So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
What of you? You have listened to the testimony of John and the claims of Jesus. You have seen the evidence for his claims. Will you acknowledge that he is the Son of God and the Savior and follow him as your Lord? Will you become a Christian? If you are hesitating, let me tell you a little bit more about the authority of Jesus Christ.
Authority is an important theme in Matthew’s gospel. You may recall that at the beginning, after Jesus had first begun to teach, it was said that “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:29). In chapter eight the centurion acknowledged His authority, comparing it to his own authority as a military commander: “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me” (vv. 8-9). In chapter nine Jesus healed the paralyzed man “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v.6), and the people marveled that “God . . . had given such authority to men” (v. 8). In chapter 21, the chapter we are studying now, the word “authority” occurs four times, twice on the lips of Jesus’ accusers and twice in His response.
The most important occurrence of the word is at the very end of the gospel in the Great Commission where Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
These verses say three important things about Jesus’ authority.
1. Jesus’ authority is God’s authority. This is the only thing “all authority in heaven” can mean. For the only ultimate authority in heaven is God’s, and if Jesus has been given all authority in heaven, this can only mean that He is God and speaks with God’s authority. The story about his forgiving the sin of the paralyzed man teaches the same truth. For the religious leaders thought He was blaspheming on the grounds that only God can Forgive sins (Matthew 9:3). The authority of God is the greatest possible authority. lt must not be taken lightly.
2. Jesus’ authority validates his teaching. This is what impressed those who first listened to Him, for He did not speak on the authority of those teachers who had gone before Him but with intrinsic authority, knowing that all He was saying was true and could be trusted absolutely. Have you learned that about Jesus? No one else is that trustworthy. The polls tells us that Americans lie all the time and for no apparent reason. Politicians lie. Only Jesus can be trusted to tell you the truth at all times.
3. Jesus has authority to forgive sin. This is the most important point of all, for sin is our greatest problem. Sin keeps us from God. In fact, sin keeps us from the truth too, for it is characteristic of sin that it causes us to hide from the truth and cling to our sinful ways at all costs. We need a forgiveness based on the punishment of our sins in another who is able to hear that judgment for us, which is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus died in our place so that He can justly forgive the sin of all who will come to him asking for salvation.
The leaders of Israel would not acknowledge Jesus’ authority, and the result is that they perished in their sins. Many have perished because they will not come to Jesus. Why should that be true of you? It does not need to be. Acknowledge His authority. Ask Him for forgiveness.