I mentioned last week that we are near the end of Christ’s life in the book of Matthew. He had made his triumphal return to the city of Jerusalem for the last time. He had been hailed as a king, “Hosanna, Hosanna, in the highest!”
His relationship with the high priests, those that studied and were experts on religious custom and the law was contentious prior to his arrival in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, a time of celebration for the Jewish people.
The people hailed him as a king when he entered the city. Then Christ had the audacity to go to the temple and drive out those who were selling animals to be sacrificed in the temple. Jewish people traveled from great distance to celebrate, worship and offer a sacrifice to their God.
Those that did the commerce in the temple took a little for themselves. Let us exploit these travelers, these pilgrims. Christ kept reversing the norm and upsetting those that took advantage of others.
In today’s scripture, Christ enters the temple again, the very same place where he had just run those trying to make a profit. He was teaching and preaching.
Those religions leaders I spoke of have had enough of him. They approach him and ask, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
Why do you keep upsetting us, why are we the butt of these riddles you speak of, why do you keep exposing us? That is what I think is going through their minds. What gives you the right, who do you think you are?
To their defense not many people knew Christ’s true identity. He didn’t flaunt it around, instead he kept it a secret oftentimes.
Knowing that they were out to get him Christ responded to their question with a question, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”
Where did John the Baptist get his authority? It was granted to him by our God of course. He was called to be the voice out in the wilderness, paving the way for his cousin, Jesus the Messiah. John the Baptist was wildly popular and had disciples of his own.
After discussing this among themselves, the chief priests, elders and scribes respond, “If we say, ‘from heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘of human origin, we are afraid of the crowd for all regard John as a prophet.”
“We don’t know.” That was their answer, we don’t know. Christ answered them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
Discovering who Christ truly is should be central to our lives. We should want the answer to the question that was posed…..Oh that’s easy, Christ is God’s son, he’s part of the trinity that many don’t fully understand, there is your answer.
That is a correct, but dangerously superficial answer. The Christian journey is a life-long adventure into finding the truth in our own lives. That search for truth always points us in the direction of our God.
You know, I read this week’s scripture early this week and I was sure that I was going to struggle with it. So I read it again and I was still sure I was going to labor with this reading from Matthew because the meaning within it wasn’t obvious to me.
I would like to think I can read scripture and know pretty quick what direction I’m going to go with it. That wasn’t the case with this in spite of the fact that my bible titles this encounter, “The Authority of Jesus Questioned.”
It was questioned during his lifetime. It is questioned now. Does God exist, can you see the work of his hand in this world, can you see the work of his people?
I like to think that I stick to the scripture, but I got to thinking about authority when I was struggling with this scripture.
Authority. Was it important to respect and obey your parents growing up? Of course it was, we didn’t always do it, but they are our parents and they are an authority figure.
Did, or are, you supposed to listen to your teachers? Your coaches? To those in law enforcement, your doctor, your attorney, your parole officer – if you have one and maybe even your pastor….Why……
Because each is an authority figure and each has power and influence and hopefully they know what they are doing. Our God is the ultimate authority figure, to whom we will have to give an account of our deeds someday.
Authority figures give us advise, they look out for our best interest and they tell us what to do and that is where things don’t go so good. How many of you like to be told what to do? How many of you didn’t do something because someone told you to do it?
All of us have probably done that. We like to have options, make our own choices, I don’t like being ordered to do something. It seems like we live in a time where authority figures are questioned, judged and blamed.
It’s not my child’s fault, the fault lies with the teacher, with the coach, the principal or whoever it was that tried to provide something that looked like discipline.
We desperately need authority in our lives. We depend on it. We need leaders within our church, our school our community that have the courage to step up and lead in spite of the insults hurled at them.
We depend on authority, we need it, we have to have it. We depend and are reliant on Christ’s authority. If Christ is not God’s son, if he did not die on a cross and was resurrected three days later we are all wasting our time. You should have slept in this morning and you certainly should not be paying me to preach to you.
We would be random people living random lives that made little sense. I would rather believe that I am wonderfully made than I descended from an ape or caveman.
We need to respect and honor our God’s authority, we need to listen for his voice, for his guidance and direction. Once we hear it, once we make time to listen for it. He has a calling for each of us.
Doesn’t mean it is to be a minister, a missionary or a monk or a nun. We have to take the courage to answer that call, to submit to that authority.
I think that is what authority is. We minded our parents, for the most part hopefully, and submitted to what they wanted us to do because they had our best interest in mind in trying to teach us and mold us into hard-working, law-abiding citizens.
Teachers, coaches, family and friends have played the same role in our lives. It is no different with our God.
He has looked after and cared for us when we turned our back on him. We’ve had to endure and suffer and we didn’t like it, it was awful. But did it make us better? Did it allow us to be grateful and feel blessed for all that we did have?
The authority of our God, in three persons, is absolute and pure. The bible is God’s word, his letter to each of us, it is how he reveals himself in the written word. It has authority. Let us honor our God who works tirelessly to bring us closer to him.
Pastor Shawn, Seymour UMC
Author of Incomplete