Good morning and welcome to Thursday. My name is Alan and I will be taking us to the end of the week. It was great to hear from Becky Wilson yesterday as she shared her thoughts on the start of Matthew chapter 21. Today we are tackling the next section of the same chapter. A section all about authority. There is a withered fig tree, a discussion on faith and prayer, Jesus’ authority questioned by the religious elite and a parable, not bad for just 14 verses!!
It’s worth staying around and listening to the whole of the passage at the end of today’s thought but for now let’s focus v28-32, a short parable.
“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.’
“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 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.
Who gets to tell you what to do?
Government? Are we following the guidelines carefully through Covid or are we making up our own rules as we go along?
Who gets to tell you what to do? Your boss at work? Do you grumble and complain and question the decisions they’ve made?
Who gets to tell you what to do?
The word obedience literally means ‘to hear under’ – to hear instructions as one under authority. So if I am instructed to do something… guess what!? I do it.
In a military state… Roman occupied Palestine…
In strict religious society… led by the religious elite who Jesus is now confronted by…
In a very patriarchal system… dominated by the male elders in the family…
Obedience was commonplace, it was the norm. To our ears today the very word obedience has strong – negative – connotations. We don’t like it, it doesn’t sit comfortably with us, it must be wrong.
Jesus says in v21 “if you have faith” and later “If you believe” – both “faith” and “believe” come from the same word… “faith” and we know that faith is about trust right!? If I put my trust in Jesus then all is well with me! Well yes, but faith is also about faithfulness… about being faithful to God’s instruction. Faith is a term found in a Roman soldier’s oath of allegiance to the Roman emperor. It is a term that denotes who gets the final say, whose authority we are under and whose cause we will ultimately live and die for. Heavy stuff!!
So Jesus tells a story about two sons… One tells his father he will do something and he doesn’t; the other says to his dad he won’t do something but he does…
Despite what the sons said… which one did what their father asked of them? “Simple” say the religious elite, “the one who went off and worked in the vineyard.”
“So what about you?” Jesus asks. You claim to know what God is asking of you but you don’t do it! And yet the tax collectors and prostitutes who made no claim to know or follow God’s will… they get it and are entering the kingdom of God!
And… if that weren’t enough – You saw what was happening and still you didn’t repent and believe him
We have heard it taught that to repent, means a change of mind. That is literally what it means. We were doing something wrong, we recognise it, we admit it and we choose to turn around and go the other way.
But what if repentance isn’t so much about what we did but about the authority that we sit under?
Who gets to tell us what to do? Who has the final say in what we do and how we do it?
Today, this question is less about choosing sides – are we under the authority of Rome or under the authority of the Sanhedrin – the Jewish leaders. No, today it is more a question whether we will concede our right to decide or whether we will voluntarily give up that right to Jesus? Will we seek him, will we wrestle with scripture, will we pray until we get an answer – until we get clarity – about what he is asking of us? Or will we just keep on doing things our way, floundering around in the dark.
The religious leaders questioned John’s authority just as they are now questioning Jesus’ authority…
They claimed to be God’s people, upholding his principles for life and yet they were far from him. A fact brought to light when in Jesus, God himself walked the earth and the earth didn’t recognise him.
The number one song played at funerals is Sinatra’s “My Way.” At the end of our lives, when it’s our turn and our coffins are carried in, will we have chosen with our lives the very same song? Or perhaps our lives will be lived to a different tune, a different melody.
The best life awaits us… an abundant life… a kingdom life is within our grasp. To enter? We simply sign our rights away, throw our lot in with Jesus, head to the vineyard at the Father’s instruction and to the best of our ability do what he asks of us.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it… (Matthew 16:25)
Let’s pray together the words of the Methodist covenant prayer:
‘I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.’ Amen!
BIBLE READING: Matthew 21:18-32
Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig-tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered.
When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. ‘How did the fig-tree wither so quickly?’ they asked.
Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig-tree, but also you can say to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.’
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?’
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. John’s baptism – where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?’
They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will ask, “Then why didn’t you believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”– we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.’
So they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’
Then he said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
‘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.”
‘“I will not,” he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
‘Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go.
‘Which of the two did what his father wanted?’
‘The first,’ they answered.
Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 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.