Title: Sons and Daughters of Obedience
Text: Matthew 21:23-32
FCF: We often struggle with our desire to appear more put together than we actually are.
Prop: God rejects the proud and gives grace to the humble, so we must bear much fruit.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 21. Last week Jesus introduced us to the take home point for us for the next several episodes in this narrative. Namely, that all those who have been called of God to be His people, are therefore called to bear much fruit for Him. He curses the fig tree as an illustration of Israel’s failure to bear fruit for Him, and reveals to the disciples that if they continue in dependence on and surrender to God, they will be able to bear much fruit – even fruit that was formerly impossible. Like access to the presence of God, and an eternal sacrifice for sin. Applying all this we came away with the understanding that God enables all those in Christ to bear fruit. It is by His enabling that this is so and by no other means. Failure to bear fruit is a faith problem not a will power problem. In the text today we will see the same application from another perspective. I’m in Matthew 21 starting in verse 23. I’m reading from the New American Standard Bible but follow along in whatever version you prefer. If you don’t have a bible let someone know so we can get you one.
Last week, although the application was the same, Jesus was dealing primarily with His disciples. This week Jesus turns His attention to the religious elite and will leave His attention on them through chapter 22. First to the temple authorities and then to the Pharisees and Sadducees. So how does Jesus convey this same message of fruit bearing to them? Let’s look.
I.) God rejects the proud and unrepentant, so we must bear much fruit. (23-27)
a. [Slide 2] 23 – When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?”
i. This episode is replicated almost identically in Mark and Luke. The only difference is that Mark and Luke include the scribes along with the chief priests and elders. This may be Matthew’s way of conveying to his readers that this group was from the Sanhedrin council. More on that in a moment.
ii. The Chief priests represent the governing body over the temple.
iii. The Scribes are experts in the law, many of whom would be Pharisees, which are a religious sect of Judaism.
iv. The elders of the people were laypeople who had been granted power and authority over the city of Jerusalem. Although much of their sphere of influence would be mitigated by Roman rule, the people generally would look to them as learned ones and seek their guidance and even, approval.
v. The interesting thing is that each of these groups would be represented on the Sanhedrin council, which would be the governing body of Israel at that time for all affairs Rome allowed them to govern themselves on.
vi. This suggests that the Sanhedrin actually met with and sent this group of people to Jesus for this purpose. But what was the purpose?
vii. We can discover that by understanding what they are asking of Jesus.
viii. By what authority are you doing these things – and who gave you this authority?
1. What are they asking Him?’
a. It really has to do with the things that Jesus was doing. He rode into the temple on a colt, he chased people out of the temple, he accepted the title Son of David, against the wishes of the chief priests and scribes.
b. In other words, he was acting in the temple, teaching and doing things without the consent of the temple managers and religious authorities. Them. The Sanhedrin.
c. So their question is a necessary and calculated response to Jesus’ actions. Essentially they are saying, Hey buddy… we grant authority to do things in the temple… so where did you get yours? Because it certainly was not from us.
2. So they ask Him this because they absolutely have to challenge Him, because He has challenged them. Their influence and power is being challenged. And they must put an end to it immediately.
3. Their question is – what is your source for what you have been doing and teaching.
4. When we see this as an examination looking for the source of Christ’s actions and teachings… it will help us to understand better Jesus’ response.
b. [Slide 3] 24 – Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.
i. Jesus strikes up a deal. I’ll answer your question if you answer mine.
ii. Interestingly enough, we do not have in any gospel, the chief priest, scribes, or elders agreeing to this.
iii. Jesus just kinda says it, and then proceeds to ask the question.
iv. In Mark after he asks the question he actually says. “Answer me” Which makes me think that Jesus was being a little pushy here. He didn’t wait for them to agree to the terms.
v. Nevertheless His terms are just and even acceptable forms of debate. It was often used in Rabbinical debate to answer a question with a question. And Jesus here, if you notice, is answering two questions with one. Which means this seems to be a rather merciful deal. That is until His one question proves to be more challenging than both of theirs.
vi. But what is His question?
c. [Slide 4] 25 – “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?”
i. So understanding the backdrop of the chief priests, scribes and elder’s questions actually helps us understand Jesus’ question too.
ii. When we realize that seeking the source of the baptism of John is a short hand way of seeking the authority behind the actions and teachings of John the Baptist… then we start to understand what Jesus is asking.
iii. But we should probably remind ourselves what the actions and teachings of John were.
iv. So let’s go back to chapter 3. You see although we have taken almost two years to get to where we are in this book, Matthew has written this gospel to have been read and absorbed in one sitting. It is a book that you should be able to sit down and read without breaks. Therefore, we understand, that Matthew expects his readers to be familiar with what he has already said. Which would include the actions and teachings of John the Baptist. He doesn’t spell it out for us again, because he already did.
v. [Slide 5] So then, looking at chapter 3, starting in verse1 going to verse 12 let’s read and remind ourselves of the teaching of John the Baptist.
1. His teaching was to repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand. The word “repent” means to turn or change your whole person. Perhaps a good word picture is when a person defects from one country to another. They turn their back on everything in their country and join another. John identifies the Kingdom they are defecting to here… the kingdom of heaven. But what is the kingdom they are defecting from?
2. In verse 6 we see people confessing their sins. In verse 7 and 8 John rebukes the Pharisees and Sadducees because they do not bear fruit of repentance. What is clear is that John is saying to defect from the kingdom or mastership of sin and bind ourselves to the kingdom of God.
3. John publicizes that defection from sin to God’s Kingdom with a baptism in water.
4. It is obvious that the actions and teachings of John the Baptist, are the same actions and teachings of Jesus. And it is repentance and belief. Turning from your wicked ways and depending on and surrendering to God. Not to mention that John says that His whole mission was to point the way to Jesus.
vi. [Slide 6] So Jesus asking for the source of John’s actions and teachings was actually asking them their own question right back to them.
vii. “You tell me guys… am I from God or am I from man?”
viii. You may think that their answer would be easy… but they wrestle with it. What are the options, and what are the risks?
d. [Slide 7] And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’
i. Ok so heaven is the first option. Heaven obviously means from God or from Divine origin, meaning it cannot be questioned.
ii. Here’s the problem.
iii. If they say John’s actions and teachings are from God, they are saying that Jesus’ actions and teachings are from God. But if this is true, then they are in trouble… because they did not believe John, and they absolutely WILL NOT believe Jesus.
iv. They did not repent and they have not believed. John’s assessment that they did not bear fruit of repentance… WAS STILL TRUE OF THEM!
v. This option is simply not allowed.
vi. What is option two?
e. [Slide 8] 26 – But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all consider John to be a prophet.”
i. Ok so option two is from men, or from human origin. Meaning that Jesus and John both are making this up and their authority for their teaching is from men, and is therefore subject to earthly authority. Their authority.
ii. So what is the risk in saying that John’s teaching was from men? So why not just say that it was from human origin?
iii. They feared the people, because they considered John to be a prophet from God.
iv. Now why would they fear the people? Was everyone that prone to mob rule?
v. Ok… yes. In three days by mob rule they would settle for nothing less than the crucifixion of Jesus the Son of David. Mob rule is a real thing and could easily happen.
vi. Also, is John dead or alive? Dead. People tend not to speak ill of the dead. Especially when they were killed by a pagan king out of fear.
vii. What is clear, is that the people were on John’s side. They respected John, and saw him much like an Old Testament prophet. Therefore, the leaders cannot be against John.
viii. So option two is out.
ix. What is option 3?
f. [Slide 9] 27 – And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.”
i. What is clear is that they did not say this because they actually didn’t know. They clearly thought that John was not of God. And they certainly thought that Jesus was not of God.
ii. They answer this, as a politically safe answer… thinking that by this answer their unbelief of John’s message will not be pointed out and that their opposition of John will be kept hidden from the people.
iii. Of course by not saying John was of God, they tip their hand.
iv. And as we’ll see in the next segment of this conversation, their unbelief will be exposed. But more on that in a moment.
v. First let’s finish up what Jesus says.
g. [Slide 10] He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
i. They couldn’t – or wouldn’t – tell Jesus by what authority John preached his message…
ii. So, keeping his agreement with them, he did not tell them by what authority He taught His message.
iii. By their own admission, they are unable, or at least claim they are unable to determine the authority by which John performed his baptism and brought his message.
iv. If they are unable to determine where John’s authority came from – perhaps they are not worthy to ask and judge the authority of Jesus either. Since their authority was form the same source… AND THEY KENW IT.
h. [Slide 11] In this first segment of this episode, we see the extreme arrogance of the religious leaders. They, being the watchful religious eyes for Israel, feel it is necessary to make sure everyone knows that Jesus is not operating under their approval. They seek to supplant Him and force him to seek their approval before doing anything in the temple.
i. But in a masterful reversal, Jesus not only undermines their ability to judge the validity of His authority, since they are barely holding their own authority over the people , but he also calls into question the depth of their own devotion to God, having rejected what everyone else saw as one of His prophets.
In the book of James it is revealed that God will reject the proud and give grace to the humble. Jesus has rejected the proud religious elite. But if God will not accept the religious elite of Israel, what hope does all of Israel have? If the best they have is not good enough, then who can be accepted by God. Jesus gives an answer in the next segment of this episode.
II.) Those whom God has accepted obey His voice, so we must bear much fruit. (28-32)
a. [Slide 12] 28-29 – 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 ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went.
i. Jesus doesn’t let the conversation end though. He isn’t done with them. In fact, He doesn’t want them to escape without making public their thoughts about not believing John. But he does so through a parable.
ii. This son, in word and intention, was rebellious and obstinate. He had no intention of obeying his father. In fact, this is quite a strong expression of defiance in the Greek.
iii. But he later regretted that decision.
iv. The word regretted in this parable can also be translated repented.
v. But the NASB translates it, appropriately here, as regret. When we hear the word repent, we think of John’s message about a whole sale turning, a complete defection from a previous life to a new one. This word here more appropriately means a change of mind and mind only.
vi. Here we see regret, or sorrow. It simply means to see a previous action and wish to change it. When Judas brought the blood money back to the chief priests after betraying Jesus, the bible says that he regretted his decision. Same word used here. Mental remorse.
vii. This level of regret can be a stepping stone to that total person change that John the Baptist commanded.
viii. In fact, this particular son in this parable does change. He does make it right.
ix. So why did Jesus not use the word repent? Perhaps this word would have been too strong for such a simple example. Or perhaps Jesus has plans for this word later.
x. The story continues…
b. [Slide 13] 30 – The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go.
i. Here the situation is reversed.
ii. The father commands the son in the exact same way, and the son shows verbal submission to the father.
iii. But when it comes to obedience, the son is rebellious.
iv. Jesus then gives a quiz to the religious leaders.
c. [Slide 14] 31 – Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.
i. They get the answer right. It was the first son who ended up doing the will of the father.
ii. But the application of this parable is scathing!
iii. Jesus brings up out of left field, seemingly unrelated subject matter. Tax collectors and prostitutes. These were the lowest of the low in their society. These two classes of people represented the vilest sinners. The scum of humanity. For our purposes insert Hitler here. So Jesus is saying, for all intents and purposes, people like Hitler will get into the kingdom of God before the religious elite.
iv. What is Jesus talking about? That is, just, CRAZY!
v. The phrase “before you” is difficult to pin down. It can mean before in order, like they will enter then you will. Or it can mean before in priority or quality, like they will enter instead of you.
vi. Both meanings have quite shocking ramifications to the religious elite.
vii. And perhaps even we are struggling with wondering how Hitler would enter heaven before these who are religious. Is Jesus saying that the secret to entering heaven is to be as wicked as you can be?
viii. Jesus explains His reasoning.
d. [Slide 15] 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. John came, preaching repentance, preaching righteousness. John came describing everyone’s deep need of right standing before God because they were wicked and wayward.
ii. And those who were tax collectors, those who were prostitutes. Those who were the Hitlers of their society. They were repenting of their sins and begging God to change their hearts. They were defecting from their previous lives and coming to God to be made right.
iii. They were the first son. Jesus clearly identifies who the first son is in this parable. It is these ones who initially were defiantly disobedient, yet realized their doom and begged for mercy, and He changed their lives! They defected and produced fruit of that defection. They were brought from darkness to light.
iv. Perhaps you have heard stories of people wicked and evil being converted and living polar opposite to what they were. Perhaps you realize that this is true of all who have come to Christ.
v. And yet at seeing all this unfold – seeing these tax collectors and prostitutes confessing their sins and leaving their lifestyles – and remember – THAT THIS WAS MATTHEW’S STORY!
vi. After seeing all this – what was the response of the religious elite?
vii. Who is the second son friends? Oh, friends. You must heed the warning of the second son.
viii. Jesus uses the word again. Regret. He says they did not even feel remorse or regret to believe. This clearly tells these religious elite that they were NOT the first son. Because unlike how he regretted and turned… THEY DID NOT!
ix. So what does that mean?
x. They are the second sons.
xi. They said they would obey… and they didn’t. They played the part of a loyal son, but defiantly lived the opposite.
e. But it is not only the religious elite here that is the second son. They serve as representatives for all 1st Century Judaism. They are the best that the religion had to offer. And they won’t make it into the kingdom.
f. It is the same theme that Matthew has been developing. Israel had the truth of the word of God for centuries but they did not understand and they did not believe. Jesus, being the authority of God on earth, makes it all clear.
g. [Slide 16] God does not desire lip service! He desires obedience. But none can obey. And the first to realize this, are the wicked, or those who have been shown they are wicked. When a man is confronted with absolute truth. When that truth is ignited beyond his mind but to His heart. As God draws a man or woman, they quickly realize that they ARE Hitler and MUCH WORSE.
h. God puts down the proud. He suppresses them. He brings them low. But the humble, those who have recognized their sin. Those who have been shown their helpless state… to them He grants grace, so they can be lifted up and obey.
i. Everyone who will be in the Kingdom of God is the first son… but woe to the second son. Who bears a form of godliness but is powerless.
j. For they will be the ones standing at his throne saying “Lord, Lord, Have we not prophesied in your name? Have we not cast out demons and done many powerful deeds in your name? “
k. They will be the ones to which Christ says “Depart from me, you lawbreakers, for I never knew you.
God rejects the proud and unrepentant, but gives grace to the humbled and repentant. These are huge truths that we cannot afford to miss, and the application for us of course, is to bear much fruit. To be sons and daughters of obedience.
For those who have been humbled to see their sin and have defected from their sin masters, God has granted mercy to set them free through Christ on His cross. God’s mercy is to free us from sin’s penalty.
But God’s grace is for something else entirely. I fear when we hear the word grace, we think of God giving us latitude. In fact, if you were to give grace to someone, it means to give them a pass. To not hold them accountable for something. We have conflated grace and mercy. They are not the same.
God’s grace, also through the cross of Christ, is to bind our hearts to a new master. To a new King. To the way of righteousness. God’s grace enables us to be obedient to Him. God’s grace is to free us from sin’s power.
Mercy frees us from the penalty of sin, grace frees us from the power of sin, so we are able to obey our God.
And all genuine followers of Christ have been given mercy AND grace.
That is why Jesus says if you love me you will keep my commands. That is why Jesus says here in this text that those who live the way of righteousness will inherit God’s kingdom. It is because God’s grace changes us into a new creature.
He does not just save us FROM our sin, but He also saves us TO righteousness.
[Slide 17 (blank)(end)]
The take home point for us today is an application we have been trying to hammer home here at CBC for some time now. Nevertheless, it seems that no matter how often we speak of it, people still leave confused, or worse, they think we are promoting a works based salvation. So let me try to be very clear.
First century Judaism was legal, culturally accepted, and politically charged. First century Judaism had tiers of practitioners that included those who rarely went to the temple at all, all the way up to the fanatics like the Pharisees, Sadducees and Zealots. But the tiers weren’t all that important, because as long as you were a Son of Abraham, well then you would enter the Kingdom of God. He might be more pleased with some over others – but all would enter.
I have said from the beginning of this study in Matthew that the similarities between first century Judaism and twenty first century American Christianity are staggering. This passage speaks to the American church goer. This passage speaks to all who have claimed the name of Christ. This passage speaks to any who would classify themselves as Christians. And what does it say? It says that only those who have repented and produced fruit of righteousness will enter the kingdom of God. What does that mean?
The only way to gain access to the Kingdom is to be shown that you are unworthy to enter it. Those who are humbled. Those who defect from their sin. They are shown mercy and given grace. Which means of course…
The only bible approved method to verify that you are indeed a child of God, is to analyze your works and see if they are of supernatural origin. If all you have to show for your faith is a list of external things that you have done or don’t do, but you lack the Holy Spirit’s fruit, gifts, power and passion… STOP CALLING YOURSELF A CHRISTIAN. Please. Just. Stop.
We all experience dry times, and we all grieve the Spirit. But listen to me… if your only assurance that you are a child of God is that you prayed a prayer - you have no assurance whatsoever. You gaining assurance of your salvation based on a prayer you made, is the same thing the religious leaders did when they said they would inherit the Kingdom because they were Sons of Abraham. This is why tax collectors and prostitutes would enter before them… because they had no need of saving. They had no need of change. They were perfect the way they were. And many who have claimed Christ in this country, although they’d never say it, they genuinely believe that God is lucky to have them on His side. Many who have prayed a prayer think they have they have God in a jam, because He can no longer judge them for their sin. They have sought His mercy – but want nothing of His grace.
But Jesus did not die on the cross to show you mercy only, but to give you grace to be a new creature. He did not die to give you forgiveness only but for you to bring Him glory by being the reward for His suffering. He died so that you may live… but that specifically you may live FOR HIM.
Words mean nothing. Obedience is the only pattern, the only rubric, the only standard by which we can be assured that Christ is in us. Because that is the evidence that God’s grace is upon us. His continued work in us is the only evidence allowed.
How much fruit do I have to lack before I can be sure that I am not a true Christian? How do I know that I have failed too often? How long can I grieve the Spirit before it points to a lack of Salvation?
These are ridiculous questions. Why? Because they are completely backward. We obsess over whether or not we are saved. We want a lemon law for our salvation. Some guarantee that it took. The only such guarantee in scripture is a life that continues to bear fruit for their creator.
So you’ve stopped bearing fruit? Repent and believe. You’ve grieved the Spirit? Repent and believe? You aren’t a Christian? Repent and believe.
See that… That is why those questions don’t matter. Because the gospel affects them all. The gospel speaks to them all. The gospel is the answer to them all.
Humble yourself before the Lord Submit to Him and He will give you grace to bear much fruit.