“Authority to Heal, Authority to Lead” Matthew 21:23-36

Context—yesterday was the triumphal entry (explain)

  • After entering on a donkey he made his way to the temple and cleared it
  • “my house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers”

So, when we read in v. 23 “by what authority do you these things”, these things

  • Probably specifically clearing the temple, but might mean all of his ministry
  • The chief priests and elders hadn’t liked Jesus for a long time
  • Here’s something I hadn’t considered that Spurgeon did, “He had taken their breath away by his daring purgation of the temple, unarmed and unaided; and only after a night’s interval dared they question his right to act as he had done. [1]
    • What Spurgeon noticed that I had missed is that Jesus was able to do it at all
      • “Unarmed and unaided”
      • No one could stop him
      • He was sorely outnumbered—especially in the temple, yet they couldn’t stop him
      • They were incensed at what he had done, but they must have had some sense he did it in the authority of God since he did it all.
  • I love how Jesus answers them, “I will also ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.  The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or man?”
    • Many commentators over the years have remarked how they didn’t deserve a direct answer from Jesus—so he poses a question:
    • Of course, by saying “from heaven”, Jesus means from God himself
    • He is seeking to expose their lack of authority
    • V.25 b “they discussed it among themselves, saying, ‘if we say “from heaven” he will say to us , ‘why then did you not believe him’.  But if we say, “from man”, we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
      • Their authority wasn’t real at all, because it had no real basis
      • Real authority acts decisively without regard to crowd-think
  • They won’t answer so, Jesus also won’t
    • not directly, but Jesus being Jesus adeptly moves from direct speech to parables. 
    • It’s in these parables that we pick up Jesus’ teaching about his authority.
    • In these parables you don’t read the word “authority” anywhere, but in verses 23-27 the word came up four times
      • The authority to command in the first parable and the authority to collect in the second is automatic in a sense
      • The father can command, and the master of the vineyard is expected to collect the fruits
      • The problem lies in the subjects
        • The sons don’t respond perfectly—but one does better than the other
          • Initial resistance isn’t as bad as continued defiance; and repentance is inherent to the covenant relationship with God
        • The tenants never respond well, so they will be replaced with new tenants who do respond
          • God’s people show themselves by responding to and believing in God’s savior

First, the late listener and second, the new tenants. 

  1. The Late Listener
    1. Straight forward:  the Son who said “no” but then did “yes” is the obedient son
    1. A father with two sons
      1. Both sons represent the covenant people—Israelites
      1. One son has a great appearance, he says yes
        1. These are the religious leaders
      1. The other is the opposite, he says no—looks terrible on the outside, in fact when you read v.31 you realize Jesus is talking about appalling sinners: tax collectors and prostitutes
    1. In this parable, going into the vineyard isn’t so much the work of the laborers like it was in chapter 20 or even the harvest of the tenants which follows, going into the vineyard indicates a change of heart—repentance when confronted with the truth
      1. Jesus asks, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
      1. The Israelites were confronted with John’s truth.  The leaders rejected it—killing John and they will kill Jesus, too.  However, the greatest sinners accepted John and Jesus!  Turning to God in repentance.
      1. The chief priests, elders, Pharisees, and Sadducees didn’t—they had relied on their own righteousness for a long time, and they weren’t going to change for anyone.  Not even the Christ.
    1. What is this parable telling us to do?
      1. Don’t be a hypocrite.  Follow Jesus with your whole heart, body, and mind.
      1. And Remember following Jesus requires daily repentance!
      1. 1 Cor 10:31 “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”
      1. Christian, you have an obligation to God, Ecc. 4:4 “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.”
      1. Don’t be the first son who said “sure dad, I’ll go” and then never really engage in your Christian faith or the Christian community around you
        1. Spiritual habits
        1. Join the church
        1. Be baptized, partake of the Lord’s Supper
      1. Recognize your sin like the sinners who followed Jesus
        1. Confess
        1. Repent
        1. Repeat—like shampoo directions
  2. The New Tenants
    1. In this parable the tenants are the chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, and Sadducees—the religious leaders who have rejected Christ
    1. This parable’s meaning is real simple:
      1. The servants are the OT in its entirety
        1. The law on Mt. Sinai
        1. The history of the patriarchs and God’s steadfast faithfulness
        1. The prophets like Elijah, Elisha, and Samuel
        1. The priesthood, the temple, the sacrifices
        1. All of these things came to Israel in service of God, seeking to harvest the fruits of righteousness from God’s people
        1. But, like our Approach revealed, God’s vineyard didn’t yield justice or righteousness—it produced bloodshed and an outcry!
      1. And the Son is Jesus, God’s only begotten Son
    1. The Kingdom of God requires a savior who will harvest the fruit
    1. The wicked tenants had fruit, so much fruit that they were willing to kill for it
      1. Jesus addresses the heart issue—here it’s not so much about being generous with the gifts/fruits, but it’s about understanding that the Master was the source of the fruits all along
      1. They thought being born a Jew in the Promised Land was enough
      1. God’s blessings like being born to a believing family, like the Jews were, and being given a place that nurtures your faith, like the Promised land or for us, the Church, are your Covenant Blessings, covenant inheritance even that we ought deny you
        1. But, they aren’t enough
        1. God gave those blessings to point you to Jesus
          1. Like baptism isn’t a sign pointing to your faith, but should point you to God’s faithfulness in giving you Christ
    1. His Son who had equal authority with the Father
      1. Jesus is answering their question through the parable.
        1. The servants have come and gone, I am the son with all the authority of the Father.
        1. Time to put up or shut up—the day of reckoning.
      1. Some of us might have a question about the relationship of God the Son to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit—because it’s not easily grasped
        1. All three persons are God and they are all the same God:  God is the Son as God is the Father and God is the Spirit
        1. They are all made up of the same divine stuff/material—“the Son is being of one essence with the Father and the Spirit, together”
        1. This means the Son and the Spirit are as Sovereign as the Father—God the Father didn’t force God the Son into anything and the Father didn’t punish the Son for our sins without the Son also punishing sins, but the Son simultaneously punished and was punished for our sins
          1. There’s no possibility of seeing the Fahter as the bad-guy who abused his Son, because if the Father is bad, then so is the Son
          1. That’s just the tip of the iceberg the Trinity is a mystery—we can’t plumb its depths, but what we should do is stand in wonder at the shores, peering longingly into the being of God himself
      1. The old tenants will be replaced with “a people producing the fruits of the kingdom
        1. The old tenants are the religious leaders, But the new tenants are people who do trust in Jesus because they know themselves and they know God—they need a savior!
          1. The religious leaders point to their works, to their faith, to their devotion, but all of that was like the fig tree in v19 that Jesus cursed, it had the appearance of fruit, but no real fruit
          1. The new tenants understand that whatever fruit they produced, had to be produced in them.
        1. There’s no kingdom of God without the Savior God sent
          1. He produces the fruit, because He comes in the power and authority of God
  3. Two applications—the charge and comfort of the gospel
    1. The Charge—at the core of this passage, is Jesus’ authority.
      1. Anyone who will be Jesus’ will follow him by following his word
      1. The Bible is your authority if you are a Christian
      1. John 5:19-22  Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,
      1. Respecting Scripture’s authority is a major deficiency in modern Christianity
        1. So-called Christians defending so many things condemned in the Bible
          1. Sexual issues being pre-eminent now
          1. Also totalitarian types of authority in congregations, homes, and denominations
        1. There’s also so-called Christians defending politicians’ characters when history has proven them degenerate
        1. The Bible is your authority
        1. Romans 14:22-23  The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
        1. That “whatever” in Romans 14:23 means everything that you say, everything that you think,  and everything that you do must proceed from faith
        1. And for that to be true:  for everything to proceed from faith, it has to be informed by the ground of saving faith—the Bible.
      1. Christian living goes beyond our actions, it pierces our hearts and souls, delving deep into where we love what is most important to us and think about the things that shape our consciences.
        1. Does that describe you? 
        1. I know it doesn’t always describe me.  May God pierce our hearts and grant the grace of repentance again, and again.
        1. We all fail, but in our growth we should desire this more and more.
        1. Desiring it:  tasting of it—consciences, minds that think on God’s goodness, faithfulness, our future sinless state in glory; once you taste it, you’ll want it more and more
    1. Gospel comfort—the Lord Jesus who was given the authority to charge us to follow is also our Lord Jesus who has the authority to heal us, restore us, and even use the darkness of the curse to make us better off than we were before
      1. It’s not always our sin that hurts us—many times in this life we are sinned against. 
        1. Jesus can fix even that.
      1. I quoted John 5 earlier, and there, in John 5, Jesus goes on to say, ““Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
      1. Just a few chapters after this, in John 11, Jesus will exert this authority for his dear friend Lazarus.  He simply said, “Lazarus, come out” and his friend who was dead walks out of the tomb.
      1. God calls his people to very difficult and dark situations, but even in the darkness He gave us a Savior who has the authority to use those trials to transform us into new creatures.
        1. Newness doesn’t come instead of trials, but through the trials comes newness of life.
        1. Jesus didn’t pronounce us forgiven—Jesus died for our forgiveness.
        1. As hard as it is to live in the muck of life, under the darkness of sin’s lingering effects—Jesus will fix it if you believe he can.  That’s what true faith is believing He can fix you.
        1. Your fix in this life won’t be permanent or complete, you will have some victories that are permanent and complete, but the hardest part of faith just might be the waiting.
        1. Waiting for Jesus’ return, waiting for the comfort of the Spirit, waiting for final redemption—it will come.
    1. Jesus commands you to follow and he also promises to be your comfort—look to him, trust in him, remind yourself of his truths when you can’t “just believe”  and wait for the Lord, he will come. <PAUSE>  Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Commentary on the Book of Matthew (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1893), 182.