High Authority

by Rich Bregitzer
(St. Louis, MO)

Matthew 21:23-27

Mt 21:23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
Mt 21:24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
Mt 21:25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’
Mt 21:26 But if we say, ‘From men’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
Mt 21:27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

When I was in the military I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours on guard duty. It was amazing the things you would do in the middle of the night while guarding an airplane in the middle of the jungle.

I counted air plane rivets, tried to stop my stopwatch on .00 hundredths of a second. I practiced my moonwalk, engaged in conversations with flight crews; whatever I could do to make the time go by.

I was always glad when I was posted with a partner because time would always go faster when you had someone to talk to and besides misery loves company.

One of the great past-times while on guard duty if you forgot your deck of playing cards was to exchange stories on any given topic and to try to out do each other.

Eventually what happens is that someone’s story becomes such a concoction of fiction that one of the people could not possibly top it without being called to account. However, the unspoken code was that you simply stood in awe of the story, but never called it the lie that it had to be because after all you’d probably end up being posted with this person again and so you had to maintain diplomatic relationships.

A1C Halverson was notorious for telling whoppers, but even greater than his ability to exaggerate was his ability to conjure up facts from the ethos.

For example Hal would say: “You know they have teleportation devices now. They say they’ll be on the market in a year”. Or he’d say “They say a man can live on a diet of White Castle burgers and Imodium AD indefinitely”.

I once challenged Hal and asked him “Who exactly are they?” He looked at me like I just stepped off a teleportation device with a case of White castles in my hand. He muttered something, fumbled around and said something about scientists and researchers and quickly changed the subject.

Well, it’s an understandable question isn’t it? When someone presents us with facts we want to know where they got their information from. Our attitude shouldn’t be one of the cynic though, but we should have a teachable heart tapered with wisdom.

In verse 23 we have three groups. 1> Jesus, the teacher/speaker, 2> the audience, those wanting to hear and to learn from Jesus and 3> the chief priests/elders, the cynics.

The chief priests and elders interrupt Jesus for a number of reasons. If you remember prior to this scripture in verse 12-14 Jesus had gone into the temple and drove out the moneychangers and sellers of doves. These temple businesses made money for the temple officials…they got a cut of the profit.

Mt 21:12 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

Mt 21:13 “It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’’”
Mt 21:14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.

So you can see that the chief priests and Elders wanted to discredit Jesus and to get him as far away from their profitable business as possible. However, Jesus
was more than just a smooth talker because he actually backed his words up with healings. He could do miraculous things.

So, fighting fire with fire wasn’t an option for the chief priests. So, instead of trying to match wits with Jesus they questioned the origin of his message and in doing so they questioned his authority.

However, instead of dealing directly with their question Jesus asks them another one: John’s baptism….is it from men or from heaven.

The chief priests were dinged if they did and dinged if they didn’t with this question. They were not so much concerned with what they thought to be the right or wrong answer, but they were more concerned as how they were perceived by the people.

When they can’t answer Jesus tells them that he will not answer them. Why? Why didn’t Jesus perform a miracle? Call fire down from heaven? Change some more water into wine?

Here is an interesting dilemma. Let me answer the questions with another question. Why is the Bible true and why is the Bible the ultimate authority? Some people say because I’ve tried it and found it to be true. By saying that people are saying that the Bible is not the ultimate authority, they are saying the Bible is true because their experience proves it is true.

Other people will say that the Bible is true because they have read a book or heard a sermon that explains it to be true. If that is the case then the ultimate authority for the truth of scripture is that speaker or book that makes those claims.

People don’t generally like circular reasoning, but the truth is that the Bible is true because the Bible reveals itself to be true.

Likewise Jesus could not respond to the unbelieving, unrepentant elders and chief priests. These are those that rejected John’s baptism and those that surely would not accept this carpenter’s son. And so you can begin to understand that Jesus, God the Son, God made man, could not answer that he had no basis, no background to refer to.

He could not say “They say…” or refer to a scientist or rabbi or any other mortal being, because Jesus acted by his own authority.

Nobody, but Jesus knew what needed to be said to the masses that followed him. Nobody, but Jesus could speak healing to the infirmities in the bodies of the ill. Jesus spoke from his own authority whereas the elders and chief priests spoke from a love of money and from wanting the prestige and honor they felt due their social standing.

Let us rejoice that we do not have to look any further than Jesus. Let’s celebrate the fact that God came so near to us so that we could find him so easily. And for that matter let’s rejoice that we can rely upon the authority of Christ.

In Philippians 2:9-11 it says:
Phil 2:9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
Phil 2:10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
Phil 2:11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In John 14:12-14 it says:
Jn 14:12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Jn 14:13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.
Jn 14:14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

We don’t have to rely on what they say. We, as Christians, as God’s elect, have been allowed to draw close to the ultimate authority through Jesus.


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