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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Turning Over a New Leaf
Text:Matthew 21:28-32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Added:2024-04-17
Updated:2024-04-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Zion Founded on the Mountains
Have Thine Own Way  
Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated                                
Living for Jesus           

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


“Turning Over a New Leaf”
Matthew 21:28-32
 
Have you ever considered how much time you have wasted in your life? I have, and it is a sobering thought. Time wasted can never be regained. Time is like an ever-moving stream. Once a portion of water is under the bridge, it is gone out of sight. More water will flow, but the water under the bridge is past and can’t be regained.
 
It was C.S. Lewis who pointed out, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” The son who initially refused his father’s request but then went to work in his father’s vineyard did just that. He recognized that he couldn’t undo the past, but he could start where he was and change the ending. He could “turn over a new leaf” and go forward in the future in a new, productive way.
 
Who was the son who turned over a new leaf, and went to work in his father’s vineyard? The son who initially refused to go work in the vineyard represents the tax collectors and prostitutes, as Jesus explains in verse 23. They were sinners who turned from their sins to follow after Jesus, striving to put his teaching into practice in their lives.
 
The son who initially said he would go work in the vineyard represents the chief priests and elders of the people – the scribes, Pharisees, and the Jewish religious leaders. The vineyard represents God’s kingdom here on earth. 
 
The parable is a clear indictment against the religious leaders of that day, and they recognized it as such. The chapter closes with these words: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.” (Matt. 21:45, 46)
 
While this parable indicts the Pharisees for their hypocrisy it also teaches us a number of lessons, including that idleness is always destructive. As Proverbs 18:9 says, Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.”
 
In reading this parable we might be inclined to think, “One son did what was right, but the other son did what was wrong.” And that is true in the final analysis. But it is also true that both sons were wrong. It’s not as though one son was right and one wrong. Both were wrong, but one repented of his ways and showed it by his deeds, while the other son did not.
 
Through the refusal of the son who said he would not work in the vineyard, but then later did, we see that idleness is always destructive. We don’t know how much later it was when the one son repented and went to work in the vineyard, but no matter how much time went by before the son went to work, it was time that could never be retrieved. It was also time where more weeds and thistles could grow. It was time when disease could fester in the vineyard, and birds and animals took their toll on the fruit. It was time that could never be gained back.
 
The same is true for us. We recently concluded a series on apologetics and evangelism. We saw our need to defend the gospel and to advance it. Yet how many opportunities have we missed? I know in my life I have missed more opportunities than I could count. I’m sure the same is true for you. As we look at this son who said he wouldn’t go to work, but then did, we should recall all the missed opportunities he had – and we have had – to work in God’s vineyard to advance and defend the gospel, to build up the church of the Lord Jesus Christ on earth.   
 
And I don’t bring that up as a burden of guilt, but as an incentive to go forward, in the words of Ephesians 5:15-16: Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  We live in incredibly evil times. God’s vineyard – his kingdom – is under attack, and he calls us to go and work in his vineyard, to be salt and light in this dark world.
 
Comfort for Repentant Sinners
 
Secondly, in this parable we find great comfort for repentant sinners. Jesus described in verse 31 who was entering into the kingdom of heaven: “tax collectors and prostitutes…”
 
On the scale of great sinners, especially in the eyes of the Pharisees, you couldn’t be much worse than a tax collector or prostitute. Tax collectors were admittedly shysters of the worst degree. They collected more tax than what was required and pocketed the difference. Since they worked for the Roman government, they were especially despised by the Jewish people. 
 
Needless to say, prostitutes, and women of ill repute in general, were also considered the lowlife of the world by the Pharisees. When they found that woman who was caught in the act of adultery, they pressed Jesus to see whether they should stone her to death. They were just itching to pick up the first stone until Jesus said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).  And they slunk away.
 
Because the Pharisees had nothing but disdain for tax collectors and prostitutes, the words of Jesus were especially repulsive to them. Without excusing the sin of the tax collectors and prostitutes – without giving them a pass on repentance – Jesus nevertheless said, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”
 
In that statement we find great comfort for every person who repents. In that statement we come face to face with the grace of God. In that statement we see the truth of Proverbs 28:13 Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
 
We see that in the biblical record, not only with tax collectors and prostitutes, but also with God’s people in every era. Consider Abraham, the spiritual father of all who like him “believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). Yet his belief in God wavered to the point that out of fear for his life he asked his wife, Sarah, to repeatedly say that she was his sister (Gen. 20:11-13). The father of the faithful doubted that the Lord would truly protect him through the pilgrimage of his life. Although he was granted saving faith, he was yet also a doubting, frail sinner.
 
Or consider David with his adultery, Peter with his denials, and Saul of Tarsus with his persecution of Christians before his conversion. All were sinners who prove the truth of Romans 3:10, “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one…’”
 
We also see that in the historical record of the church. Augustine, the great theologian of the early church, lived to satisfy the desires of his sinful nature even though he knew he was living a life of sin. He prayed to the Lord, “Grant me chastity, but not yet.”
 
John Newton, the author of so many hymns and a faithful pastor and theologian in his day, lived a life of debauchery before his conversion. His stated goal, as he joined the British navy was “to sin to its fullest.”
 
Likewise, Charlotte Elliot, a wealthy, sophisticated woman who thought very highly of herself was shocked when she was bluntly told that she was a sinner who despite her prominence and wealth was no better than those on the lowest rung of society. The Lord used the blunt words to convict her of her sin. She reportedly went home that night and wrote these familiar words:  
 
Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bid'st me come to thee
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
 
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve
Because Thy promise I believe
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
 
You see, the truth of Proverbs 28:13, that “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” is written page after page in the record of Scripture, and recorded over and over in the historical register of God’s people.
 
Yet, there are still so many people who refuse to come to the Lord. They refuse to do as the tax collectors and prostitutes did; they fail to come to Jesus in humble repentance and saving faith to find in him redemption and the forgiveness of sins.
 
Many people today are like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. They fail to see their sin and they take pride in their self-righteousness. Unless someone sees their sin, they will never see their need for the Savior, Jesus Christ. Many are like the man who came to me once and asked if I would do the funeral for his wife. This man did not attend church, but he was good friends with a member of our church. His wife had terminal cancer; he recognized that his wife would soon die, and he wanted a minister to conduct the funeral even though he and his wife did not attend church.
 
I told him that I was more than willing to do the funeral but that I wanted to meet his wife. She was in hospice care and I wanted to talk with her about the gospel, eternity, and the necessity of saving faith in Christ alone. But her husband objected. He said, “I can assure you that she never broke any of those ten commandments. When she dies, she will be in heaven for sure.” He saw the commandments as only outward, not inward. His wife had never murdered anyone; she never robbed a bank; she was true to him and didn’t commit adultery. Why wouldn’t she be received by the Lord?
 
When I explained the inward aspects of the commandments, that murder includes hatred in the heart, that stealing has many applications, even the theft of time when we do not use it wisely, and that adultery is committed by thoughts in the hearts of both women and men, he left angry. He found another pastor to do the service, someone who would “preach her into heaven” because of her self-righteousness.
 
But often an opposite reason is given as well.  Many say, “I’m too great of a sinner. I need to get my life in order, or at least get myself to a degree of acceptability before the Lord will receive me.”  The evil one loves to hear that excuse. He will do everything to encourage that mindset, for his names include the name "Accuser". He loves to come alongside of sinners and say, “God would never accept you. Look at the enormity of your sin. Think about your thoughts. You know how evil you are! And look at all the opportunities you’ve missed – opportunities to witness to others, to study God’s Word, to pray to him. You are so apathetic and sinful he would never have anything to do with you!”
 
But this parable, along with all of Scripture, teaches just the opposite. In this parable we find great comfort for repentant sinners. And this parable should drive us to confess and renounce our sin. Renouncing means there is a change of life, not just a promise on the lips. The son who initially said he would not work in the vineyard, but later did, showed his genuineness – that he truly renounced his sin of disobedience – by going and doing what his father had asked of him.
 
We are to do the same, with full confidence that “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” becauseIf we confess our sins, (God) is faithful and just”, 1 John 1:9 assures us, “and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  
 
This parable of the two sons also, thirdly, serves as a serious warning to guard ourselves from hypocrisy. The Pharisees stand as the epitome of hypocrisy. They were well known for their public prayers. They loved to be praised for their outward show of religion. When we come to Matthew 23, we will read a whole chapter indicting the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. They were an example of the fig tree that had leaves but no fruit; their lives were all show and no substance. Of them the Proverb is true: Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel are fervent lips with an evil heart.” (Prov. 26:23)
 
Although they had the outward show of religion they had hardened hearts. They had no repentance and no saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus makes that clear in 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.”
 
John the Baptist clearly showed the way, yet as we saw earlier in the chapter, in verse 26, the Pharisees had claimed ignorance for fear of the people. They were so hardened in their sin that they would rather look like fools than to acknowledge the deity of Christ and the need to repent and believe in him. 
 
Doing Our Father’s Will
 
How else does this parable apply to your life and mine today? An over-riding application woven throughout the parable is that as God’s children we are to do our heavenly Father’s will. The Father’s will for these two sons was for them to work in the vineyard. That is also God’s will for you and for me. As children of our heavenly Father, adopted into his family through saving faith in Christ, we are to work in his kingdom, being salt and light, ambassadors for Christ in this world of great darkness.
 
It is not by coincidence that in the Lord’s prayer we are taught to pray, Your kingdom come, Your will be done.” The two are connected. The work in the vineyard is part of building up the kingdom of our God. As God’s children, we are to work in his kingdom, showing by how we live and what we say that we are indeed the children of our heavenly Father, seeking to do his will in our lives. We are to live in such a way that others see we “are a letter from Christ… written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Cor. 3:3)
 
And we are to do so without hesitation. In the Lord’s prayer we are taught to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. How is God’s will done in heaven? It is done by the angels and they do God’s will immediately, without hesitation. The Heidelberg Catechism correctly interprets that, in Lord’s Day 49, as meaning that when we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are asking the Lord to “help everyone carry out the work he is called to as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.”
 
It is good that the son who initially said he would not go work in the vineyard finally did. But it is much better to work in the vineyard without hesitation. That is true for all of us, of every age, but it is especially applicable to you young people. Our adversary is a great advocate of procrastination. “You don’t need to make a faith commitment to Christ now,” he says. “You can commit your life to Christ later, and then work in his kingdom and do his will. Your whole life is ahead of you. Pursue your goals. At your age do your will, not his.”
 
But if you don’t make the commitment now, later may be too late. The years of procrastination will harden you to where you have no interest in the Lord. As the Speaker of Ecclesiastes says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them...’” (Eccl. 12:1)  
 
Someone I know has terminal cancer; they are in their sixties. They grew up in the church. They know that the Day of Judgment is coming, yet there is no repentance, no desire to be right with God through saving faith in Christ. Why? The years have hardened them against God, and in the words of Ecclesiastes 12:1 they find no pleasure in them” – that is, they find no pleasure, no comfort, no peace in the truths of God’s Word promising salvation for all who come to Christ in humble repentance and true saving faith.
 
Also, those who hesitate – of whatever age – may find that life is taken from them as was the case with the rich fool spoken about in Luke 12. You remember his famous words, “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” That is the mantra of our culture, “Eat! Drink! Be merry!” And you remember the pronouncement of Almighty God: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.” (Luke 12:20)
 
There is a girl in a nearby suburb who died this week. We heard about it on the news; the police are trying to determine if there was foul play. She was either thrown from a car or she fell out of the car. They can’t tell if it was an accident or if it was a murder. Authorities are trying to determine exactly what happened. Her dad has been on the news asking any eye witnesses to come forward. He is young enough to not have any gray hair. How old was she? His daughter, whose funeral was this week, was 18.
 
Or, if you hesitate in your commitment you may succumb to the other great temptation of the evil one, “You have the outward commitment to Christ. That outward show will keep your parents and the elders and the pastor off your back, but you don't need to produce the fruit of the Christian life. It is way too hard to work in your Father’s vineyard. Let someone else do the actual work of producing fruit. Just put on the cloak of hypocrisy. Just go through the motions.”
 
When someone has a profession of faith but not the fruit of the Christian life, it is often called “practical atheism.” By their hypocrisy they have a profession of faith, but in practice they live as though God does not exist and will not hold them accountable. In their hypocrisy, as practical atheists, they are just as foolish as the outright atheist, for “It is the fool who says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”­ (Psalm 14:1; 53:1) And it is a fool who hypocritically says, “O yes, I believe in God,” but then lives as though God does not exist and will not judge all humanity, the living and the dead, on the last day.
 
It is also worth noting that God’s will for our lives is, in a nutshell, that we live holy, sanctified lives day by day. In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 the Holy Spirit describes God’s will for your life and mine this way: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified…” The passage goes on to warn against sexual immorality and tells us to live holy and honorable lives.
 
Likewise, in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12 we read: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
 
It is only when we live God’s Word out in our lives – even with all our sins and failures, but earnestly striving to live in obedience to the Word – that we can be salt and light to a dark and depraved world. Without that commitment we just become another hypocrite without any credibility and without any fruit. We then stand condemned by the words of James 2:14 “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” And he answers his own question in verse 17, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
____
 
Have you ever considered how much time you have wasted in your life? I have, and it is a sobering thought. Time wasted can never be regained. But as C.S. Lewis pointed out, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” The son who initially refused his father’s request but then went to work in his father’s vineyard did just that. He recognized that he couldn’t undo the past, but he could “turn over a new leaf” and go forward in the future in a new, productive way.
 
It is good that the son who initially said he would not go work in the vineyard finally did. It is a testament to God’s grace, a wonderful reminder that God receives foolish, rebellious sinners back to himself through the reconciling work of Jesus Christ and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. But it is much better to work in the vineyard without hesitation.  
 
May that be your goal and mine – to do the will of our Father – in our personal sanctification and in building up his kingdom, without hesitation, but as quickly, obediently and joyfully as the angels in heaven! Amen.
 
 
bulletin outline:
 
“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.”
                                                                                  Matthew 21:28-29
 
                                 “Turning Over a New Leaf”
                                          Matthew 21:28-32
 
I.  This parable, directed against the Pharisees, teaches us:
      1) Idleness is always destructive (28-30) for “Whoever is slack in his
           work is a brother to him who destroys.” (Proverbs 18:9)
 
 
 
      2) There is comfort for repentant sinners (31b), for Whoever
           conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and
           renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
 
 
 
      3) We must guard against hypocrisy (32), for, Like the glaze
          covering an earthen vessel are fervent lips with an evil heart.”
          (Proverbs 26:23)
 
 
 
III. Application: Our goal must be to do our Father’s will, living a
      sanctified life (1 Thessalonians 4:3-11), and working in His
      kingdom without hesitation (31; Matthew 6:10)
 
    
 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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