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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew 21:28-32’

Our text today is often called the parable of the two sons. I think parents with teens will relate to it. It’s about a father trying to get his kids to do chores. One kid is rude about it and the other doesn’t do anything.

But in all seriousness, it’s an important Scripture because it gives us a very clear understanding of what God wants from us.

It comes right in the middle of a fairly long confrontation between Jesus and the leaders of Jerusalem – the chief priests and the elders of the people (21:23). And this is the first of three parables intended to give them a message.

First, let’s work at –

Understanding the parable

Jesus initiates this stage of the conversation with a question. v. 28 – “What do you think?” They had just refused to answer a question he posed, but as we will see in what follows, this parable forces them to answer him.

Now before we move on, let me say here that in some ancient manuscripts of the New Testament the order of the two sons is actually reversed. So if your Bible has this you will know what is going on. For instance the older New American Standard Bible. I am using the ESV as always.

The first son. v. 28 – “A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’” The word translated as “first” can also mean “older,” as in the oldest son. Some translations take it this way.

“Sons” is actually the word for “children.” And when the father says, “son, go and work,” it is actually “child, go and work,” a more affectionate way of putting it. He is asking him to do some work on the family farm.

v. 29 – “And he answered, ‘I will not.’” The son’s response is rude and disrespectful. In its culture this would be seen as rebellious and unacceptable. And it’s a real contrast to the father’s affectionate address to him.

The story goes on, v. 29 – “but afterward he changed his mind and went.” Although he said no, he does work.

The word behind the phrase, “changed his mind” can also be translated as ‘he regretted it’ or ‘he thought differently about it,’ or even ‘he repented.’

This part of the parable has some connection to Luke 15 and the parable of the prodigal son, the only other parable of Jesus that involves a father and two sons. The first son here is quite similar to the prodigal son. And both show us what repentance looks like. They changed their minds and acted differently.

The second son. v. 30 – “And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir.’” This is a very respectful answer, in contrast to the first son’s words to his father. The word “sir” is actually the word for ‘lord’ or ‘master.’

v. 30 – “but did not go.” He said yes, but he was full of hot air.

Now let’s look at –

Jesus’ interpretation

v. 31 – “’Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.’”

  • From this we see that the father represents God.
  • The first son represents the tax collectors & prostitutes. They said no to God initially, but when they heard the message of the kingdom, they changed their minds and began to do God’s will.
  • The second son represents the chief priests & elders. They said yes to God, but when they heard the message, they did not act.
  • And most likely the vineyard represents Israel – the people of God.

The point of the parable is clear. Those who refuse God but later repent and obey, like the first son, will go into the kingdom. And they will go in before those who say yes, but don’t obey God, like the second son. (Indeed the leaders won’t get in at all unless they repent.)

Jesus gives his strong affirmation to this lesson when he says, “Truly I say to you.” He is saying, ‘take note!’ ‘This is absolutely the truth.’

Finally, notice how Jesus forces them to answer. The only possible answer to his question is that the first son did the father’s will. Yet the first son undeniably represents well repentant sinners – those moral outcasts that these leaders looked down on.

And the leaders look very much like the second son, in that they did not take heed to the message of the kingdom. So they, in effect, condemn themselves.

Now this parable can be applied quite broadly, but in this context Jesus applies it specifically to –

John the Baptist’s ministry

– the subject of the argument at this point between Jesus and the leaders of Jerusalem.

v. 32 – “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him.” Even though they had said yes to obey God, they did not believe John was from God. So they didn’t do what he said.

Although John came in the way of righteousness, that is, he was righteous and preached a righteous message from God, they rejected him.

v. 32 – “but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.” Even though they had said no to God, they believed John and repented.

Finally, Jesus says, v. 32 – “And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” Even after they saw others respond, they rejected him, and would not change their minds about him, and heed his message of repentance. They blew it twice with John, just like they were blowing it with Jesus as they spoke with him.

Lessons for us

1. We learn what God wants from us. God wants us to believe and respond to the message of the kingdom. And how do we respond? We are to respond by obeying God. To say it another way, God is looking for a change within that leads to obedience; so that we come to do our heavenly father’s will, instead of ours or anyone else’s.

This is the bottom line of what God wants from us.

2. Don’t be the second son. As Christians we have said “yes” to God, and so we are reminded in this parable that we need to come through on our commitment. We need to make sure we are working in the vineyard, doing God’s will; using our gifts and doing all that God tells us to do.

Now, the second son echoes Matthew 7:21. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Both use the address of “Lord,” and both don’t obey the will of the father. And both are, as Jesus interprets the parable, excluded from the kingdom of God. (Davies & Allison)

This is a word to us not just the ancient leaders of Israel. We must come through on our commitments to God.

3. Don’t be self-righteous. We need humility so we don’t become like the leaders of Jerusalem.

Think about it. Who are the ones who will never repent? Rank sinners? No. There’s a chance for them. The ones who will never repent are those who think they don’t need to repent; who don’t see the need; who think they are in the right.

Paul says, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” – 1 Corinthians 10:12. This is a warning for us. You never get to a place where you can’t receive God’s message to you; where you don’t need to be open to repentance.

4. The gospel is great news for sinners! So if you are here today and you have sin in your life – I mean even really bad sin; you have made terrible and shameful choices – it isn’t too late.

You haven’t done God’s will so far? Jesus teaches that you can change your mind! You can have a change within so that you believe the message and start to obey your heavenly father. It isn’t too late.

And if there is anyone here today who wants to do this very thing I invite you to come forward . . ..

[Note: This is not an example of the first and the last from 20:16. In this last verse the first and the last has to do with equalization, not reversal – both the first and the last were made equal.]
 
[Note: Literary structure of the parable.
A. Question/two sons: What do you think? A man had two sons.
B. First son: And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went.
`B. Second son: And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.
`A. Question/two sons: Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.”

William Higgins

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