Week of October 9

“Who’s in Charge Here?”

Read: Ezra 7-8; Luke 20
“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 and said to him, ‘Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.’”
Luke 20:1-2, ESV


The lack of a clear chain of command often frequently emerges in the aftermath of calamitous events. This scenario leads to the question, “Who’s in charge here?” This question is often spoken in real-time situations as well. It is spoken on the lips of characters in countless television shows and movies. It may be a policeman, lawyer, military officer, parent, or even an educator!

We all want to know who has authority to speak or to act. I wish it were as simple as this brief introduction, but it is not! So, let’s see how Jesus responds to a similar question on the lips of the chief priests, scribes, and elders who confronted Him in Luke 20. Trust me! The encounter that Jesus had with the religious leaders holds important implications for our own lives.

Understanding the Bible Context

Luke’s goal: Settling the question of moral authority
The direct answer to their question is that Jesus’ authority, like John the Baptist’s before Him, came from God. Hold on to this claim because it will become important in a bit. The confrontations that Jesus faced were more intense than any of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings that we have been witnessing in our nation recently. Jesus had faced a similar series of questionings in Luke 11-13, so this interrogation surely did not catch Him off guard. Now, you and I must not lose sight of the context. Luke shows us how Jesus died and why His apparent defeat became a victory.
We must not miss Luke’s aim in this section. The Gospel writer wants us to know that, when we see Jesus, we see more than an earthly king: “we see the person with whom God has chosen to share His authority and His rule” (HCBC). The acceptance of this authority is evident by a complete transformation of our lives and total submission to His authority. Got it so far? Let’s continue.
Jesus Christ’s authoritative right to fulfill God’s will
The question of authority is at the root of any discussion of moral awareness and life principles. Let me provide a simple example. Why do you and I tell the truth? We do so because God is a God of truth, and His children imitate Him (Ephesians 4:15; Acts 5:3-5). People today commonly question claims to moral authority, so let’s draw closer and listen to the conflict in Luke 20:1-8. These leaders challenged Jesus for cleansing the temple and the nature of His teaching (see 19:45-48). Notice, however, that the Lord’s authority was never in question, despite their haranguing of Him. He responds to their double questioning (“By what . . . ?” and/or “Who gave . . . ?”) with a question. The answer lay within their own hearts. Was His ministry from God or man? They knew that every sign pointed to the truth that Jesus was from God and was God, BUT they willfully refused to believe. Since He was from God, He held ultimate authority. The empty tomb validates this claim (cf. Also Matthew 28:18ff. “all authority in heaven and earth”; Philippians 2:9-11).
What are the implications of Christ’s authority?
The authority of God and Christ contains significant meaning in the Scriptures and holds deep implications for ethics (good vs. bad and right vs. wrong). The word authority signifies the absolute possibility of action, which is fitting for God. He is the source of both the legal right to exercise authority and its power (Luke 10:25-28). Secondly, He displays His power in nature (Luke 8:22-25). Thirdly, when referring to Christ, the word means His divinely given power and authority to act (Luke 6:1-11). It is His own rule in “free agreement with the Father.” The Church owes its existence and its nature to Christ, and it requires His “enablement” even to come into existence. The Church operates totally under the power and authority of Christ (TWNT).

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

Scenes from the horrific tragedy that took place in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 continue to play in my mind. Dozens of heavily armored law enforcement personnel from various agencies descended upon the scene. Despite the show of authority and power, nineteen children and two teachers lost their lives in a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.
Considerable assessment of the situation in its aftermath led those who examined the police response to conclude that there was gross failure in the chain of command. I use this graphic example because Jesus came to address deadly evil and He was resisted by political leaders, religious officials, communities, and individuals. Each of these areas of social life exhibited similar breakdowns in the chain of command that led to tragic circumstances for people. Let me offer an application of how to correct the problem we too often see with authority.
It seems to me that our present generation “pushes back” against authority on several levels—institutional, ecclesial, social, and personal. There are several philosophical currents that have swept Christians far downstream from their proper position beneath Christ’s authority. One such current is an outgrowth of existential thought, claiming that there is no higher authority than oneself.
People believe that they need not honor divine, institutional, or human authority—even if these latter sources of authority originate from God! Jesus rescues us from such delusional and destructive belief. He reminds us that we ought to do what God wills (cf. Luke 9:35; “Listen to Him!”; cf. 1 Peter 2:11-3:12). Jesus is the answer to the question, “Who’s in charge?” Serve Him with all of your heart, soul, and mind.

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. This devotional seeks to answer the question, “Who’s God of your life?” Many people in my generation grew up rejecting all levels of authority. Millennials and the generation that follows are quite similar in centering moral authority within themselves. Our passage calls us to make certain that we submit to Christ’s God-given authority over our lives. Ask Christ to point out areas of your life where you are resistant to His authority, then submit to his rule over your entire existence.

2. For Families: Just like adults, children need to learn to recognize and submit to proper authority in their own lives. Our attitudes to authority as parents is more “caught” than “taught” to our children.

How do we respond to traffic signs, signals, and rules? How do we listen when our elected local, state, and federal officials speak from their positions of office? What do we convey to our children as we talk about paying our taxes, obeying laws, and respectfully conversing with law enforcement and first responders?

Most importantly, how are we conducting ourselves to teach our children to love, honor, and respect God above all else? Old timers used to remove their hats when they prayed or entered a church building. It was a sign, or a symbol, of the submission of their hearts. Have a conversation with your children about God’s authority. As a family, choose some small way to represent your commitment and submission to God as ruler of your family, your hearts, souls, minds, and bodies. Practice this symbolic gesture regularly as a family.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock