“High Stakes Showdown”

Matthew 21:23-32

27 September 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Prayer.

The trains ran on time, so to speak.

One hundred years before Jesus

The conquering Romans and

Family leaders from one of many branches of Judaism

Came to an agreement.

Winners make the rules.

Rome spelled out the terms to the agreement:

You and your family collect taxes and keep a small cut for yourselves.

You keep the peace so we can spend our time expanding the Empire.

Rome had the weapons, soldiers, and a winning record.

The family could choose any color for their chariot,

As long as it was black.

The deal had worked well for one hundred years.

Only one, single Legion of troops were needed at Caesarea on the coast and

A small garrison in Jerusalem.

On the grand scale of the Roman Empire,

Palestine was a small backwater that needed little attention.

Palestine also so profitable to Rome they practically printed them money.

Any hint of insurrection or revolt

Was quickly and violently put down.

Word of any potential rebellion would have been uncovered

by an extensive network of spies.

Intelligence would make its way to the Priestly family,

Who passed it on to the appointed Roman governor,

Who commanded the troops

With orders to fill up the dungeons and speed up crucifixions.

Taxes flowed in.

The Priestly family wealth and status increased.

Temple efficiency improved.

New sources of income were found.

Temple markets selling purebred sacrificial doves and lambs, and,

Currency exchanges swapping out money for the local shekel

Were big money makers,

All under the watchful eye of the Priestly family.

Authority was passed from generation to generation.

The peace was kept.

Few things are more beautiful than a well-organized syndicate.  

Then Jesus comes and kicks in the door.

Prior to the Gospel passage for today,

Jesus makes his triumphant entry into the city,

Dressed in royal colors,

Riding a donkey to fulfill messianic expectations

Leading a parade of protesters

Waving palm branches and exercising

What we would call their First Amendment rights

(Sadly, they had no American Constitutional rights),

Shouting, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Word quickly made its way to Temple chambers.

A new challenger to the throne had come to town.

Intelligence was quickly passed to the Roman muscle housed in the Antoni Fortress adjacent to the Temple.

Swords were sharpened.

Knives were honed.

Armor would be polished.

Crosses for crucifixions, hammers, and nails were readied for use.

The alert status for today’s Gospel

Is Defcon 5.

One minute to midnight.

Jesus kicks the hornet’s nest.

He cleanses the Temple,

Overturning the money changer’s tables,

Overturning tables of people selling doves for sacrifice.

“The money! The money!” the bean counters probably cried, as coins scattered everywhere.

The crowd loved it.

Jesus was sticking it to the man.

Even onlooking children loved it.

When children cried out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (21:15)

The Chief Priest’s blood began to boil.

Before Jesus could be arrested,

He snuck out the backdoor for a night in the ‘burbs.

Bethany, across the valley was only a short walk to the Temples steps

Where Jesus is found teaching today.

Jesus was a wanted man.

Jesus kicked the hornet nest a second time.

The knives came out.

“By what authority are you doing these things,” the Chief priests and elders of the people asked,

“and who gave you this authority?” (21:23)

It was a moment of deafening silence.

Electricity filled the air.

A keg of dynamite was primed and fused.

Soldiers who accompanied the Chief Priest and elders tightly gripped their swords.

The standoff between Temple authorities and Jesus came to a head,

Just like a charged, downtown standoff between protesters and police.

One could see the angry stares,

The careful dance,

The trickling beads of sweat.

To the crowd’s delight,

Jesus, the country bumpkin from Galilee,

Kicked in the door,

Kicked over the hornet’s nest,

Not once, but twice in two days!

And now, he sticks it to the man a second time.  

He did it with an unanswerable question

That every self-respecting leader in charge should be able to answer.

Jesus asks the unanswerable question right out there for all the world to hear.

Either way they answered Jesus

Would result in disaster.

They knew they couldn’t answer.

“We do not know,” they replied from their painted-in corner. (21:27)

Jesus wasn’t going to answer their question about authority …

… until they answered his question about the baptism of John.

Instead, Jesus does what Jesus does best.

He teaches in parables.

He tells three stories,

Each with an underlying message,

The first of which concludes today’s Gospel passage.

Sinners, like tax collectors and prostitutes,

At first deny the will of their father by doing wrong.

But, they reconsider and turned around and did the right thing.

Initially they didn’t believe the baptism of John the Baptist came from God,

But now, even they do.

Why can’t you Temple authorities be more like tax collectors and prostitutes?

Why can’t you believe that authority comes from God?

This is THE question of the day.

Why is it so hard to believe authority comes from God, and behave accordingly?

The world tells us otherwise.

The world tells us authority comes simply because you are a biological parent.

The world tells us authority comes from earning a place at the table:

Education. Credentials. Certifications. A license to practice.

Authority comes from the teacher or professor with the power of the grade.

Authority comes from wealth, tucked away, drawing interest, freeing up time for other endeavors or interests.

The world tells us authority comes with a badge and a gun,

Power projected like a boxer standing over a vanquished foe

Or an aircraft carrier deployed to a distant gulf.

Jesus tells us authority comes God.

Authority comes from the voice of the I AM,

Who whispered creation into being,

Who spoke from a cloud at our Lord’s baptism and said,

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I AM well pleased.” (3:17)

Authority came from the very same voice with the very same words on the Mount of Transfiguration. (17:5)

Authority comes from God, and from God alone.

Authority speaks power.

No mortal power can compare to the power of God.

Our imagination is incapable of grasping the fullness of God’s infinite power.

The creator of the atom splits it.

The maker of matter destroys and returns it to energy without a second thought.

The giver of life overcomes death with eternal life.

Now, that’s power.

All authority and power comes from God.

Authority directs, commands, and controls the future into being.

Like an admiral commanding fleets of ships,

Divine authority shapes today

To ensure Divine resolution tomorrow.

How is it that God can make such over the top promises?

How is it that God has a perfect record of promises fulfilled?

To speak of God’s faithfulness

Is to speak of the Lord’s ability to shape the world

Into God’s planned outcome.

God’s planned outcome is for

God’s kingdom to come to earth as it is in heaven.

All authority, power, and control comes from God.  

Our Authority rules with grace and love.

Look to Jesus, Son of God, fully human, fully Divine.

Look to Jesus and witness the characteristics of God’s Authority.

Jesus exerts his Divine Authority to bring mercy to the last, least, and lost of this world.

Jesus exerts his Divine Authority to forgive every sin,

Repair every broken relationship,

Return all people into perfect communion with God.

Jesus exerts his Divine Authority to open every tomb,

Win victory over the grave,

And deliver the world into eternal life.

This is the nature of our Divine Authority.

Grace and love; and it comes first and only from God.

All God’s authority, power, and control is finely balanced by God’s grace and love.  

Jesus stares down the Chief Priests and elders of the people,

Using his time and talent

To delay arrest until it was God’s time.

Jesus teaches with stories about God’s kingdom,

God’s authority, 

God’s power,

God’s will, and

God’s grace and love.

Accept it or deny it;

This is God’s world.

We are God’s people.

The Lord is our King.

For the Lord’s grace and love,

I chose to gladly accept God’s authority

With praise and thanksgiving.

Join me!

Amen.

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