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Doing the Father's Will


Matthew 21:23‑32


A Challenge to Christ's Authority


Jesus was walking in the temple area when the chief priests, scribes and elders of the people confronted him (Mark 11:27).  McGarvey says, "The Jewish Sanhedrin was generally designated by thus naming its three constituent parts."  They came at this time to expose Jesus as one who had no authority to teach in or cleanse the temple.  It was likely their hope to retake their place as the dominate religious force in the lives of the Jewish people.  So, they asked him where he got his authority to do the things he did.


Jesus promised to answer if they would answer one question from him.  He asked them whether John's baptism was from heaven or men.  The problem for the members of the Sanhedrin was readily apparent.  If they said John baptized under heaven's authority, he would ask them why they did not believe him.  They, after all, had neither been baptized by him nor yielded to the one who came after him, that is, Jesus (John 1:6‑7, 15, 32‑34; 3:22‑36; 10:40‑42).  If they said his authority was from men, they would be faced with the anger of the multitudes who believed him.  So, they said they did not know.  By so answering, they showed an unwillingness to yield to those empowered by God.  Therefore, Jesus said he would not answer their question.


The Repentant Son


Jesus then told a parable about a father with two sons.  The sons clearly represent the two classes of people among the Jews of Christ's day.  The first class was that of the common Jewish people.  In the parable, the father went to his first son and asked him to go into his vineyard and work.  Though he was asked nicely, the son said, "I will not."  The publicans and harlots had rejected God's will, as could be seen by their sinful lives.  Like this son, they openly refused to do God's bidding.


Later, the first son repented and went to work in his father's vineyard.  Similarly, the publicans and harlots had yielded to the teachings of John (Matthew 3:1‑6).  When Jesus passed through Jericho, he met a publican named Zacchaeus.  This man determined to make restitution for any wrongs he had done the people and got to hear Jesus say, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham" (Luke 19:1‑10).  In other words, the common folks repented and went when they heard God's word proclaimed.


The Son Who Refused To Do the Father's Will


The second son represents the chief priests, scribes and elders.  When the father asked this son to go work in his vineyard, he immediately said he would.  However, he never went.  The Pharisees and others who considered themselves to be of the religious elite appeared to be anxious to do as God instructed.  Yet, their lives showed disrespect for the Father's wishes (Matthew 3:7‑12).  Matthew 23 is a record of Jesus' scathing denunciation of their hypocritical response.  They pretended to be quite religious while inwardly harboring vile sins.


Trapped By Their Own Response


When Jesus asked which of the sons did the will of the father, they had to say the first.  Remember, Nathan used a parable to help David see his sin (2 Samuel 12:1‑13).  In fact, David condemned himself when he condemned the actions of the man in Nathan's parable.  Similarly, the answer now given to the Lord exposes the actions of the Sanhedrin as opposed to those of the publicans and harlots.  The religious leaders viewed the common people, especially the publicans and harlots, as having no special knowledge of God's will.  They saw them as being ignorant of God's word.  They clearly did not see their response as giving anyone credibility (John 7:45‑49).


Refusing God's Spokesman


Despite all of this, the publicans and harlots had recognized John as a prophet.  They had heeded his call to repentance.  The religious leaders had failed to respond to God's call either before or after those they viewed as common sinners.  The Pharisees demanded strict adherence to their demands for righteousness.  John lived a righteous life.  Yet, they refused to accept John as a spokesman in authority from God.  The Lord knew such rejection showed the nature of their heart.  There was no need for him to openly proclaim that his authority had come from God.  They would reject him just as they had the baptizer.


God Still Calls Us to Work in His Vineyard


It is important readers today see the parable as still applicable.  All men today must still be called to repentance (Luke 24:46‑47; 1 Timothy 2:4).  It is not enough to be a good moral person.  Instead, each who would be saved must obey the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21).  Just as the father asked his sons to work "today," we must respond now to the gospel call (Proverbs 27:1; 2 Corinthians 6:2).  Further, it is possible to appear to be righteous to those around us without ever intending to do the will of the Father.  The heart plays a critical role in our obedience (John 4:24; Proverbs 23:7).  Finally, we must recognize Jesus as God's spokesman for our time and yield to the message he brought down from the Father (Hebrews 1:1‑4).  He made sure all truth was delivered by sending the Holy Spirit.  We can know all that is necessary to have eternal life and be God like (John 16:13; 2 Peter 1:3). 


Discussion Questions


1.  Tell the religious leaders' question to Jesus and his response.


2.  What do the words and actions of the first son represent to you?


3.  What do the words and actions of the second son represent to you?


 4.  What was the impact of Jesus' question at the end of the parable and the answer given by the religious leaders?


 5.  What other lessons do you find in this parable?



 --Gary Hampton, author, evangelist, and preacher training school director