grapes vineyard vine purple grapes

Wicked Servants

“Now listen to another story. A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. At the time of the grape harvest, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. So the landowner sent a larger group of his servants to collect for him, but the results were the same.
“Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.
“But when the tenant farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ So they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard, and murdered him.
“When the owner of the vineyard returns,” Jesus asked, “what do you think he will do to those farmers?”
The religious leaders replied, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest.”
Then Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures?
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing,
and it is wonderful to see.’
I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.”
When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers. They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet.

Matthew 21:33–46

The following is a manuscript of this message (not a transcript), so it will not match perfectly with the audio.

The message of the parable this morning lies in how the tenants think about themselves and about the owner of the vineyard. Instead of honouring the owner by treating his servants well, and sending with the servants the owner’s profits, they act as though they themselves are the owners of the vineyard.

They don’t want to give the owner what is his. They want to keep it for themselves. And when the owner sends his son to visit and collect the profits, they kill him thinking this will secure their position as the owners of the vineyard.
I think the detail Jesus provides at the beginning of the parable is intriguing.

A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. At the time of the grape harvest, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop.

This landowner is portrayed as someone who seems to know what he’s doing. He knows what it takes to set up a vineyard. He has done this many times before, indicating he is quite wealthy.

In addition, because this is a brand new vineyard, it would take time before the vineyard would be fruitful. Doing some research, I discovered that probably four years would pass by before the vineyard would bring in any profit.

Enter into the position of the tenant farmers. Four years have gone by. They are the ones who have done all the work of caring for this vineyard. They have a significant investment of time and energy in it. And all this time, the owner has never shown up. Not once.

Finally, once the vineyard has produced a profit, the owner wants to collect the profit. But he doesn’t go himself. He sends someone else. This irritates the tenant farmers. They don’t want to give up the profits. They want control.
The hearers of this story would have been shocked. The social norm was for tenant farmers to honour their position as tenants and to respect the absentee landlord.

If a tenant dishonoured his agreement with the landlord, it was within the landlord’s legal right to punish in the way he saw fit. Jesus was telling this parable as a way to show that the Israelites have rejected God as their master and Lord, and replaced Him with themselves. They, the vinedressers of the vineyard, began to view themselves as the owners.
He used shock value to show the disgust of the actions of those who have rejected God as Lord. It is an abomination what they have done.

It is human nature to do this. We seek ways to control our lives and those around us. We secure our positions of power in our relationships. Timothy Keller says this,

You have a certain amount of power. You have a certain amount of possessions. You have a certain amount of privileges. You have a certain amount of money. You can’t use those any way you want.
I know the world, all the self-help books tell you nobody can decide these for you. You have to decide your own values. You have to set the agenda. That is exactly the opposite of what Jesus is telling us. That’s exactly the opposite of what the Bible is saying.
What those books are saying to you is, “Act like an owner!” What the Bible says is, “No, you’re a tenant.” There are all sorts of ways in which you can act like an owner instead of a tenant. One is you can just say, “I’m going to decide how I use my mind. I’m going to decide how I use my money,” when the Bible says you have to tend the vineyard by his Word and for his profit.

All throughout history, we have been trying to figure out a way to eliminate the idea that we are not the masters of our own lives. We want to be our own masters. We don’t want to be accountable. We want to live our own lives within the boundaries of our own rules. And when enough people around us disagree, we go somewhere elsewhere we will not face so much opposition. We have friends, family members, maybe people within this church, who God sends into our lives like the servants in the parable. They ask us questions, try to draw us away from sin, and we resist. We say things like, “this is my life, and I’ll decide how I live it. I’m in control.”

But that is simply not true. How many times in your life have you been going in a certain direction only to be taken off track because of something beyond your control? This has happened to me so many times. Most recently, I have been trying to exercise and get in better shape. For the last two months, I have experienced more health issues than ever before. Even though I have been eating healthier and trying to get more exercise, I have been getting sick, having migraines, muscle spasms and experienced low energy levels. I don’t know why. There is probably not a very spiritual explanation for it. But it proves that I am not my own master. I cannot control everything.

So, what is better? To work harder at gaining control, or to trust in God, who has complete control and knows better than I do what is best for me? This doesn’t mean giving up on our goals or dreams, but it changes how we react to that which is out of our control. Sometimes health problems, difficult life situations, sudden career or economic changes, can be a form of messenger from God. He is changing your direction.

We can resist or we can trust. We can become bitter, or we can be at peace with the fact that we are not our own masters. God is in control and often his plan is hard to discern or identify. It can seem like foolishness according to our own wisdom.

As Jesus was telling the story, I can imagine the hearers being shocked that the landlord sent not only three servants, but also his own son. They would have probably considered this landlord to be very patient, or foolish, giving the tenants several chances to respect his authority.

It ends with the killing of the landlord’s son, and it is at this point the crowd must have been utterly confused. Not only does the story not make any sense, but if Jesus is telling an allegorical parable, who is this son referring to? Could he actually be speaking about himself? Put yourself in the position of the crowd listening to this story. This Jesus, a carpenter’s son from Nazareth, has put himself into this parable, cast as the son of the landlord, who represents God.
Jesus is being increasingly bold in saying who he is. Earlier in the chapter, he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling prophecy from Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

And as Jesus rode into the city, people cried out: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Do you know what they were saying? Hosanna means, “save us!” It is from Psalm 118:25:
Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!

They truly thought that he was there to rescue them from the Romans. But now, in this parable, Jesus is saying that he is the Son of God, being sent by God, to claim the profits of his vineyard, Israel. They wanted a Messiah to rescue them from captivity. But they didn’t realize what they actually needed saving from. Themselves! Their own sin and selfishness.

Instead of being received as the Son of their Master, and instead of being given the fruits of Israel, Jesus is saying that he will be killed by them. Like the prophets of Israel, he will be rejected. Can you feel the anger building up within the crowd listening in? What foolishness! You can’t be the Son of God. We are God’s people and God will rescue us from captivity, just as he did long ago in Egypt!

This is not the message they wanted to hear. Instead of God delivering them and giving them back control over this land, God has come to reclaim control. And because they have rejected His Son, Jesus says, 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.

Reflect on these words again and ask yourself this question. Who is it that the kingdom of God is being taken away from, and who is the new recipient? The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.

Through Christ, you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory.
You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.
For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. As the Scriptures say,
“People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades. But the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And that word is the Good News that was preached to you.
So get rid of all evil behaviour. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.
You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honour.
And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,
“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honour, and anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”
Yes, you who trust him recognize the honour God has given him. But for those who reject him,
“The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.”
“He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.
But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
“Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.”

1 Pe 1:21–2:10

Hear God saying, you are my child. You are my inheritance. You are my possession, my beloved, my holy nation, my family. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you have not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. So now, live as a child of God. Live a life worthy of this inheritance.

The kingdom… God’s kingdom… is given to those who want it. It is for those who know the Master, and who are willing to allow the Master to have control.

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