No Life in the Kingdom Apart From Faith and Repentance in Christ

The audio for this sermon is here. The manuscript is below.


We’re picking up where Dave left off in Matthew 21, in the middle of Jesus’ duel with the chief priests and elders in Jerusalem.

Like we did two weeks ago, imagine that The Right Reverend Moderator of the Church of Scotland and an SNP MP walk over here at 10:45 and come through those doors while I stand in this pulpit.

They stalk down the aisle, angrily point their pointer digits at my chest, and say, “How dare you preach such things in Scotland?! By what authority do you come to this country and say what you say? What gives you the right?”

An awkward, tense situation has been foisted upon me. How do I respond?

Well, as the preacher man, I need to respond like Jesus, right? I need to respond in a Christian way.

Obviously, that means I invite them to stay for some cucumber sandwiches and tea, yeah?

No. It means I look at this religious leader, this political leader with scorn.

“You wolves, I don’t answer to you. You already know by what authority I preach. And, since you’re here, let me tell you a story. It ends with the prostitutes and junkies from High Street being better than both of you. I’ll throw a second story in for free. Spoiler alert, the point of that one is that Scotland will be crushed by God Almighty if the people don’t repent and rid themselves of you.”

“Nice of you to join us this morning.”


Make sure your Bibles are open to Matthew 21:28-46. This morning, it’s story time with Jesus. Because He’s generous, we get two stories for the price of just one sermon. Both stories are parables. A parable is a story with a point. Jesus told parables often. A lot of the time He used them to hide things from cocksure crowds, only in private explaining the meaning to the humble. This morning, we’ll see that he tells these two parables to embarrass arrogant fools.

Both parables are set in vineyards. What does that remind you of? Isaiah 5 and the cursed fig tree. What was the point there? We must bear fruit for Christ, or else.

What’s the main point in our parables this morning? There’s no life in the kingdom of God apart from genuine faith and repentance in Christ.

Another way to put it: salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.


First things first, we’ll look at the first story first, verses 28-32.

“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ 29“And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. 30“The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go.31“Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. 32“For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.

But what do you think?

Jesus calls the chief priests and elders to listen to his story.

What was His tone when He asked this question? We know He isn’t being polite. We know He isn’t being nice. He’s the King who’s come to His court and found it full of forked-tongues.

Did He ask with ice-cold steel in His voice? Hot rage? Mocking, academic interest?

“But what do you think?”

With this question, Jesus begins His tale.

A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’

The Father commands his son to go work for him.

How does the first son respond? And he answered, “I will not.”

The first son refuses his father. This is disobedience. It’s a violation of the 5th commandment.

Deuteronomy 5:16 reads, “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, that your days may be long…”

Fathers, the reason you must discipline your children when they don’t obey your instructions is that they’re sinning against God. They’re breaking His law.

If you ignore disrespect in your home, if you ignore disobedience, if you ignore your child talking back to you…

…for whatever reason, maybe you just can’t be bothered, maybe you’re soft and can’t deal with conflict, maybe your dad was harsh so you think it’s loving to be a pushover, maybe you love other things more than your children and so aren’t interested in putting in the necessary time, whatever the reason…

…if you tolerate this kind of law-breaking in your home, you are teaching your children to not take God seriously. You’re teaching them that sin isn’t a big deal.

If you legitimately tell your child to do something and your child says no, your child is sinning and deserves punishment.

So, this first son sins. He lacks the fear of God that every man needs.

But something happens. Something changes.

He regrets his rebellion and obeys his father. He goes and works in the vineyard, just as his father commanded. This is true repentance. It’s a regret for sin that births a change of course, from hard-hearted disobedience to obedience from the heart.

Jesus continues in verse 30.

The father comes to the second son and gives the same command. “Go into my vineyard and put in a good graft.”

How does the second son respond? Exactly how a son is supposed to, “I will, sir.”

This reminds me of the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Moses brings God’s law to them and they vow to do all that God has commanded. That’s exactly how you’re supposed to respond to legitimate authority.

“Sir, yes sir! Jump? How high, sir?!”

Though the second vows correctly, his vow is empty. He does nothing about it. He did not go. His words are mere words, his commitments mere lip service. He doesn’t obey.

So, the second son also sins against his father. But, unlike his brother, the second son has no repentance, no regret for his sin, no change of course. He has the outward show of righteousness without its substance.

When I was at university, the dining hall had a tray piled high with apples. I’d go and dig to find the biggest, juiciest looking apple. One day I found a red one the size of a grapefruit. I grabbed that thing with delight, took the biggest bite I could manage, and nearly gagged with disgust. The whole thing was rotten on the inside.

This is the second son. He looks exactly like he is supposed to. But he doesn’t have the fruit promised by the appearance.

Having told His first story, Jesus asks the chief priests and elders, “Which of the two did the will of his father?”

The answer’s easy enough even for chief priests and elders to get right. Both sons sinned against God and against their father. But only one son repented of his sin and turned to walk in obedience.

So, in verse 31, they answer Jesus, “The first.”

And now Jesus moves to the point of the story.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.

What’s Jesus’ point? The tax collectors and prostitutes are getting into God’s kingdom. The religious and political leaders of the nation are not. They’re excluded.

Who are the best men and women in Jerusalem? The tax collectors. The thieves who made their living robbing hard-working families, protected by Roman occupiers. The prostitutes. The harlots who made their money bringing Jerusalem’s fools down to Sheol.

Not the SNP stooges. Not Right Reverends in apostate churches. The junkies and chores and whores.

How can this be? Isn’t this transparently not true? How can Jesus say it?

Verse 32.

Jesus looks at the religious and political leaders and says, “Oh, you don’t want to talk about John? No, I think talking about John is a great idea.”

“For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.”

The chief priests and elders didn’t believe themselves to need repentance. They didn’t believe that they needed Jesus to die for their sins. By perverting God’s law, by moving the standard of right and wrong to a line they could meet, these men, bankrupt of righteousness in the eyes of God, felt quite good about themselves in the eyes of men.

“Oh, dear peasant, don’t you know that I fight for climate justice, inclusivity, diversity, multiculturalism, women’s rights, and social justice? Obviously, I’m a good man. I don’t need repentance. I don’t need Jesus.”

The chief priests and elders, just like the religious leaders and politicians in Scotland, were delusional.

But the tax collectors and prostitutes weren’t. They believed John the Baptist’s gospel preaching. They knew themselves to be sinners deserving God’s judgment. They knew Jesus to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They knew they could only be saved by the grace of God in Christ alone. They believed. They turned from their lives of sin and turned to walk in Christ’s commands.

They gave Jesus what He requires. Repentance and faith. And, so, they were welcomed into the kingdom of God.

This should have shamed the leaders in Israel. But, instead, they simply dug in their heels.

If you sit here this morning not trusting Jesus for salvation, not repenting of your rebellion, not repenting of your insistence on living your own way, you must know that as you listen to me, you’ll either become ashamed of yourself, you’ll realize how hideous your sin is, how far short you fall from goodness, how bad you are, and in your shame you’ll turn to Christ, knowing that someone as bad as you can only be saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, or you’ll be even further hardened. You’ll dig your heels in even more. And you’ll continue on the road, taken long before by chief priests and elders. It’s the road of Divine rejection, the road of Divine wrath, the road of banishment from God’s kingdom.

The road to eternal damnation.

Be ashamed of yourself and believe in Jesus.


That’s the first parable. Now, second things second. The second parable, verses 33-46.

33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. 34“When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. 35“The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. 36“Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. 37“But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38“But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39“They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40“Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” 41They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”

42Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures,
‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED,
THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone;
THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD,
AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’?

43“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. 44“And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”

45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. 46When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.

You know, Jesus is such a winsome guy. What a winsome end to his last parable. He’s clearly “earned the right” to say, in verse 33, “Listen to another parable.”

“You should be ashamed of yourself. You’re worse than a whore! Look at you…I can tell you want some more.”

This parable also features a father who owns land. On that land he plants a vineyard. And he takes good care of it. He puts a wall around it. He digs a winepress in it. He builds a tower. And hires full-time staff to tend it.

Look at the care the landowner gives his vineyard. He holds nothing back. Does this not remind you of how God cared for the nation of Israel?

Listen to J.C. Ryle restating the Apostle Paul from Romans 9:

“He separated [Israel] from the other nations, and bestowed on them countless blessings; He gave them revelations of Himself, while all the rest of the earth was in darkness; He gave them the law…the covenants…the oracles of God, while all the world beside was let alone…God dealt with the Jews as a man deals with a piece of land which he fences out and cultivates, while all the country around is left untilled and waste.”

The landowner cares for his vineyard. He then goes on a journey, leaving the vine-growers to work his vineyard. When the harvest time approaches, the landowner sends his slaves to the vine-growers to collect the fruit he’s due.

The vine-growers represent the leaders in Israel. God has put them in place as His religious and political ministers to lead the people in righteousness. They’re to work for God, not man. Instead, they’ve joined together in mutiny against God.

Slaves are sent. And the vine-growers beat one, kill another, and stone another. This is exactly how Israel’s treated God’s prophets. God sent men to call the nation to repentance. Israel’s leaders led the way in abusing and killing them.

The vine-growers in Israel aren’t interested in repentance. The prophets who call them to repentance are doing their God-given job. It isn’t the fault of the prophet that the mutineer hates him. It’s the fault of the traitors in charge.

We just studied Amos as a church. Do you remember how the leaders of Israel treated him? They tried to kick him out of the country. He wasn’t a citizen. He’d moved north to preach. I reckon if I’m here long enough your government would try the same shenanigans.

What did the leaders do to Jeremiah? He called them to repent. They threw him in a pit.

John the Baptist? He told the king that his lustful pursuits made God angry, that he must repent. What happened? Head removal.

This is how the religious and political leaders of the nation have led the people to treat the prophets.

In verse 36, again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them.

This is no blemish on an otherwise positive record. No, this is the stubborn crime of the nation.

Now, none of this has surprised God. And He ramps things up not from gullibility, but in order to make the wickedness of the vine-growers most wicked.

Verse 37, the landowner sends his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

The vine-growers are on the landowner’s land. It’s their obligation to honor his son and pay what’s owed.

At the appointed time, God the Father sent His only-begotten Son to the nation of Israel, calling for their faith, calling for repentance, for obedience, for the fruit He was owed.

Surely, the Jews would receive their Messiah?

Verse 38, But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39“They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

This is how the Jews will treat the Son of God, their King.

In Matthew 27, we’re going to read, “All the chief priests and the elders plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor…And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children’…[They] led Him away to be crucified…And when they had come to a place called Golgotha…the Place of the Skull…Then they crucified Him…the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

This is how the vine-growers treat the landowner’s son.

How shall the owner of the vineyard respond? What will he do to those vine-growers?

Jesus asks this to the chief priests and the elders. In answering, they pronounce their own judgment, agreeing with God’s sentence against them.

They say, in verse 41, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”

This is the judgment God brought on the Jewish nation for its mutiny. They rejected the prophets, so many sent by the grace of God, calling them to repentance, chance after chance to turn from sin.

They rejected the King Himself.

And, so, the Jewish nation was rejected, destroyed forever in 70 AD.

Is this not what was promised long ago in the Psalms?

Jesus quotes from Psalm 118 in verse 42.

Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures…

Which is it, oh leaders of the people? Are you stupid? Ignorant? Blind on purpose?

Did you never even read in the Scriptures?

‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone;

Psalm 118 prophesies that Jesus will be rejected by the chief priests and elders. But, though rejected, He will reign supreme.

Crucified by the Jews. Resurrected in glorious power.

And this was no accident. It wasn’t simply something God saw ahead of time. It was brought about by God Himself, according to His sovereign decree.

THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’?

Does it cause you to cringe that the wickedness of the Jews, that their brutal destruction at the hands of the Romans, were brought about by God Himself? Neither David nor Jesus cringe. Psalm 118’s promise is cause for Christian celebration!

In about 40 years, Titus surrounded Jerusalem with the Roman army. The Jews refused to surrender. False prophets preached, “Peace! Peace!”, when there was no peace. “Deliverance!”, when there was only destruction.

Famine ravaged the city. Thugs working for Jerusalem’s leaders went house to house stealing food. If your door was shut, they’d assume you were hiding food and bust in. If they didn’t find any, they’d torture you for hiding it so well. If they found food, they’d torture you for trying to hide it. If they found you mid-bite, they rip the food out of your mouth. If you resisted, you were beaten. Infants were held upside down and shaken free from food in their mouths. Men and women, young and old, ate leather, straw, and dung to fill their stomachs.

Mary, daughter of Eleazer, killed her own infant son, who’d only just sucked at her breast, and roasted him. She ate half and offered the rest to the men who smelled her cooking and came looking to take her meat.

Caesar offered asylum to those who would desert.

Those who tried had their throats cut. Some made it and were set free. Some made it and, against Caesar’s orders, were disemboweled as soldiers searched for swallowed gold. 2,000 were disemboweled in just one night.

Caesar himself was disgusted by how the Jews treated one another in the besieged city. He offered terms for surrender multiple times. But God would not let the Jews, by sanity and reason, escape His promised judgment.

On the same month, the same day, that the Babylonians sacked the temple so many years before, it was again, and finally, burned.

Fire swept the city, only put out by the blood of the more than million that died, running like rivers through the streets.

Judgment. Wrath. Rivers of blood.

And, somehow, we don’t think the death penalty is Christian?

Isn’t the plan of God to judge the Jewish nation marvelous? Isn’t God’s plan to crush the builders marvelous? Isn’t God’s plan to establish Jesus Christ as the Chief Cornerstone, unbeatable by all his foes, marvelous?

“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.”

Having quoted Psalm 118, Jesus continues in verse 43.

43“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. 44“And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”

Israel, a nation privileged beyond compare. Israel, a nation that rejected its King, a nation that didn’t produce the fruit of righteousness. Israel, a nation no longer with a claim to the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is only for those who humbly depend on the grace of God. It’s only for those who trust Christ as Savior and King, who repent of their sins and walk according to God’s laws.

Is this not a warning for this nation today? Is this not a sermon for Scotland? What nation has been more privileged than Scotland? What union more privileged than the United Kingdom? It’s in our language that Tyndale translated the Bible. It’s our churches that were filled with the sermons of John Knox and Robert Bruce and Thomas Boston and Robert Murray McCheyne and Andrew Bonar and Horatius Bonar and Thomas Chalmers. It’s our land that raised the Covenanters. It’s our monarchs that were more scared of the prayers of our Christians than all the armies of Europe.

Scotland, Land of the Book, Land of Privilege, Land cared for like a prized vineyard.

The vineyard to which much Divine care is given is required to produce much fruit. Much has been given to us. Much is required of us.

What are we doing with all that’s been given to us? What fruit are we bringing forth for God?

The fruit of this nation is pathetic. Tyranny. Murder. Theft. Adultery. Sodomy. Pride. Blasphemy. The good fruit is small, the bounty is poison.

Is Scotland not provoking the one living and true God, as did the Jews? Are we of the opinion that God has now decided to tolerate privileged nations that brazenly reject King Jesus?

See how God treated the natural branches and be warned.

Scotland must bow to Christ, or Scotland must expect destruction.


Our passage ends with the end of the second parable.

Jesus tells it. The chief priests and elders understand it.

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.

These men understand what Jesus is saying. But they won’t repent. Instead of bowing, they move to seize Him. And as they were too scared of the people to answer Jesus’ question about John the Baptist, so too are they too scared of the people to actually arrest Him.

These are the nation’s leaders; and they’re pitiful.

Will you be like them? Will you understand and still refuse to bow the knee to King Jesus?

Will you repent of your sin and follow Him? Will you believe the gospel?

The kingdom of God is glorious. It will endure in majesty forever. Who will enter and live? Only those who believe and repent. Only those who look to salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.

Repent and enter into the joy of Christ’s kingdom. Or be rejected.

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