Mahatma Gandhi said, "You Christians have in your keeping a document with enough dynamite in it to blow the whole of civilization to bits, to turn society upside down, to bring peace to this war-torn world. But you read it as if it were just good literature, and nothing else."[i]
Gandhi did not become a Christian, but he recognized the authority and power of the Bible. He felt that Christians fell short in realizing the life they preached. He recognized the gap in our speech and action. We need to listen to our critics when they challenge us to stronger belief.
Jesus did not act defensively when challenged with his beliefs. Nor should we think ourselves wise to act as God’s defender. The more defensive we become, the more it appears that we do not really have anything to trust beyond our own opinions.
Jesus was often challenged to explain himself. He always found a way to get behind the lines of the opposition and demonstrate godly wisdom. This is apparent in a conversation with religious leaders about his right to preach to others and overturn the money tables in the Temple.
You may think Jesus was avoiding their question. This was not the case. John had already testified that Jesus is the Messiah. These leaders wanted to show that Jesus had no real authority, since he had not been to their rabbinical schools and come into religious power the way they had. If they could show that he had no credentials that they recognized, people would also dismiss him.
Faced with a catch-22 and sensing they have been successfully cornered, the leaders do what politicians often do when faced with a no-win situation: they dance around the query and refuse to take a position. Fence sitting is always a tempting option when one is faced with a losing proposition. The leaders' private dialogue reveals the blatant hypocrisy of their answer. Clearly they regard John's authority as simply human, but they don't have the nerve to tell the crowd so. Rather than acknowledge their view and its unpopularity, they try to finesse the question. By doing so, they give up any moral ground for challenging Jesus. If they cannot decide about John, how can they decide about Jesus?[ii]
I want to call you back to examine Jesus. In all the challenges to simple faith, come back to whom Jesus is and the purpose of his death. Paul studied the Scriptures and other schools of thought. He concluded that the message of authority was Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Let’s live out our mission with the same resolve.
God’s authority has been given to Jesus who shares it freely with us. We do not receive authority as a power trip to make us look good. We are empowered to be the slave of all. Therein lies the nature of God’s power.
[ii] The IVP New Testament Commentary Series