Summary: The parable of the two sons and how they describe our life in relationship with the Father.
If you’re currently looking for a job, you need to be careful when you fill out the application form. Here are some actual statements from job application forms. One person wrote, “I served as an assistant SORE manager.” When asked about his education, one applicant wrote, “I went to school on a FOOL scholarship.” One person wrote, “I am very DETALE oriented.” Another applicant indicated, “I am a rabid typist.” Another applicant boasted, “I was involved in RUINING an entire Midwest division.” Another person was honest when asked the reason for leaving their previous job. She wrote, “Pushed aside so Vice-President’s girlfriend could steal my job.” And finally, someone was applying for a job with the federal government. There was a question that asked, “Do you favor the overthrow of the United States government by force, subversion or violence?” They didn’t know it was a “yes or no” answer, they thought it was multiple-choice, so they wrote: Violence.
If you were filling out an employment form and one of the questions was: Do you consider yourself a BAD person or a GOOD person? There are only two choices and there is no room to add an explanation. Which box would you check? Bad or good? Well, it all depends on your perspective. Are you comparing yourself to everyone else, or to God? When you compare yourself to a serial killer, or a bank robber, you may think you’re pretty good. But in relationship to a Holy God, we are all bad and we must admit we need a Savior to transform us from our badness to His righteousness.
As we read this passage, don’t forget these encounters occurred during the week leading up to the cross. These are some of the last teachings Jesus left us. In the next few messages we’ll see Jesus is drawn into a verbal face-off with the chief priests and elders. I’ll just call this group “religious snobs” for short.
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.’”
Do you remember some of the early Western motion pictures? It was always easy to tell the good cowboys from the bad cowboys. The heroes always wore white hats and the villains wore black hats. The difference was as easy to tell as black and white.
During the ministry of Jesus, the Pharisees and the Chief Priests thought they wore the white hats—they were the good guys. They kept the law of God and lived a life characterized by acts of righteousness. The other people were the bad guys—especially the worst of the worst—prostitutes and tax collectors. But Jesus irritated the religious snobs by telling them that it’s easier for a bad person to get into heaven than for a good person. Do you know why it’s easier for a “bad” person to get into heaven than a “good” person? Simple answer: because NOBODY is good. Only God is good. The Bible says in Romans 3:12, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” A “bad” person is quick to admit they need salvation, whereas a “good” person often thinks they’re already good enough.
Someone said each of Jesus’ parables is like a window. You can look through the parable and see the world in a different way. But if you really look at a window instead of through it, you will often catch your own reflection in the glass. When you truly “get it” you’ll always see yourself in the parables of Jesus. There are two sons in this parable. As we unpack this parable, be looking to see which son best describes your life in relationship with your Father.
(1) THE REBEL: Even if you’ve resisted God, you can still repent and obey Him
This first son was in open rebellion to his father. The dad said, “Son, I need you to go work in my vineyard.” The son said, “No can do, dad. I’ve got tickets to hear the Screeching Camels in concert tonight in Bethlehem.” But then as he thought about his dad and the need in the vineyard, he ended up giving his tickets to a friend and then headed straight toward the vineyard and started working.