Teaching With Authority
- October 31, 2023
- Posted by: Carolyn Mahal
- Category: Devotions
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. – Matthew 21:28-32
Jesus and the religious leaders of His day certainly had an interesting relationship. You would think that they would have gotten along swimmingly. After all, He’s the Son of the God they are serving and the very Savior they are awaiting. Unfortunately, their intellect and inflated levels of self-import made it impossible for them to recognize who Jesus was, and their insecurity and pride led them to plot against Him.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. At this point of Jesus’ ministry, He is once again being challenged by the Chief Priest and the elders in their never-ending quest to discredit him in front of the people. They begin in verse 23 by asking Him “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” As is Jesus’ customary response to these types of challenges, He says He will answer their question if they can correctly answer a question that He has for them.
“…The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?”
Jesus had to enjoy watching the Pharisees huddle and struggle over how they might answer this question. For all their shortcomings, you must give the elders and priests credit for being intelligent people. They realized very quickly that Jesus’s question put them in a no-win situation. John the Baptist was highly regarded by the people as a prophet. The church leaders didn’t agree with that assessment and were probably relieved to hear of John’s fate at the hands of Herod. As they wrestled with their answer, they realized that their options led to two undesirable destinations: recognize John was sent by God and they were wrong or publicly anger the crowd they were trying to impress. The problem was that they had to give Jesus an answer. Finally, they settled on…
“We do not know.”
Yes, they dropped the greatest, non-commitment answer ever devised. They could have been transported through time and space to a modern-day congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. and they would have fit right in. They had to know the answer wouldn’t win the debate, but they properly assessed the damage to their reputations and gave the safest answer possible. They were right about one thing: Jesus refused to answer their question regarding His authority.
Instead, Jesus, being a good teacher, decided to use this opportunity to teach a valuable lesson to these men (and the rest of us as well). He shares a story about a man who owns a vineyard. He went to both of his sons and told them to go work in the vineyard. The first son told his father, “No,” but later changed his mind and went to work. The second son told his father, “Yes.” but, he too changed his mind and never went to the vineyard. With that established, Jesus asked, “which of the two sons did the will of their father?”
I imagine the Pharisees didn’t take too long to answer this question. It’s obvious that the son who went to do the work, despite his initial refusal, was the one who did the will of the father. They were smart enough to avoid the first question and the trap it created, but they walked straight into this one. Jesus goes on the explain that the prostitutes and tax collectors, people universally considered by the Israelites to be sinful and undesirable, would find their place in heaven ahead of the Chief Priest and the elders who have spent their lives dedicated to knowing, following, and enforcing the laws given to the people by God.
Now before we get to feeling bad for the Pharisees because Jesus was mean to them, consider this. A good teacher reaches their student where they are at, using methods that will make the lesson effective for them. Jesus used the very same method that the highly intelligent Pharisees used to try to trap Him. He posed a thought-provoking question that made them use their intellect to find an answer with a deeper meaning. He wouldn’t use a brainteaser on a less “enlightened” crowd because that wouldn’t be the most effective way to communicate.
Now, as we go back to the ouch, let’s direct the question away from the Pharisees to another group of highly knowledgeable and enlightened people.
Which son are we? Depending on the situation, we could probably make an argument for both. There are days when we are the first son: we start with a lousy attitude but eventually do the right thing. There are days when we’re the second son: we’re all talk but no action. Like the Pharisees, I think we can recognize that the first son’s performance was the better of the two, but in fairness, we also see how he could have responded better to his father’s directive.
God has created us with unique gifts, designed for us to be used for the advancement of His Kingdom. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can do this important work, building the faith of the person with whom we interact, as well as our own faith. Remember, we are influenced by the voices we allow ourselves to hear and the person whose voice we hear the most is our own. What lessons are you teaching yourself?
It is my prayer that we will embrace these opportunities so that we can humble ourselves to serve Him effectively. May we prepare for this work by building our relationship with God through the study of His word and prayer. And if anyone questions your authority, speak boldly, knowing that Christ has commissioned you to do so.
Devotion by Richard Schumacher
Senior Director of Operations