Matthew 21:28-32 (16th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 21—Series A)
“Doing the Will of God”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
September 28, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text this morning is from the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 21:
“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.
Regrets. I’m going to venture a guess and say that we all have them. We all have something or some things in our life which we regret having done or said. After the fact we feel bad about it; we are sorry that we did it or said it. The reverse is also true. There are things in life that we didn’t do or didn’t say, and we are sorry that we did not. We regret not having done or said what we could have or perhaps should have. An October 2012, Forbes article listed the 25 biggest regrets in life. As I share a few of these, see if they are on your list.
People regretted working so much at the expense of family and friendships. People regretted not standing up to bullies in school or in life. Folks had regrets about not staying in touch with good friends from their youth. People regretted breaking up with their true love or getting dumped by that person. People had regrets about worrying too much about what others think of them, not having enough confidence in themselves. Regrets were felt over not teaching their kids to do more stuff, not asking that boy or girl out, getting involved with the wrong group of friends, not taking care of their health, and not being a better father or mother.
Regrets and more regrets. And regrets lead to guilt. We feel so bad that we did or didn’t, or that we could of and should of that we end up shouldering a load of guilt and sorrow and discontent. But that can be a good thing, actually, especially when it gives us the opportunity to change our minds and do the right thing. Take, for example, Jesus’ parable in our text. The father came to one of his sons and said, “Son, go today; work in the vineyard.” But the son said flat out, “I will not.” Jesus tells us, however, afterward, he regretted what he had done, changed his mind, and went to work in the vineyard. The boy initially rebelled against his father’s will, but later regretted what he had said and done. He felt guilty and repented. His mind and heart were changed and he obeyed.
Son number two was told the same as the first, “Son, go today; work in the vineyard.” He answered “I will,” but didn’t go! There was no regret seen in this son’s hypocrisy—saying one thing and doing the opposite.
The implication of this story is that the chief priests and the elders of Israel, to whom Jesus was speaking this parable, were like this second son. They claimed to do the Father’s will, the Father of course being God. But Jesus makes the point that they really didn’t. They said “yes” with their words, but their actions didn’t match up. John the Baptist came, announcing the coming of the Father’s Kingdom and calling for repentance, for regret and sorrow over sin and a change of mind and heart. The chief priests and elders admitted to rejecting the divine origin of John’s message. Despite the preaching of John, who was God’s messenger to prepare the people for the Messiah, the Jewish leaders did not afterward repent and believe him. They had not become alarmed over their sins and therefore saw no need for repentance and faith in a Savior. They had no regrets and so did not fulfill the will of God, whose desire it is that people repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior from their sins.
On the other side of the coin, we have those whom Jesus compared to the first son. There were those who, at first, said no to the will of the Father, but who later, regretted and had a change of mind. They heard the message of John the Baptist, and received his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and so were prepared to receive the Savior whose way John prepared. These people, however, were notorious sinners—tax collectors and prostitutes, those who failed to keep the Law of Moses. Yet it was these notorious sinners who were turned from their sins and produced the fruits of repentance and faith. The tax collectors and prostitutes had better discerned and fulfilled God’s will than the religious leaders had, and so they, Jesus said, would enter the Kingdom of God ahead of the chief priests and elders! For they, like the first son, turned from their sins. They trusted in the Savior whose way John prepared.
With which son do you most closely identify? Let me suggest that you and I most closely resemble both the first and the second son in Jesus’ parable. We demonstrate both the rebelliousness of the first son and also the hypocrisy of the second.
There are so many times in our lives where you and I blatantly ignore the will of God, especially as we find it in the Ten Commandments. We outright tell our heavenly Father, “No, I will not.” Last Monday in Confirmation class we spent some time studying the Second Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord, your God.” How many times do you and I curse, speaking evil of God or wishing evil to others? Cursing betrays a poverty of language and gives a poor public witness for Christ, making others really wonder if we are the Lord’s disciples or not. Think also of the thoughtless swearing that we do day in and day out, “Oh Lord!” “Honest to God!” “Lord, no.” Thinking or saying these things is a slap in the face to God. When we fall into the habit of cursing and swearing, we are basically telling God, “I don’t want to do your will and keep your commandment.”
On the other hand, each week we sit here in God’s house and tell each other that we are Christians. We confess together the faith of the church and we let other people know that we are believers in Christ. We are here saying “Yes” to God’s will in the Second Commandment, but the minute we are away from church and our fellow believers, our curses and swearing often resume with no regret at all. “It’s just how we talk around here with the guys. Don’t want to appear to be such a goody-two-shoes. Got a reputation to keep with my friends.” Thus we demonstrate the hypocrisy of the second son—acting one way around the Church and another way around people.
How, then, can you and I avoid both the rebellion of son number one and the hypocrisy of son number two, and so do the will of our heavenly Father? The answer to this question lies in the third Son.
The third Son? There’s not a third Son in Jesus’ parable. There were only two! Right you are. The third Son is not a character in the parable, but is actually the narrator—Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus, the one-of-a kind Son of the Father, never said “No” to doing God’s will. Jesus never said “Yes” and then didn’t follow through on His Father’s will. This makes Jesus the perfect Son of the Father.
Unlike the first son, Jesus said yes to doing God’s will. Hebrews 10:7, “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” John 4:34, “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’” And Luke 22:42, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” (CSB) And unlike the second son in our text, Jesus actually did what He said “Yes” to doing. Philippians 2, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Although the first son in the parable turned out better than the second since perhaps it is better to say no to God and then do His will rather than to say yes to God and not do His will, the ideal response is that of the third Son, Jesus, to say yes to God and then do His will. And it is because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of the third Son that you and I are enabled to do just that.
It is Jesus who empowers you and me to say yes to God’s commandments and enables us to actually do God’s will. Jesus says to us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who remains in Me, and I in him, he it is who bears much fruit.” (John 15:5) Again, Paul says in Philippians 2:13, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Using, then, the example of the Second Commandment, after our mouths have gushed out profanities, after our words have cursed and hurt our loved ones, our friends, and coworkers, Jesus, through the work of God the Holy Spirit, enables us to look at what we have done and enables us to regret what we have said. He leads us to sorrow over our hurtful, hateful words and thoughts that use God’s name wrongly and that harm our neighbor. Christ, through the Holy Spirit, brings about a change in heart and attitude so that we seek forgiveness from the Lord and from those to whom we said what we did.
Because Jesus’ gave up His life into death on a cross, we are assured that we have His forgiveness in great abundance for our sins against the Second Commandment and our sins against all of God’s commands. Working through the Gospel in both Word and Sacrament, Christ through the Spirit leads us to both repentance and faith so that we receive forgiveness and the ability to change our lives and to do God’s will as He commands us in His Word.
This means that we are not like the first or second son. We are actually like the third Son. For we are new creations in Christ. We are forgiven people who can say yes to our heavenly Father and actually do His will in accordance with His Word. And you know what? Because we are made to be like Christ through repentance and faith in Him, we have no regrets. All of our sins are forgiven. When we do what we shouldn’t, the forgiveness of Christ covers us and recreates us. When we don’t do what we should, the forgiveness of Christ covers us and recreates us. No regrets. No guilt. That’s the will of God for us in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.