Thursday, May 12, 2005

Sermon: Thursday of Easter 6 (Exaudi)

12 May 2005 at Lutheran High School Chapel, Metairie, LA

Text: Luke 20:1-8

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Sometimes a question really isn’t a question. The enemies of Jesus – the chief priests, scribes, and elders – “ask” him a question: “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who is it that gave you this authority?”

At first, it might seem rude that Jesus doesn’t answer their question. That is, until we realize the question is really not a question at all. It is a carefully crafted insult of our Lord, a denial of who he really is. The “question” is really a statement of unbelief in Jesus – which after all, is the unpardonable sin. Jesus could have answered their “question” – but it would have made no difference at all. Sometimes when people “ask” us a question, they already have the “answer.” This is certainly the case with Jesus in our text today.

His enemies ask him by what authority he “does such things.” What things? Jesus has just “cleansed the Temple” – that is, he has just run off the moneychangers and overturned their tables. Jesus had no permission from Herod, nor the priests, nor Pilate, nor the soldiers, nor anyone in charge. But Jesus is God, the Temple belongs to him, he needs no permission. Jesus has authority in himself to create the world, to destroy the world, to save us, to condemn us, to destroy the Temple and to raise it up again in three days – if he chooses. Jesus has authority to lay down his life and take it up again. Jesus is God, he is the Lord, he is Yahweh of the Old Testament. He is the Alpha and the Omega.

But his enemies don’t believe this. This is why they would like to see a note from somebody “in charge” – denying as they do that Jesus is “in charge.”

This is quite an illustration. These people know perfectly well who Jesus is. They know where he gets his authority. They know, but they don’t believe. We modern folks like to turn the word “know” and “believe” into the same thing. “Know Jesus, know peace” says the bumper sticker. But the chief priests, scribes, and elders knew all too well who Jesus was. They watched him perform miracles and preach with authority as they had never seen for three years. They saw him cure lepers before their eyes. And their response? They complained that he did it on the Sabbath.

Yes, these people knew who Jesus was, but they did not believe in him. The demons likewise knew Jesus, just as they know him today. They know, yet they don’t believe. They know Jesus is both God and man, they know he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They know who his Father is, and from where he gets his authority. They know, and yet they remain condemned because they do not believe.

Knowledge and belief are two different things. This is why Jesus can refer to infants in Matthew 18 as “those who believe in me.” Infants do not “know” Jesus. They have no intellectual knowledge of him. And yet, unless Jesus is a liar, infants can indeed believe in him. They can indeed have faith. And yet grown men who watched Jesus raise people from the dead and multiply loaves and fishes, and cure the sick by the thousands, men whose lives were spent studying the Law and the Prophets, many of whom knew Jesus personally and intimately – did not believe.

Faith is indeed a great mystery. And Jesus exposes his enemies’ lack of faith by raising the issue they have raised to begin with: authority. Now, Jesus links “authority” to baptism. He asks them: “Is John’s baptism a divine sacrament from heaven, or is it only a symbolic human action?” The elders know perfectly well what John’s baptism is, but they do not believe in it. Instead of simply confessing what they believe, they manipulate an answer based on how their answer will be taken by the people. In other words, they don’t care for what is true, but rather only for what is popular. So they avoid all controversy by refusing to answer the question. Jesus cleverly responds by refusing to answer their question. They already know the answer, they just don’t believe.

But what does Jesus say about authority? First of all, what is “authority”? It’s different than “power.” Authority is delegated, that is, it is passed down the line. The President’s authority flows down from himself, through the generals, through the officers, through the non-coms, right down to the lowest-ranking private soldiers. Nobody gives orders by his own authority – everybody has a boss. If the police search a person’s home, they must have the authority to do so – granted by a judge via a warrant. If you leave the country, when you return, you must establish your authority as a citizen by producing some kind of proof. Even driving a car requires a license of authority.

Jesus has every right to claim ultimate authority – and yet he chooses to act on his Father’s authority. He tells us before his ascension that “all authority” has been given him by the Father. This is precisely what Jesus’s enemies know, but don’t believe. Satan himself knows this, yet doesn’t believe. Jesus humbles himself to submit to the Father. And he passes this authority on to the Eleven disciples when he gives them the commission to baptize and preach. The apostles have passed that authority on through the centuries to bishops of the church today. A pastor doesn’t baptize or preach by his own authority, but only under the authority granted him by Jesus via his ordination.

Authority is the mechanism by which God gets things done. He delegates healing authority to doctors, he delegates teaching authority to educators, he delegates artistic authority to musicians, and grants police authority to secular governments. All authority ultimately flows from God.

As I told you juniors in the ring ceremony – you have authority as student leaders of Lutheran High. But this authority is for the purpose of God using you to get his work done. The purpose of authority is not to lord over people, not to wield authority just for its own sake. Authority is entrusted to us in order to use it wisely, to carry out the Lord’s will with it.

Jesus demonstrated the ultimate authority by laying down his life to take away our sins, and the taking up of his life again in order to become the “firstborn” of those who have conquered death. Jesus explained the true meaning of authority: for the greatest to become the lowliest, for the master to become the servant, for him who has been given much to do much. And he is precisely describing his own ministry here! Jesus, the King of the universe becomes the slave of all mankind. He who is perfect and exalted by angels becomes the carrier of all sin and is spat upon by criminals. He who is the author of all life himself tastes the most bitter death ever experienced. Authority is not about rights, privileges, and power, but rather about service, love, and sacrifice.

And this is precisely what the chief priests, scribes, and elders just don’t get. These are men with authority who abuse their authority to serve themselves. They are so blinded by their selfishness that they cannot see what is obvious: that Jesus has all authority – including the authority to forgive sins and free us from the tyranny of the devil.

They are asking a question that they already know the answer to. They know, but they do not believe.

May our Lord Jesus grant us all the grace to believe and the wisdom to use our God-granted authority to carry out the works the Lord gives us to do.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments: