Matthew 21:23-32
Those Entering Into The Kingdom Of God First

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

The Response Regarding [Jesus'] Authority

1. Today's passage of scripture begins as follows. "When Jesus went into the temple compound and was teaching, the chief priests and elders of the people came to him and said, 'By what authority are you doing these things? Who has given you this authority?'," (verse twenty-three). The reason they had found fault [with Jesus] like this was the commotion just a day before. It is recorded in verses twelve and following. "After that, Jesus went into the temple area, he drove out all those who were selling in it, and he knocked down the stands of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves. Then he said, 'Thus, says the scripture, My house should be called a house of prayer. But, you are making it into a den of thieves," (verses twelve and thirteen).

2. The people exchanging money and selling animals in the temple compound were not doing business without proper permission. They had properly obtained the approval of the temple authorities. But, Jesus, though, drove out these merchants from the area. What's more, he was teaching these people themselves in the [same] temple area from which he had expelled them. Since he acted like this, naturally, he would be questioned about it. "Who gave [somebody like] you this kind of authority?" Such is the scene written in our text.

3. Jesus' answer to this question is clear. "By what authority" -- It is by God's authority. "Who gave that authority [to me]?" -- God gave it [to me]. However, Jesus did not directly answer their question. He replied back to them with a question. "So, I too will ask one thing. If you answer it, I also will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. As for the authority of John, where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or, was it from humankind?," (verses twenty-four and twenty-five).

4. An account about "the baptism of John" is recorded in chapter three of this gospel book, which says that before Jesus inaugurated his public work, [the account] was inaugurated by the figure of John the Baptizer and pointed to the baptismal movement that had been the rage of the times. Baptism itself was not something that John had started. The Jewish world already had in it some kind of baptizing of its converts. When a pagan was converted to Judaism, he or she underwent a baptism of purification. But, John the Baptizer began to practice this baptism on the Jews themselves along with a cry to "Repent! The kingdom of God is near." There was a newness in John's movement. In short, whether Gentile or Jew, everyone was equal, turned to God and dealt with as a sinner obliged to seek for forgiveness. This message from John had rocked the hearts of many. Those receptive to John's message had come to John while he was in the Judean wilderness, and confessed their own sins, sought for forgiveness, were baptized, and began to live a new way.

5. But, not everybody came to John. Naturally, there were people who wouldn't. "The chief priests and the elders of the people" as mentioned in the text are representative of those [who didn't come]. They were the ones standing at the top. As possessors of the religious authority they were the ones who had been instructing the people. They were the ones who had been leading the people in how to live right. They refused to go to John to admit they were sinners. -- They were reluctant to see this point. Jesus knew that they had not received John's message. That's why he asked them, "As for the baptism of John, is it from heaven, or, is it from men?"

6. They debated amongst themselves, "If we say 'It comes from heaven,' he will probably say to us, 'Then why didn't you believe John?' If we say, 'It is from men,' we fear the crowd because everyone felt John was a prophet," (verses twenty-five and twenty-six). They were stuck in their answer [to him] and only answered, "We don't know." Whereupon, Jesus said, "That being the case, neither will I tell [you] by what authority I am doing these things."

7. It looked so good. It was a total win for Jesus. Had Jesus said, "It is from God," perhaps they would have arrested Jesus right on the spot claiming that he "blasphemed God." Jesus had put aside these sinister designs of theirs in an excellent way.

8. But, if he was only [interested] in putting aside their question by dodging it, then the conversation with them should have been terminated right then and there. However, Jesus did not release them from it. Instead, another question, going the next level, goes out to them from Jesus. "So then, what do you think about this?" Then he related the parable of two sons. Upon listening to this parable, we will want to come back to the first conversation [between Jesus and these chief priests and elders] again.

The Parable Of The Two Sons

9. We are reading again from verses twenty-eight on. "So then, what do you think about this? A certain man had two sons. He went to the older one and said, 'Son, go work in the vineyard today.' The older [son] answered, 'No.' But afterwards he changed his mind and went out into it. [The father] went to his younger [son] as well. When he told him the same thing, the younger [son] answered, 'Father, I will.' But, he did not go out into it. Which of these two [sons] did the will of his father?," (verses twenty-eight through thirty-one).

10. The message so far is simple. But, even a simple message as this requires paying attention to it. -- Because one may easily wind up convinced that he or she has understood it. When one just hears this, it may end up a moral lesson about "It's not good enough to just say 'Yes.' Action must accompany [words]. Actions are truly important." That may very well have been how they had heard it, which is why to the question given to them of "Which one did the will of the father?," they gave the answer right away of "the older [son]." As a matter of fact, they thought actions were all that important. They thought that it was important to do what the Lord told them to do and to live in strict observance of the law. Therefore, they looked down upon the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and the sinners who did not observe the law. They had no doubts but believed that people like themselves who had acted in accordance with the will of God and who had lived righteously would enter into the kingdom of God.

11. But what Jesus said next was some very astonishing and eye opening words for these [men expecting to enter the kingdom of God]. "When they said, 'The elder [son],' Jesus said, 'I truly say to you. The tax collectors and the harlots will enter into the kingdom of God ahead of you," (verse thirty-one). In other words, Jesus was telling them with the parable just before that even though the younger [son] answered, "Father, I will," in the example of this younger one who did not go is [seen] "the chief priests and the elders of the people." And he told them that even though the older [son] answered, "No," in this example of this one who would later change his mind and go out into [the vineyard] is [seen] "the tax collectors and the harlots."

12. How idiotic! That's exactly what they must have thought. But, Jesus gave the following explanation for it. "I truly say to you. The tax collectors and the harlots will enter into the kingdom of God ahead of you because even though John came and showed the way of righteousness, you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots did. You had seen it, but afterwards you did not change your minds but refused to believe," (verses thirty-one and thirty-two).

13. In other words the issue was related to what the Father wills for them and what the Father expects them to do. God sent John the Baptizer and showed the way of righteousness. What God willed was that they believe John the Baptizer and follow that way of righteousness. What was that "way of righteousness?" It was that they admit that they were sinners, turn to God, and ask for forgiveness. Doing this was preparation for welcoming in the messiah and the way of righteousness leading to salvation.

14. The tax collectors and the harlots admitted that they were sinners, asked for forgiveness of sins, and were baptized. They had up to now been living like that older brother who said "No" to his father. But, ultimately they did "according to the will of the father."

15. On the other hand, the chief priests and the elders of the people are "the good son" as seen by the world. They are "the good son" like the younger brother who said right away, "Father, I will." But, he did not do what the father wanted. They had refused to answer the call given them [by God] through John. They did not admit that they themselves were sinners who must repent. Yet though, it just might have been that [some of them] did admit in their hearts and minds the true condition of their being. But, in the final analysis, they refused to make it public. Their public image and respectability were more important to them than living true with God. They were good sons, but did not do "the will of the father."

16. Thus, the Lord said, "The tax collectors and the harlots will enter into the kingdom of God ahead of you." That is, the tax collectors and the harlots are meeting the messiah, the Christ before [them]. They are taking part in the forgiveness of sin before them. They are taking part in God's grace. They are beginning to live with God before them. They are having a part in salvation ahead of them. They are entering the kingdom of God ahead of them.

Back Again To The Answers On Authority

17. As we look at this, the reason Jesus referred to John the Baptizer, in the reply regarding authority, becomes clear. It was not in a mere attempt to evade a direct answer to "By what authority are you doing these things?" If that were so, as I mentioned earlier, the parable of the two sons would be unnecessary. Jesus had brought up John the Baptizer in order to show the kind of authority that had been given to Jesus. [His authority] was inseparably linked to forgiveness of sins. The authority that God had granted to Christ is an authority capable of granting forgiveness for sin.

18. It is this story appearing in chapter nine of this gospel that clearly shows this. The Lord said to the palsied man brought to him, "Son, take heart. Your sins are forgiven," (9:2). The scribes of the law, having heard this, thought, "This man is blaspheming God!," because the act of declaring forgiveness of sin is equivalent to making oneself equal to God. But, looking penetratively into their hearts, the Lord said, "That you might know that the son of man has the authority to forgive sin upon the earth," (9:6), and so he healed the man with the palsy.

19. This then is the authority that God granted to Christ, it is the authority to cause forgiveness of sin. The declaration of sin's forgiveness, unless backed up by authority, is only mere feel-good words of no effect. The guilty feelings from sin might be removed by comforting words. But, the sin debt itself cannot be removed by comforting words. Sin is still there. The removal of the sin debt is through the forgiveness of sin as it is declared by God's authority.

20. To believe in Christ is none other than placing oneself under the authority of the Christ who is capable of giving forgiveness of sin. It is only those who know that they are sinners and that they are bearing the burden of their sin debt, who can [believe] that. It is only those who admit being a sinner and seek for forgiveness of their sin.

21. Thus, Jesus had asked them, "As for the baptism of John, is it from heaven, or, is it from men?" For, even if one speaks on God's authority, it will have no meaning for those who reject the way of righteousness which John had shown. Thus, Jesus says to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."

22. But, this doesn't mean to say that Jesus had given up on them. Were that really the case, he should have just cut off the conversation at that point. But, Jesus doesn't seem to have done that. He hangs on and keeps speaking to them and persistently so at that. He gave them the parable of the two sons. This was Jesus' last call out to them because Jesus had already entered his last week in Jerusalem. "Even though you have seen it, you did not change your minds afterwards, but refused to believe him." -- This is really a call out to them to turn about-face, change their minds about it from now on, accept the way of righteousness that John showed, and place themselves under the authority of Christ.

23. The Lord said, "The tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter into the kingdom of God ahead of you." -- For sure, they certainly will be ahead of them. They are good afterwards. They do not insist, "I am righteous. I am good," but admit they are sinners in need of forgiveness, place themselves under Him who is able to forgive sin, and should expect to enter into the kingdom of God. That was what God had willed. And still, the will of the [Heavenly] Father has not changed today either. The Father is also speaking to us today. "Son, go into the vineyard, today. Go and do what the Father wills, today."

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