Who Says? (1)
Now it happened on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him and spoke to Him, saying, “Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he who gave You this authority?” Luke 20.1, 2
The question of authority
By the time Jesus was bringing His earthly ministry to a conclusion, the religious leaders of the day had had their fill of Him. Having failed at every attempt to outreason, dismiss, or discredit Him, they determined a more drastic course for silencing the Man from Galilee.
We can imagine that the succession of embarrassments they experienced as Jesus exposed their faulty premises, wrong reasoning, and false views fueled a hatred from which they would not be able to back down. But still, they fancied themselves “reasonable” men, so they decided on one more attempt to embarrass and silence Jesus before the admiring multitudes.
In Luke 20, various prominent theologians, intellectuals, and power-brokers confronted Jesus on their own turf – in public, in the temple, under the watchful eye of Rome. Their objective was to shut Him up and shore up their own positions of authority and influence.
In this chapter the opponents of Jesus challenged His authority to teach the people of Israel. Who did He think He was? Where did He get this stuff? Who taught Him to treat them with such contempt?
Over and over they assailed the Lord over the matter of authority. They attempted to expose Jesus as not having the proper credentials for teaching, and as being insufficiently pragmatic, dangerously subversive, brazenly anarchic, and altogether unreasonable in His teaching.
Each time the religious leaders challenged the authority of Jesus, He turned the tables, using a variation of the question, “Who says?” to silence and embarrass them instead.
It’s a question – the question – each of us must not be afraid to ask of our wrong-believing generation.
All around us every day people are going here and there, doing this and that, making judgments and decisions, choosing spouses and careers, and deciding on matters moral and ethical about this, that, and the other, speaking out confidently about their beliefs and views, and feeling good about themselves and their lives. It’s what we do. We’re humans. We make choices. We decide. We bolster our frail egos.
But it’s important to consider the grounds on which we make choices and decisions. Why this or that? On what basis? What or who is our authority for thinking, believing, saying, or doing as we do? This was the challenge the religious leaders posed to Jesus, hoping to expose the flimsiness of His teaching before the gawking multitudes.
Now in some cases, our authority for making a decision or choice is quite clear. Why, for example, do we ease off the gas and tap the brake when we see a patrol car parked on the side of the road up ahead? We recognize the police officer as having a certain kind of authority to enforce the rules of the road.
However, as soon as the cop is out of sight, we press on the gas and get up above the speed limit because we don’t want to drive as slowly as the law allows. We flout the authority of the state and flaunt our own authority to do as we please, that is, if we think we can get away with it. This presumed ability to make up our own rules to please no one but us – this pretending to autonomy in matters of authority – can be deadly.
In other situations we might go along with what others are doing because we don’t want to risk losing a job or a relationship or some supposed position of influence we think we possess. We want to remain in what Lewis called that “inner ring” that allows us a certain kind of identity and a perch for looking down on others. We dress or talk or spend or recreate the way others do, even though we might prefer to do otherwise, thus demonstrating that the opinions or views or fashions of others have authority to determine our choices and decisions in certain areas.
We call this kind of authority peer pressure. It is the source of the new tribalism which is rampant in our day.
Still other kinds of authority shape our lives. Science, for example: Note how many television commercials appeal to some form of science – or what the public regards as science – to make a sale: “Nine out of ten doctors agree…” Or “A recent survey showed…” Or “A new report proves that…” And so on.
Politics wields a certain amount of authority over our lives as well. So do those we love and those for whom we work. So do the subtle and well-schooled marketing geniuses of Madison Avenue and the PhD-adorned professors of academia.
We might call these the authority of experts.
Authority like Jesus
Indeed, everywhere we turn, whatever we choose to do, we are confronted with one or another kind of authority either telling us what to do, challenging our authority to do what we want, or exercising its authority to compel conformity to its demands.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day sought to overwhelm and overthrow Him by challenging His authority to teach. They were the credentialed authorities on matters religious, and they were not about to be upstaged by an upstart from the backwoods. So they challenged His authority again and again.
And on each occasion, Jesus’ simple, “Who says?” left them speechless, reeling, and angry.
1. How does authority function? That is, what role does authority have in our lives?
2. Where do people turn for authority to justify their actions?
3. Is it possible that the authorities people rely on might be bogus and unreliable? How would we know?
Next steps: What authorities determine the things you do each day? Pay attention to this question for a day. Jot down each time you do or say something in deference to some authority or other. What do you learn? Is this a good thing? Talk with a Christian friend about this activity.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.