Reading Time: 6 Minutes
As we meditate on the events leading up to Jesus’ death on the cross, we are viewing these passages through the eyes of an imaginary eye witness. This person has traveled with Jesus the 100 miles from Caesarea Philippi and has seen Jesus enter the city and pronounce judgment on activities surrounding the Temple. Our imaginary person continues telling the story with these words.
I anticipated trouble from the religious authorities and I was right. Jesus was teaching a large crowd of pilgrims to the Passover celebration. When the authorities learned he was back at the Temple, they came to where he was teaching and interrupted him saying, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
I wasn’t surprised to hear them ask Jesus what right he had to come into the Temple area and begin overturning tables and driving out men who were selling sacrificial animals. They also wanted to know who gave him the authority, because they certainly didn’t give it to him. They saw Jesus as a nuisance preacher from Galilee and they wanted to stop him before he made trouble for them with the Romans.
I couldn’t wait to hear what Jesus had to say. He always seemed to silence the people who opposed him. He said, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”
I thought to myself, “Great question, Jesus. You’ve got ’em.” He did have them. I was close enough to hear them arguing with each other over how they should answer Jesus.
They said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd.”
I truly believe that Jesus never had harsh words with anyone, because he liked to argue. However, there were many undecided people in the crowd, who had come to hear Jesus. They were the ones he wanted to reach with his love, just like he captured me by what he did and said.
All the common folks believed that John the Baptist was a prophet, even though the religious authorities didn’t like him at all. If the chief priests and elders denied John’s authority, the people would really be angry. Yet, they didn’t want to give John too much credit either. They finally gave up and said, “We do not know.”
Like so many other times, Jesus left people alone to figure out things on their own. He simply said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Matthew 21.23-27).
The truth is that the religious leaders’ non-answer was really an answer. They didn’t like John the Baptist, because he forgave sins through repentance and baptism instead of having people come to the Temple for forgiveness. Jesus also forgave sins, but didn’t do it their way either. They knew both men had their authority from God, because of the things they did, but they didn’t want to admit it.
A Parable with a Sharp Point
Authority is always a question of who is in control. Yesterday, when Jesus overturned the money changers tables and scattered the sacrificial animals, he was acting like one in control. When he quoted from the prophets, he made it clear he was in control. I still remember his words,
“‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
but you are making it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21.13)
Jesus changed what he was teaching and began with a parable. I especially watched the chief priests and elders as he taught.
He said, “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
“He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went.
“The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.”
Jesus paused for a minute and looked around the crowd, especially focused on the religious leaders. Then he continued with his teaching.
He said, “Which of the two did the will of his father?”
I found myself saying along with almost everyone in the crowd, “The first.”
When we said that, Jesus looked right at the chief priests and elders and said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him” (Matthew 21.28-32).
For years, I have incorporated reading a chapter of one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) into my daily time alone with God. I usually read the passage a section at a time and then talk to the Lord about what I have just read. I frequently imagine myself within the scene and speak to Jesus about what I am seeing.
This practice has impressed me with three thoughts today.
(1) Who is in control of my life? I am a religious authority, just like the chief priests and elders. Am I willing to have Jesus be the ultimate authority of my life? When I am in control, am I willing to say to him, “I’m in control. You be in control.”
(2) The imaginary narrator of the events of Jesus’ time in Jerusalem traveled with him. The narrator saw him in action and heard his teaching. Jesus is still active in the world through the work of the Holy Spirit. Am I conscious of spending my day with Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, at all times each day? Do I look for his activity? Am I aware of what he is teaching through the inner voice of the Spirit?
(3) As the writer of these blog articles, it is assumed that I have said “Yes” to everything that is written in them. Trust me. It is far easier to write about obedience than it is to be obedient. The parable in our study today challenges me to always say “Yes” to the leadership and direction that Jesus gives.
Dear Jesus, I want you to always be in control of my life. I want to see you and hear you throughout every day. I say “Yes” to you and I ask for the help of your Spirit to live a life of “yes” to every direction you give me.