IN NOMINE JESU
In nine days we will be at the point at which our text is set: Tuesday in Holy Week. The Lord had made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem two days prior: Palm Sunday, which we will remember next Sunday. He then wept over Jerusalem, and He cleansed the temple. Then the chief priests, scribes, and elders, confronted Him and questioned His authority. Remember that they rejected His authority, for they also rejected Him as the long-promised Messiah. After this confrontation we get to our text, where our Lord tells the people the parable of the wicked vinedressers. There were many other people present at this time…not just the religious rulers. The Lord told this parable to them, yet in the hearing of those who sought to kill Him. He taught this parable against the chief priests, scribes, and elders, and they knew it.
Jesus began the parable saying "A certain man planted a vineyard." This "man" was God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. The vineyard He planted was His kingdom. He "leased it to vinedressers," the Israelites, especially their leaders. "Vintage-time" hade arrived; that is, The Lord was looking for a harvest, that His people would bear fruit, the fruit of faith and repentance. He was looking for believers. He sent servants—namely, the prophets—into the kingdom, looking for the faithful. What did the leaders of Israel do? They beat the prophets severely. For added effect, one might consider that the Greek word used here for "beat" can also mean that the servants were flayed—skinned alive—and excommunicated. This happened with the first two servants in this parable, the second one also being treated shamelessly…insulted, as some translations render verse 11. The owner of the vineyard sent a third servant, who was treated even worse, wounded and thrown out. The great Church Father, Cyril of Alexandria, wrote this of the prophets and of Israel in this parable: [The Lord] went away, but plainly He cared for His farm and kept it in His mind. He sent faithful servants to them at three different times to receive produce or fruit from the tillers of the vineyard. There was no period in the interval, during which there were not sent by God prophets and righteous men to admonish Israel and urge it to bring forth as fruits the glories of a life in accordance with the law. They still were wicked, disobedient and callous, and their heart was hardened against admonition so that they would in no way listen to the word that would have profited them…. Israel was guilty of the charge of apostasy [falling away from the faith] and of idol worship. This is how they shamefully threw out those who were sent to them.
No doubt the people who heard this parable (the laity, that is) were shocked to hear of such treatment, wondering why the owner did not bother calling the police. Jesus does not mention this in order that He may teach them of His Father's patience with and love for His people. "Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. Probably they will respect him when they see him'" (v. 13). In the fullness of time, God sent His Son into the world, His beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased, that they would listen to Him. Instead they conspired against the son, cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. The Lord was stating publicly what the Sanhedrin was in private conspiring to do. They would in three days cast Him out of Jerusalem and crucify Him. The Lord in this parable was exposing the greed and lust for power that these alleged leaders had. They knew He had interpreted Scripture correctly…and that He interpreted it against them.
What would happen to those vinedressers? The owner "will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others" (v. 16a). This destruction came in the year 70 AD, when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. The vineyard, the kingdom of God, was removed from the Pharisees and their ilk and was given to the Gentiles through the preaching of the Apostles of the Lord. Cyril also writes:
The farm was given to other farmers. Who are they? I answer the company of the holy apostles, the preachers of the evangelical commandments, the ministers of the new covenant. They were the teachers of a spiritual service, and knew how to instruct people correctly and blamelessly and to lead them most excellently to everything that is pleasing to God. …The God of all plainly reveals that the farm was given to other farmers and not only to the holy apostles but also to those who come after them, although they are not from Jewish blood. He says by the voice of Isaiah to the church of the Gentiles and to the remnant of Israel, "Aliens shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers." Many were called from the Gentiles, and holy people from their number became teachers and instructors. Even to this day, people of Gentile race hold high place in the churches. They are sowing the seeds of piety to Christ in the hearts of their believers and making the nations entrusted to their care into beautiful vineyards in the sight of God.
This the religious tyrants feared most of all because they enjoyed the power the usurped for themselves and would do anything to retain it. Their sphere of influence and relevance was shrinking before their very eyes, for many people were listening to Jesus' teachings, which brought the people words of comfort, hope, joy, and peace. What would happen to those who refused to listen not only to the prophets but to the Son of God? Christ, the Cornerstone, will destroy them in the judgment on the Last Day, ground into powder, as the Lord says in His parable. It is our prayer that we never fall away from our Lord (the sin of apostasy) and reject His message, but that we would keep His Name holy, for "God's Name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray…that it may be kept holy among us also…kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God's Word profanes the Name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!" (First Petition).
We keep God's Name holy when we live lives according to His Word, bearing the fruit He desires, bearing the fruits of faith and in keeping with repentance. Yet we do not keep God's Name holy. We do not bear the fruits He expects from us. A good tree bears good fruit, while a bad tree bears bad fruit. If we bear bad fruit, we are not good trees. We are bad trees that refuse to allow the owner of the vineyard to prune us. This refusal is our not wanting to hear the preaching of the Law, for it reminds us that we are bad trees whose bark is as bad as our bite. We do not want anything to do with the servants who are sent to the vineyard, for we do not like to be admonished. We are hostile to the fact that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and we are hostile to anyone who dares to tell us that, just as the Israelites were hostile to the prophets. We shun the prophets of old and of today because our sinful nature shuns the Son, Jesus Christ. The Pharisees conspired to kill Him, they conspired to do what we would do today, for our sins put Christ on the cross, and "the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone" (v. 17b, quoting Ps. 118:22). On the Last Day this Cornerstone will crush whomever it falls on, those who have rejected the Cornerstone. As long as we do not repent and return to the Lord, we risk being crushed and destroyed on the Last Day, into all eternity.
The Lord does say, "Whoever falls on that stone will be broken" (v. 18a). The Christian's life is not perfect in this world, for there are times in which we stumble and fall in our sins. We fall and we break; we are broken in a state of contrition. Through the preaching of the Law we are brought to sorrow over our sins, that we would be led to repentance, one of the fruits of the Christian. The preaching of the Law is necessary, for it prepares us to hear the preaching of the Gospel, which announces to us that our sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake. When our Lord finds us broken in our sins, He binds our wounds and heals us, speaking words of healing into our ears as He says to us, "Your sins are forgiven." He heals our wounds by the wounds He bore on the cross for us. As the prophet Isaiah says regarding the Suffering Servant: "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed" (Is. 53:5). Yes, the Son was cast out of the vineyard, out of Jerusalem, where ungodly men killed Him, where He died for you. They destroyed the temple, and He raised it again on the third day—the temple of His body so that you would have the sure and certain hope of eternal life in heaven.
You see, as sinners we will continue to stumble and fall during this pilgrimage, for we are strangers in a strange land. We stumble and fall, and we are broken as the result of our sinfulness. But the Lord uplifts and restores us continually through Holy Baptism and the forgiveness of sins. In Baptism, we are not broken but drowned according to the Old Adam in us. We are healed as the new man emerges and arises to live before Him in righteousness and purity forever. This happened initially at the font and happens continually through daily contrition and repentance, our daily living our Baptism. Our heavenly Father continues to raise us up for His Son's sake, that we would be good trees and bear fruit, fruit that will last, fruit that is well pleasing in His sight. This fruit that we bear, with the Holy Spirit at work in us, will bring us to say next Sunday as we receive Him who made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem: "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!" In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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