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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Still having one Son, his Beloved, He sent Him...
Text:Mark 12:1-12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 92:1,6,7                                                                                   

Ps 1:1,2,3

Reading – Isaiah 5:1-7; Mark 11:12-33

Ps 80:3,4,5,7,8

Sermon – Mark 12:1-12

Ps 118:1,6

Hy 76:2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, in Mark’s Gospel up to this point Jesus has shared just a few parables with his listeners. In chapter 4, He told the parable the parable of the sower, or the parable of the four soils. Later in that same chapter, He told two very short parables: the parable of the growing seed, and the parable of the mustard seed.

Through these simple stories, Jesus taught about how people receive the Word of God, about how faith grows (or it doesn’t grow), and about how the kingdom develops in ways that we don’t always see or expect. Now, these parables each connect in some way to the One who is telling them—they reveal something about who Jesus is, and what He is doing. Yet for none of these parables can you say that Jesus is the main character. They’re not about him, primarily, but they’re about some other aspect of God’s truth.

That changes with the parable in Mark 12:1-12. The parable of the vineyard is very much about Jesus our Saviour. You can say that in miniature form it tells the story of his mission. In this final parable that we find in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus takes place at centre stage.

And there’s a good reason for that. The reason is all about timing: here in chapter 12 Jesus is almost at the end of his life. He has ministered for three years, for a long time in Galilee, then journeying to Jerusalem and arriving at the city just recently. It’s important for us to understand that by this chapter, Jesus is into his last week on earth. In less than seven days He’ll be dead, killed by his own people.

So in an amazing and prophetic way, this parable describes what’s happening to Jesus, and why it’s happening, and what will happen next.

Let’s then listen to the Word of God from Mark 12:1-12,

            Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard against those who reject Him:

1)     the vineyard is built

2)     the servants are mistreated

3)     the beloved Son is killed

4)     the vineyard is given to others

1) the vineyard is built: If we back up a few verses into the previous chapter, we see that Jesus has been arguing. The chief priest and scribes have challenged him over what He did in the temple, when He got rid of the money changers and livestock dealers. It’s a bold action that He’s taken, so they ask: “By what authority are you doing these things?” (11:27). They want Jesus to give an account of himself. But as you might expect, Jesus won’t give a straight answer. As a good teacher, He wants them to draw the conclusion for themselves. And the leaders know what He’s up to you, that once again He’s painting them into a corner. So they play dumb: “We don’t know” (11:33).

Even so, Jesus wants to send a message to them, and to everyone. So He tells his parable. The parable is about a landowner who rents out his property to tenants. This was something people could relate to. Much of the countryside in Jesus’ time was owned by landlords who lived in other places—you were far more likely to be a renter than to own any property yourself.

This particular landlord first does some property development. He plants a vineyard, filling up a few acres with vines to grow grapes, and then setting a hedge around it (12:1). Such a hedge would usually be made of stone for protecting against wild animals and thieves. He then digs a place for a wine vat—probably a trough, cut into solid rock; this is where the grapes could be crushed at harvest time. He builds a tower too, possibly as a residence for his tenants, and also as a watch tower against intruders.

Notice how this landlord is a thoughtful man. Any tenants of his are going to have nothing to complain about, for he’s provided a complete set-up for wine-making. He leases it to them, Jesus says, and then goes away “into a far country” (12:1).

This kind of arrangement was common, we said. And like in the parable, the deal was often that the tenants would have to give the owner a proportion of any produce they grew. From whatever they harvested, they were obligated to give some of it as payment, besides the usual rent. So while the owner has gone away, he’s not forgotten. The tenants have work to do, and a harvest to bring in.

Now, when the people listen to Jesus tell this parable about the vineyard, it’s almost certain that they would’ve said to themselves, “Hey, this sounds familiar. It’s like something we’ve heard before.” And what they’d be hearing are echoes of the Old Testament. Especially one chapter in Isaiah is a lot like this parable.

We read from Isaiah 5, which is the LORD’s song about his people. In this song, God compares Israel to a vineyard. Listen to what He says: “[I] had a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. [I] dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vines. [I] built a tower in its midst and also made a winepress in it” (v 2). God is saying that He did everything for Israel, his nation. It was true: He chose them; He brought them out of Egypt and carried them through the wilderness; He gave them a beautiful home in the Promised Land; He protected them; He loved them. They were the vineyard of the LORD of hosts, with every opportunity to thrive.

So God was looking for a good response from his people: worship, thanksgiving, wholehearted service and genuine love. He wanted a return on his investment, for Israel to bear a proper harvest! They owed it to Him. Yet it was not to be. After all that work in his vineyard, says God, “[I] expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes” (v 2). What does He mean? “[I] looked for justice, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry for help” (v 7). Instead of obedience, there was sin—they produced only wickedness.

That was the state of God’s people in the time of Isaiah. There was no doubt that the LORD had shown them deep kindness and love, and much patience. Year after year, as they wandered away and served their idols, He was merciful. But still nothing. So all that’s left is judgment: the hedge will be torn down, the vines trampled.

You can hear how the parable of Jesus reveals many of the same things. God is still the great Lord and Master, and He has a vineyard that He cares about, his church. God is still most generous, and He gives his people everything that’s necessary for us to work and to be fruitful. God even gives his people freedom: He won’t force us to worship and serve him, but He waits patiently. Will we return his love? Will we thank him for all his goodness? Will we bear a harvest of praise?

If Jesus’ listeners had Isaiah in the back of their minds (and they probably did), this parable would’ve been painful to listen to, even offensive. For they knew what happened to the Israel of old. They knew how God came against them with judgment in the exile, and they were scattered. Now Christ is saying that the same thing is about to happen. Indeed, in these last few chapters more than once Jesus has condemned the unbelief of Israel, and He’s warned against their hard hearts. They should’ve been eager to receive Christ with faith, and to give him their tribute. Yet so many were unfruitful, and were even filled with hatred.


2) the servants are mistreated: Something new in the parable—something we don’t see in Isaiah 5—is how the landlord sends messengers. “Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers” (12:2). The owner had waited and waited, perhaps even a few years, and now there was a grape harvest, and wine was being made. The tenants had said they would give a portion, so it was time to honour their end of the agreement.

The landlord sends them a servant. When we hear “servant,” we think of someone lowly, a person who does menial jobs for the big boss. But in Bible times, a servant could be invested with the very authority of his master. If he was sent somewhere with a message, that servant actually stood in the place of his master, and could speak in his name. That’s what this servant does. He goes to the vineyard, and he demands a proper response from the tenants: “Where is the tribute you owe to the Master?”

This is what God so often did to his people Israel, isn’t it? God sent them his servants, and with his servants He sent a message. People like Moses and Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah and Micah—these would come to God’s people and tell them what they needed to know, and what they needed to do. “You need to trust in the LORD’s power. You need to repent from your idolatry. You should walk humbly with your God.”

Sometimes the LORD’s prophets found a listening ear among his people, but many times they did not. That’s what happens in the parable too, to that first servant. He asked the tenants for what was rightly the master’s, but “They took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed” (12:3). Notice that they do more than refuse him. That’d be bad enough, already a grave offense. Remember that to reject a messenger is to reject the one who sent him. But the tenants take it further, and they mistreat the servant, and beat him up. This is what they think of him and his master.

So what would you expect the landlord to do? Send an eviction notice. Get violent—an eye for an eye. But he doesn’t: “He sent them another servant” (12:4). This landlord is a most gracious man. He won’t force their obedience, or he won’t give up quickly, but he’ll try again, and try again.

Just think of how many prophets God sent to his people over the years. So many messengers and envoys, and so often the message was the same: “Return. Come back to the God who made you, who loves you, and who wants to fellowship with you. Return.” And the reason that He has to send so many is that they didn’t listen. Consider how the tenants received the second servant, “At him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated” (12:4).

The people of Israel had enjoyed immense spiritual privilege—think about everything that God gave them, and everything that He promised them. Yet his gifts were proudly rejected. They didn’t value all those privileges and promises, but they took them for granted, or they used them for their selfish gain.

The parable continues: “Again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some” (12:5). And why did Israel do this evil? They didn’t want to give to God what was rightfully his: worship, and obedience, and love. The people hated anyone who held a mirror up to their sinfulness, hated anyone who told them the painful truth about themselves.

Beloved, can you see how this parable gives us a serious warning? I want you to understand that we’re not so different from those whom Isaiah addressed in chapter 5, and we’re not so different from the people whom Jesus addressed in Mark 12. Because we’re the church, his covenant people. We have received God’s rich promises, and we have heard his gospel. We enjoy all the privileges of the tenants of that vineyard: protection, opportunity, freedom, even a relationship with our Master. God has sent us many messengers, where we can hear Words from his own mouth. And God calls us too, to return, to give our tribute, to bend our will to his will.

So what’s our answer? What are we doing with what the Lord has given us? When you see yourself in this story, you should ask: “What am I really giving to the Master? How am I listening to his Word?” Are you motivated every day by God’s grace to serve him faithfully? To honour Christ Jesus in all things?

Those are important questions. But this parable does more than ask the question. It also gives a warning. For sadly, we are all ready to refuse God what is rightfully his: our time, our gifts, our love. Like those tenants, our first concern is often ourselves, and our own gain: “Am I happy? Do I have what I want?” But be warned by the Word of God. If the tenants of the vineyard don’t respond, Jesus says there’s a serious problem. The master will come in judgment, take away what we have and give it to someone else.

And we have to say that this is fair. After so much time has gone by, after God has reached out so often, there needs to be an answer. If we don’t return God’s love with a life of love, and if we don’t strive to bear a holy harvest for God, we have to realize this: He’s got no reason to keep us. But before this happens, let’s consider our next point.


3) the beloved Son is killed: We said that Jesus is telling this parable about himself, because things are getting urgent, and the people of God need to hear this. Remember, He’s finally in Jerusalem, the city where He’ll die. He’s into the last week of his life, and his bold cleansing of the temple has made people ask, “By what authority does He do these things?” In other words, “Who is this man Jesus, really?”

The parable gives a pointed answer to that question. Listen to verse 6, “Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him.” The landlord has come to his last option, and he sends the kind of messenger that anyone would have to receive.

And who is it? His only son, his beloved. I’m sure you noticed that this same word gets applied to Jesus at other times. Think back to his baptism, when the Father said, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (1:11). Or what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration just a few chapters ago, when God declared, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” (9:7). It could hardly be more clear: this last messenger in the parable is Jesus, Son of the Father. And this is where Jesus’ authority comes from. The Father has sent him to put right what has been going so wrong.

Now, think for a moment of what it took for the landlord to do this. He has seen what’s happened to his servants: they’ve been beaten, insulted, even killed. He knows he is sending his son into a most dangerous situation—the odds aren’t good of him returning without being harmed. Even so, the master is counting on a positive response: “They will respect my son” (12:6). Because a son is more than a servant, of course. A son is able to claim his father’s property, and he has the authority to make decisions on the spot. Surely he can turn this vineyard around!

But people can become so hardened that what used to be unthinkable has now become acceptable. For when the tenants see the son, they say to themselves, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours” (12:7). The killing of the previous messengers was an act of defiance, but killing the son might bring permanent gain. For maybe the father is dead, or maybe he’ll give up after this.

Some commentators point out that there was a law which said these evil tenants actually had a chance of inheriting the property themselves. If there was an estate owned by someone who lived out of country, and that owner died without a will, the land could be considered owner-less property, and it could be claimed by anyone. And in that situation, first rights belonged to whoever was already on the land—namely, these tenants! At any rate, what the tenants say reveals their heart: they have no regard for the landlord, no regard for his son, and they’re only interested in their own gain.

And this is where the parable stops being history, and it becomes prophecy. For see what the tenants do to the son, “They took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard” (12:8). Jesus says that the last and greatest messenger is going to be murdered. What they did to the Old Testament prophets, they will do to the Son.

That’s the prophecy in this parable, made so remarkable by its timing. Remember, it’s Jesus’s final week on earth. What is predicted here is going to take place within just a few days. The leaders know who He is: they know that He’s the Son, for they’ve seen his signs and heard his words. But they’ll kill him, and “cast him out of the vineyard.” That final act is the closing insult. For a dead body to be cast out is to be left to the birds and beasts, unburied and alone. By the week’s end, Jesus will be crucified outside the city of Jerusalem, a bitter and shameful end.

The beloved Son will be killed. And notice the way he dies in the parable: the owner’s son doesn’t say a word, doesn’t do a thing. It’s as if he walks to those who would kill him, and he surrenders. That’s a lot like what is going to happen to Jesus in the next few days: led like a lamb to the slaughter. And He’d do this, because it’s something He needs to do. He will go, in obedience to his Father. He will go, to put things right.

Beloved, consider two wondrous things that are illustrated for us by this parable. Consider the amazing grace of God our Father! God so loved the world that He sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Salvation comes at a great cost, but the Father is willing. What a great God we have!

Consider also the amazing love of Christ. See how He willingly lays down his life for sinners. While we were still his enemies, He died for us. The beloved Son died, in order to pay for our rebellion, to bring us back to the Father. This makes his gospel everything that we need. And this makes it so urgent that we believe it with all our heart!


4) the vineyard is given to others: After sending messenger after messenger, even his only son, and getting no response, “What will the owner of the vineyard do?” (12:9). No one can be surprised by what he does next, “He will come and destroy the vinedressers” (12:9). This is a just response: those tenants will be removed from their place, and killed.

It’s like the end of the unfruitful vineyard in Isaiah 5. After years of trying, this is what God said, “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” (vv 5-6). After Isaiah’s time, this is what happened to Judah—they were judged. It happened once, it can happen again. If Israel will reject the Christ, judgment will come. God will take away the gospel, and He’ll punish them, this time with the might of the Roman army.

So at first you’d think this parable doesn’t have a happy ending: the beloved son is dead, the tenants are destroyed. But notice what the landlord resolves to do: he will “give the vineyard to others” (12:9). All the spiritual privileges that Israel once had will pass on to a new people, to those who are ready to produce fruit. And who are the “others?” Now God has turned to the Gentiles, to all nations, and He’s told them about his Son.

No, the vineyard hasn’t been closed. Even the Son who was killed isn’t finished with. Look how Jesus continues his teaching with that quotation from Psalm 118, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (12:10). Somehow the one who was murdered will become the foundation of a glorious building for God. Christ the Son will become a Saviour for all who put their trust in him.

Notice how Jesus’ parable needs no explanation. Everyone knows right away what He’s talking about—even the leaders know that He directed this parable “against them” (12:12). So like Jesus has just predicted through his story, they seek to lay hands on him, to kill him. You wonder if they saw the irony of that! They refuse to listen to this final messenger from God.

And that’s where Jesus’ parable again has a message for us. For many centuries God entrusted the gospel to his covenant people. But when Israel would not receive it, He took it away and He shared it with others—He shared it with us. But the gospel still isn’t ours by divine right. We’re not entitled to it. We haven’t deserved it. It’s not something that can never be taken away from us. Because it comes with a demand: The Lord is looking for a harvest! He insists that we give Him our all! Where is what we owe our Master?

In Mark 12 there was urgent need that the people respond. After all, Jesus was about to be killed. He was about to show them his great love—they needed to pay attention! It’s even more urgent today. As church, how do we receive the message of God’s well-beloved Son? He’s come to us with a gospel of peace: How do we answer Him? Give him your tribute, bend your will to his will, and put your faith in his glorious Name!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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