As a preacher, there is a reticent concern of mine that one day while I am preaching someone will stand up and cause a scene. I have heard of this kind of thing happening to some preachers I know. In fact, recently a congregation had their worship interrupted by militant Taoists. I suppose no one likes interruptions, but they must be dealt with when they happen. One day, Jesus was teaching and preaching the gospel in the temple when he was interrupted by some opponents of his (scribes and chief priests with elders of Israel). We read about this confrontation in Luke 20.1-8.
In verse 2, we see the demands they make of Jesus. Again, I picutre mid-sermon, making a point about the gospel of the kingdom of God, the crowd is enthralled, hanging on his every word (see 19.48)…when one of the religious leaders shouts out, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority” (ESV, emphasis mine). Really? Well, I suppose it was a good question. We want to do “bible things in bible ways” and “call bible things by bible names” – in other words, get to the original authority. I think we can appreciate this to a degree.
But at the same time, this is an open affront to Jesus and his power. The word “authority” (Gk. exousia) means “power” or the right to act in such a manner. So they are asking what power does Jesus claim to be doing this (which they have previously accused him of using the power of the devil to do his miracles) or who gave him his power (God, man, demons). Where did his power come from to do “these things.” What things? Teach and preach perhaps (context). But perhaps even reaching back into ch.19 and the cleansing of the temple. Who gave Jesus the power to do this? By the way, these questions have already been answered during his ministry: it is by the “finger of God” that he healed and cast out demons. The marvelous deeds (miracles) were more than just side-show attractions; they were designed to be signs of who Jesus is (the Christ, the Son of God) and where he has come from (heaven). These opponents are missing it.
Jesus meets their demands with a question: What about John’s baptism? Where did it come from? Here is a very good discussion tactic: answer a question with another question. It is an interesting question and presents His opponents with an interesting dilema. And they recognize the dilema! Should they say from heaven, they’re stuck…should they say from man, their stuck. But you dig a little deeper and you see the impact of this. Jesus is introduced by John as the one whom John had been preparing the way for: the Lamb of God. If these opponents say John’s baptism was from heaven and John gave Jesus the divine stamp of approval, why are they refusing to follow Jesus? In other words, why do they not believe Jesus? Conversely, should they reject the heaven sent messanger John, their popularity and influence is in serious jeopardy with the people, something they can’t afford to happen.
Realizing their defeat, they cannot answer. They do not know how to answer Jesus. Their ignorance delivers a serious blow to their prestige. So you have these interpreters and copyists of the law, these people who were experts of the Law…and they answer, “We don’t know.” But here is the rub: this is not a story about Jesus outwitting these poor, pathetic proponents of the Law; this is all about the rejection of divine authority by these “crooked, cringing hypocrites.” Authority is staring them in the face as they make their demands: God in the flesh stand before them in absolute humility. John’s message had divine apporval and prophectic mandate. Again and again, Jesus put on clear display the hand of God and the doctrine of God. But these “blind guides” refused to accept the divine authority and failed to recognize the true purpose of God for their lives. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego facing the fiery furnace, Jesus facing his opponents who in a few will put him death in essence says, “I have no need to answer you in this matter.” Round 1: Jesus.