Matthew 21: 23-32 NIV

The Authority of Jesus Questioned

23 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?”

24 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. 25 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?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

The Parable of the Two Sons

28 “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.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “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. 32 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.

Which Is Better?  Matthew 21: 23-32, September 25, 2011

Opening story: A group of military leaders back in the day who succeeded in building a super-computer that was able to solve any problem, large or small, strategic or tactical.

These decorated generals with a galaxy of stars pinned to their lapels gathered in front of the new machine for a demonstration.

The engineer conducting the demonstration instructed these officers to feed a difficult tactical problem into it. The military leaders proceeded to describe a hypothetical situation to the computer and then asked the pivotal question: attack or retreat?

This enormous super-computer hummed away for an hour and then printed out its one-word answer . . . YES.

The generals looked at each other, somewhat stupefied. Finally one of them submits a second request to the computer: YES, WHAT? Instantly the computer responded: YES, SIR.

Do we find it easy to say “Yes,” when God confronts us with a possibility for service, but we find it difficult to follow the “Yes” with corresponding obedience?

Perhaps the lesson is: Don’t be afraid to say, “No.”

No, God, I can’t do that.

Then, let’s be willing to have a change of heart.

Isn’t that what God’s always asked of us: to change, to have a change of heart, even a new heart and a right spirit?


In today's text, Jesus tells a story which reveals the traits of the heavenly parent who has hopes and dreams for the earthly children, and yet at the same time also displays compassion and understanding. Jesus describes the father whose expectations are clear. "Go work in the field," he says with authority.

The first son refuses outright, yet after reflection, thinks better of his rebellion and goes out to the vineyard. Despite his initial resistance, he obeys his father.

The second son is more devious. He puts on a good face and immediately agrees with his father's request; however, his actions do not measure up to his words. He ignores his father's wishes and never appears in the vineyard.

Jesus asks the critical question, "Which of the two did the will of his father?" Looking close at this parable, it is clear that Jesus, and this father, has a forgiving heart and sees the bigger picture. It's not the first son's words that are important to Jesus, but his actions.

Jesus allows room for complaining and verbal resistance. The first son, despite his original reluctance and outward show of rebellion, soon chooses obedience. He follows the will of his father and does the work to which he is called. (He might have been busy, distracted, doing something else he thought was important…)

The second son, (however, only talks a good game. He promises much and produces nothing of value) lies, disrespects, selfish, unconcerned, proud, etc.


Jesus points out the difference in their actions to his listeners. The first son, like the tax collectors and the prostitutes, is headed toward the kingdom. Despite the mistakes of the past, this son has now chosen the right route.

The seemingly agreeableness of the second son is compared to the arrogant scribes and Pharisees who are not kingdom bound. One cannot simply talk the talk of faith and obedience. One must walk the walk, even when it means backtracking from a poorly chosen path, and starting over down the narrow path toward eternal life.

Why do we say "No" to God?

What leads us to say "No" to God? What fuels our refusal of God? We might say no to God because we're stubborn, afraid, doubtful, or we want to do something else.   Given the choice -- labor in the field … (volunteer at the food bank, visit a sick neighbor, work on that fundraiser, forgive someone who did you wrong, reconcile with someone estranged from you) … or spend another hour in front of TV or reading a good book -- what would you choose?

Maybe the "No" grows out of a sense of being overworked. Could it be that the first son refuses his father because he believes he has already done enough for the father; perhaps he considers his contribution to the family to be extensive.

Clearly the father thinks otherwise and is not prepared to offer his son an early retirement package.

The father sees what the son is capable of and demands more. The son has a "Who me?" moment -- haven't I already done enough for this family? -- and yet evolves into an obedient servant.

Is God too demanding?

Can God demand too much of God's people? It might seem like it sometimes. The temptation might be to say -- "no, let someone else do it. I've already given." Or, "that's too much to ask of me". Or, "I don't think I'm up to that challenge".

In this parable of Jesus there is hope for anyone who has ever pushed the snooze alarm one too many times and missed an important appointment.

Here is good news for anyone who doubts his ability to make a difference and decides not to even try.

The first son clears the path for naysayers and hesitant, unsure disciples alike. Here also is a challenge for any self-satisfied congregation or individual who assumes that his contribution and effort is enough.

The first son's reaction in the story is similar to those of so many biblical characters including the rebellion of Jonah, the hesitation of Moses and the mishaps of Peter.

These imperfect, inconsistent individuals can offer us comfort and encouragement in our own spiritual journey.

Jesus does not expect perfection. Rather, he invites his followers to learn from their mistakes, put their failings behind them, and then choose to do the right thing.

This story of compassion and forgiveness is good news for anyone who can remember moments of disobedience, times of ignoring the rules, or periods of poor choices. What do we need to put behind us so that we can go forward?

The arms of Jesus are open wide -- like the questioner who asks "how much does Jesus love me?" Jesus spread out his arms and said, “This much.”

For those who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, there is a message of welcome and an invitation to try again. Past blunders will not be counted against them when they are followed by both a change of heart and a change of course.

Followers of Jesus will not be judged on their initial, often impulsive mistakes but rather on the final choices that lead them either closer or farther away from God.

Jesus seems willing to look past the many weaknesses and failures in his followers and invites them to put their earlier bad choices behind them so that they can follow him.

There's a message of God about the compassionate and welcoming parent depicted in the father in the story. The father issues a clear directive and has confidence in the sons' ability to follow it.

The father then allows the sons to make their own decisions on their adherence to his command. Like the father, Jesus is looking for followers who are not mindless, but who, after reflection, are ready to give their all, and follow.

God's merciful invitation is clear. The door to heaven is unlocked and the porch light has been left on to guide even wayward children home. God calls out to the children, "Come home." All that is necessary is to say "Yes" to God, and offer hands, hearts and spirit to God's service.





  June 2021  
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