The battle for authority
Luke 20: 1-8 “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. 2 “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?” 3 He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: 4 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?” 5 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.” 7 So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.” 8 Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
3:21-22 “When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
That seems a long time ago. However, not only did Jesus live in the light of what happened, Luke was writing his gospel with this very much in mind. The scene in the Jordan River propelled Jesus forward in the authority that was his. Luke has the cross and the resurrection very much in mind throughout his gospel. This was the ultimate battle in answering the question, “…by what authority are you doing these things?” (v2) Luke is not so much seeing the fiercest battle with the High Priest and his entourage but with Caesar.
Luke 2:1 “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.”
We will read soon these verses, 20: 22-25 “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not? …”Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied … He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
The religious leaders incredulously are seen to support the authority of Caesar (who they hate and oppose) in order to seek the downfall of Jesus in Luke 23: 2 “And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”
At the crucifixion around the cross stood the authority of the world, the power of religion and the power of the world system. The religious leaders representing the High Priest and the Roman soldiers, the representatives of Caesar. When Jesus rose from the grave, the declaration was that of Jesus having the highest authority!
So back to the Temple. “What gives you the right to come into this Temple of great authoritative structures with the High Priest being the final authority and do what you have just done? Who gave you this authority?”
Jesus takes them right back to the Jordan River, to John the Baptist, who they hated for declaring the Messiah title on Jesus. He doesn’t ask “Was John the Baptist sent from heaven?” But they are asked about the baptism. That’s where it really happened. That is the moment of the Messiah authority. It was ingenious. He had trapped them and they knew it, for John the Baptist was a hero amongst the people. I can imagine Luke writing with a smile.
Now here is the challenge. How do we see the authority of Jesus displayed in our churches and in our lives as we live in this power-hungry world? What kind of Jesus do we portray? How do we reveal Him as Master, Owner, Keeper, Lord of all, Sovereign and Final Authority on all things?
That has to mean at least over-turned tables in the Temple.
This kind of authority will offend someone.
The outworking of the battle for authority has been displayed in every generation. Sadly, history reveals the Church doesn’t cover itself in glory with this. Either it rises beyond its status with a man-made authority or it buckles and gives way to the pressure of the authority of the world. The Church that goes to the cross, surrenders and lays its life down for others, is the body of Christ that displays true authority.
May we walk in that authority today.