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Matthew 21:23-27

Rev. Alan Taylor

Pentecost 16, Proper 21, series A
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Sep 28, 2014 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In real estate it’s location, location, location.  A 3 bedroom, 2 bath house in Lakewood, California sells for about $480,000, or, $300 a square foot.  A comparable house in Detroit, Michigan would sell for about $55,000, which is $35 a square foot.  Similar houses.  Different location.  In real estate it’s location, location, location.

In studying the Bible it’s context, context, context.  If we were to try to make the Gospel reading for this morning stand alone, as if it weren’t preceded and followed by other events in the life of Jesus, we would have a pretty skewed picture of what was actually going on in the reading for this morning.  Certainly the passage is about authority.  Specifically, it’s about the religious leaders in Jerusalem questioning Jesus’ authority.  “By what authority (they asked) are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Jesus had just entered Jerusalem the day before this event.  Oh, He had gone to Jerusalem before.  But, this time it was different.  This time people were lauding Him as “He who comes in the name of the Lord.” “Hosanna, (they said), blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest.” They laid palm branches on the ground and they treated Jesus like a king.  Everyone was so excited to see Him!  Well, not everyone was excited.  Some, in fact, were quite troubled.  They began to ask, “Who is this?” Who is this who enters Jerusalem to the praise of the people?  Who is this who is being crowned king of the Jews before our very eyes? 

That evening, the evening of Palm Sunday, Jesus went to the Temple and found vendors who had set up their wares in the Temple court.  As you know, He was quite angry.  So angry, in fact, that He turned over the tables of the vendors.  “It is written (He said), ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” There is some authority, isn’t there, behind those words and actions!?

It’s Monday now, the day after Jesus road into Jerusalem.  The day after He turned over the tables in the Temple.  Jesus was in the temple again, teaching, as was His custom.  “The chief priests and the elders of the people (in other words, the pastors and the board of elders) came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” “These things.” In that little phrase the religious leaders in Jerusalem questioned Jesus’ entire life and ministry, everything He did and everything He said.  “By what authority do you do these things?”

It’s not really a novel question, is it?  I mean, for centuries people have been questioning, not just the authority of Jesus but, the very existence of God.  It’s what people do when pride and a thirst for power and autonomy overtake them! 

It’s interesting.  Sometimes we lament the decade of the 60’s because it represented a wholesale rejection of authority.  Men burned their draft cards and women burned their bras as a sign of their newly discovered liberty.  We look back and say, “if it weren’t for the 60’s we would be in so much better shape today!”

All the 60’s did though was reveal the true human spirit that doesn’t want to submit to authority, God’s or anyone else’s.  You and I are continually asking the same question.  By what authority does anyone demand my allegiance and faithfulness?  By what authority does the Church demand my subscription to certain teachings, certain doctrines?  By what authority does the Church call a culture to task for it’s moral depravity?  By what authority does the Church commune some at the rail and ask others to refrain from taking communion?  By what authority does the pastor stand before the congregation and say, “I forgive you all of your sins!?”

By nature we question authority, God’s and everyone else’s.  When the religious leaders questioned Jesus’ authority, Jesus turned the tables on them and caught them in their own trap.  He said, I will answer your question if you will answer My question.  “The baptism of John, from where did it come?  From heaven or from man?” In one question, Jesus’ attacked both their pride and their cowardly nature.  They couldn’t say John’s teaching was from God because they would then have to submit to John’s call to repentance.  Their pride wouldn’t allow them to do such a thing.  On the other hand, they couldn’t say John’s teaching was from men because the people believed he was a prophet and they feared the people.  Caught between pride and cowardess.  It’s a terrible place to find oneself!

There was a third option though.  They could claim ignorance and lie about John and his work.  Of course, that’s exactly what they did.  They said, “we don’t know where John’s teaching came from.” They simply had too much at stake to tell the truth.

In the end, Jesus’ wasn’t playing games with them, anymore than He plays games with you.  He calls you to acknowledge and to submit to His authority for He is “the King of kings and the Lord of lords.” The oft repeated phrase means that He is Lord of every aspect of your life, your so-called personal life, your marriage, your work, your leisure, all of it.  Consequently, when you, like the religious leaders, resist His authority, He calls you to repentance, the very teaching of John that the Pharisees and elders refused to acknowledge. 

Context.  Jesus had divine authority over all creation, even over those who questioned His authority.  Nevertheless, just days after this incident took place, He would submit to human authority, even to the very people who questioned His authority, that He might be crucified for the sins of the world! 

The question of the essential nature of Jesus would be asked once again, this time by Pontius Pilate.  “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.  So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me?  Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”

Your salvation was accomplished through the submission of the One who possessed “all authority in heaven and on earth.” “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”

Ultimately Jesus’ divine authority would be revealed once again, in his glorious resurrection from the dead.  Jesus’s victory over sin and death throws open the doors of the kingdom of God to believers repenting of even the greatest sins.  “All authority in heaven and on earth” belongs to Jesus and He, by word, by bread and wine and by water, rules every aspect of your life, with grace, mercy and forgiveness.  And you, by God’s grace, “live and move and have your very being in Him.” In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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