Obeying His Messengers: Matthew 21:28-32

Focus Passage: Matthew 21:28-32 (NCV)

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.

Read Matthew 21:28-32 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In a brief conversation Jesus has with a group of Pharisees, the gospel of Matthew describes Jesus sharing a parable about a father who asks His two sons to help in the family’s vineyard. One son said he would help but then chose not to go, while the other son said he wouldn’t help, but then chose to go and help.

The key question Jesus asks these Pharisees is which of these sons actually obeyed their father: The one who said they’d help or the one who showed up to help?

At the close of this discussion, Jesus shares a statement that is surprisingly relevant for us today. Matthew tells us that Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you do. 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.” (v. 31-32)

One amazing thing I see in this set of verses is that God sends messengers to help people turn their lives around, and while the religious leaders did not openly oppose John the Baptist, they also didn’t give John’s message any thought. Jesus directly says that “John came to show you the right way to live. You did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him.” (v. 32a)

Because tax collectors and prostitutes believed in John’s message and changed their lives and their focus, Jesus tells the religious leaders that those who were the worst sinners but who have changed their ways will gain entrance into heaven – ahead of those who supposedly lived close to God.

This should be a challenging message for people who call themselves followers of Jesus. When God sends us messengers to help us live better and grow closer to God, we would be wise to obey the instructions God’s messenger gives. Otherwise, we might end up in the same position these religious leaders ended up in when they rejected John’s message for themselves and ultimately missed out on seeing Jesus as God’s Messiah.

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