Read Matthew 21:28-32
We come to what seems to be a very short and straightforward parable. In the time between the last few parables that Jesus gave those who would listen, he told his disciples that he would soon die, that greatness abides in being the servant of all in this age, and he cleared the temple of those who made it a market place or a den of thieves.
Before he let loose on those buying and selling in the temple courts, he healed two blind men and rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey. We know because we know the complete story that his appointed time to die for our sins was very near. Those living the story were not so aware.
The people cheered and the Scribes and Pharisees plotted. Jesus still had much to teach and reveal. Most of his teaching and revelation seemed to be oriented towards the disciples or the crowds, but some was very much targeted at the religious leaders of the day.
Jesus had become the proverbial monkey wrench in the works of the religious establishment. What had been orderly and ritualistic had been challenged by this man that the people regarded as a prophet. Some even had professed him as the Messiah.
But this could not be, at least in the eyes of the religious leaders of the time. Who would pick some carpenter’s kid from Galilee to be the Messiah? The Messiah would come out of the ranks of the religious leaders who had done their time and paid their dues. If the Messiah did not come from their own ranks, he would at least have the decency to ride in from the heavens on a white horse that would soon be covered in Roman blood.
Jesus did not fit the expectations of the those steeped in ritual and religion. It was time to call him out. It was time to demand that he state for the record just whose authority was he operating under. It was time to put this matter to rest once and for all.
You have to love it when the religious leaders try to paint Jesus into a corner. Listen to the words from Matthew’s gospel that immediately precede this parable.
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?”
Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
Jesus told these religious leaders, “Hey guys, here is exactly what you want. I will come out and say that my Father in heaven sent me. I will tell you face-to-face that I am the Son of God. I will give you all of those answers that you have wanted so you can cry blasphemy; but, and this is a big but: You must give up your hypocrisy.”
Jesus knew that soon enough, many of these same men would hold a kangaroo court on him, but he also knew that that time had not come just yet. It was close, but it wouldn’t be this day. The religious leaders had to plead ignorance. “We don’t know.”
Jesus could have left it at that, but he had before him the opportunity to teach the teachers. He would use a simple parable, much like Nathan had done with David. Nathan had told a story of a rich man who had just about everything he could want. A traveler came and this rich man offered him hospitality as was the tradition of the people, but instead of taking one of his own lambs to provide his guest with a meal, he took a poor man’s only lamb and had it prepared.
David heard this story and immediately was very angry and judgmental of this rich man. He declared that that man had to pay with his life and wealth!
Nathan said four simple words that cut to the heart. “You are that man!”
The interaction continues between Nathan and David with some very chastising conversation that Nathan delivered from the Lord. Did that story ever get David’s attention!
So Jesus, who is contending with religious leaders who are not only blind but a little conceited about their own righteousness, gives them a parable of their own. It is the first of three in a series that would give those absorbed in self-righteousness a chance to repent.
A man had two sons. That also says that two sons had one father. Instead of going the Dr. Suess route and calling them Son 1 and Son 2; we will give them names. Let’s go with Rude and False.
The father tells Rude to go work in the vineyard. His answer is a rebellious “No!” Later he changes his mind and goes to work.
The father told False the same thing and he said, “You betcha.” He was, of course, lying. He did not go to work. He said he would, but he didn’t.
Work is a part of bringing up children in the way they should go. Proverbs, poets, and prophets tell us that both obedience and industry—inspiration for productive work—are good things and bring blessings. They are essential things.
So, the father sending his two sons to work in his vineyard falls exactly within the parameters of what he should be doing. “Go to work!”
Neither response from the sons is faultless. One is rude and one lies. But the question that Jesus put to these Pharisees was simple, “Which one of the two did what the father wanted?”
The Pharisees apparently didn’t have to huddle for this answer. “The first one did the will of the father.”
They may have been expecting an attaboy from Jesus, but instead he admonished them. “The tax collectors and sinners are entering the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of you. Even the prostitutes are coming to the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of you.”
Ouch! Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch! I don’t think that I would want to be on the receiving end of that, but Jesus is not through talking. I will take a little liberty with what follows.
You did not know who John was, but you should have. You are the teachers of Israel. You are the ones who claim to know God’s will. You are the ones who should have recognized him as Elijah, the forerunner of the Messiah, or at least as a prophet from God. But you did not!
You know who did? Those who know the least. Those who you won’t even talk with are the ones who received the message of repentance. Those who you expect to get out of your way or walk on the other side of the road instead of getting in the way of your righteous—self-righteous—walk are the ones entering the Kingdom of Heaven now.
Here’s the thing—and it is so apparent that it boggles the mind how you missed it. Even after you saw the multitudes coming to John and embarking on a course of repentance to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, you didn’t believe. You didn’t get it!
And now, you want to challenge my authority. I can hardly wait until we get to the 23rd chapter.
The Scribes and Pharisees and as will be noted later, even the Sadducees, could not best Jesus. There was nothing that they could do with this man who caused them so much consternation. That’s not exactly correct. They could have him killed and they would.
Sometimes it just feels good to sit back and think about Jesus laying into those hypocritical leaders of the day. Yes! They got their comeuppance.
Sometimes it seems good to listen to a message that is all about somebody else. I am so glad that I am not like those hypocrites. I could use a week off from being challenged.
I hope that we have the conviction and courage to examine ourselves and make sure we are not the Pharisees of this modern age.
We talk the talk, but do we walk it? Do we live out the words of our Master? Do we do what the Father desires?
There was a saying of unknown origin that came into the common vernacular about 400 years ago. Two hundred years later, people would record Abraham Lincoln uses this catch phrase. Today, it seems like it has been around forever. What phrase?
Actions speak louder than words.
We read the Bible and even memorize some of the verses. We have Christian tee shirts. Most of the time we even stay awake for most of the message, but are we doing the will of our Father in heaven?
What should we do? How do I know his will? Let’s try these on for size.
Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.
Love God. Love you neighbor.
Love one another as much as Christ loved us.
Be a light in this dark world.
Be the salt of the earth. Let people tastes that God is good every time they have an encounter with us.
In response to the grace that we know, we give our entire lives to God as a living sacrifice and then we will know what his will for us is. We will know his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
This is not rocket science or brain surgery. Ok, it’s a little like brain surgery in that the thoughts of the world get held captive and kicked to the curb and the good and pleasing and perfect thoughts that God wants us to have take their place. But advanced degrees are not required to do the will of our Father in heaven.
Jesus told the Pharisees that the people who apparently were on the wrong side of God—sinners, tax collectors, and even prostitutes were repenting and seeking to do the will of the Father; while those who said they were doing God’s will were only putting burdens on the backs of men that our Father in heaven never intended for us to carry.
It is not about religion. It is about relationship, and the truth teller in relationship is obedience. If our relationship with God is right, we will want to do his will. We will do his will. We can think of no better response to his love than to do his will.
In his book The Purpose Driven Life, Pastor Rick Warrren notes that obedience unlocks understanding. Now there is something to sink our teeth into. If we obey God—and don’t consider it a burden to do so—we will understand his will more clearly.
Here is Tom’s parallel. If we try to understand God before we decide to obey him, we will continue in befuddled disobedience.
Obedience precedes understanding. We need to do God’s will just because he said so. Understanding, enrichment, abundance, peace, and purpose are the fruit of obedience.
In this century, we have countless believers who believe in partial obedience. We want to cherry pick the commands and instructions of God that we think apply to us. While our salvation does not hinge on compliance with the law of Moses, God’s Spirit leads us to fulfill God’s will.
God speaks to us in his word, in our prayers, and in the events of our lives. We know what we are called to do. Many of those callings are the same for every believer: Love God, love one another, share the good news.
God gives us different gifts and blessings and sometimes different instructions from those give to other believers. Not everyone is called to ordained ministry. Not everyone is called to be an overseas missionary. Not everyone is called to serve in the nursery or the kitchen or lead a Sunday School class. Not everyone called to follow Jesus has to be a fisherman or work for the IRS.
But for those things that we know God is calling us to do, partial obedience is not an option. There is a simple word for partial obedience. It is disobedience.
So what must we do to stay the course and not become modern day Pharisees?
Trust and obey. I spend a lot of time talking about trust. If you belong to this body and are over the age of 5, you know proverbs 3:5-6. Now, let’s add obedience.
Obey. Do the will of your Father in heaven. Trust and obey! What we say is important, but what we do reflects our willing obedience to God and hastens our entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Do you want to live in God’s kingdom now? Do you want to live in a place where mercy and generosity are the order of the day? Do you want to know more fully that your citizenship is not with the world.
Then do the will of the Father. Obey. Actions speak louder than words.