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.' 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.”
It is Saturday afternoon. Joey is 16. His brother, Danny, is 15. They are playing video games on their Playstation 4. Dad comes into the room because he wants some help out in the yard. He says, “Joey, can you come outside and help me clean the yard? We need to rake the leaves, clean out the flower beds, and trim the bushes.”
Joey whines, “Dad, this is my only day to relax. I’m tired from everything at school. I’m not going to do you any good out there.”
Dad doesn’t want to start a fight, so he asks his other son, “Danny, are you willing to come out and help me this afternoon?” Danny gladly says, “No problem, Dad. I’ll be right out.”
Dad leaves, thinking he at least has some help outside.
After Dad is out of earshot, Danny says to his brother, “You are so stupid. Why did you tell Dad that you didn’t want to go outside? I don’t want to go out there, either, but I’m not going to tell him that. I told him what he wanted to hear. I’m not planning on working outside today. Later on, when Dad asks why I didn’t come out by him, I’ll just say, ‘Sorry about that, Dad. I planned on coming out, but then I had to eat lunch, I got caught helping Mom with some things, and I had a big project for school I had to get done.’ But Dad will at least be happy that I thought about coming to help him.”
Joey realizes that he doesn’t like Danny’s attitude at all. He recalls how Dad was at his football game the night before and thinks of everything else Dad gave up to put his family first. So, Joey puts down the controller, goes to his room to put on his work clothes and goes outside to help his dad.
Which son are you more like, the first son or the second son? Do you have a habit of saying one thing but doing another?
Jesus tells a short parable about two sons. “[A father] 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.”
It is a fairly easy parable to understand. Neither son was all that good. Neither one was innocent. The first son, even though, he did go and work eventually, should never have rejected his father in the first place. The second son appeared righteous, but in the end he lied to his father, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Whether you think of yourself more like Joey or Danny, you are not innocent. Sin still takes place.
There is even more depth to the application of this parable once we examine the setting. Jesus directs this parable to the Pharisees and other religious leaders on Tuesday of Holy Week. Jesus is on His way to the cross. But on His way, He still has time to call the religious leaders to repentance. “Repent and live” (Ezekiel 18:32)! The chief priests and elders are getting more vicious in their attacks against Jesus. They have seen Jesus ride triumphantly into Jerusalem on Sunday. They have witnessed Him cleansing the temple. So they challenge Jesus’ authority, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who do you think you are” (Matthew 21:23)?
But Jesus doesn’t play their little games. Instead He asks them what they think of His parable of the two sons. He asks them, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” It’s so easy a child could get it. It is the first son. Not right away, of course, but he eventually feels remorse and does the right thing. He obeys. The second son only gives lips service and doesn’t follow through. He disobeys. He is the more obstinate.
The chief priests and the elders get the right answer that it is the first son, but in their answer they condemn themselves. Jesus then applies the parable directly to their lives. He says, “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.”
The tax collectors and prostitutes rejected God in the beginning. They went their own ways satisfying their sinful nature with the pleasures of the world. They satisfied their greed with money and their lusts with sex. They had done horrible, despicable acts in order to gratify themselves.
Yet, the tax collectors and prostitutes also were the first to listen to the message of John the Baptist, take it to heart and believe. At first they had told God with their lives, “I don’t want to do what you tell me.” But later they repented. They literally “changed their minds” about their sinful ways. They became the obedient son who in the end said, “Yes, sir.”
The Pharisees and other religious leaders, though, were the second son. They said, “Yes, sir” with their mouths, but not with their lives. They appeared righteous with their pious words and religious actions, but they had long ago renounced God’s Word about the Christ. They refused to listen to the preaching of John. They rejected the Son of God who was standing right in front of them. In fact, they were at that very moment plotting to kill Jesus. In a mere 72 hours, they would succeed. They were stubborn and obstinate in their refusal to repent and change their minds about the Christ.
Which son are you more like, the first son or the second son? Are you more like the tax collectors and prostitutes or like the Pharisees and other religious leaders?
We are the first son, the tax collectors and prostitutes, when we live our lives apart from God. We satisfy our sinful nature with the pleasures of the world. We covet, gossip, lust, and vent. We cheat, steal, lie, deceive, and commit adultery. We do whatever makes us feel good. This is who we are by nature.
But by the grace of God we repent. We come before the altar of the Lord and admit, “Holy and merciful Father, I confess that I am by nature sinful, and that I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, words, and actions. I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good.” We sit in the pews and sing, “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me” (CW: 385). We change our minds about our sins. The Lord announces His forgiveness, “God, our heavenly Father, has been merciful to us and has given his only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Then, after our sins are forgiven, when our heavenly Father tells us to live as His son or daughter, we gladly reply, “Yes, sir.”
We are also the second son, the Pharisees and other religious leaders. We may give a well-intentioned and sanctified, “Yes, sir,” but then fail to follow through. Or we have no intention of doing what God says, but we pay lip service to Him, and then go and do our own thing. We may come to church, read our Bibles, give our offerings, and pray at home. We may hear but we fail to obey. We only hear what God says on Sunday morning, but fail to put into practice what God says Monday through Saturday. We won’t allow the Word to change our lives. We don’t change our minds about our sins. We just keep doing the same old, same old. We appear to be standing on the promises of God, but in reality we are only sitting on the premises. Instead of responding to the words of absolution with a joyous song of praise, we go through the motions with an unenthused, “Whatever.” We pay lip service, but no service with our lives.
We see ourselves in the first son. We see ourselves in the second son. But the theme of this sermon is “The Tale of Three Sons.” Jesus only told a parable about two sons. Where is the third son? Jesus doesn’t mention this brother … because He’s the one telling the story.
This Son said, “Yes, Sir!” to everything His heavenly Father said and then obeyed Him perfectly. His Father said, “You need to be human.” The Son said, “Yes, Sir!” and was born of the Virgin Mary. The Father said, “You need to humble yourself under the Law and keep the commandments.” The Son said, “Yes, Sir!” and lived a life that was perfectly free from sin. The Father said, “You need to exchange your perfection for the sin of the world.” The Son said, “Yes, Sir!” and identified with humanity at His baptism in the Jordan River. The Father said, “Now carry your cross.” The Son said, “Yes, Sir!” and prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.” The Father said, “You need to die for sinful humanity. The Son said, “Yes, Sir!” and prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” The Father said, “Proclaim your victory to the world.” The Son said, “Yes, Sir!” and then He rose from the dead as He declared to all those who believe in Him, “Because I live, you also will live.”
Because of this third Son – the perfect Son of God – we can be like the first son. We can repent of our stubbornness and sin, and change our mind. Then we can obey our heavenly Father and go to work in His vineyard.
Because of the third Son, the righteous Son of God, we can be prevented from becoming the second son. We are given the sanctified ability to believe and obey. Then we can go to work in the vineyard.
Danny said no, but he eventually went out to help his dad. Charlie said yes, but didn’t go out to work. The third son, (the one I didn’t mention) is 14-year-old, Joshua. Joshua had been outside the whole time helping. He heard his dad talking at dinner the night before about getting the yard work done on Saturday. So when Dad woke up, Joshua got up, too. He put on his old clothes, ate breakfast and went into the garage to grab a rake. While his brothers were deciding on whether or not they were going to obey their father, Joshua was hard at work the entire time.
Joshua is Jesus. He was doing our work the whole time.
You can think of times when God’s Word challenged you to take a certain direction or change. You resisted at first. But then God’s Word changed you and led you to go along with what the Lord wanted you to do. You have also experienced low times when you listened to what God’s Word said, but then never carried through with what you said you would do.
At various times in our lives we are going to be one of the two sons. That is why we are so grateful for the third son, Jesus. We need to look at our sins, repent of them, change our minds about our lives, and then look to Jesus, God’s holy Son for His work, His righteousness, His perfection, and His forgiveness.
Then, because we are redeemed and forgiven, covered with the righteousness of Jesus, and the perfect work of the Son, God invites us to work in His vineyard of the Christian Church. And because of the third son, God’s only begotten Son, we gladly reply … and obey, “Yes, Sir!” Amen.