By What Authority (Matthew 21)

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Service Notes

  • Liturgical Date: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 28, 2014
  • Order of Service: Matins
  • Hymns: LSB #557, 525, 728

Theme Verse

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" Jesus answered them, "I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?" And they discussed it among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From man,' we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet." So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21:23-27)

Sermon Text

By nature, each and every one of us is anti-establishment. Anti-authoritarian. We brace ourselves against any authority outside of ourselves. We drive faster than the posted speed limit. We grumble against the government. We complain about the Pastor or church council or Synod. We fight against any and every authority. We don't like authority that isn't centered in us. This is the essence of the First Commandment.

The chief priests and elders were the religious authority. If you had a question about religion or life, you asked them. Along comes Jesus. Refusing to listen to them. Refusing to ask for their judgment. Refusing to accept their authority. Why was Jesus anti-authoritarian? Jesus didn't recognize their authority over Him. They HAD no authority over Him. As the Son of God in the flesh, He IS the ultimate authority.

They demand to know His authoirty. Not recognizing THEIR authority, Jesus asks them, "The Baptism of John, from where did it come? From Heaven or from men?" (v25). This question is not about John at all. This question is about authority. This question is about repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Where does Jesus' authority come from? The same place as John's. God sent John to prepare the way for Jesus (Matthew 3:3; Isaiah 40:3). John himself says, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Matthew 3:11). John's Baptism brought about the remission of sin, but it was incomplete. John's Baptism still needed Jesus. John's Baptism still needed the Holy Spirit and fire. John's Baptism prepared the way for Jesus' Baptism.

But where is Baptism's authority to bring the remission of sins? I've written a book review on the church's blog about this same question. The book was written in the 1930s by a Lutheran pastor who converted to the Baptist Church. He didn't believe that the Bible teaches Baptismal Regeneration. That Baptism brings the forgiveness of sins and salvation. He believed that Baptism is only an OUTWARD symbol and work that a Christian does to SHOW their repentance.

What authority does Baptism have over your salvation? "Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water INCLUDED in God's command and COMBINED with God's Word" (SC IV 1). Baptism equals water plus God's Word. God's Word IS its authority. The Word comes to you and creates or strengthens faith in your heart. You need to hear the Word in order to believe (Romans 10:17). The Word that gave John the Baptizer his authority. The Word who IS the Son of God (John 1:1). Baptism's authority is God. The God who created Heaven and earth. Who called you to be His child. By His own authority.

By His authority, Jesus tells the parable of a father and his two sons. Both were asked to work in the vineyard. The first says, "No," but later changes his mind. The second says, "Yes," but has no intention of going. When the chief priests and elders reply that the first son did his father's will, Jesus expounds His authority over them.

"The tax collectors and prostitutes go into the Kingdom of God BEFORE you" (v31). The chief priests and elders were the second son. The religious elite. Who give God lip service but refuse to follow His teachings on repentance. Following their own traditions instead of God's commands (Matthew 15:1-20). Refusing to see the Word's authority over them. The tax collectors and prostitutes were the first son. They refused to listen to God or accept His authority over them. The tax collectors practiced their coveting even though God says, "You shall not covet." The prostitutes chased after any man who would pay for their services even though God says, "You shall not commit adultery." They refused to listen to God until John came along. His authoritative preaching opened their ears and their hearts to receive the Holy Spirit. Broke through their sin-stiffened hearts.

They flocked to hear God's authoritative message. There was substance in John's preaching a Baptism of repentance. So people also flocked to Jesus' preaching. "He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes" (Matthew 7:29). Jesus is constantly rebuked for exercising His authority. Because the second child doesn't want to hear the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. They want to have their checklist so they can measure themselves against the poor sap next to them. But the first child hears the message and it works upon their hearts. They desire to hear the great authority of sins forgiven. Life everlasting. Where Christ's true authority lies. His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins. Given to you in Baptism. You now rejoice in His authority over you. Because you have been forgiven of all your sins.

By nature, we are anti-authority. But Jesus comes along with His authority. His preaching of repentance. Breaks through our defenses. Turning our hearts to yearn for the truth of His message. To recognize His authority over us. To come to Him as the Son of God who came down from Heaven to give us His authority. The authority of sins forgiven. The authority of life everlasting. Amen.