“When the leading priests and Pharisees heard Jesus, they realized he was pointing at them––that they were the farmers in his story.“ – Vs 45 (NLT)
There was no love lost between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day. It wasn’t that Jesus hated the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and priests. But He did hate their false piety, self-righteousness, and arrogant assumption that they were pleasing God with their hypocritical rule-keeping. Jesus came to destroy those assumptions and to eliminate man’s failed attempts at satisfying God through self-effort. The Pharisees and their pious peers were symbolic of all that is wrong with religion – man’s attempt to reach God and impress Him with our works. So while Jesus walked this earth, He had some strong words for these men. And none stronger than the two parables He tells in chapter 21.
Now I’ve always had it in for the Pharisees. I grew up learning to despise their attitudes and actions. They were the bad guys, enemies of Jesus. They wore the black hats and Jesus wore a white one. I learned to view them as evil and conniving. But then there came a time in my spiritual journey when I started to see myself as a Pharisee. Or better yet, I began to see the Pharisee in me. I suddenly realized that I could be just as self-righteous and hypocritical. I could be just as much a man-pleaser as they were. I found that I could become prideful over all my good works for God. I compared myself with others and worked hard to find those who didn’t measure up to my standards, so that I could feel better about myself. I developed lists of rules and regulations that dictated how I was to live my life. I tried to keep all those rules and regulations – usually with less-than-stellar results. But when I could check off a few of them, I became prideful and arrogant. I had become the very thing I despised: A Pharisee. And so, when I read this chapter, I have to listen with ears as if Jesus is talking to me. I can’t afford to stand on the sideline as a spectator, watching the Messiah dress down the Pharisees. No, I need to hear what He may be saying the Pharisee that lives in me.
The Will of the Father
The first parable is about a man who had two sons. He asks the first son to go work out in his vineyard. This son initially says, “No,” but then later regrets that decision and goes to work in the vineyard. When the father asks his second son to work in the vineyard, he says, “OK,” but then never follows through. Jesus asks His listeners which of the sons did the will of his father, and they respond, “The first.” Then Jesus makes His point. “I assure you, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the way to life, and you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to turn from your sins and believe him” (Vs 31-32 – NLT). The real point of this parable seems to be the two kinds of people it characterizes. The first sons represents those who prove better than they promise. Their initial response is “No,” but then they act in obedience. The second son represents those who promise better than they prove. They give all appearances of being obedient, but in the end, refuse. Both of these sons had been given the same command. One refused, but ultimately obeyed. One gave the impression he would obey, but never did. In the story, it is obvious that Jesus is comparing the tax collectors, prostitutes, and more apparant sinners in his audience to the Pharisees, and those who held them in high esteem. Jesus is saying that the ones you would think would get into heaven will not. And the ones you would least think should get into heaven will. Why? Because of one word that Jesus uses in His parable. It is the Greek word metamelomai. It is translated “regretted or changed his mind.” It means “to change one’s mind about something, with the probable implication of regret.” The idea in this context involves more than just a change of mind, for the son regrets his initial response and changes his actions. Only the first son shows regret or repentance that leads to a changed response. The second son didn’t change his mind. He never intended to do what he said he was going to do. In verse 32, Jesus indicates that the Pharisees rejected the ministry of John the Baptist. They refused to believe his message. And even when they saw the tax collectors and prostitutes believing, they “did not even feel remorse (metamelomai) afterward so as to believe him” (NASB). At no point did they repent and show a change of heart.
The Rejected Son
The second parable is even harder than the first. In it, Jesus lays out exactly what has happened over the centuries and what is about to happen in the days ahead. For generations, the Jews had been rejecting the Word of God brought by the prophets of God. They had abused them and even killed them. Now God had sent His own Son, and they were rejecting Him as well. And in just a few days they would even have Him killed. Of course, Jesus’ audience doesn’t understand all this because He is speaking to them in a parable. So He asks them what the owner of the vineyard in His story will do to those who killed his servants and his son, they say, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest” (Vs 41 – NLT). Without knowing it, they condemn themselves. Jesus tells them that, as a result, “God’s kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life.” (Vs 43 – NLT). Their refusal to accept Jesus and allow Him to direct their lives would lead to their rejection by God.
So what does all this have to do with us? We are that people. The ones who have had the kingdom of God handed over to us. And we are expected to live out a “kingdom life.” We are the ones who initially said, “No,” but then repented and said yes. We obeyed and went to work in the vineyard. But every day we face the choice of being faithful or Pharisees, of saying, “No,” then repenting and obeying, or saying “Yes,” but never intending to keep our word. Jesus is looking those who will faithfully obey and who will live out a kingdom life – producing the fruit that comes from a relationship with him. The Pharisees were sinners who were blind to their sin, thinking they were righteous and in no need for a Savior. The tax collectors and prostitutes represent us – sinners who recognize their sin and their need for a Savior. I need a Savior every day. I need to acknowledge my sin every day. I need to repent and obey every day. Because I have been given the kingdom and God wants to produce His fruit through me.
Father, forgive me for being a Pharisee so many times in my life. I sometimes live as if I don’t need You. I act as if I can save myself, change myself, and justify myself. But I can’t. Keep reminding me to repent of my own self-righteousness and turn to You for help. I want my life to produce the fruit of your kingdom. I want my life to honor You. Thank You that I can because of what Jesus Christ has done for me and in me. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men