September 26, 2020 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras
Verse: Matthew 21:23–21:27
Christ Lutheran Church
September 27, 2020
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
And when he entered the temple, as he was teaching, the chief priests and elders of the people approached him and said, "By what authority do you do these things; and who granted you this authority?" Jesus answered them and said, "I also will ask you one question, which if you will answer for me, I will then tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it originate? From heaven, or from men?" Now they debated among themselves, "If we say from heaven, he will say to us, 'then why did you not believe him'? But if we say, 'of men' we need fear the crowds, for they all regard John as a prophet." So they said to Jesus, "we do not know." And he likewise said to them, "then neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things." (Matthew 21:23-27)
Today’s gospel is not just another dramatic episode in the life of Jesus. But a catechetical event that teaches us the answer, to the all important question: “By what authority does Jesus do these things, and who gave him this authority.”
A few verses earlier when Jesus entered the holy city on Palm Sunday St. Matthew writes that, “the whole city was stirred up”. But that is a weak translation. The word the Evangelist uses here is the word for earthquake. So that when the Lord entered the city it was a seismic event. An 11 on the Richter Scale in Jerusalem that day.
The greatest event of the city’s history, and indeed of world history was about to take place – and the people understood it. They understood that the long awaited salvation of God had come and so it was, truly, a seismic event. But so is every Sunday, dear Christians, when our Lord enters the New Jerusalem, the church, not on a donkey now, but by his Word and Sacraments.
They understood that their hero had arrived, even if they did not yet understand the price of saving the world from all its troubles. They did not yet comprehend that the Lord would suffer Great Tribulation. That he would be, in the words of Isaiah, “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
Nor that on the third day he would be raised to life again.
No they could not grasp the means until later, but still the very earth shuttered with excitement at the arrival of the One who: comes in the name of the Lord.
But it wasn’t only the devout people who comprehended what was taking place that day – so did the authorities. They also instantly recognized Jesus as a challenge to their own power structure, and so they demanded: “By what authority do YOU do these things, and who GAVE this authority to you.”
That, dear Christians, is the most important question a person can ask!
For if our religion proceeds from the mind of man, then our faith is in vain, and we are still in our sins. But if the source of our holy Christian religion is the heart and mind of God, then we can live and die in perfect peace.
Who was it that entered the city that day? The people who hailed the Lord’s grand entrance knew the answer; and so do we. We pray it every liturgy as our Lord makes his Eucharistic entrance into his church.
“Hosannah, Hosannah, Hosannah
in the Highest, blessed is he who
comes in the Name of the Lord."
Where did Jesus get this name, Hosannah which means Savior? Where did he get this authority? Only from the “Lord, who made heaven and earth.” For our Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy that:
“The Lord whom you seek
will suddenly come to his temple;
the messenger of the covenant
in whom you delight.”
Yes, the Covenant!
Not the old one that Israel broke, but the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood that purifies us from all sin, all death and form the tyranny of the devil who works tirelessly to keep this whole world in the constant confusion, and turmoil.
But the blood of the Covenant, poured out on the cross, and given us to drink at the altar today, gives peace in the midst of war; order in the face of chaos and perspective in the face of ongoing insanity.
But while some, suffering beneath the burden of their sins, welcomed the Lord that day, some did not. And has anything changed in our day? Those who possess power, even though it is given them by God, are unwilling to use it for the blessing of God’s people.
Where did Jesus get this authority, and who gave it to him? Scripture answers in many ways.
"This is my beloved Son,
in whom I am well pleased.”
“This is my beloved Son, hear him.”
But let us also answer the question that the crowds asked:
“Who is this?”
We should not blame the people if they were less than perfectly catechized: many people are. But take heart because faith leads to knowledge, and worship to understanding.
The Wisemen, for example, knew very little until the arrived at the manger and there beheld the Incarnate God! Then they knew! Then they worshiped. Then they understood.
The same with the people on Palm Sunday. They, too, saw God. Not in a cradle now but on a donkey. God coming to his temple and doing what only God can do:
Clearing out the old sacrificial system for now GOD’S lamb was here.
Giving sight to the blind, and strength to the cripple, for these, too, are borne of sin, and sin is about to be undone: once and for all:
Christ in highest heavens adored!
Christ the everlasting Lord!
But today’s gospel is not the end of the story, but only the beginning.
As God called vast crowds of people to follow Jesus then, he does the same today: you are those people.
He calls you to his altar in festal procession to obtain the benefits of the cross; and in turn to do what Paul did. To “pour out our lives as a sacrifice on the liturgy of our faith.” (Phi. 2:17).
What does this mean?
It means that those who believe Christ’s sacrifice also live sacrificial lives; and sometimes die sacrificial deaths.
In our life times the call has been to sacrificial living. To deny ourselves, take up our cross each day, and follow Jesus. But St. Paul reminds us another level of sacrifice, one that we have not yet been called to make, that of giving up one’s life for the sake of the gospel.
The infant church came of age under extremely adverse circumstances; she was nourished, and grew strong, not only on the blood of Christ, but on the blood of her martyrs for two and a half centuries. But ,“The more they afflicted her, the more she multiplied and grew.” (Exodus 1:12)
The blood-letting may have slowed in many places since then, but it never stopped – and in our day persecution is finding its legs again: ironically in a nation that has been a stronghold of religious liberty.
And so it is time once again for Christian pastors to prepare their people to stand fast for the gospel come what may, for as the hymn says:
“I am but a stranger here,
heaven is my home.”
This does not mean we should surrender religious liberty, which is a precious gift from God; and from those who came before us. From those who sacrificed, fought, suffered, bled and died so that we could do precisely what we are doing at this very moment. Do what Christ Lutheran Church, by God’s enduring, mercy has been doing for 131 years this September 29th.
And so let us firmly fix in our minds today that our Lord, and the faith we practice, have their origin in God; and “if God be for us, who can be against us?”
And let us learn to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus through life, into death, and into resurrection and ascension. Amen.