ESV - 31 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.
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I'm not sure that I would agree with the characterization of tax collectors in the discussion section. There were apparently at least some from each group (tax collectors and prostitutes) who genuinely repented and reformed based on the preaching of John the Baptist, even though their original lifestyle had been one of sin and disobedience (similar to the first son in the parable that Jesus had just told). (Even one of Jesus' own apostles (Matthew) had been a tax collector before Jesus called him.) However, those to whom Jesus was speaking (the chief priests and the elders) considered themselves to be righteous and in no need of repentance, even though they were as sinful and disobedient to God as the second son in Jesus' parable. They therefore did not respond to the earlier call to repentance that John the Baptist had preached -- even after they saw such people as tax collectors and prostitutes repenting in response to it. Each and every individual (no matter who) must recognize his or her own sinfulness and need of repentance and forgiveness (as Paul did in 1 Timothy 1:15-16) to be in a right relationship with God.
The message in this scripture is two fold, maybe threefold. First, one has to realize that they need to be saved before they discover how they can be saved. After realizing you need to be saved, the next realization is that you cannot save yourself. After you realize these two things, then you start to seek how you can be saved, and I believe God will then reveal Himself to you (usually through a witness) and lead you to Christ who is the Way! John the Baptist came to the tax collectors and prostitutes preaching repentance. They knew they were sinners and needed to be saved, and they believed John’s testimony. Therefore, the first principle illustrated is that it is through belief and repentance that you are saved. (You demonstrate the sincerity of this belief by your actions.) The second principle is about who has the authority to save you. Remember that a father has authority over his son. In the parable, the second son gave lip service to his father and just mouthed the words of obedience without following through with action to illustrate his belief in his fathers authority. The first son realized he was a sinner and repented, thereby showing his belief by his action. If we truly believe Christ is the only Way for us to be saved, our actions will demonstrate that belief. The third thing we can learn from this story is that anyone can be saved. At this time, tax collectors and prostitutes were most likely considered the worst of sinners, the reason Jesus chose them to make his point. All they had to do to be saved was to TRULY BELIEVE, which they did as illustrated by their repentance as preached by John the Baptist. (As a footnote, in our story, the second son probably believed he would be just fine even if he didn’t follow his father’s instruction. Just like mouthing that you are a son of God won’t get you into heaven. If we truly believe, we won’t just mouth the words, we will follow our Father’s instruction. Not to earn our salvation. We can’t do that, but because we believe in our hearts that He deserves our obedience and love!)
Prostitutes and tax collectors know they are sinners. It is easy for them to believe Jesus died for sinners. Romans 3:23. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All, not some, but all. So we are all sinners. We have no way to pay our debt of sin to God. We are condemned to hell. Romans 6:23 For the penalty for sin is death, BUT the GIFT of God is ETERNAL LIFE. Jesus paid the sin debt we owe God and set us free. John 3:18 Believers can no longer be condemned, but unbelievers are condemned already because they have not believed on the name of the Son of God. Sinners know they need a savior. Self righteous hypocrites have no need of a savior. They believe they are saved by their own merit. Since we are all sinners we need a savior who paid our sin debt in full so we can never be condemned again. John 3:18. Believers are no longer condemned, but unbelievers are condemned already because they have not believed on the name of the Son of God. Romans 3:26-28 For He is the just and the justifier of them that BELIEVE in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what Law? By the law of works? Nay, but by the law of FAITH. Therefore, we conclude a man is justified by FAITH apart from the deeds of the law. Galatians 2:21. I do not void the grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. If we could be saved by keeping Gods laws, then Jesus died for nothing. That is blasphemy. John 3:16-18. Prostitutes and tax collectors have His prefect righteousness imputed to their account. Romans 4:6, apart from works. John 10:28-29. No one can pluck them from His hand. Jesus died for sinners. Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. ALL, not some, but ALL. One lie would send us to hell forever. But Jesus paid the debt and set us free. John 6:47. Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me HATH EVERLASTING LIFE. Jesus said it, we believe it, and that settles it.
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