Today we are continuing our big conversation we are having on The Parables of Jesus, which has been a lot of fun so far. I am really enjoying this series and have told you weekly how fascinated I am by some things that I see as we study Jesus’ teachings. First, it is just awesome how relevant these teachings are to our lives today. There is so much there for us if we have those ready hearts and can accept and apply Jesus’ words to our lives. Another thing that has really stuck out to me throughout this series is how these Parables really come to life for us when we understand the context of them. When we see what and who Jesus is addressing and why. But the thing that I can’t get past, that has stuck with me the most, is just how many Christians hear these parables, and would say they know these teachings of Jesus, while living completely opposite of what they teach. Many Christians are familiar with the words Jesus says in Scripture, and will tell people they have heard them, or have read these teachings over the years, but it clearly isn’t part of their lives, it’s not lived out in their lives, priorities, choices and behaviors, relationships, or church communities. I find that fascinating. It’s one thing to say you know what Jesus taught, or what the Bible says, but it’s a whole other thing to allow those words to penetrate your heart and become part of how you live your life. I can’t seem to get my heart and mind off this as we walk through these amazing teachings of Jesus and see so clearly what He is asking of us, yet we look inside our churches and at many Christian lives today and see people living so opposite of what He was saying. In many ways, I think this is what Jesus was talking about when He told us why Jesus told stories to teach us. He was trying to open our hearts and minds to a new way of living…a way that is so opposite of how we humans think, see, and value things here on this Earth that Jesus told stories in an effort to create readiness in us, so that we could start to receive and understand God’s way of living our lives. Remember Matthew 13, Jesus tells us why He told stories…
Matthew 13:12 Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. 13 That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. MSG
So just as we have done every Sunday of this series, let’s pray for those ready hearts so the insights and understandings would flow freely into our hearts and minds and lives today. Let’s pray.
So, you know me, I like to ask you questions so you can be thinking, and really personalizing what we are studying, and I would like to start today by asking you a few questions that may be new thoughts but are worth exploring here today. And we will start here. Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be God, create this amazing world and everything in it…and have a design, and image of what that would look like, then place your children in the middle of it and just trust them to do what you ask? LOL, I have to say, I struggle to let the kids mow my grass without checking on them over and over again, to make sure the lines are straight, and they are blowing the grass the right way, let alone trusting and allowing us humans to you know, do God’s work here on this planet and take care of His creation! When you think about God, how do you picture Him? Is He loving and patient? Is He angry and judgmental? Have you ever considered how patient you would have to be to trust us humans, and allow us to live, make our own choices, mess up, and forgive…over and over again? Have you ever stopped and thought about God’s provision in your life? I think so many of us (myself included) can focus on all we don’t have but think about this. When you think about your life, or this world and all that God has given us, do you feel miserable, and frustrated, or can you stop and see just how blessed we are, and how God has given us everything we need to live out our purpose on this Earth? Now here is a tougher one. Have you ever taken a moment and thought about the fact that there will be a day when we will answer for the way we live our lives on this Earth and the choices we make? This is hard to do in a world that is screaming for us to stay focused on the moment we are in right now, but the reality is there will be a day when we will answer and be accountable for our actions and behaviors. Have you ever stopped and thought that through? Well, these are some of the things that Jesus will be addressing in today’s parable. It’s the Parable of the Tenant Farmers, and I would say that the two parables we are in these last two weeks, Ken last week with the Parable of the Two Sons and today with the Tenant Farmers are some of the clearest imagery that Jesus has tried to show us on what God is up to, to date…and for this particular parable today, there is no questioning what Jesus is up to and what He is trying to say. It wouldn’t have been hard for anyone listening, including the religious leaders to know exactly who and what He is addressing. So, this will be a fun one today.
But before we dive into this, let’s think about where we have been over the last few weeks because the intensity level in and around Jesus have really been ramping up. This really started as we worked our way into Matthew 18 and will only continue to intensify through the Crucifixion and Resurrection. It just continues to get more intense, there is more urgency in Jesus’ teachings, as he begins his journey to Jerusalem and the Cross. We told you all through Matthew 18 and 19 that with each mile walked they were growing closer to Jesus’ ultimate victory over sin and death, and last week Ken took us into Matthew 21, where Jesus has now entered Jerusalem, the pressure is mounting, the confrontations with the religious leaders are getting more extreme, and all of this is leading to them eventually murdering Him at the end of this week that we are now in…so that is where we are and I think in many ways we see the heart, the passion of Jesus here and it’s probably opposite of how we often picture Jesus.
First as He enters the city we have this celebration, a day we still celebrate today which we call Palm Sunday where everyone cheers for Him as he begins entry into the city. He rides in on a donkey, to the cheers of the crowd, you know the same crowd who will cheer crucify Him in just a few days and yes, these are the same followers celebrating today, who will scatter and run away and abandon Jesus when the going gets tough in just a few days. Then we see His passion, His heart, His focus for what He is set out to do in two amazing moments. First, if we go to Luke, we see His emotions as He nears the city.
Luke 19:41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” NIV
Powerful words, you didn’t recognize me, if you only knew what would bring you peace…which I’m now going to do for you…even though you do not see it or understand it, I will take care of it…so powerful. It’s from there that Jesus heads to the Temple, and we see his intense focus, passion and zeal for God and honoring and obeying God as He literally drives people out of the temple…
Matthew 21:12 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.'” NIV
We see Jesus then spend a lot of time in the Temple, healing people, and teaching, and I love this. He isn’t hiding from the angry religious leaders, and look at how the people are reacting to Jesus as this week continues to intensify…
Luke 19:47 After that, he taught daily in the Temple, but the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders of the people began planning how to kill him. 48 But they could think of nothing, because all the people hung on every word he said. NLT
So, we are at the spot where the religious leaders want to kill Him, but they can’t because the crowds are around Jesus, and they are hanging on every word that He was teaching and saying. Remember this is Passover week, so the city is packed with people. This led us into Ken’s talk last week, where the religious leaders challenged Jesus’ authority, but couldn’t respond to Jesus’ own questions back to them…do you remember that? They are so angry and upset they confront Jesus with, ‘Who do you think you are?’ Jesus responds.
Matthew 21:24 “I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things if you answer one question,” Jesus replied. 25 “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?” They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask us why we didn’t believe John. 26 But if we say it was merely human, we’ll be mobbed because the people believe John was a prophet.” 27 So they finally replied, “We don’t know.” And Jesus responded, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things. NLT
I loved how Ken used the phrasing last week, Jesus was addressing the stubbornly unrepentant! Basically, Jesus is saying, ‘Hey, you religious leaders, here is a heads up, the people who you think are beneath you spiritually, they will make it into heaven before you. John the Baptist showed up and invited you to repent, you didn’t. However, the lowly “sinners” around you, they did. They believed. They repented. They lived differently. And even though you watched all of this take place, even though you see the power of God in front of you healing people, you refuse to repent. You refuse to recognize the authority of God.’ So yeah, Jesus is now pushing in hard on the religious leaders. He could not have been clearer. He could not have been more offensive and combative. And Jesus did it in public…which frankly would infuriate a religious heart who is always trying to look good to people! This led us into Ken’s parable last week, The Parable of the Two Sons and as He finishes that Parable, He jumps right into another one, this is our Parable of the Day…The Parable of The Greedy Farmhands, or Tenant Farmers pending which version you are reading.
Matthew 21:33 “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. 34 At the time of the grape harvest, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. 35 But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 So 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!’ 39 So 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?” 41 The 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.”42 Then 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.’ 43 I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. 44 Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.” NLT
Now before we even break this down and dive into this incredible imagery, I want you to see how irate the religious leaders were from this moment…this is how this is how Chapter 21 ends.
45 When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet. NLT
So, let’s take some time and dive deeper into this Parable, there is so much here for us to engage! And let’s start with this, while most of the time Jesus tells stories and everyone would be wondering what it all meant, this one was very clear. The Pharisees and Chief Priests clearly knew what Jesus was saying to them and what this Parable was all about. In fact, the imagery of the vineyard is something they would have studied and known as imager God’s word used for the children of Israel.
Isaiah 5:7 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. NLT
So they would know what Jesus is saying, and even in the literal details of what Jesus described that would make sense to them as well, as it is exactly what their vineyards looked like, they would have a big hedge of protection around the vineyard to protect the plants, this kept out animals and thieves as well who would come to steal the grapes…a winepress in the middle to press the grapes, which also served as a watch tower to keep watch against thieves and animals which also is where the workers would stay. Even how the owner of the vineyard acts, in Jesus’ story really lines up with how they would expect a landowner of that time to act, renting out the land to farmers who would tend to the crops. So, it would have been very easy for all listening to this parable to see the imagery and this story unfolding because it was so accurate to their lives at this time, this one is unmistakably clear, they would have got this one, even if so many of the Parables were foggy to them…this one is crystal clear.
The vineyard is the nation of Israel. The owner is God. The farmers renting and working the land are the religious leaders of Israel. The messengers who were sent by the owner are the prophets who God sent before Jesus who were often ignored, mistreated, rejected, and killed. The son who comes last is Jesus Himself…so this is crystal-clear, and Jesus really is showing them what is happening…pretty incredible isn’t it? Now inside this parable there is a lot we could take and talk about, but I really want to focus on a couple of things that really stood out to me and maybe the best way to do it is to see that Jesus is pointing out some awesome things about God, also pointing out some things about us humans and also Himself all while showing the religious leaders and all of His disciples literally what is about to take place. So, let’s just talk about a couple of those things…first let’s start by looking at just a few of the things Jesus is helping us see about God.
First, I think it’s clear to see just how much God trusts us humans. Think about this for a moment, when you build or create something you care about, can you entrust it to others to make happen, what you need to see happen, like this vineyard owner does? It’s hard to not micromanage and look over the shoulders of workers on a project that we truly care about, yet this vineyard owner leaves and trusts that these vineyard workers will take care of his land. Remember who the landowner represents? It’s God…who creates all things, and loves His creation, remember He is so pleased with what He created…
Genesis 1:31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day. NLT
Then God hands it off to us people, this creation that He sees as very good and trusts us enough to tend to the work given to us by Him. Like I said earlier, I struggle to trust my children to mow my grass without checking on them and hovering a bit, but God trusts us with His Creation!
I also think it’s clear to see how patient God is with us humans. Did you notice in the story Jesus tells how the owner sent messenger after messenger? He gave them a lot of chances to respond, not one and then came at them with rage…he kept patiently sending messages…isn’t this such a great image of God’s love, and patience with us all. Think about our lives, that we live, and how often we screw up, yet He just continues to love us, work with us, and patiently keeps on supporting and loving through all our messes and decisions. God is a God of love, so patient and forgiving with us…this makes me think of David, a man after God’s own heart praying this prayer about God.
Psalm 86:15 But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. NLT
This parable is yet another illustration of the patience of God. In this parable Jesus also seems to be showing us a lot about our human nature.
It is so clear to me; how similar this is to our lives on this Earth with all God has provided for us. Think about the parable, the vineyard is built and equipped with everything these tenant farmers would need. They are set up to succeed here in every way, everything is given to them, so while they rent the land it is all there for them, they just have to go and do the work that is set out for them to do…so similar to us in the world God created for us am I right? It’s so easy for us to see everything we don’t have in this world…and if we focus on that we can lose sight of all that God has given to us! Everything we have is given to us by God, it is a gift from Him, and that provision is an amazing thing, and such a blessing…have you ever stopped and thought about what all God has provided you in your life? It’s amazing to think, it’s all a gift…that we are as set up to succeed as the tenant farmers were. Everything from your salvation and eternal destiny to the air you breathe has been given to us by God!
Another thing I see from this parable about us people is the freedom God gives us. This can lead into some interesting conversations about free choice and will in our lives. But the owner of this vineyard gives the tenant farmers the freedom to live and work as they please. God does the same with us…many people wonder why we have this kind of freedom to choose how we would live, to make mistakes and sin…like if God doesn’t like sin why would He allow us this kind of freedom? Shouldn’t he just not allow us to sin…but it’s so important to remember what matters to God, and that is our heart and motives…God’s love is so open and pure and so focused on our hearts and motives, His love is so great for us that He wants us to choose to love Him back, which would be such a pure and true love. That freedom that God gives us is an incredible thing when you truly stop and think it through. Yes, there is God’s word to teach us, and His laws to guide us to how we should live our lives but in the end there is real beauty in the freedom of choice that we have to choose to surrender our lives and live for God or to choose to live for ourselves.
Now there is one more thing here, that we don’t like to think about as people but is important to see. In this parable we see that we will at some point, we will all answer for the way we live our lives. Yes, God is patient, and yes God gives us the freedom to choose to live however we want, but make no mistake about this, at some point there will be a moment of accountability for all of our actions. We don’t like hearing this, and we don’t like thinking about it and for most of us we are so distracted from that day by all that life throws at us today that we lose sight of this…but this is reality. We will all have a moment to stand accountable for our lives, our choices, and how we live our lives…and it’s something we see very clearly in this story and happens in each one of our lives. Just so hard for us humans to consider with so much happening in our lives today, in a world that seems to be designed to keep us focused on the busyness, stressors, and pleasures of right now rather than accepting this reality that we all will have a day to be accountable for our lives with eternal ramifications at stake, which I like to point out, eternity is a much longer time than today. These tenant farmers were selfish and deliberately rebelling against the landowner, this is sin…this is us, we all sin and fall short of God’s glorious standard, and all need Jesus in our lives for that reason, because there was a day when the landowner returned and they were held accountable, just as that day will come for us all, to stand and be accountable for our lives.
This parable also is Jesus laying out His clearest imagery of who He is to them. Remember they had just questioned his authority and who He was and what He was up to and in this parable, He clearly shows us what He has come to do…the imagery is so clear. Jesus is The Son, who comes after the prophets (or the messengers in this case) so Jesus is telling them clearly who He is…and what is about to happen. Jesus knows, and has told the disciples, and now even tells the men who will kill him later in the week what is about to happen in this parable. This also shows that Jesus is not unclear on what He has come to do and what is about to happen, Jesus is doing this willingly out of His love for us and His Father…which is just amazing to see.
This parable then ends with Jesus turning to them and basically asking them what will happen to them after they kill Him…which is amazing! And leads me back to that thought I keep having about us Christians, and how we hear Jesus’ words, we know what He is saying, but His words just don’t land in our hearts and minds in a way that they can become part of our lives…check this out.
Matthew 21:40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” NIV
So wild, isn’t it? They know clearly, He is talking about them, and they will literally live this out in the next few days…yet here, they acknowledge what should happen to those who killed the Son! Wow! This story ends with Jesus explaining that He is the foundation stone on which everything is built, and to refuse His way is to just continue to be crushed by religion and never experience God’s saving grace, and new life which is only found in Him and they just continue to push against Him and they leave this moment knowing they need to find a time to kill Him, more determined than ever to be rid of Him…which He just explained they would do. Just incredible, isn’t it?
So, as we close down this talk today, let’s think all the way back to the beginning of this message and some of the questions we were thinking through and try to personalize this teaching rather than just picking on the religious leaders of that time.
- Have you ever stopped and thought about the trust and patience God has for us?
- Do you take time to reflect on all God has provided for you in life and the freedom He gives you on how you choose to live your life?
- Do you ever stop and think about the day you would stand before the Lord and be judged and held accountable for your actions on this Earth?
Listen, we love you so much and we know that as we listen and read and study God’s word it can change our lives if we are willing and able to accept and apply it to our lives and I think the thing I find most fascinating and challenging is how we can read and agree with Jesus’ teaching, while never making the choice to apply God’s word to our lives…which is what it’s all about. Choosing to live for God instead of ourselves, accepting God’s word as truth and allowing it to shape us towards that life that God designed us to live all along. So, I leave you with one final question and it’s this…
- As we study Jesus’ teachings, is it more than words on a page to you? Our Jesus’ words challenging you to live differently? Are His words shaping the direction of your life, your decisions, your values, and priorities?
This is the most important question we can ask ourselves as we study these awesome stories from Jesus…because when they lead us to live differently…we discover all that life could be, should be, and will be when we choose to truly live for God and not ourselves anymore.