Jesus once told a parable about two sons. It went like this: “A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not (Matthew 21:28-30 KJV).” He then poses a question to the Pharisees, but before we get there, it will be helpful to describe the context of why Jesus told this particular parable.
This is not a moral lesson in children obeying their parents, the Bible teaches such obedience, but that is not the primary lesson Jesus is driving at here. Jesus is teaching in the temple. The Pharisees did not like the fact that Jesus was teaching in the temple. In true Pharisaical form they challenge Christ by asking by whose authority was He teaching. Good question, eh?! We’d likely feel a bit awkward too if somebody just strolled into our Sunday morning church service, pushed aside the pastor and launched into their own sermon.
This parable is all about authority. Sadly, should there have been any question by Whose authority Jesus was teaching? The blind see, the lame walk, the dumb speak, the dead live, 5000 people are fed with five loaves and two fishes, and these Pharisees have the audacity to question by Whose authority Jesus was teaching. It is patently obvious: this is the Messiah; all their survey of the Old Testament should have demarcated clearly that Jesus was the Promised One. Yet, they refused to submit to the authority of God’s Word.
Thus, Jesus replies to their challenge with a question of His own: where did the baptism of John come from, heaven or men? The Pharisees huddle and realize that they’ve been bamboozled, because if they answer “from heaven,” Jesus will say, “Why didn’t you believe him then?” If they answer, “from men,” the John the Baptist fan club will throw a rally out front of the temple boycotting the Pharisees. So, since they didn’t want to admit the obvious (i.e. that John was the forerunner, sent from God, to prepare the way of the Lord’s Messiah, Jesus) and they didn’t want to jeopardize their political clout by angering the people, they answered, as shrewd politicians often must do, “we dunno!”
Jesus then launches into this parable by asking, “But what think ye?” He isn’t waxing eloquent about how some kids are obedient and others aren’t, and here’s five steps to happy and obedient children. Jesus is aiming an arrow of conviction right at the heart of self-righteousness. This parable has four principle characters in it: the Father, an externally rebellious yet internally obedient son, an externally obedient yet internally rebellious son, and a vineyard.
A vineyard is a place where grapes are grown. [If you’d like to hear more about grapes, try out this powerful sermon by my Pastor Life as a Grape] Grapes are a symbol of life, health, and even blood. Grape juice, when thinking Biblically, ought to raise in our minds the thought of the Last Supper and Jesus offering us the blood of His New Covenant of Grace. A Father, offering the opportunity to enter into his vineyard filled with life, sounds awfully close to the Gospel. Which is convenient because I like to keep the Gospel at the center of everything.
Father God has made a way for you and I to enter into the vineyard of life to freely harvest the “juice” of His life in the blood of His Son Jesus. If you want life, you have to submit, obey, and comply with the Father’s demand of going into the vineyard. Only there is life to be found. It isn’t found in the outward forms of obedience, it is found in the vineyard.
Thus, we have two sons, one of which is painfully similar to us. We like to tout our outward spirituality and feign submission to God’s will and purpose. However, how often do we refuse to submit ourselves unto the Gospel, by simply believing Him like a child; and thus, walk in disobedience. You can bark all day long about loving God, following God, praising God, but is it all merely an outward pretense of obedience?
The other son is the one I long to be, the one who did the will of God the Father. He was outwardly a rebel, disobedient, defiant, and stubborn. But afterward, he was cut to the heart and where did he end up? In the very place where his father desired him to be, and where he would find the life-giving juice of the vineyard!
Here’s how Jesus sums up the parable:
Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him. Matthew 21:31-32
The tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before the Pharisees did. Why? Weren’t the Pharisees living faithful to the Word of God? Weren’t they spotless in their integrity and righteousness? Indeed, they were as good as it gets in regards to external, human-sourced righteousness. However, Jesus points out the error of their way, that is all too often the error of our way. They loved to look as if they were obedient, and yet inwardly they refused to submit themselves unto the Word of God as the ultimate and binding authority in their life. They wanted God’s Word to be either a buddy to pal around with, or a specimen to study under the microscope of scholastic intellectualism. Anything but the ultimate authority.
Is God’s Word, both in text and in flesh, the authority in your life? It commands you to believe the Gospel, to obey the Gospel, to love God supremely and feast upon the vineyard of His life. Do you merely go through the motions of Christianity, or are you like the first son who acknowledged his sin, repented, and fled from the judgement of his disobedience and made himself comfortable in the Father’s Vineyard.
Thus, there are two manners of living out Christianity. One is really impressive outwardly, and yet inwardly is full of rebellion and self-service. The other is born of the Spirit, for it acknowledges what every man must acknowledge, “I’m a sinner, I’m disobedient, even my righteousness is filthy before the Father, but if He has made a way for me to abide in His vineyard of life, by golly, that is where I am going to be found!” The Father has given us a commandment, “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment (1 John 3:23).” He commands us to believe, thus, believe Him. If you resist and rebel, and refuse to obey His Gospel, this is what is in store: “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:8).”
But if you obey, it is life and health and peace. John sums all this up rather nicely: “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him (John 6:53-56).” The inner Pharisee of self-reliance must be bamboozled, by acknowledging even our best is still reprehensible in God’s sight. Instead, may we confess unto the Father, as the first son did, “I know I am a rebel against Your will, but I repent, I turn, and I flee to thee to hide me! I ever want to live in the shade of Your vineyard of love and life, never more to roam!” Then, drink deep and feast long, for everlasting life is found in the feast of the Father’s vineyard!