Matthew 22:23-32, continued from Part 1
‘Authority’ is the right to do or be something. A policeman has the right to give a speeding motorist a ticket. Teachers in some jurisdictions require registration or they have no right to be in a classroom. Usually, this authority comes to a person from someone else, sometimes from the government, sometimes from parents, sometimes from an employer. The Bible tells us that all authority comes from God, and we find out about it through his word.
Jesus clearly spoke with authority. He was continually amazing people with the things he said. Jesus certainly acted with authority when he threw the money changers out of the temple, declaring with Isaiah and Jeremiah that the temple was to be a house of prayer, not a robbers’ den. These leaders, however, had a twisted view of authority. They were very concerned to maintain their own authority.
They had intellectual authority. They had been taught, they were the learned ones. They were the teachers.
They had moral authority. They were not ‘sinners’ like the people Jesus hung around with. You remember the blind man that Jesus healed, how he was cross-examined by the religious leaders? They said that they knew Jesus was a sinner (because he healed people on the Sabbath), but when the healed man reminded them of some uncomfortable facts, they said to him, ‘You were wholly born in sin, and do you teach us!’ John 9:34.
As Jesus himself had said, these leaders, … sat in Moses’ chair. But Jesus had also said, ‘Do as they say, but not as they do.’
This last point is important. These leaders had real authority, but they abused it. Their authority came from the word of God. If they taught that word, they were to be listened to. Sadly, they were teaching the traditions of men, and by these traditions they set God’s word to one side and ignored it. And this, I think, was the point of their question. Jesus was not in their favour. He had not gone to their schools, he was not sent by them, he did not teach what they taught. He was not acting under their authority. Who gave him the right to teach and to command in the ways he did?
Jesus could have given them an answer straight away—he had silenced them often enough in the past—but he chose to let them work it out. I suspect these leaders already knew the answer Jesus could give, and they were hoping to use his answer as an accusation. After all, they had been planning to kill him for some time. But Jesus turned their plot against themselves:
You tell me about the baptism of John, he said, is it from heaven or from men.
Stating the question in a slightly different way,
Had God sent John as a prophet, as one who spoke God’s authoritative word, or was he sent by people like you, by mere men with a merely human message? Was his message vital truth from our Creator and Judge, or was it one message among many others which people may listen to, then accept or reject without fear? Did John have real authority, or really none at all?
These leaders weren’t slow. They knew the options and their consequences immediately.
If we were to say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then didn’t you believe him?’
In other words, ‘Why don’t you summit to the Word of God. You are supposed to lead the people in the things of God.’ If John’s message was from heaven, they of all people ought to have believed it, obeyed it, and urged people to do the same. When John preached repentance, the leaders ought to have been the first to admit their guilt before God. They ought to have been most welcoming of the Lord Jesus.
You see, John message did not come in a vacuum. Many of these men would have been young at the time when King Herod was visited by the wise men after Jesus was born. Their own teachers were most likely the men who told the king of the prophecy regarding the Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. When John began to teach that the Christ was near, it ought to have rung true to them immediately. Surely the high priests would have heard the amazing story of the birth of John the Baptist, the son of a priest? This is probably why these leaders had sent to John originally and asked him if he were the Christ. But John had pointed to Jesus and testified that God from heaven had spoken of Jesus saying, This one is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.
Concluded in Part 3