By His Authority/October 8, 2017


Second Baptist Lincoln

October 8, 2017

By His Authority

Matthew 21:23-27                          

23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. "By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you this authority?"
24 Jesus replied, "I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
25 John's baptism--where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?" They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?'
26 But if we say, 'From men'--we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet."
27 So they answered Jesus, "We don't know." Then he said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

When Christian Herter was governor of Massachusetts, he was running hard for a second term in office. One day, after a busy morning chasing votes (and no lunch) he arrived at a church barbecue. It was late afternoon and Herter was famished. As Herter moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman serving chicken. She put a piece on his plate and turned to the next person in line.   "Excuse me," Governor Herter said, "do you mind if I have another piece of chicken?"  "Sorry," the woman told him. "I'm supposed to give one piece of chicken to each person."   "But I'm starved," the governor said.   "Sorry," the woman said again. "Only one to a customer."   Governor Herter was a modest and unassuming man, but he decided that this time he would throw a little weight around.  "Do you know who I am?" he said. "I am the governor of this state."   "Do you know who I am?" the woman said. "I'm the lady in charge of the chicken. Move along, mister."

Authority.  There are many who like to “pull rank.”  There are many who believe that their position in life should give them the honor of respect, but that is not always true.  It didn’t seem to be true in the case of Jesus as the Chief priests and teachers quizzed him down about his authority with the idea of tricking him into saying he was equal with God – giving them the benefit of tagging him as a heretic and blasphemous man.

In today’s text, we don’t get a lot of answers, but we do get a question followed by a second question.  “By what authority are you doing these things?  AND Who gave you this authority?”  This passage never answers that question.  Jesus told them if they could answer the question about whose authority John’s baptism was done with, then he would answer their question.  They could not answer the question and neither was he willing to answer their questions.  BUT this poses an important question for us today.  A question largely ignored by the evangelical church today.  The question is that of the power and authority of Jesus.

Dr. David Bryant, a man who is part of the national prayer movement that sponsors the National Day of Prayer held the first week of May every year wrote a wonderful book that has a prominent place on my shelf.  It is titled, Christ Is All! A Joyful Manifesto on the Supremacy of God's Son.In the early part of the book, he describes how the evangelical church has made a dramatic departure from focusing on the power and supremacy of Christ.   In the book Bryants quotes Dr. Dallas Willard who asks this question:  “Why is today’s church so weak?  Why are Christians indistinguishable from the world?  The poor result is not in spite of what we teach and how we teach, but precisely because of it.  The power of Jesus has been cut off from ordinary human existence.”   What he is saying is that we have been teaching a different Gospel that basically describes Jesus as a good example to us and one who will step out and help us when we are in trouble.

We picture him as a little baby in a manger or a savior dying on the cross.  In between he held little children on his knee and healed people.  Yet this same Jesus has so little power and significance in our lives that we forget about him when we walk out of the sanctuary.  We don’t even like to utter his name because we might offend our non-Christians friends.  He is so powerless and meaningless in our lives that we don’t even bother worshiping him.  We come to hear a sermon ABOUT him, but we still have not experienced his power and authority in our lives.  As a pastor, I’ve minimized his role and person in my teaching and preaching.   What we’ve done is reduced Jesus to a mascot.  Let me explain.  How many Vikings fans do we have here today? 

 I think most of you are familiar with Herbie Husker and Little Red, mascots of the the Nebraska Cornhuskers. They hang out at football games, basketball games, volleyball matches, and even a few special appearances.  They are part of our image and our branding.  They are there to excite the fans and charm little children.    But then when the team is on the field playing, Herbie Husker and Little Red step back, sometimes even out of the sight of the fans.  They are there when the team is down and needing support from the fans.  But when they are done with their act, they step back.  They have served the team well.  What happens when the team hits a losing season?  Do they assist in the win.  Does their work really help?  The mascot goes out there and gets the fans excited only to see the other team outplay the Huskers once again.  It almost seems foolish and ridiculous.  We are reminded of how helpless our team is.

 In the church today, Jesus has been relegated as a mascot.  We trot him out to cheer us up and give us vigor and vision and to assure us that we are “somebodies”.  He lifts our spirits and revives our souls.  We invite him to reinforce the great things we want to do for God.  We look to him to reinvigorate us, to excite us.  He lifts our spirits, resuscitates our souls, rebuilds our confidence.   Jesus gives us reason to cheer.  We read about his miracles and powerful preaching and we become excited.  We are so proud of him, so proud to belong to him.  Yet when Monday morning comes around, like the mascot whose job has been done, we place Jesus back on reserve.  He is relegated to the sidelines.  For all practical purposes, it is you and me who is calling the shots.  We implement the plays, scramble for first downs and improvise in a pinch.   Even when we do it in his name, we still do it with little (if any) reliance upon him.  We don’t think of ourselves as incapable of living life without his authority and help in our lives.  We pretty much muddle along by ourselves.  We have relegated Jesus to being the mascot of our lives.

Now here’s the kicker!  The truth is, Jesus’ claim is not to be our mascot to be celebrated and to hype us up – Jesus’ claim is to be our monarch.  We sing hymns like “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” or “Crown Him with Many Crowns” to celebrate his kingship and royalty in our lives – but he scarcely ever makes it past the role of mascot.   See, the difference is this.  Jesus’ persona is not embodied in the mascot on the sidelines – but rather Jesus role is supreme.  He is the coach, offensive and defensive coordinator, the quarterback, the line and the defense.  He is even the playbook and the cheerleader and the goal post and final championship.   

You might be wondering why it even matters what Jesus is.  You might be thinking, “Well, pastor, I like to think of Jesus as my good buddy who cheers me on through the day.”  With all due respect, it is not really up to us to define Jesus.  He is the crowned prince of Glory who dwelt in the heavens before the earth was even formed.  He was there at the creation and is now seated at the right hand of his father.  He has been crowned king and the role of mascot is an inferior and devalued position.  The king loves us, but he is so much more than the mascot or good buddy we pretend he is.  It matters who Jesus is because it determines how we live on Monday morning.  It determines how seriously we take the church (Which is his bride).  It determines every aspect of how we live the Christian life.  WHY?  AUTHORITY.  A mascot doesn’t have any authority.  When there is a dispute on the field and one ref says touchdown and the other ref says, “He was short by six inches”, do they say, “Hey, let’s go ask the mascot and let him decide!”  That’s ridiculous.  The mascot has no authority.  If we treat Jesus as a mascot, is it any wonder our lives are in turmoil?  Is it any wonder we don’t read his word?  Don’t participate in his body?  Don’t live obedient and moral lives? 

The church has a struggle with morality and obedience because we cheer for a mascot instead of serving a king.  In 80% of the churches in America, the membership is stagnant and dying.  Tens of thousands of congregations are struggling financially because their giving has leveled off and is declining.  There is prevailing apathy about evangelism and global mission.

The answer to our problem is not one I can simply lay out and say, here is the simple solution.  The answer is found in discovering the Christ of the Bible.  If we are not studying the Bible and examining the Christ of the Bible, we tend to gain a warped and insufficient view of Christ.   The church can find her way back if:  We begin again to worship Christ as monarch with authority over our lives.  We spread his grander message about God’s son to God’s people, inviting them to re-discover that in his reign, we will find all hope and that we are meant to have.  We can begin to see a paradigm shift in the church.  I have not been steadfastly teaching Christ as monarch and king.  It is too easy as we study the gospel of Matthew to see Jesus as human, but not as king.  Why is it that the Teachers of law in today’s passage struggled so to see him as king?  “By what authority are you doing these things?”  He’s the king!  He didn’t give them the answer because they were so far from the truth they wouldn’t have seen truth if it knocked them in the head. 

When we recognize him as king, we will know the answer.  When we gaze upon him, we will see him as king with all the authority that comes with that position.  Let’s change our view of Jesus and discover who he really is.  Not a cartoon mascot, but king of kings. Amen.