DUNCAN/Parables against the Pharisees
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 21:28-32. In this passage, Jesus tells a parable directed towards the religious leaders of Israel. He wants to emphasize that there are two responses to His own ministry, and show these spiritual leaders their true condition. Now, I’d like to look at two things with you today as we look at this great passage. First, that this parable is a picture of Israel’s state. Second, that Jesus condemns hypocrisy.
I. A Picture of Israel’s State
In verses 28-31, we see in the parable a picture of Israel’s spiritual state. Jesus is telling the parable in order to show Jewish religious leaders what Israel looks like in terms of its spiritual condition in the weight of John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ statements in His explanation of this parable are directly connected to His exchange which He has just had with these religious leaders. Now, the story itself would have evoked a strong response from the Jewish audience. Respect for parental authority was one of the fundamental moral sensibilities of the Jewish community. So, for two sons to respond to their father’s command in the way that these two sons did would have evoked a very strong response, not only from the Jewish community in general, but especially from the Jewish leaders who no doubt preached very strongly on the fifth commandment: to honor father and mother. So, Jesus tells the story of two sons here who both disobey. One, when his father asked him to go work in the fields said, “Oh, yes. I’ll go do that, father. I’ll be obedient to your command.” And then he didn’t do it. And the other son said, “No, I’m not going to do it.” He utterly rejected his father’s commandment, and then later he was remorseful about it and he regretted what he’d done, he’d repented of his action and he went and he did what his father had commanded him to do in the first place.
Now, Jesus, by showing this picture is not saying that one of those responses was right and one of those responses was wrong. Jesus is actually saying that the responses of both sons were wrong. This father is telling his sons to go out and work in the family vineyard. It was going to be to their benefit to work in the family vineyard. It was family property; it was part of their family inheritance. It would have enriched them as well as the rest of the family. Jesus, as an aside, is showing us here the foolishness of sin. Sin is not going to do what God says, because sin thinks it knows how to take care of itself better than God does. And yet the foolishness of sin is that when we reject God’s commands, it hurts us.
Jesus is showing us a picture of a repentant son and a hypocritical son. Jesus, in telling this parable, is showing these Jewish religious leaders themselves in talking about the son who says, “No, I will not.” He is showing them a picture of sinners in Israel – people who had committed open crimes against God’s commandments, and yet, under the preaching of John the Baptist, had heard His message. Jesus is saying, “these sinners, who have seen their sin and responded to John’s message ‘repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’ they have done the will of their Father, while you, religious leaders of Israel, you have claimed to be willing to do the command of your Father, but you have not done it.” And so, Jesus is showing us a picture of those in Israel who have repented at John’s message and those in Israel who claim to be godly, but who are not. In all of this, I hope you can see that Jesus’ parable is painting a picture of Israel’s spiritual state.
II. Jesus Condemns Hypocrisy
Now, in verses 31-32, we see Jesus apply and explain this parable condemning the hypocrisy of Israel’s religious leaders. He teaches us here that God will exclude from His kingdom all those who are right in their own eyes. Why do you think Jesus is so strident when He speaks about the spiritual danger of hypocrisy? Let me tell you why in one phrase. Hypocrisy immunizes you from grace. The hypocrite wants to pretend he is right. He wants to pretend to be righteous. He wants to pretend to be in right relationship with God, even when he’s not. You see, if you don’t think you need a Savior, then the offer of a Savior means nothing to you. If you don’t think you need forgiveness of sins, then some preacher standing up and preaching on for half an hour about the glories of forgiveness of sins in Christ means nothing to you because you don’t think you need it, and so Jesus is strident when He speaks to the sin of hypocrisy because it’s a soul-killing sin. It immunizes us to the message of grace. We must be careful to care more about the reality of our relationship with God, than about other people’s perception of our relationship with God. We need to care more about God’s opinion of us than man’s opinion of us. Hypocrisy is a soul-killing sin, you see, because it cuts us off from the grace of God. Repentance leads us to obedience into the ways of righteousness. But hypocrisy insulates us from obedience. It makes us work very hard to look one way on the outside that we’re really not on the inside; and that is not the way of righteousness that John taught.
Jesus is speaking to us in this passage, to us, today and He has so many messages and we don’t have time to do them justice, but let me just close with these two: to those who are sinners, who have done things that they think that there is no way that God can ever forgive them for that, Jesus is once again saying, “God is far more willing to receive you than you are to let go of that sin. God’s mercy is greater than your sin.” And to those who are attempting to look one way on the outside without having the reality of God’s grace and love in the heart, Jesus is saying this: “Don’t defraud yourself. Don’t fool yourself. Don’t deceive yourself. At the last day it will not be those who look righteous, who appear to be righteous, who will stand. It will only be those who have rested in my righteousness alone, for I have born the shame of everyone who trusts in Me, and you need not fear your shame ever again before the almighty God, because I have born it for you. So, trust in Me.” May God help us to hear these two messages today.