The words of the Lord Jesus Christ, as quoted by Matthew, a publican (tax collector):
But what think ye? 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. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him. (Mat 21:28-32)
The setting for this discourse is the temple in Jerusalem during the week leading up to Christ’s crucifixion. His main audience is the chief priests and elders of the people, who had just challenged Christ’s authority. Jesus responded by asking them from whom John the Baptist received his authority, from God or from man. The leaders refused to answer because either response would be met with a challenge, either from Christ or from the people (you can read this exchange in Mat 21:23-27). Jesus then refused to answer their challenge, however he then proceeded to tell the parable quoted above.
Let’s first examine the second son in the parable. He said that he would obey his father but did not follow through in his actions. He represents the religious leaders, who appeared to say all the right words and followed the letter of the law. However, their hearts were not turned to God. They had a form of godliness, but denied His power to change a person from the inside out. Here is a group of people who knew the Scriptures, yet would not heed the call to personal repentance presented by John the Baptist. Do we know anyone who is “religious” yet in his/her heart is rebellious towards God? How about ourselves? Are we saying that we follow God yet in our hearts are harboring bitterness, greed, envy, etc.?
Now let’s examine the first son in the parable. He initially said that he would not obey his father, but then changed his mind and did what his father commanded (i.e. he repented). Jesus associates this son with publicans (tax collectors) and harlots. These people groups could be classified as the most despised and immoral members of society, the worst of all sinners (do you think this parable spoke especially to Matthew, a tax collector?). They did not initially follow the law of God, but when they heard the call to repent they changed their ways and obeyed. What is God’s command?
And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. (1Jn 3:23)
There are days when I need to be reminded of the simplicity and purity of the Gospel. It is the message of salvation to anyone who will believe in Jesus Christ, regardless of their past. His blood was shed to cover and take away our sins. That is why I believe that the gravest of sinners can be saved. Repentant tax collectors and harlots understand that they have nothing to boast of before a holy and righteous God. They can only cast themselves upon His great mercy, which was displayed at the cross. That mercy and goodness leads to repentance. Yet, those who are considered “good” by society can easily be fooled into thinking they have something to boast of before God. They often don’t see their need for a Savior, but often measure themselves against their own standard of righteousness. They foolishly believe that they have led a “good enough” life. Yet, no matter how good of a life we have lived, we cannot be made right with God by our own efforts for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
So which of these sons in this parable do you most identify with? Are we willing to see ourselves as tax collectors and harlots and repent of our sinful ways and place our faith in Christ alone? I hope that you have or will consider making that decision today.