The Authority of Jesus Questioned
20 One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 2 “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”
3 He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: 4 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
5 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ 6 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”
7 So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”
8 Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
The Parable of the Tenants
9 He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard,rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
13 “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’
14 “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!”
17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”
19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.
When you look at the sports of hockey, boxing, and MMA or Mixed Martial Arts, they all have something in common. Anyone want to take a shot at what that may be? … No, it’s not the fights, although I do enjoy a good crowd riling up fight in the midst of a hockey game. The thing which hockey, boxing, and Mixed Martial Arts Fighting all have in common is that they all wear … gloves. And there are reasons why they wear gloves. Hockey players wear them to help prevent their hands getting bruised and battered and the gloves also stop their hands from getting burned from the ice. Boxers wear gloves more to protect their hands than their faces. Without boxing gloves, there would be a lot more broken hands since the bones in the hand are very short and are not made to take the impact of slamming into an object with a lot of force. MMA fighters wear gloves for pretty much the same reason, but the difference with their gloves is that the fingers are left exposed for grappling like maneuvers.
Why bring this up? Well, as we draw closer to Holy Week and Easter, there are a lot of different images of Jesus which come to mind. First there is Jesus’ triumphal entry as he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. There is Jesus observing the Passover with his disciples in the upper room on Maundy Thursday. There is Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before his betrayal. There is Jesus standing trial before Pontius Pilate. There is Jesus, beaten as he is forced to carry his own cross to the top of Golgotha. There is Jesus hanging on the cross as he dies. And then there is Jesus standing victorious on Easter morning. These images are very familiar to us. However, there is a different image of Jesus which is presented to us this morning in our gospel reading from Luke 20.
To better understand this image, we need to first set the stage. Everything in the Gospel of Luke leads to Jerusalem and specifically it all leads to the temple. Everything in a way leads to this confrontation in Luke 20. From Luke 1, Jerusalem and the temple have loomed large. There in the temple, the story began with Zechariah as he heard the angel’s announcement that his barren wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son who would be the one who prepares the way for the coming Messiah. Elizabeth would be giving birth to the person who we know as John the Baptist.
It is there in the temple where Jesus was circumcised when he was 8 days old. It was there in the temple where he was presented 40 days after his birth and he got to meet an older man named Simeon. It is there in the temple where Jesus at the age of 12 was concerned with his Father’s business and was left behind for three days. After the transfiguration of Jesus in Luke 9, Jerusalem and the temple is the place Jesus determinedly starts heading.
At the time of our reading, Jesus has already marched triumphantly into Jerusalem under the hail of palm branches and Hosannas. Upon entering Jerusalem, Jesus first goes to the temple. The conflict we see this morning is over the temple and it is one Jesus must resolve. Right before our reading, Jesus asks if the temple is a “house of prayer” (Luke 19:46) or is it essentially the personal playground of the Israel’s elite? Is it God’s desire that Israel is to a be a light to the Gentiles, to the world, or are God’s plans and purposes only about the elevation of Israel? Is it about saving the world or only a chosen few?
The chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders approach Jesus and start the battle. “Tell us by what authority are you doing these things? Who, Jesus, has given you the power to speak authoritatively about what God wants?” (Luke 20:2). Before we get to Jesus’ response, there is something I want to point out. The conflict, the battle between Jesus and the religious elite has been festering and growing for some time. Over the course of time, Jesus has dealt lightly with them. Through his miracles and parables, Jesus has been throwing soft little jabs at them. But now we have a different picture, a different image of Jesus. Instead of the calm, soft hearted Jesus we may be used to, here Jesus is a fighter and in this confrontation with the religious elite, Jesus is taking off the gloves. No more mysteries, no more Mr. Nice Guy. Jesus is taking off the gloves and is on the attack.
“A man planted a vineyard …” (Luke 20:9), Jesus says. Now this is not just another random agricultural parable nor is it a repeat of Jesus’ parable of the unfruitful fig tree which was in a vineyard which I preached about two weeks ago. If you remember, in that sermon, Isaiah compares Israel to God’s vineyard (Is. 5). The prophet had said that the Lord had done everything for His vineyard, but that His vineyard had yielded only bad grapes. The reference here by Jesus is obvious: “A man planted a vineyard.”
But Jesus twists the reference … unlike in Isaiah 5 or in the parable of the unfruitful fig tree, the vineyard this time is not the problem … the problem lies with the tenants, the workers. The tenants think that they’re the owners. They totally forget that they’re obligated to the real owner, that they work him and not themselves. These evil tenants reason, if you can even call it reasoning, that killing the owner’s son will make the vineyard theirs forever.
Let’s go back to the chief priest’s question, where did Jesus get his authority? Jesus, taking off the gloves asks a different question of them, “Where did you as the chief priests get your authority?” The vineyard is not theirs, they are not the owners. The chief priests are not Israel’s true ruler nor do they have the right and ability to claim authority over Israel, over Israel’s scriptures, over Israel’s worship, or even over Israel’s vision. And yet, over time, the religious elite have forced out and beaten the prophets which God has sent to them. And now Jesus says, they want to kill the son. But what will happen with the tenants when they kill the son? Jesus says the owner will come and “He will kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Luke 20:16). But the people, especially the religious elite, don’t believe Jesus and proclaim, “May it never be!” (Luke 20:16).
Jesus has taken off the gloves and through this parable aimed at the religious elite, Jesus has landed a solid shot, perhaps a knockout shot … but the people continue to back up and side with the religious elite. The people of Israel will continue with their current leadership, they will embrace their narrow view of Israel and her purpose. Jesus has, at the moment, lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the people. In the few short days remaining in Jesus’ life, He will live out this parable. The owner’s son, God’s Son, will be killed by the tenants.
These Israelite people simply stand in place for all of humanity. There is nothing in Israel’s rejection of God which can’t be found in every human heart … yours and mine included. We too mistake ourselves as the owners of the vineyard. We too reject God’s reign and His plan and His purposes as we prefer to go our own ways and do what we think is best.
We too in a week from now will join in with the voices of the Good Friday crowd as we shout out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” We all, each and every one of us, we all have our hands on the hammer and the nails which fasten Jesus to the cross. We all have our backs in it as we push the cross up into position. We all squat back on our rear haunches and gamble for the spoils. With gloves off, we take our swings at God. God through His law confronts us in our willfulness, in our defiance, in our sin, and in our asserting ourselves and our vision to be god for ourselves … we all take part in the killing of the heir.
Each of us have taken off the gloves and we swing with all our might at Jesus. As foretold by Isaiah, Jesus silently takes the punches. Jesus himself, having taken off his gloves, is swinging as well. But the thing is, he isn’t swinging at you and me. No, instead, Jesus has taken off the gloves and is swing at sin, Satan, and death … and he is doing it for you … and for me. Jesus is taking swings at humanity’s hateful violence, he is swinging at the rage of humanity’s sin … and he is totally knocking them out. Through Jesus’ death on the cross on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter … Jesus fights and wins the bout, the fight with sin, Satan, and death for you. Jesus fights and wins as he rises victoriously on Easter morning so that you can rest assured … the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life are yours now and forever. God “gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).
Friends, we live in a world where sin, Satan and death reign supreme and the values of God and the love of God are being backed into a corner. Our opponent is waiting for our coach, for our God to throw in the white towel. Friends, it is time to take off the gloves and with the knowledge of God’s Word and with the power of the Spirit, it is time to come out swinging. We don’t want to knock people out … but we need to gently help them recognize that they have an amazing God who is willing to love them and bring them into His eternal family. May we always be ready, may we never back down on God’s Word and promises, and may all that we say and do be done to God’s glory and honor. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.