Matthew 21:33-46 (Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 22)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
October 8, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 21:
33Hear another parable. There was a man who was the master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it, built a tower, and rented it out to farmers and went on a journey. 34When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his slaves to the farmers to receive his fruit. 35And the farmers took his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again, he sent other slaves, more than the first, and they did the same to them. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38But the farmers, when they saw the son, said to themselves, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and let us have his inheritance.” 39And when they had taken him, they threw him outside of the vineyard and killed him. 40When, therefore, the master of the vineyard should come, what will he do to those farmers? 41They said to him, “He will severely destroy those evil ones and he will rent out the vineyard to other farmers who will give back to him the fruits in their seasons.” 42Jesus said to them, Have you never read in the Scriptures, “The stone which the builders rejected, this one has become the head of the corner; this happened from the Lord and it is marvelous in our eyes?” 43On account of this, I say to you, the reign and rule of God will be taken away from you and it will be given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be dashed to pieces and the one upon whom it falls, it will crush him. 45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parable, they realized that He spoke concerning them. And they were seeking to arrest Him, but they were afraid of the crowds since they held Him to be a prophet.
There was a television commercial years ago for “Just for Men” hair color that starred former Mets first-basemen Keith Hernandez and former NBA player Walt “Clyde” Frazier. They were doing “play-by-play” at a sports bar. “Here comes Mr. Gray Beard approaching Miss Hottie,” they announce. The lady shakes her hands to him, saying “Not interested,” to which Hernandez and Frazier make the call, “Oh, no! Reeejected!” “Clyde, that’s gotta hurt. Yeah, no play for Mr. Gray. Get that man some Just for Men brush in color gel.” Of course, with the brush in color gel, Mr. Gray gets his beard looking natural again and is a winner. Jesus’ parable in our Gospel lesson today illustrates rejection and what that means for us as a new people in Christ.
The point of comparison in Jesus’ parable spoken to the chief priests and Pharisees is that God Himself is like the master of a house who planted a vineyard. This vineyard was state-of-the-art; it had everything—a hedge for a fence, a wine press on site, a watchtower. The vineyard stands in for God’s people of Israel. Jesus is using with the chief priests and Pharisees the same illustration He used with the people of Isaiah’s day when He said, “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? . . . For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isa. 5:1-7 ESV).
God’s covenant people had rejected Him and His Word. They had rejected His commandments. They rejected His unfailing love! The vineyard owner, Yahweh Himself, sent His prophets to call His people to repentance and faith. But they would not. They would not produce fruits in keeping with repentance. They would not live as God’s covenant agreement demanded that they live, in accordance with His Torah—His instruction, statutes, and commands. For example, the prophet Amos speaks to Israel, “Thus says Yahweh: For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have rejected the Torah of Yahweh, and have not kept his statutes, but their lies have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked” (Amos 2:4). Jeremiah announced, “O Yahweh, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent” (Jer. 5:3). And through Ezekiel God says, “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord Yahweh. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin” (Ezek. 18:30).
God’s people not only rejected His Word, His covenant promises, and His commandments, but they also rejected those called to speak God’s Word. They rejected the prophets. They beat and killed the prophets of the Lord. God wanted to show mercy and unfailing love to His covenant people. “As I live, declares the Lord Yahweh, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11). As the Son of God lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37 ESV).
You and I are not always willing to be gathered to the Lord either. Each time we fail to do the good things God has commanded, every time we do what the Lord forbids, we are rejecting Him and His Word. Sin is rebellion against God, rejecting what He has given us in His Word that is to be for our good and for our benefit. When you and I reject God’s Word, we are placing our fear, love, and trust in ourselves or in something else that God has created. We determine to do things “my” way and not according to His Word. We get comfortable in our sins. We begin to see them as “not so bad.” We may then fail to confess them as sin and fall into unrepentance, not seeking the Lord’s precious Word of Absolution. That is how we can reject God’s unfailing love for us, by not making use of the Means of receiving that love and mercy and grace, by rejecting His Word of salvation.
Although God has a love and a patience beyond the farthest reaches of our imagination, the Bible does confront us with the possibility that someone can spurn God once too often. “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). “The one who falls on this stone will be dashed to pieces and the one upon whom it falls, it will crush him” (Matt. 21:44). We do not want to fall into unrepentance as God’s covenant people of old did. We do not want to continue in our rejection of Him and His Word of Law and Gospel. For we do not wish to face God’s wrath and anger against our sins and our sinful selves. And because of another rejection, we do not have to. There is comfort and hope, forgiveness and new life for sinners.
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:9-14 ESV). God sent and sent and sent again His Word through His prophets. Finally, the Word of God Himself became incarnate. The Son of God took on human flesh in order that He, the God-Man Jesus, might be rejected by sinners so that sinners would not be rejected by God. As God through Isaiah promised, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3 ESV).
Jesus bore the sorrows and condemnation of all people. He bore our sins in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). Rejected by His own people, Jesus was taken outside the vineyard, outside the city of Jerusalem. There He was killed by being nailed to a cross on Calvary’s hill. As He suffered and bled bearing our sins, Jesus was then rejected by God the Father. Jesus was forsaken by God, enduring hell itself as He died in our place. And because Jesus faced this rejection by the heavenly Father, God does not reject you.
The death of Jesus Christ on the cross purchased the complete forgiveness of all your sins. He shed His holy, precious blood to cleanse you from your sins of rejecting His Word, His Commandments, and His Promises. You are forgiven for the sins of placing your fear, love, and trust in someone or something else in this world. You are forgiven for your failures to do the good which the Lord commands as well as for the doing the evil which He forbids. God the Son was given up into death and raised again from the dead so that you yourself might die to sin and be raised up again to live a new life of repentance and faith. Through the death and resurrection of the royal Son of God, Jesus Christ, you are made heirs of eternal life and salvation. So we read in Titus, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:4-7 ESV).
Through His Gospel Word of Promise, God gives us the free gift of saving faith, trust, in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. This saving faith receives God’s unfailing love and grace. This faith apprehends the complete forgiveness of our sins. By His grace through faith, the Lord recreates us to be new people in Christ. Jesus said to the chief priests and Pharisees, “. . . the reign and rule of God will be taken away from you and it will be given to a people producing its fruits.” In Christ, you are that “people.” Through Holy Baptism, Christ drowns the old sinful nature in us, the Old Adam, by daily sorrow over sins and repentance. Christ then raises up a new person within us who now, by the power of the Spirit working through Baptism, lives before God in righteousness and purity forever.
You and I now bear fruit in keeping with repentance! We are enabled and empowered by the Gospel through the Spirit’s work to give to God the fruits of our faith that He produces in us. You, as God’s new people in Christ, are able to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. You are able to show love and mercy to your neighbor with concrete words and actions. You and I share. We do not cheat others out of what is theirs. We do not extort money or things from people by threats. We don’t falsely accuse or lie. We are content with what God has given us (Mark 3). You and I now love with the reckless love of God. We show patient endurance to others. We help and support our neighbor in every physical need.
As we love God and our neighbor by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit who works these fruits of repentance and faith in us by the Means of Grace, we also have the assurance that we will never hear from God, “Reeejected!” Rather, we hear the Gospel promises, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20) “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus, true God and true Man, was rejected in our place so that, through His death and resurrection, we would have forgiveness for the times we reject God and His Word as well as for the times we reject loving our neighbor. Because of Jesus’ rejection, God gives us these gifts without any merit or worthiness in us. He bestows upon us His Spirit through Word and Baptism to make us holy so that we actually are and can truly live as new people in Christ who love God and our neighbor. We bear the fruits of faith in keeping with repentance because that is what God in Christ through the Spirit produces in us by means of the Word, Baptism, and Lord’s Supper. For you and I are His people. We are heirs of life everlasting in His Kingdom. Amen.