Sermon preached at Poole High School for Poole Christian Fellowship on 22 November 2015
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Paul Newberry used to say that the biggest question in the universe is: “Who’s in Charge?” When we want to know what is happening in a church, in a company, in government we ask “who’s in charge?” When we want to influence events we have to influence the mind of the person who makes decisions – the one in charge, the boss. The passage we look at today in the gospel of Luke, is dealing with the question of “who is in charge”. At the end of Mathew’s gospel, Jesus is very clearly: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me”. Yet, we still have a choice about whether or not to acknowledge the authority of the King of Kings. The question comes to us: “who’s in charge?” With that in mind, here is today’s passage:
One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?” He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ 6 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.” So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
We are now into Tuesday of Holy week. In three days’ time, Jesus will be voluntarily sacrificed as the saviour of the world. Every moment of this period is drenched with drama and significance. Since arriving in the area, Jesus has triumphantly entered Jerusalem as the Messiah, has unceremoniously driven the money-changers out of the temple, and now we find him in the temple courts, teaching the people.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem we noted that he was greeted with shouts of praise, unceremonious, possibly undignified and unrestrained.. We saw that praise without limits is the right way to welcome Jesus into our midst, and we say unreservedly that we want such praise to be at the heart of our Christians lives and our church life. Praise is what we do. But it is not all that we do. Here we see Jesus sitting in the temple courts, the heart of the worship area of God’s people, “Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news,” God’s people are listening to Jesus teach the word of God. The kingdom of God involves not only worship, but also listening to the word being preached. To those who are “word only” people, they have to understand that exuberant praise is a part of the our life as Christians. To the “worship only” people – we you wouldn’t have been very comfortable with Jesus!. See how much time is spent simply teaching the word of God. The fact of the matter is that we need both, and our church life is incomplete if either is missing.
So here Jesus is teaching the word of God, and the people of God are having a dynamic encounter with their saviour. We need to pray that we will encounter Jesus week by week as he teaches us through his word. So we need to pray for ourselves, for the Spirit of God to rest on his word, and above all for the preacher.
What is Jesus teaching? We read that he is proclaiming the good news – elsewhere called the good news of the kingdom. He can hardly have been proclaiming the Cross – that was still in the future. No, Jesus was telling them the good news of the Kingdom of god, or the life and joy and peace and fulfilment that happens when you live your life under the rule of King Jesus. Notice that the key element in the good news of the kingdom of God, is the authority of the King. Plenty of us want Jesus help – but do we want his authority? The Kingdom of God depends on the authority of Jesus. When we live under the kingship of Jesus it is unmitigated good news.
The crowd, we read at the end of chapter 19, are hanging on the words of Jesus, and the religious leaders are already involved in a deadly campaign to get rid of Jesus. Now they issue a desperate last challenge to him, before hatching their deadly plot to get rid of him. We need to notice what that challenge looks like: it is a direct challenge to his authority. The fact is that Jesus is behaving like the Messiah. He has entered Jerusalem on a donkey, a direct fulfilment of Zechariah’s Messianic prophecy, he has assumed authority to cleanse the temple the previous day, and now, here he is, right in the heart of the worship area of God’s people teaching with authority. If this man is not the Messiah, he has some nerve. The religious leaders’ examination of Jesus shows three things:
- They are desperately concerned for their own ministry and position
- They are desperately concerned about the opinion of the people
- They completely deny the authority of Jesus.
These are key questions for us. What matters most to us: the opinion of others, or the authority of Jesus. What carries most weight in our decisions: concern for our own position of the authority of Jesus. Who is really Lord? Are we really recognising the authority of Jesus?
With a simple question, Jesus exposes the hearts of the religious leaders. Luke explains the logic of what is happening here beautifully. The leaders’ unwillingness to recognise the authority of Jesus is brutally exposed, their attempt to catch him out by accusing him of blasphemy backfires, and they go away humiliated and angry.
Possibly something else is going on here. To Jesus’ disciples this was a real triumph and a step on the road to him replacing them in leadership. But this can only have confirmed the leaders in their conviction that Jesus now had to go. The next time we see the Sanhedrin in force they are illegally trying Jesus and sentencing him to death. Jesus is deliberately contributing to his own arrest.
So the key question for us in this passage is: do we recognise the authority of Jesus, in our nation, in our homes, in our lives? That is the biggest question that confronts us. John MacDiarmid November 2015