By Whose Authority – April 19, 2020
April 19, 2020
As I’ve been saying, we are looking forward to celebrating Easter when we can worship together, after this crisis passes. In the meantime, we’ll continue looking at some more of the events of Holy Week. So far, we’ve talked about Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem – the Palm Sunday story. We saw that as a “mob scene” – maybe even the first “flash mob!” (I was thinking that the other day!) And we saw how the events that day angered the priests of the Temple, and made the Romans “nervous.”
Today we leave Luke’s Gospel, and we take up the story in Matthew. Because I think Matthew gives us a better picture of what happens next. And I want you to picture this. We’re in the Temple with Jesus, and it’s a mess! The tables are turned over, the people who were selling sacrifices have been driven out, leaving who knows what behind them. Maybe dust is settling. People are standing there looking shocked. But what happened then?
Luke’s account from last week ended with these words. “And he was teaching daily in the temple. And the chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy him. But they did not find anything they could do, for all the people hung upon his words.” I love that! The people were captivated by Jesus, and they continued to gather to hear him speak – right there in the Temple! And his enemies could do nothing, because they feared that they would look bad in the people’s eyes!
So, from that we know Jesus was in the Temple that week, teaching the people – much to the chagrin of those who “sought to destroy him.” And I get that picture. I see him there each day. We also know that he was actually staying in Bethany. But he was going back and forth between Bethany and Jerusalem all week.
Well, I have to go back and ask again, what happened right after the cleansing of the Temple? What happened right after the sellers and the money changers had been driven out? There was Jesus standing in the middle of what I believe was a chaotic scene, with a look of righteous anger still on his face and a whip in his hand? What happened next?
Here’s what Matthew tells us. And I never thought about this before. Matthew says, “And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and they were indignant!” That’s what it says just before our reading for today.
So, Jesus was there in the Temple still, and Matthew says, “And the blind and lame came to him and he healed them.” We can easily read past those words too quickly, can’t we? Think about it. Maybe the other people were standing there in shock, unsure what to do next. But after a certain time, who came to him? Who approached him? The blind and the lame, those who would seek his healing power. They didn’t care about the politics or the power struggle going on. They just cared about coming to Jesus!
That’s the next thing that happened. And so, at that moment, right after this crazy, chaotic scene, Jesus did in the Temple what had amazed the people in the other places before. As I read this, I think about the other scenes where Jesus had healed many people. I think about the time in Capernaum, at Simon Peter’s house, where they brought to him all the blind and infirmed and possessed from the whole region, and Jesus healed them. It was a mass healing! And now he shows that power again, but this time it’s center stage, it’s in the Temple in Jerusalem.
I think this is a bold act he did at the end of a bold action. Jesus didn’t just “make a scene” and then leave. He stayed! And he reached out to those who needed him most. He added to that bold act by showing his power to the people. And the chief priests were all there, watching. “And they were indignant!” That’s the next sentence. I can’t even imagine what they were really feeling. I think “indignant” was probably a huge understatement! I think “incensed” would be a good word here. I think “enraged” would also fit, also, or maybe “fearful.”
If you think about it, Jesus did that day what he had been doing all along. He did what had brought him here to this place. He did those kinds of things that made the people marvel at him, made them tell their friends, made them seek him out for his healing power, made them “hang upon his words.” And so, we shouldn’t read past that statement too fast. Jesus stayed in the Temple. “And the blind and lame came to him and he healed them.” And that compounded the already negative thoughts and anger his adversaries had for him.
Think about that. “They were indignant!” it says. In fact, they were in a real dilemma here. They opposed Jesus, but they could not deny that he was for real! There was no doubt in them that Jesus was doing these things. They just didn’t like it! The only question they had was the question they had all along. “By whose power, by whose authority, are you doing these things?” And that’s the question anybody would have. If we see something that seems impossible to us, like a good magician’s trick. What’s our first question? “How did he do that?” Right? We want to know!
That’s what they wanted to know. Was Jesus doing all this by some trick? Was he simply fooling the people somehow? Was he just a self-proclaimed Messiah? Was all of his ministry done “by his own authority?” And if so, how did he have the power to heal? Was it somehow just from him? Or was it from God? Was he God?
The Pharisees weren’t sure. At one point they accused him of doing these things because Satan was his power. That made sense to them in a way, because one of the things he was doing was casting out demons. And they said he was able to cast out demons because his power came from the “prince of demons.” Where did his power come from?
If you remember, these priests – these same guys – asked the same question of the Apostles in the book of Acts. When Peter and John healed the lame man at the Temple gate – just yards from where they were now – they brought them before the council – the same council from only these few weeks before, and they asked them, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” And of course, Peter told them it was in the name and power of Jesus of Nazareth.
Here they asked the question of Jesus. And in the part we read today, he answered their question with a question of his own. He asked, “Where did John – that is John the Baptist – get his authority?” Now they had more of a dilemma! They conferred with each other and they said, “If we say, ‘John’s authority was from heaven,’ he’ll say, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘No, it wasn’t from heaven,’ we’ll have the people to deal with, because they think he was a prophet!” They were afraid of the multitude – the mob!
So now they were in even more of a dilemma. And Matthew tells us their answer. They said to him, “We don’t know.” And whatever level you see that as a “cop out” answer, (And we could talk about that for a long time!) it silenced them.
And I think that’s the other part of the quandary they were in! They had probably never had this kind of a confrontation before. They were the most studied and learned men of their world. And by all accounts, this man from simple upbringing and limited education, should not have been able to take them on in this way – in the way he had for the last three years. Besides asking him where he got his authority, they might also have asked where he got his skills in debate!
Remember also, that, up until that moment, they were the authority. They were the power! And all of these confrontations ramped up the tension between them and Jesus. This was a power struggle! And we’ll see as we move forward, how it led to everything that happened this week, how it all led to Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, and how it led to them silencing him – or so they thought.
Well, as I like to ask, what about us in all of this? We must answer their question for ourselves. By whose authority did Jesus do what he did? Was it all on his own authority? Or was he truly doing God’s will – by God’s power?
What I think we need to remember today is that Jesus was from God. He wasn’t just a man. His coming to this earth was a watershed moment in all of history – God becoming human! The calendar is based on counting the years since that happened! “AD” –“Anno Domini” – “The Year of our Lord.” In more recent years, there has been an attempt to change that designation to “CE,” meaning “The Common Era.” But they didn’t change the numbers! So, even if we say we are in the year 2020 CE, it’s still two thousand and twenty years since the year of our Lord! This “common era” is still the era of history marked by the coming of Jesus to this earth! That’s how important he was!
So, do you know all that? Do you know “by whose authority” Jesus did all that he did? Do you know his “authority” – his power – is from God? Do you know he is God? Do you know that “He was in the beginning with God and all things were made through him, and without him, was not anything made that was made!”? Those are the words John chose to begin his story of Jesus’ life, his Gospel.
“By whose authority do you do these things?” That’s the important question asked of Jesus. And as the week went on, that became more emphatic, that became more intense, and it became the focus of the events of Holy Week. And as we move forward, we’ll see how that all came to a head in his arrest and his trial.
In the meantime, know these things about Jesus. Know that you follow the one sent by God into the world, the one who was God incarnate, the one who has brought you grace, and mercy, and peace.
Eternal God, you have come to be among us so that you can be with us always and live within our hearts. Help us to know beyond a doubt that we are yours, and that we live our lives in your power, your authority, and your Grace. For these things we ask in Jesus name, and for the sake of his kingdom in our midst, Amen!