This is the word of the Lord,

Matthew 21:23–27 ESV:
23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “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. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

As we’ve traversed through the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 21 has marked a stark distinction in how Jesus approaches his ministry on the earth.

He is no longer quiet about his Messianic identity. He is going all out. He has entered Jerusalem, the heart of the nation of Israel. He is marching to the cross.
He knows he will die here. His words and actions in Jerusalem will catapult the opposition into a blinded rage in an attempt to destroy this Jewish carpenter.

That is what the mind in the flesh does when it encounters the immovable and unstoppable truth of the Spirit. When you can’t argue or reason your way out, you suppress, you throw tantrums, and then you lash out.
Romans 1:18 ESV:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

Today’s sermon is about the suppression of truth, which is the de facto position of the human flesh. And now, as Christians, before you assume that I’m talking about those who are out there in the world and of the world and now about us, let me say it as clearly as I can, I’m talking about suppression of truth in your lives.

Even though you and I are a regenerate people who have our sins crucified on Christ’s cross, who are freed from the curse of sin and death, we are still beings in the flesh and the effects of sin and temptation continue to wage war in our bodies.
Jesus said in his High Priestly prayer, in
John 17:15–16 ESV:
15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

He also told us that,
Matthew 18:7 ESV:
7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

We are no longer under the bondage of sin but sin is still a very pressing reality in our lives. We are called to fight because we have been given the means to defeat our flesh. We are not helpless anymore for the Lord Himself is our help.
1 Corinthians 6:19 ESV:
19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,

So, the force of temptation, the allure of sin and selfishness, pride, and all the weaknesses of the flesh are ever before us. The question is, “How intentional are we in this war?”.
Romans 6:1–2 ESV:
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

This is how unintentional Christians think about their salvation. Since we are no longer under the curse of sin, how bad can it be if we fall? And Paul’s basic response is that such thinking isn’t Christian thinking. The Christian response to all sin is, “How can I live in this when I have died to it? I’m dead to this!”
The Christian does not justify or make room for sin, he knows it to be wrong and deals with it accordingly, like one who is dead to that kind of life.

Unrelenting Sleuth On the Scent of Truth

The most crucial and transformative period of my life in coming to a strong and rooted faith in Christ, as I’m sure is the case for many of you, was when I resolved to pursue truth. At some point in my life, it suddenly mattered as it should for all of you, what the truth was.
And when I say truth, I mean it from top to bottom. Not just about the higher philosophical realities of existence and purpose, but also about the reality of day-to-day life and decisions. I realized that it matters that we know why we do what we do and whether we should do what we do.
Life hung in the balance for me at that point because I had to make sense of questions like,

  • Why am I here?
  • What must I do?
  • How must I honour my Father and Mother?
  • When and how do I disagree with my parents?
  • When do I pursue marriage?
  • What do I do with my money?
  • Whom do I marry?
  • Can I fall in love?
  • How do I treat women?
  • What are the boundaries of friendship?
  • Why must I do engineering?
  • Do my grades really matter?
  • How high should I aim?
  • Can I have ambitions?
  • How do I make the right decisions about career and lifestyle choices?
  • What movies can I watch?
  • Do I need to be a part of the church?
  • How must I steward my generosity?
  • How must I steward my time?
  • Do I join this college or do I accept this job offer?

Trust me, I can go on and on and on and on, and not stop. So many Christians are stuck on so many of these questions because they’ve never bothered to be intentional about their pursuit of truth (about reality, about what really matters) in the small things that suddenly they are caught off guard as though something strange was happening to them. Then, they run to their prayer closets to seek God’s magical answer to their problem while also praying that they won’t catch a cold from all the dust in that unused closet.
John Piper in his poem, The Calvinist, has this phrase – unrelenting sleuth on the scent of truth. Are you unrelenting in the pursuit of truth? I was and that has always been the bottom-most foundational reality in my Christian life. Everything I pursue has to align with what I believe to be true, and what I believe to be true must be ratified by the Bible.

Romans 1 against the whole wide world

Allow me some time to take you through the nature of the flesh as it is revealed in Romans 1. Now, mind you when a sleuth finds himself in this chapter, he may end up MIA – Missing in Action. Romans 1 is like a mirror maze. Whichever way you turn and run, you run headfirst into your exposed self and it hurts. If there was ever a chapter in the Bible that was written to send the worldliness inside of you reeling in horror and fear, it is this one.
So, have a prayer in your heart for me as I go into Romans 1 and try to navigate our way through some of this truth in under 10 minutes.
Paul begins by mentioning his intention in

Romans 1:15 ESV:
15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

  • The apostle Paul is a very logically minded guy and you have to follow his reasoning. What we find after this statement is a cascade of causes. The conjunction ‘for’ in the Bible is a word that points you to the cause. It is a word that precedes the explanation, the reason.
  • He is eager to preach the gospel. Not the five ways to please your wife or the 10 ways to hold your tongue. The Bible does speak about all these things and they need to be preached, but Paul’s talking about the essence of preaching, the centrality of the message regardless of what your topic might be. Everything comes out of this most central and unavoidable message, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Your eagerness to preach anything must be at its most fundamental level a desire to preach the Gospel.
Romans 1:16 ESV:
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

  • According to Paul, the eagerness to preach the Gospel is an unashamed love for it. This means that the hesitation to preach the Gospel may be a strong indicator that you are ashamed of the Gospel.
  • Paul can’t imagine how one could be ashamed about the power of God that saves everyone who believes, whether Jew or Greek.

Romans 1:17 ESV:
17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

  • The Gospel is the power that saves because it is the revelation of God’s righteousness that is revealed from faith to faith.
  • So you have to work your way back from these three cascading ‘for’s and see how God’s righteousness which is his just approval, moral perfection, the purest right that has no wrong; how this perfection of light with all its power is presented or revealed in the message of the Gospel which is that Jesus died and rose again so that if you believe in him you shall not perish but this pure and perfect light shall cleanse you, but if you do not believe in Christ, you will perish without any hope of a salvation.

He hashes out this judgment in the next verse,
Romans 1:18 ESV:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

  • See how the Gospel is the revelation of God’s righteousness, his salvation, and those who reject this salvation are called suppressers of the truth.

Jesus, when talking about our salvation said, in
John 14:6 ESV:
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

This is the glory of the truth, that Jesus is the truth.

When Moses asked God for his name in Exodus 33, God responded with ‘I AM’. There is a reason that this is the highest name. When you and I use our names we are using words to represent who we are. They are identifying titles to who we are as a person. But who God is as a Being is Existence as we know it.
John 1:3 ESV:
3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

No creature can claim to exist apart from God. We exist because he exists.
In much the same way, when Jesus says that he is the truth, he means to say that there is no truth if there is no Christ. He is the Truth.
Paul says that Christ is the One,
Colossians 2:3 ESV:
3 In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
There is no knowledge apart from knowing Christ. The one who forsakes Christ is forsaking knowledge.
Therefore, what sin does, what the flesh in unrighteousness does, is forsake Christ because you can’t argue with truth, you have to yield. But if you don’t want to yield, the only thing you can do is ‘suppress’.
And when you suppress, you forsake knowledge, wisdom, and above all, truth.
And God’s wrath is revealed against such people.

Romans 1:19–21 ESV:
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

  • God has made plain to us the truth. In every act of creation, the cosmos is a constant megaphone declaring to you the truth about God. You cannot escape it. Therefore, sin is not ignorant, it is intentional. It is foolishness.

Hebrews 1:1–2 ESV:
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

God has always been speaking, and the coming of Jesus was the loudest and clearest speech. The Gospel is the loudest statement from Heaven.

So, in summarising this cascading causes in Romans 1, God has always been revealing the truth to the world, and the Gospel is the loudest and clearest message of truth. And through the Gospel is revealed the power of God for righteousness and salvation to those who are in the unrelenting pursuit of truth, but for those who suppress the truth the Gospel is the decisive stroke of judgment.

The Centrality of Truth

When the Gospel took such root in my life, I understood that I could not answer any of the questions in my life meaningfully without the reality of this God in my life.
I understood that the only place that I could find the answers to all the questions pertaining to my life was in the pages of the Bible.

Cornelius Van Til, a Dutch-American philosopher and theologian was famously known to have said that The Bible is authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything.
And this has been the foundation stone of much of my practical Christian life and even my apologetics.

Armed with this understanding, let us look at this short passage in


Matthew 21:23 ESV:
23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

  • Here we find Jesus back at the temple teaching the people. The Messiah had gone from cleansing the temple to healing the sick and now teaching them.

For all the parents in the room, here is a picture of how the rod of discipline should be used. Discipline is meant to drive out the evil, heal the wounded and to teach.
If you use the rod only to punish and not to heal or to teach, then you are in greater need of the rod than your children.
Be Christlike in your parenting. Let your anger heal and train, not destroy those whom God has placed under your care.

  • If there was one thing that the people could not deny, it was the authority with which Jesus spoke and did what he did.

In an earlier passage, we’d read,
Matthew 7:28–29 ESV:
28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

So, when Jesus chases out the money changers and traders from the temple courts and then heals the truly needy and teaches them in the place where only yesterday was buzzing with trade, the crowds are watching an authoritative man.
In fact, such was the authority with which he conducted himself that none opposed him as he disrupted trade across acres of land overturning the table of the money changers, beating and driving out birds and goats and the people.

  • This again is the nature of Christ, the truth. Since God is the I AM, the only uncaused cause, the very embodiment of existence as we know it; that when he shows up, the authority of his presence will be unlike anything else that exists. When God walks into the room so-to-speak, it’ll be unlike anyone else walking into the room. His very existence is existence.

And here, standing before these Jews was the very truth incarnate, the highest truth and instead of falling flat on their face, they wanted to know his credentials.

This is what the flesh does when it encounters truth. You cannot deny it, debate it, overpower it, so you suppress, you dismiss it, and what better way to do that than you try and discredit it?

  • By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?

This question is two-fold. It questions Jesus’ authority and the one who gave him that authority. They cannot question the reasoning behind his cleansing of the temple, they cannot deny the reality that people are healed, and they cannot argue with his teaching. So, they ask for his qualifications.

Matthew 13:55 ESV:
55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?

John 1:46 ESV: 46
Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Matthew 21:24 ESV:
24 Jesus answered them, “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.

  • For those of you here who are more technically aligned, here is an example of what we call pre-suppositional apologetics. Jesus does not rush to satisfy their request to see the evidence of his qualifications. Instead, he presupposes their worldview according to which it does not matter if someone is speaking the truth or doing good things, it matters that he is officially given such authority.

Matthew 21:25–26 ESV:
25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

  • According to their worldview, if they denied John’s authority, the crowds would turn against them because they believed he was a prophet. On the other hand, if they agree that it was from heaven, then they are caught for not believing him. Jesus knew that the Chief priests and elders were behaving inconsistently. That they were swayed not by credentials but by the lust for power and the authority they possessed over the people. This forced them to behave inconsistently in how they dealt with John’s ministry. Though they themselves did not believe John, they did not oppose him in front of the crowd.
  • Now, see how when push comes to shove, they weren’t bothered about the truth. They did not want to answer truthfully. ‘If we say this, then…’
    So many of us in our flesh deal with life in this manner. These chiefs, elders of the people would not answer truthfully because it would either lose them their popularity or it would hurt their ego.
    Is Truth your higher treasure? Or are you all about the truth when it is most convenient for you?

    • How would you deal with sin if it were pointed out to you by your children? Would you receive it or would you question the maturity of their age, their authority?
    • The piety of these elders of Israel was an outer display with no inward reality. They prayed aloud so that they could be seen by others, they were generous so that people would speak highly of them. Are you the same Christian on the inside as you have shown yourself to be on the outside?
      When push comes to shove, are you as heavenly-minded as you say you are? Do you desire the glory of his name, the glory of his church, and the building of his kingdom above all things? Or do you desire your own welfare more?
  • Doug Wilson talks about how Christians like to put sin and righteousness on the stuff rather than weigh it upon their hearts. Some like to see their righteousness in the fact that they don’t watch movies, listen to secular music or hang around with unbelievers. Yet none of these things prove any measure of your righteousness.
    If you must know, your pastor watches movies, listens to secular music, and hangs around with his unbeliever friends. The measure of my righteousness is not found in me avoiding this world because I am in this world. It must be measured by how much the world has not mastered me, but how in Christ I have mastered the world.
    Have you not read Paul who wrote in:

1 Corinthians 10:23 ESV: 23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.

  • How true is your faith? How genuine is your confession? How passionate are you to want truth to be the banner over your home?
    It is easy to be a Christian on a Sunday morning and behind a pulpit. But how Christian are you at home?

Matthew 21:27 ESV: 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

  • We do not know – In what they thought would be a wise response, they revealed their foolishness. Those who came to question Jesus’ authority were people without knowledge. They were left empty and their response shows their lack of authority.
    Christ who spoke and worked with such authority stood in stark contrast to those who could not answer his question.
    So, Jesus establishes his superior authority by revealing the spiritual nakedness of the Jewish elite.
  • And as John Piper pointed out, “Jesus does not deal with those who suppress the truth.”


Jesus who is the very embodiment of truth, does not deal with those who do not love the truth.
The spiritually mature person is one who has gone down further along the road of truth, those who are more aware of it and have aligned their lives to it.