What Obedience Looks Like

“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

There are 2 sons, asked the same question, who respond in similar, yet very different ways. One disobeys temporarily, the other disobeys ultimately. Which one are you?

The parable can be broken down into two questions:

  1. What is God telling you to do that you are rudely and disrespectfully saying no to, but you know you should do?
  2. What is God telling you to do that you are saying yes to but you aren’t doing, and don’t think you need to do?

They are very different questions. The first implies that you’re purposely opposing the word of God in your life – your sin is one of commission. The second implies that you’re listening to the Lord but not doing what you know you should – your sin is one of omission.

Most of us could probably answer both of these questions at the same time. We’re filled with both kinds of sin. But there is something far worse than being filled with both types of sin – to be blind to it. This was the issue with the religious leaders Jesus is confronting. They don’t believe Jesus has authority from heaven. They don’t hold him to be a prophet. They didn’t even hold John the Baptist to be a prophet. They can’t see themselves, because they can’t see God. Therefore, they don’t think they need to do what Jesus is asking them to do, namely, to repent and believe.

We are going to sin. It is our nature. But the grace of God is this: that we see our sin and repent, believe, and are forgiven. Jesus won’t condemn the first son for his harsh words because ultimately he goes into the vineyard. He repents. He believes. He is forgiven. He is brought into the kingdom. Jesus will condemn the second son, however, for his lack of action. He doesn’t repent. He doesn’t believe. He isn’t forgiven. He won’t enter the kingdom.

Jesus is saying something to us today. Yes, he’s showing us how we sin, but he’s showing us something beyond that. He showing us what happens when Jesus gets involved in our sin.

Jesus is on his way to the cross. By this time in Matthew’s gospel account, Jesus has entered Jerusalem, cleansed the temple, and cursed the fig tree. He’s days away from death. And yet, though he’s going to die at the hands of Jewish religious leaders who hate him for proclaiming to be God, Jesus is standing before them calling them to repentance. He doesn’t have to tell this parable. He could just walk away. But he doesn’t. Jesus shows us what God is like. God calls us to repentance, even those who think they don’t need it. If we refuse, he moves on and lets the tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of heaven because, after all, they listened to him and entered the vineyard, perhaps not immediately but certainly ultimately.

But the religious leaders? They stood on the sidelines agreeing with the laws – even God’s laws – but their hearts were far from him. In the end, they wouldn’t enter the vineyard because they didn’t think they had to. Agreeing with God and doing what he says are two different things. One is to take his side; the other is to take his grace.

There are two types of sons – those who listen and those who don’t. Which one are you? Are you willing to listen to Jesus and believe? That’s the call. He’s calling now.