Sermon: “The Authority of Jesus”             

LSB Series A; Proper 21

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 27, 2020

Gospel Reading: Matthew 21:23-27

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

The Pharisees had a question. Actually they had two questions. Both were questions of authority. “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” In essence, they were saying… “Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are to come on our turf and do the things you have done?”

‘The things’ they were referring to were all the events of the past 24 hours. After raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus had entered into the streets of Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna” on what we now know as Palm Sunday. In the eyes of the religious leaders, the ‘whole world’ had gone after him. 

Then He had come into the temple and in a terror, He had flipped over the tables of money changers and those selling items for sacrifice. He had made a whip of cords and drove the people out. The great money making scheme of the Pharisees had been scattered and shattered.

And though they didn’t know about it, Jesus had also cursed a fig tree and it had died. And now here He was back in the temple, the very placed He had turned upside down the day before, and He was teaching. What audacity this man had! Who did He think He was?

          You may recall that a few weeks ago, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16).

          What Peter confessed that day, the Pharisees would have no part of. In no way would they admit that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah. To do so would mean that their power and authority would be gone. To do so would mean that they would have to humble themselves before Him. To do so would mean that they would have to submit.

          We see now why they got up in His face and questioned Him as they did. They had to stop this guy. They had to keep Him from threatening everything they held dear.

          But Jesus was wise to their plot. Instead of answering their question, He responded with a question of His own. This reminds me of my Greek Professor, Charles Froehlich. He was an amazing teacher, and he was so generous in the amount of office hours that he would make available to his students. As I battled with learning the language, I often found myself in the chair seated across from his desk, and there I would ask my questions. And without fail, every time, he would follow up my question with a question of his own. It drove me nuts. I was always like, “Why don’t you just answer the question?” But, you see, the good teacher that he was, it was not his goal to give answers, but to help us as students discover the answer for ourselves.

          No doubt the Pharisees went nuts when Jesus answered their questions with a question. No doubt they thought to themselves, “Why don’t you just answer the question, and be done?” But Jesus, is a good teacher, you see.

          He asked: “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?”

          It was enough to drive them mad. They couldn’t answer the question. If they said from heaven, they would be stuck because they hadn’t believed in him. If they said from man, they would have to face the wrath of the crowds, because they held John to be a prophet. So they were left dumbfounded, and could only say, “We don’t know.” So Jesus refused to tell them by what authority He did the things He did. (Pause)

          You see, as we examine this text, the question is not, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” The question is not even, “Who do you think you are?” The question really is directed at the Pharisees, “Who do you think you are to question the authority of the Almighty God in the flesh?”

          Jesus did not need to answer their questions simply because they didn’t come up with an answer to His question. He didn’t need to answer their questions because He is God. And God doesn’t have to answer to anyone. He can do whatever He pleases.

          If He saw fit to enter into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna” and then march into the temple and overturn tables and drive the people out, then so be it. If He saw fit to curse a fig tree and then enter into the temple and start teaching the day after He trashed the place, then so be it. He is God. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

          But the Pharisees didn’t want to submit to that truth, and unfortunately, we struggle to do so as well. Do we humbly submit to God? Do we pay heed to the message of John the Baptist and repent like the tax collectors and prostitutes who gathered by the river Jordan to hear him preach the good news, or are we like the Pharisees who were deemed a brood of vipers because they would not bear fruit in keeping with repentance?

          When we don’t like what the pastor is saying when what he is saying is based upon God’s Word, do we question his authority? Is the preacher called to speak by the authority of God or man? Answering those questions makes all the difference as to whether we pay attention or not.

          When God’s law is spoken to us, are we convicted in our sin, or do we dig our heels in, questioning Jesus’ authority in our lives, trying to justify our actions,  and in essence say, “Who do you think you are to tell me what to do?” Who do ‘we’ say the Son of Man is? Is Jesus God in our lives?

          What is our attitude toward the Almighty God? Is it one of humble submission, or are we more inclined to snub our nose upward at Him? Do we really think we know better than He does? Do we really think we have the authority to defy the living God?

          Sad to say, but we do? Every time we sin, we defy the authority of the living God. Every time we sin, we might as well be saying that we think we know better than God. Every time we sin, we might as well be saying, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority? Who gave you authority in my life to tell me what to do? Who do you think you are Jesus?”

          Dear brothers and sisters, we are in no place to question the authority of the Almighty God. Not ever. Not no way, not no how. We are never in the position to question Jesus’ authority in our lives. 

          So, why do we do it? We want the power. We want the authority. And though we may be creatures, created by God, we want to unseat the Creator.

          This is precisely what the message of John the Baptist is so crucial for us, day in and day out. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” 

In fact, the kingdom of God is here…today…in the Word, in the Sacraments…the Son of the Living God is present with us. And He calls us here today to confess our sins, turn from our sinful ways, and rejoice in submitting to His authority in our lives.

          By His authoritative Word, He spoke, and everything in all of creation came into being. The trees you see, the mountains, the oceans, the animals, and even you and me. Everything around us came into existence by His authority.

          When a young boy was filled with an unclean spirit, all Jesus had to do was rebuke the unclean spirit and command that it come out of him, and that is exactly what it did.

          When the storms rocked the boat on the Sea of Galilee, and the disciples were filled with fear, He walked on the water, pulled Peter up from drowning, and calmed the winds and the waves. All done by His authority.

          When in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Judas and the soldiers came to arrest him, Jesus asked, “Whom do you seek?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And when Jesus said to them, “I am He, they drew back and fell to the ground. All He had to do was identify Himself and they immediately fell to the ground. (John 18)

          Did you hear all of that? By His very Word the universe was created, demons submit to Him, storm submit to His command, soldiers fall to the ground in submission at the mentioning of His name. 

          And though He did all that, He did not hesitate to submit to the will of His Father’s authority to come to this world of sin. He did not hesitate to subject Himself to the conviction and sentencing of the so-called powers and authorities of the world. He humbled Himself, took the form of a servant, carried His cross, and gave His life. 

          As it says in the book of John: “For this reason the Father loves Him, because He lays down His life that He may take it up again. No one takes it from Him, but He lays it down of His own accord, He has the authority to lay it down, and He has the authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18).

The cross couldn’t hold Him, and the grave couldn’t keep Him. Crucified, dead, and buried, by the authority of the Almighty God, He burst forth from the tomb alive. And ascending into heaven, He declared, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). (Pause)

          We gather here today under the authority of the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Son of the Living God. Having confessed our sins, in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. 

          This is the One we confess to be Savior and Lord on this day, and all the way until the Last Day. And on that day, Christ will come with the sound of the trumpet and the voice of an archangel, and every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. In His name. Amen.

          The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.