Sermon: Jesus’ Divine Authority Matthew 21:23-32

Truth Taught- Jesus has the authority to open or shut the door to God’s Kingdom

Introduction

In the passage for today, Jesus’ authority is put into question and challenged by the religious leaders that He has placed under divine judgement.

Where does it come from and who gave it to you? 
We know the answer as we have watched Jesus through the pages of this Gospel that He does have authority.  No one other than His Father gave Him this authority.

Matthew 28:18 (ESV)

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Matthew 21:23–32 (ESV)

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

1.  By What Authority? (21:23-27)

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.


The religious leaders cannot deny what has taken place in and around Jerusalem in the last two days since Jesus has entered.

He has entered Jerusalem in a highly messianic manner.  He has declared Himself to be King Messiah as he rode into the Holy City as their King fulfilling Zechariah 9.  We saw as Jesus went to the Temple and cleansed it from the evil that was being done there fulfilling Zechariah 14.  We also saw His declaration to His followers about their prayers ushering in the Kingdom of God also fulfilling a verse from Zechariah 14.  We also saw as Jesus cursed the religious leaders and the fig tree which represented Judaism as it was.

They cannot refute what has taken place.  So, as with most who cannot stand the facts, they try to get you sidetracked.  They begin questioning other things.  Here they bring up His authority.  Jesus is fully aware of their desperate tactics and is not playing along. 

 “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Who gave You the right?  By what authority do You enter Jerusalem doing all these Messiah things?  The Temple has just been torn apart by Jesus, the fig tree has been cursed and now He comes into the court of the Gentiles and is teaching them and healing them.  They cannot deny what’s taken place so they want to shift the focus to begin questioning Jesus’ credentials and authority.

Now, in thinking about the authority of Christ, perhaps it’s helpful to consider two words. The first is the word dunamis which the Bible translates power. The second is the word exousía which the Bible translates power or authority and is best understood as authority, and there is a difference.

Dunamis or power is the ability to do something. Exousía or authority is the right to do it. And when we say Jesus had authority, we mean not just that He had power, but that He had privilege. God had given Him the privilege of acting in His behalf, in this world, with no regard for the authorities of men. And so, He had both dunamis and exousía. He had the power and He had the privilege. It was given Him by God. And He said that again and again. He said in John’s Gospel at least three or four times, from chapter 5 to 8, “I do what the Father shows Me to do, and that’s exactly what I do.” He had God-given authority.

That’s what authority is.  Jesus had the right to do what He did. 

They already know the facts.  They know where His authority comes from…

Matthew 7:28–29 (ESV)

28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Matthew 8:6–10 (ESV)

“Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.

Matthew 9:6–8 (ESV)

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

They know He has authority to teach, to heal, to command evil spirits and literally anything else He chooses to exercise authority over.

In John chapter 1, we read of another dimension of His authority. It tells us in chapter 1 and verse 12, in a very familiar text, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He the authority to become the children of God, even to them that believe on His name.” He had authority to make children of God. Tremendous authority.  In John 5:27, it says that God had given Him authority to execute judgment. Authority to execute judgment.

He has authority and it is God given authority…

So, our Lord is not ready to play along but asks them a question in return. 

25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

What Jesus does here is link His ministry and authority with John the Baptist.  John was a true prophet who spoke with the authority of God and everyone knew it.  John was like the OT Prophets who came to the Israelites preaching repentance.  They too had authority but for the most part those in charge of Judaism did not affirm their message and did not repent. 
John was the authentic messenger of the promised Messiah.
In ancient rabbinical teaching, a second question often would be asked by the other party to further open up the first question.  The answer to the second question would be the answer to the first.  So, if the Chief Priests and Elders would be truthful enough to answer Jesus’ question about John the Baptist’s authority to baptize and really his entire ministry then they would have the answer to their own question.
Their answer should have been…John’s authority to baptize came from God.  Their answer should have also included that John was a prophet and like the OT prophets he received his authority to preach from God.  So, what John preached was also true and from God.  What did John preach and teach?

Matthew 3:1–3 (ESV)

3 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

       “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

       ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;

make his paths straight.’ ”


Because the Chief Priests and Elders were not willing to admit the truth because they feared man and not God, neither would Jesus answer their question. 
What does Jesus do?  He launches into three parables that are designed to condemn the religious leaders and teach His followers.
These parables teach of a great and unexpected reversal of roles.  Because Jesus does have godly authority, He issues the judgement and Israel will not be those to whom the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is entrusted.  The people of God, the true Israel will be made up of all nations and all peoples.  The Kingdom of God is taken away from Israel and given to the Gentiles who will bear fruit and who will pray for the Kingdom of God to come.  The true Israel has always been a subject of controversy.  The OT called them the remnant today we call true Israel the Church, not replacement theology but those who are called both from the Jews and from the Gentiles.

2.  Parable: The Two Sons (21:28-32)

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

Here, Jesus is still speaking to the Chief Priests and Elders of Judaism and now asks them another question.  What do you think?  I want you to give me your response to this parable.

            A.  Role Reversal and Repentance

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.

Here’s the picture.  There is a small family farm or vineyard.  Israel is often portrayed as a vineyard.  The farmer’s two sons are asked to go into the vineyard and work.  One son said no, he will not work in the vineyard and the other said, yes he would work in the vineyard. 
I pray you see where Jesus is going with His story.  The Scribes and Religious leaders are the son that said yes but did not Go.  God had given them a very important task to fulfill.  They were to teach the people and lead the people into a close relationship to God.  They agreed to but failed to accomplish this task.  They did not go to work in the vineyard.

Then there was the other brother who said no!  but afterward he changed his mind and went.

The Greek for changed his mind is literally, repent. 

2 Corinthians 7:8–9 (ESV)

For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.


We are not told why this son repented but the fact that he did and then went into the vineyard and worked.  This son represents all who come to Christ through repentance and faith. 

            B.  One Enters God’s Kingdom Through Faith and Repentance 

31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.


That was Jesus’ question, what do you think?  Which one of the two did the Father’s will?  They finally answer…The first son.  When they answered, they condemned themselves.  They were the second son, the one who said he would work but never did. 
Notice what Jesus says to them…
The worst sinners you can think of who repent will enter the Kingdom of God and you will not. 
Think of this great Kingdom reversal!  The religious elite will not enter while sinners who repent will.  The repentant prostitute will enter God’s Kingdom through the blood of Christ while those religious elite will not enter at all.

John the Baptist came preaching the Kingdom of God is at hand.  He came in righteousness and with God’s authority and Jesus says to those religious elite, you did not believe.

32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

Conclusion

The emphasis here for us today is two-fold.

Jesus warns us that if there are any who claim to obey God but don’t you are the second son.  There are many today who claim to be Christians but that’s it.  They simply talk a good part.

30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.

Words are cheap and professing something does not make it true.  The religious leaders talked the talk but did not obey God in producing fruit.
Yes, I’m a Christian.  Yes, I attend Church.  Yes, I can answer the questions.  Yes yes yes…but there is no fruit.  Hollow claims will never enter anyone into the Kingdom of God.

Then there are those whom at first refused; at first did not believe.  Then God works and their minds are changed.  They repent and while they said no at first, now they say yes and actually go to work in the vineyard. 

I pray God has granted you repentance and faith.  I pray you are producing fruit. 

Resources Used

The Gospel According to Matthew by RT France

Matthew by Leon Morris

Sermon on this passage by John MacArthur

Matthew by David Dickson

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