By What Authority?

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Can this be it? Centuries earlier the prophet Zechariah had declared, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9). Now the prophecy had been fulfilled. The One who had proclaimed good news throughout Israel, the One who had healed the sick and cast out demons, the One who had raised the dead, had entered Jerusalem on a donkey and cleansed the temple. The people cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The chief priests and scribes, on the other hand, were indignant. They would not say, “Hosanna!” They said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matt. 21:15, 23). The irony is tragic. Those who supposedly knew the Scriptures better than any others could not recognize the arrival of the Messiah promised in those very Scriptures.

The novelist Flannery O’Connor wrote, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” The priests and scribes could not stomach the truth about Jesus. Their hearts were too hardened. But none of this changed the fact that the One whose authority they were questioning was the incarnate Son. By what authority was Jesus doing these things? By the very authority of God. And who gave Him this authority? His Father in heaven. They were arrogantly interrogating the Son of God. But on the last day, these men will once again stand before Jesus, and this time He will be the one passing judgment. It is not difficult to imagine these men being asked by Jesus, “By what authority did you reject the promises of Almighty God? By what authority did you reject His Messiah?” They will be without excuse. So will any who have rejected the Messiah.

The rejection of God’s authority began with Satan, the original rebel. From what we can discern in Scripture, Satan’s rebellion was rooted in his intense pride. The first man and his wife, too, rejected God’s authority. Placed in a perfect garden environment, they were given permission to eat of every tree but one. Tempted by Satan, they refused to submit to God’s authority, ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, and plunged themselves and their posterity into sin and death. God, however, graciously promised redemption, and this redemption would come through the seed of the woman. The rejection of God’s authority continued throughout the history of Israel. Despite God’s warnings, His people repeatedly rejected His authority, falling deeper and deeper into idolatry until eventually, they were exiled from their land. Restoration after exile did not change their hardened hearts. When God finally sent the promised Messiah, they rejected Him as well, putting Him to death on a cross.

This, however, was part of the definite plan of God (Acts 2:23). Just as God brought good out of the evil actions of Joseph’s brothers (Gen. 50:20), He will bring the ultimate good out of the most evil action imaginable. Israel had rejected and crucified the promised Messiah, the very Son of God, but on the cross, Jesus accomplished the redemption of His people, providing Himself as a substitute for them, taking upon Himself their transgressions and iniquities (Isa. 52:13–53:12). Three days later, He was raised from the grave, victorious over death. On the cross His heel had been bruised by the serpent. But the head of the serpent was crushed by the stone that was rolled away from the tomb.

Although God took the evil of men who rejected His authority and used it for good, the acts of these men remained evil (Acts 2:23). To reject the authority of God is the height of arrogant wickedness. To do so is to imitate the works of Satan, and there is no excuse for it. God is holy and just. His word is true and trustworthy. He does not deceive or speak with a forked tongue. What He commands us He commands us for our good and His glory. As His adopted children and subjects, we are called to submit to Him. We are called to trust Him and obey Him.

Submission and obedience do not come easily to sinful creatures. Our fallen nature is inherently rebellious. Apart from God’s grace, we are of our father the Devil, and as it does with him, our pride blinds us. Rather than submit to God’s authority, we hold on with all of our might to our autonomy. We will not be told what to do, so we devise excuse after excuse. Like the wicked kings spoken of in Psalm 2, we burst our bonds. Those who do this, however, will be judged.

Submission to the rightful authority of God cannot be done in our own power. This is one of the lessons to be learned from the history of Israel. It requires a new heart, a new birth. It requires the Holy Spirit. In short, it requires the grace of God, turning our hearts to Jesus. But those who do come to Him, He will in no way cast out.

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