Luke 20:1-8 Whose Authority?


This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series The Gospel of Luke

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“A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding Than a hundred blows into a fool.” (Proverbs 17:10, NASB95)

Even a misplaced rebuke can make a wise man consider carefully. But a fool will reject discipline altogether. What is your attitude towards being corrected? How interested are you in discovering when you’ve been wrong? If you were wrong about doctrine, would you want to know it? If you were wrong about God would you want to know it? If you were wrong about Jesus would you want to know it? Or would you rather say, “It has always been this way”? Would you prefer to harden your heart against an uncomfortable truth, or would you humble yourself and let the pain of being corrected create repentance and change?
In today’s text, in Luke 20:1-8, Jesus encounters again the Scribes, The Chief priests, and the Elders – the three groups that describe the highest leadership of Israel: The Sanhedrin, and they come with a question. Their question is deceptive in the way that accusing questions can be. They are not interested in truth but rather they are looking only to confirm their bias. And when given the chance to come gently, they harden their resolve against Jesus. It is a costly mistake. Please stand with me as you are able – as we honor the Lord’s word together: Luke 20:1-8.

Preaching the gospel

On one of the days…. Luke intends to be a bit loose here with the timing, so he removes the chronology on purpose, choosing to place this event after the temple cleansing while both Matthew and Mark place it the following day after the cursing of the fig tree is seen to have worked. But Luke’s wording intentionally separates it in this way from the cleansing of the temple because he doesn’t want us to think that the temple cleansing is the item which the Chief priests and scribes are complaining about. Rather I think we are supposed to recognize that the problem they had was with all the things that Jesus was doing. This included the temple cleansing, but it also included the miraculous healings, as well as the receiving of praise and adulation from the crowds, even down to teaching his disciples. But Luke does point out that it was in the context of Jesus preaching the gospel that the accusers objected.
Preached the gospel Now, consider for a moment that we often limit the gospel. We limit the gospel as if it only answered the question of how can we be saved on the basis of Jesus’ death on the cross. That is where the good news touches us, but the gospel is larger than that.
Jesus was preaching the gospel before the cross however. There is no evidence at all that he was preaching about that sequence of events, but rather about the broader content of the gospel. Five times (Matt. 4:23; Matt. 9:35; Matt. 24:14; Mk. 1:15; Lk. 16:16) the gospels specifically call what Jesus was preaching, “The gospel of the kingdom”. and Mark explains, “Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”” (Mark 1:14–15, NASB95)
The word, “gospel” means “good news”. Good news is the style of news that was proclaimed when war was over and the king and his troops had been victorious. Good news is what was proclaimed when the king or emperor assumed his throne and the promise of peace, justice, and happiness were expected to be fulfilled.
The good news that Jesus preached then was that news that the Kingdom of God, long promised by God was now at hand. He was the king standing in front of them, and his kingdom would inaugurate all of the promises of God. The task then of the populace is, as Mark records it, to “repent and believe in the good news.” In Luke 3:18 John the Baptist urges the people to repent because the king is about to come into his kingdom, and in the context of calling for repentance Luke summarizes John’s message saying, “So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people.” (Luke 3:18, NASB95)
The gospel then, in shorthand is this: You need to repent because the king is coming to judge every unrighteousness. He will judge every sin, but he will forgive every repentant sinner: REPENT!

The king is coming to judge every unrighteousness. He will judge every sin, but he will forgive every repentant sinner: REPENT!

If you believe the king is coming to judge sin, repentance is the only rational response.
Now to proclaim that the king is coming is very much a threat to any rulers currently sitting on the throne. Neither Herod, Pilate, nor Caesar upon his throne in Rome would take very kindly to someone proclaiming a kingdom that was about to sweep theirs away. This is why the gospel message is a dangerous message, and the leaders of Israel, ever the protectors of their own interests wanted to know why Jesus was teaching this subversive message.

Name Your Authority

(LUKE 20:2) “What is the source of your authority,” they ask him.
Will Jesus claim that it is His own authority so they can point him out to the Romans as a troublemaker? Additionally if Jesus were to point to his own authority they would likely point to their authority as the one with a longer history, and a broader cultural acceptance. Such it is today as many, even portions of the historic church, attempt to point to themselves as the source of authority. It is the question of authority which strikes the great divide between the protestant church and the Catholic church. The protestant church – including ourselves declares “Sola Scriptura” that is to say, that ONLY the scriptures are the authority. The Catholic church declares that church tradition is equal in authority to the scriptures; and even dogmatically claims that the church has given the scriptures their authority thus the church’s authority is over scripture. But the protestant response is that the scriptures have the authority whether that authority is recognized or not – the scriptures hold complete and unmitigated authority over the church.
Or will Jesus claim that God is his authority so they can, in their own way, accuse him of blasphemy and exhort the crowds to ignore him? Either way, they have already determined that Jesus must be destroyed. How he is destroyed is not as important as “that” he is destroyed.
I think the problem however is that they know. They know what Jesus has been doing for the last three years. They have heard his sermons, watched his actions, and witnessed his power. In John 3, Nicodemus tells Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2, NASB95)
When Jesus confronts Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus he says, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads”. Saul knew, perhaps even he was among this group asking Jesus.

Tell Me What You Know.

(Luke 20:3-4)
Rather than answer their question directly, the Lord answers with a question, not to divert them but to force them to answer their own question. For they must have known the testimony that John the Baptist had. They must have understood his call to baptism, and surely they understood how John had pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God.
If then, they acknowledge that John the Baptist had received his ministry from the God of Heaven, than they would have had to acknowledge automatically that John as a prophet had told them all they really needed to know about Jesus. But if they were to declare their feelings that John was just a man doing his own things then they could easily deny any true authority of Jesus and have their way with Him.
Jesus reveals their heart. Rather than answer his counter-question they gathered with themselves and reasoned out what their answer might mean. Either they confess God was in charge or they offend the people. Either answer would be just as crippling as that which they hoped to get from Jesus. But with their council they reveal their heart: they were not interested in truth, they just wanted to nail Jesus. So they gave an answer that was no answer at all, “we don’t know.”
(Luke 20:8) And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
So Jesus flatly refused to tell them. If you don’t want the truth, you won’t find Jesus.
So it is when men are confronted with Christ. Some even in church are afraid of learning the truth so that they harden their hearts against hearing that truth. But listen: If you harden yourself against Christ, he will harden himself against you.
Is this not a fearful truth? If we reject Christ, he will reject us. our prayer must be, God forbid that I should harden myself against you and your word. Lord, let your word shape me even if it is with great discomfort. Let your Holy Spirit perform every surgery upon my heart and soul with your word that I might be shaped by you and not hardened against your shaping.
Whom do you fear? Do you want acceptance by the crowd or do you want truth? Your own pride can prevent you from catching sight of the real Jesus and knowing Him.

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