Matt 21.33Thru 43 God the Ultimate Vineyard Owner!
God, the Ultimate Vineyard Owner!
Focus: That the hearers know that God is a loving God and has cared for them completely.
Function: That the hearers see that God has taken all precautions to give us a place to grow, be nurtured and bear fruit.
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In our text today you are able to be front row center for a great combination of punches as Jesus pummels the Pharisees. He has just finished hitting them with the parable of the “Two Sons” and now he hits them with the parable of “The Tenants” and then he will hit them again with the parable of “The Wedding Banquet.” Many call today’s parable “The Parable of the Bad Tenants” and this is surely true, they are bad. But this is not a parable about you so much as it is about me…You see I took this parable personally. It is aimed squarely at the leaders of the church, who are represented by the workers, or tenants, and you all are the vineyard! Sure, you can take it as a warning to bear good fruits and that is certainly being called for…but this is talking about the leadership of the church and what God will do with those that don’t give God His fruit. But…it is also demonstrating the care that God has taken in giving us a place to grow in faith and bear His fruit.
Being from Sonoma County, I know how much money and effort it takes to start a vineyard. This is not an easy task. The soil and climate have to be just right. It can’t be too far away from the ocean, so as not to get the cooling breezes and rolling fog that is needed to create the perfect environment to grow wine grapes. And, at least in Sonoma, it takes quite a bit of cash to purchase this kind of choice land, then buy the right vine stock, prepare the field, acquire the equipment, and pay the workers. This kind of venture is not for the faint of heart, because all of this can go belly up if the right conditions don’t exist. The grapes can be affected by the subtlest environmental shifts or even a bug of some kind or another. This is why the head winegrower is such an important person to the investor. He is the man one has to find who knows exactly how to take care of the crop and bring it to the fullest harvest possible. He has to protect the investment of the guy who puts up all of this cash. Today we heard a story of a set of winegrowers that didn’t have the best interest of the landowner in mind at all.
This parallels well with the Old Testament reading from Isaiah. Both of these texts are rich in symbolism and they are very clearly articulated. They actually sound almost identical…yet there is a different result. In Isaiah, the vineyard is the focus and, in this case, the vineyard represents all of the Israelites. He even tells us that “the vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel.” But the result is different in this song of Isaiah. The problem with the Israelites is that they are bearing bad, or “sour,” fruit. Remember, fruit is the natural outcropping of our faith in God that manifests itself in things like good works. This different result is that God destroys the vineyard in the end of Isaiah’s song, while in the parable in Matthew it is not the vineyard that is in trouble but the tenants. In Isaiah God says he will “take away its hedge” and “break down its wall.” Therefore, with this context of Old Testament scripture and the previous parable, these “teachers of the law” in Matthew would certainly know that God is the vineyard owner and the vineyard is the people. Interestingly, it is the Pharisees that tell us what will happen to these bad tenants in Matthew. The question is posed by Jesus, “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” And they reply, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end.” In the end they finally do realize who Jesus is speaking about but are afraid to have Him arrested.
So…we have these tenants that have been entrusted with God’s vineyard. Again, we know that it is God’s vineyard because it says so in Isaiah and it is intimated in Matthew. The landowner (or God) has carefully prepared and taken great measures to protect the vineyard. By this I mean God has taken the time to plant the vines, put a wall around it, dig a winepress in it, and build a watchtower. Now the tenants are left to tend to this valuable and carefully prepared property. This was not an uncommon arrangement in which an absentee landowner would utilize tenant farmers to tend the fields and bring in their harvest. But, in this case, the tenant farmers will not give the fruit of the harvest to the landowner. As you remember, first, the landowner sends His servants to get His fruit. The servants represent the prophets of God which have come in advance of the Son calling the people to faithfulness. We get a clear understanding of the servants and prophets from Jeremiah who, in speaking for the Lord, said, “I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; yet they did not listen to me, or pay attention, but they stiffened their necks.” The landowner sends His servants repeatedly and they are abused and killed by the tenants. Then He sends His Son and they kill Him too… This is with the intent of taking His inheritance. Does this sound familiar? How can it not? … The Son, of course, is Jesus Christ, who has come to gather up the fruit but, instead, He is thrown out of the vineyard and killed by the tenants. The tenants are the leaders entrusted by God with leading Israel to fruitful obedience…but they do not…
In Matthew the judgment is not on the vineyard but the tenants and God is going to take the vineyard away from the tenants (or present leaders of the church) and it will be “given to a people who will produce its fruit.” As people who have been cared for so lovingly and completely we must all heed the warning given to the people of God to bear good fruit. Yet how does this parable in Matthew affect you further? As a member of the “Priesthood of all believers” you have a responsibility to help, pray for, and watch the leaders of the church and the spreading of the Gospel message to respect the Son as was not done by the tenants of Matthew. This is the key to the parable! First and foremost, the church leader is to help the people have a “respect” for the Son. He is to care for the people of God, watering the vines of the vineyard with the word of God. The church, on the other hand, is continuing to be called to bear fruit. This parable really is pointed at the Pharisees and then in turn, for the future tenants, and it delineates the responsibility a church leader has to tend God’s vineyard and give Him His fruit. So we are in it together! We must, as the church of the people of God, bear fruit and see that the harvest of God’s vineyard is a good one!
Yet, what is important to see is that this parable has given us a picture of God and His Son that we should not forget… The thing to remember is that He is a loving God that has prepared the vineyard well…to bear fruit. He has built a wall around us, which can be seen as His armor spoken of in Ephesians. He has built a tower to guard the vineyard so that we are always being watched over. He has given us all we would need to grow in His vineyard. He has even given us the vineyard to grow in. He created everything for us to grow in…and bear fruit! He watches us always and, most amazing of all, He sends His people all of these things, then he sends these workers to take care of us. Now I know this didn’t turn out well with the Pharisees and all, but we see that God acted on that problem. He shows us that He will take the vineyard away from bad workers if they fail to do what they are supposed to do. This demonstrates again the loving care he has for us and the way he watches over us. Then He sends His prophets who tell us what we need to hear to help us to be faithful and bear fruit. Then, the greatest gift of all, He sends His Son to us! He cares about us that much, that He would send His Son, who He knows will have to suffer being beaten and being killed. Yet He sends Him anyway! He sends Him for you. He sends Him, as heir to His kingdom, to help you see how much He loves you. Even though you know He is killed, you know also that He rose again, and He tells you that He will come again and no one will kill Him the next time He comes! Every knee will bow to Him and He will be given the respect He deserves and He will finally be with us and be the Lord of the vineyard.
Jesus is the “cornerstone.” He is the head of the corner and it is the Lord’s doing and it is amazing in our eyes! The cornerstone is the stone referred to in Psalm 118 that was rejected at first by the builders and now is the one that becomes the most important stone in the structure! He is the head of everything and makes all things right with the creation. He is the one that was crucified for you and I. Then He defeated death and rose again to ascend to heaven and sits at the right hand of God…the landowner, to come again…in His timing. He has already rescued you from any plight that might enter the vineyard. He has put in place everything we need to have eternal life, ours is just to believe and bear His fruit. This is the love that our Lord has shown you.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always. Amen.