The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Luke 20:9 “And He began to tell the people this parable: ‘A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time. 10 And at the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order that they might give him some of the produce of the vineyard; but the vine-growers beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he proceeded to send another slave; and they beat him also and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he proceeded to send a third; and this one also they wounded and cast out. 13 And the owner of the vineyard said, “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.” 14 But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What, therefore, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.” And when they heard it, they said, ‘May it never be!’ 17 But He looked at them and said, ‘What then is this that is written, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone’? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.’ 19 And the scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood that He spoke this parable against them. (NASB)
It was Tuesday of Holy Week. The tension between Jesus the Jewish rulers was at its peek. From the opening days of His earthly ministry religious leaders from around the country and in Jerusalem were concerned over His doctrine. It was in direct contradiction to theirs. Time and time again they tried to discredit Him, contradict Him, and trap Him. Tensions between Jesus and the peddlers of works-righteousness had increased with the passing of every encounter.
Now Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem. It was the week leading into the annual Passover so Jerusalem was filling to over flowing with pilgrimages. On Monday of Holy Week, Jesus walked into the temple. What He saw outraged Him.
“[Jesus] entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a robbers’ den.” The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching.” (Mark 11:15-18)
After that, Jesus spent a good portion of Holy Week teaching in the temple. Jesus had walked into the belly of the work-righteousness beast, stood before the most powerful men in Jerusalem, and taught the people what God had really meant, said, and done in the history of the Old Testament.
As Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees approached Him and wanted to know who gave Him the authority to teach. Jesus replied with a question of His own. “I shall also ask you a question, and you tell Me: Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?”
The question was a conundrum. If they said “from heaven,” they would have to conclude that Jesus too was from heaven and bore heavenly authority since John himself preached about Jesus in this way. If they denied that John’s baptism was from heaven, they’d run the risk of offending a lot of the Jews who saw John as a martyr for the faith. So they didn’t answer. Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” It is in this context that Jesus tells them the extremely pointed parable the is the assigned Gospel lesson on this the Sunday before Palm Sunday.
“A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time. And at the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order that they might give him some of the produce of the vineyard; but the vine-growers beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he proceeded to send another slave; and they beat him also and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he proceeded to send a third; and this one also they wounded and cast out.”
The Greek words use here to describe how each one of the servants was treated by the tenant indicates that each servant was met with more hostility than the previous and the attacks on the servants became more vicious with the arrival of each servant. The first is beaten. The second is beaten and treated shamefully. The third is badly wounded and thrown out.
“And the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’” Now do you remember what God the Father said about Jesus at Jesus’s baptism? “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” The same thing was said by God the Father on the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” Then there is this in Colossians 1:13 “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
It is the same Greek words and expression all four verses. The Son in the parable, is the Son in the River Jordan, is the Son on the Mount of Transfiguration, and is the Son in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in the kingdom.
“I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him. 14 But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”
The meaning of the parable is unambiguous. God the Father is the Owner. The vineyard is the church. The servants sent to collect what is owed God are the prophets of old. The vine growers are the religious the priests, scribes, pharisees, kings, and people of the Old Testament who reject the prophets, the “Beloved Son” is Jesus.
The hearer of the parable knew the horrible history of God’s prophets in Israel. Instead of listening to the prophets and repenting of their many and grievous sins, they put the prophets in prison, tortured them, and killed them.
The parable not only reminded the hearers of their sad and terrible history, it also told them what they were going to do. They were about to kill the Beloved Son, the Promised Messiah Himself. Finally, the parable also taught the conspirators that their murderous act would meet with a severe judgment. “What, therefore, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.’ And when they heard it, they said, ‘May it never be!’” Yet, “the scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour.”
The Gospel of St. John tells us [John 11:47-48] that “the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, ‘What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’”
Things haven’t changed. There are many faithful pastors who are not preaching these days. Instead, they are making deliveries for UPS, working at Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and wherever they can scrape out a living. I just saw a report that there are now 416 pastors in the LCMS now serving congregations part-time. At the same time, there are a thousands of congregations being served by unfaithful and sloppy popularist pastors. 1 Timothy 4:3 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”
The people have turned their backs on biblical Christianity by either leaving the church or by demanding that their pastors bend the knee to the cultural shifts of the day. Many pastors are glad to do so. Those who don’t often find themselves in very small congregations or out of the pulpit altogether. C.F.W. Walther wrote in his book Law & Gospel: Thesis XII:
“As soon as my word is proclaimed, people will split into two camps. Some will receive it with joy; others will be offended by it and will begin to hate and persecute those who receive it…the church is not a kingdom that can be built up in peace. It is located within the domain of the devil, the prince of this world. Accordingly, the church has no choice but to be at war. It is the Church Militant and will remain such until the blessed end. Whenever a church appears to be not a militant church but a church at ease, that is a false church. You can rely on it.”
Jesus ended this story of the vineyard with the father returning in anger, destroying the evil tenants, and giving the vineyard to others. In true form though, Jesus did not stop preaching when He finished the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. He continued by quoting Psalm 118:22: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
The Jewish leaders rejected Jesus as the Christ. They rejected Him with extreme prejudice. They tried Him, sentenced Him, and handed Him over to Pilate to be crucified and buried.
But God the Father raised Jesus from the dead and Jesus took His place as the chief cornerstone of the church. Unlike the son in the parable, Jesus the Stone that was rejected didn’t stay dead. Romans 4:25 “He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised on account of our justification.”
The parable of the Wicked Tenants is not simply a parable about those terrible sinners who display outight and open rejection, hate, and hostility to Christ. It is a call to repentance. A call to acknowledge and confess our sins, while at the same time trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are to divest ourselves of any claim of goodness, righteousness, and deeds and join with St. Paul in saying.
“I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-10)
He who was the rejected Stone, conquered sin, death, and the power of the devil with His holy life, His suffering, His death on a cross, and His resurrection from the dead. He is now the living cornerstone for me, for you and for all who believe.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen