Don’t Tease God
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 21:29c Holman . . . he changed his mind and went.
The son’s day started bad, but ended good. He changed a wrong answer into a right deed. He laid aside pride, and became ashamed of his not being ashamed. This is hard to do. We often are more embarrassed to admit our sin than to sin. Our flesh enjoys sin more than our mouth enjoys admitting we sin.
This first son pictures every person who openly neglects God. A person in willful sin is saying to God, “I don’t want to!” But this can change. There is hope. We are not enslaved to a bad past. The son’s changed conduct proved he experienced a changed heart. Making no more excuses, he headed to work.
Every believer can relate to this first son. At times, we grow weary in well doing, throw off God’s parental restraint, and travel into a far country. We silence conscience, and commit sin without stuttering or stammering.
We try all kinds of sins, but somewhere in this, we ask ourselves, “Am I treating God right?” After pondering a while, we say, “This disobedience won’t do”. We repent, and go to work. When this happens, it is always a happy day.
We who know the joy of returning to work in the vineyard want to encourage you who are yet far away in sin. Don’t give up, thinking there is no hope for you. Jesus delights to win hard cases. After His death and resurrection, He told the disciples to preach, starting in Jerusalem. Where!?! Jerusalem.
They were to go there first, to people who spat on him, scourged Him, crowned Him with thorns, and nailed His hands to crucify Him. The 12 were to reach out to them first in order to convince all sinners there is pardon for them.
Matt 21:30 Then the man went to the other and said the same thing. “I
will, sir,” he answered. But he didn’t go.
The first son proved better than he promised. The second promised better than he proved. He had a fast, smooth-talking mouth, but slow feet.
He wrongly broke a good promise. Words of commitment and flattery are not good enough in and of themselves. They have value only to the extent they reflect inner holiness and intent. We don’t believe in magic, as in “Abracadabra” and “Open Sesame”. Words themselves don’t have power, but if they are spoken genuinely, Heaven’s power comes to back them up.
I hasten to say many who claim they will work, but don’t, are not hypocrites. They truly mean to do it when they say it, but resolve fails.
The main scandal lies with those who repeatedly profess to be, but do not practice being. Each time we say we will but don’t, conscience hardens. No lightning strikes us, the sky does not fall, but to do gets easier not to do.
Too many always plan to live better, but never get started. They say they will, but neglect worship, ministry, missions, daily Bible reading and prayer, tithing. Where do these people show obedience: They claim, in good deeds. Many lost people do good deeds, but they don’t do spiritual disciplines. Doing the latter uniquely distinguishes us from unbelievers.
One day a week religion won’t do. Spurgeon told people who’s sole Christianity was public worship, “You are as religious as the (pews) you sit on, but no more; and you are as likely to get to Heaven as those seats are.”
As we gather here, saying “I will” can quiet conscience for a while, but too often life goes back to the “I won’t” it was. The promise feels good. We had the best of intentions. But promises aren’t enough. Does the promise of a meal fill the hungry? Does the promise of payment pay the creditor?
I once knew a couple that expressed interest in every mission trip their church offered. They signed up for information on every trip, but they never went on one. The good intention became the salve for their conscience.
Beware the danger of Lord’s Day daydreaming, picturing to ourselves every Sunday what we ought to be. This habit can be as real in our thoughts as if it were done. We can imagine it till we almost think we have done it.
Matt. 21:31a “Which of the two did his father’s will?” “The first,” they
The leaders here condemned themselves. The son who spoke rashly but then worked is the one who pleased the Father. The son who had claimed to respect the Father’s authority but did not work had only pleased himself.
Neither of these two sons was perfect. Both had failures. The test was, at best, to determine which son was less guilty. One was rude; one was a hypocrite. The two showed it’s better to end well than to end poorly.
The two sons remind us there is no such thing as flawless obedience. Neither son said yes and went. Both were imperfect. Perfection from the first moment to the last is not possible. Consent and doing are the best choice. Repentance is only second best, but still second best is better than third best.
Matt. 21:31b-32 Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you! For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him. Tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him, but you, when you saw it, didn’t even change your minds then and believe him.”
They refused to believe John the Baptist’s message at the first, and still did not believe him when they saw sinful lives changed. Moral miracles attended the preaching of John. Unjust tax collectors went from being unfair to being respected citizens; harlots went from immodesty to living model lives. The leaders were obstinate to the point of refusing obvious evidence.
As a result, Jesus felt compelled to state a startling truth. So-called reprobates, the ones who had said they wouldn’t work but did were chosen above the religious leaders, the ones who had said they would but didn’t.
This was a humiliating insult to the religious leaders. Caiaphas and Annas did not make it into God’s Kingdom. Mary Magdalene, Zaccheus, and the Samaritan woman did. Like the first son, little was expected from this last group. Sinners, be blessed. We don’t have to be perfect to be loved.
The sinful and lost, those seemingly alien to good, were going into the Kingdom “before” the proud and self-satisfied. Not “instead of”. There is hope for all. The self-righteous can also follow. Always remember. Jesus loved both groups. He died for them all. Never give up on anyone.
Wilfull sinners who receive salvation are accepted. Decent people who refuse to repent are rejected. If you feel sinful, do not despair. If you are circumspect, be not proud. It’s hard to get right with God if we are away from Him and at the same time are convinced we’re already right with Him.
Many students would become smarter had they not decided they are smart. The higher we imagine we are, the harder it is to come down for help.
Let’s be clear. Sinners were welcomed in, not because they were more righteous, but because they were willing to acknowledge their need of a Savior. They knew they needed grace, and realized it was their only hope.
They did not think of rewards. This is critical. The hardest part of getting people saved is getting them lost. There is often more hope for the wicked than the haughty. Tardy penitence is better than confirmed legalism.
Vices of the flesh are more likely to be remedied than is spiritual conceit. The worst danger lies in arrogant morality, in thinking too much of our own goodness.