Request and Response

Preached on: Sunday 1st August 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Matthew 21:28-32
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Today’s hero is the older son because he shows us the gift of having a changed mind.

This little parable packs a punch. Here we have the vineyard owner again, but instead of looking for hired workers, he’s asking his own sons to help out. The two sons both react very differently in the moment. They both tell the truth one says ‘No’ or perhaps ‘I won’t’ or ‘I don’t want to’ but the other obeys in that moment. The good son is obvious as we see in the passage, the words are empty, much like the religious leaders in the faith it encounters. The challenge of this parable goes two ways – to act on our convictions and to make us willing to recognize our errors and to put them right.

If you perhaps have older kids about your lives, you delve into the questions that the religious leaders hit and pass on the things. We so often ask and the Yeses and the No’s we get are perhaps even just the grunts or the groans. The religious leaders at that time were trying to trap Jesus but He kept asking them questions and they were too scared to answer those questions. and then he had another question for them in our parable this morning.

There was a vineyard owner, says Jesus, and Jesus liked to tell stories about vineyard owners there were lots of vineyards about lots of people drank wine and this vineyard owner had two sons two sons who were sitting near his house not doing anything at all to help

and of course there’s a shout from their father as he spots them and he says those vines they need tending go and help the workers he goes right over to the elder sun where he’s sitting and he asked them to go and help and the son looks down at the ground he really didn’t want to help today he was hoping that some of his friends were maybe going to come round but yet he didn’t want to lie to his father he says i’m sorry father i don’t want to today says

the father looked sad but decided to ask the younger son will you go and help

yes sir he replies knowing that was what his father wanted to hear he thought that he would go and help and as soon as he finished the game he was playing

now we find hours later the younger son was still sitting playing he knew he should be in the vineyard but he was having too much fun and his father didn’t seem to be too upset he wasn’t chasing about after him and his older brother had said no and so he didn’t move all day until the evening meal had been called meanwhile the older brother feels terrible when his friends arrive he sends them away so he could go and do his work as the father had asked he changes his clothes and he goes to work and make up for the time he’d sat around the house which of the two did what his father asked says Jesus

it was an easy answer the older son because the older son saw that his choice had been wrong and he changed his mind yet the religious leaders didn’t want to change their minds even when they realize that they might be wrong

Jesus said that because of this they would be the very last to enter god’s kingdom

like any parable we have different aspects of symbolism for the listener the Jew of that day they would have understood the vineyard to be Israel and the work to be god’s work and the father would be God and the sons would be two different classes of people the good son who agrees to work would be the pharisees and the religious Jews who outwardly would affirm their relationship with God and yet inwardly did nothing to further his kingdom and the other son would be the sinners those who had rejected God in the past but through the good news of the gospel preached by Christ and by John the Baptist they’ve repented and they began to do the work that God calls them to do

in this short story you can see the frustration of Christ at the long history of the Jews who have seen god’s work tasted god’s goodness and favor and yet still turn away for us today the symbolism is similar the good son could be those who can talk a good game when it comes to God and religion those good people who believe in God and try to be good but it stops at that the commands of God and the work of the kingdom have no place in their lives the rebellious son would be those who have turned from God rejected him at various points in their lives and have that heart change and now become active in the kingdom obeying his call and his commands

it makes you think which one describes you better

now we know neither of these sons are perfect and that was not the intent of Jesus to say that one or the other is how we should be there are those who say yes to God and they follow through and the intent of Christ here the big idea is to impress upon his disciples that a relationship with God is about more than just words and a theme that we’ve seen repeated over and over as Christ has dealt with the pharisees it’s not about the outside the way we look and the ceremonies we engage in and the trappings of religion it’s about that heart change it’s about obedience and a being and before his ministry is done Christ wants to make sure that there’s no doubt at all about this fact in god’s kingdom it’s not enough to talk the talk you’ve got to back it up by walking the walk so let’s pull a few things out of this little passage first of all there’s a request he says son go work in the vineyard today not much has changed over the years fathers are still having to get after their sons and their daughters to be somewhat more productive all of us can remember our moms and dads asking us to do something that we absolutely didn’t want to do maybe because of the kind of work it is maybe it was because we had other plans and we all know what it’s like to be doing a job we don’t want to do we’re not going to spend much time here rather than to point out that the request and the call is there it’s identical to the call given in the parables in other parts of the new testament God has not and he won’t change he wants us to be active out there in the fields active in the harvest active in the work of the kingdom here in Brightons Church and far beyond it

often times for us the that work is not something that we want to do maybe we’re shy maybe we’re busy maybe we’re preoccupied with other things

God’s call comes at the most convenient time for us in our lives but yet that call

is consistent it’s work in my fields get out there and do something and perhaps as we start to move out from this pandemic it’s even more important to get out there amongst those and get that work done because they haven’t heard about God and the wonderful things that he can do for us in our lives

and then we have two sons that respond in very different ways

the response of the first son was nothing short of open rebellion we don’t know if he was angry about being asked and that’s not important but we do know that he was certainly stubborn the moment he heard the request he says defiantly i will know

those two great words that are used there are as defiant and as resolute responds as could be in any of the gospels

there’s there is no precedent in the bible for such a short and sharp reply in the same way it’s constructed together he didn’t care to argue with his father he just said it the message was clear i don’t care don’t bother me

get someone else it was pure open rebellion and maybe sometimes we know perhaps ourselves or others that can fall into that category openly defying god’s call and his offer of that relationship openly living in a way that displeases him and while that may only describe a few now the reality is at that point that we often find ourselves in these positions

many do in Colossians 1 21 it says you were once so far away from God you were his enemies separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions all of us become separated from God at one point all of us have shared the mark of this first son being rebellious by virtue of the sins that were born into and now there would have been very little good that we could take from this story if rebellion was the only thing that marked out the sun but there was something else because this sun was also marked by his repentance

the new inter international version use of the phrase changed his mind is rather a weak and inferior translation the Greek is regretted or repented it’s the same word Matthew used for Judas’s repentance literally being seized with remorse the son came to the point where he wished his rebellion had never changed and he had changed not only his mind but his attitude his whole heart his priorities and his actions changed he came to the conclusion that he was wrong and he expressed his remorse and repented and understood that the father was right and he went out and he did what was asked of him and of course repentance leads to forgiveness allows us those who were once rebellious and sinful to stand before our God holy and clean and pure again it’s an amazing truth and the first son’s story was marked by rebellion but then repentance led to his life being marked as a life of obedience for each of us is the end result of that repentance true repentance involves turning from our sin and heading in the opposite direction that direction is the way that God calls us to live Paul says in acts 26 20 first to those in Damascus then to those in Jerusalem and all Judea and to the gentiles also i preach that they should retire repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds

the proof that repentance has happened is in our actions and the way we live and in the way we obey and follow god’s call in our lives the first son’s change of heart would have been rather hollow if it had not been followed by obedience of his actions

and then we have the marks of the second son on the surface this one sounded like he would be the good son he hears the request he immediately replies a whirlwind and for good measure he throws in a sir how many parents would pass out if this was the immediate response they got from their teenage child now when asked to do some work the first son agrees to request unfortunately where things got better for the first son they didn’t go well for the other and while he agrees initially we see that he’s also marked by his inactivity he agrees but then nothing happens he accepts the call but no activity on his part he may look good on the outside he may look like there’s an issue of repentance but not like that rebellious brother of his on the inside

unfortunately today there are too many Christians who fall into the category of this son come to church they sing the songs they do a few more things along the way and throughout the week but when God says work in my field they decide they’re quite comfortable where they’re at yet god’s call requires commitment to him and to his church it requires stepping out and being uncomfortable at times god’s call is not a call to sit and look good it’s a call to get dirty and messy and to be involved in the lives of those he puts in our path

if our relationship with our father is definitely by inactivity i hope this story might make us sit up make us a bit uncomfortable

and maybe lead us to a change and realize our disobedience

Matthew 7 21 says ‘Not everyone who says to me Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven.’

doing nothing is a sin in the same way that openly rebelling is conforming to what God expects outwardly but refusing to do it inwardly is empty and hollow and doesn’t please God

I’m sure you’ve all heard those stories of a conversation perhaps with a toddler or a little one and you’re asking them to do something or perhaps rather to stop doing something and eventually they do stop doing it but you get that little mumbo but they’re still doing it on the inside

Was that obedience?

Well, it’s conforming outwardly but rebelling inwardly it was disobedience and it was sin and in the same way the second son conformed and agreed on the surface but in the heart he rebelled and remained inactive and disobedient

two very different responses

give us two very different results the results are clear and simple repentance led to the work of getting done Christ said that those who are like this son who turn away from their son their sin when they’re confronted with the truth they enter the kingdom of God ahead of those who produced the second result and their lip service led to the work remaining untouched when you consider that the work we’re talking about directly influences the eternity of all those around us it’s quite a sobering thought of what we’ve been left to do and yet even this reality is not enough for some to change their focus from what they look like on the outside or what ministry looks like on the outside or to whether or not that heart is clean and obedient and the work is there on the inside

as we close why not take three things away with you as we apply them in our lives

firstly there’s always hope God is not looking for the ones who look perfect on the outside he’s not asking us for unattainable perfection he just wants us to obey his call no matter where we’ve gone or what we’ve done no matter how much rebellion there’s been in our lives there’s always hope through the forgiveness of our sins and we only have to ask for it and we can join the others in the field and build god’s kingdom here on earth secondly repentance is a right response to our sin when we see a rebellion for what it is repentance is the only right response before our God we need to have that remorse over our sins turn away from them and back to God and with repentance comes this third truth our obedience is shown through our actions

some of us say yes in church every week yes in bible study yes and prayer meetings yes in our small groups

we become like the pharisees looking spotless and holy on the outside but like that child rebelling still on the inside

Jesus says in john 14 15 if you love me you will obey what i command it’s as simple as that he wants our hearts he wants our obedience and if the external is not flowing out from inside and our lives are not marked by our obedience then we’re just playing at being religious missing out on that relationship with god

obedience is shown through our actions hope repentance and obedience these are the lessons of this short story this morning these are the truths that Christ wanted his disciples then and wants his followers today to grasp hold of every word every action contains the truth that can transform the way that we think and live today

Amen. Let’s pray:

Father God we ask that indeed we can say Yes and our Yes will mean Yes rather than a firm No that means No. You give us the opportunity to change our minds changes from this day forward that we continue to work and serve You in our in Your kingdom. That our hearts are open and obedient to you so that we can trust and obey because there’s no other way to be happy and serving You. Trust and obey. Amen.

Joshua: remember

Preached on: Sunday 2nd May 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no Powerpoint pdf accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Joshua 4:1-24
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray.

Father God, as we come now before Your word we ask that indeed that You will bless us through that word, You will guide and You will lead us just as You led the Israelites across the Jordan, lead us across the difficulties that we may face in life, that we might walk with You and that we might understand Your word. In Jesus name we ask it, Amen.

That was appropriate we had a technical hitch just when it was ‘I do not know what lies ahead’. I trust the God of miracles and we also trust Richard the technician of technology here in the sanctuary for getting us up and running and going again.

And we come this morning to the Israelites again, with Joshua, and they stand there at the Jordan and they’re about to cross over. As we join them in chapter 4 this morning we are with these people and we’re with a God who, in this passage this morning, calls them to remember; to remember how good their God is and how He maintains His purposes; how He keeps His promises.

The people of God have already been told to tie the word on their wrists and put it on their doorsteps that they might remember the Lord their God at every moment and here in Joshua chapter 4 verse 7 we have these stones which are to be, to the people of Israel, a memorial forever.

Humanity by nature, however, is very good at forgetting. We, as people, are very good at forgetting. We come up with a number of mnemonic devices to assist in remembering all sorts of things; names, phone numbers, dates and vocabulary, and what is true of us all, as individuals, is also true as a nation. Forgetfulness is the cause of all kinds of trouble; it’s true in interpersonal relationships, marriage relationships, community relationships, and also in our relationship with God.

Israel long has recognized the need to remember so God has, at various points in the redemptive history, had his people place markers as memorials to remind them of His mighty deeds, and this is the case this morning in chapter 4. God wants to ensure that his people will never forget what He has done and so He says, in verse 7 “these stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” This is not the first time that God asked His people to remember. After His mighty work in rescuing the people from Egypt and the Passover, God says “When your children ask you what this means, tell them this” You can find this call to remember in the previous book of Deuteronomy also, in Ecclesiastes, and here in Joshua. The word ‘remember’ doesn’t simply mean ‘to bring to mind’, it means to focus on and reflect on with love and devotion and this theme is picked up in the New Testament as Paul says to Timothy “remember Christ Jesus” or Peter says too, it is right to refresh your memory, and of course our Lord Jesus Christ Himself as He brought bread, and gave thanks for it, to His disciples He said “Do this in remembrance of me.”

And Joshua basically catechizes His people at the end of this chapter, for providing them the question that they know they’re going to be asked he gives them the answer that they’re to give as well as the purpose as to why they’ve to give it.

The question they will be asked is “What do these stones mean?” Children ask lots of questions. have a very inquisitive grandson, Caleb, and at times the questions he asked fill me with delight, other times they may be wearing me out, or they may be a bit difficult just to get the right answer, but few things give me more joy than when he and other children ask about Jesus and God and what he’s done and I can only imagine that if our children today saw these stones for themselves they’d be asking what that pile of stones was there for, and one day our own children, grandchildren, and by God’s grace will become parents too, and if we’ve done our job now answering their questions about God, then one day too they’ll be able to glorify Him giving the answer to their children and on and on the generations. Joshua describes in detail the answer that he’d be given this morning, God’s word tells us of the many important questions but what does it mean here?

Well perhaps whatever you want it to mean today, but that’s quite a welcome answer. In our modern society reflecting and turning the answer to what suits us rather than what suits God and they don’t always give the Biblical answer, the answer given by God’s word,

The stones mean something. We Christians with a biblical worldview, one that begins with God and His Holy Majesty, with His power and His creation, we recognize that when God interferes into His world and intervenes in what’s going on, He does so very purposely. So, Joshua says, the answer to the question is, God dried up the river Jordan before you until you had crossed over. In the same way he dried up the Red Sea when He rescued His people out of Egypt. God enabled the people to cross the river Jordan and so the people of God are to tell their children what God has done and the uniqueness of what He did.

It’s interesting that in verse 19 the day is mentioned, and that day is significant because it’s 40 years exactly to the day that the Passover was established. God performed this mighty deed at just the right time, even a time when the river Jordan was in full flow mode in the previous chapter.

So, God gives them the question, He gives them the answer and He also gives them the reason. God and His purposes bring His people to places and points in their lives where the only possibility for salvation and victory and triumph is if He provides it. We see this in His stated purposes in Joshua 4. His purpose is that all the peoples of the earth would know that the hand of the Lord has a powerful hand and so the people of God who fear the Lord God, leads His people across the river at just such a time that there is no way of victory crossing the river unless God Himself can get them across. It’s in times like this that the people of God will sing with the Psalmist those words “I lift my eyes to the hills from where does my help come. My help is in the name of the Lord.

With the odds so dramatically stacked against the people of God, the only chance of rescue was if God Himself did it and when this happens all the glory goes to God, the one who is due all glory. To be sure the people are obedient but God’s power is behind it and it’s no different today, God saves and calls us His people to obedience, to fear the Lord our God and to revere Him. He acts to engender the faith and His people and the obedience and He speaks still of the awe-struck wonder of His people today.

Can you imagine all those years ago just being there? One day we will all stand on that side of the Jordan river and, as much as it represents death, and God calls us into obedience and we’ll stand ready to make a safe crossing based on the promise of God and His power.

And so, the people of God have that experience which is the same that has been through all the generations.

It might need to be said here that it flies somewhat in the face of those who say things like “You interpret the bible your way, I’ll interpret it mine.” but this passage doesn’t really allow for that. God gives the question, the answer and the interpretation, stating His reason and in all of this Jesus is there too, within the passage is the Ark, the Ark of the Covenant is a sign of God’s presence and His very power and purpose. It contained the Law of God framed by the mercy seat and it’s a symbol of the justice and the mercy of our God, as it contained the Law and as it took the blood of sacrifice that was sprinkled for the sins of the people by the priest at the time. Just as that Ark represented the power and the presence of God, we know that it most clearly seen as, seen in Jesus Christ, seen in His life, His death and His resurrection and so for the people of Israel to look to The Ark is for us who stand on this side of the cross to look to Christ Jesus because the way we know the invisible God in human form ultimately is in the person of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, we don’t look to an Ark this side of the cross, we look to Christ Himself, we look at the very power of that cross, He’s the author and the finisher of faith and for us the symbol has been replaced by the actual reality of the Resurrection.

Just as God wants the stones as a memorial of His great name, we, as people living on this side of the cross, need to look to the empty cross, look at the empty tomb.

Since God raised Jesus from the dead, He will also raise me too from the dead. It says look to the resurrection of Jesus, the unique and dramatic interventions of God throughout history, and there focus our eyes on the presence on the empty cross.

And so, we can, like the Israelites, say to our children and our children’s children, our God did this for us and He will be faithful to all, in all His promises, for He is the living God.

As we begin to head out from another lockdown with our hopes and aspirations, it may have felt like 40 years, but it hasn’t been it, but it might have seemed a long time since this pandemic began, and we know we still have some time to go before again we see some sort of normality in our church buildings, and we probably feel as if we’ve been standing waiting to cross the Jordan,

There are many times, not just during this pandemic when each of us will have stood at the water’s edge, stood there in times of job loss and financial insecurity, stood there at times of ill-health, stood at the water’s edge when we’ve lost a loved one, stood there in those times of pain and suffering, and we have or if we still have, we will come through them, and always remember, God was there in the midst of those times, He was right in front of us just as He went ahead of the tribes of Israel before they crossed over into the promised land.

Today, from this passage, we have to remember God’s great power, lest we forget the power of the cross itself, unless we forget about the Christ who died for you and for me.

I picked a little story up from the theologian Alistair Begg and he tells a story about three golfers Bill, Tom and Fred. There used to be a group of four along with Harry and they often played golf together over the last 12 years, but Harry had died. It wasn’t only Harry’s company they missed on the golf course, but they missed the fact that he was the only one at his age that could see well enough to follow where their ball landed after they hit it, and so they went to the club pro or president, or whatever they’re called, and they said they need a fourth man and the only requirement they wanted that he was able to see because none of us can see well enough to follow their tee-shots. And so, he gave them George assuring them that George had great eyesight for a man of his age.

They all hit off their tee shots and turned to George asking if he seen where the ball went “Sure did!” he replied in each case and then they jump and the buggies or the carts and they drive to where Bill would usually hit his ball. He stops the car and he asked George “Where’s my ball?” to which George replied “I can’t remember!”

This morning, can we remember God in the time of Joshua as they cross the Jordan, God when He’s beside us in our moments, and the God who will be with us.

Remember, Amen