Last week we were reminded by Jesus Himself that He came to save all people of all places and especially at all times, even up to the point of death. What follows our reading from the Gospel last week and the events that come before our reading this week are the following: Jesus again predicts His suffering and death and immediately after Salome, the mother of James and John, requests that her sons be allowed to sit at Jesus left and right in His kingdom, in other words, she is seeking places of honor for her sons. Jesus then heals two blind men on his way Jerusalem. Continuing on His way to Jerusalem, at Bethphage, Jesus arranges for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and after His triumphal entry He cleanses the temple, throwing out the money changers. Now, in the first part of our text for this morning we have Jesus’ authority being questioned and His response that He will reveal from where He gets His authority if the Pharisees and teacher of the Law will tell from whom they believe John the Baptist got his authority. I know that is a long way to go to get to the second part of our text for this morning and the part on which I would like to focus our attention, but I believe these events are not random events, but that they fit together to help us get a better understanding of what is happening.
All during His time of public ministry Jesus has had to deal with the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. The second half of our text, where I want to focus our attention this morning is the parable of the two sons, and Jesus tells this parable right after His authority is questioned. I believe it is significant that this parable comes at this point because of the fact that the Pharisees would not answer Jesus’ question concerning John’s authority, because they did not want to admit that Jesus’ authority might be from the same place as John’s authority that is from God. If John and Jesus had the same authority, if their authority came from the same place, from God, then that would mean that they would be left without authority and that did not fit their paradigm of life.
The parable is this, Jesus begins by asking the question of the Sanhedrin, picking up at verse twenty-eight, “28‘What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” 29And he answered, “I will not,” but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, “I go, sir,” but did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him’” (v. 28-32).
Jesus begins by asking their objective opinion. What do they think? He gives two different scenarios. In the first scenario we have the father asking his son to go and work and his son rudely answers that he will not go, but later he repents and does go. Is this son doing what his father asked? In the second scenario we have the father asking his other son to go and work and his other son kindly answers that he will, but he does not go. Is this son doing what his father asked?
Again, the question Jesus asked is this, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” Notice that the father wanted the same thing of both his sons. He wanted both of his sons to go out and work in his vineyard. Which son did what his father wanted? The answer given by the Sanhedrin is that the first one did what his father asked. Now, before we go on to Jesus explanation, I would ask you to think about this, which son are we?
Jesus’ answer to the Sanhedrin is this, “‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him’” (v. 31b-32).
The objective answer is that the first son, even though he refused at first to go and work, did do what his father asked, because he repented and went out to work. The subjective application of this parable is this, those who are considered to be the outcasts of the Jewish society, mostly by the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and those who repent will be included in the kingdom of heaven. They are the ones who appear to refuse at first and yet repent and believe in the end. Those who refuse to repent, because they believe they are doing the “father’s” will and are not, namely the Pharisees and teachers of the law will miss out. A mere head and mouth Christianity is really no Christianity at all. To confess Christ with your lips and yet to refuse Him with your heart is actually denying Christ.
God the Father’s will is that we all believe and respond living lives of faith. His will is that we say what we mean and we mean what we say. We come across this constantly in our world today. When I speak with someone who has decided to absent themselves from divine service, at times I get the “right” answer. “Yes, pastor, I know I have not been in church lately. I have every good intention to go. I promise I will be there next week.” And then they fail to show up. How often do we volunteer to help serve on a board or a committee, or to serve in some other way and then fail to do what we have said we will do. Unfortunately, if we do this often enough then people will begin to know us as a person who does not keep our word. I believe there is a saying that goes something like, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
God calls all people to Himself. His will is that all people are saved. He keeps His Word. He kept His word in that He sent His only Son Jesus to give His life for all people. He kept His Word because His Son gave His life for ours, so that we might have forgiveness of sin, so that we might have eternal life. There are some who do not have a part in God’s kingdom and it is not because it is someone else’s fault or even God’s fault, rather it is because they refuse and reject the gifts God gives, only paying lip service to Him. Have you ever thought about how your excuse for missing divine service sounds before God?
“Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” And just because someone goes to church does not necessarily mean they will go to heaven either. Being religious does not save a person. It does matter, not only that you have faith, but in whom you have faith. The object of faith is important. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were a very religious bunch. They did a lot of religious things. They said, “yes, father we will work in your vineyard,” and yet, their hearts were far from the Lord. They did not go and work instead they did their own thing. Their faith really was a faith in themselves, not in God. They had become their own gods.
The “tax collectors and prostitutes,” on the other hand were not very religious. Why should they be religious? They were chased out of the temple as being unworthy. They felt and believed themselves to be shunned and looked down upon, even judged by the likes of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They said, “no, father we will not go and work in your vineyard.” Yet, they repented for their sins. They believed in Jesus. He was the object of their faith and the reason for their repentance and Jesus says, they will enter the kingdom of heaven ahead of the religious leaders.
Jesus continues to remind these religious leaders that they had a chance. They saw John the Baptist, the one about whom they were not sure of from where he received authority and yet they did not believe and repent.
Again, the question, “who are we in the parable?” Are we the son who says that we will go and work? Do we say that church is a priority, that our faith in Jesus is the number one priority in our lives and yet, live otherwise, letting the things of this world get in the way of our regular divine service and Bible Class attendance? Do we wear the name Christian, and act like a Christian, yet have our hearts far from the Lord? Do we tell others we are members of a church, but fail to attend? Do we make excuses and blame others for our lack of attendance? Do we say “Yes Lord,” with our lips, but live “No Lord,” with our actions?
Or are we the son who, at first seems rather rebellious, saying “no” we will not go and work and then repent and do what is asked? Do we quietly live our faith and show through our lives, our actions and our words that our faith in Jesus is what is most important to us? Do we strive, with God’s help, to live lives of faith, attending divine service and Bible Class as often as we can, not making a big deal about it, but simply living our faith?
The Old Testament reading for this morning reminds us that we will be held accountable for ourselves, if we do not repent or if we do repent and God’s desire is that we do repent. In the Epistle reading Paul reminds us of from where our forgiveness comes, it comes from Jesus “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Forgiveness is ours. Jesus came to pay the price for sin, for all sin, for your sin and my sin, for the sins of all people, of all places, of all times. Jesus even paid the price for those sins we have yet to commit, those sins we will commit as soon as we walk out those doors. Yes, Jesus forgives our sins even when we act like the second son, even when we fail to live according to our faith. All sin, all our sins, the price for all our sins has already been completely paid, not that this fact gives us a license to sin, but that gives us the motivation to repent. Our only option is that we might refuse and reject the forgiveness He has earned and paid for and we do that, we reject forgiveness when we fail to repent and confess our sins, when we refuse and reject the gifts He gives through the means of grace He gives especially in divine service. To fail to repent is to reject Jesus’ forgiveness, which has already been paid for and given to us. Yet, as the Holy Spirit works in us and comes to us through the very means He has given to come to us, namely as we have been given this morning, through our remembrance of our baptism, through confession and absolution, through His Holy Word, and in a little bit through His body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine in His Holy Supper, through these very means the Holy Spirit works in us to be given all the gifts and blessings our Lord has purchase and won for us, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
Last week Jesus reminded us that salvation is a free gift, neither earned, nor deserved, but certainly a gift we might refuse by thinking we have somehow earned or deserved it, or are somehow entitled to it. This week Jesus continues to remind us that salvation is a heart issue which shows forth in our lives through our thoughts, words and actions. Thus, we are once again pointed to Jesus, just Jesus. Jesus has earned forgiveness and through the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace He gives forgiveness, faith and eternal life. Our only response to the gifts God gives is gift refusal, or rejoicing in the gifts He gives. My prayer is that as the Lord calls, He will stir in our hearts to answer, “here am I, send me, send me,” and then also stir in our hearts to do the work that He gives us to do. Finally, may the Lord also stirs in our hearts to do His work to the praise and glory of His holy name. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.