This Sunday Pastor Doug is sharing on the theme, How Do You Respond to the Authority of Jesus?
People have many different responses to Jesus including curiosity, indifference, gratitude, questioning, belligerence, anger, acceptance, belief, worship, and obedience.
In Matthew 21:23-32, we see some of these responses. What is our response? What would we like it to be? What difference does it make?
We invite you to worship with us this Sunday as we reflect on and wrestle with questions like these because we all have to choose how we respond to the authority of Jesus.
Thank you for worshiping with us.
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The first video below is JUST THE SERMON.
If you would like to watch the entire service, scroll down a little more.
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The video below is the WHOLE SERVICE, and below that you’ll find the text for the message.
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How Do You Respond to the Authority of Jesus?
If you were to stand on a street corner and ask people passing by what they thought about Jesus you’d probably get a wide variety of answers.
People have many different responses to Jesus including curiosity, indifference, gratitude, questioning, anger, acceptance, belief, worship, and obedience. In Matthew 21:23-32 we see some of these responses.
What is our response? Who is Jesus to you?
The Gospel of Matthew encourages us to reflect on and wrestle with questions like these because we all choose how we respond to the authority of Jesus as we will see in our next scripture.
Today’s Gospel passage takes place during what we call Holy Week – the seven days beginning when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
Matthew says (21:10) “when (Jesus) entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were buying and selling in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves upsetting all who were involved in money-making ventures tied to offering sacrifices at the temple.
Imagine how you’d respond if someone walked down the center aisle and flipped over the communion table that gives you a tiny inkling of what was going on.
When I told my dad what I was preaching about today he shared a story of when he was at Somerville Community Baptist Church and he was in his office on during the Sunday School hour and all of sudden there was a loud racket and he got up to see what was going on and a Sunday School teacher was having the students flip over tables and chairs as part of studying this scripture. My dad said he never forgot it and you can be sure those kids didn’t either.
After Jesus had flipped the tables and chairs and drove those folks out, the blind and the lame came to Jesus in the temple and he cured them. That was quite a day. Jesus spent the night in nearby Bethany and returned Monday morning and entered the temple again. The chief priests and the elders of the people were waiting for him because Jesus had interfered with and criticized what they were doing and financially benefiting from.
Listen to Matthew 21.23-32
23 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?” 24 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. 25 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?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 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.
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 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. 32 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.”
In today’s scripture the chief priests and the elders in the temple in Jerusalem want to know the answers to two closely related, yet distinct questions: “By what authority (or what kind of authority) are you doing these things (cleansing and occupying the temple)?” and “Who gave you this authority?” (v. 23b).
The first question is about the nature of Jesus’ authority, the second about its source (see Matthew 9:34, 12:24).
The chief priests and elders are responsible for the religious life of Israel and the daily operation of the temple. They believe their authority comes from God, so they think it’s entirely appropriate for them to question Jesus’ authority to disrupt the temple routine. Who gave this authority to Jesus? To whom is he accountable?
There were established procedures for transmitting authority from one generation to the next. In most cases, a candidate would be examined for worthiness. A priest or rabbi would then lay hands on the candidate, preferably in a public ceremony. This not only served to transmit Godly authority, but also protected people against interlopers and false prophets. The church still recognizes the validity of such procedures and practices the laying on of hands to this day. That will be part of Pastor Barbara Burrill’s Ordination service this coming Saturday.
The highest authority in Israel at the time of Jesus was a council called the Sanhedrin, of which the chief priests and elders were members. They want to know by what authority Jesus is challenging their administration of the temple? Jesus had not been ordained as a rabbi. He wasn’t part of the establishment. How can his authority exceed theirs? Where does his authority come from?
Throughout the Gospel of Matthew there’s a focus on the nature, source, and consequences of Jesus’ authority that has been building until this final climactic week.
To this point in his Gospel Matthew has already told us that (7.29) Jesus taught as one having authority.
(8.8) A Roman centurion, a man under the authority of the emperor and having authority over many people, recognized the power behind Jesus’ authority, saying “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
(9.8) Jesus’ authority to forgive sins was validated by his ability to heal paralysis and the crowds were in awe of his authority.
(10.1) Jesus gave his disciples authority over unclean spirits when he sent them out and gave them authority to bind and loose on earth and in heaven (16:19; 18:18).
Matthew’s Gospel closes with Jesus’ words, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (28:18).
Matthew emphasizes throughout that Jesus is more powerful than the world’s powers, but that Jesus’ power is different. It’s a power given by God that produces empathy, healing, reconciliation, and unity rather than contempt, alienation, violence, and division.
Jesus’ adversaries are the chief priests and elders of the people. The political legitimacy and authority of the priestly leaders in Jerusalem, who ruled at Rome’s pleasure, was itself widely questioned.
Both the elders, who were wealthy elites, and the chief priests controlled large parcels of land in Judea and beyond, making them virtually identical with the rich, powerful landowners who are the frequent targets of Jesus’ parables, like the one that immediately follows the passage were talking about (see Matthew 21:33-46).
“Elders of the people” is an ironic title; the chief priests and elders don’t represent the people; instead they both fear and seek to manipulate the crowds to carry out their will which is so often what people in power try to do to this day (see Matthew 21:26, 46; 26:3-5; 27:20).
The chief priests and elders respond to Jesus with belligerence and anger and a desire to get rid of him. The tax collectors and prostitutes, sinners, outcasts, the broken in need of healing, and those on the margins believed and accepted him.
Jesus, isn’t done with the chief priests and elders of the people after refusing to answer their questions about his authority because they wouldn’t answer his question to them about the nature of John the Baptist’s baptism – whether it was from heaven or merely of human origin.
He extends his challenge to their authority by telling The “Parable of the Two Sons” which is found only in Matthew’s Gospel. It’s a version of the “two sons” tradition which runs deep in Judaism.
The two sons tradition itself begins with Cain and Abel and includes Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Aaron and Moses, and David and his brothers— it’s a tradition laden with themes of envy and betrayal, struggles for power, and sometimes reconciliation.
Jesus is asking his adversaries to locate themselves within Israel’s foundational and continuing stories. It’s a way of asking, which kind of brother are you?
The distinction between the two brothers turns on actions versus words. Jesus and his adversaries agree that only one son does the will of the father, the son who says “no,” but goes nonetheless into the vineyard to work.
Jesus uses this exchange to expose what the leaders really thought about John the Baptist.
The chief priests’ and elders’ failure to believe and respond to John reveals the truth about where they stood, and which brother they represent.
Jesus’ authority, in contrast, is affirmed by the integrity of his words and actions, as well as by its outcomes: gathering and restoring, healing and cleansing, releasing from demonic powers, restoring sight, sharing meals with sinners, and preserving the least ones—all examples of the “fruit” of repentance that he calls his followers to do.
In Jesus’ parable of the two sons, neither son was obedient. Each was disobedient in his own way. We shouldn’t seek to emulate either one, but rather to be obedient in word and deed so that we’re persons of integrity. Well done is better than well said. How you respond to the authority of Jesus? The ideal response is believing and obeying him. Words aren’t enough as the parable of the two sons makes plain.
Most of us are familiar with the phrase, Actions speak louder than words.
We’ve all heard people who talk but never seem to take the action needed to accomplish what they’re talking about.
In 1 Kings 20:11 the king of Damascus Ben-hadad and King Ahab of Israel are threatening each other, and Ahab’s response is, “Tell him: ‘One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.'” Why does he say that? Because actions speak louder than words and it’s better to boast after the battle has been won rather than before it’s been fought.
Talking and not taking the appropriate steps can be like wishing or hoping for something to happen – it rarely does. That’s why President Abraham Lincoln said in response to one of his generals boasting about what he was going to do to General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, “The hen is the wisest of all the animal creation, because she never cackles until the egg is laid.” Why did he say that? Because actions speak louder than words.
Integrity is when our actions match our words.
In the Gospels we have Jesus’ words and we see his actions, behavior, what he does, and how he treats people. We see that Jesus was a person of strong integrity. His words and his actions were consistent and congruent. Jesus didn’t say one thing and do another. There was no deceit in him, he didn’t lie, he told the truth and was the truth. There was no hypocrisy in him, he wouldn’t do one thing in a situation and then the next time do the opposite. Jesus was not hungry for power. He used his power to feed the hungry. Jesus was truthful and his life and his actions were always consistent with his words. People who have integrity sometimes make people without integrity nervous or uncomfortable because they can’t be bribed or bought.
Every person is a disciple and a worshiper. The only question is of whom or what?
Some people follow and worship with cult-like devotion celebrities, actors, athletes, politicians, or leaders in business or religion. It’s true that we become like who or what we worship, and we become like who or what we praise. Anyone who claims the name of Christ, who recognizes his authority over every other human authority, is called to live a life of integrity, love, compassion, and service as Christ did.
We saw that in Beverly Johnson whose life we celebrated here yesterday. She had a prayer which she kept taped to a card on her bedside table and she started most of her days saying it. The title is My Morning Prayer and it’s a prayer that recognizes the authority of Jesus and invites Jesus to shape all of one’s life so it may be a life of integrity and Christ-like words and deeds.
“Lord, in the quiet of this house, I come to you for wisdom, peace and power – to view the world through love-filled eyes, finding your image in every human guise. Silence my tongue to all that is unkind; let only thoughts that bless be in my mind. Let me so kindly be, so full of cheer that those I meet may feel Thy Presence near. So clothe me in Thy beauty Lord, I pray that my life may reveal Thee all this day.”
How do you respond to the authority of Jesus? I hope with a sincere desire to turn from all behaviors, actions, words, and thoughts that are contrary to the Spirit of Christ. I hope with a desire to have the love of God poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit.
I pray that God would give you an insatiable desire to honor and glorify the Lord by all you say and do and that the fruit of the Spirit would be growing in you day by day and week by week so that your life may reveal the beauty of the Lord every hour of every day.
Blessing 1 John 3:18, 23, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”
Questions for Discussion or Reflection
1. How would you explain who Jesus is to you to someone who isn’t a Christian and doesn’t know the meaning of terms like “Lord,” or “Savior.”
2. How would you describe the authority of Jesus to someone else? What kind of authority does he have? Where does it come from?
3. Review the references from Matthew’s Gospel on page 3 of the sermon and take note of what you learn about the authority of Jesus.
4. “Integrity is when our actions match our words.” Why is integrity important as a Christian and in life?
5. “Every person is a disciple and a worshiper. The only question is of whom or what?” How do you see this in your life and in the lives of others? Why is it critically important who we follow and who or what we worship?
6. 1 John 3:18, 23 states, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” What is your response to these verses?