In Matthew 21: 23-32 Jesus neatly dodges the chief priests’ and elders’ question about his authority to teach in the Temple courts. He says he will only tell them where his authority came from if they tell him where John the Baptist’s baptism came from: ‘was it from heaven, or was it from men?’ He’s
got them over a barrel, because it they say it was from heaven, people will ask why they didn’t believe John’s message; and if they say ‘from men, the people will respond angrily, because they held that John was a prophet. The priests and elders therefore refuse to answer, so Jesus refuses to say where his authority came from, though the answer is clearly that – like John’s - it came from God, and they are condemned for not believing in him.
There follows Jesus’ story of the two sons, which rings so true to life.
Often the people who end up working hardest and longest for the Lord are
those who initially rebelled and said they wouldn’t. Conversely, sometimes
those who initially talk most about how they’ll serve the Lord actually
never seem to get round to it! Jesus’ point was that in many cases it was
life’s rebels: the ‘tax collectors and prostitutes’ of his day, who end up
entering the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of the religiously respectable people
like the priests and elders. Many rebels believed the message of John the
Baptist and responded to his challenge to repent and turn back to God, while
the Temple heavyweights had ignored John, and were now ignoring Jesus.
Romans 16 is Paul’s sign off chapter to the church in Rome. It is full of
greetings and the apostle’s final, summing up thoughts. The chapter gives us
a picture of not just the early church in Rome, but of the way the network
of Gentile churches around the Mediterranean functioned. They were in
regular contact with each other, and people often shifted from one church to
another in the course of carrying out their ministries.
Today in our final sermon on Romans we’ll consider personalities like
Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila, Andronicus and Junia; the home churches and
Christian households of Christians in Rome, all of which made up this little
community of Christians living out their faith in the empire’s capital at a
time when imperial life was getting crazier and more dangerous. Nero etc.
made Donald Trump look sensible by comparison!