Matthew 21:23-32 (Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)
“The True Son Brings Us Forgiveness”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
September 27, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 21:
23And when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, saying, “By what authority do you do these things? And who gave you this authority?” 24And Jesus answered and said to them, “Now I myself will ask you one thing, which if you should tell me [the answer], I also will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25The baptism of John, from where was it? From heaven or from people?” So they began to consider [the one thing] among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why, then did you not believe Him?’ 26And if we say, ‘From people,’ we fear the crowd, since all consider John as a prophet.” 27And so they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.” He Himself also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 28But what does it seem to you? A man had two children. And he came to the first and said, ‘Child, go, work today in the vineyard.’ 29And he answered and said, ‘I don’t want to.’ But later, after he repented, he went away [to work]. 30And he came to the second and said the same. He answered and said, ‘I [am willing], lord,’ but he did not go away [to work]. 31Who of the two did the will of the father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and the prostitutes will go ahead of you into the reign of God. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. But you, even when you saw [this], you did not even repent later so as to believe him.”
Well now Jesus had really done it. Immediately after being acclaimed the Messiah by the crowds as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest,” Jesus further provoked the Jewish leaders by driving merchants and money-changers out of the temple’s “Court of the Gentiles.” This area of the temple precinct was the only place that Gentiles (non-Jews) could go and offer prayers and sacrifices to the one, true God. By converting this area into a trading post, the religious leaders where blocking God’s design. The Lord promised through the prophet Isaiah, “These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is. 56:7 ESV).
So it was that Jesus “entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.He said to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers’” (Matt. 21:12–13 ESV). The next day, when Jesus returned to the temple courts and was teaching the people, the religious leaders—the chief priests and elders of the people—wanted to know by whose authority Jesus had done these very things.
The answer to the religious leaders’ question, “by whose authority?” was really a no-brainer: God’s authority! Jesus is doing the will of His heavenly Father. What’s more, Jesus is God, God-made-flesh and dwelling among His creation. He brings the reign and rule of God into the world as He does a new thing, creating a new people. And it’s the tax collectors and the prostitutes that have figured that out and not the religious leaders!
John the Baptist came into the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He came in the “way of righteousness,” Jesus said. John came as the forerunner and participant in the new righteous deeds of the reign of God in the person and work of Jesus. John proclaimed that God was beginning to put the world right with the arrival of the Messiah. In believing John’s proclamation about, and His pointing to, Jesus, tax collectors, prostitutes, and many others would be led to become disciples of Jesus. These “outcasts” and “sinners” were able, by the grace of God, to recognize divine authority when they saw it. They saw it in John the Baptist. They saw it in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of David, whom they praised with shouts of hosanna!
If the religious leaders couldn’t recognize divine authority when they saw it in action, no amount of argument would convince them. So Jesus spoke a parable. “What does it seem to you?” He asked. Two kids, both asked by their father to do his will. We have the “no-yes” kid and the “yes-no” kid. The “no-yes” kid told his father with complete disrespect, “I don’t want to go work in the vineyard.” Later, he repented and went. The “yes-no” kid said, “Sure,” but then didn’t go. Which did the will of his father? The religious leaders answered that is was the “no-yes” kid because, eventually, he went to work in the vineyard. But in reality, neither kid did the will of his father. Each kid is only partly obedient which means he is also disobedient.
Now we take a look at ourselves. Is it better to be a “yes-no” individual or a “no-yes” person when it comes to the will of our heavenly Father? By the power of the Holy Spirit, we have been made children of God by the Gospel in our Baptism. But the sinful nature still clings to us. At times, we joyfully say “yes” to doing God’s commandments but then fail to do them. We say we will, but we don’t always do the good we should. We don’t always love other people the way God loves us. At other times we flatly tell God to His face, “I don’t want to,” but later, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word, we repent and follow through on our Father’s good and gracious will for our lives according to His Word.
You and I are not perfect children of God. You and I remain saints and sinners at the same time. But we truly are children of God because we have been adopted by Baptism into the family of our heavenly Father through faith in Jesus. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1 ESV). And the reason that God receives us sinners as His children is because of the saving work of His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus alone is the true Son of God who perfectly did His Father’s will. We read n Psalm 40 and Hebrews 10, “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me:I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.’I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD” (Psa. 40:7–9; Heb. 10:7 ESV). Although He is true God, Jesus willingly became fully human in order to keep God’s Law perfectly, without sin, so that He might gift to you and me His perfect rightness. Jesus became true man so that He might be able to suffer and die in our place and purchase our complete forgiveness by means of His blood shed for us on the cross. Through the gift of saving faith, we receive Christ’s forgiveness. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe the Gospel message of John and Jesus. By the Means of Grace, the Gospel and the Sacraments, you and I are brought to repentance and trust in the True Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who brings the Lord’s righteousness, forgiveness, and reign to us in the Gospel.
The earthly ministry of Jesus was to gather sinners into the family of our heavenly Father. John began that ministry by preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and by pointing to the True Son of God—Jesus Christ—who would purchase and win that forgiveness for all people: for the religious leaders, tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, and outcasts. God’s “way of righteousness” means that He offers forgiveness to all people through the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He offers, gives, and seals this gift in Holy Baptism, bringing you into the family of faith, making you children of the heavenly Father. The Lord’s Supper is the “visible word” of forgiveness for the family of God in Christ to eat and drink by faith, receiving Christ’s true Body and Blood under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and the strengthening of faith.
Jesus, the True Son of God, did His Father’s will perfectly. By the authority of His heavenly Father, Jesus cleansed the temple. By the authority of God, Jesus took on human flesh, lived among us, fulfilled God’s Law because we couldn’t, and suffered, died, and rose again to make us the forgiven children of God by faith in His Son. This is the will of God—to save sinners. This is the Gospel that we continue to receive and to share. Our Father in heaven takes “yes-no” people and “no-yes” people and leads them to repentance and faith so that they might receive forgiveness and life eternal in the family of God. He empowers us to recognize in the Gospel and Sacraments of Christ His authority to bring you to repentance and faith, to give you forgiveness and eternal life, and to send you out into the world to show love and mercy in Jesus’ name to neighbors near and far. Amen.