Sermon for Sunday August 14th, 2016, the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 80:1-3, 8-19; Isaiah 5:1-7; Luke 12:49-56
Text: Isaiah 5:1-7
Theme: God’s expectation of spiritual fruit from the Church
In a February 2001 interview with Rolling Stone, singer Paul Simon commented, “The only thing that God requires from us is to enjoy life – and love. It doesn’t matter if you accomplish anything. You don’t have to do anything but appreciate that you’re alive. And love, that’s the whole point.”
By contrast, the Old Testament prophet Micah wrote, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
– David Stagle, “Paul Simon: What God Requires,” PreachingToday.com
The theme of Israel as a vineyard planted by God is expressed in the form of a love song in our Lesson from the Book of the prophet Isaiah today. The prophet sings to God, his “well-beloved” (v. 1) a song concerning his vineyard. The love song is sung to God’s honor, out of love for Him, but it is also a song showing God’s love for his people Israel. The song is also sung as an indictment against the sinful behavior and spiritual barrenness of Israel. As we read this, we must consider not only its historical context in the eighth century B.C., but also its meaning for the Church today. The love song is really a song of lament, because God is disappointed with the wild grapes that the vines have produced. It is also a parable of the relationship between God and Israel, designed to show clearly the contrast between the great love God has for His people and their unfruitful response, as well as the destruction of their land which will result from their sins.
In the midst of great prosperity under King Uzziah (c. 790 – 739 B.C.), our Lesson today predicts destruction to follow, as a result of national disobedience. This happened as the Assyrian Empire extended its conquest by taking over Samaria, deporting the people of the northern kingdom of Ephraim, and later threatening Jerusalem itself. This song about Israel as God’s Vineyard came before all these catastrophic events unfolded. It was intended to impress on the minds of rulers and people alike the urgent call to turn away from lawlessness back to God and to obedience to His Law.
CONTENT OF THE LOVE SONG
The Song begins with an exposition of all that the owner of the vineyard did. He selected a fertile location for his vineyard, cleared it of stones, fenced it around, built a watchtower in it to guard against thieves, and hewed out a winepress (vv. 1-2). After having done all this, he expected the vines to produce good grapes, but they bore only wild grapes, which would have been sour.
Now the people of Jerusalem and Judah are asked to be the judge of what should happen to the vineyard (v. 3). The irony is that they themselves are the ones being judged. The situation reminds us of the parable which Nathan the prophet told King David to illustrate the enormity of his adultery and murder (the parable of the rich man and the poor man who had only one sheep – 2 Samuel 12:1-12). Two questions are put to them. What more could the vineyard owner have done for the vineyard than he did? Why did it yield wild grapes instead of the good grapes it should have yielded? The wild grapes were no good for anything, and would have to be thrown out. The two questions really imply the consequences that follow. The owner would simply remove its fence, so that it would no longer enjoy any protection but be laid waste and destroyed. Also, there would be no vinedresser to till the vines or prune them, and briars and thorns would spring up. At the point where he says that he will command the clouds not to rain upon it (v. 6), we know that the Lord is the owner of the vineyard, for no ordinary farmer could command it not to rain or to rain.
In the seventh verse it becomes clear that the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is Israel and Judah, thought of here as one nation, though at the time they were the northern and southern kingdoms respectively. The fruit the Lord was looking for was justice and righteousness, but he found instead oppression and a cry, that is the cry of the distressed or oppressed. Ironically, the Hebrew uses word play in the words for justice and oppression, and in the words for righteousness and a cry. Therefore the English translation of this portion of verse 7 by the Jewish Publication Society in 1999 reads:
And He hoped for justice,
But behold, injustice;
But behold iniquity!
In other words, God finds the opposite of the goodness, righteousness and justice that he had expected to find from his people in view of His wonderful love for them and the grace He had given them by delivering them from Egypt and planting them in Canaan. They have returned evil for good, so deserving the judgment that they would receive.
AN INTERPRETATION FOR TODAY’S CHURCH
Isaiah’s song of lament here demonstrates that the later invasions of Ephraim and Judah by Assyrians and then Chaldeans were no historical accident, but the judgment of God for their rebellious and sinful ways. From this prophetic view of history we must learn lessons for the life of the Church and for the life of our nation, as well as for own lives. The Lord Jesus Christ is the true Vine of God producing in every way the good spiritual fruit that God expects of all His people today (John 15:1), but Christians are the branches of that vine, and God comes looking for that fruit in our lives every day. God looked for that fruit when he came looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but found disobedience and rebellion (Genesis 3). Christ warned us what happens to the branches that do not abide in Him – they are gathered up and burnt (John 15:6). Just as the ancient Israelites experienced miraculous deliverances throughout their history, and received the grace of God in so many ways, we too in Christ have a wealth of blessings and grace to enable us to fulfill God’s will in our lives. Yet because we are recipients of God’s love and grace, it does not mean that we can backslide, or fail to strengthen our obedience to God and our faith in Him. Also, we should not think that droughts and floods are unrelated to the spiritual state of our nation. If the prophets of Israel saw droughts as part of God’s judgment on sin, who are we to think that our sin has no effect on our climate?
Each of us is called by God to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He expects to find justice and righteousness in us, not just received by faith, but embodied in our thoughts, words and actions.