The Tuesday before his crucifixion Jesus made his way into the temple. He was approached by Jewish leaders who questioned his authority, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23).
It was a good question, though obviously not born out of sincerity. The need for authority in religious practice often is regrettably ignored, forgotten, or abused.
Time and again, Jesus had demonstrated the authority by which he spoke and acted. Warning of the dangers of rejecting his words, Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (John 12:49, 50; see also Matthew 11:27; John 5:19).
The hypocrisy of this otherwise pertinent question is exposed by a counter-question put to them by our Lord, “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” (Matthew 21:25).
The baptism of John (Matthew 3:1-11), was a “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). John was a prophet sent by God (Matthew 11:9), a messenger sent to prepare the way for Jesus (Matthew 11:10).
To reject John’s God-given message was to reject the Almighty himself. That is the power of Jesus’ question. With this query, he placed the Jewish leaders on the horns of a dilemma. They could either reject John and face the wrath of the people, or expose their hypocrisy by accepting John but rejecting the one John came to announce. That this dilemma was of their own making was all the more miserable.
The logic of Jesus is unassailable. A religious action must either come from heaven or not. No third option exists. If an action comes from heaven, it must be followed. If it comes from men, it must be rejected.
Consider the implications of this certainty. The means and process of salvation is disputed. Is this action from God? The avenues of worship are in contention. Is this action from God? On and on we could go. This fundamental question must permeate every aspect of one’s life.
May I suggest a few additional lessons from this account.
1. Be honest. Honest seekers will find God’s welcome. Dishonest seekers will only find frustration.
2. Be diligent. We all should receive the word with all eagerness, and examine the Scriptures to make sure what we are told comes from heaven (see Acts 17:11).
3. Be humble. If we are confronted with the truth that something we are doing is not from God, we must have the courage and humility to accept it and change.
Would that we all asked daily, “Is this from heaven or from men?”