Sermon for Pentecost 17 – September 27, 2020
+ 17th Sunday after Pentecost – September 27th, 2020 +
Series A: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Philippians 2; Matthew 21:23-32
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
“Jesus, John, and the Jerusalem Authorities”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
If I were to write a ticket or arrest someone for speed down Milton Way, I would probably be fined for impersonating a police officer, and rightfully so. I don’t have the authority. Or, if I were to walk into an operating room at St. Joseph’s or Good Samaritan hospital and perform a surgery, I could very well be charged with attempted homicide, and for good reason…I am not a physician. I don’t have that authority.
It’s a matter of authority.
And when Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
Today’s reading from Matthew 21 is a matter of authority. The Jerusalem religious authorities are challenging Jesus’ authority. “Who do you think you are riding into Jerusalem on a donkey like a some kind of Messiah? Turning over tables in “His house”. Strolling into the temple and teaching the people as though he owned the place?”
By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
The keyword is authority. And in the minds of 1st century Jews, no one operated on their own authority. Authority had to come from somewhere and someone. We tend to equate authority with power. And it involves that, but much more.
Authority, even today, is given, not claimed for oneself. Someone is granted, vested with, appointed or elected to a position of authority. It’s a matter of permission granted by another to do certain things. The police officer for law enforcement. The doctor for surgeries and physical wellbeing. To have authority is to have permission, authorization from someone greater to say and do certain things. The same thing happens when I pronounce the absolution: when I say, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” I do so in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. By His authority. His permission.
“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
Now, we already know the answer to this question. Jesus teaches the crowds with authority. Jesus heals and forgives the paralytic man with authority. Jesus calms the wind and waves with authority. Jesus sends out his disciples with authority. After Jesus’ death and resurrection he declares, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Yes, we know where Jesus’ authority comes from. From God the Father, from all eternity.
But of course, the religious authorities have no interest in Jesus’s authority. What sounds like a holy, pious question only reveals their hypocrisy, unbelief, and rejection of Jesus, a conflict which only intensifies as Matthew’s Gospel continues on to Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.
So Jesus takes the bait. Plays their game. And ends up turning the tables on more than the money changers. “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?”
Jesus essentially asks them, “Was John sent from God or did he just make all that Messiah stuff up? And if John was sent from God, what does that say about my baptism in the Jordan River?” You see, the answer to Jesus’ question is the same answer to the chief priests’ question. Jesus’s authority, like John’s baptism came from heaven, from God the Father.
You have to appreciate how Jesus artfully, skillfully sets this trap for the religious authorities to walk right into, and they know it. They go into their corner like contestants on Family Feud and deliberate. “Well, if we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
Jesus beats them at their own game. They make the political play. The cowardly answer, taking no stand at all. “We do not know”. It’s an answer of self-condemnation. They’re caught in their hypocrisy and sin. They fear the loss of their popularity, prestige, and political influence more than they fear, love, and trust in God and his Christ.
But isn’t the same true of us as well? As Jesus reveals their pride, hypocrisy, and sin, he also reveals ours. Jesus challenges our authority too. For like the chief priests we so often act and speak as if we are our own authority. That we have lived as if God and my neighbor do not matter, and that I matter most. My kingdom come. My will be done. Yes, Jesus’s words reveal the chief priest in us all.
And yet, Jesus’s conflict with the chief priests reveals something even greater. It reveals his love for sinners, even those who reject him and will crucify him later on. Jesus longs to bring them to repentance and faith, just as he spoke through his prophet Ezekiel so long ago, that he desires not the death of the wicked but that they repent and live – all by God’s grace in Christ. Same is true for us.
It’s a matter of authority. And notice how Jesus exercises his authority. Not selfishly, but selflessly. Laying down his life for the chief priests and for us chief of sinners. Not in power but in his passion on the cross for you. Not in hubris, but in humility. For you, Jesus emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
It’s a matter of authority.
And you live under the authority of Jesus crucified and risen. He repents you. He gives you faith in Him. He baptizes you in His name. He gives you love for your neighbor. He continues to teach you with authority in his life-giving Word. He continues to heal you miraculously in his body and blood.
Trust his authority to save you. For He is authorized by the Father to save you, and He has done it. All for you.
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.