Good morning, Grace Church.
You know, as I was preparing for this message I was reminded that the dispensationalists teach that God has three major eras in world history: the Jewish Age, the Church Age, and the Age Where Grace Church Studies the Book of Luke. It’s a seven-year period of trials and tribulation, as prophesied of old. But it draws near to a close now.
So today we continue our series in Luke, and we enter a very interesting passage. This is a sermon that is going to be very challenging for everyone. I’m going to be asking you to take a very hard look into your heart today. Even writing it, it was one of those sermons that really convicted me.
You’re welcome in advance.
Also I’d like to announce a game. Call it CS Lewis Bingo. I will be either quoting or paraphrasing Lewis four times in the sermon today. If you can get all four, then tell Doug Mary after the sermon. He will buy you a REALLY expensive gift. He assures me he will spare NO expense.
In today’s passage, we are going to see Jesus give two very clear pictures to the Jews, and they also are really valuable for us today. But first, let’s recap a bit of where we are at in Luke so that we can understand the context that led to these parables He is going to share.
We are now in the final chapters of Luke, studying the Holy Week. Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the accolades of the crowds. Jerusalem, a city built for 50,000, was packed with perhaps as many as 500 thousand visitors. They were crammed into this small, ancient city’s walls. And Jesus began making the religious leaders VERY uncomfortable at this major festival. So uncomfortable that they began questioning His authority last week, as Josh preached.
Why are they upset with Him as we get to this part of Luke? Well, three primary reasons.
First, He has had a Rising Popularity. Remember Luke 19:37-38, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, “the whole crowd of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen: ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ “ In other words, they are claiming Him as Messiah. And that made them very uncomfortable. Because Jesus was not okay for the leaders as a Messiah.
Why? Because He had a Radical Theology. Just last week we learned that Jesus cleared the Temple, calling out all of their hypocritical works. In addition, as we have heard time and time again the past year in this series, Jesus challenged and angered the Pharisees with His radical theology. He taught things that no one before had accepted, and had an interpretation of Scripture that astonished the listeners.
And worst of all, He had just Raised the Dead. In John’s Gospel, we see what happened just recently before Passover. In John 11, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Many had seen this: “Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, so many of the Jewish people of the region had come to Martha and Mary to console them over the loss of their brother. …So from that day they planned together to kill Him” (Jo11:18-19, 53). We don’t have time to go into the rest of John 11, but the Jewish leaders believed that Jesus’ miracles would convince others to follow Him instead of them. (DUH! Raising the dead has a tendency to do that!)
Because of these three things, they question His authority. And He doesn’t really answer, does He? Last week we saw that He kind of answered a question with a question, and put them on the defensive.
And now, He is about to give them two pictures. Two pictures which will force a decision. Two pictures of Jesus’ authority, and the Truth.
Two Pictures of Authority
Picture 1: The Parable of the Vineyard
This is the first picture Jesus gives about his authority: Luk 20:9-16.
Now this parable is one that even the dumbest of the dumb in the crowd—like, the Roger Von Edwin's of the crowd—could understand. (Don’t worry, Roger was pre-warned and has assured me he will pay me back for that one.) Before we read the passage, let’s read from the prophet Isaiah:
“I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one has a vineyard …he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. [He said], “What more could I have done for My vineyard than I have done for it? When I have looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?” …The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines He delighted in. And He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” (Isa 5:1-7)
This was a well-known and popular passage, and the vineyard was sort of a symbol for the nation of Israel. Like, if someone talks about the Bald Eagle, you know they are referring to America. If someone tells a story of a Maple Leaf, you know they are talking about Canada, eh? The rising sun is a symbol of Japan. The vodka bottle is the symbol of Poland. The white surrender flag is the symbol of France. You guys get the idea.
The vineyard is a picture of Israel, as EVERYONE in the crowd well knew. So now let’s see what Jesus told this group of people who wanted to kill Him, and have been asking Him where His power comes from. And God is the landowner, and the tenants are the priests and elders responsible for tending His vineyard and caring for it.
“He went on to tell the people this parable: ‘A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.”
Now remember in Isaiah? How God went looking for good fruit but never found it? Instead He found bloodshed and righteousness. Let’s continue.
“But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one they also beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.”
The servants that God sent are the prophets. Starting in 740 BC and ending around 420 BC, God started sending prophets. About every 15 years on average, another prophet arrives. And all of them find God’s fruit not ripe; they preach to the vineyard of Israel. They warn Israel about coming judgment, and encourage them to rebuild and tend properly to Israel.
But in Jesus’ parable, He reminds us that these servants of God were not treated well. And He was right.
Elijah was driven from Jerusalem and had suicidal depression. Jeremiah was beaten and put in stocks. His life was so bad that he became badly depressed and is known as the “weeping prophet” which is not the manliest name ever. He ended up being stoned to death. Isaiah was sawn in half by Manassah. Some say Joel died two days after being beaten over the head with a staff. Amos was tortured and killed by priests. Obadiah was routinely beaten and punished by the king. Tradition says that Jonah was driven out of Judea after Ninevah was spared. Micah was slain by the prince. Habakkuk was stoned to death. Ezekiel was killed by a Jewish chieftan when he rebuked him for idol worship. Zechariah was killed by the king on the steps of the Temple and sprinkled his blood on the altar. John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod because John called him out for sexual sins.
So yeah, it didn’t go over well for the prophets when they came. And as Jesus reminds the people of this, the religious leaders had to be feeling their faces getting hot. Because generally it was them—the religious leaders and kings and priests—who were supposed to be tending the vineyard but instead were producing bad fruit and killing the servants of God.
So Jesus continues in verse 13:
“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ But the tenants saw him, and talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and given the vineyard to others.” When the people heard this, they said, ‘God forbid!’ ”
Jesus says that the vineyard owner sends his son (HINT: THAT’S JESUS), but the tenants decide to kill him so they can inherit the land. This was a very common principle back then: if a person worked the land of a farm for three years and no rightful owner claimed it, then the one working it would inherit the land. So basically the tenants in this parable are saying, “We will kill the only heir, so when the old man dies we will be the owners.” But instead, the master decides to kill the tenants, and give the vineyard to someone else to run—someone else will get the inheritance.
The people respond, “God forbid!” Because what Jesus is saying is pretty clear.
Remember that the tenants are the religious leaders of the Jews, and the vineyard is the people of God. They have killed the prophets. They will kill the Son. And why? Because they want to “inherit the vineyard”…in other words, the religious leaders are attacking the prophets and Son because they want to be in charge. They don’t want the Master to be in charge because they don’t like His commands. They want to be in charge of Israel. They want to be God, essentially.
And so Jesus says, “God’s not going to let that happen. You’re going to kill the Son, and in return God is going to bring judgment on you. God is going to wipe out the religious leadership, and turn the people of God over to others.”
And that’s exactly what He does. He tears the veil. The Temple will be destroyed in 70 AD. And no longer are the priests in charge of God’s people—the Apostles are given authority to shepherd His flock. Jesus takes the vineyard back and hands it over to new tenants, eventually Gentiles.
So in this picture, Jesus is telling us three things.
First, He is telling us that His authority comes from the Master. He is the Son in the description, and as you can see in verse 14, the Son is the Heir. So Jesus is clearly telling them, “My authority is from God.” This is an answer to the question Josh discussed last week.
Second, He is telling them the reason WHY they are so offended by Him. Why do they hate His theology, and His popularity? The Jews oppose Him because they want to replace God. They want to be in control of the vineyard, and they don’t like what He’s telling them.
Third, He is telling them that God will take away the vineyard and give it to others—in particular, Gentiles.
Picture 2: The Cornerstone
So that is the first picture that Jesus shows them. And they hated it. They said, “God forbid!”
Just like how last time Jesus began in Isaiah and then turned it into a parable about Him, here He starts in a Messianic Psalm, 118, and turns it into a story about Him. Let’s see what it says.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes…Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Ps 118:22-26)
So after Jesus has told them this picture of the vineyard, that they would kill the Messiah, they said “God forbid!” So Jesus responds in verse 17:
“Jesus looked directly at them and asked, ‘Then what is the meaning of that which is written:”…and then He quotes them from Psalm 118:22-28.
So Jesus here refers to the Psalm that everyone was quoting on Palm Sunday, as He rode into the village. And He is reminding them, “Hey, remember that other part of the Psalm? It says that the Messiah will be the cornerstone but be rejected.”
Let’s explain what this cornerstone means for a second.
When the ancients would build a building, the most important piece is called the cornerstone or foundation stone. It is the first piece you lay in place. It is the piece that everything else is referenced from and built on, so it is the piece that sets the entire structure’s architecture. It is the sort of key for the entire foundation.
So when someone wanted to build a building, one of the first steps was to find exactly the right cornerstone. So they would go down to the quarry and search through to try to find exactly the right stone to build their building on.
[GO TO ROCK PILE AND DEMONSTRATE]
And they’d dig through and find some that didn’t quite fit. And then in this mini-parable, the picture is that the builders throw away a stone that was actually the perfect one. The stone that they rejected because it didn’t look the way they expected is actually the perfect one to build upon, the perfect foundation.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. Jesus is pointing out that this Psalm explicitly says that the Messiah will be rejected wrongly. So Jesus is drawing a direct connection to the parable He just told: the Jews want to be the masters of God’s kingdom, so they reject the Son—but the Son was the cornerstone and without Him, their religion no longer makes sense. Without the proper cornerstone, the building will have a faulty foundation.
You see, Jesus is the perfect cornerstone. He is the one who links the OT to the NT. He is the one who links Jew to Gentile. He is the one who links God to man. He is the one who links sin to grace. He is the one who links the Cross to the Empty Tomb. He is the one who links death to eternal life. He is the cornerstone. Jesus is the one who makes everything else make sense. Once you have Jesus, you not only see Christianity, but BY Christianity you see everything else. Jesus is the missing puzzle piece which, once you find it, makes everything around you fall into place. THAT is the picture you are supposed to get here.
What was the result of this?
“Then the experts in the law and the chief priests wanted to arrest him that very hour, because they realized he had told this parable against them.” (20:19)
The Big Idea
So what is the big idea in this passage? What is universal truth that applies to us today?
Basically what Jesus does here, is to force us into a choice. He tells us who He is, and what His authority is. And He says that some people will not like that because they want to be the masters of the vineyard; and others will not like it because He isn’t the shape that they were expecting. So they will question His authority.
But Jesus very clearly lays out what He has done and what He has taught, and forces you to decide. It’s what some call the “Trilemma”: Jesus’ teachings are so specific that you are forced to make a choice. Either He was a lunatic, or He was a liar, or He is the Lord.
There is this ridiculous belief among men today, especially in modern America, that Jesus is a great moral teacher but that we go to far to worship Him. This is the dumbest thing you can possibly hear; don’t let people tell you that.
If Jesus is just a moral teacher, then He is either a lunatic or a liar.
If He was a lunatic who thought He was God in the flesh, and that He would raise again from the dead, and that He had raised and healed others and could speak for God and could forgive sins—then He’s insane. He belongs in an asylum with all the other crazies who think that they are gods or superheroes or Napoleon.
If He was sane, but said these things anyway, then He is a deceptive, compulsive liar. Such a man would not be worth following as a moral teacher!
So Jesus forces us into a choice. That’s the main point of this passage. After three years of teaching, He is drawing the line: choose your sides. Either He is the Lord, or He is crazy, or He is a liar. Choose which you prefer.
The Jews did: they will a few days from now accuse Him of blasphemy (implying that He is a lunatic and dangerous to Rome, possibly causing an uprising). And that challenge applies to us today as well.
So how do we apply this in a practical way today? How can you take this message and go forward this week as a better person?
I suggest that there are two main applications to this passage.
1. FOR SEEKERS: Search your heart and find out if you are honestly seeking Truth. This week, go home and question whether you are honestly a seeker of truth or not. Because that is what is more important than anything. Christianity, if false, is of NO importance: if true, it is of INFINITE IMPORTANCE. The only thing it cannot be is a little bit important.
If you are a seeker here today, and you aren’t sure what you believe about Jesus, just know this: it is the most important decision you will make. If Jesus didn’t actually walk out of the grave, fine! Don’t waste your time, then. He is no more important to read than Plato, or Aristotle, or any other ancient thinker. In fact He is probably less important to read than them if you think He is crazy or a liar.
But if it is true…well in that case He is the Creator of the world, come to the earth as a man to redeem us for all of our failures. He offers us eternal life. He offers us the chance to have everything bad we’ve ever done cleansed and forgotten. He offers us perfection for all eternity.
So yes: make a decision. It is the most important decision you will ever make. And by the way…NOT making a decision… THAT IS ALSO A DECISION!
Please understand that! Not making a decision to follow Jesus IS making a decision to leave yourself as Lord of your life. Being a disciple of Jesus cannot even BEGIN unless you are honestly willing to seek the truth…unless you are willing to admit that you are not the master of the vineyard.
That is why it has been said that Hell’s gates are locked from the inside, not the outside. He doesn’t force anyone to reject Him; the Bible says He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should have eternal life. Jesus promises us that all who seek truth will find Him. But if you haven’t accepted Christ yet, you need to ask: are you actually willing to accept Him? It all starts with admitting that you are not the master of the vineyard. That He is in control, not you.
2. FOR BELIEVERS: Examine what cornerstone you are using.
[GO BACK TO THE ROCKPILE]
Many people think that they have made the choice. They say they believe in Jesus…but actually no, that isn’t true. They had to find a cornerstone and they saw the stone that Jesus was and thought…”I’m not sure if I like that one. This Jesus from the Bible…He is too poor and always telling me to give my possessions away. He is too chaste—all hung up on sex and taking away my fun. He is too forgiving—asking me to forgive even enemies, like the 9/11 hijackers!? He is too hippie—all loving everyone. He is too harsh—telling me even lust is as bad as adultery, even anger as bad as murder. He’s too Jewish—all tied up with this weird ancient religion. He’s too uneducated—He never even got a GED, much less a proper education!
You see most people have chosen a Jesus-like cornerstone. Jesus didn’t fit their temple, so rather than reject their temple, they reject the cornerstone. They pick a “Jesus-like” cornerstone.
They think they worship the Jesus of the Bible…but really they worship a make-believe Jesus with a less harsh approach to sex, one who is fine with sleeping with whoever you want, whenever you want.
Or instead of the Jesus of the Bible, they worship a Jesus who waves an American flag, and says it’s okay not to forgive your enemies if they are terrorists, and treats the Constitution like it is divinely-inspired Scripture.
Or instead of the Jesus of the Bible, they hate Jews or blacks or other races, pretending that Jesus was some white-bread blond-haired, blue-eyed Arian.
Or instead of the Jesus of the Bible, they worship a Jesus who is drives an SUV and has a two-story house and isn’t REALLY serious when He asks you to give sacrificially.
Or instead of the Jesus of the Bible, they worship a hippie Jesus who loves everyone and accepts anything and just wants to eat organic tomatoes and kale and drink spring water.
Many, many people sitting in church pews today (or blue church chairs) will not actually be dining with us in heaven. They do not actually believe in and follow the cornerstone of the Bible. Rather than destroying their idols and seeking truth and rebuilding their Temple around Jesus as the cornerstone, they rejected the cornerstone and instead invented a false Jesus in their minds, one who better fit what they WANTED Him to be like, instead of what He really looked like.
A commitment to Truth means a willingness to let go of everything you WISH to be true. This will lead to Christ, we are promised that: but if you would rather live in a false world than the true one, He will not force you like a robot to change your mind.
So ask yourself the hard question today and this week: are you actually committed to following Jesus? Are you actually willing to tear down any temple you’ve built in your heart if it doesn’t meet with the Jesus of Scripture?