Sunday, July 13, 2014

Luke 20:1-8 -- On Authority, and Answers

"And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon him with the elders,
And spake unto him, saying, Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority?
And he answered and said unto them, I will also ask you one thing; and answer me:
The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?
And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then believed ye him not?
But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet.
And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was.
And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things."
Luke 20:1-8

This is an interesting conversation between Christ and the chief priests.  Authority is an important issue.  There are lots of people who claim to have God's ear, or to be commanded by him, but they say significantly different things.  So knowing who has authority from God is pretty important.  It's also, in many cases, hard to prove.  So, the chief priests, who could probably track their authority back for generations, confront Jesus, perhaps because they think they have more distinguished ancestors or ties to the Administrative line (being related to Aaron and being Levites).  And, since Levites and descendents of Aaron were traditionally those chosen by God, it could have been something that a lot of people were wondering.  Since they were just looking for an argument, Christ asks them to comment on the baptism of John.  Jesus wasn't a Levite, but John was, and since this is the authoritative divide they were going to question, they ran into a problem... if they denied John's authority, then they would be effectively questioning their own.
If they had been asking humbly, with a real desire to know, Christ probably would have explained it to them.  Christ restored and fulfilled a lot of things when he came, and some of the changes were hard... as they are for us, too, whenever we have to learn to change the way we think about things.  Paul later explains Christ's authority as a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek in Hebrews 7... and there *are* explanations for everything that God does.  Often, though, we're just like the chief priests.  We ask God questions with obvious answers just to start an argument or justify our position.  And if we do that, we shouldn't expect God to address the questions directly... just as he did here, he will address our thoughts and our attitudes instead, helping us realize our own faults before he has to explain them to us.  It reminds me of the book Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.  Throughout most of the book, Orual is explaining things from her perspective and writing her complaint to the Gods.  And then, when she finally gets to confront them in a dream, she realizes that her perspective has been very flawed from the start... that the Gods have been helping her all along, and she has just been complaining selfishly.  Instead of condemning her for her complaints though, they ask "Are you answered?"  ... And she says yes.  Just to hear herself, to see herself for a moment as they saw her, was her answer.  Similar to the answer that Christ gave here.  He didn't get into an argument.  He just asked them to think... was John's baptism from heaven, or not?  And the answer to their question is just as obvious.
Today, let's take a step back and make sure that the questions we are asking God, and the complaints that we direct toward him, are sincere.  And when he answers us, let's remember to be open to a new perspective.  With God, we often have to learn how to think differently, not just behave differently.

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