Faithlife Sermons

Hard Conversations with Christ - On Justice and Responsibility

Pastor Josh Rathje
Hard Conversations with Christ  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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Praise and honor, glory and power to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever. Amen. Dear workers in the vineyard, We are in week five of our Hard Conversations with Christ series. Today we are focusing on a conversation on justice and responsibility. These qualities were lacking from God's people. God's people weren't being just, this is what we learned in our Isaiah lesson. And as called workers in the Lord's vineyard we have a responsibility to produce fruit, this is what we learned in our lesson from 2 Corinthians. Jesus taught both of these ideas in his parable this week. Justice. It is a term thrown around a lot when we come to the election cycle. The dictionary definition of justice is: the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness. These are things we typically look for in our candidates. But just as important as the quality of being just might be accountability. That's another word for responsibility. Responsibility is the ability to give an account for one's action within one's control, management, or power. If we give people power, we expect them to be able to account for it. We expect them to work with that power or control for the good of those under them. Justice and responsibility. It's what we want to see in our candidates. It's also what God wants to see from you. As a called worker in the vineyard of the Lord, you have been given power. You, prompted by the work of the Holy Spirit, have been given the power to produce fruit for the Lord. What happens if you don't produce fruit? Jesus warns us today in the parable to not be like those who despised God's Word and his messengers but to produce fruit readily and regularly for the Lord. Let us pray: Lord God, you give us every good and perfect gift. As your Holy Spirit brings to completing the good work that you have begun in us, help us treasure whatever is true, noble, and right. Preserve us from everything that would provide an occasion for falling into sin. Teach us to live day by day in humble dependence on your promises, in cheerful obedience to your laws, and in sure and certain hope of the resurrection. Strengthen us inwardly with power through your Spirit so that we may abound in love, humility, patience, and prayer until we receive the crown of eternal life. Amen. THE BACKGROUND 33 "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 moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. Jesus' parable was a callback for those listening. Jesus started with paraphrasing Isaiah 5, the Song of the Vineyard. The way Jesus used this Song of the Vineyard was exceptionally profound. God provided for his vineyard with intensive care, yet the fruits of the people's lives were bitter and sour. Jesus set up this parable to allow the leaders to judge their own actions, yet again! Last week he did it through the parable of the two sons. This week he does it through the parable of the tenants. Jesus was trying to win over the leaders of the people, but he wasn't neglecting their actions. Their actions had been very similar to that of the people whom God was judging in Isaiah 5. They had neglected God's call for justice and righteousness. And so, Jesus set up this parable with the information of a vineyard owner who didn't spare any expense to have a fruitful harvest. This owner built a wall around the vineyard to keep it safe from predators and to separate it from the ground around it. He dug a winepress in it so that the work could be done in house. He built a watchtower to help provide shelter for the workers and a lookout for potential enemies. He had done all of this back-breaking work and he could now await the fruits of his hard labor. Already there is this striking picture of the work that the owner of the vineyard did to secure a fruitful harvest. He put in every precaution to make sure that his hard work would not go in vain. You can imagine him being quite picky about the farmers he rented the field to as well. This was not some quick operation, this was a thorough, well-thought out and executed plan to have a fruitful harvest. THE WICKED TENANTS 35 "The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. 'They will respect my son,' he said. 38 "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.' 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. The time of the harvest came, and the owner sent his servants to collect his fruit. It was time for the tenants to hand over the owner's share of the crop. Their reward would either be to keep some of the fruit for their own pleasure or to be compensated financially for their work. But these tenants, despite the great work that the owner had put into the vineyard, plotted and schemed against the owner. When the servants arrived, they were seized. The tenants beat one, killed another, and stoned the third. The owner somehow heard of this treachery and sent yet another, larger group of servants to collect his fruit. Right there, the ears of the people would have been perked. There should have been no way the owner would have put up with the actions of his hired hands. He would have had them arrested, beaten, or killed under the Roman law of retribution. But this shows how patient and loving the owner was. He was ready to give the tenants another chance to show their sorrow over their actions and hand over the owner's harvest. This larger group of servants was also seized, beaten, killed, and stoned. The owner again, by Roman law, had the right to send in a private army or even Roman soldiers to bring this wretched people to a swift end. But he doesn't. Instead, in good faith, he sends his son to garner the respect of these unruly hired farmers. The story at this point would have infuriated those listening. The owner had no reason to put his son in jeopardy. But this was the great love and patience that the owner had. The tenants plotted to kill him and then went through with their plans They took him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. They killed the son in hopes to gain the inheritance of the son. The owner sent his son in good faith. But now the owner had been disrespected for the last time. THE QUESTION AND CALL TO JUSTICE 40 "Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" 41 "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 gave the people an opportunity to judge the situation for themselves. He asked the crowd to finish the parable for him. And the people answered exactly how earthly justice would be handed out. Those wretched tenants would be met with an end that would be fitting for their crimes. Those wretched tenants would be subject to the Roman law of retribution. How do you act when you want God to exact justice on your adversaries? We so often want God to be the one who answers our prayers for justice the exact way that we expect our earthly courts to work. We see the offense committed against us. We know that we can bring a charge against the adversary, and we expect the courts to rule in our favor because the evidence is overwhelming. We then go to God with Jesus' question too. What will you do to these people who have offended me? We expect God to do exactly what we want with our idea of justice. And when he doesn't, we no longer call him just. We call him a God who is far off and uncaring - who hears the cries of his people, but let's them fall by the wayside. But this is not how God shows his justice. In fact, if we wanted God to have true justice the devil would have a field day. Think about how we could bring a court case against our adversaries to God. And think about how the devil can do the exact same to us. He can bring against us every sin. And in the courtroom where God stands as the judge, there is nothing we can do to defend ourselves. We look at the list of sins, list of offenses we have committed against God, and according to our rules and laws of retribution, what should our perfect, holy, and just God do to us? We want God to be on our side, but just as much as we want him on our side, we also want him far away. Our sinful nature wants God to be as far away as possible so that we can continue to live how we please. We can continue to disregard God's will for our lives. We can continually put other things above cherishing God's Word. We make ourselves out to be nothing more than wretched sinners who deserve only God's wrath and punishment. Do we actually, like this crowd, want God to bring the wretches of this earth to their wretched end? The people's answer was accepted by Jesus. He didn't rebuke their answer or change it. He then quotes Psalm 118, a Messianic Psalm, to show them how their answer is not only correct but had judged their own hearts. THE LACK OF RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD'S CALL 42 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: "'The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? 43 "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you... The Lord had such great patience for his people over and over again. He had sent them prophet after prophet, and yet the Israelites mistreated them. They stoned the prophet Zechariah when he spoke against the wickedness of the king. The chief officer of the temple had Jeremiah beaten when he prophesied against the stiff-necked Israelites. The wicked king Hezekiah put Uriah the prophet to the sword when he spoke out against him. The history of Israel was marred by stories of mistreating the servants of the Lord. Yet these leaders, who Jesus was speaking to, thought of themselves as builders. They built themselves up to be an example of pious living for the people. They built themselves up to be the cream of the crop. But here, right in front of them, was the stone they were to see as the foundation for their lives. And what did they do to this stone? The responsibility that God had laid on these leaders left them with a pride that overcame them. Their pride became their downfall. As prophet after prophet, messenger after messenger, servant after servant came to God's people, the leaders tossed them all aside. And now the Son of the owner of the vineyard was before them. And Jesus prophesied in the parable that they were going to seize him, throw him out of the city, and kill him. This was a stern warning and yet a chance for the leaders to repent and turn from their ways! But instead of repenting, the leaders plotted to kill Jesus. God's great love and patience for his people, to send servant after servant, was coming to an end. The responsibility that the people had to listen to and respect them had been tossed aside. The responsibility to produce fruit from the teachings of his servants was lost. The cornerstone that was sent to build a foundation of faith for ages to come, was rejected. And the inheritance that was supposed to be the people's as a result of this perfect foundation, was rejected. The kingdom of God was closed off because of their own rebellion. God's promise was to give this inheritance to a new people, who would produce the fruits of the Spirit. THE NEWFOUND PEOPLE 43 "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be given to a people who will produce fruit. Praise be to God that you have been gifted his kingdom and have been given the ability to produce fruit. You are this newfound people of whom Jesus spoke. His Spirit has come to you so that you can produce fruit. This is what the parable was getting at. In God's great patience and love he held out hope for his chosen people. Jesus was getting at this idea of God's people producing fruit in the parable. The fruit was there, but the tenants, God's chosen people, Israel, wanted to keep it all to themselves. Now, the foundation of the church has opened up the vineyard to new tenants who raise a new bountiful crop for the Lord. You are a beneficiary of God's gracious love. You have been given a responsibility with this gift. The responsibility is to produce fruit for the Lord, to give to him what he has worked in you. Remember the great work that the Lord put forth to make this vineyard, he does the same for you. He has worked the faith in your heart. He has given you his Word so that you can grow in the knowledge of the Savior. He has given you the Sacraments so that you might be strengthened in your faith and assured of your forgiveness. The Lord has given you a responsibility to produce fruit. "With great power comes great responsibility." And in you is the greatest power in the world, that of Christ Jesus powerfully working in you. He works in you to make the fruit. He works in you to show it to others. He works in you so that the fruit of your lives may in turn lead others to produce fruit too. There is still work to do in the Lord's vineyard. There is still time to produce fruit. The best part is, God has given you every tool you need to do it. The Lord of the harvest is with you, as you are part of the people who produce fruit in his vineyard. Amen.
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