By What Authority? (Luke 20:1-26)

As we continue our study of the Gospel of Luke we come to the question of Jesus’ authority.  The main question is summed up in Luke 20:2: “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority?”  In our sermon we shall see that Jesus’ authority is: 1) Divine, 2) Legal, and 3) Sovereign over our lives.

Divine Authority

In order to better understand the question posed to Jesus we must remember what has just transpired.  The religious authorities have just seen Jesus ride into Jerusalem as if He is were king and then enter the Temple Complex in order to overturn the money-changers tables, chase out those selling, and begin teaching daily in the Temple.  This, along with other incidents they have heard about, prompts them to ask Jesus: “Who gave you the right to do these things?”  In Jesus’ response, let us consider the following:

Not From Man. It is interesting that when Jesus was asked who gave Him His authority He mentions John the Baptist. He did not do this because John gave Him His authority but because—if they remember—John testified to Jesus’ authority.  John testified that Jesus was the Christ.  This is why Jesus does not give an answer but a question.  Jesus asked them what they believed about John.  If they believed John was a prophet then they would know that Jesus’ authority comes from God.  But if they do not believe John is a prophet then they will not believe the truth about Jesus.

From Heaven.  Just as John’s baptism was from heaven and John’s mission was to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus; Jesus’ authority comes from God the Father.  In fact, the Father spoke at Jesus’ baptism when He announced “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35).  Jesus has Divine authority because He is God and is working according to God’s plan.

Legal Authority

While Jesus did not directly answer the religious leaders’ question, He did answer them in a parable.  In verses 9-18 we read the Parable of the Vineyard Owner.  The Owner is God, the tenants are Israel, and the messengers are the Prophets.  Consider further:

Owner’s Vineyard.  The vineyard does not belong to the tenants and it is a crime for them to suppose it does.  The one who planted the vineyard owns the vineyard and the terms of the lease required that the Owner would receive “some of the fruit of the vineyard” (10).  When the time came the tenants responded in arrogant defiance and refused to give the Owner His share even though the “beloved Son” (13) arrived.  They mistreated the Owner’s servants (the prophets) and murdered the Owner’s Son (Jesus).

Legal Rights. Just as a vineyard owner has the legal right to hire/fire tenants and to demand payment, God has the legal authority (as Creator and Owner) to take the kingdom of God away from one and give to another.  Jesus told the chief priests and the Pharisees in Matthew 21:43 that they will have the kingdom of God taken away from them and given to a people producing its fruits.  It is important to notice that this happened when the Apostles became God’s instruments for declaring His peace instead of the Jewish religious leaders.

This happened because of the Jewish religious leaders’ failure to accept Jesus as the Christ.  Jesus illustrates this by referring to a stone that builders reject because they deem it worthless.  In the foolishness they are rejecting the most important stone in the building—the cornerstone.  Instead of it being the most important stone it becomes “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:8).  Jesus has Legal authority because He is the Creator and Owner of all things.

Sovereign Authority

Lastly, in terms of Jesus’ authority, we learn of the relationship between God and all other authority figures in our life.  In Jesus’ day, from an earthly perspective, there was no more powerful ruler than Caesar.  Seeking to trap Jesus and get Him in trouble with the Roman authorities, spies of the religious leaders asked Jesus whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar.  This was a very explosive issue.  Consider how Jesus responded:

Render to Caesar. Jesus asked whose likeness and inscription is on the coin used to pay the tax and was told it was Caesar’s.  Jesus says that if something belongs to Caesar—like this coin—give it back to Caesar.  Caesar is your earthly ruler so “let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).

Render to God. If something is Caesar’s give it back to Caesar, but if something s God’s give it back to God.  If it has Caesar’s image on it, give it to him.  But if something has God’s image on it, give it to God.  You have God’s image on you so give yourself completely to God. This answer was perfect because it shows that we must submit ourselves and everything we have to God who is sovereign over all.  Only then are we to—in obedience to God—obey our earthly leaders.  Let us close by asking ourselves the same question Jesus was asked: “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority?”  If your authority is Christ, then go boldly in great peace. If your authority is not Christ, repent.