2. Fathers’ Day - Immediate Obedience
Matthew 21: 28 - 32
One morning, the pastor brought up a smoke detector and asked the children if anyone knew what it meant when the alarm went off. A boy immediately raised his hand and said, “It means Daddy’s cooking dinner.” Dads are often dissed, aren’t they?
I already struggle to be a good father and I certainly don’t want someone like Homer Simpson to be my hero because he’s depicted as out-of-touch, his parenting skills leave a lot to be desired, and his children talk back to him all the time. His boy Bart makes it loud and clear that he doesn’t need to listen to his dad. Dads are not only dissed, they’re often disrespected as well.
As we continue in our series called, “Parables Alive,” we’re learning that these stories from the Saviour not only teach; they also expose our hearts. This morning we’re going to listen in to a conversation between a dad and his two sons. This dad is dissed, dismissed and disrespected. READ - Our parable today is not nearly as well-known as the Good Samaritan but it packs a punch.
Putting the Text in Context
It’s the last week of Jesus’ life and the religious authorities are having a final face-off with Jesus. In particular, they are challenging His authority. Matthew 21 begins with Jesus making His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Then He clears out the money-changers. The chief priests and teachers of the law become indignant when they see the wonderful things that Jesus did “and the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’” The next morning Jesus enters the temple again. While He’s teaching, the religious leaders challenge Him by asking where His authority comes from. As Jesus often does, He instead asks them a very probing question in v. 25: “The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?” They were in a dilemma because if they admitted that John’s baptism was from heaven Jesus would say, “Then why did you not listen to him?” If they discounted John, the crowds would turn on them. They’re afraid to give an answer so they respond by saying, “We don’t know.” Jesus then says, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” v. 28 - introduces our parable for today, begins with another question directed to these religious leaders: “But what do you think?” Jesus wants us to pause and ponder, to think deeply about what He’s about to say. This parable functions as a mirror to help us see ourselves as we truly are. As we dive in - We’ll discover that what we do is more important than what we say we will do.
1. The first son.
The father has some work that he needs done so he goes to the first son and says, “Son, go, work today in my vineyard.” I’m struck by the tenderness of the father as he calls his boy, “Son.” This intimate term reveals his desire for a close relationship. This command carries with it both authority and affection. He is not a tyrant but tells him to “go, work.” This is a reasonable request because there is work to be done and a child needs to learn how to work.
It’s urgent – go and work “today.” This son answers abruptly and abrasively, “I will not.” Greek - stronger: “No, I will not!”
This son represents rude and reckless sinners who deliberately disobey God to His face. This reminds me of what Mufasa said to his son Simba in the Lion King: “You deliberately disobeyed me!” After thinking about it for a while, he changes his mind, and heads out to the vineyard. Perhaps he regretted his bad attitude. Maybe the father’s tender love broke through his hard heart. We don’t know what happened but we do know that he went and worked.
2. The second son.
The second son is given the same command but instead of responding disrespectfully, he replies: “I go, sir.” He even uses a title of respect. On the surface this son is compliant and obedient but we quickly realize that he’s just saying what he thinks his dad wants to hear. He had no intention of obeying: “But he did not go.” Failing to go after promising to go was worse than not having promised because now he’s lied to his dad.
Looking good was more important than doing good. He went back to playing Candy Crush instead of doing the Father’s will. The first son said, “I will not” but did. The second son said, “I will” but did not.
The second son might have said he would work but in his heart he had no intention of obeying. Think with me about the story of the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish guy who built on sand. Did the foolish man listen to Jesus? The Bible says that they both heard but only one listened.
Let’s go back to our parable. These 2 sons have different attitudes, different answers and different actions. The first son, though initially strong-willed, went and worked. He was rebellious but repented. He under-promised and over-delivered. The second son talked a good game but stayed and lay around the house. He talked the talk but did not walk the walk. He over-promised and under-delivered. Jesus then asks a question with an obvious answer: “Which of the 2 did the will of his father?” I’m sure the religious guys didn’t really want to answer - they would be condemning themselves - probably responded quietly by putting their hand over their mouths to muffle the words: “The first.”
The Point of the Parable
There are really 2 different groups represented by this parable
1. The rebellious who repent.
According to the religious leaders - tax collectors and prostitutes had no part in the kingdom of God. Jesus could not have chosen a much more offensive comparison by saying that these 2 groups will pass the religious leaders on the highway to heaven. The tax collectors made a living by skimming off the top while prostitutes made a living off the bottom. Neither were welcome by religious people. They were the lowest of the low. Aren’t you glad that no matter what you’ve done or how long you’ve done it, God’s grace is available to the worst of sinners?
Public sinners like tax collectors (Matthew and Zacchaeus) and prostitutes responded to Jesus throughout His ministry. I love what Paul said about himself - he had persecuted Christians and put them to death. You’d think that might disqualify him - 1 Timothy 1: 15: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” God uses the example of the most extreme sinner we can think of to show that His grace covers all our sins. If you feel like a failure today because of poor choices and sinful actions, guess what? You qualify for the kingdom! If you’ve been going the wrong way for a long time it’s not too late to repent and go the right way today! God is a God of second chances and is all about what we are becoming, not what we once were. God loves to change sinners into saints. 1 Corinthians 6: 11: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”
2. The religious who rebel.
What we do is more important than what we say we will do. The religious knew the right reply but their lives did not match up to their lips because their walk was not connected to their talk. Matthew 15: 8: “These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Friends, it’s not our religious reputation but our repentance that matters. Tough questions: • How many times have I sung words that speak of obedience and yet did nothing to act on that which I professed? • How many times have I promised to pray for someone but didn’t do it? • How many times have I asked God to lead me and then ignored his leading because I didn’t like it? • How many times have I told the Lord that I would serve Him when times are tough only to forget Him when times are better?
The Father’s Focus
The father represents our Heavenly Father.
1. The Father is fond of you. If you are a Christ-follower, He calls you “son” or “daughter.” If you doubt God’s love for you, lock in to these words from Zephaniah 3: 17: “The LORD your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
2. The Father’s will is that we work. There’s much to do in His vineyard and we don’t really have the option of opting out. A Christian who is not serving is a contradiction in terms. 1 Peter 4: 10: “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
3. The Father expects immediate obedience. He wants us to work “today.” Delayed obedience is really disobedience. Hebrews 3: 15: “Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” What we do is more important than what we say we will do. If you’re a believer and you’re not working, it’s time to get back to work!
4. The Father is gracious when we don’t go. He loves to redeem the rebellious. He waits until we repent. 2 Peter 3: 9: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” And when we do repent, He doesn’t rub our face in our failures. He doesn’t bring up our past. He sees born again believers as fully justified, declared righteous by Jesus.
5. The Father desires repentance more than self-righteous religious ritualism. There’s a difference between “wishing” and “willing.” We can wish for change but until we’re willing to submit to the Father’s will; we won’t change. To say I can’t means it’s impossible. To say I won’t means I don’t want to, which is often more accurate because it ultimately comes down to our will, doesn’t it? What we do is more important than what we say we will do.
1. Talk tenderly to your children. The father uses the affectionate term “son” when he addresses his boys. Dads, we have a heavy responsibility to not do anything that would cause our children to despair.
2. Lovingly lead your family. I know that moms are filling in the gap but I want fathers to hear this: You are the God-ordained head of your home and you are charged with bringing your children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. The dad in the parable was affectionate (he called his boy ‘son’) and authoritative (‘go and work’). He was tender and tough. He provided loving leadership.
3. Raise your children to work. The father in this story had every right to give work to his children. We are a culture of laziness and entitlement where many feel like others owe them. Work is good thing. Lamentations 3: 27: “It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth.”
4. Teach your children to respect those in authority. The second son addressed his dad with respect. We need to help our children learn how to do this by having them use titles like “Mr.” and “Mrs.,” “Sir” and “Ma’am.” A little “Please” and “Thank you” goes a long way as well.
5. Expect obedience from your children. Too many of us dads are lax in this area. Children have an obligation to obey and we must insist that they do so. Ephesians 6: 1 - 3: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’” Parents, expect obedience right away…and then enforce consequences when it doesn’t happen.
6. Don’t despair in the face of disobedience. Some of you have children or grandchildren who are rebelling and disobeying. Hold on to hope and pray for your prodigal to return. The first son was defiant but eventually came around. The second son was compliant on the outside but strong-willed on the inside. Friends, what we do is more important than what we say we will do. What is God calling you to do right now?
Say to Him, “Lord, have your way with me. Lord, I need you!”