3rd Week of Advent
Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:28-32
We’re going to be pretty surprised in eternity when we see who makes it to Heaven and who does not! In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of a man who had two sons. Both sons were asked to go out into the vineyard in order to work. The first son refused to do his father’s will. He said, “No way!” from the very start. Later on, however, he changed his mind and went. When the second son received the same order, he immediately complied. “Sure, Dad! I’ll do whatever you want!” And yet, in the end he did not go; he did not do his father’s will.
Jesus taught this parable as a warning to show us that God isn’t looking for outward forms of religion and empty professions of faith; He is looking for genuine repentance from acts that lead to spiritual death, obedience to His Word and His will, and a genuine conversion.
Repentance is the way of righteousness, not outward forms of religion. The tax collectors and prostitutes repented; the scribes and Pharisees did not, as they did not see within themselves anything that needed to be repented of. They went to the synagogue faithfully. They said their prayers. They gave their offerings. They fasted and studied the Scriptures. What was the problem? The problem was that God had their outward acts and their verbal professions of faith in Him, but He did not have their hearts. He did not have their obedience when it came to the things that mattered most to Him.
A liar, murderer, or thief knows exactly what he is. He doesn’t pretend to be something that he is not. If confronted with his need for repentance, one won’t get much of an argument from him because he knows it’s true. Therefore, he has a much easier time coming to genuine repentance than many who wear a suit and tie, sit in church pews, place large checks into the offering plate as it goes by, and head up church committees. It’s easy to cloak ourselves with church attendance, Bible studies, and church ministries and feel like we’re doing the will of God, isn’t it?
But these things don’t mean a thing to God if we are not cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and experiencing a genuine conversion. It is the man whose life is producing the fruits of genuine repentance who will be received into Heaven by God, not the man who has nothing but church attendance, church “busyness” and other outward religious professions to show for his life, but no genuine conversion. God is looking for two things in our lives:
- Faith that manifests itself through obedience to the commands and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If He doesn’t have these two things, nothing else matters. It is our repentance and our obedience to God’s Word which give value to our church attendance and other outward religious acts. But when we think that the latter can serve as a substitute for the former, then we are no different than the son who said, “I will do what you want, Father,” but did not do it in the end. The second son looked obedient, and he sounded obedient. But in the end, he did not do His father’s will. He did not give his father what he was looking for.
Some of the worst people ever produced in human society will receive a higher place in Heaven than those who were raised in religion and who faithfully went to church. A crack addict and a murderer who genuinely repent of their sins, cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives, give themselves over to self-denial, and allow their lives to be so completely transformed by the power of God that anyone looking at them can say, “I believe I’ve just seen Jesus,” will be the ones who are acknowledged as Christ’s own, not one who simply went to church, called himself a Christian, but did not live the life of obedience to which all in Christ are called. This is the warning that Christ is giving in today’s Gospel reading.
In this penitential season of Advent, we need to take a good, hard look within ourselves. Never mind our church attendance, our financial offerings, and the Christmas play that we’re heading up. Never mind the books we’ve written, the foundations we’ve established, the titles we have, or the positions that we hold in our local church. Have we genuinely repented of our sins in the sight of God? Are we truly cooperating with the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification in our lives? Does God really have our heart, or are we giving Him no more than the outward forms of religion that were offered up by the scribes and Pharisees?
Now would be the perfect time for all of us to meditate on today’s Gospel reading, open up our journals, and write down whatever it is that the Spirit puts on our hearts to write in the light of what we have just read.