Matthew 21:33-46 | THE OWNER AND HIS TENANTS



Matthew 21:33-46
Key Verse: 21:37

“Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.”

Jesus said to those who thought they were in good standing with God: “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you.” (21:31) That’s remarkable that the despicable tax collectors and prostitutes would even have a chance at salvation, considering the terrible lives they had led. But Jesus explained to those who thought they were saved on account of their own self righteousness why they were far behind the tax collectors and prostitutes when it came to salvation. He goes on to tell them: “For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did.” (21:32) And that’s why they were excluded from the kingdom of God, while the so called “losers” were making their way in! John preached one message. It was the message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in anticipation for the coming of the Messiah. It was God’s message to all people, regardless of who they are, religious, or not, holy or not, distinguished or not! “Repentance” is the basis of the message God gives to all men. Repent, because fundamentally all men are sinners who need to acknowledge their sins before God, and then repent of them in sorrow and sincerity of heart. But that’s not enough either. Men who repent of their sins ought to also believe God’s promise of a Savior. And this promise is the gospel of Jesus Christ which gives men the privilege to put on Christ’s righteousness. That alone makes them worthy of entering the kingdom of Heaven. John preached this “way” of righteousness, a “righteousness” that comes to them only through “faith”. In other words, God wanted them to believe the gospel. It was the only way they were going to enter the kingdom of God. But they didn’t, while the most unlikely people did. Jesus gave them a story about two sons and their response to their Father’s desire; he did so to show them that it doesn’t matter how one comes to faith, as long as one decides to repent and believe. Salvation isn’t a joke. It matters if one has it or not!

Jesus went on to tell another story. Read verses 33-36. “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. 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 the same way.” What an amazing story Jesus tells here. And it wasn’t new. Isaiah had spoken these words much earlier to the Jews. And he was so broken hearted because of them. (Isaiah 5:1-4) God says to them, “I prepared you to be one of the best vineyards in the world, and took such good care of you with my whole heart, watering you and protecting you. But when I came to collect fruit from you, you refused to give me anything; and what little you gave me was rotten and spoiled!” God may well have spoken these words to any human being because these verses talk not only to the Jews who betrayed God and refused fulfill their God given purpose, but they also speak to everyone else as well.

This story Jesus tells us really describes not only God’s great love for but also his purpose for every man and woman on this planet, especially his own people. He’s the Creator of all things, and their owner, and that includes our lives as well. Jesus tells us that he who made this vineyard in the first place, is also its owner. And as he created this vineyard to serve his purpose, so also he created our lives to serve his purpose. It’s a pity that so many people have no idea about the purpose of this world, thinking that the world is there to be exploited for their benefit. But the earth is clearly God’s own property created to serve only his own purpose. Likewise, he created us, and gave us lives, that we too may serve his own purpose. And when people don’t know the purpose of this earth, they also don’t know the purpose of their own lives either; why they were created and given a life to live. So Jesus gave them a Bible study to remind them of the Owner, and to remind them of something else as well. He would remind them that they were only tenants— lodgers— put there for the express purpose of serving their creator! Tenants clearly aren’t owners. No one really owns their life, or anything else in all creation. But here’s what we learn here from the Lord’s story: The creator God, in his infinite mercy gave life to these people, and in his infinite mercy also appointed them as tenants to take care of the vineyard. Now the vineyard is their life, and it is anything else that the Owner in his mercy chooses to entrust to them to serve his purpose! To the Jews Jesus was speaking to, it was not only their own lives that were leased out to them to care for in a way that serves God’s purpose, but it was also the nation and people and mission he entrusted to them, to care for as tenants and caretakers in a way that also serves God’s purpose. It’s a truth we shouldn’t ignore! Our life is rented out to us! As well as everything else we have that’s God given! Therefore life isn’t ours to do with as we choose. We the tenants privileged to care for God’s property in a way that best serves his purpose.

Your life, my life, is God’s vineyard. And it’s when you and I forget that, that brings trouble upon us. So we must be careful to tend our rented lives according to the owner’s wishes. The story Jesus tells teaches also that the vineyard is the mission-field God entrusts us to work in! It’s similar to the story Jesus told earlier about the two sons. Jesus was talking to the Jews, particularly those whom God had entrusted with his word to cultivate the vineyard of his own people and eventually, all people in the vineyard of the world. The owner gave them the mission and responsibility to make this vineyard fruitful, enough to bear the fruit of God’s love and his word of truth in the hearts and lives of his people. At first, these tenants felt honored and privileged to serve the owner and they worked hard to serve his purpose. Who could forget Abraham and Moses and Joshua and David and the great men and women of the Bible who never once forgot that they were tenants accountable to the Owner; and who said “Yes” to him in bearing fruit according to his purpose? Occasionally there were those who said “No” at first, like Jonah or Gideon, but then changed their minds, humbled themselves and obeyed his wishes. But in Jesus’ time, the tenants’ “yes” had become superficial and meaningless; only words and lip service; while their true intentions were to serve their own greedy purpose. Granted that there were some who in their sinfulness had repented for abandoning God and mission, turning their “No I will not” to “yes I will” honoring the Owner. But as for the selfish and arrogant, when the Owner sent his servants to collect what is due him, they abused them and sent them away empty handed.

And this story has repeated itself so many times in the history of the human race. God gives life as well as mission purpose to all people who he creates, especially to his own chosen people. The way to see it is as an honor and a privilege— receiving life and mission purpose from God. At the same time it’s within God’s full right to look for fruit from the vineyard he owns and rents out for that purpose. It’s the truth! But people so often ignore, despise and reject the simple truth that their lives aren’t theirs, and that life is given for a purpose to serve God in any way God so chooses. Especially God’s people, Christians often stand guilty of abandoning this truth, using so many different excuses. Actually it’s not difficult to realize what God wants of his people. For those who study the Bible with humble submissive hearts, God’s purpose is so often so clear! Who can deny that it’s God’s call for his people to live according to the gospel teaching! Or who could deny the word that calls us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (22:37-38) The will of God is clear to those who want to obey! But the one who says “yes I do” without sincerity of heart; who appears obedient but has an arrogant rebellious heart; who appears to be serving God, but in reality he serves only himself; this person is also the one who believes his life to be his own, to do with as he wants, and so he ends up choosing his own path and serving his own purpose. Of all the sins of his people that Jesus could’ve exposed in this parable, he exposed the one sin that offends God and brings about destruction; THE SIN OF REFUSING GOD WHAT IS RIGHTFULLY HIS, THE SIN OF ABUSING THE SERVANTS HE SENDS TO COLLECT, AND FINALLY THE MORTAL SIN OF REJECTING HIS SON. In essence the Jews Jesus was speaking to wanted to keep what is God’s for themselves. As for us, it’s often easy to say “I’m not like that! I’d never do that! I’m doing what God wants me to do”, while at the same time refusing to listen to counsel when the word of God is given me; getting angry and abusive when I’m challenged to repent or to reform; and even shaping the word of God in my own understanding and to my own purpose! It would do us well to often reflect on the word of God and to examine our hearts in the light of the truth!

It was not enough that they denied God what is rightfully his, abused the servants he sent to challenge their sin, they also had commit the unthinkable sin! Read verse 37-39. “Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” Perhaps others soon give up and no longer pursue the truth in love. But not the Owner! Even after abusing every servant he sent them, God didn’t let them be. He still loved them. And so he wanted them see how vital it is to do what they were created to do and to produce the fruit according to the purpose for which the vineyard was rented out to them for! In his great loving patience for these rebel tenants, the Owner decided to send his own son. They would have to honor his son, he thought! How could they not! The owner hoped that the son’s appearance and his God-given words would move their hearts and bring them to their senses.

Jesus once told us what the greatest sin of the human race is, even the sin of those who claim to know God and follow him. He said: “When the [Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regards to sin… Because men do not believe in me.” (John 16:8-9) The human race in general had long abandoned God and ignored the truth about their origin and purpose. People no longer acknowledge that God is the Creator, and that their lives belong to God and have a purpose to serve God. They do not produce the fruit God demands of them— the fruit of faith and goodness and love and righteousness. Rather when they put God out of their lives, as pretend owners of their own lives and vineyards, they had no idea that in doing this, they still produce fruit— but only the fruit of sin and of the sinful lives they live apart from God. They abuse those who would speak the truth to them, who would call them to turn their hearts to God, and often they scoff at anything that does not appeal to their sinful nature. Yet God did not give up on us. He sent his Son to us to talk sense to us. The words of the Son he sent have been the most sensible and illuminating words ever spoken to this degenerate world. What he said convicts the heart and shines light on the darkness. Yet, they killed him because they saw he was different, holy and a danger to their corrupt lives. It was the greatest sin to reject and kill the Son. People have no idea what a terrible sin it is to reject the Son of God and turn him away from their hearts and lives. To reject him is to reject God and God’s purpose for us all. Even Christians must be careful after receiving him as Lord and Savior, not to become callous to his words and teachings, and especially to the purpose he died and rose again— which is to give us new lives that no longer bear the fruit of sin, but lives that bear the fruit of righteousness— fruit that can only be borne when we surrender ourselves to his grace and truth.

Rejecting the Son and killing him was a crime against the Owner of the vineyard. All he wanted from these tenants was some fruit of his vineyard so that together with them he might enjoy the fruits of their lives and labor. But they labored only for their own benefit and became repugnant to the Owner. When the Lord calls you and me to give him the life he had given us, what does he want from us? First of all, he wants us to break free from the life of sinful living which yields only bad fruit deserving death and judgment. He also wants to bind himself to us in a relationship based on his grace, in order to give us the means to produce what we were created to produce in the first place— the fruit of a godly life. For that, God calls us to give our lives back to him, so that together with him we might share his many blessings. Unfortunately, people usually behave like the tenants in this story. They not only reject the son but conspire together to rid themselves of any and all challenges that make them accountable to God. They think they can get away with it. But when we hear the rest of the story Jesus told, we know what the outcome is. When the Owner’s love is rejected, there is nothing left but judgment. Judgment is not something even Christians like to talk about. But how can we deny what the Bible tells us! According to verse 41, the Owner comes to cut them down to pieces and to give his vineyard to others! What a terrible end for those who harden their hearts to God’s repeated attempts to serve his purpose for their lives.

Read verse 42. We have no doubt they had read these words in Scripture because most of them were very familiar with the word of God in the Bible, and even confessed that they abided by it! But the truth is that while they read these words, they never took them to heart. They had understood God in their own way, patterned him in their own image, used him to their own advantage, and imposed their God on others. They were builders building a building with a wrong foundation that will one day crumble, even though at the time it looked sturdy. Many people seem to do that as well, and among them are the pretend believers who pattern God and his Christ according to their own understanding and in an image appealing to the crowds. But God cannot be mocked. From the beginning God had been telling his people that he has a cornerstone upon which he will build his church and people. It would be wonderful thing that God will do and has already done. But when Christ came and taught and served in a way that did not appeal to them, and went contrary to their worldly plans, and challenged their rebellious spirit towards the Owner, they rejected this capstone and stumbled on him! (44) So here’s what God said to them or anyone who doesn’t take the words of Christ to heart and build on him, especially when it requires repentance, humility and much sacrifice. Look at verse 43. God said that the kingdom will be taken away from them and given to others who would be glad to produce its fruit.

We shouldn’t stumble on Jesus and his teachings, so that we neither fall on this stone nor let it fall on us, but rather build our lives on Jesus, the capstone. How do we do that? There is no other way except to remain rooted in the word of God, to study it, to reflect on it, to let it challenge our thoughts and feelings, our understanding and wisdom, and let it rebuke us and encourage us as we remain humble and submissive to God and to his will. God gave us life, actually rented it out to us. And he gave us a mission field, whatever it is, so that we might labor in it to produce its fruit and give it to God. For us also teaching the word of God and sharing the gospel and producing disciples especially among the young people in our colleges and work places, and anywhere else the Lord may have for us, is also our mission purpose. “Go and make disciples… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20) is our charge in today’s vineyard. But to do that, we have to continue building on the Rock of ages, Jesus as we receive and obey his words in the Bible. May God bless our ministry to produce fruit in our own lives and in the lives of others, on campuses and in every nation he calls us to serve. Amen.

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