Greeting: May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.
Text: 28) 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.” 29) “I will not,” he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30) Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go. 31) “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. 32) 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.”
Introduction: “What kind of children do you have?” “What are they like?” Those are questions that can lead to some long and interesting conversations. That’s because parents have a deep interest in their children and a great responsibility to guide them and train them well. Parents spend a good deal of thought and effort to find out what kind of children they have so that they can work with them better and help them turn out well. “What kind of child were you?” is a bit different question, but also can lead to some interesting discussion. It’s good for us to reflect on our past and the things that are part of it: the personality and abilities you were given, how you were raised, what good things you can build on and what bad things you have to overcome from childhood?
Now we come to the important question for this sermon: “What kind of child are you right now?” A lot of us are not kids anymore, but in relation God we are children. It’s an important question to consider. God takes a loving parent’s interest in us and wants us to be His true, good sons and daughters. That’s why Jesus told the Parable of the Two Sons. He originally spoke it people who thought they were God’s true children, but who were, in fact, deeply mistaken about what a true child of God is like. Today, we consider that parable for ourselves. May God help us learn its lessons so that we may become or remain the kind of child that is a true child of God.
In the Parable, Jesus tells that story of a father who asks his two sons to go and work in the family vineyard. This is a proper request for the father to make. These children benefit from the fruits of the family farm and should help do the work required to make it run. Perhaps some of you were raised in a family that had a farm or other business and understand this from personal experience. The father asks both sons the same thing: “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.” The two sons give different responses. The first son is irreverent and impudent. He rudely refuses and says: “I will not.” He doesn’t want to go and disrespectfully lets his father know. But, then, he thinks about it, realizes that he is wrong, changes his mind and goes to put in a day’s work in the vineyard. The second son is quite different. When the father tells him to go and work, he answers most agreeably and respectfully. He says: “I will, sir.” But then the polite and positive-speaking son doesn’t do it. If you check later in the day, you won’t find him toiling in the vineyard. He is doing something else. So what kind of children are these two? They are different, are they not? On the one hand, there is the child who at first says “no”, but ends up saying “yes” to his father. Then, there is the child who at first says “yes”, but ends up saying “no” to the father.
Jesus shows us two kinds of children. There is the kind who obeys with repentant deeds. There is the kind who rebels with empty words. Let’s study these two separately and see what we can learn from them.
1. The Child Who Rebels With Empty Words
Let’s study that second child more carefully. When the father asks, he agrees to go, but then he never does. This is a child who gives lip-service, who speaks empty words, who is insincere. He is a child who says “yes”, but means “no.” He is deceitful, a liar, a hypocrite. In his heart, he is not a true, loyal, loving son at all. He may think he is, but his actions speak so much louder than his meaningless speech. This is a child who rebels with empty words.
We can see this kind of child in operation when a person professes well, but then doesn’t practice accordingly. A person says: “I believe that God and His teachings are the most important thing in my life.” But then, the person doesn’t follow those teachings or let God’s will direct his/her decisions. Or a person says: “I believe that cursing, gossip, excessive drinking of alcohol and overeating is wrong.” But then doesn’t curb their behavior to carefully guard what comes out of or goes into his/her mouth. Or a person says: “I love God and appreciate all He has done for me.” But then doesn’t schedule time to declare God’s worth or offer gratitude in regular worship and offerings.
We can see this kind of child reflected in the person who promises, but doesn’t perform. The person who says: “I will pray for you, I will make that meeting. I will help out. I will make sure that this project gets done.” But then doesn’t offer the prayer, attend the meeting, give help or follow through. We can see this kind of child reflected in the person who stands up and confesses the truth well when in private, but when it really counts, when there is some pressure to speak the truth with courage, that person remains silent and slips away.
Jesus held up the image of the second son, the one who rebels with empty words to show the Pharisees and scribes where they had gone wrong. They professed an allegiance to God and adopted religious practices, but in their hearts they were selfish and proud and rejected God and His will for them. They were rebels with their empty words. If they continued that way without repenting, they would have to face God, not as a loving Father, but as a just and punishing Judge. Jesus holds up the image of the second son for our benefit also. Do we realize that at times, we are like that child who is compliant in words, but is really a rebel in deeds? Do we realize that at times, we play a dangerous game with our heavenly Father, by saying the right things, but having no serious intention of backing them up by doing the right things? Do we realize that God’s true children are those who not only know, but actually do the will of God? Oh, that we do and that we would come to our Father with honest, heartfelt words “Forgive us our trespasses. Forgive us our sins. Forgive us for being insincere, dishonest children for the sake of Jesus, the Son, who obeyed perfectly for us that we may be Your true children.
The Child Who Obeys With Repentant Deeds
Now let’s take a closer look at the first son. When the father asks to work in the vineyard, this son refuses. He says: “I will not.” There is no denying that this child gives a bad answer. He is not exactly Mr. Congeniality. He is bold, even rude, in his refusal. He offers no explanation or excuse. He is defiant and disrespectful. But later on, this son reflects on what he has done and repents of his refusal. He changes his mind and goes to work in the vineyard. This change of heart child turns out to be the child who obeys with repentant deeds.
This child’s story begins poorly, but ends well. How nice it is to see examples of this child in the person who resists God early in life, but then is reached by God’s Word and becomes a faithful adult convert to Christianity or in the Christians who had become lax and indifferent to God, but then are renewed in their faith and regain their earlier joy and dedication to Christ. Or in the person who stubbornly clings to a false belief, but then actually studies the Bible and is willing to be corrected by the truth. Or in the person who initially rejects an invitation or invitations to serve in the church, but later realizes how much God has done for him/her and what he/she can offer in service and humbly becomes a faithful worker in the kingdom of God.
Jesus held up the image of the first son, the one who repents and later obeys to illustrate the experience of the tax collectors and prostitutes of his time who eventually listened to God’s Word and had a change of heart and mind about their sins and the Savior, who repented and lived lives of obedient thanks to God. Their experience also highlights the patience and mercy of God. He is not the God of the “cross Me once and it’s all over for you” philosophy. He has every right to be, but God is a God who works with our sinful weakness, and who leaves room and gives opportunity for repentance. This is not something to take to take for granted, but it is something to take to heart. God’s goal is to have children who are ready, willing and able to serve Him. He doesn’t find any of us this way as we enter this world. We are, sadly, all wrapped up in our unready, unwilling, unable sinful nature. So He gives us a Savior. He sends us His Word. He gives us chances to repent and return. Oh, that we would cherish them and use them well.
So what kind of child are you? I admit to being a bit of both. Perhaps you do, too. May the Father of grace and mercy help us more and more become renewed and better children – children who are sincere in what they say and faithful in what they do, children who are quick to repent when they are wrong and who are always clinging in faith to the Perfect Son, the Savior, who has earned our pardon and makes us pleasing to the Father. Amen.