God desires repentance, not well-intended promises
“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.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first” (Matthew 21:28-31).
Jesus was surrounded by religious leaders during His three-year public ministry in Israel, men who took pride in their Israelite heritage and their favored standing (or so they thought) with God. Jesus knew, however, that their profession of faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was largely an empty one. He sought to convict them that empty promises and professions were useless. Indeed, even the immoral people around them, if truly repentant, would “get into the kingdom of God before you,” Jesus told them.
The sobering reality is that the most noble, dramatic profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is worthless if one’s heart is not in it. But if the heart is indeed in it, the person’s profession will be followed by action motivated by love for the Master.
We distracted modern Americans are famous for committing to anything with our words but failing to follow through with our deeds. When someone tells me “I’ll be there,” or “You can count on me!” forgive me for being a little skeptical. Too many times I have been disappointed by such promises. On the other hand, it is refreshing on those occasions when someone who was initially reluctant to commit, unexpectedly shows up and helps.
Just out of high school in 1971, my buddy John Claxton and I took a long-planned trip to visit a missionary family in Jamaica. We were good friends with their teenage son Charles, whom we had met when they were in Tennessee on furlough. Our itinerary included a bus trip from Nashville to Miami and then a flight to Kingston, Jamaica. Along the way we stopped for a couple of days in Jacksonville to visit some friends there.
On the night we were to leave Jacksonville, we arrived at the bus station early, we thought, for our 10:50 pm express bus to Miami. However, we had misunderstood the Greyhound clerk. The express bus was scheduled to leave at 10:15 pm. We had just missed it. But the understanding clerk told us that the stop-at-every-town slow bus to Miami was leaving momentarily and perhaps he could catch up to the express bus in Daytona. The express bus being faster and arriving sooner, we appealed to the driver of the slower bus.
Unfortunately he must have had a head start on a bad day. “There’s no way I can catch that express bus,” he informed us curtly. When we politely suggested that the clerk said he could, he became irate. “Look, boys, I drive this route every week. There’s no way I can catch that other bus. Now do you want to ride this one or not?” Not with him driving, we didn’t, but we had no choice.
We glumly put our suitcases in the luggage bin and climbed aboard.
Around midnight, as we were entering the outskirts of Daytona, we noticed that the driver was operating the big vehicle somewhat erratically, passing cars and running a red light or two. I suddenly realized what he was doing. Moments later I spied the Greyhound station ahead and the express bus just about to pull out. “You two boys wanting to catch the express, there it is,” he called out over his microphone. Simultaneously pulling into the driveway, blowing his horn at the other bus, and jumping out with his hands waving, our driver managed to stop the express bus and get us aboard. We barely had time to say “thank you.”
Despite his surly attitude earlier, I was grateful to this man who, while refusing to commit at the start, thought better of it and helped us out in the end.
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).