And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Luke 20:8
He said to them,“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Luke 20:25
Luke 20 brings us two encounters between Jesus and his culture which centered around his authority. By this time, of course (late in Jesus’ ministry on earth), the tension was mounting and the danger building…not unlike some of the “culture wars” in which the church finds itself today. There are plenty of opportunities for us to speak into those divisions. Of course we want to speak truth. But we can speak truth with hearts at war or we can speak truth with hearts set on healing.
Our words can be “fitly spoken, like apples of gold…” or they can “curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” The choice is ours. And the model is Jesus.
In the first passage (Luke 20:1-8), the chief priests, scribes and elders questioned Jesus about the authority with which he was acting. They were baiting him into what they presumed would be blasphemy, but Jesus would not bite. He would not lower himself to engage in a war of words. Oh, he could have…He knew the truth. He could have justified hammering them with that truth. He could have convinced himself that he was not afraid of the gospel and that it was time to take a stand for truth. He could have used pretty much any of the excuses we use today to blast our culture with “the truth”. But he sidestepped the entire engagement. He modeled restraint and held his tongue, even on a hot topic such as his spiritual authority in this world. Sometimes, we are much better …
You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”…While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:51-53, 59-60
Learning to show love to a lost and broken world is hard enough for us as individuals…that challenge is magnified a hundred fold for the church corporately. We, the church, must live in the tension between standing for holiness (separateness, not giving in to the ways of the world) and loving the broken people around us, who are still well-entrenched in the ways of the world. It is tricky, isn’t it?
When I read Stephen’s amazing sermon in Acts 7, and I see him brilliantly making the case for the pattern of rebellion throughout the history of the Jewish people (it is very much like an intervention…laying out all the evidence in a rational and indisputable way) and then leveling his charge against the church leaders of his time by associating them with that same pattern…I think to myself, “Now THAT is definitely going against the grain and calling out an entire culture!” I have seen churches who have no problem with walking against the grain…railing against our culture, screaming at all the sinners in the world and telling them they’re going to burn in hell, even telling them that …