St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Which of the two sons am I?

Sermon on Matthew 21:28-32

Text: “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, “Truly I tell you, 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.”

Most parents will tell you that there is, at times, a world of difference between their children. For example, they react to things differently. One might be afraid to try new things, while the other just barges ahead. One might be better at mathematics. The other is better at the language arts. One might be more musical, while the other couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. God gives different talents and abilities to the various members of the family, and the family is all the better for it. In our text for this morning, Jesus tells a story about a father and his two sons. He uses this story to teach us to look at our lives and our obedience to God. This morning, we want to look at our text and ask ourselves the question, WHICH OF THE TWO SONS AM I?. Am I 1. The One With Empty Words or am I 2. The One With Repentant Actions?

Jesus spoke these words on Tuesday of Holy Week. Soon he would suffer and die for the sins of the world. He spent a great deal of this week in very intensive instruction of the people. The words of our text were spoken to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Jesus, in love for them, wanted to warn them of what would happen if they continued in their ways. So, he told them this story of a man and his two sons and what happened when he told them to go out and work.

In verse 30, after the father told his son to go and work in the vineyard, Jesus tells us the son said, “‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.” This is a simple enough situation for us to understand. The father had work for the son to do, and the son said he would do it. Apparently, he had no intention of carrying out his father’s command, but he knew that his father wanted him to do this. So, he said what he thought his father wanted to hear, but he didn’t do what his father wanted. In spite of all of the fine words, the work wasn’t done.

Jesus directed this parable at the religious leaders of his day. The father in this parable is God. He told his people what they were to do. They agreed to do so. As a matter of fact, they even added words to God’s laws to show just how holy they were. When God told them to do all of these things, they said that they would do everything he had commanded.

The problem was that they were merely going through the motions, but never actually carried out God’s will. For example, God told them that they were to care for their parents. However, because of their self-imposed rules, the money that was supposed to go to help their parents went elsewhere. More importantly, God had told them that the Savior was going to come. However, rather than rejoicing that the Savior had come in the person of Jesus, they rejected him. These religious leaders said all of the right things and, on the outside, they looked so good. However, when you get right down to it, they were like the son, who said, “I will, sir,” but did not go. They looked so good, but, in reality, they were disobeying God.

Jesus points to the other son. In verses 28&29, we read, “[The 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.” The same situation is placed before us. This same father went to his other son and made the same request of him, that he should go and work in the vineyard. The answer takes us back a bit, when we hear his blatant refusal, “I will not.” He didn’t care what his father wanted him to do. He was not going to do so. How thankful we are that, later on, he changed his mind and went out to the vineyard to work. Although he had refused initially, eventually he did what his father wanted.

This son in the parable was the well-known sinners of the day, as Jesus tells us in verses 31&32. Jesus used the pictures of tax-collectors and prostitutes to bring to mind the worst possible sinners. Yet, Jesus tells them in no uncertain terms, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” In other words, Jesus is telling them that, although they had begun by disobeying God, they were now living their lives in obedience to God. They had come to faith and, as a result, had changed. In spite of their evil beginnings, they would be entering heaven at the end of their lives.

Can you imagine how the religious leaders felt when they heard this parable and Jesus’ explanation? No doubt, some were indignant and upset that Jesus had made this comparison. Yet, that just what Jesus wanted, for their indignation was their conscience speaking to them, telling them that they should repent of their ways and begin to live a life full of obedience. They should be like the son who, at first refused, but later obeyed. Jesus used this parable to teach them a very important lesson.

Jesus also uses this parable to give us the opportunity to ask ourselves which of the two sons we are. Are we like the one with empty words or the one with repentant actions? Perhaps, we are all too often like the one with the empty words. We know exactly what God wants us to do. God tells us how we are to live. We read it in the Bible or hear it from the pulpit the way to live a God-pleasing life. At that moment, we say, ‘I’m going to do that,’ or ‘I’m not going to do that.’ ‘I’m going to put other people’s interests ahead of my own.’ ‘I’m going to give God the firstfruits of all that he has given me.’ ‘I’m going to keep away from those things that tempt me to sin.’ They all sound so good. Perhaps, we even intend to do so. However, not long after we say these things, we are looking only after our interests, or we give to God that little bit that we feel we can do without, or we go right back to those places with those people who tempt us to sin.

At times, our promises to obey are only empty words. Perhaps, we think that if we say all the right things, then God will be satisfied. We may be able to fool others around us. They may think of us as such wonderful people, because we have this veneer of being good. However, we cannot fool God. We are not actually carrying out that which God wants us to do. At times, we are like the son, who said he would do what his father wanted, but he didn’t do so.

My friends, let us be more like the son who repented of his disobedience and did what his father asked. We come to God and ask for forgiveness for all of the sins we commit every day. While we are in this world, we will continue to fall prey to Satan’s temptations. However, after we rebel against God’s command, let us come to him and ask for his forgiveness. Then, let us go forward carrying out our Father’s will.

We have the best reason in the world to obey God. We do not obey God out of fear of possible punishment. ‘If we don’t, God is going to get us.’ Nor do we obey God to earn his favor. No one can, on their own, get on God’s good side. The only way to earn God’s favor would be to live our entire life in perfect obedience to God, and none of us is able to do so.

Rather, the reason we want to obey our Father is out of thankfulness for all that he has done for us. God, in his justice, could have just let us sit in our own sins. We were the ones who committed them and we were the ones who deserved to be punished for them. However, God, in his great love for us, did not want to have us spend our eternity in hell. So, he sent his Son. This Son was a perfect Son. His Father told him to go and do. In perfect obedience, he did. Then, to pay for all of our disobedience, he went to the cross to suffer the torments of hell and die. The punishment that we deserved was taken by Jesus and, in its place we have received the perfect life of Christ. We were made the children of God through faith. Now, as loving children, we have the opportunity to thank God for all that he has done for us.

So, which son describes you? Which son describes me? Is it the one with empty words, who says they will, but they don’t? May that describe none of us. Rather, let us be like the son who, although he refused at first, did what his father wanted. Of course, it would be far better to do it right away. Let us not only say that we will do our Father’s bidding, but let us also carry it out. Let us be obedient children, carrying out our Father’s will in loving thankfulness for all that he has done for us. Amen.