Matthew 21:23-27 Part 3

First this morning let me say some things about the “defense of the Faith”, as I promised last Lord’s Day.  As you all might imagine, this is a subject which, because of its unwieldiness, doesn’t easily conform to preaching; so it can’t be addressed comprehensively in a setting such as this one.  So I’m only going to “touch” on one aspect of it – as it relates to Jesus’ answer in the text.

It has already been noted that the pharisaical methodology was to trap and humiliate Jesus publicly so that He would be discredited among the crowds of His followers.  The elders of Israel set a “trap” (skandala) for Jesus in which, no matter what His answer was, He would be seen as an embarrassment by His followers.  In their opinion, every potential answer that He could give would be invalidated.  And by the very fact of His response to them, the elders would be seen as having the authoritative position!

Now, although it’s obvious, it must be noted here that this was not a sincere request for information or wisdom (such a request, in and of itself, would “recognize” authoritative teaching), but this approach (of the Sanhedrin) was, from the outset, full of craftiness and murderous intent!  So it should go without saying that what we’re dealing with here is not people who are truly searching for the Truth!  If it were so, then Jesus’ response to them would have been totally different.

But let’s see first that Jesus did not refuse to answer, which refusal would have been interpreted as a “tacit” admission of guilt; and He did not say that His authority was “from God” – an answer which would have elicited a requirement that He produce a sign from heaven; and He didn’t say that His authority was from man, in which He would have had to produce proof from a competing earthly authority.  He didn’t say any of those things they expected.

So He effectively removed all aspects of the trap which the Jewish leadership had carefully prepared.  Everything that they were going to say to Him after His response, was taken away from them!  But the main point here is the fact that, by not submitting to their interrogation in any expected way, He stripped them of their appearance of authority!

And I say “appearance” because even though the Sanhedrin was truly in authority in Israel, these men were hypocrites; which, in and of itself, doesn’t negate their authority.  A hypocrite in authority is in authority!  But the hypocritical facade becomes apparent in their ludicrous attempts to rule over God’s Messiah and control and direct the entire Messianic event to the benefit of their own interests!  That’s the nature of man, isn’t it?  To replace God’s authority!

So in order to take away any authority over the God/man which came to them by way of the “examiner/examinee” status, or the “questioner/questionee status, Jesus does nothing which they might have planned for and anticipate – but He reverses the roles and becomes the authoritative questioner and examiner!

Now, the point is, here, that even though the elders and priests did not convert and submit to Him, Jesus did not give up the authority of God and the authority of the Truth!  You see, the ultimate objective is with reference to God and not to men!  The conversion of men is not the highest good – but the glory and honor of God!  So to give up the authority of God in order to reach men and convert men is to place man in the priority position!  Jesus would not subjugate the highest good to a pragmatic good!

So, there was no common ground on which they could meet, compromise and agree; and there was nothing upon which they could agree to disagree!  These men were against the revealed and confirmed plan of God for the salvation of the world; and they stood squarely in the middle of the age-long Satanic attempt to interrupt and terminate God’s Messianic salvation and rule!  So Jesus would not, could not allow them to retain the authority!

Now, there are lessons to be learned here for us in our faithful living among unbelievers.  And the primary point to remember is that all men are under the authority of God and His revealed Word!  It is an inescapable fact, since we are all His creatures.  And to think and act otherwise is ludicrous and absurd!  And whether men and women act as if they are not under authority, doesn’t remove them from under that authority!

Now.  Leaving aside the issues concerning disobedient Christians (because it’s not germane to the text), there are only two kinds of human creations which exist on the face of this earth.  And they are 1) those who have their existence in Adam, and 2) those who are rebirthed in Christ.  All other distinctions are irrelevant.

By the love and grace of God, some of this dead and cursed humanity have been given a new and acceptable humanity in the resurrected body of Christ.  Jesus calls us “babes” and “children” because of our being “reborn”.  We are God’s workmanship, Paul says, “created in Christ Jesus”.  Once we were, by nature, “children of wrath”; but God, rich in mercy, made us alive together with Christ!  It was a free gift of God, undeserved by us.

But, on the other hand, there are many who freely and deservedly remain in a cursed and dead condition, suppressing the Truth and denying their own creaturehood!  They deny the fact that they are creatures of God (and thereby completely under His authority) – a relationship which, alone, gives meaning to their very existence!

And here is what is so important to us as believers, and as defenders of the Faith – that denial and suppression of the Truth is a rebellion of the whole man! – the consequences of which are:

1)    intellectual futility (all their thinking ends in futility, because it begins there),

2)    spiritual darkness (their foolish hearts are darkened),

3)    incredible stupidity (they willfully exchange the Truth for a lie),

4)    false religion (there is a proliferation of idolatry – whether crass or sophisticated; it can take the form of egocentrism, humanism, hedonism, materialism, intellectualism, or whatever, or all of the above!),

5)    gross immorality (the lust for the flesh grows very strong in absence of love for God, and, in most cases, degenerates into various kinds of perversion – promiscuity, adultery, whoremongering, homosexuality, etc.),

6)    and social depravity (individual rottenness inevitably infects all of society and is destructive of the structures which are so essential to civilized existence!).


So the whole man, dead in sin and cursed by God, examines and judges the Truth of God, and he willfully rules that it is foolishness and unacceptable, and he takes it upon his own authority to do what he will!

But that Truth is all around him, and in him, and he willfully cuts off his own life – and remains alienated from God, cursed and dead!  He wants it that way, even in the face of the clear facts that his only hope is repentance and submission to God and His authoritative Word!

Now, the Christian sees himself from God’s perspective, since God is primary and is our Authority; and he knows himself with respect to all of these things (because God has revealed it in His Word).  And faced with all this rebellion, and degeneracy, and alienation from God, and willful refusal to submit to God, we must not give up the authority of God and His Word, because that is the issue!  God is Creator of all, and all are under His Authority!

Do not let men or women of malice set the tone of have any authority over God and His Word!  This is a very, very serious arena – one in which we win (because of the Power and Might of Christ the King).  By His resurrection He has been given all power and Authority in all the created realm!  But the critical point in each and every instance is the authority of God!  Whenever a response is required of us, that must not be relinquished for any reason!

Friday morning as I was dressing for work in a motel in Monroe, La., I was watching Katie Kuric interviewing Billy Graham.  It was “Good Friday” (as it is now called in “Christian speak”), and the questions were naturally centered around “Easter” (a non-Christian term now used by most Christians) and Mr. Graham’s ministry.

And after a few leading “softball” questions concerning the “holy days” in the Christian community, Ms. Kuric then turned and threw him a real “hardball”.  And Mr. Graham promptly abdicated the throne of Christ, relinquished the authority of God, and left the watching audience in a hopeless condition!

Here was the question:  “Rev. Graham, in our current atmosphere of increased violence and hatred, a condition which seems to be rapidly deteriorating, during this “Easter” season what hope do you have for change in America?”

And under constraint of time, Billy answered:  “O Katie, I think we have every hope.  The nation seems to be searching right now for answers.  I see that every day.  And what they’re searching for is God.  And in all the religions they’re finding him.”

Now, that’s pretty obvious, so I’m not going to take any time to analyze the question or the answer for you.  We have to go to Jesus’ response to the Pharisees here in the text.  But please understand that the primary goal of glorifying God and testifying to His authority was not accomplished in Mr. Graham’s answer.  He said that in order to please the society!  His defense of the Faith was no defense at all, and it made me heart-sick for the condition of our people and the state of the Church.

When we are required to speak, Christians must speak in such a way that the authority of God and His Word be not relinquished in any way; that the Truth be not left without proper defense!

We see that very clearly in Jesus’ response to the elders and high priests, don’t we?  Let’s read it again, verse twenty-four:


“And responding Jesus says to them, ‘I, too, will ask you one thing which, if you tell me, I will tell you by what authority I do these things.  The baptism of John, whence was it? of heaven or of men?’”

We’ll analyze that in a minute; but let’s admit that we can’t all be that clever.  In fact, most people can’t be that clever certainly on the spur of the moment!  The point that I want to make first, though, is that Jesus turned their authority immediately!  As God the Son He, Himself, assumed His authority.  We can’t do that, because we don’t have it.  It is for us to turn that authority to God and His Word!  Not to us, but to “God said….”

Jesus, upon being required to speak, would not allow these men to retain any authority over Him.  He would not answer them upon being required to answer!  And His offer to answer if they would answer Him is even rhetorical in nature, because He knew that they could not answer Him.

But His very question to them reversed the positions immediately, and they went on the defensive as the ones being required to give an answer.  They became the ones being questioned and examined – by the Word of God!  No compromise; no middle ground; no meeting place; no starting point between the two!  The issue was God’s authority over His creatures!

Now, here’s the analysis of the position that these Pharisees find themselves in – in a public place in front of large crowds of people who believed John the baptist!  First, even though the Sanhedrin had sent out delegations to observe and question John the baptist, they had never declared their opinion of him.  And now, being required to publicly state that opinion, they find themselves in a real bind.  Because if they now say that John’s baptism was from heaven, Jesus will say, “Why then did you not believe him?”

You see, if the Pharisees now, publicly, state that John’s baptism was from heaven, they would be admitting that it was true, but that they neglected it, didn’t entertain it, didn’t study it, didn’t approve it, and didn’t teach it to the people!  If they admitted that it was true, then that’s an admission that John was the forerunner of God’s Messiah!  And since they said and did nothing about it until now, they would be shamed and humiliated!  They would look absurd as the teachers and leaders of Israel who so needed to be held in high esteem.

The thing that most leaders dread the most is having to admit that they’ve been wrong, or that they’ve neglected the truth, for years.  Self-centeredness is so strong, and the personal defense against humiliation so powerful, that an admission of long-term neglect of the Truth will hardly ever come!

I suspect that this is true among ministers in the conservative Presbyterian Churches who so oppose Postmillenialists and Theonomists.  Many will offhandedly dismiss it and rail against it because, if they study the Scriptures and admit that this is the clear teaching of Scripture, then they’ll have to admit that all their preaching in the past has been false!  And they can’t face that.

That’s the very position these Pharisees were in.  Except they were on the spot, in front of the crowds, with their authority in question!  Did they, or did they not, now receive the God-ordained nature of John’s baptism?  Did they, or did they not, accept John as the forerunner of Messiah?  And if they now do, why didn’t they believe him then; and why have they neglected the resurrection (reincarnation – return) of Elijah – the event which all of Israel has been looking for for over four hundred years?

And further, if they admit that John was from God, then they must admit that this man standing before them was Messiah – for John proclaimed it!

Secondly, if the elders say that John was not from heaven, but only a weirdo preaching his own words, then they risk being condemned, and maybe even attacked and removed, by this large number of people who held John to be the prophet Elijah!  These “rabble” of Israel had already demonstrated that they would do that!  And the elders of Israel, according to John chapter seven, at verse forty-nine, had already condemned these people as cursed and knowing nothing of the Law.  And the elders had become obnoxious to these people, fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi two, eight, which said, “I have made you contemptible.”

Proverb twenty-nine, verse twenty-five, says that the fear of men brings one into a snare.  But if the elders had had any integrity, they would have had no need to fear the people!  It’s men who study how to keep the people in fear, and contrive to make the people respect them, that always end up fearing the people!  That will be a lesson soon learned, I think, in our own time and with our own leaders.  Since there is a lying and deceitful manipulation of fear going on in high places, it shouldn’t be long, according to Scripture, until there is great fear of the people among our leaders.

Now, the only other option, in their thinking, open to these hypocrite leaders of Israel was to say, “We don’t know.” (the third option)  And if they choose that option, then they open themselves up as incompetent to be judicial authorities – the very subject of their own expertise! – unable to even discern the authenticity of a prophet!  If they can’t even declare themselves for or against the preaching of one man who was claimed to be a prophet, then how can they be esteemed as authorities in anything else?  How could they then recognize the Messiah when He arrived?

As the text says, they chose the third option – the one that they thought was the least harm to themselves!  They claimed they didn’t know.

That’s an answer that men resort to rather than tell the truth; and sometimes rather than tell a lie.  If the truth is damaging and humiliating, and if the risk is high that they might be caught in a lie, then “I don’t know,” or “I can’t remember,” or “I forgot,” is very convenient.

But the result of their “best answer” is that they aren’t fit in any way to judge Christ’s authority, since they don’t know about John’s!  Therefore, he that will be ignorant, let him be ignorant still!  Jesus says, “Neither do I say to you by what authority I do these things.”  Why, since you aren’t competent to judge John’s authority, should you be able to judge Mine, Jesus says, in essence.  And if you won’t declare yourself with regard to John, why should I declare Myself?

And the Pharisees are left in their humiliation before the people.  But, most of all, the authority of God was upheld, and God was glorified by His Son.  And in every instance in which we are required to speak, it must be God’s authority that must be retained!

Paul, in Romans one, says that men imprison the Truth in unrighteousness – and that’s either by refusing to profess it or by not practicing according to it.  And these are the ones who are denied the further truths that they inquire after.  Those that will not see, shall not see.  And the frightening thing for them is – they are still under the authority and judgment of God!

Next time Jesus continues, with great authority, to heap shame and condemnation upon the elders of Israel and the high priests of the temple.  He keeps on questioning them – this time by the use of an analogy concerning their hypocrisy.

As we approach the Table this morning it is by God’s authority, and for His glory, that we receive the sign and seal of His Covenant mercy in Christ Jesus the Lord.

And as we see the mark of God placed on the body of a Covenant child – Annecy Nicole Marsh – it is by God’s authority that we do so, because that’s what He said for us to do.