Pentecost 17 2017, Proper 21
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
October 1, 2017
Psalm 25:1-10, Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Philippians 2:1-4, 14-18, Matthew 21:23-27
Full Service Audio: bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship
Betty owns a small business that sells and installs high end blinds, draperies and area rugs. She has built the business from just herself in a spare bedroom to having her own showroom and 10 employees. Betty has been out of town on a sales call and returns to her showroom at 4 PM on a Friday to find her 10 employees and others having a party with catered hors d’oeuvres and an open bar. Betty runs a pretty tight ship and she doesn’t know anything about this party, so what is her first question?
“Who authorized this?”
Jed is an 8-year-old boy sitting playing video games in the family room and his mother calls to him and says, “please turn off the game and help set the table for dinner.” Jed ignores his mother so she goes into the family room and repeats her instructions. Jed looks at his mother and screams, “No! I don’t have to listen to you!” What is the problem here? Jed is directly defying his mother’s authority and that cannot stand. Jed may not be able to sit for a little while.
Anyone who has been on a sports team or in the military knows about authority. You do what the coach or the sergeant or the officer says to do. You obey without question. When I was briefly in the Navy going to Officer Candidate School to be a Navy pilot much of the training revolved around learning to follow orders without question. If you are taking off from an aircraft carrier and they tell you to eject you eject immediately; if you pause to ask why you will likely be dead before you finish the question.
When someone has authority you are supposed to obey them. But that is not so much the way we operate currently. Something changed in our nation especially in the 1960s and 70s. There was a movement to question authority; to not trust anyone over 30.
Now, living in a democratic republic, there is need for healthy skepticism of our leaders and we need to hold them to account. But there is great danger in always questioning authority. There is eternal danger in questioning God’s authority.
That is exactly what the scribes and elders are doing to Jesus in our Gospel reading today; they are questioning God’s authority. The day before, Jesus entered into Jerusalem in a grand procession down the Mount of Olives and then he went to the temple where He drove out all who sold or bought in the temple. As outsiders came into Jerusalem they needed to change money and they needed to buy animals for sacrifice. The temple had been turned into a stockyard and there was a bit of a hustle going on. The people needed to bring animals for sacrifice that would meet the temple standards. The Jewish leaders determined whether or not an animal met standards. Eventually instead of bringing their own animals, people would buy a pre-certified animal for sacrifice from the Jewish leaders who would take a cut of the sale price and make extra on changing money. Because they are in charge, the Jewish leaders set up a nice side business.
But whose temple is it? It is God’s house, but the Jewish leaders think they are in charge and can do whatever they like. Then Jesus shows up. Jesus comes to the temple and overturns the moneychanger’s tables and the chairs of the ones who sold pigeons. Jesus tells the Jewish leaders, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.”
The Jewish leaders must be quite puzzled by Jesus’ actions and teaching. Who is this guy from Galilee? Who do you think you are telling us what to do? We don’t have to listen to you; we run this place. We are in charge. This is our temple. But Jesus doesn’t listen to them and cleanses the temple.
As Jesus comes back to the temple the next day the chief priest and the elders confront Him in regards to His authority.
Matthew 21:23 (ESV) 23 … “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
Basically, “Who do you think you are?”
The question is, “Who is Jesus?” In our world today we face the same question, “Who is Jesus? Who is Jesus to tell me what to do?” Who is Jesus and does Jesus have authority?
The Jewish leaders try to trap Jesus into either denying His authority or outright claiming to be God which would be, in their eyes, a blasphemy worthy of death. They are trying to trap Jesus in His words, but they don’t know who they are dealing with. Jesus gives it right back to them and questions them about John the Baptist’s authority to baptize; is it from heaven or from men.
The Jewish leaders sense Jesus’ trap for them and refuse to answer and so Jesus refuses to answer. The Jewish leaders think they speak for God because they are the temple leaders and yet here they are speaking to God in flesh and disregarding what He is saying. They have some authority in the Temple but instead of using it to help the people they use their authority to profit off of the people by selling animals and changing money. The Jewish leaders appear to be holy and say they believe in God, but then reject God when He comes in the flesh. The tax collectors and prostitutes don’t appear to be very holy but they know they are not worthy and they need a savior and that savior is Jesus of Nazareth; Immanuel; God with us.
Jesus has come to fulfill Old Testament prophecy as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus comes with authority. All authority in heaven and in earth has been given to Jesus. Jesus has demonstrated his authority. Jesus has authority over the laws of nature. The wind obeys him; He can turn water into wine. Jesus has authority over sickness and heals people. Jesus has authority over blindness and restores sight. Jesus has authority over demons and drives them out. Jesus has authority over death itself and raises people from the dead. Jesus has authority to forgive sins and this is what He came to do. Jesus has authority to lay down His life and authority to take it up again. Jesus has the authority to be the sacrificial Lamb of God and pay the price for the sins of the world.
Jesus has authority because of who He is; He is God in flesh. Jesus is God with us.
Jesus has authority, but you are in danger of falling into the same trap as the Jewish leaders. You can start to think that you know what is the right thing to do and you don’t have to listen to Jesus.
You try to take authority away from Jesus by pretending that you have some authority to forgive your own sins; that you can do something to work off your sins. In our study of the Reformation we learned that in the Latin translation of the Bible called the Vulgate the Greek word for repentance was translated as “do penance”. Because of this the Roman Catholic Church taught that very thing. Instead of repent; turn away from sin and turn back to God, they taught that you must do penance, do acts to pay for your sin.
But you do not have authority to pay for your own sins. This doing penance eventually morphed into gaining an indulgence by going on a crusade to then being able to buy an indulgence that would get you an exemption from doing penance. The church leaders found a way to profit off of forgiveness. But buying an indulgence or doing penance does not earn forgiveness. You can’t earn forgiveness; it must be granted to you by the one who has authority.
Only Jesus has that authority. And what a wonderful thing that Jesus exercises that authority to forgive you. Jesus has the authority to forgive sins which He gives to the Church who calls a pastor who declares forgiveness on behalf of the Church. Jesus pours out forgiveness in His words, “I forgive you all your sins”, in the waters of baptism and in His Body and Blood in Holy Communion. Jesus has authority, but too often you want to challenge Jesus’ authority.
You challenge Jesus’ authority when you disobey His teachings. When you decide that one of Jesus’ laws doesn’t apply to you, you are declaring that Jesus does not have authority over you. But Jesus has authority. You are to follow all His laws. Jesus’ teachings are not a buffet where you get to pick which ones you like and which ones you don’t. Jesus’ teachings are like eating dinner at my mother’s table when I was growing up. You eat what you are served whether you like it or not. I remember to this day having ridiculously heated battles of the will with my mother over having to eat what I was served. I remember a couple were over stuffed manicotti and stewed zucchini. Looking back it would have been easier to be more like my siblings and just listen to my mother and obey, but I was not known for doing things the right way or the easy way. I wanted to take authority away from my mother.
That is so much how we are nowadays. Listening and obeying is so contrary to the way we want to live life today. But with Jesus’ authority we are called on to listen and obey even if Jesus’ teaching is not something that we like; even when it is difficult.
When you find yourself engaged in some activity that you wonder, “Is this sinful?”, ask yourself, “Who authorized this? Am I pursuing God’s will, or am I obeying the devil, the world, or my own sinful flesh? Repent. Turn from sin and turn back to God.
Who is Jesus? He is God in flesh. He is God with us. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is your Lord. Does Jesus have authority? Yes. Jesus has authority to forgive your sins. Jesus’ words cleanse you from all sin. Jesus has authority to raise you from the dead. On the last day Jesus will descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will be raised to new life. Jesus has authority. Jesus is Lord. Amen.
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001