Jesus and His disciples are in the temple again. Jesus went there every morning after coming in from Bethany. Today was no exception. This is the third day of His visit, as far as I can tell. This is right after seeing the withered tree on the way into town.
I just noticed that Matthew’s account has the chief priests and scribes approach Jesus early on in the day. Matthew 21:23 says, “And when He entered the temple.” Mark tells us Jesus “was walking in the temple” (verse27). I don’t know if this is right after Jesus got to the temple or if He was walking around ministering to those who couldn’t get to Him. This also begs the question, what “things” the chief priests and scribes were referring to. Were they asking about yesterday’s cleansing of the temple? Were they talking about the people Jesus was healing, currently or previously? Were they talking about Jesus’ teaching, currently or previously? What were they trying to build their case on?
Jesus didn’t ask for clarification on their question. He knew their reasons better than they did. They had a problem with ANYTHING Jesus did, because of Who He claimed to be. They could have listened in on any of Jesus’ messages and their question would have been answered. Probably not directly, but the evidence was there. No one but God could have done the things Jesus did. He healed the lame, gave sight to the blind, healed the sick, raised the dead, and even fed THOUSANDS from pittance. These are the things He did openly. The walking on water and cursing the fig tree miracles He reserved for smaller “audiences.” There is NO WAY they didn’t know the answer to their own question. They knew it and Jesus knew they knew it. They just didn’t know that Jesus knew they knew it.
The chief priests and scribes couldn’t leave Jesus unchallenged. They had to do something to stop His message. That message was resonating with the people, especially when He was helping anyone and everyone He came into contact with. The chief priests and scribes could feel their hold and power over the people slipping away minute by minute. They had to do something to stop the tide. They came up with a plan they thought would discredit Jesus. They didn’t bank on Jesus’ reply.
In my mind I see a hunter bending a tree down and placing a rope trap to be triggered by stepping into the rope circle on the ground. Those laying the trap thought they were on the outside of the circle and their prey would walk right into the center.
As I said earlier, this group thought they had to catch Jesus somehow. Jesus, this Man full of love, was causing them unremitting fear. Fear of losing their jobs. Fear that their way of life would be forever altered because of Him. Fear that they would lose exclusivity to God. Fear that they would no longer be needed by the people. All these fears propelled them to bait yet another trap.
Jesus was no unsuspecting prey though. He knew their thoughts, motives, and plots better that they did. After all, He was there when they were created. Jesus turned their fears against them. Jesus was not shy or secretive about Who sent Him on this “mission trip.” He freely spoke of His authority and plan. He was NOT afraid of what these men could do to Him. He knew the limits of their power and knew the timing for the required sacrifice. Jesus also knew that He had to push this group a little bit more to get them where God wanted them to be.
So Jesus poses His own question. It’s not a hard question, but it’s a loaded question. Jesus is now on the outside of the noose and the chief priests and scribes have moved to its center.
After the chief priests pose their question, Jesus poses His. Fear once again springs up. This fear wasn’t directed at Jesus but at the people. The chief priests were expecting an answer, not another question. If Jesus would have answered the question this group would have been freed. If Jesus had said His authority was from God, they could have charged Him with blasphemy there on the spot, instead of having to wait out the week. If He would have said His power came from man, they could have turned the people against Him.
But Jesus’ question put the chief priests and scribes into a defensive position. The trap was sprung the second they started debating amongst themselves. They knew this answer too, but refused to acknowledge it. Their fear made them say, “We don’t know” (verse 33). Now they find themselves hanging in their own trap.
Father God, it is amazing what fear can do to us. I wanted to say, “what it can make us do” but that isn’t right. We choose how to respond in the face of fear. The chief priests knew the truth, but out of fear, chose to ignore it. How many times do I do that too? When confronted with an opportunity to share the truth, but out of fear, choose to remain silent. Is my silence as good as a lie? When faced with a misconception of Who You are, if I choose to remain silent out of fear, am I guilty of the seeker’s fate? Those listening on the temple steps that morning, what did they hear in the silence? I’m CERTAIN that Jesus was giving plenty of examples of where His authority was coming from. But those listening to the chief priests and scribes, what message did they get?
Your answer was NOT given out of fear. It was protective, for the moment. Was it also used as a “cliff hanger” to get the people to follow the story closer? How many in the temple that day became part of the crowd crying “crucify Him?” Did Your answer push them one way or another? Were they crying out from fear that fateful morning? They had to live under the Pharisees rule after You were gone. Is that how they justified their act of surrendering to fear? We know Your disciples even gave into the fear, for a time.
I think the best lesson right now is the one You JUST showed me. The “for a time” lesson. Fear may propel me in one direction or another, for a time, but then I HAVE to stand back up and do what I know is right. I can only do this though by relying on You to get me through the fear. Your disciples faced fear again many times, but they didn’t react the same as they did that one night. They faced whatever was before them with You standing by their side. “Perfect love casts out all fear “(1 John 4:18-19).