The Absentee Landowner Demands His Harvest (Matthew Sermon 105 of 151)
July 12, 2009 | Andrew Davis
Judgement Day, Stewardship, The Kingdom of Christ
From the very beginning of creation, God made a world designed for fruitfulness, filled with fruit. Genesis 1:11 says, “God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation, seed-bearing plants and trees in the land, that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds. And it was so.’” So this is the time of year for it, isn't it friends? Don't you love to walk into Kroger, or Winn-Dixie and just go to the fruit section. This is the best time of year for fruit, whether it be succulent cherries, that's my personal favorite. I think I may be addicted to them. I think the more I eat, the more I wanna eat. I don't think it's a good thing, especially since I don't know what to do with all the pits. I eat them all driving down the highway with the window down and I spit them out on the highway as I go hoping not to offend anyone else, as I pursue this great love I have for cherries. I’ve eaten a lot of them, don't any of you ... I don't want bushel fulls of cherries, you're very generous people I've found. So you don't need to do that. I also think we're coming out of that time when they're $2.99 a pound, and they're heading back toward $5.99 a pound. Don't do it, spend your money on something better.
But the world is filled with variety, papaya, mango and fuzzy brown kiwi fruit and beautiful strawberries. God made a lavish variety of sweet and succulent fruit. God did all of this because of His goodness. So also when God created man in his own image, in his own likeness, male and female, he created them and he blessed them. And he said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth, and subdue it.” Fruitfulness there meant having children, lots of children, who themselves would be fruitful and multiply. And the world would be filled with the image of God and the world already being filled with the glory of God, then the world would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. That was God's original intention. So the consistent teaching of scripture is that God lavishes on this creation, on this world, everything needed for full fruitfulness and he desires - can I go even stronger, demands - fruitfulness from us for all that he's invested in our lives. He wants fruitfulness. Now, many scriptures testify this is not a small theme in the Bible.
It's actually a very great theme in the Bible. God demands a harvest of fruit from us. John the Baptist in his fiery preaching said this, when he saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was preaching, he said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Those words stand over every day of my life. Where is the fruit in keeping with repentance? Have I repented for my sin and is there fruit in my life, to show it? Later he said, “The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire.” So the fruitless tree will be condemned. Jesus said, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, make a tree bad and its fruit would be bad, for a tree will be recognized or known by its fruit.” That's how he's going to assess us on judgment day. He will look at our lives. He'll look at the fruit, and he will know what kind of tree we are. And he is a perfect fruit inspector, he never gets it wrong. All he has to do is look at the fruit of our lives, fruit of our words, our deeds. He will know what kind of tree we were.
He says in John 15, “I am the vine and my Father is the vine dresser. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” Oh, you ought to meditate on that if you're a Christian or if you claim to be one. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit. While every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. So, fruitfulness is very much the issue with the vine and the branches. Hebrews 6, one of the most terrifying chapters in the Bible because it deals with the topic of apostasy. And the author there in Hebrews 6 says, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened who have tasted the heavenly gift who shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance.” Then he uses this kind of imagery, “Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end, it will be burned.” It's the same thing as the vine and the branches, do you not see it?
When God sends forth his resources he demands a return on the investment. He wants fruit from his Christians, he wants fruit from his people. And if there is no fruit that land is in danger of being cursed in the end, it will be burned. Many parables teach this. There's a parable of the fruitless fig tree. As you remember how the gardener is there attending and the owner comes and says, “You know time after time I come to this fig tree and there's no fruit on it. Cut it down. Why should it use up the soil?” And the gardener says, “No let it go one more year. Let's fertilize it, dig around it. And come back, and if in a year's time there's no fruit, then let's cut it down.” Same parable, same idea, same concept. The central parable Jesus ever told the parable of the seed and the soils. The farmer goes out and sows his seed and some falls on the path, and some on the rocky soil, and some on the thorny soil and some on good soil. And in the end, the issue is what kind of soil are you? As you hear of the word of God, are you producing 100, 60, 30 times what was sown or nothing? Use your fruitfulness. Comes up again and again. Now it comes up hugely in the chapter we're studying right now. Matthew 21.
The Context: Ancient and Immediate
Immediate Context; The Final Week of Jesus’ Life on Earth
Matthew 21 is all about fruitfulness. And frankly, it's really all about fruitlessness. It's not about fruitfulness, it's about the fruitlessness of Israel, the people of God. All of those generations have come to a culmination as Jesus enters Jerusalem, as he rides on that donkey, as he enters the city, a triumphal entry. It's the final week of his life. And all of these people, these crowds are there with adulation and they're praising him and saying, “Hosanna.” They don't really understand who he is, they don't know what he’s doing. But Jesus also comes in face-to-face confrontation with his enemies. They're face-to-face now and they're gonna be in each other's face, for the rest of this week, culminating in Jesus's own death, which those same leaders are going to orchestrate. They're gonna orchestrate his death because of their hatred for him. And this really is the pinnacle of the fruitlessness of the Jews, the people of God.
And so here in Matthew 21, there's just a very big focus on the issue of fruitlessness. You remember how Jesus going into the city the next day as he's just about to cleanse a temple, he comes to that fruitless fig tree. It's got nothing but leaves on it, and he curses it and says, “May you never bear fruit again.” The cursing of the fig tree, right in this chapter. Then after the question about authority Jesus asked a question about John the Baptist, and he said, “Why didn't you obey him? Why didn't you follow him and why didn't you repent when he preached to you?” He's dealing with fruitlessness there. And the parable of the two sons. And how there's one son who says he will not obey but then he goes and obeys. And then there is the other son who says he'll obey but he doesn't. That issue is the issue of fruitfulness. Are you actually obeying? Now we've got this parable of the wicked tenant farmers. So bottomline I think in Matthew 21: Christ has come to judge this fruitless nation. He has come to judge Israel, the fruitless nation.
Ancient Context: The Song of Isaiah
Now that's immediate context. Biblically there's a deeper context in this parable and it's really a rich backdrop. In Isaiah chapter 5, the prophet there gives a song, Isaiah song. And it's the song about a vineyard. And Jesus, there is no doubt in my mind, is thinking about Isaiah's vineyard song as he tells this parable. So Isaiah 5 goes like this. This is the prophet Isaiah hundreds and hundreds of years before Jesus was born. He says this. “I will sing for the one I love, a song about his vineyard: 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 vine. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad. Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I did for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now, I will tell you what I'm going to do to my vineyard. I will take away its hedge and it will be destroyed. I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”
Now you can see, you heard reading the parable you can just see the points of contact that the vineyard is planted there's provisions made for it, there's a wall, there's a watch tower, winepress all the same elements and a bad ending no fruit, both cases. Now, Jesus goes beyond when he starts getting into the messengers that get sent and then the Son gets sent, we'll get to that. But he's definitely got this in his mind, I think, as he tells this parable.
The Parable Delivered: Main Idea and Details
Now look at the parable in verses 33 through 39. We'll read again and consider its elements. “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, he dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenant sees the servants, they beat one, and killed another and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 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, ‘Look here 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.”
Central Concept: Fruitlessness Produces Judgment
Now in every parable you really wanna seek the central lesson. The main lesson doesn't mean that the details aren't worth looking at, they are. But we look for the main lesson and the main lesson here is pretty clear. That fruitlessness produces and results in judgment. That's the main idea. Or if I could elaborate a little bit more, because the tenant farmers refused to surrender to their master, his rightful harvest, judgement, is coming. That's really what the parable is about.
Image: Israel a Vineyard with an “Absentee Landlord”
So the image, then, is of this vineyard. And I think it's not hard to see that Israel is the vineyard and God is the absentee landowner. I don't think that's hard to see. So it begins with this landowner literally in the Greek, it's a man, a householder. So he's just a, he's a property owner and he wants to have an investment. There wasn't the stock market or other things, back then. So there would be frequently, I think agricultural investments. So this would be a venture capital issue for him.
He is investing in this vineyard. He is putting up the money for it. It's his idea. He buys the land. He knows what he wants. Maybe a risky venture, maybe not, depends on the fertility of the soil or whatever. But this is an investment for him. And every advantage is given to it. He builds a wall for protection. So that those that might damage the harvest are kept out whether animals or men. And he's got this winepress in anticipation of the harvest. I mean, there's gonna be a harvest, right? Of course there is. There's gonna be grapes, lots of them. And so he builds, it doesn't say the size, but you can imagine an optimistically large winepress, it would really be two different cisterns at different heights, one higher than the other, made of stone and coated with plaster. And so the grapes would be put in there and they'd be trodden upon, by the servants squished with the feet. Does that gross you out? Realize they're making wine. It's gonna be fine in the end, don't worry about it, okay? But they're squishing it with their feet and then the juice runs down a trough into a lower area where it's going to begin the fermentation process. So he makes provision for that for fruitfulness. And he puts a watchtower. So an elevated area where the whole thing can be observed again for safety and protection. Be sure that everything's fine.
Alright, so everything's prepared, everything is there...everything for success is there. And he rents the vineyard out to these tenant farmers. They're skilled vine dressers. They would know how to do the work. And he's hiring them. And other parables go into more detail about hiring processes and what arrangements are made. We don't have any of that. But this absentee landowner, he's going to be leaving on a journey, he wants trusted laborers who are gonna do this harvest. And it's a key concept that the vineyard doesn't belong to them, they're renting it.
They're working it for someone else. And then the owner as I've already mentioned goes away on a journey. He is absent from the scene, he's an absentee landowner. The tenants are on their own. They do not see the master day after day. They have to make their own decisions about this vineyard and about their behavior. In the Luke version of this, Jesus says, “The master goes away for a long time.” He's away for a long time. Luke 20:9.
Alright, then comes harvest time. Verse 34, “At harvest time or when the harvest time approaches, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.” Now, the owner can mark time as well as these tenant farmers. He knows when the vineyard should be producing fruit and the time has come for him to collect the fruit. But a shocking turn of events.
Verse 35, “The tenants seized the servants. They beat one, killed another and stoned the third.” This is absolutely shocking. Criminal, literally criminal, what they're doing. But I think the owner shows and we'll talk more about this in a moment, astonishing patience with these men. I mean, really remarkable patience. He sends more messengers than the first time.
The Final Step: The Sending of the Son
But the tenants treated them the same way. Final step is the sending of the son, verse 37, “Last of all, he sent his son to them.” And we get an insight into the thinking of the owner. “Well, they haven't respected any of the messengers I've sent. They were slaves, they were servants. I'm gonna send my son.” Actually the Luke account says, “Beloved, son.” So does Mark. “I'm gonna send my beloved son. They will respect him,” he said. But here the rebellion reaches its absolute dark nadir. Its pit, greatest pitch of wickedness. Look at verse 38, and 39. “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.” Now the motive is pretty clear, the tenant farmers do not want anyone ruling over them. They wanna be in charge of their own lives, they want to own the vineyard, they want to get all of its benefits for themselves, they don't want to be in submission to this ruler, this owner.
And so it's an insurrection, it's a rebellion. Notice the detail that they take the son and throw him out of the vineyard and kill him. He's killed out of the vineyard. This is an important detail and we're gonna talk more about it later in this message and again next week. But Jesus was killed, outside the city gates, as a symbol of His rejection by Israel, thrown out of the vineyard and killed.
“Judge for Yourselves”
Alright, so there's the parable, then Jesus draws his hearers into it. It's so beautiful how He does that. He's a master teacher. And he says, “Judge, this situation. I want you to assess.” Verse 40, “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” Now, I think this is interesting, 'cause as we already heard the song of Isaiah. Isaiah does the exact same thing or God does it through Isaiah, “Now than you men of Judah, and you dwellers in Jerusalem. Judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I did for it? Why then did it yield only bad grapes?”
So he, in Isaiah 5, he draws them in to make an assessment. Jesus does the same thing. It's so beautiful. But in Isaiah, the Lord is saying “Judge for yourselves.” You know what's going on here? Jesus is talking to His enemies. He's talking to the chief priests and the Pharisees and the elders of the people, the Sanhedrin, the very ones who are about to condemn him to death. And he asks them, “Now you tell me what's gonna happen to those men?” So in Isaiah he's saying, in effect, “Judge for yourselves.” But here he's saying “Judge yourselves. Pass sentence on yourselves.” And what's amazing is, with blinders on, they just go ahead and do it. They just go ahead and give the answer. “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end.” They said, “And he'll rent out the vineyard to other farmers who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” Right. They absolutely got it right on every count. Jesus has skillfully laid a trap for them where they judge themselves with their own words.
No doubt, the chief priests and the elders and Pharisees were delighted to show their judicial instinct, their ability to proclaim justice in a situation, not knowing that they were speaking about themselves. At the end they got it, didn't they? They perceived that Jesus was telling this parable about them, they got it at the end. But they didn't get it at this point. Chief Priests and Pharisees used a clever expression, literally if you could bring it across in the Greek, “He will bring those bad men to a bad end.” That's about what they say. And Jesus's own enemies predict what Jesus himself says at the end, “Therefore the vineyard will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” So that's the judgment. Okay, well now let's interpret the parable.
The Parable Interpreted
The Absentee Landowner
We've talked about the elements, let's give an interpretation. Let's begin with the absentee landowner. Is it not clear who the absentee landowner is? It is Almighty God. It is God himself, who is the landowner. And we see various aspects or attributes of God clearly displayed in this parable. For example, we see the sovereignty of God, specifically his right to rule and to demand a harvest. The vineyard is his. He owns it, and he has the power to come back and bring judgment on those that deal poorly with it. We see there the sovereignty of God. Central to this parable then is this concept there is nothing in all this universe that doesn't belong to God. The heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, the earth and everything that's in it, it's his for he made it and he rules actively over it. It is his. Everything you own, your personal vineyards, all of those things are God's, for he made them. And some day he's going to want them back, they belong to him. That’s the central concept here is this, the sovereignty of God is ownership of everything.
Secondly, we see the goodness of God to Israel. How good is God to this vineyard? How fully and richly has it been provided for? Everything needed for godliness and fruitfulness has been given. He said it in Isaiah. It's implied here, in this parable. “What more could I do?” Fully equipped, the best of the best, was given. God lavishly provided Israel with everything it would need for full and rich harvests. He gave them promises through the patriarchs, Abraham, Issac and Jacob. He delivered them out of Egypt by the mighty hand, by his own mighty hand and outstretched arm, by His servant Moses, who was a gift to the people. He led them through the Red Sea and the water was walled up on the right and on the left. And they saw the power of God and God fed them with bread from heaven every day. Manna from heaven, and water from a rock and they drank from this rock. And he brought them to Sinai and he gave them living words that they should live by, the law of God inscribed by the finger of God in tablets of stone.
And he brought them into the Promised Land, despite their sinfulness, and their rebellion and their wickedness, brought them in, and under Joshua, destroyed all of their enemies, the Walls of Jericho fall down, and that's really symbolic of all resistance by the Canaanites in the Promised Land. He clears them out and brings his people and plants them in a rich and fruitful land. And gives them everything they need for full and rich harvest.
We see also interestingly the absence of God. In this sermon title, I say “The Absentee Landowner Demands His Harvest.” What do I mean by absentee? Well we see very interestingly here, the absence of God. Look at verse 33, “He went away on a journey.” In many parables, I would say, in all of the stewardship parables, if you can identify a type of parable that's a stewardship parable. There's almost always an absentee king or master or owner who's not there moment-by-moment or day-to-day. He's gone. So you have the parable of the five talents and the two talents and one talent. He entrusted to them and he goes on a journey. He's gone.
Parable of the ten minas is the same way. There's another parable, a nobleman who goes to a distant country to have himself appointed king. Again, he's gone, he's out of the picture. The five wise and the five foolish virgins, all of them become drowsy and fall asleep because the bridegroom is a long time in coming, he is not there. And then there's the steward of the house whom the master of the house appoints to feed the other servants in the house. And it'll be good for that servant, whose master finds him doing so when he returns. He's gone, he's out of the picture.
Why is this a consistent theme of the absentee owner? Well, the key concept I think is that on Judgment Day, we're gonna stand face-to-face with a visible God. No faith needed then, friends. You will see your judge Jesus Christ sitting on the throne face-to-face. And you will give God an account for what you did by faith in an invisible God in this world. Didn't see him moment-by-moment. He wasn't there, he wasn't in your face. And you had to believe in him, you had to trust in him or you would not obey. And so we have this idea of the absentee owner. And at some point, he's gonna come back, in all of these parables he comes back and brings them to an accounting every time. So in Verse 40, Jesus asked, “When the owner of that vineyard comes, what will he do?” So he's going to come back.
Now, I want you to know, and you must know this by faith, the absence of God is from a human perspective only. Do you not know that? It's because we're just so blind to Him, we don't see Him. We don't know. And the Scripture testifies very, very plainly of the doctrine of the omnipresence of God. Psalm 139 does it better than any other passage. “Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens you are there; if I descend to the depths you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn and set on the far side of the sea, even there your right hand will hold me, guide me, hold me fast.”
There is nowhere in all this universe you cannot go and God is not there. However the Bible also reveals this about God. In Isaiah 45:15, “Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel.” He is the God who hides himself, though he is omnipresent. He is in some sense hidden from us. So this means that God the king, the owner of all things does not stand in our face day-by-day and demand things of us. It's just not the way it works. You must have faith. You've got to perceive him by faith. You've got to have the eyes of faith. If you don't have the eyes of faith, you will not see him and you will not listen to His demands for a harvest. It was that way even in the Garden of Eden, wasn't it? Was God right there, when Adam was contemplating what to do with the fruit? He was not. Adam was in some way, in some sense on his own at that moment.
And you remember what happens after he eats and they make the fig leaves, and all that. He hears the sound of the Lord as he was walking in the garden in the cool day, that's God coming from his distant place. He wasn't there when the decision had to be made. Now he's there. Oh, friends, God is invisible to our eyes, but he's visible to faith. He's inaudible to our ears, but he is audible to the ears of faith. You can't sense him with your skin with a touch, but you can feel him with the Spirit. And Job knew very, very plainly, when he was talking about sexual immorality. “Made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl, for what is man's lot.” And then he says in Job 31:3, “Does he not see my ways and count my every step?” Well, there's a man full of faith. God counts his every step. He's never away from God, not for a moment. I believe frankly, as a pastor, as a preacher, one of my number one responsibilities is to make God vivid to you week after week. To make his existence real to you. The substance of things hoped for. That you would have a vivid sense of Judgment Day and of the world to come and live accordingly. That's what I wanna do, I wanna help you with that.
So we see the absentee aspect of God. We see also the patience of God. How patient is God with these wicked tenants? He sends one messenger after another, after another. Now, there you might say that's foolish. If you weren't knowing that you were talking about God, you might say, “This man is too patient.” But he's very, very patient and finally he sends his son. That shows incredible patience that God had with Israel. And this is culminated, I think in Romans 10:21, “concerning Israel he says, ‘All day long, I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’” So that's God. He stands all day long in front of Israel. “Here I am, will you not love me? Will you not follow me? Will you not obey me?” He's just standing and holding out his hands all day long to Israel, to a disobedient and obstinate people. He does that again and again.
The Vineyard and its Harvest
Well what is the vineyard? What is it? And what is its harvest? Well, it could be the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, “I gave you this great land and look at it you've turned it into a desert.” I don't think so, do you? I don't think it's the land. I think the land is a metaphor for something else. Well, look at what Jesus says at the end, in Verse 43, “I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
So the vineyard equals the kingdom of God, whatever that is. Now, you've had 21 chapters in Matthew to figure out what the kingdom of God is. It's a place where God reigns, actively joyfully gladly in human hearts. That human hearts gladly submit to the kingship of the king. They're delighted in his laws, they're glad to do what he says, that's the kingdom of God. God is not so concerned with the land and its fruit and all that as He is with the people. Isaiah tells us this after his version, this parable, “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness but heard cries of distress.” But friends, it is bigger than just Israel, it is. It's every human being on the face of the earth, that's the vineyard, it is.
It's people, created in the image of God filling this globe and it's God's desire as written over that map that beautiful map out there. Habakkuk 2:14 I've already quoted it, even today, “That the earth would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” That is the fruit of the harvest of the vineyard. He wants people to turn away from their wicked idolatries and come into a delightful relationship with the eternal God and bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance. That is the vineyard. That's what it is. And so God chose the Jews, a chosen people. And set up this beautiful little space and time experiment, a real people in a real nation with real kings and all of that. So that the world would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. He blessed them and poured out blessings on them that the nations might come to know the greatness of God.
Psalm 67 says this, so beautifully, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us that your ways may be known on earth, O Lord, your salvation, among all nations. May the peoples praise you O God, may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us and all the ends of the earth will fear him.” Well, that Psalmist knew what the vineyard was and what its harvest was but the people didn't seem to know.
The tenant farmers didn't get it. They didn't seem to know why God had blessed Israel so richly. Can I just stop and say to you, Oh Church of God, do you know why God has blessed you? Why he has lavished material blessings on you and spiritual blessings, one after another? Why he has enriched the soil around you and poured on you for years and years, what does he want from you? Same thing, may the peoples praise God, may all the peoples praise you. That includes you, that you would praise him. Yes. But that you would be instrumental in bringing lost hardened dead, cold, sinners into the kingdom that they might praise him too. That's the vineyard that's the harvest that God intends.
Israel didn't do it. They didn't do it. Oh, friends, can I just say this? There's no point in you listening to this sermon, if you are lost, you don't know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and you don't know by the time I get done, how to remedy that dire situation. That you would look to Christ crucified, that you would realize that Jesus’ shed blood on the cross is sufficient for your forgiveness of sins. And that your heart can be transformed from a heart of stone into a heart of flesh, and you might love God and worship him and serve him the rest of your life. That's why this church exists. That's why I preach. That's why we're here. That you might be saved from that cold dark situation. I urge you, come. I can’t imagine that hundreds of people are listening to me and every single one of you is regenerate. There must be some here who have never come into a right relationship with Christ, come to Him. Well, who are these wicked tenants?
The Wicked Tenants
Well, you could say the wicked tenants of the people in general, the Jews in general that's possible. They did live selfish, self-centered, lies, they had a vision of the kingdom like that, they didn't care about the Gentiles, except they wanted to whoop up on them and crush them. They didn't have a vision for that, and so they just took the blessings of God and they used them to worship Baal and Molech and all of these false deities, the people of God.
But I think the focus, the wicked tenants really are the leaders of Israel, in particular. Later, Jesus is gonna say, and next week I'm gonna preach on this one text from Psalm 118, “the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” So the builders are the leaders of Israel. They rejected the capstone, they rejected Jesus. Jesus says, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.” They sit on Moses' seat and authority over the people, but He calls them blind guides. So the wicked tenants are the leaders of Israel, generally, the people of Israel, yes, but the leaders in particular, they were fruitless, toward God.
Who are these messengers he keeps sending? Who are the messengers? Well, they are prophets. They're the servants of the king. And God sends them, he sends them Elijah, he sends them Elisha, he sends them Isaiah, he sends them Jeremiah, he sends them Ezekiel and Daniel. He sends them these prophets one after the other. And how were they received? We'll talk about that more next week. The stone the builders rejected. It's a culmination of this attitude of rejection. Stephen says, “You stiff necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears. You're just like your fathers, you always resist the Holy Spirit. Was there ever a prophet you didn't persecute?” Can you name one? Every single messenger God sent the Jews rejected. I'll talk more next week about why they did it.
But Jesus said in Matthew 23, “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them and shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you're the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up then the measure of the sin of your forefathers.” The messengers are the prophets.
Okay, who's the son? Who is the son of the landowner? Well you know who he is. You know him, his name is Jesus Christ, the very one telling the parable and he's different than the messengers. He's not just another messenger, do you understand that? The people hadn't quite got that. Beginning at the end of Matthew 21, they call him a prophet. “Who is this?” “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth and Galilee.” At the end it says, “The people held that he was a prophet.” Oh, friends, he was a prophet, but he was more than a prophet.
In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, and sustains all things by his powerful word. That’s who Jesus is. And note the amazing clarity and calm as Jesus tells this story on himself. He's talking about himself. “They took the son and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to him. He was going to be killed. He was going to be rejected. He came to his own, but his own did not receive him. He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. We're gonna talk more about that next week.
God’s Righteous Judgment on His Unfruitful People
Now God's righteous judgment on such a people. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what's he going to do?” The word ‘therefore,’ means that God's judgment is based on justice, on righteousness. What is he going to do? Because they did not produce the harvest judgment is coming.
The Judgment Named
Now the judgement's named, look in verse 41, “‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,’ they replied, ‘and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give them a share of the crop at harvest time.’”Jesus himself names it verse 43, “I tell you that the kingdom of God, will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
The Judgment Fulfilled
The judgment has been fulfilled. God has judged Israel by taking the kingdom away from Israel, in Romans 9-11, tells the full story on the sovereignty of God. That God has put a spirit of stupor, and hardness, on the Jews now so that for the most part, they reject the gospel. For the most part, there are some Jewish Christians, but for the most part, they reject it. The kingdom has been removed from them. And you see it happening in the book of Acts, don't you? Remember in Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas, in the city of Antioch. They preach to the Jews. The Jews: mixed response, most of them reject. And the next week when they're there, there's huge crowds coming to hear the word. And the Jews were filled with jealousy and began to talk abusively against the gospel. Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly, “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” - and they will listen.
And it's been 20 centuries of the Gentiles listening. Dear friends, if you are genuinely converted you're part of that. The Gentiles have listened to the gospel. Fruit has come from the Gentiles and they are producing its fruit all over the world in Latin America, in Africa, in Asia, all over the world, in Europe, even here in North America, the Gentiles are producing the fruit of the kingdom of God. It has been taken away from the Jews and given to a people who will produce its fruit. There was also a physical penalty as well in 70 A.D., A.D. 70, the Romans came in, destroyed Jerusalem completely, not one stone left on another. Everyone thrown down, maybe as many as a million people, Joesephus tells us, killed by the sword. Tremendous blood bath.
And the greatest judgment of all is that found individual to Savior, Savior to individual, God to individual. “He who falls on this stone,” Jesus said, “will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls will be crushed.” It's gotta do with personal judgment. If you do not repent, if you do not trust in Jesus, judgment comes.
The Parable Applied to Us
Well, that's the whole parable. That's the parable applied to them. What about the parable applied to us? Well, friends, First Baptist Church, fruitless-ness is not an option for us. God demands fruit from us. Oh how richly generous has he been with us? He gives you life and breath and everything else. You are alive now because he is sustaining you. He's given you a mind to think so that you can think for his glory. He has given you a body to act, so you can move out for his glory, to do the good works he's ordained for you to do. He has lavished blessings on you, but he wants his harvest back. He will demand his harvest back. And in some sense, though we have the indwelling Spirit, we still have this absentee landowner aspect. He's not in your face moment-by-moment, as you make the stewardship decisions of your life, as you decide how to spend your money at Walmart or in the offering plate or a restaurant. As you make decisions about your life he's not in your face, saying yes, no, whatever. You should ask him what to do and he will guide you. But you're not gonna see him. By faith you live your life, as stewards of these rich blessings.
And so be fruitful do not as it says in Romans 11, “Gentiles do not be arrogant but be afraid. If God didn't spare the natural branches but stripped them off, he will not spare you either.” “If you don't bear good fruit,” it says in John 15, “He'll cut you off the vine.” So you need to bear good fruit. So these applications, I have for you very quickly.
Application number one: Intensify your faith to see the absentee king and landowner. Feed your faith with the word of God. Have an intense sense of Jesus every day.
Application number two: Learn everything you can about Judgment Day and what kind of harvest he wants from you. I would recommend the internal-external journey thing. It's helped me. Internally be like Jesus, grow in grace and the knowledge of Christ. Become more and more like Christ. Fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience - become like Christ. External journey, lead people to Christ, be active in missions, be active in evangelism. Be active in the 27701 ministries that Matthew's doing. He just told you some things. We're doing a mission trip. We’re doing a mission trip to Durham friends. You can sleep in your own bed. You don't have to raise support, you can just come and serve. Just come and serve. It couldn't be easier. It's an opportunity for you to produce the fruit of the kingdom.
Application number three: Learn everything you can about how God defines a good harvest and righteousness. “He has shown you, oh man, what is good, and what the Lord desires of you but to do justice and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
Application number four: Delight in the vineyard. Don't despise all the blessings you have, don't as an American evangelical Christian wish you had fewer translations of the Bible and fewer good sermons to listen to and fewer good churches to go to, and fewer good seminaries putting out good laborers don't wish for less of that. Be thankful, delight in it, and delight in the actual work that God's entrusted to you. We've got this tremendous vineyard to work. It's a sweet thing isn't it? That our lives are not gonna be wasted. We're gonna be used by God for eternal good things, delight in his vineyard and delight in this world that God has given us to work.
Application number five: Marvel at God's patience towards sinners. I don't necessarily mean the sinners in the parable, the wicked tenants who don't use the resources well. Marvel his patience with you. He is so patient with us isn't he? As we struggle every day to be fruitful. Marvel at his patience.
Application number six: Then make the most of God's patience. God's patience leads you to repentance, not to arrogance.
Application number seven: The key moments of your life is when he sends a messenger to tell you something about a harvest he wants back from you. What do you do with the messenger? Do you shoot the messenger? Or do you listen carefully? Now I have the privilege, in some way, of being a messenger of God, if I preach faithfully, I'm a messenger of God, from the Scripture to you saying be fruitful okay? What do you do at this moment? What do you do? This is a key moment when you hear the word of God, it's a key moment. If today you hear his voice, don't harden your heart, instead be fruitful.
Application number eight: Honor and revere the Son who died to make all of this possible. See the courage of Jesus. See that he was willing to be thrown out of the vineyard and killed for you. Honor and revere him. Tell him, when you go home today, if I ever do get done with this sermon and I will, I promise. But when you go home, honor and revere Jesus formally together as a family or you go in your room and close the door and say, “Jesus, you are the most courageous man that ever lived. You were killed and you knew full well that you were gonna be thrown out of that vineyard and killed and you did it anyway. Thank you.”
Application number nine, this will happen more next week: Marvel at the depth of the sovereign plan of God. Have you never read in the scriptures? “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone. The Lord has done this.” That phrase, “The Lord has done this,” this is the sovereignty of God, but I'm gonna extend it to both the rejection and the exaltation of the stone. God did it all. He's sovereign over the whole thing, marvel at it. Even if you don't understand it, which I don't either.
Application number 10: Understand where we're at in redemptive history. We are the Gentiles, we are the people in the parable, who got the vineyard and who are now called upon to produce its fruit.
And finally, application number 11, this is as practical as it gets here at First Baptist Church. At your BFL classes, you got a Ministry Team in Interest Response Form. Have you seen those cards? Perhaps you're more into the internet aspect, you can go on the internet and fill this thing out. We're going to find you. We're going to pursue you, we're going to ask, “Have you filled out one of those forms?” We will be very sweet and winsome at the beginning. We'll probably be sweet and winsome all the way through, but the thing is we would really delight to get those cards back from you and we know which ones we've gotten back and which ones we haven't. So we want you to respond to the deacons as they try to organize this church for ministry. We want every member of this church to have an active, ongoing spiritual gift ministry in this local church. Get us that information back, so we can help you and you can be fruitful. Close with me in prayer.