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The Challenge of Authority | Community Evangelical Free Church
Sunday Services: 9:00am & 10:45am

The Challenge of Authority

The Challenge of Authority

Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek

Opener

This morning I’ll be continuing our study through Luke’s gospel from where Jason left off last week. That’s how we typically preach at our church—one consecutive passage after another. We do that for several reasons, and one of them is worth mentioning this morning.

The Bible speaks of seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). And the Bible tells us that anyone who has seen Jesus has seen God (John 14:9). And we’re told that Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3). Do you hear a theme? Seeing Jesus—the real Jesus, the whole Jesus, the Jesus as presented to us and not the one we pick and choose ourselves—is crucial for us to see who God is. The Gospels, the whole Gospel accounts, are a mosaic. They are little pictures that make up the whole. And if we neglect to behold all of Jesus, we would be impoverished.

In last week’s passage, we might be more naturally drawn to Jesus because Jesus had tears in his eyes. A touching scene. This week, he has a whip in his hand. But we preach all of the Bible because we believe that, even when it seems that a passage challenges, we know every passage is there for our good.

Scripture Reading

Follow along with me as I read from Luke 19:45–20:8, and then we’ll pray that God would be our teacher, showing us his goodness and glory in the face of Jesus Christ.

45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold,46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him,48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.

20 One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Prayer

This is God’s Word. Thanks be to God. “Heavenly Father . . .”

Introduction

Jesus often told parables to develop a theme and teach a point. I’m not as good of a teacher as he was, but let me tell my own parable of sorts here at the start.

There was a man who lived close to an elementary school. He was a good man, who had worked hard over his career. On his way to work for years he had passed the school and saw the children. Now that he was retired, he wanted to help. So he became the school crossing guard, volunteering his time. He was a good crossing guard—loved his job and kept the children safe. Parents felt at ease. He brought smiles to the drivers of cars as they passed. “Good morning, Jonny,” he would say. Or, “That’s a lovely dress, Sarah.”

But somewhere along the way, things went wrong. He still loved to put on his bright orange, reflective sash. But this crossing guard started to notice the children less and less. He still loved to carry his huge sign with huge letters spelling SLOW. In fact, he began to show up earlier and earlier in the morning, sometimes stopping cars just because he could. And the cars, well, they never seemed to be going slow enough.

The children became afraid of him. They hurried through the crosswalk; no more chitchat. In fact, some moms began to park around back and walk through a different school door just to avoid this crossing guard. It got to the point that the administration of the school eventually had to ask him to leave.

“You don’t know the first thing about keeping people safe,” he said. “Without me, this place would be a disaster.” Strangely, the crossing guard kept coming back every morning, causing a disturbance, waving his sign.

One morning, while he was wearing his little sash, holding his little sign, a car pulled up that he didn’t really recognize. But the people did. It was the chief of police in his squad car with his badge and his gun. “I’ll take it from here,” he said.

The crossing guard stammered, “Well, well… who says you can do things here? Who gave you this right? I was put in authority here; I have a reflective sash and a sign and cars obey me.”

Okay, it’s a silly parable. I know. But my little parable brings to light what went wrong in Jesus’s day and still goes wrong in our own. We don’t want anyone to have authority over us. And when we love our own authority, we can’t recognize—let alone love—true authority. But the way we begin the Christian life, and the way we continue to enjoy the Christian life, is by laying down our claims to authority and embracing Jesus’s authority over every detail of our lives.

1. Jesus challenges the religious leaders’ authority, 19:45–48

When Jesus rides into the city of Jerusalem, they hail him as king. But when the king comes to his temple, he sees things are not as they should be. Luke’s account of this is a little shorter than the other accounts, but we get the point. Jesus challenges their authority by driving out the money changers and those who were selling things. But we should ask, Why is Jesus so frustrated with this? And who were the sellers anyway? And what were they selling?

Merchants were selling things to worshipers entering the temple grounds for their sacrifices. This last week of Jesus’s life, as you might recall, was timed with the celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread that culminates in the Passover celebration. The Passover celebration commemorates the rescue mission of God’s people from their slavery in Egypt. And because of the celebrations, Jerusalem, which was a town of perhaps 40,000, now had an extra 200,000 people, many of them having traveled a long way (see video here for setting). Because of the distance, it was easier to carry money than it was to carry a sheep and the other things related to sacrifice and the celebration of Passover (bread, wine, oil, salt). So instead of carrying those, you carried money until you got to the temple where you bought what you needed. But you’d pay for that convenience. There were certain upcharges and fees by the religious leaders—a rake, we might call it.

And all of this happened in what was called the Court of the Gentiles, which was the closest a non-Jewish person could get to the temple to worship. So a worshiper goes to worship, but instead, what they find is something like the Farm Show; everywhere you turned was a wild mass of people and animals and selling.

Jesus drives out the sellers and says, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers” (v. 46). Jesus loves the written word of God; it’s so often on his lips. Here he’s quoting one verse directly and alluding to another. The passage about prayer comes from Isaiah 56, which speaks of the blessings that the temple would be to people of all backgrounds, people who previously had had no access to the real God. Jesus is saying, “Now that I’ve cleaned this place up and I have your attention, let me remind you what God’s house is supposed to be—‘a house of prayer for all peoples’” (Isaiah 56:7). But instead, alluding to a passage in Jeremiah 7, he says that it’s become a den of robbers.

That passage in Jeremiah is a scathing sermon where Jeremiah scolds God’s people for their many, many abuses. And Jesus is saying they are guilty of the same thing. He’s certainly challenging their authority: The temple was supposed to be this, but you’ve made it that. It was supposed to be a place of prayer and worship and safety. It was supposed to be a place where foreigners could be joined to the Lord. But it’s not. It’s a den of robbers.

That should be jarring language. What places do we generally consider safe such that it would be jarring to hear that the place was actually a hideout for criminals? What if a nursing home or a day-care facility was the place the cartel was using to store drugs? Or what if a church was a front organized crime? That’s not right, we’d say. We’d be mad. And Jesus was.

And so were the religious leaders—but for different reasons. Because this was their turf, they had authority. This was happening under their watch, indeed, under their direct instruction, which is why we read next that they want to destroy Jesus. Things escalate quickly because Jerusalem is so packed with people. They can’t have some young, rogue whippersnapper pseudo-Rabbi pretending to be the Messiah, and convincing all the gullible people, especially now all the people are hanging on his every word. All the stories about all the things Jesus has done are being whispered in every corner of every part of the city. And because of his popularity, the leaders can’t kill him outright, that is unless they can challenge his authority and get him to mess up. So that’s what they try.

2. The religious leaders challenge Jesus’ authority, 20:1–8

 

Jesus challenged their authority, so now they challenge his. Let me re-read vv. 1–4 of chapter 20.

20 One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” 

It’d be easy to only beat up on the religious leaders, but there is legitimacy to their question. Who is this Jesus? By what authority does he do these things? And who gave him this authority? Those are legit questions. The other week, there was some really bad weather, and we were not sure whether we’d have to cancel church or not. So, the elders of our church made a plan to think it through, and that’s what we did. A decision was made. But if someone, who had only been coming to our church for two weeks, somehow got on our church Facebook page and hacked our email accounts, and told all of you church was canceled because of the snow, we’d be like: Hey, who gave you the authority to do this?

So the problem is not their question. Their problem is the motive from which the question arises and the unwillingness to listen to the answer once it’s been given.

They try to corner Jesus, which is a bad move. You can’t corner Jesus. You can’t trap him in his words. Jesus responds with a brilliant question of his own. He asks about John, who had recently been killed. John had a ministry in that region that they all would have known about. And Jesus asks if John’s ministry was of divine origin or if it was merely the work of human effort—“Was it from heaven or from man?” Jesus asks. The brilliance of the question is that it forces them to wrestle with their deep beliefs about not only John but Jesus. We see that in the next few verses:  

And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

When Jesus asks them a question, they call a time out to talk things over. Not that anyone is thinking about football today, but it’s like when you line up on offense, and the quarterback realizes the defense has thrown a new setup at them and the offense has all the wrong players on the field for that situation. So they go the sidelines to talk it over. That’s what the leaders do. They weigh their options. If we say that God was behind John’s ministry, well, then of course Jesus will ask us why we didn’t believe John if God was working through him.

And that’s the brilliance of the question. John repeatedly affirmed that he was not the Messiah, but that Jesus was the Messiah. “Look,” he said, “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). If John was speaking for God, and John said that Jesus was the Messiah, then the religious leaders would know by what authority Jesus was doing his ministry and who sent him: God did. If God sent John, and John says Jesus is from God, then Jesus is from God.

But they don’t believe John was a prophet of God. You can almost hear the disdain they have for the common man when they say “all the people . . . are convinced that John was a prophet.” They are convinced, but not us. And just like in the earlier passage, this fear of the people holds them back.

So they answer, “We don’t know. No comment.” They completely abdicate their responsibility. If they really thought Jesus and John were all doing ministry of human origin—or maybe even worse, that Jesus was doing his miracles by the power of the evil one—then they had the responsibility, no matter what the personal cost, to call it out. They were the eyes and ears and mouth, but they were blind and deaf and dumb.

So Jesus won’t answer them either. But I want to be clear about something. They were trying to trick Jesus. But Jesus was not trying to trick them. Jesus weeps for them. Jesus pokes their idol of money by driving out the sellers so that he can get their attention. And when he has their attention, he asks them a question—not so he can learn something new—but so that they could learn something new. Jesus wants them to come to the knowledge of the truth. When Jesus says, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things,” he’s saying that if they had answered him, he would have told them. In fact, in Mark’s gospel account, that’s exactly what the wording says (Mark 11:29). He wanted to tell them.

How do you think Jesus would have responded to them, if they had come to Jesus from their time out and said, “Jesus, we talked it over. And here’s what we learned. We love our own authority, and we don’t want to share it with others. We are tempted not to even answer the question, because whichever way we answer it, we’ll lose something. But we know the only right way before God to answer is to be honest and ask for forgiveness and the grace to live a changed life.”

How do you think Jesus would have responded to them? Probably like he did to Zacchaeus, which we studied a few weeks ago. When he renounced his own sin, Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).

3. Will you receive Jesus’ authority?

I mentioned at the start that we typically preach at our church one consecutive passage after another. And one reason we do this is that we don’t want to miss any of the glory of God seen in the person of Jesus Christ.

In last week’s passage, we might be more naturally drawn to Jesus because Jesus had tears in his eyes. A touching scene. This week, he has a whip in his hand. But we preach all of the Bible because we believe that, even when it seems that a passage challenges, we know every passage is there for our good.

God asks us questions that are sometimes uncomfortable because he wants us to learn something, not because he needs to learn something. After Adam and Eve sinned, God asked Adam, “Where are you?” God hadn’t lost him. Then he said, “Who told you that you were naked?” But God already knew. And he said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” He knew what she had done. And then in Chapter 4 of Genesis, God says to Cain, “Where is your brother?” God hadn’t lost him either.

This passage speaks of the authority of Jesus. And when we talk about the authority of Jesus, we are talking about something without boundaries, something that doesn’t start here and end there. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” said Jesus (Matthew 28:18). And he backed this claim up over and over again. Calming storms. Feeding the multitudes. Pushing back the powers of evil. Healing the unhealable. Taking his own life up again.

Are there places in your life, you’re not letting Jesus speak to? Do you try to keep him in the corner and tell him to stay put? You can have my Sunday morning, Lord, but don’t follow me to work? Don’t follow me out with my friends? Or have you ever known you needed to speak up about Jesus, but you caved because of the pressure of the people around you?

Conclusion

If so, which is all of us, we should tell God we are sorry. But we also should look at this passage and be very, very encouraged. What I mean is this: if the sin of these religious leaders, couldn’t back Jesus into a corner, then neither can our sin. There is no sin you’ve ever committed that is so bad and so often repeated that Jesus is not able to overcome it. I want to close by reading two verses from the beginning of John’s gospel:

11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:11–12)

Jesus came to his own, but his own people—like these religious leaders—didn’t lay down their own claims to authority, and thus did not receive him. But to any and all who do lay down their own authority, Jesus makes us children of God. The Jesus who can’t be cornered is not against us, but for us.[1] If he pokes us in our sin or if it feels like he’s holding a whip, it’s because he’s fighting with sin on our behalf. If he asks us tough questions, it’s because he’s bringing us along deeper in our relationship. If you are in Christ, the Jesus who can’t be cornered is for you, not against you. And that’s good news.

Prayer

Pray with me as the music team comes back to lead us in a song. Let’s pray . . .

 

[1] The language of not being able “corner Jesus” comes from a Jared C. Wilson sermon on Mark 11:27–33 at Middletown Springs Community Church.

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