Under Whose Authority Are You? Part 1

Aug 27, 2019

In John 2:13-22, we encounter what appears to be a fairly aggressive display of authority as Christ “cleanses” the temple, driving out the livestock and overturning the tables of the money changers. Naturally, the temple authorities want to know what gives him the right to call these shots, and they demand a spiritual sign to verify his authority. Despite their indignation, the question of Christ’s authority gets to the heart of his identity, and his magnificent response testifies to this truth. With this in mind, this 3-part series will examine the role of authority in each of our lives and ask the critical question, “Under whose authority are you?” Part 1 considers the consequences of making religion one’s source of authority.

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Cameron McAllister: Hello and welcome to the Vital Signs Podcast. I'm your host, Cameron McAllister. Thank you so much for tuning in. This will be a three part series where we are going to be exploring authority and specifically under whose authority we find ourselves. Because make no mistake, you are under the authority of something and it matters so much, that question. So this three part series will explore the notion of authority, particularly in this time of real crisis. I think a real crisis of authority that's taking place right now.

So if that sounds interesting to you, I hope you'll tune in here for this three part series. The passage in John, John chapter two that often goes by the heading, the cleansing of the temple. This will be a familiar passage to some of you and to others, this may be new territory. It's an interesting passage because it's quite harsh. If you have a kind of domesticated view of Jesus Christ or a sort of neutral view where you see him as this benign kind of moral spiritual teacher, this passage is going to be quite a challenge to you.

Because what we see here looks quite aggressive and in fact what I really want to look at here is that you are seeing a very powerful and very public and very uncompromising display of authority. And actually the question of authority is all over the verses I want to explore. So this is in John chapter two and it's verses 13. Starting in verse 13, I want to read through verse 22, so 13 to 22.

"The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons and the money changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons 'Take these things away, do not make my Father's house a house of trade.' His disciples remembered that it was written 'Zeal for your house will consume me.' So the Jews said to him, 'What sign do you show us for doing these things?' Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.' The Jews then said, 'It has taken 46 years to build this temple and will you raise it up in three days?' But he was speaking about his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken."

We are experiencing, I think, at this moment in the North American church, a real crisis of authority. What do I mean by that?

Every day we see a new headline seemingly about some major spiritual leader's fall from grace, precipitous fall from grace. We're hearing about this over and over again. Moral failing after moral failing. But on the other hand, we're also hearing, increasingly we're hearing, many spiritual leaders and many spiritual celebrities. That's an odd phrase right there. Spiritual celebrity. We can come back to that in a second. But we're hearing more and more about these celebrity figures are these people who have attained quite a bit of fame and have a large audience.

We're hearing them come forward and also declare that they are wrestling with serious doubts concerning Christianity, the divinity of Christ, serious doubts because of hypocrisy in the church. Serious doubts because of evil, serious doubts and we see this and it's quite disconcerting for those who are in the church. This causes quite a bit of consternation and quite a bit of anxiety because it looks exceedingly unstable. What's happening? Many people are asking, especially those who have grown up in the church, “what is going on?”

This seems to be a very, very trying time. And to those outside the church, I imagine this often looks like, well, a collapse of a movement. Perhaps the true side of everybody is coming out. We're seeing true identities. This seems to be a moment of pronounced reckoning. Now, why would I say that this is a crisis of authority? Because in the end, I think one of the most important questions that we need to ask ourselves, Christians and those who are maybe on the fence or those who are not Christians at all, one of the most important questions for all of us is under whose authority am I?

Under whose authority am I? And that's really at the heart of this passage here concerning Jesus' actions in the temple. Very powerful actions, very, very aggressive actions, making that whip of chords and driving out all of the livestock, overturning the tables of the money changers. This is powerful stuff. We need to do a little bit of work here to set the scene though because this will always runs the risk of looking very foreign to us. But what's actually going on here? So this is one of the feasts at the temple, we're told.

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and so Jesus goes up to the temple in Jerusalem. Now at this point, the temple in Jerusalem, this is the central place of worship for the Jewish people. So many people are coming from far and wide. Now commentators will point out, and I'm drawing my line of thinking here from DA Carson's commentary on the Book of John, but they will point out that there's nothing inherently corrupt, by the way, about the business transactions that are taking place here in the temple, the money changers and those selling livestock.

Why are people selling animals there? Well, they're doing that because people are traveling from far and wide, and it's actually a considerable inconvenience to haul animals, sacrificial animals, with you the whole way. So these were sort of services that emerged that they're kind of necessitated by the intense pilgrimages people were making to this temple. So what is Jesus' objection here? It's really a matter of location in the first place. Now the temple is sacred space. It's a place where there's meant to be a real sense of reverence.

You're going into the presence of the living God. Now that is fundamentally compromised by all of this commerce that's taking place. So the fact that it's all here in the temple, that it's become this place of commerce and transaction with all these loud bleating animals. That's the problem, and Jesus is concerned about the authenticity of the worship that's taking place in this kind of an environment. And so his actions are powerful, but there's a real genuine motivation behind them. He's concerned about the purity and the integrity of the worship that's taking place in this sacred space.

And so the temple authorities, most likely members of the Sanhedrin, men have tremendous influence and learning, what they want to know seems very reasonable in human terms. They want to know who the heck he thinks he is. They want to know by whose authority he's doing these things. Now, the specific wording that they use of course is what sign do you show us for doing these things? What sign do you show us? So here are some interesting detail, some interesting features about that demand for a sign.

First of all, DA Carson points out in his commentary. If he were just some common hoodlum or criminal, just some annoying deviant, maybe some vandal, they wouldn't have taken it very seriously and he would have been immediately arrested. So first of all, the fact that that doesn't happen shows that his actions, though they are strong, though they're fairly pronounced, they're not completely extreme. And also the fact that they don't just ask them, who do you think you are? They're not so dismissive.

They actually ask for a spiritual sign from him that that shows, that betrays the fact that they probably know or at least have a hint or at least sort of intimate, that he has some level of spiritual authority. So they actually, through their question, are demonstrating that they take him a little bit more seriously because this is after all Jesus of Nazareth. He's gaining, he's already gained a reputation. And repeatedly we see throughout the gospels, by the way, when he comes into these confrontational situations with the religious leaders of his day, over and over and over again, the question of his authority comes up.

Because he places himself multiple times on equal footing with God, because he does these kinds of actions that arise directly from his spiritual authority and these influential religious leaders are deeply threatened by that and they're outraged by that. So the question of authority is huge. That's really their implicit question in this passage and it speaks volumes to our current situation now doesn't it? As we look at what appears to be a really darkened chapter in really I think the church in North America, we're seeing so much going on here, so many failures.

What do we do? We'll ultimately, who are we looking to? The question that I want you to have in the forefront of your mind as you listen to these two episodes is who am I looking to for authority? Under whose authority am I? Now if we are Christians, just skipping ahead to a conclusion here. If we are Christians, we are under the authority of Christ. We are under the authority of the living God. Christ is our Lord. And as disconcerting as it is when we see leaders fail, if in the end we've put all of our faith and all of our hope and all of our trust into Christ, we can handle those failures.

We have the necessary perspective, and we know that human beings after all are human beings and that terrible mistakes are made and that terrible corruption is a feature of life in a fallen world and of fallen human beings. It's cause for lament. It's cause for taking action, but it shouldn't be caused for walking away from one's faith. After all, if we've put our faith in Christ and Christ alone, he is the unfailing one. He is the author of our salvation and it is to his victory that we look. If we do that, our faith, your faith is secure.

But if you put your faith in anything else, especially if you put your faith in human hands, you are destined for deep frustration and despair. So that's what we're going to talk about here. Again, I think it speaks directly into our own day and age. So as human beings, we really have at our disposal only three sources of authority. Now we can quibble on these three a little bit and I will try to nuance each of them. But let this, I just hope at the very least that these three will spur on your thinking.

But to my mind, the three sources of authority that are available to human beings are number one, religion or number two, humanity, and finally three, Christ. Now, only one of these has any promise. Only one of these ultimately is secure. And of course, I've made no bones about the fact that I'm a Christian, so I believe it's that final category or that final person of Christ. But I hope as I make that case, I hope I can help make sense of this but let's start with religion. First of all, I'm aware once again that these three sources of authority available to human beings may sound a bit counterintuitive.

So I'll try to explain it a little bit as I go. So let's start with the first, religion. Now, if we talk about religion in a more broad sense, this begins to make, I think, a bit more sense. So sociologists and anthropologists will tell us that if we think of religion just as nothing more than a set of beliefs or convictions or some system of beliefs and convictions, that that is actually a fairly naive and deeply Western-centric view. So for instance, speaking from the standpoint of a Christian and the history of the church, when missionaries initially began making inroads in the great nation of India.

I had the pleasure of going to India for the first time ever, actually this past January, and it was by far one of the most rich and powerful experiences of my life. What an amazing nation India is. It's just so overwhelming. From the second you step off the plane, your senses are just overwhelmed. All of the smells, all of the colors, all of the noise. It's such an intense place. And of course, the major outlook in India is Hinduism and Hinduism is unbelievably rich and filled with all sorts of, not just history but or a rich set of imagery and you just....One of my first, one of my first takeaways as I was going home was, man, I really need to read the Bhagavad Gita and some of the Vedas.

Because it was just, there's so much depth and so much richness there. But when these initial missionaries were setting foot in India on this great land and they were starting to do their best to learn the language, minister, or in this case languages, minister to the people, what they were finding was that Indians, like so many people around the globe didn't think of their religion as just a set of beliefs. In fact, they weren't accustomed to thinking about it like that at all. They saw it much more in terms of their whole way of life, a set of practices, what they did in the temples.

Their religion rather was what circumscribed all of their actions. This was really the whole tapestry of their lives unfolding. To think about it just as a set of abstract convictions or beliefs didn't make any sense. And so if you think about religion in that kind of more expansive and holistic way, you can see that religion is a tremendous source of authority for most people throughout the globe. To draw on the wording of the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, he offers this in his book, A Secular Age. One of the, I think an apt phrase that he uses for religion is the shape of a person's ultimate concern.

So what is the shape of your ultimate concern? See, in this sense, I can bring in somewhat of a frightening fact here, but I think a fact that will make sense of a lot of what we're seeing from those who purport to be Christians or who claim to be Christians but in fact live in a very different way. Bear with me here for a second. We hear a lot about hypocrisy in the church and that is an absolutely lamentable thing and we should be in mourning about it. We should be working actively against it. We really, really have to reckon with that.

Hypocrisy is a massive challenge, but on the other hand, the United States, this is a place where uniquely, I think, you can claim to be a Christian and live in a manner that is totally out of keeping with Christian convictions. You can do that here. Now, I think that time is coming to a close, and I'll say a bit about that in a second because as we grow increasingly post-Christian, which just means that the influence of Christianity is really waning in the United States, and I actually think that happens to be a good thing in many ways.

Because it's forcing many of us to actually face facts. Do we in fact follow Jesus or do we not? Are we going to not just say that we believe, not just quote scripture, actually live it out, actually have a holistic practice of Christianity? Are we really going to do that? As it becomes less comfortable to do that, we're going to find more and more people having to face that question. And I think that by and large is a good thing, but so what are we seeing so often? On the one hand we're seeing a lot of people who claim to believe in Christ and to follow him and then acting in a very different way.

Let me put it this way. Sociologists often talk about when a particular field of academic study, when a particular discipline as that discipline begins to proceed with all of the books that are being published and all the journals that are growing about, what that generates is what sociologists call a discourse. I promise you this is relevant. Just hang in here with me for a second. I'm drawing my thinking here from James Davidson Hunter, a sociologist teaches at university of Virginia. But a discourse, right?

And we, if you've ever perused an academic volume, you know that this is the case. In my own discipline of philosophy, there are two broad camps that are often seen to be in conflict with one another in philosophy departments here, at least in the United States. And that would be continental philosophy on the one hand and then analytic philosophy on the other, and these are often pitted against one another. There are interdisciplinary efforts now that are seeking to redress that kind of rift, but they both have distinct languages.

The joke about these two, for instance, is that continental philosophy, many people will say is incredibly profound and very, very unclear. And then conversely, they'll say that analytic philosophy is incredibly clear and very dry and very boring. And so there's that. That's the kind of the joke. But everything, you see that...I like calling this a discourse, a set of internal questions and concerns that are sort of peculiar to that particular field. Well, in a culture like the United States where Christianity has in many ways exercised an incredible influence, really powerful influencing that.

In the United States there are so...It's not just that there are so many churches, there are so many massive Christian organizations and there are so many massive and influential Christian figures who have really exercised an indelible impact on the culture. Think about the name of Billy Graham, for instance. So in that kind of an environment, Christianity has a discourse and in my own sub-field here at RZIM of apologetics, apologetics has a discourse. Now I'm going to say what we all know. It's totally possible to master a discourse and not believe any of it or not really live any of it out.

We all know we can do this, so you can master the discourse of Christianity. You can say all the right things. You could, as Dallas Willard used to say so often, you could get an A on a theology exam. You could just blaze your way through a seminary or a divinity school and yet have a heart that doesn't belong to Christ. Now on the face of it, that sounds incredible, but there's really nothing that incredible about it. We all know that there are ways that we can master language, that we can figure out different ways of thinking or we can figure out a particular system and we can jump through the hoops and at the same time live in a manner that totally contradicts it.

We can all do that. That's totally possible to do and in so many cases, what really reveals your true heart is just the circumstances of your life, the crises that happen, the different, especially times of real difficulty or times of massive success. The real difficulty part, I think, makes sense to us. When terrible things happen to us, when there's an illness or we lose someone or our relationship crumbles or we experienced an astonishing failure in our lives, whether that's in our career or an interrelationship or in a job, it makes sense to us that we would say, well God, where are you?

And then our true colors come out. But in times of massive success, I think that's what we really have to reckon with here in North American Christianity. Because the church has in many ways been so successful here in terms of gaining lots of influence. Now that influences waning nowadays, but up until now there's been massive and powerful influence on the part of the church in the United States and now we are seeing so much moral failure. Why? Because one of the major dangers of real astonishing success is that it makes it possible for us to conceal the fact that we are totally and completely dependent on God.

You see, what happens is you forget what the Psalmist calls the fear of the Lord, that you are always and at every single moment dependent on the living God for every, for all, for the breath in your lungs, for everything. You're a conditional finite creature and you are profoundly vulnerable and your worst enemy is you, yourself. And your condition of sin was so drastic, so radical that it took nothing less than Jesus Christ to die on the cross for you. If we forget that and we begin to nurture this illusion of self-sufficiency, we are subject to all sorts of problems.

So religion, we need to think about it in a more expansive sense. Ask yourself this, what's the shape of your ultimate concern and how does that play out in your day to day life? How does that play out in your home, in your interactions with others? Now you're gaining a better understanding of what your true religion is. So religion is a source of authority. It's one of the major, it's still the major source of authority. And of course you can think about religion in terms of more traditional and conventional religions like Hinduism, as was mentioned, or Islam or Judaism.

But the interesting feature about all other religions besides Christianity is that there often as a transactional component. What do I mean by that? What can often happen in these different religions, take Hinduism for example, where you've got this very complex and very rich karmic cycle. So much of what you're doing is dependent on your actions and on your works. And again, that makes perfect sense to me. In human terms, that's my default position is to think, all right, it's all dependent on me because after all, I'm the one in charge here.

I've got to take control and if I want to be a good person, if I want to experience any kind of salvation, I have to do right to other people. I have to do the right thing. I have to be a kind and giving person, and so it's what I do and so that makes sense. But there's also, there's a transactional component there because it seems as long as I'm doing this, as long as I'm giving, then I'm not in any kind of debt. I can maintain my own salvation through my works. Yes, it's grueling labor. Yes, it's hard work, but it's on my own terms.

A central feature of religion, devoid of any kind of relationship, religion, apart from Christianity. A central feature I will argue is that it can and often does give us God on our own terms. We can keep God at arm's length. We can impose a distance because after all we've done our part. We've done what needs to be done and now we're good. There's no debt here. There's something so powerfully frightening about the living God, about a real living God who makes demands on us, who is not just some distant abstract entity, not just some remote or cryptic being, but a personal God who makes personal demands on us and the utter specificity of Christianity.

I come back to that over and over again. You think about Jesus Christ, the specificity of him, this man, Jesus of Nazareth, this very person who went to a Roman cross and was crucified, dead and buried and rose on the third day. There's a wonderful passage in CS Lewis' book, Miracles, where he talks about when we maybe our thinking in sort of broadly religious terms, and many of us do that nowadays. We're not as amenable to the specifics. We don't want to over commit. Jesus Christ is still a word that's a name that will put many of us on edge.

But something overall, something spiritual, some sense of higher purpose or some higher sense of transcendence that gives us, that's interesting to us. The phrase I often like to use here is the phrase something more. And most of us on an intuitive level, I think this is a very primitive and fundamental or elemental rather human instinct is that really the notion that there's more to life than meets the eye. For many of us, really evocative scenes in nature will do this. For me, the avenue that this comes through is through art, specifically through literature, movies, and music.

We get the impression that there's something more here. I'm experiencing some wholeness that just is incommensurate with the world around me. There's got to be more than meets the eye. And so we love this idea of something more. But Lewis presses that and he says, yeah, the something more is great, but there comes a time where when you actually move forward you think, oh no, what? Wait, what if there actually is something more? Wait, what if the something more isn't some abstract something, but a real living being making real demands on me.

I remember really well because this is fresh in my memory. This happened not long ago. I have a little daughter now and she is not even quite a month old as of this recording. So I remember not long before she was born, my wife taking my hand and placing it on her belly. We were lying in bed and said, just feel this. And I just remember feeling this furious kicking, hitting the palm of my hand. And I remember feeling this odd combination of elation and sheer terror because it was one of those moments where undeniably this is not just some bump on my wife's belly.

This is a real human being here and this real, all too real human being is going to make very real demands on my wife and I and this very real human being is going to change everything. How much more? That's a microcosmic picture of what it's like when you begin to do what you think is pursuing something more and you think you're pursuing the living God and then, oh no. You find that you haven't been pursuing him. He's been pursuing you relentlessly, ruthlessly. Even after all, this is the living God.

This is the same one who made a whip of cords and drove out the money changers and all those animals from the temple. One who is real personal and exercises real authority over you and over me and changes everything. And if he in fact went to a Roman cross and died for your sins. That means you cannot save yourself. It is absolutely impossible and you are totally dependent on his grace. You cannot have him on your own terms. It is impossible to have Christ on your own terms. Cannot be done. So that's one possible avenue of authority.

Religion. In the second episode here, the second installment of this series here on authority. We're going to look at humanity, which is the other major category here. So the three possible sources of authority that we can experience are religion, humanity, and then finally, Christ. I hope you'll tune in and thank you so much for tuning in this time. And thank you for listening. I know it's been quite a while since you've heard from me, but I just gave you a little illustration about the birth of my daughter that might clue you in on why there was such a pronounced absence.

But now that she's here, I'm back for the long haul, for better or for worse. So thank you so much for tuning in and I look forward to speaking again with you next week. And so this has been Vital Signs Podcast, exploring signs of life in today's culture. I'm your host, Cameron McAllister, and I'm a speaker and a writer here at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

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