THE VINEYARD AND THE TENANTS
Key Verse 12:10-10
“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’?”
When Jesus went the temple of God and saw its corruption, he was very upset. He was upset at many things: upset that people were abusing their privileges and using the temple for their own benefit. He was upset that the hearts of those entrusted with spiritual things had room for everything except for God. It upset him that those who should be shepherds had become wolves. It upset him so much that he cursed a fig tree because it reminded him too much of those selfish servants who were bearing no fruit in their lives for God. Jesus was so upset that he ransacked the temple reflecting God’s judgment. At the time, Jesus reminded them of the word of God in the Psalms that says: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. But you have made it a den of robbers.” These words alone are enough to shake anyone to the core. We cannot hear them without acknowledging that the temple or church must not be used for personal gain but for the glory of God. For these people, his words should have made them examine their hearts and practices and repented and asked God for forgiveness.
These kinds of rebukes were nothing new to the. In their history, there were countless times when prophets and servants of God pointed out the sins of the people, to help them repent and turn their hearts to God all over again. And these shepherds were very much familiar with the Scriptures and the history of the nation. This was a time for them to swallow their pride and ask God to forgive them. It was time to change their unholy practice and return to mission as God’s ambassadors to the world. But their hearts were hard— far too hard to listen to the voice of God and repent. They were offended at his words and were ready to kill him. Over the centuries many people believed they were God’s own chosen people, including Christians. But when the voice of God, especially God’s call to repentance and to faith and mission, sound offensive to them, they show that they are indeed not God’s people at all. Those who belong to God listen to the Lord’s voice with humility and are ever ready to repent of their sins, and change their ways when the word of God is spoken.
What is the point of all this? Look at Mark 11:27-33. Jesus had just spoken to them with the voice of God, requiring them to take a good hard look at their hearts— their motives— their practices. It’s a privilege when God rebukes us. It gives us a chance to make things right with God. They should have welcomed such a privilege. But they didn’t. Instead they wanted to kill Jesus. Why were they so offended by his words and actions? Because he interfered with their religious operation— with the way they ran the temple. Their religious operation went very smoothly before Jesus appeared on the scene. There had been no interruptions. They were the law. Their practices were the sacred standard of things. They taught whatever they wished to teach. And people listened to them as if they were the voice of God. They respected and honored them were impressed by their spotless religious lives. They obeyed them without question.
But as soon as Jesus came on the scene teaching the words of truth, his words and actions became a snare to them, and a thorn in their flesh. His words of truth exposed their hypocrisy and brought their pretentious lives into the open. Jesus’ teachings showed them to be fake— pretending to be religious while deeply corrupt on the inside. Not only through his words, but Jesus’ life also condemned theirs. Jesus lived a humble life of faith and obedience to God. Through his life, he showed how people should live, how their leaders should live. His life and teaching really reflected the heart of God— what God expects from his people, and their leaders. These people never thought they were hypocrites teaching and doing what is contrary to the truth of God. But even if they didn’t know, Jesus’ words were clear as sunshine. Through his life and teaching, humble people who truly want to honor God should see clearly what is offensive to God and change it. Whatever Jesus said and did was the very heart of God. This event at the temple was the same. It exposed their offensive practices before God. Did they take it well?
No! They were shameless in their attitude towards the truth of God. Read verse 28. “‘By what authority are you doing these things’ they asked. ‘And who gave you authority to do this?’” This question was insincere. There were not looking for a truthful answer. Rather the motive of this question was to discredit Jesus— to make him out to be someone doing things by his own authority. Whenever a question like this is asked of someone teaching the truth, the motive is always wrong. Suppose you are caught up in a sin, and someone spiritually younger than you tells you: “Please consider what you are doing and bring it to God in repentance.” Suppose your answer is this: “Who are you to tell me what I’m doing is wrong! I’ve been a Christian much longer than you!” With that same spirit they questioned Jesus’ authority. How did he answer them?
Jesus did not argue with them. He tried to help them. Jesus asked them a question in return! And his question was wonderfully put. Read verses 29-30. “Jesus replied, ‘I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism— was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!’” Jesus is not like them. He was not trying to trap them with a question. He was simply trying to help them consider the truth of things! The “truth” always challenges our innermost being! Sometimes the truth puts us on the spot and shames us! But when we are honest with ourselves we can always face the truth with courage! Because God never gives us the truth without enough grace to redeem ourselves. The truth for these people would put them on the spot. “Yes John’s baptism was from God.” “Yes God had sent John to preach repentance and by that to prepare the way for Jesus to come as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” “Yes, John’s baptism was from God, and we should have believed him and repented and accepted you Lord as our Savior.” If they had responded in this way when faced with the truth, they would have been able to reconcile with God. The truth which God challenges us with is not a trap but a life-saver.
Jesus asked them a simple question: John’s baptism. Was it from men or from God? A simple question with a simple answer— John demonstrated in every way that he had been sent by God. He helped countless people to prepare their own hearts with repentance and faith. They saw the work of God with their own eyes but they never acknowledged him. Rather they called him a demon possessed man. The words of Luke 7:29-30 tell us: “All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John”— meaning that they had not repented at John’s words. That tells us then why they had been offended at Jesus’ words. Why they questioned his authority. They had nothing in common with Jesus. When Jesus came by God’s authority, they rejected that authority because Jesus did not recognize their authority and sought to expose their hypocrisy. The bottom line, they didn’t want to repent. To repent meant to give up their position of authority, to listen to Jesus, and to change their ways.
Read verses 31-33. “They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, “From heaven, he will ask, Then why didn’t you believe him? But if we say, ‘From men’….’ (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’ Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’” They refused to repent in the face of the truth. They thought they were smart. But they were foolish because when they had an opportunity in their lives to make things right with God, they stubbornly held their ground. They thought that they had too much to lose in repenting and changing their ways. But the truth is that in holding their ground, they lost everything, because they lost God and his blessing. And this is not only their problem but the problem of the human race. People think only of what they will lose here on earth, honor, dignity, money, recognition, things! But in the process they lose their own souls. To these religious leaders Jesus had another truth to challenge them with. In Mark 12:1-12 Jesus tells them a parable which describes them perfectly. In the broader sense, the parable also describes all of us as well.
Read verses 1-5: “He then began to speak to them in parables: ‘A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.” Jesus’ point in the parable is clear! God is the owner of the vineyard. He had always been the owner of the vineyard. He planted it and he prepared it to be fruitful for him. Then he went ahead and rented it to some farmers. Who are the farmers? The farmers are God’s chosen people— the Jews. God made the world, and then he gave his chosen people the privilege to work this vast vineyard. Working the vineyard meant to serve God on a world wide scale— teaching the world about God— so that all people might turn their hearts to him in worship. It was a wonderful vineyard, prepared and made ready for his chosen people to cultivate.
But God never said that he would give them the ownership of the vineyard. He would rent them the vineyard, such that they were not the owners of the vineyard, but only the tenants who worked the vineyard. It is amazing that God never said that the vineyard belonged to them, but that it had always been his own. There is a truth about something not being your possession but loaned out to you— It makes you accountable to the one who loaned it to you. Likewise, they should have always been accountable to God as his tenants hired to do his work. At the beginning they expected the owner to collect. They waited. But he did not come as they expected. Then they left some instructions to their children to expect the owner to come. They waited, and left detailed instructions also to their children to keep an eye out for the owner. But still he did not come. And somewhere along they began to believe that the owner was not going to come. At the end— They stopped expecting him to come. They thought that the vineyard belonged to them— that it had always been theirs to do with as they wanted.
It is not so strange that they thought so. God is the owner of all human beings’ lives. That he is the owner of our life is without doubt. But how many people don’t believe that their life belongs to God— don’t believe that their life is just rented out to them— have no clue that someday the owner will come to collect and they would be accountable to him? Not many believe this. Like the tenants in Jesus’ story, most people live as if the owner will never come to claim what is his. They live and do as they please. In life they work for themselves and not for God.
The tenants in this parable did the same thing. But one day, something strange happened. Someone came to the vineyard and claimed to be the owner’s servant come to collect from the tenants. They made him wait and discussed it among themselves. “What shall we do? I don’t want to give up what I’ve worked for. I don’t even know this owner. I will fight for what is mine.” Then they thought that if they rough up the messenger maybe the owner will leave them alone. But he did not. He sent another and they abused him, and another and this one they killed. And the owner still sent more servants to collect the fruit but they did the same things to all of them. At this point the owner should be upset enough to kill them all. But when we think about God’s character, God is gracious and kind and forgiving. What did he do?
Read verses 6-8. “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard” The owner sent his Son. He reasoned that they would love his son and respect him and do as he says. But instead, these people had become evil. They schemed against his Son and killed him. Why did they do this? Because they wanted to keep the vineyard for themselves. Not only the chosen people, but most people have treated God’s love and his gift in the same manner. When we whose lives belong to God do as we please, go where we please, speak as we please, and act as we please— with no regard to God nor to his Word— we become tenants who have rejected the truth and opposed the Son of God. Most people think their lives belong to them. And they think they are too smart to listen to the voice of truth. And when God sends his servants to speak truth to make things right with God, they reject the truth and prolong the inevitable. And the inevitable is what Jesus finally told these tenants: Look at verses 9-12. The inevitable truth is that the owner will not be patient forever. When the time comes, the owner of every human life will come to call every one to accounting for what they had done with their life-vineyard.
How beautiful is Jesus’ description of life. Life is a vineyard. When I discover the purpose of a vineyard, I also discover the purpose of my lives. A vineyard is a field where grape seeds grow into beautiful vines that soon carry beautiful grapes. When God gave me my life and rented it out to me, he intended my life to be like a beautiful vineyard bearing fruit for God. He intended to come and walk in my vineyard and pick fruit and eat to his heart’s content. There is no more beautiful picture to our life-vineyard than this. Jesus said “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn.15:5) Surely the purpose of my life is to bear fruit for God. Everyone who loves truth should know that “my life is a rented vineyard. I must work this vineyard with my whole heart, and prepare precious fruit for my Father God.” My heart’s prayer should be: “Lord, welcome into my heart, you are my owner. I don’t want to be an irresponsible tenant of my life. Please help me cultivate it and make it fruitful for you. Let Jesus come in and guide me to give this life to you in every way.”