Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent based on Luke 20:9-20
Dear church of God: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The owner of a vineyard has a right to the fruit of the vineyard. In the first century, it was not uncommon for a land owner to lease his land to tenants who would then give the owner his portion of the fruit at harvest time. The tenants’ job was to care for the vineyard in the owner’s absence.
How evil and wicked it would be for tenants not to give the owner what is due to him at harvest time. To add sin on top of sin, the tenants in Jesus’ parable did even worse than not giving the vineyard owner his fruit. They beat the servants the owner sent. The tenants treated the servants shamefully and physically abused them and sent them away empty-handed. Every servant the owner sent was beat up and thrown out of the vineyard with nothing.
Then the vineyard owner sent his beloved son. The tenants threw him out of the vineyard and murdered him. The tenants thought that if they murdered the heir, the vineyard would be theirs. The tenants are so wicked, that they are even blinded in their wickedness to the point of stupidity. Why on earth would the vineyard belong to them because they murdered the son? It doesn’t even make any sense.
The tenants certainly thought that the owner would never return, or that if he did return, he would be powerless to take his vineyard back. They showed no respect for the owner and through their actions showed themselves to be murderous thieves.
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” asks Jesus. “He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” The wicked tenants will not get the vineyard. They will be destroyed.
Scripture makes it clear that Jesus is speaking of the scribes and chief priests who were the leaders of the church. The scribes and chief priests were the tenants of the vineyard, which is the church of God. It was their task to take care of the church. It was their job to teach God’s Word which brings about the fruit of repentance.
But the scribes, Pharisees, and chief priests did not teach God’s Word. They taught that people must earn their place in the kingdom of heaven through keeping the law. They even made up their own laws apart from the Law of God and demanded that people keep their laws in order to earn a place in heaven. Thus Jesus said, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” (Matt. 23:13) By teaching people to earn a place in the kingdom of heaven, they led people to rely on their own works and thus were shutting the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces and leading them into hell.
So God sent His servants the prophets to tell the people that they could not earn heaven because they were sinful and that the only way to heaven is through the promised Saviour. The prophets told people not to rely on their own works because their own works cannot save them. They taught the people that salvation is possible only through the mercy of God.
The prophets were sent to find the fruit of repentance – the fruit of people turning away from sin and trusting in God for forgiveness and salvation. But the prophets were treated shamefully and thrown out of the vineyard. Many of the prophets were murdered, even though Jesus doesn’t mention it in the parable.
So God sent His beloved Son, even though He knew that He would not be respected either. The scribes and chief priests, the leaders of the church, were instrumental in murdering the Son of God. They were the ones who paid one of Jesus’ disciples to betray Him. They were the ones who arrested Jesus at night with a lynch mob. They were the ones who first tried Him at the house of Caiaphas the high priest. The scribes and chief priests were the ones who sought false testimony to accuse Jesus before Pilate and Herod. They were the ones who spit in His face and struck Him. They were the ones who persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and Jesus to be crucified. They were the ones who mocked Jesus as He was suffering on the cross. They were the ones who tried to cover up the resurrection of Jesus by bribing the soldiers guarding the tomb to lie that the disciples had stolen His body during the night.
Yes, it was the church of God that murdered the Son of God. Keep this in mind when you think about the church. We’re not gathered here because we are so good. We’re not gathered here because our being here is some kind of good work that earns a place for us in the kingdom of heaven. We are gathered here because we are miserable sinners. We are gathered here because we know that no matter what we do we cannot earn a place for ourselves in heaven. We are gathered here to receive the forgiveness of sins which Jesus earned by His death on the cross. We are gathered here because we are part of the church of God that murdered the Son of God.
Have you been hurt by someone in the church of God? Maybe even by one of the pastors or leaders of the church? That is sad, but remember what the church is. We’re a bunch of sinners gathered to receive forgiveness together. If we’re capable of murdering the Son of God, we’re capable of hurting each other, too.
So we gather here to receive forgiveness. There is hope for us nowhere else. Only in the church does God call pastors to teach His Word. Only in the church does God give us new birth in the waters of Holy Baptism. Only in the church does God nourish us with the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of all our sins.
The church is God’s vineyard. When one group of tenants is unfaithful in giving the owner of the vineyard His fruit that is due Him, God will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.
The church is so precious to God that He will not allow wicked tenants to be caretakers forever. God will destroy wicked tenants and put His church in the hands of those who will give to God the fruit of repentance.
That’s the fruit that God is looking for. He’s looking for us to turn from our sins every day because we sin every day. He’s looking for us to trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of all our sins.
God Himself brings about this fruit of repentance. His Word turns us from sin. His Word forgives us our sin. His Word gives us trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of all our sin.
Despite all our blemishes, we are the church of God. We are God’s vineyard and He ensures that we are bringing forth the fruit of repentance. After all, we belong to Him. He is the owner of the vineyard, and the owner of a vineyard has a right to the fruit of the vineyard. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.