Well, you can turn to Luke 20 in your Bibles this morning, Luke 20, as we continue our exposition of Luke’s Gospel. Luke chapter 20 and verse 9. Over the past few weeks in our study, we have seen the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ on display as He came into his temple, the temple in Jerusalem, as he cleared away all that offended God the Father. As he reclaimed the Temple of God for God’s purpose, as a place for teaching truth, for preaching the gospel so that it would be a house of prayer and worship for all the nations.
That incident obviously created a stir, caused some problems for the temple custodians, who were complicit in all the sin and wickedness and greed and covetousness and profiteering that was going on in the temple. And so they came and challenged him. We saw that over the past couple weeks, and after they came and challenged him, calling him to account for the authority that he obviously displayed and used, and the authority they wondered where it came from.
Jesus deftly parried those challenges, answered them, and after paring the challenges of the custodians of the temple, this religious establishment that’s corrupt through and through, they retreated back into their den of agnostic silence. But Jesus, he’s not done with him yet. He presses forward, he presses his advantage, and he delivers another parable. We’ll start reading in verse 9 of Luke, chapter 20.
“And he began to tell the people this parable: ‘A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out.
“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ They threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.’
“When they heard this, they said, ‘Surely not!’ But he looked directly at them and said, ‘What then is this that is written: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.’”
This parable that Jesus tells it is riveting, isn’t it? Fascinating in the intrigue that is indicated there. But there are some unique features that I want to point out that make this parable unique among all the parables of Jesus. In most of Jesus’ parables, he tells a story that illustrates some single truth or single principle. It’s his, parables are colloquial in expression. They use local, provincial, or regional metaphors, agricultural things, even sometimes political things, but things that people can understand.
There’s any touch point with history is by an illusion, and we need to understand there’s a shared background that all the audience can recognize, and so it’s all about illustrating one single truth or single principle. But by contrast, in this parable, Jesus tells the story of his own nation. He is describing the history of Israel in terms of its rejection of God’s prophets. It is immense in its scope, goes all the way back to the founding of the nation. It passes all the way through the history of Israel and into and through the time in which Jesus himself is now living and even predicts his death. Then it stretches forward in time into the future, all the way into our time right now, into these last days in which we are now living.
Parable provides a warning then, not just to the people who are standing in front of him. People, people listening to him. To Jesus tell this parable on this particular day, hearing him tell this story, the parable, it does warn that generation, but the parable warns every subsequent generation as well. Jesus in this parable calls us all to listen to and to heed and to embrace and obey him. To obey the one who is God’s chosen Messiah.
The writer to the Hebrews says much the same thing. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, [it’s indicated here], but in these last days he has spoken to us, [there’s a note of finality there. Final message,] he has spoken to us by his son, whom he appointed the heir of all things,” this one is the heir.
Obviously there’s a lot to see here, a lot to learn. It’s far more than we have time for in a single week. So we’re going to divide this into two weeks. Look at the parable this week and then the application of the parable next week. So, I’ve got four main points for you today. Here’s the first one, number one, the Lord sets the scene. First point for this morning, the Lord sets the scene. And in setting the scene, we’re going to talk about context.
There are three levels of context that we want to keep in mind as the scene is set. There’s an immediate context, there’s a biblical context, and then there’s an historical context as well. So immediate, biblical, historical. Here’s the first. The first is an immediate context. And that’s the scene that Luke actually sets for us in verse 9. “And he began to tell the people this parable,” the coordinating conjunction at the beginning of that sentence, the word and that requires us.
Luke requires us here to keep the parable connected with what has just happened. And what has just happened is this controversy about authority, this challenge to Jesus’ authority by what authority he does these things and where’d he get this authority. So, Luke wants us to keep this connected with the preceding context. Notably, though, instead of addressing the parable to the religious leaders with whom he just had the controversy and the conflict, Jesus turns here to address the people.
We noted last time that Jesus is not interested in engaging with hypocritical false shepherds any longer. He’s not done with them yet, but he is done talking with them. He’s, he’s done explaining himself to them. They’ve got nothing over him. They have exposed themselves as absolutely false authorities, so he’s got no time for them. But having taken their measure and having exposed them to the people, Jesus intends to use the last few days of his time before the cross to appeal to these people, to warn them, to call them away from false shepherds, to come out from under their teaching their influence.
That’s why, as Josh alluded to this, or spoke this morning of an application from last week, in the last sermons we’ve been going through, we need to do the same thing and love for other people. Call them all out of false churches, false religions, false situations, for the love of their souls, for the love of God in his glory. We need to say enough with the false misrepresentation of God.
So, Jesus turns to the people, calling them away from their false shepherds to come underneath his shepherding so they can hear what he is teaching. So they can hear the teaching of the law and the prophets correctly, so they can understand the gospel that saves them thoroughly, deeply. So as the people are there hanging in the balance, Jesus tells them this parable to make crystal clear, this is where opposing his ministry is going to take them. And we skip to the end and see it’s gonna take them to complicity in murder.
The people need to know that they cannot remain neutral in what’s about to happen in Jerusalem, in what will turn out to be the most infamous crime committed in all of human history. These people will bear their own responsibility for the shepherds that they follow because they are fellow tenants of those shepherds working in the same vineyard as the parable makes clear. There is no neutrality when it comes to Jesus Christ. You are either for him or you’re against him. You’re on one side or the other, and you need to choose and think very carefully where you take your stand.
For so many of us, we’ve taken our stand with Jesus Christ, even though that will earn us the scorn and the reproach and the mocking of the world. We understand that we count it a privilege to be persecuted along with him for his name’s sake. But there’s still many, even some, among us. But there’s, there are many in this city in which we live and move and have our being, this region, in this country, many of whom we know who they think that they can straddle fences. They think they can remain under bad teaching, false teaching, sub-Christian teaching, and think that they’re not making a decision against Christ.
In this parable, Jesus tells the story of his own nation. He is describing the history of Israel in terms of its rejection of God’s prophets.”Travis Allen
Well, that’s the immediate context. Jesus turns to the people. It’s the people he’s speaking this parable to. Second, note the biblical context. The biblical context is kind of set in this vineyard imagery. Israel’s full of vineyard, the, full of vineyards in the land, the climate, topography, landscape, the amount of rainfall in the year made this an ideal place for vineyards.
Ah you know, right between that 30 and 50 degree latitude, whether north or South, but here in the, in this case, in, in the north, northern latitudes. Ideal place for vineyards, when vineyards feature in a story for a Jewish audience, and in particular for Jews who are here in Jerusalem at this time for a Passover feast. The audience that’s listening to Jesus on this occasion cannot help but recall a biblical context. There is rich vineyard imagery throughout Scripture throughout the Old Testament.
As the Lord sets the scene, the subject, and the verb with which he introduces the parable. It says, a man, that’s the subject. Planted, that’s the verb. A man planted a, and direct object, a vineyard. The man planted a vineyard. That makes the man the owner of the vineyard. Because he planted the vineyard and it says that he rented his vineyard to tenants. That makes him a landlord. He’s the one who’s letting out the vineyard. He’s renting it out, he’s leasing it. And in verse 13, the ESV translates the word owner. But the term is kyrios, ha kyrios there. So that means Lord. This is the Lord. The man who planted it is the Lord.
And the vineyard imagery which we heard earlier in our reading of Psalm 80. But this vineyard imagery is replete in the Old Testament. Psalm 80, Hosea 10, Ezekiel 19 all make use of this same imagery. Israel being God’s vineyard. Perhaps the most famous of vineyard text, The Song of the Vineyard, is in Isaiah 5:1 to 7. “Let me sing for my beloved my song according to his vineyard. My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug that vineyard. He cleared it of stones. He planted it with choice vines. He built a watchtower in the midst of it, and he hewed out a wine vat in it.”
I won’t read through the whole section. Though, I’d love to read all the vineyard texts. They’re so, so rich and so instructive. But I’m gonna skip to the final verse in Isaiah 5:7, because that verse illustrates what all the vineyard texts really do illustrate. And this is how they go, that what started out really, really well, ends in, in total disappointment, in abject failure and terrible judgment.
Isaiah 5:7 says, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and [what did he look for? The fruit of the vineyard? What did he look for?] he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” It’s a tragic, tragic imagery in scripture. Every time we see the vineyard, we see what’s planted well, what God provides for, what he protects, what he rightly expects good fruit to come from. In the hands of the tenants, it goes very, very badly.
So the biblical context, the vineyard imagery, reminded the Jews of their origins, their blessings, the luxuries that they enjoyed. But it also reminds them of their guilt, sins of pride, historic sins of spiritual adultery in their idolatry, the deserved judgement, the fact that they’re always under the shadow of judgement. Even now, as Jesus tells this parable, it’s the Romans who are oppressing them. They’ve taken the place of the Greeks, who took the place of the Medo Persians, who took the place of Babylonians and Assyrians. And all, all, all the way back it goes. They feel this all the time.
So this, this is reminding them of, all of the biblical context. At the same time they remember the promise of, of hope. That cry for mercy and compassion from God, for his restoration, for his light to shine upon them as the psalmist prayed. Psalm 80, verse 14, “Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see: have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted, and for the Son whom you’ve made strong for yourself.”
So, after the people are prepared to hear more about the vineyard, maybe hear some promise of restoration, some hope, Jesus throws a twist into the story right away, brings us to a third way that he sets the scene. The Lord sets the scene this way. I may I, I may have taken you through all the vineyard texts, but the Lord chose in verse 9 to shift the attention away from the vineyard itself and focus the attention on the workers in the vineyard, the tenants.
So this brings us to a third context, the historical context, in verse 9. As the Lord sets the scene, a man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and he went into another country for a long while. There’s a socio historical context here and it’s essential to understand this context to come to a right interpretation of the parable. When Jesus describes and when he sets up the story, this common situation in Israel, it’s something they’re very familiar with, especially in Galilee.
There’s a tension between tenant farmers and their absentee land owners. Very common situation. In the book of Joachim Jeremias, the Parables of Jesus, he writes this; “The parable [talking about this parable] is a realistic description of the revolutionary attitude of the Galilean peasants toward the foreign landlords. An attitude which was aroused by the Zealot movement, which had its headquarters in Galilee. Necessary to realize that not only the whole upper Jordan Valley, and probably the north and northwest shores of the Lake of Gnasser as well, that’s the sea of Galilee, but also to in a large part of Galilee and uplands at that time bore the character of Latifundia in the hands of foreign landlords.” End quote.
The term latifundia or latifundium, singular, refers to large landed estates. So, think in terms of a, a large farm, a large ranch, an estate. But it’s in ancient Roman context, and that estate is worked by slaves or worked by tenant farmers. When an estate, or a farm or ranch, or in this case, a large vineyard, when that property is located, say, in the region of Galilee, and many were, when it’s owned by a foreigner such as a Roman, it’s not hard for us to imagine how resentment would arise in the hearts of the tenants. Tensions grew.
It all fed the revolutionary spirit in the land. A desire to overthrow the Romans. It fed this messianic zeal and hope that they all had that someone’s gonna come, cast out these Romans, give us back our land and that revolutionary spirit. As we’ve seen here and there in our own country, even recently, a revolutionary spirit is able to justify all manner of wrong, even violence, under the banner of a righteous cause.
That’s the historical background. So, when Jesus started with a man planted a vineyard, the people, they’re prepared for one kind of story. And then he continues with shifting gears and led it out to tenants and went away to another country for a long while. Well, now he’s immediately grabbed their attention. They are indeed hanging on every word. Why? Because everybody knows he is a rabbi. From where? Galilee. He’s a Galilean. Everybody has just witnessed his power, his authority. He literally and single handedly took over the temple in a few hours.
They just watched him silence the delegation that came from the Sanhedrin, this ruling body of Israel this August and serious political religious establishment represented by these men in their long robes. And now with this context, an unmistakable allusion to this ongoing dispute, this injustice in Israel perpetrated by the oppression represented by a foreign absentee landlords upon the peasants of Galilee. A situation that is under Roman protection, enforced by Roman soldiers in the land, an occupying force that’s headquartered in Jerusalem. And in fact the Fort of Antonia it’s just, it’s catty corner connected to the temple itself. It’s where the soldiers are.
So, the people believed, and justifiably so. The Romans are in league with the Herodians. The Herodians are cozy with the House of Caiaphas, the Temple priesthood. It’s the House of Caiaphas and Annas. That’s the wealth represents the wealth that the priests had in league with the businessmen in Israel and in Jerusalem. And they bought off the Sanhedrin with their money. Use money and bribes to sway the judgment of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel.
So all the prominent families of Jerusalem and Judea are totally corrupted. The talk about draining a swamp? That’s a swamp. The whole of the political and religious establishment in Jerusalem was an absolute swamp, a mess, corrupt to its core, hopelessly engaged and entangled in greed and corruption. And the people felt absolutely helpless to do anything about it. No power to stand up to collusion with foreign powers.
Certainly Roman would come down with its iron will and crush any rebellion that’s suffering even more into the corruption of Israel’s false shepherds. But what about this remarkable man, the Galilean rabbi? Hey, maybe he is the one who might rally them to some kind of an uprising. Call them to arms. Maybe he’ll be their leader. Might he be their answer? I mean, he is a truly moral man. He’s armed with righteousness. It’s clear for everyone to see. He’s powerful, he’s authoritative, he is a religious and political force. So now that Jesus has the full attention of the people, now that they are as Luke 19:48 says, they’re hanging on his words, it’s time to talk about collecting the rent. Look at the next verse.
Let me transition you into point number two. The Lord seeks the rent. The Lord sets the scene, but now the Lord seeks the rent. Go back to verse 9, says; “A man planted a vineyard, let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while.” So we got a vineyard owner. He’s away for a long time. This is exactly the absentee landlord situation. He’s living abroad. He’s living and doing business a long, long way from his vineyard, and he’s leased out the vineyard to tenants.
He has a just expectation of payment. He’s a legal right to payment, and so rent will be due when the harvest comes in. So after planting a vineyard, leasing out the estate to tenant farmers, it can take about three to five years for any vineyard to get a harvest and to start making a profit. So this long stretch of time passes. The owner is living far away. He’s living in a great distance and all these factors affect what happens when the rent is due.
It’s William Hendrickson who writes this, he says; “Absence of landlords is implied and those who ran estates they enjoyed a considerable measure of independence. However, this is not an unmixed blessing for either party. For the vine dressers, [that’s the tenants in the story] it meant that when there were problems, unexpected expenses, bad harvests, marauders, etcetera, the owner couldn’t be consulted, but the landowner, it meant that for his share of the yield of the soil, he’s dependent not only on the natural conditions like weather and soil, but also on the honesty and cooperation of the tenants or the sharecroppers.” End quote.
So, you can see the tension there. You can see the tenants who can be stressed by this situation where the landlord is a long, long way away and he cannot do anything about it. It’s a good thing, and most times they’re not, he’s not hovering over their necks watching their every move. But on the other hand, it’s a bad thing when things are tough for the owner, he’s completely dependent on them being good tenants. So when we come to verse 10, we see the rent’s due. It says, “When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.”
These arrangements between landlords and tenant farmers rent can be paid in money. Sometimes it was more often though it was paid in produce, either a flat rate of produce that the land yielded or a proportionate rate to the crop that was brought out of the harvest. Alfred Edersheim describes situations where there could be arrangements for a third or even a quarter of the harvest, a percentage that goes to the tenants. That’s a pretty good chunk, but the rest goes to the owner.
So either two thirds or three quarters of the harvest would go to the owner. Most often, the tenant would be required to give the landowner a definite amount of produce. No matter what, whether the harvest was good or bad. And that is all fine and good when the harvest is plentiful, when the years are bad, when they’re difficult. You can imagine how this situation created tension, how the contract and the terms of the contract itself could create resentment.
So, it’s time for the tenant farmers to pay the rent. And now we see the hostility that is alluded to just in Jesus setting up the story, how it’s latent in the background. It now breaks forth in this harsh treatment and outright violence. “When the time came,” it says, that it’s harvest time. “He sent a servant to the tenants so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.” And you got to imagine landowner is living a long way away, right?
So, where’s the servant of the landowner? He’s living a long way away as well. So, this servant came a long way. He’s made an arduous journey over a very vast distance. And as he comes into the landowner’s holdings, this vineyard, this estate, he comes expecting to be well treated, perhaps even honored, because of who he represents. You could expect to receive some of that famous Middle Eastern hospitality to be in the company of, of tenants who are grateful for the landowner’s provision for themselves, for their families.
An opportunity to, to build and create a, a good harvest, a bountiful harvest, so that their own wealth can increase as well. Farming land that they don’t have, actually have to pay the bill for, he expects to be well treated. Why wouldn’t he? Difficult journey would have made, make him eager to get some rest, to enjoy some refreshment in their company before making the return journey. Increased level of difficulty on the return journey is that the fact that he’s now loaded down with the fruit of his master’s vineyard, so his caravan going back to his master’s place could be targeted by robbers along the way. So he had to have armed guards and be prepared for an ambush. So this rest he’s anticipating, this hospitality he expects. Obviously it’s deeply disappointing and shocking when he gets the exact opposite treatment from the tenants, verse 10 says; “But the tenants beat him up and sent him away empty handed.”
Commentators have tried to come up with explanations as to why the tenants treated the landlord’s servant so roughly. Jesus offers no explanation here, so it’s maybe best not to speculate. But the emphasis in Jesus’ story, that which kind of punctuates the end of the sentence in the Greek text, that which leaves a hollow feeling in the gut for this audience is the word kenos. It’s the, it’s the term empty or empty handed.
He’s got to make this long journey home. Yes, shabbily treated, yes, worn out, beat up, but with nothing to show for it. Journey is, so long, the reaction of the tenants so unexpected, that after the servant arrives back home, the owner is going to need some time to consider the situation. I mean, perhaps he sent his servant too soon, like they’re stressed by the fact that he’s asking for the rent now, when they really haven’t had time to, to have a bountiful harvest. So maybe that’s what stressed him out. What? Maybe it’s maybe it’s the kind of servant that he sent. Maybe he sent the wrong guy. Just a bad mix of personalities.
Maybe this tenants had a bad year, reacting poorly to the stress. So the owner, according to verse 11, he decides to let another season pass, wait for the next harvest. So the following August time frame, verse 11, “He sent another servant. But they also beat him up and treated him shamefully and sent him away empty-handed.
Okay, so notice how the violent treatment of the owner’s servants is increasing. It’s not staying static. It’s not staying the same. This is going up another notch. First servant verse 10, beaten, then sent away. Second servant, verse 11, likewise beaten. But then he’s treated shamefully. You can imagine this, can’t you? Any of you men, maybe women too, have seen some of those John Wayne cowboy movies. You know, coming on to the ranch. Bunch of burly roughneck ranch hands, foul mouthed, making sport of some poor guy in the middle.
They’ve kind of taken the rope and they’ve lassoed him and pulled him behind their horses and surrounding him, giving him a beat down, mocking him as he bleeds. And then they send him away, packing once again. The second servant. He too has to make the long trip home. Not only beaten, hurt, but maybe the insult added to the injury is even more discouraging. And he also is returning with kenos with nothing. He’s empty handed.
But once again we see, remarkably, we see this vineyard owner exercises a level of patience and restraint that can only be described as what? As divine. This is a God like show of patience and restraint and all I have to do is point you to exhibit A of the culture in which we live and wondering how it is that America has not been nuked from heaven. The owner, lets another year go by and in verse 12, “He sent a third servant, and this one also they wounded and cast out.”
So, they’ve beaten the first servant, sent him away empty handed. They beat up the second servant as well, dishonored him, and then sent him away empty handed. They’re trying to send a message to the owner, aren’t they? The third one, they beat him so badly that he’s wounded. He is wounded severely enough he is unable to leave the vineyard under his own power and so the tenants, they cast him out. Picture bouncers at a bar. The word is ekballo. Forceful ejection. These bouncers pick up his limp body, carrying him outside of the vineyard walls, and rather unceremoniously they cast him down, leave him there, unconscious and bleeding.
They don’t care if he dies, whether he recovers to limp home under his own power, or whether he has to stay there, heal up, wait for another servant to come and help him home, we don’t know. But what is unquestionably clear? The treatment, the Lord’s representatives have gone from bad to worse to pure abject evil.
Now let’s stop for a second to make some connections here, right? The vineyard owner we’ve established. Who is that? It’s God, right? God is the vineyard owner. The servants of the vineyard owner. Who are they? These are the prophets of Israel whom God sent to His people. So, if the servants that he sends are the prophets who are the tenants? The tenants in this parable represent the nation of Israel.
Again, it’s not just the leaders of Israel. Remember to whom Jesus directs the parable in verse 9. He began to tell the people this parable, right? See that more clearly as time goes by, but, this means on a, there’s a twist on biblical imagery here that the vineyard itself, as it’s represented in the Old Testament, the vineyard itself, does not here represent Israel in the parable. The nation of Israel, as a nation, has acted like these wicked tenants.
The history of Israel as we all read every year, as we go through our daily reading. We read through the Old Testament over and over again, don’t we? The history of Israel is a history of, of unfaithfulness, with this penchant for spiritual adultery, for finding false teaching and loving it, for finding false worship and loving it, for becoming so satisfied with wealth and stuff and loving that and really turning away from God.
And when God sends prophets to remind them to call them back to covenant faithfulness, call them back to relationship, call them back to the true loving worship of the true living God, people get angry about that. They don’t like to be reminded that they’re wrong. How dare God send these servants? When God sends servants, prophets to call them back, offer to them the grace of repentance, offer to them forgiveness if they’ll humble themselves and repent and turn from their sin, what do they do?
They ignore the prophets and they persecute them. Prophet Elijah, one among 7000 in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. He was righteous, he was faithful, but he was haunted like a criminal. Wasn’t he? By wicked queen Jezebel, slaughtered, maligned by Ahab as the troubler of Israel. Prophet Micaiah punched in the face by a false prophet, publicly shamed and cast in prison, fed with meager rations of bread and water.
Prophet Jeremiah imprisoned, then released. He was then cast into a waterless cistern where he sank in the mud up to his chest. Oh, then he’s pulled up. And then after he’s pulled up though, he’s kidnapped by these rebels and taken down to Egypt. Shabby, shabby treatment in Mark’s account of the parable. This same parable. That account is fuller. Pictures even more violence done to the Lord’s servants. Mark 12:5. Not just to the first 3, but so, also with many others. Some they beat and some they killed. Matthew records Jesus mentioning when he’d been stoned in the same account. It refers there, of course, to Zechariah, son of Jehoiada, the priests recorded in 2 Chronicles 24:22.
We can go through all through these examples. They are replete in the Old Testament, but the writer of Hebrews summarizes it for us. In Hebrews 11:36 and following, he says, those who “suffered mocking and flogging even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, [that refers, of course, to the prophet Isaiah] they were killed with a sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated, of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in the deserts and the mountains and dens and caves of the earth.”
What a terrible way to treat those who speak the word of God to the people. Ironically, it was Jerusalem itself, the Holy city. Jerusalem, the Holy City, was the city with the worst reputation on the planet for how it treated God’s servants. Jesus said in Luke 13:33, “I must go on my way…for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” Kind of an ironic thing to say, isn’t it?
We heard just recently Bret’s teaching us, leading us through the book of Jonah. Jonah went to the most wicked city on the planet at that time, it seemed Nineveh. They all repented. Dust and ashes, putting on sackcloth, even sackcloth on the animals. Jerusalem, this lament Jesus speaks over the city. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones, those who are sent to it. O Jerusalem.”
Stephen stood before the Sanhedrin in Acts, chapter 7, went through the entire history of the nation, going all the way back to the fathers, and he said, “you stiff necked people.” Coming to the conclusion he said, “you stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your father’s did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” We try to come up with a name, hearing that as if to help him prove his point, the Sanhedrin gnashed their teeth at him. They rose up and won a cord, killed him too. They took him out and stoned him to death. So the vineyard owner. Vineyard owner is God. The owner is servants of the prophets. The tenants represent the nation of Israel itself.
This leaves us with two more questions. If the tenants are Israel, what does the vineyard represent? If we’ve left the vineyard behind, what does that, what does that represent? And then further, what is the fruit of the vineyard that the Lord comes to collect when he comes to collect rent? If in this parable, as we’ve seen, the, those tending the vineyard are Israel, then what does the vineyard represent?
Well, the vineyard represents the spiritual privileges entrusted to the nation, which Paul identifies in Romans 9:4 and 5. To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
God chose the nation Israel, to steward all these spiritual privileges, to tend his vineyard of privilege, in order that they would produce fruit for God’s glory. So the name of Yahweh would be known and glorified and worshipped and counted as holy among the nations. We can take all of those spiritual privileges and kind of summarize them in one concept which will immediately understand and embrace. And this is what the vineyard represents. The vineyard really is the privilege of God’s special revelation, God’s word, the Holy Scripture that is the vineyard, 66 books of the Bible given to reveal the mind of God with all the privilege, all the promise, all the blessing, all the hope, all the salvation laid out for us.
Because of all those privileges, adoption, glory, covenants, law, worship, the promises, the patriarchs, and Christ himself. All those privileges are revealed and known and interpreted and understood by means of God’s precious word. So vineyard, this rich history of spiritual privilege is that which produces fruit. The word of God is supposed to produce fruit among us, fruit that brings glory to God. What is that? It’s our response to God’s special revelation by honoring him as God, by giving thanks to him, by praising his holy name, his eternal attributes, his good character, his perfect wisdom, his salvation, the chief means of glorifying God. The fruit that’s supposed to be produced by this Word of God is to trust him wholly and completely.
To love and worship him with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind. To obey him completely and fully and faithfully and cheerfully. Listen, that is the fruit of spiritual privilege. That is the fruit of this vineyard of possessing and knowing God’s word. Christian, what fruit’s being produced in your life? What fruit is being produced? You’re accountable for it now. When these servants, the prophets of God, when these messengers come from God, when these people who come speaking the words of God and they come to the people of Israel and Judah, when they preach, they prophecy. What fruit do the prophets hope to gather and bring to God?
John the Baptist said it this way. He’s the last and the greatest prophet of the Old Testament, the Old covenant. He put it this way in Luke 3:8. Bear fruits in keeping with what? Repentance, bear fruits in keeping with repentance. That’s always been the message of the prophets. When they come to a disobedient people, they come seeking the fruit of repentance from tenants who have wandered. Come to the nation of Israel, those who should be working in the Lord’s vineyard, and they call like in the words of Joel 2:12 and following, “return to me with all your heart.” “Return to me with all your heart.”
Don’t hold on to anything. Let it all go. Your wealth, your stuff, your portfolio, your bank accounts, your, your ambition, your job prospects, your relationships, your, just let everything go. Your family, all the stuff that you think is so vital, let it go, Joel says. Return to me with all your heart. Hold nothing back. Come with fasting and with weeping and with mourning over your sin. Rend your hearts, not your garments. What’s your clothing ever done? Don’t rip. Dig up your clothing, but rend your heart. Let your heart be sensitive before the Lord and come to him.
The word of God is supposed to produce fruit among us, fruit that brings glory to God.”Travis Allen
Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” This is the one to whom I will look. Isaiah 66:2, “He who is humble and contrite in spirit. Man who trembles at my Word.” Do you tremble at God’s Word, or do you fall asleep with his Word? Are your eyes heavy under the preaching of the Word of God, or are you awake and engaged and interested, and filled with zeal and desire, and hungering and thirsting for righteousness? What is your posture to God’s Word?
Isaiah 57:15, “I dwell in the high and the holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, to revive the heart of the contrite.” Well, the goodness, the incredible patience of this Lord illustrated in the parable here. It’s not quite at its end. Seems like it should be, but it’s not. One more chance. He wants to give him, one more chance.
Number three, point number three. The Lord sends his son. The Lord sends his son. Look again at the text verse 13, Then the owner, which is, as I said, ha kyrios, the Lord. So “The [Lord] of the vineyard, said, what shall I do? I will send my beloved son and perhaps they will respect him.” Obviously, there’s a limit to how closely the vineyard owner represents God in this story because the Bible never portrays God as having kind of some kind of internal conflict, some kind of a, a wrestling and a ring, you know, ring of his hands and wondering what is am I going to do.
He’s not doing that. He’s not anxious about the outcome. God is not like that. But the analogy here is sufficient to show us, serving Jesus purpose, for this story anyway, the sense that we’re supposed to get and the accurate portrayal of God in this image is this incredible kindness, this, this forbearing nature in the character of God as he demonstrates this patience and forbearance as he overlooks manifold offences. Sin after sin, wickedness after wickedness, evil after evil. He overlooks it. He’s not gonna let it go.
Every sin will receive its just punishment and just reward all my sins. All your sins. If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ and you’ve had your sin paid for, every single sin is paid for where on the cross of Christ, right? He didn’t let one sin go, but in time, in the moment, by moment, he’s patient with sinners. And the image here is to portray for us a God whose character is so merciful and so compassionate that he wants to give sinners every chance to repent, that they might turn from their wicked ways.
We get here in this last ditch effort to allow these tenants to change their minds. We get this sense of solemnity and finality. Like this is it, this is the last chance. Up to this point, the owner has sent his slaves, his servants. Now, though, he sends his own beloved son, so-called, because this is his one and only son. That’s what we’re meant to see here. It’s kind of a double entendre.
One, it’s referring to the owner having only one son, one that’s very precious to him. On the other hand, there’s something else going on there too, isn’t there? It’s arresting language, isn’t it? My beloved son. Last time we heard the expression of a beloved son in our study of Luke’s gospel all the way back in Luke 3:22. I know many of you weren’t even here in Luke 3, but we were there. We did start in Luke 1:1, but we saw in Luke 3:22 Jesus in the waters of baptism. When he submitted to John’s baptism, and says there that Jesus he’d been baptized, he was praying, “The heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”
If there was any doubt whatsoever left about his answer to the chief priests and the scribes and the prominent men, the elders, who challenged his authority about the source of his authority, there’s the answer. Plain as day. As the one and only Son of God, as God’s beloved Son, Jesus’ authority flows out of his personal relationship to God and his essential identity with God. I will send my beloved Son, and perhaps may be better translated, surely, they’ll respect him. Oh, surely, they’ll respect my son.
The verb for respect there is the verb entrepo. Really interesting word can be translated as respect, reverence, or have regard for. But, but the meaning there is, is, it’s an attitude. It comes about only after there’s been a profound change. So, at the root of this verb, the word means to turn about. It portrays a change of position, a change of, of opinion, a change of condition in one’s regard or judgement. What do we see there? Implicit in this landlord’s hope for the tenants is a significant change of heart, one that we call what? Repentance.
These tenants, man, they need to turn around. They need to turn all the way around 180 degrees and change their attitude about the Lord, and about his son. If they do that, surely they will see his goodness in sending his one and only beloved son. Well, what do we see? Verse 14. Sad outcome. “When the tenants saw him, they said to themselves this is the heir, let’s kill him so that the inheritance may be ours. They threw him out of the vineyard, killed him.”
As a story, this may seem absurd. At first glance, it may seem like a stretch of credulity here. We can’t imagine anyone thinking how they might get away with something like this. Murdering somebody, then stealing the property for themselves, taking the vineyard, taking the all the owner’s equipment, going to the title office, and having the title deed written in their name instead of his. How they gonna get away with this?
Actually, though, again, in the socio historical setting that forms the backdrop of the parable, it’s not a stretch. Things like this actually did happen, I mentioned earlier the latifundia, the relationship between absentee landlords and their tenants, and these estate farms. Because of the distance, because of the extended time between the visits, relationships were strained. And when relationships were strained, what grows? Distrust between the two parties. From the perspective of the tenants, of the tenants, they felt they had put in all the hard work, put in all the long hours. They were out there in the hole, in the in the cold and in the heat, working at all times. And whether justified or not, they could feel justified in becoming disgruntled, feeling like they were undervalued and underpaid.
From the landlord point of view, he just pointed to a signed contract, said look, this is legal. We signed the docs together, you and I, pay what you’ve agreed to pay. The Talmud tells of cases of tenants claiming possession of the land that they leased from absentee landlords that do this. In fact, Leon Morris refers to the Mishnah. He says this, quote, “In a day when title was sometimes uncertain anyone who had had the use of the land for three years was presumed to own it in the absence of an alternative claim.” End quote.
So we can see in the way that Luke has narrated Jesus telling of the parable, we got three different slaves. A period of a consecutive three years is there as well, right? So, the reader, the hearer, the listener is set up to discern this background to this story. Perhaps these tenants made the assumption, the false assumption, but the assumption nonetheless that the owner is dead and the son has come to make his claim of ownership.
So if they can get rid of this guy, the heir, the son, they could say the vineyard is theirs. They hadn’t paid rent in three years. The owner’s nowhere to be found. He’s never collected the rent. That’s the case that they could make before the title company. That’s the plan. Sadly, we see the three or more years of patience from this owner. Kindness and the goodwill that he has shown by sending all of these servants, but also now his one and only beloved son, rather than his goodness softening the hearts of these tenants.
You know what happened? It had the exact opposite effect. It hardened them. They took his patience for granted. They literally think that they can get away with murder. I said literally think they can get away with murder. And we have to realize this is a parable. It’s a fictional story. But I am using that word literally, literally. As if we step out of the story for a minute, it’s chilling to realize that in less than three days these people will murder the Son of God thinking they can get away with it.
When we come back next week and see the reaction of the scribes and the chief priests, we need to realize these men, they are just as Jesus portrays them here. They are cold blooded killers dressed in religious garb. Do they get away with it? No, they don’t. They won’t.
Here’s the final point, and this point is a warning. Number four, the Lord brings wrath. The Lord sent his son, but now the Lord brings wrath. Into verse 15, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” We’re going to expand on this next week a bit, but notice what happens when the owner flips the switch from showing kindness to now, bringing judgment, to bring severity. He doesn’t hold back.
This is no Vietnam, you know, measured conflict. It’s no Afghanistan kind of pulling our punches. No. When he comes, he brings the heavy weapons and he obliterates these people. That’s going to be portrayed very vividly in AD 70 when he sends the Romans in and obliterates destroys Jerusalem. When the Lord comes, the time for sending representatives and offering grace is over when he comes personally, no longer represented, but now coming personally. When the Lord comes, the time for patience will have come to an end. The Lord comes, bringing wrath, punishment, utter destruction. And when the Lord comes, the lease with these tenants becomes null and void. The Lord writes a new contract. He leases the vineyard to others.
Others as Matthew’s account tells us, others who will give him the fruits in their seasons. Others Jesus says it was a people producing its fruits. The term translated people, in the ESV, it’s the word ethnos, nations, when the Jewish mind the gentiles. Jesus is talking about us folks, us. As I said we’re going to expand on this next week and see how Jesus applies the parable and how the leaders respond. But as, as we close here, let’s kind of draw this to a conclusion. Let’s, let’s just talk about a few takeaways that we should file away, reflect on, meditate on this week, and hopefully this will edify you, encourage you, maybe, in some cases, admonish you. Here’s a few takeaways.
First, don’t miss the character of our God who is represented by the landowner in this story. He’s so immensely kind, isn’t he? He’s so generous. He’s patient, he’s good. He has set up everything hasn’t. It’s his land, it’s his, it’s his money that set up the vineyard in the first place. He planted it, built a watchtower in the middle of, built a wall around it. He’s the one that’s done everything. He’s provisioned all, everything. Everything is his. He’s been our benefactor. He’s been so kind, so generous in this story that Jesus tells, he’s like a landowner who seems to bend over backwards, even to the point, I think many in the audience are scratching their heads that that day saying get with it, stop after the first one, go there and kill those guys.
It’s, he’s bending over backwards to the point of seeming irrationality here, defying all reason to give these rotten, wicked, violently rebellious tenants just one more chance to bear the fruits of repentance. That should not create in us a heart of any negative thought about God or all we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t thank him weak for being slow, patient. We should regard his patience as the heart of kindness, his mercy, his compassion to every single one of us.
You, in your conscience, in your heart before God, you know the sins that you’ve committed against him, and you know how gentle he’s been with you even as you’ve sinned against him. You know that in ways that he should have just crushed you, he didn’t. Instead, he showed you forgiveness. Instead, he poured on more blessing. Look at our God here. This is the God that you know. This is the God you serve. This is the God who loves you. Who we want to love in return.
Second point for reflection is in light of God’s kindness, what kind of people ought we to be? Don’t make the same mistake that these tenants made by taking God for granted, presuming on his patience and upon his grace. Note, as Paul says in Romans 11:22, both the kindness and the severity of God. Let his severity warn you. He is the same God who will show wrath and judgment to the unbelieving. Let that severity warn you. Let his kindness, though compel you. Let his holiness compel you, draw you. Let his character, his ways, and the record of the testimony about him. Let that drive you to repentance. To every day look at your heart and think carefully about your sin before a Holy God. Repent.
Seek Him while he may be found. Follow him. Obey him with your life. Give him your heart. Embrace a life of obedience to Christ for the sake of his glory, according to the timing and the execution of his broader redemptive plan, God’s patience towards human rebellion, collective and individual. It is going to come to an end, and he will come. He will bring judgment. So while there is time, let’s do the work. Let’s call those sinners to repentance so that they can experience the same privileges you and I have. Let’s bring them in.
Third thing to note here. Just another reflection. Speaking brought, more broadly, more collectively about us as Gentiles, we’re the predominant peoples, the ethnos who make up the churches of Jesus Christ. Yes, there are Jews who are completed Jews, Messianic Jews, part of our congregations. We rejoice in the inclusion of Jews into the program of God.
But as we look back and review our history as Gentiles, as the Church over two millennia, how have we done as tenants? How have we done as workers in the Lord’s vineyard, as custodians of divine revelation, as guardians of the truth? It’s worth asking, have we as Gentiles fared any better than these Jews? Have we received the messengers that God sends to us any better than the Jews did? Do we show God’s messengers; apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, Ephesians 4:11.
Do we treat them with regard and honor and hospitality and respect? I know that in this church, so many of you, that is your attitude. That is your desire. That is, that is the way you treat us. We feel so well loved, so well regarded, and it’s not because of us. We know that. It’s because of who we represent, the message we carry, what a joy. But we have to ask when we look at the wider, what represents Christianity in our day? How do they treat true pastors, true shepherds, true elders?
Pretty shabbily, don’t they? They regard the false prophets and false teachers and false shepherds and false pastors. They regard them well. They pay them handsome sums. True servants of God they mock, they scorn, they ignore, they marginalized. Really, they persecute. We got to ask, why, more widely speaking, do we Gentiles have any boast to make over the Jews? We cannot fix all that’s out there, can we? We’re not called to fix everything else. We’re called to work right here in our portion of the vineyard and work till the glory of God.
I believe, though, some humility is in order for us, some fear of God is in order for the ways that the church has followed Israel’s path over the past 2000 years. So much to commend, so much to rejoice in. But there’s also a lot of tragedy and a lot of scandal. Paul warns us Gentiles again in Romans 11:20. “Don’t become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.”
Make sure, beloved for yourself, for your family, that you listen. You pay heed to the truth. Grace Church, let us heed the truth of Jesus Christ so that we embrace him in faith, trusting him, obeying him, glorifying him. My faithfulness to loving God with all of our hearts, soul, mind and strength. Loving our neighbor as ourselves, worshipping him, being faithful to the truth. Amen.
Let’s pray. Our Father, once again we find ourselves in awe that you would awaken us who are no better than the tenants that are portrayed in that parable. We’re, we’re no better. We. We can commit the same exact sins that you have treated us with such regard by not only sending us your servants, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, but you’ve sent us your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
You’ve revealed to us his noble character, his divine origin, his divine essence. You’ve revealed to us his kingly majesty, and we see him as the world is unable to see him. High, holy, majestic, wonderful, beautiful. We love him, and through him we love you and we thank you for our great salvation. And we ask that, at least for our part, as we work in our place in the vineyard, as we are guardians of this truth, as we are the pillar and the buttress of the truth in this church.
We pray that you would raise up many other churches like ours, and I know you’ve already done that. We follow the pattern of many faithful churches throughout our land and throughout history. We just ask that you would help us to shine forth, be faithful, work well in the vineyard, receive your servants, receive your word. We pray that you, when you come to collect rent, that we would be able to offer you the fruit of praise, of hearts that have been saved. We’d offer you the fruit of thanksgiving, gratitude, wonder, worship, and full hearted obedience. We love you so much, Father, and that’s because of Jesus Christ and whose name we pray. Amen.