The love of our own glory is the greatest competitor with God in our hearts. And sometimes we cloak this idol in a pious disguise. In Matthew 21, Jesus exposed this idol in the hearts of a few men with a single question.
It was the final week before Jesus’s day of judgment — the day he would stand before his Father’s bar of justice bearing the sins of all who ever had or would believe in him, and in their place be crushed by the Father’s wrath.
He no longer avoided the treacherous Jewish political and religious leaders. He openly confronted their errors and duplicity, pouring fuel on the fire of their fear and hatred of him.
As the Jewish leaders saw it, Jesus was out of control. He had been a growing problem for a couple of years. But Sunday, he had wreaked havoc in the temple, driving out the sacrifice merchants as if he owned the place. And this after he rode into Jerusalem like a king to the wild cheers of thousands — many of whom proclaimed him the Messiah. And he did not refute them!
Trying to Win the People
The leaders rejected Jesus as the Christ. After all, he was from God-forsaken Galilee. And he was a blasphemer and a chronic Sabbath-breaker — yet he called them hypocrites!
Now he had spawned a full-blown crisis. If they didn’t take decisive action soon, the Romans would get involved.
The problem was the crowd. They had to find a way to win the people to their side.
Jesus’s Stunning Response
After some deliberation, they conceived a question that would surely hang Jesus on the horns of a dilemma. Either answer would incriminate him, divide the crowd, and give them cause to arrest him.
On Monday morning, as Jesus was teaching in the temple, the appointed delegation made their way to him through the crowd. The spokesman loudly asked, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
Jesus, sitting, leaned back a bit and squinted up at them. The tension was thick.
Then he answered, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, where did it come from? From heaven or from man?”
This was a stunning counter. They faltered. The crowd began to murmur. Their hesitation was humiliating.
Their Politically Expedient Lie
They huddled for a quick conference. “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” How had Jesus managed to flip the horns around on them?
They decided to retreat. “We do not know.” It was a politically expedient lie.
Restrained anger flashed in Jesus’s eyes. “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
The question the Jewish leaders asked, had it been sincere, would not have been wrong. They were supposed to guard God’s truth and God’s people. That’s why Jesus was willing to answer it. But his prerequisite question revealed that their apparent truth-guarding was a sham.
John the Baptist’s love for God’s glory and truth had cost him his head. Jesus’s love for God’s glory and truth would get him crushed by God’s wrath. Jesus’s question was designed to reveal whether these leaders loved God’s glory and truth more than public approval. If they answered him straight, he would give them a straight answer.
But they were “afraid of the crowd.” In other words, they loved human approval and their own reputations more than they loved the truth — more than they loved God. So they “exchanged the truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1:25).
Rigorously Truthful in What We Profess
We must remember that we do the same thing every time we distort or deny the truth for the sake of people’s approval. Self-glory is revealed to be an idol in our heart when the Lord presents us with an opportunity to glorify him by speaking the truth about our convictions or our sins, yet we are unwilling to do it for fear of what someone else will think of us.
Now, we have all done this. So thank God for the cross that covers such sins! “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
But today, let’s resolve not to be afraid of the crowd. Rather, let’s love God’s glory more than our own by being rigorously truthful in what we profess or confess.