Intro: Last Sunday morning we took a closer look at the use of the word “Lord” (kurios). We noticed that the word itself means master or one who is over others and receives submission. We also noticed that the term became a clear name for God Himself, and later in the NT was almost exclusively used as a title for Jesus – the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was declared by Peter in the first gospel sermon to be both Lord and Christ.
Jesus’ question is still in view – Luke 6:46 – “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” This question is at the root of Jesus’ personal ministry. His teaching was focused on establishing His identity as God, and His words as the words of God. But this issue was also at the heart of the controversy and opposition He encountered.
Turn to Matthew 21 – It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most celebrated of the Jewish feasts in Jerusalem. And Jesus was the most watched person in all of the city. He had been gloriously welcomed to the feast by those who threw palm branches down in his path and cried “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9) The word “Lord” in v. 9 is kurios (LORD). It stands as a translation of the word Yahweh (Jehovah) the personal name of the Creator. The one who comes in the name of the LORD was a common designation among the Jews for the coming Messiah. Its use here indicated that the people were confident that Jesus was the predicted Messiah, and one who came with the authority of the Father.
V. 10– The city was stirred by His presence and some wondered Who is this? The answer given was “this is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”
But Jesus first public act was to physically drive out the merchants and moneychangers from the Temple grounds. Matthew 21:12-14 – Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.'” Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.
We cannot help but notice the evidence being presented here. Jesus is showing Himself to be the Messiah, the Lord. He claimed control of His Father’s temple; He rebuked the religious establishment of the day, and He miraculously healed the people. This seemed to be such incontrovertible evidence of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah that even the children were crying out in the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David” – (“save us we pray, Son of David”)
When the religious leaders (Chief Priests & scribes) heard this they were angry. This seemed to be a city divided over the identity of Jesus.
Fast forward to Wednesday of that week. After Jesus and the disciples had passed the fig tree He cursed the day before and found it completely withered, He had come with them into the temple again.
I. By What Authority? Matthew 21:23 – Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?”
A. The enemies of Jesus met Him with a question of their own. Their question is the heart of our lesson.
1. Who asked the question? The Chief Priests and Elders of the city: The Chief Priests were primarily Sadducees; whereas the elders of the people included a large number of Pharisees (Luke tells us this group included the scribes, who were Pharisees). Although they constantly battled each other, they found a common enemy in Jesus. They saw Jesus as a mutual threat to their system of religious authority. Jesus is still a threat to every system of humanly devised religious authority.
2. They wanted to know by what authority he did “these things”. “These things”, may have included everything Jesus taught & did, but probably referred to His abrupt cleansing of the Temple the day before. Although seemingly powerless & speechless then, they were on the offensive now.
3. “By what authority” – Did Jesus have any authority here? Rabbinical candidates were originally ordained by a leading rabbi under whose teaching they served a kind of apprenticeship. Because of widespread abuses, and probably also to centralize rabbinical authority, the Sanhedrin, had taken over all responsibility for such ordination.
a. After his ordination a man was declared to be rabbi, elder, and judge, and was given authority to teach, to make decisions and render verdicts in religious as well as many civil matters. This group of religious men was the most identifiable source of authority.
b. Jesus received no such ordination and therefore had no such recognition in religious circles. By what authority, then, the leaders asked, did He not only teach and preach but even heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead? Who gave Him the authority to cast people out of the Temple?
B. The illegitimacy of the question itself: Is this the right question to ask? Those who would propose to ask such a question imply they have the authority themselves to even ask. (Philip pulling over a police car and asking how fast he was going)
1. The Sadducees or Pharisees never denied the miracles of Jesus. Don’t the miracles presuppose authority to speak? The FACT of Jesus’ power was incontestable. No one had ever healed sick people, cast out as many demons, or raised people from the dead as Jesus had done. When had the Sadducees or Pharisees ever healed the sick or raised the dead? Think about that the next time you are tempted to question a clear statement of Jesus in scripture. If Jesus is God, or God is obviously working through Him, that fact alone establishes His authority to speak.
a. Consider God’s statements to Job near the end of his book. Job had presumptuously challenged God in his assessment of his suffering (been cruel to him and opposed him). Did Job have right to question God? Job 38:1-6 – Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: 2 “Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? 3 Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 To what were its foundations fastened? He goes on to ask Job some serious questions about His credentials of authority – Can you feed the hungry lion, or shelter the Raven? Can you make it rain? Who will rebuke God? (40:2). God is His own credential.
b. Turn to Matt 9:1-8 So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city.2 Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” 3 And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, “This Man blasphemes!” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” — then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”7 And he arose and departed to his house. 8 Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.
• The word for power in that last sentence is the word exousia, (ex-oo -see-ah) which is often translated “authority” (KJV), and denoted the right to command. The crowd of common people who witnessed what He did made the only sensible response. If He had the power (ability) to heal the sick, He had the power (right) to forgive sins. But the scribes refused to accept the obvious. No amount of evidence could penetrate their confirmed unbelief. That in itself made their question illegitimate, and Jesus knew their hearts.
c. Jesus not only had great power (ability) but the right to exercise that power, because both His power and His authority were from His Heavenly Father. Luke 4:31-37 Then He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths.32 And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority (exousia –right to command) .33 Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon. And he cried out with a loud voice, 34 saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are — the Holy one of God!” 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him in their midst, it came out of him and did not hurt him. 36 Then they were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, “What a word this is! For with authority (exousia) and power (dunamis – ability to act) He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” 37 And the report about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region. Jesus has the authority to tell you how to live. He has the right as your Creator, and He has the might as your Judge. He demonstrated both when He came out of the grave.
II. The Authority of Jesus vs. the Authority of Men. This question of Matthew 21 attempts to judge Jesus’ actions and statements by the authority of men. In His response Jesus turns the question back on His accusers. But what about the authority of Jesus? How did His teaching differ from the others?
A. At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, the people were amazed at what they had heard. Matt 7:28-29 28 And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, 29 for He taught them as one having authority (exousia), and not as the scribes.
1. Some have suggested that Jesus’ teaching differed from the scribes in that Jesus did not speak ambiguously. Jesus did teach with a clarity, definitiveness, and certainty that was completely lacking in the pronouncements and interpretations of the scribes.
2. But the better understanding of this distinction may be in the source of their words of Jesus as opposed to the scribes. The Jewish rabbis spent their time referencing what others had said before them. “Rabbi so-and-so said this, Rabbi so-and-so taught this.” Among the Jews, human wisdom had long since replaced divine revelation, and Old Testament Scripture was cited primarily to support humanly-devised religious traditions. When Scripture conflicted with tradition, tradition prevailed. In the minds of most Jewish religious leaders, there were many authorities but no exclusive authority, not even Scripture. But Jesus’ ministry displayed the authority of heaven itself.
a. He demonstrated authority to grant those who believe in Him the right to become children of God (John 1:12).
b. His heavenly Father “gave Him authority to execute judgment” (John 5:27)
c. He had authority over His own life, “to lay it down,” & “to take it up again” (John10:18).
d. “authority over all mankind” to give eternal life to those His Father has given Him (John 17:2)
3. In all the things He said and did, Jesus never sought approval or support from the recognized Jewish authorities. He completely ignored their system for ordaining rabbis and approving doctrines. He recognized only the written word of God and the authority His Father gave Him. His authority came from what God had already said (in scripture) and what the Father had given Him to reveal.
III. From Heaven or Men? Jesus does not directly answer their question. He was not being evasive and had no reason to be. He had given the answer to their question countless times before. He knew their hearts and intentions and He would not play into their hands. Besides this, there was a valid point to be made to those who were listening. Are you listening?
• Matthew 21:24-26– And Jesus answered and said to them, “I will ask you one thing too, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?”And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude; for they all hold John to be a prophet.”
A. His question was simple: “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” It was one or the other. Religious authority is one of only two types: from heaven or from men.
1. This is key to religious discussion and conclusions. Everything that is done either has authority from God or men. We need to ask this question about any practice: praying to Mary; sprinkling babies; giving 10% to the Lord; instruments of music, etc…
2. If it is from heaven it will possess the appropriate credentials. It will have the stamp of approval from the source of divine revelation – the Holy Spirit. Jesus told the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. (John 16:13).
3. 2 Peter 1:19-21 – 9 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God* spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. Peter says that they had the words of scripture confirmed, as holy men of God spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
4. Acts 2:42 tells us that the early church continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching because that was the confirmed source for divine authority. It still is. Anything done in religion that does not have a scripture behind it is from men, not heaven.
5. Jesus’ question was not irrelevant to theirs. If they could answer this question it would help them to answer their own – If John’s message was from God, then Jesus had heavenly authority, for John testified of Him.
B. the chief priests and elders quickly realized, Jesus’ question put them on the horns of a great dilemma.
1. If they were to say, “From heaven,” Jesus would then say to them, “Then why did you not believe him?”
2. If they answered “from men” they risked a backlash from those who venerated John as a true prophet.
3. Matthew 21:27 And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Their only recourse, therefore, was to confess with embarrassment, We do not know. Why not?
a. Their agnosticism did not answer their dilemma. They proposed to be the ones who were qualified to evaluate the credentials of those who professed to be sent from God. If John was a prophet surely they could tell. It was their duty to know. Since they were incompetent to draw a conclusion about John they were in no position to draw one about Jesus.
4. Consequently Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things They were not interested in learning the truth about either John or Jesus. Matthew Henry says, “Those that imprison the truths they know, in unrighteousness … are justly denied the further truths they enquire after. Take away the talent from him that buried it; those that will not see, shall not see.”
Conclusion: If the Pharisees had faced the ramifications of their own question, they could have been saved. But some will reject the truth at all costs. From them the truth will always be hidden. Soon after Jesus’ severe rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees, He lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'” (Matt 23:37-39).
Will you submit to the authority of Jesus? Following His resurrection Jesus claimed all authority. He commissioned the apostles to preach in His name alone. What did they preach?
Mark 16:15-16 – 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
1. Those are the words of Jesus. The majority of the churches of today do not respect Jesus authority here. They read and teach is as
2. He that believes will be saved, and then at a later time be baptized. That is not what Jesus said is it? Men stopped looking for authority from heaven long ago.
3. What about you? Whose authority will you submit to?