A Tale of Two Sons
A sermon based on Matthew 21:28-32
Sunday, October 19, 2014
They were the best of sons. They were the worst of sons. Two brothers were asked to get to work for their father. The first son flat out refused! "No. I'm not doing that!" What disrespect he showed to his dad! He was the worst of boys! The second son was eager to help. "Sure, dad. I'd be happy to get to work. Anything I can do to help out! Give me just a minute and I'll be right out!" What a respectful son! He was the best of sons!
Ah, but things aren't always as they seem. The first son felt remorse. He knew he shouldn't have been so disrespectful. And he decided to go do the work dad asked him to do. He was the best of sons. But the second son who seemed so obedient at first, got distracted. He completely forgot about the work dad asked him to do. He was the worst of sons.
They were the best of sons. They were the worst of sons. This is the parable that Jesus told in response to a group of priests and elders in the temple courts who demanded to know by what authority Jesus acted. He told the tale of two sons, recorded for us in Matthew 21:28-32…
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, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the rostitutes 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."
I. The Best of Sons and the Worst of Sons
Now, at first glance this parable might seem a bit confusing. After all, parents, if you had two sons would you want either of them to act the way they did? One was openly defiant and incredibly bold in his disrespect. "I will not,"' he answered, when dad told him, "Son, go and work today in the vineyard."
This son Jesus compared to "the tax collectors and the prostitutes," Not exactly the epitome of morality, decency, or good behavior, these operated in open disobedience, flaunting their sin—their theft and debauchery—as if they were proud of it. They were the worst of sons! They were unfit to be called the children of Israel!
Now, let's face it, this was once us too, wasn't it? Cut off from God's family by our sin. We may not have been thieves or prostitutes, but we lived only to serve our own sinful appetites and not our God.
I can hear someone object, "Wait a second! That's not me! Don't compare me to a prostitute! I'm a pretty nice person!" Okay. So were the priests and the elders of Israel. At least they were pretty nice people on the outside. They loved to quote the Scriptures and "follow the rules." They were the second son.
"Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir!'" Ah! What a good boy, right? Wouldn't you love if parents, if you got that response from your kids every time you asked them to do their chores? "I will, sir!" "I will, ma'am." Ah, but wait! This son looked good, but was he? Jesus said, "He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go."
In other words, he was a hypocrite. He gave the right answer, but he didn't act on it. Likewise, the priests and elders knew the verses. They knew they were to, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:5) But they weren't doing it. They looked respectful and pious and proper. They put on a good show. But they were all talk. When it came time for action, they failed. They were the worst of sons. And they too were unfit to be called children of Israel.
Now, let's face it, this is often us too, isn't it? We put on a good show. We know all the right answers. We say the right confessions and know the verses by heart. But when it comes time for action, we too fail.
We promise God that we will do better next time. We promise we'll be more loving to our spouse, more patient with the kids, more obedient and respectful to mom and dad. We promise that we will give more offerings—"Maybe when those PFDs come!" We promise we'll give more of our time to things that really matter instead of to worthless entertainment. "I will, sir!" we declare. But we don't always go do it, do we? We are the worst of sons (and the worst of daughters). And we are unfit to be called the children of God.
The one son was openly defiant and disrespectful, even though he eventually did what he was told. The second son was polite and answered his father well, but ultimately disobeyed his father. Which would you prefer? Now, those of you who are parents would likely prefer a third option: a third child who does both: one who politely agrees to do the work and then actually does it. And so does God. But we're not that third child. We act like both the first—in our disrespect and defiance to God—and the second—in our disobedience, refusing to do what he tells us.
What would you do with such a child? Well, you'd punish him for such disrespect, wouldn't you? You'd take away his privileges and his allowance for failing to obey and do what he was told. And that's what we deserve from our God. That's what we deserve, but that's not what we get.
II. The Best of Sons Makes Us the Best of Sons
Why not? Because there was a third child. There was the best of sons who acted like the second son agreeing to do the work of the Father and who acted like the first son in that he actually did it! It's maybe not too obvious where he's found in this account, but he's there. Look at verse 32 again. Jesus said, "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." Did you catch it? For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness…"
What way did John show them? He showed them Jesus. Remember what he said on the shore of the river? "John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, 'Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'" (John 1:29) Jesus was the perfect son. He always agreed to all that his Father said. And what's more he always did what he knew his Father wanted. In John 8:29 he said, "The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him."
And he did! He always obeyed! He always did what his Father wanted. But that's not all. When his Father called him to do some very difficult work—to take the sin of mankind on himself, to take the punishment for that sin, to suffer the hell that we deserve—he not only said, "I will, sir!" but he actually went and did it.
And when he died on the cross, he not only took our sins away—all our open rebellions and our secret hypocrisies—but he also gave his perfect record to us. And it's ours through faith.
How were "the tax collectors and the prostitutes… entering the kingdom of God...?" It wasn't because they changed their minds and cleaned up their act and stopped sinning that God welcomed them into heaven. It was because they believed in Jesus. It was because they repented—that is, changed their minds about their sin, about their greatest need, about Jesus as their Savior—and believed in him. That's the "work" the father called his sons to do.
Jesus said as much in John 6: [Some in the crowd] asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." That's what the "tax collectors and prostitutes" were now doing. That's what the priests and elders refused to do. So Jesus called them on it: "I tell you the truth, 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."
Be we, dear friends, aren't like those priests and elders. We, like the "tax collectors and prostitutes," believe in Jesus. By the work of the Holy Spirit, we have repented, literally "changed our minds," and put our trust in him. We believe in him as the way of righteousness—"a righteousness from God, apart from law… [a] righteousness from God [which] comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and [all] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:21-24) And we are perfect, sinless sons and daughters of our Father in heaven.
And that glorious truth, dear friends, that wonderful Gospel truth, also makes us change our minds about the other work he calls us to do. Now we're eager to serve our Father as the ex-cheating tax collectors like Zacchaeus and Matthew, who returned what they stole and used their resources to share Jesus with others. Now we're eager to serve our Father as the ex-prostitutes who followed Jesus and served him and the women of ill repute who poured perfume on his feet.
Now we're eager to hear the Father's call to action and say, "I will, sir. Here am I, send me, send me!" And we're not content to stop there, but will also go and do it. Though once the worst of sons, the worst of daughters, now we are the best of sons and the best of daughters! We are perfect, sinless saints through faith in the way of righteousness: the perfect son of God and his perfect work for us! And now we're eager to get to work for him in our church, at our jobs, in our homes, in all we do. In Jesus' name dear friends, let's get to work! Amen!