"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.
"Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go.
"Which of the two did what his father wanted?"
"The first," they answered.
Jesus said to them, "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. —Matthew 21:28-32
We have been looking at expectations. This short parable in Matthew 21 helps us to base our expectations on the gospel, rather than on performance. This has important implications for parents with teenagers and, as Berta’s comment illustrates, for teenagers themselves, as well.
We have been viewing the interchange in this parable as if it were a video that could be paused. This is actually a good tool for understanding any biblical narrative. A narrative is a retelling of an event or story in historical sequence. It is not only appropriate, but essential that the narrative be read as if you were there witnessing the story as it unfolds. For our purpose—gaining a biblical view of expectations—we have paused the narrative of The Two Sons twice. The first time was when the second son said I will when asked to go work in the field. The second time was when Jesus said that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the kingdom of God ahead of the esteemed religious leaders of the day. This was a shocking statement. These “sinners” were people to be shunned and avoided. The fact that they would somehow be more pleasing to God than the religious leaders were was unthinkable. Jesus’ words brought reactions of outrage and anger, not only against the sinners, but against Christ himself. That is why we have paused the narrative again at this point. It is essential to understand the impact of Jesus’ words on these leaders who thought they had it all together. Internally they were livid.
Okay, let’s start the video again. Jesus continues to attack their self-righteous expectations. Now he brings John back into the discussion. Remember that the leaders' refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of John’s ministry in verses 23-27 of this chapter is the occasion for this parable and the one that immediately follows. The people with unacceptable behavior had heeded John’s call to repentance. These leaders had not, at least in part because they didn’t think they had anything for which to repent.
Jesus is using a theme that is a dominant one in the Gospels. We are all in need of a Savior, both those who are tax collectors and prostitutes and those who are on the inside of the religious establishment.
Parents, it is all too easy to look at your teenagers and be disappointed in their behavior. This disappointment often flows from performance expectations instead of gospel expectations. I can hear someone asking, what is a gospel expectation? It is simply this: goodness flows only from a life that has been changed by the gospel. Goodness is not something that can be automatically assumed because a child was raised in a Christian home. You see, the religious leaders assumed and expected that a good Jew, a good Israelite, would not be a prostitute or a turncoat tax collector. As parents it is easy to form an expectation that your child will not lie, cheat, mess with pornography, drink, or hang out with the wrong crowd. We expect they will be better than that. But that is not a gospel based expectation. It is not an expectation rooted in biblical reality. Your children were born predisposed to do things that will make your heart sick and turn your stomach. Look at Galatians 5:19-21:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Ephesians 2:1-3 says your children were born lusting for these things. Not a pretty picture, is it? In order for your expectations of your teenagers to be biblical, they must first be based on the gospel. No amount of right parenting will free your children from the lusts of their flesh that they were born with. Only the gospel grace of Jesus Christ can change your children’s desires. When you see these works of the flesh manifest themselves in your children, or in others, the natural, fleshly thing to do is to be disappointed. You expected better of them. But why? Because they are your children? Simply being your child, no matter how diligent your efforts at parenting, is not enough. You were born with the same issues your kids are having. Only the gospel is enough. Yes, the sinful, fleshly, natural actions of your children are painful. But the response that you make to their sin must be radically different than you expected better of them. Your response must flow from the reality of knowing and living the gospel for yourself.
Okay, time to pause the narrative one last time. We are in the middle of verse 32. Think about your struggles with your teenagers — your disappointments, your heartbreak over their tendencies to do what they were born to do. How can you have a different, biblical attitude towards your children’s sins?
There will be probably one or two posts between this post and the final one in this series. Give this some thought. Let me know your reactions. This is important material to grasp.
Blessings in Christ.