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July 7, 2024

Our Father Loves His Disobedient Children

Passage: Matthew 21:28-32

“My oldest does their chores right away, and he does them well!” “My middle child does them, but he usually has to redo them.” “My youngest probably doesn’t know what a chore is!” I’m sure you are all aware of birth order stereotypes and how the order in which children are born can impact their personality. Now, I know this isn’t black and white. These are stereotypes and nothing more, but kids do exhibit behavioral tendencies that can be impacted by age order in a familty. These tendencies are noticeable when thinking about how they compare to each other in how they handle a particular situation or task. For example, think about how your kids when they were children differed in their attitudes toward chores. They certainly approached it differently from one another.

Now, in our parable for this morning’s consideration, Jesus presents to us a father and his two sons. He loved them both and asked them to work in the vineyard, teaching them discipline, responsibility, and opportunity, as is expected of a loving father. We then see how the kids respond, reacting in their own tendency. The first says, “No!” But then repents in sorrow and does his chores. The second says, “Yes!” practically running for the pruning hook and pail, but he crossed his fingers, if you will, and didn’t do his job. Sounds like a couple of disobedient kids, and this is true. These children represent the children of this world, who are presented with the will and grace of God, and are yet disobedient. Yet, despite this disobedience, their Father works in His disciplining, gracious love to help and protect them. Yes, you and I are disobedient children, and we still have a loving Father who has forgiven us through His perfect Son, Jesus Christ. So today, let’s learn more about how our Father loves His disobedient children.

(we pray…)

Now I know that the parable presented two children, but in it each child of the father gives two responses: what he says and what he does. Given their responses of word and deed, I can not only think of two possibilities, but four. So, for our learning, let’s examine four hypothetical children and see how the Father loves them all, guiding them through discipline and grace to His loving arms.

So, for the first child, I want you to imagine the rebel child, the eye-rolling, back-mouthing child who thinks he knows better and is smarter than his father, and therefore does not respect him whatsoever. The Absolom to David, the Hophni, and Phineas to Eli, the Ham to Noah, laughing at their fathers when they mess up. This kid is asked to do his chores one day. He lets out an emphatic “no,” and follows through on not doing his chores. He doesn’t do his job. What an awful, spoiled rotten, good for nothing kid!

What kind of kid is this describing? This is the child we all are by nature, the kind of child who is sinful, unclean, and wants to do the exact opposite of what His father wants. This is every sinner by nature! And what would any father want to do with a kid like this! We will answer that question in a little bit, but for now we will continue by presenting all four profiles first.

Next comes a different variety of child, and for this one imagine a little, clever stinker who says one thing and does another. A child that’s not quite a pathological liar but is towing that line real close. This kind of child is presented by Jesus in the parable and is equated with the Pharisees. He’s asked to do the chores, and he lets out an emphatic “yes!” And even starts to grab his tools to see if dad buys it, but later intends to drop the tools to continue in his lazy ways.

Jesus equates this group with the Pharisees. They say “yes” to their father’s command, but they don’t actually do it. The Pharisees think they follow God, boasting in their piety which takes the form of made-up rules such as tithing of spices, and comparing themselves to tax collectors and sinners. They make up their own forms of spiritual security. “I’m a good person. At least I’m a good Christian because I’m not like that guy; or I did this good work today, or that good work today, therefore, I’m good.” Despite all this self-acclaimed goodness, these Pharisees aren’t doing God’s will. In fact, they heard the truth from John the Baptist, namely that they are unworthy sinners that can only be saved through God’s grace alone. The Pharisees didn’t believe this. They saw it again, they saw that the tax collectors and harlots did what John preached, that is they believed it, and their lives changed for the better. They saw the preaching of John and the practice of his listeners, but they still didn’t believe it. They didn’t want to do that, but they still want to be God’s own. “Yes! But I don’t want to do that, that is admit I’m a nasty sinner like my brothers. I want to do it my way, father, not yours.” Ever find yourself in this place? “At least I’m not him? At least I do that? I’m not that bad? I want to make myself better, but I want to do it my way.” Don’t be like that. Listen to John the Baptist, lest you become one of the vipers in the brood. And what kind of person is the brood of vipers today? The modern day pharisees are the children who take an oath at their confirmation to serve the Lord as His faithful, who promise to work in the vineyard, rooting out sin with sharp hoe of repentance, plant the seed of God’s Word, water it with prayer, be content where they are placed, in sunshine or in thorns, and be faithful unto death, and soon forget and leave all undone. They are those at the bridal altar who offer their sacred “I will” before the Lord, and follow it up with hard, bitter words, strife, and perhaps disrupt the marriage. And these are they that sang at Reformation, “Take they our live, goods, fame, child and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won; the kingdom ours remaineth,” and then deny their faith and leave their church for mammon or false doctrine. If you say yes to the Father’s chores, great! But you still need to do it, lest you be left out of the kingdom.

Next comes the kid who gives in after a while. This is the one who is defiant, but after a good time out, perhaps with remorseful, tearful eye comes out of his room to do what his father asked. Here is another kind that Jesus presents in the parable, and he equates this child with the tax collectors and prostitutes. Their lifestyles are the reason for the comparison. They are open examples which speak a defiant, childish “no!” to the Father’s will. Tax collectors put greed into practice, breaking the seventh commandment by swindling their neighbor’s property. Prostitutes break the designs of holy wedlock and enable the lust of man into practice, breaking God’s sixth commandment. Their lifestyle is open for all to see as the populous observes them like a child who shouts in public at his father, “I don’t want to do what you ask, Father!”

And finally, we have the last child. Imagine the child who says yes and practices what he agrees to! This is impossible by nature. This must come by discipline, for every parent knows that their child won’t act this perfectly without proper upbringing. The same is true of you and me! To be like this child is impossible on our own.

But it is possible with the father’s gracious love. We all fell into the other categories, that of the rebel, the liar, and the one who needs a time out. But remember, despite the attitudes, what was the constant? The father loved all of them! He disciplined all of them like a loving father should. He showed the consequences to us when we were rebellious, He showed us the meaninglessness of our spoken yes with no work, He showed us the obligation upon us when we were in our repentant timeout of sin.

He showed us His law, but He also showed us His grace. Stricken in despair, He adopted us to be His children through the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, declaring us righteous children of God. Stricken in dumbfounded guilt for not doing what we say, He sent forth His Son to accomplish all that you failed to do, drafting His perfect record of innocence to give to you to present before your father as a perfect and complete chore list. Stricken in guilt for saying no to the Father, Jesus said yes for you. He never once sinned and then offered that life of love and grace and perfection on the cross to pronounce you forgiven so that when you come out of that timeout of contrition, you may hear that all is well with you and your Father and that you can do the work He asks through His loving disposition in Christ.

To the first child, the overt rebel, a loving Father still wants a child even like this, and this is true of our Heavenly Father. Even while we were still sinners, undeserving and deliberately hating God, God still sent His Son to save children like this. He sent Jesus to make them His own. God wants them to be saved just as He wants all to be saved. There still are children like this throughout the world. They don’t want to listen. They don’t want to give up sinning. They don’t want to believe in Jesus! God loves them, but right now they are not His adopted children, but rather children of wrath, destined to be destroyed by the burning, holy anger of God. God loves them, and reaches to them, but they must first hear that they are being utter brats. Like any kid this rebellious, he needs swift discipline, he needs to be shown his sin, his utter despair in himself, he needs to be shown where he stands without his God. This is the loving Father’s way with His law, practically saying, “I love, and because of that, I am very displeased with what you are doing! You keep this up and you will be no son of mine, not because of me, but because you insist on having nothing to do with me.” This is the first child. Let us pray that we never fall back to this state of unbelief, and that God reach all children like this with His word of grace.

And with the second child, the liar, Father’s love works on him. He teaches him that doing the Father’s chores is nothing more than repenting, receiving forgiveness, and learning this repeatedly as it prunes the fruits of repentance. The Father loves you, and He calls you to repentance, showing you your sinful failures and lies, and then offers you forgiveness repeatedly, leading you to do His will, namely believing that Christ has put away your sin, which then produces thankfulness that flows from sins forgiven! You will enter your Father’s kingdom by His grace! He makes your empty “yes” full of meaning through repentance and forgiveness. John preaches this to you, the example of the tax collectors and prostitutes preached this to you! Repent and be baptized, every one of you! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and it has come unto you in Christ’s redeeming grace.

With the third child, the kid in timeout, the Father shows His love to him, too. Notice how the kid repents and does the work of his father. So it is with this class, who turns to believe in their Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness, giving them newness of life to turn from their defiant no and do the father’s will.  What grace was shown to Thomas, when the no: ‘I will not believe,’ gave place at last to the unshakeable certainty: “My Lord and my God!” Or of Paul, when the no of his kicking against the goads and of his discouragement grew silent before the yes of his complete obedience: ‘Lord, what will you have me do?’ And what of you? Did you say no to the commandments of God, to the requirement of the divine Son of man who kept all these commandments for your salvation: ‘This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” Repent, knowing that the Son’s perfect keeping of His requirement has forgiven you your trespasses, and confess: “your truth is better than life. I delight to do your will.” Were you admonished to become reconciled and friendly with someone, and did you say no, I will try to forget, but I can never forgive? Repent and see that the merciful, reconciling love of Jesus overcomes thy hard pride, as He forgave you and all other sinners, saying from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Were you in severe trouble from your Christian cross or from the temptations of Satan, stumbling because of men to say: “no; justice is denied me before God and my prayer is not heard?” Repent of your doubt and impatience, knowing that Jesus provides for you grace and solace as he did to a loving father who, amidst his sorrow and fear over his demon possessed daughter, said, “Lord, I believe, help me with my unbelief.” Wrestle on till you reach the yes of the Canaanite woman who said, “yes, lord, but even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table,” or the sacred daring of Jacob who said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Is it hard for you to rely on grace alone to confess yourself a sinner, even with the best of life? Come to yourself, deny your self-righteousness and unholy pride, and hear that it is by God’s grace alone that you are saved! You are a sinner, and Christ has redeemed you! Rejoice!

And with the last child, the perfect one: overall, it’s this last child that is the best case scenario, and we are not this. But know that no one is on their own. All followers of Christ who say yes and do it are also all the other children, they simply follow the words of God, repenting over their sin and receiving forgiveness in Christ. So, we are all these children, and the Father still loved us by sending His Son. The vineyard work is always there, and God’s love is always there. Repent and hear that your Father loves you, for you have been saved by His Son, Jesus Christ. The Father has found you, the rebel, and made you His own by adoption. He has filled you, the empty liar, with yes full of thankfulness produced by faith in Christ. He has moved you, the defiant one, to repentance and faith Christ Jesus your Lord. He has made you a child of God, striving in growth through your Lord Jesus Christ. Amen