An eighty-five-year-old couple, who had been married almost sixty years, died suddenly and tragically in a car crash. They had both been in good health for the last ten years mainly because of the woman’s interest in health food and exercise. When they reached the pearly gates, St. Peter met them and took them to their heavenly mansion which was decked out with a beautiful kitchen, large screen TV and a master bathroom suite with a Jacuzzi. As they "oohed and aahed" the old man asked Peter how much all this was going to cost. It's free, Peter replied, this is Heaven.
Next, Peter took them to see the championship golf course behind their home. They could golf everyday and each week the course changed into a new golf course. The old man asked, what are the green fees? Peter's reply, this is heaven, you play for free. Afterwards, they went to the club house and saw a lavish buffet with the best foods of the world. How much is it going to cost to eat here? asked the old man. Don't you understand yet? This is heaven, it’s all absolutely free!
As they looked around, the old man asked, “where are the low fat and low cholesterol tables?" Well, Peter responded, that is the best part. You can eat as much as you like of whatever you like, and you never get fat and you never get sick. This is Heaven! With that the old man went into a fit of anger, throwing down his hat and stomping on it. Peter and the man’s wife both tried to calm him down. Finally, Peter asked him what was wrong. The old man looked at his wife and said, this is all your fault. If it weren't for your bran muffins, I could have been here ten years ago!
I like to daily live by was first spoken by the apostle Paul. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians 1:21-24)
Heaven is my home and I long to return there. Although I would love to leave this messed up world in which we live and use my ‘get into heaven now’ card, I have to be cognitive (and somewhat rational) and acknowledge that God has a plan and don’t know all the details of His plan. When we believe that God has a plan in creating this earthly world of ours and also in creating each of us, then I must concede, even when I err in the choices I make, that life has a purpose. When you hold to this belief, then abortion, euthanasia, suicide (assisted or not) and terminating the life of a potential human (pre-conception) must be wrong and a denial of the sovereignty of God over all created life. On the sixth day God looked at everything He created, including man and woman and “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
In the end, it all comes down to a balancing act between my choice verses God’s choice. God told our first parents that they could eat anything in the garden – with one exception. They were not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden because this leads to death. That’s like telling a young child not to stick their hands in the fireplace, although it might look really pretty, because in doing so you will get burned. We all know what happens in either case. “The fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6). God’s perfect creation was marred by Sin and disobedience along with the curse of death.
God does not produce empty words anymore than a parent concerned about a child burning themselves on a hot stove or roaring fireplace. It’s here that we can also begin to understand the essence of created free-will. Today, we hear a lot of people speak about freedom. When a parent sees a child reaching out to touch a hot oven, we explain to them that they will get hurt if they touch it. If they still, try to reach out and touch it we grab their hand and pull it away. If they continue to disobey and try to touch the hot stove – we remove them from the room. Some parents go so far as to punish children or put them in time-out because they refuse of obey. Now, notice what God does. He puts his two immature creations in a garden and tells them not to touch the tree (with the fruit that is pleasing to the eye and good for food) and then God leaves the garden! God is not with them to prevent the temptation, that leads to disobedience, which leads to death.
In giving us free-will or free-choice, God allows us to select our own path in life. Our choices might be painful, while some choices may also lead to death – as in suicide. For thousands of years, since the suicide of Judas Iscariot, the Christian church has been challenged to understand if the salvation of the cross of Christ is effective or is not effective to a person who terminates the life God has given them prematurely. Scripture is silent and only God can answer this one! In giving us free-choice, God also gives us freedom to believe or not believe, to trust or not trust him, to follow him or to do our own thing, and most importantly, to love him or to not love him.
This last expression is one that our society grapples with regularly, because we have made love into a feeling rather than an action. Mark Twain is reported to have first said “action speaks louder than words”. This has been modernized, especially by animated movies like Disney’s ‘Up” to “when it comes to love, actions speak louder than words.” A few entertainers have even applied the words ‘don’t say you love me’ to songs implying that without the actions those words are meaningless. Many young people today are quick to say, “don’t just say that you love me, but show it through your actions.” I even came across a greeting card which was quite blunt in saying “Don’t say, just show. Don’t talk, just act. Don’t promise, just prove”.
Christians often turn to James which says that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). But, when we need a commentary of love, we turn to the ‘beloved disciple’. He writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).
In creation, we have been given the gift of free-will in order to make whatever free-choices we want to make in this life. That’s pretty straight forward, and we see that freedom of choice throughout the Bible and throughout human secular history. Each of us can look back on our own lives and see all the good choices and bad choices we have ever made. And, no matter what bad choices we have made; stealing, adultery, murder (including everything from anger to abortion), even the denial of God et al, which all put us all under the curse of death, a merciful God takes the just punishment of death, that you and I rightly deserve, to the cross where Christ deals with it in our place. God doesn’t say that he will deal with our Sin, but instead incarnationally acts in our world as the apostle says that “Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).
There is a lot of truth in saying that actions speak louder than words. Someone has once said of Mother Teressa of Calcutta that “the world is changed by your example, not by your opinion”. With the political unrest in our world, people often don’t want to take the time to listen to what a person has to say – they want action, they want change, they want to see the lives of people as being different. Even in the church, people don’t want to hear about gospel without the law and in reality, this is what Jesus is talking about today. Jesus recounts the parable of two sons, as he describes the actions of these two as speaking louder than their words. “Even small children are known by their actions, so is their conduct really pure and upright?” (Proverbs 20:11).
These particular teachings of Jesus take place after Palm Sunday – during the last week of Jesus life. This is significant because these teaching all take place in the Temple, within earshot of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Scribes as Jesus attempts to teach things that are relevant and important to the religious leaders of Israel. Jesus begins with a directed question – “what do you think?” (Matthew 21:28). Those leaders have already challenged Jesus by asking him, ‘what gives you the right [authority] to come in here?’ Jesus responds by giving them an opportunity to answer their own question – with a question followed by a parable. “A man who had two sons. (he begins). 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” (Matthew 21:28-30). It should not surprise us that the two sons were different. There was work to be done, and instead of hiring labourers, the father asked his sons to go and do the work that was required in the vineyard.
The second son answered that he would go – but never went. “I will, sir, but he did not go” (Matthew 21:30). He said that he would go but he did not go. For whatever reasons, he never went as promised. His intentions were good, his words were promissory, but his actions were missing. Jesus had come to the temple to hold up an example for the religious leaders of his day. The religious leaders felt that if they kept all of the commands and laws, they would be great in God’s kingdom. Instead, they had burdened the lives of people by adding more laws and explanations of laws than the people were able to obey. Because of all of that legalism the message of the gospel was almost lost. Jesus shows them that it’s not just keeping the law which is important, and it’s not just by actions alone, but it’s what is in a person’s heart that is important.
“What do you think?” asks Jesus. The question is directed at you today. It’s asking you to consider what you think about the second son. It’s asking you to think about when the last time was that you took a good look at your own heart? “I will, sir, but he did not go” (Matthew 21:30).
Consider your own prayer life, the time you spend reading God’s Word, your attitude towards attending worship in the church. What do you think when you go through the same rote of worship, liturgy, confession, creeds, Lord’s Prayer, and the same old familiar songs and hymns? The Lord identifies these age-old attitudes and struggles to the prophets. “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” (Isaiah 29:13). In his parable, Jesus is calling us to look at our hearts, to look at our lives, to look at our actions and understand how they all go together in our life as a Christian. In baptism, God has given us the gracious gift of faith which will produce an abundance of fruit. This faith is useless if it is not an action that is seen in this broken and sinful world in which we live.
We may live in a world that makes promises and seldom keeps them while the Christian is called to live a different life ‘in the world, while not being of the world’. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Of course, when we look at others, we need to be aware that we can’t judge a book by it’s cover. When we look at the outside, we might be only observing the production or lack of ‘the fruits of the Spirit’. When the Lord God sent Samuel to the family of Jesse, he was told that “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
“He [The man] went to the first [son] and said: Son go and work today in the vineyard” (Matthew 21:28). The boy is swift to answer saying ‘I will not’. But after having given his quick answer he appears to have second thoughts. He changes his mind and goes into the vineyard. He repented, relented and went. His first reaction was to say no. It’s easy to say no, but in the end the boys heart said yes. In the end, the son did what his father had wanted him to do.
We began with Jesus asking his audience “what do you think?” (Matthew 21:28) and Jesus ends the parable now with “which of the two [son] did what his father wanted?” (Matthew 21:31). We would have to agree with the religious leaders that it’s obviously the son who did what he had been asked to do. It’s not a matter of who said what – but who did what was asked of them. In answering ‘yes’ to Jesus those Pharisees and Scribes also passed judgment upon themselves. Then, Jesus hits the proverbial nail on the head and announces – “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31). The ones whom the religious leadership considered outside of the reach of the grace of God were going to get into heaven ahead of those who had meticulously followed all the rules.
We know that the gift of salvation is being offered to all of sinful humanity. We can be thankful and joyful that we know that God’s love and grace and salvation is ours simply because of what Christ does for us on the cross. Because of the cross, I know in my heart that Jesus has prepared the way for me to return to my heavenly home. I am a redeemed-sinner while I am living in this world. But this creates the problem of my having a split personality. On the one hand, I’m like the second son who says one thing, while he does something else. Sin does that! But, when Christ lives in me, my sinful-self still might not want to do what God wants me to do, while my heart is moved to repentance as I turn around, I change direction and my actions are representative of what the Father asks me to do. Thankfully, God’s grace says that we repent of the sins we do in thought, word and deed. In times of refreshing, Christ living in me helps me to know, as Paul writes that “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
From the moment we were baptized, the Lord has claimed us as his beloved child. From that point in time we will spend a lifetime discovering just how much God loves us and desires of us. Which one do you believe yourself to be most like – the son of empty words or the son with a heart for repentance? From time to time we might respond to our Father saying, sure God – I will go, but we don’t. Well, that’s our sinful fleshy egocentric self that wants the forbidden fruit. Prayerfully, we can be more like the first son who repents and goes. We drop our load of sin at the altar and with Christ’s help we go and do what we should have done in the first place.
Our actions ought to always speak louder than our words. Faithful actions of love come from believing hearts that allow God to love through us. Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). In this way we allow His light to shine through us and bring glory to the Father.
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We are a family of followers of Christ, who learn and share the Good News of Salvation, making disciples of Jesus Christ.
We hold weekly Sunday morning services at 10:30 am. We also host a Bible Study each Sunday morning at 09:30 am and on Tuesday afternoon at 1:00 pm. Please join us.
Our music team plays from a repertoire of many hundreds of Christian songs and Hymns, occasionally with new arrangements of traditional and contemporary selections.