Whose Vineyard?

Matthew 21:33-46

The whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar.  (Matthew 21:10, NLT)[i]  A crowd of people surrounded Jesus.  The crowd was shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  (Matthew 21:9, ESV)  With the crowd trailing Him, Jesus entered the Temple and began driving out all the people buying and selling.  (Matthew 21:12)  He knocked over tables and chairs and caused quite an uproar.  Blind and lame people came to Him in the Temple and He healed them.  This caused even more shouting and uproar.  Even the children were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  (Matthew 21:15, ESV)[ii]  This was not the normal way of coming into Jerusalem for Passover week, and it upset the chief priests and scribes.  They confronted Jesus about what the children were shouting.  The next day when Jesus came back to the temple, the chief priests and scribes confronted Jesus again.  This time they wanted to know who gave Him authority to do all these things.

Conflict between these leaders and Jesus had been brewing for some time.  They had discussed and plotted various ways to kill or eliminate Jesus.  In John 11:48, John says they were saying, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  ESV

The conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders grew out of the leaders’ concern for their place and nation.  Jesus used a couple of illustrations to point out the reasons for the conflict.

Matthew 21:33-46 is one of these illustrations.  Jesus calls on them to listen to a story in order to bring to their attention the source of the conflict.

This story applies to us today, because the source of the conflict between God and man, between God and humanity, between God and me, between God and you has never changed.  The source of our conflict remains the same.

The story starts out:
A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower.  Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country.  (Matthew 21:33, NLT)

Who is the landowner?  God.

The landowner is God.

Notice that the landowner takes lots of care in building his vineyard.  He builds a wall around it.  He makes a winepress, and even builds a watchtower.  All of these represent an investment of time and resources.  They also represent care, thought, planning and energy.

The vineyard represents Israel.  God chose Abraham and called him out of Ur of the Chaldeans.  He carefully nurtured Abraham and his family, and when the time was right, He miraculously rescued them from slavery in Egypt.  He led them across the desert, feeding them with His own hand.  Israel was and is God’s vineyard.  He has nurtured and kept it for thousands of years.

The world is also God’s vineyard.  The Bible begins with the account of creation.  The first verse of the Bible is:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

God has nurtured and cared for this earth for thousands of years.  All of nature around us represents His care, thought, planning and energy.

The Church is also God’s vineyard.  The Bible says, “For God so loved the world…”  With this phrase, we begin to understand the care, thought, planning and energy God put in to calling out the Church for Himself.

You are also God’s vineyard.  What did you do to be born?  Why were you born?  How did you come to be here today and by what means did you learn to understand these words?  It all goes back to the first verse of the Bible – “in the beginning God…”

As we continue with our story, we see that the landowner leased the vineyard to tenant farmers.

Israel had some good tenant farmers.  Abraham, Moses and David stand out as good tenant farmers.  They took care of God’s vineyard, and helped it to grow and prosper.  They led it in the ways of the Lord, and nurtured it in a relationship with God.

Israel also had some bad tenant farmers.  Sadly, the bad were far more numerous.  Ahab and Manasseh stand out as being two of the worst.  Ahab killed all the prophets he could get his hands on, and Manasseh was worse.  According to tradition, Manasseh had the prophet Isaiah cut in two.

Jesus’s illustration speaks of the history of Israel when it says:
 34At the time of the grape harvest, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop.  35But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another.  36So the landowner sent a larger group of his servants to collect for him, but the results were the same.

37“Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’

38“But when the tenant farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate.  Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’  39So they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard, and murdered him.”

The landowner’s servants represent the prophets and judges the Lord raised up to lead, warn, instruct and help His people.

Hebrews says this about these servants of the landowner:
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free.  They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.  36Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips.  Others were chained in prisons.  37Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword.  Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated.  38They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.  (Hebrews 11:35-38, NLT)

In His illustration, Jesus foretells His own death.  The nation of Israel was in the process of rejecting their Messiah, the Son of the Landowner.

Lest we are too harsh on Israel, remember the world is also the Lord’s vineyard.  How has the world treated the Landowner’s Son?  How has the world treated the Landowner’s servants? 

With over half of the world’s nations making it illegal to be a Christian, I would say the world is no better than Israel.

What about the Church?  It is also the Lord’s vineyard.

According to Gallup statistics released in May of 2017, only 24% of American Christians believe the Bible is the literal word of God.[iii]  In addition, at least half of those in the world who go by the name “Christian” have set aside the Word of God for the traditions of men.

Now to get down to you and me personally.  What about us?  You and I are each separately and individually God’s vineyard.  We belong to God and are stewards.  Is there anything that we have that we did not receive from Him?

In His illustration, Jesus points out what the issue is with the tenant farmers. 

He says the landowner sent his servants to collect his share.  The first issue arises because the tenants did not want to give the landowner his share.  In other words, they were in it only for themselves.

In another place, Jesus uses the example of shepherds and sheep.  He says:
12A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming.  He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd.  And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock.  13The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.  (John 10:12-13, NLT)

The problem with the chief priests and scribes is that they were not looking out for the people that were entrusted to them.  They were looking out only for their own interests.  They were to be shepherds to guide, teach, protect and nurture God’s people, but instead of guiding, teaching, protecting and nurturing, they manipulated, controlled, schemed, stole and cheated.

This problem of being in it for their own interests was closely linked to another issue that Jesus’s illustration pointed out.  That is, they did not recognize the landowner’s property rights.  They thought it could be their own. 

In the story, when they decided to kill the son they said, “…let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!”  (Matthew 21:38, NLT)  Would anybody in his or her right mind even entertain such a thought?  As if, the landowner is going to say, “Oh, now that I don’t have a son, I am going to give you my vineyard since you are such wonderful tenants.”

Remember John 11:48 that I quoted earlier?
“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  ESV

These chief priests and scribes thought it was their nation.  They did not see themselves as tenants.  They saw themselves as landowners.

What about the world?

God created it and then told man to have dominion.  We are tenants.  We do not own it.  But, how do we treat it?  We first look out only for our own interests and then we think we are the landowners.  We think it is ours.  We do not recognize the landowner’s property rights.  God made it.  It is His.  He asked us to take care of it, nurture it and protect it.  How are we doing?

What about the Church?

God built it.  He gave His Son to redeem it, and then commissioned us to carry on the work.  But, we think it is ours.  We do not recognize His property rights.  We think we know better how to do His work than He, because we replace His word with our traditions.  What is more, we often fight and claw to get our own way, looking out for our own interests rather than caring for those God has entrusted to us.

What about you and me on an individual basis?

God gave us life and entrusted us with its use.  How are we doing?  Are we looking out for our own interests or are we nurturing what God has entrusted to us?

Two spiritual principles that we must take away from Jesus’s illustration are:
1.    It is all God’s.  Your body is not your own.  Stop treating it as if it is.  Your eyes are not your own.  Stop using them as if they are.  Your money is not your own.  God gave it to you.  Use it like it is His, because it is.  You do not have a house.  God has provided one for you to live in.  Take care of it as if it is His, because it is.  And, thank Him for it.  I am sure He wants you to enjoy it.  That is why He put you in it.
2.    Second principle, “Consider others as more important than yourself.” Taken directly from Philippians 2, this is what Jesus did.  He sacrificed Himself for us, and He is our example.  Stop looking out for only your own interests.  My goodness, how many of the world’s problems could be fixed if we just did this one thing?!

Review quickly:
1.    It is all God’s.
2.    Consider others as more important than yourself.

[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation.  Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.  Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188.  All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
[iii] http://www.gallup.com/poll/210704/record-few-americans-believe-bible-literal-word-god.aspx. Accessed July 7, 2017.


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