Two sons are asked by their father to work in the family vineyard. One refuses, but changes his mind and works, while the other agrees to work, but never shows up. This story compares working in the vineyard to doing the will of God. The first son eventually did the will of the father. He saw the truth, said yes and was changed.Read More
Full Sermon Script:
Hi, I’m Matt VanCleave, one of the pastors at Blue Oaks.
We’ve been studying some of the amazing stories Jesus taught, and the one we’re looking at today is the story of the two sons in Matthew 21.
This story is about doing what God wants. It’s about knowing what’s right and doing what’s right.
I’ll read it starting at verse 28.
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 the same thing. He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go.
Which of the two did what his father wanted?
“The first,” they answered.
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.”
Now, this story is really told in two parts.
Part one, the dad tells the sons to go work in the vineyard.
In those days, family life and work life were intimately connected. Sons were expected to work for their dads. The father was their employer as well as their dad. It was a matter of economic survival.
So when the father gives instructions here for the day’s work, it was not unexpected. This is just part of what a dad did.
The father says to his first son: “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.”
He looks up from the breakfast table and says, “Me? The vineyard? Long hours in the hot sun? I don’t think so.”
So the situation is pretty tense around the breakfast table. That’s a dramatically rude response for a son to make.
The father turns to his other son and gives the same command.
This son is cheerful and obedient. He says what his dad wants to hear. “The vineyard? It would be an honor for me, Dad. Maybe not for some, but for me, it’s a privilege to serve. Thanks for asking. Just this morning, during my rather lengthy private devotional time, I was thinking how I love the vineyard. Yes sir, I would love to go.”
Now, the mom and dad are just beaming with joy for this son; and I imagine they say, “Thank God for this obedient son!”
He’s the hero of the breakfast table.
But that’s just the first part of the story.
In the second part, the first son leaves the breakfast table, but he can’t get his father’s words out of his mind.
He thinks of all that his father has done for him, what his father means to him, and his heart softens and his stubbornness melts. And he changes his mind.
This son realized he was wrong and he repented. He goes to work in the vineyard.
Can you imagine the dad’s surprise? He’s working in the vineyard and suddenly son number one shows up.
The dad must have thought, “He’s the last person in the world I would have expected to show up in the vineyard. I guess you never know.”
Then the father notices something else.
The son that was such a joy to his mom and dad never shows up at the vineyard. He was so cheerful and compliant. He never said a harsh word. But as the afternoon wears on, it becomes clear he never intended on working at all! He never decided to do the will of his father and go to the vineyard. He was just blowing smoke the whole time.
Two sons: one, in open defiance, says no to his father, but he repents and he goes to the vineyard.
Another son, who sounds so right, who talks so smoothly, who appears to be doing everything that was asked of him, and yet in his heart he has no intention of doing what his father wants.
Then Jesus makes an application.
In verse 31, he asked the crowd: Which of the two did what his father wanted?
It could be translated literally, “Which of the two sons did the will of his father.”
In other words, going to the vineyard is a metaphorical way of talking about doing the will of God.
Then Jesus gets real tangible about this idea to the crowd. He talks about John the Baptist who came.
Everyone there remembers this.
John proclaimed what Jesus called, “the way of righteousness.”
John called people to repent, like the one son does in this story – to go to the vineyard, to do the will of God in every area of life.
The person’s response to this call, to the call to repentance, to the way of righteousness – your response to this call – is everything.
Will you do it?
I’d like to ask you if you would – just between you and God today – that you would apply this to your own life, that you would be one of the sons or daughters of the father around the table, deciding whether or not you’ll go to the vineyard.
Where do you have to face this?
Where does the call to repentance take place in your life?
Let me ask it this way, do you have any place in your life where you’re not living in full obedience to Jesus?
I read a prayer this week. This was someone trying to do the will of the Father.
“Dear Lord, so far today I’m doing all right. I have not gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or self-indulgent. I have not whined, cursed, or eaten any chocolate. However, I’m going to get out of bed in a few minutes, and I will need a lot more help after that.”
I have areas in my life – maybe my critical spirit; or the words I use that are not uplifting, but damaging; or my attitude – I have places where I’m not living in full obedience to Jesus; that is, I’m not going to the vineyard. I’m not doing the will of the father.
I’m asking you to identify this in your life. Where are you not doing what God wants? Take a moment and think about that.
Alright, now we’re going to talk in the time we have left about the process of character formation. I need to gain a sense of clarity around where I’m not living in full obedience to Jesus. And so do you.
So we’re going to walk through a three-step process. It’s a real important process, in which character gets changed, character formation takes place.
And the first stage in this process will involve what might be called
I need to have clarity – where am I not living in full obedience to Jesus?
And I need to have a sense of urgency – this needs to change in me.
I’d like to ask you right now to allow the Spirit to speak to you about an area in your life where you are not in the vineyard, you’re not living in full obedience to Jesus, you’re not doing the will of the Father.
Maybe the Holy Spirit has already spoken to you loud and clear about an area where you are not doing the will of the father.
Maybe it’s in the area of honesty. You’re aware of a pattern of deceit.
Maybe it’s the way you relate to your children or your spouse.
Maybe it’s a work situation and there’s greed going on.
Maybe it involves anger, and you just damage people with your words.
Maybe it’s about some area of self-control – addictive behaviors going on in your life.
I’ll tell you what, if you’re honest about this right now, there’s some area in your life where you’re not fully obedient to Jesus.
When Jesus is applying this story, he says this is precisely the ministry of John the Baptist.
John the Baptist came and confronted people. His whole ministry was a ministry of confrontation.
People were being confronted with their sins. And they were saying, “Yes, I’m a sinful person.” They were repenting and being baptized.
Now, I want you to consider something about this ministry of confrontation; and that is – how does this ministry of confrontation come to you?
Think about some of the ways this ministry of confrontation comes to you.
Sometimes it comes through Scripture. Sometimes you read the Bible and all of a sudden it’s like God just speaks through those words right to you about an attitude that you need to change.
That’s part of why we need to be reading through Scripture.
We need to be open and listening when we’re reading Scripture.
Say, “God, maybe you need to talk to me about some area where I’m not conforming to Jesus.”
I want to ask you a question that may be difficult for you – do you read the Bible on your own?
I could say to you, “Do you believe the Bible from cover to cover?” And you would say, “Yeah, of course. I believe it!”
My question to you is, “Do you read it?”
It’s one thing for you to hear God’s word being taught for thirty minutes a week. It’s another thing for you to learn God’s Word on your own.
Here’s why I ask – if you make a commitment to go to the vineyard, you’re going to need to know where the vineyard is. If you make a commitment to do God’s will, it’s important that you know what God’s will is.
If I make a commitment to be a professional heavy weight body builder, I better know a lot about body building. Which, as you can see, that is one of my commitments.
This is true if you want to learn to do the will of the Father. You’re going to need to read God’s word more than just a few times a month.
So that’s one area where the ministry of confrontation comes to us – through reading the Word of God.
Sometimes confrontation comes through teaching. Have you ever been in a small group or listening to a pastor teach where there’s a Biblical challenge directed at some behavior or attitude, and you realize God is talking directly to you?
When someone is teaching the Word of God we need to ask God, “Do you have some area of my character that you need to speak to me about?”
And we need to expect God to speak.
I would say one of the most powerful ways God speaks to us is through the teaching of His Word.
We need to listen, expecting God to speak to us about some area of our life and character.
God will speak to you. Are you willing to hear what he has to say?
Well, that’s the first stage in this process of being fully obedient to Jesus – confrontation.
The second step is
Response. I have to respond.
If someone indicates to me an area where I’m not being fully obedient to Jesus, I have to respond.
I can do a couple of things. I can resist if I want to. That’s what the first son in this story does. He just says, “I don’t care.” That’s his initial response. “I’m not going to the vineyard. I can harden my heart, close my eyes, deliberately shut this part of my life off from God.”
And you can do that if you want to. And if you honestly search your heart on this one, you may have to admit you’re doing that in some area of your life right now. You’re just shaking a fist in the face of God saying, “I don’t want to change this area of my life.”
No one can force you to change.
The only answer – unless you want to get to the end of your life and have a mountain of regret – the only answer is to do what the first son in this story does, and that is change your mind, to repent.
But I’ll tell you what I think the great danger is for you and me.
I think the great danger is the danger of the second son where there is insincere, superficial compliance.
This son claims that he wants to do the father’s will – he wants to go to the vineyard. But the truth is he never does it. His compliance was just a device to avoid confrontation and pain.
You know, in my life, the reason I don’t face up to the truth about myself, that I deceive myself, is just pain avoidance.
And I can get pretty good at it. I can look pretty good on the surface, just like this son can.
I can sound pretty sincere. I can put on a spiritual face. But underneath it, I’m going to do what I want to do.
This son, like so many of us, wants the approval and ease that go along with obedience but without the trouble of actually obeying. He doesn’t want to actually obey.
This is the person who prays a prayer like, “Lord, your will be done in my life. You are the potter. I am the clay. Mold me and make me what you want me to be.”
But if anyone tries to confront you about something, maybe the way you spend your time or your money – you can be pretty stubborn clay.
Now the number one evasion technique is generally that we’ll avoid being confronted. We’ll never ask someone to point out areas in our life where we’re not conformed to Jesus.
But I believe this response – insincere, superficial compliance, the second son – is in the greatest danger of all.
Growth will not happen until I value facing truth more than I value avoiding pain.
And that leads to the only response that actually brings change, and that is if I say yes to God.
This is very important, because we may be confronted with the truth about our life, but God will not change it in us if we resist and defy him.
God will not violate our personhood.
We need – with an open heart, an open spirit – to say yes to God.
I’d like to ask you to do something at this point. If there’s an area in your life right now that you’re aware of where you’re not conforming to the way of Jesus, if you’re willing – this is just between you and God; don’t treat this casually – if you’re willing, in your heart just say:
“God, whatever it is you need to do in me – even if it’s painful, even if it involves another person knowing the truth about me – I’m going to stop resisting, stop evading, stop denying that I have a problem, stop procrastinating and say, “Okay God, I need to change. I can’t do it myself. I ask you to do your work. God, I say yes to your work in my life.”
Okay, now we’re going to talk about the next step.
The ministry of confrontation is the first step.
Then there’s the response. But just saying yes is not enough.
The next step is that I must enter into the process of
Usually this process involves certain spiritual practices through which God brings about change; and this will require wisdom.
When you go back and look at the ministry of Jesus, you see that he’s a genius at this process. He confronts us with the truth about ourselves, and then he elicits a response from people. Then he enters them into the process of change.
For instance, Zacchaeus is a tax collector. He deliberately increases taxes for his own personal gain.
Think of the seven deadly sins. Which sin do you think he most wrestles with? Where is he not doing the will of the father?
So Jesus comes to the tree where he’s hiding, brings him out of hiding, confronts him with the truth about himself.
Zacchaeus comes out of hiding, receives Jesus into his home, says yes to Jesus, and then the classic spiritual practice involved to help overcome greed is giving.
If Zacchaeus is ever going to be liberated from this greed that has him in this grip, he’s going to have to give.
So what does he do?
He says, “Anyone who I’ve cheated, I’m going to give them four times what I’ve taken away from them.”
He didn’t have to do that by law.
Then he says, “Plus, I’m going to give away half of all I have.”
Think about that. In addition to paying people back four times what he’s cheated them, he’s going to give away half of his possessions to the poor.
Do you think that started a process of change in his heart – the liberation from greed and the emergence of generosity in his heart?
Don’t you think he realized it would be so much better to live as a generous person who says “Yes” to a new way of life, than to be a hoarding, miserable greedy person?
This pattern is critical:
Confrontation – seeing the truth.
Response – saying yes.
And then entering into certain practices where change begins to happen.
I was with someone recently who talked on and on and just loved to hear himself talk.
Other people were desperate to get away from him. Eyes were glazing over. He could not stop talking.
Do you know anyone like that?
He needs someone who loves him enough to have the ministry of confrontation to share truth, and then he could enter into something.
There’s a spiritual practice he needs to enter into.
That practice is silence!
That would be hard. That might require the ministry of duct tape, for him.
Let me give you another example:
Let’s say you wrestle with gossip.
I’m sure no one wrestles with gossip, but just theoretically let’s pretend that the person next to you wrestles with gossip. If that was the case, what practice would help them overcome that problem?
You’re probably practicing it right now. It’s the same as the guy who talks too much.
If you were to practice an hour a day of silence or of speaking as little as possible, you would discover that it’s possible for you to know something and not say it.
And that could change your life.
And it could change the lives of the people around you. You will learn it’s possible to know something and not to have to say it.
You will begin to be able to say the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right reason, and to not speak when it’s appropriate not to speak.
Maybe God has confronted you about your lack of joy. You have a hard time being a joyful person.
Well you need to first respond to God. Say yes to God. And then enter into a practice that will begin to change you.
That practice is celebration.
Celebration is a spiritual practice. Celebration is an activity you can engage in to train you for joy.
So maybe you need to have one day a week that’s your day of celebration.
Wear clothes you love to wear.
Eat food that makes you happy.
Listen to music that fills your heart with gratitude.
Only spend time on that day with people who fill you with joy.
Again, for you, there may be a step – what step can you take this week?
Pray, study, reflect, silence, solitude, give.
Here’s what happens. When we hear truth about ourselves and we say yes to God, and enter into a process of being conformed to the life Jesus has for us, we find ourselves responding the way Jesus would respond if he was in our place.
And of course, Jesus is our model of going to the vineyard. Jesus is truly our model of doing the will of the father.
The greatest act of love in all of human history was Jesus Christ going to the cross so that we may have life.
But he didn’t want to go. He stayed awake the entire night pleading with God that he would find another way. But ultimately, he did the will of the Father. He went to the vineyard.
You see, God the father says to you and me today the same thing he said to his son that night, “Go to the vineyard.”
The Father says to every one of us, “Go to the vineyard.”
And some of us sound so good at first, sound so spiritual and say, “I will go.” But we never get there.
Some of us push back and defy at first. But as we move throughout our day, we end up in the vineyard.
What about you? Will you do the will of the Father?
If you will, I want to challenge you to do something before the day is over.
I’d like you to think about ways in which you’ve been guilty of not going to the vineyard.
Then just release those to God.
Maybe you’re aware today that you’ve been kind of playing around with temptation for a while, and you realize what the consequences could be and you want to stop right now.
Maybe you’ve already said yes to the father, but you’re not moving toward the vineyard. You’re moving away from the vineyard.
Maybe there’s a pattern of sin going on in your life and you need to acknowledge it and confess it right now and put a stop to it before you move any farther.
Maybe you’re listening today and you’re in great pain. Maybe there’s guilt or hurt from what you’ve done. You need to come to your senses. You need to do the will of the father.
Will you take a moment today to confess to God those ways you’ve been guilty of not going to the vineyard.
Alright, let me pray and then the band will lead us in a closing song.
Blue Oaks Church