"THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW" Is It From Heaven Or From Men? (21:23-27)
INTRODUCTION 1. While teaching in the temple, Jesus was confronted by the chief priests and elders... a. They questioned His authority to teach - Mt 21:23 b. Jesus saw through their hypocrisy, and challenged them regarding the authority behind the baptism of John - Mt 21:24-25a c. Since they would not be honest in their answer, Jesus refused to answer their question - Mt 21:25b-27 2. In the process of exposing their hypocrisy, Jesus revealed an important principle regarding authority in matters of religion... a. All religious practices must come from one of two sources b. They come either from heaven, or from men - Mt 23:25 3. What Jesus asked regarding John's baptism, could be asked of many religious practices... a. Infant baptism b. Sprinkling or pouring instead of immersion c. Denominationalism, a clergy-laity distinction d. The impossibility of apostasy, observing the Sabbath e. Instrumental music, burning of incense, etc., in our worship -- Are such practices from heaven, or from men? [In this study, we shall consider how one can know whether a particular religious practice is from heaven, or from man...] I. TO BE FROM HEAVEN A. IT MUST COME FROM JESUS... 1. For He has been given all authority - Mt 28:18 2. Both in heaven and on earth -- Certainly if Jesus commanded it, it is from heaven! B. IT MUST COME THROUGH HIS APOSTLES... 1. For Jesus delegated His authority to His apostles - Jn 13:20 2. They serve as His official ambassadors - 2Co 5:20 3. To ensure their reliability, Jesus promised the Spirit to remind them of what He taught, and to guide them into all the truth - Jn 14:26; 16:12-13 4. This is why the church continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine - Ac 2:42; 1Co 14:37; 1Th 2:13 -- If the apostles of Christ taught it, it is from heaven! C. IT MUST COME ONLY FROM THE APOSTLES... 1. The apostles were given, and proclaimed, the whole counsel of God - Ac 20:27 2. They were given all things that pertain to life and godliness- 2Pe 1:3 3. The faith revealed through them was delivered once for all (lit., one time for all times) - Jude 3 -- There is no need for modern day revelations, for in the Scriptures we have all that is needed to be "complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2Ti 3:16-17) [If a religious practice can be found to be taught by Jesus or His apostles, then it is truly from heaven! Religious practices that are from men, however, might come from a variety of sources...] II. IT IS FROM MAN A. IF BASED SOLELY UPON WHAT THE MAJORITY THINKS... 1. Many people will accept whatever most people think about something 2. Yet Jesus warned against following the majority - Mt 7:13-14 3. If you had followed the majority... a. In Noah's day, you would have perished in the flood b. In Joshua's day, you would have perished in the wilderness -- What the majority believes or does is not likely to be from heaven, but from men! B. IF BASED SOLELY UPON WHAT PARENTS TAUGHT US... 1. Some believe "If it was good enough for Mom and Dad, it is good enough for me." 2. As much as we may love and respect our parents, Christ must come first - Mt 10:37 3. If every generation had simply followed their parents, then we who are Gentiles would likely still be idol-worshippers and polytheistic! -- Let us honor our parents, not by following them blindly, but by applying principles they themselves likely taught us, such as seek to do the right thing, obey God, etc. C. IF BASED SOLELY UPON WHAT PREACHERS TELL US... 1. It is common for people to place their trust in their "preacher," "priest," or "pastor" 2. They reason that surely these "men of God" could not be wrong or lead them astray a. Yet Paul warned of how we can easily be misled - cf. 2 Co 11:13-15 b. And Jesus warned about the "blind leading the blind" - Mt 15:12-14 3. Our attitude needs to be like that of the Bereans, who carefully examined Paul's teachings in light of the Scriptures- Ac 17:11 -- What a preacher teaches is only as good as the authority behind it; unless we wish to be led astray, we have the responsibility to ask "Is it from God, or men?" D. IF BASED SOLELY UPON CREEDS AND TRADITIONS OF MEN... 1. This is where the denominations really get most of their authority a. E.g., for such things as infant baptism, pouring or sprinkling instead of immersion b. E.g, for such things as denominationalism, once saved always saved 2. Indeed, adherence to the creeds of men is what produces denominations a. Accept the Bible only, and you become a Christian only b. Accept some man-made creed or tradition, and you become something else! 1) Accept the Book of Mormon, and you become a Mormon 2) Accept papal authority, and you become a Roman Catholic 3) Accept the Lutheran Catechism, and you become a Lutheran 3. Creeds are really not even necessary... a. If they say more than what the Bible says, they say too much b. If they say less than what the Bible says, they say too little c. If they say exactly what the Bible says, then why not let the Bible be our creed book? -- The fact is creeds are filled with the traditions and commands of men, many of which conflict with and displace the commands of God! - cf. Mk 7:6-9 E. IF BASED SOLELY UPON WHAT YOUR CONSCIENCE TELLS YOU... 1. "Let your conscience be your guide" is the motto of many 2. But our conscience cannot always be reliable a. Paul had served God with a good conscience throughout his life - Ac 23:1 b. Even at a time when he was persecuting Christians! - cf. Ac 26:9-11 3. Our conscience is like a clock, which works properly if set correctly 4. Once our conscience has been "set" by the "apostles' doctrine" then it can be a good guide -- Unless what your conscience is telling you can be confirmed by the Word of God, then what you believe is from man, not God! F. IF BASED SOLELY UPON WHAT IS HUMAN WISDOM... 1. Many believe that through their own wisdom they can determine right and wrong a. If it makes sense to them, they reason it must be true b. If it doesn't make sense, they won't accept it 2. But God's thoughts and ways are not always our own - cf. Isa 55:8-9 3. In fact, God has chosen to save man in a manner specifically designed to confound those who depend solely upon human wisdom - cf. 1Co 1:18-29 4. For us to know God's will, it was necessary for Him to reveal it to us - 1Co 2:9-12 a. This He has done through His Spirit-inspired apostles b. Who in turn shared it with us through their writings - Ep 3:1-5 -- Appeal to human reason to justify a certain practice, and it will likely be from man, not God! G. IF BASED SOLELY UPON FEELINGS... 1. This is often the "standard of authority" for many people a. Who go by whatever "feels right" b. Who place stock in a religion "better felt than told" 2. Yet the Bible declares the danger of trusting in "feelings" a. "There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death." - Pr 14:12 b. "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool..." - Pr 28:26 c. "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps." - Jer 10:23 -- It should be evident that any religious practice or doctrine based upon "feelings" alone is from man, not God! H. IF BASED SOLELY UPON THE OLD TESTAMENT... 1. People will sometimes resort to the O. T. to provide authority for some practice a. When they can't find authority for it in the teachings of Christ and/or His apostles b. For example, a clergy-laity system, burning of incense and use of instrumental music in worship, keeping the Sabbath, etc. 2. But the O.T. was designed to be temporary, to fulfill a specific purpose and as a covenant has been replaced by the New Covenant (i.e., the New Testament) a. It was given because of transgressions, till Christ should come - Ga 3:19 b. For those under the Law (Israel), it was a tutor 1) A tutor designed to lead them to Christ - Ga 3:24 2) A tutor that has been taken away - Ga 3:25 c. When those who were under the Law came to Christ... 1) They became dead to the Law - Ro 7:4 2) They were delivered from the Law - Ro 7:6 d. As prophesied by Jeremiah, God has made a "new covenant" to replace the "first covenant" which is now obsolete - He 8:7-13 3. In handling the issue of circumcision, the apostles demonstrated that one cannot use the O.T. to teach something which they did not command a. Some sought to enforce circumcision and the Law upon Gentile believers - Ac 15:1,6 b. But the apostles, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were able to defuse the problem by simply stating they themselves "gave no such commandment" - Ac 15:22-29 4. This is not to say the O.T. is not of value to Christians... a. It was written for our learning, to provide patience, comfort, and hope - Ro 15:4 b. It was written for our admonition, that we not make similar mistakes - 1Co 10:6,11 c. We just can't use it to enjoin religious practices upon others which the apostles' themselves did not teach! CONCLUSION 1. Do we want to avoid being led astray? a. By "blind leaders of the blind"? - cf. Mt 15:14 b. By "false teachers...who will secretly bring in destructive heresies"? - cf. 2 Pe 2:1 2. Then we need to know how to ascertain whether a religious doctrine or practice... a. Is from God or from men b. Is based upon what the apostles of Christ taught, or some other "authority" 3. The solution is simple, but requires effort on our part... a. We must "continue steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine" - Ac 2:42 b. We must "search the scriptures daily" - Ac 17:11 Only then can we be sure that what we believe or someone teaches is truly from God, and not from man!