Under Whose Authority Are You? Part 2
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 2 considers the consequences of making humanity 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 today. What we're looking at, the notion of spiritual authority, but we're looking at it specifically in the context of John chapter two verses 13 through 22. We're looking at the incident where Jesus goes to the temple at the feast of the Jews and drives out the money changers and the livestock, and he displays this really powerful spiritual authority, and it causes a lot of consternation. Before we get into the subject here, in that first episode, we set the scene, but we also talked about three possible sources of authority. When you really boil it down for all human beings, there are really only three sources of authority.
Now, I mentioned that the question I want you to have at the forefront of your mind as you listen to this series is, "Under whose authority am I?" It's an incredibly important question. Under whose authority am I? That will indeed determine the whole shape and trajectory of your life. The three sources, when you really boil them down, are these: number one, religion; number two, humanity; or number three, Christ. Your source of authority is either religion of some kind, and I argued in that first episode that all of the religions, apart from Christianity, allow you in some sense to have god on your own terms; and, number two, humanity, whether humanity will be your ultimate source of authority and the place where you put all of your faith, all your trust, all your hope, all your longings; or number three, Christ can be your ultimate source of authority.
In this episode, we're going to talk about humanity, and we're going to talk about what it looks like to have humanity as your ultimate source of authority. I think in many ways, if you look down the ages of history, and if you look at our current moment and our current crisis of authority, where we're seeing moral failure on a massive national scale, I think you have a very accurate picture of what it looks like to have humanity as your ultimate source of authority, and I do think that the results speak for themselves, but what I want to do for this episode is really explore those results and sort of unpack them. Before I do that, let's hear this passage once again so that we have it fresh in our minds.
In John chapter two starting in verse 13, I'll read through verse 22, it says, "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 pigeon, 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 the temple of 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."
I find that verse 22 there about the disciples remembering, I find that to be a deeply encouraging word, and we'll talk a little bit more about that later on. What do we do in our current moment? You see, what's really happening in this passage, I think one of the major features of this passage, especially when the temple authorities, when they ask Jesus to show us a sign for why you do these things, the implicit question there is, "What authority do you have to do this? Who are you?" Now, we mentioned in the first episode that the very fact that they're asking for a spiritual sign from Jesus demonstrates that they seem to have at least a modicum of an understanding that he is a man of some spiritual significance. They're taking him a little bit more seriously than they would say a common criminal.
If you were a common criminal, if they thought he was just a common criminal causing all sorts of havoc, they would have just arrested him and gotten them out of there really quickly, just banished him. That's it. Done. That's not what they do. They demand a spiritual sign from him. His response, by the way, is so powerful and so majestic, and we'll look at that soon, but right now what they're doing here makes so much sense. They want him to give a demonstration of his authority, and authority means a whole lot to these men. They are, after all, tremendously influential men. They are people who really called a lot of shots. They were people who commanded a ton of respect. Because of that, that's the currency they understand. They understand prestige. They understand influence. They understand power. That is really what makes them tick in many ways.
That speaks volumes I think to our own day where we are seeing so much turmoil when it comes to those who are in leadership, when it comes to those who are in positions of power. We are seeing so much turmoil. Why? Because we're seeing failures at large. We're seeing moral failing after moral failing. We're seeing hypocrisy after hypocrisy. It just seems to...On the one hand, I'm deeply sympathetic when I hear people who are so dismayed by what we're seeing because, after all, it is really disconcerting, especially when we see people who we thought were good people, people who we thought were committed to the good of humanity and who were selfless. When we actually see the masks come off, and we see what their true faces looked like, that is deeply disconcerting, but there's another feature here of many of the responses that I'm hearing that I think is deeply revealing. That's the level of shock that so many of us have.
Now, shock is a very charged word right now. It's a very emotionally charged word. We need to talk about that for just a second here. Let's step aside just for a moment from the actual subject of this podcast and just go on a very brief tangent that I think is actually very relevant to the subject of hand. Shock, under the heading of shock, now over and over again, we're seeing horrendous items in the news. As recent examples, we can think of these two shootings that have just taken place, the two shootings, one in El Paso and then the other in Ohio within 14 hours of one another. Now, there's a really interesting response. In many ways, it's disconcerting. I know it's often depressing to survey the news and particularly to survey social media following these catastrophes because everybody gets up on their different soapboxes, and often it becomes a big political squabble.
We see this over and over again. There's a real sort of awful ritual that we've become used to here, where initially we begin to try to lament. We begin to try to just grieve, but then we can't because we just start to bicker over the way somebody else is grieving. We can't even agree on how to grieve. This time, one of the sort of peculiar ways that that bickering has been expressed in some of these recent events is that, first of all, there's a terrible new normal that seems to be emerging. That 14 hour time span between the two shootings is kind of emblematic of that terrible new normal. We're just seeing so much of this, and so there's this hardening sense in many of us and this kind of numbing that's taking place where we just think, "I have a finite capacity for outrage. There's only so much grief. There's only so much catharsis a person can experience," and over and over and over again, such an overwhelming deluge of just atrocities.
What do we do with that? Now, more and more people are saying, and I'm sympathetic to this, "Why are you shocked? Stop feigning shock. This is the way our nation is." It's interesting that there was one of the popular hashtags here with these last two shootings was #thisisamerica, of course, drawing from Childish Gambino's song there with that immensely provocative music video, but think about that, this sense that, "Why are you shocked? Why are you shocked? This is the way it is. We have to actually wake up and get realistic and really do something about it. We have to deal with the actual state of affairs that is the United States right now and this is it. This is America."
Now, there's some real powerful force to that. There really is, and I always think now when I hear these kinds of expressions emerging or when I see people, when I hear people saying this, I think about Nathan Rittenhouse, my friend and colleague. I think about what he says. I think it's a really wise word. He says when he hears about these terrible shootings, when he hears about all of these atrocities, when he hears about the racism, when he hears about the corruption, when he hears about Jeffrey Epstein, what he says is, "I'm sad, but I'm not surprised." You see, as Christians, we, of people, I'm speaking to Christians now, should be deeply saddened, horrified. We should be taking action. We should be doing something about this, but one thing that we shouldn't be is shocked. Now, why do I say that? That runs the risk of sounding really heartless, but it's not.
Here's why. Because Christians of all people are deeply, deeply intimate with the fallenness of human nature, and they don't know it through the lens of the news. They know it through the lens of their own heart. Right? It's not, "Oh, look at these evil people over there." It's, "Oh my goodness. Look at me. My God, my God. But for the grace of God, therefore go I." That's what that expression means. Until you really know that in your bones, you don't really know yourself at all, and that is very dangerous, to know the capacity in your own heart for destruction because it is in you. Make no mistake. I say this over and over again. We have to be saved. We love to talk about grace in the church and God's compassion and mercy, but the dark side or the shadow side is, without it, we perish. We desperately need it.
Destruction is in our hearts. It would be one thing if we were just fleeing outward enemies, but the enemy is inside. We are our own worst enemy, so we can be dismayed. We shouldn't be shocked, and the same is true of what is going on with all of the leaders that we're seeing, including the spiritual leaders. It's horrifying. It's sad, but it's not shocking. Human beings are fallen and finite. We know, we know from experience, we know from history, we know from our own lives that when one human being is elevated and put on a massive platform and handed all sorts of power and influence, it has a detrimental effect. We have to over and over again be surrounded by people who will hold us accountable and who will get us in touch with the reality that we're just stupid persons, all of us.
I'm not meaning to insult you there. I'm including all of us. I'm so grateful for my friends, who in the best sense of this, and if you have these friends, you'll know that, who in the best sense of the word, will cut you down to size and just see you as you because you're just, after all, a person. You can't do it all. You can't handle it all. No one can, and we're seeing that demonstrated. We're seeing that demonstrated as a fact over and over and over again in the news right now. You know, I keep saying that I think a lot of this is a good thing because it's exposing what our real sources of authority are. What's worse, living a tantalizing illusion when, in fact, you're in total despair or having that despair exposed? You know, the classic example of that is Plato's myth of the cave.
Would we rather be, and it's a very deep and intimate and sort of very detailed myth, and I can't do it full justice here, but would we rather be sitting in a cave bewitched by shadows on a wall or actually emerge from the cave and face real reality? The current modern parable of this is, of course, The Matrix. Would we rather take the blue pill and just enjoy the beautiful consoling simulation in the matrix or would we rather take the red pill and see our actual condition? Of course, only if you can see your actual condition can you have any real hope of healing. We're seeing our actual conditions spelled out in headline after headline and, by and large, I think this is good. It's waking us up. We have to be woken up. Who is your authority? Well, one of the very powerful sources of authority, and I think one that's uniquely sort of established here in the United States, is humanity itself. Basically, human ingenuity, human achievement, human accomplishment.
That gels so well with our national philosophy. We've talked about this before on the “Vital Signs” podcast, but, really, there's only one. Many people will point out that, and you could quibble a little bit here, but there's really only one serious philosophical tradition in the United States, and it goes by the name of pragmatism. Right? Dewey and William James, and it places a huge premium on practicality and practical knowhow rather than theory and abstract reasoning. That is so deeply American. We've talked about, and I'm drawing my thinking here from The Habits of the Heart by Robert Bellah and his team of sociologists, but two of the seminal texts in America, they're woven into the very DNA of the nation, you don't have to have read them to have absorbed their central themes, are, on the one hand, Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-Reliance and, on the other hand, the poet Walt Whitman's “Song of Myself.” That really forms the basis for so many uniquely American endeavors.
This is the land of the free where you can go and make something of your life, but that responsibility is yours, and you need to own that responsibility. Through hard work and self-sacrifice, you can make it happen, and you can achieve. So much of that causes us, by default, to place all of our stock in human beings. Speaking of stock, some of you saw the headlines last night about the stock market and those frightening numbers, the dwindling numbers, and some people are actually concerned that we might be seeing another recession soon. Hey, there's another little tremor, another little warning sign, another little clue about putting your faith in people alone and human achievement and human ingenuity. It fails every time. This is an experiment that fails every single time. I'm drawing my thinking from Peter Kreeft here. He says that this is putting all of your trust and faith in human achievement and human ingenuity, putting your faith in humanity, it's an experiment that's been tried repeatedly. It fails every single time. It doesn't stop us from trying and trying and trying and trying.
What is wrong with us? Well, when times of crisis strike, when there is a recession, when there is widespread corruption that's exposed, we can't hide anymore, and we can see it. There's a very powerful quotation that I want to give you from a writer named Phil Christman. Phil Christman, he's a writer, teaches in Michigan, and he was reflecting on what's happened with the late Jeffrey Epstein, the millionaire who was implicated in terrible crimes and who took his own life. Of course, all of this is riddled with conspiracy theories, and I don't want to get caught up in all of the speculation surrounding Jeffrey Epstein. If you follow the story at all, you've no doubt absorbed enough of that, but I find this particular quotation from Phil Christman to be deeply wise and very, very challenging for all of us.
Now, think about this. As you hear his words, think about having humanity as your ultimate source of authority and think about the consequences of humanity as your ultimate source of authority, but here's what he says, after I read it, but let me just read it to you and just feel the full force of this quotation. I quote, "Power and money sought for their own sake will eventually lead you to be friendly with the kinds of people who have been on Jeffrey Epstein's private airplane and have visited his private island." Let me break from the quote for a second. He had a private island, committed unspeakable acts on this private island, and so that's really all you need to know there.
Let me quote again here, "It will put you in the orbit of people who have engaged in unspeakable evils. If you keep going along that path, you may find yourself in a weird temple on a private island doing something that feels to you perhaps like a debauch with your rich buddies but is functionally identical to what you're doing if you simply set out to worship the devil because, finally, the two activities are the same. Power and money sought for any reason are dangerous, but sought for their own sake, they are the worship of the world as it currently works." Let me read that again. That is a very challenging sentence. "Power and money sought for anything, for any reason, are dangerous, but sought for their own sake, they are the worship of the world as it currently works."
You see how that is? You see why that is? If you want to achieve power and influence, if you want money, power, and influence at any cost, if, in the end, that's your greatest aspiration, you have to seed to the status quo. You have to get in line with the way things actually are because that's the only way you can. You have to play by the rules. You have to play by the cultural rules. That's the only way you'll achieve that success. You see that? The only way you can climb the ropes is if you climb those societal ropes. What if the ropes are wrong in the first place? Well, if the ropes are wrong in the first place, if the culture is deeply corrupt in the first place, if you are compromising yourself by simply entering into the activity in itself, there is literally no way to ascend the ranks without corruption overtaking you. You see that? What's happening here?
Now, what's the Christian teaching on the ways of the world? You see, Christians belong to the kingdom of God. Now, if you belong to the kingdom of God, that means that you are, to borrow Dallas Willard's really captivating and powerful phrase here, “you're within the range of God's effective will.” That means it's his rules, his way. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a very powerful and very challenging prospect because it puts us at fundamental odds with the ways of the world, and it will come with a real social, financial, spiritual, physical cost. It will cost you in every sense of your life. It means that you will... There will be certain practices that are inherently wicked. You will abstain from them.
Anything that views human beings as nothing more than commodities or use them in an instrumental fashion, objectifies them, have nothing to do with that. Anything that exploits the weak, anything that marginalizes anyone, anything that traffics in hatred and unkindness, anything that departs from the golden standard of loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself is anathema, and we are to have nothing to do with it, nothing, uncompromising, nothing. This is where Os Guinness often talks about a wonderful phrase, impossible people, that Christians are impossible people. It's impossible to bribe them. It's impossible to fit them into any of these different earthly systems and schemes because they simply refuse. That's where all of the scriptural language comes into play about us being resident aliens, about us seeking a better city. I'm drawing my wording there from Hebrews.
That's why, if we really recognize Christ as our final authority, that's the world is a temporal place. Yes, it matters and, yes, we're invested, and, yes, we care, but ultimately we haven't invested everything. We haven't put all of our final hopes and wishes and dreams into human ingenuity and human achievement. After all, we know our own hearts, and we know where that road leads. We don't need Jeffrey Epstein to tell us, so we need to be so careful. Again, the question emerges. Under whose authority are you? You see, the Pharisees or the temple authorities, rather, when they asked Jesus that question, they are asking him for his credentials. They want him to give them some sort of display of power so that they know, "Okay. All right. Now we can place you. Produce your credentials. Show us who you really are to be able to do this."
In our own world, right here in the United States, for years and years, many of us have thought of those credentials as, "Oh, okay. Look at me. I've got massive followers. I've got influence. I've got power. I've got money," and power and money and influence, those are qualities that just speak for themselves, but they don't. Do they? Because suddenly now we care about who the person is behind the scenes, because as we hear case after case about who these people were behind the scenes, we are recognizing, "Oh my goodness, our behavior matters." It's not just that winning is important. It's also how you win and at what cost. I think, in some ways, we're at a moment in our nation's history where we really can't understand the force of that famous verse, "What doth it profit a man to gain the world and forfeit his soul?"
We can feel those on a gut level right now. When we look at humanity, I think, in many ways, we're uniquely poised to see the limitations right now. I really think we are, and I'm seeing a growing awareness of this among younger people, I really am, where they look at that. It's not just the headlines. They look at their communities, they look at their homes, and they are seeing over and over again human beings. We can't be it. We can't be the final authority. Those deep-seated human limitations, and for those of us who are Christians, those deep-seated human limitations are sad. They are cause for a lot of our work, a lot of our work in spiritual ministry and healing, but they are not a cause of shock because, after all, we're familiar with our own hearts. I would suggest to you that putting your trust, putting your complete trust, putting all your stock in the achievements of humanity is a recipe for disaster and despair. Don't do it. Don't do it. Whenever the crisis strikes, let this be a time, where when the crisis comes, you don't find yourself in immediate despair.
You don't want to throw yourself out of a window, but you actually do some real soul searching, and you think, "Wait, okay. This is terrible. This is wretched. I'm in deep sorrow, but maybe this ought to open my eyes to something. Maybe it's time to leave the cave and stop looking at the shadows on the wall and actually see life for what it really is and struggle with my true condition," and your true condition is one of desperate need, but the good news is that Christ can and will meet that need, and he is unfailing. You look to him, he does not fail. In the next episode, we want to look at Christ's victory. We want to look at specifically that majestic response he gives to the temple authorities there where he says, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it." It's just an amazing response. We'll look at that in that final episode, but thank you so much for sticking with me. This has been Vital Signs, a 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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