23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
As so often happens, Jesus sees past the words people say to what’s in their hearts. These priests came with quite an important question, but they’re not looking for the answer. They’re looking for a lynch mob to attack Jesus. Jesus sees past that and brilliantly avoids the trap, for now. (Though soon, when the time is right, he will openly show God’s authority and willingly submit to their lynch mob and death on the cross.)
He sees an even more significant problem. Behind their words that sound so good are hearts that are hard, disobedient towards God and proudly unrepentant. (John’s baptism was for repentance.) At least one disobedient son in Jesus’ parable is honest about it and repents and then obeys – as they rightly acknowledge. Yet extraordinarily they continue as the son who’s both disobedient and dishonest in his words.
I’m glad that Jesus knows my heart better than I do. There’s no pretending with him, no need to explain, no denying the reality of my heart. But he doesn’t just expose my sin, shaming me. He nails it to the cross and puts it to death as he takes my place in death.
Thank you, Jesus, that you see the best and the worst in my heart. I want to leave that sin behind. I want to be like you. Holy Spirit, thank you that you’re transforming me into the image of Christ.
Written by David Cornell