Let’s see a show of hands. How many of us were warned against certain behaviors or decisions but made a conscious choice to ignore the good counsel of others and do it anyway? Since we all share human DNA, my guess is that everyone could raise their hand. Why is this? What is it about us that leads us to believe that we will be the one exception to the rule…that we are smart enough to beat the statistics?
Human beings are naturally hard-headed. We can be presented with clear, undeniable evidence and still reason our way into a bad decision. Jesus confronted His listeners with this principle in Matthew 21 – a flaw that can have eternal consequences.
The chief priests and (religious) elders were unhappy with Jesus. They had just witnessed His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The crowds of people had worshipped and welcomed Him, fulfilling Zechariah’s words written hundreds of years earlier (Zechariah 9:9) – a clear, Messianic prophecy with which they were likely very familiar. That same day, Jesus humiliated them ever further as He cleared out the money changers and those buying and selling in the temple, accusing them of making God’s house a robbers’ den. Finally, they were indignant that He failed to correct the children who were calling out, “Hosanna to the Son of David;” instead, He accepted their adoration.
The next day they caught Him in the temple and challenged His authority. Jesus, knowing their hearts, answered them with a question of His own. What did they believe about John the Baptist? Was his teaching from heaven, or from men? Here they made a fatal mistake…they began reasoning among themselves (Matthew 21:25). Instead of believing the prophets who clearly spoke of John’s coming as a forerunner to the Messiah, they talked themselves out of the truth. They knew if they affirmed John as a prophet, Jesus would ask them why they didn’t believe and repent; they also knew the people would be angry if they discredited John as a prophet. So, they wavered. They refused to commit to what they knew in their hearts was true.
Jesus then tells two parables. In the first, two sons respond differently to their father’s command to work in the vineyard. The first son refuses, but later regrets it and goes to work. The second son tells his father he will but does not go. Jesus asks, “Which one did the will of his father?” Of course, the answer is the first. His actions proved that he recognized his father’s authority. Jesus tells the religious crowd that sinners will get into the kingdom of God before them, because they saw the truth about John’s ministry but yet did not repent, while the tax collectors and prostitutes responded. In fact, He says, You…seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him (Matthew 21:32).
In the second parable, a landowner rents out a vineyard. At harvest time he sends his servants to receive the produce of the vineyard, but the vine-growers beat, kill, and stone them. The landowner then sends His son, saying “they will respect him,” but he meets the same fate – he is killed. Jesus asked the Pharisees what will the landowner do when he comes to deal with the rebellious vine-growers? Their answer is graphic: He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and give the vineyard to vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds as they should. Jesus catches the Pharisees in their own self-righteousness. He explains the parable by reminding them of another Messianic prophecy in Psalm 118:22-23. Jesus is the cornerstone rejected by the builders (the Jews), and because of their rejection, the kingdom of God would be taken away from them and given to another people (the Gentile nations), who would produce fruit – the fruit of repentance and obedience to God.
Here’s the crux of it. The chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables and understood that He was speaking about them (Matthew 21:45). They knew. They understood. Yet, in their pride and human reasoning, they refused to commit.
Salvation requires a full commitment to Jesus when we are confronted with the truth. If we doubt and waver and reason, we are likely to miss the obvious and talk ourselves right into eternal destruction. The Pharisees were eyewitnesses to the multiple Messianic prophecies that Jesus was fulfilling. They understood what He was saying. They saw the effects of repentance and life-change brought about by John’s preaching and Jesus’ teaching. They saw the miracles of healing and power over demonic forces.
Just like we do today, they were presented with clear, undeniable evidence and still reasoned their way into a bad decision.
How much confirmation has God given you that His Word is true and that Jesus is the Son of God just as He claimed to be? How much evidence will you deny in favor of human reasoning? How many scars will it take before you fully commit to following the One you know in your heart of hearts is the only One telling you the truth?
If you have heard and understood the gospel, you are blessed. Praise God that He humbled your heart to believe and respond by faith. Don’t take it for granted. Keep listening and believing and obeying, and in all things, submit your human reasoning to the authority of Jesus.
Don’t risk letting reason keep you out of the kingdom of God.