A Cause for Pause

Matthew 21:23-27

And when He had come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “I will ask you one thing too, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ “But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude; for they all hold John to be a prophet.” And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

What did they think would happen? Don’t they see Jesus for who he is? When will they stop setting traps for themselves? Why would they ask by what authority Jesus does these things, isn’t it obvious? Problem; Jesus has the greatest authority and he has come to supplant them.

My question is where did they get the authority? They claim to know the Scripture but clearly they don’t. If they did, they would have recognized Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah. Come to think of it, where do I get my authority to write about Jesus? I don’t claim any authority other than the Word of God,  as it was written, in it’s context. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers claim to have authority but we should question said authority when they can only regurgitate that which they are taught, taking verses out of context. Resembling the Pharisees and scribes, they preach the letter of the law, but don’t follow it themselves.

In today’s text we find Jesus in the temple once again, teaching. As a reminder, Jesus is mere days from death yet we find him still healing and teaching in the temple. However, the scribes and elders will not stand for Jesus teaching in their temple. We are not told what Jesus was teaching about, though it was most likely about the kingdom of heaven. Nevertheless, at this particular point in the passage, the scribes and elders don’t question the teachings, they question the teacher as to where he received the authority to teach. Yes, it goes to the hardness of their hearts but not concerning what Jesus was teaching, necessarily. The problem they have is that Jesus is not one of them. He’s new and different. He was neither trained nor taught or accredited by them. They were in charge of what was done and said in the temple and Jesus doesn’t fit their mold.

“And when He had come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?'” In my life, as a short-lived, youth-group director, the most common criticism I received was, “you can’t say that.” To which my most common response was, “I didn’t say that, I read it.” But then they would question from where I received my authority? Problem; they voted to give me the authority. That’s how it worked in that church, ministry members were nominated by a nominating committee and then the members would vote. Therefore, I was given the authority to teach by the members of the church. And I took seriously the words of James, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” I believe that every single solitary word I say or write, will be taken into account. I took the job seriously enough to not say careless things but to carefully consider the context. I was both cautious and controversial with the authority that they gave to me.

Not so in Jesus’s case. They didn’t give him, or vote him, any authority. He wasn’t trained or taught by them, therefore they questioned his authority; where did he get it, who gave it to him? Of course, we who have read the book of Matthew thus far, know exactly from where Jesus received his authority. “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’” Jesus had the highest authority, who told the 3 disciples at the Transfiguration, to listen to him. Yet the scribes and elders heard no such words. Nevertheless, the had their precious law and prophets, their sacred scripts, that all pointed to Jesus. Make no mistake, they should have seen his authority, clearly, but they didn’t.

“‘By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?’ And Jesus answered and said to them, “I will ask you one thing too, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?’” Jesus has perfectly set the trap. Notice that once again, Jesus has answered a question with a question of his own. They asked Jesus where he received authority and he responded by asking them, from where John the Baptist received his authority, God or man? This is a double redundant trap, did you notice that? We’ll come back to this. First let’s look at the reasonings of the scribes and elders.

“‘The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?’ And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” He will say to us, “Then why did you not believe him?” But if we say, “From men,” we fear the multitude; for they all hold John to be a prophet.'” While their reasoning is correct, in a way, they’re still missing the point. It’s true though, that if they say John’s baptism was from heaven, Jesus would have said, “then why didn’t you believe him?” They have that correct, they understand that Jesus is laying a trap, why else would they reason amongst themselves? I have made mention that this trap made by Jesus was double redundant, but I was wrong  it’s triple redundant. Actually, Jesus left them with no way out. Their reasoning speaks volumes.

“But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude; for they all hold John to be a prophet.” They have no answer, they know that either way they answer, they will be taken to the toolshed by either Jesus or the people. Problem, their missing the point. Their reasoning while correct, is completely flawed. Notice the context once again.

“By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “I will ask you one thing too, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ “But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude; for they all hold John to be a prophet.” And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

I love this exchange. These so-called scribes, who should have recognized Jesus, ask him about his authority but never bother to question their own. Jesus enters into an agreement with them; if they can tell him from where John’s baptism was given authority, Jesus will tell them from where he gets his authority. But because of their reasoning, they can only answer Jesus, “we don’t know.” Because of said agreement, Jesus refuses to answer their question. It was a perfectly laid, tripple redundant trap. Notice, if they answered John recieved his authority from heaven, they are busted, if from man, busted, if they answer, “we don’t know,” they’re still busted–they had no way out. And this, and the entire Old Testament, plus the miracles and teachings of Jesus, should have given them pause.

We see that the problem wasn’t with their reasoning, but was the heart behind their question. They didn’t care what the response of Jesus was to their question, either way they knew that they had him cornered. If jesus responded to them that his authority was given by God, then they could accuse him of blasphemy. If Jesus responded that his authority was given by man, they would dismiss him and claim they had the greater authority. Perhaps they were even hoping Jesus would claim to have received authority from the devil, looking for a slam dunk. Nevertheless, Jesus knew what they were doing and set a trap for them and they walked right into it. He turned the proverbial table and made them confess to the fact that they were completely ignorant.

 

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