A Parable And A Prophecy

“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.

Matthew 21:33-43

In Isaiah chapter 55 our God says, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask that God’s “will be done!” In fact, it’s a fitting ending to all our prayers. When we communicate a need or desire to our God in prayer we end that prayer with the humble phrase first uttered by our Savior the night before he died, “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” It’s that humble acknowledgement that the God who created the universe—the God who knit us together in our mother’s womb—is the God whose thoughts and ways are higher than ours. Case and point, the parable you just read.

I mean who does that? Who does what the owner of the vineyard does? Who thinks like that? He carefully crafts and cultivates the vineyard—nothing strange there. Then he rents it out to tenant farmers and goes away on a journey—nothing strange there either. But then, when he sends his representatives to collect the fruit from his vineyard they are beaten, killed and stoned by the farmers who had been working the vineyard. This is where it starts to get strange. Is the logical response to the horrific news that his representatives had been beaten, killed and stoned to send more representatives!? And then, when the owner of the vineyard hears those servants were also greeted by clubs, knives and rocks, what would be the next logical step? How many would answer, “Yup! That owner should definitely send his son!”—his flesh and blood—the person he holds most dear in life? Who does what the vineyard owner does? Who thinks like that?

Well, God does. We might look at it and say, “That’s crazy! That’s inexplicable!” And I guess we’d be right. This parable is an example of our God’s crazy commitment and inexplicable love.

It’s Tuesday of Holy Week and Jesus has entered the temple courts to teach. As he’s teaching, the chief priests and elders of the people come up to him and begin to question him. At this point, Jesus had been teaching for 3 years and these Jewish leaders had been scheming up a way to take Jesus out of the picture for a while now. It’s fair to say that, by now they had already rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah, but they certainly weren’t the first to reject God’s messengers. Their ancestors had rejected prophet after prophet sent to them by God himself. Now God had sent his own Son to them, hoping that they would listen to the heir. But of course they don’t. And not only do they not listen to him, they’re about to kill him. Yet God is still reaching out to them—and in such an illogical way!—he sends his own Son.

That sounds crazy to us, but then again, God’s ways are not our ways. Ultimately we think, “Well, the landowner should have known what these wicked tenants were going to do to his son! He never should have sent him in the first place!” But that’s where we’re wrong. The landowner was NOT naive. He was not sending representative after representative as if he were oblivious to the wickedness that was occurring in his vineyard. The first greeting to his first messengers was clear enough. And yet he still reaches out to these wicked tenants. Crazy and inexplicable though it may be, the caring and compassionate vineyard owner continues to reach out.

God had already been clear enough. He would bring the promise to destroy sin, death and the devil to fulfillment through one of Abraham’s descendants. But to make sure he was crystal clear, he continually sharpened this promise by relaying more and more details about who this Savior would be through prophets sent to Abraham’s descendants! This included the establishment of what we might call the Old Testament church—when he gave a specific set of laws to his people, through Moses, that were to govern their way of life and mark them as the people of the promise.

Now, when you fit this parable into the context of who Jesus is speaking to, it really starts to make some sense. Jesus is speaking to the leaders of the Jewish faith who were alive at that time in history. Generation after generation of their ancestors had strayed away from a life of trust and obedience to their God. As you read through the Old Testament you see example after example of God’s people wandering away from him—everything from the generation that he brought up out of Egypt to wicked kings like Ahab and Manasseh.

The descendants of Abraham were chosen to work in God’s vineyard, and yet so many of those people rejected their God and became the wicked tenants in this parable. They beat, killed and stoned the prophets God sent to them. These Jewish leaders were no different. In fact, we’ve gotten to the point where the landowner has sent his Son and the current tenants are about to kill him! And yet, in these last days—in these last hours before his death—the Son of God continues to reach out to them!

Jesus asks them, “when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” These Jewish leaders understand the parable correctly! “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” And how does Jesus respond to them? With more patience! With crazy commitment and inexplicable love! “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”

As we step back and look at the conclusion to the story, we see these men—the leaders of God’s people—the workers in his vineyard—did not listen to Jesus’ warning. 3 days later, those who rejected him saw to it that he was nailed to a cross. Of course, Jesus knew this would be the outcome. Just as his Father knew this would be the outcome. And yet look at how they act. It’s crazy! It’s inexplicable! To the very people about to kill him—Jesus again points them to the scriptures! “Don’t you see what’s happening! I am the Son sent by the Father and you are the wretches who are going to be brought to a wretched end! I am the stone and you are the builders who have rejected me! Now you’re going to have to watch me become the capstone—the cornerstone—the most important stone in the foundation of the Church that is built on me! Just as it’s described to you in Psalm 118!

And that’s exactly what would happen. The stone the builders rejected was put to death only to rise from the dead three days later. When Jesus died, he fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham which said, “Through you, all nations on earth will be blessed!” Jesus’ perfect death paid the price of the world’s sin! What could be more of a blessing to every nation on earth!? But then when he rose from the dead, he proved once and for all that he truly is the Son of God. And more than that! Jesus resurrection proves that sin is paid for! The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 6:23) If the sin of the world was still on Jesus, he could not have risen from the dead. But since he has risen, we know the sin of the world which led to his suffering and death is gone!

Now you know why Jesus spoke this parable on Tuesday of Holy Week when speaking to the Jewish leaders. But why does it matter for you? Why did it matter for anyone else standing within earshot that day who hadn’t rejected Jesus? Well, let’s look at what we know. God promised that he would hire other workers to tend to his vineyard—workers who will produce its fruit. Those fruits are the good works which flow from you. The good things you think, say and do which form the perfect thank you note sent to the God who has already taken all your sins away and replaced them with Jesus’ perfect thoughts, words and actions. You and I belong to the group of people who have been hired to work in God’s vineyard today! And, just as God approached the workers who had rejected him with this crazy commitment and inexplicable love, he approaches those who have not rejected him in the same way!

What a blessing to receive this warning from our God! What a blessing to know exactly what happens to workers who reject their God and owner of the vineyard. What a blessing to be reminded that you and I are no better than the wicked farmers who killed the servants and the Son. What a blessing to hear this warning from Jesus so that we can be on the lookout for times in our own lives where we begin to act just like these Jewish leaders.

Maybe we’ve begun to occasionally push off time in God’s Word or regular church attendance because we have something more important to tend to. Maybe we’ve started to feel as though we have everything figured out in this life and have begun to rely on ourselves instead of on our Savior God. What a blessing that the God who showed crazy commitment and inexplicable love to his own chosen people when they worked in his vineyard, still shows it to the people working in his vineyard today—YOU AND ME!! Because we will fail our God from time to time.

But when we do, our gracious God is there. He calls to US—reaches out to US in his Word! He leads US to see our sin so that we can see our need for help. Then he shows us Jesus and the complete forgiveness he won for us and for all! Why? Because he’s that crazy about us, and loves us that much! Because he wants us to know, “The stone the builders rejected HAS become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.’

Thankful for the crazy commitment and inexplicable love that my God shows to me, just like you!

Pastor Z.