Matthew 21: 23-46

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

“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.

“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

Understanding And Applying the Text

The priest and scribes lost every battle with Christ over doctrine. So they change tactics. They asked where Jesus got His authority. They hoped to stop His teaching. They hope to show he lacked education. He lacked formal training. He was not sent nor called. In their mind, Jesus had no authority. Why? Because they had not given it to Him.

This attack had plausibility. No one should take on themselves the office of teacher, priest, pastor, or prophet. It must come from God. And no one in their right would call Himself the Messiah. But Christ had already shown where he received His authority. His miracles testified to His divine majesty. The priest and scribes were aware of them. Jesus’ works were not performed in a closet. Nor were they performed in some back room. All Jerusalem knew of them. This made the inquiry unreasonable.

Jesus’ response was to ask them about John the Baptist. When He asked about John’s baptism, He was not to ask not about washing. Rather He was asking but John’s entire ministry.

The priests’ and scribes’ responses convicted them. They did not believe John’s baptism was from God. Rather than say that, they feared the crowd. Instead, they said they did not know. In other words, they refused to answer the question. Choosing that path showed they were unworthy of authority. They were not leaders. They were politicians.

Jesus answered the question by asking about John. In doing so He answered their question. John’s job was to prepare the way for the Messiah. They could not acknowledge John without acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah.

The priests and scribes refused to answer Jesus’ question. So, Jesus responded with two parables. The priests and scribes understood Jesus was talking about them.

The first parable had to do with two sons. One was sassy. But did the will of his father. The other was a hypocrite. He said he would obey but would not.

Christ went on to say God preferred harlots, and tax collectors, over the religious leaders. He unmasked the scribes and priests as hypocrites.

In case they missed the point of the first parable Jesus added another. The next parable condemned both them and their ancestors.

The meaning was clear. The disciples did not need to ask later what it meant. Everyone got it. The landowner was God. The vineyard was the kingdom of God. The servants were the prophets. The son was Jesus. The tenants were the Jewish leaders and their ancestors. The killing of the son was the crucifixion. The removal of the tenants was transferring the kingdom to a new people of God. That included Gentiles. i.e. us’ns

Jesus then doubles down. He answers their question one more time. This time it is a direct insult. “Have you never read the scriptures…”

He quotes Palms 118:22, 23. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” That is, “my authority comes from God. You dodo birds got it?” OK, the dodo bird part I added.

The allusion to Isaiah 8:14 and Daniel 2 provides the ground for referring to Christ as the “stone.” This reference to Christ as a stone is a frequent occurrence in the New Testament. (Acts 4:11, Romans 9:33, 1 Peter 2:6-8)

Jesus asked them a question. “Have you never read in the Scriptures…” This is a direct insult. They were supposed to be the experts in the scripture. It was like asking a Supreme Court judge” Have you never read the constitution?” Granted most behave like they have not. And the same is true of the priests and scribes. They may have read it but they ignored it. They could not imagine the messiah could come without their approval. They were the leaders. They were the ones in charge. Or at least they thought they were. They forgot God is sovereign over all things. They thought there were important in God’s plan. They as well as the rest of us only have a bit part.

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