In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In Isaiah chapter five, the prophet describes the people of Israel as a vineyard that belonged to the Lord. The first several verse read like this, “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 looked for it to yield grapes but it yielded wild grapes.” Is. 5:1-2
The Lord brought the people of Israel out of Egypt and planted them in the Promised Land. He gave them victory over other nations so they could live in peace It was a land where they could grow in their faith and bring forth good fruit of that faith.
The Lord wanted them to have faith in him and to care for each other. He had provided all that they needed to bring forth fruit that would be pleasing to him and nourishing to those who hungered in any way.
He knew that they were decedents of Adam and Eve, that they would place their faith in themselves. The Lord placed religious leaders in their midst to teach them about true repentant faith. He sent prophets like Isaiah to call them to repentance, to confess their sins, and return to faith in the Lord alone.
This picture of a vineyard was not an isolated one. The prophet Jeremiah also called the people of Israel a vineyard when he called them to repent. In Psalm eighty, when the people prayed to the Lord to protect them from their enemies, they said, “O God … You brought a vine out of Egypt; and you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took root and filled the land.” Ps. 80:7-9
With this picture in the minds of the people of Israel and their religious leaders, Jesus came into the world. His message was “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Literally, the good news was that the kingdom of God was standing right in front of them. The Son of God had come to dwell with them. He came looking for repentant faith.
To teach them, Jesus tells a parable. The parable was about a man who owned a vineyard. The land was his. He had carefully chosen it and prepared it. The vines were his and he had carefully planted them. Certainly then the fruit that would grow there would belong to him. The owner of the vineyard left it in the care of some tenants.
As soon as Jesus spoke about a vineyard, I can imagine the people remembering how God had referred to the people of Israel as his vineyard. In the parable, Jesus tells how the owner had sent his servants looking for fruit from the vineyard.
The tenants refused to give any fruit to the owner. When the servants spoke for the owner, when they requested fruit, the tenants beat them, treated them with shame, and sent them away empty-handed.
The owner of the vineyard does the unexpected, just like the father who welcomed back his sinful son in last Sundays reading. The owner sent his beloved son to the vineyard to look for fruit. We know the tragic end to the parable.
The tenants would not listen to the son. They killed him. They wanted the vineyard to themselves. They hoped that the persistent owner would stop looking for fruit; that he would leave them alone.
Looking For Repentance
The fruit Jesus was looking for was repentant faith. He was looking for a faith that did not try to hide sins under outward works meant to save oneself. Jesus was looking a faith that knew that the only hope was in God’s grace. He wanted the people and their leaders to confess their sins and ask for God’s mercy.
Instead Jesus heard the leaders trust in their own goodness and teaching the people to do the same. Jesus wanted the people to remember the words of the prophets that God had sent. They had been sent repeatedly to call for repentance and to offer God’s forgiveness.
This is repentant faith: sorrow over each and every sin and faith in a God who has promised to be merciful. Sorrow and Faith. This kind of complete repentance is a gift. It is not a gift that we give God; it is a gift that God gives us.
It is only through the Holy Spirit convicting our stubborn and hardened hearts that we can know and confess that we are sinners. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can have faith that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and ABOUNDING in LOVE.
This repentance which includes faith in the grace and mercy of God, is a repentance that produces fruit that cares for the neighbor. This repentance not only asks God for forgiveness, but asks God to love and serve those in need through us..
The Son Is The End
The son is the end of the line in the parable. He is the last word from the owner of the vineyard. Reject the son and there is nothing but judgment. Jesus was God’s last word to Israel and is God’s last word to us.
There is no other way to the Father than through Jesus. There is salvation in no other name but Jesus. There is no other Savior from sin and death but Jesus, the beloved Son of God. He was rejected and crucified. The Father received his Son’s death as the atoning sacrifice for your sin.
Rejecting God’s Grace
To reject the Son is to reject the Father’s will to save you. The tenants in the parable were condemned not because they were worse tenants than any others in the neighborhood, not because their harvest was poor. They were condemned because they rejected the owner’s son.
God forces His grace on no one. He forces no one to be saved from death and hell. To reject God’s Son is to reject God’s grace. The parable was a warning to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day not to reject His coming and His claim.
It serves as a warning to the Church of every age not to take God’s grace for granted, not to reject the Son who comes to us in the name of the Lord, not to despise His Baptism or His Supper of His body and blood or His Word of forgiveness.
Don’t be deceived by appearances. The Son may appear weak but “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” The leaders of Israel was expecting a different Messiah than they saw in Jesus. They wanted glory. Jesus came to die on a cross. They wanted strength. Jesus brought a strength made perfect in weakness.
Jesus was the rejected stone, the one the leaders of the Israelites rejected in blind unbelief, the rejected cornerstone of salvation. In the end, the full weight of our life rests on Jesus. The One they rejected has become the cornerstone of the church.
“Everyone who falls on that stone [named Jesus Christ] will be broken to pieces.” We must be broken, if we are going to be made part of the church, if we are to be saved we must be broken. “A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, you will not despise.”
We must die daily to ourselves in repentance, if we are going to live. The alternative to having a broken and contrite heart, to having a repentant faith, is to be crushed by the sheer weight of His presence. “But when that rejected stone falls on any one, it will crush him.” Either receive the forgiveness, life, and salvation that Jesus won for you by His death on the cross, and trust in Him, or be crushed resisting and refusing His death and resurrection.
The tenants thought that if they killed the son they would gain the inheritance. In a twisted way this is true. Because God sacrificed his Son, you have an eternal inheritance. Christ’s death paid for every one of your sins. They are forgiven. He died so that you might live.
You are not righteous because you are such good keepers of the law, you are righteous because Christ kept the law for you. You are righteous because you have a broken and contrite heart that has faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior.
You will bear fruit not because of your own strength, but because Christ has promised to live in you. You are part of God’s vineyard. Christ is the vine and you are the branches. You are nourished and watered by his Word and Sacraments, so that your repentance is a repentance of faith. Repent, the Savior is with you.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria