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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:The vineyard of the LORD
Text:Isaiah 5:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2013-03-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Votum and Salutation

Response: Ps. 92: 1, 3, 6

The Ten Words of the Covenant

Response: Ps. 26: 3, 6, 7

Prayer

Scripture reading:       Isaiah 5

Text:                              Isaiah 5: 1 – 7

Sermon:

The Church is the Vineyard of the LORD

1.      The privileged state of the church

2.      The response of God’s covenant people

The destruction of an ungrateful people

Response: Ps. 44: 1, 2, 4, 6, 9

Thank offerings

Sing: Ps. 80: 3 – 6

Prayer

Sing: Ps. 1: 1 – 3

Benediction

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


The Vineyard of the LORD                           

Ps. 92: 1, 3, 6

Ps. 26: 3, 6, 7

Ps. 44: 1, 2, 4, 6, 9

Ps. 80: 3 – 6

Ps. 1: 1 – 3

 

Scripture reading:       Isaiah 5

Text:                              Isaiah 5: 1 – 7

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

It was a time of prosperity.   Judah is filled with silver and gold and there is no end to their treasures – 2: 7.

 

Outwardly Judah was in a prosperous state, but inwardly they became corrupt.  

They still had an outward show of religion, especially on the feast days – as we read in chapter 1.   But all their religious activities have become an empty show.   

 

In their daily walk of life the fear of the Lord was absent.

 

And now, in this situation, we find this parable in which the Lord compares His church with a vineyard.  

 

They were not just any vineyard.  

The Lord has chosen them and separated them from the world.  

He also raised them with careful instruction.  

They were a choice and cultivated vine, as He says.

 

The Vinedresser has done everything for His vineyard.   With the greatest care He cultivated it.   And then, when everything was prepared and done, he waited for a crop.   But, alas, it was not grapes, but wild grapes!

 

Congregation, the vineyard is the church.  

Yes, it is the church in the days of Isaiah, but this same image is also used for the church in the New Testament.

Our text contains a serious warning to the church.   The prophecy was given also for our instruction.   In fact, its fulfilment continues throughout the ages until it will reach its final fulfilment on the Day of Judgement when our Lord Jesus will come on the clouds of heaven.  

That will be the great day of harvest, and also of judgment.  

 

In the meantime, since the days of Isaiah until that final Day of Judgment, the reality of this parable repeats itself throughout all of church history.

 

I proclaim God’s Word to you, with the theme…

The Church is the Vineyard of the LORD

 

We will note…

1.      The privileged state of the church

2.      The response of God’s covenant people

3.      The destruction of an ungrateful people

In the first place we note

The privileged state of the church

 

In this parable the Lord reminds Israel, first of all, of its history.   It is a history in which He has shown His salvation to Israel; a history in which He revealed Himself to them as a faithful God and mighty Saviour.

 

He delivered His people from slavery.  

He gave them His law.  

He came down and dwelt in their midst.  

He gave them sacrifices for the atonement of their sins.  

He gave them careful instructions, and taught them through divine revelation.  

He led them through the desert, provided in all their needs, gave them a land flowing with milk and honey, covered them with blessings and surrounded them with His goodness and care.   

 

Yes, the “very fruitful hill” is the land in which the LORD has planted them – a land flowing with milk and honey.

And, as He says, the land was prepared for them to be planted there.   The Vinedresser dug it up and cleared out its stones.   We read in Ps. 80:

 

“You have brought a vine out of Egypt; You have cast out the nations, and planted it.   You prepared room for it, and caused it to take deep root, and it filled the land” (Ps. 80: 8, 9).

 

He cleared away seven nations in order to make room for His people.  

Israel could take deep root in the land because the heathen nations were cast out.  

 

The LORD planted His choice vine.   By His grace He made them a noble vine.   He called them to be His own, He separated them from the heathen nations, and He cultivated them through the instruction of His Word.  

Yes, they were the people whom He chose and raised for Himself to be a cultivated and noble vine.   

 

He also built a tower in the midst of the vineyard.   The tower refers to a watchtower.   

 

The Lord Jesus used the same image, in a parable, and said:

 

“There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and build a tower…” – Mt. 21: 33.

 

And there the Greek word for tower may be translated watchtower.   The landowner built a watchtower in his vineyard.  

He Himself would be in the midst of His vineyard keeping watch, and caring for it.  

 

He also made a winepress in it.    And of course, the winepress was prepared for the day of harvest.

 

Furthermore, the vineyard also had a wall around it for protection (verse 5).  

 

Such a wall was important.  

If the wall would be removed the vineyard would be trampled down and be devoured by wild animals.   Ps. 80 speaks of this, and says:

 

“Why have You broken down her hedges, so that all who pass by the way pluck her fruit?   The boar out of the woods uproots it, and the wild beast of the field devours it” – Ps. 80: 12, 13.

 

When the LORD removes His protection from the church, it is devoured by wild animals; yes, by ungodly and profane men.   

And so the Lord made sure that there is also a wall for protection around His vineyard.

 

So then, the hill was very fruitful.  

The vine was cultivated to be a choice vine.  

The soil was well prepared so that the vine could take deep root.  

It was fenced off with a wall to protect it.  

A watchtower was provided so that the Vinedresser could be in the midst of His vineyard taking care of it.  

The winepress was prepared for harvest.  

Yes, the LORD has done everything for His vineyard.   It was lacking nothing.

 

And then He waited for the fruit.    But, behold, it was wild grapes!

 

“What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done to it?” 

 

The answer is clear.  

He has done everything.  

Even the men of Judah are compelled to acknowledge this.  

 

Dear congregation, this parable is given also for our instruction.  

Did we not receive the same blessings?  

What is the state of the church in the New Testament?  

The Father has given us the fullness of grace in our Lord Jesus Christ.   In Him we have the forgiveness of sins.   In Him we are adopted as children.   Through Him we receive all the blessings of the covenant.  Yes, we received even more than they did, for we live in the fullness of time.  

 

In Christ the promises have been fulfilled.  

We received the fullness of God’s revelation. 

Our Saviour has come, and He is now seated at the right hand of God governing all things to the benefit of His church, protecting His church, and caring for it.  

From there He has poured out His Spirit in abundance.  

 

Yes, we know more than Judah knew, and we received more.   If they were blessed, we are blessed even more.  

If we count all the blessings which the LORD has showered on His people in the Old Testament, and if we realise that the same blessings have been poured out even more abundantly on us in the New Testament, then it should also be clear that the parable contains a warning for us.  

For the more we receive the more accountable we are.  

 

If He held them accountable for their response to all His blessings, then He will certainly hold us accountable for the even greater abundance of care and blessings bestowed on us, His church, in the New Testament. 

 

Now, then, what was their response to all the blessings of God’s grace?  

 

We note that in the second place….

The response of God’s covenant people

 

The people of Judah were producing wild grapes.  

Now, one cannot eat wild grapes. 

Outwardly it does resemble grapes, but it is worthless.  

 

Judah’s fruit was not only worthless; it was corrupt.   It is as the LORD says in another place:

 

“…their vine is of the vine of Sodom and of the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter.   Their vine is the poison of serpents, and the cruel venom of cobras” – Deut. 32: 32, 33.

 

Here, in the prophecy of Isaiah, the LORD addresses the people of Judah as if they were Sodom and Gomorrah – chapter 1: 10.   For thus they became!  

 

That is the picture: the noble vine, the choice cultivated vine, was turned into a wild vine, even the vine of Sodom.   Instead of sweet grapes there were grapes of gall, bitter clusters, poison and venom.   

 

Now, this fruit produced by Judah is described from verse 8 onwards.  

It is described in a seven-fold declaration of “woe” that will overcome them.

 

“Woe to those who join house to house…” – verse 8. 

 

That deals with their covetousness and greed as they were gathering riches for themselves. 

 

“Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may follow intoxicating drink;

 who continue until night, till wine inflames them!” – verse 11  

 

These verses deal with their love for pleasure, their parties and their drunkenness and all that goes with it.

 

“Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity…” – verse 18.  

 

There he deals with their reckless striving after sin without fearing the judgment of God. 

“Is God going to judge us?”, they asked.   “Well, then, let Him make haste so that we can see His judgement!”  

They were not fearing the Lord, nor were they fearing His judgements.

 

Then follows the next woe:

 

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil…” – verse 20.  

 

There he addresses the same evil which is so characteristic of post-modern man.   

When everything becomes relative, evil is called good, and good is called evil – it just depends how you look at it!  

Do you recognise such language?  

When the discernment between right and wrong disappears, and good and evil is mixed up, then evil is dished up as something good, and what is good is despised as something bad.  

 

That goes back to the very first sin of man in Paradise when he wanted to determine for himself what is good and what is evil.  

 

The next woe is closely related to this:

 

“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!”

– verse 21.  

 

Man and his wisdom became very important.   Man honours and trusts his own science, and is confident in following his own mind.

 

The last woe, a double woe, is pronounced on all the injustice in their land.  

Their judges are drunk.   They justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away justice from the righteous man – verses 22, 23. 

God’s law was no longer honoured; injustice and unrighteousness took over.

 

Now, here in verse 7, all these vices are summarised as a lack of justice and righteousness.   Everywhere there is oppression and a cry for help.

 

All these things he calls: wild grapes.  

 

This was Judah’s response to all the covenant blessings of the LORD.  

 

 

Dear congregation, we see this very often in church history.  

When the church becomes exalted and prosperous, it so often responds to all God’s blessings by turning away from the LORD.   

Moses spoke about it in the Song of Moses where he prophesied that when Israel will become rich and prosperous he will rebel against the LORD (Deut. 32: 15).

And it happened over and over again in the time of the Judges.   Every time the LORD delivered them from their enemies, but as soon as they enjoyed peace and prosperity they started to forget the LORD, and turned away from Him.  

 

Our text is still in the same timeframe as chapter 2 where we were told that the land of Judah was filled with silver and gold and that there was no end to their treasures.  

 

It was the LORD who made them rich; it was His covenant blessings that caused them to prosper.   This made their rebellion all the worse when they turned their gold into idols, and used their riches for harlotry.  

In the language of the New Testament: they turned the grace of God into lewdness (Jude 1: 4).  

Having received the grace of God, they showed no thankfulness, but each man ran after the desires of his own heart seeking riches and pleasure; and, despising God’s law, showed no mercy or justice to the neighbour.

 

Yes, the LORD waited on grapes, but they brought forth wild grapes.  

 

What then will the LORD do with His vineyard?

 

We note that in the last place…

The destruction of an ungrateful people

 

“…now, please, let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.   I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned or dug, but there shall come up briers and thorns.  I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain on it.”

 

The destruction of Jerusalem came with the Babylonian exile.  That was the first fulfilment of judgement.   But more judgments were to come.    Finally, when they rejected the Lord Jesus, not only the temple was burned, but the whole Jewish nation became a spiritual wilderness.   They are not a vineyard anymore.   They are no church anymore.    They became “Lo-ammi”: not My people.  

 

From the previous chapters it is clear, however, that these judgments stretch further than the Jewish nation.   It has its final and universal fulfilment in the last days.  

It is the time in which we are living.   

 

When we look at church history we see this tragedy repeating itself over and over.  

A true church does not always remain a true church.  

When a church becomes like the world, the LORD turns it into a wilderness.

 

Yes, God’s judgment starts at the church (1 Peter 4: 17).   Before He judges any heathens, He will always judge first those who are called by His Name.  

The words of our Lord Jesus apply here, where He said:

 

“…that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.    But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few.   For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” – Luke 12: 47, 48.

 

Much has been given to the church.   Much has been committed to us.   The more grace we received as the vineyard of the LORD, the more He will require of us.   And therefore the judgement here in our text is so severe.  

The judgement is so complete because their blessings were so complete.  

Not one blessing was outstanding; therefore also not one curse will be held back when the church starts to bear the fruit of Sodom and of this world.  

 

The LORD says He will take away the fence that protected His church.  

They mingled with the nations (2: 6), therefore they were justly scattered among them.    The Lord will not only allow the fence to be removed; no, He Himself will break down the wall, so that they are exposed to their enemies, to the wild boar and the beast of the field that will uproot them and trample them down and devour them, so that there will be nothing left but a wilderness.  

 

Dear congregation, it is only by the grace of God that we are His church.   It is only because of His grace and protection and care.   If He would withdraw His protection, yes, if He Himself would break down the wall that separates His vineyard from the world, then the vineyard will soon be wilderness.

 

“I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned or dug, but there shall come up briers and thorns…”

 

That means: He will not provide ministers to prune or cultivate it.  

The pruning of the vineyard is through the preaching and the exhortations of the gospel.   The pruning is also done by church discipline.    But when God removes His Word, when He turns a church over to itself, then everything grow wild – no pruning anymore.   No church discipline anymore.   Everyone may do as He like.  

Soon such a church resembles a wilderness where nothing is to be found but wild-growth, and thorns and thistles.  

 

            “I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain on it”

 

The fruitful hill will become dry and barren.  When God removes His Spirit and removes the sound preaching of His Word, yes, when He withdraws one by one the blessings of the covenant, a desert remains.

 

Again, there are many examples of this in church history.    When a church becomes proud and rebellious, despising the law of God, God also withdraws His blessings.  

Such a church soon becomes a barren wilderness – no rain, no showers of blessing anymore.

 

The LORD will even forbid any rain to fall on it.   He will ensure its destruction.     

 

This drought of blessings reminds us of the prophecy of Amos, where the LORD says:

 

“Behold, the days are coming…that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.   They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but shall not find it.   In that day the fair virgins and strong young men shall faint from thirst” – Amos 8: 11 – 13.

 

There is no drought worse than this one: when the LORD removes the sound preaching of His Word from a stubborn people.   

Then there may still be many church buildings and many activities going on, but spiritually such a church will soon become dry and barren.   Only thorns and thistles will flourish.  

 

That is the meaning of our text.  

 

 

What then is the fruit that the LORD desires?   

How does a fruitful congregation look like?  

Is a congregation fruitful because it runs a lot of organisations and activities; when the members are very busy with all kinds of projects?  

 

Does the fruitfulness of the church consist in the multitude of her religious activities?

Judah was very religious.  

Do you still remember chapter 1?  

There was no lack of feast days and sacrifices to the LORD.   They were surely religious and very active in their religion.  

Now, God was not against the sacrifices and feast days which He Himself has prescribed to them, but all their religion became rejectable because they have departed from God’s law.

Therefore the Lord said to them:

 

“Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me.   The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.   Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them.   When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear.   Your hands are full of blood.   Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.   Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” – 1: 13 – 17.

 

The Lord was looking for righteousness and justice.

 

The Lord did not tell Judah that He was looking for more projects in the church, that He was seeking more religious activities, that He waited for bigger church buildings, that He was seeking more organisations in the church, or that He was looking for greater numbers, or anything of that sort by which man is so easily impressed.

 

No, what does it say: the Lord looked for justice and for righteousness.  

That is the fruit He was looking for.   That is the fruitfulness of the church, when a husband loves his wife; when a wife faithfully fulfils her home-duties, raising her children for the Lord, when brothers live together in harmony and peace, when there is love and compassion for the needy, when each one deals honestly with his brother.   In short: when each one lives in the fear of the Lord and keep His commandments, faithfully fulfilling his daily task in all of life.

 

Yes, the fruit that the Lord was seeking was not more church activities, more organisations, or more of this or that.   No, the fruit that were lacking was justice and righteousness.  

The fruit that was lacking was holy living in the fear of the Lord, keeping His commandments.

 

We see this so often that when churches deviate from God’s Word, and start to serve Him according to their own fancy, that they increase their religious activities.   How vigorous is the Romanists in their mission work!   How energetic is the false church in many religious activities!   How enthusiastic are all the churches around us!    Each one is passionately busy with his own religious projects!

It happens very commonly that when a person or a church starts to deviate from God’s Word that it does not become less “religious”, or less active, or less enthusiastic, but, on the contrary, often show a very great religious zeal – a religious zeal in which man and his religiosity stand in the centre.

Of course there is nothing wrong with ecclesiastic or religious activities in itself, but all these things become empty and of no worth when the church departs from the Lord and His Word.   Then an increase in religious activities does not make the church more fruitful.   Then it only happens that man and his religiosity stands central, instead of God and His law.

 

However, the Lord looks first of all for righteousness and justice.

 

            “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you

            but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6: 8

 

It is clear from our text that the LORD will have no vineyard but one that bears good fruit; but what is good fruit?   What are we called to do?

 

The Preacher summarised it well: Fear God and keep His commandments (Eccl. 12: 13).

 

The Lord is not asking strange things, big things, or many things.   The fruit that He is looking for is justice and righteousness.  

He does not seek it in this special project, or in that special religious activity, but in the normal daily life of each believer, and of His church as a whole.   This righteousness and justice is not a special project to show how religious we are; it is simply obedience to God’s commandments in all of life – love for God and love for our neighbour as it applies to every sphere of our daily life.

 

In the previous chapters the Lord made clear that the true beauty of the church is her purity.   The true beauty and attraction of the church is her holiness.   She has to adorn herself, not with all kinds of makeup and vanities and worldly glitter and all kinds of attractions, but with the true beauty of holiness.

 

How then shall the church show her thankfulness to the Lord for all the riches of His salvation?    Not by increasing her feast days and sacrifices, nor by adorning herself with worldly glitter and all kinds of attractions, nor by an increase in all kinds of religiosity, but by rendering to the Lord the fruit of justice and righteousness.   That is her beauty and her splendour.

 

 

Brothers and sisters, when we look at the severe judgment of the LORD on his vineyard, a church that bears wild fruit, the fruit of Sodom and of this world, then we fear.   For: the judgement on such a church will be even greater than the judgment that came on Sodom.

 

 And, yes, we should fear, lest the same judgment comes on us.

 

There is no church that can boast that this will never happen to it.  

 

In fact, it can happen very easily.   The road of deformation is a slippery one.   Worldliness comes easy.   The road to destruction is broad.  

 

Brothers and sisters, when you hear the preaching of the gospel and receive all the glorious promises in Christ, does it still move you to thank the Lord; not only to sing a song of praise here in the church service, but to thank and honour Him through a new life of obedience?

 

I want you to turn with me to John 15: 1 – 8.   The Lord Jesus says:

 

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.   Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; but every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.   You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.   Abide in Me, and I in you.    As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.   I am the vine, you are the branches.   He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.   If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.   If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.   By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

 

Congregation, the Father is the vinedresser, and He is glorified when we bear much fruit.   By nature we are barren and dry.   Only when we are engrafted into Christ do we bear fruit; only if we remain in Him through faith.   We have no life or power in ourselves, but when we abide in Christ we do bear fruit; even much fruit.   Every branch that does not bear fruit is cut off and will be burned with fire.    

 

This applies to every baptised member; it also applies to the congregation as a whole.

 

God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual and heavenly blessing.   As the apostle Peter says: God by His divine power “has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” – 2 Peter 1: 3.  

 

What more could He give us?   What can be done for His vineyard that He has not done?

 

It is exactly this abundance of grace given to us that will make our judgement severe if we despise the blood of Christ by living a worldly life, bearing wild grapes.

The chapter concludes with the wrath of God, describing how the enemies of the church will charge in and overtake them like a roaring lion.   They will look for help, but there will be no deliverance for them.   Finally they will be covered in sorrow and darkness.

 

And with such words the chapter ends.

 

What will we now do with a prophecy like this one?  

 

Brothers and sisters, only one response befits us: we are to repent of our sins as often as it is pointed out to us in the Word of God; we are to flee to Christ and live by His Word.  

 

The grace given to us is greater than we can comprehend.   God gave us everything in Christ.

We are a privileged people. 

The LORD has done everything for us and has given us all His heavenly riches and blessings in Christ: the forgiveness of sins, the adoption as children, and promised us eternal life in the presence of His glory forevermore.   And daily we receive the blessings of the covenant, and live by the grace that flows from His throne. 

 

Yes, even the fearful threat of this prophecy is grace.   For: these admonitions are part of the gospel of Christ.   It is given for the sake of our salvation, lest we fall asleep.

 

Dear congregation, we are the vineyard of the LORD.  

The gospel is preached to you week after week.   By this word, even by the words of our text, the LORD is pruning us.

He prunes us, even by this preaching, in order that we may bear much fruit to the glory of His Name.  

 

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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