Summary: This sermon is about how our words match our actions when it comes to obedience to the will of God.


Text: Matthew 21:23-32

I once heard the story about a young man who wanted a custom paint job on his car. He wanted the car to be two different colors. He wanted the whole right side to be one color and the left another color. When asked why he wanted his car painted like that his answer was that he did not want anybody to be able to identify him by his car and it’s color. He sounds like a young man who was paranoid or running from something or someone. He also sounds like a young man who could not make up his mind about whether to be on one side of the fence or the other.

When the leaders---the chief priest and the elders tried to ask Jesus a trick question about his authority, they had hoped to make a fool out of Jesus. The only problem was that their question became a boomerang when Jesus met their challenging question with a question of His own. When Jesus asked them His question it was clear that either way that they answered the question would be incriminating.

This text is about how our words match our actions when it comes to obedience to the will of God. It is both our actions and our words that communicate on which side of the fence we are standing whether it be obedience or rebellion.


Nobody wants to be a witness against himself or herself. In our country, whenever a person is put on the witness stand and asked a question that could be harmful to his or her own case in court, he or she can plead the fifth. Usually such people will say something like, "I plead the fifth", or "I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that it might incriminate me". In their own way, that is what the chief priests and elders were doing when they refuse to answer Jesus’ question by saying, "We do not know".

We might plead the fifth from time to time with our words, but our actions sometimes speak louder than words. There is the story about two farmers who were rivals. "Two Kentucky farmers who owned racing stables had developed a keen rivalry. One spring, each of them entered a horse in a local steeplechase. Thinking that a professional rider might help him outdo his friend, one of the farmers engaged a crack jockey. The two horses were leading the race at the last fence, but it proved too tough for them. Both horses fell, unseating their riders. But this calamity did not stop the professional jockey. He quickly remounted and won the race.

Returning triumphant to the paddock, the jockey found the farmer who had hired him fuming with rage. "What’s the matter?" the jockey asked. "I won, didn’t I?"

"Oh, yes," roared the farmer. "You won all right, but you still don’t know, do you?" "Know what?" asked the jockey. "You won the race on the wrong horse." While this situation does not occur often at horse races, it happens in every human life. Each of us, trying hard to win the race, tends to climb on the wrong horse. If we do not discover our error, we cross the finish line a triumphant failure. Jesus labels this faulty human reflex with a noun from the Old Testament: sin. He says an Old Testament verb is the only cure for it: repent". (Herb Miller. Actions Speak Louder Than Words. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989, p. 15). The main reason that the chief priests and the elders had to say that "they did not know" when they did indeed know the answer was because they would have been admitting that they were sinners who had neglected their need to repent.


Everything that we do says something about who we are and what we believe. Consider Matthew 12:37: "… for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (RSV). Keep that in mind as Jesus tells this parable and they give their answer. Right after the chief priests and the elders refused to answer Jesus’ question, Jesus told them a parable about two sons. A father of two sons bids them to go to work in his vineyard. The first one said no and then later changed his mind and went. The second one said, yes but refused to go and work. So when Jesus asked them which son did the will of their father, they naturally answered the first. It was then that Jesus told them, the chief priests and the elders that there were sinners who were going ahead of them in to the kingdom of God. Jesus was pointing out to them that they were like the second son in the parable who said that he would go and did not live up to his word.

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