The Parable of the two sons

Asbury Free Methodist September 27, 2020

Matthew 21:28-32

               We are continuing our series on the stories of Jesus. We have been looking at a number of his parables. They have been showing us what God is like, and they have a way of revealing our own heart. But primarily they answer the question – “What is the kingdom of God like?” The passage that we are looking at today tells us some things about the people inside and outside the kingdom of God. I am hoping that you will see yourself in the faces of those who are inside the kingdom.

               Let me give you the back story. In Israel’s society, in the time of Jesus, was formed by a number of competing interests – completing claims of what was important and who was right and what side God was on and who was righteous and who was not.

If you were living in Jerusalem at the time, you would have to figure out how to navigate through these competing interests. There were the Romans who ruled, and collected taxes. You may have hated them, but you had to pay them. -And you really didn’t like the people who worked for them. Sure, you didn’t like Roman soldiers, but like the name implied they were Roman – foreigners. Most of your disgust was reserved for the Jewish people who propped up their regime; namely, the tax collectors. They were a despised lot.

               Another competing interest were the religious sects. The Pharisees were the most spiritually fervent of society. They believed that to throw the Romans out of Israel that God would have to send a Messiah. For God to send a Messiah – a significant proportion of Jewish population would have to keep the law of God flawlessly. So, these people made laws about laws in hopes of keeping the laws. They tried to convert others to their way, to hasten the coming of the messiah.

               Another competing interest was the religious institution. The Jewish faith of the time centered around the temple. Every year one was required to sacrifice an animal of some kind to atone for one’s sins. The priest were the ones who ran the temple. Their words carried not only significant spiritual weight, but significant political weight.

               Connect to the priests were the elders of the people. They were also called the Sanhedrin. They created laws. They could excommunicate people from synagogue. They could have people jailed or flogged.

               In the story that we are looking at today, Jesus is talking with some of the chief priests and members of the Sanhedrin. Think of them as the religious establishment.


               But  if you were just a normal person living in Jerusalem at the time, there were other influences. While most people tried to appear to be moral, there was a portion of society that was seen to be immoral. The prostitutes fit that category.

               Think about how the Pharisees, who believed that keeping the law was the way to get God to send the messiah, viewed prostitutes. Prostitutes were responsible for countering the coming of the messiah. They were the dregs of society.

               Another competing influence in society were the unauthorized religious movements. John the Baptist would have been one of those influences. He was kind of strange character. He wore clothes made of camel hair – which was kind of an anti-fashion statement of the times. He preached in the desert.

               He preached repent, for the kingdom of God is coming. People thronged to see him. Ordinary people. People like fishermen, and towns people. Disreputable people, like tax collectors and prostitutes, and even Roman soldiers. As a sign of the repentance they were baptized in the Jordan river.

               Then of course, there was Jesus. He was now going from town to town preaching about the kingdom of God and healing people. When we get to our story this today, he is in Jerusalem. He is in the temple courts and he his talking to priests and the elders.


               Now if you were a normal, ordinary, member of society – the questions you were probably asking was – where is God in all this? Is he with the Romans – after all they had conquered Israel – maybe they God’s instrument of judgment – he has used other countries like that before.

               Is he with the Pharisees? They sure seem super spiritual. I hear how they pray on street corners. I can see how they give.

               Is he with the temple leaders? We were commanded to make sacrifices – but the temple certainly isn’t a house of prayer. It seems that the leaders are far more interested politics than prayer.

               Is he with the tax collectors and prostitutes? If you were to ask the religious leaders of the day they would say, “Don’t be ridiculous.”

               What about John the Baptist? What about Jesus? Where is God in the middle of this? I am just an ordinary person. How do I navigate this?


               Before we get to our story, I just want to note that navigating the cultural forces in Canada is no picnic either. Trying to figure out where God is – is a challenge.

               There are all kinds of competing claims. But the questions of the first century people, is still a good question – Where is God in all this?

What is God up to in the middle of a global pandemic? What is God up to in this time of uncertainty? Who speaks for God? Both right wing and left wing politics claim to speak for God. But where is God in all of this?


               Let me give you the background of the story we are going to look at today. A day or two before our story happens, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. People were praising Jesus. Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

               When Jesus gets to Jerusalem he goes into the temple – remember the temple is under the authority of the Chief priests and elders. – the Sanhedrin. Here is what scripture records.

Matthew 21:12–13 (NIV)

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’  but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

               After this he leaves Jerusalem and stays in a town a few kilometers from away called Bethany. In the next day or two, Jesus goes back into Jerusalem, and back into the temple – and that is the setting when Jesus tells us our story.

               The parable that we are going to look at, come out of a question that Jesus was asked.

Matthew 21:23 (NIV)

23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

               Basically they were saying, the temple is under our authority, who do you think you are to come in and upset the status quo. Who gave you the authority to do what you did? – riding into Jerusalem like a king, over throwing the money lenders tables. Where does your authority come from Jesus? We are the ones in charge here. We are the authority here. Who do you think you are?


               We take a look at the question from a Christian perspective and think the answers is obvious – God gave Jesus the authority. But Jesus doesn’t give the straightforward answers. He says, I will answer your question if you will answer my question.

Matthew 21:25–27 (NIV)

25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.


Jesus basically says, you are head over the temple. You claim that God is on your side. You claim that you know what God is up to. Then tell me, was John the Baptist from God or not. That was a question they were not interested in answering – so Jesus says, I am not going to answer your question – but let me tell you a story.

Matthew 21:28–32 (NIV)

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, “Truly I tell you, 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.

               The man in the passage represents God. The son who said he would do what the father had said, but didn’t represents the elders and chief priests. The son who said he wouldn’t go and work in the vineyard but eventually did go – he represents people like the tax collectors and the prostitutes who heard the message of John and believed him. And what mattered in the story was who was actually in the vineyard.

               He says to these chief priests and elders.

, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.

               We have been talking about the Kingdom of God all the way through this series. You may remember that the Kingdom of God is the extent of his effective will. In other words – the kingdom of God is where what God wants done is done. It is where his will is done. It is the place where God come nears and where he is at work. It is a place, as Paul says of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

               Jesus is saying that the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering that place ahead of the religious leaders – the chief priests and the elders.

               Here is what the story is telling us. It is not who you were that matters; it is not who you claim to be that matters; it is who you are that matters. Or maybe a better way of saying it is, It is not who you were, or who you claim to be, but where you are in relation to the kingdom of God that matters. Are you in the vineyard?

               The tax collectors who were despised and the prostitutes who were looked down upon, heard and responded to the message of the kingdom. That response was sealed by baptisms conducted by John as a sign of repentance – In responding to the kingdom they came under the rule of the kingdom.

               The chief priests and elders who claimed to represent God, and to speak for God – and said that they would follow God – when it came right down to it would not follow God.

               And that leaves the tax collectors and prostitutes entering the kingdom of God before the chief priests. , It is not who you were, or who you claim to be, but where you are in relation to the kingdom of God that matters.

               What matters is where you are in relationship to God’s will and whether or not you are doing what he says.


               This helps us in this way. It is not about who you were. There are some of you who look back on your life and you have regrets. Some of you feel like you spent a lot of time outside the will of God. Some of you have done some things and been some places that you are not proud of. Some of you take a look at your life and you wish things had been different, that you had made different choices.

               But hear God’s word to you. It is not about who you were. It is not about the fact that you said no God, I am not going to go your way, I am going to go my way. Maybe you didn’t hear God’s voice at all. Or maybe you ignored him. You were like the first son – when God called him to do something – he refused. Some of you can relate to that.


               But it is also not about who you claim to be. With the second son, Jesus is talking about people who were really religious. They could show you how they were very religious. They claimed to be on God’s side. But it doesn’t matter who you claim to be.

               It doesn’t matter if you claim to be a member of a church. It doesn’t matter if you look religious. It doesn’t matter if people think you are a great person, or even a good Christian. It doesn’t matter who you claim to be.

               And we have all kinds of people claiming to be on God’s side. Both candidates for president in the United States are claiming to be Christians. There are a lot of racists, and wife abusers and adulterers and people who are full of hate and full of lies claiming to be Christians. It doesn’t matter who you claim to be. Those claims are meaningless.

               What matters is who you are. What matters is, are you doing what God said. Is your life under God’s rule and God’s reign. In Jesus day the respectable people were outside the kingdom of God and the tax collectors and prostitutes were coming inside the kingdom. What matter is: Are you in the vineyard?

               WE live in a world where good is called evil and evil is called good. Where lying about people who don’t agree with you is just a way of life. Where hatred of ethnic groups, and immigrants, and the marginalized is becoming more and more acceptable. We live in a world where Christian think it is acceptable to hate sinners and trample the poor. That is not kingdom living. That is not being like God. And the verse that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of people claiming to be religious applies.

               It is not who you were that matters. It is not who you claim to be that matters. It is whether or not you have come under God’s rule, and submit to his will and his ways that matters. It is whether you are abiding in vine as it says in John 15. It is whether God is drawing close.

               The first way we have of submitting to God’s will is by believing in Jesus. But James is very clear that faith without works is a dead faith. If you are a follower of Jesus, it will show up in how you live – in the coming week. It doesn’t mean that you are perfect. But you are striving to be part of the culture of the kingdom of God where love rules not hate. Where compassion has replaced indifference. Where responding to what God wants is more important than anything else.


               I love the parables of Jesus because they keep me honest. It is not what I have been, it is not what I claim to be that matters, it is who I am right now that matters. It is where I am that matters – am I doing what God has told me to do.

               There was a landowner who told two of his sons to go and work in his vineyard. One son said he would not, but did. One son said he would but did not. Ultimately it was the son who found himself in the vineyard – that was the obedient one.

               My question to you is, are you in God’s vineyard right now? That is what matters.

Sermon Questions

The Parable of the two Sons. – Sunday September 27, 2020

Matthew 21:28-32


1. What are you giving thanks for this week?

2. What are you praying about this week?

Digging in.

3. Read Matthew 21:6-15 What does this tell us about the “chief priests and teachers of the law?”

4. Remember that the chief priests were the authority in the temple. How do you think Jesus actions would have affected them?

5. Read Matthew 21:23-27. What authority are they talking about? Why didn’t he just say my authority comes from God?

6. Read Matthew 21:28-32.  Who do each or the characters in the story represent?

(The Father, the first son, the second son, and the vineyard.)

7. Verse 32-33. What is the kingdom of God like? Why are the tax collectors and prostitutes entering the kingdom of God before the religious leaders?

8. The sermon said, “ It is not who you were, or who you claim to be, but where you are in relation to the kingdom of God that matters.”  What does that mean, and how could it help us discern how to live in 2020?


               Which of the sons in the parable represents you best right now? Does anything need to change?