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Imagine the scene. Matthew 21 describes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with great fanfare, joy and disturbance. His first act was to go to the Temple complex and enact a prophetic act by cleansing the Temple of what was offensive to God.
Day two in Jerusalem and Jesus is back at the Temple complex. The religious leaders question Jesus’ authority. They confront Jesus and say, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21.23).
Jesus replied to the leaders with a question of his own, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” (Matthew 21.24-25).
The religious leaders of the Temple refused to answer Jesus’ question. They knew that any answer they gave would reveal the hypocrisy of their behavior.
In reply Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (Matthew 21.27).
The Parable of Two Sons
Jesus didn’t give a direct answer to the Temple priests about his authority. However, he did use three parables to address them and their actions.
The three parables – the Two Sons (Matthew 21.28-32), the Wicked Tenants (Matthew 21.33-41), and the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22.1-14) challenged the thinking and preconceived beliefs of the crowd of people who had assembled in the area of the Temple.
The first parable involved two sons. Jesus began the parable with a question. His listeners were to be the judge over the two sons. As they judged the actions of the sons, they would naturally evaluate their own behavior.
Jesus said, “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
“He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went.
“The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.
“Which of the two did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21.28-31).
We can assume that some of the people who responded to Jesus were members of the religious establishment that opposed him. The parable had its desired impact. Their judgment implicated their behavior.
The religious authorities answered correctly and said, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 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 after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him” (Matthew 21.31-32).
John the Baptist started a repentance movement in Israel. His message was,
— Matthew 3.2 – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Repentance – changing our minds about what is most important in life, the kingdom of God – means that our behavior also changes.
— Matthew 3.3 – “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
People prepare the way and make the paths straight for the Lord to have influence in the world through the way they live their lives in accord with God’s guidance.
— Matthew 3.4 – “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
Our repentance is reveled by behavior that is aligned with the will of God.
Jesus continued the movement that began with John, but the religious leaders refused to participate.
Quite unlikely people did respond to the repentance movement of John and Jesus. Tax collectors are mentioned 20 times in the Gospels as followers of Jesus. In addition, prostitutes turned from their way of life and started living by God’s direction for life.
Applying the Parable
Jesus told this parable to challenge beliefs. Hopefully, some of the religious authorities were shocked by his words and changed their minds and behavior.
His goal was not to get his opponents “told,” but to get them in the kingdom.
Jesus has the same desire for us. He wants us to join the repentance movement that began with John the Baptist. Our status in the church and our claim to represent God does not matter. What matters is our behavior.
As we contemplate our own behavior change, let’s examine two Bible passages and ask God to touch our inner self with their message.
— Ezekiel 33:31 – They come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words, but they will not obey them. For flattery is on their lips, but their heart is set on their gain.
Question: When I sit before the word of God, am I intent on aligning my life with what I hear? How much does “gain” for my own self-life play in determining the level of my obedience?
— Isaiah 29:13 – The Lord said:
Because these people draw near with their mouths
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote.
Question: Do I talk a better Christian life than the one I live? Do I have a heart-connection with God that produces worship as a central feature of my life?
— An Ancient Jewish Writing – “Righteous men promise little and perform much; whereas the wicked promise much and do not perform even little.”
Question: Josh Monk often said, “Don’t talk about it, be about it.” Can I say that my actions are an example of the Christian life that I profess to live? Do my words and deeds reflect the fact that Jesus is the Lord of my life?
Good news: Jesus told this parable to people, so they would change their minds and behavior. In doing so, they move from being his opponents to his friends.
Jesus didn’t give us this parable to make us guilty. He gave it to us, so we would put ourselves in a position to live with him as one of his followers.
About This Blog
Klyne Snodgrass has devoted 12 years of study to produce the book, Stories With Intent. His book is recognized as the best book on the parables in print. I am indebted to Dr. Snodrass’ work that helps shape my articles.
If you have a prayer request, please email me at email@example.com or private message me on Facebook. I will pray for you and so will the prayer team at Maywood Baptist Church.