One day as Jesus was teaching in the temple, the chief priests and elders approached Jesus. They asked Him who had given Him the authority to do the things that He was doing. As He often did when challenged by skeptics, Jesus answered their question with one of His own. The Lord asked them to first answer by what authority John baptized people in the Jordan River. When they refused to answer His question, Jesus informed them that He would not answer their question either.
Having eluded their attempt to defame Him, Jesus then shared a parable with the religious leaders. He told them the story of a father and his two sons. In this simple parable, Jesus spoke of the authority of the father, the answers given by his children, and the actions that followed. His story teaches us about both repentance and obedience. Jesus used this parable to compare the chief priest and elders with the tax collectors and prostitutes. Ultimately, He alluded to the fact that His authority came from the same source that John’s did and chastised them for their unbelief.
For the sake of our message this morning, I am going to retell the story in its chronological order. This is the way we will study it.
“A father had two sons. He approached the first and told him, 'Go work in the vineyard today'. The first son said, 'No, I will not!'. So the father left him, went to his second son, and gave the same directive. The second son responded, 'Yes, sir!' But as the day progressed, the first son began to regret his answer, and decided to go to vineyard and do the work he had originally refused to do. Meanwhile, the second son became busy and distracted, and never actually made it to the vineyard to do the work that he’d agreed to do. Which of them did the father's will?”
I. THE AUTHORITY OF THE FATHER - v28 & 30a
The first character mentioned in this story is the father of the two sons. As their father, he held legitimate and God-given authority over them. He was the head of the household in accordance with God’s design for the family. Countless Scriptures speak about the role of the father in the home, and their responsibility to govern their household well. As his children, these two sons were obligated to honor and obey him.
The father approached the boys individually and separately. In each case, he directed them “to go work today in the vineyard”. The command was not unreasonable or outlandish in any way. It did not force either son to violate their own moral conscience or any of the other laws of God. Perhaps working in the vineyard was not something that the sons wanted to do that day, but it was certainly something they could do or else the father would not have made such a demand.
The father did not ask his sons to go work only if they were willing - no, he told them to do so. It was not a request; it was a command. This was his prerogative as their father. And as our heavenly Father, God is also just in giving us commandments to follow. He has authority over us, whether we like it or not. Like the father in this parable, God has given His children many directives that we are obligated to follow.
II. THE ANSWERS OF THE SONS - v29a & 30b
The two sons were both presented with the same directive, but they gave opposite responses. One of them flatly refused to obey his father, while the other said that he would obey but then didn’t. I call these two boys the disrespectful son and the disingenuous son.
By refusing to submit to his father's authority, the first son showed awful contempt. He refused to honor the will of his father, in clear violation of God’s law. His response was flippant and highly disrespectful. Sadly, this type of insolence is all too common. Many children are incredibly rude to their parents, and never learn the importance of respect and reverence. Their impertinent behavior and speech can lead to negative consequences that hinder them once they become adults.
The second son expressed his intention to obey his father's command… at some point. If he was really serious about doing his father's will, the son would have immediately gone to the vineyard to work as instructed. By putting it off, the second son was also refusing to obey - just in a less confrontational manner. Notice that he even addressed his dad as “sir”. Unfortunately, his words appear to be empty flattery. Like his brother's response, this one is very common as well - just tell your parents what they want to hear and then get around to it when you can...
III. THE ACTIONS THAT FOLLOWED - v29b & 30c
The two sons had given opposite answers to their father. They also ending up doing opposite things for him. One of the boys actually went and did as his father had commanded, while the other one did not. Ironically, the son who worked in the vineyard that day was probably not the one that you would have expected...
Some time after the father had left him, the first son began to regret his disrespectful conduct. Maybe he felt guilty, ashamed, or even fearful of what his dad might do to him because of what he’d said earlier. The son, convicted by his conscience, changed his mind. Realizing his error, the repentant boy finally submitted to his father's will and went to the vineyard to do what had been commanded of him.
Meanwhile, the second son delayed in doing the work that he’d committed to do. I don’t doubt his intention to obey, but something must of happened. Maybe he was in the middle of something important that needed to be finished first. Perhaps he felt that there would be plenty of time to do it later. Possibly something urgent came up demanding his attention or maybe he simply forgot about it, who knows? Whatever the reason, the young man never made it to the vineyard that day as he’d promised.
IV. THE APPLICATION OF JESUS’ STORY - v31
After telling the story Jesus asked a simple, straightforward question - which of the sons did the will of his father? The answer was obvious, and the chief priest and scribes correctly replied, “The first”. Then Jesus dropped the bombshell. He explained that those who had formerly been disobedient, such as the tax collectors and prostitutes, had come to repentance and were submitting to the will of God the Father. On the other hand, those who had historically promised obedience to God like these pious Jewish leaders had ultimately failed to surrender to the true will of the Father. I am sure this message did not sit well with the religious authorities.
Beyond this, we can also make other applications to our lives today. Neither of these two sons was perfect. Both made mistakes that can be learned from. The first son refused to do what the father asked of him. He openly dishonored his father and thwarted his authority. When the LORD asks us to do something, our answer should always be “Yes!” The second son did not keep his word. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, he lied by promising to do something and then not following through with it. He presented false witness. As Christians, we need to be sure that our actions live up to our words.
Maybe you have never recognized the authority of God over your life. Perhaps you have said “No” to Him for many years. Today I have good news for you. There is still time to repent of your past sin, and to turn in obedience to Jesus Christ. There is much work to be done in the LORD's vineyard. Will you stop resisting and simply surrender to Jesus today?
Or maybe you're one of the thousands of professing Christians who say all the right things, but whose actions do not bear them out. You might being saying “Yes” with your mouth, but your deeds reflect something else altogether. God isn’t looking for people to make empty promises, but rather for those who will actually do His will. Do you need to seek the LORD's forgiveness for your disobedience to Him?