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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
Title:The parable of the defiant tenants.
Text:Mark 12:1-12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Defiant Tenants

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps. 107:1,2
Ps. 107:3,6
Ps. 80:1,4,8
Ps. 118:6
Hy. 57:2,3

Reading - Isaiah 5:1-7; Mark 11:27-33
Text - Mark 12:1-12

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

Soli Deo Gloria


(c) Copyright 2002 George van Popta


Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:


The Lord Jesus often taught in parables. This is one of the last parables he taught before he was crucified. It is a parable about Israel's rejection of him, the Son of God, and about how God would give his kingdom to others. This parable puts a question before us. The question is whether we repent of our sin, believe in Jesus Christ, and obey him-whether we bear fruit. God gives his kingdom do us. Are we willing to live in that kingdom, that vineyard, in a way which is fitting for the kingdom of God?


I proclaim to you the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ under this theme:




1. First of all we will consider the parable the Lord Jesus spoke; 2. then we will see how it applied to the religious leaders of the Lord's Jesus day; 3. finally we will see what instruction this parable has for us today.


1. The parable.


The Lord Jesus told a parable about a vineyard. This parable was remarkably similar to the parable we read in Isaiah 5. This parable of Isaiah would have been familiar to the priests, teachers and elders. The Lord Jesus took that parable, and gave it a very concrete application for the people of his day.


He said: Listen. There was a man who planted a vineyard. He owned a big piece of property, and on that property, he planted a beautiful vineyard. It was a very good vineyard. There was nothing missing.


Not only did he plant the grape vines. He also put a wall all the way around the outside of the vineyard to protect the vineyard. And to protect those who would live inside the vineyard - to protect them from wild animals, thieves and robbers.


He dug a pit for the wine press. A vineyard without a wine press was useless. You could not make wine. And so he made this too. He would have dug a shallow pit, perhaps about a foot deep, and then also a deeper pit beside it. They would dump the grapes into the shallow pit. The workers would trample them, or tread them by walking through them on bare feet. In this way, they pressed out the wine, the grape juice, which would run down little troughs into the deeper pit.


Not only did this man plant the vineyard, put a wall around it, and dig the pit for the wine press - he also built a watchtower. A watchtower was important for protecting the vineyard. The workers would take turns up in the top of the watchtower to look out for thieves or any other undesirables. And the workers could sleep in the tower at night.


So you see that this man built everything necessary for a good vineyard. And then he rented it out to a group of farmers. These farmers could just move in. They could move in one day, and start working the next. They didn't have to spend a year planting vines. They didn't have to do the back-breaking work of digging a pit for the wine press. They didn't have to forego valuable time in the vineyard in order to spend time setting up a wall and building a watchtower. It was all there. They could start working at reaping the fruit of this vineyard immediately.


The landlord and the tenants would have made an agreement as far as rent is concerned. The landlord would have said: I want so many skins of wine, of the fruit of the vineyard, every harvest as rent. The tenants could keep, say, 90 %, and the landlord would have required perhaps 10 %.


This was agreed upon, and the landlord left. He went on a journey. He was what we would today call 'an absentee landlord'. This vineyard was a foreign investment for him.


Verse two says: At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. Early September, the owner sent one of his servants to the tenants to collect his rent - to collect some of the fruit - the agreed upon price for renting the vineyard. The servant entered the vineyard and told the tenants that he was there as representative of the owner and that he had come to collect the rent.


How did the tenants respond? Did they thankfully give the servant the number of full wineskins they had agreed upon? Did they tell the servant: Here you go, and please report to the owner that all is going well, that we are very thankful for the wonderful vineyard in which we can work and earn our living?


No, they didn't. That's not how they responded. Rather, they beat the servant. They ganged up on him, punched him and kicked him, and told him to 'clear out', and sent him away empty-handed.


When he returned and told the owner what had happened, the owner immediately sent another servant. The second servant came to the vineyard, and the tenants treated him even worse than the first. They struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. They abused him.


And so the owner sent a third servant to ask for the fruit of the vineyard which the tenants owed him. And this servant the tenants killed. They murdered him.


I think that we are already impressed by the patience of the owner. We would expect that by now he would have kicked the tenants off of his land. Not only was it awful that the tenants abused and killed the servants. To make it even worse, the servants came in the name of the owner. And so when they beat and killed the servants, it was as if they were beating and killing the owner of the vineyard.


But see how incredibly patient he is. Verse 5 says that he sent many others. And all of them the tenants either beat up or murdered.


What was the owner to do? How was he going to get through to these people? How could he reach them and get from them the fruits which he required and they had promised?


Ah, an idea. I'll send my son. Surely they will respect my son. This son was his beloved son; in other words, he was his one and only son whom he loved with his heart and soul. He sent his son to the tenants to receive from them the fruit of the vineyard - to persuade them to fulfill their obligations.


What did the tenants do when they saw the son? They saw the son coming down the road, and they plotted together: This is the heir of the vineyard. Come on; let's kill him, and then the inheritance will be ours. Premeditated murder.


You see, in the ANE there was a law that ownerless property could be claimed by anyone. When they saw the son coming, they likely assumed the owner was dead, and that the son was coming to claim the vineyard as the heir of his father's estate. If they killed him, the only son, the vineyard would no longer have an owner, and they could claim it (as sort of squatter's rights). It would be theirs, and they would never have to share the fruit, the harvest with anyone.


As he came to them, they grabbed him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. Tossed his body over the wall.


Then Jesus asked the priests, scribes and elders: What will the owner of the vineyard do? He answered the question himself: He will come and kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others. A landlord could do this. He could appeal to the government authorities to help him put down such a revolt. He will utterly destroy the tenants and, as Matthew says in the parallel passage, He will give the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their season.


That is the parable the Lord Jesus told. He told a story to which his listeners could relate. He drew from every day life in the ANE in order to make a point, to teach something.


And the meaning of the parable was not lost on the priests, teachers and elders. As verse 12 says: They perceived, they understood perfectly that he had spoken the parable against them.


2. How the parable applied to the religious leaders of the Lord Jesus' day.


What did the Lord Jesus mean to say to the priests, teachers and elders? If we use Isaiah ch. 5 as well as the parallel passages in Luke and Matthew to help us interpret this parable, then it becomes clear very quickly.


The vineyard is the kingdom of God. In the time of the OT, the kingdom of God was Israel. God ruled as king in Israel. The owner of the vineyard is God. The tenants are the nation Israel, and then especially, the leaders of the people. The wall and watchtower symbolize God's protective care over his kingdom. The vines and the winepress symbolize the fact that God gives his people everything they needed. They lack nothing. God gives his people every good thing. And now he asks them to give back to him fruits of thankfulness. God, out of free grace, established a covenant with Israel, and asked for fruits of thankfulness in return.


The servants are the prophets. (The prophets in the OT are very often called "servants of God.") God sent his prophets to urge the people to produce the good fruits of repentance, obedience, and thankfulness to God - to fulfill their covenant obligations.


But the people wouldn't cooperate. They hated the prophets. They hated these heralds of God who came and told them what God required of them. They hated it when Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, and other prophets came and reminded them of their obligations.


They plugged their ears. They wanted to enjoy the benefits of being God's special people - of being the kingdom of God - but they didn't want it to cost them anything. They were too lazy and greedy to offer up the sacrifices of obedience and thankfulness which God required.


And so they beat the prophets and killed them. As the Lord Jesus said as he entered Jerusalem for the last time: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing."


God, in his long-suffering grace - in his patience - sent prophet after prophet to plead with the people, to urge them to bring forth fruits - to live up to the demands of the covenant. But they were not willing.


And so, finally, God sent his beloved Son. But even him they rejected. God sent his one and only Son to preach to the people, to teach them, to urge them and plead with them to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance and thankfulness. But they were not willing. They plotted to kill him (v. 12).


And, by the end of that very week, they succeeded. They did kill the only Son of God. The Lord Jesus knew that it was going to happen. He told the leaders they were going to kill him. And still there was no repentance. Only a hardening of heart.


In the words of Isaiah 5: What more was there to do for God's vineyard? What more could he do over and above what he had already done? He had done everything possible to bring his people to repentance. He even sent his Son to his people. But even this, the ultimate plea of God, fell on deaf ears.


What will the owner of the vineyard do, asked Jesus in v. 9? He will kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others. As the Lord Jesus said in the parallel passage in Matthew: The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.


God will take his kingdom away from the Jews as a people, and give it to the nations of the world, to the Gentiles. He gives it to all those who produce the required fruits - who live in obedience to God, who offer up sacrifices of thankfulness. He gives it to those who are converted by the preaching of the kingdom of God and who then show themselves to be the new people of God.


The Lord Jesus had one other thing to say to the priests, teachers and elders. He quoted Ps. 118. When Jesus had entered Jerusalem at the beginning of the week, the Passover pilgrims had sung this song. Now Jesus quoted it and applied it to himself. He asked them, "Haven't you read this scripture: "'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?"


Several times this text is quoted in the NT to refer to the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ. What he meant to say is that the builders - those who had been called by God to labour in the vineyard - to build the kingdom up - had found Jesus Christ wanting.


A person who was building something out of stone would test each stone. He'd tap on it with his trowel. And if it was not sound (if he felt or heard a vibration), he would cast it aside. That is what the leaders of Israel did. They rejected Jesus, and cast him aside, out of the vineyard, over the wall.


But God, his Father, would uphold him. He would resurrect him from the grave and make him the head of the corner. He would make him the cornerstone, the most important stone of the building. He would make him to be the very stone which would hold the whole kingdom of God together.


And through his death and resurrection, Christ would bring forth an innumerable offspring, like the sand of Abraham's desert - like the stars of Abraham's desert sky.


All of this was the Lord's doing. It is marvelous in our eyes.


3. Instruction for us today.


By the wonderful grace of God, we belong to people to whom God has given his vineyard. We have been called into the kingdom of God. We have been built into that marvelous spiritual house of which the Lord Jesus Christ is the cornerstone.


But the demand to produce the good fruits of repentance and thankfulness are still very much there for us today. The vineyard has been taken away from the Jewish nation as a people and it has been given to us, the Gentiles, but the same demand to give God the fruits he requires is still there.


Often we want to receive all the benefits of the vineyard - we want the wonderful gifts of forgiveness of sins, of the resurrection, of eternal life in heaven - but (often) we are not so willing to bring forth the good fruits of thankfulness God demands. But we cannot receive and enjoy the benefits of the vineyard if we are not willing to give to God what he requires.


What are the fruits of thankfulness which God wants from us? Repentance -- turning decisively from sin in very concrete ways. Living obedient lives. Being obedient to the commandments of God. Not living in a selfish way. Using what we have for the good of the vineyard.


It is when we produce much fruit that we prove ourselves to be the disciples of Christ. Then we are following him. In John 15:8 he says: By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.


We have everything we need. God has stopped at no expense to give us what we need. Just like the owner of the vineyard in the parable made sure that the tenants had all they would need, so God has made sure that we have all we need. Proof of that is that he has even given his one and only Son, his beloved Son to die for our sake. To wipe our slate clean. To take away our sins.


Let us now show God that we are thankful about that. Let us do so by producing the fruit of thankfulness in our lives.


And the warning of Scripture is that if we do not live thankful lives to God, then he will destroy us. If we use everything that God has given us for ourselves and have no desire to give to God what he asks of us, then he will destroy us. He will take the vineyard from us, and give it to someone else.


Today, by means of the preaching, the Lord Jesus Christ comes to each of us and asks for the obedience and love God requires. Are you willing to give it to him? Are you willing to give yourself to him? That Jesus Christ has come to you today and urged you again to offer up obedience, repentance and thankfulness to God - does that make a difference to you?


Do you accept the Lord Jesus Christ and his rightful claims? Or do you reject him and his claims upon you and your life?


The last verse of our text says that the priests, teachers and elders understood that he had told the parable about them. Well, we've got to give the credit for that. So often we listen to the preaching for someone else. We're convinced that the preacher has someone else in mind.


Let's all listen for ourselves. The question that comes to each of us from Jesus Christ by means of this parable is: Are you bearing fruits of thankfulness in your life? That's the question each of us needs to answer. There's no evading it, no getting around it. When Christ comes to us, does he leave over-loaded with our fruits of thanks, or does he leave with empty hands?


Let us not be scared to examine our lives. And to improve them where improvement is necessary.


Let us not walk away from the question without answering it. The last words of our text say: ... they left him and went away. Let none of us do that this morning. Let none of us walk away from Jesus Christ with a hardened heart. Let us rather walk with Christ and be his disciples who prove that we are his disciples by the fruits of repentance and thankfulness we offer up to God. AMEN

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2002, Rev. George van Popta

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