WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

One of the ways we might call someone down when we think they are out of line is to ask them, “Who do you think you are?” Parents sometimes ask that of their children, a teacher may ask that of a student, and a supervisor might ask it of a subordinate. It’s clearly not a question seeking information, but an expression of disagreement with something said or done. More than that, however, it is an attempt to put someone in his or her place. During the final week of Jesus’ life leading up to His crucifixion a group of Jesus’ critics asked a similar question for the same reason.

It was the week of Passover and the roads were crowded with people going to Jerusalem. On Palm Sunday Jesus entered the city riding on a donkey with crowds cheering and spreading their cloaks and palm branches before him. It resembled the entrance of a king and must have reminded some of the messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Certainly Jesus’ enemies noticed.

Then early in the week Jesus entered the temple and turned over the tables of the money-changers quoting Jeremiah 7:11, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (Matthew 21:13). This action also got everyone’s attention, including his critics—who were not at all pleased.

Only Matthew reports that after this Jesus healed some who were blind and some who were lame. “But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant” (Matthew 21:13). Matthew doesn’t record it, but this must have been “the final straw” because Mark tells us that after the money-changers episode, “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at this teaching” (11:18). And so they questioned him.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include this incident with only minor differences. Mark tells us the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders came to Jesus in the temple and demanded of Him, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you authority to do this?” (11:27 and 28). One of the things they had to be referring to by “these things” was Jesus throwing out the money-changers; but they were also no doubt going back to the way he had entered the city on Palm Sunday and everything else he had done since then.

They asked Jesus two related questions. They wanted to know what authority he had, and they wanted to know who gave it to him. In other words, as suggested above, “Who do you think you are?” They knew that to do what he was doing required some kind of authorization, and they knew they hadn’t given him that authority.

From these gospel accounts, it’s not immediately obvious what was behind this line of questioning. Perhaps they thought Jesus would claim the authority of the Messiah. He had certainly done and said things that suggested he thought he was the Messiah. But if he made that claim overtly the question was still relevant: who gave him that authority? Not only that, they might accuse him of blasphemy as they did a few days later when he was before the Sanhedrin.

Throughout his ministry Jesus had taught and acted in his own name and with God’s authority. That’s why his disciples followed him and crowds came to hear him. As a teacher Jesus was not like the other “official” teachers of the time. After Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew tells us “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (7:28b and 29).

As always, Jesus’ response to their questions was masterful. At this point he was not yet ready to directly tell them he was the Son of God, so he responded with a question for them. “Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!” (Mark 12:29 and 30). On first reading, Jesus’ response seems evasive, but it really wasn’t. Is was the same basic question they had asked him, but Jesus’ question was not about himself, but John.

Jesus’ question of his questioners put them on the spot. All three accounts tell us they argued (Matthew and Mark) or discussed (Luke) with one another their two possible answers, neither of which worked for them. They had not accepted John’s message so they said to themselves, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’” (Mark 11:31). But because of John’s popularity they reasoned among themselves, “But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet’” (Matthew 21:26).

New Testament scholar Alan Cole suggests Jesus was not trying to trap them, but to give them the opportunity to admit they were wrong and acknowledge that both John and Jesus were legitimate. But they resolved their dilemma by giving the only answer they thought they could: “We don’t know” (Mark 11:33a). That answer, of course, did not help them, but it served to authenticate Jesus.

Note that Jesus did not deny he had authority, but responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (Mark 11:33b). Many in the crowd that day, as well as Jesus’ critics, knew he approved of John as a true prophet. And John had approved of Jesus as a prophet and much more. If John’s authority came from heaven, then so did Jesus’ authority. Commentator R.T. France affirms, “No one who heard Jesus’ response could fail to understand the implied claim to continuity between his ministry and that of John, and therefore to a divine authority for it.” But in the way Jesus handled the exchange, those who questioned him could not use it against Him.

It is telling that these critics were unwilling to answer Jesus’ question. Even though they thought they knew the answer, they pleaded ignorance. But their non-answer was an expression of fear; not fear of bodily harm, but fear that the people would lose respect for them and their position. Ironically, their unwillingness even to answer Jesus’ question probably also resulted in loss of respect for them among those witnessing the exchange.

You and I know not only who Jesus thought he was, we know who he was and is. And we know where He got His authority. He was and is the Son of God.

(Adapted from chapter 10 of my book “Questioning Jesus: Considering His Responses.” Feel free to leave a reply below and/or share this post on Facebook and other social media.)

 

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DON’T YOU CARE?

This is Chapter Four of my new book Questioning Jesus: Considering His Responses. 

Primary Bible References – Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-31; and Luke 8:22-25

With the exception of this chapter, all the other incidents discussed in this book are occasions when Jesus’ critics questioned Him trying to test, discredit, trap, trick, and delegitimize Him. The incident to be explored in this chapter, however, does not involve His critics. It is rather His followers who question Him.

In Mark’s account of this incident the disciples asked Jesus, “Don’t you care?” (4:38). The actual question is longer than that, but that’s the gist of it. Unlike all the other questioning of Jesus we are examining, this question was not about testing or tricking Him. But although the disciples were not questioning Jesus as a way to trap him, they were certainly doing more than seeking information.

“Don’t you care?” is a question a lot of people still ask the Lord today, both unbelievers and believers alike. Even if you have never asked it, I suspect there have been times in your life when you have thought it. That’s why I think this chapter will be especially helpful to all of us.

Context and Setting

Mark tells us this episode took place in the evening following a day of Jesus teaching. At Jesus’ suggestion they all crossed the lake (according to Luke 8:22) or the sea (according to Matthew 8:23). In the midst of the trip a severe storm developed, raising concern with the disciples. Because of the low altitude and the surrounding hills, sudden storms still hit the Sea of Galilee today.

I note that the storm raised concern with the disciples without mentioning Jesus because He was asleep. Jesus was asleep because He was tired. I don’t think for a minute Jesus was pretending to be asleep in order to teach the disciples a lesson. This is another indication that although Jesus was and is the Son of God, He was also fully human. There are a variety of places in the New Testament where it is clear Jesus faced the same kind of physical realities we all face in terms of hunger, thirst, and the need for rest. If you ever wonder if Jesus can identify with your fatigue, the answer is yes!

In the face of the situation the disciples determined to wake Jesus—that tells us how strong this storm actually was. At least four of the disciples were experienced fishermen and used to these kinds of storms; they would certainly know when they were in trouble. According to Mark the squall was furious and the waves were breaking over the boat, threatening to sink it. On top on the severity of the storm, this was taking place at night. We never read in the Bible of the disciples interrupting Jesus’ prayer time, but here they do wake Him from His sleep. Apparently they had enough faith in Jesus to believe that if He was awake He could save them, but not enough to ride the storm out while He was asleep.

Questioning Jesus

Mark 4:38 tells us they woke Jesus and asked, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” There is a tone of irritation and reproach in what they asked. It reminds me of Martha’s question to Jesus in Luke 10:40: “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?” She follows this question by telling Jesus what do to; she says to Him, “Tell her to help me.” The disciples did not tell Jesus what to do, but it was implied He needed to do something. Even though they were afraid, and as inadequate as their faith may have been, the fact that they woke Jesus indicates they did have faith in Him.

Considering Jesus’ Response

Jesus’ response to the disciples’ questioning was twofold. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all report He calmed the storm and questioned the disciples. Matthew, however, has Jesus asking the question first (8:26), while Mark (4:40) and Luke (8:25) have Jesus questioning them after He calmed the storm. Mark also reports Jesus asking them two questions.

Even though this book is not about apologetics and defending the reliability of the Gospels, I want to comment on the discrepancies among the three accounts. (And remember it is only Mark who reports the disciples asking, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”) For me these minor differences underscore the reliability of the record. If the writers of the Gospels were in collusion and making things up, they certainly would have gotten their stories straight before writing them down. In addition, if the authors of the Gospels were conspiring to give the best possible account, it seems unusual that only Matthew and Luke omitted the disciples’ questioning of Jesus. Wouldn’t Mark have wanted to eliminate this detail as well so as not to make the disciples look bad? Instead, the Gospels are full of these small discrepancies as well as incident after incident in which the disciples look foolish or unbelieving. In my mind, this is evidence that they should be trusted as authentic accounts written without an agenda other than telling people the good news of Christ.

In response to being awakened Jesus did calm the storm. Mark reports, “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (4:39). All three accounts report a similar response from the disciples: “The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”’ (Matthew 8:27). They were amazed, as in the presence of God. They saw and knew that He was a man, but now they also knew He was more than just a man. Managing nature in terms of the storm and sea was something only God could do. They were coming more and more to understand that He was the Son of God. This entire incident is often pointed to as underscoring in quick succession both the humanity as well as the divinity of Jesus. We see human weariness in His sleeping and the divine voice ruling nature.

Whether Jesus calmed the storm before He spoke to His disciples or not, He did scold them and ask a convicting question: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” The answer to His question is suggested in His address “you of little faith.” Jesus wasn’t miffed that His disciples woke Him, He was disappointed they didn’t have more faith. After all, by this time they had seen Him do quite a bit and had heard Him teach often; He expected their faith would have been stronger.

Wrap Up

This exchange between Jesus and His disciples challenges us to think about our faith. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of faith in the Christian life. Hebrews 11:6 declares, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” We are saved by faith; or in other words, we become Christians by faith. Not only are we saved by faith, however, we are also to live by faith. Jesus repeatedly made this point in His teaching as does both the Old Testament and the New Testament. And living by faith means that faith is something in which we grow. In His words to His disciples Jesus was challenging them to greater faith and He does the same to us today.

One thing we might suggest from this entire episode is that storms are a part of life. In a printed message by Rick Warren he notes storms “are inevitable, they are unpredictable, and they are impartial. They’re going to come, we’re not sure when, and we’re all going to face them.”

Isn’t it interesting that in this account the disciples were in a storm because they were following Jesus? It was His idea to go across the lake. Perhaps the disciples expected everything to be smooth sailing because they were with Him. Being a Christian and following Jesus does not guarantee cloudless skies or smooth sailing in life. Sometimes being a follower of Jesus leads us into storms. I don’t think the storm this particular evening surprised Jesus, do you? The reality is nothing ever surprises God.

Just like the disciples we sometimes wonder if Jesus really cares. We sometimes believe Jesus has let us down. God does not always perform miracles to rescue us from life’s storms. And there are false teachers who wrongly suggest that if we had more faith we would be saved from the storms of life; we would be healed, our marriage would not fail, our financial woes would be resolved, or our child would not suffer. But that is cruel and not what the Bible teaches. Real faith trusts God in the storm no matter what the outcome. There is also a connection between fear and faith. As we grow in faith, fear becomes less a factor in our lives.

Considering Jesus’ assessment of the disciples, “You of little faith” (Matthew 8:26), we must ask ourselves how much faith is enough. I’m not sure I know. Probably just like you, I’m still trying to cultivate my faith and root out fear in my life. One thing we might note, there is no record of Jesus ever telling anyone they had too much faith! How much faith is enough? I don’t know, but I suspect you and I both could use a little more. The point is that Jesus can be trusted, especially in the storms of life.

I read that one day Mark Twain and a friend walked outside in the rain. The friend asked him, “Do you think it will stop?” And Twain responded, “It always does.” That’s true with any storm. You’ve got to go through it, but it’s not going to last forever. Eventually, or ultimately, it will end.

To learn more about the book, read some editorial reviews, and order it go to

http://www.amazon.com/Questioning-Jesus-Considering-His-Responses/dp/1517785855/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1455234806&sr=8-3&keywords=Questioning+Jesus

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SELF-PROMOTION?

In publishing my second book last week, Questioning Jesus: Considering His Responses, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about getting the word out about it. Since it is not being put out by a major publisher, how do I let those who may want to read it know it’s available? From the time I published my first book (A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters) in May of last year I have been cautious about talking too much about the book. And I want to be equally cautious about this one.

Book marketing guru and author Tim Grahl reports he often hears from authors: “I hate doing self-promotion.” That’s my concern with getting the word out about my book. In letting those who may want to read the book know it is available, I do not want to be perceived as promoting myself and I know that constant pitches to buy my book can come across as self-promotion. I know that because my email inbox is regularly flooded with all kinds of “offers” to buy books, training, and videos that will change my life in many areas.

Tim Grahl suggests self-promotion disappears when an author focuses on the “why” of his or her writing. He notes “your favorite authors write books to add something to your life. They have a ‘why’ that they are deeply connected to.” Grahl concludes that once you know and are deeply connected to your “why” it’s no longer about you and your self-promotion.

The reality is that I want to sell copies of this book; I want people to get it and read it. But I have no illusion about it becoming a bestseller or me becoming a famous author. My why is getting people to read, think, and talk about the Christian life, the Bible, and the church. For the past 45 years my heart has been set on teaching the Bible. But more than that, my central goal has been teaching people about Jesus. The purpose of Questioning Jesus: Considering His Responses is to help “readers become familiar with the details when Jesus was questioned and gain a greater appreciation for Him in light of the way He responded to both the questions and His questioners.”

I believe this book will be good for both individual reading and Bible study as well as small group reading and Bible study. Questions for reflection and discussion are included at the end of each of the 13 chapters. To learn more about the book, to read some endorsement reviews, and to order it go to
http://www.amazon.com/Questioning-Jesus-Considering-His-Responses/dp/1517785855/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1455234806&sr=8-3&keywords=Questioning+Jesus

I invite you to help me get the word out about this book to those who may be interested. Also, if you get it and read it please consider writing a review on amazon.com.

Reply with any comments below and I encourage you to share this post if you think others would appreciate it.