Luke 20:1-8 (ESV)
1 One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up 2 and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” 3 He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, 4 was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” 5 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ 6 But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” 7 So they answered that they did not know where it came from. 8 And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
When Jesus spoke and taught, he did so with authority. Other Jewish teachers would defer to the customs established by rabbis who went before them. They supported their teaching with statements like “Rabbi This said” or “Rabbi That said.” But Jesus didn’t quote other rabbis because he was the authority, and he taught directly from God. The leaders of Israel approached Jesus to challenge him on where he got his authority to teach in the temple. They prodded him to uncover why he thought he was equipped to teach without leaning upon the traditions of men. Instead of answering them directly, Jesus asked the religious leaders a question in return. Regarding John’s baptism, was it “from heaven or from man?” They knew the Jews respected John as a man who spoke for God. John had even baptized many of the crowd. The Pharisees couldn’t possibly say that John’s authority didn’t come from heaven. But if it did come from heaven, why weren’t they baptized too? In addition, John declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. They discussed these things and decided that they had better not answer him. So they replied, “We don’t know.” Jesus told them they weren’t getting any more of an answer from him either. The religious leaders rejected Jesus just like they rejected John.
When we read this account, we want to shout to the religious leaders, “What? You have an opinion, so just say it!” But this same type of thinking and deceptive speech goes on today. What about Jesus? Was he from heaven or man? Was he a phony who lied about his identity to deceive people? Or was he delusional and did he therefore wrongfully believe he was the promised Messiah? The questions Jesus asked are the same questions we should ask those around us today. If those we dialogue with say Jesus was from man, then they must concede that either he was dishonest or a nutcase. And if either one of these is true, then they should never quote him or say he was a good guy. If they confess he was from heaven, then why aren’t they following him? Stop and pray for the opportunity to engage in thought-provoking discussion with those who are blind to the truth for now. Pray that the Holy Spirit would remove the veil from their eyes, just as he did from yours.