“Emmanuel’s Rebuke Pt 2” – Matthew 21:23-32

April 24th, 2016

Matthew 21:23-32 (see also Mark 11:27-33 and Luke 20:1-8)

“Emmanuel’s Rebuke Pt 2”

Auxiliary Text: Ezekiel 33:10-20.

Call to Worship from: Psalm 119:1-16


Service Orientation:  Talk is cheap.  Your actions speak much louder than your words.   The object and strength of your faith lies in that for which you are willing to suffer and the extent you are willing to sacrifice.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:   As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. —  James 2:26


Background Information:

  • (v. 23) It was only a couple of days earlier at most that they had seen him turning over the tables of the money changers and expelling those who were trafficking in the sale of birds for sacrifice and exploiting the poor in the process. They could not know what He might do next, what faults in their leadership and lifestyles He might expose.  So, as a pretense to shut down or disrupt His teaching ministry, they demanded to see His credentials, to know the source of His authority to teach the people.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 614)
  • (v. 23) Rabbinical candidates originally had been ordained by a leading rabbi whom they respected and under whose teaching they served a kind of apprenticeship.  And just as the teachings of the leading rabbis varied greatly, so did their ordinations.  Because of widespread abuses, and probably also to centralize rabbinical authority, the Sanhedrin, or high Jewish council, had taken over all responsibility for ordination.

At his ordination a man was declared to be rabbi, elder, and judge, and was given corresponding authority to teach, to express his wisdom, and to make decisions and render verdicts in religious as well as many civil matters.  During the service various discourses and readings were given and hymns sung.  Once ordained, the man had official recognition as a credentialed teacher of Israel.

Jesus had had no such ordination and therefore had no such recognition.  By what authority, then, the leaders asked, did He not only teach and preach but even heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead?  Most especially, why had He presumed to take upon Himself–an untrained, unrecognized, self-appointed rabbi–the task of casting the merchants and moneychangers out of the Temple?  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 285)

  • (v. 23) Some scholars think that now in Matthew the issue of authority becomes a fundamental issue. I think it has been, is now, and will continue to be the fundamental issue of the whole Gospel.  This theme of authority I take to be part one of the three-part harmony of Matthew’s melodic line:  all authority, all nations, all allegiance.  Jesus has been given all authority over all the nations and thus demands total allegiance from everyone.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 613)
  • (vss. 24-25) It is a remarkable testimony to the high view of John the Baptist in this gospel that whereas previously Jesus has condemned those who refused to believe and respond to his own message (11:20-24; 12:41-42), he now places rejection of John’s ministry on the same level. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 805)
  • (v. 25) But these religious leaders could not attribute John’s authority to men, either. Although it is strange to consider, even at this point in time John may have been more famous than Jesus.  John was recognized as a prophet by nearly every Jew, the first since the voice of prophecy in Israel had fallen silent four hundred years before.  When John the Baptist came on the scene, it was the most exciting moment in four centuries.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 615)
  • (v. 25)“Heaven” functions here as a reverent periphrasis for the name of God, as in 3:17; 16:1, 19; 18:18. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 798)
  • (v. 28) Matthew is the only one to record this parable for us. Because it contains a call to repentance, it is a logical follow-up to the previous discussion.  It also seems to form a unit with the two parables that follow:  the parable of the two sons centers on the ministry of John the Baptist; the parable of the tenants centers on the mission of Jesus; and the parable of the wedding banquet centers on the mission of the church.  (W. F. Albright and C.S. Mann, The Anchor Bible: Matthew, 304)
  • (v. 28) The little story on which it is based assumes a small family farm. Such farms often grew grapes, though the specific crop is not emphasized in this parable.  But this is already the second vineyard parable (cf. 20:1-16), and another will immediately follow.  There it will become clear that the vineyard is a symbol of Israel, based on Isaiah’s famous analogy (see on v. 33), so that it would not be difficult for Matthew’s readers to transfer the same symbolism to this story and so to apply it to God’s plans for the care of his people.  The implied fault of the chief priests and elders, then, is not simply the inconsistency of their behavior but their failure to fulfill their God-given role as leaders of Israel.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 803)
  • (v. 28) The key to the correct understanding of this parable is that it is not really praising anyone. It is setting before us a picture of two very imperfect sets of people, of whom one set were nonetheless better than the other.  Neither son in the story was the kind of son to bring full joy to his father.  Both were unsatisfactory; but the one who in the end obeyed was incalculably better than the other.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 302)
  • (vss. 29-31) There is a textual variance here in the ancient manuscripts. It has to do mostly with the order of the two sons in Jesus’s parable.
  • (v. 30) It is significant that the Greek word for “sir” is the same word that is also translated “Lord.” We are reminded of Jesus’ words in his Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21).  (W. F. Albright and C.S. Mann, The Anchor Bible: Matthew, 305)
  • (v. 32) The phrase “the way of righteousness” (a Semitic expression for “the right way”; cf. Prv 8:20 etc.) occurs only here in the NT, but it well suits the behavioral sense of the term which we have seen to be dominant in Matthew. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 806)
  • The first parable had emphasized the character of the their unbelief. The next one, dealing with retribution, would reveal the criminality of their unbelief.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 412)
  • All three parables share two themes–faith and judgment. (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 615)
  • At this point Matthew has taken the single parable which occurs at this point in Mark and Luke and expanded it by the addition of two others whose themes are closely related so that the three together form an impressive and startling body of teaching. All three parables focus on the failure of the current Jerusalem leadership to respond to God’s call, and go on to explore the consequences of their failure for the future of the people of God.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 799-800)
  • In all three parables two groups of people are contrasted, those who assume that they have a right to their privileged position and those who instead find themselves unexpectedly promoted (and who, in 21:31, are the people most despised by those presently in power). (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 800)


The questions to be answered are . . . Why did the chief priests and elders want to see Jesus’ credentials?  And why does Jesus tell this parable as a follow up?


Answer:  Spiritual authority is always responsible for the spiritual health of their flock.   But, as Jesus demonstrates; the chief priests and elders were not truly concerned about spiritual health (a relationship with God) as much as their own reputation and well-being.  Jesus wants us to be assured in our faith but we must verify the authenticity of our faith.


The Word for the Day is . . . Verification


What is Jesus teaching us?:


I-  John’s and Jesus’ authority and faith were verified because they were both willing to suffer and sacrifice for God as well as by the evidence of fruit in their lives.  (Mt 21:24-26; see also: Mt 9:1-8, 27-34; 11:11-12; 12:1-13, 22-45; 17:11-13; 28:18-20; Mk 2:1-12, 23-38; 3:1-6; Lk 5:17-26; 6:1-11; 7:18-35; Rom 1:1-6; Acts 13:32-33; 17:30; Heb 5:8)


Credentials do not equal, give, or make authority.


They were saying, “Show us your credentials!”  It was an attempt to embarrass Jesus.  If he admitted that he had no credentials the people could be expected to lose respect for him.  On the other hand, if he considered himself authorized to do the things he had been doing, was he not arrogating to himself rights that belonged only to God?  Could he not then be accused of being guilty of blasphemous behavior?   (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 776)


Too many care nothing for the clear blessing of God on a persons’ work, if they are not sent out by their own sect or party.  It matters nothing to them that some humble laborer in God’s harvest can point to numerous conversions of souls through his instrumentality; they still cry, “By what authority are you doing these things?”  His success is nothing:  they demand his commission.  His cures are nothing:  they want his diploma.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 196)


The counter-question which he asked was in reality an answer to his enemies’ inquiry.  He knew they dared not deny that John the Baptist was “a man sent from God”; he knew that, this being granted, he needed only to remind them of John’s testimony to himself–had not John declared him to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29)?  Had not John pronounced him to be the Mighty One, who was to “baptize with the Holy Spirit” (Jn 1:33)?  In short, our Lord’s question was a home-thrust to the conscience of his enemies.  If they once conceded the divine authority of John the Baptist’s mission, they must also concede the divinity of his own; if they acknowledged that John came from heaven, they must acknowledge that he himself was the Christ.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 197)


By means of this counter question Jesus was by no means evading the question that had been asked him, for an honest and correct answer to his question would unmistakably have pointed to himself as the Greater One whom John had proclaimed, and would therefore have meant that Jesus’ right or authority to do these things had come from God.  It was while John was baptizing that he had proclaimed Jesus as being his superior (3:11, 12; cf. Jn 1:26, 27), and it was soon after the Lord’s baptism by John that the latter had described Jesus as “the Lamb of God who is taking away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 777)


The apostles went through the test of death to substantiate the veracity of what they were proclaiming.  I believe I can trust their testimony more than that of most people I meet today, people who aren’t willing to walk across the street for what they believe, let alone die for it.  (Josh McDowell, More Than a Carpenter, 70)


His question about John the Baptist implied that both crowds believed that John was a prophet; Jesus’ words should have made them realize that he was victorious over the Pharisees and that his authority was from God.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 420)


II-  We are privileged with as much revelation as we are open to graciously receive by faith.  (Mt 21:27; see also: Rom 1:18-32; 1 Cor 1:18-2:16; 2 Thes 2:9-11)  


Why did the Lord not reveal the source of His authority?  Because it would not have done any good.  The last light God had sent to the leaders was that of John and they had rejected that light;  if they were deliberately blind to the source of John’s authority, they would be equally blind to the source of Christ’s authority.  God only gives us more light when we respond to the light we have.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 411)


They weren’t open to the truth.  They didn’t come in faith.  So Jesus turns the tables on them again, saying in essence, “If you’re not capable enough to judge John the Baptist as Heaven-sent, then you are certainly not capable to judge me.”  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 613)


The gates to God’s kingdom open wide to the bluntly ungodly if they repent, but not a crack for the precisely orthodox if they do not.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 616)


The first parable had emphasized the character of their unbelief.  The next one, dealing with retribution, would reveal the criminality of their unbelief.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 412)


The interchange recorded among these factions of the religious leaders revealed their true motives.  They weren’t interested in the truth; they didn’t want an answer to their question so they could finally understand Jesus–they simply hoped to trap him.  But they found themselves in a position of looking foolish in front of the crowd.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 420)


No amount of testimony from John or evidence from Jesus Himself would bring them to recognize Him as Messiah.  They were trained to discount or explain away facts as well as scriptural truths that were not consistent with their humanly-devised religious beliefs and standards.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 288)


When a person steadfastly refuses to hear God’s truth and to receive His grace God may choose to withdraw Himself.  In face of the unrelenting wickedness of mankind in Noah’s day, the Lord declared, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever” (Gn 6:3).  The Lord finally said of unrepentant Ephraim, “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone” (Hos 4:17), and in relation to rebellious Judah, “He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them” (Isa 63:10).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 288)


If the religious authorities rightly answer it, they will already have the correct answer to their own question.  If they respond, “From heaven,” then they are morally bound to believe John–and John pointed to Jesus.  They would therefore have their answer about Jesus and his authority.  If they respond, “From men” (v. 26), they offer the wrong answer; but they will not dare utter it for fear of the people.  The religious authorities share Herod’s timidity (14:5).

Far from avoiding the religious leaders’ question, Jesus answers it so that the honest seeker of truth, unswayed by public opinion, will not fail to see who he is, while those interested only in snaring him with a captious question are blocked by a hurdle their own shallow pragmatism forbids them to cross.  At the same time Jesus’ question rather strongly hints to the rulers that their false step goes back to broader issues than Jesus’ identity.  If they cannot discern Jesus’ authority, it is because their previous unbelief has blinded their minds to God’s revelation.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 447-8)


Rejection of revelation already given is indeed a slender basis on which to ask for more.  In one sense the Sanhedrin claimed to be spokesmen for God.  But because they misunderstood the revelation already given in the Scriptures and rejected the witness of the Baptist, the leaders proved unequal to their responsibility.  They raised the question of Jesus’ authority; he raised the question of their competence to judge such an issue.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 448)


By asking the Jewish leaders his counter-question, Jesus is not just engaging in a “power play” to ward off his enemies.  If they had answered his question, they would have had their answer to who he is and what he had come to do.  Jesus’ question really is a call to repentance, an eleventh-hour invitation to believe in him as Savior.  This final call to repentance and faith is at the heart of the parable Jesus now tells.  (W. F. Albright and C.S. Mann, The Anchor Bible: Matthew, 303)


The distinction between repentance and believing is simply that repentance stresses turning away from sin and believing stresses turning toward God.  Both are acts of faith.  As Martin Luther says, faith is “a living, busy, active, mighty thing.”  (W. F. Albright and C.S. Mann, The Anchor Bible: Matthew, 305)


The only evidence of our repentance for our former resistance, is, immediately to comply and set to work; and then what is past, shall be pardoned, and all shall be well.  See what a kind Father God is; he resents not the affront of our refusals, as justly he might.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 305)


III-  Jesus destroyed the chief priest’s and elders’ authority and hope of salvation by demonstrating where their faith lie; unlike the verified faith of the tax collectors and prostitutes.  (Mt 21:28-32; see also: Ez 18:21-24; 33:10-20; Mt 9:9-13; 11:19; 21:31-32; 23:3; 28:18-20; Lk 18:9-16; Heb 9:26-27)  


Regardless of how we came to Christ, our present state of obedience indicates our spiritual health.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 421)


It is dangerous to pretend to obey God when our hearts are far from him, because God knows our true intentions.  Our actions must match our words.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 422)


The son that originally refused but then obeyed is like those in Israel who were disobedient to the law, such as the tax collectors and prostitutes.  But when John arrived with the message of true righteousness through the announcement of the arrival of the kingdom of God, they obeyed God’s call through John and were repentant.  By contrast, the religious leaders are like the son who agreed but did nothing.  They were externally obedient to the law, but when God sent his messenger, John the Baptist, they did not obey God’s message through him.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 696)


Sinners who repent will obey God and by it show their repentance.  It does not matter if they once turned their backs on God.  God wants obedience.  The Jewish leaders are hypocritical in that they talk but do not live up to their talk.  In the final analysis, it is the fruit of our lives that proves whether or not we are submissive to God’s message through his messengers.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 696)


People who resist the gospel may be closer to conversion than those who are familiar with it.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 421)


True beliefs are responses tested by time.  Each of the sons in Jesus’ story responded immediately to their father’s request.  As it turned out, their first answers were meaningless.  Each changed his mind.  What they finally did and said mattered most.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 421)


This parable teaches us that promises can never substitute for fine deeds.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 303)


The first son–the I-won’t but-did boy–symbolizes the tax collectors and prostitutes who, in the end, believed John’s message (about repentance of sin and faith in Jesus).  Tax collectors and prostitutes!  The shock here is intentional.  But it is not merely a literary shock; it is a reality shock.  Both tax collectors (rightly condemned for their traitorous collaboration with Rome and greed for gain) and prostitutes (rightly condemned for their sexual immorality)–those who defiantly said to God, “We will not obey your Word”–when they heard John preaching the way of righteousness listened, thought it through, and changed their minds and actions. . . . The second son–the I-will-but-didn’t boy–symbolizes Israel’s leaders, who were so verbally zealous in their obedience to God, yet failed to heed God’s two highest authorized emissaries, John and Jesus.  They professed allegiance to God.  They called themselves his sons and servants.  But when called upon by John (and later by Jesus) to repent of their pride in position and their inward gross immoralities, they refused.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 615)


It tells us that there are two very common classes of people in this world.  First, there are the people whose promises are much better than their practice.  They will promise anything; they make great protestations of piety and fidelity; but their practice lags far behind.  Second, there are those whose practice is far better than their promises.  They claim to be tough, hard-headed materialists, but somehow they are found out doing kindly and generous things, almost in secret, as if they were ashamed of it.  They profess to have no interest in the Church and in religion, and yet in reality they live more Christian lives than many professing Christians.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 302-3)


There are two classes of people.  One class proves better than they promise, the other promises better than they prove.  Those whose first response is gruff and disappointing may later prove hopeful, while hard hearts may lie under fair words.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 115)


Worship Point:  You cannot authentically worship God without saving faith in Jesus.  (Isa 29:13; Jn 4:19-26; bk of Heb )


Gospel Application:  Faith working itself out in love is what pleases God and is the goal of our faith.  (Mt 22:37-42; Jn 15:14; Gal 5:6; Jam 2:14-26; Heb 11:6) 


To Jesus, verbal faith is not saving faith; a doing faith is saving faith.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 616)


Saying and doing are two things; and many there are that say, and do not; it is particularly charged upon the Pharisees, ch. 23:3.  Many with their mouth show much love, but their heart goes another way.  They had a good mind to be religious, but they met with something to be done, that was too hard, or something to be parted with, that was too dear, and so their purposes are to no purpose.  Buds and blossoms are not fruit.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 305-6)


Spiritual Challenge: What has Jesus asked you to do?  Have you done it?  (1 Sm 15:22; Lk 11:28; Jn 14:15, 23-24; 15:10; Acts 4:19; 5:29; Rom 1:5; 2:13; 1 Jn 2:3; 3:22-24; 5:3; 2 Jn 1:6)


If God is speaking to you and you are saying no, you should know that although it may be hard for you to say yes now, it will be even harder to say it the next time around–even assuming that God speaks to you again.  The only safe thing is to give prompt and sincere obedience to God’s call.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 460)


That lesson is, of course, this:  the doing of the will of God is the one thing needful.  Is not that the teaching of both the Old and the New?  See 1 Sm 15:22; Ps 25:4; 27:11; 86:11; 119 passim; 143:10; Isa 2:3; Mt 7:21-27; 28:20; Jn 15:14; Acts 5:29.  And the will of God is that men should everywhere be converted and acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to the glory of God Triune (Mt 3:2; 4:17; 11:28-30; Jn 3:16, 36; 1 Cor 10:31; 2 Cor 10:5).  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 780)


The parable of the two sons warns all of us who are serious about spiritual things to beware, lest our energies be exerted almost entirely in striving after doctrinal correctness and we regard the life of obedience as of little consequence.  (W. F. Albright and C.S. Mann, The Anchor Bible: Matthew, 305)


So What?:  Do you have saving faith in Jesus?  You cannot enter the kingdom of God unless you have saving faith in Jesus.  (Mt 7:21-29; Jn 3:16-21; Acts 4:12; Rom 3:9-5:14; Eph 2:8-9; Jam 2:14-26)


Saving Faith –  You are not saved by your works but your faith is verified through your works.


Yet Jesus’ ministry was nothing if not authoritative.  He demonstrated authority to grant those who believe in Him the right to become children of God (Jn 1:12).  His heavenly father “gave Him authority to execute judgment” (5:27) and “authority over all mankind” to give eternal life to those His Father has given Him (17:2).  He had authority over His own life, “to lay it down,” and over His own resurrection, “to take [His life] up again” (10:18).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 286)








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