Matthew 21:38-39
What Went Wrong?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

From the Bible: Matt. 21:38; Luke 16:14; 18:9; 12:56; John 7:49

Matt. 21:38-39 Holman But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they
said among themselves, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and
take his inheritance!” So they seized him and threw him out of the
vineyard, and killed him.

Jesus knew what lay ahead. The religious leaders were plotting cold, calculated premeditated murder against Him. These were religious men. We must ask, what went wrong with them? Could the same thing happen to us?
One, they were selfish, “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14a), determined to feather their own nests, and to retain their wealth at all cost. It is no coincidence their most violent outbursts against Jesus came after He hurt the religious leaders’ cash cow by driving buyers and sellers from the temple.
Selfishness is a dangerous attitude. It can become hateful and bloody. The evil merchants of Amos’ day bragged, “We can buy the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals” (8:6). David coveted Bathsheba, and killed Uriah to have her. Judas sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Achan saw, coveted, took, and concealed the wares of Jericho (JS 7:21). Some, to satisfy their greed, withhold the tithe. Don’t go there. Beware selfishness. It is the attitude that poisoned the religious leaders. It has plagued many saints since.
Two, they were proud. They “looked down on everyone else” (Luke 18:9b). Obsessed with their own prestige, the leaders somewhere along the way forgot they were supposed to be humble servants, ministers. They decided the vineyard existed not for the glory of God, but for their benefit.
Pride is ugly. We believers painfully hear accusations of it often. Sometimes unbelievers say we are arrogant to claim Jesus is the only way to Heaven, and to say the Bible is the world’s only reliable holy book. When we are boastful or haughty about our position, we deserve and should accept this criticism. Pride brought down the religious leaders. It can level us too.
But, with this concession having been made, if our position is humbly stated, is it more arrogant than any who believe they in and of themselves have the ultimate wisdom of the ages at their disposal? Job (12:2) taunted the pride of his accusers, “No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you!” Many would never admit it in so many words, but they believe their own mind is the throne room of Heaven, the storehouse of knowledge.
Beware pride. The only thing separating us from the vilest sinners is grace. The difference between them and us is in no way inherent in us.
Three, they craved control, to lord over people’s minds, and to rule their thinking, as if they alone were smart enough to know right from wrong. They said, “This crowd, which doesn’t know the law, is accursed” (JN 7:49).
Beware the desire to boss others. Pastors and other church leaders often get caught in the vortex of power grabs. Dad taught me when I was young, “The three main preacher killers are power, sex, and money.” Money and sex receive more hype, but power, by far, brings more preachers down.
This is a sin hard to see in us. I often comfort Pastors who have to leave a church. Most are humble, but some are militant, having learned nothing from the experience. In their minds, others were the whole problem.
Churches don’t have a monopoly on bossiness. We see it in nations. The world’s chief political problem, the root cause of much poverty, is cruel arrogant despots who tyrannize their people for their own personal gain.
Homes struggle with control issues. As a parent, remember your goal is not to lord over your adult children, but to win them to be your friends.
Our children are not to be our lifelong supporters and servants. We are not that important. They do not have to obey us when they become adults.
We must release control over them, especially when they marry. Don’t let our adult children be the sole social partners we have in the world. Do not stifle them by clinging only to them. Have other friends to share life with.
The leaders were bullies, more concerned about coercing the people to accept their way of thinking, than about winning people to the truth for the people’s sake. Our arguments can be 100% pure and right at the same time our motives for urging people to embrace our opinions are 100% wrong.
How do we know we have the right balance? How can we be sure we are humbly and lovingly caring for people as opposed to proudly lording over them? We need to ask, when others disagree with us, are we angry with them or heartbroken for them? Are we mad or sad? When Jesus disagreed with the leaders, they were so angry with Him that they crucified Him. This action would have been wicked even if their doctrine had been right.
If we are embittered when a person rejects our understanding of truth, we can be fairly sure we are being dominated by an overbearing desire to control. Love, when opposed, does not darken into violence or anger.
Beware the danger of control. Let’s be like Jesus, not like the leaders. They in anger crucified Jesus on a cross He mounted for them in love.
Four, they were hypocritical. Jesus called them “Hypocrites!” (LK 12:56a). They were impressive on the outside, but rotten to the core.
They were to be guardians of truth, but refused to consider what might be real truth. Surely Nicodemus and Joseph, two of their own that were struggling with what was going on, were not the only ones wondering.
When the leaders met in private, behind closed doors, did they ponder, “What if? Could He be the Messiah? Is this the One?” These discussions had to happen somewhere. The evidence was an avalanche–miracles, teachings of John the Baptist and Jesus, predictions in Scripture, the intolerable yoke of Rome. Something significant was afoot. Within many of them there had to have been misgivings that something may be wrong in their decisions.
This inner struggle may have contributed to their desire to be rid of Jesus. We cannot live forever with inner angst. Our minds and hearts cannot tolerate the inner feud. To squelch it, we are often driven to outward hostility. The internal war can be stopped by an external explosion.
This is what happened to C. S. Lewis. He couldn’t stand the inward battle. It was killing him. His inner struggle was so intense that while working in a private place he was forced to decide yea or nay for God. He had to find resolution (Surprised by Joy, ch. 14, p. 266).
This is one reason temptation is so powerful. Lusts war in us, creating inner mayhem. Grandpa said, “Son, you can go to the back forty to hide, but you can’t hide from yourself.” The warfare goes with us. Yielding can end it.
Beware selfishness, pride, control, and hypocrisy. Any or all of them can lead to the demise of the religious, including you and me.