Mat_21:23. 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?
Jesus knew that these men came to him for no good purpose, mad that willing were only trying to trip him up in his speech. He was always willing to teach when men were willing to learn, but he did not care to cast his pearls before swine. Therefore, mark the holy caution, the sacred ingenuity with which our Lord replied to these men.
Mat_21:24-27. And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in likewise 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.
He carried the war into the enemy’s camp. He answered his accusers by asking them a question which they could not answer in either way without condemning themselves.
Mat_21:28-32. But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today 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.
Those poor fallen women and degraded tax-gatherers practically said, by their conduct, “We will not serve the Lord.” Their past evil life had been a deliberate rejection of the authority of God; and yet, when John the Baptist came, they repented, and they believed. Each of them had said, like the elder son, “I will not,” yet they did it. But as for these chief priests and elders, who all their lives had been outwardly serving the Lord, and Saying, “We will go and work in God’s vineyard.” when John came, and pointed them to God’s own Son, they would not accept him. They had, just now, by refusing to tell whether the Lord’s messenger was from heaven or of men, again rejected him, and proved that they had not repented. They did not believe John, they had themselves confessed that it was so; and, therefore, out of their own mouths they were condemned. I wonder whether there is any lesson in this parable to some who are here; I should not be surprised if there is. I hope that there are some among you, who hitherto have said, “I will not go,” who will repent, and go and serve your God; and, on the other hand, it is to be feared that there may be some here, who have always been saying, “I go, sir,” who nevertheless have not gone, and perhaps never will go; but will remain to the last disobedient to the command of God. The Lord grant that it may not be so!
Mat_21:33-41. Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
You see at once how this parable related to the leaders of the Jewish people. From generation to generation, they scorned the prophets of God, persecuted them, and put them to death; and when our Lord himself appeared, though his glory might easily have been seen by them, yet they cast him out from among them, and put him to death. Yet, beloved friends, we must never regard the Scriptures as referring only to strangers and people of past ages; we must also look to see what bearing they have upon ourselves. The rejection of God’s prophets is the sin of our common humanity; and the murder of the Son of God was the crime, not of the Jews only, ‘but of the whole human race. We, too, have a share in it, for we have rejected the Son of the Highest. “But we were not there,” say you. No; and yet we may have repeated that terrible tragedy in our own lives. God has sent you many messengers; and if you remain, at this moment, unconverted, you have not treated them well, else you would have yielded your heart to God. Some of them you have rejected by your neglect, and others have been the subject of your ridicule and contempt. Against some, you have striven violently, for your own conscience has been touched, and you have had to do violence to conscience in order to reject their message. Last of all, the Son of God himself has come to you in the preaching of the gospel. You have heard of his death, and of his atoning sacrifice, but you have rejected them; and, in acting thus, you have done, as far as you could, the same as they did who crucified the Saviour. You still refuse to have him for your Saviour; you disown him as your King; you strive against his righteous sway. You tell me that you do not. Well, then, you have yielded to him, and you are saved. But if that be not the case, you still remain such an adversary of God that you reject his Son. Take care lest of you also that prophecy should become true, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.”
Mat_21:42. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures,—
What a question this was for our Lord to put to men who professed to have the whole of the Scriptures at their fingers ends, and to be the only qualified interpreters of them: “Did ye never read in the Scriptures,”—
Mat_21:42-43. The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head, of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
And, at this day, we Gentiles enjoy the privileges of the gospel, while poor Israel is scattered to the four winds of heaven. But he, that spared not the natural olive, will not spare the engrafted branches if we are found unfruitful. God takes the gospel away from one nation, and gives it to another; but it is not accepted by the other one, and if he has not all the glory of it ascribed to him, he will take it away from that nation, too. He may deal there with us; if England becomes and remains a drunken nation, a cruel nation, a proud nation, an unbelieving nation, a superstitious nation, and brings forth the evil fruits of the vine of Sodom, we may not expect that God will always continue his kingdom amongst us. He will say to us, as Christ said to these chief priests and elders, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.”
Mat_21:44. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken:
If you stumble over Christ, the chief Corner-stone of God’s building, you will be broken in pieces. If you reject him, you shall suffer serious loss.
Mat_21:44. But on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
If you arouse the wrath of Christ, and the Rock of ages falls on you,—a huge cliff comes toppling from its lofty height upon the traveler, and crushes him past all recognition,—you will be ground to powder.
Mat_21:45-46. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.
Unhappy peop1e, to reject him who alone could bless them, and yet to stand in fear of trim whom they tried to despise! Let it not be so with any of us, but may Jesus become our Teacher, and our Friend, and our Saviour for ever, by his abounding grace! Amen.