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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:How not to respond when the Owner of the vineyard sends his Son
Text:Mark 12:1-12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 97:1,4,5
Psalm 79:3
Psalm 2
Psalm 118:1,6,7,8
Hymn 70

Reading:  Isaiah 5:1-7
Text:  Mark 12:1-12

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

Beloved congregation of Christ our Lord,

Conflict is a common thing in this fallen world.  We all get ourselves into struggles, some of which are more significant than others.  We watch or read the news and hear of wars taking place around the world.  From a human perspective some of these conflicts appear pointless.  They accomplish nothing and go nowhere.  That happens on a bigger level, but it can also happen on the personal and family level.  We sometimes seem to fight just for the sake of fighting.  Conflict is a sad and frustrating part of our broken world.

In our passage for this morning, we see another episode in the ongoing conflict between our Lord Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders.  Another shot is fired, another punch thrown.  But this conflict isn’t pointless.  This conflict isn’t like so many human conflicts that exist just because sinful human beings want to fight.  From the perspective of our Lord Jesus, this is a conflict that has to do with the salvation he came to bring to his people.  Through this conflict, he was preparing our redemption. 

This passage features the last parable told by our Saviour in the Gospel of Mark.  Now if we go to the other gospels we’ll find that Jesus did tell more parables after this.  But in Mark, this one is the last one.  For Mark, this one has a special significance.  This is the one that wraps up the rebukes that Jesus issues through his parables.  In this passage, we’re going to see how Christ was himself paving the way to the cross and our salvation.  But at the same time, there’s also a message here for us about how not to respond when God sends his Son to us.

Jesus is in Jerusalem at the temple.  It’s the week of his suffering and death, the so-called passion week.  It’s the Tuesday before Good Friday.  In the passage before this one, our chief prophet had been confronted by the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.  They made up the Sanhedrin and they were looking for a way to kill Jesus.  So they put the question to him about his authority.  He rebuked their question with a question of his own about John the Baptist.  John was a prophet, but they hadn’t listened to him.  Christ exposed their rebellion and unbelief.  That sets the stage for what happens in chapter 12 and in our passage.

We’re told that Jesus began to speak to them.  “Them” – that’s the Sanhedrin again, the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.  Loved ones, you have to get this.  This is key.  Jesus didn’t speak this parable to his disciples, but to his enemies.  That reminds us about what Jesus said about the purpose of parables in Mark 4.  He said that parables are meant for those on the outside.  His parables weren’t meant to give great illustrations to his disciples in the first place – though they certainly do that.  The first and primary intent of Christ’s parables is to harden the hearts of unbelievers.  And specifically, this was to harden the hearts of Christ’s enemies as he walked on this earth.  So we need to keep that purpose in mind.

So now we can start listening to this parable.  It builds on some Old Testament imagery.  Specifically, there’s the idea of God as the owner of a vineyard and the people of Israel as the vineyard.  You can see that picture in Isaiah 5.  So when Jesus began his parable by speaking about a man planting a vineyard, his listeners would have understood what he was saying.  After all, these men were experts in the Bible.  There’s no difficulty in understanding what Christ is saying – the difficulty comes in accepting it. 

So the man plants a vineyard.  The man is God and Israel is the vineyard.  The man does things for his vineyard to protect it and make it productive.  He puts a wall around it to keep out the scavenging animals and those who might try to steal his grapes.  He digs a pit for the winepress.  This was a hole in the ground where the juice would flow after the grapes had been stomped.  And he built a watchtower.  The watchtower would be another line of protection against thieves and pests.  Jesus is saying that God cared for his people.  He put up lines of protection for them because he wanted them to produce fruit.  Particularly, he gave his Word as a way to guard them against the devil, the world, and their own flesh.  He gave them his promises as an incentive to trust and follow him.  He gave them his law and the threats of the covenant to remind them that unbelief has consequences.  All of this was with the intent that the people of Israel would live thankfully for God’s glory, showing him their love and devotion with godly lives.  That was the fruit he had built the vineyard for.  

Christ went on to say that the owner of the vineyard entrusted it to some tenant farmers.  He rented it out.  That was common.  You put your vineyard in their hands and then you expect that you’ll get some rent in return, usually a certain amount of the grapes or wine that the vineyard produces.  So in this parable, who are the tenant farmers?  Remember who Jesus is speaking this parable to.  It’s not to his disciples.  It’s not to the people of Israel in general.  It’s to the leaders of the people.  These tenant farmers represent the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.  God entrusted them with the care of the vineyard.  Now the parable says the owner of the vineyard then went away.  We shouldn’t read too much into that, as if God is somehow absent from this world, or that he was absent from the vineyard.  All of this is just to make the point that the care of the vineyard had been delegated out to these tenant farmers.  They were responsible for it. 

Harvest time comes.  The appointed time when one could expect fruit and wine.  The owner expects to get what he is owed.  So he sends the first servant to the tenant farmers to receive his share of the fruit.  But that servant gets man-handled, beaten and sent away with nothing.  Not only is there no fruit for the owner, but there’s a violent and wicked reaction to his servant.  Another servant gets sent.  This one they treat even worse.  They strike him on the head and dishonour him.  Things only go worse from here.  The next one gets killed.  Other servants are sent too.  Some only get beaten, but others are murdered.  Again, no fruit; instead, only the angry and vicious attacks of the tenant farmers.

Now there are a couple of things to note here.  First, we have to remember again the Old Testament background of this parable.  In the Old Testament, God’s prophets were referred to as his servants.  The servants God sends are his prophets.  What’s described here is the history of what’s happened to the prophets.  They were frequently treated badly and this often took place at the hands of the leaders of the people.  Think of Elijah and his run-ins with Ahab and Jezebel.  Think of Jeremiah being thrown into a cistern.  Think of John the Baptist again, the last Old Testament prophet.  There may even be an allusion to John’s death when Jesus says one of the servants was struck on the head.  The same Greek word is sometimes used to describe decapitation.

The second thing to note here is the great patience of the owner.  This is a picture of the patience of our God with his people.  Through the centuries of the Old Testament, God was patient with a people who continually slapped him in the face.  They were like an unfaithful wife.  Their leaders set no example.  Yet God kept coming to them with his servants.  Kept looking for the fruit.  Brothers and sisters, take note of this and remember that this is still true today.  Our God is still abounding in patience.  He will be patient with you as he looks for the fruit in his vineyard.  And for us who are leaders in the church, he will be patient with our weaknesses and shortcomings as well.  He is longsuffering and for that we can be thankful.  With this part of the parable, we do see something of the grace of our God.

Finally, there were no servants left to send.  There was only a son.  A son whom the owner loved.  We think of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son...”  We think of Mark 1:11, “You are my beloved Son...”  He was the last one to be sent.  Hebrews 1:1-2, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son...”  The owner thought these tenant farmers would surely respect his son. 

So what would it look like to respect the son?  They’d humble themselves.  They’d acknowledge his position over them.  Respecting the son, they’d listen to him when he told them that his father was looking for the fruit that was his.  They’d believe this and obey and give the fruit. 

With these words, our Saviour is telling his audience that this is what the proper response should be to him.  As leaders of the people, they should have respected the Son who was sent by the Father.  They should have shown the way for the rest of the people.  Now as we read these words, we’re reminded too of what the proper response is to our Saviour.  When he comes to us with the Word and the Sacraments, what’s expected is a response of respect.  What’s expected is faith, believing what he says.  Humility and teachability are called for, both among the leaders of God’s people and also among those who are being led.  All of us are to submit to the Son.  Respect him when he comes to us with his Word. 

But that wasn’t the reaction of the tenant farmers in the parable.  Instead, they continued to have murder on their hearts.  The heir was in their midst.  They could kill him and then the vineyard would be theirs.  No longer would they be tenants, they could be owners.  Of course, this was self-deception on their part.  They forgot about the owner himself and the power he had over them.  In their wickedness, they thought they could control everything.  So they took the son, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.  This is a picture of what the Sanhedrin will do to the Son of God.  Though they know he’s the Messiah, though they know God is in control, they’ll kill Jesus just the same.  They can’t stand him and his teaching about what God wants from them and from the people they lead.  “God wants fruit from us?  Well, he can have this fruit!” And they kill his Son.  That was the ultimate insult, the ultimate slap in the face to the owner.

So now Christ puts the question to his listeners:  what do you think the owner of the vineyard is going to do?  When he says, “owner of the vineyard,” he uses the Greek word for “Lord.”  Literally it says, “What then will the Lord of the vineyard do?”  If that doesn’t make the point of the parable clear to those leaders, then nothing will.  There’s no missing what Jesus is getting at.  And he not only asks the question, here in Mark he also gives the clear answer.  He will come himself and destroy those tenant farmers.  He’ll kill them and he’ll hand the vineyard over to someone else.  There’ll be consequences to this treachery. 

Here again, we need to pause and consider.  First, how and when were these words fulfilled?  We have to be thinking about an event of great magnitude in which judgment came upon the religious leadership of the Jews.  A violent judgment in which many people died.  Such a judgment came in A.D. 70.  The temple was destroyed by the Romans.  The Jewish religious leadership was virtually annihilated.  The year 70 was the year the vengeance of God came upon those who rejected and killed the Son of God.  That violent judgment reminds us again how sin always has consequences.  And when you’ve been so richly blessed by God and you rebel against him, the consequences are so much more severe.  And they get even more intense for those who are leaders of the people of God.  From whom much is given, much will be required.  Those who are leaders in the church of God have a serious calling and an enormous responsibility.  We can’t take those things lightly, brothers.  Nor can we do this in our own strength.  We must continually be depending on God for his strength and help.  That has to our attitude but it also has to be on our lips as we pray.  We need to be calling out to him for his grace, so that with his blessing the people in our care will be fruitful. 

Second, Christ says he will give the vineyard to others.  Who are the others?  Many interpreters understand this to be saying that God’s attention will shift from the Jews to the Gentiles.  However, keep in mind who the tenant farmers are.  It’s not the Jews in general.  They’re the Sanhedrin.  The vineyard is the people of God.  So this is not speaking of a shift from Jews to Gentiles in the make-up of the church.  Rather, this is about a shift from the Sanhedrin to the apostles and from the apostles to the office bearers as we know them today:  ministers, elders, and deacons.  The false shepherds will be removed and replaced with true and faithful shepherds.  God’s people will be led by shepherds who respect the Son. 

Now we’ve come to verse 10 and here our Lord suddenly quotes Psalm 118.  He says, “Have you not read this Scripture?”  It’s a rhetorical question.  The answer doesn’t need to be given.  Of course, they’ve read this.  Psalm 118 is one of the Hallel psalms.  It was one of the Psalms sung by the Jews at every Passover.  Remember this is taking place during the Passover week.  They’re going to sing this Psalm in just a few days.  They’ve sung it every Passover.  Christ himself is going to sing it with his disciples at the last supper.  So, yes, they know Psalm 118 as well as he does. 

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone...”  In rabbinic writings, the religious leadership of the people were often described as the “builders.”  So this is another jab at the Sanhedrin.  They have rejected a stone, just as the tenant farmers rejected the son of the vineyard owner.  But this stone goes on to glory.  It becomes the most important stone of all:  the cornerstone.  This is the last stone placed in a building, the one that has special significance and is often decorated beautifully.  It’s a glorious stone.  So this stone goes from shame and rejection by the builders to glory.  And who has done this?  Who exalted this stone to this place?  The Lord!  Again, that’s the same word in Greek as for the owner of the vineyard, “Kurios.”  The Lord, God, has done this.  And it’s amazing for the people of God. 

Normally, we would expect rejection to mean the end.  We would expect death to be death.  But with his appropriation of this Psalm, Jesus is hinting at his resurrection.  Yes, he will be rejected and killed, but that won’t be the end of him.  He will rise to glory.  And that’s exactly what he did.  And that’s exactly what all who believe in him will do too.    It is marvelous in the eyes of all believers.  For all believers, the contemplation of this produces praise and admiration for our Saviour and our God.     

Now remember why this parable was told.  It was told to confront the Sanhedrin.  It was told to expose their rebellion against the Son of God.  It was told to rebuke these unfaithful false shepherds.  They were sorry excuses for leaders and they deserved to be called out for what they were.  But not merely to do all that.  It was also to provoke an even more intense reaction from them.  Christ told this parable to produce a response of hardening and anger.  According to verse 12, he succeeded in doing exactly that.  The Sanhedrin looked for a way to grab Jesus, to arrest him and put an end to his ministry.  Even to put him to death.  They knew this parable was about them and it drove them mad.  It angered them to the extreme.  But there was still the crowd and they weren’t yet ready to crucify Jesus, so the members of the Sanhedrin had to go their way for the time being.

Loved ones, our Lord Jesus told this last parable in Mark knowing full well what the reaction would be.  He knew that the Sanhedrin would react in this angry way.  He knew this was necessary for our salvation.  With this parable, he was himself preparing the way for the cross.  Perhaps we sometimes imagine that Jesus on the cross was a helpless victim of circumstances.  Maybe we sometimes think that he was a passive participant, that things were just being done to him, things he had no control over.  And then it just so happens that these things worked for our salvation.  But that’s a short-sighted view of our Saviour.  He was an active participant in all his sufferings and his death.  He was actively involved every step of the way, including in the preparations for it.  This parable was part of the preparation he himself made for it.  You can view it as Jesus carving his own cross, preparing for his own death.  Why did he do it?  Because he loves you.  Don’t look at this parable as an abstract story, something disconnected from you and your life.  As Jesus told this parable, he had your name on his heart.  He told this parable that would provoke this reaction from the Sanhedrin and he was thinking, “I am doing it for __________ (insert your name).”  Think of that.  Relish that.  He had the names of all his people in his thoughts.  What great love our Saviour has for all who are his!  He was going to the cross for you.    

So this great conflict between Christ and the Sanhedrin was not pointless.  It reveals a sovereign Lord who was directing all things for our good.  Yes, the men of the Sanhedrin were still responsible for their actions and their rebellion.  But yet God was working through all of this to bring about our redemption.  In Acts 2, when Peter preaches his Pentecost sermon, he says in verse 23, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge...”  All of this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.  Let it be marvelous in our eyes today and all this week, and every day.  Let’s never forget the sovereign power of our God and the great love of our Saviour.  AMEN. 


Our great and glorious God in heaven,

You have done many wonderful deeds of salvation for your people.  But none is greater than when you made Christ the cornerstone, when you exalted the stone the builders had rejected.  You have always cared for your vineyard and for this we praise you.  We thank you for the love and patience you have for your people.  We thank you for the love of our Lord Jesus that we could hear of again this morning.  Father, please help us to always appreciate the gospel and to want to live for you, bearing fruit for your glory.  We pray that as a church we may also have leaders who want to work in your vineyard faithfully.  Help our pastor, elders, and deacons to obediently follow your Word so that we may be a fruitful vineyard.  Please give them more grace so that we can together grow and be the people you have created us to be.

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

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