Tag Archives: Jesus

The Parable of the Tenants

Way back in Isaiah, God sang a song for the people of Israel and Judah. What at first sounded as a love song, quickly turned unpleasant. I’ll let you read it for yourselves. It’s a fairly short song.

Let me sing for my beloved
    my love song concerning his vineyard:
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;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
    but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
    and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.

What more was there to do for my vineyard,
    that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
    why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
    what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
    and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
    and it shall be trampled down.

I will make it a waste;
    it shall not be pruned or hoed,
    and briers and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds
    that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
    is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
    are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
    but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness,
    but behold, an outcry! (Isaiah 5:1-7, ESV)

According to this song, Israel and Judah are the vineyard, God is the planter. Because of Israel and Judah’s evil, God allowed judgment to befall his vineyard. This was the judgment that came with Assyria taking away Israel and Babylon eventually taking away Judah. However, Judah eventually returned to the land.

Now, let’s skip ahead a few hundred years to the time Jesus walked on earth. Rather than sing a song, Jesus told a parable, but much of the language is the same.

And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
 this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Mark 12:1-11, ESV)

It is not difficult to see the similarities in the song and parable. Each has a man planting a vineyard. Each has a man putting up a fence/hedge around it. Each has a man building a watchtower. Each has a winepress/wine vat. But this is where the similarities end. There is one stark difference though that is the focus of the parable. In the song, the vineyard grows wild grapes rather than what was planted. In other words, the people of Israel and Judah acted wickedly. In the parable, there is no issue with the vineyard itself. It was not the common people who are acting wickedly. Instead it was the tenants of the vineyard–the leaders of the people.

In the song, God seeks justice but finds bloodshed. He seeks righteousness but finds only an outcry (of unrighteousness). That’s how the average Israelite acted. In the parable, we find the same thing, but not with the people at large, but instead with the leaders. The vineyard owner (God) sent servants (prophets) to the tenants (leaders), but the tenants beat some and killed others (bloodshed rather than justice). No one was going to take the vineyard away from them! This vineyard was their baby. They had led for all these years. They had made it what it was. They tilled the ground. They planted the crop. They fertilized. Why should they not get the fruit? What they forgot was their place in the grand scheme of things. They were the tenants, not the landowner. They were stewards, not masters. In reality, they had not forgotten this fact; they simply disregarded it.

The landowner finally sent his son. The son had the same claim, the same authority, and the same mind as his father. When the tenants saw the son coming (from the very watchtower that the landowner built??) they devised a plan to kill the son and keep the vineyard. They pulled off their scheme and thought they were victorious. However, this was the last straw. The vineyard owner would come and destroy the tenants. In the song, the vineyard was ransacked, but in the parable the vineyard was left in place. This was the fault of the tenants, not the vineyard. What they craved–so much that they killed the son for it–was taken from them.

Of course, this is all about Jesus! The leaders of Judea wanted the God’s people all for themselves. If the people followed Jesus, they’d cease to follow them. They’d lose all they had worked so hard to gain. Mark pointed this out in his account of Jesus’ trial (which obviously led to his death): “For [Pilate] perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up,” (15:10, ESV, italics mine). In the end, the Jewish leaders had Jesus killed, and cast him outside Jerusalem (cf. Heb 13:12), but their destruction was then assured. By the turn of the centuries the Pharisees had been displaced by rabbis and the Sadducees ceased to exist altogether, having lost all power when the temple was destroyed.

God’s vineyard was given to another. One could argue whether Jesus meant the Romans empire or Gentile Christians. I would venture the latter. Paul wrote to the Romans, using a different metaphor (an olive tree which also has previous imagery representing God’s people; cf. Jer. 11:16). He informed the Christians that God had grafted the Gentiles into the olive tree in order to bring jealousy to those who were cut off (Jewish people), but would one day he would graft them back in. Though a different metaphor, I think it is appropriate to use in understanding that the vineyard–God’s people–continued to be God’s people, but in a different manner. Since Jesus, the chief cornerstone, was rejected by the tenants, all who did not reject were allowed into the vineyard. Instead, however, of being predominately Jewish, it became predominately Gentile. “This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Apostolic Faith

I am in the process of reading Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life  by Dr. Donald Whitney and I was reminded yesterday of the importance of not only Scripture memorization but of meditation as well. I have allowed both of these two disciplines fall by the wayside over the last year and decided that this morning would be different. I would both meditate and seek to memorize Scripture. I’m glad I did because through meditation on God’s Word, I noticed two great truths, one of which I will write about tomorrow. The other is the topic of today’s blog.

The second bout of meditation came because of my attempt to memorize Scripture. My daughter is trying to memorize all of 2 Peter for her Bible Quizzing competition, so I thought why not do it with her. In all transparency, I was supposed to be doing it with her a while ago. So I opened up to 2 Peter 1 to memorize the first verse. Here it is in the ESV: “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” What a verse!

Unlike 1 Peter, we don’t know where this letter was headed. The only addressees are those who have obtained a faith of equal standing. One could rightly say that any and every believer is the recipient of this letter from Peter. There are certain words that need to be focused on in this short verse: 1 – Obtained, 2 – equal standing, and 3 – by.

Obtained

The first word that we need to let sink deep into our souls is the word obtained. It could also mean received. But this is not the usual word in the Greek for receiving something. This word means to receive by lot. As the New American Commentary on 2 Peter states, “Zechariah obtained by lot the privilege of offering incense in the temple (Luke 1:9). Roman soldiers cast lots to see who would get Jesus’ garment (John 19:24). Judas was appointed to serve in an apostolic ministry (Acts 1:17). In each instance receiving something by lot is a give that one receives,” (p. 285). That isn’t to say that it was by sheer luck that this faith came to people. Remember what the Proverb states, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD, (16:33, ESV; italics mine).

What does all this mean? That if you are a believer you have become one by divine decision. As Peter Davids wrote in the Pillar New Testament Commentary on 2 Peter, it “thus indicates that faith is something that God has given them, a favor from tehir heavenly patron,” (p. 162). You obtained your faith. You didn’t conjure it up out of no where. While some would find this as bad news, this is absolutely fantastic news. If faith relied upon me to develop, I’d be waiting for eternity. There are so many dry seasons in life, so many painful moments, so many losses and broken dreams that my faith would be non-existent. Yet God has granted me faith. I have obtained it from God, not myself, and for that reason, though storms or droughts may come, my faith shall continue, not because of my strength, but because of His.

Equal Standing

Here is the meat of my meditation. This faith is of equal standing with the apostles’ faith. Another way of saying it is that it is of equal honor. We tend to see the apostles as those with faith that is better or bigger than our own. That may be somewhat true, only in that the apostles faced circumstances that grew their faith that we may not ever experience. But bigger does not mean more valuable. Stronger does not mean more blessings. Peter wanted to assure his readers that their faith was just as valuable to God as Peter’s or Paul’s or John’s or any of the other apostles.

Here is why I think it is just as valuable. The value of faith is not based upon who is believing, but upon who is being believed upon. Since Jesus is the object of our faith and since God has granted the faith to us (thus both originally from and going back to the Godhead), the faith of the believer–an believer–is equal to the faith of any other believer. We shall not receive less blessings or privileges than others. As Tim Keller once said and many before him, “It is not the strength of your faith, but the object of your faith that actually saves you.” And I would add “and by which your receive all your spiritual blessings in the heavenly places” (cf. Eph 1:3).

Do you realize, fellow-believer, that your faith is on equal standing, equally honorable, as that of the apostles. The faith that they obtained was no greater, no more valuable, no more stronger than yours. As Peter wrote in his first letter, “In this you rejoice (that God has given you faith unto salvation), though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 1:6-7, ESV). We see the apostles’ faith as greater or bigger or more valuable, but in reality it is shinier. The dross has been removed and it shimmers and shines. Trials removed the dross and impurities that this fallen world and fallen bodies have mixed within it. We all want the apostolic faith, and we have it, but what we don’t have yet is the shine. Only trials will bring the shine as they remove the dross. But let us remember that the faith we have, they too had, no more, no less.

By

The last word is the word “by.” This faith again comes by our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Specifically by His righteousness. There is debate as to what this phrase means apparently. I originally took it to mean that God’s grace came through the righteousness of Christ and because of His righteousness we were granted faith. That is one idea. The other is that righteousness here means fair or just. Thus in Jesus’ fairness, we are each given an equal standing of faith. I say, why can’t it be both!?

Jesus is equitable; He’s fair, but He is also gracious. He willingly and graciously gave of His righteous standing a equal standing of faith. Because this faith is by His righteousness, we cannot lose it any more than He could lose His righteousness. There may and probably will be times when our faith is weak, but that doesn’t make it less valuable and it doesn’t make it cease to exist. As Paul stated to the Philippians, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (1:6, ESV).

In conclusion, the faith that we have, it is from God by the gracious and fair righteousness of Christ. It is just as valuable and honored as that of the apostles whom we tend to look at as giants in the faith. Let us know that God will be removing impurities and shining and buffing this faith that he has given to us. It is part of the process. Jesus is going to present us, “holy and blameless and above reproach,” (Col 1:22) and “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,” (Eph 5:27). May it be so, and may God grant the strength along with the trials.