[Matthew 21:31-32, 42-44]
“Truly I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the Kingdom of God before you” Matthew 21:31
Jesus has reached Jerusalem for the final time. The end of His earthly ministry is approaching. But He still has lessons to teach about the Kingdom. He has angered the religious elite by cleansing the temple of their corrupt traders and money-changers (see Matthew 20:12-13), and now the religious leaders – the chief priests and elders – come to challenge Jesus. Jesus responds by sharing two parables that reveal who the true Kingdom citizens are.
First is the parable of two sons who get asked to help their father in the vineyard. One says he won’t but then does, and the other says he will but then doesn’t. Jesus asks them which of these did the will of the father, to which they respond “The first” (Matthew 21:31) – the one who said he wouldn’t help but then did. Jesus is making the point that as Kingdom citizens what we do matters more than what we say – we can talk of love and devotion to God, but if we don’t live lives of love and devotion then all our talk is just empty, meaningless words. Jesus tells these religious elite that “the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31) – Jesus is making the point that the religious leaders of the day were like the second son, speaking of dedication to God but lacking any Kingdom fruit in their lives. They were not prepared to get their hands dirty and do the Father’s work.
The second parable Jesus tells is of a vineyard owner who sends servants to collect the fruit from the tenants he leases it out to. But the tenants kill the servants, so the master sends his son. And again the tenants kill him. Jesus poses the question to the religious elite “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” (Matthew 21:41). Jesus then warns them “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruit” (Matthew 21:43).
Between these two parables Jesus is sending a clear message to the religious elite and to us about what it means to be a Kingdom citizen, and about who qualifies as Kingdom citizens. It is significant that He uses the example of tax collectors and prostitutes entering the Kingdom ahead of the religious elite, for they were seen as the worst of the worst in society. They were the ones everyone had given up on. And they are the ones Jesus highlights as becoming Kingdom citizens.
Because citizens of the Kingdom are those who realise they need forgiveness. Those who are not trusting in their own righteousness but in His amazing grace and manifold mercies. Kingdom citizens are not necessarily those who put on a good act of being ultra-holy but are those who are humbly repentant. They are people who realise they can’t do this on their own and that they need the love of the Saviour. Kingdom citizens are not those who are full of their own self-importance but those who acknowledge the authority of the One with the power to forgive sin. Kingdom citizens are not those who talk about being holy but those who try to live lives that are holy – failing along the way but trying regardless, knowing that the Spirit is daily helping them be transformed into the likeness of Christ. Kingdom citizens are those who live lives that produce fruit for the Kingdom. Kingdom citizens are those who are prepared to get their hands dirty and do the work of the Father, Kingdom citizens do not merely spectate but get involved and participate in the work of the Kingdom. Kingdom citizenship is life in all its fullness and is what Jesus came to call us all to.
We have a choice to make. Will we embrace the call like the tax collectors and prostitutes, realising our need for God and responding in live by getting involved in His Kingdom work, or will we respond like the chief priests and elders did, thinking we are good enough by ourselves and end up missing out on the Kingdom we have been called to be citizens of?
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” 1 Corinthians 13:1
- Are you a Kingdom citizen?
- Who today is like the religious elite of Jesus’ day, tragically missing what Kingdom living is all about?
- What is the ‘vineyard’ you have been called to work in, and are you living in it as a true Kingdom citizen?