Based on: Matthew 21:28-32
Mark Twain once said there are two types of people in this world. There are those who do the work and there are those who take the credit. Then he said try to be in the first group because there’s less competition. Eddie Murphy also said there were two types of people, those who divide people into two types and those who don’t. C.S. Lewis said there are two types of people in this world: those who say to God, "Thy will be done, " and those to whom God says, in the end, ` thy will be done. " Meaning that either you recognize that God is your creator and Savior and submit to him, or you tell God you want nothing to do with him and in the end he will give you exactly what you want. C.S. Lewis got it right.
In the parable we read today, Jesus says there are two types of people. There are those who obey God and those who don’t. As we take a closer look at what Jesus says here, consider the question, "Into which a group do I fall?"
Let’s take a step back and look at the the events leading up to this parable. It is Monday of Holy Week. In only a few days that great event would take place – that event around which all of history turns – God would die as a punishment for the sins of his creatures. The Pharisees dare to take this moment to come to God as he stands there in his temple and ask him, "By what authority do you do these things?" By what authority do you drive the merchants out of the temple and teach the people about God. We are the Pharisees, they should listen to us. Jesus spends very little time defending himself, he really has no need to defend himself, and instead, with this short parable, exposes their hypocrisy.
Jesus tells the story about a man with two sons. He tells them both to go work in the vineyard. The first one refuses out right, but then repents and goes to do what his father asked. The second one said right from the beginning, "Yes Father, I will do it." Perhaps he had good intentions. Perhaps he never intended to do it. It really doesn’t matter, because in the end he doesn’t do what his father asked him. And Jesus invites the Pharisees to convict themselves when he asks, "Which of the two did what his father wanted?" Of course we would agree with the Pharisees that the first son obeyed his father.
Think for a moment about which son you are. You have to be one or the other. Jesus doesn’t give us a third option. Now let’s look at how Jesus applies this parable and think about which group you place yourself in as we see the connection that Jesus draws between the two sons in the parable and the people around him in the temple.
Imagine being there in the temple as Jesus explains this parable. He had been teaching the people when the Pharisees came up to him. I imagine that he would have motioned to some of those tax collectors and prostitutes who would have no doubt been a part of the group he was teaching as he said to the Pharisees, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you."
These Pharisees, who claimed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel and to profess to to keep God’s law, were falling behind in their race to get into heaven. In fact, they would never make it, but the tax collectors and prostitutes, these common sinners, were already a part of the kingdom of God. (When you hear “tax collector” don’t think of the IRS. At that time tax collectors were commonly thought of as greedy and corrupt – willing to lie and cheat to gain wealth for themselves.) The Pharisees were in fact that second son who claimed to be right with God, but were in fact disobedient.
Who was represented by the first son, the one who did what his father asked? The tax collectors and the prostitutes. Now ask yourself the question, "Which Son are you?" Do you identify yourself with the Pharisees or do you see yourself more closely connected to the tax collectors and the prostitutes? At this point you might be thinking, "Pastor, I really don’t see myself in either group. Isn’t there another option somewhere in the middle?" Jesus doesn’t leave us a third option. There is no in-between. You either obey God or you don’t.
What is God looking for? What was special about those tax collectors and prostitutes? Repentance. The realization that they had nothing good within themselves. They repented, trusted in Christ and received his forgiveness. They were then members of God’s kingdom.
People tend to look at their lives and the things they do in their lives in this way. If they were to list everything from good to bad, they would start out the top and there might be 5% or maybe 10 percent of the things they do that are good. They help other people, they do things for the church, or whatever. The next large section of the things that they do every day, go to work, take care of their family. They don’t seem to be either good or bad. Then there are the things down at the bottom. The last five or 10% of things that we might call big mistakes. There might be some things that are really bad but for the most part they’re probably things that we should have done differently. That is how the Pharisees looked at their lives. The truth is that our whole lives are offensive to God.
We are all tempted to think that we are not that bad, but think about it this way. If you were born and raised walking around in mud and muck, you would think that is normal. You wouldn’t realize the filth that you were standing in, especially when you see everyone else standing in the same mud and muck. Well, you are completely surrounded by the mud and muck of sin. It takes God telling you that you are surrounded by this filth for you to recognize it. Some people ignore God, but others are led by God to trust that what he says is true and to ask him for help.
Through his Word God leads us to realize that we are no better than the tax collectors and the prostitutes of Jesus’ time. God leads us to abandon hope that any of our works are of any worth to God. He leads us to the cross of Christ where we receive His forgiveness. We have entered the kingdom of God.
Just a few days after Jesus tells this parable he is in the upper room with his disciples sharing with them a meal of bread and wine, of his body and blood, which assured them and assures us of forgiveness. The next day he earned that forgiveness for the tax collectors and the prostitutes and for you and for me.
One of the most wonderful blessings believers is that our whole lives have been sanctified or made holy by the blood of Christ. The things that we do as Christians, even the little things such as spending time with our family or working at our jobs, they are now good and pleasing things to our God.
You know when C.S. Lewis said there were two kinds of people in this world, he was only repeating what Jesus had already said. Now when someone asks the question, "Which type of person are you?", you already know how answer. You can tell them, "By God’s grace I am among the tax collectors and the prostitutes. I’m like that first son who at first rejected God, but whom God brought to repentance and into his kingdom."