Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Passage: Matthew 21:23–21:27
†††In the Name of Jesus†††
Pastor Murray Keith
Text: Matthew 21:23-27
Date: October 1st, 2017; Pentecost 17; Series A
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
We heard in our Gospel lesson that the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to Jesus and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23).
Jesus rode into Jerusalem like a Messiah, flipped the tables of the money changers in the temple, and even called the temple “his house” when he said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13).
Who did Jesus think he was, walking around the temple and teaching the people like he owned the place?
The chief priests and the elders got to the heart of the matter - it’s about authority.
We generally don’t like authority - especially when someone has authority over us.
We like to be in control and in charge.
We have a tough time living out St. Paul’s words in our epistle lesson, “…but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” ( Philippians 2:3).
This goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
When the temptation and lie came along that if Adam and Eve just ate some forbidden fruit they would be like God - they couldn’t help themselves.
They didn’t like being under God’s authority, so they took a big bite. Even though they had been warned that it would lead to death.
Our struggle with authority continues today.
Part of the problem is that we think of authority solely in terms of power.
And while there is some truth to that, there’s far more to it.
Authority is a matter of permission.
Permission granted to another to do certain things.
For example, our Prime Minister, and Premier, and Mayor have authority to act on our behalf in many ways.
A judge sitting on a judicial bench is permitted to judge cases and their decisions carry weight because they have been granted that authority.
As a pastor, as one who serves God by serving you, when I forgive sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, I do so in the stead of our Lord Jesus Christ and by his authority.
I certainly have no special power or authority on my own. I’m a sinner who needs Christ’s forgiveness like everyone else.
But God has authorized those who hold the Office of Holy Ministry to forgive sins so that we can have complete confidence and assurance.
He approves of it, recognizes it, and stands behind it. It is permitted.
We find ourselves outraged when someone simply assumes authority without having received it.
Imagine if someone knocked on your door and demanded to come in and search your house.
Of course, you would want to make sure that they provide evidence, a badge and warrant papers, showing that they have the authority to do so.
If the person wanting in just said, “I’m Carl from down the street and I want to search your house” you would tell them to get lost because he is not authorized.
“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” they asked Jesus (Matthew 21:23).
And it’s a very good question.
Jesus claims the kind of authority that no one one dare claim for himself.
In Matthew chapter 7 we read, “…the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”
And he wasn’t shy about it. Jesus plainly said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:19).
Even when it looked like he was completely powerless before Pilate when he was arrested, and beaten, and about to be put to death on the cross - Jesus said, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).
And beyond his words, beyond just saying he has authority, Jesus backed it up with his miracles.
Healing the sick, casting out demons, calming storms, walking on water, raising the dead - only one who is authorized by God can do these kinds of things.
The miracles of Jesus are his badge of authority.
But the religious leaders, the chief priests and elders, would have none of it.
They rejected the authority of Jesus just as they had rejected the authority of John the Baptist.
John was calling them to repent of their sin, of their religion, but they only took it as an insult and challenge to their authority.
Who did John think he was?
And that was the point of Jesus’ question, “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” (Matthew 21:25).
What a brilliant question!
Jesus had them cornered.
There was no neutral ground, no safe way for them to answer. And they knew it.
If they said, “It’s from heaven,” they knew exactly what the next question was going to be. “Well, if it’s from heaven, why didn’t you believe him? Why did you refuse his baptism, if it came from heaven?” And they would be left in a puddle of their own unbelief.
They were also well aware that John was incredibly popular and that the people revered John as a prophet sent from God.
So if they said that John’s baptism was not from God - the crowds would turn on them.
So they took the safe route and said, “We do not know."
The same can be asked today of Holy Baptism - is it from God or not?
Is it, as some say, an outward sign to show that you are a Christian, a way to actualize your commitment to God? Or is it the power of God for salvation?
Is it the washing of rebirth and renewal, the means by which the death and life of Jesus come to you?
“We don’t know” doesn’t work.
Unbelief is incredibly stubborn and it’s unreasonably resistant - which is why we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him.
He must engage us and deal with us by Word and Spirit.
He must break down those walls of skepticism, our unwillingness to go beyond the realm of what we can see or comprehend.
That we believe at all is a gift of God’s undeserved goodness - a gift received at the font of our Baptism, received through the Word of forgiveness, received through the Supper of Jesus’ body and blood.
It is through these means that our faith is stirred up and strengthened.
Our faith in the truth that Jesus lived, died, and rose to save the world - to save you from your sin and death - and that nothing in this life can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Jesus was sent with divine authority to be your Saviour and to take away the sin of the world.
Trust the Lord of your Baptism and you will live. He is authorized by the Father to save you - and he has done it. Thanks be to God! Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.