“Was it from heaven, or of men?” When Jesus asked this question of the chief priests, scribes, and the chief of the people of His day, it was a challenging question; one that men refused to answer. I suggest that this question is no less challenging for us today. But it is one that anyone with an honest and sincere heart MUST answer!
In Luke 19:47-48, we read that Jesus was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests, scribes, and chief of the people took offense. Our text tells us they sought to destroy Jesus but were unsure as to the best way to carry out their evil desire.
In Luke 20:1 we learn that, on one of the days Jesus was teaching in the temple, the chief priests, scribes, and elders of the people confronted Jesus. To better appreciate the significance of their confrontation, we need to know who these people were. The chief priests held “higher rank” in the temple. They had administrative authority over the temple, they led the opposition to Jesus at His trial, they opposed the apostles and the church, and (along with the council, or Sanhedrin) they condemned Jesus to death and mocked Him as He was dying. The scribes were men who studied the scriptures and served as copyists and teachers of the law. Over time, these men came to be highly esteemed and were accepted as authorities in the law. The elders were men who governed over the local affairs of a community and were responsible for legal guidance and instruction. Putting all of this together, it is obvious this group of questioners was very antagonistic toward Jesus!
They came to Jesus, asking, “By what authority doest thou these things? Or who is he that gave thee this authority?” Notice the words, “Tell us.” In reality, they weren’t so much asking Jesus who gave Him His authority as they were demanding that He tell them. Because they knew they did not give Jesus the authority to teach in the temple, they must have seen it as a threat to their authority.
Jesus, knowing their real intention was to destroy Him, answered their question with a question. “The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?” John preached baptism for the remission of sins (Luke 3:3). John’s preaching included the command to share their clothing and food with others in need (Luke 3:11). He commanded the tax collectors to collect no more than what was due (Luke 3:12). He instructed soldiers to be content with their wages (Luke 3:14). He commanded the Jews to produce fruits worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:7-12). John was NOT a popular preacher! If he were preaching in many of the congregations of the Lord’s church today he would soon be told to look for another place to preach. (You’ve heard the comments before just as well as I have – “You’re too harsh, too unloving, too unkind, too negative, too judgmental, and on and on and on.) Yet Jesus, speaking of John, said “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).
But back to Jesus’ question, “The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?” Jesus was essentially asking these men who, God or men, gave John the authority to baptize? Can you picture the scene as the chief priests, scribes, and elders all “huddled together” (Luke 20:5)? Can you imagine their discussion among themselves? “How can we possibly answer a question like that? He has us trapped!” Talk about being between a rock and a hard place! These men knew that if they answered the baptism of John was from heaven Jesus would ask them why they did not believe John’s preaching. Yet, they also knew that if they answered the baptism of John was from men they would arouse the anger of those who were persuaded that John was a prophet (and maybe even be stoned as a result.) So they chose to answer with a blatant lie – “they could not tell where John’s baptism was from.” Jesus stood firm and refused to answer their question (Luke 20:6-8).
But consider the challenging question that all with an honest and sincere heart today must answer – “from heaven, or of men”? Every one of us has an obligation to closely examine our beliefs and practices and ask, “Are the things I believe from heaven, or of men? Are the things I practice from heaven, or of men? Who gave me the authority to do what I do?” Think about it. Jesus did not simply claim, as many do today, that He did not need authority for what He was doing. Did Jesus have authority to teach in the temple? Of course He did (Matthew 28:18)! But that’s not the point. Jesus knew their real motive was to destroy Him.
Sadly, far too many in the religious world today hold to beliefs and practices that are not from heaven, but of men. Some practice infant baptism. But your Bible and mine teach that baptism is for those who have heard and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 16:16), who have repented of their sins (Acts 2:38), and who have confessed their faith in Jesus Christ as their savior (Acts 8:37). But infants are incapable of hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are incapable of repenting of their sins. In fact, infants have no sin (Ezekiel 18:20, Matthew 18:3)! Infant baptism is from men, NOT heaven!
Others practice “sprinkling” as a form of baptism. But the scriptures teach that baptism requires that a person be immersed in water. This is why Phillip and the Ethiopian both went down INTO the water and came up out of the water (Acts 8:38-39). This is why John was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there (John 3:23). This is why the apostle Paul speaks of baptism as a burial (Romans 6:4). Sprinkling as a form of baptism is from men, NOT heaven!
Others partake of the communion, or Lord’s Supper, on a quarterly, or perhaps semi-annual or annual, basis. Where do they derive their authority for this – from heaven, or of men? The scriptures teach we are to observe communion, or the Lord’s Supper, on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Does this mean every week? Without a doubt it does. Jesus said that when we come together we are to observe the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Him (I Corinthians 11:25). When do we come together? On the first day of the week (I Corinthians 16:2). Observance of communion, or the Lord’s Supper, on anything other than a weekly basis is from men, NOT heaven!
Some today believe that once a person has been saved from his sins he can never again sin in such a way that will cause him to be lost. But even the apostle Paul realized the possibility of being a castaway, or reject, if he did not practice self-discipline on a daily basis (I Corinthians 9:27). Peter taught when a person becomes a Christian but later goes back to the ways of the world, he is in a worse condition than he was before he become a Christian (II Peter 2:20). Peter goes on to say that it would be better for a person never to have known the truth than to know it and later turn away from the truth (II Peter 2:21). The doctrine of “once saved, always saved” is from men, NOT heaven!
Numerous more examples could be given; but the point should be clear. It is so very important that we believe, practice, and adhere to those things that are from heaven and shun those things that are from men.