Jesus stood in the temple and taught. Whether in the villages, the cities, the wilderness, or the temple, Jesus loved to teach. As he taught, he was approached by the chief priests, and the elders of the people, and they asked Him two questions: ‘By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?’
Notice that they had no quarrel with what Jesus taught. Their quarrel was the authority by which He taught. This would come later, when the Pharisees accused Jesus of preaching heresy, for now they thought they could shut Him down by challenging His authority.
Jesus taught truth; they could not deny the truth that He taught and they knew it, but if they could find something they could attack it was the authority by which He stood in the temple and spoke to the multitudes.
Now Jesus could have readily identified Himself as the Son of God, called a few angels down from heaven, and the story would have ended very differently. Rather than taking this route however, he answered the question of the priests and elders with a question of His own, promising that if they answered His question, He would answer theirs.
Matthew 21:24-25, “But Jesus answered and said to them, ‘I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?”
As simple as the question may have seemed on the surface, it rattled both the priests and the elders, because in their estimation there was no right answer. If they answered that the baptism of John was from heaven, then Jesus would retort by asking them why then did they not believe him. If they said it was from men, then they would have to contend with the multitudes, which saw John as a prophet.
And so, as weak willed men often do, they gave the only safe answer: ‘We do not know!’ Jesus had not given them a third option, He had not asked whether the baptism of John was from heaven, from men, or none of the above, He expected an answer from these men, but it was an answer He never received.
Why is this important? Because it reveals the evil and unbelieving hearts of those who questioned the veracity of Jesus’ authority, and it serves as a teachable moment for us today.
When there is no faith, every question we ask in matters of faith, and every word we speak are nothing but hollow and empty. These men did not want to know the truth, they just wanted to stump Jesus, to get the crowds that were listening to His teachings doubt His words.
An evil and unbelieving heart, will always act in a similar manner, and it would be wise for us to know the signs, that we might understand the reason and intent of why some people, and some modern day junior Pharisees, say what they say, and do what they do.
Even if it knows the truth, an evil and unbelieving heart will hide it to reach its desired goal. Jesus could have spent days upon days explaining everything He taught, and everything He did in detail, and still they would have denied Him, rejected Him, and mocked Him. The truth to those who were trying to protect their tradition, their preconceived notion of how things ought to be, was a relative issue, and if it didn’t serve to further their cause, it was not only irrelevant to them, but became a mortal enemy.
The priests and elders should have known by what authority Jesus taught and performed miracles, and also who gave Him the authority. Their religiosity would not permit them to see what was before their eyes, and so they struck out blindly, hoping to do damage to the ministry of Jesus. They also should have known the truth about John’s baptism, whether it was from heaven or from men, but revealing the truth about this topic, would have led to the inevitable conclusion of who Jesus was, and by what authority He did what He did.
Even if it knows the right answer, an evil and unbelieving heart will give the wrong one. The worst thing imaginable for such a heart is the idea of submitting, of acknowledging that it was wrong, that it did not judge fairly, and that it did not rightly divide the Word.
We see examples of this even in our modern age, wherein men who have been teaching a doctrine of wealth and excess, will not repent for their error, even though they are witnessing firsthand the implosion of their doctrine.
I often wonder what Jesus felt as he looked upon what were some of the most respected religious men of that time. Was it pity, was it anger, or was it empathy?
Since they did not answer His question, Jesus simply answered them saying, ‘neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’
In order to make His point, Jesus then proceeded to tell a parable of two sons. The first was asked by his father to go and work in the vineyard, and he refused his father outright. Afterwards, regretting saying no to his father, he went and labored in the vineyard. The second son was asked to perform the same task as the first, and told his father that he would go, but never went. Then Jesus asked the priests and elders that had assembled, ‘Which of the two did the will of his father?’ ‘The first’ they answered, failing to realize that they had just proven Jesus’ point.
The condition of their hearts had been evidenced by the fact that even though they knew to do good, they did not do it. They verbally accepted the will of the Father, but rejected it by their deeds. They were the sort that submit out of fear, but rebel out of nature.
Their words having betrayed them, and the condition of their hearts having been seen by all as evil and unbelieving, Jesus said to them, ‘Assuredly I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.’
May we be wise, and follow after Jesus, may we be wise and believe in His holy name. May we not resist the love He freely gives due to some preconceived notion, or personal doctrine, but submit to the truth of His word which gives life and life more abundantly.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.