A Power Struggle and the Grace and Peace of a Change of Mind - Pentecost 17
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Matthew 21:23-32
September 27, 2020

We see in the Gospel reading today a struggle for authority. It is a struggle between Jesus and the leaders of the people of Israel. It also makes us think of the ultimate authority in our lives. And then Jesus teaches us another parable about two sons and repentance.

The reading opens with Jesus entering the temple in Jerusalem one day. He was immediately confronted by the chief priests and elders of the people. They had questions for Jesus. Their questions were: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Mat. 21:23).

There are a couple of things implied in their questions. One was that Jesus did not get whatever authority He had from them, otherwise, why would they be demanding that Jesus give them an account of His authority? And it is true; Jesus did not get His authority from them. Another thing implied is that they did not like what Jesus was doing.

So, what was Jesus doing that prompted the questions? For this, let’s go back into chapter 20 in Matthew’s Gospel where we find Jesus on His way up to Jerusalem. We catch up to Him as He was leaving Jericho on His way to Jerusalem (Mat. 20:29). Undoubtedly, there were representatives and agents of the chief priests, and elders of the people in the crowd watching Him. As Jesus was leaving the outskirts of Jericho, two men who were unable to see were sitting there beside the road (Mat. 20:30). They hear a commotion. This is unusual. It becomes evident that the commotion is because Jesus is passing by. They cry out as loud as they can: “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David” (Mat. 20:30)

Hold on a second. They are calling Jesus Lord and Son of David. The representatives and agents of the chief priests and elders of the people undoubtedly heard this. What will Jesus do?

He stops. He asks the two men what they want. They ask Jesus for their sight. Jesus has compassion, touches their eyes, and they immediately were able to see (Mat. 20:32-34).

Jesus is now drawing near to Jerusalem. He instructs two of his disciples to get Him some transportation, a colt the foal of a donkey. They do so (Mat. 21:1-3).

Jesus is riding on the colt as He enters Jerusalem. It is the triumphal entry. The crowds are shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord” (Mat. 21:5).

The next day, Jesus enters the temple. He finds a lot of commerce going on there. There is a currency exchange, the buying and selling of sacrificial animals. He over turns the tables of the currency exchange. He drives the cattle and sheep out of the temple (Mat. 21:12-13). Then the people brought those who were crippled to Him and more people who could not see. He healed them (Mat. 21:14). The children were running to and fro throughout the temple saying, “Hosanna to the Son of the David” (Mat. 21:15)

The chief priests and scribes, that is, those who taught the law out of the books of Moses, saw and heard all this. They became angry.

“Jesus,” they said, “Do you not hear what the children are saying about You?” (Mat. 21:16). “Yes,” He says, “But have you not read from the Psalms: ‘Out of the mouths of little children and infants, you have perfected praise’” (Mat. 21:16).

And then in our reading today, Jesus was teaching. He was taking over the temple and teaching the word of God. In the midst of His doing so He made the crippled able to walk and the blind able to see (Mat. 21:23). But the only thing the chief priests and elders of the people could see was control.

Control of the temple. Control of teaching. This was at the heart of it. But they did not first inquire as to whether Jesus was doing anything contrary to the word of God. They did not first seek to realize who Jesus really was.

These are things that Jesus was doing and the things happening around Him that prompted the questions. And so they ask: By what authority do you do these things and who gave it to you?

When we see their questions against this background, it would be comical, if it were not so tragic, as the saying goes. The little children know the answer, but they don’t. What power enables the crippled to walk and the blind to see, I mean for real? Who gives such power? The little children know the answer. God does.

The fact of the matter was that the Lord had come to His temple that day. He promised He would by the prophet Malachi. Now He is there. He is Jesus. They do not see. All they can see about Jesus is the threat to their power. So they demand answers. 

How it must have been a combination of grief, exasperation over such arrogant blindness, and a little divine anger with which Jesus looked into the eyes of those men. Their impudence and lack of humility and repentance was astounding. Jesus makes a deal with them. Answer me this question and I will answer your questions. They need to be brought to repentance, and Jesus is giving them a chance to see the light.

Jesus asks them, “The baptism that John the Baptist came baptizing with and preaching, was it from God or from men?” (Mat. 21:25). He could have also gone on to say, “John came in the way of righteousness, so take your time and think about it before you answer” (Mat. 21:32).

They deliberate. It’s like a flow chart of logic. Imagine a white board, and we write the flow chart on it as we go through this. If we say this, then he will say this, and we will look like impenitent idiots. So, if we say that John’s baptism was from God. He will say, why then did you not believe him? If we say, however, that it was from men, then we will get into trouble with the people because they thought John was a prophet. It seems that either way, they will look like idiots, which is not a very good solution to them. So they say, “We do not know” (Mat. 21:27).

Classic. Why not just face up to the truth? How many times has this question been asked? How many times has God had to witness this: why don’t you just face up to the truth? I do not desire the death of the sinner (Ex. 18:32). So just be honest, fess up, and live.

But this is so hard for us humans. We have so many reasons, so many excuses, so many rationalizations. Yet, God has spoken His word. A huge issue is the one of authority. Will we regard Christ and His word as the ultimate authority? It is a problem for the chief priests and elders of the people with respect to what they thought was their proper jurisdiction. It can be a huge problem for rulers today. But it is also a problem for every person, for we claim an absolute authority over ourselves, even in relation to God and the truth. It is an authority we need to yield to God and His word.

In the parable, Jesus reveals something important about the patience and grace of God, because the fact that there is room and opportunity for change of mind and heart with God is grace and mercy.

Jesus spoke this parable in response to the chief priests and elders. The father of the two sons comes to the first son and says: “Go and work in the vineyard today.” The son says, “No. No one, not even you, father, can tell me what to do.” Later, he has a change of mind, that is, he comes to repentance. He feels sorry for his rebellion. He comes to see how it is wrong. He comes to see this even against himself and his notions that he is a law unto himself. He has a change of mind. He goes (Mat. 21:28-29). Jesus says that in this repentance, he is doing the will of his father.

The other son puts on airs and the appearance of obedience and righteousness in the initial response: “Sure thing, father. I will go and do what you say” (Mat. 21:30). He may even have done this to make himself look good over against the first son who did not go. But this second son does not go. He says he will, but he doesn’t (Mat. 21:30). His hypocrisy is evident. He also does not later have a change of mind, come to repentance, and go. He does not do the will of the father.

Jesus compares the first son to tax collectors and prostitutes, whom the chief priests and elders of the people utterly despised. John came preaching in the way of righteousness. They listened and came to see any error in their ways. The chief priests and elders of the people did not listen to John. Apparently, they thought there was no error in their ways that they needed to have a change of mind about (Mat. 21:32-33).

The first son realizes that there is a higher authority than Himself. And in this realization, he then also finds the grace of God in Christ who forgives and gives second chances, who even in His grace, regards the turning toward the truth and going in the change of mind as doing God’s will. This is pure grace and mercy from God. The second son apparently came to no such realization. He remained his own authority. As such, He also missed God’s grace.

This struggle for authority between us humans and God is a real one. Being made wise by Jesus through His word, let us pray that He would lead us and keep us always in the way of that change of mind where one’s will surrenders to God’s will. Because in that surrender, we find things that are life and peace with God in Christ. We find the place for receiving the blessing of forgiveness, we find opportunity for second chances, and then we find the peace of walking in the will of God, according to His word. Amen.


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