Authority of the King | Matthew 21:23-32
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 21:23–21:32
Good Morning! We are in our series on the book of Matthew; the Gospel account of Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, as the Christ, the Savior – King of God’s people. This series covering Chapters 21-25 has been titled the Rejection of the King. We saw Jesus triumphant entry into the city on the back of a small donkey as crowds coming with him and those before him cheered “Hosanna (Save Now) to the son of David” showing their great expectations for radical transformation and restoration in the holy city of Jerusalem. Jesus then made his first order of business aggressively coming into the temple cleaning out the money changers and the pigeon dealers restoring the temple to a house of prayer and healing. Jesus then shows the same level of righteous distain for an unproductive fig tree and curses it removing any appearance of actually being life giving and exposing its fruitlessness . This week we see what happens when Jesus returns to the transformed temple and His authority is challenged by the leaders of the temple.
Matthew 21:23-32 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.
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
Verse 23 | Authority
There is a big gap we have to close as we start talking about this text. It has to do specifically with the concept of authority. Authority is not a concept we do not hold very highly as a people. We regularly see examples of ineffective or corrupt leadership and authority figures abuse their power and see little reason respect or submit to their authority. We have also placed our individual liberty as the highest value. We have moved beyond questioning authority to being our own. We each have become our own highest authority and allow only our emotions and desires to govern us. We don’t like our politicians we vote them out. We don’t like the leaders in our church we just move on to another. Players do not want to submit to coach they demand a trade/transfer. Don’t like your teacher you drop the class. We do not like what management is doing so we quit or organize a strike. If we did not choose to become pregnant we demand the authority to end the life that was made. Most recently we’ve become so enamored with our own authority that don’t like the gender we were born with we merely declare we are another.
In the context of Jesus coming back into the temple, the culture of that day was highly authoritarian. Authority was recognized and obeyed, if not always respected. The highest authority in Jewish religious life was the High Priest, chief priests, and the elders. They had more political and practical authority then the Pharisees, and served under the authority of Rome. They had very firm understanding of the concept that all authority has been delegated from some other authority and that ultimately all authority is derived from and is submitted to the divine authority of God so someone could not simply assume authority it had to be granted by another and wielded from some sort of official role or title. This made things very difficult for the chief priest when it came to engaging with figures like Jesus or John the Baptist who had tremendous followings and support but didn’t fit with the established authority structure of the time. Now pair that with what Jesus had just done the past few days in Jerusalem and in the temple. He entered the city to great triumph and fanfare as people are calling him the “Son of David” the promised savior-king. Then he came into the temple and removed generations of sinful corruption in the courts, began healing, and now here is he is teaching. This is what Jesus does for his people; he removes sin, heals, and teaches.
And yet in the face of the great things Jesus is doing, the Chief Priests rather than receiving Jesus as the long expected Messiah eager to follow his lead, submit to his authority, and join his mission; they reject his identity and confront him on the basis of his authority. As they engage with Jesus, as he is teaching the Chief Priests came assuming they had all the authority in this place. Two questions “by what authority” and “who gave it to you.” They know it wasn’t from them because they are in charge of this temple. We are no different we come to God and assume we are in a place of authority to dictate actions. We believe wrongly we are the highest authority in our own lives. Since we believe we have authority, we believe we give it. We say thing like “You don’t have permission to speak into my life.” Even when we engage with God, we assuming we have a position of strength, moral clarity, and authority. We question “How could a good God let bad things happen to good people?” or I could never believe in a God who….” Even positively we boldly declare “I decided to let Jesus into my heart.” We have a completely inverted understanding of where the ultimate authority over our own lives comes from. God has the authority not us.
Verses 24-27 | Jesus Responds
When challenged by the chief priests, Jesus could have simply responded “I am God” or performed any number of human humbling, awe inspiring miracles to show them who he is. But he does not see fit to prove himself to them boldly and clearly. He also doesn’t cower to them, ask their permission to be there or recognize there authority even to challenge him. He turns the rhetorical tables back on them. Jesus is a great at arguing. Don’t debate with Jesus! You’re going to lose. Jesus points back to John the Baptist who was highly popular among the people and equally controversial among the religious and political elites. “What authority did John have to baptize people as they repented from sin, in the Jordan river?” Jesus gives two options, “From Heaven, or from man?” From Heaven, from God, means John really was a prophet and worthy of listening to and respecting. The chief priests did not believe in, affirm, or positively respond to John’s authority. John was popular buy wasn’t one of the recognized elite. There are bigger implications as well, John said some pretty specific things about Jesus. John 1:29-30 29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’
From Man. That means Johns is just a crazy guy in the wilderness and everything he taught was useless including everything he said about Jesus. More over the baptisms many experienced in the Jordan river where people came to John repenting from (turning from sin) that so many people saw as a joyful and freeing moment would have also been completely meaningless. With a city full of people from all over the known world, many of whom had been influenced greatly by John’s preaching, denouncing John would have been incredibly unpopular and could have led to great unrest for the people towards the leaders.
So they discussed and deliberated how to respond. There debate among themselves had nothing to do with actually trying to determine the truth. It had everything to do with how the crowds would react. They are “afraid of the crowd”. Here is Jesus, who has come into their temple, called it His Father’s house, claimed authority over it and they’re afraid of the crowds when they should be concerned with Jesus. If or when you actually take moments to consider what God says, who Jesus is, are you actually seeking the truth? Searching for the truth is important because it has consequences. If John is a prophet from God then Jesus is God’s Son, the savior, the King. He has authority and that means the Chief Priests and their advisors have to respond to Jesus authority in this place and over their lives. If they say John is not a prophet from God, John as the first prophet in 400 years who was just martyred by the corrupt Herod, the people will question the authority of the chief priests. They only want to give an answer that leads to them maintain their perceived authority/position AND doesn’t cause them to have to submit to Jesus. So they agree to say simply “We do not know” This is a punt, a non-answer that is only concerned with being politically correct rather than actually correct. A politician running for high office was asked a question during a public forum hosted a mega church about “When does life begin?” That is a real question whose answer has consequences for how the unborn are to be treated. They responded with “That’s above my paygrade.” See they were firmly pro-abortion but wanted to be accepted by the crowd of Christians who know differently but he couldn’t reject all the support he was getting from Planned Parenthood and NARAL. Like the Chief Priests he feared the crowd because he needed the crowd. He gave the best answer he could that gave him the best chance of being elected and have authority. We need to be concerned less with the opinions and whims of the crowd and be more concerned with what is true and right.
Our question for today is simpler but one we should be asking ourselves as a reminder of the truth each day. Who is Jesus? That question really will change everything. If Jesus is God’s Son then all of the sudden we are responsible to respond to what he says, the claim he places on our lives and the commands he has given. To sit on the fence about Jesus with a “We don’t know” is to presently reject his authority over your life today, there is no middle ground. Jesus as good teacher, Jesus as one of many prophets, etc, are all insufficient answers in actually requiring you to submit your life to Jesus authority instead of your own.
Verses 28-32 |Responding to Authority
Sin is by nature a rejection of God’s authority over your life in favor of your own authority. Jesus invites those in the court (the Chief Priests and his own followers) to actually have a discussion and think/reason about the nature of God and what he desires from his people. True submission and genuine obedience are contrasted with cheap speech and inaction. Jesus says there is a man with two sons. He calls them to work in his vineyard. Jesus has and will continue to use the imagery of working in a vineyard to show what following him and being on his mission looks like. Why? Working in a vineyard is participating to a long term, intentional plan for future joy and celebration. In part, this is what the mission of the gospel is.
We see the Man says “Son, go and work in the vineyard, today” When God calls us to action he reminds us of our identity “Son, daughter” he calls us to action with urgency. Today, not tomorrow, not when you feel like it, not if you feel like it. Jesus says there are two ways the sons respond. First Son is giver the clear instructions to go to vineyard and work. He knows the commands of his father and rejects them. However, regardless of motivation he “changes his mind” (same as repent) and goes and does the will of his father.
He doesn’t go back to his father and say “I change the profession I have made about your will. My answer is now yes. I affirm what you called me to was right and true and you have the proper authority to ask me to do it, it that satisfactory?” No! He actually follows and does the will of his father, he gets to work!
The other son at the moment of the call from the father to enter the vineyard says “I go sir!” and then goes about their life as if the command from the father never came. Hearing from the father he was emotionally moved to give an answer the father approved of but when it was time for that answer to turn into action his true response was ultimately “no”. We did this when we were kids, or to our bosses, yeah I’ll clean my room now! Oh yeah, I’ll send out that email. It’s an answer that put off authority rather than submits to authority. Bottom line it’s disobedience.
The meaning of this parable is plain enough even Jesus opponents can’t deny it. God the Father has authority over the lives of His children and he calls us to obedience. Neither can claim ignorance to the will of their Father, but only one was obedient. God doesn’t want your right answer, paired with a life of complete disregard and disobedience. He wants your right actions. To know the truth and not do it is sin.
James 4:17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
The call today is not to another chance to give the right answer, but it is a call repent of inaction, indifference that is truly disobedience to God and do the will of the Father. This is a bit of the reason we don’t put a big emphasis on “decision” and profession here. We don’t simply ask people to make a decision about Jesus, hoping they give the right answer and return to living lives under their own authority.
We preach the Gospel of Jesus who does the will of the father perfectly in our place. We trust Jesus who looking at the pain of the cross said “Father, not my will but your will be.” and submitted the cross, really dying in our place, and rises again we are empowered to lives where we are able to repent, change our minds and live out brand new lives. This is the call that tax collector and prostitutes who had heard the instructions of God and rejected them for long stretches of their lives heard from John to repent and begin a new way of righteousness “Today”. They were baptized, signifying their repentance from sin turning to follow God. John pointed them to Jesus and people who were once defined by their sin and disobedience under their own authority are now defined by their Father in heaven and submit to His authority. They’re not prostitutes and tax collectors any longer so they go walk out their new identities as sons and daughters joyfully obeying the Father who is planning for their joy. That is why we call one another to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is not merely about profession. It’s a way of life. Sinners come to Jesus and go about new lives. In this life there is never a point too late to repent and believe the gospel. It is simple but true it’s not how you start it’s how you finish. Jesus said on the cross “It is Finished!” so start now to, Trust Jesus!
Ezekiel 18:21-24 21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live.23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? 24 But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.
More in Rejection of the King | Matthew Part IV
June 14, 2015The Woes from the King Part 3: Forsaken City | Empty Temple - Matthew 23:37 - 24:2
June 7, 2015The Woes from the King Part 2: Seven Charges - One Verdict | Matthew 23:13-36
May 31, 2015The Woes from the King Part 1: Unbearable Preachers | Matthew 23:1-12