The Three Parables.
Matthew 21:33-22:14; Mark 11:27-12:12; Luke 20:1-19
They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?” – Mark 11:28 NLT
This question posed by the Pharisees seems a bit odd, unless you keep it within its context. Jesus is walking with His disciples through the Temple area. They have just recently arrived back in town from their long walk from the village of Bethany where they are staying during the Passover celebration. According to Mark’s chronology of the events surrounding this last week of Jesus’ life, the day before Jesus had been in this same area, but was in a slightly different mood. He had walked on to the Temple grounds and angrily cleared out the moneychangers, overturning their tables. He drove away all those buying and selling animals for the sacrifices. And most importantly, Mark tells us, “he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace” (Mark 11:16 NLT). If you think about it, Jesus completely disrupted the entire sacrificial system for that day. He threw a wrench into the well-oiled machine of the corrupt religious system that had somehow replaced what God had established through Moses in the wilderness. What He observed taking place in the Temple that first Sunday He arrived in Jerusalem was more about men than God. He witnessed a religious system built on greed and corruption. Extortion and graft were rampant. At this point in time, even the priestly office had become more political than spiritual. They held their offices thanks to Rome and many of them held their positions based on payoffs made to the Roman government. So Jesus shut the whole thing down – even if only for one day.
That sets up the passage we are dealing with today. It is the next day and Jesus has arrived back in town. He is immediately confronted by the leading priests, the teachers of religious law and the elders. They demand to know who has given Him the authority to do what He has done. They are specifically talking about His disruption of the sacrificial system the day before. They are incensed because His efforts have made a personal impact on their pocketbooks. These men benefited financially from the sale of the sheep and doves for sacrifice. It is said that they had arranged the system in such a way that when people brought their sacrificial lamb to the priests for inspection to deem whether it was unblemished or not, the priests would find some fault with it, then require them to buy one of the truly unblemished lambs they had for sale. Then they would take the very lamb they had rejected and turn around and sell it to the next person in line. They had also set up a system that required everyone to exchange their currency for Temple currency, tacking on a high fee for the privilege. All of this revenue went into the Temple treasury, but much of it lined the pockets of the leading priests. So when they came to Jesus, they had a personal stake in this whole thing.
Their question had to do with authority or right. By asking their question, they are inferring that Jesus had no right or authority to do what He did. His actions were not in keeping with accepted tradition. In their mind, Jesus was a renegade and a trouble maker. He was not one of them. He had not gone through the proper channels or training. He had no authority because He had never been a disciple of one of the great rabbis. He was an imposter and needed to be dealt with as such. Without knowing it, they were actually questioning Jesus’ kingship. Remember, just a few days before Jesus had rode into town to the shouts of “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David! Praise God in highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9-10 NLT). Jesus had been welcomed as a king. But now they were questioning His authority and attempting to paint Him as a radical and a revolutionary.
Rather than answer their question, Jesus counters with one of His own. “I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things if you answer one question,” Jesus replied. “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human? Answer me!” (Mark 11:29-30 NLT). Jesus puts them squarely on the horns of a dilemma. If they said John’s authority was from heaven, they would be guilty of rejecting God. If they said it was of human origin, they risked alienating the people who saw John as a prophet. So they decided to plead ignorance. “We don’t know,” they responded. And as a result, Jesus refused to address their question regarding His authority. But in reality Jesus does answer their question. He does so by telling three short parables. He turns to the crowd and begins to teach in His usual method, using simple stories to teach a much deeper truth. But the context tells us what Jesus has in mind by telling these stories. The issue is one of authority and Jesus uses these stories to address their original question.
Three Parables – One Message
Over in Matthew’s account, we have the three parables and they are the parable of the two sons, the parable of the landowner, and the parable of the wedding feast. In the first one, Jesus tells about a father with two sons, who orders the first son to go into the household vineyard and work. The son refused, but later repented and did what the father had asked. He orders the second sons to go and he initially agrees, feigning obedience, but later refuses, never doing what the father asked. Jesus asked, “Which one obeyed?” and they answered, “The first son.” So what’s the point? The religious leaders believed they were sons of the kingdom due to their heritage as descendants of Abraham. Jesus makes it clear that corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into God’s Kingdom before they will. Why? Repentance and belief. The religious leaders refused to repent. They refused to believe. They would not acknowledge Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and His authority as their rightful King.
In the second parable, Jesus tells of a landowner who planted a vineyard and then leased it out and moved to another country. When the grape harvest came, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers to whom he had leased the land, beat one servant, killed another and stoned the last. So the landowner sent a larger group or servants and they were treated in the same way. Finally, he decides to send his own son, hoping that they will show him the respect he deserves. But when he arrives, they grab him, drag him out of the vineyard and kill him. Jesus asks what they think the landowner will do to these farmers when he returns. “The religious leaders replied, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest” (Matthew 21:41 NLT). Their own answer condemns them. So what’s the point? Over the centuries, God had sent His prophets to His people, and they had been abused, rejected, and in many cases, killed. So He sent more and they were treated the same way. And now He had sent His Son, but He too would be killed in just a matter of days. In telling this particular parable, Jesus was referring to a story from the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-7). Jesus makes sure they get the meaning of the story. “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce proper fruit. Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on” (Matthew 21:43-44 NLT).
Jesus is the stone that the builders will reject, but He will become the cornerstone. And Jesus, as King, had the authority to do as He wished – even if it meant taking away the Kingdom of God from those who rejected Him. The Pharisees didn’t miss the point. “When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them – they were the wicked farmers. They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet” (Matthew 21:45-46 NLT).
In the final parable, Jesus tells about a king who prepares a wedding for his son. He sent his servants to to get the guests he had invited. But they all refuse to come. So he sends more servants, but the invited guests ignore them, giving excuses and even trying to murder the servants. The king, obviously upset and offended, sent out his army to destroy these people and burn their town. Then he sent his servants to invite anyone they saw – good, bad or indifferent – to fill the banquet hall for his son’s wedding. Evidently, the king even supplied wedding clothes to these people, because they would not have had any. But one man showed up improperly dressed, having failed to put on what he had been given. He was promptly bound and thrown out.
So what’s the point? God had invited the nation of Israel into His kingdom. Over the centuries He had sent His messengers, the prophets, to the Jewish people, with His call to repentance, but they had refused God’s messengers, rejecting and even killing them. So Jesus told His listeners that God was going to deal harshly with that generation and with those of His own day. As a result, the invitation would be extended to any and all (Gentiles). God would open up the invitation to even those outside the Jewish community, even providing the proper “attire” for the wedding. Through His upcoming death on the cross, Jesus would clothe those who believed in Him with His own righteousness. He would replace their rags of sin with garments of righteousness, acceptable before God the Father. But if anyone tries to enter God’s Kingdom clothed in their own righteousness, they will be rejected.
It’s all about a Kingdom and a King
Jesus had authority as the Son of God. The entire Old Testament message from the prophets spoke of Him. The nation of Israel had been invited to enter into His kingdom, but they would refuse. They had rejected the message of the prophets, of John the Baptist and would reject the offer of Jesus Christ. And the question you have to ask today, is whether Jesus Christ is the authority in your life. Do you listen to what He says and obey it? Have you accepted His invitation, or are you too busy, too good, or too smart to buy into something so hard to believe? Does the way you live your life reveal that you sometimes question whether Jesus has authority over your life? Do you refuse to put on the righteousness He has provided because you prefer your life just the way it is? Jesus not only wants to be the Savior, He wants to be your King. He wants to rule and reign in your life. He wants to lead you and direct you. He wants you to worship and obey Him. He wants you to live in submission to Him. Because He loves You and He alone knows what is best for you. He is a gracious, loving, merciful, righteous King who longs to provide for and protect His people.
Lord, there are so many times I question Your authority in my life. I want to do things my way. I want to rule and reign, making decisions according to my terms and on my timeline. I love the fact they You died for me, but sometimes, I’m not quite so sure I want You to decide for me. But You have the right and authority to be my King and my Lord. I have no business rejecting Your rule in my life. Forgive me and help me submit willingly to Your loving leadership in my life. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men