8/20/2014 6:00:00 AM GETTING THE MESSAGE/Matthew 21:23-27
By Rev. Chris Shelton
In this passage we see that Jesus is confronted by the Jewish leaders. They demand to know by what authority Jesus is doing the things he is doing. The "things" they are referring to are his driving buyers and sellers out of the temple area, healing blind and lame people, and teaching the people about the kingdom of God. The question of proper authority was important to them. They were the religious leaders and they know they did not grant Jesus the authority he was exercising. So from where does he claim authority?
The leaders were not curious or seeking to be enlightened. They wanted to put Jesus in his place or get rid of him. John tells us that after Lazarus was raised from the dead, they met together and decided that Jesus needed to die. He was a threat to their livelihood. So they had already decided the issue of Jesus authority over them. They would not submit to it. He would submit to them or die. This is a vital consideration for us. What authority do we regard Jesus having over us? Is it absolute? There is a sense that refusing Christ's authority is akin to wanting him gone.
I talked with a minister who was so discouraged that he said he looked at a postman one day and envied him. He, for that moment wished he had the postman's job. He was tired of the burdens he had in the ministry. Yet he persevered in it for one primary reason. Christ had authority over his life. He knew he was called to preach. He later had joy returned to him in the ministry even in the difficulties. But he endured that time of discouragement because he was under the authority of Christ. Of course, being under the authority of Christ is not the only reason a Christian perseveres. He also does it out of love and thanksgiving. I read of a prince, who before battle, would take out a ring his father gave him, and remind himself he loved his father so that he would do nothing to dishonor him. So it is with the authority of Christ. It is a blessed authority, but we must sometimes submit to it when times are hard.
Jesus at one point asked: "Why do you call me Lord, and yet do not do what I say? What we believe about his authority reveals how we regard who He is. He is the Lord. And if we belong to him, we are to be waiting on Him, while striving to do what he says. We face daily choices of whether to say no to ungodliness and worldliness, and yes to submission and obedience to Christ. The Lord knows what is in our hearts with regard to his authority. Proverbs 20:27 says: "The lamp of the Lord searches the spirit of a man. It searches out his inmost being."
In verse 24 Jesus responds to the challenge of the religious leaders by asking them a question. He asks them if John's baptism came from heaven or men. By John's baptism he is referring to the whole of John's ministry. Submitting to John's baptism was an acknowledgment that you needed to repent. John's message was warning the Jewish people of the wrath of God, that they needed to repent of their sin, and that the repentance had better be sincere or fruitful. He paved the way for those who responded to humbly accept the Savior (Christ) that God had sent.
Jesus is putting his finger on the religious leaders' problem. They refuse to repent. They do not believe that the wrath of God threatens them. They believe it for others; but not for themselves. John's message was not for them. Jesus knows they believe this. He knows they have blind, vain hearts. By challenging them, he is actually appealing to them to consider their own souls. They were familiar with what John had proclaimed. The problem with John's message for them was that repentance meant you had to admit you were wrong. You had to go in a new direction.
This they were unwilling to do. They know if they answer Jesus they are in trouble. If they say John's ministry was from heaven, the question will be why did you not obey God's prophet? If they say John was just an ordinary man then the people will turn on them because many of them thought John was a prophet. So their unbelief produced an agnostic response to Jesus; "We don't know." "I don't' know" is not an acceptable response to Christ. You need to be resolved about who He is, what He came into this world to do, and what he requires of you. He already knows what is in your mind and heart about him. The religious leaders perished from hardness of heart. The remedy is to practice repentance.