The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
LSB Proper  A, 25 September 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
"What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?"
You know the answer. It’s a rhetorical question. The first repented of his earlier sin. He changed in a good way. The second was a hypocrite and hardened his heart. His words were not followed by deeds. He changed in a bad way.
Jesus told this parable to specific hearers. You’ve met them before in the New Testament. And, you know people just like them alive today.
And when he [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?"
Jesus has been a threat to the chief priests and elders of the people all through the Gospel according to St. Matthew. As the last verse of Matthew seven says, Jesus was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
Authority and power are different. Power, in politics or in the church is assumed, taken, sought after. Authority is bestowed, given, and entrusted to a person. Jesus spoke about this “given to” authority in the last chapter of Matthew. “All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”
Authority is only as good as the author behind it. Theologians in the Jewish tradition appeal to famous scholars and rabbis. In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul does them one better. He appealed to Jesus and His Words—God Himself and the very Words of God instituting the Lord’s Supper. When God is the author, what He gives packs a lot of punch. That’s authority. Jesus spoke what the Father gave Him to say. No less. No more. But some would not hear it. Some would not accept Jesus for who He really was. They rejected His authority and in so doing, rejected Him and the kingdom of God he came to bring. So, they played politics.
"By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" Jesus answered them, "I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?"
Jesus Christ was born a Jew. He Himself was not a Christian, because He was the Christ, the Messiah promised of old, anointed to save His people from their sins. The Gospel text presents a very Jewish conversation: answering a question with a question.
“…The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?" And they discussed it among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From man,' we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet."
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day could have studied the Holy Scriptures to find an answer. They didn’t. They could have actually listened to the preaching of John the Baptizer. Instead, they were offended by him for calling a spade a spade, or rather calling a brood of vipers a brood of vipers. They could have listened to Jesus’ preaching. In place of faith, they doubted. They could have been churchmen, but come off as politicians saying, “No comment.”
So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
If they didn’t believe after reading Moses and the prophets, would they have believed Jesus? Jesus uses the opportunity to teach about His authority by teaching with divine authority. He faces them up to their Lord, their Father in heaven, the author behind Jesus’ authority.
"What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went.
You probably can identify with this situation because of your teenagers or your own teenage years. Can you imagine a first-century Jewish teenager doing this? He resisted. Then, he changed. He repented. He did the will of his father.
And he [the father] went to the other son and said the same. 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go.
Did this son do the will of his father? Not hardly. A hypocrite says, “Do what I say and not what I do.” When a person lives by faith, deeds follow words. They are consistent. The second son shows a disconnect. Doctrine and life were not connected for him.
We Christians have a problem when there’s a trade deficit in our lives. Is your life merely a news report or truly a show and tell? Has the Gospel of the Lord had its way with us if we talk the talk but don’t walk the walk?
In Matthew 7, Jesus put it this way. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:21. "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24.
In a virtual commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, James further explains: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James 1:22. What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? James 2:14. So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:17.
A so-called “faith” that just sits around doing nothing is a fake “faith.” It is “faith” pretended, a play act. A “faith” that does not breathe by doing works of service to the neighbor is dead. ESV: Many have claimed that James and the apostle Paul differed on the question of faith versus works, but in reality the spiritual fruit that James talks about—the picture of what faith looks like practically—demonstrates the true faith of which Paul wrote. Their writings are complementary rather than contradictory.
Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
Hearing a parable like this is law. Jesus would have you repent of when there has been a gap between His Word and your life in the past. The kingdom of God is open to you in Jesus, just as it was open to the other sinners before you who believed Him in repentant trust. All of the earliest Christians were Jewish, the New Testament says. Eventually, some of the Jewish priests believed, we are told in Acts. Many rejected Jesus then. Many still do today. Don’t be one of them! Jesus opened the kingdom of God to all nations by means of baptizing and teaching all that He had given us.
CPR: Jesus once spoke of a man taking a plow and not looking back…you know what Jesus was talking about. If you take a plow and start walking forward, you’ll dig a nice, straight trench perfect for planting. But if you begin to change your mind about what you are doing and look around and behind you, the trench will go in all different ways. It would be like driving a car forward while trying to steer while only looking in your rearview mirror. You may keep moving forward, but eventually you’ll move all around the road and eventually hit something. Either decide to look forward or decide to look back. A person can’t keep changing his mind about which direction he’s going.
Jesus knew all about the danger of changing His mind in following directions. When it came time for Him to die on the cross, the Scriptures say He set His eyes toward Jerusalem. Jesus didn’t look around Him or behind Him. Jesus kept His gaze straight ahead at what He was doing. He didn’t change His mind at all. He kept His mind geared right toward what He was going to do. Jesus’ resoluteness took Him to His death, which cleared our way to heaven. Knowing that heaven lies straight ahead for us enables us also to resolve to go forward—straight forward—where God points us, rather than to turn this way and that as we so naturally do.
The best kind of change in Church and for Christians is repentance. Which of the two did the will of his father? The first. Repent. Learn from the mistake of the chief priests and the elders of the people. Change your minds and believe in Jesus, the Son of God, who for your sake always did the will of His Father. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.