Sunday, February 24, 2013

Luke 19:45-20:8 - Jesus' Authority Questioned

Tissot: Jesus' Authority Questioned
Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 19:45-20:8 to teach believers to trust Jesus because He stands by His Word with ultimate authority.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about Jesus’ authority.
Pray and Read:  Luke 19:45-20:8

Contextual Notes:
Throughout his Gospel, Luke emphasizes the importance of walking in faith and avoiding unbelief. He has made it clear that every individual who meets Jesus Christ must make a decision about Him. Christ must be received or rejected. His claims must be believed or denied. When the Gospel shifts gears at Luke 9:51, Luke urges us to prioritize faith over unbelief (Luke 9:57-11:36) and warning us to trust the Lord rather than ourselves (Luke 11:37-12:59).
Christ then calls us to a Kingdom marked by grace (Luke 13:1-21), repentance (Luke 13:22-35), provision (Luke 14), and redemption of the lost (Luke 15). Luke warns us to prepare for His Return by responding to God’s Word in repentance (Luke 16), guarding against sin with obedience and thankfulness (Luke 17:1-19), waiting with faithful service (Luke 17:20-37), and persevering prayer (Luke 18:1-8). God always responds with mercy to a humble and simple reliance on Him (Luke 18:9-17).
True faith is complete reliance on Him. The necessity of complete reliance on God is emphasized in Jesus’ response to the little children (Luke 18:15-17), the response of the rich young ruler to Jesus (Luke 18:18-30), and most powerfully by Jesus Himself when He shares with His disciples His coming death and resurrection (Luke 18:31-34). Then in two examples of His free mercies, Jesus turns aside to free from blindness a beggar who sees with faith Christ’s identity as Messiah (Luke 18:35-43). Then He turns aside to help a wealthy tax collector find the riches of Christ’s presence and purpose (Luke 19:1-10).
After Luke gives Christ’s clear mission on the planet, “to seek and save the lost,” (Luke 19:10) he follows with a parable summing up our mission on the planet as we await Christ’s return (Luke 19:11-27). Luke calls us to trust this King who is worthy to be praised (Luke 19:28-40) because He is the only Hope for a doomed world (Luke 19:41-44).
Picturing the utter necessity of a heart return to God, Jesus again cleanses the Temple of its merchants, arousing the fury of the religious leaders who become even more determined to kill Him (Luke 19:46-48). It doesn’t take long for Jesus’ cleansing and teaching to be challenged. With one question Jesus will show how hollow are those “authorities” who question His (Luke 20:1-8).
Sermon Points:
1.   Trust Jesus who stands by His Word (Luke 19:45-48)
2.   Trust Jesus who has ultimate authority (Luke 20:1-8)

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   || Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-19

b.   After riding into Jerusalem, Mark says Jesus didn’t stir the crowd with a big speech. Jesus just quietly looked around (Mark 11:11). What He saw was not a lot of prayer, but a flea market.

c.   Luke 19:45 – Those selling: Jewish Pilgrims coming to Jerusalem had to purchase animals and other products for sacrifices (animals, birds, wine, oil, flour, etc.) These sellers set up shop in the Court of the Gentiles. Merchants hawk priest-certified animals for Passover sacrifices, “Get your spotless lamb right here, tagged, certified, ready for the altar.” Instead of whispered prayers, all one can hear is the bleating of animals, with the smell of dung ironically in the air. Luke does not specifically mention the money changers as Matthew (Matt. 21:12) and Mark (Mark 11:15), who exchanged local currencies with idolatrous symbols for the Tyrian shekel required for the Temple tax. These money-changers sat behind their tables, milking foreign visitors with their exorbitant exchange rates. Who was behind all this? The Temple shops were known as the Booths of Annas and were property of the family of the High Priest. These hypocritical priests were not praying for the people. They were preying on the people. Jesus has seen enough. He leaves the city and spends the night in Bethany.

d.   The next morning, on Monday, as soon as Jesus enters the Temple’s Court of the Gentiles, He makes His presence known, and He isn’t being all sweet and mild. This is not the white hot rage of a man who cannot control His temper (Eph 4:26). This is righteous indignation, holiness that burns and cleanses us. He throws out all those who have turned God’s house into a mere place of self-enrichment. The Jewish leadership officially viewed Jesus’ actions against the Temple as disruptive to the sacrificial system and thus blasphemous. At least that was how the press release read. There are always with religious people their public reasons and then their real reasons. These proud religious leaders are more concerned with maintaining their power and their pocketbooks than in examining their hearts. Burning with embarrassment at their greed exposed, they plot a way to get rid of this nuisance Jesus.

e.   APPLICATION: Why would gentle Jesus, meek and mild do something so radical, so mean, so offensive? These people were only trying to make their required purchase of sacrificial animals convenient for them, right? I mean, Jesus was not being nice. Let me help you understand something. Being nice is not the Gospel. What isn’t nice is leaving people in the bondage of their sin and not saying anything but turning a blind eye and a deaf ear because you don’t want to offend them is not the Gospel. Sometimes sitting idly and shrugging off the wrongs in this world is the most cowardly thing we can do. Sometimes courage to make things right can be demonstrated in having enough passion to pound the table and maybe even turn over a few. Getting angry at sin and standing up for the truth can be the most spiritual and courageous things we do. Look at our Lord’s courage: After riding into Jerusalem in a parade, one of this man with a price on His Head, what is one of the first things He does? He defies and embarrasses the most powerful political and religious family, that of the High Priest, by casting out the sellers in the Temple. Then He didn’t run, but he taught right there in the Temple every day.

f.    Even so, Jesus WAS being nice. Imagine the meekness that held back such mighty power which He could have easily wielded. But He held back His righteous fury at their corrupt worship. This was the Temple built to worship this very Man, the Messiah, God Himself! In cleansing the Temple, He was declaring Himself very God! And look at the corruption! Look at the filthiness of their profits. Look at the rationalized sin. No one from any other nation could pray in what was called the Court of the Gentiles. But what did they care? Anybody who was not like them, who was of a lower ethnicity or an inferior race, who was a trashy Gentile dog, didn’t need to come into their Temple anyway. They had their own pagan temples. Let them go to them. They didn’t need to come into our Temple where everything was done the way we want it done, the way things have been always been done. Yet Jesus, our Missionary God, rails against that attitude. The Court of the Gentiles was there for a reason! That reason was to draw people of other nations to the saving knowledge of the one, true God. That reason was to point to a Day, the Day of the Lord, when all nations would come to a Temple to worship the Lord on His Throne.

g.   ILLUSTRATION: The Gospel of John reports that at this very time, a group of Greeks came wanting to meet Jesus, saying His disciples, “Sirs, we would see Jesus” and talk with him (John 12:20-22). They came to the disciple Philip, whose Greek name indicates he spoke with them. Philip, unable to solve the problem of race prejudice which had come to him, consulted Andrew, and they both brought the problem, not the Greeks, to Jesus.

h.   ILLUSTRATION: Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:21-22 in a passage in which he addresses the sin of racism between Jews and Gentiles in the church, that we are all fellow citizens and members of God’s household, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone, a whole building joined together in Him and rising to become a holy temple in the Lord, a dwelling in which God dwells by His Spirit.

i.    APPLICATION: Our God is a missionary God. This is why any person, regardless of ethnic background, life experiences, personal appearance, is welcome in the Christian church. We are called to welcome them. There are not churches for “my kind” and “their kind.” The church is made of “all kinds.” When our churches lose their character as houses of prayer for every nation and centers of teaching about God, they too are likely to be taken from us.

j.    Luke 19:46 – House of Prayer, Den of robbers: Jesus connects his strong prophetic action closely with Scripture, and the two Scriptures Jesus uses help us interpret what Jesus meant by it. In short, the purpose of the house is to be a house of prayer. Jesus here combines Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Jesus says it is called a House of Prayer, but they have made it a den of thieves. Mark (Mark 11:17) brings out the fullness of Isaiah’s verse (Isaiah 56:7) saying it is supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations. The Isaiah passage speaks of God will soon open his salvation to foreigners and eunuchs, people who were excluded from the Temple.[1] Isaiah prophesies the future restoration of the Temple when the Gentile nations will stream to Jerusalem and the Temple will be called “a house of prayer for all nations,” an end-time reality that began with Pentecost (Acts 2).

k.   The Jeremiah passage is an indictment against Israel for her injustice and unrighteousness. The nation has turned God’s Temple, which bears His name, into a den (or cave) of robbers. Jeremiah called it a robbers’ den because Israel thought that as long as they had the Temple, they would be sheltered from divine judgment regardless of the nation’s sins. Injustice was taking place in Jeremiah’s day, but the people thought that if they did their religious duty, God would never bring judgment on them (Jer. 7:1-15). Yet, Jeremiah predicted the Temple’s destruction (Jer. 7:14). By “cleansing” the Temple, Jesus symbolically acts out the coming judgment He has just predicted (Luke 19:41-44).

l.    APPLICATION: There is something else here that Jesus teaches us. There are times when it is essential to stand on a principle. Jesus didn’t make it a practice to use force, but in this case the purity of worship was at stake.

m. Luke 19:47-48: While the Jewish leaders plot, Jesus uses His final days to teach in the Temple courts. Notice Jesus’ calm courage by continuing to teach. The Roman government permitted the Jews power to execute the death penalty themselves on anyone who desecrated the sacred inner courts of the Temple. Although Jesus’ action was technically in the outer Court of the Gentiles, Jesus had given them a direct challenge. The Jewish leaders would love to silence Him, but various reasons make it unwise from their point of view. First, they are afraid of Jesus’ huge popularity (Luke 19:48), who no doubt approve of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. Third, while He is in the Temple, He is on their turf, so they will watch Him and try to catch Him in His words.

n.   Luke 19:47 – Chief priests, teachers of the law, and the leaders: These designations probably present the three groups making up the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. The chief priests were the upper tier of Jewish priests. They had neglected the Temple service and were instead gaining from sales of sacrificial merchandise. The teachers of the law were scribes or experts in the Law of Moses, mostly theologically conservative Pharisees. They were envious of Jesus’ fame and influence as a teacher. The leaders of the people were probably Jerusalem elders, the wealthy, respected Jews, mostly Sadducees, theological liberals who had secretly allied with the oppressive Romans, so they were afraid of a patriotic movement of Jews (Luke 9:22; 20:1).


a.   || Matt. 21:23-27; Mark 11:27-33

b.   In chapter 20 a series of controversies takes place between Jesus and the Jerusalem religious leaders that will bring them to a plot to seize and kill Him. So here the attack begins.

c.   Luke 20:1 – An official delegation from the Sanhedrin comes to question Jesus. All authoritative teaching required previous authorization. The powerful Sanhedrin exercises its own authority over the Temple, and all authority to do anything in the Temple derived from them alone. They have a request, apparently transparent, but really cowardly and cunning, for a statement from Him on the source of His authority. They wanted to know what great Rabbi, what Teacher, what decree by the Sanhedrin permitted Him to act so much like a prophet of God and to teach with a ring of authority. Sounds reasonable, right?

d.   Luke 20:2 – Authority: The religious leaders claimed to have authority, but their actions showed the hollowness of that claim. Notice the huge contrast between the hesitance of the “leaders” and the bold affirmations of our Lord. Why doesn’t Jesus just answer their question? Because He knows they have laid a trap for Him. If He says He has no earthly authority but Himself – no rabbinical degree, no synagogue vouching for Him – He discredits Himself. On the other hand, if He says His authority comes from the Lord, they could drag Him before the Roman authorities for treason, because Caesar was the only Lord the Romans allowed.

e.   APPLICATION: Notice that Jesus operates with a quiet confidence of spiritual authority. A person who truly exercises authority granted by God will not fear mere human beings, nor avoid taking a stand on controversial issues. Still, there are some people who will demand authority for Truth itself, forgetting that truth is the highest authority.

f.    Luke 20:4 – John’s baptism – was it from heaven? Jesus counters a question with a question, out-mastering the masters of rabbinical argumentation. But Jesus is not just trying to silence His questioners and avoid the question Himself. That would be unfair to the Sanhedrin, disrespectful to them even, and make Him look like a smart aleck. Instead, Jesus does answer their question quite clearly but also exposes their cunning and cowardice.

g.   Jesus turns the question to one of prophetic or spiritual authority. It was obvious that the source of authority for both Christ and John were identical. There was secular governmental authority. There was religious priestly authority. But everyone recognized that God could raise up a spokesman for Himself with prophetic authority to direct and indict both king and priest both for clarity of direction and also for corruption and sin.

h.   When Jesus was challenged before, and a remark was made that His power came from Beelzebub, Jesus also appealed to John the Baptizer. Remember John was a full and clear witness to the Mission, Person, and Work of Jesus Christ, and everyone counted John a prophet.

i.    Luke 20:5 – The Jewish leaders are now caught in a dilemma, and they know it. They can either admit they have refused a messenger from heaven or provoke a murderous riot against themselves by denying John’s message.[2] To say John’s authority came from God would be an admission not only that Jesus was Messiah, but the call to believe on Him! So they do what any politicking religious person does: They play innocent, avoid a direct answer, and back off to wait for a better opportunity to strike.

j.    By declaring that they did not know, the Jewish leaders demonstrated the hollowness of their own authority and their own blindness. If they were unable to determine the authority behind John, they would be unable to determine the authority behind Christ even if He were to tell them and even though He demonstrated that authority to them. Jesus turned the tables on them as well, showing them to be responsible for their willful ignorance of the truth. So there they stood, the Temple’s sole teaching authority, charged with pre-authorizing all authoritative teaching for Judaism, and they plead ignorance, self-condemned, cowards, and not so cunning.

While the religious leaders viewed Jesus’ actions as blasphemous, the Lord Jesus, on the other hand, viewed as blasphemous an emphasis on dead ritual without a true, vital, growing relationship with God (Luke 19:47). I wonder whether Jesus felt a crushing rejection when He came home to the Temple? This was His Father’s House. The priests were supposed to remain faithful, yet they had left their God and were trafficking with the gods of money, power, and prestige. And they were leading God’s people away with them. Where had the priesthood gone wrong? When did their devotion grow stale? Perhaps in those years of stale religious activity, going through the motions because that’s what people who are trying to be good do. Perhaps they were inoculated against a real relationship with God in their version of board meetings or sumptuous banquets that their position afforded them. They became distanced from Him and utterly bereft of vital, growing spiritual life. It happened to priests in the Temple who were close to the Presence of God; it can happen to Christians as well. We can somehow in all the activity get distanced from our first love. Is there anything you need to talk to God about? Do you need to reestablish and renew your relationship with your First Love? He waits to gather you in His arms (Matt. 23:37). Do you need to recommit your life to Him today?
Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 733-734, 736-738.
Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1993), 243.
David W. Pao and Eckhard J. Schnabel, “Luke,” Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, gen. eds. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 357-360.
Dwight J. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 378-379, 382-383.
Laurence E. Porter, “Luke,” The International Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1220.
Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Reader’s Companion (Wheaton: Victor, 1991), 570-571.
Mark Strauss. “Luke,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Clinton E. Arnold, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 1:469-470.
Charles R. Swindoll and Bryce Klabunde, The Consummation of Something Miraculous: Jesus’ Trial and Triumph of Redemption. A Study of Luke 16:19-24:53 (Anaheim, CA: Insight for Living, 1995), 63-70.
Harold L. Wilmington, The Outline Bible (Nashville: Tyndale House, 1999), 550-551.

[1] Exod 12:43; Lev 22:25; Deut 23:3-7; Ezra 9-10; Neh 13:1-3, 23-31; Ezek 44:9
[2] Luke 20:6 – The people will stone us: Stoning was the prescribed OT punishment for blasphemy (Lev 24:14), idolatry (Lev 20:2; Deut 13:10), and other sins of defiance of God and His Word. To reject God’s prophet knowingly was surely a capital offense.