And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you a question; and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we are afraid of the multitude; for all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
The day before this scene in the Gospel, Jesus had cleaned out the temple from all those who were selling their goods and animals for sacrifice. That upset the priests! And now can you believe it, He came back into the temple!?! The priests felt as it was their temple and Jesus had no authority to come in, talk the way He was talking and clean it out the way He did. They needed to confront Jesus and embarrass Him in front of the people, so they could stop Him from gaining any more followers. And more importantly to them, they needed to stop Him from making them look foolish. Their plan was to question Jesus’ authority. But Jesus, knowing their intentions, told them He would only answer their question if they answered His question first. This was common practice during debates of the rabbis during their time. Jesus asked, “Where was John’s baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin?” He put them on the spot now!
If they answered John’s baptism was from heaven, they would have been embarrassed that they did they not listen to his message since it was from God. If they said it was of human origin, then they feared the people may turn away from them and no longer support them, their rules and regulations. The people knew it was from heaven. So, they decided not to answer because they did not have true faith, and did not want to lose the people too.
The priests did not fear who they should have truly feared, and that was God. They feared the people turning on them, and if they did that, then they would lose their status, lifestyle and tithing. Instead we should fear God and not fear how we are perceived or valued by others. Holy fear of God is not fear of punishment from God, rather it is a desire to not disappoint the Lord, our Father. If we fear disappointing God by our sins or actions, then we will do our best to do the things that would not disappoint Him. We cannot have both fear of people and fear of God, we cannot serve two masters. We must serve God alone.
Because the priests were too concerned about themselves, they lost out on the blessing of knowing and following Jesus while He walked on this earth. Can you imagine how different the story would have turned out if they just accepted Him as the Son of God? Do not miss out of the blessing of knowing and following Jesus because of others or because you think the sacrifice to yourself will be too great. You may lose some friends, you may have to turn away from sin and do good works for others, but the eternal blessing will be far greater than anything temporal that you lose here.
The answer to their question: Jesus’ authority came from God, and what He did and taught was all done in the Name of the Lord. Too bad they chose not to believe.
Lord Jesus, please help me to always respect you and when I have questions about your ways, and help me to ask with humility. There is so much I do not understand and wonder about. Show me how to have holy fear of our Father, so that I can have the strength to turn away from sin and do what is pleasing to Him alone. I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.