Matthew 21:23-27 A Question of Authority
Jesus is in Jerusalem teaching in the temple. This is His last week, this side of the grave. He still has a lot to say before He lays His life down. I wish Matthew would have told us what He was teaching about. I would love to drink in every minute of His last week. Was there more urgency in His messages now than before? A lot of people had fallen away because of some of His teachings, but right now in the center of Passover preparations, He had a huge audience. As before, I’m sure some came out of curiosity, others for what they could get from Jesus, and some really wanted to learn from Him.
Jesus has been in the temple for hours. He and His disciples came straight here after arriving in Jerusalem this morning. Jesus has been healing any who came to Him or whom crossed His path. While Jesus is healing the people, a crowd begins to gather. By the time the last person is healed the crowd has grown considerably. Everyone is anxious to see what Jesus will do next. Now that He has their undivided attention, He begins teaching the people.
Jesus is standing in the center of this large group of people and He is speaking loudly to be heard. The disciples are probably standing near Him as body guards, if the need arises. Jesus may even have been standing one step above the crowd so He could be heard easier.
While Jesus is in the middle of a parable, an angry looking group of chief priests start moving towards Him. Jesus notices them but does not acknowledge them. The group elbow their way through the crowd until they are right in front of Jesus. Still Jesus continues His story. As His story winds down the leader of the group of chief priest yells out, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You that authority” (verse 23).
Jesus fixes the interrupter with a steely gaze and proposes a deal with this sour looking bunch. “I’ll ask you a question and if you answer it truthfully, then I will answer your question. I’m sure you remember John the Baptizer. Where did John get his authority to baptize; from Heaven or from man?”
The people in the crowd have been paying close attention to this exchange and they are eagerly waiting to see what answer this group of chief priests will come up with. The crowd remembers John the Baptizer as well and firmly believes he was a prophet from God. What will the chief priests say?
The leader of the group signals for his group to gather tightly around him so they can converse quietly. The newest member of the group speaks up and says, “What are we supposed to say? I think this may be a trap.”
“Of course it’s a trap you idiot”, hisses the group leader. “If we say John’s authority was from Heaven, then Jesus will ask why we didn’t believe him. But if we say it was from man, this mob will tear us to shreds! These simple minded people firmly believe John was a prophet!”
Another member asks, “Then how are we supposed to answer Him? He and everyone with Him are waiting for our answer.”
The leader thinks for a moment longer, then says, “Watch and learn boys. This is how you handle situations like this.” The leader schools his face into a mask of innocence, then turns to Jesus and says, “We really don’t know.”
Jesus gives the group of Priests a shrug of His shoulders and says, “If you can’t or won’t tell me, then I won’t tell you where my authority comes from. That was the deal.” Jesus turns away from this group and begins addressing the crowd again. Many in the crowd, with smiles on their faces, are watching the group of chief priests fidget. “Jesus got the best of them again”, thinks Andrew as he tries to cover his own smile. Jesus is not done with this group yet and they are not done with Him. Round one to Jesus.
Lord Jesus, You were the Master at shutting down the opposition. The reason was because You always had the truth on Your side and they always had fear and intimidation. Fear ruled in the hearts of Israel’s religious leaders from the moment they learned of Your birth, and it hasn’t stopped yet. If they acknowledged Who You were they would lose their stronghold of power. That was worth more to them than anything else, including their eternal soul. I know it was all part of God’s perfect timing and ultimate plan. Some of the religious leaders actually heard the truth and turned to You. You kept reaching out to those within the group who would actually listen, but the rest reaped the consequences of their rejection. I truly feel sorry for them. They were the worst kind of stubborn.
Thank You God for reaching out to me. I can be stubborn too. You already know that though. You are the one Who made me. Thank You for channeling my stubbornness into something usable for You. I know I don’t always get it right, but please remind me to give You an honest answer when You bring me to task for my behavior. Don’t let me get away with the kind of deceitful answer the chief priests tried on Jesus. They knew the truth. The problem was that they also knew their sin was found out, and they would do and say anything to keep their sin hidden from the public eye. Pride goes before the fall. Please don’t let me fall into their trap. Keep me humble, or make me humble if I am not currently so. Lead me in what You want me to do in every situation, especially the ones where I tend to be more prideful. I want to be a woman after Your own heart.