By What Authority
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
It was the last straw. Who did he think he was, anyway? The temple was their domain, established by God himself from the time of Moses. How dare he defy their authority (and hurt their profits) by upending the tables of the money changers and driving out the sellers of sacrificial animals. He constantly stirred things up and seemed to be trying to turn the people, who adored him, against their own priests and teachers of the law. They had to step up their efforts to get rid of him, but they could not afford to have blood on their hands. This would require shrewdness. Calculation.
While he was preaching in the temple, the day after his grandiose entrance into Jerusalem, they went up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?” Maddeningly, he answered their question with a question of his own: “Tell me, John’s baptism—was it from heaven or from men?” They huddled to discuss it among themselves. “If we say ‘From heaven,’ he’ll ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ the people will stone us, because they’re convinced John was a prophet. We can’t win this.” So they answered that they didn’t know where it was from. And he replied, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
He went on to tell a story about a man who planted a vineyard and put some farmers in charge of it. When the owner sent a servant to collect his portion of the crop, the farmers beat him and sent him away. Two more times the owner sent servants, who were beaten and sent away. Finally, the owner decided to send his own beloved son, thinking the tenants would respect him. But instead, the tenants, thinking to gain the son’s inheritance, killed him. What will the owner do to them? He will come and kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others. The priests and teachers of the law knew Jesus was speaking against them with his parable, and they looked for a reason to have him arrested, but they were afraid of how the people would react, so they did nothing.
They watched him closely. They sent spies to infiltrate his rapt audience and, pretending to be honest, send back intel on his actions. Hoping to trick Jesus into speaking against Rome so they could hand him over to the civil authorities, the spies sidled up to him and fawned over him. “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you don’t show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth, so is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar?” But he saw through their duplicity and asked for a coin. “Whose face and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. And he said, “Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.” Unable to trap him and astonished by his answer, they fell silent.
On and on went the Pharisees, religious leaders, and teachers of the law, scheming and plotting, looking for an opportunity to catch him, expose him as subversive. And time and time again, Jesus silenced them with his answers to their questions. If they had understood who he was, perhaps they would have acknowledged his authority inherent in his identity as God’s Son. But would they ever have granted him the respect and authority he had earned through his works—his teaching and the miracles he performed? What about us? Do we happily accept the authority of Jesus to save us but deny his authority to rule over us? Do we believe that he loves us enough to rescue us from the burden of sin and death, but not enough to preside over our daily lives? He is our Savior, certainly. But is he our Lord?
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship (Children’s Worship and nursery care available). No Discovery Hour classes March 15 and 22 because of spring break. Join us for a pancake breakfast following worship on March 22.