Which Son Do You Identify With?

19th Sunday after Pentecost

Which Son Do You Identify With?

Text: Matthew 21:28-32


Ooh their blood was boiling.  They already despised Jesus, but now the chief priests and elders of the people—they were really hot.  The day before the people had made a crazy ruckus in the city.  They were shouting and waving palm branches and treating Jesus like a king as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Later that same Palm Sunday Jesus entered the temple, turned over the tables , of the money lenders, and drove out all the people who turned that holy house into a den of robbers.

Now it was the next day, Monday of Holy Week, and Jesus was back in the temple teaching.  The chief priests and elders nearly had steam shooting out of their ears.  “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked.  They just didn’t get it.  Their hearts were hardened with hate and unbelief.  So Jesus told them a series of parables.  The first one is before us today.

It’s a simple and short parable.  There was a father who had two boys.  Certainly he loved them.  He addressed them each as “Child,” or “Son.”  But like all parents, this father expected his dear children to work.  They couldn’t just sit and play Super Mario Brothers or watch Scooby Doo all day.  They had work to do for the family.  You might expect your children to clean their rooms or do the dishes or mow the lawn.  In an agricultural society, these two sons were asked to go and work in the vineyard.

The first one refused.  I will not,” he said, giving the response that we parents dread hearing: “NO!”  But later on he changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard.  The second son did just the opposite.  He answered, I will, sir.”  If only!  If only our children would be asked to do something and would always respond with a, “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am” like this son.  However, though he talked a good talk, the second son didn’t walk the walk.  He never went to work in the vineyard.

A very simple story.  Very easy to understand.  Very easy for any parent to relate to.  Jesus continued then with an equally simple question in verse 31:  Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

Of course, neither son had a perfect response.  The first son was like the stubborn child asked to clean his room but pouts and says, “NO!”  The second son was like the conniving child that says what a parent wants to hear but never does it.  However, though the first son was disrespectful and defiant, he changed his mind and actually obeyed his father.  The second son was a conniving liar that defiantly and blatantly disobeyed his father.

The Jewish leaders came to the same obvious conclusion we would.  Who did what the father wanted?  The first one.  Though he went astray with his refusal he had a change of heart and obeyed.  The second one both spoke empty words and never obeyed.

Jesus told this simple story with the simple question and answer because he wanted to make a simple yet strong point.  Listen to his words:  I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you to show the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did.  And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”

In their culture tax collectors and prostitutes were about as low as you could go in society’s view.  Perhaps we might say the same in our culture, or maybe today Jesus would mention pedophiles and sleaze-ball politicians and dirty lawyers.  Jesus is talking about people that were viewed as the worst of the worst.

But says these “sinners” were like the first son.  They disobeyed and defied God.  They refused to listen and did whatever they wanted.  But when John came and preached about righteousness and called people to repent of sin, they had a change of heart.  They repented, turned back to the Lord, and changed their ways—just like the first son.

These Jewish leaders though were like the second son.  They talked a good talk.  They did all kinds of things to act and look pleasing to God.  But  they didn’t walk the walk.  When John preached, or when Jesus himself preached, they did not listen, did not repent, and did not obey the Lord—just like the second son.

The obvious, stinging point?  Jesus was telling these leaders that God was more pleased with the tax collectors and the prostitutes than he was with them!  It was a major call to repentance—to change their hearts and turn to their Savior who was standing right in front of them!


Now the Word of God is living and active.  It still speaks to us today, and thus, Jesus is speaking this story to you today.  So here is the big question for you to consider today:  Which Son Do You Identify With?

The first son was was very defiant and disobedient at first.  Even though his own father asked him to do something, he refused and did whatever he wanted.  But later he realized his error and came back to his father and obeyed.

Jesus equated this son with the tax collectors and prostitutes—people who didn’t care much for God.  They refused to listen to their Father in heaven and did whatever they wanted.  Blatantly and obviously they broke the 6th and 7th commandments, obsessed with adultery and money and giving their hearts over to lust and greed.  But later they repented and turned back to the Lord.

Do you identify with that son?  Have you done some things in your life that might be considered rather big or blatant sins?  Greed and lust are just as dangerous today as they were back then.  Have those sins captivated your heart and led you to bigger, blatant sins against the 6th or 7th commandments?  Have you had problems with lust or adultery; or greed, cheating, and swindling?

Maybe there are other sins that weigh heavily on your heart.  That thing you did when you were 18.  How you acted back in college.  (How you acted last week!)  Those sins you hide under lock and key hoping that no one ever finds out.

Maybe you identify with the first son because you have sinned and sinned mightily in your life.  You know those sins are wrong now.  You’ve repented and confessed your sins.  You’ve changed your ways.  You’ve turned back to God now.  But those sins still lurk and loom in your past.

Or do you identify with the second son?  By every outward appeared he seemed like the ideal child.  He talked a big talk, but never walked the walk.   Jesus equated that son with the Jewish leaders who looked very religious by every outward appearance, but inwardly they refused to listen to God.

Do you identify with that son?  I’m guessing you call yourself a Christian.  After all, you are here today.  And if someone asked you, “What church do you go to?” you would probably have no problem saying right away, “I go to Christ the King” or some other church.  By every outward appearance, you might seem like an ideal child of God.  Even the rest of the world thinks you’re a Christian.

But for all of that big talk, maybe you don’t walk the walk.  Read your Bible at home?  “Who has time for that?”  Come to church every Sunday?  “Who does that anymore?”  Give your first and best to God?  “Yeah right!  With all the bills I have?”

Or maybe your sin is more serious than that.  Maybe you look like a pious Pharisee or Sadducee on the outside but act like the tax collector or prostitute.  Maybe you have everyone fooled thinking you are an obedient child of God, but in your private life you really act like a deviant child of this sinful world.

So Which Son Do You Identify With?  I know how I would answer.  Am I the first son with the guilt of many sins looming from the past or am I the second son who looks and talks like a child of God but still disobeys and defies?  Am I the first or second son?  My answer is:  “Yes!”

I identify with both, and I’m sure you do too.  I’ve sinned so much in my life.  You have too.  If people knew all the things we’ve done in the past they would probably view us like the lowlifes of society that Jesus describes.  That guilt is always hanging over our heads.

But we can also identify with the second son.  All of us in this room call ourselves Christians.  We hear God speak in his Word or on Sunday and we say, “Yes, Lord.  I’ll do that!”  We talk a good talk.  But so often we fail to walk the walk.  We might look like Christians and obedient children of God to others, but the way we live our lives can be quite un-Christian.

Jesus tells a simple parable with a strong and sharp point.  And as we listen, we come to some clear and obvious conclusions of our own:  We can identify with both sons.  We’re sinners.  We’re unworthy of our Father in heaven.


Thankfully there’s another son in the story.  Did you see him?  While we shamefully hang our heads knowing we could identify with both the first son and the second son in the story, we can rejoice that there is a third son for us to identify with—the one who is telling the story.  The Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Jesus was like neither son.  The first one refused but later changed his mind.  The second one talked a good game but never followed through.  That’s not Jesus.  Jesus is the perfect Son.  The Father sent him to be the Messiah and he said, “Yes, Father, I will” and he went and did it.  The Father demanded that he be holy like he is—the same demands he has for us—and the Son said, “Yes, Father, I will,” and he went and did it.  Then the Father asked his Son to be the payment for all sin, to die as a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the world and the Son said, “Yes, Father, I will.  Not my will, but your will be done.”

Jesus is the perfect Son of God.  He was always willing.  He always obeyed.  He even obeyed with a humble and joyful heart, not begrudgingly or reluctantly like a pouting child cleaning his room while muttering under his breath.

Jesus did everything his Father asked.  He did it perfectly.  And he did it for you and for me.  Jesus became the ultimate Son with perfect obedience so that something righteous could cover over our great disobedience.  He became the worthy Son in the place of us unworthy children.

His willing obedience even includes that unimaginable love—that he would lay down his life for people who don’t deserve it.  I know what would happen if one of my kids had an awful day at school and the other a great day, but I took the troublemaker to McDonald’s instead of the one who obeyed.  “That’s unfair!” the “deserving” child would shout.

But Jesus never did.  Though he was the obedient, deserving Son and we have been the disobedient and undeserving, he never complained.  He never argued or pouted.  He willingly obeyed his Father and lovingly gave his life to pay for our sins. The perfect Son of God lived a perfect life and made a perfect payment in death to become our perfect Savior.

With his forgiveness and righteousness covering us, he is now the Son we can identify with now—the Son of God.  Our heavenly Father comes to us, his dear children, and asks us to obey him and work in his vineyard (his kingdom).  But instead of seeing our past sins like the first son or instead of seeing our big talk and no follow through like the second son, our Father looks at us and sees his Son.  He sees us clothed in Christ’s righteousness.  He sees us as obedient children.  He sees us as children that please him so much.


Are we still going to struggle with this though?  Will there still be times that we act like the first child?  Will there still be times that our Father speaks and we defiantly say, “No way!” commit some big and foolish sin, and come crawling back in repentance later?  Will that still happen?  Yes.  And will there still be times that our Father speaks and we give the empty promise, “Yes, Lord, I will do that!” only to defiantly never follow through and do what our Father asked?  Yes.  That will happen too.

This side of heaven there will always be times that we could identify with the sins of either son or both as we struggle against our sinful flesh.  But this side of heaven and for eternity we will also always be able to identify with the Son who told the story in the first place—Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He is our perfect Savior and perfect substitute who pleased his Father with his life and death so that his Father could be pleased with us.

Which Son Do You Identify With?  By God’s grace and by Christ’s forgiveness, we can identify with the third son—the one who is telling the story—the Son of God.  Our heavenly Father thundered down from heaven twice and said: “This is my Son whom I love.   With him I am well pleased.”  He was speaking about Jesus.  By God’s grace and with his forgiveness, he was also talking about you.  So go, listen to your Father.  Obey him.  Go work in his vineyard.



About Pastor Phil Huebner

Pastor. Missionary. Principal. Husband. Father. Serving in love as each. http://www.ctkpalmcoast.com

Posted on October 20, 2014, in Church, Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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