The glory of a teacher is to be understood. Some of you teach in schools, and you know that if you ever get to the place where you have the feeling that you have gotten the point across, that you have communicated the truth, that what you have wanted to have happen in the minds of your hearers has actually occurred, then that feeling is a crowning glory in your life. Especially if it is an important theme and if it is at a crucial time, that feeling is all the more satisfying.
In the passage we are about to read Jesus was understood. They perceived not only what he was talking about, but who he was talking about. And it was at a crucial time. It is the Tuesday of the last week of the Lord's life. He has by now taken the offensive in Jerusalem. He has gone to the temple; he has cleaned it out; he has taught; he has answered their questions, and now when they are not asking any more questions, he communicates the truth of the matter to help them understand what will occur in Jerusalem a few days later. Not only was it a crucial time, but he was also dealing with a crucial theme. Will you notice as we begin at verse 33 of Matthew 21? "Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'they will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.' And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? They said to him, 'He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.' Jesus said to them, 'Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?' Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him. When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet."I
They saw the point. There are three points here that need to be deeply ingrained in the Christian mind in order for us to be able to perceive the great spiritual truths which are meant to be the framework for our lives.
Notice first of all that this parable helps us to understand who God is. If we don't understand who God is, we hardly have a place to start in our thinking about anything else. People of God in Old Testament days were destroyed for their lack of knowledge of God (Hos. 4:6). The first thing that stands out here is that God is the owner of all that there is. He is the householder in this parable. He is the master of the vineyard. He is the owner of all that occurs in the world.
If you and I stop and think about it for a moment, this is an impressive thought. God, being the creator, being the sustainer is also the owner of all that there is. In a great passage in Psalm 50 in the Old Testament, God declares that he owns the cattle on a thousand hills, meaning that he owns all the cattle everywhere. He says that every beast of the forest is his. In other words, he is declaring his ownership of all things. Really, the story that will be told in our lives with regard to our relationship with God springs from whether we believe that he owns it all or we do.
There is a great passage in I Chron. 29 where David has lead the people of Israel in preparing to build a great temple for God in Jerusalem. David has by now been told that he will not have that privilege because he has been a man of war, but that his son will. And so David sets about making a preparation. Under his leadership, one day the people give so wonderfully that they rejoice in what they have done willingly. Then David leads them in a prayer because of their giving. In verse 11 he proclaims, "Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you and you rule over all." He is declaring that God is the owner of everything. David, what is your evidence that God is the owner of all things and that God rules over all? Listen to verse 14 and following when David says, "But who am I and what is my people that we should be able thus to offer willingly, for all things come from you and of your own have we given you. For we are strangers before you and sojourners as all our fathers were. Our days on earth are like a shadow and there is no abiding." David's evidence that God owns all things is the fact that all of us have an appointment to keep in death. Since none of us abide here, none of the things we have are truly ours. We are only using them for a while. God is like the householder in this parable. He owns all things.
Secondly, God is the one who comes looking for fruit in return for his investment. In this parable, the householder does everything he can for his vineyard. He digs it or plows it in preparation; he plants the vines; he puts a wall or a hedge around it to protect it from wild animals and to mark it off as his own. He digs a wine press in it, which was a shallow digging in solid stone and then below it a foot or so another such container that had been dug. You don't dig a wine press unless you are expecting fruit to be produced that can be harvested and used. He has then rented it out to tenants on the understanding that when the fruit comes, he will receive a certain percentage of it, too. Notice then, that when the time comes, the owner of the vineyard sends his servants expecting his part of the fruit. That makes all the sense in the world. Why else would you plant a vineyard?
By extension then, we ought to remember that in our own lives that when God gives us gifts and privileges and opportunities, when God gives us life and time and blessings and talents, then God expects to receive from us good fruit in our lives. He is like the vine dresser in John 15 who tends the vine. When it brings forth much fruit, he is glorified for his care of the vine. God has given us so much as was mentioned in the prayers already this morning. So many advantages are ours because of God's goodness. He looks for fruit in our lives. He looks for the fruit of righteousness, according to Philippians 1. He looks for the fruit of good character - things like love and joy and peace and patience. God looks for the fruit of service in his kingdom - of good works done in his name for his glory in order to help other people get to heaven. How are we using those fruits? What does God find when he looks at our lives?
William Barclay recounts the story originally told by someone else. A legend that says: "Jesus was walking through the streets of a city. In an open courtyard he saw a young man feasting gluttonously and growing drunk with wine. 'Young man,' he says, 'why do you live like that?' And the young man responds, "I was a leper and you cleansed me. How else should I live?' Jesus goes on a little further in this story and he sees a young girl who is clad in tawdry clothing, a girl of the streets, and after her there comes a young man with eyes like a hunter. 'Young man,' says Jesus, 'why do you look at that girl like that?' He answers, 'I was blind and you opened my eyes. How else should I live?' Jesus says to the girl, 'Daughter, why do you live like this?' And she answers, 'I was a sinner and you forgave me. How else should I live?'" Most of us can see the point. If God invests in us, he has a right to expect fruit, and the fruit ought to be in keeping with the way we have been blessed. The highest standard of morality for Christians is whether we are like Jesus. But right underneath that, there is the question, "Does this behavior that is occurring in my life fit with the way I have been blessed? Does this show a gratitude to God for what privileges he has given to me?" God is the owner. God is the one who comes looking for fruit.
God is the one, thirdly, who goes way beyond anything that might have been expected or required of him by all that is right. God is the one who exercises more grace and more patience with us than any of us ever could have imagined, much less demanded. God sent his servants. They beat them and killed them. God sent another. The same thing. He sent a third. The same thing. He sent more. Mark adds that he sent many more. And the servants did the same thing to all of them. And finally, God says, "What will I do?" And he says, according to Luke, "I know. I will send my beloved Son. Surely they will reverence him." God goes way beyond anything that an ordinary person would do trying to win our hearts, trying to appeal to our decency, trying to get us to understand our obligation to him. This passage helps us to see who God is.
The second thing that occurs in this passage that is crucial for our spiritual perception is that this passage shows us what sin is. The word "sin" is so easy to use, and we have heard it before. Therefore, it doesn't make much of an impression on us. After all, haven't we all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? Yes we have. But when we look at what God has given, what ought to impress us is not merely the physical suffering and agony of Jesus, but what it is that leads to that. What leads to that is our sin.
In this passage you get three glimpses of sin. In the first place, sin is the failure to bear the fruit in our lives that would have been right. Now it may occur through our omitting any effort to be involved in serving God. It may occur through ingratitude and thoughtlessness. It may occur through weakness and selfishness. But when God comes looking for a return on his investment and there is none in our lives, then sin has occurred. It means that we have neglected our most basic responsibility as stewards. We have neglected to use what was his in his service faithfully. Sin is in that way merely a failure and neglect of life and of God and of ourselves.
In the second place, you will notice in this passage that sin is a disrespect for God. Sin fails to allow God to occupy the place of which he is worthy in this universe. When the owner of the house thought to himself, "Surely they will respect my son," he sends his son, and they don't respect him any more than they have his servants. Sin really is saying that we don't recognize God's ownership of this vineyard. We don't feel any obligation toward him, and we do not intend to humble ourselves before his will. Sin is that attitude which says, "No one will run my life. I will have my way. I recognize no higher power than myself."
And in the third place, if you will notice here, sin is finally aggressive rebellion against God. There is a certain progressiveness to sin. What begins as a failure to produce fruit and turns into a disrespect for God, finally results in aggressive fighting against God. When the son comes, they think to themselves, "This is the heir. Let's get rid of him. Let's take the inheritance." This is the same thing that the tempter tried to get Eve to do in the garden, only by a different route. You become as God. Make yourself the owner of this vineyard. Have your way. And so they throw out the son, and then they go to the trouble to follow him and to beat him and to kill him. That is the story Jesus told, and as you know, it turns out to be the story Jesus lived. That is the way Israel treated him.
You and I can glibly say we all are sinners. But when you look at the ugly behavior of sin in light of the fact that God owns everything, then the point of the parable begins to make an impression on our hearts and lives. Does this parable make any impression on you?
The third thing that needs to be observed from this passage with regard to our spiritual perception is that the parable shows us why we are responsible, all of us, to Jesus. Who God is, what sin is, and why all of us are accountable to Jesus. In the parable, the son comes only because he is sent by his father who owns everything. The son comes only after preparation for his coming has been made by so many other servants, who apparently represent the Old Testament prophets. The son comes to receive an accounting for what belongs to his father.
And when the son comes, he embodies some things. He comes first as an expression of the inconceivable love of his father. Why wouldn't the father, having been shunned so many times by having his servants mistreated, send his son to take vengeance on those sorry tenants of the vineyard? Only because the father has so much love and is so patient and is so gracious that he still wants those tenants to live and to be involved in his service and to bear good fruit. So, when Jesus the Son of God enters the world, he makes manifest, according to I John 4, the love of God. His death is an expression of the fact that even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And in so doing, he demonstrated God's love, according to Romans 5.
Not only are we accountable to the Son of God because of the love he brought (love always makes you accountable), but secondly we are accountable because he bore our sins in his own body. When the son in this story was cast out of the vineyard and then beaten and killed, he took on himself not merely the love of the father, but also the sins of these wicked husbandmen. He bore their sorriness. He bore in his body their evil and their sinful thinking. He paid the price for how ungodly those men were. And we might be reminded when we look at the cross and what is happening there - the mercy and the righteousness of God meet and kiss, according to Psalm 89. God sends his love in the person of his son. Jesus dies because of the sinfulness of men. And those two things together make the death of the cross a unique event. There will never be another sacrifice or offering for sin like this.
But that brings us to the fact of the matter, and that is that this is as one man has called it, "Loves last appeal." There can't be the goodness of God without there also being the severity of God, as Paul puts it in Romans 11. There can't be the love of God without there also being the other side to that which deals with persistence in sin and wrongdoing. The Hebrew writer, in trying to make this point, in Hebrews 10 says it in a way that sticks in our minds if we understand the background of it. When the owner of the vineyard has sent servant after servant after servant, when he finally sends even his beloved son, and even he is rejected, then there is the question, "What will he do?" Jesus' hearers kind of pronounced judgment on themselves in their answer. There is not anything left to do except to deal with rebellion for what it is. So the Hebrew writer in Hebrews 10 says beginning with verse 26, "For if we go on sinning deliberately (as the ESV puts it here) after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins." In other words, God can't do any more. The Hebrew writer says, "But a fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much more punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified and has outraged the spirit of grace?" That is very much the same thing that happens in this parable. When all of that has happened, what more can God do?
In John 3, after the passage that contains the golden text on the love of God, at verses 17 and 18 the scriptures dwell on this same point. It says, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him. (Remember the son in this parable coming to the garden to receive fruit.) Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." In other words, the condemnation is not because he has rejected Jesus, but because he was already lost, God sent the only answer there could be, and someone turned away from that in disrespect, also. "This is the judgment. The light came into the world and the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil." We are obligated to Jesus because he brought God's love, he bore our sins, and he expressed the last possible effort of God to not let any of us perish but to have all of us come to repentance.
This morning we must think in view of this parable about ourselves and what we are doing with Jesus now. It may be that you are willing to entrust your own eternal destiny in his hands. It may be that as a child of his you realize that you have not been respecting God like you should have in serving him faithfully. It may be that you are a brother or sister in Christ, a member of the body of the Lord, and you need to let it be known that you want to worship and serve the Lord along with the folks in the congregation here. If we can help you in either of those three ways today, won't you let it be known right now while we stand and sing together?