The Lord's Day Morning
June 19, 2011
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 20 as we continue our way through the gospel of Luke together.
Now let's look at Luke 20, verses 9 to 18. And remember, we're in the final week of Jesus’ life. This parable is told in each of the three synoptic gospels — Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this parable. Not all of the parables that occur in each of the gospels are found in all the other gospels. The gospel writers have particular reasons for highlighting certain aspects of Jesus’ teaching. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they tell us exactly what we need to know. The fact that the Lord repeats this parable three times for us in His Word indicates to us there's something very important that He wants us to learn. He's not a bad teacher, and teachers don't repeat themselves without a reason. He's a very good teacher and He repeats Himself because there's something important for us to learn. In fact, the parable that we're going to study today wasn't just applicable to the people to whom Jesus first spoke it almost two thousand years ago. But it's equally applicable to us, especially those of us who have had the benefit of sitting under faithful ministry all of our lives and being a part of a congregation which has had a faithful ministry going back decades and well over a hundred years. Jesus has a word for us in this passage.
Let's pray and ask for God's blessing to hear and to understand and respond in faith to this Word. Let's pray.
Lord, this is Your Word. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it. We understand that Your Word is profitable for reproof and correction and training in righteousness and that it was not only meant for its first hearers, but it was written down and it happened for us upon whom the ends of the ages have come. So by Your Holy Spirit, give us attention this morning as we listen to Your Word read and proclaimed. Grant that we would respond to it in belief and embrace it in trust and give to You the glory and walk in Your way. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's Word. Hear it:
“And He began to tell the people this parable: ‘A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And 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 destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.’ When they heard this, they said, ‘Surely not!’ But He looked directly at them and said, ‘What then is this that is written:
‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’?
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
The main storyline of this parable would have made sense to all of the hearers to whom Jesus first spoke. They would have been used to absentee landlords — people who owned fields, who lived in other parts of the Mediterranean world, and who sent back servants or stewards to collect a portion of the yield of those fields from the tenant farmers who worked the land. So people would have been used to absentee landlords sending servants or stewards to collect some of the proceeds of the harvest of the land that was being worked by tenant farmers. We ourselves, in our own tradition, even in this state, know a little bit about that kind of arrangement. And so that part of the story would have been unremarkable.
But what would have been immediately remarkable is how this landlord reacts. He doesn't react like people would have expected absentee landlords to react in the time that Jesus was speaking this parable. Of course the other thing that would have been immediately recognizable by the people hearing this story is how it would strike them to be like what the prophets had said to them in the days of the Old Testament, because if you’re reading the larger and smaller, the major and minor prophets, you will see, even in those writings, a pattern of indictment where the Lord says to the people of Israel, “I have sent prophet after prophet to you and you have not listened.” And so as Jesus tells this story about an absentee landlord who sends his servants to the tenants, they recognize the pattern of the Lord sending prophets with His message to His people and His people not listening to that message and not yielding obedience to Him.
But the interesting this is, is that the people that Jesus has in His bull's eye in this parable, don't think that they’re not listening to God. They don't think they’re rejecting God. They don't think that they are being deaf to God's Word. They don't think that they are rejecting God's messengers, and we're told exactly who they are. If you sneak down and take a look at verse 19, we're told that the scribes and the Pharisees knew that Jesus was talking about them as He told this parable. And they started plotting on how to get rid of Him. Jesus’ indictment is for the hardness of His own people's hearts to the Word of God, to the message of God, the messengers of God, and ultimately to the Beloved Son in His ministry. They are rejecting God but they do not realize it.
Now it would be easy for us to say, “Tisk, tisk,” and criticize these people that lived two thousand years ago, but could not the same thing be said in large measure about so many Christian churches. For two thousand years, we've had the Word of God faithfully proclaimed to us by messenger after messenger and yet so often, and we could say, here in the West especially today, we have been blind to our sin and we have been bold in our rejection of God. All over Western culture today, we see a prevalent and progressing rejection of God and of His Word and of His Son and of His Gospel. This passage is just as relevant to us today as it was to the people to whom Jesus first spoke it.
And I'd like to draw your attention to three or four things that we learn from this passage – one, about our sin; two, about our God; three, about final judgment; and four, about the victory of the kingdom. I want us to learn something about our sin, I want us to learn what this passage teaches us about God because it shows us God's patience, I want us to see what the passage teaches us about certain judgment, and then about kingdom victory. So let's look at these things together.
First, what does this passage teach us about our sin? These people did not believe that they were rejecting God and His Word. In fact, the Pharisees and the scribes were a part of a “back to Bible” movement in their day. They viewed themselves as the people on planet earth who were most attentive to, most respectful of, God's Word. And yet when God sent His own Son, the Messiah, they rejected Him. In hours after Jesus has spoken these words in the final week of His earthly ministry prior to His crucifixion, in just hours after He has told this parable, He is going to be on a tree dying for the sins of the world. Why? Because His own people rejected Him. What does John say in the first chapter of the gospel of John? “He came to His own and His own received Him not.” They did not realize their sin, they did not recognize the message of God, and they rejected God, His Word, and the Christ.
But my friends, do we understand the state of our own hearts? And do we understand our predicament and the profundity of our need for forgiveness? Do we realize how often we are in the grip of the spirit of the age or the lusts of the flesh and we are rejecting God without even knowing it? You know, ever since the Enlightenment, from the end of the 1700's, in the Western world, we have gone through wave after wave of the expansion of unbelief. And in those times of the expansion of unbelief in our culture, Christianity is looked upon by the cultural leadership as narrow and bigoted and ignorant and irrational. And we are living in such a time in our own day here in the Western world. The world looks at Christianity and we look narrow and bigoted in our morality. And we look ignorant and irrational in our claims of absolute truth for God's Word. And very often, people can profess to be Christians, and especially young people who are living in the acid of this cultural movement, who are breathing in the air of the spirit of this age, are deeply influenced by that and they give way to the thinking of the world. Things that Christianity, which the Bible, which Jesus, which the doctrine of the Church has condemned as immoral for centuries, uniformly, are looked upon by this culture as an expression of narrow-minded bigotedness. And even professing Christians can be shaken up by this, they can be influenced by this. They can find themselves in certain companies where those attitudes and outlooks are being expressed and they can find themselves being quiet, not wanting people to know what they actually think.
Dr. Wymond was sharing with me an article in one of the major British daily newspapers that was published just in the last few hours where the head of the United Kingdom's Equalities Commission has pronounced that Christians are more extreme and dangerous than Muslims with regard to civil liberties and equality. Now why in the world would he say that? Because the Bible and Christian doctrine and Christian preaching has clearly, unambiguously, and uniformly condemned behaviors and lifestyles as immoral, which our world wants to pronounce perfectly fine and provide civil liberties for. And therefore we are viewed as dangerous, extreme, narrow and backward. That's the world that we live in now.
But my friends, you can't embrace that outlook on life and embrace the rule of God, the authority of Scripture. This is why so many people in our own day want to say, “Well, I believe in God, I'm a Christian, but I don't embrace the Bible as finally authoritative. I understand that the Bible can get some things wrong here and there. They need to update the way we think from time to time.” But Christ and the Scriptures speak the same language and with the same tongue and you cannot reject the Scriptures without rejecting Christ, and you cannot receive the authority of Christ while at the same time rejecting the authority of Scripture. The authority of Christ is expressed in His Word, and what His Word says, He says. If we reject the one, we reject the other. And yet the spirit of the age tempts us to want to say, “Yes, yes we're Christians, but we don't accept this authority.” We’re under the same temptations that the people that Jesus was talking to were under.
And of course it's not just the world. It's not just the spirit of this age. It's the flesh. J.C. Ryle in his wonderful devotional commentary on this passage talks about the way our desires sometimes reject God and His Word. And I love the phrase he says. He says, “If we could pull God down from His throne, we would.” What he means is, sometimes there are things that we want which are against God's Word and against His authority, and we want them. And our desires for those things and for the pleasures that they bring are greater than our desires for joy in God in Christ through the Gospel and we go after those things. And when we do, we show that we are rejecting God, we are rejecting His Word, and we are rejecting Him.
And of course the Bible says it's not only the world and the flesh, but it's the devil who seeks to sift us like wheat so that we will be blind to the judgment to come and so that we will reject the authority of God. Do you realize the struggle, the fight that is going on in this world, in this room, in your hearts and lives? Will we embrace the Word of God, the authority of God? Will we receive Him and submit to Him or will we reject Him? This passage shows us our sin, the state of our hearts, the depth of our predicament, the profundity of our need for forgiveness.
But it also shows us God's patience, doesn't it? Don't you love the story? Over and over, this landlord sends servants. One servant is sent, mistreated, and sent away. Another servant is sent, mistreated, and sent away. Another servant is sent, mistreated, and sent away. In fact, I suspect that the original hearers would have thought, “That landlord is kind of naïve to keep on sending servants who are mistreated and then sent away.” But Jesus has a point in showing that. He's trying to show you the patience, the forbearance, the mercy of God with sinners. He is longsuffering in dealing with us in our sin. In fact, landlords had a reputation in Palestine in Jesus’ time that if you didn't pay up your portion of the harvest, of the crops, of the yield of the land, they actually, many of them, had hit-squads. And Tiny and Guido would show up at your door cracking their knuckles and telling you that they were going to break your kneecaps unless you paid up. Literally, the landlords sent around teams to impress you into giving them their portion of the yield, but not this landlord. He patiently sent servant after servant who is mistreated and sent away, and finally he sends his own beloved son.
And Jesus is telling you something about the kindness, the patience, the forbearance, the forgiveness of this loving heavenly Father who is the owner of the vineyard, the owner of the land, the only one who has the right to bestow its inheritance. And why is He telling you that? Because if you have ever or if you do ever come to really realize what your sin is and what it deserves, the last thing that is natural in the world is to want to run to God in that moment, because for the first time you've realized what you are and what you deserve and your temptation, when you think about being in the presence of an all-seeing, all-knowing, holy, heavenly Father, is to run. And Jesus is showing you the kindness, the patience, the forbearance, the forgiveness of God in this passage to encourage you to run to Him when you realize who you are and what you've done and what you deserve. He's showing you God's patience. He's showing you what your God is like.
So we see our sin in this passage and we see God's patience in this passage, but we also see certain judgment in this passage. Jesus, if you look down at verse 15, after the son is thrown out of the vineyard and killed, asks the question, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” And the answer He gives is, “He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” Do we understand the certain judgment that Jesus is teaching about? Do we understand that the judgment of God comes on those who reject the Lord and who reject the Gospel? You know there are many, many people today, even in Christian pulpits, who want to assure you that that is not the case, that all will be well. “Peace, peace,” they say. “No one will fall under final judgment.” But Jesus says that judgment is certain. Now I ask you a question. Who are you going to believe? Are you going to believe Jesus or anyone who dares to contradict Him?
Jesus, in His love — notice what He is doing. He is lifting up the veil of the future and He is saying to you, “I want you to see what is going to happen to all those who reject Me and who reject the Gospel.” He does this because He loves us. He shows us what is coming because He knows it is easy to look at this life and think, “I'm going to get by with my sin. I'm going to prosper in my sin. I'm going to be happy in my sin. There are going to be no eternal consequences for my sin.” And so He lifts up the veil of the future and He says, “I want to show you what is going to happen to all who reject Me.” And He does this because of His love and because of His kindness. It is Satan who wants us to be blind to the future consequences of sin and to the certain final judgment of God against all who reject Him. Satan wants us to be blind, so when you hear someone or read someone assuring you that there will be no final consequences for the rejection of God, for the rejection of Christ, for the rejection of the Word of God, for the rejection of the Gospel, you may always be assured that that tongue speaks with a forked tongue. Satan does not want you to see the future certain final judgment. Jesus, who loves you, does want you to see it and He speaks this truth so that we might see that certain judgment and repent of our sins.
the kingdom victory
But fourth and finally I want you to see the kingdom victory here. At the end of the story, notice first in verse 16 and then in verse 18 that Jesus indicates that the kingdom is going to prevail no matter what these wicked tenants do. If the wicked tenants have rejected the servants and the son, then the field will be taken away from them and it will be given to others. And then we're told in a verse that alludes not only to Psalm 118 but to Isaiah 8 and Daniel 2 and is quoted in 1 Timothy 2, “everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” That language comes out of kingdom language in Isaiah and Daniel in which Isaiah and Daniel make it clear that God's kingdom is going to be established. It's not going to be overthrown. In fact, anyone who rejects it is ultimately going to stumble over it and be crushed by it. In other words, Jesus is saying the kingdom is going to prevail. In our rejection of the Gospel, what is not at stake is whether God's kingdom will prevail. What is at stake is whether we will enjoy the inheritance of God's kingdom. God's kingdom will prevail.
You know it's interesting, I said at the beginning of the message that since the Enlightenment we have gone through a series of waves of unbelief in Western culture. And one of the reactions to those waves of unbelief from within Christian churches has been to say, “You know, the message of Christianity doesn't work anymore. We've got to improve it and update it so that it's more appealing to our culture, so that it's more acceptable to our culture, or else Christianity will cease to exist. We've got to save Christianity because the success of Christianity is at stake and so we've got to change the message so that the church can continue on.” That's never ever the right answer. That's never ever the right answer. And Jesus tells you one of the reasons why here. The kingdom will prevail. You know, we may see a progressive rejection of Christ and of the Word and of God and of the Christian faith in the Western part of the world, but does that mean the kingdom is failing? No! The Word of God is exploding all over this world — in Africa, in Asia, even in Muslim countries. Thousands upon thousands are coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
The question, as we face the issue of the rejection of the truth in our own time and in our own place by our own hearts, is not whether God's kingdom will prevail. His kingdom will prevail. The question is, “Will we participate in its inheritance?” And you see why Jesus said these words to His disciples and to crowds that were gathered around Him in the last week of His earthly ministry before His crucifixion. He is dealing with them about heart things. He's asking them to look at their own hearts and recognize their sin, recognize their predicament, recognize their need. He's asking them to look at their God and see what He's like. He is ready to forgive and He is patient. He's asking them to reckon with a certain judgment that is to come and be encouraged by the fact that He is going to build His church and the gates of hell are not going to prevail against it. And His kingdom is going to cover the earth as the water covers the sea.
All of these things were not just vitally important for those people to understand, they’re important for us to understand. May the Lord bless His Word. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, search us out. We have heard Your truth over and over again, but many, many of us are tempted to conform our thinking and our priority and our love to the spirit of this age. It is the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life that controls us. And Satan is seeking to sift us like wheat. Open our eyes to let us see our sin and our need and then by the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, receive us again to You as we rest and trust on Him alone for salvation as He is offered in that Gospel as we repent, as we believe, as we embrace Him. Lord God, do not let us leave this place without seeing the direness of this fight and the eternalness of its consequences. And by Your Holy Spirit, open our eyes both to see our sin and to see our Savior. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
Well let's conclude our worship by singing from number 247 of the One who died to save us from our sins.
Do you know what the Gospel says to wicked tenants who have realized their sin and who have said, “Mine, mine was the transgression”? It says grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.