Are You a Pretender or Repenter?

Dr. Michael Kruger, Speaker

Matthew 21:28-32 | October 29 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
October 29
Are You a Pretender or Repenter? | Matthew 21:28-32
Dr. Michael Kruger, Speaker

Well, let me begin by saying that it is a great joy and pleasure to be back with you this morning. As Kevin mentioned, and as many of you know, the people here of Christ Covenant Church have a special place in my heart, and have had that special place for many years. But it’s not just a special place in my heart personally, also a special place in this relationship between Reformed Theological Seminary and Christ Covenant Church and I just love that relationship. It’s been going on, believe it or not, for 25 years. We’re celebrating our 25th year in Charlotte as RTS, and this church was one of the instrumental churches that helped bring this seminary here, and so it’s just a great joy to sort of see and honor that relationship even this morning in what we call Reformation Weekend.

And every time I come to Christ Covenant, I do the same thing, and I’m going to do it again this morning, and that is I’m going to have you sort of hear an invitation to come and take a seminary class. Now I know that many of you hear that and think, “Are you kidding me? How in the world? Why would I ever think that I could go into a seminary class and take these exams, and do these papers, and where am I going to have the time to do all of that?”

Well, we have this wonderful thing at RTS called “auditing a class,” which means you get to take it and not have to do any of the assignments or writing of the papers. You just get to sit there and enjoy the lectures. In fact, we have a lot of auditors at RTS. I can always tell when they’re in my class. I can spot ’em right away. They’re the ones who are very relaxed. My students chopping away furiously on their computers, trying to get every word, and they’re sipping their coffee, enjoying themselves. That could be you.

If you’re interested in taking a class, we have a little booth in the back there on the way out. We have a little list of courses that are coming up. We hope you’ll pray and maybe we’ll see you on campus. We’d love to give you a chance to even go deeper in your biblical studies and theological knowledge.

Now, this morning, of course, we want to hear from what your Lord has to say. So if you have your Bibles, we’re in Matthew chapter 21, verses 28 through 32. Matthew 21:28-32. As you are turning there, let me just set the stage a little bit for this parable this morning. This you find at the end of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus tells this parable in the final week of his life. He’s in Jerusalem, he’s doing his standard battles with the Pharisees and the chief priests and the scribes who’ve been teaching people the way they think religion works. And Jesus steps on the scene in this parable and says actually, religion doesn’t work the way you think it does. In fact, it certainly doesn’t work the way the Pharisees and the scribes have been telling you. And with that in mind, Jesus utters these words, and this is him talking, starting in verse 28.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

Amen. May God bless the reading of his word. Let’s pray together. Lord, this is your word and Lord, we are your people, and Lord we desperately need to hear it today. May you impress it upon our hearts. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Well, by now you’ve heard the story many times. In fact, you might have heard the story so many times that you’re really not that eager to hear it again, the story started being told in January of this year as we entered into 2017, and it got told again and again throughout the various churches around the world. It was told in Europe, it was told in the Americas, it was told in South America and Africa, and Asia, as celebrations began all in 2017. It was a story heard throughout this weekend here at the Reformation conference. It’s a story that you’ve already heard, no doubt, this morning in your Sunday School class. It’s a story that you’ll hear about again on Tuesday of this week, on October 31. It’s the story you can’t get enough of apparently. The story that 500 years ago, a no-name monk named Martin Luther did something which seemed amazingly small and amazingly irrelevant at the time, as he walked in front of this church in a town called Wittenberg and he nailed up what he called his 95 theses.

And we’ve all heard the story. And we have little children’s art about the story, and there are movies about the story, and we’ve all heard it enough to think it just goes right over our head. In all the tellings of that story, which is why we’re here on Reformation Sunday and celebrating what we’re celebrating, what often is left out of the story and what most people don’t even know, is what was actually in the 95 theses. In fact, we might even ask even more particularly than that: What was in the very first of the 95 theses? 95 is a lot of theses. You may wonder, “Well, what was at the very top of the list? What did Luther want people to know right out of the gate? What was the number one thing?”

Imagine we could hypothesize what it would be. Maybe it would be justification by faith alone, which Luther talked a lot about. Maybe it was just complaints against the corruptions of the Roman Catholic church. Maybe it was about purgatory or indulgences or the many other things we might think that he would list, but at the very top of that list, in that story that we’re all celebrating here, 500 years after the fact, was the message of repentance. In fact, Luther’s point was that the whole Christian life, really the heart of the Christian life, is about repentance. It’s about owning your sin. It’s about coming clean. It’s about turning from it and embracing a savior that forgives.

You might think, “Well, of all these things to put on the list, why in the world would that be number one? What was going on in Luther’s day that would make you think well, I’ve gotta put that at the top of the list.” And it doesn’t take much reflection to know that in Luther’s day, religion had become very much about external performance. In fact, Luther looked around in the churches and the villages, even in Rome as he made his journeys there, and he realized that religion had been taught to the people as something that you just sort of do at a particular time and that you put on the uniform, so to speak, and you go through the motions and you look like the faithful believer and you dress the part and you follow the rituals and you participate in this outward association with the church. And then when it’s done, you go back to your normal life and you don’t think about it for another seven days. And Luther realized there is something profoundly broken about the religion of his day.

Of course, when Jesus told this parable, a very similar thing was going on in the religion of his day. And it was profoundly broken. These were the teachers of Israel, the Pharisees. These were the ones who should have known the way religion works. If anybody could have gotten it right about the way religion worked, surely it was these leaders in Israel. I mean, just think about it for a moment. Here they are in God’s own country, in the land of Canaan, in Israel, and they’re in God’s own city, in Jerusalem, and their near God’s own house, the temple, and they’re celebrating at God’s major annual feast, the Passover. If anybody could have ever gotten it right about the way religion really works, it was surely these Pharisees.

And yet Jesus steps on the scene and say actually, they’ve got it absolutely, profoundly wrong. You may think religion works one way, but it’s actually very different than you think. That was the heart of the Reformation message. It’s the heart of this parable today. And we don’t even need to think about this simply on a historical level, about Luther’s day or Jesus’ day. We need to think about this on a modern level in our day because as we all know, many people think religion works exactly like this, that religion is to put on the uniform and you look that part and that’s how it works. And this parable is going to shatter all those misconceptions.

So here’s what we’re going to do this morning. We’re going to break down this parable a little more carefully, and so make sure you have your Bibles open to that text we just read. I’m going to walk us through it and here’s how we’re going to do it today, very simply, very basically. We’re going to look first at the two sons and what they shared in common, and then we’re going to look at their two responses, and how different they were, and then we’re going to look at the two outcomes, where it led them. Two sons, two responses, two outcomes.

Let’s start with the first one, and that is the two sons. And here’s where we start in a rather unexpected place in this parable. I want to start actually by observing what these sons have in common, how they’re the same, how they’re linked together. So let’s just observe a couple of things that they have in common here, and the first is simply this: Both sons receive a gracious invitation. Both sons receive a gracious invitation.

Notice verse 28 in your passage there as we look at it again. It says there that a man had two sons and he went to both of them and he said, especially, the same thing, “Come and work in my vineyard.” Now of course you and I today, as we look at this from the 21st century in Charlotte, North Carolina at Christ Covenant Church, we read a verse like that we think, “Well, that doesn’t sound like a gracious invitation, it sounds like a dad just wanting to get some hard labor out of his sons, and he just wants to send them in the fields to work. Why is that so gracious?” But you have to put yourself in the posture of a first century Jew who heard this story. And in first century Palestine they would have heard this story very differently, because this was a father who owned a vineyard, and a vineyard was the highest level of agrarian society in the ancient world. A vineyard was not just a field that you planted things it. It wasn’t even just a farm. To have a vineyard was a sign of wealth, to have a vineyard was a sign of abundance, to have a vineyard was a sign of someone who was well-to-do. And so for a father to have a vineyard like that, and to come to his sons and make this invitation, was not an invitation to go and give me hard labor, it was an invitation to come and participate and join me in this family, in this vineyard, this is your inheritance, this is your future. I’m going to give this to you someday. Here is a father giving his sons the most wonderful inheritance you can possibly imagine, and the father says “come and enjoy it now and join me in what the family is all about.”

Imagine if you tried to think of it in the modern terms. It would sort of be like a father asking his sons to take over the family business. But don’t think of it as sort of a mom and pop business, but think of it as these people would have thought of it, a major incredible invitation to take over a lucrative fruitful business. It would be sort of like when Sam Walton, the owner of Wal-Mart, went to his sons and said “Hey, sons, I want you to take over Wal-Mart when I’m gone,” and one of those sons ended up becoming the chairman of the board, and I suppose if you have sales in the realm of $500 billion a year like Wal-Mart, that would certainly count as a gracious invitation.

Here’s the thing I want you to realize about these sons, is they had it good. Don’t miss that in the story. Anybody listening to this story would think “I wish I was those sons. I wish I had a father like that.” He was not only wealthy and abundant, but generous and gracious and says “be a part of the family, enjoy your inheritance. Join me in the work of the vineyard.”

There’s a second thing these sons have in common. Not just that they received a gracious invitation, second thing we notice about these sons is they both blew it. This is the second thing I want you to note here about what these sons have in common, is they both, they both screw it up. They both ruin this wonderful, gracious invitation, and this is one of the things that many people when they read this parable miss entirely. You can’t miss it this morning, ’cause if you miss it this morning, you’re going to miss the whole point here. Both sons screw up the invitation in some way, in their own way to be sure, but they both mess it up.

If you look down in the passage, you see how it happened. Look at verse 29 again. The father goes to the first son and says “Will you be a part of my vineyard?” and the son says “I will not. No way am I joining you in your vineyard. I’m not going to do that.” Can you imagine in the ancient world what a slap in the face that would be to a father? For a son to thumb his nose at his father’s invitation. Of course, I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to join you in your vineyard. No way.

The second son blows it in his own way. His father goes to him, in verse 30, notice this, and his father goes to him and it first it sounds great. “I’ll go. Yeah, great, I’ll be a part of this, sure.” And then it turns out that he ends up, in a sense, being a fraud. He’s not serious. He’s not a pretender. He doesn’t actually do it. He doesn’t actually show up. And once you realize that both sons blow the invitation, then the point of the parable changes. You and I think about parables in a way that most of the world thinks about parables. We think, “oh, parables are about a righteous person and an unrighteous person, and the righteous person he gets to go to heaven, and the unrighteous person doesn’t, and that’s what parables are all about.” But when you look at this parable, it’s not about a righteous and an unrighteous person. It’s about two unrighteous people. And once you realize it’s about two unrighteous people, then the question changes. And now it’s a question of given that they both blew it, who ends up right with their father in the end? To put it another way, you could ask who ends up being the real son, the true son?

Now we’ve got to pause here on this first point this morning before we go any further and just let this sink in because this idea that we’ve all blown it, that we’ve all sinned, that we’ve all ruined a relationship with a gracious loving father, that we’ve all messed it up… This is the heart and soul of the Reformation. This is why Luther wanted to talk about repentance. This is the whole point of getting Christianity. If you don’t understand this, then religion will not make any sense to you, says Jesus. This is the starting point, you’ve got to get this right. If it’s not clear by now, of course, we know in the parable that the father is symbolic in the parable of God. And if it’s not obvious that the vineyard in this parable is symbolic of the kingdom of God, which it is throughout many other passages in the gospels, and this is a picture of how everyone has ruined, in some sense, this gracious invitation. It’s broken, it’s distorted, it’s rejected.

Now that raises a different question then. Given that, what would be done? Or given that, what are the possible responses? And that leads us to our second point this morning. Our first point was to get something about these two sons. Now secondly, let’s look at their two responses. And here’s where Jesus lays out the two main options for how to handle a broke relationship with God. And I would suggest to you this morning that these aren’t just two options, I would suggest to you that these are the two options. These are the only two options. When you whittle it all down, it’s almost like this is the entire enchilada, that people can be broken down into these two categories. And what are the two responses? We’ll see it now. It’s simple. It’s like some are faced with this broken relationship and they pretend. They fake it. And others, when they’re faced with this broken relationship, they own it, they admit it, and they repent.

The two options then are the pretender and the repenter. Let’s look at the pretender first. Here is the first son. He’s the one that pretends, and it’s actually the second son in the story. We’ll start with the second son first. And as will be clear throughout the story, for Jesus this is symbolic, the second son is symbolic of the Pharisees. And when you look at the second son at first, in verse 30, this son starts off looking really good. Man, he looks good. Look at verse 30. Especially when you compare him to the first son. The father goes to him and says “Will you go?” and he says, “Well, sure.” Look at the text: “I go, sir. I’ll do it. I’ll join you.” And there’s this appearance of loyalty. There’s this sense of fidelity. There’s a sense that this is the good son. There is respect here. Notice the word “sir.” This is really the word in Greek “kurios” which means “lord.” The son goes to his father and says “Well, of course, father, of course, my Lord, of course, my master. I’ll do what you say. I’m the good son. I’m with you. I’m loyal. I’m committed. I’ll go work in your vineyard.”

Then you realize something’s just not quite right here. Because when you read on in the text, very quickly you realize that this son had no intention of working in the vineyard. He had no interest of actually keeping his promise to his father. In fact, he viewed his relationship with his father as something that was a posturing, that what really matter is looking the part. It’s no actually doing it. What matters is looking like the real son. Putting on what you might call the uniform. And playing the role.

Of course, we know in the gospels that this is one of Jesus’ big complaints against the Pharisees. He was always knocking them for precisely this mentality about religion, that religion is standing up in the marketplaces and giving an impressive prayer, that religion is about fasting and making sure everyone sees it, and that religion is about making sure you tithe in a way that people can watch you and give you praise, that religion is putting on the display. It’s a religion of pretending.

You know what’s interesting about the religion of pretending that we all struggle with is that it simply is a symptom of a culture of pretending. It’s not just that in the religious sphere we have the tendency to want to look better than we are, but even in the world out there we have a tendency to look and put ourselves forward as better than we really are. And we see even in our culture just example after example of people who are sort of fakers and in a sense imposters and wanting to look good to others, actually pretending to be people they absolutely are not.

In fact, the story that comes to mind here is the very famous story of Frank Abagnale. Frank Abagnale may be the consummate example of someone whose whole life was spent pretending, pretending to be someone he wasn’t. He spent a good bit of his life pretending to be an airline pilot where he went around the different airlines and even actually found a way into the cockpit and even was allowed at one point, amazingly, to fly the plane even though he knew nothing about how to fly and put hundreds of lives at risk. Another point in his life he pretended to be a doctor. In fact, he even ended up being appointed as the resident chief pediatrician in a Georgia hospital, if you can imagine. Many, many people under his care and many almost died because he had no idea what he was actually doing. At another point in his life he pretended to be an attorney, a lawyer. He actually faked a transcript from Harvard University and he took a job, if you can imagine, in the Louisiana State Attorney General’s office as an attorney, and it was all fake. You may have heard the name Frank Abagnale. They made a movie about him. You’ve probably seen the movie: Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonard DiCaprio. The sad thing about the film, though, is they glorified his life as this fun adventure, when in reality his whole life was spent looking over his shoulder, wondering when he was going to be found out, eventually ended up in prison, paying back millions and millions of dollars.

We can look into our culture, and the examples continue. I just noticed in the news last week a Canadian man was arrested for pretending to be a doctor doing fake surgeries and ruined many people’s lives. Last spring a man was sentenced to prison for pretending to be a Navy Seal, a war hero and taking government money. There is an epidemic now we read about about how college applications are filled with so much fraud in them, and that colleges have to work hard to be able to suss out who’s speaking the truth and who isn’t. We have students pretending to have grades they’ve never earned and claim to play sports they’ve never played and to have an SAT score they never achieved.

And of course, the biggest culprit in all of this as we put forward our fake selves in our culture has to be that wonderful thing we call Facebook. You ever notice what never makes it to Facebook? When is the last time you saw someone post on Facebook, “Oh, I just want to let everyone know I had a big throw down fight with my spouse this morning” post? Yelled at my kids this afternoon, I wanted to put that out there. Just got fired from my job, here ya go. No, what makes it to Facebook, well, “my family went apple picking this weekend,” right? And there’s this wonderful picture of a dangling apple in perfect focus with the sun shining through it. Or there’s a picture of this wonderful filet mignon I ordered and I’m taking a shot of the plate because I just got a promotion at work and look at the wonderful life I have.

And we realize that at our core we have this tendency in our lives to put forward a front, to pretend we are what we’re not. And Jesus has a word for that in the world of religion. It’s called hypocrisy.

You know, hypocrisy is an interesting thing when you think about it. How does someone end up as a hypocrite? No one sets out to be a hypocrite, right? It’s not like you wake up one morning and say, “You know, I’d really like to become a hypocrite.” How do you get there? See, what you have to realize about hypocrisy is it actually is borne out of an earlier and more foundational misunderstanding. It actually grows out of an earlier and more foundational religious mistake, and that is this idea that God accepts me on the basis of my good works. And when you think that God accepts you on the basis of your good works, you set out be good. The problem is you find out very quickly that you’re not.

We set out to be good. Isn’t that what religion is about? To be good? And I set out to be good and I quickly realize I’m not good! And then I’m faced with the decision: What do I do then? When religion’s about being good, but I’m not good, I fake it.

You know what’s crazy about hypocrisy is, of course, hypocrites know God sees, right? I mean, it’s common sense. So the sad state of the hypocrite is that he’s reduced to simply trying to impress other people. What a sad state to be in. That’s this second son. This is the pretender.

Now truth be told, there’s some of you here this morning that are hearing this second son described and you’re hearing all of this description about sort of living a life where you project yourself as better than you are and you’re hearing that and you’re saying “That is me. I am that person.” And if that’s you this morning, then there’s a word that can describe you. And by the way, that’s all of us on one level, but if you’re finding yourself that that’s the way you view life and that’s the way you view religion, there’s a word that describes your life, and we know what it is. You are exhausted. There is nothing more tiring and exhausting than living a life that’s a fraud and a fake, wondering if someone’s going to see the crack in the disguise and look behind the mask and see who you really are.

Jesus says I’ve got a better option for you than that life. There’s a better choice than being a pretender. In fact, that’s where Jesus takes us to the first son, and says here’s what I want you to be. I want you to be a repenter.

Look down now with me at this first son, back in verse 29, an amazing little verse that we of course have already read, but look at it again. Here is the essence of repentance. He thumbs his nose at his father, “I won’t do it.” But look what it says after that: But afterward, later, he changed his mind and went. The Greek phrase here that’s being used for the changing of the mind is really a word that we could translate “repentance.” It has this sense of regret and sorrow and a realization of what I’ve done. And right after that he turns around and he goes back to his father and does what he should have done the first time.

And what you have here in verse 29 is a wonderful little picture of what repentance really is. It gives us the definition of it, the meaning of it, and I want you to notice what repentance is not here. Repentance is not just simply knowing you’re wrong, or agreeing that your acts are wrong. Many people do things all the time and they know it’s wrong. That’s not repentance. Repentance is not just feeling bad about an act. There’s many people who live their lives and they do an act and they know it’s wrong and they feel bad about–that’s not repentance. What’s repentance is to know it’s wrong, to regret how it’s offended God, and then to turn back to God in awareness of the forgiveness that’s in Christ. That is true repentance.

When you think about the repenter and the pretender then, there’s many things that separate them. But there’s one main thing that separates the repenter from the pretender, and that is the repenter comes clean. Takes the mask off. Here’s who I really am. Here’s what I’ve really done. Here it is, all on the table. What the repenter does that the pretender will never do, is he simply admits it. And he admits it in light of the forgiveness in Christ and turns from it.

Now, that’s a hard thing to do. Know what our culture will tell us when you think you’re wrong? Our culture, when you think you’re wrong, our culture will tell you, “Well, just double down on being right. If you think you’re wrong, just act more like you’re right and it’ll all be fine. Don’t worry about this admitting it and coming clean and being honest about it.” Our culture is a culture of resisting ever admitting that we’re wrong.

You ever known someone in your life that was one of those people that just would never admit, and just had such a hard time admitting they’re wrong? Ever known someone like that? I know that as I ask that question every wife just elbowed her husband, and every husband just nudged their wife: “Hey, look, he’s talking about you. Look at this.”

But really, have you ever known anybody who would never admit it and you tell them they’re wrong and you’ve sinned against me, or I see the sin in your life, and they resist it and they buck against it, and they bristle under it, and they make a counter argument, and they make their excuses, and they say “no, way” and then finally after an hour of deliberating and back and forth, they eke out this bare admission: “Okay,” finally, “I’m wrong.”

The lesson of this parable is don’t be that person. Be a quick repenter.

If there’s ever a take away from a passage this morning, this is it. Today there’s many here, no doubt, that have a sin that you know you’re holding onto, and that you’re hiding. God’s simple message to you is to come clean. To own it. Repent of it. When we talk about being a quick repenter, we’re not talking about repenting flippantly. We’re not talking about repenting casually. We’re talking about repenting with an awareness that it’s probably very likely as a fallen sinner that I have made a mistake and I’m going to come clean and I’m going to own it. That’s the heart of the repenter. That’s the heart of the converted person.

Let us not be like Charles Schulz, who famously quipped one day, and of course he meant it as a joke, but it captures our culture. Schulz says this: “I never made a mistake in my life. I thought I did once, but it turned out I was wrong.”

Why are we so afraid to admit we’re wrong? Is it not likely we’re wrong, given what we believe theologically? Oh, that we be people less concerned about looking good in front of men, and more concerned about being right with God.

That leads us to our third observation this morning. We’ve looked at two men, what they had in common; two responses, how one pretended and one repented. And now two outcomes. And here’s where we come to the crescendo of the text, of course, for Jesus says what’s incredible here is that these aren’t just two different responses to God, they are two different destinations. And he lays out the outcome. He starts again with the pretending son, the second son. He delivers his verdict upon him in verse 31, and this a stunning verdict. This is an incredible verdict. This is a monumental verdict. This is a verdict that changes your perception of the way religion works.

Look at verse 31. Jesus asked them: Which of the two did the will of his father? Notice what he’s doing here. He’s making them admit it. Did you notice that? He doesn’t t just say, “Well, I’ll tell you who did the will of his father.” He makes them say it. And they say “the first son.” And notice the verdict. Jesus says “yes, and truly I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you do.”

Now in our day and age, we hear about tax collectors and prostitutes in the Bible so much it just zings right over our head, but in Jesus’ day, this would have made everyone stop. Can you imagine how many sermons the Pharisees had preached against prostitutes and tax collectors? Countless sermons, countless declarations of how they would never enter the kingdom of God. And yet Jesus turns the tables here and says well, actually the opposite is true. They will enter the kingdom of God and you will not. And make no mistake about what’s happening here. People read a passage like this and they think, “see, Jesus is just fine with prostitutes and tax collectors.” No, that’s not what’s happening here. Jesus isn’t affirming the behavior of prostitutes and tax collectors, the Pharisees rightly condemned it. What Jesus is saying that what makes the difference with the prostitute and the tax collector is that they repent, and you did not. Do tax collectors and prostitutes get to heave because God’s not concerned about tax collecting fraud and prostitutes? No. They get to heaven simply because they repent.

Look what he says in verse 32: “For John came to you, and you didn’t believe him. But look, they went to the tax collectors and prostitutes and they believed him.” You know what the means? That means there are two kinds of people in the world, and they’re not the kind you think they are. You see, if we say there’s two kinds of people in the world, we think that it’s the righteous and the unrighteous, the righteous get to go to heaven and the unrighteous don’t. Those are two kinds of people in the world. And Jesus says “oh, no, those are not the two kinds of people in the world. The two kinds of people in the world are the pretenders and the repenters, and the repenters no matter how awful the sin, even prostitutes, the great news of the gospel, the glory of the gospels, they enter the kingdom of God and not the self-righteous.”

Of course, that leads Jesus to make the second observation, is it’s not just that the second son doesn’t make it in, but the first son does. That first son represents the prostitutes and the tax collectors. You know who that first son represents? You and me. But as you think about that this morning, here’s the thing I want you to realize. Is that it’s actually not the sons that are the main point of the parable. To be sure, they’re the lesson for us and to be sure we want to identify we with the first son and not the second, yes. But if you think that’s the hero of the story, so to speak, then you’ve missed the point of the parable. What is really incredible about the parable, what you should really note, is not so much what the first son and the second son did, but of course you should do that, what’s really amazing is how gracious and forgiving the father is to that repentant son.

So incredibly forgiving. He welcomes back a repentant sinner. This parable is about repentance to be sure, but it’s about repentance in light of a forgiving God. And by the way, that’s why you should repent. Because God really does forgive. And here’s something for you to think about this morning. The truth of the matter is God is more willing to forgive than we are often willing to repent. If we were only more willing to repent, then we would experience more of God’s gracious forgiveness.

Some of you this morning will look at me and say, “oh, but you don’t know, Mike, you don’t know what I’ve done. If you knew what I did, then you’d realize why I’m living a life of pretending, because I could never come clean with what I’ve done and who I am.” Of course, lurking behind that sentiment is the idea that God would never really forgive me anyway, even if I did.

Here’s the amazing truth of the gospel this morning, and that is yes, he will. The Westminster Confession of Faith talks about repentance. You know, I love the Westminster Confession of Faith, but I’ve got to say there’s not a lot of quotables in the Westminster Confession of Faith. But here’s one, and I want you to let this sink in today because this is the whole thing wrapped up. The Confession tells us this: There is no sin so great that is can bring damnation upon those who truly repent. There is no sin so great that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent. If you accept the first point of the parable that we’ve all blown it, that is the best news you can possibly ever hear. No matter what you’ve done, no matter who you are, no matter how ugly you think you are behind the mask, that Jesus welcomes repentant sinners, and he will always forgive those who truly repent and trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness. That’s the point of the Reformation. That’s the point of the gospel. That’s why Martin Luther put it number one on the list. It’s all by God’s mercy.

As we tie this together and draw this to a close, we’ve seen a whole bunch here on repentance. Two sons that blew it, two responses, one pretends/one repents, two outcomes. The people you think would never make it into the kingdom of God, if they repent, they do. And the people you think will make it into the kingdom of God, if they don’t repent, they won’t.

As I thought about this passage this week for the Reformation Sunday at Christ Covenant Church, I thought to myself, you know, this passage is just too basic. It’s just too simple. I mean, you know, it’s Reformation Sunday, shouldn’t we come up with some complicated theological doctrine from the Reformation that sort of we have to unpack and uncover and everyone is like “Wow, I didn’t know how smart those Reformers were, ” and all this sort of thing, and I thought “this passage isn’t up to the challenge.” But look at this. You realize in this passage the simplicity, the beauty, the basicness of the Gospel. God forgives unrepentant sinners, what glorious good news. Amen and amen.

Let’s pray together. Our Lord, we confess that we spend most of our life pretending. Lord, we confess that we’re a bit of a faker culture, even in evangelicalism. Lord, may you forgive us today. Lord, renew our hearts. And may, Lord, most of all, may we come clean, confess our sins, turn to Christ, and be forgiven. We pray this in his precious name. Amen.