On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?” Jesus answered and said to them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell Me: Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” They reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Luke 20:1-8 NASB)
Did you every hate it when your parents would tell you to obey “because I said so”? Have you ever heard the term, “it is what it is” (probably original with Yogi Berra)? Well, this word “authority” used here in Luke is sort of like that. In Greek usage, the word has both a legal and a simple “unhindered” usage. In other words, it refers to actions which are not prevented for some reason, but also to the right or legally granted right to act.
But the elders questions are not redundant because they examine two options. They first ask, “…in what sort of authority…”, and then “…who gave you this authority?”(emphasis mine) The connecting conjunction is “or”, meaning that both were not assumed to be true. Either Jesus had this authority derived from some quality, or the authority was derived from another Person. They didn’t consider it being both. It was ironic that, in Jesus’ case, it was actually both. He explains this ironic situation in His parable that follows.
Jesus explicitly refuses to answer. He bargains with them asking them to reveal what they thought of John’s Baptism. They feared the crowd stoning them (seriously?), so didn’t answer. Therefore Jesus refused to answer. But had He answered, what would He have said? How could He explain that He had the authority by qualitative nature of being the Son of God, and it was therefore also derived from God the Father? How do you explain that to people looking at a man in rumpled robes, dusty sandals, scraggly beard, and bad breath? He didn’t appear in such royal powerful qualities one would expect of Deity.
The truth we often miss is that the people saw a person, much like them. He was at least so much like them that He was too far removed from God to be any more like God than they were. How could they have been expected to see beyond the human before them to the divine beneath? We wouldn’t. So Jesus’ refusal to explicitly answer the question isn’t strange at all. In a sense, He also feared the crowd’s response. It wasn’t time, not yet. But soon, the crowd would be seeking His death, and it would be granted. Again, He explains that in the parable that follows as well.
So, what is my lesson? It has to do with authority. I believe that, as children of the Creator of the universe, we have authority. And I believe that, like Jesus, our authority is both qualitative and given. Our authority is derived from our status as children and given to us by our Father. I know I behave as if I have nothing, I’m poor, I’m wretched, I’m worthless, etc. But if I truly believe that my Master has redeemed me, then how can I believe those things about myself? Certainly my status before my Savior cannot be founded upon a personal quality within myself (self-righteousness). But He has justified me, and is sanctifying me. That means I am righteous because of His qualities.
I know that I tend to debase myself, probably in false humility, so that I don’t appear proud. But authentic assurance in qualities derived from my Master is not pride, it’s faith. I have authority derived from my Master, I ask and act in His name. In fact He commands me to act and ask in His name. I really struggle with this because it’s very easy for me to rely on myself and my abilities or knowledge. I can appear to “have it all together” to other people. The problem is that maintaining that facade drives me to crash and burn. I can’t believe my own press, for my own good. Instead I have to acknowledge the derived quality of my authority, and act authentically in His purpose and design.
I can dig further down, but that’s deep enough for one entry. What’s your view through the fence?