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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
July 29, 2018
In our study of the life of Christ, we are now examining the passages that details the last few days prior to His crucifixion. We have already examined the events that took place on Tuesday of that momentous week. Jesus had cleared the temple of the merchants and money-changers telling them they had turned the Temple, God’s 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 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 had 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 the merchants and moneychangers, but the praise by these young boys was a proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah, and that 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. The clash between Jesus and these hypocritical religious leaders would escalate throughout the week culminating in Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday.
It was also on that day that Jesus expressed His own humanity and anguish of soul as He anticipated the cross. We examined that previously in John 12:20-50. Jesus used the analogy of a wheat seed which dies to self in order to produce a plant that would bear much fruit to explain that purpose and effect His own death would have in drawing men to Himself for eternal life. Jesus’ soul was greatly troubled as He considered the suffering He would have to endure, but it was for this purpose that He came to earth. His commitment and desire was for the Father to glorify His name. We are to have that same commitment in our own lives as we face difficult trials in life. Whatever the circumstances may be, our quest is to glorify God in the midst of it.
The people understood that Jesus was predicting His own death by crucifixion, but they did not understand how that fit with His being the Messiah. Even Jesus’ disciples had a hard time grasping the fact that the Messiah would come first as the suffering servant to bear man’s sin (Isaiah 53) and later as the conquering king who would establish His eternal kingdom (Daniel 7, etc.). Though they had seen Jesus do miracle after miracle, they were still skeptics. The light had come and had been shining brightly, but their hard hearts had blinded them to the truth though it was obvious. Jesus’ warning to them is one that still must be heeded today. Those who continue to harden their hearts to the working of the Holy Spirit to convict them of sin, righteousness and judgment will eventually come to a point in time when God’s Spirit will not strive with them any more and will turn them over to their sinful quests, and without that work of the Holy Spirit, there is no hope of repentance, faith and salvation. Jesus offers salvation to all who will believe in Him which is evidenced by confession of Him. But there will only be judgment and condemnation for those that reject Him, and that includes the passive rejection of not making a decision. There were Pharisees who supposedly believed in Jesus but were controlled by their fear of men and desire to gain the approval of men rather than the approval of God. They would be condemned, for Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33 that He would deny before God those who denied Him before men.
Jesus stayed in the temple until evening and then traveled back to Bethany where He and his disciples would spend the night. Jesus returns to Jerusalem the next morning. This day is often called the “long day” because of the many things the gospel writers record that Jesus did on that day. I already covered Matthew 21:18-22 and Mark 11:20-26 concerning the withering of the fig tree two weeks ago when I addressed it being cursed in Mark 11:12-14. We pick up the story in Matthew 21:23 as Jesus enters the Temple.
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 and they act quickly. They set their sights on Jesus when He entered the Temple with Mark indicating they approached Him while He was still walking. They wait until He is teaching with Luke adding that He was also preaching the gospel. Jesus had come to proclaim the good news of sins forgiven and eternal life given for those that placed their faith in Him. They have been plotting for some time about how they might destroy Jesus, but because they feared the people, they first had to find some way to discredit Him among the people. They now seek to do that in front of the people listening to Jesus with their question. It is not a sincere question since Jesus has told them before that He taught only what He had received from His Father (John 5:43; 7:16-17). They already knew the answer to their question. Their question was based in their system of authority and designed to show that Jesus did not meet their qualifications to be a teacher of the law.
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 recognized Rabbi, that Rabbi would ordain him granting 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, the 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. They want to expose Jesus as a non-credentialed teacher and therefore not qualified and not equal to themselves in teaching the law of God.
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. Educational degrees are demanded as proof you have met the academic standards, and I have met many people that think that going to Bible college or seminary qualifies you to pastor a church or be a missionary. Education is good, but frankly, granting authority because someone has a Bachelor, Master or Doctorate degree is not wise for there are an abundance of fools walking around with high degrees of education.
Ordination is the Biblical method of recognizing what God has done in the life of a man in preparing him to be a leader in the church (Acts 13:2-3), but too often it is a means to gain authority according to denominational standards instead of God’s standards (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). The title “Reverend” is given to those who are ordained, but I have found it to be somewhat silly. The title is supposed to refer to a “person to be revered,” that is, to hold them in “profound adoring awed respect.” However, I am seldom treated that way, though my wife does at times, but then she also asks me to take out the trash.
I will use the title when dealing with the world and it is at the top of my letterhead for official correspondence, but my preference for a title is “Pastor” since that is a good Biblical term that describes the office and responsibilities I hold in the church. Children should call me either Mr. Harris or Pastor Harris, and my preference for an informal name is Scott, since my parents started calling me that when I was born. I will answer to either, and both are much better than other things I have been called in my life.
The underlying issue in this challenge and Jesus’ response to them is the origin of authority. If the source is man or religious institutions, then meeting those qualifications is critical. If the source is God, then such official recognition could be helpful, but ultimately it is irrelevant for all that man can do is recognize what God has given. That is what ordination should be. It is 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 and not any human authority regardless of degrees, titles or position.
The chief priests, elders and scribes could in no way deny that Jesus had 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 (Matthew 9:2-6), to execute judgment (John 5:27), to grant eternal life to His followers (John 17:2), and to even raise Himself from the dead (John10:18). They could not deny His power and claim to authority, but they were attempting by their question to show His power and authority were illegitimate for they were not granted from any official institution or tradition.
The chief priests received their authority due to blood lineage as Levites. Jesus was not a Levite, so they would reject Him on that basis, though they forgot that the Messiah would be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, which Jesus was (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6). The scribes claimed authority based on having the approved educational background. Jesus was not ordained by any of the Rabbinical schools, so they rejected His teaching authority. The elders claimed their authority through their political system, and Jesus did not have their approval, so they rejected His authority. They are challenging Jesus because He did not meet their standards for having authority and therefore they considered Him illegitimate.
If for some strange reason Jesus said He had no authority, then 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, but they are wrong. You cannot trap God for God will always ensnare you in your own trap. Jesus does just that Matthew 21:24- 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, for I tend to do that a lot, and it is a very common way of communication in the Jewish community. Sometimes that may be rude, but more often it is simply 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 authority comes from.
By bringing John the Baptist into the picture, Jesus puts the chief priests, scribes and elders 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 he was hated by these religious leaders because his authority did not come from them and he rebuked them. 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 baptize the repentant for the remission of sins? Did it come from men or from God? This question put the religious leaders on the horns of a dilemma because they were not honest men.
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 at least they think it is private, but you cannot keep even the most secret conversation from the omniscient God. They try to figure out how they should answer Jesus’ question. Notice their discussion is not based in any way on what they believe about John whether good or bad. It is instead 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 also of a coward. 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. Luke 20:6 even adds that they feared the people would stone them to death. It is out of fear of Jesus and of the crowd that they try to claim ignorance. It is a completely dishonest answer.
People still answer dishonestly to legitimate questions about what they believe. They fear the reaction of others, so they either feign ignorance or just outright lie to whichever group they were are with at the moment in order to avoid revealing what they actually think. Atheists are just proud fools (Psalm 14) claiming knowledge they do not have. Just because they are blind does not mean others cannot see. Agnostics are more humble in claiming they do not know (though those who claim you also cannot know are also proud fools). I am sure some are honest in stating they do not know because they have not yet come to a conclusion in their investigation. Others do not know because they are not interested which is a very dangerous position. Then there are those that say they do not know simply because they want to avoid revealing what they think. Conflict avoidance is more important to them than truth. That is the cowards way out.
Since the religious leaders claimed they could not answer Jesus’ question, Jesus was under no obligation to answer their earlier question. He leaves them looking like the fools they were being. Matthew 21:27, He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
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 and patient beyond our comprehension, but eventually the warnings will cease and the call to repentance will no longer be given which will leave the person condemned in their sinful state. In Noah’s day God said, My Spirit shall not strive with man forever (Genesis 6:3). Of Ephriam, one of the rebellious tribes of Israel, God finally said, Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone (Hosea 4:17). And God eventually turned against the defiant nation of Judah and fought against them. Never presume upon the grace and mercy of God. These religious leaders had rejected the light God had sent in Jesus Christ. Jesus now leaves them in their darkness. All that is left is condemnation, and that is what Jesus does in the parables that follow. The first one concerns who does God’s will.
A Parable of Doing the Father’s Will – Matthew 21:28-32
28 “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.’ 29 “And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 “The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” (Note: the order of the parable is reversed in the 1977 NASB which followed Vaticanus)
The chief priests and scribes refused to answer Jesus first question, so now Jesus 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 it 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 which Jesus now makes plain to them.
Matthew 21:31-32, 31b Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. 32 “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.
I am not sure that anything stronger could have been said to these men who rejected both the testimony of John the Baptist and all that Jesus had done and taught. The words must have bit into the hearts of these corrupt men for in Jewish society no one 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 these ones were also crooked in 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 of representing gross immorality. 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 Jesus states that they would get into heaven before these supposedly righteous chief priests, elders and scribes.
These men were supposed to be the keepers of the Law and the keepers of the Temple. They claimed to be the examples that would show everyone else the way of how to live for God. In reality, they were self deceived. They thought God was pleased with them because of their positions and many religious works, but the truth was that they were utter failures by God’s standards. Remember, God’s standards are opposite of man’s standards because He 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.
What Jesus states here is very bad news for religious hypocrites who have a facade of outward righteousness but inward wickedness for which they refuse to repent. John came in righteousness showing the way to God, but they had no change of heart. 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.
At the other extreme, what Jesus states here is wonderful news for the tax-gatherers and harlots and everyone else who is outwardly unrighteous but repents in the quest for righteousness. These men and women who were the most despised in Israel heard John and believed him, repented, and demonstrated the change in heart in both their willingness to receive John’s baptism and their changed lives. The gospel message still saves and transforms the wicked into the righteous that will enter heaven.
Jesus said early in His ministry that He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). The self-righteous cannot be saved because they reject the gospel message as not applying to them. The truly righteous already know the grace & mercy of God and are living for Him. Jesus came to call sinners, you and me, to repentance that we might be saved. He has called us to be like the son who said, “No,” but then repented and did his father’s will.
The issue of who does the Father’s will is not in what is said, but in what is done and the heart in doing it. Reading your Bible, coming to church, listening to Christian recordings and reading Christian books are all good, but if you agree with the message but do not change your actions, then you are like that son that lied. He said, “yes,” but he did not go.
A great frustration for preachers and Bible teachers is the lip service they receive to their messages. People easily and outwardly agree to what is being taught about turning from sin and walking in faith with Jesus. They agree they should be reading and studying the Bible and putting into practice all the one another commands as well as the directions given to husbands and wives about their roles in marriage and to parents in raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. People will agree they should be faithful at work serving Christ foremost. They will say “yes” to praying and seeking the Father’s will instead of their own and to setting aside the things of the world in order to pursue knowing and serving Christ. People will admit their need to be disciplined with time and finances and trust God while seeking first His kingdom and righteousness. People will agree they should proclaim the gospel to others. It is easy to say “yes,” but that is only lip service unless you also strive to do it.
Do not be like the deceitful son who said “yes,” but did not go. If so, you are like the chief priests, elders and scribes Jesus was rebuking. Unless you repent, you will remain condemned in your sins.
Obviously it is best to say, “yes” to God 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 failing to follow through, then God wants you to repent. You must change your mind and direction to believe and follow the Lord. He is gracious to the humble 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 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 any of our church leaders and let us help you to learn to do God’s will.
Jesus has _________the Temple of the money changers & merchants and taught concerning His crucifixion
Jesus was the ________from God offering salvation from sin, but the hard hearted were blind to the obvious
The next day, the religious leaders go on the _________against Jesus and publically challenge His authority
The _____________claimed to be the source of authority to officially recognize Rabbis
A non-credentialed teacher was to be questioned and his teachings held in _______________
Academic degrees are often used as sources of authority – but there are plenty of educated __________
___________is the Biblical method of recognizing God’s choice – if it is according to the Biblical standards
The underlying issue is whether the _____________of authority is man and religious institutions or God
They could not deny Jesus’ miracles or teaching, so they are attempting to claim His authority is _________
The chief priests’ authority was due to blood ____________ as Levites – Jesus was not a Levite
The scribes’ authority came from their ____________educational and ordination – which Jesus did not have
The elders’ authority came through their _____________system – which had not approved Jesus
Their trap is set to publically _____________Jesus of being either illegitimate or a blasphemer
Jesus was not rude to answer their question with a question for He was ________________the issue
Jesus is not avoiding the question for He has previously stated His ____________came from God the Father
Jesus’ question put the religious leaders in a _______________because they were not honest men
Their discussion was based on how others might respond instead of what they _____________
Out of ______of Jesus proving them to be hypocrites or the crowd stoning them, they try to claim ignorance
People still answer _______________about what they believe out of fear of the reaction of others
Their __________of ignorance removed an obligation of Jesus to answer their question
God is longsuffering and patient, but He will eventually ___________a person who continues to reject Him
A Parable of Doing the Father’s Will – Matthew 21:28-32
Jesus uses a parable to ____________the dishonesty and hypocrisy of the religious leaders
Matthew 21:31-32 – this was a strong __________to men who despised tax-gatherers and prostitutes
They were supposed to be examples showing they way to God, but they were self deceived ______________
This is a ________________ of all religious hypocrites – who seen the light but prefer darkness
This is ___________ for even the worst sinners that repent and believe
Lip service is not doing the Father’s will, that takes ____________from a heart striving to do righteousness
Lip service is still a common reaction among religious people, but words without action is ______________
It is __________to say “yes” to God and do it, but saying “no” and repenting and doing it is better than lying
1 John 3:18-19 – true love for God (and others) is demonstrated in _________ and truth
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times reference is made to the Jewish religious leaders 2) Discuss with your parents the evidence of someone that does the will of God.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the context for Matthew 21:-23-32 (where is Jesus and what happened the previous day?). Why were so many blind to the truth that Jesus is the Messiah? What was the purpose of the religious leaders questioning Jesus about His source of authority for teaching? Why were they doing this publically? What was the source of authority for the chief priests? The Scribes? The elders? What was Jesus’ source of authority? How had He already demonstrated His legitimacy? When is answering a question with a question rude? When is doing that beneficial? Is an individual obligated to answer all the questions posed to him? Why or why not? Why were the religious leaders afraid to give an honest answer to Jesus? Why were they afraid the people? What is the danger of giving a dishonest answer to legitimate questions? When is conflict avoidance wise and good? When is it evil? Why is it dangerous to presume upon the mercy and grace of God? Why does Jesus tell them a parable? How did they stumble into Jesus’ trap? Why was it true that the tax-gatherers and prostitutes would get into heaven before the religious leaders would? How do you think they would have reacted to Jesus’ assessment? How was this bad news for them? How was this good news for sinners? How does a sinner get into heaven? Why does Jesus give such a strong condemnation of those that give lip service to God? (Positive words without action). Why is repentance better? What would be best in demonstrating righteousness? Who does God’s will? Describe. How well do you do at doing God’s will? If not well, then what needs to change?
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