Matt. 21:23-32


     “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. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?’ They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, ‘From heaven’, he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’  But if we say, ‘From men’—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.

     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, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 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.


I have observed through my years of working and teaching in the church that most gatherings have two kinds of people: those who have come to hear and learn and those who come to evaluate and critique.  It was no different for Jesus.  There were many, often multitudes, who came to hear and learn.  Most of them were ordinary, honest, and humble people.  Among them were tax collectors and prostitutes and “sinners”.  Hearing the words of Jesus made their lives different because they took those words to heart.  They received them and applied them to themselves.  They might have been rough cut stones, but it was of this material that Jesus built (and continues to build) His church. 


But there was another group who came.  In this passage it was the chief priests and the elders of the people.  They did not come to hear and learn.  Their purpose was different.  They were the learned ones, the religious ones, the “better” ones; and their mission was to test Jesus, to evaluate His words, and to critique His ministry.  Consequently, they gained nothing from hearing Him or from being in His presence.


In response to them Jesus told the story of two sons.  One made a commitment to his father to serve faithfully but did not keep his promise.  The other started out badly by refusing his father, but later changed his mind and did what his father asked. 


So what is the point of Jesus’ story?  That becomes clear when we look back to the situation in which it was told.  If we think about it, we will come to the conclusion that neither group was particularly good.  The chief priests and elders were self-righteous and arrogant and they didn’t even recognize the Christ when He stood right in front of them.  As for the tax-collectors and prostitutes . . . well, they were tax-collectors and prostitutes; even they didn’t think they were righteous.  But there is a significant difference between the two groups.  The first group neither listened to Jesus nor responded to His teaching.  The second group did listen to Jesus and, because they came humbly seeking, were able to receive His word and repent.  This story is about the need for repentance.  The son who ultimately did his father’s bidding did so because he changed his mind.  That is what repentance is. 


One more stray thought about this incident. . . 

Many people think that it is poor preaching or poor teaching that holds them back in their spiritual development.  “Oh, if I only had a pastor like Joel Osteen or Andy Stanley I would be able to serve the Lord with my whole heart.”  Think about this:  the chief priests and the elders were in the temple that day – I guess you have to give them credit for that.  And who did they hear teaching the Word of God???  Could it have been its Author!  And yet their hearts were unmoved and their lives were unchanged.   


We all need to hear the Word of God.  But, even though hearing is essential, it isn’t sufficient.  We have to be humble enough and open enough to be changed, to be transformed, by that Word.  My prayer for us all is: “Lord, give us ears to hear and hearts that can be changed.”


Pastor Keith Andrews