MATTHEW 21, 28-32
“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.’
“ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“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 prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 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.
You’re watching your favorite team playing. It’s late in the fourth quarter, your team is ahead. In fact, they have been ahead the entire game. Not much time left in the game. Then suddenly the other team scores, and as time runs out, your team has lost the game. And you quickly learn that it’s not what the score is in the fourth quarter. In fact, it’s not what the score is for most of the game. What matters is what the score is when time runs out. That’s what really make the difference.
And what applies in sports also applies when it comes to our eternal life. It’s not what I used to be that counts. It’s what I am when my times runs out that counts! I can brag about how many Bible passages I memorized in Sunday School! I can brag about how I helped my dad and my Granddad build this church! I can brag about how many church offices I filled during my life. I can brag about what I “used to be,” but what really matters is what “I am today,” what I am when times run out on my life, when I need to face my eternity. What really matters is what you are then!
That’s the point of this parable before us this morning. It’s not what you say about your faith that’s important. It’s what you do with your faith! And when it comes to entering the Kingdom of God, it’s NOT WHAT YOU WERE! BUT WHAT YOU ARE!” that’s important.
The religious leaders had demanded that Jesus tell them, by what authority He was doing all the things He was doing. Jesus told them that He would answer them, if they would answer Him one question, “John’s baptism – where did it come from? Was it from heaven or from men?” The religious leaders had a problem. If they said, “It’s from God,” Jesus will ask them, “So, then why didn’t you believe and follow him?” If they say, “it was from men,” the crowd of people around them would probably stone them to death, because everyone accepted John as a prophet from God. So, they took the easy way out and said, “We don’t know.”
Imagine that! The religious leaders, the ones who were responsible for the spiritual life of God’s people, couldn’t figure out whether John the Baptist was from God, or not, even though every person in Israel knew he was from God. So, not only did Jesus not answer their question, He also shares this parable to convict them of their unbelief.
A man had two sons. He wants them to go and work in the vineyard. So, he makes that request to each one of them. The first one says, “I don’t want to.” I’ve got more important things to do! I don’t want to do what you tell me. I want to do my own thing.” Talk about rude and disrespectful! This son acted like a real jerk of a son who didn’t care about his father one bit.
The second son replied, “I will sir!” Talk about respect! “Sir!” Talk about obedience! I most certainly will! Now that’s a son who understands respect and obedience. The father can be proud of at least one of his sons. That first one deserves to be kicked out of the family. This one is a “keeper.”
But then Jesus throws them a curve. The first son, the disrespectful disobedient son who said, “I don’t want to,” BUT “later he changed his mind and went.” The first son listened to what he said to his father, and played it over and over in his mind, and it didn’t set right with him. It wasn’t right. So, this son changed his mind, and did what his father had asked, and went into the vineyard to work.
The second son, the respectful, obedient, and good son, who said, “I will sir!” BUT “he did not go.” Now did this son pretend to be respectful and obedient, but from the beginning had no intention of going to the vineyard to work? Or did he truly intend to go, but then something came up that kept him from going? We don’t know. All that we know is when the day was over, only one son went into the vineyard to work. Only one son did what his father had requested. It didn’t matter what each one said. All that mattered was what each one did. IT’S NOT WHAT YOU WERE! IT’S WHAT YOU ARE! The only one who obeyed and did his father’s bidding was that first son. The disrespectful disobedient son is the one who obeyed his father.
The religious leaders correctly answered Jesus’ question as to which of the sons did his father’s bidding. And they fell right into Jesus’ trap. And they were not ready for the next comment that came from Jesus’ mouth. “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Ouch! Most tax collectors were greedy thieves and traitors. They and the prostitutes were the lowest of the low when it came to spiritual life. They had been kicked out of the synagogue. They were not welcomed in polite society. And for good reason. They trampled God’s law without a care, and had no intention or desire to do anything God said!
And Jesus tells these good people, these religious leaders, the cream of the crop when it came to religious people, that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are getting into Heaven, before they will? Wow! How could Jesus make a statement like that?
Let’s go back to that parable. The tax collectors and the prostitutes were that first son. When God came to them with His Word, when God told them, “This is what I want you to do,” they were the ones who said, “I don’t want to.” I don’t want to live according to Your laws, O Lord. I want to do my own thing. I want to do what I want to do, and I don’t care what You want.” They were the rude, disrespectful, and disobedient son.
The religious leaders were the second son. When God told them what He wanted them to do, and how He wanted them to live, they said, “Yes, sir! I will.” And that’s what they did. They lived according to all the laws and regulations God had set up.
But then Jesus says, the prostitutes and the tax collectors did what the first son did. “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.” When John the Baptist came, he proclaimed the way of salvation. And the way of salvation was through repentance and confession of sins. And then trusting in the Messiah God had promised to send. The religious leaders had a better idea. They would cling to their obedience to God’s law. They would rely on their ancestry! They would rely on their ability to please God on their own, and they really didn’t need any help from John, and they certainly didn’t need repentance, and confession of sins. The had no sin. They certainly didn’t need to rely on anyone else to get them to heaven. They were obeying the law of God. They didn’t believe what John preached. And like that second son, they didn’t go into the vineyard to work. And they lost the way to heaven.
The tax collectors and the prostitutes listened to John. They heard God’s message and it finally hit home. It made an impact on their heart! They understood how far from God they had drifted. They understood what their lifestyle would get them. So, they came to God and repented, and confessed their sins, and put their hope in the Messiah John would point them to. And even though they had been rude, and disrespectful and disobedient, suddenly they had a change of heart, and a change of life. They followed their God. Like that first son, they went into the vineyard to work. And it happened! As impossible as it seems, the prostitutes and the tax collectors are on their way to Heaven, and the religious leaders are on the outside looking in. All because it’s NOT WHAT YOU WERE! IT’S WHAT YOU ARE! That makes an eternal difference. They had been prostitutes and tax collectors. They had been willfully defiant of God’s Word. But not anymore. God had changed their hearts. They now believed. And they now were God’s precious children.
Which of these sons are you? If you’re like me you’d have to admit that we have been both. Oh, maybe I haven’t sunk to the depths of being a thieving tax collector or a prostitute, but if you understand the ten commandments the way Jesus taught them, I’m not far behind. I’ve been that first son who has been rude and disrespectful and disobedient to God. I have been the belligerent son who refuses to listen to God because I’ve got a better idea. But then, I’ve also been the second son, a self-righteous pharisee who looks down his nose at “those sinners,” who are so much worse than me. Like them I like to boast in all the neat things I’ve done for God. Like both of those sons, I have a lot of sins, I need to confess, and repent of, and ask Jesus to forgive. That’s why we confess our sins, every Sunday morning. That’s why every time I pray the Lord’s prayer, I beg Jesus to forgive my sins, because His sufferings and death.
There are times when I want to hide from God, and pretend I can’t hear Him. There are times when I promise to do what God wants, only to never make it to the vineyard, because something better came up. And the one thing I need to understand is that my hope, my salvation, and my home in heaven depends solely on what Jesus has done for me, and the salvation that He work just for me. And so, the one truth I need to understand every hour of every day, it’s NOT WHAT I WAS! That’s important! It’s WHAT I AM, and what Jesus has made me that makes the eternal difference for me.