Today, our gospel message comes to us from Matthew 21:23-32, “A parable of doing God’s will.”
23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. 28 “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.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 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. 32 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. (ESV).
Heavenly Father, you sent your Son to reveal your will for our lives and redeem us from sin and death. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire us with confidence that you are with us in the midst of the storms of life, bring peace to our troubled souls, and lead your church throughout the ages. Enable us to live as your redeemed saints, that our lives may witness to our faith. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
“God’s Will vs. My Will”
I want your opinion. I called a couple of contractors to do some work on my house. The first contractor I talked to was very rude. He said he had no time for me and hung up while still holding the phone to my ear. You can imagine my surprise then when later that afternoon, this same contractor showed up at my door and spent an hour inspecting my house before giving me an estimate for what it would cost to do the work. However, before he arrived, I had called another contractor and asked him to provide me with an estimate. This contractor was very cheerful and promised to come out that afternoon. Well, that was three days ago, and he still hasn’t come. What should I do? Which contractor should I use to do do the work on my house? Should I go with the one who was rude but still took the time to give me an estimate, or should I wait for the cheerful contractor to show up?
In our sermon text today, Jesus told a parable about two brothers who were very much like the two mechanics in my made-up story. Both boys were told by their father to work in the vineyard. One said, “No way!” while the other said, “Yes sir!” Both ended up doing the opposite of what they said they would do. Through this parable, Jesus urges us to do our heavenly Father’s will—not with empty words (like the second son), but with repentant actions (like the first son).
Jesus spoke this parable to people who were confident they were bound for heaven. Unfortunately, their confidence was not rooted in God’s promises but based on how good they thought they were. The Chief Priests and Elders to whom Jesus spoke felt they were so holy that when John the Baptist called them to repent of their sins and be baptized, they ignored him. While they ignored John’s call to repent, tax collectors, and prostitutes, many considered to be beyond saving, confessed their sins, and were baptized.
Can you guess which group of people represented the son who at first said “no” in the parable but then did what his father wanted? Sure, the tax collectors and prostitutes were that son. At first, they had said “no” to God with their life-style choices but later said “yes” when they repented of their sins and were baptized. While repentant actions characterized their lives, the Chief Priests and Elders’ lives were characterized by empty words. At first, they were the son who said “yes” to working in the vineyard but then never went. They had said “yes” to God by taking on leadership positions in the religious community, promising to teach God’s Word and live by it, but they didn’t follow through with these things. Their promises had been nothing more than empty words, and therefore they were not doing the Father’s will.
Which son are we? Is our life one of empty words or repentant actions? Are we like the sixth-grader who was so nervous for her science test that she said “no” to God when she sketched a cheat-sheet on her palm’s palm but then in repentance said “yes” when she wiped her hand clean before the test? Or are we like the confirmand who said “yes” to God when he promises to be faithful in hearing God’s Word, using the Sacrament, and serving in the church but then says “no” when hockey practice and a part-time job get in the way of regular church attendance? The truth is we are like both sons. We have all said “no” to God and then later repented and did what God wanted us to do. We’ve also sinned by saying “yes” to the Lord when we promise here to reflect God’s holiness, but then seconds after worship is over, we bicker and fight in the car on the way home, showing God we really meant “no.”
Is one attitude worse than the other? It is. Empty words are worse because they delude us into thinking we are God-fearing people when we’re not. The Apostle James said that if we don’t live God’s Word, then all our pious words are meaningless, and our faith is dead (James 2:17). That’s a scary thought isn’t it? It makes me wonder if I will make it to heaven because I’ve claimed to be a loving, patient, and kind child of God. Still, when I’m rushing to work on a typical weekday morning, I show myself to be anything but loving, patient, and kind—especially to my own family! I have said “yes” to God while demonstrating I really mean “no.” I am no better than the Chief Priests who said “yes” with their show of piety but then showed they meant “no” when they had Jesus crucified.
If God’s law has convicted you as I have, take heart. Jesus did not tell this parable to shame us. He told this parable to direct us…to him—the perfect Son. You see, Jesus was the third son, not mentioned in the parable. When his heavenly Father said: “Son, I have a tough chore for you. I want you to save sinful people. You’ll need you to go work on earth. You’ll need to take on flesh and blood, spending nine months in a woman’s womb and then be born in a barn. You’ll need to live with these sinful people—healing and teaching them. In return, you’ll be mocked, beaten with whips, and finally crucified. Will you do it?” God’s Son, of course, said: “Yes. I will do everything you ask of me.” There was no arguing, no complaining, only complete submission. And Jesus didn’t just say “yes” he lived his “yes” in perfect obedience, never veering from the mission. And because Jesus has completed his mission of saving sinners, whenever we say “no” to God, he hears “yes” because he hears his Son’s voice over ours (like dubbed movie dialogue). And whenever we say “yes” only to show we really mean “no” by our inaction, the Father sees his Son’s perfect life in place of ours. In Jesus, we have complete forgiveness.
Of course, those who know and believe they have been forgiven will reflect their thankfulness for that forgiveness in the way they live. We will no longer say “no” when God tells us to work in his vineyard, whether serving him in the church or reflecting his love at home and school. Nor will we say “yes” and then make excuses as to why we didn’t follow through with the Lord’s work. As brothers and sisters of Jesus, we will say “yes” and we will show “yes.” To strive for anything less would be to say that we don’t care what Jesus has done for us and that we don’t want to be part of God’s family. May that never be said of us. Instead, may it be said that we do the Father’s will—not with empty words, but with repentant actions motivated by Jesus’ “yes” for us.
Dear God, I have to do your will for me to have complete joy in my life. Through all the challenges and difficulties that I face, I pray that I do not separate me with your word. I know that when your word is in me, you are there for me. Please give me strength and power to overcome all the trials that I am facing. In the name of Jesus Christ, I know that all things are possible, and everything that I ask in His name is being done for me. Let your Holy Spirit take control of everything I do and continue to give me wisdom and knowledge to preach the good news to the lost. Set me free from all evil desires and create in me a pure heart. I know that I will continue to face a lot in life. Still, I am not afraid because your word says” all things worketh together for the good to those who love God and those who are called according to his purpose” I want to be like King David when He said. “However, I walk through the shadow of death I will fear no evil” in Jesus name, I declare to overcome evil with good. Let your will be done in my life in Jesus’ name, Amen.
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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Sermon contributed by Daniel Habben.
Doing the Father’s Will, not with empty words, but with repentant actions.