More Than Just Words

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Actions are greater than Words.

Matthew(11) (Part of the Liturgical Calendar(9) series)
by Stuart Johns(56) on October 1, 2017 (Sunday Morning(69))

Obedience(3), Submitting(1)

17th Sunday after Pentecost

More Than Just Words

(Matthew 21:23-32)

 

INTRODUCTION

“Dr. J.B. Gambrel tells an amusing story from General Stonewall Jackson's famous valley campaign. Jackson's army found itself on one side of a river when it needed to be on the other side. After telling his engineers to plan and build a bridge so the army could cross, he called his wagon master in to tell him that it was urgent the wagon train cross the river as soon as possible. The wagon master started gathering all the logs, rocks and fence rails he could find and built a bridge. Long before day light General Jackson was told by his wagon master all the wagons and artillery had crossed the river. General Jackson asked, where are the engineers and what are they doing? The wagon master's only reply was that they were in their tent drawing up plans for a bridge.”

 

[Pulpit Helps, May, 1991 (http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/a/action.htm)].

 

BODY

  • ME

    • Saying “Yes”

        • There have been times when I’ve told someone that I would do something for them, but then did not follow through

        • I didn’t intentionally blow them or their project off

        • For me, if I don’t write it down on my “To Do” list or put the appointment in my calendar, then, odds are, I’ll forget to do it

        • That’s why I try to immediately put the request in my phone, so I won’t forget

    • “I’ll pray for you!”

        • I used to say that more often than I do now

        • I can’t remember where I heard it, but someone used to do the same thing, but would sometimes forget to pray for the individual

        • They began to stop and pray for the individual as soon as they shared the request with them

        • I try to do that more often than not, so I don’t forget to pray for an individual

        • I also try to write down the request and later add it to my prayer list, so I can continue to pray for them

 

  • WE

    • Said “Yes,” but didn’t do it

        • I’m sure you can think of someone who has promised to do something for you, but never followed through on their promise

        • They may have the same problem I do – they didn’t write it down or put it in their calendar and then forgot

        • Every one of us can probably think of a situation where that happened to us

        • When we went back to ask them about it, they were apologetic and explained that they had forgotten, or had some other explanation of why they didn’t keep their promise

    • Said “No,” but did it anyway

        • This scenario is more rare

        • It doesn’t happen very often that someone refuses to help with something and then later goes and does it anyway

        • Perhaps some of us can think of a time when that happen, but most of us probably don’t have a situation like that, that we can remember

 

Jesus has just cleared the Temple of all the commercial vendors and comes back the next day to teach in the Court of the Gentiles. ​​ He is approached by the religious leaders and questioned about His authority. ​​ Jesus uses this confrontation to help the religious leaders, His disciples, and the crowds to understand who He is and where His authority comes from. ​​ Jesus wanted the religious leaders and us to understand that . . .

 

BIG IDEA – Actions > Words.

 

Let’s pray

 

  • GOD (Matthew 21:23-32)

    • Jesus’ Authority Challenged (vv. 23-27)

        • Jesus is teaching in the temple courts

          • It appears as though everything that happens between now and the end of chapter 23 takes place on Tuesday, after Palm Sunday and before the Passover and Christ’s crucifixion

            • There are multiple parables told by Jesus

            • The religious leaders continue to question Jesus concerning paying taxes, the resurrection, and the Greatest Commandment

            • Jesus eventually condemns the religious leaders openly instead of indirectly through parables

          • Everything also happens in the Temple courts from now until chapter 24

            • Most likely, Jesus is teaching under one of the colonnades that surrounded the courtyard in the Court of the Gentiles

            • Show picture of Herod’s Temple

          • While Jesus is teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people come to him

        • Chief priests and elders ask Him two questions

          • Mark, the Gospel writer, also includes the teachers of the law in the group that comes to Jesus while He’s teaching

            • The chief priests and the elders made up the Sanhedrin which had executive, legislative, and judicial power within the Jewish governing system

            • They were the authority figures for the Jews

            • The chief priests worked together with the high priest to provide oversight for all of the temple activities, the treasury, and the priestly orders

            • These religious leaders were perhaps “approving” and “rejecting” anyone who was teaching in the Temple courts

          • Two questions about Jesus authority

            • “By what authority are you doing these things?”

              • When Jesus had cleared the Temple courts of the commercial activity that was taking place, it basically shamed the chief priests and the elders because they had “authorized” these kinds of transactions to take place on the Temple grounds

              • Any time we’re shamed in front of other people, what is our natural desire? ​​ (to get back at that person by shaming ​​ them publicly)

              • That is basically what the religious leaders are doing with Jesus

              • They probably spent the rest of the previous day and part of the evening talking about how to get back at Jesus – how to shame Him publicly

              • Jesus was just a carpenter from Nazareth who had never attended any of the scribal schools and had not received any formal authorization to give spiritual leadership in Israel [Green, 224]

              • They were the authority figures and they had not given Jesus their “seal of approval” to teach in the Temple courts

              • “These things” points back to several activities that had taken place (where did Jesus get the authority to do these things?)

                • Where did He get authority to purge the temple on the previous day and quote God from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11

                • Where did He get the authority to accept the crowds praise as the “Son of God” during His triumphal entry?

                • Where did He get the authority to teach about God in the Temple courts?

                • Where did His authority come from to do miraculous signs and wonders, including healings?

            • “Who gave you this authority?”

              • They wanted to know who had given Him His authority, because it definitely had not come from them

              • The religious leaders were flexing their “spiritual muscles” in an effort to shame Jesus in front of the crowd who was listening to His teachings

          • PRINCIPLE – Jesus’ authority threatens those who claim authority falsely.

            • The religious leaders in the 1st Century were claiming to have God’s authority, but they were not always following God’s Law

            • They had created a complex set of rules and regulations that sometimes set aside even the laws of God [Dubler, 4]

            • When Jesus came with God’s authority and began to challenge their authority, it created problems for them

            • The people began to turn to Jesus for their religious and spiritual instruction

            • The religious leaders were feeling marginalized

            • They didn’t like having their spiritual authority and actions questioned

            • Application

              • Jesus’ authority threatens our false claims to authority

              • It can happen within the modern church today, just like it did in the 1st Century

              • Individuals can have a false sense of authority in leading the church

              • It can be elders, deacons, pastors, board members, other leaders within the church, and even just church members or attenders

              • Isaiah 29:13-14, The Lord says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. ​​ Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. ​​ Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.

              • We might be able to fool those around us, but we cannot fool God

              • Our outward appearances can look really good, but inwardly we can be struggling with sin

                • Pride, Bitterness, Hatred

                • Lust, Gossip, Selfishness

                • A desire for wealth and riches

              • When someone confronts us about those sins in our lives or the Holy Spirit convicts us through a sermon, we don’t always cheerfully change

                • We become defensive with others

                • We express our reasons to the Holy Spirit for feeling justified in having ungodly, unbiblical thoughts and feelings and sometimes acting on them

              • Are we just giving God lip-service and claiming authority falsely?

                • The danger becomes speaking for God (as His authority) when He has not said something

                • Or, speaking against God and His plans when He has said something (using our authority and influence to try to stop God’s plans)

                • We need to make sure we are submitting to Jesus’ authority and not our own

                • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Submit to Jesus’ authority and not be threatened by it.

                • Three important things about Jesus authority that we see from Matthew 28:18-20 (read Matt. 28:18-20, #1)

                  • Jesus’ authority is God’s authority (“all authority in heaven”)

                  • Jesus’ authority validates his teaching (the teachers of the law were astounded with His knowledge at 12 years old; others recognized that Jesus’ teaching was different than the teachings they had previously heard)

                  • Jesus has authority to forgive sins (this is our greatest problem, yet Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection proved that He has authority over sin and death)

            • Jesus wants the religious leaders to recognize that they have been claiming authority falsely – they have not been leading the people of God correctly

          • Jesus then uses a common rabbinic debate technique

        • Jesus responds by asking them a question, where did John’s baptism come from – heaven or men (vv. 24-25a)

          • Were they going to submit to Jesus’ authority as the Son of God or not?

          • Jesus could easily have answered their question about where His authority came from (it was from God), but if He had done that, they could have easily accused Him of blasphemy

            • Jesus recognized the trap that the religious leaders were trying to set for Him

            • Instead, Jesus creates an incredibly difficult scenario for the religious leaders to have to work through

          • Jesus will answer their question about where His authority comes from, if they answer His question about where John’s baptism came from – heaven or men

        • Discussion and answer from the religious leaders (v. 25b-27)

          • These religious leaders show great wisdom in not responding immediately, but taking their time to discuss their answer

            • They were trained in the art of oratory and debate

            • They knew better than to simply speak the first thing that comes to mind

            • They are measured and cautious, so they don’t fall victim to a trap

          • From heaven

            • The religious leaders cannot answer that John’s baptism came from heaven, because they had been rejecting his ministry

            • If they say that John’s baptism came from heaven, they would be acknowledging that his authority came from God

            • In turn, if they acknowledged John’s authority came from God, they would also have to acknowledge that Jesus’s authority came from God

            • John and Jesus’ ministries were similar in several ways

              • Neither of them had studied in the rabbinic schools

              • Neither had been endorsed by the Jerusalem authorities

              • Both had been accepted by the people

            • John’s baptism was pointing to Jesus as the Messiah

              • Read Matthew 3:11-17 ​​ [#2]

              • Read Matthew 11:1-6 ​​ [#3]

              • “John’s message, ‘Repent,’ is the precondition for Jesus’ message, ‘Believe’.” ​​ [Green, 225]

            • The religious leaders were unwilling to change their minds about John’s ministry or Jesus’ claims to being the Messiah

            • “It is a basic principle of Christian living that we cannot learn new truth if we disobey what God has already told us.” ​​ [Wiersbe, 77]

            • Acknowledging that John’s baptism came from heaven was not an option for them, because then they would have to explain why they didn’t believe him or accept Jesus’ authority as being from God

          • From men

            • They also could not answer that John’s baptism came from men, because they were in a crowd of people who believed, correctly, that John was a prophet, sent from God

            • They were afraid of the people

              • Several scholars believe that if Jesus had asked them this question privately, that they would have readily said that John’s baptism did not come from God, but rather from men

              • God’s sovereignty is at work in this scenario

              • He will not allow the religious leaders to get off the hook so easily

              • They either have to face the truth that is in front of them or be dishonest

            • It’s amazing that the people were accepting of the truth, while the religious authorities were not

              • Religious pride is a serious issue

              • It’s the idea of not being teachable

              • When we have been taught something for a long time, we hold tightly to those beliefs

              • When we learn something different about a particular passage of scripture that perhaps contradicts what we’ve been taught for years, we tend to condemn it outright

              • Seminary and sermon preparation have been good for me, because through professors and the Holy Spirit, God has refined some of my beliefs about things I was taught while growing up

          • PRINCIPLE – Pride and fear can keep God’s people from speaking the truth and being obedient to the truth.

            • The religious leaders allowed pride and fear to stop them from speaking the truth

            • We’ll see in v. 32 that their pride and fear stopped them from being obedient to the truth

            • The same is true for us today

              • We can allow pride and fear to keep us from speaking the truth and being obedient to the truth

              • We know what scripture teaches and we’ve been shown that our long held belief about a particular scripture was incorrect or taken out of context, but we’re unwilling to accept the truth of God’s Word

                • We continue to hold to our incorrect belief

                • We criticize others, privately and sometimes publicly, who teach the truth of God’s Word correctly and in context

              • We also let the opinions of others determine what we say and do concerning God’s Word

                • Sometimes we agree with someone when we’re in a group setting, but inwardly we don’t believe what they are saying

                • If the conversation would take place privately we would perhaps share out beliefs with them, but sometimes we don’t because we’re afraid they will tell others what we truly believe

                • The fear of man can be very powerful

                • The Apostles were confronted with a situation where they had to determine whether or not they would give in to the fear of man

                • Read Acts 5:27-33

              • We have to determine, just like the Apostles, that we will obey God rather than men

            • Pride and fear can keep us from speaking the truth of God’s Word and from obeying God’s Word

            • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Confess my spiritual pride and fear and ask the Lord to give me strength to speak the truth of His Word and be obedient to His Word.

          • Because of pride and fear the religious leaders tell Jesus that they don’t know where John’s baptism came from

            • In reality they did know, but were not willing to be honest with Jesus

            • They were also not being honest with the crowd that had been listening to Jesus’ teaching

            • They were not leading God’s people correctly

        • Jesus’ response

          • Jesus knows the answer to their question, but He will not answer their questions as long as they are unwilling to be honest with Him

          • Jesus had told His disciples in Matthew 13:10-17 why He was teaching in parables – it had to do with those who have eyes to see and ears to hear

          • The religious leaders did not have eyes to see or ears to hear

          • So, Jesus was placing a hurdle between them and the answer to their question [Weber, 344]

          • He wasn’t going to make it easy on them although He was going to answer their questions through three parables

        • Jesus uses the three parables to explain that the religious leaders have failed to respond to God’s call and what the consequences of that failure have been for the future of His people

          • All three parables contrast two groups of people (those who assume they have a right to their privileged position and those who find themselves unexpectedly promoted

          • All three talk about the radical and unexpected reversal of roles

    • Parable of the Two Sons (v. 28-32)

        • Read Matthew 21:28-30

          • “What do you think?” was a commonly used question to prompt students to use their minds to solve a problem

            • Jesus wants the religious leaders to pay attention to the parable

            • He wants them to basically answer their own questions

          • The parable

            • The parable is simple enough

            • There are two sons who are asked by their father to go work in a vineyard

            • The first son does not hesitate to refuse his father, but later goes into the vineyard and works

            • The second son immediately agrees to work in the vineyard, but never follows through

          • So, Jesus has set the stage for the explanation of this parable, which will address the fact that actions are greater than words

        • Read Matthew 21:31-32

          • Jesus asks the religious leaders which son did what his father wanted

            • They did not hesitate to respond that it was the first son

            • Jesus’ parable was not difficult to understand, but as the religious leaders were about to find out, the explanation of the meaning will be difficult for them to accept

            • Jesus’ question about which son did what his father wanted shows that He was more concerned about what they did instead of what they said they would do

          • The first son represents the marginalized and rejected in the 1st Century culture

            • Tax collectors were despised by the Jews because they had sided with the Romans

            • Prostitutes were also despised because they represented something that was unclean

            • “The son that originally refused but then obeyed is like those in Israel who were disobedient to the law, such as tax collectors and prostitutes. ​​ But when John arrived with the message of true righteousness through the announcement of the arrival of the kingdom of God, they obeyed God’s call through John and were repentant.” ​​ [Wilkins, 696]

          • The second son represents the religious leaders

            • They were all talk and no action

            • They said they were obedient to God, but they rejected His prophets

            • This happened in the Old Testament and was happening in the 1st Century with John and Jesus (God’s representatives to them)

            • Jesus’ claim that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering heaven ahead of the religious authorities in Jerusalem must have come as a shock

            • Their spiritual pride and entitlement, through their heritage, gave them a false confidence that they were already guaranteed heaven (they were externally obedient to the law)

            • Yet they refused the way of righteousness that John and Jesus preached

            • Their pride and fear kept them from being obedient to the truth

              • They had seen the marginalized repent and turn to Jesus for salvation

              • Some of the religious perhaps knew about Mary Magdalene and her sorted past and watched as she was transformed by the power of the Gospel

              • Others were perhaps aware of Matthew’s previous employment as a Jewish tax collector or the transformation that took place in Zacchaeus’ life

              • Yet they were unwilling to let go of their spiritual pride and release their grip on their spiritual authority in order to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus as the Messiah

            • ​​ Actions > Words

              • PRINCIPLE – God values obedient deeds over claims to obedience.

              • “What Jesus denounced is an insincere profession, the profession of one who cries, ‘Lord, Lord . . .’ but who does not do what Jesus says.” ​​ [Boice, 459]

              • Are we in that category?

                • Is our obedience to God simply lip-service?

                • It is if we say that we have joined the church, can recite the Apostles creed from memory, list all the books of the Bible in order, have a reputation as a good Christian, volunteer at the church or in another ministry on a consistent basis, give a tithe and/or offering each week, support a child through sponsorship, or even have a career as a Christian worker or minister

                • We can do all those things and still be disobedient to God, because we reject Jesus Christ as the Messiah, our Savior from sins

              • “In the final analysis, it is the fruit of our lives that proves whether or not we are submissive to God’s message through his messengers.” ​​ [Wilkins, 696]

              • “Like the father sending his sons to work, God commands all people to carry out his will. ​​ Like the son who ultimately disobeyed, some promise but do not perform rightly and so are rejected by God. ​​ Like the son who ultimately obeyed, some rebel but later submit and so are accepted . . . In the kingdom performance takes priority over promise.” ​​ [Blomberg, 322]

              • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Make sure that my obedience to God’s will is more than just words, but is followed by repenting and believing in Jesus for salvation.

 

  • YOU

    •  

 

  • WE

 

CONCLUSION

Pastor John E. Dubler summarizes this passage with a phrase he once found on the back of an envelope he received. ​​ It said, “Only what you do, do you believe.” ​​ He goes on to say, “Talk is cheap. ​​ In the end, actions matter more than words and are the only reliable standard for obedience. ​​ Saying ‘I will obey You, Lord,’ and actually acting in obedience are two different things.” ​​ 

 

[http://www.johndubler.com/Parables_09_WEB_Two_Sons.pdf]

 

We see this through the story of Rachelle Starr. ​​ Read Rachelle Starr’s story from Not A Fan, pages 186-187.

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