October 15, 2017

Pastor Mark F. Bartels

Old Testament Lesson; Ezekiel 18:1-4

                                      Ezekiel 18:25-32

Epistle Lesson; Philippians 2:1-11

Sermon Text; Matthew 21:28-32

The text we will look at for today is taken from Matthew, chapter 21, verses 28 through 32. This is a parable Jesus told.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go work today in my vineyard.' He answered, 'I will not,' but later he changed his mind and went. He came to the second and said the same thing. The second son answered, 'I will go, sir', but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first”. Jesus said to them, “Amen, I tell you: The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, but you did not believe him. However, the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him. Even when you saw this, you did not change your mind and believe him.”

These are your words, Heavenly Father. Lead us in the way of truth. Your Word is truth.


Last week we had The Pastors' Conference, in the Twin Cities. Pastors from all over the synod got together. We focused, particularly, on The Lutheran Reformation (which is not a surprise, because we are celebrating the 500th Anniversary of The Lutheran Reformation). We studied one of the very important documents of The Lutheran Reformation, of all things, (and you don't have to remember this), The Twelfth Article of the Augsburg Confession, which defines repentance.

What is repentance? That was one of the dramatic rediscoveries of the Reformation.

The pastor who did this presentation did a great job of making a presentation on repentance. Afterwords, there was discussion. During the discussion, a pastor stood up, and said, “You know, there is a lot of talk here about being terrified over your sin, and troubled over your sin”. And then he said, “I am not terrified about my sin. I am not troubled over my sin. I know Jesus paid for my sins.”

Well, that started a major, major conversation amongst the pastors who were there. Finally, one pastor got up, and he said something that just made me stop cold, and think about what he said. He said, “You know, as pastors, we can just be pretend Christians. Just because you are a pastor, doesn't mean you really believe what you are saying. It can all be just a mental exercise. You can stand up, and say you are sorry, along with the whole congregation, but the question is: Are you sorry in your heart? Are you repentant in your heart?” The pastor said, “You could be, as a pastor, a fake Christian.”

Today, in our scripture reading, Jesus really addresses the question, who has a real, true relationship with God? Not a pretend relationship. Not a false relationship. But, a real true relationship with God. Here is what we discover from Jesus' parable. A person who has a true relationship with God is somebody who lives a life that is defined by repentance. I am going to say that again.

Somebody who has a true, real relationship with God

is somebody who lives a life that is defined by repentance.

Now, let's talk about what in the world that means. I want to put today's scripture reading in context first of all and ask, the “W Questions – “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” And, “Why did this passage happen?”

This Bible passage that we are looking at happened on Tuesday of Holy Week. It was two days before Jesus was going to be arrested, and three days before He would suffer, and die on the cross.

Here is what had happened within short order of this whole text.

-On Palm Sunday, Jesus had ridden in to Jerusalem to the accolades of the crowds. The Jewish leaders were very, very resentful that Jesus had done this, and gotten the accolades of the crowds.

-The next day, which was Monday, the day before this text, Jesus went into Jerusalem, and went into the temple. He overturned the money changers' tables. He took a whip, and whipped the people, those who were selling items at the tables, driving them out. He said, “You have taken my Father's House, and made it a den of thieves.”

In the meantime, there were little kids running around in the temple yelling to Jesus, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” They were just repeating what they had heard the day before.

The leaders came up to Jesus, and essentially asked, “Don't you hear what those children are saying to you? Tell them to stop.”

Jesus said, “Out of the mouths of babes God has ordained praise. ”
-Then comes Tuesday, the day this text was written. Jesus went to the temple, again. The leaders were fed up with Him. There were other people around Him, when they came up to Jesus, and asked Him, “Tell us, by what authority, by what authority are you doing these things?”

This is the only time in scripture, I think, where Jesus answered a question, with a question. He said, “I will tell by what authority I do these things, if you answer me this question. John, John's ministry (talking about John the Baptist) was it from God, from Heaven, or was it from men?”

These religious leaders go off in a corner, and converse with themselves. They said, “Well, if we say it was from God, then Jesus is going to say, 'Well then, why didn't you believe him?' But, if we say it was from man, then the people are going to say, 'But, John was a great prophet from Heaven.'”

So, they came back to Jesus, and said, “We are not going to answer your question.”

Then Jesus said, “Then neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Then, He told this parable. He said a man had two sons, two children. The father loved his children. He said to his older son, “Go out into my vineyard and work.” (In the Bible, whenever it talks about vineyard, often, so often, it is talking about the Kingdom of God. And, this is really a call to be a part of the Kingdom of God.)

The first son says to the father, “No”. It is not even, “Boy, I have this going on”, or “I have that going on”. But, it was just a point blank “I will not.”

We find Jesus telling us He was referring here to people like the prostitutes, and the tax collectors. These were people who clearly, clearly, when it came to a relationship with God, basically said, No. It was evident. It was open. It was obvious.

What was a tax collector? A tax collector was someone who had been given, by the Romans, the responsibility to collect taxes. In the process of doing so, they were given the liberty of trying to get as much money for themselves, so long as they gave money to the Roman government. They could try to get as much as they wanted to from the people. Tax collectors were known as very greedy people, who would try to, by a show of right, a legal, but loveless way, try to get your property. They were greedy, and they didn't have any qualms about it. These people were sinful. They were sinners.

Then, there were the prostitutes. The prostitutes were breaking which commandments?

-The Sixth Commandment: You shall not commit adultery.

-The Tenth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, manservant, maidservant, or anything that is his. You shouldn't tempt, force, or coax away from your neighbor his wife, or his workers.

These people had no regard for God's wonderful institution of marriage, and His proper creation of wonderful role of sex in marriage. They had trampled it under foot, and they were breaking up families, and marriages. They were hurting, and harming people in their relationships, and the understanding of what marriage is. And, they were making a living at it.

So, a man had a son, and that son said, “No I won't go and work in the vineyards.” He was an open, obvious sinner.

But then, Jesus said, “...but later he changed his mind, and went.” “He repented, and he went, and worked in the vineyard.”

Jesus says these are the prostitutes, and the tax collectors. When John the Baptist came, and he preached to them, their hearts were changed.

John the Baptist preached what?

       -He preached repentance.

       -He pointed out sin.

The Word of God struck the hearts of these prostitutes, and tax collectors, and they regretted the life they had been living. They were sorry. They were sorry they had sinned against God, and sinned against other people. They had hurt their own lives, and they wished their sins were gone, and the guilt was removed. They were troubled over what they had done, and what the results could be. The Word of God worked sorrow in their hearts over sin.

Then, John the Baptist pointed to Jesus, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. These tax collectors, and prostitutes clung to Jesus as the only way their sins could be forgiven, and they could be right with God. Their lives changed. They changed dramatically.

Zacchaeus had been a tax collector. When Jesus came to his house, and forgave his sins, what did Zacchaeus do? Instead of taking from other people, now he began to give. He gave back more than he had ever taken from others. His life changed. He began to bear what are called 'the fruits of repentance'.

Remember the woman who the Bible said was a sinful woman? She lived a sinful lifestyle. We understand that to mean she was a prostitute. Jesus came into the home of a Pharisee. This woman, knowing she had been forgiven by Jesus, washed His feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair. Her life was changed. She wanted to live a life of service to Jesus.

So, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “That is the first son”.

Then, the man had another son. He said to the second son, “Go, and work in the field. Go, and work in my vineyard.”

The second son said, “Yes sir. I will. I will go.”

But, he didn't go, and work in the field.

This, Jesus tells us, represents the Pharisees, and the leaders of the Law, the Teachers of the Law. They claim to have a relationship with God. They claim to love God. They look like believers. They look like followers of God. They went to church. They knew their Bible, and they knew scripture. They lived outwardly decent lives. But, deep in their hearts, these people were filled with sin. They were hateful. They hated Jesus. They felt morally superior. They felt they were much better, much better than many of the other people there. They were arrogant, and proud.

Jesus said, “When John the Baptist preached to the tax collectors, and the prostitutes, their hearts were changed. They repented. But, when you saw that, your heart was not changed. You did not repent.”

And so, these were people who thought they had a relationship with God, but their lives were not defined by what we call repentance.

Now, the question everybody has to ask themselves is, “Which of those two sons am I? Which one am I?”
The truthful answer to that question, the truthful answer is, “I am both of those sons. There are times when God tells me to go, and work in the Kingdom, and I say, 'No', and I just willfully go out, and do things I know I should not do.” That is wrong.

There are other times when I come to church, I sing the hymns, I am on the boards, and on the committees, but secretly in my heart, I bear grudges and resentment. I have no intention of changing those feelings. I harbor those.

We are both of those sons.

Thank God, thank God, there is a third Son is this scripture reading. The third Son is the Son of God. The third Son is the One whose Father told Him to go, and work in the vineyard, and He said, “Yes, I will go.” And then, He did it. He went, and did what His Father told Him to do.

When His Father said, “Leave your throne in Heaven”, His Son said, “Yes I will”. And, He went. He left His throne in Heaven.

When His Father said, “Take on human flesh”, His Son said, “Yes I will take on human flesh”.

When His Father said, “Take their sin as your own”, His Son said, “Yes I will take their sin as my own”.

When His Father said, “Live a perfect life for them”, His Son said, “Yes, I will live a perfect life for them”, and He did.

When His Father said, “Bear my wrath against their sin”, His Son said, “Yes, I will”.

And, He went to the cross, and He bore the wrath, and anger of God. When His Father said, “Pay for their sin”, His Son said, “Yes, I will”. And, He did.

When His Father said, “Wash them with your blood”, His Son said, “Yes, I will”. And He did.

That is the Jesus you and I need.

What is repentance? What is repentance? This is really one of the heart, and core answers of what it means to be a Lutheran, who correctly understands what scripture says regarding living a life of repentance. Here is what it is, and it consists of these three things.

       -Number one, repentance is sorrow over sin, that has been worked in your heart, not on your own. It is not something you create. It is not something you do. It is worked in your heart by the Word of God.

The Holy Spirit

working through the Word

convicts you of sin.

The Holy Spirit, working through the Word, causes you to say, “Why did I do that? That was wrong. I hurt someone else. I hurt myself. I have sinned against God. I wish I had not done that. I regret it. And, I understand of what I deserve because of it. And, what I deserve because of it is very, very troubling. I deserve the eternal wrath of God in Hell, forever.”

The first part of repentance is an understanding that is worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. “I'm sorry. I am sorry.”
       -The second part of repentance is, I believe Jesus forgives my sins. “I believe they are washed away by the blood of the Lamb. I believe God's promise that for the sake of Christ, God loves me. He forgives me. He declares me not guilty.” That is what the Bible says. That is what the promise of God says. “I am saved! I believe I am saved, because of what Jesus did for me. Thank you, God!”

       -That creates, then the third part of repentance in our lives. That is a desire. “I know I am saved. Not because of what I do, but because of what Christ did for me.” It creates in my heart a desire to bear (what scripture calls) fruit in keeping with repentance. “I don't want to sin, anymore. I don't want to. I don't want to have those bad thoughts, anymore. I don't want that. I don't want to say mean things to people, anymore. I don't want to hurt someone's feelings, anymore. I want to live a life of thanksgiving for my Savior. I want to be like Zacchaeus, who gave instead of took, and, like the woman who was forgiven of her sin of adultery, who served Jesus.”

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus speaks this parable to get us to evaluate our own relationship with God. A proper relationship with God is defined by a life of repentance, a daily life of repentance, recognizing as long as I am on this side of eternity, I will be sorry for my sins, which I commit every day. I know I am forgiven, for Christ's sake. And with His help, His help, I am going to live for my Savior.

God grant that to all of us, for Christ's sake.


Glory be the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end.