A few things stood out in this text for me.
+ Christ’s courage. He does not shrink from proclaiming God’s judgment, even when His enemies are raging against Him in their hearts and are conspiring to murder Him.
+ God’s compassion and persistence. He is not dissuaded from reaching out in love and mercy to those who hate Him the worst, even when they conspire to destroy His Son. He preserves the proclamation of His Word so that even His worst enemies will have a chance to hear, and possibly turn and be saved.
+ The stirring call to proclaim all of what God says, and not to shrink back or lose our nerve or listen to our flesh that counsels that it might be more sensible to keep our mouths shut, just this once. It’s never just once. You live your life “in the presence of your enemies”, as Psalm 23 says, and they will tear you down if you don’t confess everything God has said and rely on Him for deliverance and salvation — whether earthly or eternal, it makes no difference, it all comes from God and He alone is our sure Help and Defender.
God’s Word will protect and defend us, if we cling to it and trust in its power to demolish every stronghold. Without it, what do we have? Nothing. We are sheep before the wolves without God’s Word to save us and give us life.
“He [i.e. Christ] went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
13“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’
14“But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 15So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When the people heard this, they said, “May this never be!”
17Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ” ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone? 18Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
19The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.” (Luke 20:9-19 niv)
Many times, when someone has committed a crime, part of that person’s sentence is to apologize to the people he’s hurt. The offender has to sit across the table from the people whose lives he has ruined, and ask them for forgiveness. It’s often a dramatic scene. Emotions run high. The family of the person who’s been hurt has the chance to speak to the person who has caused them so much pain. The victims and their families often want to speak to the perpetrator after the fact. But what if they could talk to them before the event? What would they say, if they could speak to that person before they committed the crime? What message would they give? Jesus had just such a chance. He stood face to face with those who wanted to kill him. He spoke boldly and confronted them about their sinfulness, and about the way of salvation. He pointed out all the messengers of grace God had sent them, and the last and greatest messenger of all – himself. Jesus is present here today with us. He will speak to us through his Word, just as he did to those people in Jerusalem. We too will be confronted with our own sinfulness. God shows us his grace by sending us more messengers. May God bless our hearing of his Word, as we listen to a parable of More Messengers!
Jesus spoke the words of our gospel during the last week of his earthly life. It was Tuesday of Holy Week. He’s teaching the people in the temple. The chief priests and elders keep coming up to him and harassing him. They’re interrupting him and trying to disrupt his teaching. He’s surrounded by crowds of common people who are listening to him, and the elders and the scribes are nearby, trying to block him. Now Jesus launches into a parable directed against his enemies.
“A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time.” This was pretty standard. Tenant farmers and wealthy landowners were the way farming was commonly done. Nothing out of the ordinary here. “At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.” This is pretty normal too. The farmers paid a part of the crop as rent. The landowner had every right to ask for this fruit. It was his due. But the reaction of the tenants is totally unreasonable, way out of line – even criminal. “The tenants beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed.” Whoa, that’s no good. They shouldn’t be doing that. That’s wrong! The landowner sends another servant. This one they beat up too, worse than the first. He sends another servant, and this one they thrash. Every time he sends a servant, the tenants beat him up. The violence keeps getting worse and worse. At first they just smack him around and rough him up a bit. Then they hit the next one a little harder. It’s a little more serious. The third one they beat within an inch of his life and dump his bleeding body outside the vineyard.
Sometimes when you’re watching a scary movie, do you ever want to shout advice at the characters on the screen? Don’t go in there! Don’t open that door! Don’t go in the basement! The bad guy is going to get you! That’s almost how we feel with the landowner. He’s sent three servants – more than enough – and had three servants beaten up. He’s been almost too patient. If it were me, I would have called the cops on those tenants. I would have had them arrested and dragged them into court and sued them for all they were worth. That’s not what this landowner does. He sends his son. Why would he do that? He’s seen how violent these tenants are. He knows how unreasonable they are. Doesn’t he know they’re going to hurt his son? Can’t he see? Is he some sort of fool? Does he really think they’ll respect his son? But he sends his son, and sure enough, the tenants decide, hey, let’s kill him. Once he’s gone we can have this place all to ourselves. So they lay hands on his son, throw him out of the vineyard, and kill him.
What’s the point of all this for us? Where are we in the parable? Let me tell you the interpretation of this parable. God is the landowner. You might have caught that. We are the tenants, by nature. We are the ones who violently oppose him and attack all his servants. We are the ones who want to throw off all obedience and allegiance to the landowner, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to rebel against him and free ourselves from his rule. Our flesh doesn’t want to listen to the Word of the landowner. We see that in the attitude our flesh sometimes prompts us to take toward God and his Word. We choose to do what his Word forbids us. God doesn’t tell us not to do something just to see if we’ll listen. It’s always for our good, but we act like God and his Word are a bother to us – they’re cutting in on our living our lives the way we want. We rationalize and we explain away our sins of thought and word and deed. Our flesh seeks to free itself from having to listen to God. We too want to attack the servants. The servants in the parable don’t get attacked because of their personalities or their individual character. The tenants could care less about the individual servant. It’s not who they are; it’s who sent them. The tenants beat them because they came from the landowner. Each servant brought the message from the landowner: produce fruit in keeping with repentance! Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near! For that, the tenants beat each servant, each one worse than the last. Our sinful hearts revolt against God and his Word.
And what does God do? He keeps sending more messengers. He never stops! A never-ceasing stream of people bearing his Word. He keeps holding out his Word to a world that hates him. He sends his Word to people who attack and kill his messengers because they can’t kill him. That’s one of the surest signs of God’s love, that God would keep sending more messengers even in the face of such opposition. He did it with the children of Israel. God sent them centuries’ worth of prophets. They killed them all, or attacked them, drove them away, ignored them – but he still sent them. He did it with the Jews. God sent them more prophets. He finally sent them his Son. He does it with us. God lets his Word remain with us. He sends us those who bring his Word, whether we listen or fail to listen. He does not leave himself without testimony, but instead he continues to hold out his love and grace to us all day long.
As if that’s not enough, he also sends us his Son. He looked at us sinners and he looked at his beloved Son, his only Son, and he decided that we were worth the price of his Son. The son’s role in the parable is to show up, be seized and thrown out of the vineyard and killed. He doesn’t say anything and he doesn’t even seem to resist. In the same way, God sent his Son to this world to die. He lived life like we do. He met the end of a common criminal. All alone, with no one to rescue him or help, he was beaten, mocked, whipped, and driven outside of the city to hang on a cross. It was there, on that lonely cross outside the city, that Jesus made peace between us and God. He atoned for our rebellion against God. His death as one scorned by the world became the way for us to be forgiven. Christ has blotted out our rebellion and our violence against him by means of his own blood. We are no longer violent tenants – we are beloved children, just as he is, through his death on the cross. He has removed the awful injustice of our revolt against God, and he has become our peace.
Jesus is the one we build our faith on. Everything we believe and do now as Christians lines up with him. The world has rejected him, but we love him and cling to him as the only hope of salvation. He has become the capstone, the most important stone, the one that all the other stones line up on. We aren’t angry tenants anymore. Now we are his servants. God still sends more messengers – they’re us! He has put his Word into our mouths and into our hearts. We carry his message into the world. We hold out the Word of life to a world that hates him and wants to kill us. That’s okay, because they will be converted the same way we were – through the Word. God’s Word will convert them in God’s time, or the world will attack us and try to beat us up. Either God gains another soul or we get punched in the face, figuratively speaking (or maybe not). Either way, God is glorified and we will be saved if we do not shrink back or try and compromise. God will keep sending more messengers of his grace one way or another. Why not have it be through us? We have the privilege of being his servants, and of suffering disgrace for the sake of his name. God has given us his Word to proclaim.
Victims don’t always get to confront their attackers. Just like Jesus was eyeball to eyeball with that crowd of people in the temple, Jesus looks straight at each of us today. He asks us if we want to serve him, if we want to brave the disgrace and the anger of the world and gain an eternity of blessings, or if we want to turn aside, give in to fear, and keep silent about what God’s Word says. May it never be that we give in to fear, but instead may we boldly confess Christ, insist on him as the only way to salvation, and find in him forgiveness for our sins, life, and an eternal inheritance in heaven. God wants to send more messengers! Will you be one? Amen.