Under Whose Authority Are You? Part 3
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 3 argues that Christ is our author, whether we acknowledge him or not, and that our salvation depends on following him.
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Cameron M.: Hello, and welcome to the Vital Signs podcast. I'm your host, Cameron McAllister. Thank you so much for tuning in. Well, this is the final installment of a three-part series where we are exploring the topic of authority in our culture and specifically where it comes from and, even more specifically, under whose authority we find ourselves. And we are looking at this through the lens of John chapter two verses 13 through 22, the section that's often headed, The Cleansing of the Temple, which gives us a very uncompromising and powerful and even aggressive picture of Jesus's authority.
And we've been asking the question…I've asked you to have the question in the forefront of your mind, "Under whose authority am I?" It's a very important question. And in part one, we looked at one source of possible authority, which is religion. And in part two, we looked at one source of authority, which is humanity. You put your faith in your in human achievement and ingenuity, and so humanity becomes your sole source of authority. Humanity determines your standards and your ways of being.
And in this final installment, we're going to talk about Christ as our authority. What does it look like to have Christ as our final authority? And I'm aware that not everybody listening is necessarily a Christian or that some of you may be wrestling, and I'm so glad you're listening. So if you're hearing it from the outside of the church or on the fence, so to speak, I hope these words give you pause for thought. I hope that maybe you'll take into consideration what's being said here as we consider Christ as our authority.
So before we begin to talk about Christ as our authority, I want to read these verses one more time just so that we have them fresh in our minds as we consider this. So in John chapter two, starting in verse 13. I'll read through 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 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 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 last verse I just read there, verse 22, so deeply encouraging. I'm going to read it again. "When therefore, he was raised from the dead," that is, when Jesus was raised from the dead, "his disciples remembered that he had said, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.'” They remembered the saying and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
I find that so very encouraging because that shows right there, first of all, that his response to the temple authorities is deeply enigmatic on the face of it. "Show us…" They're demanding a spiritual sign from him, and as I mentioned in the previous podcasts, that means that they're at least giving him a little bit of credit. They recognize that he probably has some sort of spiritual authority or that he's possibly got some level of spiritual significance to him because they're actually doing him...They're giving him sort of inadvertent credit by just demanding a spiritual sign from him rather than just treating him like some common criminal.
So they actually recognize there's some significance to Jesus here, and so they demand a spiritual sign. And he doesn't command lightning to come down from heaven. He doesn't turn water into wine. He doesn't feed 5,000. He doesn't cast out a demon. He doesn't heal a leper. He doesn't perform any of those miracles, because on the one hand here, let's get one thing very, very clear here. God is not some sort of puppet or some sort of impersonal force, and he's not going to play our games and he's not going to enter into our transactional relationships.
It makes a lot of sense. That would be a vision of God very much on our own terms. That would be very much, "Well, as long as God fits into the calculus of my system of power, then I'll recognize his authority." But he doesn't play those games. After all, he's not...If Christianity is true, God is in no way subject to his creation. He's in no way dependent on his creation at all. In fact, we are told that God created everything from nothing. God is himself perfectly self-sufficient. He doesn't need any of us. He doesn't need any of this. He's in no way dependent on his creation. We need to grasp that there.
But secondly, Jesus gives a very powerful response because, after all, a miracle is coming. It doesn't happen right there, but it's coming. "Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up." Now they, of course, these church authorities, take him literally. And they say, "What? It's taken 46 years to build this massive edifice, this beautiful temple, and you would raise it up in three days?" And they're scoffing at him.
But the disciples, we've got that note in verse 22 that later on they remember and they retroactively understand this saying, because at the time that means they're confused. They don't get it. This is as enigmatic to them as it is to these temple authorities. And so often, I find that's true in my life, over and over again.
I'm a person who has grown up in the church. I have heard the gospel. I've had the privilege of hearing the gospel countless times. I've heard so many passages countless times. I've heard many, many a message on the cleansing of the temple. And yet, and yet, over and over again, this is a common experience, I will read the Bible on certain days after certain experiences, after life has taught me certain lessons, and finally, I'll get it. Finally, it'll get through with new renewed force and power. Finally, I'll actually hear the words.
I've heard them a million times. I would be able to repeat them to you. I would be able to write an essay about them on a test for you. I would be able to write an article on them, and, yet they haven't really penetrated my heart. They haven't gotten through to me, and the disciples, this is the case for them as well. Over and over and over again, they don't get it. They don't get it. They don't get it, but then it's revealed to them. They remember, and they understand.
How do they remember? Who's helping them remember? Well, if you're reading on in scripture, the Holy Spirit is waking them up. Now one of the most striking passages in scripture that illustrates this principle and this really this fact of human life is when Jesus is on the road to Emmaus with the two people, and they don't recognize him. And he asks them rhetorically. It's a rhetorical question. He knows what's happened. "Why are you so dismayed? Why are you so downcast?" And, "Are you the only person here who hasn't heard about what happened to Jesus yesterday?" And then as Jesus, still under disguise, begins to...or at least they're not recognizing him, begins to expound the scriptures and open them up, then there's something vivid that happens.
And then there's a beautiful textual detail where they recognize Jesus when he breaks the bread. And of course, there's gorgeous symbolism there as well because Jesus, the breaking of the bread of communion and the breaking of the bread also represents his body, which is given for us. It's a beautiful picture, but there's that wonderful, striking phrase where one of them says, "Were not our hearts burning within us as he opened up the scriptures?"
And these are scriptures they knew so well. They were schooled in them. That was part of the imagery of their lives. It was inscribed on their hearts, and yet, it wasn't getting through. And so I love that verse. I love that that's included there, that later on the disciples remember, and they finally understand and they believe because the temple that Jesus is speaking of is the temple of his body.
So there is a miracle that comes, but it doesn't come on human terms. If Jesus had commanded lightning from heaven, or if Jesus had taken a loaf of bread and multiplied it and fed everybody in that temple, or if he had multiplied all the livestock or done something like that, it would've made so much sense. And it would have been a purely transactional, domesticated picture of a miracle.
But no, what happens is he says...He predicts his own death. He makes a prophecy, and then he foretells the Resurrection. And that's the miracle that ultimately happens. See, there is an answer to these temple authorities right there, and there's also a miracle in response. And the miracle happens on the third day when Jesus is raised from the dead, and it's so powerful. It's such a majestic response because here again, this temple, if you look at it...For these temple authorities, this temple was a very powerful representation of sacred space, glory, but also human ingenuity and might. But Christ's victory is a victory that comes on an entirely different scale. It comes in different terms.
I mentioned in the last podcast, as I was talking about a very, very powerful quote from Phil Christman, that often, if you're trying to...He points out that if you're trying to pursue fame, power, money, influence, at any cost, Phil Christman points out that these pursuits are actually amount to the worship of the world as it currently works, as it currently works. That includes all the systems of injustice and corruption, and you have to play by those crooked rules to get ahead. If you are willing, if you want money, fame, power, fortune, and you want it at any cost and that's your final goal, those are your gods, then the pursuit of those amounts to the worship of the world as it currently works.
Now, when you look at Christ's victory, it defies all human expectations. For me, as an apologist, I do find that one of the most powerful arguments for me personally, and I just, I think this really does carry some serious weight, is what I call the impossible person of Christ, the impossible character of Christ.
First of all, when you look at Jesus and you actually look at his sayings, look at what he did, look at what he said, it just doesn't conform to anything, to any of the ways that people behave. He's a character who could never have been invented. We could never have come up with Christ. We could not have created Jesus as a character. We really couldn't. His responses always defy all of our expectations. They always defy not just our hopes and wishes. They don't make any sense us.
So in that, it's in that vein that I want you to consider the cross, the ultimate victory. See, the disciples, who are missing the point here in the temple and finally remember and finally come to a real realization of what's going on, but the apostles, the disciples, they've got the same expectations that I would have when it comes to Jesus, initially. They see him as somebody who is here to be a political leader, a King, who will liberate Israel from Rome and crush Rome under his heel. He's going to make their nation attain, once again, power and significance and respect. And so they want...What they want is a powerful political leader, and that makes total sense. That's my default setting as well.
How amazing, how counter-intuitive, how miraculous, how impossible that that victory should come through death, and not just any death, but death on a Roman cross, a death that looks like total humiliation and defeat. It's so powerful because this is what it means to boast in Christ. This is the glory of the cross, which looks like foolishness to the world. Why? Because look at what the cross actually is, a Roman instrument of torture and defeat. And yet, it's through that cross that we see ultimate redemption and we see the ultimate victory and Christ is raised up. And he is returning to judge the quick and the dead, and that is good news.
You see, this is a victory that doesn't happen on human terms at all. This is a divine victory. Jesus is not playing according to any of our systems. He's not entering into any of our systems, any of our transactions. He is not accepting the world as it is, because the world as it is needs to be broken and remade. And that's why the ultimate picture of Christ's return to judge the quick and the dead is one of violent in breaking, not to give the world a manicure and just to improve everything. No. The world needs to be broken and remade. We need a new heavens and a new earth. That's the hope of Christianity.
So who is your ultimate authority? Christ is the one who is actually God. He's not limited or bound in any of the ways that we are, but he took on flesh just as one of us. He walked in our shoes to liberate us and to save us, and he is returning. You see, where does your ultimate authority lie? If your authority is religion of some kind, whether it's Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam, always gives you the chance to have God on your own terms. It can offer you a transactional relationship, but ultimately, it falls short. It's not going to answer the deepest needs of the heart, and it's not going to make full sense of reality and humanity as it really is because humanity can never save itself. And so from religion to faith in humanity, it can't happen.
We can't save ourselves, and human ingenuity and human achievement can't save us either. We have to be saved, and we have to be saved by our maker, the living God, who challenges us, who pushes us, and who loves us too much to leave us the way we are. If you can remember all the way back to when Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was burning, one of the interesting features of our age is that when some calamity like this happens, it's not just that you hear the news. You can see the news, and you can tune in and watch it all unfold live.
That's what I did when I heard about Notre Dame. I went online and immediately, here I am watching footage, many of us, and I think a low point for me was watching the steeple fall. It was horrifying, and it was so sad to see. But I kept thinking about John chapter two and this cleansing of the temple. I kept thinking about it because I thought, "Here's a really, really beautiful earthly temple," and it was incredible to see how deeply cherished Notre Dame really is. I mean, because we're talking about Paris, France, here. This is a fairly secular place, and it was incredible to watch. I think one of the most moving moments for me was to watch all of these people gathered on the streets singing hymns together. I wonder how long it's been since you've had such a public, unabashed display of worship on the Parisian streets. Pretty powerful.
But I remember thinking...And the salvage efforts, by the way, were absolutely astounding. So much was salvaged, and so much further damage was prevented by truly heroic efforts. But I want you to know, as you already do, one day, Notre Dame will fall. It will crumble. All earthly temples will. The temple that Jesus was talking about right there, the temple under discussion right there with the temple authorities that took 46 years to build, that temple was going to fall one day too and be leveled. But one temple will never fall, and that's the one Jesus is pointing to, the temple of his own body.
That's the power of the Resurrection, and it cuts to the heart of where your authority lies. Ultimately, does your authority lie with things that are consigned to the dust, that will fade, that will collapse, or people who will inevitably fail you? Or is it with Christ, who cannot fail you, who will never fail you, whose Resurrection is proof of his power and his spiritual authority and a vindication of his spiritual authority? He, may I suggest to you, is your Savior because, make no mistake, you have to be saved. We all do. Place your trust in him. Commit your life to him, and follow him and do what he said.
I want to close on a very practical note here with three marks of Christ's authority in your life, three marks on the life of somebody who has made Christ their Savior. Look for these three marks, and if you're a Christian, look for them in your own life. If you're not a Christian, look for them in the lives of those who follow Jesus. I promise you, these men and women are out there, and there are more of them than you think. Despite what you hear in the news, despite all the reports of hypocrisy in the church, Christ's church remains intact, and there are wonderful men and women who are his disciples. They are not perfect, but they follow him and they love him, and you will see his light in their lives. Look for them. My prayer is that they will find you, and that you'll see them, you'll have eyes to see them.
But here are three marks of the authority of Christ in a life. Number one, an intimate sense of your own inadequacy, an intimate sense of your own inadequacy. I used to see this as a curse. Now, I mean this. I think this is a needed feature of every a needed mark in every life. The particular way I've experienced it is as a person in front-line ministry. So I'm often speaking in front of audiences, and I'm often traveling around and I'm often speaking. So I used to see this intimate sense of inadequacy as a real curse because I thought, "Well, this is really...My confidence is taking a real dive. I need to get up there and I need to have that sense of confidence and that sense of assurance."
Now, I'm not necessarily against this confidence or assurance, but I began to realize more and more that this was a real gift. Friends, hear me honestly here. There's often not a Vital Signs episode or there's often not a single message that I give where, right before the crucial moment, the critical moment where I'm supposed to give it, I don't think, "Okay, is there any way I can get out of this? Is there any way I can do something else? With the podcast, "Can I feign illness? Can I get out of this some way?" When it comes to a speaking engagement, "Is there any way...Why do I do this to myself? Why am I putting myself in this position? Who the heck am I to go up, not just to talk about some principle, not just to go up there and give some general guidance or give some speech about something I've studied, but to open the word of God? How the heck can I do that? Who am I? I know in some way who I am. I've seen my own life. I've seen my own shortcomings. I can't possibly do that."
And it's at those moments though that I realize I'm actually in touch with reality. And the response from the Lord is, "Yes, even you, because after all, as a Christian, you are sustained by Christ's righteousness, not your own." We're told in scripture that our own righteousness, what we perceive as our own goodness, our own good works, is as filthy rags before the Lord. And I won't go into the real detail of what the filthy rags is actually referring to here because it's pretty fairly visceral.
Needless to say, we are resting in Christ's victory, not our own. And so an intimate sense of your own inadequacy will guard you against making some of the dumbest mistakes of your life. And the worst mistake you can make in this regard is to think that you've got it all together, that you're self-sufficient, that you can handle this now, that success is all due to you. There's very powerful and vivid illustrations of what happens when we do that in scripture.
One of the most interesting that comes to mind is Nebuchadnezzar, who one day stands on his in his staggering estate with all of his gorgeous gardens, gardens that were world-renowned, by the way, and looks at it all, takes it all in, thinks, "Yep, I did all this. This was all me." Or in another instance when King David wants to take a census of the population, and his adviser says, "Don't do this." Now, that might sound a little odd. Why would that be such a bad thing?
Well, because if the command doesn't come from the Lord and you're just taking a census, what that communicated, commentators will tell you, is ownership. So David, King David, is intoxicated with his own power at this point. And because of that, he is numbering the people of Israel as though they are his own possessions rather than people who are under his authority because of the stewardship and authority entrusted to him by the Lord. They are the Lords. He is the Lord's as well. The nation of Israel. He doesn't own them, but he's communicating ownership through this action, and there are drastic consequences, and there always are.
We are not the masters of our own fate, and anytime...This is why sometimes staggering success can be a humongous curse in disguise because it can lead us into forgetting the fear of the Lord and thinking that we've got it all together, that we're self-sufficient, and that this all comes at our own hands rather than the fact that we can do nothing apart from Christ. We are totally and completely dependent on him. So one of the marks of Christ's authority in your life is a real sense of your own inadequacy.
And number two, the second mark, would be the desire to see Christ glorified no matter what, Christ glorified at any cost, even your own fame and recognition. I think for our own context here in North America where it's still safe to practice our faith without serious repercussions and persecution, one of the ways that I look at this, particularly at the ministry of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries here at RZIM, so many gifted people here. So many people who are smarter than me.
I think the way I often look at this now, this desire to see Christ glorified no matter what, even if it comes at my own expense, is to really root for sometimes the success of others, to see, in my own context, certain other team members have a ministry that really exceeds my own because they can do what I'm doing way more effectively. I'll never forget my colleague, John Njoroge, who's a good friend and who's been a mentor to me. I'll never forget him telling me once, and this was a off-handed remark. It wasn't intended to be anything central, but it ended up becoming a real guiding paradigm for me.
He told me, he said, "Cameron, I pray all the time that the Lord would raise up somebody who does what I'm doing and does it way better than I do because I just want to see the Lord's Gospel carried forward." And I wish I could tell you that that prayer is easy for me right now, that I can enthusiastically pray for the Lord to raise up somebody who's much more effective than me, but I can't. I do pray the prayer though. It's grudging, but I do pray that prayer.
But we need that, and I've talked to before on the Vital Signs podcast about the fact that a real measure of spiritual maturity is how you respond to the genuine success of others. Whether you can celebrate it or whether it's just a source of envy for you. If it's just a source of envy, you have cause to examine your heart because after all, what is it you want? Is it really just your own selfish aspirations, or do you really care about the big picture of the kingdom of God and Christ. And do you feel assured of your own value in his eyes rather than the eyes of other people? Where do you get your final approval?
So this desire to see Christ glorified no matter what, and sometimes that also...Again, I'm speaking specifically from my own context, but think about your own here. Sometimes that means I have to say things that are exceedingly unpopular. I have to go on the road. I have to go into university campuses, by the way, and I have to say to young students, "You are not your own." I have to say that to them. I have to say, "Your sexuality is not your own." The ways in which you express yourself matter, and ultimately, if you're not a Christian, I have to say, "You need to think about changing your life because everything is wrong about it."
Now, those are exceedingly difficult things to say. They're very frightening things to say to people, and they're extremely offensive, especially in a college [inaudible 00:26:43] that says, "You are your own person." That means you're the master of your own destiny and you're guiding all of your pursuits. But to go to people and tell them, "Not only are you not your own master, you don't even know yourself, and you don't know the depths of calamity and destruction in your own heart." That's not an easy sell.
But if we're committed to the truth, if we're committed to Christ and to glorifying his name rather than our own, we will say those things. We will talk about all the aspects of scripture, even those terrifying passages in the Old Testament or that terrifying book at the very, very end that leaves everything in the dust in terms of violence, the Book of Revelation. We won't hide from all of that, no matter how well-meaning the Spirit is to invite more people in or to be more conducive to people. We don't want to alienate anybody. No, we don't want to go overboard and scare everybody away.
But we want to give people credit, and we want to give them the respect that is due them. And that means we need to be honest about who Christ really is and what Christianity is really all about and what God's word really says and not hide any of it for PR purposes. We want to see Christ's name glorified no matter what. What does that look like for you in your own life?
And finally, the final mark of Christ's authority in your life is obedience to Christ because, over and over again, we hear this in scripture. Read the Book of James, but also look at Jesus's words. "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Now, we know this is true. We need to think on a relational level rather than some level of abstract beliefs or commitments or convictions. Think on a relational level.
If you love somebody deeply in your life, you're committed to them, and you're going to live in such a way that you aim to please them. That's one of the outworkings of love. We see that in friendships, in really rich friendships, when you have a really healthy friendship where there's real, true, authentic intimacy, you care about one another so deeply. That means that you can speak into one another's lives and make actual demands of the other person, and that means you care about them enough to work to have them change.
The same thing is true on a much larger level and a much larger scale with our relationship with Christ. He is perfect, and he will make demands of us. And we want to change, and one of the ways in which we express our love to him is we take his commandments seriously and we obey him because we recognize him as the Lord of all, including Lord of human life and all of our human affairs. And so we order our lives according to what we said because we love him. And a natural outworking of that love will be our obedience to Christ, and that will characterize our lives.
The whole shape of our lives will take on that fidelity to Jesus and that obedience, and that's the pattern that we see in people who have followed Christ, who have experienced that spiritual transformation. Those are the marks, those three marks, an intimate sense of their own inadequacy, a desire to see Christ glorified no matter what, even if it comes at their own expense, and obedience, steadfast obedience to Christ.
These men and women are all around you. These men and women are here. And my prayer is if you're not a Christian or if you're on the fence or if you've been wounded in the past by the church, that you would cross paths with genuine Christians who follow Jesus with the whole of their lives. It's a very healing experience. It's a very life-changing experience. But you have to have your eyes open as well. Be open to those meetings.
And also, if you're really courageous, maybe say a prayer to Christ that he would reveal himself to you and that he would open your eyes for those kinds of encounters, because often, we sleepwalk our way through our lives, especially when it comes to the spiritual side of life, and we don't see the blessings that are all around us. We don't see the healing people who are all around us. My prayer is that you will see those people.
So thank you so much for tuning in to this series, all about authority, a word we don't always like so much, and all about one of the more difficult passages, the cleansing of the temple. So I thank you for listening for so long, and I hope this has been helpful. I hope there's been some food for thought.
But you have been listening to 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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