Matthew 21

Matthew 21:  What do you think?

It was Tozer who said –‘ What comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you’.    In today’s lesson Jesus asks the chief priests and the elders a series of  questions- which we will explore as these questions are connected.

We are in the last week of the Lord’s earthly ministry. Jesus had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the cheers of the people who recognized Jesus was by his entry on a donkey offering himself as King.  On Monday of this Holy Week, Jesus cleanses the temple- driving out the money changers which leads to this confrontation with the chief priest and elders on Tuesday which ask Jesus – “ By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” By asking these questions, these men want to know who gave you the authority to cleanse the temple of moneychangers?  They are also recognizing Jesus had done many marvelous and miraculous things they have either seen or heard from reliable witnesses, i.e, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus responds by asking his first question of this group. “ I will ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism- where did it come from? Was it from heaven or from men?”

The discussion among these learned religious leaders leads them to the conclusion  they cannot answer for if they say from heaven- it will be obvious they did not believe John the Baptist. Yet if they say from men- they fear the reaction of the crowd for they believed John was a prophet. Their reply: “ We don’t know.” Do you see the political minds at work here?  They are looking at public reaction to what they say and weighing how it might affect their standing.   Which tells us a lot about this group- for if they did not know, it would seem this is what they would want to know.  Many today will say we do not know if Jesus is the Son of God and the Bible is God’s word.  Yet they do not then begin to search for the truth for an answer to the most important question in the world.

In essence- what comes to their mind when they think about God is- ‘we don’t know’.  And yet they do not search for the answer even though Jesus said- ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened to you.  What the answer says is we don’t know and we don’t want to know because we don’t care. For if it does not fit our agenda, our life style, our career and selfish pleasure- we do not want to know the answer. Jesus said answer this question- and I will answer yours. Jesus is being reasonable – he wants to know what they think of John the Baptist.  “Come let us reason together- though your sins be as scarlet- they shall be washed white as snow.”  Do you see the gentleness of our Lord and Savior- He is not willing that any should perish but all would come to repentance. If gentleness and kindness will not work- then the Word of God will be used for reproof and correction.

Now Jesus will deal with the religious leaders with two parables. He starts by asking these religious rulers to think about what he is about to tell them. “ What do you think?”  For as a man thinketh in his heart – so is he.


“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 my vineyard. I will not, he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. ( KJV: afterward, he repented and went).  Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of direction.  This first son is rude, rebellious and outspoken. Yet he is also truthful.  Afterward he repented, changed his mind and went and worked in his father’s vineyard. True repentance leads to obedience.

The father went to the second son and said likewise and the second son said: “ I will, sir, but did not.”  Notice the politeness and respect as the second son addresses his father as sir. But  he went not. No obedience- he confesses with his mouth- sir- I will- but his heart is far away. He promises – but there is no performance.

Jesus then asked the group: “ Which of the two did what his father wanted?” The first they replied.

Now let us think about the two sons. They are both bad, aren’t they?  What does the Scripture tell us about ourselves? We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. ( Romans 3)  In other words we are all bad. Here is the story of the better of two bad sons.  At best we are only the better of two bad sons. Here are the truths this parable reveals:

  1. There is work to be done in God’s kingdom and we are to be busy doing it. Heirs are expected to work. ‘We are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves it is a gift of God and not of works lest any man  should boast’. ( Ephesians 2:8,9) Yet the very next verse tells us – ‘ we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works God has ordained we walk in.” ( verse 10)
  2. Neither son was perfect. And neither are we.
  3. Promises do not equal performance. Our walk must match our talk.
  4. Repentance- true repentance results in obedience and a change in direction.

This group recognized the truth- and Jesus confirms it for them and links back to John the Baptist’s ministry. His was a ministry of repentance. This parable was a story of true repentance. Jesus says: “ I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came 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, you did not believe.’   It was if- when they saw these tax collectors and prostitutes believing and being baptized- that for them to do the same would be admitting we are no better than they are and in need of repentance and washing of our sins.

Jesus is saying the tax collectors and prostitutes are like the first son; while the chief priest and elders are like the second son. These religious leaders opened their mouths with politeness and false humility, but their hearts were far away and hardened.

Jesus is saying you saw this and did not repent and did not believe John the Baptist. The very one who came as a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy.



“ Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it ( KJV- ‘ hedged it round about) dug a wine press in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached , he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.”

This audience of learned men, theologians every one- knew the book of Isaiah.  This parable is based on the verses in Isaiah 5- the Song of the Vineyard.  Listen to these verses and they will explain this parable.  “ He( God) dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest of vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut a winepress as well. He looked for crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. Now you dwellers of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes why did it yield only bad? I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed. I will break down its wall and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither will it be pruned or cultivated and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it”

Next verse tells us plainly who this is about:  “ The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, the men of Judah are the garden of His delight.”

This prophetic chapter ends with several woes:  “Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit. Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.”  This was true in Isaiah’s day in 740 BC; it was true 2000 years ago when Jesus confronted these men who were clever in their own sight and it is true today in the 21st century!

God established the nation of Israel and blessed them and did for them what was described here in these verses in Isaiah.  In fact God could say:  ‘ what more could I have done for my vineyard?’   The Lord Almighty gave all of this to the nation of Israel and left in charge of the farmers ( husbandmen) to take care of it and yield him a fruitful crop of which they would give him a portion for the rent.  Obviously the ones left in charge of the vineyard are the priests, the religious leaders and kings and scribes.

When God sent his servants, the prophets to collect his due rent – they were beaten, stoned and killed. In other words they did not render to the Lord Almighty the homage, love and service he was due. In fact the ones left in charge of producing the crop for the owner conspired to do evil to the servants who came to collect what was rightfully due the owner.  Notice the patience of God who kept sending servants to give them a chance to do what was right. Finally he sent his son, for surely they would respect his son. But they once again plotted evil and said’ let’s kill him and take his inheritance. So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.’

They knew he was the heir – but they wanted his inheritance. No wonder Jesus once said – “you belong to your  father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.He was a murderer from the beginning…” ( John 8) Lucifer knew God the Son was the heir- he wanted his inheritance, so he conspired to kill him.

Where did they arrest Jesus ? In the Garden of Gethsemane , vineyard dug in a hillside with a winepress there also. They cast him out of that  garden – vineyard and slew him at Calvary. The tenants took over the vineyard. And the temple which represented the vineyard was destroyed in 70 AD.  And it has not been rebuilt to this day.

Jesus then asks them the question: “ Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? They answered: He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, they replied and will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.’

Jesus then asked them another question: “ Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone( KJV the same is becoming the head of the corner) ; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous to our eyes”?

Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce a fruit. He who falls on the stone will be broken to pieces , but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”   Falling on the cornerstone produces brokenness- which leads to Godly sorrow and repentance.  A broken and contrite heart He will not despise. ( Psalm 51)  But the one on whom the Stone falls will be crushed.

These men, the chief priest and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest the Son, cast him out of the vineyard and slay him.

Has God blessed America?  Of course He has- for we honored Him in our government, our society and our culture.

What a warning to us who today who live in a country that once pledged allegiance to God and put on their money- “In God We Trust.”  A  country that now celebrates its progress by calling what God calls evil as good and good – evil. We are seeing the Word of God questioned not only in our government, society and culture, we see churches  re-thinking what they believe about the Word of God. As if it is likened unto a document that needs to be updated and changed to fit the changes in our culture and society.  Let’s re-interpret and change the Word of God to fit our lives- instead of changing our lives to align with the Word of God .  A new plumb line has been drawn.

We are to be light and salt in a dark and decaying world.  We are told what can happen- if salt loses its saltiness- can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. And light is to be put on a stand not under bowl- where it can give light to everyone in the house. Let me ask you a question:  if we are to be light- where does that mean God wants to place us? On a stand-  in darkness.


These parable set before the leaders of the nation in Israel that day told them plainly what would be the sin and ruin of their nation.  These truths hold true for any nation for God is the same- He does not change.

When we as individuals or a society reject the Word of God – we reject the foundation upon which our faith is built- the corner stone who is the Lord Jesus, God the Son who became flesh. He is known as the Word of God and He came to lay the foundation.

Listen to this old hymn, which is used on J. Vernon McGee’s  radio show. “How Firm a Foundation” :

“ How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word! What more can He say than to you He hath said, You who to Jesus for refuge have fled “

Turn back to the Sermon on the Mount to the closing parable Jesus gives in Matthew 7: 24-27. It is the parable of the wise and foolish builders. The wise builder is everyone who hears these words of Jesus and puts them into practice. He is compared to the man who built his house on the rock, the sure and firm foundation – not like the foolish builder who built on the sand.  The storms came, the winds blew and floods came and the builder on the sand saw his house- his life fall with a great crash- not so for the wise builder – his house withstood the storms.  However take note: they both faced storms.

Here is His Promise to you and me who are wise and put into practice what He has taught us: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” ( Isiah 43)

The key is God’s word – believed, obeyed and put into practice. Not just a hearer only ,but a doer also.   “ By His divine power He has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him.  Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” ( 2 Peter 1)

Paul tells us: “ All scriptures is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”   You see— what more can He say to you than He has already said!

My question is – have you fled to Jesus for refuge?  If you have you are in the process of building your life on the foundation of His Word and He , the Lord Jesus is the Word- the Alpha and Omega. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.

Maybe today or at this time in your life- the 3rd stanza of this hymn is where you are:

“ When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie; My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume- and they gold refine.”


And then the last verse comforts with this:  “ The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose, I will not , I will not desert to its foes; that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I will never, no never, no never forsake!”

I like that repetition: I will never, no never, no never forsake!

“ For no one can lay any foundation other than that which is already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” ( I Cor. 3:11)


What amazing, all sufficient grace that God has for those of us who have fled to Jesus for refuge.

Have you fallen on the Stone for salvation in this day of grace?  To reject Him is to risk the Stone falling later on you in judgment.

Is the Lord asking you to go to His vineyard to work?  Have you said I will not go, like the first son. Then realize God does not want the stone to fall on you- he wants you to repent, not perish, and you need to repent and  to go to His vineyard.

Are you like the second son- you have confessed with your mouth- but your heart is far away and you do not do what you said you would do. Then you also can repent and go- obedience always follows true repentance.

What do you think?

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14