Only Search GlobalChristians

Articles & Ebooks


Eternity 133 - The Two Sons

Spiritual pride, lip-service and hypocrisy were frequent subjects in Jesus' parables. The following story about spiritual authority hits all three at once!

(Matthew 21:23-32 NKJV) Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, "By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?" {24} But Jesus answered and said to them, "I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: {25} "The baptism of John; where was it from? From heaven or from men?" And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' {26} "But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet." {27} So they answered Jesus and said, "We do not know." And He 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 my vineyard.' {29} "He answered and said, 'I will not,' but afterward he regretted it and went. {30} "Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, 'I go, sir,' but he did not go. {31} "Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said to Him, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. {32} "For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.

The "chief priests and elders" came to Jesus in the temple - picture beards and pointy hats and long flowing robes and unctuous phrases from pursed lips and beady hateful eyes. They were "in a huff" as they tapped their toes on the stone floor of Solomon's portico and said "Who gave YOU the authority to do these things".

Now if Jesus had answered "God" He would have been dragged away and stoned. So, in a very Hebrew form of argument Jesus invokes His predecesor John the Baptist. (Most of the audience would have known that Jesus was John's sucessor and the One to whom John had pointed, as this was the subject of some discussion.) If John the Baptist was from God, then Jesus his sucessor and superior was then certainly from God. It was a very relevant defense.

It also put the authorities in a pickle. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' {26} "But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet." {27} So they answered Jesus and said, "We do not know."

So Jesus turns the argument on them and their hardness of heart: And He 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 my vineyard.' {29} "He answered and said, 'I will not,' but afterward he regretted it and went. {30} "Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, 'I go, sir,' but he did not go. {31} "Which of the two did the will of his father?" The first son is initially disobedient, but eventually goes and does his work. The second says what the father wants to hear, then skips actually doing it. Likewise the tax-collectors and harlots, whose lifestyle was disobedient to God's laws, eventually obeyed HIm, repenting when they heard the preaching of John the Baptist while the Pharisees and religious leaders said all the right things, but did none of them, and afterwards failed to repent.

Thus Jesus brings the point back to the vexing question the chief-priests and elders were trying to avoid "Why then did you not believe him?' - that is their own response to clear prophetic spiritual authority. They fall into the trap: They said to Him, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. {32} "For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.

In Jesus' day the religious authorities, while very august, were corrupted and disobedient, concerned with power and prominence and not seeking spiritual truth. The truth was marginalized and confined to prophets in the wilderness, lepers, prostitutes and repentant tax-gatherers. If you obeyed the authorities, you didn't obey John the Baptist or Jesus or God. If you obeyed God, Jesus or John the Baptist - you were thrown out of the synagogue.

Thus there was a breakdown in the system. To be loyal and obedient to the religious system made you disobedient to the heavenly Father. In Jesus day true spiritual authority was outside the walls, in the desert, and not where the ermine robes and chief priests were. Whenever spiritual systems break down this becomes the case. Luther was excommunicated, Wesley had to preach in the fields, the Quaker George Fox wandered England and was fiercely persecuted, and so forth throughout church history. And the system rarely learns. The Jews have never said "Oops, we should have obeyed John the Baptist and Jesus", and the Roman Catholics have never said "After some reflection we think that Luther was correct".

On the other hand just because some systems have been corrupted does not mean that your church or mission is in the same dreadful state as the Jewish religion in the first century. Some churches are delightfully obedient to God. And not all in the wilderness are prophets - some are there because they are eccentric crackpots with crazy (and incorrect) theories. Nevertheless, we should not take all the pronouncements of the system as gospel. We should evaluate them by the Word of God and be sensitive the promptings and leadings of the Spirit in times of revival.

But what does this story told by Jesus mean for us? It means at least five things:
1. That we should respond to genuine revivals and spiritual and prophetic movements and not harden our heart to them.
2. That late obedience by a sinner is better than the lip-serving disobedience of the respectable.
3. That spiritual pride of religious leaders can keep them from repentance and obedience.
4. That some people believe that spiritual appearances are sufficient. These people have an all-too-human God who can be as easily fooled as man. They serve outwardly in the naive belief that lip-service and praise and spiritual flattery will make God overlook disobedience.
5. That true spiritual authority is not vested in (sometimes disobedient) organizational figures such as the chief priests and elders but directly in God and His anointed servants such as John the Baptist and Jesus.