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Actions Speak Louder than Words



When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" And they argued with one another, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet." So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of 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 after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him."

MATTHEW 21:23-32

A sermon by Mike O'Connor
A survey was distributed during worship one Sunday morning. Among the questions was, "Do you think there should be an evening Bible Study?" The young pastor was overwhelmed by the response. Over fifty persons indicated that there should be an evening Bible study. The elated pastor began making plans. The wise, experienced lay leader visited the pastor a day or two later. Gently, he advised the young man that he had asked the wrong question. Instead of asking, "Do you think there should be a Bible study?" the pastor should have asked, "Are you willing to attend an evening Bible study?" A second questionnaire was issued. This time, the question was, "Are you willing to attend Bible study?" The result was quite different from the week before. Only twelve persons indicated they would be willing to attend this time. Let's set our parable for the day in its proper context. Tension was in the air the day Jesus entered the temple. Certain religious officials were plotting against him. They viewed him as a threat. Jesus' teachings ran counter to their tradition. They had to do something to silence him. They decided to try to try to incriminate him. They asked him a two-part question, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" It was an obvious trap. No matter how Jesus answered, he would have been in trouble. Knowing it was a trap, he countered with his own question. "Did the baptism of John come from heaven," he asked, "or was it of human origin?" This question caught the religious leaders by surprise. They did not know how to answer. They began arguing among themselves, "If we say, from heaven,' he will say to us, Why then did you not believe him?'" On the other hand, if they answered that John's authority came from human origin, that might cause a riot because many in the crowd thought that John was a prophet sent by God. They realized it was a no-win situation. No matter how they answered, they would be in trouble. They finally said, "We do not know." Jesus told them that he would not answer their question either. SOMETIMES, WE ARE BLIND TO WHAT GOD IS DOING IN OUR MIDST. That was certainly true of these officials. Jesus was standing in front of them, and they failed to recognize him. That happens sometimes. John Powell is a professor of theology at Loyola University in Chicago. He tells a story about a former student who begrudgingly took one of his theology courses. It soon became evident that Tommy didn't want to study theology, but it was a required course. Near the end of the class, Tommy had a question to ask, "Professor Powell, do you think I will ever find God?" Father Powell knew all too well that Tommy was not only cynical about God but that he also was the self-appointed "atheist in residence." The professor thought for a moment and honestly replied, "No, I don't. I don't think you will ever find God, Tommy ” but I am absolutely sure that God will find you!" With that, Tommy left the classroom without saying another word. They did not see each other for some time. Then, one day, out of the blue, Tommy walked into Father Powell's office. There was something different about Tommy. He told his former professor that he had a terminal illness and did not have long to live. His once youthful body had already started to deteriorate, but his eyes were bright, and his face was aglow. "What I really came to see you about," Tommy said, "was what you said to me on the last day of class. When the doctors removed the lump and told me it was malignant, I got really serious about locating God...I really began banging bloody fists against the doors of heaven, " he said. But God did not come out. In fact, nothing happened. Tommy went on to tell Father Powell that he never really had a good relationship with his father. However, Tommy did not want to die without ever expressing his love for his dad. So he went home. "My dad was reading the newspaper," Tommy said. It was awkward, but Tommy finally said the words, "Dad, I love you.” that's all. I just wanted you to know that." The newspaper fluttered to the floor. "Then my father did two things I could never remember him ever doing before," Tommy said, "he cried, and he hugged me. One day, I turned around," Tommy told his former professor, " and God was there. He didn't come to me when I pleaded with him. But the important thing is that he found me." (2) Sometimes, we are blind to God's activity in our midst. This brings us to a second truth: SOMETIMES OUR ACTIONS DO NOT MATCH OUR WORDS. Jesus told the religious officials a parable. A farmer had two sons. The father went to his first son and said, "Go and work in the vineyard today." The son was somewhat rebellious. He replied, "I will not." The father was disappointed but said nothing further. The farmer then asked his second son to help in the vineyard. "I go, sir!" he told his father. Any parent would be proud of such a child. With the assurance that the second son would help, the farmer went to work in another section of the vineyard. Things didn't entirely turn out the way the father expected. The first son, who answered, "I will not," changed his mind and spent the entire day working in his father's vineyard. The second son, the one who said, "I go, sir!" also had a change of mind. Maybe some of his friends came by and asked him to accompany them. The second son, the one who promised to help his father, did not. Jesus asked the chief priests and the temple elders, "Which of the two did the will of his father?" "The first," they answered. The parable puzzled them. They never dreamed it was about them. Best-selling author Stephen Covey writes about his time as a Marriott School of Management faculty member. One of the young executives asked him how he was doing in class. As they talked for a while, Stephen Covey confronted him directly: "You didn't really come in to find out how you are doing in class," he said. You came in to find out how you are doing. You know how you are doing in the class far better than I do, right?" The young executive answered that he knew how he was doing in class. He admitted that he was just trying to get by. He gave a host of reasons and excuses for cramming and taking shortcuts. The young man had come in to see if it was working. Covey, reflecting on this incident, writes, "If people play roles and pretend long enough, giving in to their vanity and pride, they will gradually deceive themselves." (3) Such was the case of these religious officials. They had been using all the right words through the right ceremonies. They had God on their lips but not in their hearts. They had said "yes" to God, but He was not real to them. Sometimes, we are blind to God's activity in our midst. Sometimes, our actions do not match our words. And one final thought: SOMETIMES THE SPIRIT BREAKS THROUGH. Jesus told the chief priest and elders of the temple, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you." What Jesus told them was unthinkable. These men were the best people in the land. Yet Jesus said tax collectors and prostitutes were going into the kingdom ahead of them. You see, these officials had used their religion to insulate themselves against God. They had their traditions. They had their rules. They really had no need for God. On the other hand, the folks at the bottom of society had nothing - except God. True, they had said "no" to God some time in the past, but it was not too late if they said "yes" now. On the other hand, the officials had once said "yes," but they had never let God into their lives. Jesus reminded these officials of the preaching of John the Baptist. "Tax collectors and the prostitutes believed (John)," Jesus said, "and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him." Change was possible even for these men, who were too blind to see. They did not realize that the message of repentance was for them, too. A pastor in San Diego was called into the sanctuary early one morning. The custodian wanted him to see a strange offering that had been left on the altar. Hanging on the altar were a pair of brown corduroy pants, a belt, a white T-shirt, a pair of tan suede boots, and a note. He noticed blood stains on both the shirt and on the note. The note consisted of only three words, "Please listen to God." It was signed and included a phone number. The pastor dialled the number. A nineteen-year-old man answered and told his story. He had run away from home and had been wandering in a wasteland of drugs, drifting from one place to another, getting into all kinds of trouble and involved in all kinds of sordid behaviour—the night before he had hit bottom. There had been a fight and an almost fatal beating. After making sure the victim of his assault would be all right in the emergency room of a nearby hospital, this young man came to the church, found an unlocked door, and went into the sanctuary. He stayed there all night, crying and praying. He asked God to forgive him and show him the way to go. All at once, the presence of God became natural to him. He knew God was there. He felt God's forgiveness. An incredible peace came over him. He committed himself to Jesus Christ. He was determined to make right the things he had messed up. The young man felt fresh and clean, like a new person. To symbolize his new life and commitment, he put on some new clothes with him in his bedroll and left his old clothes on the altar as a kind of offering, giving God his old life. He walked out the door, a new person filled with a new hope, a new life, a new direction. (4) like the first son in the parable, this young man once said, "I will not," but later changed his mind and found a new life. Did the religious officials get the point of Jesus' parable? I would like to know if you and I get the point - for the message of repentance is also for us. Sometimes, we are blind to God's actions in our life. Sometimes, we are all talk and no action. Sometimes, we refuse to let God break into our lives and help us make a new start by His grace. I am a perfect example of that . I have been doing sermons for over 23 years and have never attended a bible study. Why is that? I have been swamped. I have a fear of going. I have not wanted to take that step. Was this beyond me? I really think that if I can accomplish 31 years of perfect attendance at Rotary that I could at least attempt going to a Bible study. A farmer had two sons....
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