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Matthew 21:28-21:32
Key Verse: 21:29

Thank God for the authority of Jesus, which came from heaven. May Jesus’ authority be displayed in and through us we have a clear sense of calling from God and obey it. In last week’s study we thought about true authority. In today’s passage Jesus tells a parable of two sons. The father calls each of them personally to go and work in the vineyard. The first son does what his father wanted, but the second does not. Through this simple story Jesus illustrates the spiritual condition of the religious leaders and that of the repentant sinners. In this study we can think about what God wants from us and what repentance is.

First, the parable of the two sons (28-31a). Look at verse 28. “What do you think?...” Before telling the story, Jesus first says, “What do you think?” Jesus draws the attention of the minds of the listeners from the beginning. He does not want them to accept something thoughtlessly. He wants them to use their minds to make right judgments. This is Matthew’s way of writing Jesus’ story-telling (Mt 17:25; 18:12, 21:28). Man is different from other animals in that he or she thinks, as a godly philosopher said, “Man is a thinking reed.” When God made men, he gave them a mind to think. Our God is the God of reason. He once said to sinful Israel, “Come, now let us reason together” (Isa 1:18a). Jesus said in Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Then what is the story they should think about? Look at verses 28-31a. “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said to the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. ‘What of the two did what his father wanted?’ ‘The first,’ they answered.” What a simple and straightforward story! The question, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” seemed to be an elementary school level question, very easy to answer. So they answered right away. Yet, in this simple story there is a profound teaching that all people should hear.

First, the father gave each of the two sons the opportunity to go and work in the vineyard. It was the expression of his love. He showed the same love and the same blessing to the two sons. God’s love is universal. Matthew wrote Jesus’ teaching on God’s love: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45). It is true that the sun shines to all. It will be so as long as the sun endures. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God showed his universal love offering his Son to all. Human love is partial, but God’s love is impartial and universal.

Let’s think about the first son. When he answered, “I will not,” he must have had his own plan on that day. He probably wondered, thinking, “Why did my father ask me to work today?” Anyway, when he thought about the whole situation, it seemed impossible for him to go and work in the vineyard. However, his answer was not, “I cannot”, but “I will not.” This answer showed that although the situation looked impossible, still it was up to him. The father’s command was not an unreasonable or impossible one.

Look at verse 29 again, “...but later he changed his mind and went.” This can be one of the most beautiful words in the Bible. We don’t know what enabled him to change his mind. Presumably he thought over his father’s order after saying, “I will not.” Something happened in him and he changed his mind and went. We all know how difficult it is to change one’s mind when it is set. When we read the Old Testament, God agonizes that the Israelites are stiff-necked and do not listen to him. He said to Moses in Exodus 32:9, “I have seen these people, and they are a stiff-necked people.” He also said in Jeremiah 17:23, “Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to discipline.” The stiff-necked Israelites did not change their minds even though God sent many prophets to them again and again to hear the word of God. Being “stiff-necked” is equivalent to being “stubborn.” God said in Isaiah 48:4, “For I knew how stubborn you were; your neck muscles were iron, your forehead was bronze.” He said in Jeremiah 7:24, “But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.” Hosea 4:16 says, “The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer. How then can the LORD pasture them like lambs in a meadow?” In light of this, those who change their minds after hearing the word of God are truly blessed and beautiful people.

There was a king of Israel named Ahab. The Bible says of him, “There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel” (1 Kings 21:25-26). When Ahab heard the word of God that God would punish him cutting off from him every last male in Israel—slave or free, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. Then God said, “Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.” God accepted even such a man’s humbling himself. Humbling oneself is repentance. It is related changing one’s mind. So verse 29b is written in KJV, “….but afterward he repented and went.”

There was a valiant soldier in a country. But he had one fatal weakness in his life – leprosy. He heard of the prophet Elisha who would heal leprosy, and came to him with lots of precious gifts and great expectation. He thought that the prophet would come to meet him and heal him by calling on the name of the God of Israel and putting his hand on him. However, contrary to his thought, the prophet even did not come out to meet him. But he just sent his words to the general, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed” (2 Kings 5:10). The situation he faced was quite contrary to his thought and expectation. At this, the general’s pride was greatly hurt. He got mad and turned around to go back to his home country. He probably thought to himself, “I would rather die with leprosy.” But on his way back, his servants said to him, “Why not do such an easy thing, when the prophet said, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” Then he changed his mind curbing his pride, and went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times as the man of God had told him to do so (5:13,14). Indeed he was cleansed. This is a beautiful story of one’s curbing his pride and changing his mind. Changing his mind brought him new flesh and new life with faith in the true God.

We also cannot forget the beautiful story of Peter. One day he worked hard for net-fishing all night and did not catch any fish at all. It was in the morning. He cleaned his net and was about to go home to rest. At that time he heard the voice of Jesus, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch” (Lk 5:4). To the mind-set of Peter, who was a veteran fisherman, and now extremely tired in frustration, the command did not make any sense. However, in this situation Peter’s attitude was amazing. He said, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (Lk 5:5). Then he could experience the power of Jesus and enter the deep world of Jesus. Changing one’s mind is the same as obedience and having a learning mind. This attitude made Peter grow tremendously until he became Apostle Peter, whom God could use greatly in forming the early Christian church amid fiery persecution. He advices young people, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Pe 5:6).

Obedience is one of the most important characters to be formed in the hearts and lives of Jesus’ disciples. It is one of the themes of Matthew’s gospel. In this gospel the word “obey” is used carefully and meaningfully. Jesus used this word three times in Matthew’s gospel according to NIV. He said to a rich young in Matthew 19:17, “…If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” Obeying the commandments is life. And he said to his disciples in 23:2-3, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preached.” Jesus wanted his disciples to obey even those who spoke the words of the Scriptures, though the speakers did not practice what they taught. Jesus really wanted the obedient character to be formed in them despite the religious leaders’ hypocritical lives. After resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 28:19,20, “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you...” Obedience definitely requires changing one’s mind. And Romans 12:2a says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” How can one be transformed? We know that we cannot transform ourselves. According to Romans 12:2, transformation is possible by constantly changing and renewing our mind through the words of God.

Let’s think about the second son. At his father’s command, he answered, “I will, sir.” It’s easy to wonder why he addresses his father as ‘sir’. It was probably out of respect for his father. Anyway, his initial response to his father’s order was good, when he said, “I will, sir”, meaning, “No problem”. But the real problem arose when he in fact did not carry out his word and did not go to the vineyard to work. Surely, something happened to him. Probably his friend sent a text message, “Hi, buddy! Today the weather is so good. Let’s go to Algonquin Park!” Whatever the reason, he could not keep his initial decision and did not go and work. He seemed to have a good start in life, but ended in a great disappointment to his father. God said in Ezekiel 33:13, “If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done.” He said continually, “If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, he will die for it. And if a wicked man turns away from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he will live by doing so” (33:18,19). What God counts is present righteousness. It does not mean that God does not care how one has lived. What is important here is that one cannot save himself through his past righteousness, if he remains turning away from God now. God wants any one to turn to him here and now regardless his past life, good or bad. One’s faith in God is to be always present. According to Romans 1:17, the righteous will live by faith, from first to last.

Second, entering the kingdom of God (31b-32). Look at verse 31b-32. “Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” Here, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are like the first son, who changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard. Hearing the way of righteousness, they repented and believed John, surely afterward Jesus, to whom John had testified. Because of their repentance and faith, they would enter the kingdom of God. What an amazing blessing it is to enter the kingdom of God!

Jesus’ expression is noticeable. He said, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering ahead of you.” In this passage it is not written explicitly to whom Jesus was speaking. In the context of the whole 21st chapter, it can be assumed that Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders, the chief priests and the elders of the people. Yet, since this passage does not say specifically to whom Jesus was speaking, it can be implied that Jesus was speaking all those who do not repent and believe, regardless of their seemingly good past lives. So when Jesus said, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of heaven ahead of you,” it was Jesus’ warning to them. Entering the kingdom of heaven is not like standing on the line and entering one by one; those who repent and believe can enter ahead of those who do not. The Pharisees were in danger of not entering the kingdom of God due to their pride. According to Matthew’s expression it is like the first becoming last (19:30). Yet, Jesus did not eradicate their possibility to enter. Jesus was giving them a chance to repent and believe to the end of their lives. Not repenting and believing is not a light matter.

In this study we thought about the importance of changing once mind. Changing one’s mind is repentance; it is the only way to enter the kingdom of God. May God help us to have the blessedness of changing our minds based on the word of God.

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