Perhaps nothing captures our attention more than a good story. When restless people or even young children won’t listen to anything else, oftentimes they will sit willingly and attentively to a story or tale that they find interesting. Because each of our lives tells a story of its own, I believe we as humans relate naturally to and find great pleasure in the hearing and telling of stories.
As your pastor, sometimes I try to incorporate stories and illustrations into my sermons. All good teachers do likewise, using stories as examples to demonstrate the concepts being taught. No one was better at this artful exercise than Jesus Christ. He was a master at using simple stories, called parables, to present and explain spiritual truths. Together, we have examined and discussed many of these during our study through “The Parables of Jesus” this year.
Jesus told parables on a wide array of topics. Currently, we are considering those of His parables that teach us how to live as godly, righteous disciples. For the past 3 weeks we have talked about the importance of good stewardship and money management in the life of a Christian. This morning we will focus on obedience, and will discover that actually doing what the LORD asks of us is much better than simply saying what we think He wants to hear.
The story for today is called “The Parable of the Two Sons”. As the father of 2 sons myself (and a beautiful daughter in between), I have a special fondness for this little story. Since becoming a parent several years ago it has crossed my mind many times, and I have sometimes applied it to the behaviors of my boys. That said, the message of this parable challenges my behavior as well, and it trust it will challenge yours too...
I. THE CHALLENGE - Matthew 21:23-27
“The Parable of the Two Sons” is recorded only in Matthew’s gospel. In the days following His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus is teaching large crowds of people in the temple. Besides the throngs of ordinary people who have gathered, there are many religious leaders present. By now these chief priests and elders have become extremely hostile toward Jesus and are actively searching for ways to undermine His authority and destroy His reputation.
On this occasion, Jesus tells 3 pointed parables directed squarely at these pious religious leaders. We’ve discussed 2 of these already in this series during the brief chapter on His Covenant. Jesus forewarned the Jews that because of their contempt for Him the New Covenant of grace would be established with the Church instead. In this parable Jesus highlights the empty lip-service given to God by these Jewish elites.
Jesus is once again being challenged by the chief priests and elders, this time to identify the source of His authority. He quickly turns the tables by asking them a question in response. The Lord asks them whether John the Baptist’s authority to baptize comes from God or men. If they answer from men, the people will likely revolt because they regard John as a prophet. But if they answer from God, Jesus will simply assert that His authority comes from God as well. Thus, with no viable option, the Jewish leaders answer, “We don’t know”. This emphasis on John the Baptist sets the stage for the parable that follows.
II. THE PARABLE - Matthew 21:28-30
The story is about a father who has 2 sons. The father approaches his sons individually and instructs each of them to go work in the vineyard for the day. The first son abruptly says, “No!”, so the father moves on to the second son. The second son readily consents to his father’s command saying “Yes, sir, I will go.” However, as time goes by the first son begins to feel guilty and he goes to the vineyard to work after all. Meanwhile, the second son puts it off and never actually gets around to going to the vineyard as he’d promised to do.
It is notable that the father, who has the rightful authority to command his sons to do whatever he wishes, chooses not to force their compliance. He certainly did not have to tolerate their insolence and disobedience, but he lovingly did so. In the same way, God is almighty and sovereign over His creation. The LORD is not obligated to endure our disrespectful misconduct. We should be ever grateful for His patience and longsuffering - that He allows us the freedom to choose to serve rather than conscripting us into service.
Notice that neither son is perfect. The first disrespects his father through his words, while the second son disrespects his father through his deeds. Both made mistakes. Ideally, these 2 sons should have kindly agreed to their father’s command and then faithfully followed-through with it. The message is clear… God is calling His children to obey His voice, and we should wholeheartedly say “Yes, LORD!” and then do whatever He asks of us.
III. THE EXPLANATION - Matthew 21:31-32
After telling the story, Jesus asks the chief priests and elders which son did the will of his father. The emphasis is not on what the boys said, but rather upon what they actually did. This is an important distinction. The religious leaders correctly answer, “The first son.” They probably feel a sense of pride seeing that earlier they couldn’t answer His question at all. However, they have unwittingly made Jesus’ point and again condemned themselves and their own actions.
Jesus explains that the first son represents “the tax collectors and prostitutes”. These are representative of all Gentiles, a vile and perverse group according to most devout Jews. The Gentiles had never committed to follow God’s Law or commandments, but when they heard John the Baptist preach they fell under conviction and repented nonetheless.
On the contrary, the second son represents the Jews - specifically the religious elite such as the chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, and so forth. They had heard and joyfully received God’s Law centuries earlier, and had pledged to obey it time and time again. However, when John the Baptist arrives on the scene preaching repentance, baptism, and a soon coming Savior these haughty Jews outright reject him. Even as they watch Gentiles turning to God by the droves, they still refuse to believe.
“The Parable of the Two Sons” contrasts the empty talk of the religious Jews with the heart-felt repentance of the humble Gentiles. It reveals to us that God is more interested in what we do than in what we say. His desire is that we be obedient to His commandments, that we lovingly do His will, and that we exhibit a faith that is more than mere words. Yes, our words are important and we shouldn’t ever say no to the LORD, but even more so we should actually do what He desires... even when we may not want to.
Is the Lord speaking to you today? Is He asking you to do something, but you’ve refused? If so, repent of your stubbornness and submit to His request. It’s not too late. Have you said yes to Jesus already, but have still not gotten around to doing what He asked? Do you ever really intend to? Maybe today is the day to get started doing something that you promised to do long ago. Delayed obedience is disobedience. May we all learn to respect our heavenly Father in both word and deed.