No doubt some of you have looked down with satisfaction on a basket of delicious fruit after a "pick your own" session at a fruit farm. Hopefully, the owner, who provided every facility, enjoyed a good return on his investment also. That's how things should be, isn't it?
Sadly, acts of criminal violence, or crop failure, for example, can sometimes ruin a promising harvest. Then the owner is denied his rightful return and we come home empty handed. The two parables we now consider deal with such matters, emphasizing crucial spiritual lessons for both the individual and the people of God.
The parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants - recorded in Matthew 21:33-46 as well as in Mark and Luke was prophetically delivered by the Lord to the Jewish leaders just a few days before they crucified Him. It contains a most vivid illustration of a nation's persistent rejection of God and its consequences for them. But it also provides the first public and supremely important announcement of an imminent new order which the Lord had earlier promised His disciples.
Every facility provided
Scripture had declared, "The vineyard of the LORD... is the house of Israel" (Is. 5:7), and our Lord's graphic description of a first class vineyard is almost an echo of the one His Spirit had moved Isaiah to give
over seven hundred years earlier. Then, the "Well beloved" had similarly provided every facility, yet sadly, the vineyard only produced wild grapes. "What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it?" He asked disappointedly, and then with sorrow He had to announce, "I will lay it waste" (Is. 5:1-6).
We recall that in the parable the many servants of the patient vineyard owner, sent to collect his proceeds, were rejected and violently abused, even to the extent of murder. And so the story was Israel's story. Richly provided for and brought into divine inheritance, the people grew increasingly indifferent to their privileges and their Provider, although often He sent His prophets to them "rising up early... because He had compassion on His people". But to their shame, indifference degenerated into rejection - "They mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets" (2 Chron. 36:15,16).
The Levites' prayer of Nehemiah 9 so accurately summarizes Israel's tragic decline from halcyon days of valued riches to the darkest days of
violent rejection. From "all good things" to the time when "they were disobedient... and slew Thy prophets which testified against them" (vv. 24-26). How fearful to contemplate that God's people could sink so low! And how it must have broken our Saviour's tender heart to recall their history as He cried, "0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! how often would I have gathered thy children together... and ye would not!" (Mat: 23:37).
What shall I do?
The long suffering vineyard owner, faced with such gross abuse and rejection, pondered hard as to what he could do to recover his rightful possession. Luke tells us he asked, "What shall I do?" An indication to us on the human level that it was no light thing for Almighty God in His eternal counsels to ensure the recovery of that of which sin had robbed Him. In Mark's account we read, "Having yet therefore one son, his well beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son" (Mark 12:6 AV). What words to contemplate! His servants had been rejected, what could he do? He had the means to arrange for the wicked tenants to be destroyed, but he also had one very precious son whom he loved dearly and for whom he had great plans. It would break this father's heart to lose him, but surely, he thought, they would respect his only son and heir. So the patient man decided to give the wretches a last chance; hoping for the best, yet risking his dearest, he sent his beloved son. In devoted obedience and with great courage, the young man made the fateful journey which, alas, took him to his violent death.
With what pathos the Master Narrator presents the truth about Himself! The truth which is perceived by both comparison and contrast: He "the Only Begotten from the Father" was the One whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world (John 10:36). Then, in contrast to those in the parable, Father and Son knew every detail of the worst that man would do. But in spite of the awful cost, and because there was no other way, last of all the Well beloved was freely given. And so the One who, above all others, should have been reverenced by Israel, was despised and rejected. They cast Him out of the vineyard too, and outside the gate He suffered and died at their hands.
Remarkably, the consequences of their action were described by the elders themselves in response to the Lord's question. The vineyard owner would "miserably destroy those miserable men" and would "let out the vineyard unto other husbandmen". There is an urgent warning here for individuals who reject Christ; for they too will suffer destruction, eternal destruction. How solemn! May we be prayerfully concerned that many will be saved from this.
Now as far as the nation of Israel is concerned, because they rejected the
Son, who was indeed their King, they did in consequence reject His kingdom too. Though they would carry on their formal religion, until their future restoration, it would become empty void of the privileges of the kingdom of God. How very sad! In describing their religious activity, the Lord changed the illustration to that of builders when He reminded them of the solemn prediction of Psalm 118:22, "The Stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the Head of the corner". Though He was vital to them, they had no place for Him in their projects. So what had been God's house, became their "desolate" house. In contrast, the rejected Stone would become the chief Corner Stone of a new structure for God, to be built by another nation.
The Lord had earlier made a most precious promise to His disciples when He said, "Fear not, little Flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). Later, during forty days following His resurrection, He spoke to them "the things concerning the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3), and instructed the apostles to teach others all that He had commanded. Thus the new phase of the kingdom of God, introduced and explained by the Lord Himself, came to have its written constitution when His teaching became enshrined in the apostles' writings, as directed by the promised Holy Spirit:
Briefly, let us consider two such writings; firstly, Peter's first epistle to the dispersed Jewish believers In chapter 2 verses 4-10 he also quotes the passage from Psalm 118, and points out that they had come to Christ the chief Corner Stone, and as living stones themselves, were "built up a spiritual house ... a holy nation, a people for God's own possession which in time past were no people, but now are the people of God". What a privilege is ours in the later part of this same dispensation of grace to be built together into the spiritual house; to enjoy this supreme national status we who were nobodies! But do we value our divine status and privileges as highly as we should?
The other passage we would briefly refer 'to is Romans chapters 9 to 11:
the apostle Paul's exposition of aspects of the profound doctrine of election. Paramount in his argument are two issues; on the one hand, the fall of the Jewish nation in ceasing to be the people of God because of their disobedience; and on the other hand, salvation and divine nationhood becoming available to the Gentiles. And in keeping with our parable of the vineyard the apostle points out that we, believing Gentiles, were grafted in. Should we not, each one of us therefore, bow in awe and gratitude at this thought, "Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in"? (Rom. 11:19) May God help us truly to appreciate our position today.
As we conclude our consideration of the parable of the vineyard we are reminded of that telling phrase, "bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Mat. 21:43) descriptive of God's purpose for His holy nation. Tragically, that purpose was constantly frustrated and finally dashed, as far as Israel was concerned, when the Son of God was Slain. In contrast, in our second parable (the Fig Tree Luke 13:6-9), the vineyard owner came three years in succession seeking fruit, hut met no hostility or violence - just a barren tree. It was a waste of valuable space, yet patiently he gave the vinedresser one more year to tend the tree that it might, at last, produce the intended fruit: If not, then it would have to be destroyed.
Significantly, we are not told the outcome in the second parable, but clearly we are expected to heed the danger and warning. The people of God of our generation may not be guilty of the violent rejection of God's Son, illustrated by the first parable; but sadly, we could very easily, through worldliness and materialism, for example, become indifferent and cold-hearted, with the resultant barrenness - the absence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, individual and collective. And in this respect we recall that the Ephesian saints were warned that unless they repented, God would remove their lampstand. So in our own day, while we can rejoice in the security of our souls, we tremble lest our status as God's holy nation be forfeited.
May each one of us therefore respond to these parables with sentiments such as the following: "The great vineyard Owner was willing to send His only beloved Son, to be despised, rejected and slain; not only that I might be saved from Hell, but also be purchased as part of a people for His own possession, zealous of good works (Titus 2:14). May I never be indifferent to such precious knowledge".