18 The Two Sons


Before we can study the parable, we need to have a look at the background to the parable. What is the reason why Jesus gave this parable?

Matthew 21:23-27
23 And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? 24 And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? 26 But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. 27 And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.

  • The priests and elders came to Jesus and asked him who gave him authority to do what he was doing. Whether that was teaching or preaching of healing. Who gave Him the license to do all this? The people that asked were people that were from within the church. They were asking from a church perspective, and not from a government perspective.
  • After all, Jesus had not been trained in the Rabbinical schools. He had not been given the stamp of approval from them.
  • However, Jesus replies by asking them back a question. It was in regards to John’s baptism. This is John the Baptist, not the disciple John.
  • Jesus asks – John’s baptism, was it from heaven or of man?
  • The priests and elders begin to reason it out and they find that they can’t give an answer because it will show their foolishness either way.
  • If they say that John’s baptism was from heaven, then Jesus would ask them why they didn’t believe Him (as in Christ) because John baptised Jesus and John also pointed Jesus out that He was the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world! If they agreed that John’s baptism was heaven ordained, then they would have to accept Jesus as being the Christ and the Messiah.
  • However, if they said that John’s baptism was of men, of a worldly origin, then they would be in serious trouble because everyone regarded John the Baptist as a prophet. The crowd would turn upon them. Even many of the religious leaders and even political leaders knew that a power of a heavenly origin accompanied John’s ministry.
  • They realised that they were caught. No matter the answer they would be condemning themselves. So rather than do that they refused to answer. They said “We cannot tell.” Not because they really didn’t know but they didn’t want to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.
  • So to that response, Jesus launches into this parable.

Matthew 21:28-31
28 But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. 29 He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. 30 And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. 31 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.

  • So, the parable is about two sons. The first one said that he wasn’t going to go help the dad in the vineyard but ended up going and the second son said he was going to help from the beginning but didn’t end up going.

Now, before we define who the two sons are, first what is the vineyard?

  • Isaiah 5:7
    For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
  • The vineyard represents the house of Israel. In the modern application it represents the church.

How about the sons? Who do they represent?

  • The first son said no but after that he repented and went. Jesus said this about them.
    • Matthew 21:31
      Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
  • The interpretation is clear. The first son represents the publicans and the harlots. They are the non-Christians, the ones that don’t know anything about God. They want nothing to do with Christianity. We looked at the publicans and harlots in the last study as well.

Who does the second son represent?

  • The second son said he would go but didn’t end up even going. Jesus said in verse 31 that they were the priests and scribes. He was addressing them in contrast to the publicans and harlots who would enter the kingdom of heaven before they do.
  • They represent those in the church.
  • You see friends, there is a very clear application here. Just because we are in the church it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are saved. And just because people are not in the church, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t saved or that they won’t be saved.

There were two key things that Jesus pointed to that qualified for the non-Christians to go into the kingdom of heaven. What was it?

  • First is that even though they said no at the beginning, they REPENTED.
  • The second is that they ended up doing the WILL OF GOD.

Let’s have a quick look at repentance. What is repentance?

  • You realise you are wrong, you admit it, you confess, you ask for forgiveness and you change. It’s a U-turn. You realise you are going the wrong way and you turn around and head in the right direction.
  • Romans 2:4
    Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
  • It is the goodness of God and leads us to repentance. Any good impulse within our heart that has a desire to do that which is good and right is from God. Repentance is a gift from God, it does not originate from within any of us.
  • James 1:17
    Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

    • This gift of repentance is only heaven-born.
  • So this first son must have been convicted of what a bad son he was. He must have been convicted of his disobedience and so made a decision to change.
  • But you see, all the work was from God. How?
  • Conviction comes from God.
    • John 16:7-8
      7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. 8 And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
  • The change in heart comes from God.
    • Ezekiel 36:26
      A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
  • And the power to change also comes from God.
    • Ezekiel 36:27
      And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
  • This first son was willing to allow God to work on his heart. He was fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit to allow Him to work that change in him. So as a result, he received that gift of repentance and the desire to change and the power to change.
  • I’m not saying that every harlot and publican will go to heaven. But there are many out there who have never stepped foot into the church before but they have experienced repentance and a change of heart by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So the change in the first son resulted in him doing the will of God. This is how we know that his repentance was genuine. It’s not enough to say you are sorry but you must put into action that which you were sorry for to show people that you are different.

  • What then is the will of God? In the story it was going to work in the father’s vineyard. But how about in the Bible?
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3
    For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication.
  • God’s will is for us to be sanctified. What does that mean? What does the word sanctification mean?
    • It simply means to be set apart from profane things or to be set apart for a holy use.
  • So how can we be sanctified? How can we be set apart?
  • John 17:17
    Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

    • We are sanctified by the truth.
  • The first example of sanctification in the Bible is found in Genesis, the creation story.
  • Genesis 2:3
    And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

    • God sanctified time first. Not a person or thing, but time. The seventh day which we also know as the Sabbath. You see, the Sabbath was set apart. It was different from all the other days. God worked, He created on the first six days, but on the seventh day He rested.
  • So God wants us to be sanctified today as well. He wants us to be set apart by the truth found in the Bible.
  • For example, when the Bible tells us to stop lying in the 10 commandments, we are sanctified by obeying that commandment. It sets us apart from the world who may think that it is OK to lie once in a while or it is OK to lie just a small lie or a white lie (a lie that will help a person and not get them into trouble).
  • Now before you think I’m being a legalist, remember who is the One that gives us the power to stop lying? Remember that repentance is a gift from God. He is the One that convicts us, He is the One that changes our heart and He is the One that will empower us to obey! We must learn to surrender to His will.

Now we obviously cannot just go out and learn the whole Bible in one go and apply it. So where can we start?

  • Psalms 40:8
    I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.

    • We can start with God’s law, His 10 commandments. That is the most basic of foundation of where we can begin today. After all, the text says that that is His will!
  • But in order to “accomplish” that, what must happen?
  • Hebrews 10:16
    This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.

    • We must allow God to write His law in our hearts and minds. We must learn to surrender to His words. We got to be willing to obey it and follow it. If we aren’t willing, then we certainly aren’t going to surrender to God to allow Him to work this change in our heart.
  • So that first son, even though he was rebellious at the beginning, he saw the error of his way and went and worked in his father’s vineyard.
  • Even so today there are many people out there in the world that are following everything that God wants them to do, even though they aren’t Christian. But God is guiding them and they are stepping out in faith to allow God to work that change in their hearts by living according to the dictates of their conscience (see Romans 2:13-15).

The second son though just paid lip service. He said but he didn’t do. This is the classic Pharisee, what we call a hypocrite, a hollow shell. He was in the church. He was the priest or elder after all. He heard the word of God. How come the word of God didn’t sanctify them? What happened?

  • Let’s go back to that text we read in Psalms.
  • Psalms 40:8
    I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.
  • They didn’t delight to do the will of God! Why?
  • Psalms 1:2
    But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

    • According to Psalms 1:2, how can we delight in the law of God? We have to learn to meditate on it day and night.
  • The more time we spend with someone, the more we make them our friend, the more we are in love with them, the more we will delight to do the things that they delight to do.
  • You see, it’s not enough to spend time with someone just once a week at church. If we see our friends just once a week for 1 hour or 2 hours, I don’t think any of us would consider that really a friendship. That sounds more like an acquaintance. It would be hard to delight in the things that that friend delights in because we don’t know them and nor do we seem to have an interest in them.
  • Sure, there could be a chance that they have the same hobbies as we do. But with us and Jesus? There wouldn’t a chance. Why? Because we sinned. We are at odds with God. We don’t like the things of heaven but the things of earth. We don’t naturally like spiritual things!
  • James 4:4
    Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
  • We are told that if we are friends of the world we are actually enemies of God.
  • 1 John 2:15
    Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
  • It’s not possible to love the world and love God at the same time. These two things are opposite to each other.

So if we are to even just have a slight chance to delight in God’s will, where do we begin? Let’s go back to the Hebrews text we read earlier.

  • Hebrews 10:16
    This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.
  • You see, God wants to write His law into two places. Where is that? The heart and the mind.
  • It’s not enough just to have the law in our mind. That’s just intellectual knowledge. We must have the law written into our hearts as well. That’s more the emotional part of our mind.
  • Between the two sons, the two groups of people, who knew the law? It was the second son, which Jesus called the elders and priests. But they never did it! Why? Because they didn’t delight in it. Because they weren’t spending time in it, or enough time in it, to be able to come into this loving relationship with Jesus! Oh they knew the law of God, but it didn’t move them.
  • Let’s have a look at a story in the Bible that illustrates this.
  • Matthew 2:1-2
    1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
  • The wise men from the east were following a star that lead them to Jerusalem first. They came in asking around for the king of the Jews which caused quite an alarm of Herod who was the king, and obviously they were not looking for him.
  • So Herod quickly inquired of the priests about this king. And their reply was instant. They even quoted scripture!
  • Matthew 2:4-6
    4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
  • But that scripture never moved the priests and scribes. They just quoted it by stayed right there at Jerusalem. You see, they just had a head knowledge of the scriptures and not a heart knowledge. There was no true conviction, because if there was even a little conviction then the arrival and questioning of these wise men would have stirred their hearts just to check on it in case it was true!

Have we really given God a fighting chance to live in our hearts? Or has the formality of religion – going to church, going for Friday night gathering, mid-week prayer meeting – has all of this just become just a form? Has it become to you just something a Christian should do?

  • It’s possible to go to all of these events and get nothing out of it because our hearts aren’t really there. If it’s just an attendance of these gatherings without having a real relationship with Christ, then these sorts of gatherings can get old really fast.
  • It will only move us in two ways. It will either bring us closer to Christ and into a more consistent relationship with Him, meaning having our own personal walk with Him on a daily basis. Or it will push us further from Him because all these gatherings end up getting boring, mundane and meaningless.
  • We need to give God a real chance. That means committing to spending to time with Him daily. The devil is hot on our tracks trying to destroy our lives and the only person that can help us is Jesus!
  • Let’s make time for Him daily.
  • If you are too busy, then you need to stop what you are doing right now to make that time. Nothing is more important than our own salvation. It will affect our lives in this world and also in the world to come.
  • Let’s be sure of our salvation today and let’s keep it sure by allowing Jesus to consistently work in and through us.

May God help us to see our great need of Him today!

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