Let me begin by telling you a story:
A man died and found himself standing before the Pearly Gates. He was greeted by St. Peter who said to him, “Before you meet God, I should tell you — we’ve looked over your life, and to be honest you really didn’t do anything particularly good or bad. We’re not really sure what to do with you.
Can you tell us anything you did that can help us make a decision as to whether or not we should let you into heaven?”
The newly arrived soul thought for a moment and replied, “Yeah, once I was driving along and came upon a person who was being harassed by a group of thugs. So, I pulled over, got out a baseball bat, and went up to the leader of the thugs. He was a big, muscular guy with a ring pierced through his lip.
Well, I tore the ring out of his lip, and told him and his gang they had better stop bothering this guy or they would have to deal with me!”
“Wow that’s impressive,” St Peter said, “When did this happen?”
“About three minutes ago,” he replied.
This humorous story reminds me of what Jesus taught, in the Gospel of Matthew 21:28-32 about what kind of person can enter the kingdom of God. In this parable, there are two sons who represent God’s children and a father who represents our heavenly Father. Each son is asked by his father to do something. The lesson to be learned is which son did the father’s will. Listen to Jesus’ words as He says to the Chief Priests and the Elders of the people:
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons, and he came to the first and said,
‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it
and changed his mind and went. Then the man came to the second son and said the same thing;
and he replied, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of the father?”
The chief priests and elders replied, “The first one.”
Jesus said to them, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you that
the tax collectors and the prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.
For John came to you walking in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him;
but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did believe him;
and you, seeing this, did not even change your mind afterward and believe him
accepting what he proclaimed to you.” Matthew 21:28-32
In these verses, Jesus is teaching a very important truth that He wanted His audience, the Chief Priests, the Elders, and we as His children, to know. The teaching concerns entry into the kingdom of God. What could be a more important subject for us to understand?
In this parable, Jesus starts out by saying, “What do you think?” “A father says to one of his sons, ‘Go to work in my vineyard, Son!’ That son says, ‘I will not!’ but afterwards changed his mind and went.’” So, the first son’s answer was “No,” but eventually he went.
Then the father says to his other son, “Go to work in my vineyard, Son!” And that son says, “I will sir! but did not go.” So, the second son’s answer was, “Yes,” but he never went.
Jesus then asks, “Which of the two did the will of the father?” The Chief Priests and the Elders replied, “The first one.” Jesus then told them that sinners, like tax collectors and prostitutes, will get into the kingdom of God before they do because they did not believe the righteous preaching of John the Baptist by repenting of their sins and changing their ways.
Even though the Chief Priests and Elders gave the correct answer, Jesus saw their hypocrisy because they were like the second son who said “yes” but did not do the will of the Father. Notice that Jesus did not ask which son behaved honorably. He asked: “Which of the two did the will of his father?” The son who says “YES” to his father doesn’t actually do what his father wants him to do. It is the NO-saying son who actually goes to work in his father’s vineyard. You see the Chief Priests and Elders were guilty of what we would call “lip service.” Jesus in speaking to the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 15:8 once again reveals their hypocrisy when He says, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Matthew 15:8
The first son’s initial answer to his father was honest (he never intended to be obedient), but he “changed his mind” and did what his father asked him to do. By contrast, the second son’s seemingly obedient “Yes” was merely “lip service” because he “did not go.” Jesus condemns the Chief Priests’ and Elders’ behavior because of their hypocrisy. On the other hand, challenged by the teaching and the “way of righteousness” of John, the sinful Tax Collectors and prostitutes (like the first son) changed their behavior. Trapped in their self-righteousness, the Chief Priests and Elders refused to change their hypocritical ways.
The first son repented. The Greek word for repent is METANOEO, which means a transformative change of heart; to change one’s way of life and thinking. In the Biblical sense, it means turning “away” from sinful behavior and turning “toward” God—choosing to do things His way, living our life to please God and no longer living selfishly for ourselves.
And so, here is the point of what Jesus wants us to understand. What the NO-saying son says is contrary to God’s will, but what he does is in accordance with God’s will. It is just opposite with the YES-saying son. The words of the YES-saying son are obedient to God’s will, but his life is lived in disobedience to God’s will.
The words of the YES-saying son are empty. His life, not his words, reveal the condemning truth about his relationship to his father. The truth is that the YES-saying son rejects God’s will with his actions, no matter how much he says “yes” in his words.
In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus said some very sobering words to those who say they are His followers. Listen to His words as He says,
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven,
but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name,
cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’
And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me,
you who practice lawlessness!’” Matthew 7:21-23
In these verses, Jesus is speaking to people who proclaim Him as their Lord, prophesy in His Name, cast out demons in His Name, and do many wonders in His Name. What is so sobering is Jesus is speaking to those who call themselves Christians in name, even Charismatics, but they do not do the will of His Father in heaven. Sadly, Jesus says of these people, “I never knew you; depart from Me.” In other words, these are those who, like the “Yes-saying son, will not enter the kingdom of Heaven.
It’s always good for our words to reflect our “Yes” to God. But what is more crucial is that our lives say “Yes” to God as well. Unless they do, our words are worthless. You see, Jesus is making the point that it is our “life,” not what we “say” that reveal the confirming truth about our relationship with God.
It is not enough for us to say we are a Christian or talk like a Christian. We must “act” like a Christian. In other words, it’s not enough to “talk the talk”. We need to “walk the walk”. We need to say “Yes” to God’s will and God’s way with our “actions” as well as our words. We need to “live” the teachings of Jesus asking ourselves, when faced with decisions or choices, “What would Jesus do?” and then “doing” what Jesus would do. We must read and study the Bible to understand God’s will for our lives and our relationships. And finally, we must pray to ask the Father to show us and teach us His ways as David prayed in Psalm 25:4-5 where he prays,
“Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day.” Psalm 25:4-5
Let us pray:
Dear Heavenly Father,
I am so grateful for the privilege of being Your child. Show me and teach me Your ways and give me the grace to “Walk the walk” as I say “Yes” to Your will daily in every area of my life. And not just for my sake but for the sake of others who need to know Your Son Jesus, Who is “The Way, the Truth and the Life.” Graciously grant this prayer, I pray, for I ask it of You in the holy, mighty, and precious Name of Jesus. Amen.
© 2020 Richard A. MacKinnon, All Rights Reserved