Jesus Ruler Over All
This morning we're looking at Jesus' authority. Authority is a funny word, it means many different things – consider these examples:
By the authority vested in me I now pronounce you man and wife…
Professor X was the world authority on the pigmy hippopotamus…
Manchester United's midfield failed to exert any authority as the match wore on…
So what sort of authority does Jesus have? And what are the limits to his authority? We're going to see in this passage that Jesus authority is the authority of rule - total rule which extends to everyone. In this passage the contest over Jesus authority that has been raging for more than a chapter gets personal, very personal.
How do we see it?
First we remember the context – Chris set it up beautifully for us last week – Jesus has upset the apple cart, the authorities are investigating, but their investigation is flawed because they have already made up their mind about him – chapter 19 v47 they'd already decided to kill him, they're just looking for a way to do it! They think they might have him when he starts making a mess of the temple, and their challenge is 'by what authority are you doing these things (v2) but they can't tie him down, and he says quite inflammatory things about the authorities, so they decide to bring forward their arrest and execution plans (v19). They start trying to trap him in any way they can, but Jesus sees them coming, he sees through their deception, and he sees the flaws in their arguments. Finally he has put them all to silence, vs 39 his enemies actually acknowledge that he speaks well, and verse 40 no one dared to ask him any more questions.
So already this chapter Jesus' authority has been seen in action, no one has any more attacks on him, they've fired off their big guns and Jesus is still standing, not a dent on him. Their ammunition's all spent, they can't refute his wisdom, can't catch him out, in fact all they're doing is shooting themselves in the foot.
So they stop.
Jesus' authority has been seen in action – but that doesn't mean they're going to recognise him as the Messiah, their hearts are set against him – he is the stone that was rejected (v17) and they're the ones who reject it.
So Jesus once again shows just how out of line they are – he is the Messiah, and his enemies will be made his footstools, is that what they really want?
Three sections in our passage this morning –
Jesus' Rule Goes Higher
Jesus' Rule Goes Deeper, and
Jesus' Rule Goes to our very selves
First Jesus Rule Goes Higher
This is what we see in v41-44, have a read of it with me:
"Then Jesus said to them, "How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: "'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."' David calls him 'Lord'. How then can he be his son?"
I think Jesus is working on two levels here. The first is fairly clear on the surface – he is confronting the so called experts with a gaping hole in their knowledge. They're the self- proclaimed experts on the Messiah, they've measured him with their expert eyes and rejected him. They're the teachers of the law – experts. It's up to them to interpret and teach and decide. And their verdict is clear – Jesus falls short.
But Jesus says well what do you make of this? Here is this scripture that is clearly about the Messiah – Psalm 110, the Psalm we read together earlier, one of the most quoted Psalms in the New Testament (see Acts 2 and Hebrews 1,6 and 7 for starters). You might like to flick back to it now – it's page 431 in the blue bibles.
The Psalm describes how God will establish this King's reign over his enemies, he will rule from Zion, where David also ruled, he will crush kings and judge nations, even heaping up the dead. This is exactly the sort of thing that people were waiting for from the Messiah – military conflict, release from captivity, destruction of their enemies – no more Romans, no more subjection to foreign powers; a wonderful golden age for Israel.
Now there is a messianic message we can all get behind –right?
But Jesus points out a problem – this is a Psalm of David, and David calls this Messiah his Lord. David calls his son his Lord? Now that would never happen, the sons honour the fathers, not the other way around. No father would call his son Lord. Jesus points out the obvious conclusion – this son has to have his greatness that comes from somewhere even greater than David, not through his ancestry, but independent of his family line.
This hits to the heart of their disagreement. Jesus has been claiming so much more for himself than just the throne of David, he claims to speak and act for God himself. In their conception the Messiah is one centre of power in the nation, and they are the other: he rules the state, they rule the temple. So they're fit to judge him, just as the prophet Nathan confronted David when he sinned with Bathsheba and had Uriah killed...
But Jesus utterly rejects their judgments and acts as if his authority completely trumps theirs.
So look again at Psalm 110. This is where Jesus is working on another level. It's not just that the Messiah will be greater than David, but notice his rule extends to the temple too – he will be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek David says in v4. There is complexity here that they have no idea of, wonderful and glorious mystery – this man who will rule on David's throne is in fact the pre-existent son of God. David bows before him because he is David's creator. He is no mere commander of the military, he is the supreme head over everything and everyone, King, Judge, Priest, Prophet – he is supreme over all.
David may not have known and understood all that – but God did when he inspired David to write Psalm 110. And we might never have come to understand the Psalm that way if Jesus didn't explain it to his disciples, but he surely did.
Flick over to Acts 2, page 769. Peter is explaining to the Jews that the disciples speak in foreign languages they don't understand because Jesus has been raised from the dead and is now seated at God's right hand and so has poured out the Holy Spirit on his people. Look at verse 32:
"God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, "'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."' "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."
Jesus fulfilled Psalm 110 when he rose from the dead and was elevated to God's right hand until his enemies fall before him like a stool under his feet.
Do you see how this goes beyond a King who will sit in Jerusalem governing the state under the religious instruction of the teachers of the law?
Do you see how Jesus so far exceeds their conceptions of the Messiah as to completely blow them out of the water?
Jesus isn't going to be like David, he rules over David, he is David's Lord – just like he will be Lord over everyone, even his enemies will bow before him and recognise him as Lord. Jesus rule goes higher than they imagined, it goes higher than all rule and authority, to the very level of God himself. He doesn't fit their reading of the scriptures because they aren't reading them right.
But do you see the pointing implication for us here? If you've been thinking that you can sit in judgement on Jesus, that he's not doing a great job governing things in your life, that he has to answer to you, then you are badly mistaken.
This is what Jesus is saying to these proud, arrogant fools – you've got it dangerously backwards, you're not my judge, but I am yours. I'm going to sit at God's own right hand. Even death itself will bow before me, all my enemies will fall before me. Do you really want to kill me? Do you really want to put yourself at the head of the list of those enemies, soon to be crushed underneath my feet?
And surely we can hear the echoes of that warning this morning can't we? How easy it is to underestimate the significance of Jesus, to imagine that Jesus is something like a genie in a bottle – our little helper when we need him; or that he is like a kindly uncle who's all gifts and no responsibility, or that he is in some other way answerable to us, our servant and not our Lord. He is a Lord who serves, that is his glory – and our only hope. But we dare not take his mercy for granted, we must not imagine ourselves in the driving seat – he is Lord and we are dependant on him in every sense.
And as if to illustrate how that works Jesus puts before us, quite deliberately it seems, two contrasting illustrations of how we can respond to his rule – we can be like the teachers of the law or like the poor widow. And these examples form our next two points.
Jesus Rule Goes Deeper
Have a look with me at v45:
"While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, "Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the market-places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely."
Jesus turns from speaking to the teachers of the law and while everyone is still listening he unloads this on them. The more I think about this scene the harsher it seems. But remember these guys are at this point trying to kill him (chapter 19 v47). So while they stand there, all resplendent in their fancy white teachers of the law robes Jesus uses them as an example of what not to do. Beware the teacher of the law he says, because they will be punished most severely.
Do you see how we are to be wary of them – they set themselves up as models of religious perfection, but they are walking into judgment. Don't listen to their claims of authority, and whatever you do don't follow their example, because their example leads to most severe punishment.
So what is it that they do that is so very wrong? Well do you see how their religion is all on the outside, for men to see? They live, ultimately, as if there is no God.
Look at how Jesus describes them: they love to look pious and religious in their special robes, they love to receive praise from men in market places and in the synagogue and in banquets. Even their prayers are offered to the people watching – they're all for show, they're all about how they appear to others – their religion is themselves, it's pride – all about chasing honour for themselves, not about honouring God. Their worship is so shallow it only goes robe deep.
And this is why they are so aggressive to the widows - they devour widows houses says Jesus. Their religion was all about them – they happily take from the poor to make themselves rich. And their religion is all on the horizontal plane, as if there were no God to please, and no God who sees – go ahead, devour the widows whole and enjoy the spoils, enjoy it while you can.
But Jesus rule goes far deeper than that – he isn't impressed with outward shows of religion. Remember Isaiah 58? God isn't impressed with our robes and our offerings, our fasting or religious ceremonies, not even by our prayers – if they don't match with our lives.
So hear the warning from Jesus as an invitation to examine yourself afresh – is your worship deeper than the teachers of the law, or is God only touching the surface of your life? God's rule goes much more than robe deep, require much more than outward show, more than Sunday observance, more than morning quiet times and prayer lists – Jesus rule runs right down into our hearts and ought to radically reshape everything about our lives. And we see that in the contrasting example of the poor widow. Who shows us point three:
Jesus Rule goes to our very selves
Look at 21v1:
"As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."
This passage is so familiar it's almost a cliché, but just stop and take in the details again. Jesus has just savaged the teachers of the law for their shallow, ultimately false religion. And as he speaks examples abound as the rich line up to trumpet their religious devotion to God and the temple via their first century equivalents of the novelty check – they line up with bags of cash to pour into the temple treasuries, luxuriating in the eyes on them, making their mark as religious heroes. Most people in the temple would be impressed … but Jesus says beware people whose religion is all for show.
But there amongst the rich, all but invisible to the passing crowd, is a poor widow with pretty much nothing to give. Her gift is just two pitiful little coins, worth about 1/8 a cent each. Even dropping both in she puts in next to nothing. It takes only a moment and then she shuffles off. Who would even notice a woman like that in the crowds?
Well, Jesus notices. Jesus points to her of all the people in the temple as the one who should be noticed, the one to be praised, the model to be followed. All those rich people - they gave out of their wealth – they have plenty, they don't need what they give, they will hardly notice that it's gone. But she, well, out of her poverty she put in all she had to live on. She put next to nothing in, but notice, she held nothing back. She had two coins, it would have been incredible generosity to put in half her money wouldn't it? And it really wouldn't have made much difference would it, if she'd kept that one last coin back for her expenses?
But how glorious that she put them both in, she held nothing back, she gave her all, in effect she has given herself, because she's left herself with nothing.
And do you see the contrast to the show men – there's nothing here for others to see, nothing that will impress the crowds. But there is a vertical dimension to her religion that makes all the difference. As she throws her last coins into the collection box she throws herself onto the mercy of God.
So she shows that she understands God's rule – she belongs to him, all she has is his – and he may not make her rich and powerful and impressive, at least not in this life; but she can trust him with her very self, with her future, her life. This is seeing Jesus' Kingdom – the Kingdom of God – for what it really is – so much greater and more wonderful and more desirable than fame and fortune or anything else, there is nothing that can compare to it.
To the outside observer, she's just a poor widow, making a pitiful offering. But Jesus sees a beautiful act of faith and devotion, Jesus sees a true disciple, Jesus sees a woman to be remembered. And there is an implicit promise here – Jesus will not forget what she has done for him. Jesus will reward her devotion to him, just as he will reward all who give themselves to him.
We often use this passage to speak of our giving in church. But Jesus sees something far more here than an offering of money. Jesus sees a model disciple – a model for us to follow. Jesus call to you and me isn't to give him our extra money, or our spare time, or our talents and gifts. Jesus call is to surrender ourselves to him, all the way down, all the way through. Because he owns us, we are his, he is the King before whom all creation must bow.
And the glorious, wonderful, amazing thing is that when we do he doesn't toss us in the dirt like we deserve, he doesn't rub our noses in it – no, he lifts us up and shares every good thing that belongs to him. How wonderful to be that widow – and to have the praise of Jesus. One day you and I can hope to hear his praises too, when we meet him face to face he will say to all those who have trusted him 'well done', 'well done'. Let's pray that Jesus will help us to see just how high and deep and wonderful his rule is…