“When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23)
In ministry authority is a powerful possession. Usually it is conferred by a governing body or an institution that has been granted authority to regulate who does what, says what, and perform acts and aspects of ministry. Jesus, in telling his disciples that they will have the ability to bind and loosen, conferred authority on them. If the chief priests and elders had known about that, they probably would have been even more incensed and asking Jesus to name his authority.
“Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” (Verses 24 – 26)
What a paradox the chief priests and elders were in. Jesus was forcing them to either substantiate what John had prophesied about Jesus, or rile the people against John who was held in esteem. Recognizing the legitimacy John meant recognizing Jesus as having the authority of God. But denying John his due would mean losing the favor of the people. A tough spot to be in. So instead they feigned ignorance.
“So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Verse 27)
If they could not face the truth about who John was, then they certainly were not ready to face the truth about who Jesus was. Either because of stubbornness or true ignorance about Jesus, they were not ready to hear truth. Jesus then tells another parable to illustrate the point about refusal to believe, and then after a time coming to belief. As in Jesus’ other parables, one must understand the salient points.
“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. “ (Verses 28 – 32)
The high priests and elders had the background and understanding that would have informed them as to who John was (and by implication who Jesus was) and the authority he had. But they turned a blind eye to it. The tax collectors and prostitutes, that is the sinners amongst the people, may not have known the finer points of the Law and what was expected of God’s called and chosen people. But they recognized that John had something that they knew they needed, and chose to believe. This same knowledge lead sinners to believe in Jesus.
It is not a far leap to apply this to new modern-day believers. In hearing then good news of Jesus Christ, believers see something that has been missing in their lives. And seeing it, they are ready to give up their former way of life in order to grab this chance at new life. When you have been persuaded by the Holy Spirit, you do not question that authority but bow to its truth and follow out. Other concerns matter less, and the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit matters increasingly more.
May you, beloved reader, see and follow the Authority of the Divine. Selah!