“Regret Can Be a Motivator”

Matthew 21:18-32

We are back to the Gospel According to Matthew. Jesus has entered the city of Jerusalem as the Messiah. The disciples were elated! Finally, after following Jesus for three years He has decided to go to Jerusalem and claim His title of King of Kings! And redeem His people!

At this point in the book of Matthew, we will experience the clash between the Kingdom of God, Jesus has been preaching about and the Kingdom of God, the religious leaders have been teaching. From the moment Jesus put Himself on the back of a donkey at the Mount of Olives, every step He takes, every word He states, will be orchestrated. Jesus was on a mission and He won’t back down. 

Or does He? 

It’s going to take us months to get through the last week of Jesus’ life here on earth. And from the human perspective, it will certainly look like Jesus loses. 

Spoiler alert! 

We already know the “rest of the story.” 

What a great story it is. There is so much packed into these seven days, with its twists and turns and details.

How many of you hate it when someone tells you how the book or movie is going to end?

How many of us want to know the end so we can endure what happens? 

Today’s Scripture has us on the second day of Passover and there will only be five more days for Jesus before He is crucified. Now mind you, those around Him haven’t chosen to believe He will die. He’s the Messiah, the one who is going to save them. 

On the first day, Jesus and His disciples had a wild time in the temple whipping the money changers and when evening came they went to Bethany to spend the night. They had probably spent the night with Martha and Mary. 

In today’s Scripture we read on the next day, Jesus enters the city, realizes He is hungry and sees a fig tree so decides to get a fig or two. The tree had lots of leaves and should have had fruit but Jesus found nothing. Then He performs one of His few destructive miracles. Jesus rebuked the fig tree,  “No more figs from this tree—ever!” Immediately the fig tree withered up and became a dried twig. 

Okay, Harry Potter fans, this is weird stuff! Even the disciples were a bit freaked out.  Did you notice, the disciples didn’t ask, “Why did Jesus do this?” they asked, “How?”

Demonstrating they weren’t quite putting two and two together here. Jesus doesn’t just see a tree with no fruit. He sees the unfruitful Israel. Like this fig tree they were all leaves, and no fruit. His actions make a statement that promise without performance was not acceptable. That piece goes right over the disciples’ heads, they marveled and asked,  “Did we really see this? A leafy tree one minute, a dry stick the next?”

Jesus responded with an explanation of this miracle being the result of a prayer made in faith. 

Let me read how Eugene Peterson puts Jesus’ response, vs. 21-22,

But Jesus was matter-of-fact: “Yes—and if you embrace this kingdom life and don’t doubt God, you’ll not only do minor feats like I did to the fig tree, but also triumph over huge obstacles. 

This mountain, for instance, you’ll tell, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it will jump. Absolutely everything, ranging from small to large, as you make it a part of your believing prayer, gets included as you lay hold of God.”

Let me read the last verse again, it’s quite significant,

Absolutely everything, 

ranging from small to large, 

as you make it a part of your believing prayer, 

gets included as you lay hold of God.”

How many of us have minor feats in our lives? 

How many of us have huge obstacles? 

How many of us believe God can take care of both? 

How often do we act on that belief? 

Whether minor or huge, 

Jesus was telling His disciples that when you embrace the Kingdom Life He had been teaching them, 

and you don’t doubt God, 

you will be amazed at what God’s already doing 

and able to do. 

Following the fig tree incident, Jesus went directly to the temple and began teaching. The religious leaders were more than likely a bit perturbed. 

Who did Jesus think He was? 

He had made a spectacle of the money changers yesterday and today He was in the temple teaching? 

Who gave Him such authority? 

Not just anyone can walk into the temple and begin teaching you know? 

It makes sense that the chief priests and elders would confront Jesus with such a question. 

Jesus doesn’t miss a beat. 

He responds with He will answer their question after they answer a question of His own. Jesus’ question raises the question as to the competence the chief priests and elders have to even judge the issue. Jesus asks, v. 25, 

“John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

Should the religious authorities rightly answer the question, and say “heaven,” they will already have the correct answer to their own question. However, if they say “human origin” there would be an uproar amongst the common people. 

After careful consideration, the religious authorities resort to responding they did not know. Clearly demonstrating they were more concerned with what the multitude thought than the will of God. 

Jesus doesn’t receive an answer, Jesus doesn’t give an answer. He did however present a parable, the parable of the two sons. 

In this parable there were two different kinds of sons. They were in the same house and their father had a right to request services from each of them. Note, the father approaches each son individually with the same request. ‘Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.’ As sons, they should have been willing to do his will. Each was asked to participate in the family business, a fair request, nothing out of the ordinary. Each son was asked to work, “for that day,” not in a distant time or for a long time. 

The first son responded with, “I will not.” He initially decided he would not bend to the father’s will. Yet, later on he regretted his response and went to work in the father’s field. 

The second son responded with, “Sure, Sir.” He answered correctly and with respect, however, he did not do what he said he would.

Check in time:

Let’s be honest with ourselves. There are many churchgoers that imitate the second son. 

They attend church because they believe the Word of God is true. 

But Monday thru Saturday are they serious about it? 

Are they doing the Father’s work? 

They tell people they go to church and have convinced themselves that if they make it to worship they are okay, but

* They talk of repenting, but they don’t repent

* They say they believe, but act like they don’t

* They think about submitting to God, but when it comes right down to submitting, they find an excuse

* They know the right words to say, but act differently

Beware, this is dangerous. This type of behavior hardens your conscience and soon it becomes second nature. 

Which of the two sons did the will of his father? 

What matters to God? 

Obviously it is not saying the right thing and doing another. 

Unfortunately we can read this parable and not fully understand the shock value Jesus provided. Tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom before the religious leaders. 


How do we know we are living in the Kingdom? 

When regret motivates us to do the right thing.  

The first son said what he thought, thought about it, and regretted what he had said. Then he acted on that regret and went and did what he said he wouldn’t do. The son, with a conscience, listens to it and does the right thing. Regret can be a motivator to help us to do the right thing. 

There is not one of us in this room without regret. 

Like the first son we have all made poor decisions. 

May we be like the first son and be humble enough to admit them and do what is right. May we recognize the feeling of regret as a gift to help us move in a better direction. May we seek wisdom from God to do His will at any step along the way. 

Let’s pray.