Paul leaves Ephesus to encourage churches around the Aegean. On his way to Jerusalem, Paul takes time out to meet with the Ephesian elders.
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After entering Jerusalem, Jesus told a parable about two sons.
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”
Jesus was speaking here to the chief priests and elders of the people who had just questioned his authority (v.23). He explained this parable without any request to do so, making sure that his audience knew exactly what he was saying by it.
The lesson has to do with doing God’s will in the end, as a final outcome. Many people express good intentions. The chief priests and elders would have been perceived as just the kind of people who were known for doing God’s will. If that were the case, they should have been the first in line expressing their repentance and receiving the baptism of John.
When we understand the nature of sin, we realize that we are all in need of repentance. That sense of guilt would be even more pronounced when coming face-to-face with the likes of John the Baptist. Yet these guys are so numb that they even question the authority of Christ. Their relationship with God was little more than a nice show, having no humility or sense of need.
On the other hand, tax collectors like Matthew our author and prostitutes saw their sin. Like the first son in the parable, they did not do the will of the Father from the beginning, but later changed their mind. They repented at John’s preaching and followed Jesus with transformed lives. In a culture obsessed as ours is with not making anyone feel bad, let’s take note that as far as Jesus is concerned a little guilt can be a good thing. There is no repentance without it.