Sermon on Matthew 21:33-43
Text: “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.
38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
When you hear about the salaries that many professional athletes make, you almost have to shake your head. Many of the better athletes are paid millions of dollars to play sports. What you often don’t hear are these statistics that I found. More than 60% of all NBA players go broke within 5 years after retiring. That number is 78% for football players after leaving the NFL. They go from millions of dollars to being broke. For example, Travis Henry signed a 5-year, $22.5 million contract with the Denver Broncos in March 2007. It would seem that he should have been set for life. However, he was cut from the team a little more than a year later, and less than a year after that he was serving a sentence of 10 years to life in prison on drug-related charges. He went from having everything to having nothing. In the parable that Jesus told, he warns about the same thing happening, though not with earthly wealth. LET US NOT FORFEIT GOD’S GRACE. 1. He Has Called Us To Faithful Service. 2. He Will Punish Faithless Rebellion.
In our sermon last week, Jesus warned the Jewish leaders about merely saying all of the right things and looking good on the outside, without following what God really wanted them to do. To stress that point, he again tells them another parable. “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.” This landowner did everything possible so that the vineyard would produce a good crop. He put a wall around it to keep out animals that would ruin the crop. He put in a winepress, so that the harvest could be processed efficiently. There was a guard tower so that the workers there could be forewarned of any enemies approaching. Then, he rented out the vineyard to some farmers. They would work in the vineyard and would give the owner his share of the crop. Finally, it came time for the harvest and he sent some servants to get his share of the crop. Please note that the owner was not being unreasonable. He waited until it was harvest time. He did not ask for all of the crop, just the part that was due him as was their agreement.
The meaning of the parable would be quickly clear to the Jewish leaders. There are many instances of Israel being called the vineyard of the Lord. For example, we look at Isaiah 5, “My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well.” Notice how closely the words parallel what Jesus describes in our text. As you read further in Isaiah 5, the meaning becomes quite clear, “The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in.”
We also note how the Lord so carefully tended his vineyard and did everything possible so that they would be a fruitful nation. You see how God was with the nation of Israel throughout her history. They were rescued from the land of slavery in Egypt, by means of 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. Nations had attacked them and God saved them. He helped them to drive out the Canaanites and gave them the land of promise, a land described as “flowing with milk and honey.” More than that, he was with them as he revealed himself to them in a way that he had not done for other nations. God gave them the law, which clearly pointed out to them his holy will. He told them how to worship him. Most importantly, he gave them the promise that the Savior would come from their line. They had so many advantages that the other nations had not had. As such, God expected them to bear fruit. He expected them to live in ways that would glorify him. He was not being unreasonable. It was his right as their Lord. It was what was proper in response for all that he had done for them.
We can also be called the vineyard of the Lord. We have been given many blessings, as well. The greatest blessing, of course, is the gift of his Son. We would have been lost forever, because of our sins. We were born outside of the vineyard of our God. We were completely unproductive plants, who should have been cut down and thrown in the fires of hell. Yet, God sent his Son to rescue us. He came to the earth to be perfect in our place. He lived for us and he died to pay for all of our sins. His resurrection assures us that our sins have been forgiven. Now, in response to all that has been done for us, it is reasonable that we produce fruits that glorify him. It is his right as our Lord. It is our proper response for all that he has done for us. We produce fruits by doing those things that are pleasing to him. The Lord has called us to faithful service.
Jesus continues with the parable, recounting what happened when the owner of the vineyard sent his servants to get his share of the crops. “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.” Can you believe how shamefully these farmers treated the master’s servants? They beat them. They stoned them. They put some of them to death. They did not want to give the owner his share. Yet, that pales in comparison with the next verses. “Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. 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.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” Can you imagine the patience that the owner had with these farmers? He continued to send his servants. Even after they mistreated them, the owner did not give up on the farmers. He sent his son to collect what was due him. Somehow or other, these tenant farmers got the idea that, if they killed the son of the owner, they would receive the vineyard, because there was no heir.
Jesus, then, asked those assembled, “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” The tenant farmers needed to realize that the owner was going to come back and he would demand justice. In response, they replied, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” The farmers would not only lose the vineyard, but they would come to a “wretched end.” Literally, it says, ‘he will destroy them.’
Again, we can see the parallel in the history of the nation of Israel. God had sent his servants to his people time after time, reaching out to the people so that they would turn from their evil ways and follow God. Yet, we see how terribly they treated God’s messengers. They were imprisoned. They were beaten. They had to run for their lives. Still, they did not repent. They did not turn from their evil ways. Yet, God, in his amazing love, did not give up on them. In the ultimate show of his mercy and grace, he fulfilled the Old testament prophecies and sent his Son. Yet, we also know how they treated him. They wanted nothing to do with him. They hated him because he was telling them things that they did not want to hear. Finally, their hatred of him grew to the point where they took him out of the vineyard, out of Jerusalem, and killed him. Remember, Jesus spoke these words just three days before he would be crucified.
In a final act of reaching out to the leaders, Jesus gave them this warning, “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.” In spite of all of the advantages that they had, they stood on the verge of losing everything. What a tragic account, for it happened Just as Jesus had warned them. The Savior they were waiting for for so long came, but they did not believe in him. As a result, the kingdom has been taken from them and been given to others.
The apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.” When we read about what happened to them, we must never say that can never happen to us. How do we respond to the calls for fruit that we hear? It is easy to drown them out with the other voices in the world that clamor for our attention. Over here, we hear, ‘It’s OK. If it feels good, do it.’ Over there, we hear, ‘That was fine for their day and age, but we have gone beyond that today.’ We may catch ourselves thinking that we have been members of a Christian church all of our lives. Surely, that has to count for something. We try to fool ourselves into thinking that there is always time to get serious about our faith life. Right now, we are having too much fun. The warning stands for us, as well. We can lose the blessings that God wants to give us. We can lose our place in his vineyard. If we do not take his Word seriously and apply it to our lives, we can lose it all.
How thankful we are that we have the words of verse 42, where Jesus quotes from Psalm 118, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Though Jesus was rejected by the world, he the cornerstone of our faith. Everything begins with and builds from him. We place our hope securely upon him and his saving work. Every other place that we might look for hope and consolation will fail us. It is only because of Jesus’ rescuing work that we can go forward. It is also here that we find our motivation for living lives that produce the type of fruit that is pleasing to him. We want to do them to thank him for all that he has done for us. May God help us to give to him freely in response for all that he has given to us.
It is hard to hear a sermon like this because there is such a dire warning in it. Yet, it is necessary for us to do so, for it reminds us that, as a part of our Christian life, we need to go daily back to the waters of our Baptism and drown the sinful nature with all of its sinful desires. We come to our God and ask his forgiveness for all of the times when we have not lived as we should. Then, having been assured of that forgiveness, we then ask for his help, so that we might live as he would have us live, thanking him for all that he has done for us. Then, because we are built securely upon that cornerstone, Jesus Christ, we will not forfeit God’s grace. Instead, we will stand firm forever. May God help us all to this end. Amen.
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