In Matthew 21 starting at vs. 23 Jesus is confronted by the elders (Sanhedrin) over His authority. The Sanhedrin were essentially the gate keepers of the Jewish Faith at that time. They decided what was legitimate and not and who could teach / preach, who was considered and Rabbi, what was going to be clean or not clean, what animals were acceptable or not and so forth. They knew they had not given Jesus authority to teach / preach as a Rabbi and they certainly had not given Him the kind of authority to clear the Temple as He did.
In asking Jesus where His authority came from they were hoping for a couple of possible outcomes. If Jesus had flat out said it came from God they would have charged Him with blasphemy. This is the charge they would use against Him before the crucifixion. If He had said Himself, as in He was a king, then they would have used the might of Rome against Him. Again this is a charge they would try to use also. Lastly if He had simply said “man” then they would have claimed right of authority over Him. Instead He responds as a Rabbi would have in asking them a question about John the Baptist. Instead of answering they obfuscated in order to hide either their own lacking in not believing John or angering them people. Their main concern was not so much maintaining true religious purity but their own power. In answering “they didn’t know” about John they admitted their own failing to be able to distinguish between what was of God and what was of man. This in effect nullifies their own claim to authority. If they, the religious elders, experts, and leaders couldn’t distinguish between the two then how could anyone else be expected to do so. Having negated their power Jesus refused to answer them.
While this is a charming story about Jesus outwitting His opponents yet again, it gets to a deeper question and issue that people must answer when confronted with Jesus. Where does He get His authority. Is merely a man with ideas than ran up against the might and power of the Jewish faith and Rome and crushed by it, or was He truly the Son of God, the Word made Flesh, and the savior of mankind? On how a person answers this question hangs everything. While many people believe Him to be an upright moral teacher with good ideas they stop short of accepting the idea He was anyway divine or that people should follow Him to the exclusion of all other belief systems. The problem with this position is it does a disservice to what we know of Jesus. As C.S. Lewis points out one must either accept Jesus for who He claims to be, the Messiah, the Son of God, or they must write Him off as either a liar or a lunatic. This is because Jesus did make truth claims about Himself, His relationship with God, His ability to forgive sins, and His ultimate goal and purpose. So either He believed all those things about Himself or He knew they were not true when He said them. If the later then He was a liar who led many astray and should not be regarded as a good and moral person. If the former then He would be a lunatic…unless…what He aid was true.
So lets look at these quickly. If He was lying about everything is it plausible to believe He would have endured all He did for the sake of a lie? Not just the crucifixion, but the abandonment by friends, the multiple times He was almost murdered, and even His family writing Him off as crazy? At some point He would say, you know what, its been a good run but seriously not worth it. If He was a lunatic then His statements would probably been a lot more unhinged and all the good moral stuff would be irrelevant, rather than comprehensive. Also being thus unhinged would it have been possible to outwit so many other people who were presumably sane? Yes His own family did level this charge against Him because He was saying some things that were out there and suggesting He could forgive sin. This would not be sane unless it was true and one could argue they were trying to prevent a heavier charge of blasphemy against Him. So was He a lunatic…what other proof do we have than sanity of a lot of His other teachings?
We have the resurrection. Why should one believe in that? First most historians / scholars agree that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who lived and crucified. Yes it would be difficult to believe that anyone who endured the type of death Jesus did could come back to life. This is why the swoon / fainting theory are just rubbish and even the disciples weren’t expecting Him to come back. Yet shortly after His death the disciples are back and proclaiming publicly what they were previously afraid of even being associated with. They were willing to endure arrest, torture, and even death. Again at some point if they knew Jesus was really dead would they have done this? Paul, who was a Pharisee actively precutting Christians does a complete 180 and spends the rest of his life proclaiming the Gospel across the ancient world. The entirety of the New Testament was written within 70 years of the death of Jesus. It even appeals to eye witnesses for proof of what it is saying. Of all the attempts of the Jewish authorities (Sanhedrin) to quiet this growing group, the one thing they never do is go…oh Jesus, the guy who we executed, the guy that is buried in that tomb right over there…we can literally show you his dead body…that guy?
So, with all that what do you say, was He just a man and nothing more, was He a liar or a lunatic? Or…was He truly who He said He was and what He claimed to be? Now what I am going to say may sound hurtful…but if you believe that He was just a man and nothing more then you are not a Christian and you have not been adopted into the Family of God and are not a “Child” of God. Why? Because the only way that can happen is to believe fully and accept Christ fully, not just as a man, but the Son of God, the Word made Flesh, fully man and fully God. The gulf that exist between humanity and God is so wide that man cannot cross it no matter what they do and how hard they try. Only God can cross it and He did through Jesus. If you believe and accept Jesus for who He is, then you are a Christian, have been adopted into the Family of God and are a Child of God. There are no other requirements and no other qualifications.
Last thing I have to say on this is simply this, if you are a Christian and you believe all those things about Jesus, that is wonderful…now live like it. It’s not easy and was never meant to be. But we are called to live out a life like His, full of love, grace, mercy, and compassion for EVERYONE. As a Christian it is never acceptable to be rude, mean, or nasty…and yes we all stumble and sometimes that happens…but if you get that way with someone, please do not try to use Christianity or Jesus to justify that behavior. Jesus was not of man and His authority did not come from man but from God and as a believer we are being transformed into the image of Christ…so as much as possible through yielding to the Holy Spirit we must reflect not the world, not man, but God.