Ungrateful Tenants - Matthew 21:33-46

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Have you ever had your heart broken? It may have come from: a relationship that ended; a job you loved that was terminated; a secret that was shared; a parent or a child who rejected you; something you cherished was destroyed; a special day passed but no one acknowledged it; or it could even be from a great opportunity missed.

Most of us have been in this position, perhaps many times. It may be hard for us to grasp, but Scripture at various times pictures God with a broken heart. Theologians debate how “emotional” God is but the fact remains that God is depicted as hurt by the actions of His people on occasion. He does not change because of the hurt or strike back because of the hurt but it does seem God can be offended by our actions.

In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, the Lord sang a love song about Israel (personified as a vineyard). In these verses note all the things God had done for Israel with the expectation that there would be some positive fruit.

1Now I will sing for the one I love

a song about his vineyard:

My beloved had a vineyard

on a rich and fertile hill.

2He plowed the land, cleared its stones,

and planted it with the best vines.

In the middle he built a watchtower

and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.

Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,

but the grapes that grew were bitter.

3Now, you people of Jerusalem and Judah,

you judge between me and my vineyard.

4What more could I have done for my vineyard

that I have not already done?

When I expected sweet grapes,

why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?

The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.

He expected a crop of justice,but instead he found oppression.

He expected to find righteousness, but instead he heard cries of violence.(Isaiah 5:1-4,7)

This is very likely the passage Jesus was thinking about when he told the parable we read today. The picture of Israel as a vineyard would have been very familiar to the Jewish leaders and the teachers of the law. At the end of the parable in Mathew 21:33-46 we are told the priests and Pharisees knew Jesus was telling the story against them.

However, as we will see this morning, the story may have been directed at the priests and teachers of the Law, but that does not mean the story has no value to us. There is a great deal to learn from our text this morning. Let’s look at the parable,

33“Now listen to another story. A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. 34At the time of the grape harvest, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. 35But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36So the landowner sent a larger group of his servants to collect for him, but the results were the same.

37“Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’

38“But when the tenant farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 39So they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard, and murdered him.

40“When the owner of the vineyard returns,” Jesus asked, “what do you think he will do to those farmers?”

41The religious leaders replied, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest.”

The story is about a man who went to great expense and time to build a vineyard. (They say of some of the famous vineyards in California that you can make a small fortune with vineyards. . . but only if you start with a large fortune!) It takes years before the vines bear usable fruit. So, it is an investment that will not pay a dividend for a long time. This man built a press and a tower to oversee the operation. This man was deeply invested before he even started.

The owner of the vineyard had to go out of town so he hired people to manage the vineyard for him. It is assumed that terms were stated. When it was time for the owner to collect his portion of the harvest he sent three servants to collect the rent. (This rent might have been money or produce). One of the servants was killed, one was stoned, and one was beaten. The owner sent a larger group (a greater show of force) and the same thing happened. Finally, he sent his son, thinking that his son represented his own authority and he would be respected.

The tenants knew this was the owners only child so they killed him believing that the vineyard would then be theirs by default. Somehow they had come to view this vineyard as rightfully belonging to them!

To make this a little more real let’s paint a picture we can better relate to. Suppose you own farmland (I told you that you would better relate to this!). Some of it is not tillable so you go to the expense to remove the trees, the brush, the rocks, and you work that land until it is not only tillable but good fertile land. It takes years.

You decide you are going to cash rent your farmland. The terms are clear. People farm your ground and pay you for the right to do so. When it is time to collect your rent, you send someone to get the rental payment and the tenant beats them up, telling them never to come back So, you send a couple people and they beat them up as well. Finally, you send your son. They beat him so badly that he dies. Now here is the question: What would you do?

You know what you would do . . . you would reign holy vengeance on these people. You would not only have them booted off your property you would see them arrested and argue for the death sentence. Why would you act the way you did?

It is your land!

You had an agreement.

Their actions were despicable and effectively an act of war against you.

Now, put yourself back in the parable. The land belongs to God. The servants sent were the prophets that came over the years calling Israel to repentance. These prophets (men like Samuel, Elijah, Daniel, Jeremiah and many others) were often badly mistreated. They were arrested, killed, exiled, and perhaps worst of all, mocked and ignored.

The Son that was sent is Jesus. We know what they did to Him.

The Response

The tenants are removed from the land and dealt with. Let’s think about how we responded and why God responds similarly. First, it is HIS land. This is His world. We are His people. We belong to Him. He owes us nothing! He has been wonderfully generous.

I have witnessed it dozens of times: families torn apart over an estate. Someone in the family feels they are not getting “their fair share.” But here is the question I have always had: What is a fair share of a GIFT? Our parents or loved ones do not have to give us anything! It does not belong to us; it belongs to them! Anything we are given is more than we deserve!

Likewise, every good and perfect gift comes from the Lord. We do not deserve any of it! He is good and gracious and has given us all things freely to enjoy. Life is a gift! We owe Him, He does not owe us. The servant serves the Master, not the other way around!

Second, the expectations are clear. The Lord was very clear what His expectations were with Israel. Several books of the Bible are devoted to the Law of God (perhaps it is helpful to think of the Law as the “terms of the contract”). The rest of the Old Testament seems to apply and clarify those laws. When Jesus came along He clarified further. There is no reason to be confused. God has told us what it means to live properly in this world: We are to relate to Him respectfully and obediently. We are to treat each other with respect and love. We are also to honor Him in the way we live, think, and act. They are reasonable requests from a holy and generous God. Yet, we disregard them!

Third, to live this way is to declare war on God. When we try to “throw Him out of our society” we are engaging in treason! Why wouldn’t He judge a land or a people who treat Him and the gifts He has given this way? We have already agreed that judgment is a reasonable response to such insolent acts.

If God rained down fire and brimstone today, we would have no reason to complain. We have ignored Him or obeyed selectively (whenever it seemed to be to our best advantage). This is the problem which required the Son of God to come into the world. And people rejected Him and put Him to death!

The Cornerstone

There is a little more to the conversation:

42Then Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures?

‘The stone that the builders rejected

has now become the cornerstone.

This is the Lord’s doing,

and it is wonderful to see.’*

43I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. 44Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.”

Here’s the picture: a builder would go to the stone pile to find the best stones for his structure. (Like a builder might go to a lumber yard and pick out his own lumber). He would toss the rejected stones aside. Another builder came to the discard pile and noticed a good stone left by the previous builder. This stone is not only a good stone; it becomes the cornerstone!

That stone represents Christ! The teachers and leaders rejected Jesus, but God made Him the cornerstone. This One whom the leaders rejected would become the very foundation of the salvation God would offer to His children!

Jesus told the Jewish leaders that God was going to take the Kingdom away from the Jews and give it to those who would bear fruit (pay the cash rent). The warning is that anyone who stumbles over Jesus will be broken and crushed.

Postscript

45When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet.

The priests and Pharisees understood exactly what Jesus was saying. Their desire to get rid of Jesus was growing by the minute! They couldn’t arrest Christ publicly because he was too popular, it would start a riot. They had to find a way to arrest Him, convict Him, and sign His death warrant before the crowd was aware of what was going on. The conspiracy was beginning to take shape!

We have much of the drama leading to Christ’s death still ahead of us. The question for us now is this: Do we hear what is being said to us in this parable?

First, we are reminded that this is truly our Father’s world. He is the creator and He deserves to be treated with honor and respect. We fail to do so when,

When we ignore His commands.

When we refuse to remember Him on the Sabbath.

When we fail to honor Him with our gifts (which are due Him)

When we treat each other with malice, violence or disrespect (He made us and we belong to Him)

When we complain about what He has given.

We owe the Lord our obedience. And do you know what? Every one of us knows this. The Atheist or skeptic who argues hard against the existence of a God does so because they know the implications. If there is a God, they will be accountable! And they do NOT want to be accountable so . . . they conclude there is NO GOD.

There is a strong positive in this that I hope you see. If we are made by God, if we belong to Him, it means our lives matter. The Psalmist declared that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are made in His image. We are, if you will, the apple of His eye. You are not nothing!!! You are not a nobody!!! You were made to live as a child of the King!

If you don’t feel like this, it is likely that you have drifted from your intended purpose. You have gotten lost. In your desire to ‘make something of yourself’ you have lost your connection to the One who made you for Himself. You have withheld the rent!

Second, we are reminded that there is only one way to be right with God: through Jesus. “There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” Jesus alone can pay our debt. His sacrifice on our behalf is what is necessary for our sin to be paid for. If you are lost, Jesus is the way to find your way home. If you are broken, Jesus is the One who leads you to healing.

People in our world scream at the notion that Jesus is the only way. They scream: “It is narrow-minded! It is bigoted! It is discrimination!” It is none of these things . . . it is GRACE. God HAS provided a way to forgiveness, a new life, and new a beginning.

Suppose a hardened criminal, a vicious murder has been a model prisoner. He seems to have reformed his life. He cannot be paroled because of the nature of his conviction. The Governor extends a pardon to Him. It is an extraordinary act of mercy to the convicted killer. Now, suppose that murderer said to the Governor, “No, I want more!”

If you were the warden, what would you do? I would tell him that he could turn himself around and head right back into his cell because the pardon is being withdrawn.

Think of a more mundane situation: a couple is getting married. At a shower before the wedding they open a coffeemaker that you purchased. It was more than you could afford but you wanted to do something nice so you splurged. They open the gift and the first words out of their mouth are: “I wish it was the newer model!”

How would you respond? You likely would be hurt that these people did not appreciate the sacrifice you made. They had NO coffeemaker and now they had one. They should be wonderfully grateful.

People who cry, “It is unfair” that God says we must be saved through Christ are doing the same thing. Our loving God HAS provided a way of forgiveness! He has provided this way to ANYONE who will embrace and trust him! It is more than generous! God has given us an alternative. It is open to everyone. It is given as a gift. He is the cornerstone of eternity. Those who will be in Heaven will be those who have been built upon Him. THERE IS NO OTHER WAY!

You can’t be good enough

You won’t get in by being “sincere”

It’s not about having religious knowledge

It cannot be bought with big donations

There is no excuse that can justify our failures

Every other religion fall far short of what Christ has already done.

Only Christ can pay the back rent we owe God. It is an enormous sum, but Jesus paid it by His death on the cross. As we sit here today I hope you are asking yourself: Am I giving God His due? Have I appreciated the astounding things He has done for me? He made you and calls you into a relationship with Him. It is an astounding invitation. It is an expression of amazing love. We are privileged to be a part of His Kingdom. It is not OUR kingdom, it is His. We should respond to Him with love.

Those who respond otherwise should not be surprised if they are met with wrath instead of mercy. As we have seen, every one of us would respond with wrath as well.

©Copyright September 3, 2017 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche

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