The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Matthew 21:23 “And when He had come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?’ 24 And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘I will ask you one thing too, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude; for they all hold John to be a prophet.’ 27 And answering Jesus, they said, ‘We do not know.’ He also said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’ 28 But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ 29 And he answered and said, ‘I will, sir’; and he did not go. 30 And he came to the second and said the same thing. But he answered and said, ‘I will not’; yet he afterward regretted it and went. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The latter.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you that the tax-gatherers and harlots will get into the kingdom of God before you.’” (NASB)
The events that take place in Matthew chapter 21, took place on Monday of Holy Week. On the previous day, Palm Sunday, Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey to songs and praises befitting the promised Messiah. He then went into the temple and cleansed it. He turned over the tables and drove the money changers out saying “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.’”
Shortly thereafter “the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant 16 and they said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise?’”
The temple authorities were very unhappy with Jesus. So when Jesus returned to the temple the next day, the chief priests and the elders were waiting and ready for Him. When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders came up to him and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
It’s a reasonable question. The chief priests and the elders were responsible for what went on in the temple. It was their job to make sure that all that happened on the temple grounds was in compliance with the laws and doctrine of Moses. When they asked Jesus by what authority He was saying and doing the things He was saying and doing, they were doing their job.
Jesus for His part respected their query. He didn’t ignore them or walk away. He answered the question in the fashion and in accordance with the custom of the day. The tradition of the day was to answer a question with a question that contained within it the answer to the original inquiry.
Jesus wasn’t being belligerent when He said, “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.” In other words, you will have the answer to your question, in the question I am going to ask you. “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?”
Jesus’s answer presented a problem for His questioners. His answer to the original question left the chief priests and elders sitting on the horns of a dilemma. If they admit that John’s Baptism came from heaven, they would have to also admit that John’s testimony concerning the identity of Jesus was true. On the other hand, if they denied John’s heavenly appointment, they ran the risk of incurring the wrath of the people who regarded John the Baptist as a beloved martyred.
They take the coward’s way out. “‘We do not know.’ He also said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’”
Jesus responded to their hypocrisy with the Parable of the Two Sons. A father goes to his first son and says, “‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ 29 And he [the son] answered , ‘I will, sir’ and he did not go.” Then the father went to his second son and told him to do the same, but the second son “answered… ‘I will not,’ yet he afterward regretted it and went.’”
It is a short and simple parable, which Jesus then followed up with a question, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” The answer is so obvious the chief priests and the elders had to give the correct answer or their hypocrisy would be obvious to all. They answered “The latter.”
The point of the parable is to show the difference between a repentant sinner, a Christian and a liar and hypocrite. The first son shows himself to be a hypocrite. At first he gives the appearance of being a good and dutiful son, a righteous man. In reality he lives a life for himself and in disobedience to his father.
The second son, while showing that he is a sinner by his initial act of rebellion and whose first reflex is to say “no,” is subsequently troubled by his conscience, repents of his rebellion, and ends up going into the vineyard to work.
When Jesus said to the priests and the elders, “Truly I say to you that the tax-gatherers and harlots will get into the kingdom of God before you,” he was likening them to the first son, the hypocrite and liar, and issuing a judgment against them for not doing what it is God the Father had given them to do.
They were in charge of the Word of God. They were in charge of teaching the people the Law and the Gospel. They were in charge of the worship at the temple. They sat in the seat of Moses in the Old Testament Church.
Think of it this way. Moses is the father in the parable. He has instructed these men, his children, to go into the vineyard and prepare the people for the coming of the promised Messiah. The Law was given to them to show them their sin and to show the people their sin and their need for the Promised Messiah. That was the work they were given to do. Instead, they stood opposed to God’s Son, to Jesus Christ, the Promised Messiah. He was the One to Whom John the Baptist pointed and said, “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.”
John the Baptist came to them in the way of righteousness, and they did not believe him. But the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. Even when the religious leaders saw it and heard for themselves the person and work of Christ, they did not change their minds and believe in Christ.
Moses was the first and ultimate prophet of God the Father in the Old Testament. It was through Moses that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit called and appointment the Priests, Levites, and teachers of the Torah to go and work in the vineyard of His Church.
The God Father said to the priests and elders through Moses “go work today in the vineyard. And [they] answered and said, ‘We will, sir” but did not go and do as they were instructed. Instead, they worked against their Father’s will and against the Messiah.
Moses was the first Old Testament prophet. John the Baptist was the last Old Testament prophet and he had been given to prepare the way for the Lord. The Priests, Pharisees, Scribes, Elders, Levites, and the rulers refused to believe the first and last prophet and all the prophets in between. Thus, the stood in opposition to Christ Jesus.
Now the second son at first hesitated and said, “‘I will not,’ yet he afterward regretted it and went.” This son reminds me of Nicodemus who hesitated at first, but then helped wrap Him in His burial linens and laid Him in the tomb. The second son, is you and me. The second son is the Christian who stumbles and falls into sin, but then regrets it, confesses it, and takes to heart the words of absolution.
Every one of us is born into this world in a state of rebellion against God. Our answer to His call is “no.” Our natural reflex is always contrary to the will and Law of God. But in the preaching and teaching of the Law and Gospel, which is done through the teaching and preaching ministry of the church and in the confession of faith offered by individual Christians, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit makes us aware of our sin and our need for the Savior.
He reveals our Savior and Redeemer in the person and work of Jesus Christ and we “regret” our sin, that is we feel shame and guilt for what our sins and sin, we confess what we have done, and then, we listen to the words Christ gave His Church and His priests and elders to say, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The tax collectors and prostitutes to whom Jesus was referring understood that they were sinners. The message of condemnation came through loud and clear from the culture of their day and from the religious leaders of the day. Tax collectors and prostitutes knew that they deserved both temporal and eternal punishment. When John preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins, they knew that this forgiveness was their only hope. They repented and they received the Kingdom of Heaven.
Fortunately for us there was and is a third Son. He is the one Who told the parable. Martin Luther described this Son very well in the sixth stanza of the hymn “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice.”
“The Son obeyed His Father’s will, was born of virgin mother; And God’s good pleasure to fulfill, He came to be my brother. His royal power disguised He bore; a servant’s form like mine He wore to lead the devil captive.”
This Son said, “Yes Sir!” to His Heavenly Father and obeyed Him perfectly.
There is the first and second son in all of us Christians. Sometimes, we fight God’s will until His love and forgiveness brings us into the Kingdom of Heaven. Other times we have no intention of keeping the law or our word.
But Jesus is not like either son. He agreed immediately and obeyed perfectly. He has done all things well and in Him we have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.
Our sin is gone. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, in perfect obedience to His Father has taken it away. It is left behind in the grave. It will forever remain dead and buried. We, on the other hand, will rise from the dead just as our Brother Jesus Christ rose and lives with our Heavenly Father. This is true because God the Father said to God the Son, Go into the vineyard and work. God into the vineyard and redeem My people. And His Son said, Yes and did
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.