Matthew 21:23-32 The one who believes in Christ will also live as He lived
23 When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.” 27 And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
28 “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he 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 that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get 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 prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.
The Jewish leaders, being envious of Jesus’s popularity confronted Jesus while He was teaching in the temple. They questioned His authority through which He healed the sick, cleansed the temple and taught the people. Jesus answered them conscientiously by asking them concerning the authority of John the baptist. Here, Jesus reveals the root of their evil, which is their desire to dominate others. Today’s devotion teaches us that one who believes in Christ will also live as He lived. And the authenticity of any ministry is shown by its effectiveness in transforming lives.
“By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?”
Jesus, while teaching at the temple was interrupted by the chief priests and elders of the people. These high temple officials and head of influential families approached Jesus in an attempt to vilify Him and to invalidate His ministry. Jesus’s teachings had encroached on the Jewish leadership where He confronted them on many occasions:
Jesus said to them, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors ME with their lips, but their heart is far away from ME. Matthew 15:7-9
Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:27-28
The Jewish leaders were harping on the fact that Jesus had no backing from the de facto Jewish establishment. And by virtue of the fact that Jesus’s followers were uneducated and insignificant, Jesus had no authority to do “these things”. “These things” refers to Jesus’s teachings, miraculous healings and the cleansing of the temple. Jesus’s response was intended on exposing a critical deficiency in the Jewish beliefs; He was not deflecting attention away from Himself to John the Baptist.
“The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?”
By that time, John the Baptist was already beheaded. Here, Jesus asserted that if they would not recognise John’s divine authority, then they would also not recognise His divine authority. To recognise Jesus’s divine authority is equivalent to acknowledging Him as the divine-human; as God coming in the flesh. Jesus has said in no uncertain terms that He is God in human form: “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30). While John’s baptism carried the call of repentance, Jesus came to put His divinity within man so that man may live the divine life. It follows that any man who does not acknowledge Christ as the divine-human cannot receive His divine life or eternal life. However, repentance is the requisite to believing Jesus as the divine-human. Without repentance, faith in Jesus is meaningless. Paul said,
“John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” Acts 19:4
Nevertheless, the Jews reasoned rigorously among themselves but could find no way to discredit Jesus. Hence, to avoid public embarrassment and the wrath of the people they abstained from answering Jesus’s question.
A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’
The Jewish leaders had wanted to manipulate Jesus into confessing His true identity so that they may prosecute Him with blasphemy (see John 10:24). However, Jesus not only evaded their attempt to ensnare Him, He turned the tables on them, exposing their spiritual blindness. Jesus pressed in firmly, “But what do you think?…” He presented a parable of two sons, who upon the request from the father to work in the vineyard displayed contrasting behaviours. The first son instinctively rejected the father’s request but changed his mind and went. The other son verbally agreed to go but never showed up. Jesus invited the Jews to comment on the two sons, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” The Jews answered rightly that it was the first son that obeyed. Jesus seized the opportunity to hit home the truth, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.” The shock value of Jesus’s words can be appreciated from the fact that the Jewish leaders despised the tax collectors and the prostitutes and treated them as scums. Here, Jesus grants these scums of the society, who say no to God, but repent to do God’s will rightful entry into God’s kingdom. But the Jewish leaders who explicitly say yes to God but did not do what He says, and therefore fail to enter. The parable asserts that it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. Romans 2:13. The religious authorities portray an appearance of righteousness but reject the righteousness that John stands for. They did not believe in John’s baptism even after seeing the tax collectors and prostitutes coming to repentance. The Jewish leaders are in the eyes of Jesus despicable because they do not look to the repentance of sinners, but are inclined to use religion to dominate others.
One who acknowledges Jesus as the divine-human will also live as He lived.
The reverse is true that one who does not endeavour to live as He lived denies Jesus as the divine-human. The reason that God was incarnated as a human being, is to lay the path of salvation for man to follow. This He did by overcoming His sinful human weakness and subsequently God glorified His humanity. The way Jesus lived His life shows the continual process of regeneration towards godliness. That said, salvation is never the believer’s goal, but continual repentance and regeneration is. Jesus asserts that unless they receive John’s baptism of repentance, they can never come to acknowledge Him as God and Lord. To acknowledge Jesus as God and Saviour without repentance is like marrying for the purpose of material benefits and convenience, which is no better than a gold digger.
That is why John the baptist must come on the scene before the Messiah appears. Those who think that faith in Christ has granted them irrevocable salvation without the need for continual regeneration towards godliness are misinformed. And those who suppose that justification comes through hearing the gospel alone are delusional. Jesus proclaimed in the Beatitudes that “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8. Indeed, without continual repentance, no one can see God.
That said, how can one be assured of his salvation? A believer is assured when he sees evidences of the divine life in himself; when he loves not with words but in works. The apostle John said,
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 1 John 3:18-20
That said, God does not punish us for the sins we do not support or intend on repeating. Even when our heart condemns us, God alone knows if we truly love Him and desire the truth. Nevertheless, if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9.
The authenticity of any ministry is shown by its effectiveness in transforming lives.
Jesus, by asking the Jews concerning the source of John’s authority was indirectly endorsing His ministry. What is the distinctive of John’s ministry that warrants Christ’s commendation? By virtue of the fact that many tax collectors and prostitutes believed him and repented of their ways.
Many ministries prided themselves on their mass appeal. They graded themselves by the size of their buildings, popularity and financial resources. The question is: how many in their congregation has experienced transformation and living the abundant life?! Abundant life is characterised by the following:
- Shame -> Glory
- Poverty -> Prosperity
- Sorrow -> Joy
- Sickness -> Health
- Violence -> Peace
- Death -> Eternal Life
- Hatred -> Love
- Failure -> Fruitfulness
The fact is: many continue to live in the shame of sin refusing to give up its pleasures. They did not experience breakthrough in their finances, because they love money more than God. And the love of money pierced them with many sorrows. Such are continually plagued with sicknesses and violence is a common place. Yet they continue to frequent the churches that keep them hoping for breakthroughs without the need for regeneration. They are deceived into thinking that all is well. Yet destruction is nearer than ever.
The gospel of Christ is focused on regeneration as opposed to salvation and blessing. What brings salvation and blessing is not more assurances of God’s promises, but rather the preaching of the truth that results in the regeneration of the heart and change of lifestyle.
Are you preoccupied with the cares of life or with knowing the truth and living it out? A life focused on the word may seem counter intuitive, but it will bring unimaginable blessings and significance. Start by discovering for yourself what God said in His word and be committed to obey Him daily. Be focused on making the small changes in your life. Do not despise the small beginnings, for they will soon bring exponential results.
Ministers must focus on bringing change to their congregations as opposed to appealing to their desire for good news and good feelings. As a minister you must do following:
- repent from your secret sins and do God’s will beginning with yourself and your family.
- be serious in studying the word systematically to understand the truths and apply them to yourself.
- stop motivating the congregation to keep them coming but teach the truth the way Jesus taught it. Be prepared to lose them if they do not like to listen to the truth.
- draw near to God and experience Him first hand rather than use other people’s testimonies.
- tear up your peace treaty with the devil and evict him out of your house and your church.
- subject your life to the scrutiny of your family and your congregation.
- be real and stop putting up a false front of optimism and holiness.
Dear Lord, I acknowledge you as God, who came in the flesh to show me the way of salvation so that I may walk in it. Empower me daily to live the divine life through your Spirit. Regenerate me so that I may experience divine glory, prosperity, joy, health, peace, love and fruitfulness in all my endeavours. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.