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Worship Theme: The Church turns to God for forgiveness and guidance
Sermon Theme: You Need a Change of Mind
What does God want from you? Perhaps that is a question you ask out of curiosity as you contemplate life. Or one that is asked out of frustration when things aren’t going so well. Maybe it’s what you strive to understand as you look at your Christian life. Or maybe you don’t ask it because you don’t need to.
What does God want from you? That’s an important question that every person needs to know the answer to. Today, Jesus shares that answer in the gospel from Matthew 21.
Jesus was in Jerusalem, the capital and holy city of Israel, where the temple of God was located. It was the last few days before he would be crucified, what we often refer to as Holy Week. On Sunday, he entered into the city with the praise and welcome of a king. Then on Monday, Jesus went to the temple area to the marketplace that was set up to provide what was needed for worship. The animals for sacrifices were sold there, people coming from foreign areas were able to exchange their money so they could purchase what was needed and so on. This was all necessary, but it had turned from something honoring God to something honoring the greedy hearts of the opportunistic entrepreneurs. So, Jesus drove everyone out. He overturned the tables. Coins were scattered with noisy clangs and doves flew out of their cages. “It is written,” Jesus said, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13).
Jesus effectively closed down the marketplace during the busiest sales time of the year, the days leading up to the Passover festival. It was like a business being shut down on Black Friday or the week before Christmas. So, you can imagine why the religious leaders were so furious! And they let Jesus know. The next day, Tuesday, is where today’s reading picks up. Jesus was again at the temple teaching the people when he was interrupted by a gang of angry religious leaders. I can imagine them just storming right up to Jesus and getting in his face. They asked-slash-accused him, “Who gave you the authority to shut down the market?!” Their question tells us two things. One, they believed that they were the authority. They had the power to open or close the marketplace, to make religious and temple rules and policies, not Jesus. And his actions were affecting their wallets. You see their heart. A heart filled with greed and arrogance. Two, they didn’t believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be. They did not accept him as the Son of God, the Savior who had been long promised. Those religious leaders may have put on a good religious show and seemed so righteous as they stood in the temple courts, but their hearts were from far from the Lord.
I wish that this was just a problem found in those chief priests and elders of the law on that day. But I’m sad to admit that that same attitude is often found in my own heart, and I’m guessing in your heart too. We question authority and it shows the attitude of the heart. “Who are you, fellow Christian, to point out my sin? Mind your own business. This is my life.” “Who are you church, to tell me how I should be living my life? I’m my own person and I see it differently.” “Who are you God to try to direct my life in this world? You seem pretty out of touch with reality and I want to do it differently.” We question the authority of God, what he wants, because deep down we want to be in charge and do things our own way no differently than the self-righteous religious leaders.
How did Jesus respond to them? He asked his own question, “John’s baptism – where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” Jesus took them back about three years to when John the Baptist preached about the coming Savior and he was questioned by the religious leaders then as to who gave him the authority to preach and baptize like he was. John’s response, “God.” So now, Jesus asked them, “John’s baptism, is it divine or is it not?” His point being, John’s authority is the same authority he had. Those religious leaders huddled together and discussed how they would respond, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” Or perhaps they could have changed their minds about Jesus, but that didn’t cross their minds. Instead, probably through gritted teeth and mumbling under their breath, they said, “We don’t know.”
They didn’t believe. They were too caught up in themselves to believe. What did God want from them? The same thing he wants from you. Listen to this parable about two sons. Jesus used this story to drive home the real issue with the religious leaders. The parable goes like this…
There was a father who had a vineyard and one day asked his two sons to help out. The first son said, “I will not.” But later as he sat on the couch binge-watching a show on Netflix, he changed his mind and went. The second son said, “I will, sir” with great enthusiasm. But while he said he would, he never made it out to the vineyard. Jesus asked the religious leaders, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” This is the point. This is the question for you to consider. What does God want from you? Which of the two sons are you?
I think that there is a bit of both sons in you…and often not the good traits. Too often you stubbornly and selfishly refuse God’s call to believe, to trust, to obey, to honor him. Then there are the other moments where you have too much confidence and hope in yourself, your own goodness, your own efforts, your own words. You might say the right things, “I love Jesus. I know he’s my Savior” and people may look at you as an upstanding Christian, but when the eyes are off of you your heart is far from the Lord and instead of obeying God, you do your own thing.
Which son did the right thing? The obvious answer is the first son who may have started off roughly, but had a change of mind and went and worked in the vineyard. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 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.” It is clear that the religious leaders were the second son, who said the right thing, but who didn’t truly love God with obedience. The tax collectors and prostitutes, who the religious elite looked down upon, were the ones who may have started off on the wrong foot, but had a change of heart and attitude when they came to know Jesus. They saw their sin and the forgiveness of Jesus moved them to change their lives. They were entering the kingdom of God.
This is the way of righteousness that John proclaimed and that Jesus preached. Repent and believe. Turn away from the sinful disobedience that separates you from God and change your mind. God calls on you and me today to leave behind the faithless words and faithless actions and to trust in him with obedient hearts and lives. No longer live as one who says I love you Lord but I’m gonna do things my own way. Instead live as one who says, “Lord I humbly come before you as a sinner who needs your mercy.”
Find that mercy and forgiveness on display in the attitude and life of another son. Perhaps we could say a third son. A son who had perfect words and actions. A son who willingly and lovingly did the work of his Father and submitted to his Father’s will. A son who was described for us in Philippians 2, [A son] who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, [this son] made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, [this son] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted [this son] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of [this son,] Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
For the times when we are less than perfect, we have the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to look to. When you look to him with faith, you see the one who has paid the price and washed away all of your sins. God no longer looks at you as a child of faithless words and actions, but sees the perfect obedience of his Son Jesus credited to you and covering you. That glorious truth changes minds and hearts. That’s what God wants. He wants you to turn away from sin and unbelief and to trust in him and the salvation that is yours because of Jesus. He wants real honest faith, not lip service or lukewarm, wishy-washiness that is content with just words, but a change of mind that leads you to follow Jesus each day with faith-filled obedience seeing God’s way as best. Repent and believe. Repent and live. What does God want? He wants you. He wants your heart that you may live. Amen.
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