Living with Christ in the Shadow of the Cross (Matt. 21:23-27)

Living with Christ in the Shadow of the Cross:
“The Authority of Jesus: Matthew 21:23-27”

This chapter begins the last week of Jesus’ life on earth until His resurrection. Jesus was in Jericho at the end of chapter 20; it was about 15 miles to Jerusalem from here.

The King arrives in the city of Jerusalem (21:1-11), but not on a war horse, a stallion, but on a donkey’s foal. This illustrates His humility and it puts a lie to the accusation that Jesus intended to incite Israel, as a king, against the nation of Rome. Following that symbolic event, Jesus drives money-changers out of His Father’s house (21:12-17). Driving the money-changers out of the temple indicated a judgment on the temple and its occupants. The cursing of the fig tree (21:18-22) was an object lesson with the same message.

The antagonism between Jesus and the Jewish leadership reaches a crescendo when Jesus is crucified on Friday. In this chapter, the leaders ask Jesus about His source of authority (perhaps referring to Him driving out the money-changers or healing the blind and lame, or referring to His whole life and teaching): 21:23-27. In order to answer His critics, Jesus gives three parables, one illustrating the repentance of the sincere (21:28-32), one illustrating the judgment on the impenitent (21:33-46), and one illustrating the grace of God (22:1-14).




The chief priests’ and elders’ question: 21:23:
Verse 23 notes that Jesus entered the temple. Some scholars believe this is Tuesday of the fateful week, the next day after the cleansing of the temple and cursing the barren fig tree.

Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, He made the statement that He is greater than the temple (12:6). The chief priests and elders are indignant that they cannot stop neither Jesus nor the crowds’ positive response to Him. In this text, they challenge His authority: “By what authority these things do you do?” They refer, perhaps, to driving out the money changers, perhaps to the teachings He has been giving, perhaps to healing the lame in the temple complex (21:14), perhaps all of these and more. “And who to you gave this authority?”

When I was a child, in my teenage years, I would sometimes be bossy, especially to my younger brother. My mom would often ask me the question: “Who died and left you in charge?” The question of authority - who has the right to tell us what to do? Who has the right to regulate our behavior? Who has the right to regulate worship? Who has the right to make rules for the church of Christ? Those are all legitimate questions. It is a legitimate question that the chief priests and elders ask Jesus on this question.

Jesus’ question in reply - 21:24-25:
Jesus responded, as rabbis often did, with a question of His own: “The immersion of John, from whence was it? From heaven or from men?” This was a simple question. Uninspired men simply do not call on others to repent of their sins! It is far more advantageous and profitable in man’s world to tell people what they want to hear and encourage them in their own path.

How did the chief priests and elders, as well as the Jews themselves know that John the baptizer was teaching the truth? John did not perform miracles, as the Jews acknowledged in John 10:41. How was he able to gain the trust of the people so that they would respond to his message? Two things come to mind:

1. First, John’s message was practically no different than the message of the OT prophets like Isaiah and Zephaniah: repentance. Give your heart to God and submit your lives to the teachings of His law. The two things different between John and the prophets is that John preached immersion for the forgiveness of sins; now, washing in water was not completely foreign to practice in the temple since the priests were required to wash before they entered the temple, but John’s associating immersion with forgiveness of sins was a unique addition to the message of the prophets.

2. Secondly, John’s message was a little different than the prophets in that John was preaching - in contrast to them - that the Messiah had come. That is what the Jews acknowledge about John in John 10:41: “Everything John said about this man [Christ] was true.”

Now, relative to the teaching of John’s baptism, I invite you to go to Luke 7:29-30: “When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.” It was God’s purpose for the Jews to be baptized by John, for the forgiveness of their sins. When Jews obeyed the message of John, they acknowledged God’s justice, against sin and His justice in providing a way to be forgiven of that sin. Many of the Pharisees and lawyers, however, exercised their free will and rejected God’s purpose for them. In fact, as we see here in our text from Matthew 21, they completely rejected the authority John had to preach and require what he did.

The chief priests’ and elders’ deliberations - 21:25-26:
Matthew, miraculously, gives us insight into their deliberations. If they answered “from heaven,” they knew Jesus would challenge them to obey John’s preaching (see 3:8-10), including John’s message about Jesus (see John 1:29). They could not afford, theologically, to give that answer! But, if they answered as their heart led them, “from men,” they feared the common Jew who held John as a prophet. The answer was simple but prejudice dictated that they respond, “We do not know.” That is a perfectly cowardly response.

Jesus’ implementation of Proverbs 26:4 - 21:27:
Jesus, then, refused to play their game and refused to answer their question. The answer, truly, was in front of their very eyes.

The chief priests and scribes were correct in asking about authority. There is nothing wrong with questioning one’s authority. We must obey Jesus’ authority in order to be saved (Heb. 5:8-9). Their problem was that they did not want to accept the answer.

The wise man warned that we should not “answer a fool according to his folly” (Prov. 26:4). Some questions do not need to be answered, if the questioner is prejudiced and intends to use the answer maliciously.

Consider these texts: 1 Timothy 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:9.

We also ought to be careful and be humble toward the word of God and accept whatever the Scriptures teach us and not try to twist passages if they clearly teach something we have not believed before (see 2 Peter 3:14-16).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had his protagonist, Sherlock Holmes state: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

There is a lot of truth behind that statement. When you have eliminated the impossible relative to the existence of this world and its intricate details, the “improbable” - that God exists - is the truth. All the truths that we in the churches of Christ hold - especially I’m referring to those doctrines that make us distinct from even conservative Protestant groups (like immersion is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, instrumental music in worship is sinful, a divorce can only be for sexual immorality if a second marriage is to be entered) - those truths fall under this same statement. You can make arguments against those positions but all those arguments end in a mess. When you have eliminated the impossible - all those arguments that people make to justify their positions - whatever remains - the simple, basic, straightforward reading of the NT, however “improbable” must be the truth. It all hinges on the authority of Jesus Christ.

Now, Jesus continues to give something of an answer to the question in the next two-three parables…

Keep in mind the question the chief priests and elders have asked Jesus when you read the next three parables. The point of the “Parable of the Two Sons” is in verses 31-32.

The point of the “Parable of the Land Owner” is in verses 43-44.

The point of the “Parable of the Marriage Feast” is in 22:11-14. We will be “called” based on our response to the authority of Christ.

Take home message: Let us continually submit ourselves to the authority of Jesus Christ in every aspect of our lives.


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