Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Luke 20:1-8 authority

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, February 1, 2019

20 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 to him.  2 They said, “Tell us by what authority you do these things. Who gave you this authority?”  3 He answered them, “I will also ask you a question. Now tell me,  4 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?”  5 They discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ 6 But if we say, ‘From men,’ 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.  8 Jesus said to them, “Then neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Matthew tells us that this was Tuesday, Jesus’ third day in the temple, since in Matthew 21:17 he leaves the city to spend Monday night at Bethany, and this and the withering of the fig tree happened “early the next morning” (Matthew 21:18-23). The authorities who approached him were members of the Sanhedrin (see John 11:47-57). It was their duty to confirm the authority of anyone preaching in the temple, but why did they wait until the third day? In fact, Jesus had preached in the temple before. Why didn’t they stop him then?

Their questions are really the same. Did God the Father really give you the command to preach? As we read, we know that they’ve been carefully planning what they will reply if he says that the Father is his source of authority. “Why, then, this? Why not that? How could you…something else!?” They must have spent many hours in careful study and debate as to how they would counter his every answer. However, Jesus didn’t answer—at least, not in any way they anticipated. Without asking for any time to consider his answer, he put a polite question to them. “Where did John get his authority?”

By asking this, Jesus showed that there was no difference between his message and John’s. John pointed to Jesus as the Messiah. If John’s authority was divine, then Jesus is divine. If John’s authority was not, then (as the chief priests and others worked out for themselves) the people would riot against them. The people all acknowledged John as a prophet from God, and no one had ever said anything differently.

In fact, if they condemned John now, it would only show that they had failed in their obligation over this very question with him. They had let the matter of John pass by unchallenged. Why? John really was God’s prophet, and they were only interested in maintaining their power.

By refusing to answer Jesus’ question, they were refusing to receive his answer. They revealed themselves to be cowards; they had nothing whatever to do with the proclamation of the word of God. “Confuse the wicked,” David prayed, “and confound their speech!” (Psalm 55:9), and this is what Jesus did. “You rebuke the arrogant, who are cursed, and who stray from your commands” (Psalm 119:21). Jesus’ authority to drive out the moneychangers, to preach the gospel, and to proclaim the forgiveness of sins was from God the Father, the Creator of the universe. “All authority has been given to me,” he said (Matthew 28:18).

This is why we rely on the word of Jesus. We put our trust completely in him, because our salvation depends entirely on him.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


Browse Devotion Archive