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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Preached At:Lynwood United Reformed Church
 Lynwood, IL
Title:The Stone the Builders Rejected
Text:Matthew 21:33-46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Congregation beloved of our Lord Jesus Christ, the parable which Jesus tells here in Matthew 21 seems to have many similarities to the parable we considered last week in chapter 20. In this parable, we also read about a great vineyard, a generous landowner, and disgruntled workers. But that is about where the similarities cease.

For in this parable, the workers do something far more brutal and vicious than merely complain about wages. Here, the workers revolt against the landowner; they beat, kill, and stone the landowner’s servants, and they even kill his own son.

Another major difference between these two parables is that, at end of this parable, there is a change in metaphor or imagery. Jesus suddenly shifts from the imagery of the vineyard to the imagery of the temple; he moves from the world of agriculture, to the world of architecture. Starting at verse 42, Jesus begins to speak about stones and capstones and builders.

This change is so drastic that some believe that they are disconnected from the parable, that Jesus was making a new point. But, the fact is, these closing words are not anything new. No. These words are actually the climax of the entire parable.

This parable is an indictment against God’s covenant people who have rejected Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This parable reaches back into the days of Israel’s past; it applies to the current day in which Jesus’ lived; and you know what, it addresses our generation, too.

So let’s take to heart the teaching of God’s Word tonight under the theme: The Lord of the Vineyard Unveils the Treachery of His Wicked Workers. Notice:

1) The Gracious Gift Given to these Wicked Workers (33-34);
2) The Great Crimes Committed by these Wicked Workers (vv. 35-39);
3) The Just Judgment Pronounced upon these Wicked Workers (vv. 40-46)

1) The Gracious Gift Given to these Wicked Workers

People of God, Jesus begins this parable talking about a certain landowner who invested an extraordinary amount of work and effort all to prepare a productive vineyard. First of all, he planted the vineyard-which is to say, he didn’t simply go out and buy a plot of land that had a pre-existing vineyard. Jesus’ listeners would have understood what this involved--that this landowner started from scratch; his efforts were very labor oriented for this was hard work, clearing the ground of all the rocks and stones (especially in Israel’s rocky terrain).

After all the hard work of planting, the vineyard, the landowner was careful enough to put a wall around it. He built a fence, a hedge around it to protect it. This was necessary so that thieves and wild animals could not simply come in and eat the fruit, or even worse, trample down the vines. So the landowner was thoughtful enough to protected his vineyard.

He also built a watchtower for the same purpose, so that the workers could climb up and oversee the vineyard and even detect an approaching enemy. The watchtower also functioned as a sleeping quarters or shelter for the workers, as well as storage facility for the produce.

As if that wasn’t enough, Jesus says that the landowner also dug a winepress in his vineyard. This too was very labor oriented. Most winepresses consisted of an upper level, the actual "press" where the grapes would be crushed. From there a limestone trough would run down into a large wine vat-a big bowl shaped basin carved out of solid stone. And, it was from there that the wine would be strained and poured into packaging jars.

Now even after all that, the landowner is still not finished. For, he says that he would even take care of the shipping. He would send his servants to collect his fruit. So, as anyone can see, the vineyard described by Jesus was quite an operation. The landowner has supplied it with every advantage. In today’s language, we would say it had state of the art equipment. All the landowner needs is some willing workers to tend his vineyard while he is away for a while.

Wow, what a deal this is. What an opportunity. What a great job. The landowner has done all the hard work-all the painstaking preparation for the vineyard. So, whoever these tenants are, they should consider themselves to be in a very privileged position. They are working in the best vineyard around-second to none. They’ve got it made.

Here we need to pause a moment and ask ourselves, What exactly is Jesus talking about here? Boys and girls, who or what is Jesus describing in this story about a vineyard? As always we have to be careful that we don’t push the meaning of the parable point beyond what Jesus intended. Not every character and action in every parable is equally important.

The gracious landowner is, of course, God, the heavenly Father. The vineyard is God’s kingdom on earth--His people, His church. In the Old Testament, and even in Jesus’ day, God’s people were known as the nation of Israel--the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was the Lord who had done all the hard work-who made all the preparations for His people.

It was God who called Abraham out of the Ur of the Chaldees and made an everlasting covenant with him. It was God Who made the way clear for Israel; it was He who built a hedge of protection around his people. It was God who brought them up out of Egypt and gave them victory over all the great armies of Canaan, chasing out the giants living in the land.

As the Lord says to Israel in Joshua 24 says, I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities which you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant. God gave His people every blessing, every advantage.

And who are the tenants, the workers who were in charge of the vineyard? They were the Israel’s leaders: the chief priests, the scribes, the elders. They were the ones God put in charge of His vineyard, to oversee the vineyard, to stand in the place of God. For generations, Israel had faithful tenants, faithful watchmen like Moses and Joshua; and faithful prophets, priests, and kings like Samuel, Aaron, and David.

And in order to ensure Israel’s prosperity and fruitfulness, God gave them the law and the testimonies. He gave His people the tabernacle and the temple-which was the very sanctuary of God and a place for sacrifices to be made. What a blessed nation Israel was. What a privileged nation she was. What a blessing to live and work in God’s vineyard.

I want to pause here a moment, beloved, so we can consider this point personally. Do you realize that we are God’s vineyard? Do you realize all that our God has done for us, all the painstaking preparations, all the benefits and blessings he has bestowed on us?

Yes, sometimes it’s easy to take God’s gifts for granted. We tend to overlook the fact that in our Bibles, in our Reformed confessions, in our Psalms and Hymns, in our Christian heritage, we have a storehouse of blessings--a spiritual treasure. Boys and Girls, have you ever considered what a blessing it is that you’ve been brought up in a Christian home, nurtured by loving parents, given a Christian education, and can worship here in this Christian church?

Have you stopped to consider the fact that God has built a hedge of protection around us, so that the devil cannot bring any charge against us, and even death and the grave hold no sway over us? In life and in death, in body and in soul we are the property of our faithful landowner who has given us every blessing in Christ Jesus. We are a rich and gifted vineyard indeed.

2) The Great Crimes Committed by these Wicked Workers

But now, beloved, what was it that the landowner required from his vineyard? What did God ask for in response to all His hard work? What did Jesus say that the landowner required? All he required was fruit. He asked that the workers produce fruit.

That’s all that God ever asks from His people, His church, His vineyard. But, as Jesus points out in the parable, something goes terrible wrong. The workers, the tenants who were placed in charge of the vineyard became very rebellious. Here we see in vv. 35-39, The Great Crimes Committed by these Wicked Workers.

Verse 35 says that the landowner sent his own servants to collect his fruit, but...The tenants seized his servants, they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them in the same way.

When we read this part of the parable, we are stunned by the criminal nature of these tenants. They’re in the midst of a hostile take-over of the vineyard. They want ownership. We ask, ‘what are they thinking’? How could they treat this landowner with such hatred and contempt? Clearly, these workers have forgotten their place.

But believe it or not, the worker’s wicked behavior is not the most astonishing behavior witnessed in this parable. No. The most astonishing behavior witnessed in this parable is that of the landowner! For, how does he respond to this rebellious mutiny? Does he send an army of servants to crush this rebellion, to take back his vineyard and throw out these wretched tenants? Look at vs. 36: Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them in the same way.

When that fails, what does he do as a last resort? Vs. 37: Last of all he sent his son (Luke, my beloved son), ‘surely they will respect my son.’ But when the son arrives, the workers see this as their big opportunity. They realize that he is the heir. They take the son and threw him out of his Father’s own vineyard, and killed him too, (38-39)!

This astonishing behavior by the landowner is a picture of the Father who (over the generations) patiently and lovingly sent messengers and prophets to Israel, calling her kings and priests and people to repentance, calling them back to God, back to the faith.

Yet what did Israel do? She persecuted the very prophets which God in His love sent to call them back to faithfulness. Boys and girls, do you understand what was happening? God’s people were living in sin, (the vineyard was literally being destroyed, being overrun with weeds, not producing fruit), so God sent His prophets to warn the people of their sin and rebuke the priests and kings and teachers of the law. But they did not listen to their warnings-and many times they merely killed the prophets who came to warn them.

Hebrews 11 speaks of the persecution endured by God’s servants, the prophets. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawn in two, they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goat skins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated-the world was not worthy of them.

Jewish tradition has it that Isaiah the prophet was sawn in two with a wooden saw, and that Jeremiah was stoned to death. Ezekiel was rejected, Elijah and Amos had to flee for their lives; and Zechariah was actually murdered in God’s own temple.

Imagine boys and girls, if the elders of this or any church were so enraged by the Pastor’s message that they would literally storm to the front of church, drag away the minister, and beat him and stone him to death for the words he proclaimed. That’s what happened to the prophets.

We’re familiar with stories about Christian missionaries being beaten and murdered by Muslims and members of pagan tribes. We expect that Christians who preach the truth will be persecuted and oppressed by unbelievers in the world-but it’s shocking to think that Jesus is talking about the church killing the prophets of God. Yet, is it really all that hard to believe?

Consider the fact that people like us don’t mind hearing the preaching of God’s Word, so long as it doesn’t require us to change or do anything we don’t want to do. If push came to shove, we’d tell the minister the way things really are. He can’t tell me how to live my life.

Consider the fact that when elders admonish someone or attempt to apply discipline to someone, it is not unusual for the elders to be threatened with physical harm or with lawsuits. So let’s not think that we’re somehow above the kind of wickedness and treachery that we see here. The Bible tells us that we are by nature prone to hate God. So it stands to reason that we are prone to hate God’s Word of truth and to hate any and all who try to impress that truth upon us.

So we also have to fight the temptation to attack or silence or discredit the messengers of God. But now, let’s look to where Jesus goes with all this. Turn with me to Matthew 23: 29-32: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

What did Jesus mean by that last statement? He was basically prophesying that the Pharisees and teachers of the law (the current tenants of Gods vineyard) would bring to completion the sin of their forefathers-they would finish the job by killing the landowner’s son, by crucifying the Father’s only begotten Son.

So we can finally see what Jesus is talking about here in this parable. But notice, who’s really in control here? Are the workers in control? Yes, they’re actively killing off all the servants of the landowner. Yet ultimately, it is the Landowner who’s in charge. He knows what’s going on. He’s not naïve. He understands what they will do to His Son. But he also understands why this must happen. That is what we consider next...

2) The Just Judgment Pronounced upon these Wicked Workers (vv. 40-39)

Congregation, the real beauty of this parable is that Jesus allows the guilty to pronounce judgment upon themselves. He prompts their response in verse 40, asking them When the owner of the vineyard comes back, what will he do with those tenants?

Of course, the chief priests and Pharisees respond in all their piety and self-righteousness, "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants who will give him a share of the crop at harvest time." They pronounce their own sentence.

This scene is reminiscent of what happened in II Samuel 12, when the prophet Nathan confronted David after his sin with Bathsheba. Nathan confronted David indirectly, telling him a story (a parable if you will) about a rich man who stole and killed his poor neighbor’s ewe lamb. At the end of that parable, Nathan didn’t even have to ask David what he would do to such a man--David jumped right in and said "He deserves death. He must pay back 4-fold the debt.

That’s when Nathan said, "You are the man". David indicted himself, just as the leaders of the church in Jesus’ day did (just as vs. 45 indicates, they knew that Jesus was talking about them!). And just look at the way Jesus closes his case against them.

In verse 42, Jesus (in a somewhat facetious manner) catches them in their piety, asking have you never read in Scriptures, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes’? The answer is, "Of course they have read the passage." But the truth is, they didn’t understand it. They didn’t understand what or who it was about. After all, that verse came from Psalm 118, the very same Psalm which prophesied of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. They didn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah, in fact they rebuked him for not quieting the crowds and the children who were singing their ‘Hosannas’ to Jesus.

So, Jesus is once again showing the Chief Priests and Pharisees how the Scriptures point to him. Two weeks ago, Andre preached on Ephesians 2, and in that sermon he spoke about the cornerstone as being the stone by which every other stone in the structure was cut and measured. That stone is essential to the integrity and strength of a structure.

Well, Jesus is telling them that He is the Stone which the builders in their wickedness and hatred cast out and threw away. He is the Messiah, the One they needed for their spiritual foundation to be strong and stable and secure. But in heir hearts, they rejected Him as King; the only desire and intention they have towards Jesus is to kill Him.

So Jesus let’s them know that even now, even before they have seized Him and killed Him on Calvary’s cross, that He, the stone which they have rejected, has become the capstone. Salvation will come through Jesus Christ alone! Despite all their efforts to disinherit the landowner and take over His vineyard, the reality is, God will not abandon His vineyard. God will not allow the wicked hirelings to destroy what He has so sovereignly and graciously planted and maintained.

In fact, the foolish plots of the wicked workers only serve to advance God’s sovereign plan of salvation. Listen to what Peter says in Acts 3:13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.

Not only are the plans of the chief priests and Pharisees and hard-hearted Jews brought to nothing, but they themselves stand in judgment as well. They will be thrown out of the Master’s vineyard and the vineyard will be given to a nation, to a people who will now produce its fruit.

Let’s not make the mistake of interpreting this as a direct transfer of God’s Kingdom from Jews to Gentiles. Rather, the vineyard it’s taken from unbelieving Jews, from the despisers of Jesus and it is graciously given to a nation of believers, to a nation of faithful tenants, to those Jews and Gentiles alike who believe on the Son, and accept the Master’s servants, and bring forth a rich harvest of fruit as the Master requires.

Whereas those who obstinately reject Jesus Christ, those who refuse to believe in His Word, in the final judgment, they will be crushed by the very Rock which they have rejected! Beloved, this parable still speaks to us and applies to us so clearly.

For now, we are the vineyard of our Lord. Our lives bear witness to the Lord’s great providential care and maintenance of our lives. We see how he has given us such a great salvation; how he continues to nurture us, and protect us, and keep our lives from that which would otherwise ravage us!

But we must also see that our Lord and Master still stands at the gates and demands fruit from our lives. In Romans 9- 11, the Apostle Paul greatly bemoans the fact that his own people were dispossessed of the Lord’s vineyard-he goes so far as to say that if he could by cursed for the sake of his people’s salvation, he would make that sacrifice for their sake.

But then Paul also speaks words of warnings to the new tenants of God’s vineyards. In Romans 11: 22, Paul speaks to us as new tenants saying, Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. 22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.

So it’s essential that we all understand what this passage means for our lives, spiritually speaking, to reflect on all that God has done in preparing His kingdom for us-even to the point of securing His kingdom by sending His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin. We’ve done nothing. God has done it all.

What does our God ask of us in return? He asks for the fruit. Our Lord wants to see the fruit of salvation in our lives. Our Lord wants to see the fruit of repentance, as we recognize our sinfulness and turn from it on a daily basis.

Our Lord wants to see boys and girls, moms and dads, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters in Christ living each day to the glory and honor of God, each one of us openly accepting the admonition and teaching of God’s Word, and responding to it in faith and obedience.

The only thing our Lord asks of us is to produce fruit in keeping with God’s grace. That is how we workers and laborers show our appreciation, and love and gratitude to God for his painstaking preparation of our salvation! If we live our lives selfishly, with an attitude and lifestyle of ingratitude, then we are no different than the common criminals found in Matthew 21 who refuse to give God what is His by right.

So, beloved, let’s repent from our criminal ways; let’s embrace the Master’s Son in love and faith; and let’s make every effort to give to the glory, all the honor, all the thanksgiving that He deserves and demands. May God not only lay this duty upon our hearts, but by the power of His indwelling Spirit, may be also equip us to do all that He requires.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2005, Pastor Keith Davis

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