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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Who's Credentialing Whom?

Jesus stops the mouths of His adversaries.

Who Says? (2)

But He answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me…” Luke 20.3

Credentials challenged
In Luke 20 the religious leaders of Jerusalem approached Jesus while He was teaching on their turf, in the temple. They didn’t have the courtesy to wait until He finished His lesson. They simply barged onto the scene and demanded that Jesus present the proper credentials for teaching in the temple (vv. 1, 2).

They recognized, as C. S. Lewis explained, that having proper authorities is an important part of the reasoning process. Once you’ve set forth your premise, marshalled your facts, and reached your conclusion, you need to seek reliable authorities to back up your claim. The religious knew Jesus did not have the “proper” credentials for teaching – at least, as they saw the matter – and they intended to show that He had no authority. In demanding Jesus present His authority, they hoped to embarrass and silence Him.

That would not prove to be a workable strategy.

The chief priests, scribes, and elders regarded themselves as the credentialing authority in first-century Israel. No one could teach except those they accredited, and only the curriculum they approved could be taught. Jesus, it was clear, was out of bounds on both counts. He’d never been formally trained as a rabbi – even though almost everyone recognized Him as one – and the Gospel He persisted in teaching was not the approved version of what it meant to be a faithful believer in God.

In effect, here’s what the religious leaders were saying to Jesus: “Who do you think you are? We’re the authorities here. We decide who gets to teach and what’s permissible for instruction. Show us your degree. Present your certificate. Who was Your mentor? Submit to our long-established and universally-recognized authority or leave these premises at once.”

That has a strangely contemporary sound to it, does it not? Who are we – we Christians – to be speaking about things like truth and morality and culture and the like? What are our credentials?

The power of a question
But the authority those religious leaders presumed to possess was merely a façade, and Jesus could see right through it. Rather than defend Himself or denounce or dismiss them, however, he invited them to exercise their presumed authority to rule on a question that should have been right up their alley: “This John the Baptist: Was he sent from heaven or from men?”

The religious leaders took a moment to confer. Those who exercise flimsy authority are always conferring with one another, comparing notes, trying to get their arguments right, checking out their sources, making sure they’re on the “same page” as they assert themselves in the public’s eye. Luke gives us a peek into their “closed room” discussion (vv. 5, 6), and it’s clear, from what we see there, that these religious leaders are subject to some authority other than the degrees they hold and the offices they occupy.

Let’s listen in: “And they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” He will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “From men,” all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet.’”

Yeah, this is a problem. As it turns out the religious leaders of Jerusalem were subject to peer pressure as much as anything else. The only authority they could cite was what they themselves conjured or feared. They wanted to be neither embarrassed before nor assaulted by the students in Jesus’ classroom. And so, to maintain the appearance of theological authority, they retreated into mystery: “So they answered that they did not know where it was from.”

These things are difficult. It takes a long time to think through such matters. Research must be done. Papers must be presented. Lab results taken into consideration. Conferences held. Other thinkers polled. And so forth. We can’t just give a glib answer to a matter of such profound theological depth.

So, instead of answering, or of challenging Jesus any further, they simply shut up.

But wait – isn’t this what they were trying to do to Jesus? Hmmm…

Ask it yourself
Some day someone will ask you to present your credentials for being able to talk about such matters as truth and worldviews and the Gospel. That assumes, of course, that you do talk about such matters. That, as a witness for Christ, indwelled and empowered by His Spirit, you are “going public” about your faith as often and to as many people as you can.

Because, if you do, you’re going to be confronted, like Jesus was, with people who presume to know better than you do about such matters. They’ll tell you there is no God. They’ll insist the Bible’s just an old book of religious myths. They’ll say you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re not qualified to hold forth on such matters, and that your views are just your own and you should stop trying to cram them down other people’s throats.

When that happens, smile and ask, “How do you know that?” To the blank stare that comes back at you – the natural response of someone who’s never been asked this question before – ask more fully, “How do you know there’s no God, that the Bible can’t be trusted, or that I don’t know what I’m talking about? What’s your authority for challenging me on my beliefs, convictions, and experience?”

Then wait. And enjoy the silence.

For reflection
1. Why are so many Christians so reluctant to talk more openly about their faith in Jesus?

2. What authority does the Bible have in your life?

3. Why is it important to help others examine the authorities that guide them?

Next steps - Conversation: You do talk about the Gospel, I presume? If not, there’s no time like the present to begin doing so. Suppose you were asked by a non-believing friend or colleague to explain the hope you have in Jesus – what would you say? (1 Pet. 3.15).

T. M. Moore

You can download this and all the studies in this series, “Let God Be True,” by clicking here.

A companion book to this study, Understanding the Times, is available at our bookstore. Learn more about this book and order a free copy by clicking here. Our booklet, The Gospel of the Kingdom, can help ready you to proclaim the Good News. Order your free copy by clicking here.

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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.


T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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