The Suspended Answer

A chapel sermon by the Reverend Professor John T. Pless delivered Friday in Advent I, 5 December 2008, at Kramer Chapel, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Text: Mark 11:27-33

Advent announces that the time is short. The scribes, elders and chief priests were running out of time and want an answer. It is high time that Jesus account for Himself and what He has been doing all along. At His Baptism in the Jordan, the Father had declared of Jesus: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Jesus took it as true. He acted accordingly. He shows His authority over the unclean spirits; they obey Him. To demonstrate that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, He says to the crippled man: "My son, your sins are forgiven." It was an absolution that occasioned the charge of blasphemy for who can forgive sins but God alone. He heals on the Sabbath. His disciples pluck grain on the divinely-sanctioned day of rest for a snack to satisfy their hunger. When the Pharisees complain, Jesus asserts His authority over the holy day: "The Son of man is lord even over the Sabbath. Then the Pharisees take counsel with the Herodians against Jesus, looking for a way to destroy Him.


Fast forward with Mark's quickly moving script through miracles and parables to Palm Sunday. As they approach Jerusalem, Jesus dispatches two of his disciples to go into the city. He tells them that they will see a colt. They are instructed to untie it and bring it to Jesus. Who does Jesus think that He is, taking another man's donkey, treating it as His own? Luther observes that this little donkey and all donkeys are His. He is their creator. He is not stealing when He claims that which is His already. By the authority of its Creator, the donkey goes to Him to whom it belongs.

Donkeys are His and so are fig trees. When a barren fig tree does not yield the fruits intended by the Word of the Lord who blessedly decreed that fruit-bearing tree would produce food for man, Jesus speaks a curse and no one eats from its withered and vacant branches. His ownership extends to more than fig trees. Jesus goes into the temple and He treats it as His own house. He says "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it a den of robbers." Clothed in holy anger, He turns over tables and disperses money-changers and pigeon sellers.

By what authority? That is the question these events evoke. And the chief priests, elders and scribes want an answer. And they want it now. Instead they get a question: The baptism of John - it is from heaven or from man? Answer me that, says Jesus, and I'll tell you by what authority I do these things. Pushed to the wall by the Lord's counter question, they have a meeting of the CTCR to figure this out this doctrinal dilemma, or call for a theological convocation to solve this confessional conundrum:  If we say that John's baptism is from God then we're stuck with explaining why we didn't believe him. If we say it was from men, we'll have to face the ruthless judge of public opinion for the masses thought John was an authentic prophet. They can only answer: "We don't know."

They will get an answer but not yet. It will come from the lips of a centurion who stands in the presence of Jesus' body battered and blood, hanging lifeless on the cross and confesses: "Truly this man was the Son of God." It will come as that young man sitting by an open tomb announces: "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here."

By what authority does the Lord Jesus do what He does?

It is by the authority given Him by His Father as the Beloved Son.

It is authority over wind and wave,
over demon and disease,
over donkeys and fig trees,
over Sabbath and temple.

But is astonishingly more; it is authority over your sin to forgive it by the shedding of His blood. And it is by this authority that I now preach the Word of Advent to you this morning: Repent and believe the Gospel for your King and His Kingdom are here.

It's too late to question His authority. Amen.

-Prof. John T. Pless