Date: 16 Oct 2022
Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong
Sermon Text: Luke 19:45-21:4
For a brief moment in her history the United Kingdom was ruled by two Elizabeths. Queen Elizabeth II was the reigning Monarch when Elizabeth Truss assumed the office of Prime Minister of the UK. That picture of the two of them meeting together must have been a strange sight in medieval England, not the reason that they were women, but because who exactly, between the two of them, actually exercised authority over the Kingdom?
Queen Elizabeth wears the crown, but it is Liz Truss’s parliament that make the laws. Laws, which everybody, including the Queen is bound to obey.
We grew up watching movies and reading fairy tales where the King or Queen calls the shots. They did as they pleased. They set the rules, the words of the king and queen were the law.
So how did the crown come to be stripped of so much of its authority?
Well the beginning of the end came with the reign of King John. Which may seem a strange name of a king of England, because there is no King John II. No other king after him wanted to take his regnal name. He has gone down in history as the very worst of English kings. So despised was he, that when he died, it was said that “Hell itself is made fouler by the presence of John.”
It wasn’t good enough to simply say that he went to hell. They said he made hell a worser place by being there.
Now, because of his unpopularity, he had to take drastic measures to retain his crown. So some 800 years ago, signed a document that came to be known as the Magna Carta. The Great Charter.
Amongst other things, the Magna Carta said that the King no longer had the authority to do whatever he pleases. He can’t imprison people just because he didn’t like them, he can’t raise and impose taxes whenever he likes. The Great Charter placed limitations on the authority of the crown. The king is no longer a law unto itself.
Fast forward to today, and a Monarchy as a political system is largely a thing of the past. Kings and Queens still exists, but they hardly wield any real authority over the affairs of their country, their roles are mostly ceremonial, the parliament holds the real power. Nobody in this age really recognises the authority of Kings anymore.
Todays’ question is this, “What about King Jesus?” Will his authority be recognised? Will people submit to him? And what does it mean to submit to the Lord Jesus?
That’s question posed by our text today, it’s a question of authority.
1 One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up 2 and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.”
Consider who Jesus is up against in this passage – the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. These groups represent the establishment. In the absence of a messianic king in Israel, they are the authority over the people. They conduct the temple rituals, they interpret the biblical laws, they form the supreme court in Israel. When no Son of David is seated on the throne, they are the established authority in the land.
But Jesus comes and overturns the status quo, by arriving in Jerusalem as a king as we heard last Sunday, and behaving like a king as we shall see today.
45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
47 And he was teaching daily in the temple.
One of the first things we see Jesus doing upon his kingly arrival into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is to take control of the Temple. He drives out the traders in the temple grounds who were permitted to be there by the chief priests themselves. And then returns to the temple everyday to teach. He is behaving as though he owns the place; as though he is the king.
And not just that. Let’s take a look at the nature of his teaching:
The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.
The chief priests and the scribes are the official teachers of Israel. The temple is their domain. What Jesus is doing is akin to an uncredentialed, uneducated, self-proclaimed professor walking into the University of Cambridge, and start to lecture the students there. And he is personally despised by every Dean and professor in all of Cambridge. Now, if something like that happened, it would be a simple fix. Because the most brilliant minds, the most decorated professors in the world are present there, and anyone of them can simply refute and correct the unwelcome intruder for the sub-standard nonsense he is spouting. Proving once again that not just anyone off the streets can presume to be a professor, proper credentials are necessary for teaching with authority.
In this case however, although the chief priests and scribes and the principal men of Israel had the desire to take Jesus down, they lacked the ability to do so. Everyone was hanging on his words.
But their motivation to destroy Jesus, got them trying again and again to trap Jesus in his teaching.
The scribes and the chief priests were first to try:
19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor…
But they failed.
26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.And then the Sadducees, the priestly aristocrats, tried their luck.27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question…And they too were silenced by the wisdom of Jesus.
39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.”
40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question.
The point that Luke is trying to make is this: Jesus is teaching the teachers of Israel. He is not merely teaching them, he is schooling them, he is dumbfounding them. In doing so, he is not simply entering the temple and assuming the role as the authoritative teacher of Israel, he has the wisdom and ability to back it up.
His words convey wisdom. It carries weight. It bears authority. It is fitting to listen when Jesus speaks.
And so we return to the question posed by the chief priests and the scribes at the beginning. If Jesus speaks with an authority that supersedes the established human authority, from where does he get this authority?
What gives him the right to take control of the temple by chasing out the traders and teaching everyone everyday in the temple premises? Preaching the gospel no less.
the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up 2 and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.”
Jesus’ answer comes in the form of a question.
3 He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, 4 was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” 5 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ 6 But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” 7 So they answered that they did not know where it came from.
John the Baptist came preaching the gospel, the good news of forgiveness. And he baptized men and women with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people flocked to him. But what John the Baptist was doing, as far as the religious authorities were concerned, was highly controversial. If not blasphemous, it was at least scandalous.
Because where is forgiveness found? Where is reconciliation and atonement and cleansing found? In the waters of the Jordan? No, it’s found in the temple. By the sacrificial system, administered by the priesthood. They, the chief priests and Sadducees were the mediators of forgiveness. They performed the rites of the atonement. Forgiveness is found in the temple, so only they had the authority to perform the rites that led to forgiveness.
John is preaching differently. He is proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In doing so, he is claiming that there is a way to be forgiven apart from the temple, and the priesthood. There is a new way to be reconciled to God. But John also says, don’t look at me, I’m just a voice, I’m just preparing the way.
“I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
There is new authority in town, far greater than John, that rivals and supersedes the authority of the physical temple and the religious leaders within it. Forgiveness is found in the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire – Jesus Christ.
The chief priests are well aware of John’s ministry and how it threatens to undermine their own authority. And so, they will not, endorse John’s ministry as coming from God. But they cannot deny that either, because everyone can see that John the Baptist is a man on a mission sent from God.
And so they say I do not know. Which is a lie, they do know, they simply refuse to acknowledge it, they are not willing to confront anything that threatens their position and privilege and authority in this world. Which is a point we’ll come back to.
And so although Jesus concludes by saying, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” He is actually hinting that his authority comes from the same source as John’s baptism – namely, God. This authority is of a divine origin. His is a divine authority.
On New Years Day, 1946, shortly after the end of WWII, Emperor Hirohito of Japan published what came to be known as the “Declaration of Humanity”, it is so called because it in, Hirohito declares that he is not a living god and that the concept of the Emperor's divinity is not true.
It is quite a declaration because Monarchs, emperors, kings, maintain their authority by invoking the gods. The Roman Emperor during Jesus’s time, Caesar Augustus, for example, kept referring to himself as Caesar Augustus “divi filius”, which means, Caesar Augustus, the son of God. And he temples constructed to worship him, as divine. The first emperor of a unified China, Qin Shi Huang, created a new title “Huang Di” to describe himself. Huang = Splendid, Di = Deity. He too claimed his mandate, his authority to rule as coming from heaven, he is Huang Di, a splendid deity in human form.
Throughout history, that has been the case. Royal authority, that is, the right for a human being to rule over other human beings, must originate from outside human beings, because if it is given by man, it can be removed by man.
Which is the reason why the secular societies in this modern age no longer recognise the authority of kings and queens, we choose rather to invest the authority to rule into the hands of people we can choose to elect or not elect.
If the king is a divine being, we have to submit to his authority, obviously. But if he is not, then why should we? We the people should be able to rule over ourselves – democracy, the rule of the people.
If the king is divine, if the king is a living God, then sure, he has the right to rule. Which is why it was so important to the Allies that Hirohito denied his divinity.
King Jesus, however does the exact opposite, he asserts his divinity. He claims to be more than just a man, he claims to be divine.
41 But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David's son? 42 For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
43 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
44 David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”.
What Jesus is saying here is this: the Messiah, the Son of David cannot be identified merely as David’s mortal son. And the reason is because King David himself regards the Messiah as the “divine Lord”.
The Lord that is, God, said to “my Lord” that is, the Messiah, sit at my right hand. Now where is the right hand of God exactly? It is a position of honor and authority situated right next to God. Where is God? In Jerusalem? In the temple? No.
the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
“‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’
God dwells in heaven. His right hand is in heaven. The Messiah, the Son of David, whom David calls “Lord” is a heavenly being. He is divine.
Jesus is claiming to be divine. By quoting this Psalm, he is, in effect, answering the question posed to him at the beginning. His authority to ride into Jerusalem receiving the adulation of the crowds as the Messianic King, his authority to take ownership of the temple and to teach within it, stems from his divine nature. He is a living God, and thus he is the authoritative Lord.
And friends, it’s easy to say something like this. It’s easy to say that you are a living God. Kings throughout human history have made this claim. It’s easy to claim divinity. The difficulty comes in backing up that claim. A truth that Hirohito understands.
Now Christians aren’t insane, we don’t think that Jesus is the divine son of God simply because he quotes a couple of verses from Psalm 110. No, we believe that he isn’t just talk a big talk. He backed up his claim to divinity by dying and rising again. And we will come to that in the closing chapters in the gospel of Luke.
Suffice to say for now, that Jesus is the authoritative King of all the earth because he is the divine Lord that sits in the heavens.
If that is truly the case, then the application is straightforward. If Jesus is Lord, then we must submit to him.
9 And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’
14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?
This is not veiled parable. The original audience would have understood it plainly. Because the prophets in the Old Testament, often referred to Israel as the vineyard that God has planted.
So, the owner of the vineyard is God.
The vineyard is Israel.
The tenants are the leaders of Israel, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders.
The servants of the vineyard are the prophets, who they historically persecuted. The most recent example would have been John the Baptist.
The beloved Son is Jesus, whom, as Luke has recorded for us, they are seeking to destroy.
What will happen on the day of reckoning?
16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!”
Now, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders understood that they were portrayed as the tenants, the villains, in this parable, not least because they wanted to kill Jesus, and will shortly after do so.
But they rejected the conclusion. “Surely not!” they said. God will surely not destroy them, God will surely not judge them. Why? What gives them this confidence they will not suffer the fate that Jesus describes in the parable told against them?
Well, because they represent the temple. They were the religious leaders. They were the ones who read the Scriptures on the Sabbath, and performed the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, they were the ones who interpreted the law of Moses. They were the religious authorities. They represented the Jewish religion. And so, they must be on God’s side, or rather, God must be on their side. Who else would God reward at his coming, if not the religious folks?
That’s precisely the problem you see. Religion, has for these people, become the means of salvation. Religion not a person, ritual not relationship has become their ground of assurance.
And the problem with religion is that it is based on works and performance, rather than on surrender and submission.
Remember the rich young ruler and the question he posed to Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” What can I add to my “to-do” list to guarantee salvation? What rites must I perform, what commandments must I obey? What activities must I add to my life in order to be saved?
And Jesus answer is, “sell everything you have, give it all away, then come follow me”. In other words, true religion is not so much defined by what you are adding to your life, as it is defined by what you are giving up in your life. True discipleship is described as self-denial, and life-surrendering. Because discipleship at the end of the day simply means following Jesus, and surrender in submission to the Father is what Jesus came to earth to accomplish.
If Jesus is the authoritative Lord, then you must submit to him, by offering up your all. That is the lesson of our final few verses.
45 And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 47 who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
21:1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2 and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
The scribes are known for their religious performance. They wear the right clothes, they seat upright in the front pews during service, they say the longest prayers during prayer meetings. They do religion to a tee. They do and do and do. And the assume that will do.
When what Jesus commends and calls for, is not adding works, but giving up. He wants us to emulate not the religiosity of the pious scribe, but the surrender of the poor widow.
Perhaps the right the question to ask is not about whether you are willing to do more things, but whether you willing to live with less. Whether you are willing to give up more.
You see, the reason why the religious leaders opposed John and crucified Jesus is because they represented an existential threat. If John is a true prophet, and if Jesus is truly the Son of God, then they no longer call the shots, their authority is undermined. And they are simply willing to countenance anything that threatens their position and privilege and security and authority in this world. For which money is the shorthand.
For most of us, our privilege and security in this life, in this world is build on our money. And if so, Jesus puts that into jeopardy, because it is the weak, and vulnerable, the poor – that is, the child, that gets to enter the kingdom of God. Are you willing to submit to Jesus by surrendering your money and security it offers, in exchange for the security that Jesus promises?
But money is just one thing. It is a big thing, a huge thing, for us in Singapore, but it is by no means the the only thing we are reluctant to surrender to King Jesus. It could be an ambition, it could be a temptation, it could be a relationship, it could be a grievance, it could a hatred that you simply cannot bear to let go of, or give up on, because it threatens your sense of self. And you don’t want to deny yourself. Self-preservation, not cross-bearing is still the goal.
So your religion is far more focused on what you can do, rather than confront what you must surrender.
But friends, submission and surrender are what it means to have a king.
If Jesus is the divine Lord, then you must submit to him, by holding nothing back, and offering your all.
But do not fear. Because Jesus became king, not by riding into Jerusalem on a war horse, demanding tribute from his people and a pound of flesh from his enemies. No. Do you know how Jesus became king? He became king not by insisting, but by surrendering. Not by grasping but by letting go.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This my friends, is how Jesus became Lord of all. By emptying and serving and humbling and surrendering to the point of dying. There was nothing more he could have given up.
And he gave it up for you and I. This king is asking for nothing more than what he has done for us. Not as an act of repayment, but as an emulation, because this is the true path to glory. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in forgiving that we are forgiven, and it is in dying that we are raised to eternal life.