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Matthew 21:33-46: Lord of the Vineyard

Posted by adventbiblestudy on June 23, 2012


Matthew 21:33-46 “Now listen to another story. A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. (34) At the time of the grape harvest, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. (35) But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. (36) So the landowner sent a larger group of his servants to collect for him, but the results were the same. (37) “Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’ (38) “But when the tenant farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ (39) So they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard, and murdered him. (40) “When the owner of the vineyard returns,” Jesus asked, “what do you think he will do to those farmers?” (41) The religious leaders replied, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest.” (42) Then Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.’ (43) I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. (44) Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.” (45) When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them–they were the wicked farmers. (46) They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet.

 

 

From the top of the hill Zerah surveyed his latest purchase. He rotated 360 degrees taking in the entire view. The top of the hill was almost perfectly level, more than a hundred paces across in each direction. The perfect place to construct the center of his vineyard.

 

Many people thought he had overpaid for the land, but Zerah had a vision few people had the ability to see. His investments continued to provide more income than he had imagined. It seemed the more he invested in people, the more he was blessed with security, friendship, and love.

 

Unlike most men, Zerah spent his time planning how to invest his money in a way to bless others. Nothing made him happier then to think of ways to improve the lives of others, and seeing the gratitude in their faces.

 

After completing the transaction and recording the deed, Zerah began work on his vineyard. He believed in setting an example. He hired a few laborers and worked side by side with them to construct a fence around the vineyard. He stood in the trench digging and moving dirt to fashion a pit for the winepress. Zerah ordered timbers and material for a tower. He not only supervised, but aided in the construction of every detail. He spared no expense to construct a vast home for the tenants. To Zerah the gift would not be complete without dirt under his nails, and his sweat hitting the ground.

 

Fields were cleared, trellises installed, and the ground made ready for planting. When all was prepared, Zerah visited every vineyard in the area, inspecting and paying the highest price for the finest stock available. He spent weeks planting every vine. Now the vineyard was ready for the final and most important step.

 

After interviewing almost a hundred people, Zerah finally decided to bless six men with the opportunity to lease and maintain the vineyard. Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, and Sheba, were more than elated to receive such a blessing. They agreed to an open contract based on a portion of the vineyard returned to Zerah every year in proportion to the actual harvest. A higher percentage in years of plenty, less in lean years.

Satisfied everything was in place and the vineyard was in good hands, Zerah departed in search of his next investment.

 

After a few years passed, Zerah was certain the vines had matured enough to produce fruit. During the harvest season he sent three of his servants to the vineyard to collect the rent they had agreed to. They expected the same warm welcome given by all of Zerah’s tenants. Each appreciated the freedom to run their own farms, ranches, and other businesses Zerah established then entrusted to their care. This time it was different.

 

After entering the gate, Zerah’s servants found the vineyard in disarray. It was not maintained at all. The fences needed repair, vine branches were not properly trimmed, and the house, only a few years old, looked completely run down. They stood at the door and knocked. A gentle stirring inside told them someone was home. After waiting a few minutes, they knocked again. They heard a groan. This called for a solid knock at the door, answered by a string of insults hurled at them from inside the house which took them by surprise. At first they did not know what to do, then realized they were on a mission ordered by their master, who owned the house and vineyard. The obvious condition told them the matter required investigation and immediate action. The servants loudly announced the reason for the visit.

 

After a few minutes of persistent knocking the door opened. Uzal burst through the opening with a drawn knife, thrusting it in the heart of the servant at the door, killing him instantly. The others inside the house followed. They began beating the second servant, the third turned and ran. Leaving the second unconscious, they perused the third, catching him just outside the gate. There they stoned him. Leaving him for dead. Returning home, they found the second servant gone. He had escaped, carrying news of the massacre to his master. The tenants went back to their beds.

 

The landowner was perplexed. He had given them everything their hearts desired. This was not how he had expected to be repaid. He thought about the matter and decided to send more servants. Knowing they may meet with resistance, they left one servant at the gate, while the others ventured towards the house. Little did they know, the tenants saw them from the watch tower and prepared an ambush. The servant at the gate witnessed another massacre. He quickly turned and ran to bring news to his master.

 

Not wanting to misjudge the tenants, Zerah sent his son to investigate the matter. He sent his son on the journey alone. He thought, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’

 

From the tower Obal saw the son approaching from a distance and called out to the others. When they first gathered, fear struck their hearts. They did not anticipated a visit from the landowner’s son. They feared they would now face the consequences of their sins. As they discussed the fate they deserved. Uzal offered an alternative. ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’

 

The plan was flawed, but fear and greed gripped their hearts, dulling senses, hardening hearts, and blinding their eyes. They convinced themselves once the son was dead, his father would pass the inheritance to them. On their own they reasoned, since they had control of the vineyard, nothing would change. So they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard, and murdered him.

 

Jesus had just told the parable of the two sons asked to work in the vineyard. One said he would work, but did not go. The other was reluctant, but did go to work. Now Jesus continued the lesson with the parable of the landowner leasing his vineyard to tenants.

James could instantly see the connection between the tenants and the priests. After the parable of the two sons, James could clearly see how Jesus was trying to reach the priests. He looked from one side of the temple court to the other, observing the space between them. It seemed like such a short distance which would take less than a minute to walk. He thought about the spiritual gulf separating the two. He thought to himself, how could both be worshipping the same God, but allow so much to come between them? He was beginning to understand the spiritual interpretation of moving a mountain. James knew, Jesus could not compromise. He had witnessed Jesus’ miracles, listened to him teach, and learned the example He had set for him and others to follow. With all his heart James knew, Jesus’ power and message came directly from God. What would it take for the priests to take the short journey across the temple court to listen to Jesus? Would they ever understand?

 

After telling the parable of the landowner and tenants, Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.’ Once again Jesus was pointing them back to the scriptures. James wondered if the priests were open to investigating the scriptures. Suddenly, like a flash of light the texts following Jesus’ quote came to his memory. “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. Please, LORD, please save us. Please, LORD, please give us success. Bless the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.” (Psalms 118:22-26) This gave James hope the priests would cross the void, and come to learn from Jesus. He began to pray in silence.

 

After a long pause, Jesus continued. “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.”

 

This made James think of the parable of sour grapes at the beginning of Isaiah’s book foretelling the downfall of Israel and Judah. One verse came to mind. “The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. The people of Judah are his pleasant garden. He expected a crop of justice, but instead he found oppression. He expected to find righteousness, but instead he heard cries of violence.” (Isaiah 5:7 NLTse)

 

When Jesus said, “the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit,” was He about to take the kingdom away from the priests and give it to someone else? Does He have the power to do that? How would He do it? Who would He give it to? James suddenly thought of the request his mother had made. Was Jesus finally going to take the kingdom away from the priests and give it to His disciples? Was that possible? All that time they had been thinking Jesus’ mission was to free Judea from Rome. Were the priests really the ones holding the country in bondage?

 

When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them–they were the wicked farmers. They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet.

 

Each side continued about their business. Jesus teaching on His side, the priests preparing for business on their side.

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