2010 Luke’s Gospel
The Parable of the Tenants
Key Verse: 20:13 "Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’"
In today’s passage Jesus exposes the religious leaders' contempt for truth by responding to a question about his authority and tells them the parable of the tenants, which is a summary of God's history. Especially, the story gives deep insight into the relationship between God and men and guides us to make a better relationship with God. Let's pray to hear Jesus' parable and learn more about him and ourselves.
I. Who gave you this authority? (1-8)
Look at verse 1a. “One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel.” It was a few days before Jesus would take up the cross. As a matter of fact, it was not just one day of many as the verse 1a says, but very precious, critical period of time for Jesus since he had only a few days left on earth. What would you do if you were to die in a few days? You might retreat to a quiet place to prepare for your imminent death. What about Jesus? Jesus went to the temple courts to teach the people and preach the gospel as usual. Jesus is the Son of God and Almighty God himself, who knows everything and is able to do anything he wants to do. This Jesus made a choice of delivering his messages based on God’s words facing his last moment on earth. Therefore, it is best for us to teach the people and preach the gospel above all things we do in the world. You might think, “Yes, then I will enjoy my life freely and preach the gospel in my old age right before death.” However, we do not know when we are going to die. We had better work hard for the gospel or at least live according to the gospel from our young age.
It is safe to say that we cannot preach or teach the Bible all of a sudden. It should be our habit or tendency, and then it could happen as usual at any time. It is not likely that you would read some good books when you are free if you have a habit of surfing on the internet or watching TV shows or playing games in your free time. Interestingly, someone has calculated how a typical lifespan of 70 years is spent. Here is the estimate: Sleep 23 years 32.9%, Work 16 years 22.8%, T.V. 8 years 11.4%, Eating 6 years 8.6%, Travel 6 years 8.6%, Leisure 4.5 years 6.5%, Illness 4 years 5.7%, Dressing 2 years 2.8%, Religion 0.5 years 0.7%. How about our lifespan we have spent so far? If we follow the pattern of this world we are going to waste our precious life time of more than 20 years watching a foolish box, T.V. or with worldly entertainments such as computer games. Of course, they are somewhat necessary for some reason, but we should not allow them to rule over our life. Instead, we should fill our limited, precious life time with life-giving, treasure-storing-in-heaven mission, which is preaching the gospel to those under a death sentence due to sins. The only salvation for them is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The most urgent need of any person is to hear the gospel, so that we can believe and be saved.
Look at verses 1b-2 “The chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”” People in the temple courts enjoyed Jesus’ message and were comforted by the word of truth. Some of them who were humble in spirit were touched in their hearts by hope in the kingdom of God. “Thanks for the kingdom of God.” The other people who were under the power of sins and death saw the light of forgiveness and new life through Jesus’ message. “Thank and praise the Lord for his salvation!” They were all happy with Jesus’ teaching just like we are here in the center, listening to the word of God. In the middle of peaceful and graceful time, a group of people came up to Jesus. They were the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders. Did they come to Jesus to hear his powerful message to be saved? No. Instead, they challenged Jesus with a question, “Who gave you authority to deliver a message in the temple court?” They were talking about authority. They thought that Jesus did not have any authority to teach and preach the word of God in the temple court and that they were the only ones to do so.
Speaking of authority let me tell you a funny story. When Christian Herter was governor of Massachusetts, he was running hard for a second term in office. One day, after a busy morning chasing votes (and no lunch) he arrived at a church barbecue. It was late afternoon and Herter was famished. As Herter moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman serving chicken. She put a piece on his plate and turned to the next person in line. “Excuse me,” Governor Herter said, “Do you mind if I have another piece of chicken?” “Sorry,” the woman told him. “I'm supposed to give one piece of chicken to each person.” “But I'm starved,” the governor said. “Sorry,” the woman said again. “Only one to a customer.” Governor Herter was a modest and unassuming man, but he decided that this time he would throw a little weight around. “Do you know who I am?” he said. “I am the governor of this state.” “Do you know who I am?” the woman said. “I'm the lady in charge of the chicken. Move along, mister.” It seems like everybody claims his or her authority no matter how high or low it is. However, it is ridiculous that the religious leaders claimed their authority against Jesus because Jesus is the supreme authority above all in the whole universe. Before Jesus, everybody should surrender him or her to Jesus, the ultimate authority. But the religious leaders were accusing Jesus of preaching without license in order to protect their business just like any business group, instead of surrendering.
Look at verses 3-4. “He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John's baptism—was it from heaven, or from men?” For their question, Jesus asked a counter question, “By what authority did John baptize? By heaven or by men?” and it is about John’s authority to baptize for their question was on authority. Before they know Jesus’ authority, they had better know John’s authority clearly first. In other words, if they do not accept John’s authority, it is impossible for them to accept Jesus’ authority even though Jesus answers their question kindly. In our times, there are many trials that challenge Jesus’ authority and suppress the truth and the gospel. Some scientists deny God’s existence by their theory. They talk in elaborate detail about new discoveries and their possible implications, trying to prove that there is no God. But they cannot answer the simple question, “If not God, then who or what?” Whenever they try to answer this, they say something like, “It is in the stars,” or, “Aliens from another planet are the source of life.” About two weeks ago, Stephen Hawking, the world-famous physicist, who controversially argues in a new book “The Grand Design” that God did not create the universe, says, “God may exist, but science can explain the universe without the need for a creator” in an interview with CNN's “Larry King Live.” However, we Jesus’ people accept Jesus’ authority and his power. We Jesus’ disciples preach the gospels to those in need in spite of spiritual suppression against Jesus. I pray that we may accept Jesus’ authority, stand on it firmly, and reveal it by preaching the gospel.
I am getting off the subject here, but do you know that being close to authorities around you is the key to success in your life? There are many authorities in the world. In the Bible we see authority of government (Ro 13, 1 Pt 2:17), authority of employer (Eph 6, 1 Pt 2:18), authority of husband (1 Pt 3:1, Col 3:18, Eph 5:22), authority of parent (Eph 6), authority of elders (Heb 13:17), and so on. In school, there is also authority of teachers and authority of principal. When we have close, good relationship with authorities, we see things that are beyond our limitation happen somehow because authorities have some kind of power to make things happen. In reality, we tend to keep a distance from authorities for some reasons. Maybe we are just afraid of having close relationship with them. In the Bible there are many good examples for having close relationship with authorities: Moses, Joseph, David, Daniel, Esther, and many more. They were all close to their authorities around themselves such as king, king’s son, officials, caption of the guard etc. by serving them as if they served the Lord himself. Then, they were all useful in God’s work. Esther had close relationship with Xerxes the king of Persian and Media and saved her people Israel. And another person Joseph became close to the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt and through them he came to know many things about the palace life and about the king of Egypt and then became the prime minister at last. Later on as prime minister he stored food enough for 7-year-long famine, which required high skill and advanced knowledge in old ancient times, in which there was no refrigerator. He might accumulate all the knowledge for his administration through close fellowship with many different authorities while he was in prison, where there were many political prisoners who were intellectuals. Not to mention that God was with Joseph and God was behind the scene. I heard that Jewish people are good at making good relationship with governmental authorities by donation. So they do what they want to do such as taking exams on Sundays and making their own holiday national one. If the religious leaders in the passage had made good relationship with Jesus, they would have been saved and lived as a source of blessing to others instead of being a subject of judgment. I hope some JBF members here would have good relationship with authorities in their life by serving them as if they serve Jesus and can be used greatly in God’s redemptive work for the sake of Jesus’ name. Now let us return to the main subject.
II. The parable of the tenants (9-19)
Look at verse 9. “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.” After Jesus shut the religious leaders’ mouth with a counter question, he continued to tell the people a parable. The story begins with a man who took a long journey, renting his vineyard to some farmers in his absence. As you might know, the vineyard owner represents God, the vineyard is the nation of Israel, and the farmers are the religious leaders. Or the vineyard owner is God, the vineyard is the world, and the farmers are mankind.
Look at verses10-12. “At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.” As we see, something wrong in the vineyard happened strangely at the time of harvest. The tenants should recognize the owner’s right to fruit and make payment to him either of a fixed portion of the product according to the contract in which the owner provides the land and the tenants contribute their labor. However, they treated him like a trespasser and beat each of his servants three times. They must have been confused with their status as tenant since they worked hard in the vineyard to produce fruit as if they were the owner. Obviously, legally speaking, tenant is not the owner who has the right to the vineyard. I had the same situation with one tenant in my place who was confused in terms of contract law between landlord and tenant. The tenant thought she was the landlord that she did not listen to me as landlord. She said to me, “I have been living here for 18 years. And you just got into it.” Truly situation in the passage could happen in reality. It does not matter regarding the ownership to something precious or valuable how long you have possessed it if it has come from God. Your health, talent, time, money, youth, strength, family, job and all things in your life have come from God, the owner of the whole universe. Therefore, we should not disclaim the ownership of God in our life. When God asks us for fruit we bear at harvest time, let us gladly give it to the Lord our God, who is the owner of all things we have.
Look at verses 11-12. “He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.” Even though the farmer tenants went wrong, the owner was very patient and persistent. He sent his servants one after another, even though they were being mistreated. Apparently, this refers to God sending his prophets to the people of Israel again and again, even though they were persecuted badly. Then and now, God is patient with sinners. God does not punish us the moment we sin. Rather, God gives us another chance, and another chance, in the hope that we will repent of our sins and fulfill our mission (Ro 2:4). Let us give thanks to God who is patient and merciful with sinners like us for his good purpose.
Even though the owner tried to be good toward the tenants, they abused his patience. Their treatment of the servants became progressively worse. They went from beating, to treating shamefully, and finally to wounding. They went from sending away empty-handed to throwing him out. When God confronts man's sins through his servants and they do not repent, they become worse than before. We should learn to repent quickly.
Look at 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.’” It seems that the owner spent days agonizing over what to do with the farmer tenants. First, he might think he would go in person and kick the tenants out of the vineyard since they breached the rental contract. However, after thinking for a long time, he made a decision to send his lovely son. The son looks exactly same as his father the owner of the vineyard in appearance and character. So the owner expects the tenants to come back to their senses and to carry out their duty when they see his son. By doing so, the owner gives them another chance to start all over again out of his mercy. Just like the owner in the passage, instead of punishing, God gives us another chance to follow God and his words sincerely as his servants as well as his children through his son Jesus Christ even though we have despised his words. Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Even now, Christ calls each of us to receive his love, restore our relationship with him and take up his great mission for us. No matter how badly we have failed or how rebellious we have been, God loves us and wants to restore us. Let's accept his love with faith and make new decisions to serve him.
Look at verses 14-16a. “But when the tenants saw him, they 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 then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” In their greed, the tenant did not realize how gracious the owner had been. Instead, they killed his son, thinking that they could take over the vineyard. This was literally fulfilled when Jewish leaders condemned Jesus to death and threw him outside the city to be crucified as a criminal. The tenants’ foolish, wicked plan, however, foundered and they got killed at last. In A.D. 70, the Roman army under General Titus entered Jerusalem and annihilated the people living there. For the next 1800 years, the Jewish people had no homeland of their own, but wandered from place to place. This should serve as a warning to us. Those who reject God's mission and persist in rebellion will finally face God's judgment. So we must fear God from our hearts.
Look at verses 16b-18. “When the people heard this, they said, “May this never be!”
Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”” When the people heard Jesus' parable, they understood its meaning. Jesus' parable had roused them out of their spiritual complacency and made them alert to their danger. They did not want to lose the blessing of being God's children and enjoying privileges in relationship to him. They pleaded, “May this never be!” Instead of comforting them, Jesus nailed down God’s judgment over the people with the prophet in Psalm 118:22. Moreover, Jesus revealed himself that he is the capstone. Though his people had rejected him, God was with Jesus. Though they killed Jesus, God raised him from the dead. God made Jesus the King of kings and Lord of lords. Now Jesus is the only way of salvation, the only way for man to come to God. God made Jesus the cornerstone of his church, the foundation of gospel work. God made Jesus the capstone, that is, the head and crowning glory of his church.
In verse 19, the Jewish leaders realized that Jesus was telling the parable against them. They would be the ones left out of God's history because they rejected Jesus. They were going to lose everything. They became desperate and tried to arrest Jesus immediately. But they could do nothing, yet, because they were afraid of the people.
Today we have learned that teaching the Bible is our first priority in our life and Jesus is the ultimate authority above all things. And we heard Jesus' parable of the tenants in order to get some better understanding about the relationship between God and us; the owner of the vineyard and the tenant. Let’s us pray to work hard for God’s glory by relying on Jesus’ authority, remembering that we are the tenants, and that we should be ready at any time to present our fruit to the owner, the Lord our God in heaven.
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