As the week marches on, opposition toward Jesus ratchets up to another level. Going to youth group and Sunday school as a kid I often wondered why Jesus was killed in the first place. It didn’t make much sense to me. Jesus was a miracle-worker and clearly a great guy, so why would anyone want him dead? We are typically taught at a very early age that we live in a meritorious world – you get what you earn; bad guys die and good guys live. What was puzzling to me was why anyone would desire to kill Jesus. He gave sight to the blind, he caused the paralyzed to walk, he taught valuable life lessons, and he even raised Lazarus from the dead! If there was ever a good man who deserved to live, it was him I thought. What I didn't understand was the true depth of depravity of the human soul. Pride, jealousy, and deception could cause men to do incredibly evil things. We begin to see this side of Israelite leaders on a greater level on Tuesday of Holy Week.
Jesus is in the temple once again and the chief priests and scribes approach him with a question. Remember them from yesterday? They were the guys who wanted Jesus to rebuke the children for praising him. They also were likely offended by Jesus’ decision to clear out the temple in the first place. So, they decide to team up and hit Jesus with a barrage of what they believe to be profound questions beginning with, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” In other words, they wanted to know what gave Jesus the right to speak against their lifestyle. Who made him worthy of telling them how they should or should not run the temple?
In typical Jesus fashion he responds to their question with a question of his own, “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” Brilliant. By responding with a question, Jesus forces these men to deal with their own duplicitous hearts right in front of him. John the Baptist was one of the most popular individuals in Israel at the time. The people adored him and held him to be a great prophet sent by God. The problem for the chief priests was that John was the forerunner for Jesus. Not only was John a man who was unanimously regarded as a prophet, but he used his ministry to glorify Jesus as also having been sent by God. This reality was a problem for the chief priests. Jesus’ question completely disarms his verbal attackers. Rather than successfully painting Jesus into a corner, the scribes now have the tables turned on them.
All three synoptic gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) let us in on what the chief priests and scribes were thinking in this moment. “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet’. (Matthew 21:25-26)” These men weren’t concerned with the truth and Jesus knew that. They simply wanted to challenge Jesus and look good for the temple crowd. There intentions were far from pure. And because their intentions were far from pure they were willing to go to any lengths to rid themselves of Jesus.
Unfortunately, the same is true for a lot of us. Following Jesus has deep implications for the way we live our lives. So, rather than be honest with who he is and adjust our life accordingly, we seek to get rid of him. Maybe you don’t follow Jesus because you’re holding on to a lifestyle you prefer. Maybe you won’t follow Jesus because of the ramifications that doing so may have on the relationships around you. Either way, no one is rejecting Jesus because they researched the facts and concluded that what he says isn’t true. No one. The depth of our sinful hearts, like the chief priests, will cause us to deny the truth and embrace a lifestyle of lies just so we can keep Jesus out of it. Allow this question to really sink in if you aren’t following Jesus...
Rather than answer Jesus' question about John the Baptist honestly, the chief priests and scribes slithered out of the conversation with a noncommittal, “We do not know.” And so Jesus refused to entertain them with a conversation about where his authority comes from. Instead, he tells a series of parables recorded in Matthew 21:28 – 22:14 all of which condemn the Israelite leaders of that day for their hypocrisy. Parable after parable Jesus drives home the point that the end is coming and whoever is not with him is against him. By the end of the day, the lines had been clearly drawn. Jesus wanted these leaders to know that their rituals, legalism, hypocrisy, and pride were not on the side of God. Unless they turned away from their sin, faced the truth, and followed Jesus, they would perish eternally. Many of them, however, did not heed Jesus’ warnings or take to heart his teaching. Instead “they perceived that he was speaking about them” and “they were seeking to arrest him” (Matthew 21:45-46). Rather than face the reality of how egregious their sins were, they began to plot to get rid of Jesus as if that would solve the problem!
Are you doing the same thing? Do you see Jesus and rationalize how to get out of following him? Or do you recognize him as the one, true God – the only way to eternal life?
Which side of the line are you on?