Who Does God’s Will? Matthew 21:23-32

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Pastor Scott L Harris
Faith Bible Church<
September 25, 1994

Who Does God’s Will?
Matthew 21:23-32

In our study of Matthew we have now entered into the account of Jesus last few days prior to His crucifixion. Last week we examined the events that had taken place on Tuesday of that momentous week. Jesus had cleared the temple of the merchants and money-changers telling them they had turned God’s Temple which was supposed to be a house of prayer into a den of thieves. Strong words, but fitting to the desecration these crooked men had brought upon the Temple of the Lord. As the wicked merchants left the blind and lame came in, and Jesus in His compassion healed them. As the young boys who were in the temple saw these wonders they began to repeat the praise that they heard the previous day – “Hosanna to the Son of David.”

The chief priests and scribes had been too fearful of the crowd to say a word about Jesus casting out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, but the praise by these young boys was a proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah, and this was too much for them. They became indignant that Jesus would let what they considered blasphemy continue and they tried to shame Jesus into making them stop. Instead Jesus placed the shame on them that they did not acknowledge what these children recognized. The praise they gave was prompted by God and it was what God had prepared for Himself, and Jesus was God in human flesh. What these young boys did was true worship. It was the corrupted worship of the chief priests who controlled the temple markets that Jesus condemned.

This was the first major clash between Jesus and these hypocritical religious leaders. The conflict between them would escalate throughout the week culminating in Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday.

Jesus stayed in the temple until evening, then traveled back to Bethany where He and his disciples would spend the night. Our text this morning picks up the story the next morning as Jesus comes back into the temple in Jerusalem. This is the day that is often called the “long day” because of the many things the gospel writers record that Jesus did on that day. Look at Matt. 21:23 with me.



And when He had come into the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority.”

These religious hypocrites had recovered from their shock of what had occurred the day before and now they are on the offensive. They have been plotting for some time about how they might destroy Jesus, but to do so they must find some way to discredit Him among the people first – for they feared the people. This question was not asked in sincere desire to know and learn from Jesus, for Jesus had told them previously where His power and authority came from. They already knew the answer to their question. Instead their question was based in their system of authority and asked in order to try to discredit Jesus.

Authority to teach as an officially recognized Rabbi had at one time been in the hands of the Rabbis themselves. Generally when a candidate had been sufficiently trained and had served some sort of apprenticeship under a leading Rabbi, that Rabbi would ordain him – grant him authority – to teach as an official Rabbi. Because the teachings of the Rabbis varied so much, so did their ordinations. Eventually, because of abuses and to centralize rabbinical authority the Sanhedrin, which was the High Jewish Council of Elders, took over all responsibility for ordinations.

A man ordained as a Rabbi was also declared to be an elder and Judge in Israel and given authority to not only teach and express his wisdom, but to also make decisions and render verdicts in religious and well as many civil matters. An ordained rabbi had official recognition as a credentialed teacher of Israel. A non-credentialed Rabbi was to be questioned and his teaching held in suspicion.

In many ways things have not really changed all that much. Even today most people in most churches demand such official credentials as necessary to be able to teach the Bible, lead God’s people and render spiritual judgments. You must have the title “Reverend” in front of your name and several initials behind it – B.A., M.Div., Th.D., Ph.D., etc. Ordination has become a means by which authority is given rather than a recognition of what God has done in the life of a man. Personally, I have found the title “Reverend” to be somewhat silly, I have yet to find anyone to hold me in “profound adoring awed respect” because I am ordained. (My wife says she does, but then she also asks me to take out the trash). And contrary to what it may sound like sometimes, my first name is Scott, not Pastor, but since I will answer to most anything, Pastor is sure a lot better than other things I have been called in my life. And to be frank, the idea of having authority because of holding some degree is rather stupid for there are an abundance of fools walking around with high degrees of education.

Where does authority come from? It comes from God. All that man can do is recognize what God has given. That is what ordination should be – a recognition by men of what God has done. My authority as a Pastor does not come from titles and degrees before and after my name, it comes from the Bible itself. Your submission to that authority comes only as I point you to the Word of God – and should I ever point you to anything astray from the Scriptures, your duty is to submit to God’s Word – not any human authority.

Jesus had not been ordained and so had no official recognition as a Rabbi. The chief priests and rabbis could in no way deny that Jesus had the power – the ability – to teach, to perform all sorts of miracles, and even to clean the merchants out of the temple. They could not deny that Jesus taught with authority and claimed to have authority to forgive sins (Mt. 9:2-6), to execute judgment (Jn 5:27), to grant eternal life to His followers (Jn 17:2), and to even raise Himself from the dead (Jn 10:18). They could not deny His power and claim to authority, but they could seek to show His power and authority were illegitimate.

If Jesus for some strange reason said He had no authority He would be immediately branded as both illegitimate and a usurper of the order God had established within Judaism. If Jesus said that His authority came from God Himself, which is what they fully expected Him to do, they would label Him a blasphemer and therefore his authority would be illegitimate. They fully expected their crafty challenge to lead to Jesus’ downfall. Men still think they can take on God and when – but they are wrong. You can not trap God for God will always ensnare you in your own trap. Jesus does just that verses 24, 25.


And Jesus answered and said to them, “I will ask you one thing too, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?

Don’t you hate it when your question is answered with a question? Well, I hope not because I tend to do that a lot, and it is a very common way of communication in the Jewish community. Sometimes we may feel that it is rude, and at times it can be, but more often it is not. It is an effort to clarify the issue so that the heart of the matter can be dealt with rather than just the presenting question. Jesus does that here.

This is not an attempt by Jesus to avoid the question. Jesus had stated clearly enough on many occasions that His authority came from His Father who is God Himself. In addition Jesus has stated that He is very willing to answer their question if they will answer His question first. Jesus’ question to these religious leaders prods them to the core of the issue which is not where Jesus’ authority comes from, but where they think it comes from.

By bringing John the Baptist into the picture Jesus puts the chief priests and scribes into a very difficult position. Difficult because these men did not seek the truth and did not have enough integrity to even stand on what they thought was true. Their concern for what the crowds thought was more important to them than standing firm on what they believed to be true. But cowards have always been that way.

John was the first prophet to appear in 400 years, and was the last prophet of the Old Testament age. He had been very popular among the masses, but hated by these religious leader because his authority did not come from them. Again we find that there is no one questions that John, like Jesus, had authority for what he did, it is only a question of where that authority came from. John had come to prepare the way for the Messiah, and John’s baptism of repentance brought a revival among the people. But who gave John the right to baptism the repentant for the remission of sins? Did it come from men or from God? In verses 25-27 we find that they could only answer this question dishonestly.


And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “if we say, “from heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,” we fear the multitude; for they all hold John to be a prophet.” And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.”

They now go into a private huddle – or so they think it is private, but you can not keep even the most secret conversation from the omniscient God – and then to discuss how they should answer Jesus question. They knew where John received his authority, but they did not want to believe it because it would severely restrict their power over the people. Notice how their discussion goes. The answer to their question is not based in anyway on what they believe about John – good or bad, but instead it is all based on how they think Jesus or the people will respond to their answer. That is the sign of not only someone who has no regard for the truth, but of a coward too. And these men are dishonest cowards.

If they state the truth that John’s baptism was from heaven, then Jesus will rightly and justly rebuke them for not following him. If they state what they have been telling each other, that it was from men, then the multitudes will be upset with them, because they believed John was a prophet from God. And so out of fear of Jesus and of the crowd they try to claim ignorance – the only truly dishonest answer they could give.

With such a response from them, Jesus was under no obligation to answer their earlier question. He leaves them looking like the fools they were being. Verse 27, He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

We should be aware that there comes a time when God will abandon a person that continually rejects His revelation of Himself to them. God is longsuffering with us and His patience is beyond our comprehension, but there does come a time when the warnings cease, the call to repentance is no longer given, and the person is left in their condemned sinful state. In Noah’s day God said, My Spirit shall not strive with man forever. Of Ephriam, one of the rebellious tribes of Israel, God finally said, Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone. And God eventually turned against defiant nation of Judah and fought against them. We should never presume upon the grace and mercy of God. They had rejected the light God had sent in Jesus Christ, now we find Jesus leaves them in their darkness. All that is left is condemnation, and that is what is given in the following parable as Jesus now takes the offensive



But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, “Son, go work today in the vineyard.” And he answered and said, “I will, sir”; and he did not go. And he came to the second and said the same thing. But he answered and said, “I will not”; yet he afterward regretted it and went. Which of the two did the will of his father? They said, “The latter.”

The chief priests and scribes refused to answer Jesus first question, so now he puts into a different form which would bring their dishonesty and hypocrisy out into the open. The story is simple and its point is plain. It is better to act than to merely say. Certainly it would be better to agree to obey and then do it, but to say yes and not do is a lie, whereas to say no and then do it is to show evidence of repentance. The answer to Jesus question about the story is also obvious, so obvious in fact that these men answer it before thinking through the ramifications of their answer. The result is that they bring about their own condemnation.


Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax-gatherers and harlots will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax-gatherers and harlots did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.

How Jesus response to them must have bit into the hearts of these corrupt men. I am not sure that anything stronger could have been said to these men in light of their rejection of both the testimony of John the Baptist and all that Jesus had done and taught.

Understand that no one in Jewish society was more despised than the tax-gatherers and harlots. The tax-gatherers were detested for several reasons. Lets face it, no one enjoys seeing the tax collector, but they were crooked in collecting them – over charging and keeping the difference. In addition they collected them for an oppressive foreign government. They were considered traitors to their nation. The harlots were scorned for the obvious reason, they represented gross immorality sinning against God and themselves. No two groups of people could have been considered farther away from the possibility of God’s favor and redemption than the tax-gatherers and harlots, and yet here we find Jesus saying that they would get into heaven before these supposedly righteous living chief priests and scribes.

These were the men that were supposed to be the keepers of the Law and the keepers of the Temple. They claimed to be the ones that would show everyone else the way, the example, of how to live for God. In reality they were self deceived thinking that God was pleased with them because of their positions and many religious works. The truth was that God’s standards are the opposite of man’s standards, and that is because God looks on the heart and resists the proud but is gracious to the humble. These religious leaders could not understand that doing the right thing for the wrong reason is abhorrent to God and brings his wrath of judgment just as certainly as doing the wrong thing. Motives count. The state of your heart matters, and their hearts were wicked.

The reason that the tax-gatherers and harlots would enter the kingdom and heaven and they would not is because these who were outwardly wicked repented at the preaching of John. John came in righteousness showing the way to God. These men and women who were the most despised in Israel believed John, repented, and demonstrated the change in heart in both their willingness to receive John’s baptism and their changed lives. The chief priests and scribes heard John, but there was no change in their evil hearts. Even seeing the transformed lives of those that came to John brought no conviction upon them. They saw the light of God, but they preferred the darkness. They heard God’s message of grace, but they shut their ears with self-righteousness. They witnessed both the power of John and of Jesus and they refused to be moved.

Jesus said early in His ministry (Luke 5:32) that He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. The self-righteous can not be saved. The truly righteous already know the grace & mercy of God and are living for Him. Jesus came to call sinners – and that is you and me – to repentance that we might be saved. He has called us to be like the son who said, “No,” but then regretted it and went out instead.

The issue of who does the Father’s will is not what we say, but what we do and our heart in doing it. You can read your Bibles, you can come and here me or some other pastor preach, you can listen to Christian tapes and read Christian books, but if all that you ever do is agree and say amen without any change in your life – then you are like that son that lied. He said, “yes,” but he did not do it. “Yes, Lord, you want me to read & study my Bible more.” “Yes, Lord, you want me to love my wife and Christ loved the Church.” “Yes, Lord, you want me to show respect to my husband.” “Yes, Lord, you want me to be diligent to raise my children in your nurture and admonition and not to provoke them to anger or lose heart.” “Yes, Lord, you want me to pray more, asking for the Fathers’ will to be done and not my own.” “Yes, Lord, you want me to set aside the things of the world in order to pursue the higher goals of knowing and serving you.” “Yes, Lord, you want me to be more self-disciplined with my time, my finances and even my eating.” “Yes, Lord, you want me to tell…. about you.”

Don’t kid yourself, if when the Lord tells you to do something all you is say, “yes,” but don’t do it, you are like that deceitful son, you are like the chief priests and scribes Jesus was rebuking.

Obviously what God would prefer is that you say, “yes” to Him and do what He says, but if you have been rebellious in the past, saying, “no” to Him, or if you have been like what I have described – saying “yes” but not doing it. God wants you to repent. To change your mind, and change your direction and follow Him. He is gracious to those who will offering forgiveness, fellowship with Him, and His blessings. To continue to refuse just brings further condemnation on those who are not Christians, and chastisement on those who are.

Who does God’s will? The apostle John put it this way in 1 John 3:18,19 – “…let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before Him…” Are you doing God’s will? Are you loving in word and tongue only – or in deed and truth? I pray it is the latter for each of us here today. If it is not, then see me or one of our elders, and let us help you truly do God’s will.

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