Matthew 21: The parable Jesus tells is modeled after a passage in Isaiah chapter five.

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1 Matthew 21:33-44 Introduction It s still Tuesday (three days before the crucifixion), and Jesus is still in the temple court, still in confrontation with the chief priests and the elders of the people. After the three symbolic acts of riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, driving out all who bought and sold in the temple, and cursing the fig tree, we now have three parables that Jesus addresses to the religious leaders of Israel. Three weeks ago, we looked at the Parable of the Two Sons. Now this week we come to the Parable of the Tenants. I. Matthew 21:33 Hear another parable. When Jesus says, Hear another parable, He obviously means more than just hear. He means for the chief priests and elders of the people to pay heed to consider what they should do, and how they should live in light of the parable. And so we also should be asking ourselves the same question right from the very beginning. We know that every word of Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. So this morning, by God s grace, may we truly hear this parable, and understand how we should then live. II. Matthew 21:33 There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. The parable Jesus tells is modeled after a passage in Isaiah chapter five. Isaiah 5:1 2a 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 built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it. Isaiah is very explicit as to what s what and who s who: Isaiah 5:7a For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting. Both in Isaiah and here in Matthew, the owner of the vineyard is the Lord of hosts, and the vineyard itself represents the nation of Israel. There s an emphasis here on the fact that God has not only planted the vineyard, but He s also made every possible provision for the vineyard to flourish and bring forth much fruit (in Matthew the fence, the winepress, and the watchtower, and in Isaiah the very fertile hill, the clearing it of stones, the planting it with choice vines, the building of a watchtower, and the hewing of a wine vat). And so God asks in Isaiah: What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? (Isaiah 5:4a) The same question could be justly asked by the owner of the vineyard in Jesus parable. God never falls short on His end. He always makes every 1

2 provision, and gives every grace for all that He requires. God is always faithful. So whenever there s any blame to be assigned, that blame must always fall on me. I m assuming we know this at least in an academic sense. We know this in our heads. But have we actually come to be convicted by this truth so that we know in our heart that excuses are never, ever an option? It may surprise us, but this is not only a convicting truth, it s also wonderfully comforting; if excuses are never an option, this must mean that God is always faithful. Israel is like a vineyard that the Lord of hosts has planted. In Isaiah, God looked for His people to yield grapes, but instead they yielded wild grapes (5:4b). Jesus makes the same point, but now in a very different way. III. Matthew 21:34 36 When the season for fruit drew near, [the master] sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. The master s servants here are a picture of God s prophets in the Old Testament. God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah: Jeremiah 7:25 26 [NASB] Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them. Yet they did not listen to Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck; they did more evil than their fathers. The job of the prophets was to compel the people of Israel by every means possible to bring forth the fruits of true repentance and heartfelt obedience to God. But instead of listening to the prophets, Israel actually went to the other extreme as they persecuted God s prophets and killed His messengers. In Matthew twenty-three, Jesus will cry out, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! (Matthew 23:37; cf ) So far, then, Jesus has been summarizing the past history of Israel. The very beginning of this history was encouraging, and there seemed to be every reason for optimism and hope. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. But then the optimism and hope gave way very quickly to the gloominess of Israel s stubbornness, and hardheartedness, and rebellion against God. The master of the house sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. That s the history of Israel in a nutshell God s perfect goodness and faithfulness; Israel s persistent disobedience and unfaithfulness. So far, the parable has been very predictable, and easy to recognize. But now the unexpected happens. IV. Matthew 21:37 39 Finally [the master of the house] sent his son to [the tenants], saying, They will respect my son. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance. And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 2

3 First of all, in real life, it doesn t really make sense for the master of the house to send his own son to the tenants and especially without a good sized bodyguard. It s true that the tenants should have respected the son, but was it really likely that they would? So what s the owner of the vineyard doing, sending his own son especially when that son does, in fact, end up being thrown out of the vineyard and killed? It doesn t make sense. But second of all, in real life the tenants bid to take over the vineyard by killing the son would have been most unlikely to succeed. They ve killed the son and heir, but what about the father and master of the vineyard? Do they really think they can get away with this? Do they really think their plan will work? These would have to be the most insensible, irrational, and just plain stupid tenants in the world if they really think so. But sometimes we think so, don t we? Like the tenants in Jesus parable, we deceive ourselves into thinking that we can escape the consequences of our thoughts, and our words, and our choices, and our actions. But we cannot. The Bible says: Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap (Gal. 6:7). Jesus knows this very well, and when it comes to the story in the parable, so do the religious leaders. Jesus asks them: V. Matthew 21:40 41 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? They said to him, He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons. Really, this parable is rather depressing. The wretched tenants are all brought to a wretched end, as expected, but not before the son is murdered. At this point, who really cares if the owner of the vineyard rents out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons? How much comfort can new tenants really be, when the son and heir to the vineyard is dead? If we re ever going to make any sense of this parable, then we have to make sense of the part that seems to make the least amount of sense the part about the son. Why would the owner of the vineyard send his son when he knew there was at least a possibility that his son would be killed? Why would God send His own Son alone, unarmed, and in the weakness of human flesh, when He knew that we would put Him to death? The parable itself answers none of these questions. The parable, by itself, can only leave us confused and even depressed. But the parable is not all that we have! Just when things seem to be the most pointless and futile, Jesus does something astonishing. VI. Matthew 21:42 Jesus said to them, Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Everyone knew this verse. It s from Psalm 118, the same Psalm that the crowds had been quoting only two days earlier as they escorted Jesus into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. In Psalm 118, the Davidic king is returning victorious from battle to his royal city. As he makes his approach, he calls out to the keepers of the gates: 3

4 Psalm 118:19 20 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD. And then the king s thanksgiving gives way to the celebration of the crowds who are thronging around him: Psalm 118:22 23 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. In other words, the Gentile nations had despised Israel, and Israel s king as being weak, and worthless, and good for nothing just like a stone that builders might inspect, and then reject and throw away as being unfit for any use. And yet as a result of the recent victory in battle, this stone (rejected and despised by the builders) has become, of all things, the cornerstone the most important, and most prominent stone in the entire structure! From initially being discarded as so much worthless rubble, this stone has now been accorded a place of the highest honor. And so the people go on to exclaim: This is the LORD s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. We can imagine the people s joy. Who would have ever thought that such a thing would happen? So this is the verse that Jesus quotes, but how does it relate to the parable that He s just told? Jesus said to them, Have you never read in the Scriptures And the answer is both yes, and no. They had read it, but not in the way Jesus was reading it now. In Psalm 118, who are the builders that reject the stone? The builders are the Gentile nations. But in Jesus parable, who are the builders? Instead of the Gentile nations, the builders are now the tenants of the vineyard they are the Jewish chief priests and elders of the people (v. 45)! And in Psalm 118, how is the stone rejected by the builders and then vindicated by the Lord? Well, he is attacked by the Gentile nations, and then the Lord miraculously gives Him the victory in the day of battle. But how is the stone rejected in Jesus parable? He is thrown out of the vineyard and murdered. So far, we can see the parallels. But Jesus didn t just quote the part about rejection. He went on to quote the part about triumph and vindication. Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? We can see how a murdered son is like a stone rejected by the builders. But how does a murdered son become the chief cornerstone? We know what the happy ending was in Psalm 118, but what exactly is the happy ending here in Matthew 21? VII. Matthew 21:43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a [lit. nation] producing its fruits. This is in keeping with the verdict of the religious leaders themselves. They re the ones who said that the vineyard would be taken away from the rebellious tenants and let out to tenants who would give the owner the fruits in their seasons. But who is the kingdom of God to be taken away from? From all ethnic Jews; from the entire Jewish people? No, not at all! The vineyard is only taken away from the tenants from the religious and political leadership of Israel (v. 45). So the kingdom of God will be taken away from the current leadership in Israel. The current leadership is about to be replaced with new leadership. But that s not all! 4

5 The kingdom of God will be taken away from you, Jesus says, and given to a nation producing its fruits. What nation could Jesus possibly be referring to? Edom, Moab, Egypt, Philistia, Aram, Ammon? Perish the thought! Could this nation be Gentiles in general, as opposed to Jews? Perish that thought, too! * Anyone who s read the Old Testament knows that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to Israel by an unchangeable oath, and the solemn promise of God! So who can this new nation be? Apparently, it must be Israel, but not Israel; Israel, but Israel now redefined. But redefined how? What s new about Israel? Could the answer to this question have anything to do with the answer to our last question? On the one hand, how does a rejected and murdered son become the chief cornerstone? On the other hand, who is this nation to whom the kingdom of God will be given? Sure enough, in the next verse, Jesus picks up right where He left off with the stone that was rejected by the builders, but then became the chief cornerstone. VIII. Matthew 21:44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him. What?!? The stone that was rejected? The son that was killed? Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces? Jesus is quoting here from Isaiah chapter eight, where the stone is actually God Himself: Isaiah 8:14 15 [The Lord of hosts] will become [on the one hand] a sanctuary and [on the other hand] a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken. Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, Jesus said, and then He added, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him. This time we have an allusion not to Isaiah, but to Daniel, where a stone crushes all the empires and kingdoms that came before it, and itself becomes a kingdom that will never be destroyed. Daniel 2:34 35 (cf ) A stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone indeed! And what else can this mean but that the son who was thrown out of the vineyard and murdered has been resurrected from the dead? And this, then, answers our second question. Now that He has been resurrected from the dead, He Himself is the replacement of the current Jewish leadership the chief priests and elders of the people. From now on, Israel will be defined by its relationship to Jesus. Many Jews who thought they were on the inside will now find themselves on the outside. Many Jews who thought they were heirs to the promised kingdom will now find * For this to be a reference to Gentiles, as opposed to Jews, it should read the nations (cf. France; Lenski). 5

6 themselves disinherited and excluded. All who stumble over the stone will ultimately be crushed and broken to pieces. But all who take their stand upon the stone whether Jew or Gentile will find that they are secure citizens of the true Israel, the nation to whom the kingdom of God belongs. This [is] the Lord s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Conclusion When Joseph and Mary brought the baby Jesus to the temple, Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary: Luke 2:34 Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel. On the one hand, Jesus is the chief cornerstone. On the other hand, Jesus is the stone that crushes and breaks to pieces. With the coming of Jesus, the line in the sand is drawn and the final division is made between the insiders and the outsiders between the heirs of the kingdom and those who are forever disinherited. So far, we ve seen that Jesus has alluded to three different stone passages in the Old Testament one from Psalm 118 (the stone the builders rejected becomes the chief cornerstone), one from Isaiah 8 (the stone of offense and a rock of stumbling), and one from Daniel 2 (a stone that crushes). But the part about the chief cornerstone in Psalm 118 actually reminds us of yet a fourth stone passage. This one is from Isaiah 28. Isaiah 28:16 (NASB) Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed. In Romans chapter nine, Paul combines the stone that people stumble over in Isaiah chapter eight with the cornerstone that brings salvation in Isaiah 28. Romans 9:30 33 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, Behold, I am laying in Zion [Isaiah 28] a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; [Isaiah 8] and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame [Isaiah 28]. On the one hand, Jesus is the chief cornerstone that provides true security and salvation. On the other hand, Jesus is the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense that crushes and breaks to pieces. Peter doesn t mix the verses up like Paul does, but he does quote both of them together; in fact, he quotes from all of the stone passages except for Daniel! 1 Peter 2:4 12 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6

7 For it stands in Scripture: Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame [Isaiah 28]. So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone [Psalm 118], and A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense [Isaiah 8]. They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you [the true Jews and true Israel] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. On the one hand, Jesus is the chief cornerstone that provides true security and salvation. On the other hand, Jesus is the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense that crushes and breaks to pieces. In Acts chapter four, when the religious leaders asked Peter, by what name did you [heal this man], Peter responded: Acts 4:10 12 Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead by him this man is standing before you well. This JESUS is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Here s what Jesus is saying. Here s what Paul and Peter are saying. The only thing that matters in life is where we stand in relation to Jesus (cf. Hagner). Jesus is the only foundation. His name is the only name. He is the stone rejected by the builders, but now made the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Have we believed in Him? Are we living all of our life in reference to Jesus? Is Jesus the one who defines us and our very existence from day to day? Do we make all of our decisions and choices with reference to Jesus? Is He the cornerstone of our lives, the center of our universe, the hub of our existence, the reason for who we are and all that we think, and do, and speak? There is salvation in no one else, there is wisdom in no one else, there is knowledge in no one else, there is righteousness in no one else, there is sanctification in no one else, there is power in no one else there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (cf. 1 Cor. 1:26-31). If we would not be crushed and broken to pieces by the stone that is Jesus Christ, then we must not, even for one instant, compromise this truth whether in our doctrine, or in our practice. Our eternal destiny, and the eternal destiny of every human being who will ever walk the face of this earth, is determined by one thing where we stand today, and everyday, in relation to Jesus. Either He is the stone of stumbling that will crush us and break us to pieces, or He is the precious cornerstone that brings us eternal salvation. So what about us, here, today? Where do we stand in relation to Jesus? Have we compromised in any way His costliness and preciousness, His absolute supremacy as the chief cornerstone, or His exclusivity as the only name under heaven, given among men by which we must be saved? John sums everything up like this: John 3:16 18 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the 7

8 world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 8

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