Christ completes his Olivet Discourse with two more parables and a passage of future judgment. The need to watch and be ready is combined with some thoughts on what “being ready” means in day-to-day life.
Jesus enters Jerusalem where his authority is challenged. This begins the last stage of his earthly ministry.
Matthew 21.mp3 (Jake Medlong)
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.
I count it as a privilege to serve you, so help me always to be content in my service. Help me also to be content with what you bless me with in the way of wages or rewards. I know that all that you give me, especially that which will come my way in eternity is completely undeserved.
Help me not to look at the service or the wages of others in such a way as to make me envious of them. I can easily forget that you are always fair and even generous when I fall into improper comparisons.
In the deepest sense it is really not possible for me to see what others experience as they serve you. I cannot see their inner conflicts or background struggles, nor can they fully see mine. In the end, all of us truly need to trust you and know that all that we have from you is all of grace.
Keep us ever mindful of your goodness and grace toward us.
The Parable of the Sower is one of the best-known parables of Jesus and one of the most important. By it we can gauge our response to God’s word. Here it is,
3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”
And here is the divinely inspired explanation of it according to Jesus himself.
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The lesson is simple. The same word yields different results depending on the soil it lands in. We want to be like that good soil.
Some seed was devoured by birds. This person did not immediately understand the word and evil one snatched away what was sown in his heart. To counteract this possibility we have to be prepared to do a little work to make sure we are getting out of the word what God has put into it. A little thought, a little study, a little reflection and conversation with others can go a long way. We must make sure the evil one cannot devour the word once we have received it. If we are attentive, hold on to that word at all costs and do not ignore it, we will forever avoid the first pitfall.
Some seed sprang up immediately but had no depth. Initial enthusiasm is no guarantee of long-term success. What happens when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word? Are we prepared to endure the rejection and ridicule that come along with a deep and firmly rooted faith? Perhaps the main thing to know about difficulties is that we must expect them. We Christians need to expect trials as a result of our commitment to the word of God. Stand firm. Do not waver. Hold on tightly and never let go of Jesus and the walk with him that is continuously fueled by the word. If we can survive these most certain troubles, we will avoid the second pitfall.
There is one pitfall left and i may be the most insidious. The thorns, which represent the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches, can choke out a well-informed and firmly-rooted faith. In this case a person may say,”Sure, I believe,” but the fruit of their faith is simply absent. Zoom in a little closer and we will likely find that this person’s faith is not their first priority. One care or another gets in the way. There is some status symbol, a relationship, a reputation among certain people who care little for the things of God, or of course, the next dollar. Any of these can stand in the way of wholehearted devotion to the word. Fruit gets choked out and never appears.
Put the word first and fruit will come naturally. Decide right now to not let anything or anyone stand in the way of it. Others may come along if they choose, but we must determine not to be distracted from our Number One Priority – which is our faith. No earthly thing compares.
Pay careful attention, stand firm under pressure and stay focused when distractions assault us. This is how we avoid the three main pitfalls and diligently prepare our soil. The fruit will now come if we are patient. We may be surprised at how much there eventually is. Some produce a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
The King and His Kingdom are both coming. Jesus explains how we should prepare.
Matthew 23-25.mp3 (Dan Kane)