We learned that God’s kingdom is like…
A sower that throws seed on the ground because sometimes faith grows; sometimes it doesn’t.
A growing seed because faith grows through repeated, repetitive, consistent and persistent use of God’s Word.
A mustard seed because it is seemingly insignificant work that is of eternal significance.
A homeless fox because it is greater than any material wealth.
An abandoned burial plot because it is greater than any earthly task.
A plow because it is greater than any human relationship.
A treasure because it is worth giving up everything to make sure it’s yours.
A net because it collects all sorts of people on this earth – people that will be sorted when the kingdom work is over.
A banquet because the party will be so awesome in heaven there won’t be any regrets about unaccomplished earthly work here.
One thing that all of those parables have in common is that they focused on future fulfillment. Jesus was teaching his disciples about something that would happen later on.
Today’s parable deals with immediate fulfillment. As in – as soon as Jesus gets done telling it – the exact things he had just predicted to happen began to happen.
Intrigued? This is the parable of the Vineyard Crime Scene. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Parable of the Vineyard Crime Scene
This parable comes from Matthew 21:33. The timeline of this parable is important. It takes place at the end of Jesus’ three years of ministry.
For three years he has preached the good news of God.
For three years he has proclaimed forgiveness to ‘sinners.’
For three years he has befriended the lowly, scum of society.
For three years….
He has infuriated the religious leaders of the day.
In fact, they hated Jesus!
In fact, it would not have been a stretch to say: They hated Jesus!
Crowds had stopped following them and started following Jesus. They hated that.
Crowds had stopped listening to them and started listening to Jesus. They hated that.
Jesus called them “sinners” lumping them in with the scum of society – ‘regular, common, disgusting people.’ They hated that most of all.
And Jesus knows this.
He knows they hate him.
He knows they want to kill him.
He tells the following parable to them:
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He does a lot of the hard work to get the place up and running. He tills the ground. He plants the seeds. He builds an irrigation system. He installs that fence-like apparatus up and down the rows so that the grape vines can grow onto it.
Then, when he has the winery up and running, he realizes – I could make a decent amount of money on this. After all, winery tourism is a huge deal. He builds a wall around it, installs a wine press, adds a watch tower, maybe even a nice patio for visitors to enjoy sipping on a Merlot while the sun sets on the chateau in the distance.
Then, when it’s ready to make some money: He rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. (v.33b) Not that he didn’t still have some involvement. (Our guy is smarter than that) He makes a deal with the farmers to pay him his share of the profits that they make on his winery. Maybe, 25%? (It’s one of those royalty deals that Mr. Wonderful loves to do on Shark Tank.) As long as they are making money on it, he’s making money on it too.
It’s his land and it’s nice they are able to use it at a low price and make some money too.
The time comes for him to pick up his money.
He checks the mail – nothing there.
He looks at his Google Money Request – no dice.
He searches his email for ‘winery royalty’ and there are ZERO search results.
He sends one of his trusted servants. “Could you go to my winery tomorrow and pick up the royalty payment for me? Here’s some spending cash and a first-class airline ticket. Thanks!”
And the servant goes.
And the man waits for him to return.
And he never comes back.
So he says to a second servant: “Maybe Bob wasn’t the most trustworthy. Maybe he took the spending money and went gambling or something? I don’t know. Here. You go to that winery and bring me the royalty check.”
And that servant goes.
And the man waits for his return.
And he never comes.
This goes on for three, four, five servants – until finally, one of them makes his way back to his master.
He in a cast.
The farmers did this to me. I introduced myself politely as your representative. I reminded them that this was your land and it was a kind thing for you to let them use it. And then, they smiled—and sucker punched me. They started kicking me. One of them grabbed a vine to strangle me. If it wasn’t for the pepper spray that I packed on my key chain, I would never have gotten out of there.
Worse. Some of the other servants weren’t so lucky.
I saw a company vehicle that had been torched.
I came across Bob’s blood-stained company jacket.
I hacked into some security footage that shows one of our guys being murdered because he asked for the money.
These aren’t farmers! They’re murderers! Let’s get ‘em.
But the entrepreneur doesn’t get angry.
He doesn’t call the police.
He doesn’t seek revenge…yet.
He says, “Let’s send my son.” They will respect my son. (v.37)
Entrepreneur Jr. gets called into the office.
They explain the situation to him.
They figure – he’s so well-known and so heavily photographed by paparazzi, surely the farmers won’t harm him because such a crime would result in obvious retribution.
But when his son gets there.
And steps out of the company limousine.
And he greets them with a smile and a hearty handshake:
“Gentlemen, I know you’ve had some differences in the past, but I am not here to take everything away from you. I’m just here to collect the portion of rent that is rightfully, legally my dad’s. If you can hand me that check, I’ll be on my way and you can go back to working this vineyard – my Father’s vineyard – in peace. Does that sound like a deal?”
He holds out his hand for the check.
And he smiles.
And the farmers smile.
And they reach in their back pockets.
But not for their wallets,
For their weapons:
“This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” So they took him out of the vineyard and killed him.” (v.39)
II. The Reality of God’s Kingdom
This may be the darkest of the parables.
It seems like it belongs on HBO programming and not in the Bible.
But remember – every parable is an earthly story that teaches us about God’s kingdom.
And Jesus told this parable to teach the angry, hate-filled religious leaders something about God’s kingdom.
When he gets done with the parable he asked them:
When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? (v.40)
And they respond correctly.
He’ll bring those wretches to a wretched end. (v.41)
He’ll get revenge.
He’ll avenge the death of his son.
He’ll get the police involved and all of those murders will be arrested!
Then, he’ll get some new tenants – some better tenants – and rent out the vineyard to them.
Look at Jesus’ response to their answer:
Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…” (v.42)
It’s one more mini parable. This one is about construction. Because in construction, when you are building a house – especially in the ancient world of stone built, brick by brick walls, one of the most important parts of building was the cornerstone.
A cornerstone needs to be a perfectly right angle. The 90-degree bend ensures that every other wall is aligned perfectly in the square. If it’s 89.9 degrees? The whole building will be off. If it’s 90.01 degrees, the building will be off.
It needs to be perfectly straight.
And perfectly hefty as it is foundational for the whole house.
Well, apparently when the builders were looking for the cornerstone – they came across a pretty ugly stone.
It’s not square.
It’s not straight.
It’s just a rock that doesn’t deserve a place anywhere really.
They pick it up and toss it into the construction dumpster.
They don’t need it.
Do you get it yet?
Do you understand the parables?
Because the religious leaders did.
In fact, mark it down!
This is the only parable that they ever understood perfectly. Look:
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. (v.45)
They were the ones who had rejected Jesus, the cornerstone.
They were the ones who kept rejecting God’s servants.
In fact, they were the ones who were literally plotting the death of God’s only Son!
And instead of repenting when they hear Jesus call them out…
Instead of asking forgiveness…
Instead of seeking compassion…what do they do?
They bring the parable to fulfillment:
They looked for a way to arrest Jesus. (v.45)
They looked for a way to arrest the Vineyard owners’ son.
They looked for a way to dispose of the rejected stone.
III. A Familiar Crime Scene…
Why? Why did the Religious leaders do it?
Why did they reject Jesus as Savior and plot his death?
They wanted to steal God’s glory.
PROBLEM: They wanted God’s kingdom to be about their glory.
They didn’t want to depend on someone else, they wanted the glory of depending on themselves.
They didn’t want to have to trust in someone else, they wanted to trust in their own awesomeness.
They didn’t want to have faith in some carpenter from Galilee, they wanted trust in their own sinful selves from Idiotville.
And they were so confident that they wanted no part of Jesus – they were willing to KILL him and fulfill the parable that he just told about them – forever etching themselves in the annals as wretched wretches…
…just to steal some of God’s glory for themselves.
But that’s the part where the crime feels eerily familiar.
It’s kinda like a calling card left by a serial criminal.
The Joker in Batman leaves behind a Joker card.
The local gang leaves behind their brand of graffiti.
The Wet Bandits in Home Alone leave behind a flooded sink.
This “STEALING GOD’S GLORY” thing is a calling card of a very familiar criminal:
Did ya’ll have a good Thanksgiving dinner? Maybe you had some delicious potatoes and some of those green beans with the crispy onions sprinkled on top. Maybe you had some delicious oven roasted turkey with gravy.
And maybe you were involved in making that meal happen!
You spent hours putting it together.
You have blisters from holding the French Chef knife.
Your wallet has a burn hole from the money you spent on the food.
You’re ready to enjoy the meal that you have earned.
And then, right before that first bite of potatoes and gravy, someone inevitably says : “Let’s all take turns saying one thing we’re thankful for.”
And someone thanks God.
And someone else thanks Jesus.
And someone else thanks this God guy again.
And finally, it’s your turn and you get your chance to speak and say: I’m thankful that…I didn’t get too tired this year to make the meal. I mean, I was, but I pulled through. I just buckled down and made the meal. You know – the one that you’re all eating! I did that. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Thank you! I mean – Thank me for making this a great year for me”
Friends, watch out for self-righteousness.
He resides in each of us.
He wants us to steal God’s glory.
“Sure, God loves you. It’s because you’re so lovable.”
“You don’t need Jesus. You’re a pretty good person on your own.”
“OK! Fine, Jesus died for you! But YOU’RE the one who believed in Him so…who’s the real hero here anyway?”
Today, God approaches you like that vineyard owner and asks that you give him what is rightfully his – HIS GLORY!
And the warning from Jesus’ parable is this:
Don’t boot God from God’s kingdom.
Because without God? It’s not God’s kingdom.
And without God’s kingdom… well?
That’s just you. Facing God’s vengeance.
IV. The Cornerstone
Do you remember the rejected stone?
The one with all the bumps.
The one that looked like a terrible choice for any kind of stone, so the builders threw it into the dumpster?
This isn’t in the parable, but I imagine that before they left work for that day the workers went to clock out And as they left, they told their boss that the stone he recommended, didn’t work out! So, they threw it away.
And the boss apologizes. “No worries guys. I’ll work on it. I’ll find the perfect cornerstone and have it in by the morning.
The next day…
As they are drinking their coffee and preparing for another day of work, they come to the construction site and…WHOA! There in the corner – where the best of the best – the visually perfect and totally right stone should be – is that stone that they, the builders, had rejected.
It has become the cornerstone.
And despite the Pharisees’ rejection of Jesus!
And despite their dumping of him into the rejection heap of the cross
And throwing him into a make shift dumpster –called a grave…
Three days later.
Three days later…
Three days later, he comes back to life.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone. The LORD has done this and it is marvelous in his eyes.” (v.42b)
Because no one else could have done this!
No one else could remove our sins.
No one else could win our forgiveness.
No one else could rise form the dead and then promise us eternal life as well.
Except God himself.
Here’s the truth: God’s kingdom is ALL about GOD’S glory.
It’s not about you achieving some kind of glory on your own.
It’s not about you getting enough glory so that God might like you.
It’s not about you earning your way to heaven.
It’s about his grace.
it’s about his forgiveness.
It’s about his glory.
But here’s the thing! Wouldn’t it have been much easier for God to win glory if he just put on some really cool laser light show?
Why didn’t he just stick to making a beautiful sunset?
Why did he go through with all of this awful, suffering and death…he obviously knew it was coming and went through with it anyway?
God went through with this suffering and death in order to bring you into his glory.
Because while God’s kingdom is all about God’s glory…, it’s also true that God’s kingdom is about YOU sharing in God’s GLORY.
That’s why Jesus did what he did.
He loved you that much.
In fact, that’s really the point of all these parables. Whether it’s about planting faith in our heart or preparing a banquet in heaven, whether it’s collecting us in the net of his kingdom work or being the cornerstone to build our eternal lives upon…It’s all about God’s glory and it’s all about YOU sharing in God’s glory.
Glory be to God!
God’s kingdom is marvelous in His eyes!
And…I hope…it’s marvelous in yours too. Amen.