Whose Son are You Like?

Matthew 21:23-32

Actions speak louder than words. There is lots of truth in that saying.  Our text describes the fact that the actions of these sons spoke louder than their words.  We read in PROVERBS 20:11,12 these words: “Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.   Ears that hear and eyes that see–the LORD has made them both”. Today you and I gather as children of God. And we come before him, and we ask the Lord to give us eyes that see his glory — ears that listen to his wisdom. Then we too will show by our actions the love of Christ that is in our hearts. We ask ourselves the question as Jesus talks of this parable WHICH SON ARE YOU LIKE? First of all are you like the first son with empty words, or like the second son with repentance?  I. A SON WITH EMPTY WORDS Our text takes place during that last week of Jesus life. It is Tuesday of Holy Week. It is a couple of days after he has come into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday when people called him the Son of David, and blessed his name. Because of all that praise the leaders of the day, the scribes and Pharisees and the Sadducees, were questioning Jesus’ authority to come into the temple as he did. Jesus talked and taught with authority. They wondered who is this Jesus, what is his authority?

You can picture Jesus along with the scribes, the Pharisees, the leaders of the church standing together in the temple. The leaders put Jesus to the test asking, “What gives you the right to come in here? What gives you the right to tell us God’s word?” Jesus replies, “Well what do you think?” Jesus is going to give them the chance to form their own opinion and make their own judgment. But of course, Jesus is going to give them a little bit of direction.

Jesus begins: There was a man who had two sons. Since there are two sons of course there is going to be a difference between them. The man went to the first son and said “Son go and work today in the vineyard”. There was work to be done. Then the father went to the second son and said the same thing. There is work to do in my vineyard.

We are going to look at the second son’s answer first. He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go. We are simply told he did not go. Got busy, didn’t want to do it, found something else to do, we aren’t told what happened to change his actions. His intentions were there, his words were there, but his actions were not there. Now of course it all started with that question to these leaders. Jesus had said: “What do you think?” When we look back it was easy for Jesus when he came into the temple to hold up for an example the leaders of the day. The leaders of the day had taken God’s word and they had added to it, and they had added to it, and added to it again. They had

added so many laws they had volumes and volumes of books that talked only about laws the people were to obey. The scribes and Pharisees, and other religious leaders taught that if they kept all of these numerous laws, they would be great in God’s kingdom. They would be counted worthy in God’s sight. They had added so much that the people had even sometimes forgotten about the Ten Commandments, God’s laws. Because of all of those laws the message of the gospel was misplaced. It was almost lost. Now Jesus comes and he reminds them, it is not just by keeping the laws, it is not just by actions alone, it is what is in a person’s heart that motivates actions that is important.

Today we have to ask ourselves, “What do you think?”  The Lord wants us to look at our hearts, to look at our lives, to look at our actions and understand how they go together. Our gracious God has planted in each one of our hearts that seed of faith. And then that seed of faith is to grow up and bear abundant fruit. Not just in our mouths, not just in our head knowledge, in our heart knowledge, but our living knowledge. Our living knowledge of faith is to be seen in this world as we live in a world that is filled with so much sin, that it doesn’t even want to talk about sin. We live in a world that makes promises and seldom keeps them. Yet, by their actions they reveal that their words are empty. And maybe we’ve been like that second son saying: “Yes Lord,” but then we forget about it. So the Lord warns us, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. (TITUS 1:16). May that never ever be said of any of us. Instead may our light shine bright in this world so that people realize we are believers.

Now, of course, we realize as we look at the actions of people, we are only looking at the outside. We are only looking at what the Lord would call fruits of faith. This is all you and I can see. We can’t look into any person’s heart. The fact is we are told when the prophet Samuel was sent to pick out David as the next king over Israel he brought together all the sons of Jesse. Samuel thought the firstborn son of this family would be the chosen king. But he wasn’t, nor was the next, or the next, until finally he had to get David in from the field. David was just a little boy, a teenager. He couldn’t be king. But the Lord reminded them that the Lord knows the heart. The Lord said to the Samuel, as he says to us: “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart”(I SAMUEL 1:7b). Now you and I can be thankful our living God knows our hearts, since sometimes our life reveals our actions as disobedient and detestable and unfit for doing anything good. We say things we ought not to say. We look at things we ought not to examine. And we think things that come from the depths of a sinful blackened heart.  Which son are you like? Like the son who mouthed empty words, or like the son with repentance?

II. THE SON WITH REPENTANCE Remember the setting: it is Tuesday of Holy Week, Jesus in Jerusalem. The scribes and Pharisees question Jesus: “Why are you so important? What is your authority?” So Jesus says to them — what do you think? What about these two sons? The man went to the first son and says: Son go and work today in the vineyard”. He answered: ”I will not”. Quick answer. “I’m not going to do it”. But we are told later on he changed his mind. `I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. The son repented, relented and he went and worked in the vineyard. His first reaction was to say no, easy to say no. But his heart said yes. And he went. And then we come back to the question what do you think. Jesus asked them which of these two did what his father wanted? And they answered the first one. And of course they were right. The first one did what his father wanted. He didn’t just say what his father wanted to hear, he did what his father wanted.  But by these words these scribes and Pharisees also then passed judgment on themselves and condemnation. Jesus explains further. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you”. Now these were the ones considered to be outside the kingdom of God, not just for a little while but forever. The scribes and Pharisees didn’t have any use for those who did not follow all of those volumes of laws that they had invented. Now Jesus says these outsiders are going to be in heaven ahead of you. Jesus tells them why. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness–John the Baptist–John the Baptist came to you to show the way to righteousness and you did not believe him. Remember the scribes and Pharisees were called a brood of vipers and whitewashed graves, because inside they were empty. They were deceptive. Jesus said you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did believe. They came and they listened that the kingdom of God was near. Salvation was at hand, and they did believe. And we are told many were baptized and entered the kingdom of God. Even the scribes and Pharisees had seen all that. They had seen John prepare the way. The scribes and Pharisees because they were in the temple saw the worshippers and they saw Jesus and heard of his miracles and his power. And they heard the crowds on that Palm Sunday say “Blessed is the Son of David”. But in the end and even after you saw this you did not repent, and believe him. They did not believe John the Baptist. Since they did not believe John the Baptist, they did not believe Jesus either. Their laws had blinded them to God’s Gospel. Their doing what was right had blinded them into believing what was right. Their fulfilling the rules that they made had blinded them to the work of salvation that God had done for them. And so they looked at themselves as not doing anything wrong. They would not repent. They were like the second son. They said, ”Sure Lord I will do it”. But they did not because they did not believe any longer.  You and I realize that at times we are like those scribes and Pharisees. We feel

puffed up and a little self-righteous at time. We know, instead of only all God’s Laws, today we know the full extent of God’s Gospel. We know that salvation is meant for all of mankind. And then thankful and joyfully we know that God’s salvation is for each of us as individual sinners. We also know then we can come before our Lord, not on our own merit or righteousness, not on our own worthiness. We come in repentance saying, “Lord I’m not going to do it”. Our old man says” I don’t want to walk in the way of righteousness.” But God gives us faith and our new man says: “Yes I will”. We repent of the sins we do in thought, word and deed. Then the times of refreshing come from the Lord. Paul writes “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death”(2 CORINTHIANS 7:10).  True repentance is like the first son. Changes his mind. True repentance means we change our hearts, our lives. Now instead of reflecting the culture of the world, where anything goes and everything goes, and we would think only of ourselves; we repent and we reflect the love of God which looks out for our neighbor above all things. This is the first son. God has loved us. You and I from the moment of our baptism when we are snatched from the grasp of Satan and brought into God’s kingdom begin a lifetime of learning God’s love for us. And in the short time lifetime you and I have here on earth, we barely begin to scratch the surface of how much God loves us. God loves us, he sent his son to die for us. He stands before us in His resurrection and brings His word of forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. Therefore our actions are to show our love to God, and especially to one another. Our actions are to speak louder than our words. Faithful actions of love come from believing hearts. Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (JOHN 14:23). Imagine that! God says his home is made with us. His home is made inside of us. God lives in us. That is exactly what moves us to step out of our church on Sunday and live a life of worship in our day-to-day dealings with mankind.  We love God because God first loved us. We obey because God’s Son obeyed for us. The Lord wants us to look at our lives and in our own hearts and our personal relationship with Him. Scripture explains: “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load” (GALATIANS 6:4, 5). Do we reflect God’s love so that others can see the love of God? It is that way that others might be encouraged. He says we are to carry our own load, and even more than that, we are to carry the burden, the load of our neighbor. We are to help our fellow believers. And then he says we are to go even beyond that and be good to our enemies and pray for them. These are the actions of believers.  Which son are you like? Well, you know from time to time we are like that son who just says “Sure Lord -I’ll go”–but then we don’t. That is our sinful nature. But prayerfully, more often than not we are like the first son-with repentant actions. We realize that daily we fall short of God’s glory. Daily we can come before God’s altar

with our load of sin and he forgives us. God gives to each of us the encouragement and the strength, the comfort to go on the next day: To shine like lights in this sin darkened world. We are his children and that reminds us how much he loves us. I John tells us: Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and truth.  We are his children. We are to love him with action and truth. The next verse continues: This then is how we know we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence (1 JOHN 3:18, 19) Which son are you like? Sometimes like that son with empty words: Sinners each and every one of us. But we especially strive to be like the first son who repented: Sinners each and every one of us–who are freely forgiven by our Father’s love.

If you face the accusation of God’s law, take heart. Jesus did not tell this parable to shame us. He told this parable to direct us…to him – the perfect Son. You see Jesus was the third son, not mentioned in the parable. When his heavenly Father said: “Son, I have a very hard chore for you. I want you to save sinful people. You’ll need you to go work on earth. You’ll need to take on flesh and blood spending nine months in a woman’s womb and then be born in a barn. You’ll need to live with these sinful people – healing and teaching them. In return you’ll be mocked, beaten with whips, and finally crucified. Will you do it?” God’s Son, of course, said: “Yes. I will do everything you ask of me.” There was no arguing, no complaining, only complete. And Jesus didn’t just say “yes” he lived his “yes” in perfect obedience never veering from the mission. And because Jesus has completed his mission of saving sinners, whenever we say “no” to God, he hears “yes” because he hears his Son’s voice over ours (like dubbed movie dialogue). And whenever we say “yes” only to show we really mean “no” by our inaction, the Father sees his Son’s perfect life in place of ours. In Jesus we have complete forgiveness.  Of course those who know and believe they have been forgiven will reflect their thankfulness for that forgiveness in the way they live. We will no longer say “no” when God tells us to work in his vineyard whether that’s by serving him in the church or reflecting his love at home and at school. Nor will we say “yes” and then make excuses as to why we didn’t follow through with the Lord’s work. As brothers and sisters of Jesus

we will say “yes” and we will show “yes.” To strive for anything less would be to say that we don’t care what Jesus has done for us and that we don’t want to be part of God’s family. May that never be said of us. Instead may it be said that we do the Father’s will – not with empty words, but with repentant actions motivated by Jesus’ “yes” for us. Amen.

This message from  Rev.Timm O. Meyer and Daniel Habben is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas.  For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email:

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