Matthew 21:23-27 Baptism Sermon

Matthew 21:23-27

Baptism Sermon


First, on a Sunday morning in which we once again participate in the mark and the seal of the Covenant, let me say some things about the “defense of the Faith”.  As we spiral downward into a morality morass in this country, it becomes ever more important for us to learn how to do it.  The apostles of our Lord and our Reformation forefathers continually enjoin us to “improve our baptisms”; and they require us to “be ready to give an answer”.

As you all might imagine, “defending the Faith” 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… unless it’s done in a more lengthy series; so I’m only going to “touch” on one aspect of it – as it relates to Jesus’ answer to the priests and elders and pharisees in our text.

It has been noted, in this text and a number of others, 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 the opinion of Israel’s leaders, every potential answer that Jesus 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 by the priests and Pharisees 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 case He would have had to produce proof from a competing earthly authority.  He didn’t say any of those things that they expected.

So He effectively removed all aspects of the trap which the judaist  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 God-given 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 negate or 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 anticipated – 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 which they attempted to exercise!  The highest good was the authority of God.

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 into 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 (new creations) 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:

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

·      spiritual darkness (their foolish hearts are darkened),

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

·      false religion (there is a proliferation of idolatry – whether crass or sophisticated; it can be as crass as actual objects made by hand, or it can take the form of egocentrism, humanism, hedonism, materialism, intellectualism, or whatever “ism”, or all of the above!),

·      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, bestiality, etc.),

·      and social depravity (individual rottenness inevitably infects the rest of society and culture, 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 you see, that Truth (which he has deemed unacceptable) 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 or 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!  And the critical point in each and every instance in which we defend the Faith is the authority of The Christ!  Whenever a response is required of us, that must not be relinquished for any reason!

One morning years ago as I was dressing for work in a motel, 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 around 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?”

Now, as we sit here this morning, we know that that “change” has indeed occurred!  But at that time, and under constraint of air 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 I still remember that 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; that the conversations that we have leave the authority of God entirely intact!

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.  John’s baptism, 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 – O LOGOS.  No compromise; no middle ground; no meeting place; no starting point between the two!  The issue was God’s authority over His creatures!  That was first and foremost!

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 and had repented (as had been required of Israel by all of the prophets)!  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 (and repent)?”

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, didn’t repent, and didn’t teach repentance 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 hardly ever comes!

I suspect that this is true among ministers in Churches who so oppose a Biblical eschatology, and Theonomy, and Biblical Law in civil government, and both signs of the covenant for all members of the covenant.  Many will offhandedly dismiss these things and rail against them because, if they study the Scriptures and admit that these are the clear Word of God, then they’ll have to admit that their preaching and teaching in the past has been false!  And they can’t face that.

That’s the very position these Pharisees were in.  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 who came baptizing with the baptism of repentance?  And if they now do, why didn’t they believe him then; and why have they neglected the resurrection ( 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: “LO!  The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world”.

Secondly, if the elders say that John was not from heaven, but only a weirdo preaching his own words, then they risk being ridiculed, condemned, and maybe even attacked and removed, by this large number of people who held John to be the prophet Elijah who prophesied the forerunner of the Christ! 

These “rabble” of Israel, the thousands following Jesus, 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 already become obnoxious to these people, fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi two, verse 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 (a skandala – not a “stumbling block” as most translations have it).  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.” (that’s 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 harmful 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” 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 is 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 of God!  And His judgment.

Jesus continues then, 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 by the use of analogies concerning their hypocrisy, their hypocrisy arising from assuming their own authority!

And now, as we see the mark of God placed on the bodies of Covenant children – it is by God’s authority that we do so, because that’s what He requires us to do.  Should they have the mark of God on them, they are under His authority.  Should they not have the mark of God, they are under His authority.  So, you see baptism isn’t a matter of choice as to whose authority one personally subscribes!

An outline of Colossians chapter two (with its many explicit as well as implicit repeats of the theme) reveals the central issue, doesn’t it: union with Christ. This Union changes the heart. This Union, among other results, makes one "know", verse two; especially the wisdom and knowledge, verse three; it makes one resistant to deception, verse four; alive, verse six; grounded in truth, verse seven; liberated, verse eight; alive, verse thirteen; lacking nothing for salvation, verses fourteen and beyond.  Both circumcision, verse eleven, and baptism verse twelve, signify this union. Both sign and seal the same message. While the two signs must differ (for example, no more shedding of blood), they both signify and seal the same – union in Christ.

Among other themes, both, albeit by different signs, declare the utter sinfulness of people, the necessity for holiness, their inability of themselves to get clean and right with God, the life and death seriousness not only of sinful acts, but even that of a sinful nature, the provision of God, the certainty of purification for all who take God at his word, and the inescapable judgment for unbelief. These are ideas about Union that, especially when all together, Christians call the "Gospel of God concerning His Son".

Both circumcision and baptism also seal the message signified, in that each provides a visible stamp, a sensible sign that says God guarantees that Gospel – that it is true.

You say you don't believe in sin?  You don’t believe that babies are not innocent, but must come to Christ for salvation? You don’t believe that you yourself need salvation?  You don’t believe that God can and will save all who trust his provision? You've got proof: it’s the seals of the covenant.

Thus a witnessed baptism demands the submission of those witnessing it, because they’re watching the verification of the Covenant – that baptism declares the holiness of God, His requirements, His provision, and the coming condemnation for any who would defy him.  With such an equation between the older circumcision and baptism where Paul uses them interchangeably, how dare any refuse baptizing their children?  That refusal is rebellion; and it equals resisting authority, a resistance which God takes so seriously that he speaks of it as placing a covenant curse upon one's children.

While I remain thankful that God at times overrules such sin, and being humbly aware that I, too, most definitely need such overruling provisions of grace, I still shudder to think of the fist shaking opposition to God’s provision that goes on in baptistic thinking.

You say you don’t see any instances of babies being baptized in the New Testament?  Well, where do you see any instances of women receiving communion in the New Testament!!!?  It’s because God’s covenantal Word is ONE – not two!  So, why is there imposed upon God’s Word such a hermeneutic that the older Scripture is ruled dispensationally obsolete!!!

As to church history, of course I expect to find it confused. Just look at the Church here two thousand years into the progress of our Lord’s Kingdom!  One can properly observe that from the earliest records church history does include padeobaptists and also non- padeobaptists. But the bigger picture remains. The confusion does not conceal that the majority of the Christian church has always, notwithstanding anabaptist polemic, practiced whole-household baptism. That the fringes and  the cults did so also merely cinches this universality.  Anabaptists would excommunicate nearly all the church of history by the imposition of that false hermeneutic!

The Biblical doctrine of covenant continuity is a conclusion from, rather than an imposition on, Scripture. That is, antecedent to the Reformed view is a hermeneutic, itself derived from Scripture, which recognizes that the Bible regards the whole of scripture as one Word of God, all Christian, presently binding, presently inseparably related. Whereas the Baptist hermeneutic excludes the possibility of covenant continuity. Part of the reason the Baptist reflexively denies the obvious is that there is a hermeneutic foreign to Scripture that’s imposed upon it!  And because the hermeneutic is foreign to Scripture, they read it – not as a whole, but - as two separate parts, the first part being Jewish (and about the law); the second part being Christian (and about grace).  That’s a false and damnable hermeneutic; and it has caused the excommunication of countless children of professing parents.

Lastly, let me remind you of the horrific persecution of the Christian Church under the Roman empire during the two hundred and sixty years following our Lord’s Parousia.   Previously we spent a scant hour outlining that persecution, and mentioning eight or nine men of substance that God raised up in the early Church.

One of those men of faith and great theological substance was Cyprian of Carthage.  He would never relinquish the authority of the Risen and Ascended Christ.  For He is the Word of God Who spoke through the prophets; and He is the same yesterday, today and for ever.

In chastening one who had “other ideas” about baptism, Cyprian wrote this (in about 250AD):  “So you think that one who has just been born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day?  However, we all thought very differently in our council....  Rather, we all believe that the mercy and grace of God is not refused to anyone born of man... … for what is lacking to him who has once been formed in the womb by the (very) hand of God?"

So, those who say that the baptism of the children of believers isn’t covenantally connected to circumcision in the doctrine of the early Church, are simply immune to the truth.

We, by nature of our Federal Theology, hold that all those who are born to the visible church are citizens by birthright and are entitled to recognition as such, and to the benefits of that citizenship. We view baptism as truly sacramental.  And the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ must never be relinquished or questioned.  All of the children of believers must bear His mark and His seal.  For, as Paul says, the children of even one believing parent are holy.

The mark of baptism is the covenantal sign of our Lord’s authority over us and our children; and it seals the Truth of the Gospel of God concerning His Son Jesus the Christ.