By What Authority? — Part 3

Matthew 22:23-32 continued from Part 2

‘If we were to say from heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then didn’t you believe him?’

There are a number of related reasons why these leaders would not confess Christ as Lord, and all of them reveal the weakness of our sinful condition:

Pride: like the rich young ruler, they had probably convinced themselves that they had nothing to repent of.  They believed they had always kept the commandments.  They stood in the traditions of the fathers.  Pride still keeps people from trusting Christ today.  Jesus, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, is a great offence to our pride.

Fear: if Jesus was the Christ, he would diminish their authority, they would have to give place to him. John the Baptist had been eager to give all honour to Jesus, but the religious leaders were not. Jesus actual told a parable with this theme a little later on. Submitting to Christ means we give up control of our life and follow him in the way he tells us to in the Bible. Without the mighty grace of God, no one will do this.

Atheism: they really did not want to believe in God.  The apostle Paul, a former Pharisee, wrote that those without Christ are ‘without hope and without God in the world.’  The phrase, ‘without God’ comes from the Greek word, Atheist.  Not to trust Christ is to be a practical atheist.  It does not matter how pious or sincere people may be in whatever religion they might choose to follow, if a person is without Christ, that person is an atheist—separated from God by their sin and under his judgment.

In short, the Leaders were at war with Jesus, and so is everyone else until the Spirit of God draws a person irresistibly to the Cross of Christ, to Jesus who alone can rescue us.

The other option was just as uncomfortable for them:

And if we say, From human beings, we fear the crowd, for all of them hold that John was a prophet.

Why would they fear the people? Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, at least during the Roman occupation, was a volatile place.  It could easily erupt into a riot, precisely for reasons of religious belief.  Both the Roman governors and the high priests were sensitive to this fact.  When the plot to kill Jesus was formed, originally they had planned not to kill him during the feast, partly because they wished to avoid a riot.

What did the people believe?  That John was a prophet.   The people believed that John the Baptist was a man with a message from God.  They believed that he was not speaking on his own authority. In fact, John was unmistakably a prophet, because God’s word is unmistakably God’s words.  Even in the Old Testament, at a time when people were most angry with God and most determined to resist His will, they knew that God had spoken to them. The case of Jeremiah is a clear example of this. When Jeremiah told the people of the wrong they were doing, it wasn’t rocket science to see he was right.  When the judgment he had warned them about came just as he had said, it was clear as day that God had spoken by him.  Then, after all this, when the people who were left after the Babylonian attack asked Jeremiah what they should do, God spoke to them clearly by his prophet, the one they knew to be a prophet, but they then did everything they could to resist what God had said. And this resulted in further pain and suffering for them.  So, even though many of the people of Jesus day did not act upon John’s message about Jesus, all the people had correctly identified John the Baptist as a prophet. They had all gone out to be baptised by him.

So, it would have been suicidal for the leaders to say that John was not a prophet. Not only would they have been considered fools, they could have been torn to pieces.

So the religious leaders took what many people today think is the safe way out.  They said: ‘We don’t know.’

They played dumb, thinking this was a safe move. It was not. God had spoken by John and they knew it.  John had pointed to Jesus in the clearest terms, declaring him to be the Christ, the saviour of the world, the hope of Israel. The only right conclusion was that Jesus is who John said his is. These leaders knew it and were hardening their hearts against the word of God spoken by John; they were cutting themselves off from the salvation revealed in all the Scriptures. They were sinning against truth; they were sinning against light.

The Lord Jesus did not leave them to be comfortable in their rebellion.  After they had already understood the answer to Jesus’ question, he told them a story of a father who had two sons.

The first son represents those whom the religious leaders considered to be trash. Tax collectors, prostitutes.  These people had heard the word of God and at first refused it. They were sinners.  But when they heard of God’s mercy in Christ from John the Baptist or from Jesus himself (eg., in the word) they repented, changed their minds, trusted Jesus and were accepted by the Father.  ‘This is the will of God,’ Jesus said, ‘that you trust him whom the father has sent.’

The second son represents those who say, ‘I’m going to do things the right way’, yet keep on resisting the Lord Jesus Christ.  Some people refuse to confess their sin and ignore their desperate need for Jesus to rescue them.  With all their piety, some people refuse the way of righteousness by refusing Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Some people are determined to hold onto their own authority, their own ideas of what is right, their own intellectual pretensions, instead of submitting to the word of God.

The big question for us is, How are we responding to the Word of God?

  • Do we acknowledge the authority of Jesus Christ?
  • Do we receive him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, as the one who has taken away my guilt—guilt that I have no way of removing myself?
  • Do we follow him as Lord, according to his word?

The good news is that if we will come to Jesus in repentance and faith, He will never send us away.