17th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 21) LSB #’s 868:1-4; 454:1-3; 643
Text – Matthew 21:23
And when He entered the temple, the chief priests & the elders of the people came up to Him as He was teaching, & said, “By what authority are you doing these things, & who gave you this authority?”
YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME
A young granddaughter was receiving instruction from a grandparent, & she wasn’t exactly in agreement with it. In the midst of her frustration, she blurted out these words, “You’re not the boss of me!” You don’t need a pastor to tell you, those words come straight from the heart of a sinful human being. You yourself know that frustration all too well.
Struggling to be under the authority of someone else is common in our broken world. It’s a struggle at work. It’s a struggle at school. It’s a struggle at home. It’s even a struggle at church. Our broken world is filled with broken people who make for broken leaders. Yet, even in the perfect world of Eden, two perfect human beings struggled to be under authority.
In the Gospel reading, the chief priests & the elders came to Jesus & basically said to their Creator & Savior, “You’re not the boss of me!” Granted, they put their rebellion in slightly less obvious words, “By what authority are you doing these things, & who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23 ESV)
Adults can be adept at disguising their disdain for authority, when that authority is anyone other than themselves. Satan knew where to attack when he slithered out these words to Adam & Eve, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, & you will be like God…” (Genesis 3:5 ESV) Being like God is the kind of authority we find comfortable.
Now, our Creator’s design is that mankind should have authority over the rest of God’s creation. We find that word in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea & over the birds of the heavens & over the livestock & over all the earth & over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” (ESV) Man’s authority was to be a blessing for the rest of creation. Sin turns that authority into a curse, through attitudes like greed, laziness & ignorance. Some grandchildren don’t like to help clean up after dinner. Some parents are too lazy to raise their children.
A recent report from King’s College London suggests that parents in the United States are not concerned with their children being civil or even obedient. Coming in nearly dead last in the two dozen surveyed countries, only 21% of American adults said obedience was a priority for children. What did rank near the top of priorities? Tolerance.
Raising children to obey proper authority is not an easy task, yet God’s commandments include these words, “Honor your father & your mother…” (Exodus 20:12 ESV) In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus puts things in even harsher terms, “For God commanded, ‘Honor your father & your mother,’ &, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’” (15:4 ESV)
That’s not the cuddly & loving Jesus that secular & liberal scholars are willing to promote. Their Jesus, who loves all with no repentance needed, is not reflected in His words, “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.” (15:4 ESV) Neither is that the tolerant attitude that is near the top of adult American priorities.
The problem that sinful human beings have with authority stems 1st of all from the innate desire to be our own god. Jesus addressed that by paying for the sins of the whole world when He died on the cross. Yet, our problems with authority don’t end there.
We have been declared righteous in God’s sight. We call that justification, but the process of our sanctification is still ongoing. That is where the struggle comes into play of teaching children to obey proper authority. It’s where the struggle with being a godly parent, spouse, employee or student comes into play. That ongoing & daily struggle is what wears us down & drives us to surrender in one of two ways. Either we demand to be the authority, trying to tell others what to do, or we abdicate all responsibility & do nothing unless someone tells us what to do. Either answer relieves me of the stress involved in balancing my reactions between authority & obedience. How much should I lead & how much should I obey?
Living under God’s direction seldom means only one answer or the other. As God’s child you are called to both leadership & obedience. As a parent, you are called to hand off authority to your child as they grow older. As a child, you are called to assume authority when your parents age & are less capable of wielding it. Those are difficult challenges to balance.
We see that challenge beginning in Jesus’ life when, at the age of 12, He remains in the temple while His parents leave for home. The balance between authority & obedience begins to shift. When Jesus assumes His ministry, begins to preach, teach & perform miracles, the Jewish leaders struggle greatly in relinquishing their authority to Him.
Jesus had been associating with unsavory people like tax collectors & prostitutes. He’d regularly been challenging the church leaders for selfishness, greed & hypocrisy. Then, He’d gone to the temple & cast out the money changers. The chief priests & the elders resented that Jesus was assuming authority. They were struggling to accept their role of obedience.
As the Gospel reading begins, the sinful nature of the church officials can’t help but tell Jesus, “You’re not the boss of me!” Being the Monday before Good Friday, the time had come for Jesus to assert His authority on the cross. The sinful shepherds of the sheep had failed in every way. He must move them aside & assume His role in protecting the flock.
However, this struggle for authority takes a dramatic turn in an entirely not sinful way. Jesus again shows the people who are rejecting Him how to accept the life that He brings: “…A man had two sons. And he went to the first & said, ‘Son, go & work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind & went. And he went to the other son & said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors & the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.’” (Matthew 21:28-31 ESV)
Jesus is making this point – the tax collectors & the prostitutes were the son who initially said, “No.” Then they changed their mind & their direction. They repented of their sin & believed that Jesus came to forgive them. The chief priests & elders had tried to exert their authority by forcing these sinners into obedience. That use of the Law will always fail.
It is the good news of forgiveness that is the power of God drawing & empowering sinners into obedience. Though Jesus calls out the chief priests & elders for their unbelief, He exerts His eternal authority over them not through use of the Law. Rather, on Good Friday, the Son of God suffers & dies for their unbelief. Through love Jesus calls them to repentance.
Even the Roman Centurion who would oversee Jesus’ crucifixion eventually recognized who Jesus is, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 ESV) On Easter morning, Jesus exerts His divine authority in His glorious resurrection from the dead. This also was good news, again calling the chief priests & elders to turn around & come back to their Creator & Savior.
Jesus’s victory over sin & death throws open the door of the kingdom of God to believers repenting of horrific sin. He understands how difficult is humble submission to authority. He experienced that from the Garden of Gethsemane until it was finished on the cross. Yet, never once did He say to His Father, “You’re not the boss of me!”
To reject our Lord’s authority is to reject His love & His forgiveness. It is to reject the very life that He gave to us here on earth & that He offers to us for eternity in heaven. In this text from Matthew, the chief priests & elders of the people did not recognize Jesus’ authority. They heard what He said but did not change their minds. They saw what He did & did not believe. For all of that, & for all of our rebellion, Jesus took the penalty that we might be clean. The chief priests & elders were right to be scandalized by what Jesus said & did. He was speaking & acting as God Himself! Where they went wrong was in denying that Jesus is God.
The appropriate response is repentance & faith as the tax collectors & prostitutes demonstrated. How do we respond to the authority of our Creator? Do we double down, look for loopholes, or defer the blame? In Baptism the almighty God called us into His kingdom. He gave us a seat at the banquet in heaven, while we were still sinners.
God sends His Holy Spirit daily into this world to empower sinners to repentance. His Word connects the dots for us to eternal life. As Jesus has said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 11:15 ESV) The you shall live. Amen.
Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle; sing the ending of the fray. Now above the cross, the trophy, sound the loud triumphant lay; tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer, as a victim won the day. Thus, with 30 years accomplished, He went forth from Nazareth, destined, dedicated, willing, did His work, & met His death; like a lamb He humbly yielded on the cross His dying breath. Amen. LSB 454:1, 3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet