Who are you to tell me what to do?

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Luke 19:45 – 20:19

Who are you to tell me what to do?

Recently as we were driving to the beach, I made the mistake of playing George one of my favourite songs from my high school years. In the late 1990s, The Living End shot out of obscurity into world-wide fame with their first major single ‘Prisoner of Society’. This song is a super high energy blend of 80s punk rock and 1950s rockabilly, which grabbed the attention of millions, although I’m guessing doesn’t sound super appealing to some of you here. It was the lyrics, though, or the whole concept of the song really, that made it a kind of anthem for so many young people in Australia and around the world. And it’s the lyrics, the famous opening lines, that George instantly grabbed hold of with glee and shouted sporadically for the rest of the day… 

Well we don’t need no one to tell us what to do; Oh yes we’re on our own and there’s nothing you can do; So we don’t need no one like you, to tell us what to do 

I had to backtrack pretty quickly and explain to George that actually he did need someone (i.e. us!) to tell him what to do, and that he wasn’t on his own (which is actually very good for him!) and that there’s plenty we can do thankyou very much, and that the song is not actually a good way to think about life… and you are probably not surprised to know we haven’t played Prisoner of Society at home since then…

The reason George grabbed hold of the lyrics and music so gleefully is the same reason that it was so popular in the first place. It captures perfectly the feelings and attitudes that young people of pretty much every generation experience as they struggle with feeling misunderstood and controlled by people in authority over them – most of all, of course, their parents. 

But whilst it’s a song that most generations of young people could identify with, it’s not surprising it seemed to resonate so powerfully in this time and place. Our culture has been on a pathway of rejecting institutional authority and absolute claims to truth and power over the last half century. To put it starkly, most people in our culture genuinely believe ‘we don’t need no one to tell us what to do’ (even if they wouldn’t shout it out with raised fists in the middle of a mosh pit). Truth is relative, ethics are culturally determined, and religion is a personal preference. 

And the thing is that these attitudes and ways of thinking will have had a profound affect on many of us here and on our response to the gospel of Jesus, in at least one of two ways. Firstly, we ourselves can buy into that ideology of ‘who are youto tell mewhat to do’, and resist God’s claim to authority over our lives. This might mean an outright declaration of autonomy against God and a rejection of the claims of Jesus. Or it could be a more subtle mingling of Christianity with this spirit of individualism and autonomy, so that you claim a Christian identity, but essentially determine your own ethics and purpose in life. But secondly, even if we are genuinely seeking to follow Jesus as Lord, we can easily shy away from claiming that Jesus has authority over otherpeople’s lives, calling themto repent and follow Jesus, because, just like them, we think, ‘who am Ito tell themwhat to do’?

And into this spirit of antagonism and discomfort towards claims of authority and absolute truth, our passage from Luke’s gospel today reminds us that Jesus does indeed come with the authority of God, our Creator and Judge, and that it’s good and right for us and for all people to hand back authority to him. This passage declares to us that God owns our lives, not us, and that Jesus comes as God’s Son to rightfully claim that authority over all of us.

This passage is the start of a new series in the final major section of Luke’s gospel, which we’ve called ‘Jesus in Jerusalem: the King and the Cross’. Last year we explored Luke 9-19, which presented Jesus as teaching his followers about the true nature of being his disciples, the whole time heading towards Jerusalem, knowing that he would ultimately die there. Now in this final section, Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem, with crowds of people celebrating his arrival as the promised King, but with the religious leaders deeply disturbed… 

Jesus comes claiming God’s authority, whether we like it or not

Now as we dive into the narrative of our passage for today, the first thing to appreciate is that Jesus comes claiming God’s authority over our lives and this world, whether we like it or not. 

Jesus makes his mark, and the leaders don’t like it

From 19:45, we read that the very first thing Jesus does upon entering the city of Jerusalem is to go into the temple courts and begin to drive out people who were selling and trading animals for sacrifices. Jesus knows from the Scriptures that God intended his temple to be a place of prayer and worship for all peoples, and he can see that instead those in charge are using it to squeeze money out of people for their own gain.

When you go to the football or a special event, you know the food is going to cost twice as much as it should, don’t you? You don’t like it, but you know that’s just how it is – and it’s your choice to buy the overpriced hotdogs. But imagine if you came to church and we charged you $5 for a cup of coffee. An imagine that we made you feel like you had to buy that cup of coffee to make God happy. Then imagine that Philip and I were just pocketing the $4.80 in profits! Jesus can see that what’s happening is greedy, oppressive, and dishonouring to God, and so he immediately kicks up a fuss and drives them out. He presumes the right to do it.

And then having made his mark, Luke explains in verse 47 that each day Jesus was teaching at the temple. We shouldn’t miss the significance of what Jesus is doing. He arrives in Jerusalem with shouts of “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”, then he immediately assumes authority over what’s happening in the temple courts, before setting himself up there to teach people the truth about God and his Kingdom. Jesus is careful to avoid publicly claiming the title ‘Messiah’ throughout the gospels, but he’s clearly claiming to represent God and his authority over the temple, which itself represents the very presence and rule of God over the people of Israel.

And it doesn’t go unnoticed does it? The second half of verse 47 reads, ‘But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him.’ Jesus has made himself very unpopular, very quickly, with the religious authorities. Why? Because Jesus is threatening their status and messing with the way they want things – and who is he to do this anyway? Throughout the gospel Jesus has not been warmly received by religious leaders and teachers, and now in Jerusalem, this conflict comes to a climax with the heavy weights of the current regime. They want him dead.

But there’s a problem. The people seem to love him. Verse 48: ‘Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.’ They hate what Jesus is doing and the way he’s undermining their own authority and status, and they want to get rid of him; but they’re stuck, because they don’t want to anger the people. In fact, as we read at the very end of our passage today, the leaders are afraidof the people.

And this highlights something tragic about the mindset of the religious leaders. Their status and power over the people is the thing most precious to them – much more important than whether they are in fact honouring God. And yet their power over the people is a farce isn’t it? It’s the people who have power over them. They live to be feared and respected by the people as God’s representatives, when in fact they fear the opinion of the people more than God himself.

The leaders try to undermine Jesus’ authority

Well plan A for the religious leaders to deal with their problem is to try and discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people by directly challenging his authority and exerting their own official positions of power. 

As we read in Chapter 20, verses 1 and 2, one day as Jesus is teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, all the official religious leaders come up to him and say, “Where’s your authority for doing and saying these things? Who gave you this authority??” 

Jesus turns the question around – what do you say? 

Well these guys were about to get their first taste of being devastatingly outsmarted by Jesus. Instead of answering their question directly, he answers by asking them a question.  He asks a brilliant question in response, which does in fact answer their question, but does so in a way that puts the spotlight on them.

“He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”

Jesus sidesteps their attack and throws them into a dilemma. They couldn’t say John the Baptist’s message and ministry was from heaven, because frankly, they had all ignored him and so they would look like hypocrites, and worse, John had officially proclaimed Jesus to be sent from God – the one who had come to establish God’s kingdom! So they would be stuck endorsing Jesus’ claim to authority…But no way could they publicly say that John was a fraud! The people loved him and held him to be a true prophet, and they might get themselves killed here and now… what to do!? They are like a rabbit caught in the headlights – frozen and scared…

And so they move into Public Relations Damage Control Mode and say they don’t know. They reveal once again that their primary concern is to protect their social standing and circumstances in life, no matter what. 

And so, Jesus gives them the only answer they deserve. If you’re not willing to make a call about John, I’m not going to give you a direct answer. He’s basically saying, “I know you’re not really interested in knowing if my authority comes from God, just like you never seriously considered John’s baptism.”

In fact, Jesus is saying that the question of who has given himthis authority is not hard to answer. His public ministry over the last three years speaks for itself: the healings, the miracles, the teaching with wisdom and authority beyond anything heard before, the testimony of John the Baptist, and the declaration at his baptism from heaven itself that Jesus was God’s Son… all this makes it pretty clear just who has given Jesus this authority. No, the real question is whether they are willing to accept it. Are they even open to the possibility? 

The response of the religious leaders is clear enough. The question is, how are wegoing to respond? You see, this interaction confronts us with the fact that Jesus comes into ourlives claiming God’s authority over us and this world, whether we like it or not, and we need to respond to that claim. 

I don’t think any of us like being told what to do. Why do you think reverse psychology is such a popular parenting tactic? We like to call the shots in our life; Decide what we will and won’t do… what our priorities are and how we spend our hard-earned money. And then Jesus comes along rearranging things, messing with the system, and claiming to be in charge of it all. It’s understandable that we react and try to cling on to control. But what we don’t want to do is just react without seriously considering his claim. We don’t want to respond like the religious leaders, sticking with pre-determined judgements, and demanding, ‘who are you to tell me what to do?’ And we don’t want to give hollow, superficial acknowledgement of Jesus’ authority over our lives, all the time effectively ignoring what he says. In fact, as Jesus goes on to explain, that’s just what the religious leaders had been doing with God…

Remember you are tenants, not owners

No doubt the religious leaders would have been feeling pretty agitated and humiliated after this interaction, but Jesus is not content to let them off so easily. Having exposed their hypocrisy, he wants to dig deeper and expose the real underlying problem…

9   He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out. 

13      “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ 

14      “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 15So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 

A confronting allegory

What’s going on in this parable? Why does Jesus tell it? It’s an allegory, which is when the characters and elements of a story represent real figures or events in history or the present. And Jesus’ parable is an allegorical retelling of the story of Israel and the way they have shamefully rejected the prophets that God has sent over the generations to call them back to faithful worship. 

God is the man who plants the vineyard. The nation of Israel is represented by the vineyard itself. The tenant-farmers are the leaders God has graciously placed in positions of authority over the people to cultivate the ‘fruit’ of faithful worship of God. The servants the owner sends to collect the harvest are the prophets that God has sent time and time again to call for repentance and faith; men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and Elijah. And just as Jesus’ parable explains, the kings and religious leaders so often rejected the message of these men and treated them shamefully. 

But it’s not just about the historyof Israel, or even primarily about the past. The tenants in this story are ultimately the religious leaders standing in front of Jesus right now, as the latest representatives of the long and sad list of self-interested leaders of God’s people. And that’s because the son in the parable is Jesus himself – God’s own beloved Son. 

Jesus is giving a profound and confronting theological interpretation of what is going down between himself and these leaders. He’s saying, ‘I am here as God’s own son, giving you one last chance to repent and give God the honour you owe him and to stop exploiting your positions for your own gain…’

And then this is where Jesus gets really pointed. He puts it out there that he knows they will kill him, and that the reason they will do it is so that they can claim the inheritance for themselves. Jesus’ real point is that the underlying reason they are rejecting him and his claim to authority is because they have rejected the authority of God himself. They have presumed to be the owners of the vineyard, and they resent the claim of God over them. And so even when God sends his very own Son to claim what is his, they kill him rather than give God what they owe him.

Don’t make the same mistake 

And that’s why this parable is so relevant to us today. On the one hand, it’s very specific – theseleaders are the tenants who will kill the Son. But on the other hand, it’s a challenge to each and every one of us – to people of all times and places, who have, to some extent, whether they are religious or not, rejected the authority of God over their lives and presumed to be owners, rather than tenants. 

Mike McKinley, the author of ‘Luke for You’, which is a really helpful, basic commentary and application of Luke’s gospel, explains how we make this same mistake. He writes:

 “the tenants’ most basic crime was that they were acting as if they should be the owners (and not the caretakers) of the vineyard. Instead of using the land for the benefit of the owner, they wanted to use it for their own selfish purposes. That dynamic is a powerful picture of what sin looks like in your life. God has given you all kinds of resources: family, friends, intelligence, personality qualities, experiences, spiritual gifts, health, etc… And you were given all of those things in order to serve God, to bear fruit for him. But sin tempts us to live our lives as if we are the owners of all of these things, not the tenants. Sin is living as if we make the rules in God’s vineyard, putting all the means of production to work serving ourselves. In the terms of this parable, sin is most basically acting as if you are the owner when you are really the tenant.” 

God is saying to us, don’t make the same mistake as these religious leaders. Remember you are tenants, caretakers, not the owners of your life and circumstances. This involves all that we are and all that we have. But how we think about and use our money is probably a good indicator of our broader mindset. When you make decisions about saving, spending and giving away money, do you do it considering how you can best serve God’s will for your life and this world, knowing it’s God’s money anyway? Or do you spend and save simply how you want to, because it’s yourmoney? What about study? Your career? Your time? We all need to stop and ask ourselves whether we’ve been approaching life as if we own it all, and hear the call to live as faithful, grateful tenants. 

Rejecting the Son has big, bad consequences

The final thing then that Jesus makes clear through this interaction with the religious leaders is that rejecting the son has big, bad consequences. It matters whether we welcome Jesus as he comes representing God’s claim over our lives. And we need to realise that this is true, not only for ourselves, but for allpeople. 

What then will the owner of the vineyard do?

You see we didn’t quite finish Jesus’ parable earlier. After the rebellious tenants kill the son, Jesus concludes: 

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

The tenants in the story made a fatal mistake. They presumed the owner himself would never turn up, and there wouldn’t be any consequences for rejecting his representatives – not even for killing his son. But they were wrong. Very wrong. The owner was coming, and he would come with vengeance.

The point was not lost on the religious leaders, nor on the people listening. They cry out in horror, “God forbid! May it never be!” Whether or not they are disturbed by their history of rejecting God’s prophets, or by the fact that their leaders might bring about the execution of Jesus in the days to come, they are certainly disturbed by the fact that God might turn up and judge them as a result. 

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone

But Jesus isn’t interested in making them feel better. No, he wants them to appreciate the gravity, the reality, of the situation. He looks directly at them in response and asks, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: “ ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

Jesus is referring to two different Old Testament passages, Psalm 118 and Isaiah 8, and pulling them together to make this one big, confronting statement:

I am destined to be rejected by this lot, but the tables will turn, and woe to anyone caught up in that rejection…

The Scriptures have always predicted that God’s messiah would be rejected by the people, and by the leaders in particular (i.e. ‘the builders’), but that he would then be exalted as the cornerstone of God’s building. And Jesus is pointing out that as this rejected-and-exalted stone, he will either be your foundation and hope, or your downfall. 

The metaphor has changed from vineyard to building, but the message is the same. Jesus understands that he will be the determining factor in God’s judgement on humanity. People will either embrace his authority, his identity as the cornerstone in God’s building, and build their lives on him, or they will reject him – they will fall or stumble on the stone – and as a result they will be crushed and broken to pieces.

Now again, Jesus is first of all talking about the religious leaders right in front of him who have rejected his claims. And he’s saying that there are going to be big, bad consequences for them. Their rejection of him will lead to God’s rejection of them. In fact, Jesus knows it will ultimately lead to the destruction of Jerusalem itself within a generation. 

But again, what Jesus says to warn them speaks to us. There are consequences for rejecting Jesus, because he really does represent God’s authority over our lives. He isthe cornerstone in God’s building project. And the point is that anyoneon whom it falls will be crushed. Jesus is the determining factor in everyone’sfuture.

Don’t shy away from calling for repentance

And I think that’s what some of us can find difficult, even when we’ve accepted Jesus as ourLord, and we areseeking to live as faithful tenants. In our pluralistic culture, which has rejected absolute truth claims and the authority of religious institutions, we find it hard to maintain that Jesus really does have authority over their lives too.

The world around us thinks they can live as if they are the owners of the vineyard. Most people reject Jesus’ claim to represent God as the owner of their lives. They enjoy life according to their own wisdom, and no one has the right to tell them otherwise. And we are reluctant to contradict them. Who am I to tell you what to do? 

But it’s not me or you telling them what to do; it’s Jesus, coming with God’s authority. And there are consequences for rejecting him. Just because people think they own their lives, doesn’t mean they do. When our world cries out to God, ‘We’re on our own and there’s nothing you can do’, they are wrong. It’s a false claim, and it has consequences. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. As Paul explains to the people of Athens, God has appointed Jesus to be the judge of all humanity, and he’s declared it by raising him from the dead. 

You see, as confronting as they are, Jesus’ words here are meant to be an encouragement to those of us who’ve made the call to trust in Jesus and follow him as Lord. He IS the cornerstone. Our world might have side-lined him, and it might be painful at times to stand with him and maintain his claim to represent God. But the rejected messiah is now the risen Lord. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

And so we don’t do anyone any favours when we shy away from telling people the truth. We need to help people, in a respectful, humble way – with lots of listening – to seriously consider the claims of Jesus. We want to help people acknowledge God’s authority over them. And we want to do that by helping them acknowledge Jesus as the one who rightfully represents that authority.

For some of us this passage presents some confronting questions and challenges. Things we need to go away and think seriously about. For others it’s an encouragement to keep going. For all of us, it’s a reminder to live in a way that acknowledges the fact that none of us own our lives, God does.And Jesus is the one who rightfully claims that authority over us all.