Summary: Every had your position, your authority, your intelligence, or your worth challenged? How did you handle it? Did you see it as a “teachable moment”? Or was your reaction a bit more carnal than that?
Jesus Brings the Truth to Light—Part 1
Every had your position, your authority, your intelligence, or your worth challenged? How did you handle it? Did you see it as a “teachable moment”? Or was your reaction a bit more carnal than that?
Let me be the first to confess that sometimes there is something in me that rises up in anger and, at first flush, wants to just let the challenger have it! Many times, my first instinct is not to look beyond their words and try to discover what is really going on in their hearts so that I can minister to them with the Word of God.
Oh, no! Oftentimes my pride is the first thing that is triggered by a challenge to my knowledge or my position. I get myself all twisted up like the chief priests and the scribes, and I demand to know, “By what authority…?” In other words, “Who do you think you are?”
Anybody else? Anybody else here get like that, or am I the only one? Now, we all know that that is wrong. We all know that when we are too full of ourselves, people can’t see Jesus in us. God and I are working on that. How about you?
The beginning of this interchange between the religious rulers and Jesus takes place within the temple precincts while Jesus is teaching.
Yesterday, He drove out the moneychangers and upset the whole process of graft that the priests were engaged in. But here He is, right back there as if nothing had happened. Pretty bold, wouldn’t you say?
Within Judaism, Jesus had no rabbinical standing, no priestly lineage, no formal education, and actually no real right to be teaching or doing anything else of that nature in the temple. For the chief priests and the scribes to demand to know, “By what authority,” was a perfectly normal question to come from them, really.
What was Jesus even doing there, anyway? Did Jesus know that the religious leaders—who had the power to have Him stoned to death at the very least—would do nothing to Him at this point? Probably, but I don’t think that was what motivated Jesus to return and to teach.
No, you see, this really is the heart of Jesus on full display for us. For as long as He has breath in Him, He is going to be about doing the will of His Father. He is going to be about the business of teaching people about the true nature and character of God, about God’s true kingdom and what it takes to be a part of that kingdom. And He is going to minister to the needs of those He encounters, even when the circumstances are not “ideal”.
That includes these religious leaders, these self-righteous monitors of ritual and ceremony. Each of them needed to know the truth about the kingdom of God just as much as the next person—perhaps even more. Jesus uses every encounter with them as a “teachable moment”, if you will, all the way to the cross. More on that another time.
For now, let’s look at this interchange a bit more closely and see what treasures Matthew has preserved for us.
This whole interchange between the rulers and Jesus is critical at this juncture. It not only draws very clear lines about where everyone stands in this very important drama, it also makes very clear what does and does not qualify a person to truly be part of the kingdom of God. And there is no more important truth than that to know.
The “chief priests and scribes” made up a large portion of the Sanhedrin, the Counsel of Seventy, the final authority on all things Jewish. No longer is Jesus being challenged on the finer points of the Law, now things are getting down into the nitty-gritty of who Jesus really is and what kind of authority He really has. They knew what authority they had—and He wasn’t one of them.
When they ask, “By what authority do you do these things and who gave it to you,” they already have an answer in their minds—none and no one. From their point of view, Jesus has no authority. He had not attended any of the recognized rabbinical schools, nor had He received any official license or ordaining from the priests of the temple. He was not of the tribe of Levi, so He definitely wasn’t part of the priestly lineage.
The only other possible alternative in their minds—that He was a true prophet—had already been tested and He had failed the test as far as they were concerned. His refusal to obey the minutiae of their additions to the Law had disqualified Him from that possibility in their minds and hearts long before.