Lord of the Vineyard
Sunday, December 31st, 2023
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA
1And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winevat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. 2And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. 3And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. 4And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled. 5And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some. 6Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. 7But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. 8And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. 9What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. 10And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: 11This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? 12And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.
Father, we praise You who are Lord of the Vineyard. We thank you for sending your beloved son, to suffer and die on our behalf, so that we might become heirs of your kingdom. Make us to abide in Christ who is the vine, for we ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
When God created the first man, it says in Genesis 2:15 that, “the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” The very first job that mankind was given, was to be a guardian and servant in God’s Garden. God had already planted the garden, it was already bearing fruit, and Adam’s job was to be a faithful steward and cultivator of what God had given him. Moreover, when Adam and Eve were married, God commanded them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Together they were to extend the fruitfulness of God’s Garden to wherever the four rivers from Eden flowed.
- Later in Israel’s history, we learn that the priests were given this same task of guarding and keeping the Tabernacle. In Solomon’s Temple there were cherubim and palm trees and flowers and pomegranates carved into the walls, so that to enter the Temple was like entering the Garden of Eden again. To worship at the temple was to return to Paradise.
- Likewise in Ezekiel’s Visionary Temple there was a river of healing waters that flowed from the sanctuary. It says in Ezekiel 47:12, “Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine.”
- So from the very beginning, God gave to man the task of tending God’s garden sanctuary. Adam, like a priest, was to cultivate God’s vineyard and give Him the produce from it. This was instituted in the law by the various harvest festivals wherein the Israelites would bring their first fruits, their tithes and offerings, and offer them to God at His sanctuary.
- Of course, these literal fruits were themselves symbolic of the person offering them. We are made out of earth, we cultivate the earth, the earth feeds us, and so to give God the fruit of the earth is to give Him a portion of ourselves.
- We offer to God our first and our best produce as a sign that He owns us. We give Him tribute and a tithe to remind ourselves that we are stewards, we are servants, and God is in charge, He is Lord, He is master, and to Him belongs all things.
- If we were to survey the entirety of Scripture, we would learn that human beings are signified by different kinds of plants and trees. Perhaps most famously in Psalm 1, we read that the person who meditates upon the law of God day and night is, “like a tree planted by the rivers of water, That bringeth forth his fruit in his season; His leaf also shall not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: But are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.”
- So in the Bible, there are wicked men who are thorns and thistles, chaff and bramble bushes. And then there are the godly, the saints, who are as cedars of Lebanon, as pillars in the house of God, as Jachin and Boaz at the entrance of the temple. Or they are as Esther, whose name is Hadassah which refers to the humble and fair myrtle tree. Or they are as children who grow up like olive trees around the table. Or as Psalm 144:12 prays, “That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; That our daughters may be as pillars, Sculptured in palace style.”
- So from Genesis to Revelation, human beings are portrayed as different kinds of plants and trees. And the nation of Israel itself is identified among other things as the vineyard of God.
- We heard in Isaiah 5:7 that God says, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.”
- So people are trees, the vineyard is the nation of Israel, and what is the fruit that God desires? In Isaiah 5 it is justice and righteousness.
- In Galatians 5 Paul expands this saying that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” This is what means to bear fruit for God.
- When God placed Adam in the Garden to tend and keep it, he put him there to bear spiritual fruit. And the test for Adam was to obey God, by not stealing fruit from one forbidden tree. This test, Adam and Eve failed, and the history of Israel in the Old Testament is the story of many sons and daughters of Adam failing again and again.
- So when Jesus comes along and tells this parable of the vineyard, we find that unlike some of Jesus’ other parables, this one is pretty easy to understand. So easy that even the scribes and Pharisees and elders can interpret it.
- So this morning I want to consider this parable from two different perspectives:
- First, we’ll consider it in its original historical setting as a judgment from Jesus upon the leaders in Jerusalem.
- Second, we’ll apply this parable to the church today because we are now the vineyard of the Lord.
- So we’ll look at this parable first as it applies to Jesus audience, and then as it applies to us.
#1 – Exposition of the Text
1And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winevat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.
- So let’s identify the different characters and figures in this allegory.
- Who is the “certain man” who planted the vineyard? This is God, and specifically God the Father. He is later called the Lord of the Vineyard who sends his well-beloved son.
- What is the “hedge” around the vineyard? Most likely this refers to the law of God which separated Israel from the nations, or perhaps the angels who were ordained to administer that covenant. Paul says in Galatians 3:19, “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.”
- So this hedge around the vineyard might be the law, it might be the angels, whatever the case, there is a hedge of protection around this vineyard.
- What about the winevat? A winevat is a place where grapes are treaded and crushed into liquid. The winevat holds the blood of the grapes. In Isaiah 63:2-3 we read of God trampling his enemies “like a man treadeth in the winevat.” Since this is the place where the blood of the grapes is poured out, this is almost certainly a reference to the altar of sacrifice in the temple court.
- As for the “tower” in the vineyard, this likely refers to the temple and sanctuary, which was the center of the nation and the high place to which all of Israel looked.In the parable,this tower would have functioned as a place to oversee what is happening in the vineyard.
- What about the “husbandmen (γεωργοῖς)”? Who are they? A husbandman is a farmer, specifically a vine dresser in this case, and they are contract workers or tenants who lease the land from the owner in exchange for giving the owner a certain amount of fruit as rent.
- By the end of this parable, the scribes, pharisees, and elders recognize that Jesus is talking about them. They are husbandmen, they are the God-ordained authority figures in Jerusalem who have been entrusted to guard and keep the people. They are the shepherds, they are the farmers, they are the overseers of God’s property. But they are renters/tenants who have contractual obligations to the owner while he is away in a far country.
- So that’s the basic setup. Let us see now how this plays out.
2And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. 3And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. 4And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled. 5And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.
- Who are these servants that the Lord of the Vineyard sends? They are the prophets. Prophets are the ones who enforce the law of the covenant when it is not being kept.
- Ordinarily, the husbandmen would be doing this (this is their job). But when the priests, and scribes and elders are failing in this duty, God raises up a prophet, sometimes from among them, sometimes from outside their ranks, and he sends that prophet to “enforce the contract,” to call them to repent and obey what they swore to do.
- It says in Amos 3:7, “Surely the Lord God does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.”
- So God sends Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Joel, Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, Jonah, Nahum, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Habakkuk, Obadiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, and most recently, John the Baptist. And the message of all of these prophets could be summarized as, “repent and keep covenant with the Lord.” Listen to how John the Baptist preached this message, and note all the references to trees and fruit:
- He says in Matthew 3:8-10, “Bring forth fruits keeping with repentance: 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”
- So John is the last of old covenant prophets, he is the last of the servants sent by the Lord of the Vineyard to receive fruit from Israel. And John’s message is that if you do not bear fruit, the axe is laid at the root of the trees, ready to cut you down and cast you into the fire.
- How did the husbandmen respond to such a message? The scribes and pharisees refused John’s baptism, they refused to repent, and they are delighted when Herod cuts off his head.
- Remember the context of this parable is that Jesus has just asked the leaders of Jerusalem, whether the baptism of John was from heaven, or from men. And they could not answer. And so Jesus gives them this parable as a final warning about where they are in the timeline of the story.
- Jesus is giving them in story form what he will later make explicit in his “Woe’s” against these husbandmen. Jesus says in Matthew 23,“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. 32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. 33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? 34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: 35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. 36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. 37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chicks under her wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”
- This is the judgment that these husbandmen are going to receive if they do not repent and keep the covenant. And so in verses 6-9, Jesus describes that immanent destruction in these terms…
6Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son.
7But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.
8And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.
9What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.
- In Matthew’s version of this same parable, Jesus says, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.”
- So this a prophecy about a transfer of power from the leaders in Jerusalem, to Christ and the apostles.The husbandmen will be deposed, they will be fired, andthe Lord of the Vineyard will give to the Son all authority in heaven and on earth, and then the Son delegates that authority to the Apostles as they lay the foundation for the church.
- The church is the new vineyard that God plants in Jesus Christ. Christ’s body is composed of both Jew and Gentile, and together, we are as it says in 1 Peter 2:9-10, “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God…”
- Paul says explicitly in 1 Corinthians 3:9, “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry (γεώργιον, cultivated land), ye are God’s building.”
- The church is God’s vineyard, we are now that holy nation who is to bring forth the fruit that the Lord of the Vineyard desires.
- Jesus then concludes his parable by asking these husbandmen, the Sanhedrin, if they know their own song book. He says…
10And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: 11This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? [that is a quote from Psalm 118:22-23]
12And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.
- So Jesus uses Psalm 118 to sum up the point of his parable. Which is that God himself is going to come to His vineyard in the form of a servant, he will be rejected, he will be murdered by the husbandmen, but somehow, miraculously, he will become the cornerstone for a new temple and a new nation. This is what the murder of the well-beloved son ironically brings about.For “this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
- Well that’s our exposition, let us turn now to apply this parable to us as the church.
#2 – Application to the Church
Just as the nation of Israel had husbandmen/tenants to watch over and tend the vineyard for God, so also the church has elders and deacons and at times civil rulers to watch over her.
- One of the major differences between Jesus’ parable of the vineyard, and the parable of the vineyard in Isaiah 5, is that in Isaiah the vineyard was destroyed and laid waste, whereas in Jesus’ parable, the wicked tenants are destroyed, and new tenants are installed, so the vineyard survives. Jesus says, “he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.”
- So we see in the book of Acts, the remnant of faithful Jews was preserved, they became Christians. Gentiles were joined together with them as the gospel went forth. And the apostles ordained elders and deacons throughout the church to be the new tenants over God’s vineyard.
- There is warning then in this parable for all who are in authority, but especially for us who have authority in God’s vineyard. And the warning is that if we are unfaithful tenants, if we do not keep and enforce the law of Christ, if we do not give the master his fruit in its season, then we also shall be destroyed.
- How does the Apostle Paul refer to himself in so many of his letters? As “Paul a servant of Christ.” Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, Elders, Deacons, we are all servants and stewards who tend to God’s property. The saints are God’s vineyard, God wants the fruit of the Spirit, justice and righteousness must be growing among us, and our job as husbandmen, as servants, is to help make that happen.
- Of course, we cannot in ourselves make anything grow, that is God’s job, but as Paul says, one man plants, another waters, but it is God who gives the growth.
- So our job among you is to till the soil, to pull the weeds, to prune the branches, and keep our the little foxes that soil the vines. Our job is to make you sure get plenty of sunlight and nourishment (which can be hard to do in the PNW).
- How do we do this? This is why we have Reformation Roundtable and Ladies Fellowship and Mid-Week Service and Psalm Sings and Feast days and do counseling meetings and elder visits. But most importantly this is what Lord’s Day Worship is, this is what our liturgy seeks to accomplish.
- We confess our sins; we ask God to take away our bad fruit. We profess our faith; the creed is like a trellis for the vine to shows us how to grow up into Christ. We sing the psalms to teach us to how to pray, to teach us how to worship, how to feel and how to govern our feelings by the Holy Spirit.
- We hear the word of God read. We fellowship together before and after service. We partake of communion. We play. We eat snacks. This is all light and fresh air that our souls desperately need.
- And perhaps most importantly, we hear the word of God preached. Scripture tells us that preaching is like the scattering of seed upon the soil. James 1:21 says, “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
- Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” (1 Cor. 3:6).
- So God through his servants, through his ministers, through the liturgy, through His Word, tends to his beloved vineyard, which is you.
- Our job is to make sure that you are abiding in Christ and bearing fruit for God. And your job, is to bear fruit that remains.
- So we each have our job. And all of us are going to have to give an account for what we did with what God entrusted to us. Were you a faithful member? Are you bearing fruit? Are you turning a profit on the trials and challenges that God has given you? Are you serving the Lord with joy, or do you have a bad attitude?
- We have a great and high calling as the people of God. And so look to your branches. What are you producing? Paul says in Galatians 6:8-9, “For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
When you read this parable and see how the wicked tenants treated the Lord’s servants, it is almost unbelievable that after all those deaths and beatings and mistreatment of his servants, that the Lord would think to send his most-beloved son and say, “they will reverence him” (vs. 6).
- Imagine you owned a property on the other side of the country. And you hired someone to manage it for you, and had not received a single dollar of rent money in 15 years. You had sent letters, you had sent employees to go and collect what was owed to you. But instead the manager you hired killed those employees of yours and is now claiming your property as his own. How would you feel? What would you do?
- First of all, none of us is that patient. None of us would allow 15 years to go by without getting paid from our property. Our patience would have been spent after the first year we were not paid and after the first servant got killed. And the last thing we would do is send what is most precious to us, our own child, to go and collect what is owed from such a wicked manager.
- And yet, this is what God has done for the human race. He has been exceedingly and painfully patient with us and our sins. When he tells us his name, He calls himself “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps.103:8).
- How many years have you not given to God the fruit that He deserves? How long will you go on sowing to your flesh and reaping corruption?
- God sent Christ to give you a fresh start. So take it! Receive forgiveness. Repent and keep covenant. If you do this, you will be saved.
- In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.