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Home arrow Daniel arrow Luke 20:1-18: Scribal Errors
Luke 20:1-18: Scribal Errors Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 October 2013

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We like to question authority.  I am tempted to say that this is an American problem, but I figure it is a struggle for all humans.  In our country, we see this struggle in particular in relation to the government.  If you have been paying attention at all to what is going on right now, then you have probably seen some examples of people questioning authority.  People are frustrated by the shutdown.  Others are frustrated by some of the policies that led to the shutdown.  Yet, there are those on both sides questioning authority.  They ask: ĎWho gave you the authority to shutdown our government?í  Or others: ĎWho gave you the authority to put in policies that we disagree with?í  You know what the answer to both of those questions is?  ĎWe gave them the authority.í  Itís just how things work in a democracy.  We elect officials and give them authority to make decisions about our country.  And then when we disagree with those decisions, we want to know who gave them the authority to do such things.  I know I am oversimplifying a bit, but hopefully you understand what I am saying.

In Luke 20, we see the authority of Jesus coming under question.  The chief priests and the scribes have already decided to seek a way to destroy him (19:47).  They do not like the fact that He drove out those who were selling and they do not like what He is teaching.  They are ready to be done with Him.  Thus, in this chapter, Luke shows us several ways that they tried to get rid of Him.  In these stories, we get a better understanding of the errors of the scribes and the chief priests in the way that Jesus addresses them.  I want to identify two of those errors this morning.

First, the error of cowardice (v. 1-8)

The chief priests and the scribes question Jesusí authority to do what He has been doing and to teach what He has been teaching.  Look at verses 1-2.  Like us at times, they want to know the source of Jesusí authority.  What gives Him the right to toss out the sellers?  What gives Him the right to teach the people?  What gives Him the right to heal on the Sabbath and forgive sins?  They want to know who gave Jesus such authority.

Jesus responds to them in verse 3.  Look at that with me.  Instead of answering their question directly, Jesus responds with a question of His own: ĎWas the baptism of John from heaven or from man?í  Jesus is essentially asking them what they think about Johnís ministry.  Do they think that John received authority from God or from man?  Of course, this question is difficult for the chief priests and scribes.  It is not difficult because they do not know the answer, rather, it is difficult because they donít want to admit what they think.  Notice their struggle in verses 5-7.  If they say that Johnís baptism was from God, then they will have to explain why they did not receive it.  Likewise, they will have an answer to their question about Jesusí authority.  John said that Jesus was the Lamb of God, the Messiah, the Promised One.  Johnís ministry made it clear that Jesus has authority because He is God in the flesh.  Thus, to admit that Johnís baptism was from God is to admit that Jesus is ministering under the authority of the Father as well.  They would not admit that.  They could not agree that Johnís baptism was from heaven.

Yet, they could not say that Johnís baptism was from man either.  Why?  Because they feared that the people would stone them for rejecting Johnís ministry.  The people were convinced that John was a prophet.  Many of them were baptized by John.  If the chief priests and scribes deny that Johnís baptism was from God, then the people would turn on them.  They did not want that to happen.  So, they kept silent.  They refused to be honest out of their fear of the people.  Their cowardice kept them from saying what they truly believed.

Since they will not answer Jesusí question, He tells them that He will not answer theirs.  Look at verse 8.  We might wonder: ĎWhy does Jesus not answer their question?í  In one sense, as we have already noted, He does answer their question by pointing them to the ministry of John.  His authority comes from the same place that Johnís came from, namely the Father.  Jesus has authority because He is Godís Son.  He has all authority because everything was made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made (John 1:3).  Why does He not just go ahead and say that here?  I think part of the reason is to make a point about the chief priests and scribes.  He wants us to see their rejection of him and their fear of man.  He wants us to see their error.  One of my commentatorís notes: ďThe time for debate is past.  The leadership (the chief priests and scribes) has made their decision, and they should own up to it.  Their failure to do so is the narrationís indictment on their action.Ē 1  Their cowardice keeps them from answering Jesusí question and He wants us to recognize this error for what it is.

Second, the error of disrespect (v. 9-18)

After this episode, Jesus goes on to tell a parable.  This is the last parable in the Gospel of Luke and it addresses the chief priests and scribes.  He begins with the setting.  Look at verse 9.  The imagery of the vineyard was often used to symbolize Israel (see Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:8ff).  Thus, Jesusí listeners would immediately know that He was talking about Israel.  In the parable, a man plants the vineyard and then allows the tenants to care for it.  In this context, it seems best to identify the religious leaders as the tenants.  They are the ones who are to care for the vineyard, to care for Israel. 

The situation then develops in verses 10-12.  Look at those with me.  The man sends some servants to get some of the fruit but the tenants refuse to give them anything and actually mistreat them.  These servants represent the prophets.  God sent them to Israel and they were continually mistreated by the leadership.  The Lord spoke through one of those prophets, Jeremiah, saying: From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day.  Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck.  They did worse than their fathers (Jeremiah 7:25-26).  Israel and the leadership would not listen to Godís prophets.

So what does the man with the vineyard do?  Look at verses 13-15a.  First, we should note the manís patience.  He continues to give the tenants chances to do the right thing.  In the same way, God has been patient with Israel and her leaders.  He has warned them and sent prophet after prophet.  And eventually, He sent them His Son.  Unfortunately, as we have seen in Luke, they did not recognize Him.  And as we will see in the remaining chapters, they will eventually hand Him over to the Romans to be crucified.  The Father has loved them (and the whole world) so much that He sent His Son who was willing to die for our sins.
But just like the tenants in the story, the religious leaders in Jesusí day rejected the Son.  So then, what will the man do?  Look at verses 15b-16a.  The vineyard, the care of Godís people, will be taken away from the religious leaders.  In fact, they will be judged and the vineyard will be given to others.  Such judgment points to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD as well as the judgment to come when the Son returns.  And what of the vineyard?  It will be given to the Gentiles and to any and all who will believe in the Sonís death and resurrection for their sins.  We see the fulfillment of this in book of Acts as the Apostles take the gospel to the Gentiles. 

The chief priests and scribes cannot believe that such a thing could happen.  But Jesus tells them that it is the fulfillment of prophecy.  Look at verses 16b-18.  They are shocked, but Jesus reminds them of Psalm 118:22.  The Rejected Stone becomes the Cornerstone and brings judgment to all who rejected Him.  It is a sober warning.  So then, who is this Rejected Stone that becomes the Cornerstone?  Peter tells us that it refers to Jesus Himself.  He is the Murdered Son.  He is the stone that the builders rejected.  And He has become the cornerstone.  He has taken on flesh, lived a perfect life, and given Himself up for our sins.  He has been rejected and murdered to pay the penalty of our rebellion.  He came back from the dead to show us that His payment for our debts has been accepted.  We can be forgiven through faith in Him.  All who turn from their sins and believe in Him will be saved.  The Murdered Son has become our hope for forgiveness and eternal life.  The tenants disrespected Him.  They cast Him out of the vineyard and had Him killed.  And their rejection of the Son cost them the Kingdom.  The vineyard was taken from them and given to those who would believe.

The errors of the chief priests and scribes are great.  They fear man more than they fear God.  Instead of being open and honest about what they believe, they hide in their silence to avoid offending men.  Their cowardice is obvious.  And just like the leaders who have gone before them, they reject the One that God has sent.  Their fathers disrespected the prophets and they disrespect the Son.  Such errors are grave and costly.

At the end of the day, both of these errors can be summed up with one word: unbelief.  The chief priests and the scribes did not believe that Johnís ministry was from God.  They questioned Jesusí authority because they did not believe that He was who He said He was.  They did not believe that He was indeed the Son of God.  And their unbelief is most clearly seen in their willingness to send Him to the cross.  They did not believe that He was the Promised King sent to deliver Godís people.  They did not believe that He was the Messiah, sent to lead Godís people into truth.  And they did not believe that He was the Son of God, sent to reap the harvest of the Fatherís vineyard. 

Unbelief is dangerous.  We cannot afford to let our fear of man keep us from believing in Jesus.  We cannot let our longing for freedom (which is not really freedom) and our questioning of Jesusí authority keep us from bowing to Him as Lord.  If we do, then we will face the same judgment as the tenants.  We will fall on the stone and be broken and the stone will fall on us and we will be crushed.  Rather, we should believe that Jesus really is the Son who has come to set us free from our sins by dying for them in the cross.  We should believe that He conquered death by rising from the grave.  We should believe that He has all authority in heaven and on earth because nothing has been made without Him.  Only one question remains: do you believe?

1 Darrell L. Bock, Luke NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1996), p. 502.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Saturday, 26 October 2013 )

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