On the wall in my office is my Seminary diploma. It is a certification that I have been schooled in Theology. I studied for 8 years. 4 in college and 4 more at Seminary. I studied Hermeneutics. I studied Homiletics. I studied Isagogics, Exegesis, and a host of other disciplines that I barely remember how to pronounce anymore. However you get it, this type of certification verifies that you might have a semblance of an idea of what you’re talking about as you preach at a church.
You wanna know something amazing? Jesus didn’t have one.
Yet there he sat as he had so many time before, in the temple courts preaching and teaching. There were crowds of people at his feet and they were hanging on his every word.
This was a problem for the Pharisees, the one who had earned the right to teach in the temple. They had gone to school. They had paid their dues. They were official members of this teaching groups.
Not Jesus. He was not a card carrying member of the Pharisees. He didn’t work his way up in the Sanhedrin. He didn’t graduate from local Hebrew school with a special preaching license. These men had rightfully earned that respect. They had paid their dues and they wore authentic religious teacher garb.
They stormed over to Jesus and the infuriated teaches snarled at him, “What authority do you have to do such things?” (21:23) “What gives you the right?”
But Jesus didn’t bite. Instead, he told them a story.
A man owned vineyard (Jesus really liked parables about vineyards). Instead of going to the market and looking for workers, he recognized that he had two very capable workers in his own household. His Sons.
He found the first son. “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.” (v.28)
“I will not!” (v.29) came the sassy reply.
Maybe he was getting close to conquering the final level of Angry Birds on his cell phone. Maybe he was watching a funny video on YouTube. May he just wanted to get some sleep under the tree, like any self-respecting teenage boy.
But later he thought better of it. Maybe he felt sorry that he had disrespected his dad or maybe he felt a wave of responsibility rush over him. He changed his mind and went. (v.29)
Meanwhile dad approached his other son.
“I will sir!” And one can’t help but see the pride in this respectful answer. “Yes, Dad. You are the greatest. I will come like always. I will be there. I’ll work hard for you. I’ll do the good work just like a good son should because I’m a good son.”
But the ‘good son’ took a good time in coming to work. In fact, he did not go. (v.30)
And maybe he got distracted. Maybe he fell asleep. Maybe a friend texted him that a bunch of them were headed to the local ice cream shop and the girl that he had a crush on would be there. I don’t know.
What we do know. One son said he wouldn’t do the work, but did. The other sons said he would do the work, but didn’t.
Then, the riddle: “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” (v.31)
Did you come to the same conclusion as the Pharisees? “The first,” they answered, “the one who actually did the work that the Father had asked.” They were right. It’s no shocker.
But what Jesus said next was shocking, “I tell you the truth,” he told the Pharisees, “the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came 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.” (v.32)
Do you get it? Do you see what Jesus is saying with the parable? Do you see the tragedy in the answer of these teachers?
Jesus was using this parable like a mirror. He was revealing to the Pharisees how God saw them. It wasn’t how they saw themselves (as even better versions of the first son.) They, these “followers of God,” “holy people,” “descendants of Abraham,” and “Experts on what God has to say,” were the second son.
Consider this: God the Father called them. In Scripture, he had told them to watch for a Messiah. He gave them clues as to who the Messiah would be: Born in Bethlehem, born of a virgin, causing the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the sick to be well, and the dead to rise! They were ready for such a Messiah. They were ready to do the work of their Father and follow Him.
But when they saw this Messiah, when they saw a regular looking carpenter who spoke softly and lovingly, they didn’t listen. The Prostitutes did. The Tax Collectors did. The “scum of the earth did.” But not the ones who had pledged to follow God! They didn’t believe the Scriptures. They didn’t believe John the Baptist. They didn’t believe the miracles. They didn’t believe the testimony of God the Father himself.
They said, “We’ll listen to you Heavenly Father,” but then, “they didn’t do what he said.” They didn’t do what his work was.
What was that work? John 6:29 -- Jesus said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One he sent.”
That’s what they didn’t do. And they were forfeiting their place in heaven because of it.
WHAT KIND OF CHILD ARE YOU?
Which son are you in the parable? Is this whole Christianity thing fairly new to you? Are you just getting your feet wet in the church? Maybe you’ve spent your life addicted to drugs, alcohol, or pornography. Maybe you’ve been too busy chasing worldly wealthy and careers that you just didn’t have time to listen to God. Maybe you’ve finally rethought life and you are ready to do the work of the Lord (But you can’t shake the feeling that you are unworthy to do such a thing.)
Or maybe you’re more like the second son. Maybe you’ve been a ‘follower of Jesus’ your whole life. Maybe you’ve been in church, you know all the books of the Bible, you can say the Lord’s Prayer in less than 15 seconds, and your seat at church is specifically cushioned to the exact way you sit there each week.
But you don’t really believe this stuff. You find yourself doubting as you read more and more on the internet. The world has affected you. This Jesus’ teachings don’t line up with what the world says he should teach. You’ve gotten distracted by your job. You couldn’t care less what He has to say in His Word. You are more worried about you and what you do, than what God has called you to do.
Either of these Sons sound familiar?
Did you tell God “no,” but have changed your mind and are now ready to say, “Yes?”
Did you tell God, “yes,” but have changed your mind and are now telling him, “No?”
Which son are you?
The truth is that it is less important which son you are or which son you have been. What matters is what son you will be!
Because here it is! Whether it’s for the first time, the 23rd time or the 1 thousandth time in your life: REPENT OF YOUR SINS! BELIEVE IN JESUS. BELIEVE IN THE ONE HE SENT.
When you do put your faith in Him, listen to will say of you what he said to the tax collectors and prostitutes. You “are entering the kingdom of God…”
It’s what the woman caught in adultery heard. Angry men surrounded her ready to give her the very punishment that an angry God had described for her sin. A sin she could not deny. A shame that lowered her tear stained eyes.
But when God himself approached, he smiled. “I do not condemn you.” She heard the call of her Father this time. She jumped to her feet in joy. She would devote herself to her Savior!
It’s what Zacchaeus heard. He was hated by the whole town. His greed and deception had angered God and others.
But when God himself looked at him up in the tree – that was not the voice of an enemy, but a friend. “I’m coming to your house today.” (Luke 19:5) And Zacchaeus heard the call from his Father again. He believe and scurried down that tree faster than he would’ve scurried out of a house he had just cheated out of their taxes.
God will say the same to you. You who have never followed Jesus. You who followed, but have lost your way. You who have gotten distracted. You who have chosen the world. You who have backed down from this difficult work.
God does NOT approach you in anger today. Instead, he lovingly, kindly, gently calls you, “Repent. Believe in me. Believe in the One God has sent!”
Because the One God sent lived perfectly for you. The One God sent died innocently for you. The One God sent rose triumphantly for you. That “whoever believes in Him and is baptized will be saved!” (Mk. 16:15)
So. Get up and do God’s Work! Follow Jesus.
Challenge time again. Here are some practical ways to follow Jesus this week!
1) If you have never been baptized, then be baptized. In Baptism, God makes you his own. He washes away your sins. He makes you his child! He promises that he will no longer refer to you as “HIS ENEMY” but as “HIS OWN.” Speak to your pastor about this today!
2) Come back next week. If you come every other week to hear from Jesus, come every week. If you come every week, join Bible class. If you go to Bible class, start up devotion. Whatever you do, devote yourself more fully to God this week. Do God’s Work and let God work to grow your faith.
3) Share God’s Work. Once you’ve studied up on what God did for you, tell others! Tell your family. Tell your friends. Invite them to church. Invite them to Reformation. Share the sermon you’ll get from the email group with three friends!
Brothers this is what the children of God do. They do God’s Work. They believe in Jesus. They grow in Jesus. They share Jesus.
As Jesus told this parable, those Pharisees were being called to do God’s Work one more time. Sadly, many rejected this call. They got lazy. They got distracted. They chose to do as they pleased.
May that not be you. Listen to your Father’s gentle call. Listen to his voice calling you to faith.
Repent. Believe in Jesus. Believe in the One God sent.