Recently, I was listening to an interesting yet disturbing interview on public radio. The interviewee was an author who had recently written a book about the rise of the “nones” in America. It appears that many, especially of our younger generation, are drifting away from the church and the faith. More and more people are marking “none” when asked about their religious affiliation on forms. “Basic tenets and doctrines (of the faith) are being questioned and set aside,” this author said, “in favor of establishing a more personal spirituality.”
A couple of years back I had my staff read a book that was similar to this one. It describes some of the thinking of these “nones”. It said that Jesus and His exclusive claims are sometimes rejected in favor of a more pluralistic outlet, of being more open-minded, tolerant. So when I heard this interview, I wasn’t surprised, just once again concerned, disappointed, and a little heartbroken.
I can’t help but wonder how God feels about all this. People are constructing their own spirituality, rejecting His Son, or treating Him merely as one of many great teachers, but no more. They take on more of a buffet-style of faith.
Jesus gives us a bit of insight when He tells this parable just a few days before He went to the cross. He’s in Jerusalem now. He’s been hailed as a King by many on Palm Sunday. He has upset the Temple and driven out the money changers. His journey to Jerusalem is over, and the shadow of the cross looms ahead. It’s Tuesday, and by Friday He will be nailed to a cross and suffering.
On Tuesday, we find Him teaching in the Temple. There is some hostile opposition to Jesus. The religious experts – Scribes, chief priests, Pharisees, elders, and other leaders now want to get rid of Him and kill Him. So they asked Him where He gets the authority to do the things He has been doing. There was a challenge in their tone. Who does He think He is to overturn the tables in the Temple and drive out money changers? In response, Jesus tells this parable, which is all too easy for them to understand.
The owner of a vineyard rents out his land to tenants. He’s to get a share of the fruit produce each year. But something goes wrong in this arrangement. Each year when the owner would send a servant to collect the fruit of the harvest, the tenants would treat that servant shamefully – even violently – and send him back to the master empty-handed. Year after year this happened. This gracious and patient owner finally said, “What should I do? I know, I’ll send my beloved son. Surely they will respect him.” But when the tenants saw the son coming, they plotted amongst themselves and said, “Here comes the heir. Let’s kill that son and declare ourselves owners of the vineyard.” So they drove the son out of the vineyard and killed him.
This story is a historical parable. It’s more of an allegory about the history of God’s relationship with Israel, His chosen people. He had chosen them to bear fruit to the glory of God. They were the vineyard. They had been called a blessing to be a blessing to the families of the world; to seek justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with their God. To be a light to the nations. Instead, they were rebellious and disobedient.
No first-century Jew of the time could’ve missed what Jesus was talking about in this pointed parable. God is the owner of the vineyard. The vineyard is Israel, blessed and called to be a blessing, to bear fruit for the kingdom of God. The parable smacks of the prophet Isaiah’s vineyard song in Isaiah 5 where God laments His vineyard, Israel, which was yielding sour grapes, and He’d have to destroy it. The tenants are the leaders of Israel, the kings, the religious elite.
The servants are God’s prophets who came to tell them that God was looking for fruit from His people, fruit of obedience and love. Each one of them was treated badly and sent away empty-handed with no repentance or fruit of repentance.
Of course, the son in the story is Jesus. We’re reminded of what God said about Jesus at His baptism – “This is my beloved, my Son, with whom I am pleased.” The son’s fate is described by Jesus and proves to be prophetic. Jesus knew what lay ahead in the next few days. He had told His disciples earlier He’d go to Jerusalem and be rejected, suffer and die, and be killed. Friday was coming.
At this point, Jesus stops, looks at His listeners, and asked them, So what do you think? What will the owner do after all the patience and grace He has shown these tenants? It was as if He was saying to the crowd. What would you do? Jesus answered His own question, “He will punish those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
He reminds us at the end of the parable that God is still in charge. It is His vineyard, and He has the last word over it. Heaven forbid! the crowd gasped. That can’t happen! In all likelihood, they were thinking about how they were going to lose their land. Jesus looked at them and said, “Then what we do with this Old Testament verse from the Psalms, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?’ It was Jesus’ way of saying, You may reject me but I will be vindicated by My Father. I am that stone.
This became a favorite verse to quote in the New Testament church. Peter referred to it in his letter, “We’re all living stones built upon the cornerstone, Jesus Christ.” Paul would refer to it as a description of the Church: God’s temple built upon the stone, Jesus.
Jesus went on to say, “. . . and everyone who falls on that stone (me) will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” Jesus is saying, If you reject me, you will be rejected by God. Jesus alone is God’s salvation gift to us. He is the cornerstone. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him.
This parable in all likelihood was the last one Jesus told before the cross. It is an appeal to repentance, to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life. Jesus is saying, You want to know where my authority comes from? My authority comes from God. I am the Son of God. Repent. Surrender yourself to My care and My rule in your life, and you will live forever in the kingdom of God.
Jesus will be killed just as He said. But it is not a meaningless, accidental death. It was planned all along in the courts of heaven, even as Adam and Eve could be heard traipsing out of the garden of Eden. His death would make things right. His blood will pay for the sins of the world – for my sins and yours.
Jesus was vindicated by rising from the dead. He is risen; He is risen indeed. And all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. The future of the universe is under His authority. He has the last word over us.
The crowds left that day wondering about this warning. The religious establishment knew full well this parable was pointed at them. They were furious and wanted to arrest Jesus right on the spot but were afraid because the crowd was so taken with Him. Soon, however, they would have their way. They chose again to reject Him, just as so many have since then. It is to their own destruction, Jesus says.
Since then, millions have come to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives and had their lives changed when He steps in and takes over. They have received the rich inheritance of the forgiveness of sins, a promise of heaven, a restored personal relationship with God, a blessed life of friendship with Him, and a new community to enjoy, encourage, and love. He’s the true foundation upon which new lives get built and fruit is produced, which glorifies God.
What about you? What are you doing with Him, with His claims, with His calling? Are your rejecting Him or have you received Him? Because friend, there’s no middle ground with Jesus Christ. To reject Him is destruction, to receive Him as your Lord and Savior is life, a rich new life He does not want you to miss out on.
I recently came across this wonderful story.
Barbara Krensavage insists that clams are not a regular part of her diet. Yet one snowy evening in December she found herself craving an old recipe and so brought home four dozen quahogs—a clam particularly abundant on the eastern shores of the United States between Cape Cod and New Jersey. Mr. Krensavage was shucking the shellfish for dinner when he discovered one that looked like it was dead. It had a different color to it, and he thought it was diseased. As he was about to discard it, Mrs. Krensavage took a closer look.
It wasn’t dead. In fact, inside the live clam was a rare, possibly priceless, purple pearl. Experts estimate that roughly one in two million quahog clams contains a gem-quality pearl like the one found by the Krensavages. Some have estimated the pearl to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He almost missed out on possessing this pearl – a pearl of great price. Don’t you miss out on the Pearl of Great Price – Jesus Christ – who came to bring you into His kingdom.
Coming to Christ carries not only an appeal to repentance but also a word of reality and reassurance for the Church of Jesus Christ and those of us who follow Him. Jesus once told the disciples, “A slave is not above his master. If they rejected me, they just might reject you. In fact, you will be rejected and ridiculed and even killed possibly for announcing my gospel message in the world” (John 15:20, 21). We think of the martyrs still today on which the Church is built.
His call to us is no walk in the park, we have come to discover, but a call to battle – even hardship – as He says, “Come, pick up your cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Why? So we might bear fruit to the glory and honor of God as we bring others into His kingdom.
While we may experience some hardship, we always remember, God is the owner of the vineyard of this world. He has the last word. The vineyard of this world is His! This is our hope and our confidence as we serve Him in this world, announcing that the King’s Son has come. He has done a great thing – paying our debt on the cross and rising again.
We serve Him by calling people to repent and believe in Christ because someday the Son will come again in victory and power and take His own to Himself that where He is, we may be also. He will judge the living and the dead and make all things new. All will be well, just as God intended.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the Son. Don’t miss out. Receive Him.
I conclude this message with a story by Pastor Craig Ryan Larson.
“The first summer that my wife and I were dating, she worked as a temp at a bank. In the first two weeks that she had the job, she quickly noticed some extremely unprofessional behavior among the team of four people that she worked with and their supervisor. The supervisor, who was a generation older, was very friendly with the younger staff, taking long coffee breaks with them. College-aged staff would sit on her desk to chat and gossip.
The supervisor and her team were so friendly that the group’s behavior toward one other new member of the team was a stark contrast. This person, a woman in her 30s who had come on staff just a week before my wife, was shunned by them. If she walked up and tried to join the conversation during a coffee break, the conversation ended. The group, including the supervisor, made jokes about her behind her back and laughed at the way she dressed. They rolled their eyes and winked at each other when she was around.
Two weeks into the temp job, my wife walked into the office on Monday morning and was surprised to find a much different scenario. No gossiping, no kidding around, no long coffee breaks. All the workers had their eyes riveted on their work. The previous supervisor had been replaced. The cliquish team addressed the new supervisor with formal, businesslike respect. My wife thought she even saw fear in their eyes.
The new supervisor was not a stranger. It was the 30-something woman who had been shunned and mocked. It turned out the bank had hired her to be the new supervisor from the first day she came on the job three weeks before, but the bank had concealed her true identity so she could observe the work style of the team.
In some ways, this situation resembles the coming of Christ to earth. In his first coming, Jesus Christ revealed his true identity and glory to his true followers, but to those who did not believe, his glory was largely hidden by his humanity. One day he is coming again to the earth to establish his glorious kingdom over everything. At that time there will be no mistaking who is in charge.
We know who is in charge as we serve Him. The time is coming when there will be no mistaking by anyone as to Who is in charge. Let us trust Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer