Praise Be To God That We Are Not The Final Authority

Text: Matthew 21:23-27 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord  Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In times gone by we have come to witness that the relationship between mankind and various authorities has not necessarily been a pleasant arrangement.  A brief glance at history will show us various groups of people rejecting unrighteous and even righteous authorities. Indeed, throughout history people have rejected military authorities, government authorities, social authorities, financial authorities, and even religious authorities.  There tends to be friction between those who are subjugated and those who are in authoritative positions.  In other words, humanity is not very good at submitting to authority or being under control.

Why is this so?

It is so because the one who is in authority typically has power and control, whereas the subjugated ones do not.  This power and control can either be military power, ethical power, financial power, religious power, and so forth.  Indeed, power and control are connected to authority; therefore, if someone has authority they have the right and possibly the means to exert power over someone underneath them. 

As a result of this, those who are under authority, and its power, will often question those in authority.  Otherwise stated, if one doesn’t agree with the way power and control are being exerted over them, they will most times, more often than not, go after a person’s authority.  If authority can be eroded, power and control will wear down as well.  

Since the questioning and erosion of authority is nothing new, it is no surprise to us that Jesus’ authority was questioned as well.  As we heard in today’s Gospel reading, the elders and chief priests said to Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you this authority?”  Now, the reason why Jesus was questioned was not merely because He was teaching in the temple, for it was very common for many people came to the temple to teach.  Rather, His authority was questioned because He exerted great power and control; power and control that certainly threatened the religious establishment of the day.  You see, one only needs to look in our Gospel to the verses that come before, that is, what Jesus did right before His authority was challenged by the elders and the chief priests.  Let me explain.

The day before Jesus’ authority was challenged He made a whip out of some cords and began to drive everyone and everything from the temple.  Yes, Jesus came to the temple and drove out the cattle and the sheep, along with all the marketers.  He scattered the coins and overturned the tables, and ordered those who sold the doves to “get these out of here!  How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”  There is no doubt about it that Jesus’ power was displayed with His mighty zeal uprooting the market from the temple.  In a word, the power and control of Jesus came upon the temple and it came into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday.  Jesus essentially triggered the conflict over authority when His powerful teaching and actions rubbed against the established power.

It is no wonder why Jesus’ authority was questioned.  The religious leaders knew about the overturned temple, they knew about Jesus’ miracles, and they knew about His powerful teaching.  So, they demanded proof of His authority, not to simply learn, but with the hope that they might snag Him in an error, so that they could somehow shred His authority.  If they could strip Jesus of His authority, they would then be able to dismiss, remove, and push Jesus’ power and control off to the side and remain in power themselves.  What are at stake are power, status, and control between Jesus and the religious leaders. 

As much as we don’t like admitting it, you and I are just like the religious leaders.  We really are.  In fact our whole culture is just like the religious leaders.  The reason why?  We do not enjoy the authority of another over top of us.  It grates at our independent spirit.  It offends our own ideas, agendas, and self-worth. 

We see this denial of authority most prevalent in the way that God’s Word has been and is trampled upon.  Why is the authority of God’s Word trampled upon by secular culture and even some church denominations?  Well, if the scriptures are not the Word of God, but merely contain the Word of God, then certain portions of the scripture are not authoritative, which means that they cannot exert control and power over specific areas of our lives. 

Permit me to give just one of the many examples where this is the case.  The scriptures assert that our bodies are not our own to do with as we wish.  Rather, our bodies are shrines of the Spirit, are bought with a price, and agents through which God is glorified.  This means that through and within marriage, the Lord binds a man and a woman together sexually speaking.  Yes, a man’s body does not belong to him and a woman’s body does not belong to her according to God’s Word, but rather they belong to each other within the holy institution of marriage.[1]  Because you and I, as well as our culture, do not like this power and control over top of us, especially sexually speaking, what results is that the authority of God’s Word is minimized on this subject.  Minimizing the authoritative Word on this subject strips marriage of its holy institutional status; it crumbles the power of marriage, which then allows it to be redefined, which then results in premarital sex, homosexuality, cohabitation, and so forth being the accepted norms of the day.
My friends, this is just one example among many.  Tragically this happens in so many ways inside and outside the church.  The authority of the Lord’s Word is dismissed or diminished, so that its power and control can be eliminated or eased, so that we can be in control and exert our own power and authority. 

With power and authority in our own hands we are, “like the Old Testament Israelites, [who] often took it upon themselves to judge what's right or wrong, just or unjust, regardless of what God had already said on the matter.  [Indeed my friends,] look no further than arguments surrounding [you and me today]. . .  homosexuality, abortion, or speaking out against false gods and false, unionistic/syncretistic worship.  In every instance, those who speak what God has already spoken—by His authority—are decried as bigots, hate-mongers, and intolerant”[2] for God’s powerful Word wars against the opinions and crafty teachings of the children of man.

Put bluntly, being under Christ’s authority and the authority of the Word means that we are not in control and that we are not in power.  Indeed, none of you here, me included, appreciate being submissive to the Lord.  We do not like being put in our place, but rather enjoy being in the driver’s seat where we get to call the shots and be in control. We want control, power, and authority over our lives, over our little empires, over our tongues, over our words, over our bodies, over our relationship, over our finances, over our agendas, over our ideas, and even over the churches that we attend. 

When power and control are in our authority, we convince ourselves that everything is correct; however, when our control and power are threatened, like the chief priests and elders, we too attempt to stay in control.  Whether we realize it or not, when our authority is threatened we discredit and undercut every authority that could potential unseat us from our thrones.   

In fact, it would please our old Adam, that is, our sinful flesh, if God were simply dead, so that there would be no authority above mankind; resulting in mankind being supposedly liberated by  not being accountable to another power.

Tragically, my friends this idea of wanting authority is very enticing for each and every one of us.  There is just one problem with this way of thinking.  If we could actually seize all authority in heaven and earth, do we even have the ability to exercise ultimate power and control?  Otherwise stated, if we invade the Lord’s realm of power, control, and authority—which is exactly what happened with Adam and Eve—do we even have that ability to do the things that matter most; things such as: forgive sins, create a clean conscience, conquer death, resurrect our dead bodies, and bring about a new creation?  We certainly do not, for we did not die and rise from the grave, rather Jesus did. 

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on you and me. 

Blessed Saints, praise be to God that we are not the final authority, that life is not dependent on our power and our control!  Even if we could possess final authority, power, and control why would we even want it?  Frankly, I don’t want anything left in my own hands, except that which the Lord gives as gift to me.   

In light of everything that we have heard thus far, scripture does testify to us though that there is ultimate power, control, and authority.  It testifies that these things are not found with us, but with someone else.  Yes, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus.[3]  Furthermore, Jesus has been given authority to forgive sins.[4]  Truly, all authority has been given to Christ to grant eternal life, as well as to destroy all evil rule and all evil authority.  This authority, power, and control are given to Him—for your sake.  Indeed, “Jesus had divine authority over all creation, even over those who questioned His authority.  Nevertheless, just days after this incident took place [in today’s Gospel reading], He would submit to human authority, even to the very people who questioned His authority, that He might be crucified for the sins of the world!”[5]

Yes, the one who had all power and authority submits Himself willingly to the control of mankind.  No fussing.  No complaining.  No fighting.  No rebelling.  No revolting.  The powerful and authoritative Christ descends lowly on His own accord: stripping Himself and taking the form of a slave.  Being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.[6]       

“Ultimately Jesus’ divine authority would be revealed once again, in his glorious resurrection from the dead.  Jesus’ victory over sin and death throws open the doors of the kingdom of God to believers repenting of even the greatest sins . . . [Jesus] by word, by bread and wine and by water, rules every aspect of your life, with grace, mercy and forgiveness.”[7]

Yes, since Jesus has all authority and power over you, His authority and power hold you, keep you, and preserve you in the one true faith until the last day where every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 


[1] Bruce W. Winter, After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Eerdmans Publishing, 2001), 215-232.

[2] Jason Zirbel. “Authority Vs. Power.” 25 September 2001. (26 Sept 2014). [Note: Tenses in the quote were adjusted to reflect the paragraph context]

[3] Matthew 28:18.

[4] Mark 2:10.

[5] Alan Taylor. “Authority” 28 September 2014 (26 September 2014).

[6] Philippians 2:6-ff

[7] Alan Taylor. “Authority”

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