The Parable Of The Two Sons
Topic: Sermons in Matthew Passage: Matthew 21:28–21:32
What would you do if Sheik Mohammed called you, the king and ruler of the land called you on the phone? Would you be annoyed? Would you rush to get off the phone as quickly as possible. Would you hang up on him - a cellular slap in the face of the king? No! You would be inclined to stop what you were doing and talk with him - for as long as he wanted, why? You would want to please him - because he has authority over you!
The word ‘Authority’ is a powerful word. If you have authority over someone or something else, you have power over him - for better or for worse, you exert some control, some rule, some judgement over those who are under your authority.
Authority is almost always contested, fought over - wars are being fought, even today, for authority. Authority to govern, authority to rule nations of people. And, all of us fight little wars for authority all the time...you know you’re in a battle for authority when you here someone ask you questions like: “Who do you think you are?”, or “What gives you the right?” or “What do you think you’re doing”.... These are questions of authority. Authority exists in virtually every area of life...authorities in government, on the roads, in the office, in the home, from the police, to the headmaster - from your boss to the president and king. But there is one who has authority that surpasses all other authorities. One and only one who sits in the supreme position of power and authority - one who is the King of kings, the Lord of lords. One who has authority because He is the author, the founder, the creator. One of whom it is said:
Colossians 1:15-19 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him...
His name is Jesus, he says of himself in Matthew 28: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me...”
The authority of Jesus had been on display throughout his life and ministry - it was on display in his miraculous birth - heralded by angels declaring that a Savior had been born for us - a Savior who is Christ the Lord! His authority was on display as he commanded the blind to see, the lame to walk, the wind and the waves to be still, the dead to rise. He forgave sin and called all people everywhere to turn away from their sinfulness to follow him.
Because of his ultimate authority, the question of the hour is how do I please Him? What about you - how do you please God? A very live question in our city today.
To answer the question, we first have to drill deeper into the authority of Jesus. The Authority of Jesus is a dividing line - a line of division that the chief priests and scribes, the ruling elite in Israel, confront, we read about this confrontation in Matthew 21. Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 21, which is found on page 686 in your chair Bibles.
As we look to the 21st chapter of Matthew, we join Jesus in what is the last week of His earthly ministry. He had concluded his ministry in Galilee and traveled to Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. It is the time for Passover, and Jesus is staying in the home of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. At the beginning of the week, Jesus rides into Jerusalem triumphantly, and heads straight for the temple - there he expels the money changers and merchants, cleansing the house of God, but earning the wrath of these chief priests and elders. His third day in Jerusalem is marked by controversy and confrontation that begins here in chapter 21, and culminates three days later with Jesus’ crucifixion.
We see how the confrontation begins, Matthew 21 23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” The spiritual leaders of Israel gather to incriminate Jesus, but inadvertently cut straight to the heart of the matter - who is Jesus - where does his authority come from? In response to their question, Jesus tells three parables, this week we’ll consider the first of these.
A parable is a story meant to expose the hearts of it’s hearers and to communicate truth about the kingdom of heaven. With the question, “who gave you this authority” still ringing in the air, Jesus says, beginning in verse 28,
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 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.
We should consider this parable carefully because of what’s at stake...the very kingdom of God! It’s one thing to dismiss the speed limit, or a deadline at work...It is another thing altogether to dismiss the kingdom of God! Friends, the stakes could not be higher! We see in this parable, two contrasting responses to the authority of Jesus - they are the points made by the text, so they are the points of this sermon... the contrast of the Rebellion and Disobedience of the second son, and the Repentance and Belief of the first.
1. REBELLION and DISOBEDIENCE
Let’s first look at the rebellion we see here...it is in disguise... Though we are shocked initially by the bold-faced rejection of the first son, the ultimate rebel here is the young man who looks into the eyes of his father and says, “I will, sir” - but he has no intention of going. His so called obedience is nothing more than words. This second son is nothing more than a show-man.
Shockingly, the second son in the parable Jesus tells is meant to represent the chief priests and elders in Israel. These men were given the task of leading Israel in worship, the chief priest was the only one able to offer the sacrifice of atonement - the one who was allowed to enter into the holy of holies... The group of elders would have included the rabbis (the teachers of the law) and the scribes (it was their job to make perfect copies of the Word of God - the law, the history, the poetry and the prophets). They were in the temple, but they did not know God, even when He was standing before them in human flesh. They wore the right clothes, they said with their mouths ‘I will, sir’, but their hearts were far away - and filled with self-love. Jesus continually finds himself at odds with these kinds men. Again, and again, throughout his ministry, Jesus exposes them for who they are:
Mt. 23 - He calls them white washed tombs.
Mt. 23 - Cups that are clean on the outside, but filthy on the inside.
Mk. 8 - Like wicked yeast that spreads and infects the entire lump of dough.
Lk. 11 - Unmarked graves
Lk. 11 - He accuses them of loading people with burdens hard to bear.
Lk. 16 - Lovers of money
Jn. 9 - Blind men leading blind men.
The only righteousness the new was a righteousness they had given themselves. They were self-righteous. Self-righteousness is working to clean yourself up with a self-produced goodness that is only skin deep. It sounds like obedience - it may even look like obedience, but it does not have the same end!
The resounding point is this: The good sounding son does not do the will of the father.
This rebellion disguised in self-righteousness is the enemy of grace, it calls you to turn away from the true righteousness of God in favor of a fake, cheap, man-made replacement. Self-righteousness is the common thread woven through the fabric of all the false, man-made religions - sharing the idea that the favor of God is something to be won or bought with the goodness of man. And, friends, self-righteousness is the native tongue of mankind. Regardless of where you were born, or who you were born to...you and me, all of us were born into the ‘I will, sir’ tribe of disobedient sons.
Our natural inclination towards self-righteousness can make it hard to see in our lives... Christians don’t like to admit that it’s anywhere present in our lives, and that really is the danger of this kind of rejection of God, because it involves self-deception. It dresses love for self in godly disguise....you lie, and you lie to yourself and others and before long, you begin to believe it yourself and stop seeing yourself for who you are, a rejector of God and a lover of self. Like putting peanut butter on burned toast...no matter how much you try to spread on, at it’s core it is still a dried, black, piece of burned bread... Jesus, in Matthew chapter 7, tells us where self-righteousness dead-ends:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Friend, are you self-righteous? It is an important question to ask because so much is at stake! What does self-righteousness look like? It looks like:
A. Shallow Faith - attending church, but keeping the people of God at a safe distance. This shallow faith prefers to look at Jesus as more of a life coach than the authoritative Creator and Savior. Do you prefer to avoid thinking deeply about sin? Puritan theologian John Owen wrote, “He that hath slight thoughts of sin never had great thoughts of God.” Here there is no conviction, and therefore no real affection for Jesus. Here there is no real community because there is no deep commitment. Here you’ll find those who are content to sit back and say, “I’ve always been a Christian...because I’ve always been around Christian type people, and done Christian type things... But, is there any love for Christ!? Any sacrificial service, any bold evangelism, there is the form of godliness, but tis there any power?
B. Entitlement - This fruit of self-righteousness professes a desire to sing to God, but demands songs about me accompanied by the style of music I prefer, followed by the kind of preaching I like.... well, step back and ask, who’s being worshipped there? Isn’t it a worship of self?
C. Hypocrisy - A double life - having the appearance of cleanness, but the inside of the cup is dirty. This is the hard work of maintaining a ‘church’ image, a ‘work’ image, a ‘home’ image. We work hard to make sure these multiple-personalities never meet. My friends at church see me one way, at work, or at school, or at home - they see an entirely different person. Is that you? Do you ever wonder which one of you is the real you? You may be able to fool everyone - but in the end that won’t matter. On the day you stand before the righteous judge, you will not face a jury of your peers. You will stand before the throne of God, to face King Jesus, who is perfect, just and able to see your heart.
Ironically, the self-righteous chief priests and elders condemn themselves. When Jesus asks in verse 31, ‘Which of the two did what his father wanted?’ “The first” was their unanimous reply. They, in part, pronounced the verdict on themselves. Look at Jesus’ reply to their answer: (v.31) “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (32) For John (John the Baptist) 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.
The way of self righteousness does not lead to repentance, the self-righteous man can see nothing to repent of. And the consequences are devastating! They were shown the way of righteousness, the way of true righteousness. It was foretold by John, and fulfilled in Jesus. But the high priests and elders refuse to repent - and are ultimately rejected. They are cut off from the kingdom of God by their unbelief! They heard the words of John, saw the life of Jesus, and the transformation of prostitutes and tax collectors, yet they turned their backs and plotted Jesus’ death, becoming unwitting agents of God who would, in three days time, put the eternal Son of God to death, on a cross.
At the cross, the justice of God and the mercy of God meet as the King of Kings laid down His life - as a ransom. A ransom for immoral prostitutes, a ransom for greedy, traitorous tax-collectors - a ransom for people like me, and people like you. For any who would follow the example of the first son...let's go now to see his:
2. REPENTANCE and BELIEF
The simplicity of this parable highlights the remarkable repentance of the first son, who at first brazenly refuses his fathers request, saying in response to his fathers request, “I will not”.
In his refusal, we should see our nature Romans 3
“There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands,â€¨ no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away,â€¨ they have together become worthless;â€¨there is no one who does good,â€¨ not even one.” 13 “Their throats are open graves;â€¨ their tongues practice deceit.”â€¨“The poison of vipers is on their lips.” 14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
It is also the nature of man, to respond to the authority of God with ‘I will not’ - friends this is precisely why our goodness will never be good enough! How many self help books line the shelves in our bookstores, how many guru’s, false prophets, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists and academics have come proposing man centered answers and prescribing lists of good works - and has our goodness improved? Is mankind more loving, are we better stewards, more loving fathers? Are we more faithful? More kind? More patient? Are we any less murderous, any less greedy, has there been any decrease in our selfishness?
Friends, our history books, and today’s headlines agree, we do not need lists and laws, we will not be helped by human effort - We need to be changed! We saw this earlier, as we read to us from Galatians chapter 3,
10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”
The text tells us in verse 29, that the first son ‘changed his mind’. In the parable, this critical change is a turning to the will of the Father, so the question becomes: What is the will of the Father, and the answer is found in verse 32. What the second son, the chief priests and elders have refused, the first son, the tax collectors and the prostitutes embrace: repentance - turning away from sin, from self, turning away from “I will not”, turning to belief, to faith in Christ Jesus, alone. To cling to him and say with the prostitute and the tax collector:
"I once was lost in darkest night Yet thought I knew the way The sin that promised joy and life Had led me to the grave I had no hope that You would own A rebel to Your will And if You had not loved me first I would refuse You still... But as I ran my hell-bound race Indifferent to the cost You looked upon my helpless state And led me to the cross And I beheld God’s love displayed You suffered in my place You bore the wrath reserved for me Now all I know is grace."
The grace of God in Christ is this, that Jesus came to provide a righteousness for us - an alien perfection that we could never earn through our own human effort. Jesus came to offer to mankind a great exchange: the punishment for our rebellion, received in full by Him at the cross - and in exchange, the perfection of His righteousness - the very righteousness of God, is given to us.
Jesus came to redeem us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. The justice of God is upheld and displayed as Jesus is crucified, rejected by God the Father, and dies bearing the sin and shame of all who trust in Him. But, three days later, Jesus rose from the grave - conquering death and proving that His righteousness alone, was sufficient to pay sin’s price - to pay it in full - the scales of justice are evened, we are, by faith alone - justified.
Christ came to provide exactly what we need - and to provide it fully. You were created by God for perfection, but you have none. King Jesus is infinitely perfect and purity - the righteousness you need to stand before God - and please Him is found in Christ Alone. You are loaded down with with immorality, greed, disobedience, a whole catalogue of moral failures...some of you came in here this morning struggling under the weight of guilt that is slowly crushing you to death. But Jesus invites you, come to the cross - there he will take all your sin, all your guilt - and wearing all of it, he faced God - he received rejection and wrath in your place, he stood condemned. And you, by faith, will be set free!
So, by this grace of God, prostitutes, and cheaters, liars, and rebellious teenagers, are all coming to the cross of Christ, where they are forgiven, justified, and changed - washed clean, made to look like our Savior! Even the tax collectors are entering into the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew, the writer of this gospel, was a despised tax collector called out by King Jesus. What tears of joy must have welled up in his eyes as he remembered and wrote the words of Jesus: “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God...” When the King of Kings calls, the only true response to His authority is the joyous response of the sinner justified by faith, Hallelujah, All I have is Christ, Hallelujah, Jesus is my life.
How do you truly please God? By doing his will. What is His will? That you believe his Son.