Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 21:33-46
Dear tenants in God’s vineyard: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The tenants of the vineyard apparently did not believe their master would ever return. If they believed that their master would return, they wouldn’t have beaten, stoned, and murdered his servants. If they believed that their master would return, they wouldn’t have thrown his son out of the vineyard and murdered him. If they believed that their master would return, they wouldn’t have thought that murdering his son would mean that they get his inheritance.
The only way for those tenants to keep the vineyard would be if the master never came back to claim what was his. It certainly would not be theirs legally. No legal system transfers ownership of inheritance from the heir to you if you murder the heir. Their only hope for keeping possession of the vineyard was if the master never returned from his journey.
The vineyard did not belong to the tenants. The master was the one who planted it. He was the one who put a fence around it. He was the one who dug a winepress in it to make wine from the grapes at harvest. The master was the one who built the watchtower so that an eye could be kept over the vineyard.
The vineyard belonged to the master, so he had a right to the fruit of the vineyard. The tenants would get wine too, more than enough, but they decided to take over the vineyard and murder the master’s servants and son.
Jesus asked, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” The chief priests and Pharisees responded, “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.”
Jesus confirms that they have answered correctly. He tells them, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” Only then did they realize Jesus was speaking about them.
Jesus was speaking about the Jewish people who had been planted in God’s vineyard to be his people. God did everything for them. He planted them in the promised land that flowed with milk and honey. He put the fence of His Law around them to guide them and protect them. Wine, which they did not have during their wandering in the wilderness as a punishment for their rebellion against God, was given them in the promised land. The watchtower was manned as God repeatedly sent them His servants, the prophets, to act as watchmen and proclaim to them repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
However, the prophets God sent were mistreated, beaten, and murdered. God was seeking His own fruit from His own vineyard. Jesus says the master sent his servants to get his fruit. It was not the fruit of the tenants. God wasn’t looking for anything but faithfulness from His people, but they murdered His servants, the prophets. God is patient and long-suffering. So He sent more prophets, but these too were treated the same as the others. So God sent His Son to His people, but they threw Him out of the city of Jerusalem and crucified Him.
The kingdom of God was taken away from the people of Israel and given to nations producing its fruits. Jerusalem was destroyed. The Temple was destroyed, and there was not one stone left upon another that was not thrown down, as Jesus prophesied (Matt. 24:2). To this day there is no Temple; there is no return to the old covenant with the people of Israel.
There is however, a new covenant with the new Israel. As Romans teaches us, “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” (Rom. 9:7) The promises that God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob remain for those who are true children of Abraham, namely those who believe God’s promises and share the faith of Abraham.
The people of Israel rejected the faith of Abraham. Abraham believed God’s promise that from His offspring would come the Saviour of the world. When prophets came to preach the Saviour’s coming, they were beaten, killed, and stoned by the Israelites. When the Saviour Himself came and took on our flesh, the people of Israel rejected Him and crucified Him. They pursued eternal life through their own works, thus they saw no need for a Saviour.
Now, the Gospel has spread to the far reaches of the earth, to many nations, languages, and peoples. The Church is God’s vineyard, spread throughout the world, and the Church will remain until Christ returns.
Our Master will return. He has promised that He will return. He will return to judge the living and the dead.
Thus, we need to realize that we do not own God’s vineyard, the Church. We are merely tenants, who are required to be faithful. We cannot do whatever we want with the Church, we must be faithful to God’s Word lest our Master return and take the kingdom of God away from us and give it to a people producing its fruits.
God has planted us in His vineyard, the church, to be His people. God has done everything for us. He planted us in His Kingdom through the waters of Holy Baptism. He has put the fence of His Law around us to guide us and protect us. Wine of His vineyard He gives to us, the very blood of Jesus which gives us the forgiveness of sins. He has set a watchtower over us and sends His ministers to act as watchmen and proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins. God is not looking for anything but faithfulness from His people. He’s not looking for us to earn our salvation through what we do – we cannot do it! He simply wants His fruit from His vineyard.
God’s fruit will grow in His vineyard, because He is the one who planted it and waters it. He is the one who has baptized us into the Church. He is the one who strengthens our faith through His Word. He is the one who nourishes us with the body and blood of Jesus which takes away all our sins.
God does this, because the Son who was thrown out of the city and killed is Jesus Christ, our Lord. He came to earth for the very purpose of dying for rebellious sinners. He knew that He would be rejected by the Israelites. He knows that He will be rejected by many also today – those who pursue eternal life through their own works and thus see no need for a Saviour.
Yet, God is patient and long-suffering. He continues to send out His word of repentance. He continues to send out the message of forgiveness. He continues to send out His message which tells you that His Son has suffered in your place so that you will not be punished for your sins. You have the promised inheritance of eternal life.
Our Master will return, and He will get His fruit from His vineyard. But we, the tenants, will not be left without wine. We get wine too, more than enough. With every drop of wine, we receive also the blood of Jesus – that precious blood of Jesus which forgives our sins, strengthens our faith, and thus is fruit for our master. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.