Sermon for Sunday October 8th, 2017, the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Isaiah 5:1-7; Ps. 80:7-15; Matthew 21:33-46
Text: Matthew 21:33-46
Topic: Produce the fruit of God’s kingdom with which the Church has been entrusted.
The Parable of the Vineyard (Matthew 21:33-41), or Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, uses the vineyard, a familiar symbol of Israel in the Old Testament literature (see Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-15) to show how the Israelite leaders’ rejection of God’s servants the prophets, and even of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, leads to the kingdom of God’s no longer belonging exclusively to Israel, but its inheritance by a new nation, the Church.
THE BACKGROUND OF THE PARABLE AND ITS FULFILMENT IN HISTORY
The owner of the vineyard takes great care to plant his vineyard, hedge it around, dig a winepress and build a guard tower to protect it from thieves. This corresponds to God’s great love for Israel in rescuing her from slavery in Egypt, planting her in the Promised Land, and even restoring her to that land and to Jerusalem after a long Exile in the sixth century B.C. As the Lord declared through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 5:4:
What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
Now the grapes that Israel should have produced for a harvest were the righteousness of God and obedience to His Law, coupled with acceptance and welcoming of the messengers whom God sent, namely the prophets, and finally God’s Son. Their disobedience led to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in A.D. 70, and to the giving of God’s kingdom to a nation that would produce the harvest of righteousness, namely the Church, in whom the Holy Spirit is ever at work to bring completion of love and righteousness in the lives of all its members. At the time that Jesus told this parable, the religious leaders of his day could not even discern that he acted with God’s authority in performing healings and miracles and teaching people about the kingdom of God. For in the temple they had recently asked him by what authority he was doing these things, and who gave him that authority (Matthew 21:23). This parable forms a great part of the Lord Jesus Christ’s answer to that question.
The wicked actions of the tenant farmers in rejecting the owner’s agents who came to collect his share of the produce were crowned by their murder of the owner’s son. Anyone hearing this story told by Jesus would naturally be outraged by the wicked behavior of the tenant farmers. There was simply no excuse for their depravity, oppression and rejection of all the messengers sent to them. This outrage is designed to lead the audience into a deeper reflection on the truth of how the Jewish leaders have consistently rejected God’s prophets and wise men through the centuries of Israel’s history. Was the current generation of leaders any better? Surely not! In murdering the owner’s son, they had brought on themselves the ultimate penalty: they would lose the right to manage the vineyard.
THE PARABLE’S RELEVANCE FOR CHRISTIANS TODAY
Some may argue that this parable’s relevance is to the nation of Israel with respect to their stewardship of God’s kingdom, and it has no relevance for Christians. To this I answer that we must think again. What have we done with God’s kingdom and with the Gospel as entrusted to the Church? Have we obeyed God’s moral law as given us in the Two Great Commandments, the Ten Commandments and the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels and in the writings of the New Testament? If we had obeyed all this throughout the years of the Church’s existence ever since it became the “chosen nation and royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) entrusted with God’s kingdom, would the world not be full of Christians who both knew their Bible and practiced its teachings? In the 19th century, Bishop Ryle, in commenting on this passage, wrote about the state of England with respect to producing God’s required fruit:
Must we not confess with shame with shame that millions amongst us seem utterly without God in the world?….The fruit that the Lord receives from his vineyard in our own country, compared with what it ought to be, is disgracefully small.
(p. 200, J.I. Packer & Alister McGrath: Matthew: J.C. Ryle. The Crossway Classic Commentaries. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1993)
None of us, I am sure, would like to be the hollow men, of whom T.S. Eliot wrote:
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
(Retrieved from: https://allpoetry.com/The-Hollow-Men )
God expects us to live as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, bearing the righteousness of Christ in our lives, and not only receiving it as a gift of grace by faith in Him. Day by day we are to produce this fruit, showing that our faith in Him is alive and fruitful. This will affect the way in which we respond to God’s messengers whenever they come to us.
Let us not be the ones who disregard or reject, or even mistreat the messengers of God, who can simply be fellow-Christians encouraging you in your faith, or advising you as to the best course of action to take. We shall be fruitful in Christ if we love God wholly and others as ourselves, obey God’s word, and pass on our faith in any way that we can. How will you respond to God’s messengers that call you to love Him most of all and obey Him?