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
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 son where he’s sitting and he asked him 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.’ 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 about 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 mums 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. Ooften 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 not!’ Those two great words that are used there are as defiant and as resolute responds as could be in any of the gospels. 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 we’re 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 son but there was something else, because this son was also marked by his repentance.
The New 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 happened 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. aul 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 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 the 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 mumble 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 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, H 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’ in 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.