Since we are in the midst of the forty days of Lent (March 6 – April 18), i thought it would be timely to look at four truths that Jesus taught His disciples and those who crowded around Him during that final week leading up to His crucifixion. i plan to look at one truth each week for the next four weeks, starting with today.
It was Tuesday, the third day of the week leading up to His crucifixion. Jesus had arrived in the temple to teach as was His practice. The religious leaders were irate over Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple the day before. Through that action, He had clearly challenged their authority and they were attempting to dispute His. The problem was that they were ill-equipped for the challenge. They exerted their authority over the people through the pretense of their outward piety. There was not any real substance to their relationship with God. They were just going through the motions – speaking one way and acting in another. So Jesus confronted them with this parable:
A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. “Which of the two obeyed his father?
(Matthew 21:28-31 NLT)
As Jesus later explained, the first son represented the tax collectors and prostitutes – those who the religious leaders deemed to be unworthy. The first son initially rejected his father and refused to go out into the vineyard. But later in the day, he changed his mind. He repented and, in so doing, made a 180-degree turn and did what the father told him to do. The second son told his father that he would work in the vineyard, but, in fact, did not do so. He represented the religious leaders, who on the outside wanted everyone to believe that they were obedient sons of God, whereas in reality they had rebelled against Him and rejected His word. Jesus left no doubt with the religious leaders, as to who was who in the parable. Although the religious leaders answered rightly as to which son truly obeyed the father, instead of being convicted of their sin, they took even greater offense from Jesus’ remarks.
This parable – like all of Scripture – is as relevant today as it was the day Jesus taught it. There are still many who want to give an outward appearance of godliness. Like the religious leaders that Jesus was confronting, they know the jargon. They know the rituals. They know how to “act”. They know what to say. They are active in church. They may possibly even be leaders in the church. But in all reality, there has been no transformation in their lives. The apostle Paul cautioned Timothy that in the last days, the numbers of these people within the church would be on the increase. He said, “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that” (2 Timothy 3:5).
Paul described that transformation clearly to the church in Corinth when he wrote, “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT).
A number of years ago, our family moved from our homeplace of Southeast Florida to our now adopted home of Central Virginia. We tell folks that we moved “south” to Virginia. Even though we may not have done so geographically, culturally we did. For the first time in our lives, we lived in the “proper south”. We quickly observed that unlike South Florida, there are many more outward signs of Christianity in the “proper south”. For our Virginian friends, i should explain that there is little religious pretense in South Florida. In Virginia, we observed churches on almost every corner. But we quickly came to recognize that though there may be many more who “act religious”, many have yet to experience “new life” in Christ.
i am reminded of two good friends who, when i first met them during our time together in West Palm Beach, didn’t know one another. Their names are Mike and Bill. i met them both within a matter of days after they had surrendered their respective lives to Christ. One was in his mid-thirties and the other in his forties. Both of them had lived their younger lives apart from a relationship with Jesus. Both of them had the scars to prove it. At the time, neither one of them had yet learned the religious jargon. They were both as new in their faith as one can possibly be. But though they didn’t know all of the “right “words, there was a spirit about them that reflected a changed life – a life that reflected Christ. There wasn’t anything contrived. There was a genuine, authentic and transparent transformation. And i am grateful to be able to tell you, over twenty years later, that genuine and authentic walk with Christ continues to be reflected through the lives of both of these men. These guys were transformed by Christ into “new persons” – scars and all!
i pray that has been your experience. i pray that, like the “first son” in Jesus’ parable, you have repented of your sin, surrendered your life to Christ and your life has been transformed by the power of the gospel – scars and all! The first son may have come “late”, but gratefully he came. The second son may have given the right answer, but his life never aligned with the words that he spoke.
The religious leaders walked away from Jesus that day – offended, bitter and hard-hearted. They had the external façade of all the religious trappings without anything real inside. How many of us have made that same mistake? Jesus didn’t come to simply redecorate our outward appearance; He came to make us new – a new creation that praises and worships Him authentically and wholeheartedly.
Earlier in the week when the Pharisees had told Jesus to rebuke the people for praising Him, He had replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). Would you like a good test to know which brother you are? If we are like the first brother, our spirits will cry out in genuine praise and worship of the One who has redeemed us and saved us through His shed blood on the cross. If however our hearts remain cold and we stand silently by, as we look back on the cross of Christ, we are that second son.
Which son are you? Which son would you like to be? It’s not yet too late in the day.
Excerpts taken from Chapter 6 of Taking Up The Cross