There is an old joke about a man who went into a local pet store; and no sooner had he entered that this parrot spoke up: “Squawk… You are the ugliest thing I have ever seen.” The man, upset, turns to the owner, who shrugs his shoulders and says, “I am sure its previous owner taught it to say that.” Next week, when the man comes by again, again the parrot goes: “Squawk… You are the ugliest thing I have ever seen.” The man just glares at the bird. The next week, again. But this time the man leans over to the cage and whispers: “You say that to me again and I’m going to buy you and wring your neck.” The next week comes. The door opens; and it is the same man. And the parrot says: “Squawk… You know…”
Jesus spent that last week before His death, going to the Temple every day and teaching the people. Down to the last minute, He was trying to get them to understand and accept the Good News. But his enemies were there too. And they decided to challenge Him.
Matthew 21:23 (NASB) When He entered the temple area, 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?”
This sounds like a fair question to ask. But were they really, honestly, wondering about this? Or were they, as they had tried at other times, trying to trap Him into saying something they could use against Him?
Just because we ask a question doesn’t mean we don’t know the answer. Many times, we already have formulated in our minds the answer that we think we know, or the answer that we want, or the only answer that we are willing to accept.
Now, we know from the Gospel that Jesus already knew what was in men’s hearts. So, when He responds, He is not trying to find out where this question is coming from, but rather, He is determined to prove a point to them.
Matthew 21:24-27 (NASB) But Jesus responded and said to them, “I will also ask you one question, which, if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source: from heaven or from men?”
And they began considering the implications among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.” And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.”
He also said to them, “Neither am I telling you by what authority I do these things.
Jesus turned the question around on them. Because He is trying to make them see that the way they would have had to answer the question they asked about Jesus, had to be exactly the way they would have had to answer that question about John the Baptizer.
If they really were wondering on whose authority Jesus was acting, hadn’t they already wondered the same thing about John?
John 1:25 (NASB) They asked him [John], and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
What did they conclude back then? I mean, if this question to Jesus was an honest question, then that one to John must also have been an honest question. And John replied without hesitation. He told them he was the Herald, sent to announce the coming of the Messiah. And that same John openly declared of Jesus: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.’
Given that answer, they had plenty of time to decide whether or not to believe it. In fact, they had had by now almost three years to decide whether John had been sent by God or not. But had they decided? Evidently not. They couldn’t tell Jesus what they had decided; and so, they copped out by saying, ‘We don’t know.’
But what is the point of asking a question, getting an answer, and then sitting on it for three years without deciding if you believe it or not? Do you really expect me to believe that you haven’t decided?
I don’t care what you say, Jesus is telling them: You know Who I am.
You just don’t want to admit it.
You also know what is required of you.
After that answer, Jesus went on with His teaching. Notice how He starts:
Matthew 21:28 But what think ye?
Isn’t that interesting? He is not telling them, ‘This is what I say.’ Instead, he asks them, ‘What do you think…?’
Matthew 21:28-31 But what think ye? A man had two children, and coming to the first he said, Child, go to-day, work in [my] vineyard. And he answering said, I will not; but afterwards repenting himself he went. And coming to the second he said likewise; and he answering said, *I* [go], sir, and went not. Which of the two did the will of the father?
This is the question Jesus wants them to answer. Do they know the answer?
Matthew 21:31-32 They say [to him], The first…
Their answer proves that they understand that actions matter; that what you say with your lips is cheap, easy, but what you choose to do, the way you respond to your duty, that is what matters. But more important than that, their answer also tells us that they knew that both sons in that story knew what that duty was. In their minds there was no excuse…
Matthew 21:31-32 …Jesus says to them, Verily I say unto you that the tax-gatherers and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the tax-gatherers and the harlots believed him; but *ye* when ye saw [it] repented not yourselves afterwards to believe him.
And so, Jesus circles back to that question about John. And He tells them, point blank, You knew. And you knew because with your own eyes you saw lives changed; something only God could have done.
You had no excuse. And yet you chose to ignore your duty.
You know what the consequence is of rejecting your duty.
Matthew 21:33-40 Hear another parable: There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and made a fence round it, and dug a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and left the country. But when the time of fruit drew near, he sent his bondmen to the husbandmen to receive his fruits.
And the husbandmen took his bondmen, and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other bondmen more than the first, and they did to them in like manner. And at last he sent to them his son, saying, They will have respect for my son. But the husbandmen, seeing the son, said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him and possess his inheritance. And they took him, and cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him.
When therefore the lord of the vineyard comes, what shall he do to those husbandmen?
Again, Jesus “puts the ball in their court.” Even though He is the Judge (John 5:22), he gives them the chance to decide what the sentence should be.
Matthew 21:41 They say to him, He will miserably destroy those evil [men], and let out the vineyard to other husbandmen, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
They reply honestly, from their hearts, proving that they know full well the penalty for such betrayal. And yet, they didn’t get the point of the story. It is directly connected to the one about the two sons.
There is a consequence, in this life, to ignoring our duty. Because when we do so, knowingly, we end up living a known lie… And no one can live such a life for long without that denial eating away at their heart. Eventually, instead of feeling love for the owner of the vineyard, the one that has given us our work and livelihood and shelter, we end up resenting Him. It is a paradox, a contradiction; but that is the way the human heart works. We can’t live in faithlessness and still face the One who has always been Faithful, no matter how much good He has done for us. Eventually our heart turns to hatred.
But even when such a heart cannot see itself in this parable, it cannot deny the rules of Justice… And so, the words of their own mouths have condemned them.
Matthew 21:42-44 Jesus says to them, Have ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which they that builded rejected, this has become the corner-stone: this is of [the] Lord, and it is wonderful in our eyes? Therefore I say to you, that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and shall be given to a nation producing the fruits of it. And he that falls on this stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.
Again, Jesus tells them, point blank, the Truth; a truth that even though they knew it, they had denied. What will they choose? Will they choose to ignore the truth again? Will they choose to try to walk around this prophesied obstacle that God told them long ago He would put in their way?
Isaiah 8:11-15 For Jehovah spoke thus to me with a strong hand, and he instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, Ye shall not say, Conspiracy, of everything of which this people saith, Conspiracy; and fear ye not their fear, and be not in dread. Jehovah of hosts, him shall ye sanctify; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
And he will be for a sanctuary; and for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
It is the choice we are all given. We can choose to surrender, to bow down, to be broken, and thus open ourselves to His healing… or we can choose to ignore the warning. But there is no escaping this stone of stumbling because it is the cornerstone of the Kingdom. Ignoring it only has one sure end: being pulverized.
Matthew 21:45-46 And the chief priests and the Pharisees, having heard his parables, knew that he spoke about them. And seeking to lay hold of him, they were afraid of the crowds, because they held him for a prophet.
They knew! They understood clearly. And yet, they chose to go on in their unbelief… even though…
You also know that there is an even more frightening consequence.
Matthew 22:1-7 And Jesus answering spoke to them again in parables, saying, The kingdom of the heavens has become like a king who made a wedding feast for his son, and sent his bondmen to call the persons invited to the wedding feast, and they would not come.
Again he sent other bondmen, saying, Say to the persons invited, Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatted beasts are killed, and all things ready; come to the wedding feast. But they made light of it, and went, one to his own land, and another to his commerce. And the rest, laying hold of his bondmen, ill-treated and slew [them].
And [when] the king [heard of it he] was wroth, and having sent his forces, destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Notice that Jesus didn’t bother asking them what was going to happen. By this point, He has made His point. You know! But He goes on.
Matthew 22:8-10 Then he says to his bondmen, The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy; go therefore into the thoroughfares of the highways, and as many as ye shall find invite to the wedding feast. And those bondmen went out into the highways, and brought together all as many as they found, both evil and good; and the wedding feast was furnished with guests.
This sounds like a repeat of the consequence of the previous parable. Others who had not been called originally are going to inherit the blessing that the ones called rejected. But the setting here is no longer the vineyard. The setting here is the Kingdom. And what they are about to lose is much more than a vineyard.
Matthew 22:11-14 And the king, having gone in to see the guests, beheld there a man not clothed with a wedding garment. And he says to him, [My] friend, how camest thou in here not having on a wedding garment? But he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him feet and hands, and take him away, and cast him out into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. For many are called ones, but few chosen ones.
What is the point of this final scene? Did they get it? Of all the people in the world, this audience understood full well what He was saying. His people, the ones out of the whole Earth whom God had called to bear witness to His Word, whose mission, since the promise to Abraham, was to bless the whole world, they understood full well what this picture of the wedding feast of the Son meant. It spoke of the end of time, the final Judgment, and the final redemption of the Universe back to God’s Will and Plan.
That is why He gave them His Word. This was their destiny:
They knew how to recognize the Messiah.
They knew it was their duty to obey Him.
They knew it was their assigned job to work this vineyard we call the world, in order to bear fruit for His Glory.
Because they knew a day is coming when all humanity will be Judged.
And at that time, before that Judgement seat of God, ‘not knowing’ will not be an excuse:
John 3:16-18 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him may not perish, but have life eternal. For God has not sent his Son into the world that he may judge the world, but that the world may be saved through him. He that believes on him is not judged: but he that believes not has been already judged, because he has not believed on the name of the only-begotten Son of God.
On that day there will be no middle ground. That guest who thought he could sneak in into the wedding without wearing the required garments is a picture of every human being, Jew or Gentile, that thinks being neutral is good enough. He wasn’t one of those who outright rejected the invitation. He thought that was enough, that he did not need to “dress for the occasion”. In his mind, he was “good enough.” But we all know that in the presence of the Infinitely Good God, there is only one goodness that is enough: the one purchased by the death of His Son.