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Study Notes:

Matthew 21:23-46
The Persistent Patience of God

SUMMARY – Jesus tells Jewish leaders the Kingdom of God is going to be stripped from them because they won’t accept what God is doing despite His patient, persistent, grace and generosity.

In our journey through Matthew we’ve come to the section concerning the final week of Jesus’ life. This is what everything else has been building toward. The holy child of Bethlehem who was carried in His mother’s arms is all grown up now, talking in Jerusalem with the leaders of the nation who have been rejecting and resisting Him.

This morning I want you to notice the patience and persistence God shows with these men, the judgment He warns them about, the unexpected grace that is shown to others, and the goodness and generosity of God toward all people. We’ll start by reading the whole story and then we’ll circle back and make some observations.

We begin in

Matthew 21:23 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?”

These are likely representatives of the Sanhedrin, Israel’s ruling body. So, in modern terms, Jesus received a Congressional inquiry.

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.”

It’s important to know all of this is happening publicly. They have to be careful what they say here.

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,’ [I have other plans today dad] 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,’ [Sure dad, happy to] 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.

33 “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it [a fence to keep animals out], dug a winepress in it [for making wine on site from the harvest] and built a tower – [for a watchman keeping an eye on birds descending, thieves sneaking in, and the possibility of a fire]. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. 34 Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit.

Tenant farming was a common thing in the world at this time with usually 25% or more of the harvest’s value, or some flat, fixed, fee, going to the landowner as rent, due at harvest.

35 And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. 37 Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.
40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”
41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: [He is pointing them back to the Old Testament here, the first half of our Bibles, the stuff they were experts in.]

‘ The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’ ?

43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44 And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”

45 Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. 46 But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.

As you reflect on this passage of Scripture, would you notice the patient, persistence of God?

He gave them the chance to see what they were doing and repent three times. He asked them where John’s authority came from. He warned them about the difference between sons who say they obey and those who actually do, and finally He warned them about resisting the generous God who was renting them His field. And this is on top of all the other times He has called people to surrender, to stop fighting Him, and just come to Him.

I want you to see and understand that God gives us so many chances to respond to His kindness, mercy, and grace.

Take for example, what He says about John the Baptist. One of the problems some of these leaders had was something we’ll talk about in a minute – Jesus didn’t have the best friends, He didn’t run in the right circles, He didn’t have the right connections. He spent a lot of time with what you might call losers, loners, and lost people. Jesus was seen hanging out with people that couldn’t do anything for Him. People whose lives were a mess. Jesus had dinner with people who were unpopular so some of the popular people called Him a glutton and a drunk – and they tried to write Him off because He didn’t fit their idea of what the Savior would look and act like.

But John the Baptist was different – John did all the ‘right’ things. John fit the image of the good guy, the fiery prophet from ancient times. He looked, and spoke, and acted just like you would expect a prophet to act. So, if you came from a traditional religious background, if it was hard for you to accept Jesus because He seemed a little unorthodox to you, a little too far out of the box, well, take a look at John. Everything about Him seemed right, didn’t it?

John came along before Jesus and had a spectacular ministry. He was well known, kind of like the Billy Graham of our day. John the Baptist was a name everyone knew and trusted, his name was a synonym for righteousness, zeal, and godliness. But John was endorsing Jesus. God uses John to try to build a bridge for people to Jesus. Unfortunately, these leaders won’t take it.

They refuse to take a public stance on John’s ministry, even though this is their job. They are the leaders of the nation – we’re talking about a group of people that includes the chief priests. It’s like the Supreme Court saying, well, we’re not sure what to do here. There’s no higher court to appeal to. These are the guys with the authority to make the final determination. This is their job. They just need to do their job and make a decision about John!

The problem is, if they admit John’s ministry came from God, they’re in a bind, because John said he came to prepare the way for Jesus. So, if John was sent by God, then that means Jesus is sent by God too, and now they have the answer to their question: By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?”

And they don’t want they answer. As Don Carson noted, “They raised the question of Jesus’ authority [and] he raised the question of their competence to judge such an issue.”

But why are they so hesitant to commit? Why do they resist Jesus so much? For two reasons, and they’re related.

First, at this point in history the chief priests were a religious aristocracy, and they were politicians. The high priest was appointed by the Jewish leaders, but actually served with the permission of Rome. It would be like the President confirming a new Pope and saying how long the Pope could serve for. The Romans allowed this group to rule Israel as long as things went well. But if they couldn’t keep things under control, Rome would shut them down and give their position to someone else.

So, they have to keep the people of Israel happy so they can stay in power, and they have to keep their Roman masters happy too. It’s pure politics – they were willing to do whatever they needed to do to stay in office.

And that’s the second reason they resist Jesus so much: they enjoy their comfortable lives. They don’t see a need for Him. In fact, accepting Him will require some changes in their lives, changes they really don’t want to make. They’re the son that says he’ll work in dad’s field, but doesn’t. They’re the farm workers who say they want to rent the field and make payments, but they keep everything for themselves. They’ve got it easy, and they like it.

Do you remember when Jesus recently said, that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? Here we see a perfect example. Having power and position was dangerous for the souls of these men – their rank and authority did them more harm than good.

For the moment, these men are content with the status quo, they’re content with their positions of power and privilege and they have no interest in giving it all up too quickly or too easily. They’re willing to compromise and even kill to keep what they’ve got.

Now, let me ask you – do you see any truth in that? Have you ever experienced it in your own life? Have you ever made any compromises to keep something you wanted? Have you ever allowed the opinions of other people to shape what you say and do, even when it means doing something different than what you believe? Have you found a way to say something that would keep everyone happy even if it wasn’t 100% true?

How often do you allow public opinion to shape you? How much do you allow modern trends to drive you?

Why do you do that? It’s often out of fear of what we will lose.

But my friends, if you are afraid of losing what you have, maybe you don’t really have it. Maybe you’re holding onto things that are temporary and temperamental.

How much of your Christmas wish list is filled with things that you hope will help you fit in? Things you hope will help you be accepted or have fun, or be cool? And, does asking for anything of those things mean you’re not happy, not content, not fulfilled right now? Do you need those things you’re asking for, do you need them to make you something that you’re not right now? Or, to help you hold on to your position or status?

And what would you be willing to do, or say, or give, for the things you want so bad?

We’ve seen the kind of compromise these men are willing to make.

But, we’re also seeing the patience God shows in trying to reach them.

In the parable of the vineyard, servant after servant – pictures of the Old Testament prophets, were sent to the workers to get their attention. Most recently, God has sent them John the Baptist. They saw the proof of John’s life and ministry. And finally, He has sent them His Son, Jesus. They saw His miracles and heard His teaching for three years.

The point is: God makes it hard to miss what He’s doing. And He does the same thing in the lives of people today – in your life and in mine – He is patient and persistent in getting our attention about things He wants us to know, ways He wants us to respond.

God waited and waited, He sent warning after warning to these men, but a time will come when He will act.

These men schemed and maneuvered in whatever way was necessary to keep their position and privileges, they did whatever it took to keep people happy. But in doing so, they neglected God and now He is going to evict them. They forget He has ultimate power and authority.

In the parable Jesus told, the renters resisted all the owner’s attempts, but they know a judgment is coming. There’s a warning for us here – God is patient, but you can’t resist Him forever. You can’t keep ignoring His attempts to reach out to you. He won’t just go away. You will be accountable. The builders rejected the chief cornerstone, but that never changed it’s purpose. God’s kingdom WILL Come, His plans WILL unfold.

So, we see the patience of God, the judgment of God, but I still want you to see the grace of God and the generosity of God.

After telling these men about the two sons and their different responses to their father’s request

31 (cont) 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 powerful may be resisting, but tax collectors and prostitutes, outcasts of Jewish society were responding and welcomed into God’s kingdom by grace. Tax collectors worked for the Roman government so their Jewish neighbors shunned them, and prostitutes often had no family or connection to the community so they were shunned as well. But any of them who would repent, that is, to turn away from their current way of living and seek to live for God instead, were welcomed into the family of God.

Here’s what I want you to see: there is only one gospel and it calls people from every education level, every ethnic background, every level of social accomplishment and recognition. The gospel calls people from the rec league and the elite travel team. It calls the janitor and the CEO. It calls men and women, boys and girls. It calls Hindus, Muslims, and Humanists; judges and inmates; asexuals, bisexuals, homosexuals, and heterosexuals. You can’t apply a title to someone the gospel doesn’t call.

And some of these people were actually rushing to Jesus. They heard the ministry of John the Baptist and counted him a prophet. They were the first son who said they wouldn’t work in their father’s field but later regretted it and suddenly showed up. They heard and saw Jesus and although they didn’t understand exactly who He was yet, they thought highly of Him and that affected what the religious leaders were wiling to do and say publically.

Friends, it doesn’t’ matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what you have or what you’re working on – the gospel calls to you – you are asked to make a decision about Jesus. Will you receive Him or reject Him? Do you need Jesus, or do you just need Jesus to go away? Which group are you in?

Well, we see the patience and persistence of God, the judgment of God, the grace of God, and now finally, notice the generosity of God.

Let me ask you a question: in the story Jesus told, who owned the vineyard? Who planted it? Who built the wall around it? Who built the wine press and the tower? In other words, who set it up for success? The landowner – God. The farm workers were supposed to use everything God had provided, give Him some of the harvest, and use the rest for themselves. It reminds us of the Garden of Eden – God created a perfect world for Adam and Eve to enjoy and watch over. It wasn’t a Fixer-Upper, there was no demo day in the Garden or in the vineyard. In both examples, the people misused it, but God generously provided everything needed for success in His eyes.

So too with you. To those who are called God offers to give you everything you really need for life.

It begins with receiving forgiveness and acceptance in Christ. You can know – you can really, really know, that you are accepted by God – you can know you have a place and a purpose in this world. You don’t have to look for it or wonder about it or scheme and maneuver to hold onto it.

I want to be very clear – the gospel, the good news, that Christians talk about so much is this:

Jesus died and rose again, and
Our sins are the reason for His death, so
We must repent and be converted.

Sin is described as missing the mark, abandoning a path, defying an authority, disobeying the law, but the mark missed, the path abandoned, the authority defied and the law rejected all belong to GOD. That’s why sin is also described as rejecting God’s Word, and refusing Christ.

But repentance is turning to God and asking for forgiveness and help in this life – it’s telling Him you can’t do it all on your own and you need Him.

Just a few days after this conversation, Jesus is going to be nailed to the cross and die. He’ll be put in a tomb, and then raise from the dead three days later.

And a few weeks after that Peter, one of His disciples is going to tell crowds of people about all of this and tell them simply and clearly how they should respond. He’ll say:

Acts 3:19 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

Friends, it doesn’t matter if you’re the high-priest or a harlot, this is a message we all need to hear. The gospel turns us away from our self-inflicted misery, cuts the chains of public opinions that bind us, comforts us in the afflictions we all face, and showers us with times of refreshing that come from the presence of the Lord.

God promises to be with you. When you are born again, the Holy Spirit will live inside of you, come upon you, and pour out of you – He will baptize you, fill you, empower you for all that He is calling you to do. You will never be on you own; it will never be all up to you.

Instead of bending and bowing to pressures of public opinion like we find these leaders doing, you can escape judgment and be renewed, invigorated, refreshed, and restored by a patient, persistent, gracious, and generous God.

Let’s pray to Him now.

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