Are You Ready for the Lord's Harvest?
In colonial times, many people wanted to move from Europe to the Americas. However, most of those people could never afford the expenses to pick up their current life and start a fresh life in America. The rich landowners presented a solution to this problem – they offered travel and a place to live to those who would farm their land. These new immigrants were able to come over to America, but they were responsible for the land the cultivated. When it came time for the harvest, the landowner would expect to the immigrants to be ready to hand over the crops to his servants or suffer punishment. These immigrants knew that results were expected, so they worked tirelessly to make sure that they were ready for the harvest. As Christians working in God’s field, results are expected also of us. In his parable of the Tenants, Jesus asks us, Are You Ready for the Lord’s Harvest? He tells us that being ready means that we Receive His Servants (v33-36), that we Respect His Son (v37-39,42), and that we Remember His Judgment (v40,41,43).
It was the Tuesday of Holy Week. In fact, it was just a few moments after the parable that we heard from Jesus last week! Our Savior had triumphantly ridden into Jerusalem a few days earlier. Monday of Holy Week Jesus cleared out the money changers and the animals from the temple. And now, Jesus had been asked by the religious leaders of Israel “By whose authority did you clear out the temple?” To answer their question, Jesus told them the parable of the two sons – the parable we heard about last week.
When Jesus finished telling that parable, the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to sneak away. Jesus caught them in their tracks and continued speaking, “Listen to another parable, (v33)” he says. The parable Jesus was about to start was directed specifically at those religious leaders of Israel. Jesus continued, “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower.” (v33) While Jesus never comes out and identifies who the landowner of the parable is, it is pretty clear that Jesus is referring to God. God’s vineyard was the nation of Israel. Notice that God spared no expense for Israel! Just as the landowner of the parable gave the vineyard everything it needed, so also God had given Israel everything they needed! Israel was given the written law of God, they were given physical blessings in the Promised Land, and they were given leaders who were to watch over them.
Jesus continued: Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. (v33) The landowner left his vineyard in the hands of farmers who were to work the vineyard, grow the grapes, and watch over the vineyard itself. Likewise, to the nation of Israel, it may have seemed as if God had at times “went away on a journey.” There were times they no longer saw signs of his physical presence or that he was no longer caring for them. Yet, we do know that this isn’t completely true. God was always there for them, always watching over them. God chose to place the nation of Israel under the care and direction of spiritual leaders. He gave them a king to watch over and guide them, priests to care for their spiritual needs, and many others!
The landowner had an agreement with his tenants. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. (v34) These tenants wouldn’t get the land for free – the landowner would get a share of their crops. So also God had an agreement of sorts with the spiritual leaders of Israel. They were to cultivate the Israelite nation into a God-fearing nation that would provide fruits of faith towards God. Jesus, then, uses his parable to give a history lesson of sorts to those listening to him. 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. (v35-36) This crowd had probably read and heard the stories of the prophet Jeremiah, who was arrested, beaten and thrown into a muddy cistern. They had learned from an early age of Zechariah, a man sent by God to rebuke Israel, who was murdered. They could have gone down the list of prophets and come up with several ways each was mistreated!
Now, I realize that there may be some of you thinking, “I know that it was important for Jesus to tell the parable to the Pharisees and Sadducees, but what does this have to do with us?” And while you’re right – this parable was directed specifically to those religious leaders of Jesus’ day – we must not let the devil tempt us to think that this parable has nothing for us. We are all living in God’s vineyard. He has built a modern-day vineyard, his church. And just as he spared no expense for the nation of Israel, he spares no expense for his New Testament Church. God has given his church everything it needs! He has given us his Word; he has given us the freedom to worship him and spiritual leaders to care for our greatest needs. That’s just naming a few of the many blessings God has given his church!
Just like Old Testament Israel, God blesses us with spiritual leaders. The church is under the care and supervision of these spiritual leaders who are to “farm” his church faithfully using the Word of God. They are to raise up God-fearing Christians capable of producing fruits of faith.
This parable wasn’t meant only for those who preach from the pulpits of our synod or who stand in the front of WELS classrooms. He speaks this parable for the benefit of all Christians. It’s easy enough to listen to Christ’s parable and say, “Well, I’ve never beat or killed or stoned one of God’s servants.” And yet, don’t we persecute the servants of God – the spiritual leaders of his church – when we neglect the Word of God? We persecute those whom God has sent to us when we consider that living in God’s vineyard is only something we do on Sundays or even for just that hour that we are on this side of those doors. We persecute God’s servants when we walk out those doors and ignore the truths of God’s Word they teach. We persecute God’s servants when we skip out on the several opportunities we have for Bible class to do something that we might consider to be more “entertaining” or “enjoyable.” When we skip out on opportunities to study his Word, we are really neglecting his prophets! Every time that we fail to stay close to God’s Word we persecute those whom God has sent by causing them to have to clean up the mess that sin leaves behind.
All is not lost, though! God showed tremendous patience with the nation of Israel. Despite their continued rejection and persecution of God’s servants, he sent prophet and servant after prophet and servant. He does the same with us today! He does not instantaneously remove his blessings from our lives when fail to receive his servants. He continues to allow us opportunity after opportunity to worship him and study his word! He offers us opportunities, time and time again, to repent of all our sins. He blesses us by sending spiritual leaders to care for his churches. He fills vacancies in churches and at times blesses churches by giving them extended periods of time without having to experience a vacancy!
The landowner recognized that just sending his servants wasn’t working. He decided to take drastic action. Our heavenly landowner also decided to take drastic action. Jesus teaches us in this parable that being ready for the Lord’s Harvest means that we respect his Son.
As he was telling this parable, our Savior had the plot turn a bit unrealistic. Last of all he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. (v37) What landowner in his right mind would send his own son to tenants who had beat and killed servant after servant? And yet, that is exactly what God did! At this point the parable turns from being a lesson in history to a story of modern events. The very person speaking this parable was the Son whom God had sent. Jesus Christ himself was yet another sign of the patient mercy that God displays over and over.
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ (v38) At this point, Jesus is calling out the Pharisees and Sadducees who were there listening to him. They had already decided to kill Jesus. It was no longer a matter of “if”, but only “when” and “how”. We read in the Gospel of John that the spiritual leaders of first century Israel thought that it was either kill Jesus or lose their positions of authority. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. (John 11:48)
With his next words, Jesus started prophesying what was about to happen. So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. (v39) He was looking ahead just a few days down the road. He was looking ahead to Maunday Thursday, when he would be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was describing the events of Good Friday, when he would be led outside the city of Jerusalem and nailed to a cross. Christ was telling them that up to this time they had killed God’s appointed prophets, but in a few days they would killed God’s anointed Son!
If we are tempted to think that this certainly isn’t being spoken to us because we never killed the Son of God, think again! We fail to respect the Son when we fail to respect God’s servants. It was just a few months earlier when Christ himself made that connection. Luke records the words of the Son: He who rejects you rejects me. (Luke 10:16) Each and every one of our rebellious actions against the Word of God and against those whom God has sent is ultimately a rejection of the Son of God, whom he has also sent. Through our rejection of God’s servants, we participated in leading Christ outside the city and nailing him to that cross.
But even though Jesus knew that each and every one of our sins would mean his death, he still followed through. He willingly went when his Father sent him from heaven. He willingly lived among us, preaching repentance and that he was the way to God. He did not think twice about entering Jerusalem those few days before his death. He did not resist when he was arrested, and he willingly nailed on the cross. His actions were the final step in God’s plan of patient mercy. He accomplished all that he had set out to do when he sent his Son. Through Christ, God has forgiven all our rebellion and sin. Because of the Son, we are able to produce fruits of faith in God’s vineyard!
Jesus is the cornerstone on which our salvation is built. That is why he quoted Psalm 118, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes.” (v42) Before modern technology came along, a perfectly cubed stone was important for the structure of any building. If the stone was off just a bit, the building would be slant one direction or another. When it comes to our salvation, Christ is that perfectly squared stone on which our entire salvation is built. He was the stone that was originally rejected, of which his crucifixion is prime example. But because of his resurrection, he was placed as the cornerstone of our salvation. If our salvation is built on any other stone, it will be crooked or not square. But in Christ, our salvation is perfected and completed according to specifications!
Like any good story, Jesus’ parable of the Tenants had a fitting end. In this parable, Jesus also teaches us that being ready for the Lord’s harvest means remembering his judgment.
Jesus asked the crowd, When, therefore, the lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to these tenants? (v40) The answer to Jesus’ question was easy enough that anyone could have answered. 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. (v41) The conclusion to the parable was an obvious one. The owner of the vineyard would not stay away forever, especially given the circumstances. In the same way, God will not remain “absent” forever. He will one day return, and when he does, it will be in judgment.
Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people will produce its fruit. (v43) Jesus now offers the only bit of verbal explanation of this parable. He pronounces judgment on those who do not faithfully tend to his vineyard. He tells the spiritual leaders of Israel and those unrepentant listeners that they will be removed from their positions of privilege. They will be judged, and will watch as God’s vineyard is handed over to another group of people, people who will do as the Lord asks of them.
This parable serves as a warning to us who are gathered here this morning. While it may seem as though God is absent from us, as if he has left his church and gone away on a journey, he will be coming again! When God comes again, it will be to bring judgment on the world. Just as the landowner removed the vineyard from the wicked tenants, so also God will remove his blessings from those who don’t receive his servants or respect his son. When God removes his vineyard, it will mean eternal separation from God for those who are left outside the vineyard. God promises that his judgment will not be pleasant. Christ tells us with this parable that God’s judgment will be swift, terrible and eternal!
But, the words of this parable should also serve to comfort all of us. God is coming again! For us, who have our salvation built on the cornerstone of Christ, God’s return does not strike fear into our hearts. Instead we rejoice! We know that when he returns he will take away the vineyard from the wicked tenants and hand it over to us. He will give all of us the eternal blessings of his vineyard. These blessings have been won for us by his Son, and through his Son we receive them. Because Christ is our cornerstone, we are included among those “who will produce fruit.” Since we are among those who produce fruit, let us take every care to make sure that when the Lord comes we are not among those from whom the vineyard is taken. Rather, let us continue to produce fruits of faith, being prepared to hand them over to God, and he will hand over the eternal blessings of his vineyard.
We know that one day the Lord will come again, whether we are ready or not!