2015-8-02 Who Is Our Authority

LUKE 19:45-20:8                                                                                       AUGUST 2, 2015


I have been watching and listening to Donald Trump as he speaks on different issues and seems to offend someone every time he opens his mouth. After his harsh words about Senator John McCain most sources declared his bid for the republican nomination was at an end. Instead of apologizing for his opinion, he made it clear he was not yielding to criticism. The “Donald” does not seem to back down from any controversial statements. Some are now declaring that his forthrightness is part of his campaign strategy.

In an age where more and more speech is being declared offensive; it has been refreshing to see someone speak his mind. I don’t agree with all of his beliefs and practices; but I must admit I admire his “chutzpah”. Jesus entered Jerusalem with this same “chutzpah”. He immediately went to the Temple and caused an uproar among the religious leaders. Luke 19:45-46 (NIV) 45 Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. 46 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'”

Pilgrims coming to the Temple to worship had to purchase animals, wine, oil, salt and flour which were to be used as sacrificial offerings to God. Pilgrims also had to exchange their foreign currency for Hebrew shekels as required in Exodus 30:11-14. The money changers and vendors set up their stalls in the court of the Gentiles. This court was the only place where non-Jews could worship and pray. This accommodation to the business owners outraged Jesus, who drove out these businesses. Jesus did not mince words as he called them robbers. Since the religious leaders had allowed this practice they took it as a challenge to their authority to regulate worship at the Temple.

By his actions of clearing the Temple, Jesus fulfilled scripture. Isaiah 56:6-7 (NIV) 6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant– 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”  Jeremiah 7:11 (NIV) 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” Like the Old Testament prophets Jesus condemned those who would hinder those seeking to worship. I am sure the business owners complained about Jesus being allowed to disrupt their businesses.

Governing authorities have always hesitated to stop someone who is popular with the people. Luke 19:47-48 (NIV) 47 Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. 48 Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.” I imagine that Jesus was driving the religious leaders to despair as he spoke out against their leadership. The people loved it, at least for a while.

I see many similarities with our current situation. The United States governing authorities have now claimed authority over matters; which until now was left up to the individual states that had supported biblical principles in defining marriage as being between a man and a woman; and in supporting the biblical standard of life beginning from the moment of conception. Their actions raise the question: Who has the right to make decisions which affect others?

Jesus had upset every level of authority. Each of the groups which exercised authority over the people was upset with Jesus including: the Priests, the teachers of the Law, and the elders (local rulers). They joined together to confront the problem. They came to Jesus with a question. They could not let Jesus continue to undermine their authority without confronting him. Luke 20:2 (NIV) 2 “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”

The leadership of the religious community was upset with Jesus about many things, not solely the cleansing of the Temple. This exchange with Jesus confronts the central issue that has brought Jesus into conflict with the authorities. What is the source of authority for Jesus? What gives him the right to be so judgmental about how things are being run? We know the answer and Jesus has made it clear that he comes from God and is God. Yet the leadership refused to see the truth.

Jesus used a common rabbinic style of making his argument by countering their question with a question. Luke 20:3-4 (NIV) 3 He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me, 4 John’s baptism–was it from heaven, or from men?”  It was common practice to use “heaven” as a substitute for God. So to rephrase, “John’s baptism-was it from God, or from men?”  Remember, that the religious authorities did not support John the Baptist’ ministry either. He too, had preached a message of repentance and he had not come from any of the formal theological schools. Yet, the people responded to him. It was the people who recognized that John the Baptist was a prophet of God.

Jesus has forced them into a corner. If they (religious authorities) answer truthfully, the people will be upset because they honored John as a prophet. The leadership did not want to be seen as openly rejecting John. Notice, their discussion is not about the truth, but about appearances. Luke 20:5-7 (NIV) 5 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ 6 But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” 7 So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.” They are scared of answering truthfully so they skip their answer. It’s like pleading the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the US, which declares that you do not have to answer if the answer will incriminate you.

Jesus knew that they had already made up their mind to kill him and were only waiting on an opportunity. So Jesus declined to answer their original question. Luke 20:8 (NIV) 8 Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

We must be careful in these days to not remain quiet about what we know to be true. The religious leaders were more concerned about not offending the people. They refused to take an honest look at Jesus and realize their eternal salvation was at stake. They rejected Jesus! People still reject Jesus because they do not want to acknowledge they are sinners in need of God’s grace. Following Jesus will not win us a popularity contest when we stand up for the truth of God’s Word. We must not be mean or spiteful, but instead lovingly speak the truth. 1 Peter 3:13-17 (NIV) 13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

Let us pray.