Matthew 21:23-32 consists of two sections. The first section chronicles a temple confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders. The second section is a story Jesus tells in which he uses the confrontation to talk about entrance to the Kingdom of God.
The confrontation happened in Jerusalem. Jesus was there to celebrate the Passover and as He always did, he began teaching. This time, he was doing so at the temple. By this time, Jesus had been conflicting more and more with the religious leaders, largely because his life and his teaching were clearly pointing to the moral bankruptcy of the current leaders in Israel. As such, they could sense their own authority eroding. Their question in verse 23 (Who gave you this authority?) is less a question about Jesus' relationship to God and more an indictment that He needed to stop usurping their authority.
Jesus answered their question with a question they couldn't answer. While they knew the proper answer to the question, they were aware that they could not answer it without casting further dispersion on their own lives (read verses 25-27). After refusing to answer Jesus question, He responded by refusing to answer their question.
He did, however, offer up a story which served to further demonstrate the leader's inadequate standing before God.
Verses 28-30 tell the story. Verses 31-32 unpack the truth of the story. Here it is in a nutshell:
1) Those who obey God are bearing the true fruits of repentance (a key phrase from John the Baptist's ministry).
2) Those who only talk about God or are self-proclaimed "experts" on God are not bearing the true fruits of repentance.
3) True repentance is the key that opens the gate into the kingdom of God.
Who do you consider to be a "spiritual leader" in your life? Who is a person you know whom you consider to be a "spiritual giant"? Why?
What kinds of people do you consider to be "far from God?"
Read Matthew 21:23-32.
Who are the "villains" in this passage? Who are the "good guys?"
Why do you think the leaders asked Jesus about His authority? Do you think they were concerned that He wasn't from God, or do you think they were concerned about their own authority? Why?
What kinds of situations tempt you to assert or defend your own authority unnecessarily?
How would you have answered the leaders if you had been Jesus? Would your answer have been as effective? Why or why not?
Verse 25 makes it clear that these men did not follow the teaching of John the Baptist. Why do you think they didn't? What parts of his teaching were difficult to follow? (Read his message in Matthew 3:7-12)
What is the main point Jesus is making in the story he tells?
If he were telling this story today, what kind of people would he name instead of "tax collectors" and "prostitutes"? (maybe he'd still say "tax collectors and prostitutes"?)
How should this story change the way you look at people? How might it change the way you look at yourself?
Words don't always demonstrate our true beliefs. How do our lives demonstrate our faith? (in the story, the older son had faith and the younger son didn't)
How have the words of Jesus caused you to think about your own life today? How can this group pray for you?