Session #128 Don’t Act Blur
Scripture Matthew 21:23-27
Summary In Matthew 21:23-27, Jesus encounters the temple authorities who promptly questions His authority. In true rabbinic form, Jesus responds with His own question and catches them all by surprise. Not wishing to commit, they play the ‘we-do-not-know’ card. In Singlish, this is called ‘acting blur’. Bad move. Especially when it comes to acknowledging Jesus’ authority, don’t act blur.
Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. Matthew 21:23-27
Let me begin by explaining the title: Don’t Act Blur. In Singapore, we have our own brand of English – it is called Singlish or Singapore English, where familiar English words carry local meanings. ’Blur’ can refer to a smear, a smudge, hazy, indistinct, out of focus, unclear. In Singlish, ‘Blur’ means slow in understanding; unaware, ignorant, confused. Hence, the phrase ‘Act Blur’ simply means: to play innocent, to pretend to be ignorant, to feign ignorance. It is usually used to avoid admitting any liability, taking responsibility, and making a commitment. It is easier to plead ignorance and hopefully get off the hook.
This is what we see in Matthew 21:23-27, when Jesus challenged their confrontation, the religious leaders acted blur. In this teaching, we will see how that is not the right response at all, especially when it comes to acknowledging the authority of Jesus the Messiah and King, don’t act blur.
Jesus Returned to the Temple
From the passage, we see that Jesus returned to the temple. Let us review the timeline. On Sunday, he entered Jerusalem. On Monday, there was the fig tree cursing followed by the temple cleansing. On Tuesday, there was the fig tree lesson after the tree withered, followed by the temple confrontation. This was the day after the temple cleansing but it was not recorded if the stalls were set up again and back to normal trading as usual. This might be for some while others might be watching to see if it was safe. Would Jesus overturn the tables again? In any case, there was no need to overturn the tables again. Jesus had already made His point and the warning had already been given. Jesus continued His kingdom assignment to teach things pertaining to the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
Here are some points for us to note. God does not need to nag. He says it once and we are expected to heed His Word. Yes, we need to sound the wake up call and remind, remind and remind again. However, we need to be careful not to always preach doom and gloom without ever declaring the good news of the kingdom at all. Do not keep overturning wrong tables without setting up proper ones and inviting all to Jesus’ tables of kingdom community and fellowship. Preach and teach the kingdom, the full counsel of God. Even so, do not be distracted from your kingdom assignment especially in the face of non-compliance and confrontation.
Christ. Crowds. Council. Confrontation.
In the temple, Jesus the Christ attracted not just the crowds but also the council and confrontation. It is safe to assume that a rather large crowd had gathered to listen to Jesus. Otherwise there would have been no need for the leaders to be concerned, for them to confront Him. They would not let Him get away with what He did the previous day. They had to challenge and discredit Him in front of the crowd (Matthew 21:23). Who were the leaders that confronted Jesus? They were the Council, presumably, representatives of the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court), also called the Great Council, consisting of 71 rabbis. Why 71? In Numbers 11:16, God told Moses “Gather for Me 70 men from the elders of Israel.” “And they shall stand there with you. Thus, the 70 judges plus Moses equals 71. If not the entire Sanhedrin (71 rabbis), then definitely representatives of the highest council of the land- the top ranking Sadducees and Pharisees; and scribes (Mark 11:27), the chief priests and also the captain of the temple (the head of the temple police who was responsible for maintaining order in the Jerusalem temple. His authority was second only to the high priest). It was not a small group, a power encounter of the highest level.
There was probably a spokesperson who confronted Jesus, asking “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” What are ‘these things’? These things could refer to recent events such as; entering Jerusalem in such a manner; receiving praise as Messiah and God; overturning tables and upsetting temple activities and challenging the leaders. These things could also be referring to events leading up to the entry and temple saga: having His own disciples and drawing large crowds; teaching the kingdom and performing signs and wonders; confronting Pharisees and scribes sent to check Him out. Paraphrasing these, they were asking Him: ‘Who do you think you are? Who gave you the right or permission? Who is your boss? Your Master? Your Rabbi? Who authorised you?
The issue is about authority. In the Old Testament, the word authority is normally associated with rulers and kings. For example, the word used is ‘malak’ meaning to rule; melek meaning king or ruler; mirrored by Greek “archon”. Only these have the right and the power to speak and act as they did and desired.
In the New Testament, the word is ‘exousia’, translated as authority or power. Authority is rightful, actual and unimpeded power to act, or to possess, control, use or dispose of, something or somebody. This is to be differentiated from ‘dunamis’ which refers to physical power or ability. ‘Exousia’ or authority signifies power that is in some sense lawful. The difference between simply having power and having the right to exercise that power rightly. As an illustration, let us look at a police officer and a truck. The truck has more power than a police officer but the police officer has authority and power to stop the truck.
Authority also comes from the word author i.e. an inventor, creator, originator. ‘Author ’ comes from the Latin word auctorem, meaning “founder, master, leader.”
God as the creator and author thus has authority over everything and everyone. As an illustration: I have had the privilege to write two books: ‘Say To Archippus’ and ‘Alignment Check’. Others can read, quote, post and discuss the content of books. However, to preserve copyright, others need to have permission to use, to quote correctly. Rightly, they must cite the right references and credit the author. In that, they derive authority from the author, thereby adding weight to their discussions and posts. As the author, I have a different level of authority. I have the right to use the quotations because it originated from me. In discussion and teaching platforms, people recognise that authority when I am present in that room or discussion and they ask questions and seek clarifications about the books. However, my authority is based on a much higher authority, that of Scriptures and the One who authored the Scriptures, the One from Whom the assignment originated. My authority is only right and in order when I am rightly aligned with Jesus and the ways of His kingdom
Understanding Rabbinic Authority
Understanding the meaning of authority, we can now move on to understand rabbinic authority. There was already an established ordination process. Eminent rabbis would ordain their own disciples but this led to some abuse. So Sanhedrin took over the ordination process with very strict requirements. They issued ordination papers, giving authority to such ordained ministers. As experts of the law, their authority came from Moses. Jesus acknowledged that “they sit in Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:2). Moses received the Law from God, so this authority was ultimately from God. In other words, they were the highest authority in the land. As God’s ordained ministers, there is no higher authority.
So from the questions they were asking Jesus in Matthew 21:23, they were actually asking Jesus:‘Where are Your ordination papers? Who certified You? Who made You a rabbi? In modern language, which bible or theological school did you graduate from? Who is your chancellor or dean? We do not seem to have any record of a Rabbi Jesus and as such, You are not authorised at all to teach or do anything You have done.’ They asked Jesus and later they asked His disciples the same questions too (Acts 4:7).
As leaders of the land and guardians of the law, they had the responsibility to determine what was true or not; right or not. Their questions about Jesus’ authority were perfectly in order. However, the motive behind the questions was questionable.
They were not interested in what Jesus had to say. Their objective was to trap Jesus.
They already knew that Jesus had declared many times that He acted on behalf of God, as the Son of David, the Son of God; even equal to God. They wanted Him to say it to them directly, in front of the people, on temple (holy) grounds, then they could arrest Him for making such a claim, for blasphemy, and put Him to death.
Against all the rabbis, Rabbi Jesus Asks His Own Question in Reply to Their Questions
In Matthew 21:24, Jesus acknowledged the legitimacy of their questions and was willing to answer them. However, knowing their intent, He set a condition for His answer. In doing so, He regained initiative and caught them at their own game. In Matthew 21:25, He asked them about the baptism of John which referred to John’s entire ministry. John was preparing the way of the Lord, a call to repentance, a baptism of repentance that prepared the people for the coming of the Messiah. As the forerunner, John pointed to Jesus, identifying Him as the Messiah (John 1:29, John 3:30). Many believed and responded; considering John as a prophet, sent of God. So Jesus was asking them:’ What do you think, leaders? From heaven? Or from men? God-ordained, -sanctioned, -assigned? Or just John’s own imagination and agenda?’
Jesus’ question caught them by surprise and threw them off. It was probably quite a funny sight. The spokesman probably looked at the lead guy; they glanced at one and another, lost looks all around and they called a time out and had a council meeting right there and then. We do not know how long they took, but it must have taken at least a while.
If they answered ‘from heaven’, they would be affirming John’s ministry, which meant agreeing that Jesus was the Messiah, the One to come. If so, why did they not believe? If they believed, their questions were totally unnecessary. If they believed, everyone would then believe in Jesus. They stood to lose their position, authority and credibility and looked like fools in front of the crowds too. In Matthew 3:7-8, John called out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and so they would be also acknowledging their own hypocrisy.
Many already considered John as a prophet of God. If they answered “from men”, everyone would question their authority as religious leaders of the nation. They could not risk appearing clueless or faithless or indifferent where God’s prophetic timeline was concerned. They were supposed to know these things. When Herod called for them, they were able to refer to Scriptures that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem; yet were not interested in following the magis to see if prophecy was being fulfilled. The real reason was that they fear the multitude. They were afraid of offending and losing the people.
They were in a ‘Catch 22’ situation. Both answers were non-options for them. They asked about authority without the desire of knowing the real answer. In trying to trap Jesus through rabbinic-type questioning, they ended up being trapped by the Rabbi of rabbis. They could not answer because of their unbelief and the fear of men. They had to protect their own turf and ‘authority’, so they act blur and just say “We do not know!” as they simply did not want to acknowledge Jesus’ authority. Kingdom authority was clearly demonstrated by Jesus and yet they pleaded and feigned ignorance and refused to commit to a clear answer
Kingdom Authority through the Gospel of Matthew: Christological Intent
The gospel of Matthew always had a Christological intent to show forth Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah and if so, He possesses all authority. With reference to the authority of scriptures in Matthew, there were more than sixty references to the Old Testament scriptures with nine times mentioning ‘It is written’ which represents ‘authority’; and twelve times ‘that it might be fulfilled’ which represents ‘accuracy’.
In Matthew 7:28-29, it mentioned that Jesus taught with authority. Jesus said: ‘You have heard that it was said to those of old; … but I say to you …’, as He was the Author and He had the authority to provide the right interpretation of the Law. He did not have to refer to anyone or any rabbi; nor provide any footnotes.
In Matthew 8:23-27, Jesus had authority over nature and creation, He rebuked the winds and there was great calm and the disciples saw it and marveled who is this that nature obeys Him.
In Matthew 9:1-8, Jesus had authority to forgive sins. Only God could forgive sins and that is why the scribes were so upset when Jesus said ‘I forgive your sins.’
In Matthew 10:1 Jesus had authority over both physical and spiritual realms. He could heal the sick and cast out demons.
In Matthew 20:20-28, Jesus then taught and explained kingdom authority, not as ‘the rulers of the Gentiles who lord it over people’, but an authority unlike that of the world and demonstrated through humility and servanthood.
Since they acted blur, Jesus did not have to answer their questions because they already knew the answer. It was very obvious where Jesus’ authority was from.
Jesus was and is the Authority. He was the One greater than the temple (Matthew 12:6). They were, however, unwilling to accept the answer as they did not want to accept Jesus’ authority.
Instead of answering directly, Jesus answered by way of three parables: Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32), Wicked Vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-46) and Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) where He demonstrated the Rejection of Instruction, Inspection and Invitation. These parables warned against the consequences of rejecting God’s authority – Jesus’ authority.
In Matthew 22:15-45, they continued to question Jesus’ authority but they just could not get through. And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore (Matthew 22:46). This led to Jesus’ final words for the leaders in Matthew 23: ‘Woe to you … ‘ and this would be the final straw and in order to protect their own authority, the leaders then “plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him.” (Matthew 26:4). After this, no more mention of authority until the end of Matthew. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gave authority to His disciples.
Main Point: Don’t Act Blur
The main point is ‘Don’t Act Blur’. It is not just for the religious leaders. This can happen to us too. It is very clear that Jesus is God and King, with all authority. We may accept Jesus as Saviour. But where Jesus’ authority is concerned, we can also act blur, to feign ignorance. Don’t act blur. To ignore is to reject.
The following are some reasons for acting blur. The first is unbelief: We do not believe or refuse to believe His ultimate authority. Next is the fear of men: We are afraid of what others may think of us. Then there is pride: We do not want to give up ground or admit that we are wrong. Finally we may want to avoid responsibility: We do not want to accept responsibility or be accountable; so we act blur; feign ignorance; pass the buck.
To recognise His authority means to submit, and we do not want to submit. To acknowledge Jesus’ authority means to respond with obedience, and we do not want to obey. Acting blur provides reason or excuse for us to remain status quo.
If you are a believer of Jesus, don’t act blur. The following are some examples of possible blur responses of a believer: Jesus is King. What does that mean?; Does the bible say that? Where? Oh, I didn’t know; What are the warnings for? Surely that is not for us, right?; Kingdom assignments? What’s that? Do we have something to do?; What is this calling thingy? Sounds so complicated. So spiritual. Can’t be for me; It’s ok to keep sinning right? God understands ya?
If you are not a believer of Jesus yet, don’t act blur. God’s handiwork is evident through all creation, to all. God’s love has been demonstrated through the sending of Jesus, His Son, to die for your sins, offering you salvation and eternal life. Acting blur does not excuse you from your sin and from the wrath of God. Don’t act blur. There is no middle ground. Put your faith in Jesus Christ and receive new life in and through Him today.
As we close, I am reminded of another confrontation in Israel’s history. In 1 Kings 18:21, on top of Mount Carmel, Elijah challenged God’s people with these words:
“How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD your God is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word. They acted blur.
It is always easier to sit on the fence, to feign ignorance, to act blur. Thinking and hoping we can get away with it. However, no one can claim ignorance. No one can give any excuse. No one can act blur.
God’s Word is clear and precise. He sees all and knows all. We are all under the authority of Jesus and His kingdom. How we live will determine the final outcome when He comes to judge everyone.
Jesus is the Ultimate Authority as King. Through faith and the fear of the Lord, submit to His kingdom authority in every area of our lives.
Don’t act blur.