Dear Pastor Charles: In Mathew 21:28-31, Jesus asks the religious leaders of His day which of the sons in His story did the will of his father. First of all, when Jesus spoke in parables, there was always a comparison to real life. What does this parable tell us we should be doing for our Heavenly Father? Secondly, although He never says it directly, He seems to be saying that the son who said “yes”, but failed to do the work, was actually the one who did the will of his father. Is this what Jesus really means, and if so, why? Curious…
Thank you for your in-depth question. Without a doubt, Jesus was in the face of the religious establishment of His day. Jesus came as the complete fulfillment of the Law the religious rulers represented, yet they rejected Him. Please notice that neither the Sadducees, the religious liberals who denied the supernatural, nor the Pharisees, the legalists of that day, were able to dispute the miracles that Christ performed. Instead, they attacked Him on the issue of authority. Look at Matthew 21:23, “Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
This question is entirely relevant for each of us today and is one we need to ask ourselves. Who is the final authority for the rule of your life? Is it Christ or yourself? Do you want to accept God’s purpose and will for your life as revealed in His Word or do you want to make your own way? Obviously, the religious rulers liked being “in charge” and were not about to hand over their authority and position to some upstart from Nazareth, of all places. It is too those who had the most access to the Word of Truth and who had all the outward appearances of being righteous that Jesus addresses this scathing rebuke found in the parable of the two sons.
Let’s look at the Scripture, Matthew 21:28-32, “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you 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.” The work that God requires is the complete forsaking of self rule and the acceptance of His ruler-ship over your life. The tax collectors and prostitutes accepted John’s baptism of repentance with a pure conscience whereas the religious rulers rejected John’s baptism. That is why Jesus asked them in Matthew 21:24-27, “.. “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism–where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’–we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” These rulers were blinded by their self-righteousness and could not accept the fact that they were desperately in need of repentance and salvation. They were willing to obey the letter of the law but not the spirit.
Pardon me while I digress. This parable is entirely relevant today. I fear there are many people who have joined the church who are very sincere and very religious. They have a wonderful knowledge of doctrine and participate in the ordinances of the church with great zeal. They think they are Christians yet they might not be if there has been no real transformation in their lives.
A genuine believer will be known by the fruit he or she bears which is the ‘Fruit of the Spirit”. The first of which is a true love and concern for other believers. Look at 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” The tax collectors and prostitutes were like the first son. At first they said “no” to God but they had a change of heart. They repented of their sin and came to Him for salvation and He accepted them with open arms. The stubborn religious rulers were like the second son. They outwardly said “yes” to God but refused to recognize and repent of their sin and come to Him, thus rejecting Him. I hope I have answered your question satisfactorily. May God bless you as you search the Scriptures “which are able to make you wise.”