Two Questions and A Parable
“And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” (Matthew 21:23-32)
The passage we have before us begins the last three days of our Lord’s earthly ministry prior to his arrest in Gethsemane. It is simply astonishing to consider how much work our Savior pressed into those three days. All that is recorded from Matthew 21:23 through chapter 25, all that is recorded by Mark in chapters 20, 21, and 22, and all that we read in John’s gospel from chapters 12 through 18 was done in those last three days before his arrest. His food and drink was to do his Father’s will. What an example he has given us! May God give us grace to follow it as men and women who know that “time is short.”
In these verses we see the priests and elders of the people, the religious leaders of the day, attempting to discredit the ministry of the Son of God. These bitter enemies of righteousness, these bitter envious, insecure religious men swarmed around the Son of God like a nest of bees, trying to find some weakness in him. The question by which he silenced their quibbles, and the parable by which our Master forced them to condemn themselves are here recorded for our comfort, learning, and admonition by divine inspiration. May God the Holy Spirit, who inspired Matthew to write these words, inscribe their lessons upon our hearts.
The question raised by our Lord’s adversaries demonstrates the fact that Satan’s strategy never changes. While the Lord Jesus was preaching the gospel (Luke 20:1) in the temple, the chief priests, with the scribes and elders (Mark 11:27), rudely blurted out, “By what authority doest thou these things; and who gave thee this authority?” (v. 23).
Their obvious insinuation was that our Savior obtained his power to perform the miracles he had performed from Satan. From the beginning of time, Satan’s most constant weapon against Christ and his people has been slander. Eve was seduced by the serpent’s slander of God’s character. Once the Lord God was discredited in her eyes, she was snared. Whenever it is impossible to disprove the work of God or deny the truth of God, Satan’s weapon of choice is to discredit the messenger of God by slander.
These hell-inspired religionists could not refute our Lord’s doctrine. They could not deny his power. (The fig tree withered before their eyes!) And they could not find any fault with his life or the lives of his disciples. So the only way to defend themselves, the only way they could justify their opposition to the Son of God was to discredit him by casting some slander upon him.
Often they slandered the Savior by his association with sinners; but here they attempted to discredit his authority. They ignored the good he did healing the sick, cleansing the temple, raising the dead, and teaching the people the Word of God, and quibbled about his authority to do what he did.
Commenting on the actions of these men, J. C. Ryle observed, “Too many care nothing for the manifest blessings of God upon a man’s work, so long as he is not sent forth by their own sect or party.” These religious leaders had all the right credentials; but they knew nothing of the power of God. The Lord Jesus had no earthly credentials; but his words and works manifested the very wisdom and omnipotence of God. Credentials, degrees, and papers of authority mean nothing in the church and kingdom of God.
Any man who is being used of God can expect to be the object of hellish slander. Wolves never attack a panted sheep, only living ones. Even so, artificial preachers are rarely the objects of spite, ridicule, and persecution, but faithful ones.
The pope offered to make Luther a cardinal if he would just keep quiet. Luther refused. Then men called him a proud fool. He said, “Let me be counted fool or anything, but I will not be guilty of cowardly silence.” When the papists could not silence him, they said, “Luther is an apostate.” Luther replied, “I am an apostate, but a blessed and holy apostate, one that has fallen off from the devil!” When men said, “Martin Luther is a devil,” he replied, “So be it. Luther is a devil; but Christ liveth and reigneth. That is enough for Luther.”
The most common areas of slander, by which God’s servants are attacked today, are the very same areas of slander that were hurled against the Son of God. Many are ridiculed because they lack the backing of recognized religious leaders, or lack impressive, academic degrees. William Huntington, who always signed his name “William Huntington, S.S.,” once said, “The degree S.S., or sinner saved, is more needful to teach others than an M.A. or a D.D.” Commenting on that degree, Spurgeon said, “Huntingdon's degree of S.S., or Sinner Saved, is more needful for a soul winning evangelist than either M.A. or D.D. The pardoned sinner's matter will be good, for he has been taught in the school of experience, and his manner will be telling, for he will speak sympathetically, as one who has felt what he declares.”
Others are slandered in other ways. Perhaps the most common charge laid against gospel preachers is that they are antinomians. In the religious world no one is so quickly identified as a base, wicked man as that one against whom the charge of “Antinomianism” is laid. But, the fact is, no man ever preached the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace who was not accused of antinomianism! The Pharisees accused our Lord Jesus of being a glutton and a drunk. The legalists of his day accused Paul of teaching, “Let us sin, that grace may abound.”
When wicked men, religious or irreligious, cannot refute that which is taught by another, slander is the tool they most commonly use to discredit the man. Nothing in this world is more base, more vile, more hellish and demonic than gossip and slander! Slander comes from an evil heart (Luke 6:45). It is characteristic of Satan, the slanderer (Rev. 12:10). Slanderers are wicked, base hypocrites (Ps. 50:20; Pro. 11:9). Slander inflicts deadly wounds (Pro. 18:8; 26:22), stirs up strife (Pro. 26:22), separates friends (Pro. 16:28; 17:9), and causes discord among brethren (Pro. 6:19). The tongue of slander is a scourge (Job 5:21) that is venomous (Ps. 140:3; Eccl. 10:11) and destructive (Pro. 11:9).
Our Savior’s question, by which he confounded the religious quibblers, clearly teaches us that believer’s baptism is a divine ordinance.
“And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” (vv. 24-27)
If they had been honest the question which our Lord put before these men would have been very simple to answer. But they were not honest men. Though they pretended to serve God, they were men-pleasers. And men-pleasers are like politicians. They never commit themselves to anything until they know which way the wind is blowing and what the costs will be.
Obviously, our Lord could easily have answered their question. He had already told them many times who he was and by what authority he acted. But now he seems to contemptuously shake off the dust of his feet against them. He showed his contempt for them publicly because they were public men.
We must always be ready to give answer to anyone who desires to know the reason of our hope (I Pet. 3:15). We ought never shrink from any inquiry from people seeking to understand gospel doctrine or practices. Yet, our Savior’s example plainly shows us that we have no obligation to answer the caviling quibbles of those who oppose the gospel.
Our Master’s primary instruction in this question was for the benefit of his disciples. The ministry of John the Baptist, particularly his practice of immersing those who professed repentance toward God, was a matter of great controversy in those days, just as believer’s baptism is a matter of great controversy today. Here, our Lord Jesus teaches us that John’s baptism was of heavenly origin. John Gill wrote, “By ‘the baptism of John’ is meant the ordinance of water-baptism, which was first administered by him.” No one had ever done anything like this before. Believer’s baptism began to be practiced by divine ordinance with the ministry of John the Baptist.
Many today talk about baptism as a matter of choice, or of indifference. But neither is true. Believer’s baptism is a divine ordinance. As such, it is essential in the worship of God. These things are so clearly taught in Holy Scripture that any confusion about this blessed gospel ordinance is inexcusable. Baptism is for believers only (Acts 8:37-38). Infant baptism is utterly without foundation in the Word of God. Baptism is by immersion only (Matt. 3:15-17). Immersion is not the “mode” of baptism. Immersion is baptism. That is what the word means. Baptism is a symbolic burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-6; Col. 2:12). Until you can bury a corpse by throwing a few grains of sand on its face, you cannot baptize a person by throwing a few drops of water on their head. Baptism is a symbolic picture of the gospel (Rom. 6:4-6). It is not a picture of regeneration, or of circumcision, or of renewal, or of cleansing. It is a picture of redemption, a picture of our, death, burial, and resurrection with Christ our Substitute.
God’s Saving Grace
In the parable about the two sons, our Savior teaches us that the Lord our God graciously saves every penitent sinner, even the most base and vile.
“But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” (vv. 28-32).
This parable is very brief, but very instructive. All who are wise will learn what it teaches. All men belong to God. God is not the Father of all men in a gracious, covenant way; but he is the Father of all and the Owner of all as the Creator of all (Matt. 20:15). As the sovereign Owner of all, God almighty has the right to do what he will with all. And he has chosen some to salvation and passed by others, loved some and hated others (Rom. 9:13-18).
All men are commanded to repent (Acts 17:30-31). In the Word of God, and particularly in this passage (vv. 28, 29, 32), repentance, obedience, and faith are used synonymously. Repentance is neither more nor less than faith in Christ; and faith in Christ is neither more nor less than obedience to him as Lord. We preach the gospel to all, and call all who hear our voices to faith in Christ. Because God commands all to repent, all who hear the gospel are responsible to repent.
And the Lord our God is infinitely willing and able to save every sinner who bows to his dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in true repentance and faith. It matters not how bad the sinner has been. All who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved. It matters not how good you appear to be, or imagine yourself to be, if you do not trust the Son of God, you must perish forever. God is no respecter of persons. None are too bad to be saved; but many are too good in their own eyes to be saved.
Robert Hawker wrote, “From our Lord’s giving the preference to publicans and harlots, to that of self-righteous scribes and Pharisees, we may safely conclude that nothing was more offensive to the Lord of life and glory, than a frame of mind which, of all others, is more immediately leveled against the leading doctrines of his gospel. Oh! for grace to be always aware of the leaven of the Scribes and Pharisees, which the Son of God himself declares to be hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1).” In the day of judgment I would rather stand before God as a publican, or a harlot, or anything, rather than stand before him as a self-righteous hypocrite (Rom. 9:30-10:4). Beware of self-righteousness!
When you are slandered let it have no effect upon you, except to drive you into your Father’s arms. If you would be saved, you must “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” If God has saved you, if he has given you faith in Christ, confess him in believer’s baptism.