Tonight we will conclude our study of Matthew chapter 21 by reading versed 23-46.
Jesus returns to Jerusalem after having cleansed the temple. He begins teaching in the temple and is asked by the elders where He gets the authority to teach. By Jesus’s calculated answer, we can deduce that He was suspicious of their motives. He detects that they seek to expose Him as a phony, or trap Him into making a statement that they could use against Him. So Jesus answers their question with a question of His own: “The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?”
With this question, Jesus creates a trap of His own for them. Either way they answer, they put themselves at a disadvantage considering their set of goals: the Jewish elders there in Jerusalem seem determined to maintain their power and influence. To say that John’s baptism was from Heaven (God) gives weight to John’s teachings and claims of the new Messiah (Jesus). On the other hand, if they say that John’s baptism was from men, this is akin to saying that it is meaningless and has little or no spiritual consequence. Saying this would turn the people against them because many follow John the Baptist. So they remain silent; taking no position is the best position for them considering their value of retaining power. What this does is reveals a lack of conviction and a lack of dedication to the truth. Instead of truly being interested in God’s message, the elders were more interested in selfish things and were concerned with their image and the retribution of the people. Jesus knew this, and in their attempt to expose Him, He actually exposes them.
Verses 28-32 build on this condemnation of the elders. In this brief parable, Jesus shows the elders how they are like the son that said that he would go work in the vineyard, but did not. The elders purport spiritual lives of leadership and piety, but really they are corrupt and they value the wrong things. The followers of John the Baptist, however worldly-seeming, were actually more justified before God because they were earnestly seeking Him and the believed His message. I wonder where I would fall if I were to have been alive back then. Would I have followed John and believed or would I have stayed with the stagnant faith of the elders?
The lesson for us here is that we should be aware of, and examine our motives because our motives are usually an indicator of what we value. If, like the elders, our behavior reveals motives that are supported by the wrong values, we can see this and examine why we behave the way we do. It is not usually easy to see where we have gone wrong in our thinking. But we are definitely very susceptible to making mistakes as humans and our behavior is one way we can backtrack to see how to adjust our values. Once our values are aligned with God, our perspectives and behavior will naturally regulate. Not an easy exercise, for sure, but a worthwhile one!
The final section for tonight is verses 33-46: the parable of the wicked vinedressers. In this parable, the landowner is God, the vinedressers are the Jewish people, the landowner’s servants are the prophets of God and the landowner’s son is Jesus.
The point of this parable takes the idea that the Jewish leadership have been poor stewards of God’s message further. In this instance, judgment from God is implied and the recipients of God’s future blessings are those that have truly heard Him: “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”
That statement of one falling on the stone and breaking him is another reference I believe, to the humility required to become a child of God. Arrogance, boasting and an attitude of “better than” are ungodly and when the stone falls on people that seek themselves instead of God, it will grind them to powder, disintegrating them.
The additional and sobering point to take away from this parable is that everyone will end up interacting with the stone. We will either let it break us through obedience and the grace of God, or else we will will resist and be subject to judgment. Jesus is the stone. How will you respond?
“For it is written: “ As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.”” Romans 14:11