Flashback Episode — Empty Promises vs. Obedience: Matthew 21:28-32

Read the Transcript

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!

Flashback Episode: 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.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.