Summary: How do we answer hostile questions about our faith? How do we know where the authority of God resides? Is the authority of God in our lives?
Prelude, Purpose & Plan
How do we answer hostile questions about our faith? How do we know where the authority of God resides? Is the authority of God in our lives?
Let’s explore Jesus’ confrontation with religious leaders over His authority and the parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:23-32.
Matthew 21:23 By What Authority
Jesus’ appearance exposed the abuses of the religious leaders. We are no different. Sin has always pervaded the Church. After Jesus had turned over the tables of the money-changers in the temple and cursed a tree, the chief priests and elders wanted to know, in Matthew 21:23, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” Jesus had no accredited degree, no recognized ordination, no church building and no clerical clothing. Is Jesus handcuffed by denominational authority traditions? Does he operate also outside of such human boundaries? How can we discern between heavenly and human authority? Jesus’ answer was was a question and a parable.
Matthew 21:25 From Heaven or from Men
In Matthew 21:25 Jesus asked a question about his authority and asked, “The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?” Religious leaders chose a political answer. Does heaven’s authority reside in apostolic succession, modes of baptism, worship practices or something else? The Church is a mixture of human and divine authority. Human authority can be an outward show and slavery to church politics rather than heavenly deeds. Many religious leaders have abused others with heavy burdens. Jesus’ focus was not on the authority of men, but acts of freedom and heaven’s rule. We cooperate with faulty human authority for unity, but we submit to heavenly authority.
Matthew 21:27 Neither Will I Tell You
In Matthew 21:27 Jesus answered a deceitful question with a skillful question. After religious leaders evaded answering the question about the authority of John’s baptism, Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Is there something about the person who dares to be politically incorrect that is refreshing? While tact is important, so also is honesty. Religious leaders looked for a politically correct answer. The elders were stumped, because they did not want to give the obvious answer. The source of Jesus’ authority was the same as John the Baptist’s, heaven. The implied reply to the Pharisees’ question was contained in Jesus’ question itself.
Matthew 21:29 The No Child
In Matthew 21:29 Jesus gave a parable of a son who initially refused to work for his father, “but afterward he regretted it and went.” Jonah too said no at first. He went to people who are now Christians, most notably the Assyrian Church of the East, an independent church founded by the Apostles Thomas, Bartholomew and Thaddeus. Like the son in the parable, Jonah too said no, then reluctantly obeyed. The “no” child represents those, who have initially said no to God, but reluctantly come. Like Jonah, this too may be a hesitant change as the usual word for repentance is not used, but a word meaning mere regret.
Matthew 21:31 The Yes Child
In Matthew 21:31 Jesus told religious people, “tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” The “yes” son in Jesus’ parable represents pious people who, say yes to God then disobey. If even bishops who began life saying yes to God, end up disobeying God, their authority becomes null and void. Who is right? Most churches agree on the essential teachings of Jesus and all churches contain doctrinal error. Only one authority counts, Jesus. Are we in the right place if we obey God, repent and believe? What would Jesus say to us? Have we ignored the way of righteousness even though we have been shown it?
Matthew 21:32 The Way of Righteousness: Repent & Believe
In Matthew 21:32 Jesus criticized religious authorities regarding John the Baptist. They did not “relent and believe him.” All Christians agree that the way of righteousness is through faith in the authority of Jesus. When Jesus spoke of the two sons, one who said yes but did not and the other who said no but changed his mind, he was speaking of the nay-saying of the religious people of this time. They refused their Messiah. Do we likewise doubt Jesus’ authority when we are confronted with it? Do we deny the power and authority of the head of the church? Do we prefer following our own ideas instead of Jesus?
Like Jesus, we do not need to be defensive when questioned or attacked about our faith. Go on the offensive. Ask detractors to defend their beliefs. Speak to people's consciences. Know why we believe as we do. Knowing our faith gives us authority. Living our faith puts our detractors to shame. In Revelation 4:10-11 we read that the elders in heaven “cast their crowns before the throne”. That means that they don’t harbor any desire to place their position or power or opinions ahead of Jesus. They said yes to Christ, and they meant it. Whether we have told Jesus yes or no, let’s tell Him yes now and forever.