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Personal Authority to Choose

Matthew 21:23-32

· Matthew,Authority,Responsibility,Truth,Follow Through

Today we are continuing our walk through the Gospel of Matthew. This letter inviting us to relationship with God through his son, the savior, the Messiah, God with us, Jesus. It is not mindlessly but Matthew works US through a process. It is not a letter that simply says Jesus is it, enough said, believe it or else. Rather, it is a letter of process walking us into relationship with Jesus.

We have been in this section where Jesus is continually clashing with the religious authorities of the day. Jesus at the beginning of this section, right at the start of chapter 21 comes into the temple and lets his actions speak louder than His words as he flips the tables in the temple.

Matthew 21:13

13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

This was not a comfortable moment for me. These next chapters Jesus clearly draws a line that eventually leads to the plotting and carrying out of that plot to kill Him. What we will look at today is Jesus’ opportunity for people that were against Him to change their mind. Not a moment where Jesus could have changed their minds,m but a moment where they had personal opportunity (personal authority) to change their own minds. To Choose.

Pause in this for a moment. Personal responsibility can be a heavy thing. When we take or understand personal responsibility, it is a moment where we move from blame and excuses to realizing that we have control and impact on the good and the bad that I am. I want to open up the door to a conversation by asking this question: What tends to stop you from changing your mind?

There are some common options…

  1. I don’t want to change my mind.

  2. I don’t have the courage to change my mind.

  3. My environment is holding me back from changing my mind.

  4. Changing my mind would require that I admit that I was wrong.

  5. There is no pain or cost to staying the same.

  6. I don’t know what I would change my mind to.

  7. I am right so why would I change my mind.

  8. Other.

What tends to hold you back from changing your mind about something?

As we get this window into this conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities, it is not a moment to look down on them, but a moment to encourage our own reflection. It’s easy for us to read stories in which Jesus calls out the pharisees and think “Ah what a bunch of stupid guys, they’re so dumb...I’m glad I’m not a pharisee”. I would encourage us to be examining ourselves and to ask the question, “What do I do that is like the pharisees? Do I have some pharisee-like views in my own life?”

Today we look at a moment where the Religious authorities knew they were not wrong in questioning Jesus’ authority. Then he lofts it back their direction by opening the door for them to take personal authority and change. This is not a moment to learn how to fix those other wrong people, but to take time to work on me.

We walk into today’s interaction and we need to remember that the day before Jesus had come into the temple and flipped the tables and ran out the people that had turned “religion” into a way to make a buck. So now, Jesus comes strolling in, almost like nothing happened yesterday and begins to teach. The Chief Priests walk up to him and ask Him what authority He has to be doing these things. Jesus responds by asking a question.

Matthew 21:25

25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They thought about it. They probably thought that:

  • If we say from God… then we expose that we didn’t believe in or embrace something that was from God
  • If we say from Man… people loved John and our saying this will cause people to not like us

So they answered by admitting that they didn't know. This wasn’t a test, an ultimatum a trick. This was an opportunity to gain perspective, an opportunity to change. Let me ask you a question in a similar light: What is the difference between a person looking for truth and a person looking to defend their position?

Let me paint a picture before we talk about that. Feel the differences in these scenerios:

A bad call made by a referee:

  • If the BAD CALL is against you… how does it impact your “search for truth?”

  • If the BAD CALL helps you… how does it impact your “search for truth?”

What about in a political environment? Feel the difference:

  • If a candidate YOU SUPPORT has his or her character questioned… how does it impact your “search for truth?”

  • If a candidate you DON’T SUPPORT has his or her character questioned… how does it impact your “search for truth?”

What about in a multiple sided issues? Things like:

  1. Homeschooling

  2. Spanking

  3. Death penalty

  4. Abortion

  5. Human sexuality

  6. Immigration

  7. War

(yeah… now we are bringing up some issues to fight about…)

Feel the difference, feel the pressure, feel the expectations, now. Time to talk.

What is the difference between a person looking for truth and a person looking to defend their position?

Jesus’ authority was questioned by the religious authority of the time. This is a common moment in the Gospels where Jesus is asked a question and doesn’t give an answer or is told something and then asks a question. Jesus poses the John the Baptist question, and after the religious authorities don’t have an answer, Jesus shares this parable:

Matthew 21:28-32

28 “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.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “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. 32 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.

They come to Jesus asking where He gets the authority and Jesus responds back by telling a parable that shows that they have authority to change, authority to choose.

What sets up a person to follow through in what Jesus has called him or her to be or do?

Luke 6:46-49

46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Pray this prayer:

God, I humbly seek your direction.

While I seek your direction, I am also humbled by the ability you have given me to respond or not respond, to follow through or to not follow through.

I need Your help in the moments when I have bad responses. Help me when I need to humble myself and change.

I need your help in being a person that follows through with wise decisions. Help me be a person of my word.

Amen

A final question today. With this prayer in front of you. With the questions we have already discussed today:

  1. What tends to hold you back from changing your mind about something?

  2. What is the difference between a person looking for truth and a person looking to defend their position?

  3. What sets up a person to follow through in what Jesus has called him or her to be or do?

How can this prayer be answered in you?

Take It Deeper Questions

  • Read Matthew 21:28-32

  • As a child, what kind of worker were you?

  • What did your parents have to do in order to get the “best” out of you?

  • What links this parable to Matthew 21:23-27?

  • How do you suppose the religious leaders felt about this parable?

  • Which son’s story is most like your own? Why?

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