Jesus has just been questioned about His authority by the religious leaders, Matthew 21:23-27, and after silencing them, He shares this parable with them.
I want to break this parable into three points.
1. ‘The call’.
Jesus asks the Jewish leaders a question. One of the first things that strikes you when you read this parable is the direct way the father approaches his sons.
He feels he has the right to ask them both to go and work in his vineyard and He speaks to both sons in the kindest of terms and says, ‘Son go work.’ Jesus says, ‘then the father went to the other son and said the same thing,’ Matthew 21:30.
And it’s in this way that God, as the Father gently calls all men and that’s because it’s God who is ever seeking workers. It’s God who takes the initiative to bring the inactive and indifferent into His vineyard.
It’s God who draws people to the Saviour, and how does He do that? John 6:44. Not through a weird dream, not through a fascinating vision, not through an Ouija board, not through a crystal ball. So what is His drawing power?
God draws people to the Saviour through teaching John 6:45 / 2 Thessalonians 2:14. People are brought near to the fountain of grace when they learn and receive and submit to the Gospel of Christ.
The father who had only two sons asked each of them to work, He didn’t say it was easy work, but they were called to work. And listen, God’s call goes out to all His children. It’s as worldwide as human flesh, it’s as all-pervading as human needs.
God’s call to His children speaks to the cheerless and the downtrodden, Matthew 11:28. He summons each and every one of us to preach the Gospel in all nations.
Not a single soul is to be left out and that’s because the call is universal and individual. He wants all His children to enter His vineyard and when a person refuses to go in, then they are flatly refusing to acknowledge His authority.
Now does God call us to become Christians, and then for us to just sit around and enjoy the blessings of a Christian life? No! Of course, He doesn’t.
2. The call from God is a call to work.
If you’re for Jesus then you will work for Jesus, Matthew 12:30. When God calls you, it’s not to rest and ease. The father’s desire was for his sons to work, that’s why he called them. Now it’s true that there’s a certain measure of safety and security in the church.
But the church, like a vineyard, is a place of work and all those inside the vineyard should engage in its programme of work. The father’s call had a sense of urgency about it, He says ‘Son, go and work today.’ In other words, there was work, which needed to be done, and it needed to be done that day.
So Christ’s call is for men and women to work for Him today. That’s all the time that there is, it’s our one chance, our opportunity to serve, 2 Corinthians 6:2.
If we hold back and put off if we wait until tomorrow to do the work of today. The chances are the work won’t get done and so in effect we’re like the son who bluntly said to his father ‘I will not,’ Matthew 21:29.
3. The workers.
Let’s look at the second son first. Notice how polite and respectful he replies to his father’s request, ‘I will go, sir’. Although his brother might refuse his father, he would go. How courteous he is, how sure of success he is. But why then did he fail his father? ‘He did not go.’
It’s not that he deliberately deceived his father. He’s not worked out some plot of intrigue by which he hoped to bankrupt his father. He may not have even been trying to purposely lie to his father. He failed his father because in his father’s presence he probably intended to go.
But in his father’s absence, he found that the doing of the task was more difficult than the saying of the words, James 1:22-25. This son represents the large host of Christ’s would-be followers who profess much but practice little. Many people pledge their loyalty to the Master and then they fall down on their pledge.
They praise love but don’t practise love. It’s like a profession without practice, a promise without performance. And when people have this type of attitude, they continue to be the greatest enemy of the cause of Christ.
Let’s look at the first son. The first son refused his father and rudely said ‘I will not go’, Matthew 21:29. This son offered no reason or no excuse, he simply wasn’t going.
The first son made a change for the better, he remembered his ugly mood and the blatant discourtesy he had shown his father. The first son began his day badly but that didn’t mean he had to carry on the rest of the day with the same attitude. He saw no reason to continue in the wrong, so what did he do? He repented.
And what did his repentance consist of? Not just a twinge of sorrow, he could have grieved much without repenting. He repented when he changed his mind and when he went to work in the vineyard, ‘The son said, ‘I will not go’ but later he changed his mind and went.’ Matthew 21:29.
Jesus asks the Jews which of the two did the will of the Father? There’s a lot of emphasis on the word ‘did’ in that verse, it’s the Greek word ‘poyeh’o’ and it means ‘to agree or make a deal’. It’s the idea of doing something without any delay.
In other words, Jesus asked the Jews, ‘which of the two without any delay done what the father wanted them to do?’
Out of all the questions, Jesus could have asked them, He asked them the most important question of all, ‘which one did the will of their father?’ They said, ‘the first,’ and answered correctly.
All else is of no consequence, no matter how good the intentions, no matter how many the promises, the simple fact is that one son did and one son didn’t.
Fine words can never take the place of fine deeds and it’s now that Jesus tells them they have just condemned themselves.
What an insult this must have been for them, imagine the anger and rage in their hearts as Jesus tells them that these so-called unclean people.
The people that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law hated so much were now in a better spiritual condition than they have ever been. I would imagine them fuming, no wonder they wanted to kill Him and get Him out of the way.
Now the meaning of this parable is crystal clear. The first son who wouldn’t work but later decided to work represents the tax collectors and prostitutes or sinners as some translations have it.
All their lives by their wicked deeds they had been saying ‘no’ to God. But when Jesus comes along, they could no longer continue in their sin but pressed on to enter the kingdom, Luke 12:35-40.
The second son represents the leaders of the Jews, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. And they were always making the pretence of serving God but when Jesus came along they didn’t accept Him as the tax collectors and prostitutes did.
They despised His teachings and they hated Him so much they would eventually crucify Him on a cross. They had rejected John the baptiser and they had rejected Jesus as the Christ and wouldn’t accept His authority.
The tax collectors and sinners had turned from their ways but the Jewish authorities had made no amends and had cast aside the heavenly kingdom.