2019-10-06 The Parable of the Tenants

The Parable of the Tenants
Mark 12:1-12
October 06, 2019

Prayer for Illumination:

Teach us your way, O Lord, and lead us on a level path. Teach us, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then we will keep them to the end. Give us understanding, and we will keep your law and obey it with all our hearts. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture:

         “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone;

11      this was the Lord’s doing,

and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away. [1]

The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of God stands forever.

We love to tell stories. Part of the reason that we love to tell stories is that we can address issues in a roundabout way. When our kids are little we read to them fairy stories. We read them Hansel and Gretel. Why? Because in the story of Hansel and Gretel we can address the issue of trusting strangers in a roundabout way. And that is what Jesus does here. He tells a story so he can address issues in a roundabout way.

The Sanhedrin has sent their delegation to ask Jesus about his authority. We saw that Jesus wouldn’t answer their question. He knew they had rejected John and he knew that they had rejected him and his ministry. So he didn’t answer their question. He simply said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

That doesn’t mean that Jesus has stopped speaking to the delegation from the Sanhedrin. He continues to speak to them the rest of the day. He begins by telling them a parable. The parable touches on the question that they asked him. The parable indirectly touches on the question about Jesus’ authority. But that’s not the main purpose of the parable. The main purpose of the parable is to make clear that Jesus is the ultimate and final messenger of God. As we examine this parable, we’ll note three things: first God’s loving-kindness toward his people, God’s judgment, and God’s victory.

God’s Loving-Kindness toward His People

Jesus begins this parable saying, “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country.”

The “man” is God and the “vineyard” is God’s covenant people. And God has provided everything necessary for the vineyard’s success. It is well-stocked. The man put a fence, built a winepress, and he built a tower. Those are all the necessary for a vineyard to be successful and produce plenty of wine.

God in his loving-kindness has provided everything necessary for his people to bear fruit. He has provided his holy Word which reveals his will. Everything necessary for God’s people to grow in knowledge of God and holiness is found in his Word.

To care for his vineyard, the man placed tenants in charge. The tenants are the leaders of God’s covenant people. They are the ministers who God has entrusted to care for and cultivate his chosen people. We’ve noted over the last couple of weeks that the primary task of the minister is to teach God’s word. God’s ministers have been given everything they need to care for and cultivate the people we have been given.

In his loving-kindness, God sends prophets to his people. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.

The word for sent is apostellw. We get the apostle from that. Apostellw carries a connotation of official sending. This is the word that an emissary sent by the king would use. The servants are official representatives of the man. Prophets are official representatives of God.

And God sent the prophets to make sure that the leaders were faithful. God sent the prophets so that the leaders of God’s people were ministering as they should. If the leaders were not doing what they were supposed to be doing, the prophets were to call them to repent. The prophets were sent out of God’s loving-kindness toward his people.

While God has sent his Church prophets, the leaders so often reject them. Virtually of the prophets that God sent to his covenant people were rejected by the very people God had entrusted to care for them. The Bible is filled with examples of this. In 1 Kings 17, we’re introduced to the prophet Elijah. Elijah is sent to proclaim God’s Word and show that the various pagan gods are nothing. And after those things, Ahab the king of Israel seeks to kill Elijah. Centuries later, Jeremiah another prophet sent by God was thrown in a cistern for proclaiming God’s Word.

So often when we read the Bible, we identify with the heroes. When we read David and Goliath, we picture ourselves in David’s shoes when in reality we are the Israelite army needing God to provide someone to save us from a giant enemy.

When we read this passage, we should recognize that more often than not we are like the leaders who have rejected God’s prophets. God sends ministers to us to proclaim his word and we reject them. We hear them call us to repent and we get upset. We read the Bible and we come across passages that we don’t like, and we think, “It can’t mean that. Nope.” And when someone comes and preaches those things, we get upset. We don’t like pastors get up and preach things like Jonathan Edwards preached in his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. As a culture we don’t like when pastors call sin sin and say it is a rejection of God.

That’s why so many of our mainline denominations have gone liberal. Many of those pastors and congregants don’t like the message in God’s Word. The come across passages that call out their sin and they say, “It can’t mean that.” And they promptly disregard it. Then when anyone teaches on that, they get angry and reject that person as a minister of God.

Even after the constant rejection of his servants, the man still has one left to send. He had still one other, a beloved son. Despite the rejection of his prophets, God sends his Son, his beloved Son. That seems so illogical. Why would he willingly send his beloved son to people who have treated him so poorly, rejecting his servants?

Commentator James Edwards notes this shows “the indefatigable love of God” and his compassion for his people[2]. God has loved his Church with an everlasting love. He loved us when we were unlovely and at odd with him. That is exactly what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 5:8. The Apostle writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. When we were his enemies, when we had rejected his ministers and servants God loved us. He didn’t love us because we were good people who needed some help to be better people. He loved us when we were his enemies, rebelling against him, and killing his ministers and servants. His love for us, his covenant people, is an indefatigable love. So he sends his Son, his beloved Son. God shows his everlasting loving-kindness by sending his Son to us.

The original hearers would have immediately thought of Genesis 22 when they heard “beloved son”. They would have remembered Abraham and his son, his beloved son, Isaac and how God provided a ram. Yet unlike Isaac, there is no lamb to save this son. The tenants kill the son.

The leaders of Israel handed Jesus over to be killed. Jesus was killed and thrown outside the city in a borrowed tomb. Jesus knew that the leaders were plotting and planning his death. He knew that in two days they would arrest him and hand him over to the Roman authorities who would crucify him. That’s why he included this in his parable. It was part of the plan. The plan from the very beginning was meant to showcase God’s loving-kindness toward his people in redeeming them when they were his enemies.

God’s loving-kindness should be a great comfort to us. It should comfort us in knowing that God’s loving-kindness for his covenant people is indefatigable. We cannot wear out God’s loving-kindness and mercy to us.

Earlier in the service we read together from Psalm 103. We read “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

A little later in the psalm, David writes “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” The Lord our God loves us, his covenant people, with a long-suffering love. He is patient with us in our sin not because he condones it but because he is patiently working to make us look more like his Son our Lord Jesus.

As we works to make us more like Jesus, more of our sin will be revealed. When he reveals our sin to us, we are often broken and weep over our sin. And in those moments, we often wonder if we will exhaust or fatigue God’s loving-kindness toward us. For those in Christ, we can never exhaust or fatigue God’s love for us. He loved us enough to go to the cross for us.

God’s loving-kindness should encourage us in our evangelism. Just as God sent prophet after prophet after prophet to the people in loving-kindness, let us embody that loving-kindness in our missionary efforts. It is easy to be discouraged when someone doesn’t respond right away when we share the gospel with them. We work up the courage to share the gospel with someone and they don’t respond immediately so we get discouraged. Let us be longsuffering in our missionary efforts just as God is longsuffering in sending prophet after prophet. Let us long-sufferingly share the gospel with family, friends, and neighbors who have been reconciled to God. Let us reflect God’s loving-kindness by sharing the gospel.

While God shows loving-kindness towards his Church, he also judges those who reject his Son.

God’s Judgment against the Rejection of His Son

What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.

Those who reject Jesus as God’s Son and messenger are judged. Many hear this and object. They object and say, “That isn’t fair”. The reasoning behind their objection is that they think it’s only for not believing that Jesus is the Son of God incarnate. That’s not the reason, although it is part of the reason.

The reason that those who reject Jesus as lord and savior experience judgment is because they reject God himself. In rejecting servants, prophets, and ministers sent by God they reject God. Look at verse 7. Verse 7 says, “But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’” What they are saying is, “If we get rid of those prophets and Jesus, we can be in charge.” In rejecting God’s Son, we reject him.

The ultimate goal of those who reject the prophets, ministers, and Jesus is to assert their own rule. That’s exactly what the tenants say. They say “the inheritance will be ours”. They want to be in charge. They want to rule. They want to be god. That is why the reject the servants, the prophets, and Jesus.

When we reject God’s Word as found in Scripture and proclaimed by the prophets, ministers, and most importantly Jesus, we are asserting our rule. When we reject God’s Word, we are asserting our right to be in charge and be god.

That is why God judges rejection of his Word so seriously. It is not some small thing to reject the Word of God. It is not some small thing to reject Jesus, the final revelation of God. Rejecting Jesus leads to judgment from God because it is rejection of God.

The leaders of Israel who rejected the prophets and God’s only Son experienced God’s judgment for their rejection of him. Within a generation, Jerusalem was destroyed and many of the leaders of the Sanhedrin died. They experienced God’s judgment for their rebellion. The destruction of Jerusalem and the judgment on the leaders is a glimpse of the final judgment that awaits each and every person who rejects Jesus.

In Matthew 25: 32-33, 46, Jesus says this. He says, “Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left… And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Maybe this morning, you need to hear this warning. Maybe you need to hear that rejecting Jesus as God’s final revelation leads to eternal judgment. If that is the case, repent. Repent of your rebellion. Repent of your rejection of Jesus. Listen to him. Listen to how he reveals God. Listen to his commands.

We have seen that God shows loving-kindness to his covenant people. We have seen that God judges those who reject his son. Now, we’ll see God’s victory.

God’s Victory

Have you not read this Scripture:

         “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone;

11      this was the Lord’s doing,

and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

Jesus ends this parable by quoting Psalm 118, showing God’s victory. The Son that the leaders rejected has become the foundation upon which God has built his church. This teaches us three things. First it shows us that Jesus’ death and resurrection is the foundation of our salvation. In context of the psalm, the stone that was rejected was the stone that was rejected to be part of the temple but ultimately became the cornerstone of Solomon’s Porch.[3] That was almost certainly where Jesus and the delegation from the Sanhedrin were as Jesus told this parable.

Jesus applies this to himself. The leaders of God’s covenant people have rejected him and cast him away. But just as the stone rejected to be the cornerstone of temple was made the cornerstone of Solomon’s Porch, Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church. His death and resurrection provide the basis for our salvation. We are saved and justified not by anything we have done or anything we can do. We are justified by what Jesus has done.

The Apostle Paul confirms this in his 1 Corinthians 3:11. There he writes, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ”. That is the foundation of our redemption is Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Let us not think that we contribute in any sense or way to our salvation or justification. It is Christ alone that saves. His redemptive work on the cross is the foundation for our salvation and justification. It is either all Jesus or nothing. It is either Jesus, his life and his work, as the foundation for our salvation and justification or there is no foundation for our salvation and justification. Let us know that. Let us believe that. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the foundation of our salvation.

Second, the foundation for the unity of the Church is Jesus. The Church is not a building. The Church is not a place. The Church is a people. The Church is God’s covenant people across all time, across all nations, and across all languages. That is the catholicity or universality of the Church.

Because the Church is universal, she is made up of various nations, languages, and cultures. As a result of that, the Church often looks to have no unity or no foundation. There have been various solutions to that such as trying to say that anyone outside of a particular denomination is not part of the true Church. That is not the foundation for our unity.

The foundation for the unity of the Church is Jesus. We are united together in him. The various languages, cultures, and nations are united as one in Jesus Christ. There is a hymn that we sing sometimes called “The Churches One Foundation”. That hymn wonderfully explains that our foundation is the person and the work of Jesus Christ. It says this:

Elect from every nation, yet one over all the earth, her charter of salvation, on Lord, one faith, one birth; one holy name she blesses, partakes, one holy food, and to one hope she presses, with every grace endued.

The foundation for our unity is not a common language or a common culture. The foundation for the unity of the Church is that Jesus Christ has redeemed us out of our sin and death. He is the cornerstone upon which the Church is built and unified.

Third, it shows that this is the Lord’s doing. The rejection and death of Jesus was ultimately the Lord’s doing. It was the plan from all eternity that the leaders of Israel would reject Jesus and that they would kill him so that his Church could be redeemed from their sin. It was all the Lord’s doing.

And that should cause us to marvel. That should move us to worship. Knowing that God’s plan from all eternity was to show his loving-kindness in sending his Son to redeem us from our sin so that we could be built up in him should cause us to worship. It should move our hearts to joy and praise. Knowing that God has loved us, his Church, with an indefatigable love should cause our hearts to leap with praise.

In a few minutes, we’ll come to the Lord’s Table. As we eat and drink, our hearts should be filled with awe and wonder. The fact that God has loved us even to plan his own death for our redemption should be marvelous in our eyes.

The Lord our God has shown loving-kindness to his people by sending prophets, ministers, and most importantly his Son Jesus. He has sent them to reveal his Word to us so that we can be like him. For those who have rejected his Son as revealing the Father, he judges for their rebellion. In the end, God is victorious building his Church on the foundation of his Son’s death and resurrection.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 12:1–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 357). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

[3] Lane, 420.

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