“What do you think? A man had two sons. 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. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 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. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
(Matthew 21:28-32 ESV)
Jesus often taught by asking questions, allowing His audience to discover truth about themselves by pondering those questions. This is exactly what happened yesterday. The Jewish religious leaders’ hypocritical thinking was exposed by Jesus’ question about their thoughts of John the Baptist. Today, He drives the point home by telling a parable.
In this parable a man had two sons, both of whom were told to go and work in the vineyard today. The command was given by the father. The instructions were specific as to the time and place.
One son at first refused to go but afterward changed his mind and went. The other son said he would go but did not go. Jesus then asks the religious leaders “Which of the two sons did the will of his father?”. They get the question right by giving the obvious answer: “The first“. But their answer condemns them, as Jesus then points out.
Just like the second son in the parable, the religious leaders claimed to obey God but their actions betrayed that claim. They did not do God’s will.
On the other hand, those people who were the scum of society – the tax collectors and prostitutes – were going to go into the kingdom of God (heaven) because they did God’s will.
And what is God’s will? God’s will is likewise specific: look to Jesus and believe in Him, thereby receiving eternal life [John 6:40]. It couldn’t be easier to say. But it’s incredibly hard to do because our pride gets in the way.
Many people are just like the Jewish religious leaders. They think they are righteous and don’t see their sin; they think they are “good” and will get into heaven based on that alleged goodness [Matthew 7:21-23; Mark 2:17].
But the truth is – and God tells us this repeatedly in the Bible – that no one is good; none of us can earn our way to heaven based on our behavior [Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:8-9 et. al]. We all deserve to be separated from God forever (in hell) [Romans 6:23]. The only way to avoid that is to have Jesus pay the penalty for our sins [John 3:16, 14:6] .
The tax collectors and prostitutes were not going to heaven based on their behavior, but because they believed. They heard what John the Baptist and Jesus said and they believed. But the self-righteous Jewish leaders did not believe even when they saw the changed lives of those sinners.
It’s not unusual for some people to reject Jesus and later, change their minds as a result of seeing the power of God work in other people’s lives. This is exactly what happened to me. I was a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth atheist for many years. But I had to change my mind when I could no longer support my denials.
But those who refuse to repent and believe will someday watch as those they look down upon enter into heaven.
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