“Then He began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug out a pit for a winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went away. At harvest time he sent a slave to the farmers to collect some of the fruit of the vineyard from the farmers. But they took him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent another slave to them, and they hit him on the head and treated him shamefully. Then he sent another, and they killed that one. He also sent many others; they beat some and they killed some. “He still had one to send, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ “But those tenant farmers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours! ’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. “Therefore, what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the farmers and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this Scripture: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This came from the Lord and is wonderful in our eyes? ” Because they knew He had said this parable against them, they were looking for a way to arrest Him, but they were afraid of the crowd. So they left Him and went away.” (Mark 12:1-12 HCSB)
I love books and I love to read. I’m of the opinion, you can never have too many books. If you don’t have enough shelf space for your books, you need to build more shelf space. This is one trait that drives my wife a little crazy, but I keep going and ask for mercy and forgiveness (I love you, honey!). I think my love of books is an inherited trait from my mother and I seem to have passed it on to several of my children. I learned to read early and was already reading sections of the morning paper by the time I started school. In fact, even when I go fishing I usually pack a book in my backpack. When the fish inevitably stop biting mid-afternoon, I’ll lie down on the side of a hill and read until they decide to start biting, again.
But it isn’t just the book, it is the story that the book contains and tells. Stories that excite my imagination, challenge my intellect or intrigue my reason and logic. I don’t want to read just anything, but I love to read stories that make me think or evaluate my beliefs and broaden my ideas. I recognize that my world and my ideas are small and have been shaped by my culture, my background and my personality and reading the words and thoughts of others often challenges me and stretches me in ways I didn’t expect or even desire. God’s Word does that for me, too. Does it challenge you? Does it stretch your thinking and your faith? If not, perhaps you don’t listen well or you don’t recognize how small your thoughts are in comparison to God.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. (Isaiah 55:8 HCSB)
This week, Mark tells us that Jesus responds to the Jewish religious leadership’s questions about His authority with a story or parable. This particular parable seems to be rooted in Isaiah’s vineyard song (see Isaiah 5). The connection between Israel as God’s vineyard is clearly seen throughout the Old Testament and Jesus’ reference to it should not be surprising. For reference, I suggest you go read the Isaiah 5 passage: “I will sing about the one I love, a song about my loved one’s vineyard: The one I love had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.” (Isaiah 5:1 HCSB) But there is also a very clear reference in this parable that echoes the shouts of the people during Jesus entry in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as they shouted “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”. So, I also suggest you go read Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (Psalms 118:22 HCSB) But don’t stop at verse 22, keep going.
Up to this point in Mark’s narrative – until the recent healing of Bartimaeus and the Palm Sunday parade – Jesus had kept a very low profile and had been deflecting Messianic references and telling the recipients of His miracles to keep silent and not tell anyone. Now, He is openly making Messianic references and challenging the authority of the Sanhedrin. The time, His time, has COME! There’ll be no more deflecting or hiding His intentions and His purpose and that is clearly reflected in the confrontational nature of this parable.
I am an optimist at heart. I tend to see and emphasize the positive nature of events and the people around me. Even when I encounter someone who is mean, I try to find and encourage their positive traits. But sometimes you just have to remember that all people have the capacity for evil, truly wicked thoughts and actions. Our story today is like that. You want to see the positive in people, but evil still wins out.
The parable Jesus tells has several obvious characters: 1) the vineyard owner is God the Father; 2) the vineyard is Israel – God’s people; 3) the farmer-tenants are the religious Sanhedrin leadership – the chief priests, scribes and elders; 4) the slaves sent to collect the rent or owner’s share of the crop are the prophets – including John the Baptizer; 5) the beloved son, only son or heir of the vineyard owner is Jesus. I state that the characters in the story are obvious because Mark states, “because they knew He had said this parable against them, they were looking for a way to arrest Him.”
In this story, we encounter a wealthy landowner who plants a vineyard, places a fence around it, hewns out a wine press, and builds a watchtower. This vineyard has everything it needs to survive, thrive and succeed. Everything it needs, except someone good to oversee it, caretakers or tenants. The conditions Jesus describes are not unfamiliar to those hearing His story. Historical records verify that the conditions Jesus describes are the exact conditions of Israel at the time. Tenant farmers and vintners working the fields and vineyards of the wealthy, absentee land owners.
Let me emphasize, the landowner is not evil in our scenario in any way. He is simply a businessman who establishes a business and then hires someone to oversee it and manage it for a portion of the profits. In fact, he is seen as being patient and long suffering. He has made an agreement with the tenant farmers to live on and work the vineyard, to have income from its harvest and he would receive a portion of those profits, at predetermined intervals. However, when the owner sends his servant to collect his portion of the profits, the slave is beaten and sent away empty-handed. So, the owner sends another slave and this one is hit on the head and treated shamefully. So, he sends others and some are beaten while others are killed. They simply refuse to uphold their end of the agreement.
As mentioned, the vineyard in the story is Israel and the owner is God. The scenario Jesus gives is clearly indicative of the relationship between God, His chosen people, their spiritual leaders and the prophets He sent to guide them into obedience and submission to His Word and to be in covenant with Him. But notice how they responded to the owner’s servants, they refused to honor their agreement and they beat and killed His servants. This is precisely how Israel responded to the prophets. As Stephen, the first Christian martyr said, “You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as you ancestors did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They even killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One..” (see Acts 7:51-52).
God sent prophet after prophet and each one repeated God’s promises to Israel and reiterated His covenant with His people, but they refused to listen. They refused to hear. They refused to obey. They refused to acknowledge their sin and repent. They refused to follow Him. They rejected all of His servants. They knew… and He knew, too. He knew what they would do, but He sent them anyway. He was incredibly patient with them, long suffering towards them. Why? Why was He willing to send servant after servant after servant? Because He didn’t want any to perish, but all to come to repentance (see 2 Pet. 3:9).
But He still had one to send, His beloved Son. His only Son. Finally, He sends the Son to them. He thought, “Surely they will listen to and respect My Son.” Surely they will. But no, they said among themselves, “This is the heir (the only Son). Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours! So they seized Him, killed Him, and threw Him out of the vineyard.”
The insight and implications in this parable are almost beyond human comprehension. Jesus is telling these men what they have done to those God has sent and what they will yet do to Him. God knew, Jesus knows. But notice, God doesn’t send the Son to condemn and destroy the “tenant farmers” but to simply bring them into obedience to their agreed upon covenant with Him. Instead, they wanted control and ownership of the vineyard. As I mentioned last week, this is all about authority. But they have no desire or intention of surrendering authority and control of the vineyard – Israel – to its rightful owner.
This isn’t a story about condemnation and destruction, this is a story about relationship and restoration. This is about promises made, promises kept and promises tossed aside. You see, there’s a big difference between our concept of a contract and the biblical concept of a covenant. They have some similarities but they also have many differences. I am quite familiar with modern day contracts because I deal with them quite often in my work. There’s always a clause or a section that deals with what happens when either party breaches the contract agreement. It stipulates what rights and what actions either party can take when the breaching party doesn’t fulfill their part of the contract.
In my experience, most contracts are not written in a way to bring the contractual parties to restoration and mutual benefit and progress towards fulfillment of any contractual obligations. Most are written so that the breached party recovers their assets and is no longer held under the contractual arrangement. In other words, you didn’t do what you agreed to do and now I want out of the agreement. But a covenant defines how each party will fulfill their covenantal obligations regardless of how any other parties fulfill or don’t fulfill their obligations. A biblical covenant is less a business arrangement and more a partnership in which the relationship, trust and honor of each person is paramount. I think this says a great deal about the culture in which these agreements originate.
In this parable, I think modern men see an owner who goes WAY too far in trying to maintain the relationship. I think we look at the details and wonder why he kept sending servant after servant and why, for goodness sake, did he send his only son after what they did to his servants. I think most of us would have “nuked” the place after one, maybe two, failed attempts. So, what does this say about us and, more specifically, what does this say about God? It tells me that we are very impatient and unforgiving and God is far more patient and very forgiving.
But catch this, “they knew He had said this parable against them.” They KNEW Jesus was talking about them and that they were the “tenant farmers” who kept killing the owner’s servants. But they have no desire to restore the relationship and recover their part in the covenantal agreement, they only want to kill the Son and claim the inheritance. In the words of the parable, they want to seize Him, kill Him, and throw Him out of the vineyard.
So, the parable tells us that the tenant farmers carried out their plan and they killed the son, the heir. The owner, after being very, very patient and forgiving will now come and destroy the farmers and give the vineyard to others. However, Jesus doesn’t conclude the parable on a note of destruction and abandoned covenants but on one of promises kept and covenants honored. That IS HUGE! He then quotes from Psalm 118, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This came from the Lord; it is wonderful in our eyes.” (Psalms 118:22-23 HCSB)
They knew, but God KNOWS!
This parable that Jesus told is not a parable that was crafted in the moment, even though He is quite capable of doing that. No, this parable was crafted in eternity. This story has been in the mind of God since before time was spoken into existence. This story has always been God’s plan. Israel’s failures to fulfill their part of the covenant was no surprise to God and their decision to kill the son is no surprise, either. Consider the words of the Psalmist: “Open the gates of righteousness for me; I will enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous will enter through it. I will give thanks to You because You have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This came from the Lord; it is wonderful in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Lord, save us! Lord, please grant us success! He who comes in the name of the Lord is blessed. From the house of the Lord we bless you.” (Psalms 118:19-26 HCSB)
Just a gentle reminder, the Aramaic name Jesus is equivalent to the Hebrew name Joshua and both mean: “God, You are my salvation” or “salvation is from Jehovah”. So, notice in the quote from Psalms 118:21, “I will give thanks to You because You have answered me and have become my salvation.” Let me rephrase this just a bit, in light of that: “I will give thanks to You because you have answered me and You are my Jesus. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This came from the LORD and is wonderful in our eyes.”
God didn’t send the Son to condemn and destroy them, He sent Him to save them and to restore them, but they rejected Him. God knew, He knew what they would do and how they would react but He sent Jesus anyway. Not for condemnation for restoration. But sometimes, restoration means you need to condemn and tear down or destroy what’s broken so that you can build it back in the right way.
Consider Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God. “This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed.” (John 3:17-20 HCSB)
Jesus told Nicodemus that He hadn’t come to condemn, but to rescue. However, those who refused to be rescued would end up being condemned because they refused to trust and believe in what God is doing. Specifically, what God is doing through Jesus. God knew what these men would do when He sent His Son and He built His redemptive plan into it. The very stone, the God/man Jesus, that God sent as the source of salvation was rejected by the chief priests, scribes and elders and they are now seeking to finish what they’ve started, they are going to kill Him. When they do, God’s judgment is already in place and His source of salvation for the nations is already in place. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This came from the Lord and is wonderful in our eyes.”
So, these men knew Jesus was speaking about them and, yet, they refused to hear or see that God was at work in what they rejected. They were those who had eyes, but couldn’t see and ears but couldn’t hear. They believed they were God’s servants, instead they were the farmers who killed God’s servants. It is a fearful thing to stand in opposition to God and His will. They knew, but they refused to see, hear and submit.
They knew. God knew. Do you? Do you know what God has done and is doing through Jesus, the stone the builders rejected that is now the chief cornerstone for God’s redemption plan? You see, it is possible to know and to refuse to submit. It isn’t enough to believe that Jesus is God’s Son. It’s not enough to believe that He lived a perfect life in obedience to God and His will. It’s not enough to believe that He died on a cross and rose from the grave. It’s not enough to believe that the Bible is true and trustworthy. You can know all of these things and still refuse to submit to His authority.
At the very end of this story, Mark tells us that these men were afraid of the crowd, so they left Him (Jesus) and went away. These men were more afraid of the crowd than they were of God. They were more willing to bend their knees and their wills to the desires of the crowd than they were to God. What about you? What motivates you, moves you, drives you and empowers you? Are you seeking His ways or your ways? Are you more afraid of God’s judgment or man’s rejection? Do you seek to please man or seek to please God? Without faith, it is impossible to please God (see Heb. 11).
“This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous will enter through it. I will give thanks to You because You have answered me and have become my salvation.” (Psalms 118:20-21 HCSB)
Is Jesus the gate through which your are seeking righteousness and salvation? If not, you’re headed in the wrong direction and judgment is looming. Will you turn, trust and follow Him?
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