Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
The Parable of the Two Sons
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you; the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
Authority and the “questioning” of that authority is at the heart of this morning’s Gospel Lesson.
Authority is defined as the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and force obedience.
Just before this interaction with the chief priests and the elders of the people, Jesus was identified as an authority figure and he exercised his authority.
First, there was Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem.
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna[b] to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[c]
“Hosanna[d] in the highest heaven!”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:8-11).
The crowds had professed and declared that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the King of Israel, the Son of David foretold in the Scriptures.
After this Jesus went right to the heart of the faith and life of the Jewish people, God’s very house, the Temple.
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[e] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[f]”
By these actions, Jesus had directly challenged the authority of the chief priests over the Temple. Jesus had pronounced a judgment on the state of Temple. He declared that the outer court of the Temple was an abomination. It had been reserved by God for all people to come and pray. He quoted Isaiah 56:7 “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. The leadership had allowed this sacred area to be profaned with commerce and haggling. They had transformed it into a place where pilgrims were fleeced and cheated when they bought animals for sacrifice and exchanged their foreign currency for Temple Shekels so they could pay their annual head tax and other offerings. Quoting Jeremiah 11:7, Jesus declared the Temple had become a den of thieves.
Then Jesus asserted more authority. 14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. (Matthew 21:14)
Rather than praise God for these miraculous healings, Scripture reveals this reaction:
But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. (Matthew 21:12-14).
They asked Jesus: 16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” They are calling you the Messiah, the Son of David foretold in Scripture. This is ridiculous.
Jesus’ response? To quote Psalm 8:2, where God promised to use the praise of infants and children to silence God’s foes.
The chief priests and elders did not give up. The next time that Jesus came to the Temple to teach, they were ready for him. They interrupted his teaching with these questions.
“By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:12-14). They wanted him to confess in public that he was the Messiah and came from God. They wanted to shout “Blasphemy!” “Blasphemy!” “Blasphemy!” This man claims to be God! He must die! They wanted to enlist the support of the crowd in attacking Jesus.
Jesus could have responded in many ways; but his response was ask a question of them.
John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” (Matthew 21:25)
This was not just any question. It revealed much about Jesus. King David, moved by the Holy Spirit spoke of God’s divine attributes in this way:
“To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
to the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.
You save the humble,
but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them low. (2 Samuel 22:26-28)
To be shrewd is to show the ability to accurately assess situations or people and turn this to one's advantage. By this simple question, Jesus would expose the deviousness of the chief priests and elders, use it to his advantage and to further God’s plan for salvation. He did this by focusing all attention on John the Baptist.
John the Baptist had come baptizing in the Jordan River. He called God’s chosen people to repent! He preached the law to them. He held the mirror of the Ten Commandments and all the other statutes found in scripture up to their faces. Many came to see their sinfulness and repented. They were baptized as a sign and symbol of God’s forgiveness. John called them to live in ways that were consistent with their repentance. He called “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” To tax collectors he said: “Don’t collect any more than you are required to.” To soldiers he said, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:10-14)
John had also declared in no uncertain terms that he was not the Messiah. He declared that his baptism of repentance was preparing the chosen people for the coming of the Messiah. He declared that when he baptized Jesus, he heard God declare that Jesus was His Son and he saw the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus, like a dove.
If they believed John the Baptist’s testimony, the answer to their question as to Jesus’ authority was simple. He did these things because he was the Messiah, the only begotten Son of God. The answer to the question as to the source of his authority was equally simple: God the Father, the Holy One of Israel.
John’s preaching was in line with the prophets who preceded him. Confess your sin and ask for forgiveness and that God will act. As King David said: “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord. And you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 35:5) But this baptism was a new thing. He came baptizing out of nowhere. He claimed that his authority to baptize came from the very lips of God. The chief priests and elders had many misgivings about John. They had interrogated him many times.
Jesus had put them on the horns of a dilemma. Regardless of what they thought about John and his baptism, the people saw John as a Prophet and believed his preaching and baptism were from God. They were afraid to say that Baptism came from John’s own thoughts or the thoughts of another human being who gave him the idea. The crowd could become ugly. Their public denouncement of John the Baptist could arouse even stronger support for John and undermine their own authority. The very crowd that they hoped to enlist as their witnesses to Jesus’ blasphemy became a real roadblock to them.
If they agreed with the crowd’s assessment of John, that he and his baptism came from God, then they would have to believe in the one John pointed to as the Messiah. They would have to repent.
By one mere question, the chief priests and the elders found themselves the grips of their fear and pride. They feared of the crowd, and they were too proud to confess Jesus as Lord. So they refused to answer. A stalemate!
Jesus had shown his divine ability to accurately assess the devious hearts and souls of his opponents and turned this to his advantage. Yet didn’t King David say that God saves the humble, is faithful to the faithful, and pure to the pure?
For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, Jesus did answer the questions about his authority and the origins of John’s baptism in the parable that followed. It was about two sons who were loved by their father. Each in turn was asked by their father to work in his vineyard. One said no at first, and then repented and went to work in the vineyard. The other said, I will go to work in the vineyard and then petulantly refused to go. Jesus asked the chief priests and elders which son obeyed his father? It was a no brainer. The son who refused at first but repented.
Both sons were petulant and disobedient. One was open and notorious. “I have better things to do Dad. I will not work in your vineyard!” The other son seemed like the good son, obedient on the surface, promising to obey the father and then intentionally refusing. Yet, one changed. Why did he repent and go work?
Jesus explained the parable. The two sons represented God’s chosen people, sons and daughters of God called by Him from their birth to labor in their Father’s vineyard through lives of faith in God. Like the son who had openly and notoriously refused to work in the vineyard, some had become tax collectors, prostitutes, and other open and notorious sinners. John preached to them. The Holy Spirit used John’s proclamation to cause them to repent and receive the baptism for the forgiveness of sin. Freed from their sin and their past, they were offered another chance to live a life of faith in God. Jesus declared that the chief priests and elders were eyewitnesses to their repentance and transformation. They knew that John’s authority and baptism came from God because only God could bring about such a repentance and transformation in such abject and pitiful sinners. Yet, these members of the Jewish religious elite. Refused to believe in John’s preaching, his baptism, and his pointing to Jesus.
The son who said he would go and work in the vineyard and then refused, loved neither his father, the vineyard, tending the vines, tilling the soil or picking the grapes. He loved only himself and the authority that came with sonship.
Jesus’ most passionate desire was for the chief priests and elders to see that they had become like the son whose mouth had said yes and his actions had said no to his father’s call. He wanted them to see that they had lost their love for their Father and the life in God’s vineyard. They had studied the Scriptures. They knew the Messiah was coming and what to look for. They knew the daily Temple sacrifice and all the festivals including Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Atonement, Passover and Pentecost all pointed to the coming of the Messiah, to the Messiah’s signs and to his work. Yet, they refused to see the fulfillment of these things in the life and teaching of Jesus. They refused to believe. They had pronounced judgement on themselves. How tragic. How sad. However, a divine purpose was served here.
This event occurred during Holy Week. Jesus was on his way to the cross. Jesus had declared to his disciples that had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matthew 16:21) This encounter with the chief priests and elders had served to further harden their already stony hearts. Only such hardness of heart could inspire a desire to make Jesus suffer and die, to hatch a plan to make that desire a reality, and the will to carry it out. Yet, God took their evil hearts and desires and used it for good, to accomplish what was being done, the saving of many lives through the death and the resurrection of Jesus.
This Gospel lesson and the events it reveals are more than just precursors, events that led to Good Friday. God’s word is alive and active. Jesus’ words have meaning and are relevant to us today.
This Gospel lesson is a mirror for me. I can see both sons in me. I remembered the day of my confirmation. I remember being asked this question: You made a public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in Holy Baptism: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear His word and share his supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ Jesus through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus Christ and to strive to bring justice and peace to the earth? I responded yes.
Then Pastor Krempin laid his hands on my head and said: Father in heaven for Jesus’ sake, stir up in Ed the gift of your Holy Spirit; confirm his faith, guide his life, empower him in his serving, give him patience in suffering and bring him to everlasting life.
I made the promise, felt the warmth of the hands, heard the words. But did I really believe them? To my credit, I did go to church most every Sunday, I did hear the word, I did share in the supper. I did not do much proclamation of the Gospel in word and deed. Jesus was always reaching out to me in many and various ways. He was calling. My response to his overtures was mostly just lip service.
But a day came, when the Holy Spirit did stir me and I developed a desire, a hunger for God’s word. I read the Bible for myself from cover to cover. It was a trans-formative experience. It tasted sweet like honeycomb. But it was also bittersweet. The scriptures showed me my hypocrisy, my sin, and most importantly my unbelief. God’s word had judged me thoroughly. The same word, the same Gospel, saved and freed me from my sin, myself, death and the Devil. The word saved me from my past and opened a future for me. It changed my life and the direction of my life. I went to work in the vineyard.
I became involved in the life of my congregation as a leader. I served on boards that provided for the congregation’s administration. I participated in Bible Study and eventually led Bible study. I got involved in men’s ministry and understood how important it is for men to encourage one another to live a life worthy of our high calling in Christ and how we need to hold one another accountable. I began to get involved in the worship life of the congregation, giving children’s sermons and eventually preaching from time to time. Eventually the Holy Spirit called me to full-time ministry and that call was affirmed by the people of Grace Lutheran Church in Kelowna, BC. I still serve there as pastor emeritus.
This transformation did not happen overnight and will continue for the rest of my life. While I believe in God; yet, there were, and on this side of eternity always will be, times of doubt and unbelief. Like the father of the demon possessed son described Mark 9 in I often cried out to God: “I believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!” I have experienced what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7: For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it…. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Like the Apostle Paul I believe that Christ has taken hold of me for a purpose and that purpose will be revealed and become manifest when I step out in faith and work to accomplish the tasks that he sets before me. He has called me to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead, to press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. The past I forget is my sin and unbelief. I can look ahead and move ahead because Jesus’ most precious gift for me is a new start and new opportunities to serve him.
Do you feel like the son who said yes to working in the vineyard and then refused? Are you tired of paying lip service? Believe that Christ has taken hold of you for a purpose and that purpose will be revealed and become manifest as you step out in faith and work to accomplish the tasks that he sets before you. Jesus’ takes hold of you and sets tasks before you through the proclamation of the word and administration of the Sacraments. Answer that call today. Come to the altar and eat the bread. He will really be present in you. He will really take hold of you. Come and drink the wine. His blood shed for the forgiveness of sin will be poured out on you and you will be forgiven. Come to Jesus burdened, aimless and hopeless. He will take your burdens and set you free. He will lead you in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He will dwell with you now in spirit, and promises that you will dwell with him in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.
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