THE PARABLE OF THE TWO SONS
Key Verse: 21:31b
"Jesus said to them, `I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and
the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.'"
1. Read verses 28-32. To whom was Jesus speaking this parable? How is
it related to the previous passage? (18-27)
2. Review the father's conversation with the first son (29-30). What
kind of person is he? Can you think of anyone in the Bible or
anywhere else who first said "no" but later obeyed?
3. Review the conversation with the second son (30). What kind of
person is he? Why did he agree to go in the first place? Why did he
back out? What question did Jesus ask? What was the answer?
4. How did Jesus apply this parable to the tax collectors, prostitutes
and the religious leaders? How had they responded to the preaching
of John the Baptist? Why is this important?
5. What can we learn here about Jesus from Jesus' parable? With whom do
In the last passage we learned from Jesus the power of faith. If we
have faith in Jesus, we can grab a mountain and throw it into the sea.
As God promised Abraham, we can be great and be a source of blessing if
we have faith in Jesus. But if we have no faith, we must live in this
world with only our physical strength, and life is suffering itself. It
is not easy, however, to live by faith because after the Industrial
Revolution the people of the world began to live absolutely by human
reason and claimed unlimited human freedom and personal rights. It
sounds good. But when they do so, they abandon God and become godless.
As a result, immorality and violence rule humankind. Jesus' teaching
about mountain-moving faith is indeed inspiring to us. Today, Jesus
laments over the unrepentant Jewish religious leaders.
First, those who said "no" but finally obeyed (28-31a). Look at verses
28-29. "What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went
to the first and said, Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' `I will
not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went." These
verses tell us that one son, who said "no" to his father's instruction,
finally repented and obeyed his father's instruction. Then the father
went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, "I will,
sir," but he did not follow his father's instruction (30). Jesus asked
the Jewish religious leaders, "Which of the two did what his father
wanted?" "The first," they answered. From this point, Jesus wanted to
talk about the unrepentant Jewish religious leaders and sinners who had
been helpless in their sin but had repented in Jesus and became the
children of God. Let's think about the one who said "no" and then
changed his mind and obeyed his father's instruction. If we are going
to talk about ordinary modern man, this lecture would be impossible to
construct. On the other hand, if we think about Bible stories, we find
many of those who at first said "no" to God's command but finally
repented and fulfilled the mission through much suffering. Let's think
about some exemplary persons in the Bible who said "no" but finally
obeyed God's command.
Moses. God had a clear purpose to make his chosen people Israel a
kingdom of priests and a holy nation. For this, God sent them as slaves
to the Egyptian Empire. God trained them under godless peoples' cruelty
and no mercy so that they might come to know God's mercy that he wants
to save the whole world through his chosen people Israel. When God saw
his people, they had been suffering too long, and God's heart was so
painful to hear their groaning and crying out for help because of their
slavery. Finally their groaning and crying out went up to God. God
heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with
Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned
about them. God visited Moses. He was born a Hebrew. Once he was a
prince of the Egyptian Empire. But he sided with his own people when he
saw a Hebrew being beaten up by an Egyptian. He delivered a deathly
punch to the Egyptian and ran away to Midian. He became a criminal
refugee and lived in Jethro's house for forty years. Now he was eighty
years old. The angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire. God
called to him from within a bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here
I am." Then God said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face,
because he was afraid to look at God. The Lord said, "I have indeed
seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out
because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their
suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the
Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and
spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honeythe home of the
Canaanites...So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people
the Israelites out of Egypt" (Ex 3:7-10). Moses' life as a political
criminal had lasted forty years. In his mind Moses thought he had
nothing to do with the world. He looked like a man of sorrow and
despair. What was Moses' answer to God? Moses said to God, "Who am I,
that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Ex
3:11) God tried to persuade him, but he made many excuses. He had no
confidence that he could persuade King Pharaoh of Egypt. He had no
confidence that his people would follow him. Moses lived among seven
women -- his wife and six sisters-in-law. The sisters talked too much.
So he did not speak and became a man of slow speech. He said to the
Lord, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor
since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue"
(Ex 4:10). God said to him, "I will be with you." Finally Moses
repented and went to Pharaoh to deliver his 600,000 people. When he
thought about himself, he was too weak to carry out God's mission. But
when he accepted God's promise that God would be with him, he could
challenge King Pharaoh of Egypt and he won over him. In this way the
Exodus was possible.
Isaiah. As we know, Isaiah was one of the greatest prophets. As long as
King Uzziah was on the throne, his national situation was safe. But
when King Uzziah died, Isaiah felt that the bell was tolling not only
for King Uzziah but also for the nation of Israel. He was in deep
despair. By chance, when he went into the temple of God, he saw the
Lord seated on the throne, high and exalted. And his angels were there,
covering their feet, singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isa 6:3). When King Uzziah died,
Isaiah despaired, and a pessimistic idea ruled and overruled his heart.
So he wanted to live as an ordinary person as long as he lived. Then he
heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go
for us?" And he said, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isa 6:8) Then God said to
him, "The people you have to shepherd are all rebellious. They are not
willing to understand. Their hearts are calloused. Their eyes are
closed." Then Isaiah said, "For how long, O Lord?" The Lord answered,
"The holy seed will be the stump in the land" (Isa 6:11-13). It is
indeed amazing. Isaiah really wanted to live as an ordinary man. But
when God called him to go to his rebellious people and proclaim God, he
changed his irresponsible mind and went to his people. Since then, he
suffered more than enough in the course of living with God's mission.
Jonah. Jonah was a patriotic prophet. He wanted to evangelize his own
people, Israel, but not the Gentiles. Once, God ordered him to go to
Nineveh. But he went the other way. Then a whale swallowed him up.
After three days it vomited him out onto the seashore of Nineveh. Jonah
proclaimed God's message. Then the people of Nineveh repented and cried
covering their heads with ashes (Jnh 3:3-5). Jonah was very unhappy
about that, thinking, "Why should these people be saved?" Whether he
wanted to or not, God helped him to obey his mission.
Here we learn that God made us to do something good. God also made
us to carry out his mission for the purpose of fulfilling his world
salvation plan. We are all made by God with the dust of the ground and
by God putting his life in us. As long as we live, we must listen to
God. As the first son listened to his father, we also must listen to
our God, God Almighty.
Second, Jesus laments over the unrepentant Jewish leaders (31). Look at
verse 31. "`Which of the two did what his father wanted?' `The first,'
they answered. Jesus said to them, `I tell you the truth, the tax
collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of
you.'" This is Jesus' lamentation over his chosen people. God brought
them out of Egypt and told them his specific plan for them. Exodus
19:5-6a says, "Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out
of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole
earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy
nation." When God brought them out of Egypt, he wanted to make them a
kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Simply speaking, God wanted to
make them a shepherd nation for the whole world. But they only enjoyed
flowing honey and milk; they abandoned God and followed the culture of
the Canaanites. So God had to drag them to the Babylonian Empire for
the purpose of training them again. After that, God again wanted to
make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. God hoped that they
would be Bible teachers and shepherds for all the Gentiles, until the
Gentiles came to know God. But they abandoned God's purpose for them.
Jesus was extremely sorry. When he saw them, they had become like an
old wineskin. They were useless to God. They were not a kingdom of
priests and a holy nation, but they had become like stock market
runners, standing all day long on the floor of the stock exchange doing
their best to make a little more money. God's purpose for them to
become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation had been clear to them
for a long time. But they did not change their minds. They were all the
more earthbound and attached to the things of the world. So Jesus was
very sorry that the leaders of his chosen people had become so
corrupted and violent toward his people. Furthermore, they did not
proclaim God's word to all nations.
Third, the repentance of sinners (31). Look at verse 31b. "Jesus said
to them, `I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes
are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.'" As we studied, when
John the Baptist proclaimed the coming of the Lord, so many people came
to him. Then John warned them, "Who warned you to flee from the coming
wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance...The ax is already at
the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire." Then the crowds exclaimed,
"What shall we do then?" John answered, "The man who has two tunics
should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do
the same." The tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they
asked, "What should we do?" "Don't collect any more than you are
required to," he told them. Even some soldiers asked him, "And what
should we do?" John replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse
people falselybe content with your pay" (Lk 3:8-14). The crowds beat
their chests and cried loudly, repenting their sins. Then John baptized
them with the water of the Jordan River. It was indeed a beautiful
When we study the gospels, we are greatly frustrated knowing that
the chosen people, the Jewish religious leaders, wanted more and more
to kill Jesus. But so many sinners repented at the proclamation of
Jesus concerning the kingdom of God. So Jesus said, "I tell you the
truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom
of God ahead of you."
Among the sinners, Matthew was an outstanding sinner. His original
name was "Levi, the tax collector." In that hard situation under the
Roman yoke, he studied, passed the CPA exam and became a tax collector.
At that time a tax collector was known as a quisling and a renegade to
his suffering people. But it did not matter to Matthew whatever they
said to him. He wanted to make money. For this, he cheated his
conscience and hardened his heart and began to extort money from his
suffering people. Once he was eating a peanut butter sandwich in a tax
collector's booth. Jesus knew his loneliness. Jesus knew that people
treated Levi like a leper. Jesus knew that Levi the tax collector was
self-seeking and rejected the truth and followed evil, and that he was
tortured by God's wrath and anger. His soul was troubled and his
distress was greater than the amount of his money. Jesus knew that he
was a very bright and promising young man. But he was going astray
without a shepherd. So he knocked at the door of the tax collector's
booth and said to him, "Follow me" (Mt 9:9). Jesus believed that Levi
would follow him because he had experienced enough mental torture and
unbearable loneliness. When Jesus said to him, "Follow me," he
immediately followed. "Follow me" meant to give up his job and be one
of Jesus' disciples. In the gospel accounts Matthew didn't say much.
But he grew until he could write the Sermon on the Mount: "You are the
light of the world. You are the salt of the earth" (Mt 5:13,14). He was
a despicable tax collector. But he was changed and became one of Jesus'
disciples. He became a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. As we
know, there was a prostitute named Mary Magdalene (Mt 28:1). We don't
know whether she became a prostitute in her own will or she was sold by
an evil pimp. Anyway, she became the most pitiful person in the world.
To a woman, purity and virginity is the same as her life. But Mary
became a prostitute. Once she heard that Jesus came to her town for
dinner in a rich Pharisee's house. She took the perfume earned by
selling her body and poured it on Jesus' head and feet. Thus she made
Jesus awkward before the Pharisees, and she freely touched Jesus' feet.
The Pharisees were indignant and despised Jesus. But Jesus was happy to
see that she did so as the evidence of her repentance (Lk 7:47). We
read about the women who followed Jesus in Luke 8:2-3. It says, "...and
also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary
(called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife
of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others.
These women were helping to support them out of their own means." These
verses describe that Jesus and his disciples were largely supported by
converted woman sinners. And Mary Magdalene was one of them.
Fourth, changed people and unchanged people (32). Look at verse 32.
"For John came to you to show you 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." This
verse tells us that the chosen people heard the voice of John the
Baptist. They also heard the way of righteousness. But they did not
believe John. They were unbelieving people. Their outward appearances
and positions looked decent and pious. But their inner men were
totally corrupted and useless. On the other hand, those who had lived
without Jesus sinned much and became useless. But when they came to
Jesus, their sins were forgiven and they became new women and men, and
they could have a living hope, eternal life and the kingdom of God in
their souls. Those who changed rejoiced in their lives, whatever
situation they were in.
There are people who, like Abraham, call on the name of God while
living in this money-oriented world. However, most people say they are
Christians, but live in despair because they do not have hope or
eternal life or the kingdom of God in their souls. We must know that
many outwardly good-looking white American girls who seem to be
untouchable, are terrible sinners and are crying out for help. So we
must have hope of planting the word of God in them so that they may
live by the grace of God.
Today we studied about the professional religious leaders and the
terrible sinners living in this world. The professional religious
leaders did not repent and they did not enter the kingdom of God. But
the notorious sinners repented and entered first into the kingdom of