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“What do you think?  There was a man who had two sons,” the parable goes that Jesus told the chief priests and elders of the people who came asking Him, “By what authority are You doing these things?  And who gave You this authority?” after Jesus had come into the temple and two days in a row had driven out the money changers and those who were buying and selling in the temple.

When they could not answer Jesus’ question – whether John’s baptism came from Heaven or from men – Jesus not only refused to tell them where His authority came from, but Jesus then began to challenge the very way that those men were thinking.  When they gave the answer, “The first,” Jesus gave them a backhanded insult, saying, “I tell you the truth, 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.”

The pharisees and the elders who were interested in propagating a religious relationship with God whereby they would try to have their own way first, and if that did not succeed to then repent, naturally selected the first son of the parable in answer to Jesus’ question, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” because that first son was just like them, not wanting to obey but wanting to have things their way, and repenting if it did not work out.

They never understood the relationship that God was seeking with His people, first with Adam and then with Israel.  The relationship has always been the Father to a son, and what a father looks for and wants from a son is obedience.  Obedience to the command and the ability to honour the word given, for when one honours the promise, one is in fact showing honour to the one to whom the word was given.

So whereas the first son disobeyed the father in saying, “I will not,” the second son in not doing what he said he would when he said, “I will, sir,” but he did not go, dishonoured his father by dishonouring himself.  For he showed himself to be a liar and worse of all, one who would lie to his own father.  As such, the correct answer, as I have taught many times, is that ‘neither’ did what his father wanted.  For what the father wanted is the son who would say, “I will,” and go and finish it.  An obedient son who honours the father by keeping his word that he has given.

For that was what Jesus said to the Father when He came into the world, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about Me in the scroll—I have come to do Your will, O God.’ “ And do the will of God Jesus did, until from the cross He shouted out, “It is finished.”

The failure by all religious hypocrites to appreciate in the parables of Jesus, where sons and fathers are mentioned, is the father of the parable.  The hypocrites (pharisees) answered Jesus according to their viewpoint on which son did the right thing of the two, that would justify the son without regard of what the father had in mind when he asked them to work in his vineyard.  Was the father asking them to work so that he did not have to work?  Or was the father using the occasion to fulfil his duty to his sons?  You see, when you have your eyes on the sons, you do not see the father nor can you see what the father has in mind.

Just like the earlier parable that Jesus also told a group of pharisees and teachers of the law as He was on His way to Jerusalem, when Jesus spoke of the parable that has been labelled ‘The Parable of the Lost Son.’ Again, when the parable is emphasised on the younger son, we see the wasteful failure that he was, identifying with him and watching his awakening unto repentance as our own journey.  However, that parable was not only about the younger son who left or the older son who stayed.  Rather, it is again about the father.  We know the son asked for his share, and we know what he had in mind, which was to do with it as he willed.  However, stop and consider if you would, what did the father have in mind when he agreed to the demands of the younger son?  Was it to cater to his whims and let him do with it as he would?  Or did the father have a nobler, higher thought and hope for the son that, by releasing the inheritance, would give the son the opportunity to go and perhaps make a greater fortune than even the father had made and come home triumphant?  You see, the father could have refused, and if he did, what would have the younger son learnt?  In letting him go with the fortune, the father gave that younger son the most important gift of all – an opportunity to learn about himself and his father… when on returning home, he was greeted with such love and pride.  Yes, pride, for did not the father run to him, throw his arms around him, kiss him and order the best robe to be put on him, a ring on his finger and sandals as if he was a returning hero… a conquering hero?  The father was not just grateful to see his son whom he thought was lost, but rather, he was proud that his son had learnt the most important lesson of all – that his father loves him, whether he failed or succeeded.  He had dared to venture forth and risk fortune and life and had returned.  There could only have been two outcomes for the younger son anyway – success or failure.  But to have him back is far more important than the success or the failure, for to have him back was life.  Now he had a son who is wiser and humbler as well as grateful.  And if the father had been successful with business before, now with this son who has returned, could he not raise up a fortune again?

So you see, in the earlier parable, if you learn to look at the father, you might just see what he was thinking when he gave the younger son his share.  So likewise, what was the father of the latter parable thinking when he asked the first son to go and work in the vineyard?  It was likewise to impart and fulfil the greatest duty of a father after love, and that is, to teach.

That is why Jesus said to the disciples later that same day in the temple courts after He silenced the pharisees and sadducees, “And do not call anyone on Earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and He is in Heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.” The linking of the ‘father’ to the ‘teacher’ is to show us that the Father’s duty after love is to teach His children.  A good father loves his children, but if he only loves them without teaching them, then he is an indulgent father, not a good father.  For when a father teaches his children, he prepares them for life.

What that father of the latter parable had in mind to teach his son, when he asked him to go and work in the vineyard, was the value of work so that he might appreciate what he has, but more than that, it was to teach him obedience, just as the earlier father had in mind to let his younger son learn wisdom.  An expensive lesson, yes, but then the more expensive the lesson, the greater the qualification.  It should not surprise you then that even as Jesus was sent by the Father to work salvation for the world, Jesus Himself was taught and He learned obedience, for it is written:  Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him…

God the Father sent God the Son to work in His vineyard, as it were, the Son who said yes and did it learned obedience even as He carried out His Father’s command and fulfilled His word, which He gave to the Father, and learned the cost of obedience.  It is one thing to obey when it is easy to obey; it is another to obey when it is hard to obey… even impossible or unreasonable, yet still obey.

The perfection of obedience came when Christ, though forsaken by God, still forged on with His time and work on that cross until it was finished.  An obedience that was not brought forth because there was encouragement or reward, for God had forsaken Him, but an obedience that was forged in order that His word, His promise, to the Father was fulfilled.  An obedience that allowed Christ to be true to Himself in spite of every disappointment, rejection and temptation, even to the point of being God forsaken.  An obedience that was finished by Christ not as the Son of God with miraculous power, but as the Son of Man in all His frailty so that indeed He would become the source of salvation for all who obey Him.

Likewise, when you learn to look not at the glory of the transfigured Christ or at the wonder of Moses and Elijah standing there talking to Him about what is to come, nor at the cloud that suddenly appeared, but at the Father who said, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.  Listen to Him!” you might just ask what the Father has in mind that we should listen to Jesus, especially when there are Moses and Elijah whom we could also listen to at the same time, for they were there talking to Jesus.

The reasons for the command, any command, given by a good Father are always these:  To allow us to experience His love as we obey and to teach us about Himself.  The father asked the first son to work in the vineyard so that he might come to know his father who planted the vineyard and share in the life, yes, the life of his father.  That is why Jesus said, “I know that His command leads to eternal life,” at the end of His final session of teaching in the temple.

So then if you can understand what true obedience is and see that the father of the parables was after obedience from his sons, then your thinking will not receive the rebuke… for the tax collectors and the prostitutes not only believed John, but they obeyed him and were baptised by him.

Obedience… so precious to God that Jesus was taught obedience through His suffering that perfected Him… perfected Him in obedience.  So then why is obedience so crucial to God that Christ had to suffer to learn it to perfection?

What do you think?

What could have happened for God if Adam obeyed?  What could have happened for God if Israel obeyed?  What could have happened at Bethsaida if the twelve obeyed?  What could have happened during the 40 days after the resurrection if the eleven believed and obeyed and went to Galilee that resurrection morning?

What happened when one man obeyed God?  Through Noah, judgment and destruction of the old and sinful, and the start of a new world (a new creation).  Through Christ, judgment and destruction of the old and sinful nature, and the start of a new nature (a new creature).  Now through His disciples, what would happen if they obeyed?  A new kingdom.

So what is new, elect, that God Eternal, Immortal and Invisible is awaiting to reveal that has not been revealed because of disobedience?  What do you think?

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