Who died and made you king? Remember that one? It was something we said when I was a kid, so you would have to be pretty old. One of your friends is getting a tad bossy and you have had enough. It is a basic wondering of where this authority to give you orders came from. Did somebody knight them? Did they inherit the right to strut around in bossy pants? Did the one with the authority die and bequeath the right to them? Maybe a woman in a lake handed them a sword. Our problem is that we find ourselves doing this question of authority thing with God. Who put you in charge God? Hmm. That seems risky to me.
In Luke 20:1-8 Jesus is doing exactly what he was doing before; he was teaching and preaching the gospel in the temple. It came about that while he was teaching one day that representatives from the Sanhedrin suddenly took a stand against him. The word “confront” means “take a stand against,” and it implies suddenness. It was a planned assault. The actual question is not a bad one necessarily. Their stance was confrontational. They were not seeking to learn where his authority came from. In all fairness, when I was a kid, I really wasn’t interested in an answer. I didn’t really want to know who died and made them king. It wasn’t a question at all really. It was a defiant push back at being bossed around. I think this is the same thing.
They ask, “by what authority you are doing these things?” and “who gave you this authority?” One source says that this is basically the same question. I guess. But it seems slightly different to me. What kind of authority allows you to cleanse the temple and teach here? Most sources will emphasize one or the other of these activities. But we see Jesus doing both. What kind of authority gives you the right? Oh, and by the way, who exactly handed you this authority? Who do you think you are and who said you can be whatever it is you think you are? Again, this question is not a fact-finding question. They were probably intent on making some accusations here. If God did not give him the right to act, then he shouldn’t have. Not just any ol’ person can cleanse the temple. And if every person who has a message is going to teach, well, you can see the problem here, can’t you. The heretics; the crazies; the rebel rousers. If they are given this right, there will be problems. If Jesus claims God handed him the right to act, they would cry “Blasphemy!”
Jesus answered with a question of his own. Classic Jesus. How about the baptism of John? Was that from heaven or from men? How could they forget John’s scathing words: You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Oh, and John testified about Jesus. So, his baptism, which was preparing people for the coming Kingdom, what kind of authority was that and where did it come from. These bastions of religiosity huddled together and began to reason among themselves. And they understood the situation quite well. If they admit that John’s baptism was heaven authorized, they will look mighty silly because they were adamantly opposed to John’s message. But if they say that it was merely human, the people may just get angry enough to cast stones down on them. Those crazy people had allowed themselves to be persuaded that John was a prophet. Man, they are in a tough spot.
They give the safe answer, “Don’t know.” It is weak, to be sure. But they don’t have to admit to refusing to listen to God’s message and they don’t have to incur the wrath of the people. There is irony here. By the time Luke was written, some Christians had been willing to lose their life for the confession. And while we are talking about authority, do you want to give religious authority to a group of people who refuse to say what they really believe because of fear? Jesus let’s them know that he knows exactly what their answer means. “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” This is not about their ignorance. It is about their refusal to admit what they believe out of fear. Even though Jesus said that he would not tell them where his authority came from, he really did tell them. The thing they refused to believe about John was true about him as well. John’s ministry was from God. So was his.
A question of authority can be good. Is Jesus really who he claimed to be? That is a good question. Especially if it is an honest seeking for truth. But so many, like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, are not seeking. They have already made up their minds. They are standing against Jesus. They are stomping their feet and yelling “Who died and made you king?” Jesus could easily reply, “I did.” But that just may be casting pearls before swine. They don’t really want to know. I pray you do. Walk by Jesus’ authority.