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081005 - Matthew 21.33-46

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21st Sunday after Pentecost                Sermon Text: Matthew 21:33-46

Let us pray: let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

            “Hear another parable.” With these words, Jesus continues his rebuking of the Jewish authorities. In the Gospel account last week, we heard how the chief priests and elders challenged Jesus’ authority as He taught in the temple. Our Lord countered their opposition to Him, by asking them a question in return, and, when they did not answer Him, He further criticized them by relating the parable of the two sons. Our lesson for this morning is a continuation of our Lord admonishing these Jewish authorities in the temple on Tuesday of Holy Week, as He bids them to hear another parable.

            The picture language of a vineyard would not be lost on the chief priests, scribes, and elders – those who were trained in and were responsible for knowing the Scriptures. The prophet Isaiah used such imagery of a vineyard, as we heard in our Old Testament lesson this morning. Yet Isaiah was not the only prophet to use the vineyard as a description; for the prophet Jeremiah did as well. Yes, the chief priests, the scribes – the elders of the Jewish nation, knew full well the imagery of the vineyard.

             They knew that the master of the house who planted the vineyard represented God. God had planted a nation; the nation of Israel. He gave to them the land flowing with milk and honey; the land of Canaan. This great and mighty landowner had put a wall around His nation; a wall of law and of promise, to surround the nation of Israel and separate them from all other nations. In addition, set up within the vineyard of Israel, God had erected a watchtower to protect His people from error and from wrongdoing. Remember the words spoken to the prophet Ezekiel: “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” (Ezekiel 33:7).  God had made Israel a nation among nations. He had given them everything. Yes these chief priests, scribes and elders were well aware that God had provided for them, He had set up the priesthood, given them an order of worship, and had even provided the promise of a Messiah.

            Then Jesus, using the picture language of a vineyard, from the prophet Isaiah, turns this imagery around. In Isaiah’s song of the vineyard, the people of Israel are pictured as the vineyard that had failed to produce fruit despite the strenuous efforts of the vineyard keeper. Yet Jesus describes a vineyard that does produce fruit, but the tenants refuse to give the owner his share of the crop.

            It must have been uncomfortable for the chief priests, scribes and elders to hear this parable, for they knew that Jesus was speaking about them. They were the tenants whom God had leased His vineyard to. And here is this Jesus of Nazareth accusing them of beating, killing, and stoning those whom God had sent. God had sent his prophets, and when the leaders of the Jewish people had beaten and killed and stoned them, He sent more prophets, prophets such as: Samuel, Nathan, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, Hosea, Amos, Joel and Obadiah, Jonah, Micah and Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai and Zechariah, Malachi, and most recently, John the Baptist. Not only that, but to add insult to injury, this Galilean was also suggesting that when the God, the owner of the vineyard, sends His son they too would kill him.

Yet as uncomfortable as it must have been, the chief priests, scribes and elders, when asked: “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” (Matt. 21:40), they boldly answer: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Matt. 21:41). They pronounce judgment upon themselves. Why would they do such a thing? Why would anyone want to pronounce judgment upon oneself? Yet, let us think back to the account of King David and Bathsheba.

One sunny afternoon, David saw a woman bathing on a roof. She was quite beautiful, and he desired her, and as king he could, after all, have what he desired. So he took her and lay with her. David had inquired who she was, and discovered that she was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Some time passed, and Bathsheba came to David and told him that she was pregnant. David, caught in his sin, schemed first to trick Uriah, to cover the fact that Bathsheba had be unfaithful, by urging Uriah to go home to his wife. Yet when the dutiful Uriah would not go, and sooner or later would find out that his wife was with child, David further schemed to have Uriah put to death. He sent Uriah to the frontlines of a battle, and commanded his general to pull back the troops in order that Uriah would be struck down, and die. And so, Uriah died, and Bathsheba came to the house of David and became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord (2 Sam. 11:27).

So the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to David, and Nathan told David a parable: “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him” (2 Sam. 12:1-4). David, his anger burning against the rich man declares that this rich man, who had stolen all that the poor man had, this little lamb, should pay for his sin – he should be put to death. David pronounced judgment upon himself, for Nathan tells him: “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 2:7). So, like David, the chief priests, scribes and elders of Jesus’ time, had pronounced judgment upon their actions. 

            Nathan, a prophet of God, sent by God to bring this deed that David had done to the forefront, contradicts David’s judgment upon himself, and tells David: “The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13). Like Nathan, Jesus does not agree with the judgment the chief priests, scribes and elders have devised. Jesus doesn’t say to them, “You’re right! You should die for what you have done and what you are about to do.” That is not how our Savior works. Rather, upon the cross he cries out to His father in heaven: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

            Well then, you may ask, “David and the chief priests, scribes and elders, they got off scot free?” Not exactly, for there are consequences to sin. If you remember, while David did not die, the Lord punished his sin, for Nathan declares: “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die” (2 Sam. 12:14). Jesus, as well, pronounces: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Matt. 21:43).

            So then, there has to be some accountability for sin, you are probably thinking. While David didn’t die, his son did. And while the chief priests and Pharisees didn’t die, they lost the kingdom of God, for it was given over to a people producing its fruits. Even our first parents, Adam and Eve suffered from the consequences of sin. For God said to Eve: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). And to Adam He said: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:17-19).

            Yes, there are consequences for sin. We know that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).  There is a three –fold aspect concerning death: there is spiritual death, temporal death, and eternal death. Spiritual death consists of our alienation from God and our corrupt nature that does not want God to be God; rather we want to be God. Temporal death, a term that should speak for itself, is the termination of the physical body, with all the accompanying diseases and miseries; for as God said, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). Then there is eternal death, that is, the eternal separation from God – appropriately called damnation, as St. Paul writes in his first letter to the church in Thessalonica: “those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus… they will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (1 Thess. 1:7, 9).

            You and I feel the consequences of our sinful actions as well don’t we? For example: if I were to go out and steal a car, when I was caught, which I bet, wouldn’t take too long, there would be the consequence of my sinful act of theft. I would go to jail. Likewise, if you were to go out and murder someone, chances are, you too would be caught, and face a prison sentence. When a person defies the government or civil authority, there are consequences. Or when a person commits adultery, gratifying the desires of the flesh, they too must face the consequences. For without consequences, the Law would be worthless. And while we, like the chief priests, scribes, elders, even David, may try and convince ourselves that we have not broken the law, or have gotten away with something, our conscience tells us otherwise.

Yes, there are consequences for sin. When we sin, we alienate ourselves from God. We do not love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might. It is because of our sinful nature that we feel the effects of age, the aches and pains, the numerous diseases that threaten to close our eyes. If we reject Christ, and say to ourselves as the fool says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1) we risk eternal death. Oh, yes, there are consequences for sin, for we live in a sinful world and we are by nature sinful and unclean.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

“And [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:24-25). The consequences of sin have been paid for. That is why our heavenly Father sent His only Son into the world – to be the ransom for sin. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21 NIV). Look to the cross on Calvary and see Him who bears the weight of our sins. Look to the cross on Calvary and see Him who was wounded for our transgressions, who was crushed for our iniquities. Look to the cross on Calvary and see Him who bore the chastisement that brings us peace. Look to the cross on Calvary and see Him who died so that we might live.

Therefore, as St. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). So while Adam and Eve, David, the chief priests, scribes and elders, even ourselves, believe we see temporal consequences to sin, God is using these consequences not as punishment, but as discipline.

For Adam and Eve, they had been banished from the Garden of Eden to prevent them from living forever in their transgressions by eating of the tree of Life. Now that they were expelled, there needed to be some sort of labor, and from this labor, though it would be taxing, man would survive. Though the pangs of childbirth were greatly increased, Adam and Eve were still fruitful and multiplied.

For David, though he did not die, his son, born out of wedlock to him by Bathsheba did. David grieved, but had faith that son was with God. “David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” “He said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept…but now he is dead… I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:20, 22-23).

For the chief priests, scribes and elders, they ultimately had their way, and put Jesus to death, fulfilling the prophecy. In his epistle to the church in Rome, St. Paul writes: “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in…For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:25, 30-32).

For you and I, we feel the effects of sin. Our bodies’ age, we contract diseases. When our time comes, we will fall asleep in death. But these are not the punishments of our sins, but rather God disciplining us; as the author of Hebrews states: “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:6). And our death is not eternal death, for “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life”
(Rom. 6:4).

Let us, therefore, give thanks to God that His Son, Christ Jesus told this parable. For he further incited the Jewish authorities to take action against Him, and put Him to death upon a cross. It was upon that cross Christ suffered and died, even for the sins of the chief priests, and Pharisees who had been bad tenants in the vineyard of the Lord. Through their evil God brought about the salvation of the world. By Christ Jesus’ stripes, our Lord has healed us and has rescued us from death by His death. All thanks and glory be to our Almighty God who for us and for our salvation sent His only-begotten Son to pay for our sins and bear the consequences of our sins. Let us sing praises to our Father in heaven, who gives us our daily bread, who forgives us our trespasses, who delivers us from evil. All glory and honor be to Christ Jesus who sent His Spirit, that through the hearing of the Word, we have been called by the Gospel and assured that our sins have been forgiven and paid for, and that we are brought to faith in Him, the Savior of the World. Amen.

The Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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