Empty Promises vs. Obedience: Matthew 21:28-32

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As we move through Matthew’s gospel, and now specifically the part of Matthew’s gospel that focuses in on Jesus’ week leading up to the cross, we discover a question Jesus asks the religious leaders as He is in the temple early on during that week. While Jesus draws out a conclusion that challenges the religious leaders on this question, the theme Jesus shared is relevant for all of us living today as well.

Let’s read and discover the question Jesus asked and the challenge Jesus gave the religious leaders. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 21, and we will read it from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 28, Jesus directs His message at the religious leaders, saying:

28 “Tell me what you think about this: A man had two sons. He went to the first son and said, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.’ 29 The son answered, ‘I will not go.’ But later the son changed his mind and went. 30 Then the father went to the other son and said, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.’ The son answered, ‘Yes, sir, I will go and work,’ but he did not go. 31 Which of the two sons obeyed his father?”

The priests and leaders answered, “The first son.”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you do. 32 John came to show you the right way to live. You did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Even after seeing this, you still refused to change your ways and believe him.

In this short passage, we cannot escape this huge challenge that the son who ultimately changed his mind and decided to go help his father was the one who obeyed. In this short illustration, the son who obeyed was not the one who said he would obey, but the one who actually followed through with action regardless of his words.

While I’m confident that the ideal would be for a person to promise they would do something and then also follow through with it, if given the choice between someone who says they would help but doesn’t follow through verses someone who doesn’t promise but then changes their mind, who would you choose? If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you’d rather the person who actually came to help rather than the one who gave you an empty promise.

It is the same way with God! In Jesus’ challenge to the religious leaders, He draws on the message and ministry of John the Baptist. John came challenging everyone to repent and return to God. Many of those who were seen as the worst in society decided to listen and obey John’s message and they repented and returned to God. In contrast, the religious leaders also listened to John’s challenge for them, but they ignored the message God was giving them through John.

In the case of John the Baptist’s ministry, it was effective reaching the people we might have least expected. John’s ministry affected and effected the least religious people he spoke to while he was largely ignored by the people who should have been paying the greatest attention.

God has this same challenge for all of His people living throughout the various points in history. While I’m sure God would want His people to both promise to follow Him and also follow through with the promises they make, I’m sure that if given the choice between someone who repents and ultimately obeys, verses someone who makes an empty promise, God would rather the person who obeyed, even if they didn’t make the promise they would.

In our own lives, when people bring us messages and challenges relating to our spiritual lives and our relationship with God, will we listen to their challenge or will we ignore it? Will we admit we have an issue or will we choose to discredit the messenger? Ultimately, will we decide to change our ways, or will we ignore the message and keep doing what we’ve always done?

God has many ways of getting through to people. Sometimes He uses other people to challenge us. Sometimes He uses a bad situation to try to wake us up. Sometimes, He even lets disaster happen to help free us from something that wasn’t benefitting our lives.

Jesus loves us so much that He came to take our punishment onto Himself. God gives us the freedom to choose to accept Jesus’ gift, or to reject it. Accepting Jesus’ gift doesn’t eliminate disasters from coming into our lives any more than rejecting Jesus’ gift would bring disaster into our lives. However, when disasters do come into your life, would you want someone or something to hold onto to, helping you through the challenge or disaster, or would you rather face the challenge alone?

Rejecting Jesus brings the ultimate disaster into our lives, because rejecting Jesus ultimately forfeits eternity in heaven. While some people might claim they accept Jesus, the real measure of accepting Jesus isn’t an empty promise that you follow Him. Accepting Jesus means actually obeying Him and letting God into your life to help you be and become more like Him.

Jesus’ challenge to the religious leaders is the same challenge He gives to us. When God sends things into our lives to point us back to Him, will we turn back to Him or will we ignore the message? When God let’s challenges come into our lives, will we choose to lean on God for help navigating the challenge, or will we try to move forward alone? When God lets disaster into our lives to try to wake us up out of our laziness, will we turn back to God or will we choose to be selfish and mad at Him for what happened?

God loves us. Jesus came to take the punishment for our sins. The choice is ours whether we will live our lives with and for God, or whether we will make empty promises and decide to go our own way instead.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to obey Him rather than make empty promises in your life. Choose to place your hope, trust, faith, and belief in Jesus and accept His gift of His perfect, sinless life in exchange for your imperfect, sinful life. With the gift of Jesus’ life, you have the assurance of salvation because Jesus’ sacrifice, His death and His resurrection, prove for us that His life is worthy of resurrecting, and when we accept Jesus’ life in place of ours, we will be worthy of resurrection as well!

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each and every day. Choose to purposefully grow closer to God each day through prayer and Bible study and take everything you learn in life and filter it through the spiritual lens of the Bible. God has given us everything we need to know how to be saved, and everything we need to know about His character in the pages of the Bible. It is our challenge to learn and apply what He wants to teach us in the pages of His Word.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, or chicken out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 38: In a short challenge Jesus gives the religious leaders, discover why God sees obedience as more important than empty promises, and how the religious leaders in the first century fall on the wrong side of Jesus’ challenge.

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One thought on “Empty Promises vs. Obedience: Matthew 21:28-32

  1. As concerning the Word of life, Luke 10 section 25-28 says: On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
    Luke 18 section 18-25 says: A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
    Matthew 5 section 43-48 says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
    In Old Testament, the Jewish people and their ancestors were given the Law to observe. First, What Adam and Eve should observe was that they could not eat the fruits from the tree of wisdom. Then, their son Cain was told that he should not kill. As sins became increased, the laws were also added more. Up to the generation of Moses, the Law in Old Testament was given to Israelites. We know that the Law is good and the Law is used to punish people who commit sins, but people cannot obey the Law because the sinful spirits are in people. Even that we know stealing and giving false testimony are sinful, but greedy and pride spirits in us drive us to do sinful things. So as Old Testament prophesied we need to get rid of our sinful nature from our spirits.
    Jeremiah 31 section 31-33 says: “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
    Ezekiel 36 section 24-27 says: “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
    The prophecies are fulfilled when Jesus begins to teach love. The two greatest commandments are ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Love is above the Law and if people have love they are free from the law of sin and death. People who are full of love will not think about stealing or giving false testimony but are merciful and they feed hungry people or give thirsty people something to drink or invite strangers in or clothe people who need clothes. The Law is for people who commit sins. Nobody will say that he will get reward because he does not steal before. But love is the grace we get. And with love we will get eternal life.
    Romans 13 section 8-10 says: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
    Luke 17 section 20-21 says: Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say,’ Here it is,’ or ‘ There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
    John 4 section 23-24 says: Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”