By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 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. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?”
There are wicked, underhanded games you can play with truth. The religious leaders were probably not the first people to use, “We don’t know,” as a retreat from a real answer. They certainly were not the last. Some truths have implications: if John the Baptist spoke the words and did the works of heaven, there was no reasonable response other than to believe and obey. The alternative would be blatant rebellion against heaven.
On the other hand, believing John’s baptism was from earth would have its own implications. If John’s baptism was his own invention—mere earthliness in opposition to heaven—then he would be a liar. And, yikes, it’s not politically correct to call someone a liar! That makes people mad.
But if you don’t believe, and you don’t want people angry with you for not believing, there is a sophisticated truth-trick you can perform. It’s very impressive—used only by the mentally deft. You can simply decide that, “We don’t know.”
Or, “I’m not exactly sure right now.”
Or, “Well opinions are divided.”
Or, “The evidence isn’t really conclusive.”
Or, “There are many people who would say…but others might say…”
Or, “I think it’s important to respect the validity of everyone’s beliefs on this matter.”
They have answered, not by determining what is right, but rather by determining how to have zero life change and please everyone at the same time. They are suddenly safe from any consequences of belief or unbelief.
Jesus saves the religious leaders the trouble of having to believe in him either. After all, believing in Jesus might be a little inconvenient for them. Thus, he doesn’t bother to answer their original question about his own authority. Besides, would they have believed him anyway, or was that question another fun trick?
“We don’t know,” sounds so sweet and innocent, but sometimes it is actually unbelief in a whitewashed tomb. We have the benefit of knowing how the story ends; in a few days, their “We don’t know,” will turn into murder.