Everybody loves a good story. People flock to buy novels written by their favorite authors. Stories have a way of capturing not only our minds, but also our emotions. I believe this is why Jesus told stories. He wanted to teach truth in the most effective way possible, so, he taught in parables.
Some parables are easy to understand. Some are more difficult. The parable I want to look at tonight is not hard to understand. We find it in Mark 12.
“A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 2 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.
6 “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
7 “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
9 “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven’t you read this scripture:
“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;
11 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
There are several things we should be able to easily see.
THE VINEYARD BELONGS TO THE MASTER
The man in the story (who obviously represents God), purchased, designed and prepared a quality Vineyard. He planted the vines, enclosed it with a wall or hedge to protect from thieves and animals, constructed a winepress and put a watchtower over it. The owner was the one responsible for the vineyard.
Pastor Kent Hughes writes,
As Jesus spoke these words everyone understood them, whether they liked them or not, because the vineyard was a national symbol for Israel. In fact, the very Temple in which Jesus was standing sported a richly carved grapevine, seventy cubits high, sculpted around the door which led from the porch to the Holy Place. The branches, tendrils, and leaves were of finest gold. The bunches hanging upon them were costly jewels.
The message to Israel was clear. God was the one who made them into a nation. In Deuteronomy 7:7-8 Moses reminded Israel,
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.
Israel was not to forget that they did not choose God; God chose them. God had a right to expect them to live by His commands.
However, this passage is not just about Israel. God is the one who made us as well. He is the one who has given us life and given us all things freely to enjoy. We have been placed by Him in His world. We also are His vineyard. It is not unreasonable for God to expect and require obedience and respect from us.
THE REBELLION OF THE FARMHANDS WAS GREAT
The owner of the vineyard brought people in to work the vineyard. The working relationship would be similar to those who rent out their land for crops. The owner would get 25-50% of the crop while the worker would live on the land and be able to keep the remainder of the crop. It was a fair arrangement.
It is possible that the workers lived on the land for perhaps five years before anyone came to collect on the owners portion. In Leviticus 19:23-25 God told the people that the first three years the fruit was to be considered forbidden and the fourth year the fruit was considered holy and it belonged to the Lord. So, for four years the owner had required nothing from them.
Jesus tells us the owner went away on a journey. When the owner sent a servant to collect the rent it was a reasonable act by the owner of the Vineyard. However, the people who worked the vineyard refused to pay up. They beat up the servant and sent him back to the owner. The owner sent other servants. Some were beaten, and some were actually killed.
The owner of the vineyard could have taken action against those who worked the vineyard immediately, but he didn’t. He was patient. He was incredibly patient.
The picture was clear. God has chosen Israel and sent prophet after prophet to Israel to ask for the obedience and reverence that was appropriate. Each prophet was either beaten or killed.
Today, we hear many messages that call us to repentance and obedience to the Lord. We hear the Word of God but often dismiss it as irrelevant and “non-binding” on our lives. We hear the voice of teachers and preachers but dismiss these voices by saying, “They are all a bunch of hypocrites!” We have the summons of the Holy Spirit that brings a sense of conviction to our soul but we dismiss this conviction as indigestion! When we do such things we need to realize that we are those wicked laborers.
Finally the owner “had only one left, a son, whom he loved.” This owner of the vineyard believed that the son would have an authority that the servants did not have. The people would surely respect the son.
You can make whatever excuse you want for the workers. The truth is that they did not respect the owner’s son. They not only killed Him but also cast his body out of the vineyard. They killed the son and then didn’t have the decency to honor him with a proper burial.
The picture is vivid. Jesus was crucified by those He came to save. His place of execution was outside of the town as if he were a common criminal! The parable is a vivid picture of what was soon going to happen.
THE RESPONSE OF THE OWNER IS JUSTIFIED
It is easy as we listen to the parable to feel the anger at this grave injustice of putting the servants and the son to death. When Jesus asks, “What will the owner of the vineyard do?” We know what we would answer. We know what we would do if we were the vineyard owner. We would destroy those people for what they have done. We would make them pay.
There are many people who resist the notion of a Day of Judgment. They don’t believe there will be a real Hell. This is because they don’t think that what the workers did in the parable was really all that bad. To them, ignoring the Lord and His commands is a minor offense. They believe we all have a right to “make up our own mind.”
These people have forgotten that this is our Father’s world. He has placed us here graciously and lovingly. We owe Him our obedience, our worship, and our respect. When we ignore the Lord of the Universe, when we transgress His commands, we are doing just like these servants. We are spurning His messengers and crucifying His Son in our hearts.
God has every right to act with judgment. Not a one of us could complain that God is unfair in sending us to Hell.
There are several lessons we should take from this parable.
First, we should recognize once again that we are sinful creatures. We need to see ourselves in those ungrateful servants. We have turned away from the Lord. We have rebelled. We have spurned His instruction. We must face these issues squarely and stop making excuses. We should once again seek Him with repentance.
Second, we should be challenged in our own obedience. This text reminds us that God is not asking us for something extraordinary when He asks us to obey Him. He is simply asking that we do what is reasonable and right. He is not trying to burden our lives . . .on the contrary He has given us the opportunity to enjoy life to the fullest. He has given us a wonderful world to live in. He has provided for all our needs. The most reasonable thing in the world should be to follow Him.
So examine your heart. Is the rebellion of these workers evident in some area of your life where you are ignoring or resisting the Lord?
Are you involved in a sinful relationship?
Is there someone you need to forgive?
Are you holding back in your financial stewardship?
Are you looking to the world for your satisfaction rather than to God?
Are you tearing someone apart with your gossip?
Do you need to go and confess some wrong to someone you’ve hurt?
Are you feeding your mind with garbage?
Have you neglected God’s Word?
If you see that you are treating the Lord with dishonor, repent. Confess your sin and start to obey Him. Recognize today that God is not trying to make your life miserable, He wants you to enjoy the life He has given. Stop fighting Him and begin to trust Him.
Finally, we should marvel anew at God’s patience and His grace. The love of God is astonishing. Spurgeon said it well, “If you reject him, he answers you with tears; if you wound him, he bleeds out cleansing; if you kill him, he dies to redeem; if you bury him, he rises again to bring resurrection. Jesus is love made manifest.”
This is what I find staggering about the parable. We ignore Him, resist Him, and fight Him, yet He continues to reach out to us. We deserve nothing but He gives us everything. God used the death of the Son to be the means of our redemption.
The mother of a nine-year-old boy named Mark received a phone call in the middle of the afternoon. It was the teacher from her son’s school.
“Mrs. Smith, something unusual happened today in your son’s third grade class. Your son did something that surprised me so much that I thought you should know about it immediately.” The mother began to grow worried.
The teacher continued, “Nothing like this has happened in all my years of teaching. This morning I was teaching a lesson on creative writing. And as I always do, I tell the story of the ant and the grasshopper:
“The ant works hard all summer and stores up plenty of food. But the grasshopper plays all summer and does no work.
“Then winter comes. The grasshopper begins to starve because he has no food. So he begins to beg, ‘Please Mr. Ant, you have much food. Please let me eat, too.'” Then I said, “Boys and girls, your job is to write the ending to the story.”
“Your son, Mark, raised his hand. ‘Teacher, may I draw a picture?’
“‘Well, yes, Mark, if you like, you may draw a picture. But first you must write the ending to the story.’
“As in all the years past, most of the students said the ant shared his food through the winter, and both the ant and the grasshopper lived. A few children wrote, ‘No, Mr. Grasshopper. You should have worked in the summer. Now, I have just enough food for myself.’ So the ant lived and the grasshopper died.
“But your son ended the story in a way different from any other child, ever. He wrote, ‘So the ant gave all of his food to the grasshopper; the grasshopper lived through the winter. But the ant died.’
“And the picture? At the bottom of the page, Mark had drawn three crosses.”
Little Mark understood. Jesus said, “This is my body, which is broken for you.” On the cross he cried, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” At the very moment when the sin of mankind seemed to have reached it’s lowest point, God was still reaching out to us. When we had squandered everything, He gave us everything we needed.
Do you know what this means? It means, no matter what that horrible sin is in your life that you feel may be beyond the reach of God’s grace, you are wrong. It doesn’t get any worse than killing the Son of God. Yet, He still loved us even at the time His Son was dying. His love runs deeper and wider than we can possibly imagine.
A day of judgment is coming. However, if we will turn to Him now and place our trust in Him, He will lift us from the mire and muck of our past rebellion and make us new. He will forgive our sin and bless us beyond measure.
As we come to the table of the Lord tonight we are reminded that the events depicted in the communion celebration do not point merely to some distant historical event. As a birthday or anniversary celebrates the day we were given life or the day we were united with our partner; so the communion celebration reminds us of the new life that we have received because of Jesus. It is a celebration of His grace and the new life that we have received because of that grace. We are the rebels that have been made new.
Good Friday is a sad day because in it we see the depth of mankind’s sin. We are reminded of what we did to the Savior who came to us out of love. But Good Friday it is also a good day because in the cross we also see the depth of the Creators love.
Good Friday is like a day when you hear that your ailing child is going to get that heart transplant they need. You rejoice at the gift of new life, while at the same time being sobered by the cost, love, and the sacrifice another made to make it possible. You may not know who provided the heart for your child, but you will always be grateful. We should be grateful as well.