GETTING THE MESSAGE/Matthew 21:28-32
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 1:00 AM
In verse 28 Jesus begins the first of three parables he uses to rebuke and condemn the Jewish leaders who objected to his authority. He is aware of how they perceive themselves. They believe they are eminent in the worship of God and zealous for the law of God. He invites them to be reasonable. He begins this parable with "What do you think?" The parables that follow are warnings, but also invitations to repent and live.
Jesus tells a story about a man with two sons. He went to the first son and tells him to go and work in the vineyard. The son tells his father "I will not." But later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the other son and said the same thing. The other son said, "I will sir," but did not go. Jesus then asks the Jewish leaders, "Which of the two did what his father wanted?" "The first," they answered.
So the principle Jesus is teaching here is very clear. The Jewish leaders understand it. The first son initially replies to his father's request; "I will not." Literally his answer is saying, "Your will is not my will." But he changes his mind and becomes submissive to his father. The second affirms that his father's will is his will. But it is only an affirmation. In practice, he is opposed to his father's will; he refuses to do it. The Jewish leaders understand that to say you are doing the will of your father, yet not follow through and do it is not acceptable.
It is the application of the parable that they will disagree with. Jesus is saying that they are like the second son. The pretend to be obedient to God, but in practice their hearts are far from God. And the result is that they are going to be excluded from the kingdom of God. Jesus makes this point in the strongest terms by saying, "The tax collectors and 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 prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.'
The Jewish leaders condemned the tax collectors and prostitutes, and rightly so. Tax collectors in those days were usually extortionists and greedy. They cheated and robbed people. Prostitutes represented gross immorality. They ruined households and defied God's law. Both these categories of people very definitely said a loud "No!" to God's will. But when John came and warned them about God's wrath, they repented. That means they quit being cheaters, greedy, and immoral. Rather, they began to seek to do God's will. They were like the first son in the parable.
The Jewish leaders however refused to include themselves in the category of those who needed to repent. And so we learn again that there is nothing that lies so opposite the spirit of the gospel than self-righteousness. When people pride and please themselves in an external righteousness, there is more hope for a prostitute than for them. Many today who claim the name of Christ decry the wickedness of society while in their own hearts have no humility and need of repentance. Self-delusion and flattery are the main obstacles to entering the kingdom of God.
We see in this passage that in the infiniteness of God's mercy, he can pardon all, even our greatest sins. This is also because of the infiniteness of Christ's merit. His blood can wash out and cleanse all these stains, even the worst. But we should heed two cautions here.
First, sinners must break off the practice of their sinful life. The theme of grace in the Bible is "Turn and live." There is no assurance of salvation for those who refuse to break off from defying the will of God. "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord (Isaiah 55:7)."
Secondly, we must be as strong in our repentance as we were in our sins and defiance of God's will. The first son went into the vineyard to work after refusing to. The sinful woman turned from a life of sin to coming and washing Christ's feet. The apostle Paul counsels Christians to instead of yielding their natures to iniquity as they used to, now to offer them to righteousness in the name of Christ.