27 Jesus and his disciples arrived again in Jerusalem. He was walking in the temple courtyard. Then the chief priests came to him. The teachers of the law and the elders came too. 28 “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “Who gave you authority to do this?” 29 Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 Was John’s baptism from heaven? Or did it come from human authority? Tell me!” 31 They talked to each other about it. They said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But what if we say, ‘From human authority’?” They were afraid of the people. Everyone believed that John really was a prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I am doing these things either.”
They ask a question about Jesus’ authority, but it’s not because they want to know the answer. Jesus has already said and done more than enough to make it clear. But clearly they don’t accept that authority.
So what’s the purpose of this question (and the one about taxes in 12:14-15)?
They have already decided to kill Jesus. But they need the crowd to want it too. (It seems they have no authority.) So they are looking for Jesus to say something that they can work up into outrage. Jesus sees their hearts. He knows that dying (for us) is his purpose, but this is not the right time yet.
His response is interesting. It exposes their intent, but avoids the confrontation they are looking for.
We all come across people like these: looking for an argument rather than the truth. I’ve fallen into that trap before: The pointless argument that diverts focus away from their heart and God’s heart for them. Winning it only satisfies my pride.
Jesus gives me a better response: “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) “Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13:11)
Jesus, as always, your way is better than mine. I choose to walk your way today. Holy Spirit, speak to my heart. Fill what I say today with your grace, and wisdom and truth.
Written by David Cornell