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.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Just who do you think you are? What gives you the right? Who gave you the authority to do these things?” The chief priests and elders want to know because Jesus has been throwing their world into chaos.
What had Jesus been doing that was causing such a ruckus? Well, the day before this confrontation had been Palm Sunday. Jesus rode into Jerusalem like He was some kind of Messiah. He marched His way straight into the Temple, tossed around the tables of the money changers, and drove the merchants and their animals out with a whip saying, “This is My house” (Mt. 21:13). Then, Jesus had the audacity to heal the blind and the lame in the Temple as the children continued to cry out, “Hosanna (‘Save us now’) to the Son of David!” (Mt. 21:15). It had been anything but a relaxing Sunday for the leaders.
Monday morning rolls around. Jesus enters the Temple again, and before He can even hang up His coat or get His coffee. There they are asking, “Let’s see some credentials here, Jesus. License and registration, please. What and who gives you the authority to do all of this?”
Today, it seems like we usually think of ‘authority’ in terms of having power to do this or that. But authority has more to do with having permission to do certain things. A judge has the authority, the permission, to make rulings on cases. A police officer has the authority, the permission, to pull you over for speeding. As much as I would like to pull people over for their traffic violations, I don’t have that authority.
Instead, the authority I have has been given to me by God through you, my dear congregation. You have called me to be your pastor, the Word and Sacrament guy, in this house of God. And that is a responsibility and authority I do not take lightly. Please, pray for me.
But what gives Jesus the right to do what He is doing? It should have been clear to them. With all the healing and miracles going on, it’s pretty clear this rabbi from Nazareth isn’t your typical son of a carpenter. The crowds had seen it too. Remember, after Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, the crowds were astonished at Jesus’ words because He taught as one who had authority and not as one of their scribes (Mt. 7:28-29) – not like these guys.
But when you ask the wrong question, you will get the wrong answer. And when you ask Jesus the wrong question, you’re likely to have a question asked of you. And that is exactly what happens. “I’ll tell you by what authority only after you answer Me this, wise guys: John’s baptism, where did it come from? I’ll even make it multiple choice – from God or from man?”
And you can hear their discussion as they huddle up. “It had to come from God.” “No, you idiot. We can’t say that. He’ll ask us why we didn’t listen to John.” “Ok. Fine. Let’s say that it came from men.” “Are you insane? The people thought John was a prophet, and we can’t make them mad at us.” “Well, what do you suggest we say then?” “Hey, I have an idea. Let’s just say, ‘We don’t know.’” “Yeah, I like that plan.” “Me too.” “Ok then. Go team. Break!”
I like to imagine one guy coming out of that huddle thinking, “I hope no one ever writes this conversation down because we’ll look like idiots for the rest of recorded history.”
Because they come back with their pathetic excuse of a response, Jesus refuses to show them His authorization. But Jesus, being God, still wants them to turn from their wicked ways of unbelief and live. So He tells them the parable.
A man tells his two sons to work in the vineyard. The first one is a wishy-washy twerp and says, “Naw, I don’t think so,” but later changes his mind and goes. The other son is a politician and says, “Yes, sir. I go, sir,” but doesn’t go. Who does the will of the father? The most obvious answer is the first, but what kind of parent is proud of their child who verbally defies them at every turn even if they eventually do what they are asked.
But that’s the point, and here’s the rub. How many of you do the will of your heavenly Father? The God who has given you the Ten Commandments – have no other gods, keep My name holy, listen to My Word, honor your parents, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet – do you do these things?
You end up being both of these sons. Sometimes, you say, “Yes, sir. I obey, sir,” but then you go gossiping and hating your neighbor. You do not gladly hear and learn God’s Word, so you aren’t keeping the Commandments. Sometimes, you say, “I don’t want to do that,” but, for some reason, you end up doing it anyway.
But here is what Jesus wants to get these leaders to understand, and what He wants to get you to understand. You know that the first who says, “No, I’m not going,” but changes his mind, he is the one who does the will of his father. That is the main point of the parable – the change of mind. Repentance. Repentance is what this is all about – and faith.
That’s why Jesus says that the tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of heaven before the religious know-it-alls. Those sinners believed John. What was John’s constant sermon? “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:2).
You see, repentance is one aspect of saving faith. To repent is first to believe what God says about your sins. They are damnable.
The tax collectors and prostitutes believed John. They believed that their lives of sin weren’t getting them anywhere. Neither is yours. Your selfishness and pride, your words of piety but lack of love, your actions that are done simply out of a sense of obligation – they don’t get you into the kingdom of heaven.
Repentance is the first part of faith. Believe your sins are what they are. And believe Jesus when He says about your sins that they are forgiven. Believe what Jesus says as He invites you to His table now and says, “This is My Body. This is My Blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”
Jesus is asked, “By what authority do you do these things?” And how does Matthew’s Gospel end? With Jesus saying “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:18-20).
Jesus takes His authority and does not us it for His own advantage. He uses it for yours. Repent. Believe. Be absolved, forgiven, washed, and fed. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.