Will there be fruit in the vineyard of the Son?
- John 1:1-15
- Matthew 21:33-46
My dear friend in Christ Jesus,
The prophet Isaiah recorded a parable in Isaiah 5 which is very much like the one we read in the Scriptures this morning from Matthew 21. It tells about God who planted a vineyard.
He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? (Isaiah 5:2–4, ESV)
The purpose of planting a vineyard is to enjoy the fruit. In terms of the Bible fruit stems from faith in God and Jesus Christ and presents itself in righteousness, obedience, holiness, service in God’s church and the world, etc. In short, to bear fruit in the Kingdom of God is to glorify and love Him in all we do, while we present Him to the world in which we live: what we do here on earth should be aimed at making God look great, and point the unsaved to Him so that He could save them too.
Last week we heard the Bible speak to us when God declared us to be his treasured possession and his priesthood of a nation. We are called to live holy lives as God is holy.
The long-suffering of God
God’s people does not exist because they worked themselves up as a nation with special characteristics. They did not become the people of God as if they reached a certain standard first and therefore had the right to choose a king of their choice, which was the Creator God. It is quite the opposite.
Our text states:
There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. (Matthew 21:33, ESV)
The landowner planted a vineyard. It was his choice. For this vineyard He provided a fence around it to give them safety and security. In this vineyard He gave all that was needed to produce a good crop: there was a wine press and a watchtower. He then, as landlord who can do with his vineyard as he pleases, rented it out to some farmers when He went on a journey.
The vineyard remained his property; the farmers worked for Him and He would pay them for their labours when He returned. The fruit belonged to Him, as the Bible says,
When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. (Matthew 21:34, ESV)
This is God at work. The church is God’s property. He called the church, saved it, provided everything for it, protected it and gave enough so that there would be a harvest.
In the narrow context of this parable Jesus is addressing the Chief Priests, but the reference to the withered fig tree without fruit in the middle of the chapter also includes the whole nation of the Jews as God’s Old Testament church. They were the vineyard of the Lord. The farmers seem to refer to the religious leaders of the people who were supposed to lead them into holiness and fruitful living to the glory of the Lord. For them God did everything.
Over centuries He sent his prophets to call them to repentance, over and over again. They refused to listen to these servants of the Lord, beat them, killed them and stoned them. In long-suffering and unspeakable grace the Lord then continued to send servants, even more than the first time, but even they were treated the same way.
One of the main themes regarding sin right through the Bible lies in idolatry. Idolatry is to produce one’s own god. Israel and its leaders in the time of the Old Testament did not altogether do away with God, but they used his Name and fashioned for themselves another god to suit their need of what a god should be like. This is in disobedience of the Second Commandment:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4–6, ESV)
When one devises or in and any way approve any religious worship not instituted by God himself; or when one makes any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever and worship it, one corrupts the worship of God. We may not add to the way God commanded, or take from it, even add tradition from others. Neglect of God-ordained worship is nothing else but idolatry.
All these things Israel did some point in time; sometimes only part of it, and sometimes all of it at the same time. Yet, God kept sending prophets.
The last book of the Hebrew Old Testament, 2Chronicles 36 reads:
The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy. (2 Chronicles 36:15–16, ESV)
One asks, “Was God unreasonable by sending them off to captivity in Babylon?” No! His righteousness demanded it.
The question we need to ask ourselves, of course, is, “What is there that God has not done for us to bear fruit?” What does his church look like in terms of fruit bearing? What do we do with the message of the Scriptures preached to us every week, year in, year out? We are God’s people, his vineyard, the fruit belongs to Him. He is sending his Son again to bring in the harvest. That is the theme of advent: God sent his Son to seek and save the lost, and when He returns on the clouds on that glorious day, He will gather in the harvest which He bought with his own blood.
God sent his Son
In the chapter from John’s Gospel we read this morning, we heard:
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:9–11, ESV)
He came to his own but his own people did not receive them. The parable of the tenants puts it this way: they did not respect the son for what and who He was.
The popular notion then that Christmas time is just a time of joy, fun and laughter tells only one side of the story. There is a dark side to Christmas: Christ’s own people rejected Him. He came to die for sin, and the world was indeed extremely dark when He was born. There was no joy at the time; just misery and spiritual darkness. The Son, the Creator of all things Himself, was rejected by his own – in a narrower sense, his own Jewish people. They did not recognise Him, and therefore they rejected Him. And yet,
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ESV)
That is the good news of Christmas: The Son became flesh, a human being like us, and dwelt among us. And we beheld his glory. Of Him we sing: “Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King!”
It seems as if the farmers of our parable actually knew who Jesus was, but they refused to hear, they hardened their hearts and stopped their ears to hear the truth. Listen what they said:
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. (Matthew 21:38–39, ESV)
Each generation of Jewish leaders sanctioned the deeds of their fathers by repeating them. They made all the previous murders their own by adding to them; and the climax was reached by the last generation of these leaders when it killed Jesus. They killed Jesus because they feared to lose their own positions. Their blind unbelief hid the spiritual nature of the kingdom from them, and thus the fact that they could never hold the outward rule while its inwardness was foreign to them, remained hidden from them. “Let us have” means “possess” the inheritance. They wanted to possess the branch on which they sat by cutting it off from the tree which bore that branch.
Not many days after Jesus told this parable, not even a week, He was arrested, falsely accused, deserted by his disciples, flogged, and nailed to the cross. They killed the Son. But they did not get the inheritance.
The same Jesus is coming again; this time not to save the lost, but to judge the living and the dead. He will return to the world which was created trough Him; He will purge it from dross, He will crush those who rejected Him, because those who fall on Him will be broken to pieces, and he on whom it falls will be crushed.
Let what happened to old Israel be an example to us, God’s privileged people in Jesus Christ. Let’s not wait till it is too late before we fall before Him and worship Him as King and Lord. There is no second chance.
The Kingdom given away
The death and rejection of the Christ did not eliminate Him. The very contrary is true: this made him what the new structure needed: “corner head,” cornerstone. The dead Jesus arose from the grave. The cornerstone would be the whole foundation. As such He is set at the chief corner and as such He governs every angle of both the foundation and the building itself.
Up to that point he kingdom had been confined to the Jews. This was true even with regard to the ministry of Jesus; but now this would be changed.
John said his own rejected Him and did not receive Him. But this is not where the story stops, it continues in good news:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13, ESV)
God’s plan was to extend his Kingdom to other peoples besides the Jews. It is now not only those who by natural descent, like the Jews, are called children of God, but those “born of God”. And they who are born of God receive Christ; when this happens God gives them the right to become children of God.
This new “people” is defined as one that produces the fruits of the kingdom. It is the new spiritual Israel of true believers, composed of men of all nationalities including also Jewish believers. They now become a “nation” with the God of grace ruling in their hearts through Christ. The term “fruits”, which are, of course, contrition, faith, and works of faith.
It is by the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God who came to seek and save the lost, that the Gospel came to us, and that we may be called children of God. It is only by faith in Him that you may be called a child of God – more that this, you receive the right to be His child.
Paul writes to the Ephesians:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19–21, ESV)
Time for the harvest is approaching
It is custom to in the weeks leading up to 25 December, when we celebrate the birth of Christ, that we ponder the meaning of his coming to do the will of the Father on earth. We read the story of how his birth was foretold, and how those prophecies were fulfilled in the splendid night of his birth.
We know the story well, but there is a danger in listening to this story only: hearing it over and over again might just lead us to not look at his Second Coming. We might even be caught unprepared like the Jews who knew the prophesies about his coming, and yet, when He came, they were unprepared.
Let us hear that message again this time of the year, and let us sing carols and songs of joy because of his Birth: the Messiah is born; He became flesh and He lived amongst us and we saw his glory. Praise God!
But let us also reflect on his return. Our parable says harvest time approached. Two thousand years have passed and we are now so much closer to the harvest of all time: Jesus is coming again!
For those who believe this is absolutely good news, and we cry out as the longing bride of the groom:
“Amen! Come Lord Jesus!”
He cannot come soon enough. Of this world where sin and its effect is getter darker by the day; of this world where the vile is becoming viler, and those who are doing wrong seems to boast in their wrongdoing, I don’t want to be part. Something deep inside my says I have something better to long for. On the pages of the Scriptures I read of the Groom returning to his bride, and I pray that the Lord will come. I pray for his Kingdom to come, not now in this dispensation only, but come – finally!
With the joy in my heart about this day, I cringe when I read,
Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. (Revelation 22:12, ESV)
I realise that his return is also a time of giving account. And I pray that I will be found busy in the things of my Lord when He comes. I pray that the world and what it has on offer will not become my home; I pray that I will not be led astray and I be caught without oil in my lamp at the return of the groom.
But one thing sets my heart at rest: He paid for my; He made me righteous in his blood; through his Spirit he adopted my as son and gave me the right to be called a son go God. And that gives me peace.
We need to ready for Christ’s return; we need to busy for his return. Don’t give your kingdom away. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 December 2012