The Parable of the Tenants
Topic: Sermons in Matthew Passage: Matthew 21:33–21:46
Have you ever been in a situation when, you’ve had to be asked: ‘Whose side are you on’?
I was asked that question as a young athlete... One cold October Saturday morning in my home town my soccer team was playing a local rival...and I was sitting on the sidelines...a substitute player. I confess, I wasn’t really paying attention to the game, I was too busy trying to stay warm. But then - it all happened so fast - the coach called my name and sent me into the game. Before I knew it the ball was at my feet an opponents were all around. I skillfully slipped passed my enemies and headed for the goal. I could hear the screams of parents, fans, coaches and teammates - urging me on. With all my strength I kicked the ball, which sailed passed the goal keeper to the back of the net.
A surge of joy and victory overcame me! It was short-lived. I realized something was not quite right when one of my teammates came up to me, and instead of congratulating me said, ‘What’s wrong with you? Whose side are you on?’ I had scored against my own team. The screams of players, coaches and fans alike were: “You’re going the wrong way!” I hope you never have to experience the heights of victory only to sink immediately into the depths of treasonous defeat...
For better or worse that morning the goal line was the decisive line. It did not ultimately matter who kicked the ball across the goal line...the line was decisive. In life we are faced with many dividing lines. Some dividing lines have to do with people: I decide to marry this one woman, I am deciding not to marry these hundreds of millions of others. Some dividing lines are geographical - we know all about boarders and territorial boundaries - we know all about walls, and fences and barriers. Now, when we ask the question, ‘Whose side are you on’, some questions are more important than others. The question reaches ultimate importance when it relates to your relationship to the ultimate One - No question could be more important than whether God is for or against you.
When it comes to the kingdom of God, whose side are you on? It is to this dividing line that we turn this morning. We will see it in Matthew 21:33-46. As we rejoin Jesus, we find him in the temple in heated discussion with Israel’s religious leaders. It is the last week of Jesus earthly ministry and he is drawing clear lines of distinction. Last week we saw the clear lines of distinction between Israel’s self-righteous religious leaders and the repentant prostitutes and tax collectors. The self-righteous would be kept out of God’s kingdom, while those prostitutes and tax collectors who, through faith in Jesus, repented of their sin - they would be entering in. In order to bring more clarity to the picture, Jesus tells a second parable - a story meant to expose the hearts of the hearers and to teach truth about the kingdom of God, for those who are given ears to hear. Immediately after concluding the parable of the two sons, Jesus continues - this time with a parable about a Landowner, it’s tenants - the owners servants, and his Son.
In this parable the characters of the story are the main points - each person or group of people function like a sign pointing to the greater spiritual reality - so it’s appropriate to ask: who is the Landowner? Who are the tenants, the servants, who is the son? And, because they are the main points of Jesus parable, they are the main points of the sermon this morning. We see in this parable: A Landowner, Tenants, Servants, and a Son.
1. A Generous Land Owner
We first read of a generous landowner, whom the text tells us, 33 ... who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. This was not an uncommon arrangement at the time...it’s not uncommon in agricultural areas today. The details given about this vineyard are put there to testify to the generosity of the landowner - he planted his vineyard, then walled it in - to protect it from wild animals and from thieves. He cares for his vineyard - so he takes pains to keep it safe. Even more, the landowner dug a winepress and built a watchtower - this is a generous landowner who provides everything tenant farmers would need in order to run a successful vineyard. The whole landowner / tenant relationship was set up so that the joy of the owner would also be the joy of the tenant. The landowner here represents God - the vineyard Jesus describes the loving initiative that God expressed in creation - he was careful to give mankind everything needed for him to find ultimate satisfaction in Him forever. It also represents the special covenant relationship God made with Israel. In loving kindness, God called out a specific people, Abraham and his descendants, to be a picture - a display to the world of the character, the holiness of God. So that Israel’s fruit - her obedience would bring abundant blessing for her, and glory to God...the joy of the owner would be the joy of the tenant...All this makes a single resounding point, God is perfect in his loving generosity. “Here is a vineyard, and here is everything you need to be completely happy in me.”
How often do thoughts of the goodness, the generosity of God wade into our busy minds? Has the reality of the majesty of God had any weight in your life this past week? If your life isn’t shaped by the greatness of God, perhaps it is because we haven’t spent any time considering - as the hymn writer once wrote: considering all the works thy hand hath made.
Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; â€¨ the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
We see the glory of God in his creation, we behold the majesty of God in His Word, and we see a display of God’s glory in His people, the church. But we seem content to look at little plastic TV screens, to hunt for significance in the mundane things of the world - We were created to behold greatness...but, how much of our lives are spent investing into things that are terminally trivial.
We’re confronted with the contrast now, as we see the response of the tenants to the generosity of God.
2. The Wicked Tenants
34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. 35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.
Their rebellion was decisive, there was no misrepresenting their intentions. They lived on his land, were protected by his wall, they surveyed the countryside from his watchtower...their stomachs were filled with the produce of his land - they loved the vineyard, but decided to reject the vineyard owner. They refused the authority of the landowner Failed to produce fruit They tortured and killed the landowners servants When we see rebellion like this it is clear, as Jesus intended it to be...but friend, is it as clear when you look into your heart? Have you ever noticed that our sense of justice is clear when you are the victim, but it gets a little foggy - a little unclear when you are the criminal.
Friends, when it comes to your standing before God, there is no room for ambiguity. Our fallen nature is such that we are not simply indifferent to God, we hate God. And fallen human beings will stop at nothing in their attempts to throw off the sovereignty of their Creator. Jesus tells this parable to draw the lines of distinction clearly. So, how are you responding, even now, to the Lordship of Jesus? Are you loving the creation but rejecting the creator?
Non-Christians friends, is this critique of mankind hard to swallow? It is. But the question you should be asking is, is it true? Observe the city around you - is God worshipped, or is money worshipped. Do the people of this city love the fruit or the owner of the vineyard?
Despite the whole hearted rejection of his tenants, and the horrible murderous way they treated his servants, the landowner responds, not perhaps in the way we would expect...
3. The Servants
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.
Our Land owner - is merciful, and sends out still more servants...makes you want to ask, who are these crazy people, these servants who willingly go to confront the enemies of their master, to ask them to change their minds and give the master the fruit He deserves...
Throughout the history of mankind, God has graciously raised up people who would boldly call people to turn from their rebellion to serve Him and be satisfied in Him. Our history echoes the accuracy of Jesus parable. God’s servants, his spokesmen, the prophets of God have been ridiculed, mocked, abused, tortured, and put to death. Elijah was driven into the wilderness by Israel’s monarchy, Isaiah - according to tradition, was sawn in two. Zechariah was stoned to death inside the temple. John the Baptist was beheaded.
The writer of Hebrews summarizes: “They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated - the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” This parable could not be clearer, life in the vineyard...life among rebellious tenants will not be easy for the servants of the master.
It really begs the question, my Christian brothers and sisters...why do we spend so much time, money, and energy on comfort, entertainment and ease?
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. 2 Corinthians 5:17-20
Have we confused our commission as ambassadors and become tourists? The task is hard, the opposition is tough, and we are not meant to face it alone...the New Testament doesn’t anywhere envision solo Christians, rather, we are called into community! Called out, yes! But also called together! We are the body of Christ....how would you feel if your foot refused to be identified with the rest of your body...just sort of did his own thing - Yes, that would be weird! We contend for faith - together. We fight sin and flee temptation - together! The saying goes, a lone ranger is a dead ranger... watch any of those National Geographic shows...it’s always the gazelle that separates from the herd that is eaten by the lion.
Loved ones, we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witness so,
“let us [together] throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross...”
4. The Son
Having lost two groups of servants, the land owner now does something almost unthinkable!
In spite of the rejection of the world, in the face of Israel’s hard heartedness, God has persisted and persisted, and persisted. One prophet, one servant after another was tortured, abused and killed.
“If I were God,” cried Martin Luther, “and the world had treated me as it treated Him, I would kick the wretched thing to pieces.”
But, instead of turning his back on the world He sends his son! His only son, and heir, he sends Him right into the hands of the rebellious, murderous tenants...
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 wickedness of the tenants reaches its climax as the son and heir is, with careful deliberation (they pre-meditated his murder)...he is thrown out of the vineyard...cast out of what is his own...and killed. Even the most hardened criminal can see the injustice portrayed by Jesus in this parable...He asks the decisive question in verse 40,
40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” What will God do to those who reject his servants, who reject his Son, who reject Him?
Ironically, it is those who are condemned by the parable that answer the question - The tenants speak up to answer the question, and they answer it well. With a self-righteous confidence the chief priests and elders answer:
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.”
Friends, you must see two things here - they are the point of this passage, the reason for the parable.
First, you must see that those who reject God - who bear no fruit, whose lives display a concern and love only for themselves - they will be judged by the owner of the vineyard, the Lord of Creation - by God himself - they will be brought to a wretched end. Friend, don’t go that way!
Second, you must see that it is in the very death of the Son - the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus that the way is made for wicked tenants to be forgiven, washed clean of their rebellion - restored to the vineyard and made to rejoice in bearing good fruit for the King.
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejectedâ€¨ has become the capstone;â€¨the Lord has done this,â€¨ and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Jesus quotes from Psalm 118, the passage we read earlier. Here, Jesus clearly applies the Psalm to himself. Jesus is the Son, the Son is the Stone - the Stone is rejected - but in His rejection He becomes the capstone. The Cornerstone. The One on whom everything is built. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in Acts chapter 4:1-12
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. 5 The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 He is “‘the stone you builders rejected,â€¨ which has become the capstone. 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
The death of Jesus was not his defeat, No! In the rejection of the stone we behold the triumph of the cross. Jesus, the eternal Son of God willingly laid his life down - bearing the guilt of those he came to save - He bore the full measure of the land owners wrath - the Son was crushed, so that through faith in Him we might be forgiven.
Pastor Charles Spurgeon once described the grace of God like this: “If you reject him, he answers you with tears; if you wound him, he bleeds out cleansing; if you kill him, he dies to redeem; if you bury him, he rises again to bring resurrection. Jesus is love made manifest.”
“The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” Now Christ is the Capstone, or the Cornerstone - we find our place in the structure of God’s Kingdom, only in Him. So that... If you reject the son...
43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
If you reject the stone...
44 He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
The chief priests and elders made their choice:
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.
They were foiled by the crowd this time...three days later they would succeed. The Son would be led outside the gate - thrown outside the vineyard, where he would be nailed to a cross and lifted up for all to see... But he was pierced for our transgressions, â€¨ he was crushed for our iniquities;â€¨the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,â€¨ and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, â€¨ each of us has turned to his own way; â€¨and the Lord has laid on himâ€¨ the iniquity of us all.
Three days later, Jesus would rise from the grave in power - defeating death, leading those who would follow him to life. Jesus is the author, and the perfecter - He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
He is the Dividing Line... Whose side are you on?