Q & A

Matthew 21:23-32Then Jesus went into the temple courtyard and began to teach. The chief priests and the leaders of the people came to him. They asked, “What gives you the right to do these things? Who told you that you could do this?” Jesus answered them, “I, too, have a question for you. If you answer it for me, I’ll tell you why I have the right to do these things. Did John’s right to baptize come from heaven or from humans?” They discussed this among themselves. They said, “If we say, ‘from heaven,’ he will ask us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘from humans,’ we’re afraid of what the crowd might do. All those people think of John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus told them, “Then I won’t tell you why I have the right to do these things. “What do you think about this? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go to work in the vineyard today.’ “His son replied, ‘I don’t want to!’ But later he changed his mind and went. “The father went to the other son and told him the same thing. He replied, ‘I will, sir,’ but he didn’t go. “Which of the two sons did what the father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I can guarantee this truth: Tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. John came to you and showed you the way that God wants you to live, but you didn’t believe him. The tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. But even after you had seen that, you didn’t change your minds and believe him.

Q & A

Our message begins on a typical Sabbath morning. Jesus had gone into the temple to do what he had been doing all His life (being about His Father’s business). Here he was teaching and explaining the Law and the Prophets when the chief priests and the leaders of the people came up to him.
They asked, “Dude, who do you think you are? WE are the teachers here. These people pay US to tell them how WE interpret the scriptures. WE spent years studying with a respected rabbi before we were allowed to teach. What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you this authority? Where is YOUR diploma?”
Now I know that the Bible doesn’t say that Jesus had a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his lips when he answered, but I believe He did when He said, “I have just one question to ask you. If you answer it, I will tell you where I got the right to do these things.
Can you see the fear on these priests and leaders faces? You know they were not used to being challenged; not here in the Temple. This was their home turf. I can imagine them starting to sweat and beginning to back away. Then Jesus asked the question, “Who gave John the right to baptize? Was it God in heaven or merely some human being?”
Oh man! They knew it! He was setting them up! They thought it over and said to each other, “There is no way we can answer Him. We can’t say that God gave John this right. Because then Jesus will ask us why we didn’t believe; and there is no way we can defend ourselves there. On the other hand, these people think that John was a prophet, and we are afraid of what they might do to us. That’s why we can’t say that it was merely some human who gave John the right to baptize.”
So these religious leaders did a quick huddle and decided to play it safe. So they told Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Jesus said, “Okay, so you won’t be honest with me. Well then I won’t tell you who gave me the right to do what I do.”
Now right here at verse 28 the story appears to take a sharp right turn. It almost appears that Jesus is changing the subject. But hang on; He knows where He is going with this lesson.
Now Jesus, while he has these leaders’ attention says, “I will tell you a story about a man who had two sons. Then you can tell me what you think.”
Oh yeah! I’m sure that they are looking forward to THIS quiz. After all, they had done so well on the last one!
Jesus began the story, “The father went to the older son and said, “Go work in the vineyard today!” His son told him that he would not do it, but later he changed his mind and went.
The man then told his younger son to go work in the vineyard. The boy said he would, but then he didn’t go to work after all.”
Okay, the parameters of the story have been explained. Now Jesus asks, “So, teachers, which one of the sons obeyed his father?”
The chief priests and leaders answered, “The older one!” Wow! This test was easier than they thought it was going to be! This was not near as tricky as they had feared. The answer was so obvious! The one who obeyed was the one who obeyed, even though he had at first refused. Simple, really, when you thought about it.
Then Jesus told them: “You can be sure that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you ever will!
What? Why? We answered your question correctly! We know we did!
“Because, when John the Baptist showed you how to do right, you would not believe and follow him. You were the son that said you would but then refused to follow. By your own tongues you have judged yourselves.
But these “evil” people, the tax collectors and prostitutes, did believe. They may have been disobedient at the beginning but then they repented and changed. And even then, when you, priests and teachers of the Law, saw what they did, you still would not change your minds and believe. What good is to say ‘yes’ with your lips and ‘no’ with your actions?”
Now it is our turn to answer Jesus. We sing on Sunday morning; “Follow, I will follow thee my Lord”, “Where he leads me I will follow”, or dozens of other hymns that speak about our obedience to the Lord.
Are we just moved by the music and mouthing the words without thought? If so, how many lies do Christians sing each week? Can we better defend ourselves to Jesus questions than did the “religious” people of His day?
If we can’t do better than they, then what makes us think that Christ will be any easier on us for our disobedience?
We are good people! We know we are. However, the chief priests and synagogue leaders were also ‘good people’. For the most part they were trying to do what they thought was expected of them. They said all the right words, just as they had been taught.
It was their actions, or their lack of actions that was getting them into trouble with Jesus. It is what can get us into trouble with Jesus.
We hear, we listen, we nod our heads in agreement and may even shout, “Amen!” But to what avail if it has caused no change within our lives?
James 1:22 says, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” Sometimes James is misunderstood as saying that people are saved by their actions. He only says that the proof that they are saved is the changes it makes in their actions.
If we have been changed, if we are new creatures, then those around us should be able to notice. I pray that when we sing, “Where He leads me I will follow” we will be singing the truth of our hearts.

God bless

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All content (except quotations) ©2011Thomas E. Williams

Originally posted on Saturday, August 20, 2011


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