pastors, teachers, missionaries and religious leaders stand as watchmen over the souls under their care. That makes them responsible before God for those they teach (Ezekiel 3:17-21; 33:1-16).
You may be thinking, “What does all that have to do with Mark 11:27-33? — These chief priests, scribes, and elders stand before us as glaring examples of the fact that those who hold highest place in the religious world are often totally ignorant of the things of God. These men were not peons. They were the most highly trained, specialized religious scholars, selected from an elite group of elite men. They were not just priests; they were the chief priests. They were not just teachers; they were the scribes. They were not just elders; they were the elders. They were regarded by the religious world of their day as the very source and fountain of all spiritual knowledge. They were, for the most part, direct descendants of Aaron; and they could prove it. Their doctrine had the full weight and force of mainstream, historic Jewish tradition; and they could prove it. But these great, highly respected, well-trained religious leaders did not know God from a box of rocks!
Spiritually, they were totally blind. They had the Scriptures memorized, categorized and compartmentalized; but they had absolutely no understanding of the message of the Holy Scripture. They could tell you everything you could want to know about God and his Son, the Christ, the Messiah, except one thing. They could not tell you who he is! They could not spot him when he stood in their midst!
All true, saving, spiritual knowledge comes by divine revelation. I wonder if we will ever learn this. In spiritual matters nothing matters except spiritual matters. Worldly approval, academic scholarship, historic approval, celebrated fame, religious order, and religious tradition are all meaningless. Indeed, these things are an absolute hindrance, unless we are taught of God. We know nothing until God, by his Spirit, causes the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ to shine in our hearts. Christ must be revealed in us!
Once that happens, once Christ is revealed in a person, he is unceasingly taught of God and convinced of three things. These three things are the most important truths we ever consider. They are indescribably deep. We can never fully learn them. Yet, if we are taught of God, we will never cease to learn them, as long as we live in this world. When God the Holy Spirit comes upon a sinner in the mighty, saving operations of his grace, he convinces the chosen, redeemed sinner of (1.) sin, of (2.) righteousness, and of (3.) judgment (John 16:8-11; Romans 8:1-4; 10:4; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Any preacher or religious teacher who is not convinced of these things does not know God, and must not be heard.
As you care for your soul and for the souls of your families and all who may be influenced by you, try the spirits to see whether they be of God (1 John 4:1-3). Spiritual ignorance, ignorance of Christ and his gospel, among preachers, teachers, and religious leaders is an inexcusable evil, by which multitudes are being led to hell. When blind men are led by blind men, both fall into the ditch.
The Evil of Spiritual Arrogance
Here is a group of men, pretending that they are doing God’s service, daring to challenge the incarnate God himself about his authority, moved by nothing but envy, jealousy, arrogance and pride. They were not even slightly motivated by the glory of God. Their only concern was their own position and power! They said, “By what authority doest thou these things?”
They could not refute his doctrine. They could not make any charge of wickedness stick to him. They could not deny the power of God displayed in his works. The only thing left was to challenge his right to do the things he did in the name of God. They were asking, “By what authority do you preach? Who ordained you? What right do you have to curse a fig tree, created by God? How dare you come into the house of God and set things in order, without consulting us?”
Nothing makes a lost religious man more arrogant, insecure, envious, and malicious than the sight of another man doing the will of God, preaching the truth of God he refuses to preach, — Consecrated to the glory of God, while he is consecrated to nothing but himself, — Secure in the place God has put him and in doing the work God has given him, while he knows nothing but insecurity. When he sees God’s servant at rest in the will of God, when he cannot find a moment’s rest in his soul, his envy turns to arrogance; and arrogance is always malicious (Psalm 10:2; 73:6; 119:69, 78, 85; 140:5; Proverbs 8:13; 13:10; 28:25).
It is spiritual arrogance, especially among religious leaders, which keeps men from bowing to the truth of God, when plainly confronted with it; and the embarrassment of having that wickedness exposed in their own hearts makes those, who normally appear to be sugary sweet, raging persecutors. It was the spiritual arrogance of these men that drug them down to hell.
Everyone acknowledged that John the Baptist was a prophet of God; but these fine men were not about to sit at the feet of such an unacceptable teacher. He had no theological training and no religious credentials. John the Baptist did not appear to be a learned man, and certainly did not look or act like the priests, scribes and Pharisees. All he had was the truth of God, the power of God and the presence of God!
Because they would not hear God’s servant, they could not believe God’s Son. The Lord Jesus declared and displayed in undeniable ways that he is the Christ, the Messiah. He both claimed to be and proved himself to be God. But they refused to believe him. Because they refused to hear God’s messenger and refused to believe God’s Son, they despised God’s ordinance, believer’s baptism, refusing to confess that righteousness comes only by the obedience of Christ unto death, which believer’s baptism symbolizes (Matthew 3:15).
The Evil of Spiritual Dishonesty
Spiritual ignorance always leads to spiritual arrogance; and spiritual ignorance and arrogance always produce religious or spiritual dishonesty. Those who are, by their willful unbelief, prejudiced against the truth of God, in the attempt to justify themselves will, without hesitation, lie and act in dishonesty to their own consciences. Like these chief priests, scribes and elders, they will display this dishonest behavior in the name of honoring God and in the house of God. There is nothing dishonest men will not do to save face before men. Our Lord did not ask these men a hard, perplexing question. He just asked them whether John’s ministry was of God or of men.
"And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me" (vv. 29-30).
These men did not even think about giving a plain, honest, strait forward answer. Immediately, they put their heads together, not to find out the truth, but to figure out how to save face.
"And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things" (vv. 31-33).
Rather than speak the truth, they told a direct and obvious lie. They said, “We cannot tell”.
Multitudes today behave exactly like these men. Rather than simply bowing to Christ, they lie to themselves, lie to those who minister to their souls, and lie to God. They attempt to justify themselves in their unbelief and soothe their consciences by saying, “I want to believe, but I just cannot understand the doctrines of the gospel.” — Who cannot understand satisfaction and substitution? They say, “I am really trying to believe, but I just can’t.” — Who cannot fall, if he is willing to fall? They say, “I really want to be a Christian and serve the Lord, but not right now.” The simple fact is, they are lying. When a person says, “I cannot believe on Christ”, the real truth is he will not believe. That is exactly what God the Holy Spirit teaches throughout the Book of God.
Man’s real problem is that he loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19), and has no desire to change. Therefore, he refuses to come to the Light. If they were willing to live up to the light God has already given them, if they were willing to act upon the knowledge they already have, they would soon know the doctrine of Christ, come to Christ, and walk in the light with Christ (John 7:17). Man’s problem is that he is so full of hatred toward God that he would rather call God a liar (1 John 5:10) and go to hell than admit that he is himself a liar.
Yes, I am fully aware that no man has the ability to trust Christ, and that faith in Christ is the gift of God. No lost, ruined, helpless sinner can believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, except he be born again. But unbelief is not man’s misfortune; it is his fault and his sin (Proverbs 1:23-33; 29:1). In John 6:37-45, when our Lord Jesus Christ reproved the unbelief of men, he laid the blame squarely at the feet of those who “believe not,” while at the same time declaring that none can believe on him except God give them faith.
“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day…No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.”
With those wonderful, instructive words, the Lord Jesus Christ teaches four things, four great gospel truths that need to be proclaimed everywhere:
“If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)
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