Matthew 21:28-32 – It’s Not How You Start But How You Finish…

Posted: March 1, 2016 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 21:28-32
Jesus Tells the Parable of the Two Sons

I don’t know if you remember but back in the late 80s-early 90s, the Buffalo Bills professional football team was one of best teams in the NFL it seemed. As we have seen over the years, it has cycle back and forth as to which of the two conferences within the league was generally better than the other. In the 70’s, it was the American Conference. In the 80’s and well into the 90’s, it was the National Conference. In this decade and half, it has generally been the American Conference again. Back to the Bills. In those years, they were dominating the American Conference and for four years straight they made it to the Super Bowl. But because they played in what was then the inferior conference in the league, they got blasted in three of those four straight Super Bowls. Their first one of the four straight, they lost on a last second field goal against the New York Giants, but in the next three straight Super Bowls, they got manhandled by Washington and then twice in a row by Dallas. But the one thing I remember the most about those Bills was the year that they were part of the greatest comeback in NFL history. In a playoff game against the Houston Oilers (who are now the Tennessee Titans), they were down by a score of 35-3 at halftime. Amazingly, they came back and tied the game at 38-38 at the end of regulation and then won on a field goal in overtime. It was amazing. The Bills could not do anything right in the first half of that game either offensively or defensively and Houston took advantage of every mistake. But as you often see from teams that take huge leads into halftime, they let their guard down and do not finish well. It is rare for the collapse to be this complete as was in this game, but Buffalo got things going in the second half and finished well beyond anyone’s expectations that day. If you would’ve asked even the most diehard Bills fan in the stadium that day at halftime, if they thought their team would come back and win the game, they would have laughed at you. All the Bills fans wanted out the second half was to make the score respectable and now continue to play the horrid, mistake-filled football they had played in the first half. But by going out and playing like they had nothing to lose and just having fun again, the team pulled off the greatest miracle comeback of all time in professional football. So, it just goes to show you that it is not how you start a game but rather how you finish. That’s the concept that comes to mind as we encounter God’s Word today in Matthew 21:28-32 where it says:

 

28 “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.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 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.

 

I think that there was one thing that Jesus disdained more than anything else was hypocrisy. That was the thing that He despised about the religious leaders of that time and of anyone who acted as if they loved the Lord but yet did not live a life that exemplified loving the Lord. The son who said he would do what his father asked but did not do it represented many of the people of Israel but particularly the religious leaders of the day. They said they wished to do God’s will but they constantly disobeyed God’s commands. They were phony and just going through the motions. It is dangerous to pretend to obey God when our hearts are from Him because as Sovereign Lord, he knows our true intentions. Our actions must match our words.

Isn’t it ironic that sometimes the most powerful Christians that we see in the world today are those that have the most sordid pasts. Then, there are those who have who have lived lives that by all intents and purposes have avoided major mistakes in life are some of the weakest Christians that you will meet. It seems that those who have been brought to their knees by the circumstances of their lives, much of which is of their own making, are the ones that really get what this Christ following thing is all about. They know from their own lives that they were desperate sinners. They know that if it were not for an intervention of a supernatural nature by Jesus Christ that their lives would have ended in a crash and burn fashion and that they would have broken the doors of hell wide open. They know that their sins were so great that they were bound on the Hell Express with no chance to stop at any of the last stations before the train plunged them into the depths of hell. Their sins were great and they know it. They know that it only takes one sin in a lifetime to condemn us to hell. They know their own sins are piled higher than one can see so they know that the phrase “depths of hell” was especially designed for them. Just one sin is all it takes to permanently separate us from God in hell and we have boatloads to answer for because our sins are so great. It is the person that realizes what we actually have been saved from that makes the best Christ follower. We know and appreciate what God did for us through Jesus Christ on the cross. We know that God poured out His wrath on Jesus that was in part intended for us. God poured out His wrath against all sin on Jesus that day on Calvary’s hill and part of that wrath was intended for me and for you. When you realize that, Christ becomes the love of our lives. He becomes the one that we must live lives of thanksgiving as our simple acts of gratitude for what He did for us. When you are standing on the cliff staring at the fires of hell and no that you by all rights should have been pushed over the edge by God but yet were not. That is thanksgiving my friends. We have reprieve from our sentence in Jesus. It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.

On the opposite end of the scale are those that think they have got this God thing down. They live according to checklists and live life to avoid mistakes. They are checklist believers who believe in the checklist more than Jesus Christ. These are the prideful Christians that think they are the brokers of Christian morality. They dress up on Sunday and go to church. They contribute to the right causes. They maybe even help build a house for a needy family. They desire to know the pastor as if that is a sign of their piety. Yet at the same time, they talk about their neighbors behind their back. They gossip. They stab people in the back to get their way. They claim to be Christian but their fruit of the Spirit is nil. They usually have lived lives that are free of major pitfalls and have lived lives of comfort. They married right. They are members of the right clubs and do the right things. But on the inside, they are empty and you cannot find Jesus anywhere in their souls. They claim to know Jesus but know Him not. They consider themselves better than those who have had struggles in major ways in life. They have pride. They rank themselves in relation to others. They are the horizontal Christians who compare themselves to their fellow man but yet have no vertical relationship with God.

Our church’s scrolling media sign outside says right now that “Prostitutes welcomed. Drunkards welcomed. Liars welcomed,” and so on. It is a bold statement in this self-righteous world in which we live but it the point that Jesus is making. Jesus wants those who understand that their sins are so great that we deserve a double dose of hell. It is only when we are brought low into realizing that we are indeed sinners destined for hell that then and only then does Jesus really mean anything to us. That’s the Christ follower we want. We want those who love Jesus so much that they live lives of thanksgiving and live lives to spread the word to the world of what Jesus has done in our lives. We want the world to know that no matter what you have done in your past, there is nothing that cannot be covered by the grace of Jesus Christ. Because like the Buffalo Bills against the Houston Oilers back in the day, it is not how you start that matters. It is how you finish. We want to finish in the arms and grace of Jesus Christ. Come to him. We have room for you. There is room for you at the foot of the cross. It is where you need to finish. There is room for you here at the cross. Come join those of us who know where we were bound if it were for Jesus on the cross. It’s where you finish that counts.

Amen and Amen.

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