A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
Loving Father, I praise you in astonishment, I adore you in gladness, I thank you in gratitude for who you are, and for what you do.
Read MATTHEW 21:23–27
The Authority of Jesus Questioned
23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Today, may we perceive God’s wondrous creation, deeds and signs in our world and universe. Let us not demand more signs, but simply believe.
As Jesus re-entered the temple, the still-angry Jewish leaders attacked him with questions. Their first foray is the source of his authority. This is ridiculous considering the miracles Jesus had performed the day before. Surely, God’s leaders would have recognized that he must be imbued with God’s power and authority? As so often with the Jewish leaders, Jesus seized control, refusing them a straight answer and replying with a question back to them. He tests them on their view of the authority of John the Baptist: was it from God or from people?
In Matthew, John is Jesus’ baptizer, God’s prophet, and the Elijah who was to come.1 He was believed by tax collectors and prostitutes, who were received into God’s kingdom.2 The Jewish leaders repudiated John after he called them snakes, warned them of God’s wrath and demanded that they bear the fruit of repentance.3 By asking this question, Jesus cleverly put them between a rock and a hard place. To acknowledge John’s divine mandate would give Jesus ammunition to challenge their rejection of John. To deny John’s authority would alienate the crowd. Lacking courage to make a stand, the leaders took a third option, ignorance. This gave Jesus leave to refuse their question.
Sadly, religious leaders can get lost in their own theologies and traditions, unable to see God’s fresh work and lacking in courage. Slowly, the wineskins of their traditions dry out and they can no longer hold the new wine. We must stand firm to the gospel, but also be open to God’s new thing. Maybe if we open our eyes and courageously stand with God, we can halt the tragic decline of the church that is taking place in many parts of our world.
Consider your religious tradition and church. Is it standing on God’s Word? Is it open to the fresh work of God? Pray for renewal and for what you can do.
Lord, I need wisdom from you as I navigate the daily decisions I must make. Help me avoid landmines and to follow the Spirit’s directions.
1 Matt 3:13; 11:13,14 2 Matt 21:32 3 Matt 3:7–11
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