Wicked Tenants - Gracious King | Matthew 21:33-46
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 21:33–21:46
Good Morning! We are in our series on the book of Matthew; the Gospel account of Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, as the Christ, the Savior – King of God’s people. This series covering Chapters 21-25 has been titled the Rejection of the King. We saw Jesus triumphant entry into the city with crowds cheering “Hosanna (Save Now) to the son of David” showing their great expectations for radical transformation and restoration in the holy city of Jerusalem. Jesus then made his first order of business aggressively coming into the temple cleaning out the temple of corrupt dealers and restoring it to a house of prayer and healing. The next day Jesus has returned to the temple and is teaching in its courts. He is then confronted by the Chief Priest and elders of the temple about the nature of the authority. Jesus responds with challenging them on the nature of John the Baptist’s ministry. “Make a call, is John a prophet from God or is he a crazy person?” They gave an answer with best chance of keeping them in authority AND did not require them to recognize or submit to Jesus (who John held as the Son of God). Jesus continues teaching the leaders and the crowd reminding them where all authority rests and where all honor is due.
Matthew 21:33-46 33 “Hear another parable. 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. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.
Verse 33 | Hear Again of the Vineyard
Parables are simple stories used to tell significant truths. Sometime the details are less important than the general themes but often, as in this case each detail is important to effectively communicate Jesus message to his audience, and to us. The scene of this parable is a familiar one, a vineyard. Jesus is intentional with his speech, particular in using the metaphor of a vineyard to talk about God’s kingdom. The work of a vineyard is an intentional, long-term plan which culminates in future joy and celebration. The master of the house is God and the vineyard is the Kingdom of God. The master has built His kingdom as God created the world. He calls his people to work it as stewards, to cultivate, and to produce fruit that will lead to life and joy. The vineyard is well prepared, appointed, protected, and distinct from the rest of the wild uncultivated world. There is a fence around the property to give it distinct boarders. There is a wine press to make it clear it is not just random fruit that is to be produced but a clearly defined and refined product with a specific purpose. There is a watch tower to oversee the work and look beyond the vineyard to be intentional about defense and protection. All that is needed for the mission is provided. Tenants are then called in and the master has said “I have prepared this land, this place for a purpose go get to work on my land, on my mission, on my behalf knowing you will have life, purpose, and share of what will be produced.” Then they are left to their work. God’s people are to work it and keep it, giving God the glory as the owner recognizing they are part of a beautiful mission but they are not the owners. They/we are accountable to Him. Yet the first tenants rebelled and there has been sin, separation, and conflict between the master and tenants ever since. This has not deterred the master from unfolding a plan and purpose that maintains His glory, ownership, and promises joy for his people. The tenants in the parable are God’s people, specifically the nation of Israel, who have been called to be about the work and witness of this mission of celebration and joy, really worship, of the creator who made the vineyard. Israel’s purpose was to be a blessing to all the nations of the world through displaying faithful service to the “master”.
Isaiah 5:1-2 Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 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.
There is a problem; Israel has not remained faithful to the “master”. Jesus calls to mind the reference in Isaiah to show Israel what faithfulness was expected and what was ultimately produced. Wild grapes doesn’t sound so bad, but the intensity of the difference is lost a bit in translation. The Hebrew word for “wild grapes” also means “stinking things” The fruit produced is worse than worthless, it actually reeks.
Verse 34-36 | Rejection of Prophets
In the parable there is a season for fruit when there is a clear expectation from the master of what would be produced and honor, payment given back to the “master”. The tenants are to work the land but they are not independent or unaccountable to the owner. In teaching this way, Jesus has just told the Chief Priest who have recently questioned his authority, “you think you’re the rulers of the temple/vineyard but your role is to be a custodian, a steward.” Your relationship with and responsibility to the master is clear. The owner is intentional about communicating with the tenants so there can be no ignorance in what he expects.
The servants are the prophets. Just as the master sends servant representatives to the tenants God has sent prophets to His people. Numerous times in the old testament prophets are sent to Israel to remind them of the mission, of what holy worship looked like, what their responsibility is to their King. Their most common responses range from indifference to outright rejection including rage and violence. Specifically because they did not like the judgement/verdict the prophets came with, the guys were not popular, but the spoke the truth. Queen Jezebel murdered numerous prophets and tried to do the same to Elijah who preached against the worship of Baal. Jeremiah spoke of coming exile if Israel didn’t repent of idol worship. He was beaten and place in stocks outside of the city of Jerusalem. Ezekiel called Israel a valley of dry bones.
Ezekiel 14:6 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.”
The last prophet, before 400 years of silence, Malachi spoke boldly of the impurity of the worship in Israel. Lastly, John the Baptist called people to repent of sin and follow Jesus and he was beheaded by Herod for speaking against his marital infidelity. Receiving the prophet and repenting were not normative. When I was in marketing we had teams of people at stadiums/events across the country where we had trained them, equipped them, and prepared them to produce “fruit” of new credit card applications. Often there was times when teams weren’t performing and we would get reports they were lazy or not following procedures and I would be sent in as a representative of the client/company to remind of them of their responsibilities, call them to repent. Had what was said not been heeded they would have been quickly fired. God in send many prophets, displays amazing amounts of patience and graciousness to his people.
Verse 37-39 | Rejection of the Son
God’s bottom line is not about profit or making sure he has the best return on His investment that yields the most fruit and wine or he’d pick better workers. He deeply has compassion for those in His vineyard, indeed they are a vital beneficiary of his mission. The Master, just as God the Father does, shows his compassion in sending his Son. Wow, he’s seen the violent rejection of his slaves, he knows the wickedness of the people and yet he sends his Son into a situation he knows is volatile. Let there be no doubt Jesus is telling all who will hear He is the Son in the parable, greater in authority, relationship, and distinction from all of the previous prophets! His identity matters because it shows the level of God’s engagement and the finality of work. One cannot say Jesus did not claim to be God’s Son. Hebrews 1:1-2 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
The tenants are the Jewish people, specifically those who oppose Jesus. While Jesus target for this parable is specific to his audience the application has greater implications on all of us. The tenants want the inheritance without giving reverence and respect to the owner. Worse they believe if they simply rebel violently the owner will give up on them and leave his vineyard to them to rule alone. We are no different. We all want the vineyard! We all want the fruit to ourselves! We all reject and rebel against the master! We want all the blessings God provides in terms of life and happiness without having to recognize and submit to his claim on EVERYTHING! God is good to us and we respond with a greater sense of entitlement. We love the creation around us, but not the Creator over us. Failing to properly worship God is sin. When we reject God’s word and claim His creation as our own apart from Him we are in rebellion which is sin. It was not uncommon for land owners to send in teams of hired assassins to clear out their fields/farms from rebellious tenants. Clearly if there was a situation in which this course of action was warranted it would be one like this. Yet that is not what this owner (our God) does. He doesn’t end our rebellion with a mighty military, but by his son sent in humility. This is where the concept of God’s mercy (us not getting what we deserve) is so otherworldly. The master’s response defies all worldly wisdom, and instead seems to be almost foolish. The land owner is so good, so gracious to his people and yet that grace and mercy is still met with violent rejection. The Son is slain by the owner’s own tenants desiring His inheritance. Jesus is clearly talking about his upcoming crucifixion which is only days away. He is talking to the people who will call for it and who ensure it will be carried out. It is tragic, and yet it is also beautiful in that it leads to an inheritance for many. “You want the vineyard?” the master asks. “You’ll get the reward you don’t deserve, I’m paying for it with my son’s blood, and you won’t be tenants you’ll become sons and daughters.
Eph 1:7-11 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
Verse 40-41 | Rejection of the Tenants
This amazing grace from the Father still has a component of true justice. Jesus asks those around him, how should this play out? There is a time of final judgement coming from the owner. Justice will be served. The Chief Priest and the Pharisees “get justice” They see how this is laid out and respond with the righteous desire for justice the owner is more than entitled to. We understand the concept of justice very well. Romans 2:4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? God’s kindness is always to lead us to repentance not rejection. The section in Isaiah 5 talks about the vineyard being made desolate. A desolate vineyard is not good news because it means no celebration to anticipate. As hard as Jesus saying is here, it is incredibly hopeful. It is hopeful because it shows the mission of the “owner” will not be thwarted by the wickedness of the tenants. In fact “the owner” has made a provision for the wickedness of the workers to provide them a path for restoration and participation in the work of the kingdom. The owner says there is going to be wine, there will be wine. No level of rebellion is so great it can overthrow God’s plan for redemption and restoration. You can reject God and reject Jesus all you want but eventually God will “reject your rejection.” He never loses ownership but he will retake possession of the vineyard, only those who trust in the Son will enjoy the purpose, protection, and provision of the vineyard.
Verse 42-46 | Rejected Rock
Jesus says wicked tenants will either repent, becoming sons and daughters, or they will be removed. He replaces “stinky things” with new good fruit. Jesus quotes again Psalm 118:22-23 the Hallel a song everyone in the city would have been sing on a loop during Passover to reveal he is the ROCK and the rejection he is to experience (while carried out by the leaders) is all planned and proposed by God to do an amazingly marvelous work. Jesus is clear it is God’s will for the rejection of the crucifixion to happen but the purpose is to begin to build something of lasting and greater value. You may reject Jesus, Jesus authority is from God because he is God’s Son. To reject Jesus as God’s Son is to reject God. Jesus is how God engages with and saves His people. God’s mercy is shown throughout this parable. He continually pursues the tenants with numerous calls to respond properly. When faced with greater and greater resistance and rejection he pursues with greater intensity, more and more servants. Finally he sends his Son. Jesus is a rock rejected by the wicked tenants but a rock is still might and strong. For those who fall on the Rock (humble themselves) they are broken, for those who the stone falls on they are pulverized. Broken people can fixed, but wait until the rock falls on you until judgement and hope is extinguished. Romans 9:33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
We need to understand, on our own as we are just as rebellious as the Chief Priest and the Pharisees. God has only wicked tenants to work with. We are all wicked tenants, God is gracious to us. We deserve to have the miserable death the son died for us. We are wretched but he takes our wretchedness bears it on the cross, pays the price for our wickedness AND we get the inheritance of the vineyard, because of the resurrection we are able work joyfully recognizing the master is our Father if we only, Trust Jesus!
1 Peter 2:7-10 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
More in Rejection of the King | Matthew Part IV
June 14, 2015The Woes from the King Part 3: Forsaken City | Empty Temple - Matthew 23:37 - 24:2
June 7, 2015The Woes from the King Part 2: Seven Charges - One Verdict | Matthew 23:13-36
May 31, 2015The Woes from the King Part 1: Unbearable Preachers | Matthew 23:1-12