Summary: Who is Jesus? Who is Jesus to us? The difference between words and action. Time for true repentance, and amendment of life.
THE QUESTION OF JESUS’ AUTHORITY
This conversation follows hard on the heels of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:12-16), and the symbolic withering of the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-20). “Who gave you the right to do such things?” demanded the Temple authorities, and the leaders of the people (Matthew 21:23). Effectively, ‘Who do you think you are?’
Jesus answered their question with a question (Matthew 21:24), a sound teaching device used by the Rabbis. He could have said, ‘Ask Peter, he knows’ - but such things are only revealed by ‘My Father which is in heaven’ (cf. Matthew 16:16-17). But to ask about the authority of John the Baptist put the ball firmly back into the court of His questioners (Matthew 21:25).
The real question, after all, is who do we think Jesus is? (Matthew 16:15). And, more importantly, who is He to us? On the answer to that question hinges our whole salvation, informing both our understanding and our lifestyle.
John had said, ‘Repent you all: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 3:2). Asked who he was, John answered that he was the one sent to prepare the way of the Lord (John 1:23). Pointing to Jesus he declared, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29).
The people understood this (Matthew 21:26), yet the priests and religious leaders chose not to (Matthew 21:25). Their ‘politically correct’ refusal to answer Jesus stripped them of their own supposed authority, and He refused to answer them while they were in that state of mind (Matthew 21:27). A very sad state of affairs indeed.
Now it was Jesus’ turn to pose a question, based on a simple parable. We must adjust our teaching method to suit the audience we have. “But what do you think?” asked Jesus (Matthew 21:28).
The picture was familiar: a man with two sons and a vineyard (Matthew 21:28). A son who was impertinent: who refused to go and work in the vineyard at his father’s bidding, but afterwards “repented,” and went (Matthew 21:29). Then the other son, who made a show of his obedience: “I go, sir,” but went not (Matthew 21:30).
The word translated “sir” in this place (Matthew 21:30) is elsewhere translated as ‘Lord’:
Jesus says, ‘Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 7:21).
Well, which one did the will of his father? They could not deny it: the seemingly intractable one. Then came the shock: “the publicans and the harlots” are going into the kingdom of God before you, religious leaders (Matthew 21:31).
John came in “the way of righteousness” (Matthew 21:32) - which is the way of God - but the “chief priests and the elders of the people” (Matthew 21:23) did not believe him. However, “the publicans and the harlots” (Matthew 21:32) - representatives of all outsiders - did believe. And seeing this, the religious leaders still refused to repent.