Title: Of Fields and Farmers
Text: Matthew 21:33-46
FCF: We often struggle understanding the way works flow from our faith.
Prop: God’s desire for Kingdom citizens is to bear much fruit, so we must bear much fruit.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew 21. Last time we were in Matthew I taught on a subject that is not a new subject here at CBC, but it was obvious that there were forces at work producing distractions a plenty, both to keep people from paying attention, and even to discredit what was being taught. And it just so happens, that thanks to our good friend Matthew, the subject matter for this passage is identical to that of two weeks ago. In fact, this passage will prove the application of last time’s message more strongly.
Added to that…
The last two weeks have been very physically challenging weeks for me and my wife. Between a nerve pinch in my neck that won’t go away and feelings of sickness that persisted until yesterday, I was finally able to come into the office to start working on this sermon on Thursday. Thursday is when I started working on this sermon. And Friday morning I had an emergency spiritual meeting with someone who was experiencing a huge spiritual crisis in his life.
Through all this I wondered, why. Why Lord is all this happening? I wasn’t asking why, as in, woe is me. I simply wondered what God’s endgame was. Was it a trial? Indeed, there were a few times that I had to repent and beg the Lord for grace to trust Him more. But I could not help but wonder if, perhaps, this cacophony of problems was something more. Why does it seem like I am being prevented from preparing this sermon? And why did it seem that last time’s sermon was under fire as well?
It is possible that God doesn’t want me to teach on this this week. I asked Him to help me understand the passage the way He wanted me to. I asked Him to break my preconceptions and help me see the truth of scripture from His Spirit. And the last thing I want to do is to teach something He doesn’t want me to teach.
But there is, perhaps, an alternative reason for why all this has happened. Although I cannot be certain, I am persuaded that there are forces at work here for the last several days to attempt to prevent this passage of scripture from being expounded before you. If that is true, what does that mean for you?
1.) I need you to try, try desperately to pay attention to what is being taught. I cannot promise that it will not be a circus in here today. I cannot promise that there won’t be even more distractions today than two weeks ago. Quite frankly I have no idea what to expect. And it could get pretty crazy. The church leaders and I have been praying for this hour for several days now, and some have even been praying and fasting this very morning. Should God choose to protect us from assault, we will be blessed, but should He not, I need you to focus.
2.) Secondly, I need you to be teachable. I need you to heed the words I teach. Especially the words of God. I have done my part to try to eliminate my words from most of this and only leave God’s words. In a short moment I will pray and ask God to strike me down to keep me from teaching this message if it is not what He wants me to teach, but to give me boldness and grace and power if it is His message. You determine from my demeanor afterward if God has answered that. If I be struck down… that would be obvious I’m sure. But if I boldly proclaim this message with power… then you had better humble yourself before the Lord, and listen to what He is saying. You may not get another chance.
Now let’s start reading from the NET in Chapter 21, verse 33. Follow along in the bible you have and if you don’t have one… find someone with a bible.
In order to properly understand and interpret this parable, we must cheat a little. We must look at verse 45 to see what the chief priests and Pharisees understood about the parable. Namely that they understood the parable to be talking about them. And that they were not happy about it. So however we interpret this, we have to assume that it is painting them negatively. That will help us assign what means what in this parable.
I.) God’s desire for Israel was to bear much fruit, so we must bear much fruit. (33-42)
a. [Slide 2] 33 – Listen to another parable
i. This transition links what Jesus just said with what He is about to say.
ii. Therefore we should review what we learned a couple weeks ago.
iii. The representatives of the Sanhedrin council, the religious and political elite of Israel, come to Jesus attempting to verify His credentials to be teaching and doing what He has been doing and teaching in the temple. Just doing their duty. Although it is obvious a more sinister plot is afoot.
iv. He agrees to answer their question provided they are able to answer His. He asks what authority John the Baptist taught and acted. Having not believed John, they did not think He was as prophet of God, but the people did. So they could not say that His teachings were unfounded. They answered the politically safe answer and said – we do not know.
v. He says he will not tell them by what authority He is teaching and acting, but then beckons them to listen to a story with a spiritual truth.
vi. He tells them of a man who had two sons. The first was told to work in the vineyard, but refused. Later he regretted his choice and went to work. The second was asked the same thing, and heartily agreed to his father’s command but ultimately did not obey.
vii. Jesus revealed that the spiritual truth behind the story was that only those who obey the father are the ones that are ultimately pleasing to the father. Thus, the vilest sinner who repents and depends on Christ to change them into a new creature that obeys God, is the first son. But those who have a form of godliness but ultimately display none of its power in their lives are the second son.
viii. It is safe then to assume that Jesus will go on proving this point.
ix. Of course all this fits into Matthew’s ultimate direction for the narrative, which is to show that despite having God’s word for centuries, Israel did not understand it, nor did they keep it. But Jesus is the authority and keeper of the Word.
x. So now, without further ado, what is the next parable?
b. [Slide 3] There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a pit for its winepress, and built a watchtower.
i. [Slide 4-11] Before we discuss the meaning here of all this, go with me to Isaiah 5:1-7
ii. What is obvious here, is that the parable is meant to mesh with the prophet’s text.
iii. God planted the vineyard of Israel.
iv. He protected it from its enemies so it could bear fruit.
v. He did all he could to ensure that the vineyard was productive and able to yield a grand harvest and lots and lots of wine. An image of prosperity.
vi. He even set up a watchtower which suggests protection from invader, protection from nature, and administrative oversight.
vii. The landowner was a good landowner and did everything that would have been expected to produce good harvests.
viii. What is the fruit of the vineyard? What are the good grapes?
ix. Verse 7 tells us.
1. The opening of the verse identifies clearly that Yahweh is the Lord who has set up Israel as His vineyard.
2. The close of the verse tells us what Yahweh expected of His vineyard.
3. In the prophet’s words he wanted grapes; instead he got wild grapes – which should not be interpreted as sour grapes so much, but rather, inedible or unusable grapes.
4. So what are the grapes and what are the bad grapes?
5. He expected justice and fairness. These are the good grapes
6. But he got disobedience and a cries for help. These are the worthless ones.
7. There is actually Hebrew word play here. Words that sound similar. John MacArthur quite brilliantly comes up with a way to do this in English. He says “God expected equity and He got iniquity… He expected right and got riot.”
8. So what is the fruit of the vineyard? Justice and fairness. And what do those words mean? They mean obedience and having God’s perspective on right and wrong.
9. Indeed the idea that fruit means obedience, is so prevalent in the Old Testament, that any Jew who heard a parable about bearing fruit would have automatically interpreted it as something to do with productive obedience.
x. Now back to Matthew…
c. [Slide 12] Then he leased it to tenant farmers
i. As we read in verse 45, we know that this parable is about the chief priests and Pharisees.
ii. And the tenant farmers would be all who were tasked to watch over the vineyard in the Lord’s stead. Kings and priests alike would be included in this category. And certainly also – the chief priests and Pharisees.
iii. Indeed the Sanhedrin also.
iv. They are temporary farmers, tasked with cultivating and harvesting as much fruit from the vineyard as they can.
v. In short, the goal of the vineyard is also the goal of the tenant farmers.
vi. To produce an abundant harvest of fruit. Their fates are entwined.
vii. Hebrews points this out of elders in the church also – that they watch over the souls of the assembly. In many ways your production of spiritual fruit is as much our church leadership’s responsibility as it is yours. We are in this together.
d. [Slide 13] And went on a journey
i. Of course we know that God never goes away or sleeps.
ii. But there are times when God’s presence lessens or hides. It is less obvious to us.
iii. We also are living in a time where God seems to have gone on a journey. We eagerly anticipate His next move. We know what it is… at least generally. But we don’t know when He will return.
iv. 1st century Israel was in the same place we are in. 400 years of prophetic silence. What would God do next?
e. [Slide 14] 34 – When the harvest time was near, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his portion of the crop.
i. Harvest time usually symbolizes judgment.
ii. But when we say judgment we think of gloom and doom. Rather our understanding of judgment should be expanded to not only include judgment on the wicked but also reward to the righteous. Thus, judgment is not terrible, but instead wonderful. It is when God says enough is enough – I am moving to make things right.
iii. So before God moves to make things right, harvest time is near – He sends a slave to collect his portion of the crop.
iv. So who are these slaves?
v. It may be best for us to see what the tenant farmers do to them before we guess who they are…
f. [Slide 15] 35 – But the tenants seized his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned another.
i. One is beat. One is killed. One is stoned.
ii. That seems pretty… villainous.
iii. But the landowner is not done.
g. [Slide 16] 36 – Again he sent other slaves, more than the first, and they treated them the same way.
i. So these slaves were treated the same way… even though there were more of them.
ii. So who are these slaves?
iii. If the harvest is God’s warning that He is about to make things right… then a slave is a prophet of God preaching a message of repentance and obedience. These slaves were beaten, murdered and stoned.
iv. And according to scripture and Jewish tradition, Joel was tortured by a priest, Jeremiah was stoned by his own countrymen, Ezekiel was killed by the chief of the exiled Jews, Zechariah was killed by Joash the King on the steps of the altar and his blood sprinkled on the horns of the altar, Habakkuk was stoned by the Jews, Isaiah was sawn in half by King Manasseh of Judah.
v. It is interesting that each of the prophets I listed above who were martyred, had some large portion of their prophesy referring to the Messiah or the New Covenant or both.
vi. But as prophets what was the portion of the harvest? What was their message?
vii. Well the New Covenant, instituted by the coming of the Messiah, would place the law of God on the hearts of His people that they would walk in His ways. That they would loathe their sin, and be obedient to Him. I am basically quoting from Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31.
viii. Not to mention other prophets who generally preached repentance and faithfulness to the Lord.
ix. So what must the landowner do since the tenant farmers keep killing his servants?
h. [Slide 17] 37 – Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
i. The heir, the rightful owner of the land they worked
ii. This would bear the same authority and power of the landowner himself.
iii. Surely they would respect him?
i. [Slide 18] 38 – But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and get his inheritance!’
i. Could Jesus be indicting the leaders here?
ii. Could he be suggesting that they rejected Him as the Messiah because they did not want to give up their control of Israel to Him – even if it meant they had to remain under Roman rule?
iii. I think this is exactly what He is saying.
iv. So what do they have to do to the heir to make sure this happens?
j. [Slide 19] 39 – So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
ii. Cast out of Jerusalem, Zion, The symbol of Israel
iii. And killed on a hill called “The skull”
[Slide 20 (blank)] The parable is done… Its meaning is clear to us… but is it clear yet to the Pharisees? Do they understand that God expected obedience from Israel but got only cries for help? Do they understand that God does not want their sacrifice or ritual. He has told them what is good. To promote justice, to love faithfulness, and to live obediently before their God. That is what God wanted from His vineyard, but they have killed those He sent to tell them that. Do they understand this? Sort of…
II.) God’s desire for His church is to bear much fruit, so we must bear much fruit. (40-46)
a. [Slide 21] 40 – Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
nbsp; i. It is interesting that Matthew has Jesus painting this in the form of a question to the chief priests and Pharisees. One they are permitted to answer.
ii. Mark and Luke both have Jesus answering his own question.
iii. So how do we harmonize the gospels here?
iv. Although there are many ways to explain this, suffice it to say that it is completely possible that Jesus asked, they responded, Jesus repeated what they said.
v. But was it the correct answer?
b. [Slide 22] 41 – They said to Him, “He will utterly destroy those evil men! Then he will lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his portion at the harvest.”
i. They get the right answer… but the zealousness of their answer indicates that they do not yet fully understand who plays what part in the story.
ii. I imagine that they thought they were the son or at least the slaves. Trying desperately to get the vineyard of God back.
iii. The Gentiles of course are the tenant farmers who have come in and stolen the vineyard. The land of Israel.
iv. Jesus will now go on to quote from PS 118 – And the way the psalm was interpreted in 1st Century Israel, would have only solidified this misunderstanding of the parable.
c. [Slide 23] 42 – Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
i. Although we do not have the time today to look at the Psalm in its entirety, suffice it to say that the psalm seems to be talking about Israel as a whole.
ii. They are surrounded by enemies and need to be delivered.
iii. But at verse 15 the psalmist starts talking about the right hand of the Lord being great, and how God is His deliverer.
iv. And immediately after the psalmist says to God “You are my deliverer” that is where this line is quoted.
v. Now, it is completely plausible that you could interpret this as the result of that deliverance. That the stone is Israel, that the builders or the world has rejected, has been made the most important stone.
vi. But what is also plausible is that this stone is talking about God Himself.
vii. Again Matthew hammers home the point – that Israel did not understand their own scriptures. But what is worse… is that they thought they had them figured out. Their arrogance knew no bounds.
viii. But Jesus has an interpretation for them about this stone. That the stone, in fact, the son, was none other than Him. He was deliverer. And the builders… well they were the builders.
d. [Slide 24] 43 – For this reason I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
i. Matthew is the only gospel writer that records the severity of the parable’s meaning.
ii. Jesus tells the Religious elite, and by extension, all of 1st Century Judaism, that the Kingdom of God will be taken from them.
iii. It is interesting then who inherits it after them.
iv. First – a people. Not a specific group – gentiles or Jews – but a people. A people without a common nation, tongue, gender, economic status or social standing. A group of people who all share one thing in common. And what is that?
v. They bear the Kingdom’s fruit!
vi. They are just and righteous. They are faithful and obedient! They have His law and statutes written on their hearts that they may walk in them. That is a quote from Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31, both talking about the New Covenant, both talking about promises to Israel and Gentiles alike who are partakers in the New covenant.
vii. This cornerstone, the cornerstone of God’s Kingdom, Jesus the messiah of God, rebuilds the mess that it has been up to this point, with citizenry that are guaranteed to be fruit bearers.
viii. But Jesus isn’t done.
e. [Slide 25] 44 – The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls will be crushed.”
i. Not only will the cornerstone make it not matter who you are ethnically for entrance… but it also will make it not matter who you are ethnically for exclusion.
ii. In another passage of scripture Paul writes that the cross of Christ is both a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.
iii. Whether you trip over it because you did not believe it was there, or you ignore it and it falls on you… the result is the same.
iv. You will be shattered.
v. And it doesn’t matter what ethnicity, race, language, sex, economic status or social standing you have… what you do with the cornerstone is all that matters.
vi. Reject it and you will be destroyed
vii. Place the trust of your building on it and you will be made fruitful.
viii. Finally the religious leaders get it.
f. [Slide 26] 45-46 – When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, because the crowds regarded him as a prophet.
i. He was talking about them the whole time.
iii. And they can’t do anything about it, because… it is still Tuesday… but Friday is coming.
iv. And on Friday… their scheme will be hatched… only to find it unwittingly inside the plan of God to secure mercy and grace for His people.
v. To make this new covenant
vi. To inherit citizens for His Kingdom that bear much fruit.
[Slide 27 (blank)] Jesus has communicated very clearly, that God expected faithfulness, justice, and obedience from the Israelites. And because they have rejected every messenger telling them this message – God has set them aside to look for a people who would produce the fruit of the kingdom. Meaning, of course, that God’s plan for Israel’s redemption and God’s plan for the redemption of all mankind has always been the same. Repentance and Faith that produces fruit.
Thus we come again to the delicate narrowness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
God’s goal from the beginning was to have followers that loved being faithful and obedient to Him, to the point that they would rule the earth and subdue it and serve as Justices of His Will. When man sinned, God’s standard did not change, but man’s capability to meet the standard did. And through God’s choosing Israel, through the law, God made it abundantly clear that to be faithful, to be obedient, to love Justice, was not possible by human effort.
So what does the gospel do?
It makes it possible for man to fulfill God’s desire of His people again. To be a people who are able to obey Him.
[Slide 28] Ezekiel 36:25 I will sprinkle you with pure water17 and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. 36:26 I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone18 from your body and give you a heart of flesh.19 36:27 I will put my Spirit within you;20 I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes21 and carefully observe my regulations.22
[Slide 29] Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you are saved19 through faith,20 and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 2:9 it is not from21 works, so that no one can boast.22 2:10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.23
It is clear, that the purpose of God’s saving a man is not so they can be forgiven of their sin only, but so that they may become the righteousness of God.
[Slide 30-32] Romans 6:15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not! 6:16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves13 as obedient slaves,14 you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness?15 6:17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed16 from the heart that pattern17 of teaching you were entrusted to, 6:18 and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. 6:19 (I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.)18 For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
[Slide 33 (blank)] Therefore, if God’s purpose was to save us so that we may be slaves to righteousness, so that we may be Ambassadors for Christ on this earth, and that others may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. What do you do with a person who does not bear fruit? Who is living in active unrepentant sin, but has claimed the name of Christ?
Are they God’s child? No one knows. Not even them. This is why in the final stage of church discipline, you treat such a person as you would an unbeliever.
Does the bible ever tell us how we can know if we are God’s children?
John wrote these things and many more like them.
[Slide 35-36] 3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness25 is righteous, just as Jesus26 is righteous.3:8 The one who practices sin is of the devil,27 because the devil has been sinning28 from the beginning. For this purpose29 the Son of God was revealed: to destroy30 the works of the devil.3:9 Everyone who has been fathered31 by God does not practice sin,32 because33 God’s34 seed35 resides in him, and thus36 he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God.
John’s words can be boiled down simply to this… If you see supernatural righteousness pouring out of you – then you can be sure that you are God’s child. If you don’t see it… then you can’t be sure, and perhaps even John would say… you are of the devil.
But is John the only New Testament writer with this perspective? Not by a long shot. The writer of Hebrews…
[Slide 37] Hebrews : 10:26 For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us,30 10:27 but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury31 of fire that will consume God’s enemies.32
[Slide 38-40] Hebrews 12:7 Endure your suffering7 as discipline;8 God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 12:8 But if you do not experience discipline,9 something all sons10 have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. 12:9 Besides, we have experienced discipline from11 our earthly fathers12 and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life?13 12:10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. 12:11 Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful.14 But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness15 for those trained by it.
Did you catch that? If we are truly Sons of God, He will discipline us until we produce fruit of peace and righteousness.
[Slide 41 (blank)] Listen to me. I do not preach this message today because I want to put you on a guilt trip for sinning. I don’t want you to be more moral. I don’t want you to try harder.
But I do want you to understand this… If you are truly God’s child, God has set you free so you could be His righteous ambassador on earth. Not only that, but the New covenant is a promise that God made to Himself that He would secure for Himself a people who would hear and obey His voice. He would secure for Himself the reward for the Son’s suffering.
He would secure for Himself again, followers who love to be faithful, are living obedient lives, and are able to righteously reign with Him in the New Kingdom.
So, are you still obeying the master called sin? Are you still its slave? Repent – forsake it and depend on Christ’s cross to defeat its power and raise up righteousness in its place. Put off the old man and put on the new. You have been promised by God, that He will give you victory if you are in Christ.
What a blessed promise. All this talk of works produced from our salvation, living lives of holiness, all this boils down to this point… That God has given the victory already for His Children. Not just legally – but practically too. And He will grant you victory over your sin. But It won’t be by you trying harder, but by repenting and depending on Him for victory.
When we muddle this message by debating just how sinful a person can be and still be a Christian, that is when we lose sight of what is truly important. It is like debating exactly how much of an army can die in a battle and still call it a victory. Why would we want to even entertain these thoughts? Especially when we have been guaranteed that the battle is ours.
[Slide 42 (end)] If the Son has set you free… you are free indeed. So live free of sin and enslaved to righteousness.
Because as Paul says… you are a slave to what you obey. Live as if you have won, because if you are God’s child, you have.