“By What Authority?”

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
“By What Authority?”
October 1, 2017

Sermon Text:  Matthew 21:23-27

Peace be unto you from our Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dearly Beloved of the Lord,

One of the great mistakes that we make in our everyday lives is taking things out of context. We hate it when someone does this to us, in regard to what we have said or done and the same holds true if the shoe is on the other foot.

We can also take events and incidents out of context and especially historical ones, whether it is related to our family, our country or the world. This can be very costly as we are now seeing and reaping relative to many things happening in the United States.

Too many people are ignorant of historical facts and yet will speak about them as if with authority and take action based upon them in what they believe is a righteous way.

Or… they will take a historical fact and, again, remove it from the entire context in which it happened, leaving them with a jaundiced view and vision from which to act or react.

Here, I cannot help but put in a plug and plea for properly teaching history… world history, American history, and the like, to our children. And if they are not getting it in school, parents, it is up to you to supplement the same… to fill in the blanks which can be quite large.

And the same holds true (and even more so) for biblical history and biblical knowledge so that you and I do not fall prey to false teaching as well as the great danger of taking God’s Word out of context.

It happens all of the time. Whole denominations and faiths have come about by taking portions of Holy Scripture out of context.

I have shared before the ultimate example of that in the person whose way of reading Scripture was to open his Bible randomly and read a passage. Close it. Then open it to another random section and verse.  So, one day, he opens his Bible to where it says that Judas went out and hung himself. He closed the Bible and opened it this time to where it said, “go and do likewise.”

It would be a real mistake to take today’s appointed Gospel reading out of context, my friends. That all we are looking at is some skirmish which our Lord had with the chief priests and the elders.

To begin with, it is not an isolated incident. It is one of actually many confrontations He will have with them. So, if anything, we need to look at the pattern of the same. There is a reason that they took place and there is a reason why they are recorded in Scripture.

In addition to the pattern, there is also a bigger picture and plan to be seen here… a far greater and grander picture of none other than our salvation… an incredibly detailed plan made up all of these interconnected people, parts, events, actions which take place, including the one before us.

A plan that we could trace to before time and certainly in time, beginning with the fall into sin and the promise of a savior. And then fast forwarding to that very Savior’s birth, His mission and ministry here on earth, and His all-sufficient, all-saving death on the cross.

My friends, the context in which all of this takes place… all that Jesus said and did… is the context of the cross. Jesus Christ was born to die. He came to die on the cross for your salvation, mine and that of the entire world.

And so, if we back up and look at this text, this confrontation, we see that it plays an important part in our Lord going to the cross. What Christ said to the chief priests and the elders takes Him one step closer to the cross.

You and I know that the chief priests and the elders play a critical role in making our Lord’s crucifixion and death happen. It is a sad fact. A tragic reality.

Our text, finds Jesus in the temple doing what? Teaching! Something He does throughout His time here on earth, including… you will remember… when He was only twelve years old.

Sometime before our Gospel text, St. Matthew recorded another occurrence of our Lord teaching. He writes in chapter seven, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matthew 7:28-29)

“He was teaching them as one who had authority.” The Greek word for “authority” used here in Matthew 7 and several times in our text here in Matthew 21 is ἐξουσία. (ex-ou-see-ah). It refers to “having the power and the right,” which our Lord certainly had, being “Very God of Very God” …. the Second Person of the Holy Trinity… the “Alpha and the Omega.”

If anyone could speak, should speak it is our Lord and Master, for He does so with the ultimate authority. There is no one with the greater right to speak. There is no one with greater power to speak and to do so definitively. And yet the chief priests and the elders question His authority! In another words, “Who are you to say these things, teach these things?”

Our Lord will have none of this and easily puts the chief priests and elders in an untenable situation. Christ’s ending statement resounds in their ears. “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Matthew 21:27)


Well, that’s that. No. It is not. Again, we need to put our Gospel lesson into context where we see that right after this, our Lord launches into a series of parables for all to hear, but certainly taking aim at the chief priests and elders. Our upcoming Gospel lessons will touch upon some of them.

In the first of the series, Jesus brings up the critical issue of our doing the will of God, our carrying out our Heavenly Father’s will… something that, if anybody was doing God’s will, it should have been the chief priests and elders. But they were not and our Lord ends up declaring to them…

“Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew. 21:31)   Ouch!

Jesus will tell them yet another parable, which ends up with our Lord and Master declaring to the chief priests and elders, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” (Matthew 21:43)

Ouch again!  And let’s make this perfectly clear. Our Lord is not “baiting” these Jewish leaders so that they will crucify Him. He is not “zinging” them again and again just to get a rise out the them and force their hand. He simply speaks the truth… and with authority. What these so-called spiritual leaders will do is of their own doing… their own motives and sin-heart’s desire.

Go back to what was said earlier. Two things… One, Jesus, is always teaching… even now, today, in this sermon and even then to the chief priests and elders whom He loved just as He loves all people.  Oh that His Words would have changed the hearts and minds of these leaders… for our Lord would have everyone to be saved.

And again, Jesus is always heading toward His one salvific destination… the cross… where He will die for all, including the chief priests and elders of the Jews, the very same ones who… based upon what Christ said and did before and what He is saying and doing now… will plot our dear Lord’s death.

Why? Because the chief priests and elders, to whatever degree they wanted to know by what authority our Lord taught and did things… were really more concerned about the erosion of their own authority… their own power base.

“This Jesus is changing everything and He has to be confronted,” is what, in essence, they were saying. Little did they know they were confronting Almighty God. There is never a question as to who would win.

“This Jesus is changing everything and He must die.” Yes, but not for the reasons put forth by sinful men. Our Lord was changing everything… that is to say, bringing everything back, restoring everything, restoring us to how it was before the fall into sin. How it was… in paradise. To do that, He had to take care of sin… and Satan… and death, once and for all.

He did just that. By what authority? His own. Jesus said, I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” (John. 10:17-18)

Any questions? None from us or from all the faithful. Just thanks and praise… and this, without end! Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

“By What Authority?”  10/1/17  The Rev. Mark H. Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport,