Anyone who has a business that involves allowing someone else to use what you won; such as those who rent out land, equipment, automobiles, and places of residence, will tell you that it can be a tricky prospect, will tell you that you would be amazed at the disregard that people will show toward things that do not belong to them. Hotel rooms are routinely trashed, rental cars will be driven hard, things will be broken, items will be stolen, and apartments will be left filled with garbage. And of course this is in addition to those who just don’t pay their bills!
Just recently during the time of the dedication ceremonies at the Mormon temple in Nauvoo, one Iowa hotel noticed that they seemed to be going through much more food at their free breakfast than usual. They also noted that their towels were being consumed disproportionately. They did a room check and found that in one single room there were over 20 people using the shower, pool, and stealing breakfast!!!
Our parable this morning shows us that these kinds of behaviors are not new. In Matthew 21 we are told about a man who planted a vineyard and hired some caretakers. When it came time to collect the rent the caretakers not only refused to pay, they tried to claim the vineyard as their own.
The players in this parable are pretty self-evident. The Landowner represents God. The Vineyard is Israel. (In the Old Testament God referred to His people as a vineyard that He has prepared (see Isaiah 5) many times). The Workers or caretakers of the vineyard would be the Religious Leaders. (At the end of the parable we read that these religious big-shots knew that Jesus was talking about them). The messengers sent from the owner represent the Prophets. The Son, of course, represented Jesus.
There seem to be three sections of this parable and we will look at them and then draw some personal lessons.
A GRACIOUS OPPORTUNITY
33 “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. (v. 33)
Two things I want you to notice. First, the vineyard belonged to the Master. The owner of this vineyard purchased the land, planted the vines, put a wall around it, built the winepress, and put a watchtower in the vineyard for protection. The vineyard belonged to the one who created it.
All throughout the Old Testament we are reminded that God established the nation of Israel. In the book of Deuteronomy 7:7-8 God tells the Israelites,
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
God brought Israel into existence. He began with Abraham and set out to form a special people uniquely set apart for Him. They were His people and He created them to bring him honor and glory. God intended to use Israel to demonstrate His power and goodness to the world.
But it is not just Israel. In the book of Ephesians 1:4-6, Paul tells Christians,
Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the wonderful kindness he has poured out on us because we belong to his dearly loved Son. [NLT]
There are scores of verses just like this throughout the New Testament that remind us that we are believers because of God’s gracious activity and not because of our own goodness. We owe our lives physically and spiritually to Him.
The second thing to see is that the owner gave what belonged to Him to these tenants to enjoy. He gave them a vineyard ready to go! Everything was provided, all they had to do was to bring in the crop. These tenants were given the opportunity to have a pretty good life.
The same is true of Israel. They were brought out of Egypt by God’s miracles. They were cared for in the desert. They were given a home of their own. God established their government and set up their system of laws.
And certainly the same is true for you and me. God has provided what we need. He has given us life and provisions for that life. God has given us the ability to take care of ourselves and has told us that to obtain His help all we need to do is ask. He has given us a tremendous opportunity.
We have been given all that is needed for a life of joy and fulfillment. We have been given all we need for life beyond the grave. It is up to us whether we will cherish these things or complain; use these things or abuse them.
A SOBERING REALITY
In spite of this great opportunity that was given to these people and those entrusted over them, they rebelled. Instead of being grateful and responsive to the owner of the vineyard, they sought to steal the vineyard from Him.
Imagine owning a very nice condominium overlooking the ocean. Suppose some friends of yours were going to be traveling down in that area and you told them that they could use your condo at no charge. Suppose this condo was fully furnished and the cupboards were fully stocked. You told them they could use whatever they liked. You just had one request: please clean up when you are finished.
Now suppose you return to the condo after your friends have left and the place was a disaster area. Dirty dishes were in the sink, food was left lying around, the carpet was stained and water rings were on your tables. How would you feel? You’d be angry.
Now suppose you asked these friends about their use of your condo and their request that you clean up after they left. What if they answered, “We resented your request that we clean up after ourselves.” You gave them a beautiful place to live, your provided abundantly for their needs, you asked for nothing in return except a little respect for your belongings. You’d be furious and so would I.
I think is somewhat like the owner of the vineyard felt when he sent his men to collect the rent and they were beaten and killed. Think how much angrier he would have been when they dragged his son outside the vineyard and killed him.
Imagine how God must feel when He gives us everything and we refuse to honor Him. In Romans 3 Paul is blunt, He says there is no one righteous, no one who understands, no one who seeks God….there is no fear of God before their eyes” [Romans 3:10,11,18] Paul’s diagnosis is simple, people don’t love God . . . they hate Him.
It would be nice to think that people do not hate God today. But everywhere you look you see people who hate God. They hate him for several reasons,
They reject the idea of being subject to anyone. No one wants to live under authority . . . especially supreme authority. They want to be their own law. We live in a day when the cry is, “No one has a right to tell me what to do!” That includes God. It doesn’t matter if God is the Creator.
They resist being confronted with their own sin. Jesus told us that the darkness hates the light. When light comes into a dark room it exposes what had previously been hid. When God is in our lives our sin is exposed by the light of His holiness. No one wants to deal with his or her own sinfulness. The world prefers to congratulate each other on how good and how “spiritual” we are. Rather than repent, we would rather kill the messenger. It doesn’t matter that sin separates us from God and robs us of joy.
They don’t want to accept the fact that God’s will and ours might differ. We want everything to work out the way we want it too . . . right now. When tragedy strikes, when difficulties arise, and when the road gets rough we would rather complain against God than trust Him.
They want to be god. It is as old as Eve. She was enticed by the idea that she could “be like God”. Eve couldn’t resist trying to overthrow the owner of the garden! This is why much of the New Age Movement, Mormonism and other contemporary manmade religions are so popular, they tell me that I can be God. It is the lie of Satan masquerading as religious devotion!
People reveal their hatred toward God in many ways,
By attacking God publicly
By creating false gods and religions
By making other things more important in their lives (giving allegiance to other things before God which is idolatry.)
By engaging in superficial worship (this shows a lack of respect, it is like acting nice toward the boss while at the same time you are trying to get him or her fired)
By “modifying” God’s laws and qualifying them to justify our own sin.
It sounds harsh, I know, but it is the truth. Human beings hate the true God. They want a God they can manage and control. The true God is neither and people don’t like it. Let me ask you, “Do you love God or hate God?” Those really are the only two options. To dismiss God as irrelevant is to hate Him. Are you God’s enemy or His child?
A CRUSHING POSSIBILITY
It appears at the end of the story that Jesus turns to those standing there and asks what the owner should do. It would be as if we said, “What should the owner of the apartment do to the one who refuses to pay rent”. We would say, “They should evict those people and rent the apartment to someone who would pay.” What should be done to the worker who will not do the job they were hired to do? “They should be fired so someone who will do the work can be hired.”
In these words the people condemn themselves. Jesus tells them that the stone they reject (Himself) will become the chief cornerstone of God’s Kingdom. In rejecting Him they are rejecting God. By rejecting Him they show their own hatred.
“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. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” (vv.43-44)
In these words Jesus announces something startling. The message of salvation was going to be given to others. In this case it would be given to the Gentiles and the outcasts of society. God was going to open His arms to any who would obey and love Him. The Jews believed that we exclusively God’s people. That was about to change!
We make a mistake when we say God is infinite in patience. When we say God is infinite in patience it means that God’s patience never ends. We also sometimes say that God is infinite in mercy. Neither are true. God is indeed merciful and patient. God is incredibly merciful and patient but not infinitely so. There will be a day when the Almighty will say “Enough!” At that point judgment will come on those who have cast aside the Son of God.
Once again, this is a parable it is easy for us to dismiss as having any relevance to our lives. But as I searched my own heart this week I came up with four principles that you and I need to learn from this passage.
First, We must never forget that we are workers in God’s field, not visa versa. As much as I would like to think that God exists to meet my needs . . . the fact is that even though God is eager to meet my needs, I still serve Him. His is Lord, not me. He calls the shots, not me. He makes the rules, not me.
In my praying I must not demand, I request. I must realize that my understanding is not equal to His. I must not think, feel, or act like God doesn’t know what He is doing. He is the King. He is the One who holds ALL the cards. My job is to submit to His Lordship and to obey His commands. When I read His commands, it is not mine to quibble or qualify; it is to obey. We are stewards of God’s gifts.
Second, those who lovingly seek to hold us accountable should be welcomed rather than attacked. These people represent the Lord in our lives. God still sends us prophets, teachers, and others who are meant to “collect the rent”. These prophets may come in the form of the Words of Scripture or they may come from a trusted friend. These messengers are meant to invite us back to the Lord. These people sometimes confront our sin, `sometimes they ask very difficult questions, and sometimes they will make us mad. We can attack these people or consider them to be our dearest friends and companions.
In Proverbs 27:6 we are told, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” A good friend will speak up when they see you headed in the wrong direction. We should not hate these people . . . we should cherish them and listen to them!
Third, we must remember that anything not built on the Lord is unstable and foolish. Jesus is the cornerstone or the capstone. The corner stone helps line up the walls and the capstone is the last stone that holds an arch. The idea is simple; Jesus is the central figure in life. If you are right with Christ, if you are following Him, if you are aligning your life by Him, then your life is on the right course.
An airplane pilot must constantly watch to keep on the right course. If on a transatlantic flight that pilot is just a degree or two off course they are going to miss the destination. They could end up lost and in grave danger. A pilot must continually check his instruments and make adjustments in order to stay on course.
The believer is the same way. We must daily align our lives with Christ. We must measure our lives by God’s Word and make the changes necessary to keep on course.
This parable reminds us that time is short. The time to make the necessary changes in life is right now. We are foolish to presume upon His mercy. Some of you may need to stop running away from God and instead turn toward Him. You may feel the “rent” you owe Him is too great. Your sin is so overwhelming that you believe your situation is hopeless. But Jesus offers you forgiveness. He offers you a new beginning and a new relationship with Him. But first you must stop resisting Him and start trusting Him. Instead of ignoring the Son it is time to receive Him. Welcome Him into your life and allow Him to make you new.
Others of us have received this new life. We are forgiven. We know we are no longer God’s enemies . . . by His grace, we have become His friends. But as we look around at our life we see that we have become lazy about our stewardship. The weeds are beginning to overgrow the vines, and the harvest is suffering. We are like the person who forgets to change the oil in his car, the lumberjack who forgets to sharpen His saw, or the student who neglects to study. Our intentions are good but our effectiveness is diminishing. We have become distracted.
We intend to make the necessary changes “some day”. But the longer we wait, the more off course we get. This parable reminds us that the time to realign our hearts with God is now. I don’t know what you need to do,
Maybe you need to dust off your Bible and get back to reading daily.
Maybe it is time for you to make time to pray
Maybe you need to start taking the commitments you’ve accepted seriously
Maybe you need to once again make worship a priority
Maybe you need to make a greater effort to share the gospel with that friend who does not know Christ.
Maybe you need to begin that ministry that God has laid on your heart
Whatever it is that you need to do to realign your heart. . . get going. The longer you wait, the more off course you are going to be. And the sooner you begin, the sooner you will be able to pay that debt of love you owe.