Child Games: Jesus & Obedience (Matthew 21:23-46)


110 years ago this year, well-known author G.K. Chesterton wrote a book, “What’s wrong with the world today?” There’s an added story told that The London Times posed this question to several prominent authors, and Chesterton responded with a one-sentence essay:

“Dear Sir. I am. Yours, G.K. Chesterton”

Today’s message reminds us that we are all neck-deep in need of grace.


EXAMINE           Matthew 21:28-46    Jesus & Obedience

Last week we had Jesus entering Jerusalem and declaring 3 desires for God’s temple

  • A holy temple.
  • A hospitable temple.
  • A teachable temple.


Matthew 21:23-46 (ESV)
23  And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
24  Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.
25  The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’
26  But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
27  So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.


Jesus continues walking through the temple and interacting with the religious leaders. They are questioning his authority to speak and act in such a way. In typical Jesus fashion, He does not play the “child games;” while the religious leaders are playing checkers, Jesus is playing chess. Jesus reveals His authority with profound teaching and provocative integrity.

Jesus was forcing the religious leaders to make a decision: focus on the religious checklists which promote your power over people or begin faith in the God who sees through hypocrisy, and humbly pursue grace through Jesus. Notice that the religious leaders tried to ride the fence and maintain status quo – “We do not know.” Not making a decision about Jesus and Christianity is to make a decision.

  • Who or what is your authority? You can say Jesus and the Bible are your authority, but if you’re not living according to His Lordship, then you have placed yourself above God.
  • One of the things that many people are doing right now is postponing a decision on Jesus or faith obedience. Yet, even in uncertainty we will still be responsible for our obedience.

28  “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
29  And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went.
30  And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.
31  Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.
32  For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

Jesus teaches a parable to illustrate the deviant nature of each of us.

  • The first son represents sinners (tax collectors and harlots). Initially, their lifestyle avoids following God.
    However, after confrontation with truth and conviction of grace, they follow.

    • A past action/lifestyle does not have to define or disqualify your future. God is the author of forgiving grace and fresh starts.
  • The second son represents the religious. Outwardly they appear to follow God. But in reality they are ungrateful servants and disobedient followers. Lip service does not equal life authenticity.
    • False professions are popular. Be careful! Words and deeds must match or we are hypocrites (cf. Isa 29:13-14; James 2:14-26).

33  “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country.

Jesus teaches another parable about a vineyard. The analogy of Israel compared to a vineyard was familiar to religious leaders. One of the most familiar was with Isaiah 5 where the vineyard of the LORD was planted in a fertile area and tended to with workers, but in the end it yielded sour grapes – like God “looked for justice and righteousness but behold bloodshed and outcry” (Isa 5:7). The end of the parable was most familiar because it included God’s judgment with enemy nations who would exile Israel. Jesus shares this familiar parable, but this time with some unique traits and twists.
34  When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit.
35  And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.
36  Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them.
37  Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

In this parable you might think: “Why keep sending servants to get killed, much more the son?” It would be like an unruly and violent school classroom that murdered substitute teacher, and then the principal sends the vice-principal, only to be killed, and then a security guard who also was killed. Would the principal next send his child? (ps if you mess with the son you get the sistas) So – why does the vineyard owner send his treasured child to an untrustworthy and threatening environment? Keep listening…

38  But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’
39  And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
40  When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
41  They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

This shows you the spiral of sin and descent into depravity. The human heart is morally wicked, and that includes every generation past, present, and future. Like the religious leaders who wanted to pass judgment on the tenants of this parable, current generations like to evaluate the sins of past generations as if they’re morally superior. We assume the ancients were backwards and morally bankrupt while believing we are advanced, enlightened, and on the right side of history on every decision. The reality is, stories of human depravity should make us more humble and less haughty, because they reveal the dark depths we are all prone to wander.
The Bible frequently reminds us we have the same fallen and sinful heart as our ancestors, and comparing/contrasting then and now circumstances we likely act in very similar ways. Instead of asking, “What was wrong with them?” we should ask, “What is wrong with all humanity in general and my heart in specific?”
42  Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43  Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.
44  And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”


Again, Jesus asks the religious leaders if they’ve read Scripture. And they say Jesus wasn’t a comedian 😉. He quotes Psalm 118:22-23. This psalm was one of the Hallel psalms, which was likely being sung during this moment of Passover; so many Jews were singing about Jesus and not knowing. Jesus gives the analogy that just as stonemasons would select certain stones to ensure building foundation and aesthetic, so God has chosen something/one that was rejected to become the cornerstone – the central stone for all to observe; He is the cornerstone – and the Lord has done this, not man! Other metaphors: the child who got C’s in English is now writing best-selling novels, or the athlete who got cut from HS teams and rode bench in college is now MVP of new team that wins championship.

45  When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.
46  And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.


The religious leaders viewed Jesus as a threat to their position. Deep down, they knew Jesus had authority and authenticity that they lacked, but they were unwilling to give up their power over the people. Religion has a way of busying people into self-righteousness and pride rather than reflect on their desperate need for grace. Religion can be like the MS boy who has worked up a sweat for multiple summer days and never showered, only to sprinkle cologne all over his body to mask the smell. While he thinks he’s the worlds greatest, everyone on the outside knows he’s a disgrace and needs cleansed.

  • Remember, our series is titled “Child Games” showing how Jesus challenges us. He comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.



Summary observations and applications… 

  1. Disobedience is rooted in control.
    Ultimately, reading the Gospels, we see the end of Jesus’s life as a conflict of who is in authority – God through Jesus, the religious leaders, or the Roman government.
  • The religious leaders wanted Jesus to be silent and unsympathetic toward the needs of hurting people. But Jesus spoke with authority and offered compassion to the hurting and hopeless.
  • The Roman government had little issue with Jesus’s miracles, but didn’t want him upsetting the authority structures. But Jesus spoke with authority – give to Caesar or God what belongs to each.
  • The question of obedience comes down to, “Who is in authority?” To whom does your life belong? Who owns the vineyard? The world conditions us to believe we are the owner and not the tenant: This is your life; Have it your way; follow your heart; check-off your bucket list… but Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24).
    Too often we treat Jesus like males treat GPS. We have the GPS with us as an option to obey or just in case we mess up, we can always recalculate later. We expect God to clean up our mess but never really give Him control. My friends, this is not the Christian faith, it’s voodoo. Jesus is not our good luck charm but the Lord and king over all.
  • So, what does it mean to give God control; or popularly “let go, let God”?
  • A) Trust His wisdom and work. When we give God control we are admitting we never had control. His ways and wisdom are better for the world, and for ourselves. We are also putting our faith in God’s ability and care.
    Psalm 147:5 “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.”
    Isa 58:8-9 “My ways/thoughts higher than your ways/thoughts”
  • B) Calendar your convictions. Until we are ready to put feet to faith and deeds to our actions, we are not really giving God control of our life. Make spending time with God through prayer, bible intake, faith community, and the discipline of kingdom-mindedness have your focus.
    Psalm 37:4-5 “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act.”
  • C. Consider what needs changing. Sometimes our circumstances need to change and we can pray to God and work toward this end. But, sometimes what needs to change is us. Often, we have the choice to try to control our circumstances or even people, but it only brings more chaos. Yet, we can control our response and our attitude. We can choose joy by letting God use us and shape us for His will (James 1:4-6).


2) Disobedience is rooted in an over-focus on temporary present to the neglect of an eternal future.
In the parable, the vineyard farmers are focused on the assumed inheritance if the son dies. Their focus is immediate profit rather than responsibility and long-term stewardship for the owner. Even more crazy is the tenants thinking the owner would overlook their misdeeds and be sympathetic toward their cause. Jesus, the master storyteller, asks the religious leaders, “What will the owner do to these tenants?” Their response was, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (21:40-41). In this answer, the religious leaders unknowingly reveal their hypocrisy as they have historically abused or murdered God’s prophets: Jeremiah was beaten multiple times and stoned (Jer 20:2), Uriah the prophet killed (Jer 26:21-23); Elijah forced to flee and hide in caves (1Ki 13-17); Ezekiel murdered after a sermon; Habakkuk and Zechariah stoned to death (2Chro 24:21; [cf Neh 9:26]; Isaiah put in a log and sawn in half (Heb 11:37). And, these religious leaders were about to perform the worst persecution than any of their forefathers had done in killing the Son of God.

> Obey right away. Whatever you know God has spoken in the Word and whatever you know God has called you to serve, do it with all your might to the glory of God.
> We think we can get around to obedience. We’ll work our way up to it. It is true, following God is a long obedience in the same direction with series of countless steps in the journey. Yet, do not miss the reality that obedience isn’t partial – we can’t half-hearted obey Jesus like the earlier parable about the brothers.
> Obey is commission and omission. There are things we should be doing but are not.
> Obeying God is not about God needing us. We can flatter ourselves thinking that God in general or the church specific cannot get along without us, so we can obey on our own time, our own dime, and preferences. But this parable teaches us that generations of God’s people thought they would never be exiled, or never miss out on God’s Messiah – but they did! Jesus said, “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees” (Mat 3:9-10). Further, in 70A.D. Rome massacred the citizens of Jerusalem, tore down the massive temple so that not one stone was left on top of another, and destroyed Israel. TODAY – the church must not miss being a part of what God is doing.
– – – > MD Route 4[1] is a long highway that runs about 65 miles from St. Mary’s County through Calvert & Anne Arundel & Prince George county, and onward through Washington D.C. When you reach its end in SMCO, you must turn left with the farthest you can go to through St. Mary’s City (original state capital) and Point Lookout or you can turn right and navigate onward out of state south or north. If you traveled Route 4 north the same road changes names to Pennsylvania Ae with its end destination as The White House. Traveling Route 4 is fine, a bit fun, but eventually you must get off other exits to see what else God has planned for the journey.
– – > Another analogy is unpacking your bags. When staying in a hotel for a limited time, we tend to just operate from our travel bags/case. But in an extended stay, it’s best to unpack bags to hang up clothes and get the bags out of way so you don’t trip over it. This season we keep thinking is a short stay, so we haven’t unpacked our bags bc we want to get moving to the next place. Unfortunately, we’re staying for a bit… let’s unpack and remove tripping obstacles and get to work. It would be awful living out of a suitcase for 6-12 months and realize many obstacles you could have avoided, or opportunities have been missed.[2]

3) Disobedience is met with incomprehensible grace.
The vineyard was given to the tenants to have a sense of purpose. They could provide for their families and reap the rewards of fruit, food, and commerce. Likewise, God has given an amazing world from land to sea and through the skies to steward. Even God’s common grace is wonderful and too often taken for granted.

Additionally, the owner sent repeated opportunities for the tenants to produce the fruit, but they mistreated each one. Likewise, God is patient and extending multiple opportunities to repent of sin and grow spiritually. For several, this message is likely a moment God is using to call your name and convict you toward faith and obedience. Disobedience will eventually result in judgment, but repentance results in reward.

We asked the question earlier: Why does the vineyard owner send his treasured child to an untrustworthy and threatening environment? That’s the incomprehensible mercy and amazing grace of our Lord. The entire Bible is filled with reports of God’s invitations, warnings, and opportunities to turn away from false hopes and receive rescuing grace.

If God took away His hand of favor upon Israel and gave it to the Gentiles, He can do it again… to churches, denominations, and to nations. No one has a birthright that entitles you to grace; we must receive the Son and bear fruit. If not, His axe is at the tree to prune branches (cf John 15:6; Rom 11:17-24).

But God’s promises are waiting to be embraced. Do you believe this? If so, the gospel is only good news if it gets there in time. Stop delaying obedience to declare His amazing grace.

  • Isaiah 59:1 “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save, or his ear dull that it cannot hear.
  • 1 Timothy 2:4 “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
  • 2 Peter 3:9 “God is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”



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