Bible Reading: Matthew 21:23 -32
“Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 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. (Matthew 21:31b-32)
As we read about how Jesus interacts with the chief priests and elders, there is a lot to learn about the truths of God’s Kingdom. In v. 23 - 27, elders and chief priests talk to Jesus. They try to question Jesus’ authority, yet Jesus, knowing their prideful hearts — willing to uplift themselves and put Jesus to death — gave them no answer but instead told them a parable about two sons.
A man had two sons, and he told them to go and work in the vineyard for a day. One son said, “I will not go,” but later changed his mind for the better and went, and the other son said, “I will go”, but did not actually go. Jesus’ question was simple. Which one did the father’s will? The first son decided to obey his father despite his initial resentment. In v. 31 - 32, Jesus explained what He meant. Tax collectors and prostitutes believed when John the Baptist preached repentance, but you (the chief priests and elders), did not repent, and despite all the signs they had seen, they still chose not to believe in Jesus.
The paradoxical nature of God’s Kingdom
God’s kingdom is not a place for the proud, upright and righteous. It is a place for the broken, sick and humble. It is a place for those who — in hopelessness and emptiness — turn to God in repentance and belief. The question is, where are we? The chief priests and elders questioned Jesus about His authority because they felt theirs was being undermined. They thought they were right, good and able to be accepted by God. Jesus’ way of submission was a threat to their self-righteous desires, and so they tried to bring Jesus down. Are we like the chief priests and elders who think we can serve and please God through our own ways and deeds? Do we believe we are ‘good’ enough for God’s Kingdom? Outside we might be those who accept God’s calling and say, “I go, sir”. But, on the inside, are our hearts in obedience to God or do our hearts long for something else?
God’s kingdom is not a place for the proud, upright and self-righteous. God’s kingdom is a place for the lowly, the broken, and the desperate. It is a place for those who at first reject God yet are given the grace to see our evils that deserve abandonment by God. It is a place for people who realise their dire fate due to their sins yet cry out in desperation for a second chance. It is a place for those who are willing to repent and surrender all to God’s mercy, even in humility and shame. “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). Are we broken? Do we realise that our only hope for life is if God gives us mercy? Are our hearts still crushed every day in dire desperation for God to change our sinful ways to God-pleasing ways? Do we constantly cry out for repentance?
Jesus said that even after the chief priests and elders saw with their own eyes that Jesus truly was the only way of being made righteous before God, they rejected it and did not believe Him. Do we deny the fact that we are broken, helpless, and in need of a saviour to cleanse us from our sins and make us right with God? Do we reject the fact that we need to submit to Christ so that our life of sin can be transformed into a life that pleases God?
Often we think repenting is for those like the prostitutes and tax collectors. As Christians often, we are like the chief priests and elders. We think we are good; we read the Bible, we serve in ministry, we live for God. All those things are God’s grace to us. Just thinking that we do ‘good’ is stealing God’s glory because only He is the source of ‘good’. Stealing God’s glory means we reject God as our Lord and King. It means we take the throne ourselves, assuming we are superior to God. We deserve multitudes of God’s wrath. To still be able to breathe is a miracle of God’s grace.
We can’t do anything. How are we meant to change our evil ways? How is it we are meant to thank or repay God’s goodness? Our only hope is God who overflows even more grace and mercy that we may be changed and given the opportunity to serve Him. All is God’s grace. All the glory belongs to Him.
Do we have hearts fit for God’s Kingdom? Weep and cry for a broken spirit and a crushed heart. Ask to see God’s love and our evil and rejection. These are the type of people in God’s Kingdom.
Lord, give me a broken spirit. Only by your mercy may I be able to see the reality of my sins against You. Only by your mercy may I realise just how great Your incomprehensible love is. Please forgive my pride and self-righteousness. All things are a grace and blessing from You. Apart from You, I really don’t have anything else. Teach me to love You, and may I know You because that is my only strength and the only thing I have to lean on in this life. Create in me a humble and teachable heart. Help me be alert to Your Word wherever it is proclaimed and give me a repentant and obedient heart. Thank You, God. In Jesus’ name, Amen.