Authority of the King
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In C.S. Lewis’ famous children’s novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe we are introduced to the imaginary world of Narnia as seen through the eyes of four children who somehow enter it by going through an old wardrobe. Soon they encounter creatures who talk and who are waiting for Aslan the King.
“Who is Aslan?” asked Susan.
“Aslan?” said Mr. Beaver, “Why, don’t you know? He’s the King. He’s the Lord of the whole wood[…]”
“Is–is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.” […]
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”[…]
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver […] “Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Today, as we continue in our series, “Matthew: An Invitation to the Kingdom”, we will see how Jesus exercises His Kingdom Authority; He exercises the authority of the King in Matthew 21:18-27.
In a way our spiritual journey is the discovery of if and how this Authoritative King is good, because as we encounter His authority—His complete sovereignty—it is not at all apparent that He is safe. But that’s not all. Our spiritual journey is the discovery of our submission, our surrender to this Authoritative King. For when He calls us He calls us first to surrender.
In one of the ancient prophecies about Jesus, God tells Isaiah, “I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Isaiah 22:22)
There is a non-negotiable aspect to Jesus’ complete and utter sovereign authority and we will do well to regain an understanding of this.
In my first year of university I met a philosophy student in residence who was reading the Bible for himself. He came upon the encounter in Matthew 21:19, Jesus cursing the Fig tree. To him this, of all the encounters of Jesus, was a true exposure of the inherent incoherence of Jesus. It was, to him, an unexplainable act of meanness that came from Jesus’ primal hunger, and it was an example that this person pointed to to say “the King is not good.” It is a shocking and jarring act. Matthew records this event right after Jesus left the temple in Matthew 21.
You will remember Dan teaching last week where we saw Jesus demonstrate an entirely different kind of authority: riding on a colt, without armies, without prisoners, except the kind of prisoner that the Psalmist sings, “… He leads forth prisoners with singing.” (Psalm 68:6) Prisoners? Surely these are the only prisoners on earth who worship their captor. Prisoners: submitted, surrendered to the almighty mercy of the Living God. Sure enough, these are worshippers not just humming along, they were shouting “Hosanna”, the Hebrew word for “Save”! Even the children got in on the act.
Throughout Matthew, we’ve been seeing this theme of children sprinkled here and there. While Jesus was in the Temple court, children are shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David”. The Chief Priests and the community elders even point that out to Jesus: “Do you hear what the children are saying?” (21:16). That’s a good question. Do you hear what the children are saying? The children recognize something that is revelation. I love Jesus’ answer: “Yes [I have heard the children], but have you never heard what the scriptures say?” “From the lips of children and infants, You [Lord] have ordained praise.” (Psalm 8:2)
You Lord inspire worship. “You arouse us to take joy in praising You, for you have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in You.” (Augustine’s Confessions) You bid us to become like children, for the Kingdom belongs to children, it is children who can see the unveiling, the surprise of who You are.
With all this in mind, Jesus leaves the temple, comes upon a fig tree that has all the signs of life but has no fruit; and Jesus curses it. I’m not saying He swore at it out of anger because He couldn’t eat anything. He cursed it and it stands as a shocking and jarring act: “May you never bear fruit again.” This tree showed all the signs of life but bore no fruit.
My philosophy student friend, and commentators alike, consider this “an instance without parallel in all our Lord’s ministry.” (J.C. Ryle, Matthew, p. 194) The fig tree is full of leaves but has no fruit and is this a striking picture of the religious class of Jesus’ day (J. C. Ryle asks)? All that religious work; the priesthood; the festivals; the attention to Scripture; the morning and evening sacrifices. But beneath those good leaves there was no good fruit, no fruit at all. No grace, no love, no real spirituality, no readiness or willingness to receive the Messiah or to surrender to His Lordship. Like the fig tree, this attention to the outward signs of life would wither away.
Is this, dare we ask, a striking picture of our own church? Plenty of leaves; signs of life; church activity; social engagement, but no reproductive spiritual fruitfulness?
Lord have mercy. Have mercy on us for being more concerned about how we look in this dark and confused culture. Have mercy on us for being silent when we should speak up, and speaking when we should just shut up. Have mercy on us for tolerating sin in its many dendritic mutations, and not tolerating our own discomfort. Lord have mercy.
This incident demonstrates something powerful, dangerous, authoritative about Jesus. In the same way that Jesus just “says the word” and the Centurion’s daughter is healed (Matthew 8), here Jesus merely says the word and this fig tree withers. Jesus has authority. After this fig tree incident Jesus’ authority is going to be questioned by the Chief Priests and legal experts. Jesus enters the temple again, and this time – while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders came to him and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority?” By what authority are you clearing the temple (Matt 21:12)? By what authority are you healing people? By what authority are riding into Jerusalem as Messiah?
They question His authority but they can clearly see it in action. They want to know who gave authority to Jesus, because clearly they didn’t, and they wouldn’t! By what authority are you acting like you’re the Lord’s Anointed? Jesus exercises authority by how He answers:
“I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Maybe that is the best answer they could come up with. They could see Jesus teach and act with authority – – and they could also see this had nothing to do with them bestowing it on Him. Jesus was not elected Messiah; there was no ballot count—or recount—to see if He sneaked into Messiahship. Jesus makes no apology and asks no permission from us for His authority. Either we recognize Him as Lord and surrender to Him or we just go on living in rebellion.
Look. Listen. In Matthew 7, very early into His ministry, Jesus said:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven […]
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’
Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.
Can there be more haunting words to hear from our Lord than to hear Him say, “I never knew you.”
“You call me ‘Lord, Lord’, but I never knew you.”
It’s no wonder Jesus’ answer to the chief priests—the very people who were to be in the best position to know the signs and characteristics of the Messiah—these priests said they didn’t know by what authority John baptized people.
Today I wanted to confront us with the authority of Jesus. I said that “[…] our spiritual journey is the discovery of how this Authoritative King is good.” But that’s not all; our spiritual journey is the discovery of our submission, our surrender to this Authoritative King. Did you you hear that? Submission, surrender to Jesus as the Authoritative King.
One of the things we are becoming convinced of in these last days is the rediscovery of His Lordship over our lives. It began the moment He called us to take up our cross and follow Him.
The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christian suffering which every person must experience is the call to abandon the attachment to this world […]
[…] we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with His death […] the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.
When Christ calls us, He bids us to come and die.
Cost of Discipleship, p. 99, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Decisions for You:
In what ways, or, in what areas of your life are you being called to die?
In what ways, or, in what areas are you ready to surrender to His Lordship today?
Lord Jesus, we recognize You as Lord: Lord of lords and King of King’s! We have a holy fear, a worshipful awe of who You are and we come with as much humility as we can bear. In Your tender mercy and loving patience lead us, prune us, heal us. When we are honest before You we admit we know not what we ought to pray, only You know. Therefore we offer ourselves in submission, we yield to You, and would have no other desire than to accomplish Your will.
“Your kingdom come – Your will be done – on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen
For Further Reading:
Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of our Post-Christian Culture, Mark Sayers, 2019
The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1937