“He went on to tell the people this parable…” this is a continuation of last week’s message: Jesus is the ultimate authority…a parable is a story with a common setting that has a deeper meaning intended for the hearers to ponder… this is a story of the owner of a vineyard that rents the land ~ when he sends servants/son, they refuse to pay what is owed the owner… they kill the son. Why? Because they want it all, the harvest and the land itself: “Let’s kill [the son] and the inheritance will be ours.”
A couple weeks ago, there were a lot of people in the hospital. I went 2-3 times that week. One day I saw six people. I felt bad because I realized I forgot to see Linda Raymond…so two days later when I returned, I put Linda on the list. The timing could only be God. I went into the room to find Linda glowing… a couple was there visiting, Conrad was his name. Linda was getting ready to go home. She was on top of the word. She introduced me to her other guests as Pastor Carl. They were from Trinity Lutheran. For those of you who were at her funeral, Conrad was the man that lit the candles and put them out at the end… Linda was so happy. I’d never seen her so happy. Happy to be going home. Happy to be starting a new life, new commitments. She only had positive things to say. She introduced me to Conrad and his wife this way: “I’m a member of three churches, Trinity Lutheran, Sumas Advent Christian Church, and then she got a big smile and pointed upward, the heavenly Church.” I snapped a picture of a glowing Linda and sent it off to Adam, not knowing it would be the last time I would see her on earth. She died two days later. Thank you Linda for one last amazing lesson. The universal church, the heavenly Church. It’s all about the Kingdom! As Christians, the Kingdom of God comes first. We are wrong if we start competing with other small C churches, thinking we have greater understanding. For those who love the Lord and embrace him as Savior, there is only one Church, one Kingdom. God owns the vineyard. It’s all about His Kingdom!
Let’s dig into some of the details of God’s Kingdom as revealed in this parable:
1) The owner of the vineyard represents God himself. The good news is that God is patient. He sends servant after servant… he sends the son himself which is clearly Jesus Christ. God is still patient…he is patient with Christians that are narrow minded, churches that get sidetracked on the unimportant… how many of us would have declared long ago that this old world cannot take much more, surely the end is near… the greater lesson is that our judgment makes no difference, the timetable of salvation, the timetable of the end of the world is entirely up to God. He is patient. A friend, Gary Severson, once observed that so often we are either way behind God, or way ahead of God, and most of the time we’re way ahead, “Come on God and catch up with what I’m doing.”
Thankfully he is patient as we ignore his will, miss his leading, and run around like crazy trying to do it all on our own. It is all about the kingdom, but often our sight is dim; God patiently gives us opportunity after opportunity to make better decisions.
2) This story tells us judgment is coming… it may seem for a time we can get away, literally with murder, but judgment is coming… God’s Kingdom is absolute. We can try to ignore the Kingdom for a time, attempt to set ourselves up as King, make it about us, but God is the owner of the vineyard, and the day of judgment will come. READ Luke 20:15b-16.
3) As Jesus tells the parable there is an unmistakable foreshadowing of the cross. It is amazing that Jesus does not shrink away from the sacrifice he is about to make. As one person commented, Jesus “did not come to Jerusalem hugging a dream that even yet he might escape the cross” (William Barclay). It’s all about the Kingdom of God, but it is a Kingdom like no other, because it is fully established through death and resurrection. We have an advantage those first hearers did not have: we know the end of the story! Citizenship in God’s Kingdom comes through the cross and forgiveness.
Jesus knows the cross is coming as he tells this story, and Jesus trusted his heavenly father completely. He also knows that in the end he will triumph. He quotes Ps. 118:22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” From rejection to triumph, that is the story of Jesus Christ. That is the amazing character of the Kingdom. In the end God wins, no matter how dark the days may seem, God is victorious.
The capstone is the foundational stone upon which the whole building is aligned…to reject Jesus Christ is to miss the foundation of life, a future and a hope… I seldom go to garage sales, partly because I cannot see the treasures buried in what looks like to me piles of junk. It’s frustrating… Some people have an eye to spot the treasures. Many times I scan over the table, pick up a picture, a vase… it’s dusty, discolored… I put it down… then I see out of the corner of my eye another person come along, pick up the same vase, and they picture it in a setting, a use, they see a beauty in it I could not see. May our eyes be open to see Jesus Christ, he who is rejected by many, may we learn to see his inherent beauty, wisdom, his work of salvation….
4) It’s all about the Kingdom. One of our biggest problems in missing the larger Kingdom is that we are good at justifying our actions. We make it about ourselves. Self justification. Servant after servant is sent, they beat them, wound them, they treat them shamefully to completely humiliate. Somehow they justify this abuse, but they owe the owner… this story is about how we can justify our own actions… We live in a world where we seem to believe that the ends justifies the means. We have our own self serving desires; ; it doesn’t matter how we achieve our purposes. Cheat on a test if it gets you the promotion, that’s an easy justification. Cheat on taxes, after all the government wastes so much and my little bit doesn’t make any difference and I work hard for my money (but that’s next weeks message, as Christians our relationship to the government). Self justification. The truth: the ends never justifies the means. If we are to have any integrity at all, how we conduct ourselves is vital, no matter how tempting it is to cut corners to achieve our goals. Early on as a student at Fuller Seminary, I got a job in the loan collection department, I recorded the payments. Every month, there was one woman who sent in no payment or a much smaller payment than her agreement. Every month she wrote a letter, explaining that she was doing God’s will by working with the poor and was not making enough to make a payment. Really? Was it really God’s will to abandon her commitments to the school? I would have had more respect if she would have asked for a reprieve, made arrangements to re-negotiate her payments… but to simply declare this was God’s will....
How could the renters of the vineyard possibly justify their refusal to pay the rent. The response of the people in Luke 20:16 is classic READ. They could not imagine such an action, yet self justification is common… Here is one person’s observation:
This impulse to create stories in which we are the good guy, always the victim or the hero, lies very deep in human nature. If I confront my 7 year old because she hit her sister, you can be sure that she be able to give me a detailed explanation for why what she did was totally justified in light of what her sister was doing. She’s the real victim, don’t you know. And she will be able to regale me – on the spot – with all manner of evidence and logic … to back up her self-justification. ~ Rebecca Trotter
The people who could not imagine mistreating the servants and killing the son are naïve to human nature, “May this never be,” they said, “Surely not” another translation. May we not be so naïve to ourselves or others as to the capacity we have to justify ourselves, to deny shame, to justify the end goals. It’s not about us… our narrow world, our pleasure, our accomplishments: it’s about the Kingdom. May our eyes be open to the truth of the depth of human sin, the denial of our true nature. What a contrast of our nature with the forgiveness that is found in Christ Jesus, his willingness to die on the cross. The truth: we have no need to justify ourselves because the greater justification is found in Jesus Christ: he died for our sins and took away our shame.
I like the advice of a prison chaplain to boys: “whatever your accuser says, don’t bother trying to defend yourself. Just agree with him. Say, ‘yes, you’re probably right.’ You don’t have to explain yourself or your actions. It could be that they are beyond justification anyways. It doesn’t matter because your justification is in Christ, not in yourself. So go ahead and agree with your accuser because Jesus has already provided all the justification you need.” (same article of Rebecca Trotter above)
Jesus had to die. That’s why this parable is so powerful. He dies for those that kill him. He provides justification for those that seek to justify themselves. Jesus had to be rejected, yet he becomes the chief cornerstone. It’s not that Jesus uses the religious leader and the naiveness of the people; he knows human nature. He knows the shame of sin and the great temptation of self justification.
When it was told in Luke 20, Jesus had not yet gone to the cross. I believe it is the cross and the resurrection that completes this story so that our eyes are open to the Kingdom of God. When Jesus tells the story before the cross it is not obvious he is the chief cornerstone, he is still a hidden treasure. But we can look back and place ourselves in this story with the knowledge of the cross. Will you accept Jesus or continue to reject him? Will you continue to justify your actions, or will you quit defending yourself and accept the forgiveness of Christ?
We easily rebel against God and his kingship. We want our way and resent it when we can't get it. We want all the grapes of the field and resent it when the owner who hasn’t done a thing gets a cut of the produce. We think we deserve what we work so hard to get, yet it is God’s Kingdom. He set us in his kingdom to serve him. God is patient. He gives us the privilege of working the vineyard. He allows us to live in his vineyard. He gives us many opportunities to do what is right as servant after servant is sent. He is the owner. It is all about his kingdom. We can be disobedient and rebel, justifying our own actions, attempt to set the rules that will benefit us, but he is the owner.
I am grateful I have the benefit of hindsight, the knowledge of Jesus’ death and resurrection, so that through Christ, God accepts me into His Kingdom. It’s all about the Kingdom. Amen.