But what think you? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Which of these two did the will of his father? They said to him, The first. Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and you, when you had seen it, repented not afterward, that you might believe him. (Matthew 21:28-32)
This story moves directly to the point. There is no uncertainty. It names explicitly those to whom its teaching is directed. "The publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you" -- "you" being the Pharisees aand their kind. We might ask, "Who are modern representatives of the Pharisees?" and we might hear this answer, "Some good church people."
This father had two sons. He requested them to work in his vineyard. And through this simple and direct story Christ teaches us some profound truths concerning doing the Fathers will.
In this story there a Command, Contrasts, a Question, and a Commentary.
Let's look first at the Command:
There is a command from the Father. "A certain man had two sons" (v. 28a). The one who issues the command is not a tyrant or a slave driver. He is our Father, and as our Father He loves us and expresses that love through His commands. Since this is our relation to the Commander we can rest assured that doing the Fathers will is always best for us.
It is a command to individuals. The father in Christs story did not call his family together or even his two sons and then issue a general command. Rather he spoke to each son personally.
This is the way our Father always speaks to us, not as groups or as mankind, but as individuals. What God has to say to you He says personally and makes a direct claim on you and yours."
It is a command for work (v. 28b, "Go work"). The Father does not say to us, "Lie beneath the shade, eat of the fruit," but rather, "Go work!" Perhaps this is why many of His children are deaf to His command. They know when their Father speaks it may well be a command to work.
It is a command of urgency (v. 28b, "Go work today in my vineyard"). We must work today because now is when we are needed. The Father had His workers yesterday and He will raise up others tomorrow -- but today we must work.
We must work today because now is the only time we have. Yesterday is a cancelled check. Tomorrow is a promissory note. Today is the only currency we have! The Fathers command to you is, "Go work today in my vineyard."
It is a command that awaits your response. The Father commands you to work in His vineyard but he will not compel you. You are free to obey or to disobey. As Father, He will never violate your will. He says with His Son, "I stand at the door and knock," but only you can decide to respond and open the door.
Next, let's look at the Contrasts (Matt. 21:29,30). A study of contrasts comes clearly into focus in Christs story.
There is a contrast of attitudes. One son was rude, abrupt, and downright discourteous. When asked to work he snapped back to his father, "I will not" (v. 29). He speaks to the irreligious person who has neither time nor place for God in his life. He promises God nothing and delivers even less.
The other son is polite and respectful. When his father speaks he readily agrees to do whatever he is asked to do. He openly commits himself to do the fathers will, but never gets around to doing it. Like many church people, he is a smooth talker but a poor performer.
There is a contrast of answers (vv. 29,30). Attitudes inevitably surface in the form of answers.
Thoughts have a way of becoming words and deeds. The one said, "I go, sir." He is saying, "You can count on me!" His answer is right, his conduct is wrong. How often are we content to have the right answers when our conduct is a denial of our spoken theology?
The other son answered, "I will not!" No respect, no "sir" is in his answer. He is that person who says, "I shall never be a hypocrite. I'll not promise anything I cant do." But openness about ones sins is no cure for those sins.
There is a contrast of actions (vv. 29b,30b). One went and the other did not go. One repented of his rude answer and did the fathers will. The other repented that he had answered rightly and did not do the fathers will. It is always good to give the right answer, but it is even better to translate that right answer into right actions!
Now let's look at the Questions:(Matt. 21:31a). "Which of them did the will of his father?" That is the question. Not "which promised " or "which intended " but "which did the fathers will?" Even Jesus Christ said He did not come to do His own will, but rather the will of His Father.
When you face God at the end of each day and then at the end of life itself, the one question that really matters is, "Have you done the Fathers will?"
Lastly, let's look at the Commentary Christ gave on this parable (Matt. 21:31b,32). In closing, Christ comments on those to whom He has directed His story. To tell these proud people that the moral scum of the earth was nearer the kingdom of God than they, was to offer them a mortal and unpardonable insult. "Publicans and harlots," Christ says. The words are repulsive to their "holy" ears. The kingdom is open to all, irrespective of their moral problems. There is hope even for the greatest sinner.
The kingdom of God welcomes both Sons today. It welcomes that one who has promised to do the Fathers will but who has failed to keep that promise.
It welcomes that one who has refused to do the Fathers will, but whose guilt condemns him.
For both sons, the expressed will of the Father is that "not . . . any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9c).