Words of Faith 1-3-19
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2019
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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 One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him.  "Tell us by what authority you are doing these things," they said. "Who gave you this authority?"
 He replied, "I will also ask you a question. Tell me,  John's baptism was it from heaven, or from men?"
 They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Why didn
't you believe him?'  But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet."
 So they answered, "We don't know where it was from."
 Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."
Jesus came into town on Palm Sunday into a week of spiraling conflict that would lead to His crucifixion. He had a number of things on His mind including making payment for your sin and mine upon the cross and defeating once and for all the powers of sin and death. But Jesus also came to confront the religious powers that had taken control of the Temple and ruled the people from Jerusalem.
The text today is about confronting religion. The reality is that we have seen this coming for sixteen chapters. Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Man, was on a collision course with religious people from the beginning. Now, as He came into town, Jesus offended most everyone that He could offend and then sat down in the Temple courts to teach.
The truth is that religion and worship don't mix. Religion and study of God's Word don't mix. Religion and the Gospel don't mix. That may seem strange because religion and worship often may even look a lot alike. Religion and genuine study may look quite similar. Religion and Gospel preaching may look a great deal alike but they are very different.
Of course, there is a good sense in which the word religion is used. Webster defines religion first as "service and worship of God.” That sounds good. That sounds at least partly like what a relationship with God is supposed to be. But because religion is something people DO it always falls short and always becomes corrupt. So Webster also defines religion as "a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes beliefs or practices.” Webster defines a religionist as someone who adheres to such a system.
What Jesus had been teaching and preaching for three years was the desire and intention of God to have a relationship with you! Relationship is different from religion. Relationship is real. Religion is something we control. It is the appearance of relationship through outward efforts, rituals and rule keeping. Religion includes every effort by ritual or ethical observance to earn our way to God, or appear to make ourselves better before men, rather than simply respond to the grace of God.
In the first century Jerusalem, there were primarily two expressions of religion: ritual and rules. The Sadducees (priests) had the ritual down. The Pharisees (law teachers) had the rules down. Jesus confronted them both by restoring integrity to worship and teaching. He cleared the Temple of profiteering and sat down to teach with authority. But here is a basic reality. Any time you restore integrity to worship and the Word some people will want to kill you and others will hang on every word!
Jesus did some very smart things. He stayed in public view. He was wise not to take private meetings with those who wanted to destroy Him. He forced the enemies to deal with Him publicly. Don't you know that this was driving the Sadducees and the Pharisees nuts? So they sent a delegation.
There is an old saying that a "friend" is someone who has the same enemy as you. These enemies-- the priestly Sadducees and the teachers of the law Pharisees-- hated each other, but now they had a common enemy in Jesus. Jesus had threatened something for each of them. He shut down the concessions in the Temple court which infuriated the Sadducean families. He now taught with authority in the Temple courts which infuriated the Pharisees. So they came to confront Him.
Jesus refused to debate the Religionists or defend His authority. "Tell us by what authority you are doing these things," they said. "Who gave you this authority?" Jesus knew that there was no genuine interest in His authority. If so, the religious leaders would have sat down and listened. His answer might have gotten Him stoned anyway.
Authority was an important thing to these religious people. Famous Rabbis usually quoted their "authority" when teaching. Study under a famous rabbi gave a teacher a certain amount of authority. But Jesus had always taught as one with His own authority. He had the authority of God that was clearly recognized by the people. That was threatening to the religious authorities.
The Sadducees and the Pharisees essentially asked, "Where did you go to seminary? Where did you study?" Knowing that Jesus never studied formally and was never attached to a famous rabbi, the question was intended to publicly undermine His authority, embarrass Him, or force the growing question of His Messiahship. If Jesus answered, "God. God is my authority." He would speak a blasphemy that would have started the arrest immediately. But Jesus would not play into their hands just yet. Jesus answered the question with a question.
He replied, "I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John's baptism, was it from heaven, or from men?"
Defending yourself with religious people usually puts you in a pinch. Instead, Jesus put the religious leaders in a pinch. He knew that the game of religion is always a game of politics and trying to look good in front of other people. John the Baptizer was a popular martyr. He had been murdered by Herod. "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Why didn't you believe him?' But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet." So they answered, "We don't know where it was from."
The Sadducees gave a classic religious answer, "We don't know.” When religion does not want to face the truth it will often say "We don't know." Religion never has any real answers anyway. And Jesus refused to answer their question. "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things." They would soon find out.
The deep issue here is that Jesus confronts the religion in our lives. We will look at this a little deeper tomorrow. For now, it is important to ask ourselves: Do I have a relationship with Jesus or am I just religious? Do I really trust that I walk with God every day or do I have a set of rituals by which I try to look good and control things?
Father God, what I want, what I have always wanted and needed is simply to walk with You. Teach me how to do that. In Jesus' name.